****17-day Grand Norway Vacation 4/21-5/7/09****
Fabulous!!!! The city visits were great. The train to Bergen wonderful. The scenery was spectacular every day all day.
The voyage is billed as "The Most Beautiful Voyage in the World" and it would be very difficult to take issue with that statement. Check out the book of that name published by Hurtigruten (ISBN 82-993154-3-1). It provides detailed maps and descriptions of the voyage. We bought it on board for about $20.
Four of us (2 couples) left Washington Dulles on 4/21/09 for an overnight flight to Frankfort with connection to Oslo from there. Our flight was delayed for over an hour at Dulles because of weather problems in the New York City airspace through which we were routed. We arrived in Frankfort about an hour late, but made our connection to Oslo.
Travel Note: When checking in we were given the opportunity to upgrade to Economy Plus on both of the United Airlines transatlantic flights and we upgraded. It made a tremendous difference. 4 to 5 inches more between seats is very significant!
Found the Flytoget train at the Oslo airport with no problems and took it to the Oslo Central Station. We used a cab to get to the Thon Stephon hotel. Because of fatigue we had dinner at the hotel. Everything is very expensive in Norway. A hamburger and beer cost about $25. Hotel was fine. Breakfast (included) at the hotel was fantastic. Free internet was available.
Because of limited ambulatory capabilities, we took the Oslo Highlights tour from H&M tours. It was $210 Kr ($30) with the Oslo pass. We enjoyed the tour very much. It was just enough for us. We walked through the Vigeland Sculpture Park, stopped at the site of the new ski lift construction and visited the Viking Museum. 3.5 hours total. We had lunch at an outside cafe right at the harbor. We took a trolley to get back to the hotel, but we didn't communicate well enough with the trolley operator and ended up far from our hotel so we took a cab back. We went to the Grand Cafe for dinner. Very nice, but very expensive - about $70pp. Note: the hostess at the Grand Cafe implied we had to check our jackets, but many other patrons didn't. I think we got hustled for the check fee!
Oslo to Bergen Train
The train ride was an absolutely wonderful ride with spectacular and varied scenery. The trip took about 5 hours. We were in a very comfortable car that included hot drinks. For some unknown reason, our companions were seated 6 cars back and didn't have the included drinks. We all booked together - strange.
We embarked on the MS Finnmarken from Bergen on 4/24/09 and returned to Bergen on 5/5/09.
The Finnmarken is a beautiful, well appointed, well maintained and clean ship.
There are lots of different places to hang out on decks 4, 7 and 8.
No wireless capabilities were available. The internet on board is excruciatingly slow and unreliable. It costs 60 NOK ($9.00+) for 60 minutes. You can not plug in a thumb drive, so you can't work off line and then connect and send emails in a blast format. You must compose and send while connected using your minutes. I was not able to get much done with 60 minutes. The connection bandwidth is only 256K and is actually slower since the bandwidth is shared.
There is free internet access in the library in Kirkenes. USB ports are available so you can prepare pictures and messages ahead of time.
At embarkation, we were issued ID cards (no picture taken). If you wish to use the ID card as an on-board credit card, you must activate the ID by having it linked to a credit card. This process could be done at the table where they sell wine upon boarding or you could do it later at the reception desk.
You must show your ID card when entering the dining room for all meals and for disembarking and re-embarking at each stop.
You must plug an ID card into a socket next to the cabin door to activate the electricity in the cabin. This becomes problematic if you want to charge camera batteries while you are dining or off the ship since each person needs their ID to dine or leave the ship.
The cabin outlets are 230V. There is one receptacle in the bathroom that can be switched from 230 to 115V for use with a razor or battery charger (Note: this receptacle only has power if the bathroom light is on!). However, I strongly recommend bringing a converter. The regular receptacles are round and accept a two prong plug, each prong being a cylinder with rounded tip (normal European receptacles I presume).
Note: See ID cards above. You can, upon request, obtain a special "electricity card" that you can substitute for you ID card to activate the electricity in your cabin. This will allow you to charge batteries etc. while you are at the restaurant or off the boat.
Food and drink:
As has been reported elsewhere on CC, breakfast and lunch are served buffet style with about a 2.5 hour window for each. Dinner is served and there may be more than one seating depending on the number of passengers aboard. Meat and fish alternate as the entrEe for dinner. The buffets are clearly European in style and content. There was lots of cold meats and fish available for breakfast and heavy soups and hot entrees for lunch. We had no complaints.
The water program, described in earlier discussions of Hurtigruten cruises, has been discontinued. You can buy a bottle of water for 19 NOK (approx $2.85), but our group found the tap water very good. They also have flavored water for a higher price.
We bought a couple of bottles of water from the snack bar so we would have water in the room and take on excursions and then refilled from the tap as needed.
You have to ask to get your water glass refilled at all meals. The staff is always busy so you have to get their attention and ask. They are always very nice about it. You can get your own at breakfast and lunch, but it would be awkward to do so at dinner since it is a served meal.
Expensive! Aproximately $5 for a .6 liter bottle of Pepsi Max (local version of Diet Pepsi).
Expensive: A .6 liter draft beer cost approximately $10! We did not buy any wine, but many did and I assume it is proportionately expensive.
We were pleasantly surprised with the amount of space in the "regular" cabins (deck 3). There are two closets, each with two hang bars running front to back as opposed to the more common left to right (or visa versa depending on your preferences). Each hanging bar will hold 5 or six garments. Ample hangers were provided in our cabin. Lots of shelf space behind doors and lots of open shelf space too.
When the two bunks are in the down position for sleeping, there is still about 2 feet of aisle space between the bunks. This was much more than we had visualized from looking at the pictures on the Hurtigruten web site. A convenient shelf serves as a night stand and holds the phone. The beds were comfortable. Each bed has a duvet and there are two extra blankets in the closet.
A large niche under a shelf provided enough room for our large 29" suitcase within which were placed one of our carry-on bags. Our other carry-on slipped in on top, so we got 3 bags into the space. Great!
DW and I agree that this cabin provides more room then the standard cabins we've enjoyed on HAL. Of course, there is not an option to have the beds together.
Side Trips (Excursions):
Geiranger Fjord to Alesund-
Not to be missed! We lucked out with beautiful weather. It was a real hoot to see your ship sail away without you. Of course, as we reached the top of the hill for our view of Alesund, there was the Finnmarken sailing back into Alesund! Absolutely phenomenal scenery throughout the bus trip from Geiranger to Alesund. We also stopped at a soft ice cream stand for the best soft ice cream I've ever had.
Also not to be missed! Again, we were treated to crystal clear skies. According to the guide, they only get about 15 such days each year! The scenary from Honningsvag to the cape is gorgeous all the way. On the way back, we stopped at a Sami home and souvenir stand. The bus broke down, but the ship waited for us while a new bus was dispatched. Got to know the guide real well. Gregor was wonderful.
This excursion because the hotel melted!!!
We boarded busses in Svolvaer for this side trip. The weather was not quite as good for this excursion, but we still enjoyed it thoroughly. We visited a lovely fishing village with a very nice art gallery/gift shop. We saw a 15-minute slide show of Lofoten scenery through the 4 seasons. The scenery for the rest of the bus trip to meet our ship in Stamsund was varied and wonderful.
We added this trip when we found out the Ice Hotel was not available. It was a good decision. We boarded busses in Kristiansund, drove through the city, got on a ferry to cross the major fjord into Kristiansund. There is an overland route to where we went, but it would have taken longer. We stopped at a beautiful old stave church for a guided tour. After touring through some spectacular valleys we arrive at a restaurant for a traditional dinner of baccalao, made from the dried cod fish we had seen in many places. It was good, but we don't think we will be searching it out in local restaurants. After dinner, we traveled over the bridges of the Atlantic Road stopping for pictures at one pull-off. The rest of the trip was through gorgeous countryside to Molde where we rejoined the ship.
For pictures, visit: picasaweb.google.com/rehildenbrand