We had just returned from a cruise on P & O's Oriana in search of the Northern Lights. This trip had been less than successful not least because when we did see the lights for a brief 15 minutes in Alta, I could not capture the event on my bridge camera.
We spotted a very good deal for a six night trip from Tromso to Kirkeness and back with Hurtigruten with free flights from Manchester to Tromso and two nights in the Radisson Blue in Tromso one at the start of the trip and one at the end.
We were determined to see the Northern Lights on this trip having been disappointed on the 11 night Oriana trip.
Having arrived in Tromso in mid afternoon we looked in a brochure in the hotel lobby to find possible trips in search of the Northern Lights.
A company offering exactly what we were looking for was located in an office immediately behind the hotel so we called in and booked the trip at 900 krona each about £95 so not cheap.
This was to be a five to six hour coach trip starting at 7.30 in the evening.
Before we set off the weather did not look encouraging. We started with a short talk in the office where nearly a full coach load of expectant customers listened to the guide. He explained what the evening was all about and told us we would drive around may be even up to the border looking for the Lights.He also mentioned the weather was not good and we might struggle to find or see the lights and any one wanting to cancel could have a full refund. It was overcast and threatening rain. When we got on the bus the guide again reiterated that we would be lucky to see anything given the weather and anybody who wanted to cancel could have a full refund. Such a contrast to the P & O trip which under much the same circumstances there was never any suggestion before or at the start of the trip that we could cancel and get a full refund.Very disappointing.
We got very lucky it has to be said as the clouds parted about twenty minutes in the the trip and the bus parked up and we all got off the bus and set up our cameras and started taking pictures. I had bought a new camera especially for this trip and was pleased that it worked well and I got some good shots.
The bus then moved on to a second location where we got some nice night pictures across a lake but did not see clear sky.
We then drive on for a good hour before the bus stopped at another location where again we had a good view across water to mountains and the lights of a small villages. This time after half an hour the clouds parted again and we got a glimpse of the Northern Lights amongst the stars. We had cocoa and biscuits and then set off back to Tromso, a two hour drive. The trip did exactly what it said on the tin and everyone arrive back at the hotel very satisfied.
We boarded the Richard Witt a Hurtigruten Ferry in the afternoon. This is not a cruise ship but definitely the best ferry we had ever been on. Forget cross channel ferry this Hurtigruten ship is in a whole different category.
The ship had started off in Bergen and Tromso was just one stop on a trip up to Kirkenes. Our cabin was small but comfortable for the three of us, two bottom beds and one pull down pullman. The bathroom was a good size. We had a half board basis which meant breakfast and an evening meal. Breakfast was a help yourself buffet. No sign of Noro Virus on this ship. The selection of food was quite good with eggs, not much bacon, the ubiquitous Norwegian meat balls and frankfurter style sausages plus lots of really nice bread, butter and margarine, cold meats and cheese.
The ship called in at several small ports on the way up to Kirkenes but also had to miss some out because of rough weather. We stopped at Hammerfest on the way north, in the middle of the night, which was covered in snow and looked quite magical but too much light to see the sky which was overcast in any case.
We had to miss out Havoysund before arriving at Honningsvag. We had been to Honningsvag a couple of years ago on a midnight sun trip on Grand Princess. Quite a contrast in the winter with thick snow everywhere. I bought a pair of ice spikes for my boots which made progress a lot easier for walking about. This was a three and a half hour stop which was rare because most port stops were only 15 minutes or 30 minutes so not really enough time to get off the ship and explore.
The evening meals were of a good standard but there was no choice so you had to eat it or leave it. Fortunately we found all meals were tasty and enjoyable although there was an accent on fish dishes which we do not eat that often. One night we had a fish based buffet with king crab and lobster tales as the star. We missed out on the lobster tales as we were late getting to our table and they had all gone. There were plenty of crabs legs but it was hard work getting the meat out. There was also an halibut stew which was really really good.
We got in to Kirkenes first thing in the morning and had three hours to explore. Quite a remote place and not particularly picturesque. We walked the mile in to town and then out again. A little disappointing compared to Honningsvag and Hammerfest.
One evening during diner the announcement came over the speakers that the Northern Lights were giving a show in the sky. So 90% of the diners left their tables and rushed outside to look and take photos.
We managed to get some good pictures even though the ship was moving along at about 15 knots. Even taking 4 to 8 second exposures produced a result and enhanced the green colour of the lights although stars ended up as squiggles but this did not spoil the pictures of the Northern Lights even showing a little of the curtain effect you sometimes get with the lights.
Boarding and leaving the ship was very straight forward. No security, no x-ray machines a very laid back attitude. This is Norway, so they seem to have a laid back attitude towards security. Nice for the passengers but is it too relaxed? Cruise card as usual for onboard spend and when leaving or returning to the ship.
Prices on board were sky high. A glass of red or white wine cost 82 kronas. A beer was about 72 kronas. The cheapest bottle of wine was about 40 kronas. They had a wine deal for the three nights at 1700 kronas. That's over £180 for three bottles of wine!
We had a glass of wine a couple of times but it certainly cuts down your alcoholic intake for a cruise. Having a bottle of wine with a meal is usually a given for us on a cruise. To be fare, alcohol is very expensive on shore in Norway as well.
We arrived back in Tromso at midnight and were off the ship really quickly with the luggage transferred to the hotel for us. Very efficient. We were in our room by midnight 30.
All in all a very good experience. Would we do it again. Yes, but with a major cruise line like P & O or Princess or even Cruise & Maritime.
Hurtigruten is a very good company and the Richard Witt is an excellent ship but she is not a cruise ship and prices on board are way too high even by cruise ship standards.