We are not regular cruise types. We like small boats and have only cruised before on the Mekong, Brahmaputra, Ganges and Irrawaddy rivers. We originally booked to travel on Hurtigruten's MS Nordstjernen (400 pax capacity) but found ourselves instead on the MS Finnmarken (1000 pax capacity), as the Nordstjernen had been replaced. We weren't happy about this, but there was nothing we could do about it. I was filled with foreboding about cruising with 998 pushy Europeans but I have to say it was a far better experience than I expected. First, it wasn't full. My guess is there were about 600 people on board, but that was enough for us. Secondly, there is lots of deck space so I guess that, even when full, there is enough room for people to disperse.
The main thing about Hurtigruten is that it is neither a ferry nor a cruise boat. It hovers somewhere between the two. Consequently, you have the shore excursions and 'cruisy feel' of a cruise, on the one hand, combined with regular stops along the coast that you would associate with a ferry. Some of these stops are very early or very late and because Hurtigruten is primarily a ferry, the sightseeing schedule has to fit around its regular stops.
We booked the 6D Southbound cruise, from Kirkenes to Bergen. The 'Breakfast at the North Cape' excursion would have been so much better if it had been at lunchtime; the place was shrouded in mist and we saw next to nothing. This is quite common, according to the people who live there. Other excursions took place at equally odd times (one of the Lofoten options leaves in the late afternoon and gets back after 10.00pm) and we found this all quite tiring.
The weather was pretty ordinary throughout our cruise, which put pressure on the internal lounges. The 'towel on the sun-lounger' syndrome was alive and well so if you wanted a seat with a view you needed to get up early and grab a spot.
Overall I think it is well run, considering it is trying to be all things to all people. I have two negative comments. First, the dinners are pretty ordinary, compared to the extensive buffet breakfasts and lunches. It is a set menu, with a starter, main course and dessert. Several of the main courses were fish and at least two of the desserts were frozen solid. An improvement would be to offer a choice of main course so that non-fish eaters can have something else. The second gripe is about 'day-trippers'. On several occasions day-trippers went up to the Observation Lounge, where the best seats are located. They would hang around and jump in as soon as a place became available, almost pushing others out of the way. I think certain parts of the ship should be allocated to people who have booked either the 7D Northbound, the 6D Southbound or the 12D round trip.
With regard to pricing, we booked a complete package that included all meals. We discovered on board that you can book 'cabin only' and pay for meals as you go. We would have been happy to take up this option as three big meals a day is too much at our age. Apparently this option is detailed somewhere in the small print. We were also told there is an expensive 'alcohol package' and assumed this was the only option. In fact, you can buy wine/beer by the glass and it is no more expensive than anywhere else in Norway. There's also a cafe on board that serves inexpensive hot meals/salads 24 hours a day - but there's no point using this if you have prepaid for all meals!
The shore excursions were all good but the guiding varied enormously. Some were great, others would have cured insomnia. A big tick to Craig (related, we think, to Hagrid), who was our larger-than-life guide on the Lofoten Islands tour (Excursion 9B). Another excellent excursion was 10B (Vega Islands). A third highlight, for us, was the Atlantic Road (11C) and the Midnight Concert in Tromso (8C) was really good, but we were pretty knackered by the time we got to bed at 0200 in the morning.
In general, we found the staff friendly and helpful and the cabin was way more spacious than I had expected.