Richard With Cruise Review by N. Didicher: Not your Average Cruise!
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Not your Average Cruise!
My mother and I did the Northbound trip from Bergen to Kirkenes with Hurtigruten in the second week of May. We had a great time overall, and I would definitely recommend it to others. That said, if you're looking for a cruise ship with racquetball courts or bingo or organized community-building activities, then Hurtigruten is not for you. This is a cruise for people who love great scenery, like to organize their own activities for the most part, and don't want or need a lot of pampering. Since we're that type of person, we both loved it.
Our ship was the MS Richard With (pronounced Rickard Veet), and our cabin was on the stern side of deck 5, which is the promenade deck. We had asked for an outside double cabin on the side away from the car/freight loading bay (to avoid noise during night dockings, thanks to another reviewer on this site) and one deck away from the promenade. However, being on the promenade deck wasn't too bad; the windows are fairly reflective, so people More can't see in unless they stop and get close to look, which didn't happen, and the noise level was acceptable—and being on deck 5 made it easier for my mother to get outside to smoke. The ship works on bow thrusters, so there's less engine noise near the stern. We asked ahead for a shower stool for my mother, which we received, and special meals because one of us has an allergy and the other is diabetic. They did all right with the food requirements, though better at dinner for the allergy than with the buffet during the day, which I didn't get much help with. The food was largely Norwegian specialties (lots of fish/seafood and potatoes), and was very good. I especially enjoyed the breakfast buffet.
We took advantage of three of the shore excursions during the five main days of our trip (they advertise it as a week, but the first day is just the evening and the last day you leave the ship in the morning and have to be out of your cabin by 8 a.m.). The Hurtigruten website was somewhat misleading about the excursions, offering a 10% discount if you booked three or more excursions in advance. When I booked three I was told that the policy was to give a 10% discount on every excursion AFTER the third, so I wouldn't get any reduction in price. That annoyed me. We eventually decided to book a fourth excursion from the set listed as available during early May, and then were told that it wasn't actually available until June, another mistake on the website. Do talk to their people at the toll free number and hash out the details before you book.
Of the excursions we took, I would recommend two of the three. The Geirangerfjord is indeed one of the most beautiful places on earth. We saw it from the water on our way in on the big ship, and the excursion gave you good views from land (after a very brief ferry to the dock). My regret is that we didn't get to see the famous Seven Sisters waterfall from the water because we were lined up below decks for the excursion, but we did get to see it from above later on, some distance away. The bus trip takes you up and down some scary mountain roads, plus a ferry ride across another fjord, and our tour guide was informative and easy to understand (there were different buses for people who spoke German, English, and French). You meet the ship back in Ålesund a few hours later.
The other excursion we especially enjoyed was the birdwatching safari. In May, nesting season is going on for puffins, kittiwakes, gannets, shags and razorbills, and some others I've forgotten (my mother is the birder). To get to the bird islands, which are above the Arctic Circle, you take a bus across a mountainous and arctic island—we saw some reindeer from the road, and a sea eagle—and then a small boat. They'll offer you arctic suits, but if your clothing is warm and wind-tight you won't need them. Although there's a small cabin on the boat, almost everyone stayed outside, standing against the railings, to see the birds.
The excursion we were disappointed by was the Svartisen Glacier one. We transferred to a smaller boat (this one with inside seating) to make our way up a shallower fjord, and then there was either a 5-minute bus ride or a 15-minute walk to a restaurant with a view of the glacier. You don't come nearer to the ice than seeing it from across a lake. The landscape was interesting and enjoyable, but it's not really a glacier excursion. On the way back to the big ship we stopped in a fishing village with some old abandoned buildings from the eighteenth century and some uninspiring ones from the mid-twentieth.
There are times during the trip when the ship is docked for longer than an hour, and when you can leave to explore the town (signing out and in with your room key card). We did so in Trondheim and Tromsø, and were glad we did. You should be aware, though, that most stores and some museums in Norway will be closed on Sundays and Mondays, and plan accordingly.
We did our trip just at the beginning of Arctic summer, and therefore of the midnight sun. The curtains on the window in our cabin had good backing and I brought a sleep mask to keep light out while sleeping, and that worked pretty well. We went through the narrow and exciting Trollfjord in the late evening, and the dusky light made it very mysterious and splendid-looking.
We had also used Hurtigruten to book hotels in Oslo and Bergen, so we could do sightseeing days in both those cities, one before and one after the cruise. It was slightly more expensive than searching for hotels in good locations ourselves, but worth it for the time and effort saved. And we had them book us both the plane tickets from Kirkenes to Oslo and train tickets from Oslo to Bergen. All the arrangements worked out smoothly. I strongly recommend doing the train trip as opposed to flying to Bergen; it's very scenic, as it moves from gentle farmland up to a mountain plateau still buried in snow in May, then back down to the coast. Overall, a grand experience! Less
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