Our family of four from Australia (2 adults in our 40s, 2 teens 13 & 14) embarked on this cruise at the end of a seven week holiday around the UK and Europe. In short it was the highlight of our trip with the Finnmarken being an excellent ship that enabled us to see amazing views of the northern lights whilst enjoying great food, friendly and efficient service and some quite amazing (but very expensive!) excursions. I will break this review up into the following areas - booking, cabins, embarkation, life on board, excursions / sights.
Originally I tried booking this trip online however I had difficulty selecting available cabins and getting it to recognise the child rates for our two boys. I gave up and phoned the UK office and had it all sorted in less then ten minutes! We originally booked two adjoining Arctic Superior cabins for our trip but on further investigation these cabins apeared very small with pull down beds and a not very large window. I phoned back some time after the original booking to enquire about a suite with balcony and sure enought they were available but very expensive. However the agent suggested downgrading one of the Arctic Superior cabins to an interior whilst upgrading the other one to the balcony. Also by putting one child in each cabin we got a discount rate for the second person in each cabin (even the suite!). After doing all this the overall price was only about $A60 a day more expensive then two Arctic Superiors so we locked it in!
Our suite on deck 6 port side was brilliant. Very large with a double bed and lounge area (4 seats), sliding glass door leading to great sized balcony plus a large picture window and a standard cruise ship bathroom. The kids had an interior across the hall which was very narrow with pull down beds but they spent most of their time hanging out in our room. The room was very quiet with no vibration or noise from the engines or the gangways that were lowered at every port. We also had complimentary bath robes and slippers and a fruit and cheese platter on arrival along with a 12pm check out from this room when returning to Bergen instead of 10am for non-suites.
Also on returning to Bergen all the cabins on the ship were opened up after cleaning so we took the opportunity to check them all out and compare! From what we could see there was no real size difference between the interior and cabins that had windows on any deck. All were narrow and seemed to have pull down or sofa converting beds. The size of the windows varied with some having portholes for instance and the ones on deck 5 looked out onto the deck where everyone walked around so you would mostly have your curtains drawn anyway! There were some larger cabins on deck 5 and 6 that looked out onto life boats - think these are marketed as mini-suites. Their are also 2 grand suites at the front of the ship on deck 6 with a sperate living room, bedroom, larger bathroom with a bath tub, forward facing windows and a balcony on the side of the ship (but note this balcony was smaller then ours in a 'standard' suite). In short I am glad we ditched the so called Arctic Superior cabin as it was just an interior sized cabin but with a window on a higher deck. Note for those used to larger cruise ships rooms are only serviced once a day in the morning (not in the evening).
Embarkation in Bergen was very smooth but I suggest not showing up early if you can help it. You will likely just end up in a queue to check in and drop off luggage and then you are waiting around until boarding which was not until 5pm for our trip (this caused some concerns as they ran out of free coffee and that made a few people cranky!). Alternatively if you have no hand luggage to lug around or if you make use of the lockers in the terminal you could check in early then explore the sights of Bergen before boarding (bags could be dropped off from 1pm from memory). Cabins were not available until 6pm and sail away was 1030pm.
Once on board life is very relaxed! The ship has a gym, sauna, pool and spa (if you are brave) but for some reason the gym and sauna were closed after the first few days and never reopened which was disappointing. No real explanation was offered when we asked but we did hear a rumour about people being ill so maybe they closed them to reduce the risk of things spreading? They were certainly very strict with use of sanitiser at meal times and when coming back on board (even insisting you take off your gloves that on occasions I never took off whilst on shore due to the extreme cold!).
There is not much in the way of activities on board but most days at least one short 'event' would occur e.g. crossing the arctic circle ceremony, fish fillet demo, northern lights documentary etc.
The food was excellent and we were especially appreciative of the restaurant staff who made special 'kids' dinner meals for one of our teens (eg pizzas, burgers or replacing some of the more exotic food on the dinner menu with chips!). Breakfast and lunch are buffets normally timed for around 7-10am and 12 to 2pm with some slight variations based on the itinerary for the day. Dinner was a set sitting - ours was 8pm though one night they did a special late 9:15pm sitting for those of us on the Marble Mine excursion. This was greatly appreciated. We also at at the cafe a few times (extra charge) when we wanted a later lunch and found the food and service to be excellent. There is also a 'fancy' restaurant if you want to upgrade for dinner. We upgraded one person in our family to the King Crab one night but had this in the normal restaurant to accompany our usual dinner meal. It was about 640 Kroner from memory but you got a lot of crab that could be shared along with a glass of champagne and a nice creme brûlée dessert.
There is a small library in the deck 8 lounge that has donated books and this was actually stocked with a few good reads and we left behind some books we had been lugging around. You certainly have a lot of time to read on this cruise!
Life on board in winter also means Northern Lights! We were fortunate to have an amazing display on night 3, a smaller one the next night and some glimpses on the southbound leg as well. The excursion staff advised us all that night three was looking promising and they were not wrong! Announcements came over the phone system and everyone was up on deck pretty quick. Our best sighting came later in the night after we had been on deck for a while when we saw some incredible dancing effects with green and red colours all from our balcony! Indeed having the balcony was superb as when announcements came we could quickly check what was happening then decide whether to 'layer up' and head to the open decks (for some reason all the initial announcements on the Northbound leg were 'portside' where we were). Also on the southbound leg we saw the lights from our balcony to the rear of the ship ages before any announcement came - I guess the bridge crew would tend to focus their attention forward! With all the lights off in the cabin it was also possible to stay warm and enjoy the view through the large window and glass balcony doors.
We prebooked a number of excursions and all were very good however they were expensive! Best not to think about the cost and just enjoy the trips - though I was appreciative of the fact Hurtigruten charged a reduced child rate for our teens. Most places count 12 and up as adults so this policy certainly saved us some money. Here is a quick overview of the excursions we undertook -
EXPERIENCE BODØ AND SALTSTRAUMEN - A bus tour of Bodo followed by a visit to the tidal flow. It was quite a sight but my goodness was it cold here! Check the tides to see if the flow will be strong when you visit otherwise it may not be worth your time/money.
KIRKENES ICE HOTEL - We were originally going to do the husky sledge adventure but at -32 degrees it was too cold for the dogs to venture out so this was cancelled and we transferred to the Ice Hotel tour. It was a beautiful clear day with no wind and we even saw the sun peek over the horizon. The temp was so cold I could feel ice forming in my nose and we had to go into the ice hotel to warm up (it was only -5 in there!). A great place to visit - the ice and snow carvings are amazing and we got to see the reindeers and pat the huskies.
MIDNIGHT CONCERT IN THE ARCTIC CATHEDRAL - My wife and I did this leaving the kids on the ship to sleep. Very talented performers and a great experience.
A TASTE OF VESTERÅLEN - A bus tour of the countryside with amazing views and very fickle weather. We went from a raging snow storm to beautiful clear skies in the space of 15 minutes! The ferry ride with waffles and chees was very nice and the rendezvous with our ship was very cool and a big hit with the kids! A great tour that gave us the opportunity to see some more of this beautiful country then we would have from the ship.
BERGTATT - MAGNIFICENT MARBLE MINE - I don't think we have ever seen such crystal clear water as we did in this mine. A good tour that would be even better in summer when you would be walking along the Atlantic Sea road in the daylight instead of the dark as we were.
For the other places we visited where we had a stop of more then 15 minutes we would just google what was in town and wander in and check it out. I can recommend the Hurtigruten Museum in Stokmarknes (though I do wish we had a longer stay here than 1 hour), the Fjellheisen aerial tramway in Tromsø for some great views and also check out the many small museums you will come across within in a number of ports just a stones throw from where the ship docks.
The other aspect of this cruise I would like to comment on is the crew. They were all very friendly and helpful and treated our boys (the only kids on the ship for the round trip!) exceptionally well. As an example we needed some urgent medical advice for one of our kids and upon explaining the situation to reception they contacted the hospital at our port of call giving them all the details and arranged a taxi to take us straight there from the dock.
In summary this was our first 'small ship' cruise and it will not be our last. As long as you board this ship knowing what to expect and acknowledge that the weather will influence your northern lights viewing, some excursions etc you are bound to have a great time.
Very large with great balcony.