I went on the Hurtigruten Classic Roundtrip Voyage, starting in Bergen, 7 days up to Kirkenes, and then 5 days back to Bergen. Hurtigruten have a variety of ships that you can take for this incredible journey, but I went on the Lofoten and ... Read More
I went on the Hurtigruten Classic Roundtrip Voyage, starting in Bergen, 7 days up to Kirkenes, and then 5 days back to Bergen. Hurtigruten have a variety of ships that you can take for this incredible journey, but I went on the Lofoten and think it's the best way to travel as it's the most genuine experience you can go for. (Too tricky to find the various Norwegian characters for my review, but you'll work out where's where...)
The ship first off: the Lofoten is the oldest in the Hurtigruten fleet, and the smallest. This is its attraction, or will put you off right away. If you want a modern hotel at sea, with multiple restaurants, home comforts, stabilisers to not feel the sea, this is not the place for you. If you don't mind small cabins and can cope with the roll of the ship if it's choppy, then you will experience the trip of a lifetime.
It is key to remember that this isn't a cruise ship. It's a cargo ferry that you happen to be able to stay on. There's a schedule to keep, so in some places you have (very) limited onshore time. When you are late - which happens quite often if there is extra cargo to be (un)loaded - the only way to make up the time is to reduce that available at the next stops. The counter to this is that the captain goes out of his way to get you time back, or pick special detours where he can - often to places that larger ships cannot travel. For example, we tracked a whale for half an hour before we had to break off back to the timetable.
As it is small, you can easily get to know the majority of those on board. My voyage had a mix of people from around the world, the with significant numbers from Germany and France. You entertain yourself on board, there is no entertainment, but the tour guide on board will on most days give a short talk relevant to where you are at the time. Crossing the Arctic Circle is recognised with fun ceremonies each way, and there are some special get togethers on deck to try out various special food and drink. This ship is not really one for young kids, they'd get bored and suffer from cabin fever. Youngest on our trip were teenagers, they're fine. Internet on board was pretty good all the time.
I need to go on a diet now as I ate an enormous amount of really good food! Those in the kitchen and dining room are absolute stars, providing fantastic meals and service throughout the journey. Breakfast and lunch are both buffets, with a core of common dishes and daily variations, served in the dining room. Dinner is served at two sittings, as the room is not big enough for everyone, 6pm and 8pm. I'm glad I was in the 8pm as 6pm is way too early for dinner. This is a 4 course meal at set tables. I was on a 6, and met some very interesting people - 5 of us up to Kirkenes, and 6 - but 4 different, on the way back to Bergen.
In terms of ports and shore excursions, well, the ports and just the journey itself are what you're here for. The voyage is spectacular! We had 60% amazing weather, and 40% mix of drizzle and grey, but it didn't matter. You can spend hours just watching the way go by, but I prefer to be active so got off as often as possible. Thoughts on that and excursions I did as follows:
Excursions I did:
- Midnight concert in Tromso's Arctic Cathedral: breathtaking. Do it. Soaring acoustics, a total pleasure.
- Geirangerfjord and Trollstigen: if you don't do this, you may as well not do this cruise. The ship cruises up Geirangerfjord so you see it, then you get off and drive up the side, couple of ferries, spectacular scenery, then you get to Trollstigen. Wow. You are back on the boat in the evening in Molde. There's enough time to have a quick look round the city, which was enough.
- Nordkapp. The Hurtigruten day excursion was very pricey. I booked a separate one with a local tour company and it was much much cheaper for exactly the same thing. Obviously if I was late back the ship would have gone, but the bus goes the same way to the same place, and there's only one road, so I think it's a low risk alternative. Lovely at the cape, well worth it!
- Hike on the Lofoten Islands. It's about 1.5hrs long, 1 hour is easy and no problem for anyone, with half an hour up and down a mountainside that is fine if you're of average fitness. Then you have about an hour on a bus back to the next port, with several stops at key viewpoints across the other islands. Definitely worth doing!
- When they offer to let you visit the bridge, go for it, it's very interesting. Someone I met on board asked to see the engine room and they were shown round there too.
Excursions others did:
- Breakfast at Nordkapp: very expensive, but you have the place to yourself. If you want to be the only people in the picture this gets the opportunity, but I don't think it's worth it.
- Sea eagle safari. I wish I had done this! You get to see the sea eagles right up close (you can spot them on occasions otherwise), and on our voyage those on the safari were lucky enough to see some orcas too.
- Walk with huskies. People loved this one.
- Tromso is lovely. Walk over the bridge, take the cable car up (or walk it, tough) for incredible views. You can also do some walks up the top there.
- Trondheim you visit twice for decent amount of time. First we walked through the city and saw the main sights, went up to the fortress. Second time we did a great hike along the coast for a couple of hours, fantastic.
- Kristiansund is beautiful but you're there for such a short time, wish it was more.
- Lofoten Islands are plainly worth staying for several days and touring around, but we only get a few hours (see the hike).
- So many great places: always get off!
In terms of the cabins, more on mine below, but they are a mixed bunch, generally small - remember, it's an old ship. The singles can be a bit 'shoebox', I was fortunate to get a twin just for me. But you only sleep in them so it's not the end of the world. The only drawback to the entire trip was on a couple of days when the ship was really (too) crowded. People can take the Hurtigruten for just a single stop, or a day, or overnight. Lots do. However, a few key days eg going to Lofoten, coming south to Trondheim, Geiranger, they let in my opinion too many day trippers on board. The Lofoten is not big, so indoor and outdoor seats and areas are then filled with day trippers, leaving no space for those who are taking the full voyage. This is exacerbated in bad weather when everyone is indoors. Hurtigruten know about this - it's the only thing people complain about - but until they take a hit on the number of day trippers they let on board, it will remain a problem for the 2-3 days it occurs.
Embarkation and disembarkation are part of the fun. It's very fast as you're a small boat, and save for Geiranger where everyone gets tenders, you walk down the gangplank seconds after arrival. Watching the loading and unloading of cargo is great, you see all manner of things from boxes of crisps to boats, piping, whatever needs to get along the coast!
Bergen is a pretty city, you can do all the key things in a day, stay for a second if you enjoy walking as there are paths at the top of Mount Floyen worth taking.
To sum up, this was a fantastic 12 day trip. The Norwegian scenery is amazing, every day is different and more spectacular than the last. The ship, its crew and the other passengers all contribute to an experience you simply can't have on a massive cruise liner. I'd go again in 20 years to see how it's changed - or in Lofoten's case, how it hasn't! Read Less