My husband and I have never taken a cruise because we have no interest in being on a huge ship with thousands of people, Vegas-type floor shows, all-you-can-eat Midnight Buffets, large numbers of partying, art auctions and dressing for dinner. I gave up booking a coastal Norway 'cruise' years ago because I could not find any which did not include these things. Then I came upon the Hurtigruten website, which goes to great lengths to explain it is NOT a 'cruise', but a coastal VOYAGE on a WORKING ship. Anyone considering a Hurtigruten trip needs to read up on what their trips are and understand the BIG difference. Their website goes to great lengths to educate people on what to expect, so do your homework and make sure its what you want.
We booked the northbound 7 day journey from Bergen to Kirkenes, and in seven days it stopped at about 35 ports at all hours of the day and night. Some of these stops are a few minutes, some a few hours, and ran the gamut from large cities to More
tiny fishing villages. A variety of excursions are available at some stops but not all---most of the longer ones involve disembarking at one port and meeting the ship at another.
The public areas of the ships allow for great scenery-watching in a variety of lounges with comfy chairs and sofas. There are about 3 large screen tvs throughout the lounge areas and all of them were crowded during the World Cup games. The dining room included large windows which also allowed great views during meals. There is a library and small childrens' playroom on board.
The ship's outdoor pool and jaccuzzi were extremely popular, as was the indoor sauna! The water was more than warm enough and at the back of the ship, they're protected from the wind.
There is wi-fi onboard (free) but it is spotty and does not include bandwith for doing anything other than emailing, browsing, etc. (Forget uploading all your photos!) The Wi-Fi virtually disappeared north of Tromso which really is NO surprise that far north.
Food: We booked full-board but its expensive so think carefully about adding this if your budget is strained---NOTHING is inexpensive in Norway but you could certainly take your own breakfast foods onboard if you stocked up before boarding and when in certain ports (we enjoyed the grocery store in Trondheim in particular!) In addition, if you took a voltage converter and a hot pot, you could make instant soup, ramen noodles and tea/coffee. Ice is available in any of the bars and they also gave us the bag to put it in---not every cabin has an ice bucket but you could certainly use the sink. We had NO problem drinking the tap water on the boat and it was fine. The food in the cafe (open 24 hrs) was good and included salads, sandwiches, pastries made onboard (quite good!) and pizzas. A 12" x 9" ham and veg pizza was about $10, and bottled sodas about about $5 (USD) Our full board included breakfast, TONS of protein (bacon/sausages/scrambled and soft or hard-boiled eggs, various cereals including hot oatmeal/porridge, cold meats and cheeses and TONS of pickled herring and salmon), with a small bit of fresh fruit and veg. Various types of breads, ALL of them excellent, especially toasted. Their jellies/jams and marmalades were heavenly! Also included were coffee/tea and apple or orange juice. Lunch was usually a mostly-cold typical Norwegian buffet, again with tons of seafood, cold meats/cheeses and salads, with usually about half a dozen hot dishes. We enjoyed lunch the most since we're not seafood lovers. Dinners included local ingredients and the night's menu was placed on the table at breakfast so you knew what to expect. Again, mostly seafood but we simply told the dining room manager that we wanted no seafood and were served venision, etracote (steak) and lamb instead. There was always a soup of the day at both lunch and dinner. These were very well-prepared and we enjoyed them. The night before we docked at Kirkenes there was a HUGE seafood buffet with King Crab, Mussels and every kind of fish. And just ONE sitting instead of the usual two so the lines were longer. There was plenty to eat including ham and turkey so we had no problem finding enough things we liked. They also included several SPECIFICALLY gluten free and vegetarian items at every meal.
If you're including dinner in your booking, you should think about whether you want first seating (about 6 or 6:30) or second (about 8 or 8:30). If you don't specifically ask for either the early or late seating, one will be assigned to you at check-in. if you're doing excursions you will want the later seating, although they keep track and know if you're getting back late you'll be at the second seating. Include any meal preferences in your original booking and check with the dining room hostess on your first day to make sure its been recorded. And check at breakfast what the dinner entree will be, and if its not to your liking, tell the dining room hostess.
Now about the water/beverage/wine 'packages': This is a source of contention with a majority of reviewers on any number of travel websites. At lunch and dinner the dining room will not serve you tap water, nor can you bring in beverages not bought on ship (including soft drinks) We learned that you take your mug (if you bought one or it came with your cabin as ours did) to lunch and dinner and perhaps you walked in with it empty or already filled with something else. Ditto a water bottle you previous bought on the ship (and had previously emptied) We talked to other people who bought a few bottles of soft drinks on board, drank them, bought other softdrinks on shore and simply refilled the ship's bottles and took them to meals. We aren't huge wine-drinkers so we sampled no wines onboard. There were two kinds of beer sold in the bar/cafe, and they were about $15 for a 20 oz. glass, both Norwegian brands.
Other random issues:
Probably 90% of the ship's passengers were German---and about 99% of the passengers were over 55---only a few small kids. The Finnmarken has about 250 cabins and had consistently around 500 passengers all week during our voyage. Various day-trippers and locals going from point A to B. Lots of observation areas including several lounges with large-screen TVs. Keep in mind in you have a small cabin, which most passengers do, you're going to be hanging out in one of these areas to best view the scenery. Some of these people literally camp out ALL DAY right by the windows and only move for meals---but they leave coats and jackets on the chairs when they're gone. This can be frustrating if the ship is full and you'd like to sit by a window.
The ship is seemingly obsessed with hand sanitizer. That includes requiring you to use it when you arrive for meals and placing it right by the gangway when you disembark and board. It might seem like a pain but to my knowledge they have not had the epidemic of the Norovirus like other cruise lines.
If you go in summer (June/July in particular), there are almost 24 hours of daylight---the cabins include black out shades but light still comes in around them, so consider taking nightime eye shades. There are people on deck at ALL hours of the night because of this, but they are mostly watching scenery, taking photos etc., and none of them were loud of obnoxious.
Regarding laundry, they had about 5 washers and 5 dryers which automatically dispense soap----free to use but read the directions on the wall first because they're very different from US machines. Two ironing boards with irons as well. Was great to pack only a carry-on and do laundry twice in our time onboard!
Items you MUST take: Binoculars, sunscreen, moisturizer (the climate is VERY dry), earplugs (if you're a light sleeper), voltage adaptor, camera, clothes for every season including a medium-weight jacket (yes even in summer!), things you can LAYER make the most sense, but I'd recommend a hat and gloves all year! A rain poncho and as previously discussed, possibly a hot pot. There's also a detailed guide with all sorts of info about the various stops and scenery which you can buy onboard---its expensive so I'd try and find one of Ebay first. There were storage rooms for luggage and elevators going to all decks.
The dining room staff was young and almost all spoke EXCELLENT English--many of them sounded American---all announcements are made in Norwegian, German and English, and handouts are printed in the same way. Excursions are handled in the same manner. The entire ship was spotless and the exterior windows were washed daily.
Because Hurtigruten's vessels are significantly smaller than almost all other cruise ships, they go into places which the larger ships' passengers never see. The midnight sail into the tiny Trollfjord was outstanding and worth staying up for---a real classic case of a very competent captain 'strutting his stuff' and everyone loved it.
Bottom line: Hurtigruten voyages are not 'cheap', and the ship is not luxurious by any means---if you need to be entertained by more than comfortable accomodations, adequate food, jaw-dropping scenery, interesting excursions and perhaps a book, YOU NEED TO BOOK ON A NORMAL CRUISE LINE.
Some of the excursions were outstanding, specifically Geiranger Fjord/Trollstigen Pass, Nidaros Cathedral in Trondheim, Lofotr Viking Feast, the Bird-watching Safari in Gjesvær (where we saw hundreds of Puffins, Kitiwakes, Sea and White-tailed Eagles and other birds as well as seals) We really loved the "Taste of Lapland" excursion with the Sami couple where we learned of their culture and got to pet their reindeer. Less
Because of the numerous stops these ships make at all hours, its IMPERATIVE that you research the cabin choices thoroughly and if needed, talk to one of their customer service reps BEFORE you book. I saved an extra year so we could book one of the Grand Suites on the Finnmarken, specifically cabin number 604, and we were delighted with our choice. It offered a private balcony on the starboard side so we could view the coast on the trip north--it also offered a windowed windbreak/wall on the balcony towards the front of the ship as well as 4 other windows on the inside with views of the bow. This meant we could sit outside on the teak deck chairs (with a small table) and enjoy the endlessly-beautiful views without having the considerable wind in our faces. A cabin on this deck also ensures there are no people walking directly outside your cabin on deck. Its also on the side AWAY from the cargo doors so you don't any of the noise associated with loading and unloading. Our cabin included TONS of storage, a desk with a makeup mirror and lighting, numerous electic outlets, a small fridge, a hot pot and tea/coffee, and a fruit bowl and chilled sparkling wine when we checked in. It also includes 2 mugs for their 24 hour coffee/tea in the cafe, which is an additional charge in many cabins. The bed was something between a queen and king size, very comfortable, with good linens (although don't expect 800 ct. Egyptian cotton like a 5 star hotel) Acceptable towels (again, not 5 star quality but more than adequate, and changed daily if you wish) No washcloths, like most European hotels. Probably a 27 inch TV with decent channel selection including a real-time map showing the ship's current location. Programming including the BBC News, and UK/US shows. Bathroom had a jacuzzi tub which we could not get to work but it wasn't a big deal since we prefer showers. The shower was part of the tub enclosure and had excellent water pressure and more than enough hot water on demand. Twin sinks and huge storage cupboards as well, and good soap/shampoo/conditioner and lotion. Radiant floor heating was a very nice touch and the cabin's a/c and heat worked perfectly---we used both in June!Our daughter's cabin, number 625 (J Class) was much smaller and included a single porthole partially blocked by a lifeboat---not a problem for her as she spent most of her time in our cabin with us. Hers also included a 'wet' shower with a curtain, again not a problem but perhaps for some. She had no fridge or tub but it was fine for a single person. I think that it would be an issue for 2 people in a room that small since it included a top folding bunk and the bottom bed she slept in. A few days we did notice a fish-smell on desk 3 when we did laundry in the ship's laundry room.