OnboardHurtigruten ships are truly casual. There are no dress-up nights, no Captain's Gala. Service is exemplary without being demonstrative or attention seeking. For the most part, there is a "non-tipping" policy. If you want to tip a crewmember, it's totally up to you. The exceptions are the Greenland and Antarctica programs, where the line recommends 50 kroner per person, per day -- $8 or $9 depending on the exchange rate -- but it's still at your discretion.
There is also no entertainment, and dining takes a far less prominent place in the scheme of things than on traditional cruise liners. The two-seating set dinner menus generally offer three courses with no other selections -- everyone on a given evening will have the same appetizer, entree and dessert. There is a 24-hour cafe, but it is not a free amenity. Passengers must pay for their meals there. Liquor prices are high, but the line allows guests to bring their own alcohol onboard for consumption in cabins.
About HurtigrutenHurtigruten (meaning "fast route" in Norwegian) began life in 1893. Until 2007, the line was known as Norwegian Coastal Voyage. Then, as now, the line served the isolated towns and villages sprinkled throughout the shoreline and fjords of Norway's western seacoast between Bergen on the south and Kirkenes, about 240 miles above the Arctic Circle. Known fondly as the coastal steamers or the mail boats, these vessels provided a vital lifeline to areas isolated from other forms of transportation.
With the passage of time, extra services have been offered and additional markets tapped. A Hurtigruten cruise is likely to include a mix of traditional cruisers, along with passengers traveling point to point along the coast, and some ferrying their cars as well. The couple sitting next to you at lunch may be booked in a luxury suite, or may be aboard so short a time they didn't book a cabin at all. And the ships still carry freight (but not mail), so a voyage on this line is comprised of a handful of extended port calls interspersed with several shorter stops each day, many just long enough to load and offload cargo.
Over the years, Hurtigruten has kept the number of ships in its fleet relatively stable, constantly modernizing both amenities and technology with each new-build, retiring an older, smaller, less sophisticated ship for new ones brought online. In this way the company has hit on a formula that fosters growth and modernization without outstripping the demand for berths.
Hurtigruten has also expanded the span of its cruising region to include, along with its signature fjord and coastal trips, expedition cruising to Spitsbergen, Greenland, Antarctica and the Chilean Fjords.
Though comfortable and, in the case of the most recent builds, stylish, these ships lack many of the trappings emblematic of cruising: casinos, organized activities, entertainment, etc. In Hurtigruten's own words, on their voyages Mother Nature provides the entertainment, and interaction with fellow travelers and spectacular scenery is the main draw.
Hurtigruten FleetHurtigruten's fleet includes 13 ships, broken down into five different classes or categories.
The newest ships plying the Norwegian coast are the three "Millennium Class:" MS Midnatsol, MS Finnmarken and MS Trollfjord. These ships, the largest in the fleet, were built between 2002 and 2003, measure 15,000 tons, and carry over 650 passengers. They boast Internet cafes, 24-hour cafeterias, suites (including some with balconies), Jacuzzis, swimming pools, and advanced propulsion systems.
Six "Contemporary Ships," MS Nordnorge, MS Polarlys, MS Nordkapp, MS Nordlys, MS Richard With, and MS Kong Harald, were built between 1993 and 1997. They range from 11,200 to 12,000 tons and carry from 464 to 490 passengers.
One "Mid-Generation Ship," MS Vesteralen, dates from the early 1980's. The ship carries a handful over 300 passengers and measures about 6,250 tons. It was refurbished in 1995.
The oldest ships in the fleet are two "Traditional Ships," the 2,621-ton, 171-passenger MS Lofoten, built in 1964 and refurbished in 2003; and the 2,568-ton, 164-passenger MS Nordstjernen, built in 1956 and refurbished in 2000. Most cabins have upper/lower berths. About half have private facilities.
In 2007, the line introduced a deluxe, new "Expedition Ship," the 12,700-ton, 318-passenger MS Fram, built for exploring Greenland and sailing lengthy pole-to-pole voyagers. Fram is for soft adventure fans and carry small landing craft that enable passengers to visit remote locations.
Fellow PassengersAmericans form a minority (about 10 percent) of the passengers, and those who find the line attractive are usually well-traveled and sophisticated, and yet unpretentious individuals who are comfortable among Europeans. They tend to be independent sorts who like to take control of their own vacation experiences, and are perfectly content simply enjoying the passage of spectacular scenery and picturesque communities.
The average age of the typical passenger is toward the high end of the spectrum, and families are few and far between. However, one of the charms of these voyages is that the complexion of the passenger load often changes literally from hour to hour as the portion made up of point-to-point travelers can shift in age radically between the many and varied port calls.
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