Last September, my wife and I boarded the MS Nordnorge for a “Voyage of Discovery” (Bergen-Kirkenes-Trondheim). This was our second Coastal Voyage, and the third time we have traveled with Hurtigruten. In those previous opportunities, ... Read More
Last September, my wife and I boarded the MS Nordnorge for a “Voyage of Discovery” (Bergen-Kirkenes-Trondheim). This was our second Coastal Voyage, and the third time we have traveled with Hurtigruten. In those previous opportunities, we have been onboard the MS Trollfjord (2008) and on the MS Fram (2010).
We enjoyed the whole journey very much. The coastal views of Norway are fantastically and hauntingly beautiful. We liked it so much we intend to do it again. However, we noticed some details that were somewhat bothersome. My intention on writing this review is to provide advance information and some advice to any future Hurtigruten travelers.
Although not strictly related to the trip itself, I would like to start saying that the sales and customer attention services in the US are “uneven”. Some of the representatives are knowledgeable, others are much less so. I remember an instance when I asked some details about the itinerary and it turned out that I was better informed than the person at the other end of the line.
Some of my observations are in comparison to other ships and journeys with Hurtigruten. Nevertheless I have tried to be objective in all my comments. The Nordnorge is a nice ship, built in 1997, and by now it is perhaps showing some of its age. During the journey we noticed that some repairs were being done, and I also noticed several rust spots on the hull. None of these seem to be detrimental in any case. However, in our cabin it was obvious that the handles on doors and faucet in the bathroom clearly needed repair or replacement. We noticed very little of this kind of problems in the newer ships we have been on.
The itinerary of or journey on the Nordnorge was very much the same as we remember on the Trollfjord back in 2008. However, the safety briefing (by video) on the Nordnorge, was better and more comprehensive. Also, on the first night, we now had an introductory lecture by a crew member that explained a lot of details regarding the rules onboard, excursions, possible events, hygiene precautions, etc. All very useful and important information.
At this point is perhaps convenient to mention something about the diversity of nationalities to expect on these coastal Voyages. In all three of our journeys we have seen a predominance of European travelers, mostly from Germany, England, France, and on this last journey, from Finland. There were relatively few people from the US and essentially none or very few from southern Europe and Asia. The ships’ PA announcements were always in Norwegian, English, German and French.
In comparison to our first voyage, this time there was a significant number of travelers disembarking and embarking in Kirkenes. Also, we noticed that many, like us, ended the journey in Trondheim on the southbound leg of the trip.
The Nordnorge has an all European crew, mostly from Northern Europe. This is different from the Fram which has a Philippine one. Inevitably, the “ambience” in the Fram is different, and that also translates to the cuisine served onboard. I remembered feeling somewhat odd while eating Philippine food and touring the Norwegian fjords in a Norwegian vessel.
About the food and related services I must say that the Nordnorge did not completely satisfy us. We remember it was better on the Trollfjord. As in all Hurtigruten journeys, breakfast and lunch are buffet-style with open seating, dinner on the other hand is by assigned seating and at two serving periods, usually 6:30 pm and 8:30pm. On the Nordnorge the food served at dinner was often late and already cold, the serving portions were also rather small at times. We heard several travelers making comments about that, something like, “Is this all”?. At lunch and breakfast, the food was of good quality, but there was little variation from day to day.
On the coastal voyages, you are required to pay for drinking water at meal times. This peculiar rule of Hurtigruten bothers some people, but in our case we did not mind it, we took the so called “Water Plan” and we enjoyed the option of having sparkling water during our meals. We know there are also Coffee plans and Wine plans as well, but they are rather expensive. Nevertheless we saw many fellow passengers enjoying coffee at all hours, and wine at lunch or dinner. A wine bottle could easily cost 40-50 dollars or more. I must add that coffee at breakfast time is available at no extra charge. Coffee and tea was not served after dinner at the tables, but you were invited to have it on another deck from the bar, and possibly enjoy it at the observation lounge. We did that several times and it was very pleasant to do so.
Most of the crew members were very nice and efficient in all the services we received. There was however one waiter that had a rather bothersome habit, he used to open our sparkling water rather abruptly and it did happen most times that water was spilled on the table. One of our table companions once made the comment that he seemed to shake the bottle just prior to opening it. There were two crew members in charge of land excursions and announcements. They were efficient at all times, but one of them had a slightly less than pleasant personality. We interacted with him several times and we did not always feel good about it.
We noticed that the ship did not always arrive to port on time, delays of 15 minutes were frequent, and in one case the delay was 1 hour. However, the departures were timely. That meant that in some cases the rather limited time to enjoy land excursions or simply walking around the dock, was cut short. I did not ask any fellow travelers about how this affected their land excursions, but most likely they did not like it. In our case, we took just four excursions and all ran very much according to schedule. One observation I made is that there seems to be a lack of coordination between the ship’s schedule and the land excursions times. This created some very odd situations, like the time lunch started to be served at 11 am, or dinner at 5pm. All of this, apparently, in order to run excursions on time. Fortunately for us, we were always able to eat in a timely manner, and arrange a change of dinner times to make them more convenient for us.
Since we had done the coastal voyage before, we decided to take only the excursions that were new in the program or we missed in our first time around. Initially I felt somehow hesitant to take the journey on mid-September, when the ships do not go into the Geiranger Fjord. At some point in early September the ships get into the Hjorundfjord instead. We took the corresponding excursion. I must say that this was the highlight of our trip. The Hjorundfjord is breath takingly beautiful. We enjoyed it immensely.
There was another excursions which also turned out to be a pleasant surprise. This was the one called “Sami Autumn” (from Kjollefjord). We could not be happier with it, and I even expressed my opinion to the tour directors. This was a real cultural experience. It consisted of a lecture and demonstrations event at the residence of a local Sami man, who explained many aspects of his heritage, such as, traditions, language, habitat, etc. It was too bad that this really beautiful experience was poorly attended. It was in English and German. The young woman translating English to German did an excellent job as well.
Two other land excursions we took, the Saltraumen visit from Bodo, and “The Northern Most Town” from Hammerfest were also enjoyable but not really as pleasant or instructive as the others. We hope that in our future third Coastal Voyage we will enjoy other excursions, such as the one to the Svartissen Glacier, and the Sea Eagle Safari.
I would like to add that some excursions do not seem to offer much in terms of a cultural or adventure event. That is the case of the Visit to the Russian Border from Kirkenes. We have not taken it, but we have heard comments from fellow travelers which were mostly sort of disappointing.
Alesund, Trondheim, Bodo, Tromso, Honnigsvag, and Bergen are the ports touched in the Voyage which offer the most to all travelers. Many other ports are small towns where the time is rather limited (15-30 min), or there are no sights or major attractions. But let’s remember that the real beauty of this trip is all around and at all times in the coastal beauty of Norway. On this journey, there was a ‘dedicated” group of observers, and photographers, including myself, whom spent a great deal of time (even at night or early morning) at the bow of the ship, enjoying the views and taking thousands of pictures. Believe me, it is difficult to take a bad picture in that part of the world.
We did not attend or participate in several of the events onboard, such as cooking demonstrations, or fashion shows. We did attend a video show related to all the places Hurtigruten covers around the world. It is worth to watch it even if it is just to see the wonderful views of seas, glaciers, and wildlife.
Another highlight of our trip was a double visit to the Trollfjord. Yes, there is a fjord called so, it is also the name of one of the large Hurtigruten ships. That was a notable difference from our first journey. One visit was late at night, when even some “Trolls” appeared on the observation deck, carrying oil lamps. This was a unique and amusing touch. The second time was in the afternoon during a day with fantastically good weather. We enjoyed this occasion a lot. Equally enjoyable was seeing, again, the “Seven Sisters” mountain range, and the views of the Torghatten, an odd geological phenomenon of a mountain with a hole.
As spectators, we attended the “Crossing of the Arctic Circle” celebration. It is something of a Hurtigruten tradition to hold a contest in which travelers guess the actual time when the ship crosses the circle. The one with the closest time wins a prize. I remember, the Trollfjord in 2008, offered a free Coastal voyage as the prize. On this voyage, the prize was a Hurtigruten flag signed by the Captain. This celebration includes something of a baptism by God Neptune, who pours some water and ice down your back. Something tacky perhaps, but nevertheless, a good number of passengers submitted to that. All passengers, “baptized” or not, received a “Certificate” stating their crossings.
With the exception of Bergen, no other city or port touched in the coastal voyage is awash with visitors. Bergen has changed in character since my first visit back in 2006. On the day of our arrival there were two other “gigantic’ cruise ships in port, and the city was being overrun by day visitors. A Nordnorge crew officer commented that compared to those giants, they look like a life boat.
My advice to anyone interested in this most beautiful journey is to go ahead and do it, the sooner the better. Even though different and with some not so pleasant details, it will for sure be a delightful and memorable trip. Now I would like to list some specific points of practical advice.
• It is better to time your arrival at Bergen (starting port of the journey) the day before departure. It is possible to arrive the same day, but any problems with luggage or airlines could create serious difficulties
• Plan and book your land excursion carefully, all of them are rather expensive.
• Very few travelers carry binoculars. Unless you are very much into wildlife watching, they may not be of much use. You will see not much wildlife any way.
• At breakfast and lunch times, when there is open seating, I frequently saw some passengers taking a table, going away to get some food, and coming back to find out the table has been taken by someone else. In order to avoid this, we made a habit of one of us staying at the table initially. Other passengers commonly left a jacket or other personal items at the table.
• I cannot tell for sure about all cabins, but in ours, there was only one electrical outlet. This required some good organization recharging our batteries and other devices. Also, make sure you have the correct adapter for northern European outlets.
• Hurtigruten allows you bring onboard two wine bottles per passenger, which are to be consumed in your cabins. We used well this rule and we bought wine at different ports for private consumption.
• Both of our coastal voyages have been in September. In both occasions the weather has been very good. A light fall weather coat was enough to keep us comfortable.
• The only toiletry offered onboard at the cabins is body and hair gel. Anything else you need to bring your own. I understand there toiletries for sale onboard, but they are likely to be expensive.
• The hairdryers installed in the cabins have plastic handles that can get very hot while in use. Be careful.
• We have been in Bergen six times and we know it rains very frequently. An umbrella or raincoats are almost essential.
• Also, Bergen offers quite a number of special attractions, consider visiting the Art Museums, and enjoy the views from Mount Floyen. For people that ends their voyage in Trondheim, like us, it is a good idea to spend an additional day there and enjoy all the sites without the time limitations of land excursions.
• There are many souvenir shops at almost all ports of call. Most of them offer low quality items. We found the best ones onboard the ship and at museum stores. Read Less