We booked this Hurtigruten cruise with the sole purpose of seeing the Northern lights in winter. WE were on the Bergen - Tromso segment which we booked directly through their UK website. Communication was good and easy. No other cruise line sails the Norwegian cruise during this time. We knew that it was a working ship / ferry service and expected as much. We also knew that Norway would be very expensive but we come from Singapore which was voted to most expensive city to live in and thought we would be prepared for the prices but it was still staggering for the value we got.
The embarkation process was pretty standard. We arrived at the terminal in a taxi from Bergen airport and we were the first there at 1030 am. Check in had not started yet and although the lady was sitting at the desk, refused to do anything and so we just sat and waited. Then the Hurtigruten bus arrived and 30 passengers came off with their bags and filled the queue lines and embarkation started. We joined the end of the queue and everything was smooth after that. After leaving our bags, we walked off to explore Bergen. Sailing was only at 1030 pm. This was plenty of time to see most of what Bergen had to offer (skip fish market and visit picturesque Bryggen Old Town and take the funicular up to Mt Floyen for the views).
There is a safety video shown in the terminal building and even for seaasoned cruisers like us, there was plenty to learn that was new to us, like how to put on an Arctic suit and how to survive if overboard in freezing water. So I would advise you to watch it carefully.
The ship, MS Finnmarken, was a much nicer than we expected, of the same standard as mass market cruise lines like Royal Carribean and better than Star Cruises. We had an inside cabin and it was small and had convertible bunk beds which could not be pushed together and the standard tiny bathroom. More importantly it did have a safe in the room which was very handy and a small (empty) bar fridge so that was all we needed in the room. The rooms were made up nicely every day and very clean.
There was none of the usual entertainment but the tour director had daily briefings or videos about the Arctic or the Northern lights and during the short daylight hours, we could just sit in the lounge and watch the view outside. Surprisingly, both lounges had nice, fairly large wooden dance floors ( larger than those on cruise lines like Celebrity which claims to have dancing but have tiny useless floors). There was no organised dancing but the piped music was danceable and we brought our own iphone attached to a small speaker which served us nicely for a few unobstructed spins around the floor. There was also a small heated pool and Jacuzzi which were not in high demand given that it was winter in the Arctic. Pool towels and bathrobes had to be rented at a high price for the hardy ones.
The gym was small but not much used.
We only had breakfast included in the price of our cruise.
The was a lot of Norwegian cold preserved fish, cold cuts and cheese and quite a lot of good breads and cereals, toppings and spread and fruit and selection of hot drinks. The hot food selection was small with 1 type of fried or scrambled egg and one sausage and one other dish that would change every day. It kept us full enough to not need lunch.
There was a cafe with rather unfriendly staff and expensive pastries which we did not want to try.
We did not eat in the main dining as there was no choice of menu for my picky son and instead we went for the a la carte restaurant. It was more like a casual restauant than the fine dining experience we thought we were paying for. It cost about US$100 per person, service was not very friendly as though the waiter was surprised people actually wanted to eat there. The food was mediocre for a cruise ship although fairly nicely plated.
for the next 2 nights, we ended up eating on land and once even preferring cup noodles ( the only time in all my extensive travel that I have packed cup noodles, since I had read about the food and was prepared!)
There was not much else to do except visiting the picturesque ports on that leg but because of the very short daylight hours we did not see much of the views and there were no stops in the fjords.
We were also blessed with an uncommonly mild winter so it was not too cold.
We saw the Northern Lights on our third and last night. The tour director made the announcement and then switched off all the lights so that we had a good view of the sky. They were beautiful and worthwhile.
We disembarked in Tromso, carrying our bags off on our own along with other passengers that were just off for the day. There were no checkout procedures at all.
We then spent the night with Arctic Adventure Tours just out of Tromso where we drove our own husky sleds and saw spectacular Northern lights and stayed overnight in a Saami tent.
IF I were to do this again with the purpose of seeing the Northern Lights, then I would actually book the Tromso to Kirkennes segment and spend an extra night or 2 in Tromso before embarkation. This is because the first 2 nights of the segment are in subArctic latitudes where the chances of seeing the Lights are not high and in the dark, we did not get to see the Fjords.