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We made a booking in November 2016 to travel through the North West Passage with Hurtigruten because of our interest in the history associated with this remote area. We had travelled with Hurtigruten before; doing the classic Norwegian ... Read More
We made a booking in November 2016 to travel through the North West Passage with Hurtigruten because of our interest in the history associated with this remote area. We had travelled with Hurtigruten before; doing the classic Norwegian coastal voyage, and had enjoyed that (apart from eye watering bar prices). The journey booked was titled “The Northwest Passage: In the Wake of Great Explorers – Eastbound” and was planned to travel from Cambridge Bay at the western end of the passage through to Pond Inlet at the eastern end followed by two stops in Greenland that were clearly there as part of repositioning the vessel. The information provided about Fram indicated it was a very capable ship and well suited to travel in difficult polar waters. Hurtigruten’s information also made much of the wildlife to be seen – another key point for us. While in Canada before the cruise we received your e-mail forwarding a communication from Hurtigruten on 5th September advising that our ship, MS Fram would not be able to reach Cambridge Bay. As requested by Hurtigruten, we attended the briefing on the evening of 9th September at the Hotel in Montreal which was hosted by Mario, the Expedition Leader, who was just re-joining the ship after leave and did not appear to be well briefed. He advised that ice conditions were unlike previous years but reassured us that he had a plan B and, if necessary, a plan C. When someone asked if we could cancel our trip and get a refund we were told to join the ship & it would all be sorted out on board. The following day the passengers were taken (in three separate groups) from the hotel and our group was flown to Resolute Bay, where we changed to smaller aircraft and flown to Pond Inlet (the last stop in Canada at the end of the North West Passage according to the original itinerary) where we boarded the ship. Once on the ship there was a fuller briefing by Karin Strand, Field Operations & Expedition Team Manager, who normally appears to work in head office. She seemed to have joined the ship for the two “North West Passage” voyages & we wondered if she had been put on board to provide a “Hurtigruten Head Office message”, as she left the ship with us on 22nd September. At the meeting she advised that the North West Passage was blocked by ice and that we would not be seeing anything of the original itinerary in Canada other than Pond Inlet. We were told that there were other good options including visiting Ellesmere Island. The next day the passengers were taken out to spend some time on an ice berg floating at sea, which was an interesting experience but not what we booked. It also involved lots of waiting around for our turn to use the small rubber boats. There were a good design in that they had steps at the bow and boards at the side but their capacity was small and there were nothing like enough for all passengers to use them at once even though the ship was far from full. The following day we were taken to North Arm on Baffin Island to see some very old rocks which was mildly interesting but not what we booked. That evening Karin finally admitted that Hurtigruten had run out of options given the difficult ice conditions as even Ellesmere Island (where the westbound cruise spent time) was now ice bound. At this point it also emerged that Fram has a limited ice capability (ice class 1B) and the Canadian Ice pilot had refused permission to go further into the ice because of that limitation. I found later that other companies’ ships with a 1A ice class had been allowed to go much further. Karin suggested that the ship headed for Greenland and those present agreed as it was better than going around in small circles getting nowhere. It was quite clear that Hurtigruten needed to go back to Pond Inlet to drop off the local person who had joined the ship 2 days earlier and also the Canadian Ice Pilot. We were given the option of simply dropping off these two people and immediately setting sail for Greenland or stopping and taking a look at Pond Inlet before departing. It was accepted by all that seeing the settlement of Pond Inlet was the better choice. At this point passengers also complained about the lack of the promised lectures activities on board and these started thereafter. This did reveal another weakness of our ship as the lecture theatre had an open back allowing lots of ambient noise in and no staged seating (and a low ceiling) meaning it was impossible to see the screen properly unless sitting right at the front. After slowly crossing Baffin Bay & the Davis Strait for 2 days we visited alternative four sites in Greenland which were scenic & somewhat interesting but not what we booked. I became bored with clambering over rocky barren places. The mood of the passengers became more and more fed up and Monty Python’s “Always look on the bright side of life” was adopted as an informal anthem – enough said! The last 2 planned visits to Ilulissat and Sissimiut went ahead as planned and were enjoyable. I have the following comments: - • No cruise ship has managed to transit the North West Passage this summer ( we believe that 4 ships had planned to go in the short season). • The Cambridge Bay Website stated that the Fram would not be visiting their settlement as far back as 24th August. The website content was subsequently changed and I was left with a clear impression that Hurtigruten had applied pressure to tell the story their way. • Subsequent research showed that the Canadian authorities were issuing ice warnings as early as 20th August and I find it highly improbably that Hurtigruten were not aware of this. • The briefing at the hotel did not make clear the full nature of the change to the itinerary. Ice maps were shown but the captions were not legible at a distance and the implications were not made clear. When someone asked if a refund was possible they were publicly told it was not. It appeared that Hurtigruten simply wanted to get us onto the ship so that further protest would not be possible. Mario could not confirm when asked what wildlife was spotted in Greenland during the westbound voyage which had just completed, which speaks of poor preparation but probably also they knew that little or no wildlife had been seen. • Hurtigruten knew before we travelled to the vessel that we would not be completing the full itinerary and should have offered a refund in line with their terms and conditions. I have included a cut and paste from their terms and conditions here:- “Occasionally we may have to make a significant change to your confirmed arrangements. Significant changes include the following: • Change of UK departure airport. A change from one London airport to another is not considered a major change. London airports are Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted, Luton and London City. • Change of your time of departure or return by more than 12 hours. • Change of your flight from a day flight to a night flight if this also includes a change to your departure time of 3 hours or more.† • Change of resort. • Change of holiday accommodation to accommodation of a lower official rating. † For the purposes of the contract night flights are those which depart from the UK between 2200 and 0600 hours or arrive in the UK between 2400 and 0600 hours. If we have to make a significant change or cancel we will notify you as soon as possible and if there is time to do so before departure we will offer you the choice of: (a) (for significant changes) accepting the change and the contract between us will then be varied to incorporate the change; or (b) accepting alternative arrangements altogether (subject to availability) of comparable or higher standard from us (at no extra cost); or (c) if available, accepting an offer of alternative arrangements of a lower standard, with a refund of the price difference between the original arrangements and the alternative arrangements; or (d) withdrawing from the booking completely in which case we will as soon as possible, refund all money paid to us. Passengers must give notice of their decision as soon as reasonably possible and not later than 7 days of being informed of the alteration. If we do not hear from you within 7 days, we will contact you again to request notification of your choice. If you fail to respond again, we will assume that you have chosen to accept the change or alternative booking arrangements.” Had a refund been available we would have taken it and made our own way home . • Hurtigruten’s strategy appeared to be divide and conquer – passengers repeatedly asked for an offer on board but this was refused. We were told each of us would be contacted separately when we returned home & that we would all be fairly dealt with, regardless of our nationality. • During the voyage passengers asked for a conference call to Hurtigruten senior management - this was refused. • Lectures did not start until passengers complained • Preparation for lectures was poor with audio visual not sorted until people were waiting • We paid a great deal of money and did not receive what was promised. We understand that the ship could not go through the ice & that safety is paramount (so much for Hurtigruten’s claims in the brochure which left many people believing that Fram has Ice Breaking capability). However, this is was not a minor change, as the fundamental element, the trip through the North West Passage in the footsteps of the explorers, was completely deleted. We came away with a clear impression that Hurtigruten simply wanted us to get on board ship, so they could try to manage their way through the problem and pay out as little as possible. Hurtigruten’s approach appears to be sly, sneaky, evasive and not in the slightest consumer focussed. • The safety briefing and lifeboat drill didn’t happen for 24 hours • Much was made of the wildlife to be seen when this cruise was advertised but we saw nothing in Canada (I think one person saw a seal) and the birdlife was limited and unremarkable. Initially it was suggested that Greenland was a good substitute but staff were evasive about what we might see in Greenland, despite questions on several occasions. Hurtigruten’s own MS Fram Voyage handbook page 7 highlights the wildlife we could see in Greenland. However, it was eventually admitted that we were too late in the season to see most things, as confirmed by the naturalist experts on the ship. We paused and looked at two “Bird Cliffs” that were completely devoid of birds. We saw no Polar Beas, Narwhal, Walruses, Seals, Musk Oxen, Reindeer, Artic Foxes or Arctic Hares. There were a few, very distant whale sightings. This was also very disappointing, as for many passengers, wildlife was a 2nd major consideration for booking (after seeing the NWP). Not all was bad:- • The staff were generally very good • The food was good (although not as good as it had been on the Norwegian coastal journey a few years ago) • Embarkation at the start of the cruise and disembarkation at the end were handled well • The specialist experts on board were generally good • Bar prices were reasonable We are in discussion with Hurtigruten about refund of monies paid but this proving to be hard work and so we are seeking legal support via our travel insurance. We have lost all confidence in Hurtigruten and have no wish to ever travel with them again. Read Less
Sail Date September 2018
What was supposed to be a trip of a lifetime booked 2 years in advance for a special occasion turned into a total disappointment and a waste of money. The purpose of the trip was to travel in the footsteps of the great explorers ... Read More
What was supposed to be a trip of a lifetime booked 2 years in advance for a special occasion turned into a total disappointment and a waste of money. The purpose of the trip was to travel in the footsteps of the great explorers visiting along the way all the historical sites associated with these early explorers, our trip was supposed to start in Cambridge Bay exiting Canada at Pond Inlet before ending in Greenland reversing the itinerary of the earlier westbound trip. 3 days before departure we were told Ice Conditions prevented the ship reaching Cambridge Bay and a new itinerary would be revealed in a briefing in Montreal before we flew to meet the ship. Despite the fact that it became obvious Hurtigruten were aware of the conditions a number of weeks before departure which resulted in this significant deviation to the itinerary they denied passengers the right to cancel or discuss any form of compensation until after the voyage was over. To cut a very long story short despite being assured we were going to the North West Passage we were flown to Pond Inlet, spent 3 days bobbing around this area before abandoning any pretext of attempting any of the NWP and headed for an extended out of season visit to Greenland hence the massive disappointment especially with the way Hurtigruten has dealt with this matter on board and since. On the positive side service staff as always were friendly, helpful and tried their best, although service levels were not at as high a level as my previous trip on Fram. I believe this was because Hurtigruten seem to have cut down on the numbers so the already overworked staff had even more to do. Whilst some passengers might have been satisfied, most given the cost of this trip were not. Hurtigruten have eventually offered some form of compensation, but for a significant number a passengers from around the globe this is not enough. Passengers accept that the journey could not be undertaken because of the Ice conditions, No ship was able to undertake the journey in 2018 and very few have done so in previous years without the help of Icebreakers, so it didn't matter which cruise line you chose this year as the NWP was inaccessible. The issue is not that the voyage could not be undertaken as disappointing as that was, but that Hurtigruten knowing the Ice Conditions a number of weeks before did not offer Cancellation, Compensation or any other alternative but to go on the trip and fight for compensation afterwards. If I was booked on one of the many sold out 2019/20 trips I would be worried and asking plenty of questions of whichever cruise line I have booked with. Finally if you are contemplating a trip like this to the more remote and less travelled areas of the globe, book in the knowledge you could very well be wasting your hard earned money as the trip like ours could be nothing like the original itinerary and turn into a big big disappointment. Read Less
Sail Date September 2018

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