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.
Breakfast consists of the usual cereal and eggs, plus the more typical northern European fare of smoked fish (including eel), cold cuts, yogurt, cheeses and even a small salad bar. All meals also had several types of crusty bread, hard rolls and crackers (including a gluten-free option, though this appeared to have run out by the end of our cruise) for the cheese and fish. At breakfast, you can also order eggs or pancakes from a menu. There are self-serve stations offering water, various juices and coffee/tea, but the waitstaff come around to the tables to offer these as well.
Lunch offers more cold fish, cold meats and excellent cheeses, tasty soup, several types of prepared salads or greens, and cooked veggies, as well as a couple of hot dishes like chicken, rice, duck breast and pasta. If you love chilled fish and seafood, you'll be in heaven. If you're a pasta, beef or salad 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 self-serve water and juice machines are covered up at lunchtime, so the only free options are water, tea and coffee from the waitstaff (Hurtigruten's policy of charging for water during lunch and dinner only applies to the line's Norwegian coastal itineraries).
Servers will sometimes refill your glass if they see it empty, but many passengers elect to pay a little extra to have a one-liter carafe of either still or sparkling water left on their table at lunch and dinner so they can refill at their leisure. This costs 12 NOK (about $2) per person, per carafe, or 120 NOK ($20) per person for the entire cruise. Passengers can bring on their own water or soda, but may not drink it in public areas.
Some dinners are self-service buffets with open seating, but others are plated meals served in either one seating or two, depending on how full the ship is (typically 7 p.m. for a single seating, or 6 and 8:15 p.m. for two). In making table assignments, the ship groups passengers by nationality, but at buffet meals you may find yourself trying to hold a conversation in mingled English, German and/or Norwegian. It's all part of the fun.
Those dinners featuring plated service have one main entree, such as roasted chicken, beef entrecote or pan-fried Arctic char. There is a single alternative to this entree, such as baked trout, T-bone steak or roasted pork tenderloin. These plated dinners are announced only on a small 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. If diners don't want either option, a bowl of pasta is usually available.
Food-wise, the plated options were generally quite good, but the main dishes on the buffet were less so -- often warm instead of hot, and sometimes overly salty or dry. 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, as well as other snacks and drinks for a price. As to bar nibbles, only a couple of light snacks (almonds/peanuts, tortilla chips with dip) are on offer for a small charge. There is no room service.
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 195 NOK (about $32.50) for a bottle of undistinguished white or red to 825 NOK ($137.50) for quite good French vintages. By the glass, the price is about 29 - 48 NOK ($6 - $8). Cocktails at the bar start around 42 NOK ($7). A cappuccino or espresso is 18 - 22 NOK ($3 - $3.67).
If you'd like to sample multiple bottles throughout the cruise, the ship offers several wine packages. You can purchase between eight and 11 bottles -- including both reds and whites -- for 1800 NOK ($300) to 2475 NOK ($412.51). The whites are mostly from Argentina, while the reds are a mix of European and Argentinean vintages. Note that the packages include a variety of wines (rather than allowing you simply to purchase eight bottles of your favorite type). Purchasing a wine package entitles you to the still or sparkling water package as well.
Passengers are not permitted to bring their own alcohol onboard; it will be confiscated until the end of the cruise.
* May require additional fees