My mom and I very much enjoyed our Norwegian Coastal Voyage on Hurtigruten's MS Nordkapp during the winter months. The experience was relaxing and scenic - given the winter weather - the food was very good, and the staff was friendly. ... Read More
My mom and I very much enjoyed our Norwegian Coastal Voyage on Hurtigruten's MS Nordkapp during the winter months. The experience was relaxing and scenic - given the winter weather - the food was very good, and the staff was friendly. In writing this review, I'm mindful of shaping expectations for anyone interested in Hurtigruten's Norway Coastal Voyages, since I had a hard time finding the kind of reviews I was looking for. In the end, I would recommend it, and would even consider it again, but with some alterations, which I'll mention at the end.
(Another disclaimer: this is only the second cruise I've taken. My first was in 1995 on Premier Cruise Lines Big Red Boat. I hated it. The ship wasn't all that nice, and I was bored. The food was amazing however.)
We sailed from Bergen, which is a lovely if very rainy city. I would highly recomment a day exploring the Hanseatic Bryggen and the medieval fortress. You cannot board the ship until 4pm anyway, so you have plenty of time. You might also consider the fish market and a ride up the Floibannen (funicular). Unless you are travelling solo, you might be better off taking a taxi to the ship. Bergen is quite small, and you should be able to get a taxi for no more than 200 NOK, maybe less. The Hurtigruten shuttle, if not included in a hotel package, will cost 100 NOK per person, and you'll have to make multiple stops before reaching the terminal.
Embarkation was quite easy. You check in your luggage and set up your cruise card with your personal credit card, then head upstairs and board at 4pm. There is a waiting area if you arrive before that time. Hurtigruten says you cannot access the cabins until 6:00pm, but I believe they made an announcement that they were available by 5:15pm or so. Most standard cabins are quite small. Remember: ferry line, not cruise line. They have two twin beds quite close to each other. The beds can be folded up against the wall during the day to provide seating. Superior cabins may have a double bed and a chair, and the mini-suites, which are twice as big as the other cabins, have a double bed plus a convertible sofa. Still, the rooms seem comfortable and functional.
Hurtigruten is not a cruise line. It is a ferry line with a robust tourism business. That's an important distinction, because it shapes out Hurtigruten operates these voyages. While many cruise ships are often compared to floating resorts, Hurtigruten's ships are more like floating hotels, so they will lack the amenities and services found on larger cruise ships. Ferries with cruise ship-like amenities are pretty common in Northern Europe, but many people from other parts of the world may not be familiar with this kind of operation. For Hurtigruten, this means that the ships make many stops all along the Norwegian coast between Bergen in the southwest and Kirkenes in the northeast. While most of the passengers are tourists, many are Norwegians travelling from town to town, sometimes with cars and cargo. Some ports-of-call are only 15 minutes, but even the longest ones are only 3-4 hours rather than a full day. On the longer stops, you can choose from available excurisions, or simply walk about on your own (or sometimes visit a sister ship if it's in port with yours). We took several excursions, but on some stops of one hour we just took the chance to step off the ship and walk about the small towns.
The Nordkapp is one of Hurtigruten's smaller ships, but most of the 11 ships that make the daily voyage up the coast are basically the same, differing only in size and a couple of amenities. For example, the Nordkapp takes max 590 passengers, while the MS Finnmarken can take 919. The Nordkapp has two jacuzzis, while the Finnmarken has a small pool (not so fun in the arctic winter). Only some ships have tailored activities for children. But generally, the common areas are more or less the same. The Nordkapp was renovated in 2016, and I found it to be quite nice and comfortable.
The Nordkapp had a large lounge on the top deck in the forward part of the ship where passengers could sit and watch the scenery or read or chat in small groups. In the evening the bar opened and there was a lounge singer (not sure if every voyage has lounge entertainment). Also on the top deck midship was a cafe, designed in a "Norwegian coastal traditional style" that I really liked. We actually spent most time sitting here, since there was more light and the cafe sold coffee, pastries, sandwiches, and yummy ice cream (I did not try the dried fish ice cream, but the brunost - Norwegian brown cheese - ice cream was delish.)
The restaurants are all on the 4th deck. The main dining restaurant was aft. Breakfast and lunch were buffet with a wide variety of foods, both hot and cold, while most dinners were a 3-course set menu. Hurtigruten will accommodate a wide array of dietary restrictions. Their cuisine approach is called Norway Coastal Kitchen, and they try to source local ingredients in the many ports of call as much as possible. The evening menu will always tell you where the local ingredients came from. This was a very nice touch.I thought the food was generally very high quality, even if I didn't personally like everything. Fish certainly appeared often, as did reindeer and lamb once or twice. The first evening is always a buffet, and since our first evening was Christmas Eve, we had a traditional Norwegian julebord, which was wonderful. There were also special 5-course menus for New Year's Eve and for the Hurtigruten 125th anniversary.
There is also a fine-dining a la carte restaurant in Deck 4. Since our sailing over the Christmas holidays we had more buffets than most sailings, so we took advantage of this. The food was likewise very good and prepared to order. It is an extra charge over and above the main restaurant if you've purchased full board. Next to the fine dining restaurant is a quick-service restuarant with sandwiches, burgers, and pizza. This is also an additional charge.
If you're already researching Norway you will already know this: booze is expensive. Hurtigruen offers a wine package that you must purchase on the first evening. If you and your travelling companion will share a bottle with dinner each evening, this may be a good option. You receive one bottle each evening with dinner, and you'll save some kroner. Since my mom and I drink different kinds of wine, we did not use this option. However, if you buy a bottle and don't finish it, they will keep it for you until the next day.
Excursion planning is one area where I think Hurtigruten can improve the experience. It was quite cumbersome to figure out which ports were long enough to leave the ship on which days, and which excursions were offered in those ports. Basically, they count the days starting in Bergen with Day 1, and then they're numbered going north and then south from there. So any excursion on the website that is numbered 6a, 6b, etc. is on the 6th day of the cruise from Bergen. I ended up making my own spreadsheet, which should not have been necessary. The advantage of using the Hurtigruten-arranged excursions is exactly that the ships only stop a few hours at most, so if you are on a bus excursion, the ship will probably not sail without you if there's a delay. However, I do wish I had done better research up front to possiblye do my own activities. There is a great opportunity for an enterprising Norwegian techie to create short, self-guided walking tours on an app for Hurtigruten passengers! (I did find some Trondheim walking tours in an app call GPSmycity.)
There are also some other shore activities that we did not know about until we were on the ship. Unfortunately, we had already pre-booked excursions and there were no refunds. Here is my suggestion regarding the excurions for winter voyages: pre-book the most popular excursions like dog-sledding and snowmobiling. Other excursions, wait and see, and book either the first night or the next day. Only a couple of excursions other than the dog-sledding filled up.
Our hands-down favorite experience was the dog-sledding in Kirkenes on the frozen fjord. It included a visit to the Snowhotel. If you want to do this, pre-book!
Two walking excursions were a mixed bag, and it was all to do with the guide. My walking tour in Trondheim definitely gave me a good, close look at the center part of the city, but the tour guide was not knowledgable at all. Our polar history walking tour in Tromso was excellent, largely due to a terrific and well-humoured guide. The Viking Dinner was very rushed, and since it was dark the scenery was impossible to see. Likewise the Marble Mine was an ok experience, but the drive along the famous Atlantic Road was completely hidden in the darkness.
If you're in Bodo and you like beer and you, like me, notice that the Hundholmen Bryggeri only opens at 3pm which is when your ship sails, then you might, like me, take the chance of sending them an email and asking if they'll open early for you. It was one of the highlights of my trip!
You should plan to be self-entertained on your Hurtigruten Norway Coastal Voyage. There was a lounge singer in the evenings on my voyage, and every day there was a short presentation called Get to Know Norway. We went to almost all of these and found them quite good. (Did you know Norway is shaped like a guitar?) Beyond that, given the short port time, you will have a lot of time on the ship. Bring a coupe of good books, or download some movies. Or, just enjoy the scenery and get to know your fellow passengers. Passengers come largely from Germany and the U.K., but there are also quite a few Americans, and a few South Africans and Australians. We enjoyed striking up conversations with people we met.
A brief note: this may seem obvious, but Hurtigruten can't control the weather, and there were several excursions cancelled at various times because of weather. If you sail in rough weather, as we did (I have a great video us us sailing in a gale!), the ship might not even be able to stop in some ports. (Which was terribly inconvenient for those passengers who were using the ferry and not just on a longer voyage.) Also, while we had taken this trip in hopes of seeing the Northern Lights, the weather worked against us. There's not much you can do about that, so just understand that everything depends on good weather. (I suspect our experience was more exceptional in this.)
Disembarkation in Bergen was smooth, if prolonged. You must leave your cabin by 10am, althoug the ship does not dock until 2:30pm. The ship disembarks by deck, so if your cabin is on Deck 6 you can disembark first. There was a very short wait for luggage, and a short wait for a taxi. It was late afternoon by the time we reached our hotel, so there was not much time for sightseeing at the end of the voyage.
So, would I recommend it? Yes! Would I do it again? Yes, but with some changes. First of all, I would recommend only taking the 7-day northbound voyage. While the southbound voyage mostly stopped in different ports, they were not, for me, as interesting and compelling as the northbound ports. (The drive to the Marble Mine on the Atlantic Road - this is a southbound excursion - may have been spectacular in summer, but not in winter.) Also, while it was nice to unpack our bags just once, I would take advantage of the ferry schedule, and disembark in a few places for a couple of nights. I would stop in Trondheim, the Lofoten, and Tromso, at least, and stay in Kirkenes another day or two. Read Less