Last December we went with Hurtigruten on a Norwegian cruise to see the Northern Lights. We had recently been to Norway with Saga, so it was interesting to make comparisons.
We booked directly with Hurtigruten in the UK, whereas other passengers booked through a travel agent for the same price. As we were to experience, Hurtigruten certainly know how to operate ships, but we found their UK travel agency skills to be poor. One example of this was their excursion booking. The Norwegian excursion brochure was sent to us several weeks later than promised and it included pages referring to excursions in Holland! We booked a couple of quite expensive excursions to ensure we weren't disappointed, which we had to pay for immediately. Shortly before the cruise, I phoned Hurtigruten to ask about the dress code for one of the excursions, to be told that it had been cancelled several weeks earlier, but no one had bothered to tell us. It was getting late for us to find an alternative. Others, who waited until they got to Norway, had great difficulty in organising an alternative.
While Hurtigruten arranged our Jet2 flight from Gatwick to Tromso, which was convenient, their 737 must have been the most basic in the Boeing catalogue and you have to pay for any meals and drinks! At Gatwick the Hurtigruten welcoming staff hardly seemed to notice us, but once in Norway, everything was well-coordinated with punctual and efficient transfers.
The Hurtigruten ships operate more like a coastal bus service than cruise ships, taking goods and locals up and down the coast, so they shouldn't be compared with cruise ships. The ships are clean and comfortable. There's no formal dressing-up, but most passengers still dress smartly for dinner. Bearing in mind we were there to see the Northern Lights, which can appear at any instant, you need to be dressed appropriately to pop out onto the deck in sub-zero temperatures, so tuxedos and long dresses would probably be inappropriate!
Meals were generally good, with the buffet supper being significantly the best. We took some pot noodle meals and snacks for our lunches, because on-board meals, not included in our package, were unbelievably expensive. If you like tea and/or coffee, we recommend buying the Hurtigruten mug, which you can then fill free of charge on board.
The ship was particularly clean and crew members seemed to be cleaning something all day long.
The ship's crew were exceptionally alert at spotting the Northern Lights and told us immediately when they were visible.
We believe we were particularly lucky to have Anna Olivier Wallinder as our crew Tour Manager. She went out of her way to ensure that we enjoyed ourselves, organising events on board, coordinating excursions, notifying us of the Northern Lights and paying attention to every detail for our comfort and safety. There was some on-board entertainment, but no shows. For us this was fine.
If you have the choice between the North Cape excursion and visiting the Christmas House at Skarsvag, we would recommend Skarsvag. The journey and scenery is much the same as to the North Cape and as well as getting a hot drink and home made pancakes, you will be shown the village, which is one of the remotest places in Europe, where the local statistics will astonish you.