We were four Americans and two Norwegians traveling together. Two of us (Americans), did the round trip, the other four only did the north bound voyage and got off the ship in Kirkenes. The Norwegians had never been on any kind of cruise before, although, they had been to many of the ports and either drove or flew to them. The four Americans had been on many previous cruises (Caribbean, Mexico, Central America, South America, Panama Canal, Alaska), but never on Hurtigruten.
Travel to Port of Embarkation
Before our voyage, we spent a few days in Oslo, and decided to take the train to Bergen the day before the Midnatsol left Bergen. The train ride was wonderful -- beautiful scenery the entire time. Bergen is a fairly compact town. The taxi line at the train station was fairly long, so we decided to walk to our hotel (Scandic Strand on Strandkaien) which is in the historic wharf area -- it took about 10 minutes. That night we walked over to the Hurtigruten Terminal (took about 10 minutes) to get information on what to do the next day. We learned that we could drop off our bags between 1:00 and about 2:00 or 2:30. Once the ship arrives in port, though, they don't accept luggage until it's time to check in at around 4:00. By the time we checked in, our luggage was waiting for us outside our cabin doors. There was a buffet dinner available the first night. The ship didn't leave Bergen until 10:30 PM.
The Midnatsol is one of Hurtigruten's newer ships. It has several, beautifully appointed public areas, and a two story viewing lounge in the front of the ship on decks 8 and 9. The gift shop was well stocked with many enticing items to purchase! Prices were the same as any Norwegian land based shop. The ship has a small gym, sauna, and two fantastic Jacuzzis that were kept at a nice and warm temperature. We were in the Jacuzzi every day and loved it. There are two outside deck areas. On deck 6, you can walk completely around the ship. The only problem is deck 6 also has smoking areas, so it's a problem if you are sensitive to cigarette smoke. Deck 9 has three outside sections available to cruisers: the middle section is where various activities take place like fish filleting demonstrations and a visit from King Neptune after crossing the Arctic Circle. The next section has the two Jacuzzis, two outdoor showers, and a "cabana" to hang your jacket and things while in the Jacuzzi. The back section of deck 9 is a large, open space which is great for watching the scenery, and for us, the Northern Lights. There's also heat generated from the smoke stack, so you can warm up a bit if it gets too cold.
We stayed in an inside cabin, on Deck 7 near the atrium elevators. The cabin was adequate: two twin beds - one bed folded up against the wall if you wanted more floor space, and the other bed could be converted into a sofa. There was a desk, small table, shelves and adequate closet space. The best part about our cabins (708 and 714) was access to the public space in the atrium. There was a bench and several chairs, so that space became our "living room". The wireless internet also reached that area, so we could call home on Skype or surf the internet while watching the scenery through the large floor to ceiling windows. While on the ship we also toured other cabins. The full suites were large and nicely appointed.
Breakfast was open seating and a typical Norwegian buffet with eggs, oatmeal, fish, cheese, fruit, breads, jellies, and things of that sort. The main entre selection varied (eggs, pancakes, and some other items), but the rest was the same every day. Lunch was also a buffet, but it varied if it was at a fixed time in your assigned table, or open seating. We found the dining staff to be accommodating -- there were six of us traveling together, and at first we were assigned to different dining times and tables. It was no problem getting us all at one table. Our voyage was pretty full, so they may not always have fixed lunch times. Out of the 12 nights, we had a buffet three times (one of the buffets was a seafood extravaganza with lobster, crab, shrimp, crawfish, mussels, and all kinds of wonderful food), and the other dinners consisted of a three course Norwegian meal of deer, reindeer, pork, beef, chicken, or various kinds of local fish. Coffee and tea were served during breakfast and lunch, but not during dinner. We did buy the Hurtigruten coffee mug, so we were able to have coffee or tea from various places on the ship any time we wanted. I like hot chocolate, so I brought my favorite hot chocolate mix and filled my mug with hot water before going to the Jacuzzi.
I had read there are limited activities on Hurtigruten ships other than the fantastic scenery. We were on what was marketed as a New Years Cruise, so several times there were concerts in the lounge on deck 8. They had a pianist, flutist, and several opera singers. Our round trip voyage also overlapped with an opera tour to Oslo, and starting with the southbound stop in Tromso, there were one hour opera concerts just about every day. The library had some board games, jig saw puzzles, reading books, and a TV. There was also a small kids play area on deck 5. At times there were some organized activities such as a fish fillet demonstration, visit from King Neptune with the traditional ladle of ice, and cod liver oil after returning across the Arctic Circle (we got to keep the cute mermaid shaped, Hurtigruten engraved spoon).
Yes, the main entertainment is the scenery, and it kept us busy most of the time. There was a dance floor in the main bar, and every evening there was a piano player who played a variety of tunes.
Port and Shore Excursions
We were docked in most ports for too short of a time for excursions. We'd get off the boat and walk a short distance, and then get back on before the boat left. Some of the stops were for longer, and we took several excursions: Viking Feast in Stamsund, Midnight Concert in Tromso, and Dog Sledding in Kirkenes. Our Tromso dog sledding ride was cancelled because of poor weather conditions. The Viking Feast was nice, although a lot of time was spent on the bus. We got off in Stamsund, were driven to the replica of a Viking Hall, where a Viking king, wife, and a couple of slaves fed us a traditional Viking feast, complete with ample quantities of meade. It was a fun evening and as a special bonus, we saw some faint northern lights there. The bus then drove us to Svoaler where we met the boat. The midnight concert was enjoyable, and consisted of an organist/pianist, cellist, and singer. Since we also had free concerts on the ship, it probably wasn't worth the extra money on this voyage to go to the concert. The highlight was the dog sledding in Kirkenes. The excursion is at the same place as the Ice Hotel where they also have some reindeer. We had ample time to tour the Ice Hotel and see the reindeer and puppies. You go for a sled ride around a fairly large lake.
We were in Tromso for New Years Eve, and they had the most spectacular fireworks display I have ever seen. The fireworks were everywhere and the best place to see them was on deck 9 of the Midnatsol. They were shot from the ship, and from numerous houses, businesses, and parks throughout the area. It was incredible and a great way to ring in the New Year. I'd definitely go on a New Years voyage with Hurtigruten again!
We took the full round trip voyage, so our disembarkation was in Bergen and the process was very easy. We had to have our suitcases placed near the elevators by 10:00 AM and out of our cabins by 10:30 AM. There are plenty of lounge areas, so there was no problem finding a comfortable place to be. Plus, there was always the passing scenery to view from either inside the ship or on deck. Once we got to Bergen at about 2:30 PM, we were called by deck level to disembark. Our suitcases were waiting for us on the conveyor belt. Disembarkation was organized and simple. We collected our suitcases and then walked to the train station where we stored our bags in a locker. There was also the choice to take a charted bus to a hotel, train station, or airport, and taxis were also available.
We had pretty high expectations for this trip, and they were definitely exceeded. We'd been to Norway in the summer, so we knew a bit about the geography, but the beauty in the snow was spectacular. The Midnatsol is a beautiful ship, and we thoroughly enjoyed our twelve days on her.