Hurtigruten's Classic Antarctica Voyage on the MS Fram (January 11-20, 2013) exceeded my expectations in all regards. I had read most of the reviews I could find online in the process of researching our planned Antarctica trip. Because there were so many choices and I had never heard of Hurtigruten, I was unsure about whether or not the Fram was the right choice. I made the booking through a travel agency, after a number of phone conversations. Their agent was most helpful; however, we got off to a bit of a rocky start when a Hurtigruten USA agent promised an accommodation that it turned out after we had paid our deposit they could not promise.
Instead of a guaranteed small suite for the price we were paying, we were offered an onboard credit, and so agreed to finalize our payment. In the end, the Cruise Norway staff and the Hurtigruten USA management did intervene on our behalf, and we were given the small suite we had initially been promised. Our private room and the overall space on the Fram were wonderful... clean, comfortable, spacious indoor and outdoor areas with fabulous views from most of the public areas on the boat.
The atmosphere was generally very informal and relaxed. One of the things I personally liked about the overall experience was that out of two hundred guests onboard, approximately one hundred were Americans, about 50 were from Germany, and the other 50 represented a large number of other countries. Likewise, the ten expedition staff represented eight countries. The entire ship's staff were great: cheerful,professional, helpful, efficient, and the whole experience was well managed and executed from start to finish. The Fram is bright and shiny and relatively new, with lots of floor to ceiling windows, and it was kept spotless.
For my taste, the food offerings were perfect.... almost all buffet-style, with only four dinners in nine days served with set menus and pre-assigned tables. There was always a great variety of fresh salads and vegetables, along with seafood offerings most days, in addition to a variety of meats, appetizers, great breads and desserts. I can't imagine that you could not find something to please nearly everyone's tastes at every meal. All food, including coffee, tea, hot chocolate and very good tap water were included in the trip price; all other drinks were charged to your credit card account for settlement at the end of the trip. Drinks were relatively expensive (about US$5.50 for a beer, US$7.00 for a glass of house wine, mixed drinks US$8-12).
Of the nine days onboard, four were spent crossing the Drake Passage, and five were in the islands and Antarctic Peninsula area, where we made two landings nearly every day. We were blessed with near-perfect weather while in Antarctica... sunny and calm most days, with temperatures in the 40's (F). Penguins were in their rookeries with babies of various sizes at most of the landings, and there was almost always some kind of a hike to a viewpoint or other point of interest. There were lots of seals, and we had plenty of whale sightings. Expedition staff who managed the landing experiences were knowledgeable and helpful in all cases. On the way home, the Captain made a detour so that we had a chance to see Cape Horn, which was not a part of the scheduled itinerary.
Most other people I talked with onboard were more than pleased with the overall experience. By choice, I have not been on other cruise ships, so I can't offer comparisons. This is not a big flashy entertainment boat... we had a staff show one night, and there were movies and lectures, but mostly it was a quiet, pleasant, relaxing experience. Antarctic expeditions are all expensive, but for my taste, Hurtigruten offered great value for money, and I cannot imagine having a better overall experience than we did on the Fram.