We chose this cruise to celebrate our 10th anniversary and as a way to see a large part of remote Norway in a somewhat short amount of time wherein both my husband and I could sit back, relax, do what we wished to each day and not have to worry about the planning, logistics or stress of getting from place to place, figuring out meals or finding places to stay along the way. We chose Hurtigruten because neither of us are a fan of very "touristy" types of planned activities and destinations (including all-inclusive vacations and huge cruise ships), and with the smaller boats and the fact that they go to many of the smaller ports and towns that one would never see on their own without a boat and lots of time, and the whole operation seems to have a lighter touch on the communities they visit versus the huge negative impact that larger cruise ships seem to have on cities and cultural sites.
Despite the cost, we were honestly not expecting much since we had read that Hurtigruten also serves as a commercial transport ship, car transport and ferry in addition to the destination touring function they provide. And they do provide these services, but they are integrated so nicely into the seamless operation of the voyage that they only added to the experience for us, rather than detracting in any way. But from the moment we stepped on board, to the time we departed, we were absolutely delighted with the whole experience. The whole ship was immaculate! Our room was larger and more comfortable and nicer than we thought from the photos we saw on Hurtigruten's website. We were also conveniently located to the two very nice and clean and cozy outdoor hot tubs and the 7th floor deck, sun porch, cafe and bar. The staff were kind, helpful and informative; the excursions were well-planned and every one that we participated in went smoothly and without a single hiccup. The guides on both the excursions and the boat were knowledgeable about many things and made each evening fun with planned lectures and activities for all the guests.
And the food! It was all spectacular! Everything was fresh, deliciously prepared, plentiful, thoughtful, relevant to the regions and their food heritage, and beautifully spread. Of our nearly 3-weeks in the country, we only had a couple of other meals that topped the food we ate while on-board the ship, and this is saying a lot as we orient every vacation we take around trying to find the best cuisine that any place we visit has to offer.
The cabin was better than anticipated. Everything was spotless, the bed was very comfortable, we had a nice foyer and entry vestibule and kitchenette with generous storage space for our clothes, shoes, jackets, wine and snacks. There was a small, but comfortable living area with a small sofa and huge window with an unobstructed view out to the water and fjords, and since this was on the level above the outdoor deck, no one can walk by and peer in your window. The bathroom was slightly larger than we expected and what was pictured for the type of room and had a full shower and nice, heated floors. We also were situated close to the door to the rear deck of the ship and hot tubs, and had easy access to the 7th floor deck and sun porch where many of the ship activities were held. We loved our quarters and were very comfortable on the ship throughout the voyage! The only thing that could have been better is that the boat sends jets of water over the windows at about 6AM each morning to clean the windows which was very noisy and woke us up every day. And there also is a lot of noise from the motors on the boat each time you dock and leave a port throughout the night - which is not an issue with the room, just the nature of being on a boat that makes many stops throughout the night. But this was not something we anticipated and did cause some restless nights of being awoken from our sleep.
There was plenty of time during our stop to walk around the city and up to the top of a hill with an old fortress overlooking the city, see some of the historic harbor areas, and find an excellent coffee roaster. There were many excellent-looking restaurants in this town and the views of the historic warehouses across the old bridge and river were quite special in the early morning light. There is a beautiful and intricate gothic cathedral in this town that was completely and painstakingly reconstructed, stone by stone over a 200-year period and is a not-to-miss feature. We did not take the tour as we felt it was a bit expensive and wanted to have time to see other areas of the city, but hope to come back again and explore this area further on our own time in the future!
We took the Atlantic Road excursion, which ended in Molde. This was a very lovely town and we would have liked to have had more time to walk around and stayed a night or two. There is a large and new soccer arena and some high-end hotels in the town since the town hosts one of the most renowned international jazz festivals each July with many visiting celebrities and artists. The portion of the Atlantic Road adventure that includes all of the bridges is actually quite a bit shorter than expected, but the scenery was absolutely breathtaking and included stops to one of the beautiful old historic stave churches and a delicious lunch of homemade bacalao stew, bread and a caramel custard in a wonderful small roadside restaurant. Definitely a recommended trip!
Bergen is a true city with lots of character and would be best enjoyed over a few days. The Bryggen area is quite interesting and worth a visit when not overrun with tourists from the large cruise ships, and there are a number of well-rated shops and restaurants around that area sprinkled among some very horrible souvenir shops. The old fort is also quite interesting to visit and hosts the largest beer festival in Norway (featuring only Norwegian beers), which happened to be going on while we were in town. Also, I can highly recommend taking the funicular railway to the top of the mountain overlooking the city, then walking through the woods to a small lake and then down the hill back to the city (which is only a few kilometers and does not take much time going down - maybe 45 minutes at most and not a difficult walk since much of the way is paved or over nice trails, but good shoes are recommended as it can be steep in places). There are a number of wonderful restaurants, galleries, coffee shops, clothing boutiques, museums and nearby scenic destinations that are not-to-miss (including the home of Edvard Grieg and the Flam railway). We loved Bergen and thought it was a bit edgier and more true/gritty of a city than Oslo and some of the smaller and more picturesque cities and fishing ports we stopped at along our journey.