The MS Lofoten is a lovely old ship (48 years old). The key word here is "old" -- it creaks and rattles a bit, it is faded in parts, it has no stabilisers, it has "no" many things and that is why people choose it. The crew work hard at maintaining it. We found them cleaning the outside windows at 11 pm when we were in one port, and the cleaner on board seemed to be polishing the brass and sweeping spotless floors continuously. Heating on the ship was a bit erratic -- we were either far too hot or a little cold, again it is an old ship thing.
The Lofoten is small and that is its greatest asset because provided you make an effort to join in, then you rapidly become part of its small family. I think that in high season with some 350 people on board, it might feel a bit over crowded and certainly the forward lounges (on two levels) could not house everyone if they wanted to see things from the front. There were 16 full-trip passengers plus anything up to 29 short trip port to port passengers and 34 crew - so there was plenty of space.
Overall, the cabins are ok. We were lucky with our one which was excellent, those down in the bowels of the ship might feel a bit cramped and some might be noisy but I have no means of comparing these cabins to those on the larger Hurtigruten ships -- they might offer exactly the same experience and this might not be a small ship thing. I did go on a few of the larger ships whilst we were both in port and they were immaculately and tastefully decorated.
Do you want to travel in a home or a hotel is really the question you should ask when choosing this ship which offers a "home".
Dinner was well presented and very good and not over-facing in quantity. Lunch similarly was very good although the vegetarian hot meal option rarely looked (or tasted) inviting. The lunch salad buffet and numerous desserts were superb. Breakfast was ok but only barely so for vegetarians.
Alcoholic drinks are ridiculously expensive (a Norway not a Hurtigruten thing) but you can drink your own alcohol in your cabin (absolutely not anywhere else in the ship). Whilst you can get water with your meal, the staff are not allowed to leave a carafe of water on your table unless you have paid 19 NoKr for it and there is no tap or jug of water for you to top up your glass yourself. This seems very peculiar and as a result I felt thirsty during most meals.
The company has a policy of moving tourists meal times to accommodate trips (a perfectly reasonable thing) or to accommodate groups coming on board at a port to eat a meal (this seems to be a Norwegian custom) and the subsequent meal times were far too early. When you are going out on a Hurtigruten arrange tour, there is no facility for you to substitute a meal for a packed meal (which you could then eat when you were hungry and at a more appropriate time) and therefore you have to sneakily make something at the table and take it out with you.
All ships have an on-board Tour Leader. Ours worked very hard to ensure that our trip went smoothly and that when there were hitches (such as not enough people to run a booked excursion) that an alternative was provided.
Our cabin was cleaned promptly and well every morning whilst we were at breakfast.
The time of year
We chose to go in winter because we wanted to see the snow and the northern lights. We only saw snow up in the far north because Norway was unseasonably warm when we were there and we saw the northern lights on three evenings. Seeing either is a bit of a gamble and we won on this occasion. We understand why people repeat the trip in their "other season" and when time allows, we will do a summer trip. We might go on a larger boat because although it will have more passengers, it will have much more space and therefore might not feel as crowded (as we think the Lofoten might) when it is full.
This is not a cruise, it is a trip up and down the Norwegian Coast on a working boat which constantly loads and unloads passengers and freight. If you are looking for a traditional all-comforts cruise experience - do not go on this trip. We had a great 12 days which we thought was good value for money. We travelled with a great bunch of fellow travellers and thought that the service the Hurtigruten staff gave us was excellent.
If you want to see pictures of the ship, food and other things related to our Hurtigruten trip, then go to patandpaulharvey.blogspot.com and then go to November 2012