We chose Hurtigruten's Norwegian Fjord Cruise North for our 25th wedding anniversary. We traveled as a family of 4 and researched fjord offerings fairly extensively among various cruise lines. We chose Hurtigruten because we generally ... Read More
We chose Hurtigruten's Norwegian Fjord Cruise North for our 25th wedding anniversary. We traveled as a family of 4 and researched fjord offerings fairly extensively among various cruise lines. We chose Hurtigruten because we generally are not a cruise family and do not prefer the glam and shows of most cruise lines as your are herded from one end of the vessel to the other. Hurtigruten's Expedition team voyages sounded just our speed, small ships, excellent educational sessions and nonstop fantastic views. Most of what I read online was exactly true and most reviewers provide a realistic expectation of the voyage. The "view is the thing", and I agree...it was EVERYTHING.
My favorite breathtaking moment was when we entered the Trollfjord for a 180 degree turn. Something about the silence of all the fellow passengers as we absorbed the magnificence of the moment brought me to tears. This was my absolute favorite moment on the ship. That same evening we were served Trollfjordknert (a hot tea with rum) served in souvenir cups. It was the highlight of the trip.
Also, don't miss the moment you cross the Polar Circle. At about 7:30 am my husband threw open the blinds and said, "hey...why is there a statue in the middle of the ocean?" I squealed and jumped out of bed knowing what it was. Cool moment. They had a bidding pool to see who could guess what time we would cross it. I was bummed we missed that announcement.
THE SHIP: The ship is well planned with ample spaces to relax and enjoy the view. Fellow travelers were generally polite, well-educated outdoor enthusiasts from England, Germany and Norway. We met a few other Americans. Almost everyone we spoke with on the excursions spoke English which was a real treat for us, and the people we chatted with appeared to enjoy the attributes of the voyage as much we as we did. Moving around the ship was easy, with quick elevator waits. My husband walks with a cane and he did well getting around the vessel. One or two wheelchair passengers might have been on board. It is generally a 50 and over, but still outdoor hiking in your late 70's sort of crowd. There were perhaps 6 other teenagers on board with our kids. The only little children I saw were just on for a ferry ride. The attire on board was generally hiking clothes such as Haley Hanson, Arcteryx, Norrona, North Face, Prana etc...with well worn hiking boots. If people changed their attire before dinner it was not noticeably different...simple casual attire.
I did my best to research the cruise extensively before departure but found details hard to come by other than the descriptions of the excursions which were accurate and thorough. It was not until our 3rd day on the ship that we discovered there was a program you had to pick up daily at the excursion office and I wondered how many things we had already missed. On the 4th day, I found out there was a button you could press on your phone to hear all the announcements in your room, and again I wondered how many things we had missed once I realized how much they were talking about key sites as we passed them. We chose the Owner's Suite so we could hang out on our own balcony for the view, which was incredible, but we missed quite a few things until we figured all of this out.
CABIN: For our "trip of a lifetime" to celebrate our 25th anniversary we chose Hurtigruten for the expansive Owner's Suite on the rear of the vessel. The width is half of the stern of the ship with a full balcony. It had two bathrooms and two flat screen TV's, a dining area a living area, a bar and a sound system you could jack into via auxiliary cord. The space was perfect for a quiet and introverted family voyage and for the most part was exactly what we had imagined, not luxurious, but very large. The bed and linens were fresh and comfortable and the open windows provided a beautiful breeze and ocean and bird sounds. It was heavenly. The kids had an interior room on deck 6 and spent almost all of their time with us all relaxing comfortably on the balcony or in the living room. The images I found online for the Owner's Suite alerted me to the possibility it would be mildly outdated. I was pleasantly surprised by the flat screen televisions which we used mostly to display the bow cam or the ship's voyage location map. The couch was very comfortable and there were two comfortable balcony chairs with nice cushions to enjoy the view.
Keep in mind the Trollfjord is due for an update. We chose to overlook the stains on the carpet and furniture. The couch was dirty so we used the bedcover (also dirty) to cover it during our stay. The sink had dark black ink stains in the basin and the bathroom and trashcan in the living room smelled like old ashtrays. Perhaps previous guests had smoked on the balcony but put their ashes and butts in the trashcans. These were tolerable but avoidable issues and I was disappointed that they did not manage such things better. Overall, I think if such things mattered to you, I would choose one of the updated vessels. I hope Hurtigruten reviews their housekeeping policy to check the rooms for stains and odors and provide some mitigation between journeys. Also unavoidable is that people smoke at the nonsmoking end of the ship on Deck 9 and occasionally throw a cigarette butt or ashes onto you as you sit on the balcony, so heads up. Again...this is the other guests doing this...not sure how to help people who make poor choices. It was not a huge problem, the balcony was awesome.
The Owner's Suite was a small price above the cost of the Expedition Suites, so it was an easy choice, but given the minimal benefits on board the ship and the lack of balconies in the Expedition Suites, I would either choose a suite on deck 7 with a balcony, or purchase something else and wait until you board the ship to check for an upgrade.
FITNESS FACILITIES: The gym had a corner pully system, a dumbbell rack, a treadmill, an elliptical, a broken Concept rower, a fitness bike, some yoga mats and a very basic spin bike with clips. The hours are strange 7am-3pm and 5pm to 7pm. It was difficult to get this to work with the excursions. It was very small but workable. About 6 people can work out at the same time with some shuffling.
EXCURSIONS: When booking the cruise we chose the 2B Trollstigen, 4G Highlights of Lofoten and 6A Nordkapp. Once onboard, we added 4D RIB Safari to Saltstraumen at a discount because we had already purchased several. The discount on board is around 10-15% depending on availability and number of excursions you purchase. For us, all of the excursions were worth it. We were limited to no-hiking excursion due to the walking cane, and all were fine for our limitations. The tour buses were new and clean and very comfortable and the views and tour of the countryside were a nice balance to the ocean views of the fjords. Where the excursion included meals or snacks, they are provided in a large dining hall with very basic service and guests are generally seated in large groups by bus number. It is not quaint or cozy, but the food is good and the service was better than on the ship. We enjoyed chatting with the other travelers and hearing their stories. Because we were on the English speaking bus we saw them again and again. It was nice. The tour guide on Trollstigen had a nervous titter the whole journey and giggled after every few words in both English and Norwegian. She was sweet, but by the end of the journey, I was ready for silence. A more experienced speaker would have been preferable. I would put 2B and 4G in the UNMISSABLE category. 4D was my next favorite and 6A was nifty but very crowded. THE EXPEDITION TEAM ON THE SHIP WAS OUTSTANDING. I really enjoyed all of my interactions with them and I was grateful for all of their tips and congeniality.
CAFE AND BAR SERVICE: The cafe service and the bar service on Decks 8 and 9 were fantastic. Always a smile and an easy process. I was incredibly grateful for their efficiency.
DINING: This was the toughest part of the voyage, so I saved it for last. I am not sure anyone can objectively say this was "awesome". The breakfast and lunch buffets were generally chaotic and difficult. We tried our best to use the buffets during the slow times (which they tell you about), but often this does not work with the excursion time tables. The food was good, but did not vary much day-to-day. It looked essentially the same. Ample food though and the desserts are deadly (in a good way). We usually only had enough patience to have either breakfast or lunch. We had high hopes for the elegance of the evening meal as a cure for the chaos. The evening meals were the perfect size, modest and lovely. I have no complaints on the quality, but they are simple. There was no cure for the chaos however.
Our first evening we arrived at our assigned table to be greeted by blistering sunlight and 80 degrees on the open ocean side of the ship with no view. We sat for exactly 30 minutes in the beating sun before the waiter acknowledged us and brought water. I think my entire family was a bit shell shocked. I was trying to wrap my mind around how you purchase the absolutely most expensive lodging on the ship a year in advance (not as a last minute upgrade at a discount on board) and somehow that gets you the worst table in the dining room. I felt like a chump. When I asked, they said the Suites get the window tables, (but somehow the owner's suite gets the worst window table?). It is the worst because each evening they began serving all of the tables further in the dining room and worked their way towards the front, so no matter what, we always waited 30 minutes for water. I was able to get them to switch us to the fjord side of the ship (which are the even numbered tables), but we still were the last to be served every night. Finally we just started coming late for dinner. At least then we were served water within ten minutes. The service is disorganized, inefficient and impersonal (although the staff does not appear to be unfriendly). I won't go into more detail, but suffice it to say keep your expectations low. Other guests we talked to said they were fed up by the first night and just paid to upgrade to the ala carte restaurant for the entire rest of the cruise. Perhaps that is the angle? Perhaps the people with the better tables were their frequent passengers who ought to be treated well? Who knows. This experience was tough. I wish I had explored the ala carte option, but with there being 4 of us paying for every single excursion it just seemed too extravagant. It costs very little to train staff to be efficient and have better management. I did not see anyone who seemed like a manager in the dining room.
We enjoyed the cruise overall because this is the best way to visit the fjords of Norway and the view is spectacular the entire journey. The cost was in line with the general cost of traveling in Norway, so really the only disappointment was the level of food and service in the dining room. Read Less