We booked this cruise in the heat of August, and as the date approached and we experienced record cold and snow in the Washington, DC, area, we asked ourselves, "Are we crazy?"
We flew to Bergen on February 27th, and stayed in a hotel there for two nights, touring the city, and Troldhaugen, Edvard Grieg's summer home, studio, and museum. We boarded the Richard With two days later, and set sail for the north coast of Norway, then eastward to the Russian border. Along the way we stopped at 34 ports, day and night. Then we turned around and sailed back to Bergen, stopping at the same 34 ports; those visited at night northbound were daytime stops southbound, and vice-versa.
I must add here that we booked our trip through a Boston travel company, which provided air arrangements, the hotel stay in Bergen before and after the cruise, and a program manager/guide, who traveled with the 47 of us, presented a daily one-hour lecture on ports visited, Norwegian and Scandinavian history, politics, and geography, led optional walks in nearly every port, and attended to all our needs. We also had five Hurtigruten shore excursions included in the price.
The ship is a working ferry, carrying cargo and cars from port to port, and day passengers as well. So it is not your typical cruise ship.
We reserved a mini-suite, category Q. There are eight such mini-suites, plus two suites. All other accommodations are smallish cabins with two bunk beds - one is a couch that folds into a bed, the other is attached to the wall, and is pulled down to sleep on. When both are in the sleep position, there is about 18" between them, and not much more space. All bathrooms are identical - small, but with separate showers. There are 490 berths in all, with the capacity for an additional 200 day passengers, who can be found sleeping overnight in lounges or other public areas.
Our mini-suite was adequate, a sitting area, and a typical cruise ship double bed, a dressing table, closets, and other storage. Benefits of paying extra for the suite included a mini-bar (we used the refrigerator for fresh fruit and beer that we bought ashore), TV set, champagne on boarding, a fruit basket which was refilled twice, a tour of the bridge (normally NK80) and a drink afterward, and membership in the coffee club. Unlike typical cruse ships, meals are buffet breakfast and lunch, and fixed served dinners. Any food in between mealtimes, including coffee, is available only in the cafeteria, and at a price. Having the coffee club membership allowed us to fill our coffee cups anytime, 24 hours, in the cafeteria, which is usually used by the day passengers. The other perk of having a suite allowed us to stay in our cabin on disembarkation day until the ship docked around 2:30PM; all other passengers had to vacate their cabins at 10:00AM.
Speaking of food, it is plentiful, but not especially gourmet fare. The breakfast and lunch buffets have huge selections of cold meats, smoked fish, three kinds of herring, cheeses, and pate. There are several selections of hot foods, including mutton and cabbage, cod tongue, reindeer stew, and more conventional choices such as turkey cutlets, pork, and fish, both sauteed and sauced. There is also a daily soup at lunch. Dinners are three courses, no choices. One night might be a soup, fish with potatoes and vegetable, and dessert; another night might be seared scallop appetizer, lamb chops, dessert. All soups and most entrees were barely warm, all entrees were over-salted and over-sauced. Desserts were just OK. Service was attentive, but not solicitous.
The scenery is the star of this voyage and it was breathtaking! Sailing in the fjords is like nothing I've seen before. Small villages all along the water, with mountains rising behind them. Snow cover everywhere.
We encountered an Arctic storm in the Barents Sea, which rocked and rolled the ship for the better part of two days. Walking around was an adventure, and several people suffered from some degree of seasickness. Fortunately, (or unfortunately for our waistlines) my wife and I did not miss a meal. For the most part, though, the journey was quite smooth.
Embarking and Disembarking at the various ports was easy - the built-in retractable gangplank made an easy walk ashore, and for security one only had to scan his key card on or off.
While the ship is a working cargo ship/ferry, the public spaces are lovely - three lounges, a large outside space, a promenade deck which encircled the entire ship, a library, and an arcade made plenty of room for socializing, reading, playing games, or just watching the scenery. There are also two hot tubs, a small exercise room, and a sauna.