The world’s most beautiful voyage is how the Hurtigruten cruise line bills the coastal voyage from Bergen to Kirkenes. They are so right! We were on the Midnatsol the same time as karoggra who posted a review titled, Best scenic cruise in the world. The voyage is rarely on open sea so you have scenery on both sides of the ship most of the trip.
My husband and I were traveling on a tour arranged by travel agency so we had a pickup from our hotel to the dock. We arrived about 6 p.m. after an all day Norway in a Nutshell® tour. Check-in took seconds and we boarded with our carry-on bags. The cabin cards were handed to us as we entered the covered walkway to deck 6. The deck 6 entrance is only used at Bergen. Our bags were waiting at the entrance to our cabin. Since we were doing a round-trip and started at the home port, baggage handling was done by the ship crew.
Ship: We had an starboard outside cabin on deck 4. It was 2 cabins away from the atrium where the elevators are located. All the traffic on and off the ship on the voyage takes place on deck 4 by the elevators so it was very handy. The ship has its own gangway which opens up on the side of the side. Stand on deck 5 and watch the gangway open sometime. It is very interesting.
There are two other openings in the side of the ship further down for cargo and cars. The ship doesn’t have to rely on port gangways which take time. The ship is very efficient getting in and out of ports. Some stops were for only 15 minutes. I learned how they did that visiting the bridge.
The cargo hold is designed for pallets so the forklift trucks would be whipping around on the dock unloading or loading. At Stamsund, we had over an hour stay so while we were out walking around the village, the forklift operators were unloading mattresses and building supplies.
There is another elevator near the back of the ship serving decks 4 - 8. It is handy for those in the stern of the ship. Public restrooms are available near the dining room on deck 5 and near the main elevators on deck 5 and 8. There is a conference area on deck 5 which is used for presentations or conferences. It is not an entertainment venue. We did have three slide presentations on the ship: The Royal Family, National Day and National Costumes. We are onboard for National Day, May 17. There was a parade around deck 9 with flags, banners, and national costumes.
Cabin: Our cabin was very functional. We had a cabin with one twin bed under the window and one perpendicular to it. The bed under the window made into a sofa during the day. The beds are hard but still comfortable. The covers are duvets with a quilted liner. It was too hot for me so I just used the sheet. There was one extra pillow in the room and we asked for another. There are two wool blankets to use on the outside decks. Yes, we needed the blanket when lounging topside some days.
You receive one bath towel and one hand towel to start. If you want a clean towel, leave it on the floor. There are no washcloths. I bought a few with me. There is a mounted container of hand soap/shampoo by the sink and in the shower area. To save room packing, I used Twitter @HurtigrutenASA to find out that there was a dryer in the bathroom. There is.
The cabin has desk area with small mirrored cubbies on either size of the big mirror. There is a plug by the mirror which we used to charge the camera batteries and iPad. You will need a converter and adapter for the European style plug.
The hanging closet had two sections (his and hers) with 5 hangers in each section. The clothes hang front to back rather than side by side. There were two sections of shelving in the main closet and two more big shelves by the desk. The suitcases fit under the bed.
The bathroom was very functional and I liked it better than some of the US market ships I have been on. There is a step up to the bathroom. There is a small step down to the shower. It is designed to have an angle to allow more room. The curtain is long enough to keep the water in the shower area. The shower head can be kept mounted on the pole or used as a hand-held. There is a retractable clothes line. The floor can be heated with the switch on the wall outside the bathroom. There is a big wall cabinet with shelves for all your toiletries. I still had space in it after stowing everything. There is a towel bar by the sink with wall mounted cup holders.
I found out that the inside cabins do have TV as well as the suites. No TV in the outside cabins. It was not missed. The telephone has some radio stations that you can listen to.
There are 4 washing machines on deck 4 close to the rear elevator. You purchase a token from reception and they give you the soap. The dryer is free. There are posted instructions in English. The machines are labelled in Norwegian. We did two loads for about $10.
What to do: If you take the round trip cruise you will receive a 130-page book with colored photos and an explanation of what you will see broken down by days. It is a great resource to read about what you are seeing along the way. The Tour Director does make announcements as described in three languages, English is always the second one. She gave us a heads up to what scenic wonder was coming our way so we could get to observation lounges or the correct side of the ship. You can turn off the announcements on the phone in your cabin.
As mentioned, there are many lounges without any waiters to bother you about drinks. If you want a drink, you go to the bar and get it yourself. There was a tray for self-busing of cups and glasses in most lounges.
We liked the forward lounges on deck 8 and 9 and the library on deck 8. The library has games and some English language books left by passengers. The deck 8 and 9 lounges have windows on three sides so you had a great view of the scenery. Deck 9 lounge is actually open to deck 8 lounge. It does get a little warm up there so we preferred deck 8.
Deck 9 had three major sections, the inside lounge, the outside deck with glass walls to protect from the wind and the back deck. We liked to lounge in the back. The chairs are not loungers so if you want to put your feet up, use another chair.
There are many teak round tables and matching chairs near the doorway on deck 9. The smokers were usually in this area.
Food: I was more impressed with the food than other reviewers. The food presentation at dinner was very impressive. Two chef teams took over the buffet area (in the center of the room) to dish up the food. One did the sauce, one plated the entree and sides and another added the garnishes. We received a booklet with the menus for the trip so we knew what night we would have the reindeer or the salmon. I am not a great fish eater but I did enjoy the meals.
Granted the breakfast and lunch buffets didn’t vary much but they had a different hot breakfast item daily and hot lunch items. I discovered the hot oatmeal and added dried fruit and granola stuff to it. There was soft and hardboiled eggs very morning. I liked the whole grain breads. They did have a breakfast pasty item each day. They had a 6-slice toaster if you wanted toast. We learned to grab juice and water from the machine and stake out a table for the open seating breakfast. Than we headed to the buffet to stock up. Keep in mind the buffet is designed for the European market so expect cheese and cold cuts on the breakfast menu. Where else can you have cottage cheese and herring for breakfast. My husband was delighted with the 4-5 cheese selections at breakfast and lunch. He reports that they were mostly soft, all delicious, but no cheddar.
You won’t find tacos, pizza, or hamburgers on the menu. If you want french fries, go to the snack bar and pay for them. The soups were excellent. I like smooth cream soups and these were excellent. Who knew asparagus soup could taste so good. The desserts were good and don't miss out on the slab ice cream at lunch. I didn’t discover that until day 4!
Coffee: The coffee came out of one of the machines where you press a button and you get a cup of coffee. It is strong! I would have a cup with breakfast and than take another cup out to the lounge. Coffee was not provided at the table for dinner. The coffee machine is located on deck 8 by the bar. After dinner you go for coffee. If you want coffee between meals, you pay 25 KOR ($3.85) for a cup. They do have a coffee plan which is good for an entire year! You pay 209 KOR ($32.20 at this time) for a red metal lined mug which allows you to get coffee or tea for the trip. If you were a commuter and traveled frequently, it would be a good deal. We opted not to do that and were fine with the free coffee after meals.
Water: Although there are signs on the dining room table for purified water for 19 KOR, we found out that you just ask for tap water and they bring a carafe of water (no ice) to the table. They do that at lunch and dinner. I brought my own water bottle with me which I refilled from the bathroom sink. The water is nice and cold and tastes like bottled water.
Tours: We went on the following excursions: (Northbound) Trondheim Folk Museum, Tromsø City Tour (Polaria and Arctic Cathedral), and (Southbound) Tromsø Midnight Concert [the ship arrives at 11:45 p.m.], Lofoten Islands countryside tour, Trondheim City Tour (includes Nidaros Cathedral). We might have gone on more tours but they are not cheap. My husband says, the Folk Museum could have been skipped.
I did the Bridge Tour to see the Captain and the Bridge on day 11. I found it very interesting and worthwhile. That is posted in the daily program.
Shopping: The gift shop on board has a very nice selection of Norwegian products. We ended up doing most of our souvenir shopping on board. There is a nice gift shop at the Polar Bear Club in Hammerfest right by the dock. By the way the public library is across the street and has free wi-fi. There is a nice gift shop and ice bar in Honningsvåg close to the dock.
Internet Access: There are 4 computers on deck 8 by the library. There is a 40 KOR ($6.22) charge per hour of use. I used my iPad and iTouch with the wireless that is available in the public areas. It is satellite so the reception is dependent upon a good signal so don’t expect much when in the fjords or when there are mountain ranges on both sides of the ship. The mountains do impact reception. Deck 8 or 9 is the best. There is no coverage in the cabins and deck 5 is not as strong as deck 8. Thanks to the purser who helped me get the wi-fi started on my new iPad.
Staff: The staff are great. All are Norwegian and most switch effortlessly from Norwegian to English to German. The staff work 22 days on and then 22 days off including the captain. We did see some new faces over the course of the cruise. There is not a culture of tipping so we didn’t have to worry about an add on for tips like most cruises. There is a big wooden bowl by the head waiter’s desk at the entrance to the dining room. There is a small sign that it is for TIPS with Thank You in several languages. We left the rest of our Norwegian money in the tip bowl.
The staff are helpful, have a ready smile, are efficient but are not fawning. Since the Hurtigruten line does ferry and cargo service besides us tourists, they have some systems that are not the same as a regular cruise line. What you won’t see: no towel animals, no nightly program in your room, (pick it up in the announcement area on deck 8), no turn down service, no free between meal snacks, no singers and dancers (singer and keyboard in the lounge deck 8 in the evening), and no rah rah cruise director. What you will find is a comfortable trip in the midst of spectacular scenery with plenty of time to relax and read or look out the window.
As Americans, we were in the minority. The prominent groups were Norwegian and German. The weather was good for most of the trip. The last few days were overcast with clouds hiding the mountain tops. We had clear skies for a good part of the trip and enjoyed the midnight sun.