Let's start with the bottom line: A+ for the adventure/education experience and C- for amenities and even basic courtesy
Flight arrangements. Getting basic information from Hurtigruten's flight team would challenge the CIA. Something as simple as baggage limitations required faxes that went unanswered and a series of e-mails that produced absolutely contradictory information. Although I began my quest for answers almost two weeks before departure, it was not until we left the U.S. that I was able to determine that the ONE 8-kg "personal item" that LAN will permit is actually the "carry-on" limit, and that a "personal item" (purse, laptop, etc.) is indeed permitted in addition. I urge potential passengers to arrange their own travel to Ushuaia. LAN flies Fram passengers from Buenos Aires to Ushuaia in an Airbus 320, which was evidently designed by the same folks who learned their ergonomics from the manufacturers of sardine cans. I am only 5 feet 7 inches tall, and I sat with my knees against my chest for three and a half hours. I have flown in military cargo planes that were more comfortable.
The cafeteria quality food: Most lunches and dinners were buffet style with quality equivalent to U.S. family restaurant chains, such as Cracker Barrel or Country Buffet (exception: Cracker Barrel does NOT include reindeer stew on its menus). On one of two nights when we had a sit-down meal instead of a buffet, the pork schnitzel was so dry and hard (not tough, brittle-hard) that the cutlets could not be cut with flatware—one of our table companions demonstrated that he could take it his two hands and break it like a thin piece of wood. Can’t seem even to get the good things right. Smoked salmon available at almost every meal . . . lox, but not a spoonful of cream cheese within 500 miles. Mayonnaise? Yes. Mustard? Yes. Butter? Yes. Cream cheese? Blank stares or, to be more accurate, hostile glares, which is what one gets when he asks anything the least out of the ordinary from the Filipino hotel staff. The breakfast buffet is better, or at least more varied, than the complimentary breakfasts one gets at Comfort Inn or Motel 6, and one can actually order a breakfast from the kitchen instead of eating from the buffet, but we timed it. More than 30 minutes to arrive—with the very likely result of missing one’s scheduled landing.
Regimentation of services. One cannot take a glass of wine back to one’s cabin. Fear of liability should a passenger fall and break a glass. And, room service available only to passengers who book suites.
The very(!) poor service by the serving staff (The "Ugly"): They spend more time chatting, laughing, and flirting among themselves then they do waiting on passengers. And they have the audacity to scold passengers who finally, in desperation, get up help themselves. One got in my wife's face and told her that getting coffee was HIS job. She told him that she wouldn’t have to do it herself if he’d get himself over to the table and actually DO his job. They don’t even smile until a day or two before debarkation when everyone is being reminded about tipping.
The hotel staff double as deck crew (at which they are superbly good—getting passengers in and out of boats, sometimes in very challenging conditions), so don’t expect any real competence when it comes to their serving duties. Up in the bar I ordered my usual very dry, dirty, and straight-up vodka martini . . . and was brought a glass of vodka.
The rapacious nickel-and-diming passengers to death: The 10th-century Vikings made their living by raid and plunder. Their 21st-century Norwegian descendants have figured out how do the same thing without bloodshed. They run cruise lines and have you at their mercy.
Do not forget any of your over-the-counter meds—aspirin, antihistamines, etc. There is nothing of the sort for sale in the minimal shop. The "Good": The store stocks excellent expedition quality outdoor gear--even better than the ski shop where we work. The "Bad": If you want so much as an antacid, much less something for sea-sickness, you need an appointment with the ship’s doctor. Minimum $150 fee.
Don’t go into the bar and ask for a glass of carbonated water. They don’t even have a carbonated water fixture at the bar. They open a can of sparkling water and charge you bar fee for . . . water. And, should you want carbonated water with meals, you either pay by the pitcher or buy a subscription for . . . water.
Don’t buy internet time. They sell by the minute, not by the megabyte. Our travel agent arranged a 1,000 NKr credit. We used some of it to buy an hour of internet access and then expended 45 minutes of it trying to forward the credit documentation to the reception desk 20 feet away from where we were sitting in the computer alcove. Subsequently, we exhausted a half-hour (200 NKr) sitting watching a screen say (CONNECTING TO GOOGLE). Never did get online, but the clock ran out nonetheless.
If these folks sold you a house, you’d find out afterwards that there was a surcharge for plumbing.
Nonetheless, we are contemplating another Hurtigruten cruise. Why? Because they go to some incredible places and because their expedition staff--leaders, ornithologists, biologist, geologist, photographer--are far better than the hotel staff is poor. They’re even better than on the Celebrity Xpedition. Every lecture was worthy of a PBS hour, and the personal photos that the staff have taken in the conduct of their research are often of the quality one expects from a David Attenborough presentation.