All meals take place in the Imaq restaurant at the rear of the ship on Deck 4. (Imaq means "sea" in the Inuit language.) The name is fitting, as picture windows line three sides of the bi-level room, offering sweeping sea views, especially when you're facing aft. Seating is at rectangular tables for four and round ones for six or eight.
Breakfast and lunch are open-seating buffets. The serving area is located in the center of the room in a square formation. It is seldom crowded, perhaps because meals are spread out over two hours or more. Or, it could be that there are no trays. You keep returning to the buffet course after course, so you're just filling one plate at a time. It's totally self-service. We even saw passengers scraping their own plates, though that's the job of the Filipino wait staff.
Breakfast consists of the usual cereal and eggs, plus the more typical northern European fare of smoked fish (including eel), cold cuts, yogurt, little tubes of red and yellow caviar, and cheeses. All meals also had three types of freshly baked, crusty loaves of bread, at least two kinds of hard rolls and a variety of crackers for the cheese and fish. At breakfast, you can also order eggs or pancakes from a menu. Lunch offers more cold fish, cold meats and excellent cheeses, tasty soup, several types of prepared salads or greens, and veggies to make your own boiled potatoes and cooked veggies, as well as a couple of hot dishes like chicken with rice, duck breast and pasta. If you love chilled fish and seafood, you'll be in heaven. If you're a pasta or beef fan, not so much. Desserts usually number a half-dozen pastries and cakes, a gooey/creamy pudding and ice cream -- all of it delicious. The only free drinks are water, tea and coffee.
Depending on how full the ship is, dinner is served at either one open seating or two sittings (usually 6 and 8:15 p.m.) at assigned tables. Some dinners are self-service buffets, while others feature plated service.
Mealtimes help you understand just how much of a traveler -- rather than a tourist -- you are: the seatings are a chance to exchange language lessons, ideas on world issues and country customs with fellow passengers from around much of the globe. But if you are uncomfortable trying to navigate a foreign language in face-to-face situations, you can request a table with English-speakers.
Those dinners featuring plated service have one main entree, such as venison, beef tenderloin or pan-fried halibut. There is a single option to this entree, such as baked salmon, T-bone steak or roasted pork tenderloin. These plated dinners are announced only by an 8-by-11-inch, multicolored sign placed in a frame as diners enter the restaurant for breakfast and lunch. If a diner does not want the first choice of entree, he or she must tell a waiter by the end of the lunch service. This leads to some diners not receiving their choice, or not having noticed the sign, and then having to wait for their order to be prepared.
Food-wise, entrees often were disappointing -- the meats overly seasoned or the hot buffet offerings only warm. The two-option plated meals point out another shortcoming, the lack of variety, especially if you compare the daily menus with those of mass-market cruise ships. The salad offerings are merely adequate. Also, there's no noshing around the clock -- no late-night buffets or 24-hour pizzerias.
Aside from the restaurant, the only food outlet is the small, self-service bistro, located behind reception. It offers free tea, coffee, hot chocolate, cookies and cakes. Tea and cookies are also available in the Qilak lounge. As to bar nibbles, there's nary a pretzel or peanut in sight. There is also no room service.
To be fair, however, while the menus reflect Scandinavian and Western European tastes, not those of North America, Fram is an expedition ship, not a floating pleasure palace. Hurtigruten does not advertise the ship itself as the destination -- and the average passenger cares more about the itinerary than the onboard experience.
Drink prices are on the high side, and no tip is added (nor is one expected). Wine ranges from about $24 for a bottle of undistinguished white or red to about $130 for quite good French vintages. By the glass, the price is about $6.80. Cocktails at the bar start about $7.50, though a shot of Irish whiskey is $10.25. A cappuccino or espresso is $2.