My husband and I had been on the Hurtigruten FRAM before, on a cruise from Iceland to Spitsbergen. It's a relatively small ship, built in 2007 specifically for cruises to the polar regions. The Fram officially accommodates 318 passengers, but on this voyage there were only 171, around two-thirds of whom were German speakers. The official language of the ship is English. We were the only Americans aboard, along with two intrepid Australian widows, some families from the UK, various other Europeans, three Japanese, and a single Argentine man.
Check-in went relatively smoothly, considering that it had to take place aboard the ship. We had boarded from the pier in Kangerlussuaq, Greenland, via "Polarcirkel" boats, i.e., Zodiac-like tenders. Luggage was delivered to our cabin in a timely manner, and after the mandatory safety drill we set sail down stunning Sondre Stromfjord.
Except for suites, cabins aboard the Fram are very small. Okay, they're tiny. Ours was one of the cheaper ones and had a bed that converted to a couch by day. But there was adequate storage space for all our cold-weather gear, and the bathroom, though small, was quite acceptable and impeccably clean. This is an expedition ship, and no one is likely to spend much time in the cabin.
On the other hand, the public rooms are both elegant and practical, with two well-used lecture halls, a large observation lounge, an attractive dining room surrounded by windows, and interesting, original art work. There was a musician aboard, otherwise not much in the way of evening entertainment. But the days were so full that few people were inclined to party at night. Prices for drinks were comparable to other cruise ships. Service was unobtrusive but excellent throughout.
The reasons for choosing the Fram are clear: it sails to remote destinations; its company, Hurtigruten, has an excellent safety record; and the "Expedition Team," which includes scientists as well as people intimate with the area (including, in our case, a native Greenlander) is outstanding.
This cruise would not be possible for someone requiring a wheelchair. Although the ship itself is handicap accessible (there was a woman in a wheelchair on our cruise to Spitsbergen), embarkation and disembarkation require a transfer in a Polarcirkel tender, due to the necessity of starting from Kangerlussuaq, Greenland's only international airport.
For North Americans, the only real negative about the cruise is that you have to fly first to Copenhagen for the round-trip chartered flight to Greenland. The price for the chartered flight is included in the cruise fare. Wanting to avoid the craziness of flying from NY to Copenhagen, then round trip from Copenhagen to Greenland, and finally yet another transatlantic flight home to the U.S., I investigated various other ways of getting from the States to Kangerlussuaq. It essentially couldn't be done. When I mentioned to a member of the Expedition Team that this cruise would likely attract more North American passengers if there was an alternative way to reach the ship, I was told that the problem lies not with Hurtigruten but with the Greenland government.
On Cruise Critic I have read criticism of the food aboard Hurtigruten ships. We found the food good but not great, with wonderful fish (especially all kinds of salmon), breads, cheeses, cold suts, salads, and a fabulous dessert buffet. Meat main courses are uninspired, to say the least; beef eaters would be disappointed. Lactose-free and gluten-free choices are available. All in all, Hurtigruten food is decidedly Scandinavian. On this cruise they occasionally offered traditional Greenlandic cuisine, including reindeer and Arctic char (but not seal or whale).
As for the actual cruise along the west coast of Greenland above the Arctic Circle, it was an indescribable experience of glaciers, icebergs, spectacular scenery, and considerable contact with the indigenous people of Greenland, who today call themselves Greenlanders.
There was a port stop every day, with opportunities for hikes of varying degrees of difficulty, kayaking (the early Greenlanders invented kayaks for summertime fishing), boat trips to small islands and to icebergs, fishing, watching demonstrations of traditional activities such as dog sledding, and of course exploring the towns and small fishing and hunting settlements. There were not many opportunities for shopping, although some lovely hand-crafted items were for sale in Sisimiut and some of the smaller villages. No T-shirts or coffee mugs except at the airport in Kangerlussuaq!
The weather almost the whole week was perfect, with blue, incredibly clear skies, 24-hour sunlight, and high temperatures in the 40's and 50's. Only one day was marred by fog. Unfortunately, our much-anticipated stop in Ilulissat, a World Heritage Site, had to be cancelled due to the harbor being totally blocked by icebergs. On the other hand, weaving our way through bizarrely-shaped bluish icebergs as large as buildings made for a fascinating day.
All of our stops were memorable, especially Uummannaq with its heart-shaped mountain and thousands of sled dogs, Qeqertarsuaq with its waterfall, and Eqip Sermia, a huge, productive glacier. We had several opportunities to meet Greenlanders, even being invited into individual homes for a "kaffeemik" (coffee and cake) in the tiny fishing village of Itilleq.
Back in Kangerlussuaq waiting for our overnight flight to Copenhagen, we experienced one of the high points of the trip: a drive to the Greenland Ice Cap, the world's largest ice field outside of Antarctica. We were able to walk close to the icewall along paths through the tundra.
I can highly recommend the Fram's cruise of Greenland as a unique and unforgettable experience of one of the world's most remote and unspoiled places.