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41 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: February 2017
We just returned from the Hurtigruten Midnatsol Chilean Fjords and Antarctica cruise, February 3 to 17, 2017. We had a fantastic time and were completely glad that, after a lot of research and planning, we chose this ship and itinerary. ... Read More
We just returned from the Hurtigruten Midnatsol Chilean Fjords and Antarctica cruise, February 3 to 17, 2017. We had a fantastic time and were completely glad that, after a lot of research and planning, we chose this ship and itinerary. Hurtigruten does an outstanding job with the excursions, cruisings, landings, destination information and safety. Some other specifics could use more organization. But it was Antarctica that we came for and we got it beyond expectations. We flew to Santiago and were given one night at the Sheraton by the cruise line as well as transfers and charter flight to and from Punta Arenas, Chile. The hotel, while adequate, was not one we would choose again as it needs updating and the air conditioning does not work well. However, it sufficed before the journey. There were 384 passengers onboard, a mix of Americans, Germans, French, Japanese and a few Australians and Canadians. We each were assigned into groups and busses for the two charter flights to Punta Arenas. We were advised that, because the ship had arrived late, boarding would be delayed by 4 hours. The flight was uneventful and we had beautiful views of the snow capped mountains in Patagonia. One point though, seat assignments were not negotiable and couples were not seated together. Due to the ship’s delay, the cruiseline hired a company that took us all on a 4 hour tour of the city and provided a box lunch. This was unfortunate as we spent almost two hours walking in a cemetery and two hours on the bus waiting to board. Boarding was chaotic and time consuming, but once aboard, it was obvious that things would get under control. We had been extremely fortunate to be notified of a 24-hour sale Hurtigruten was holding which offered 50% off cabins for this sailing. We were able to get one of the two Owners Suites on the ship for an outstanding price which included the flights in Chile and the hotel night. We checked in on the 8th deck for our suite while sipping a glass of complementary champagne. We then handed in our mandatory doctor’s certification and health survey to the medics and soon were enjoying the beautiful facilities. The suite had a living room, dining area, separate bedroom, one full bath and one half bath, walk in closet, and walls of windows and a door out to the 40 foot balcony across half the back of the ship. It was magnificent and we were thrilled. Our room stewards, Rodney and Cyrus were first class and kept the suite spotless and made us feel extremely welcome. We also were pleased to find out that, with the suite, we had privileges for a separate breakfast venue in Pampas restaurant with cooked to order breakfast. We received free WIFI for the entire trip, a bottle of wine with dinner each evening, wine, beer, soft drinks and water with lunch, free laundry, binoculars, a bathrobe and slippers, a fruit basket, and a full mini-bar. There was a coffeemaker and tea making amenities. These suite perks definitely came in handy. The one odd thing was that we had to pay for bottled water at $2 per bottle. Hurtigruten also provided a great waterproof jacket for us to keep, and boots to use for the entire cruise. Each excursion on Antarctica required that the boots be cleaned and disinfected when reboarding the ship. The boots were warm and comfortable and easy to walk in. Temperatures were routinely in the mid 30s, although it was windy at times. But we never were cold. We were assigned to groups for all the landings and the cruisings. Since only 100 people can land on Antarctica at a time, the 384 passengers were divided up into groupings. While some groups were landing, others went cruising and then vice versa. It was a great use of our time and gave us different perspectives of each site. We were able to do 13 zodiac excursions, which we thought was great. The expedition crew was extremely professional, zodiac drivers informative and keeping safety in mind while showing us the beautiful landscape and wildlife. We had a briefing before each site to help us understand the history and geography as well as logistics. Our program included cruising Garibaldi Fjord and Glacier with condor sightings, and the rest of the Chilean Fjord glaciers which are simply breathtaking. We did a landing on Cape Horn and climbed the 176 steps up to the top on the way to the lighthouse and memorial. We met the lighthouse family and saw the albatross memorial to lost sailors. Then it was on to the Drake Passage, which was smooth as could be. We were amazed at the calm and beautiful weather conditions. We then arrived at Half Moon Island and did landings with many chinstrap penguins and fur seals. In the afternoon, we cruised the area and its icebergs and mountains. The next day was Damoy Point with landings, cruising and a snowshoe hike for those who wished. Gentoo penguins and icebergs abounded. Next day Neko Harbor provided humpback whale sightings, minke whales, leopard seals, crabeater seals, and gentoos. Later we cruised the beautiful Lemaire Channel and reached 65 degrees 5 South. Next day we arrived at Gonzalez Videla Chilean Navy site and were welcomed by officers and many Gentoo penguins. We were able to tour the buildings and have our passports stamped “Antarctica.” In the afternoon, we arrived in Port Lockroy and members of the research team there came aboard and sold some souvenirs and spoke about their station. Next day was Orne Harbour where a beautiful rainbow welcomed us to the foggy and snowy landscape. The terrain was steep but held chinstrap penguins and a beautiful view of the surrounding mountains. We were met by the Seabourn Quest and the captain, a friend of our captain, requested some special Norwegian sweet goat cheese, which was delivered by tender to him. We sailed to Wilhemina Bay in the afternoon but, since the wind and waves were too high, we cruised in the ship and not the zodiacs. The 6th and last day in Antarctica took us to haunting Whalers Bay, Deception Island. This caldera holds the remains of the whaling and fur seal trade, as well a past Chilean research facilities, destroyed by volcanic eruptions. The rusting buildings are a stark reminder of nature’s hold on this continent. We were met in the Bay by the Fram, our sister ship and exchanged ship’s horn greetings. Our trip back up the Drake Passage was an adventure like no other. We had been warned that the seas would be high, but we had 36 straight hours of high wind and seas. When we awoke following the Passage, we found a Storm Certificate at our door stating that we had been on board during a hurricane with gusts of over 73.8 mph and waves of 12-15 meters (36-45 feet). We did not leave the cabin during the storm except to find apples and crackers, and taking a shower was a real feat! But, we were fine and have to admit, relieved, when the seas calmed down. It was part of our Antarctic experience! We resumed sailing up the Beagle Channel and stopped for a few hours to walk the small quaint town of Puerto Williams, Chile. On our last day, we cruised Isla Tucker in the zodiacs and saw many cormorants, Gentoo penguins, flightless steamer ducks, Kelp gulls, skuas, The fjords and mountains are breathtaking along the route. We arrived in Punta Arenas and were bussed to the airport for our flight to Santiago. Once again, things were chaotic and we all were sent to the wrong gate and had to scramble to board our charter plane. One really bothersome point was the young man Hurtigruten sent to accompany the first flight, which we were on. Shortly after takeoff, he grabbed the microphone and basically spoke gibberish for 15 minutes. He kept saying, “who am I” “what am I doing here” and giggling. Extremely unprofessional. He gave no relevant information and frankly was a bit disturbing. We think it would be wise to check out who is sent to accompany passengers. The Midnatsol itself is a beautiful vessel with lots of lovely contemporary artwork. There are soaring two-story windows in the forward observation lounge. The theater is comfortable and accommodates lectures and movies well. The ship only felt crowded when passengers were lining up for the buffet meals. There is a small café which sells snacks like candy and chips, a store, a number of bars, a sauna and hot tubs on the 9th deck. Breakfast and lunch were always buffet in the main dining room. Dinner was buffet except for 6 set meals that were scattered throughout the cruise. For that we were assigned tables. There was a set menu with the choice of a substitute entrée if one preferred and told the dining room manager before 2:30 on the day. We found the food good to excellent and the variety was large. The first evening was impressive with beef tenderloin and king crab legs among the buffet offerings. Overall, the soups were outstanding, fresh bread plentiful and a variety of desserts to suit everyone. There always were vegetables and some fruit, although fresh fruit was the one thing we wished more of. We tried reindeer carpaccio which was great, fantastic arctic char, lamb and pork in many varieties. There were always smoked fish, salmon, cheese and cold cuts. We did not go hungry. Our breakfast was usually taken in Pampas Restaurant, and we ordered off the menu for a la minute cooked food. Breakfast was complimentary to suite guests and the fruit boards, meat and cheese boards and eggs cooked to order were always good. The highlight of eating in Pampas was to be served by Gracie, “Amazing Gracie” we called her. She provided the best service of any employee on any cruiseline we have taken (70 cruises). She was always cheerful, anticipated our orders, gave us a hand made Valentine bouquet, and watched over us in the dining room as well. Gracie basically ran Pampas restaurant single handedly. This specialty restaurant also served a three course dinner for $20 pp. We had dinner there three evenings and it was amazing. The restaurant has one entrée called “Asado” which is a large board which consists of a thick, beautifully grilled Porterhouse, chorizo, grilled vegetables and potatoes. Along with an appetizer and dessert, it was a very satisfying meal. We went with friends two nights and by ourselves one night. Gracie kept the entire restaurant going and everything came out perfectly. She always had the bottle of our complementary wine waiting on our table for us. We wish we could say the same for the service in the main dining room. On most every occasion with the set meals, we were ignored by the wait staff for upwards of 30 minutes, without offer of water or other service. On one occasion where we ate with friends at the set dinner, three of the people at our table were served and the fourth was left with an empty plate and no food for three courses. One night one dessert was brought for the whole table. We consistently had to go to the restaurant manager to get service while tables next to us were served by the staff. We thought it was a fluke the first night, but after 6 nights of the same service, we were quite upset. The staff always apologized, but then ignored us the next night. We still do not know what happened. Our table was in the middle of the dining room by a window and not easy to miss. We have never had such bad restaurant service. But we took the ship for the itinerary, not the restaurant and it did deliver on Antarctica. Overall, we loved our Hurtigruten Midnatsol cruise and the wonders of Antarctica and the Chilean Fjords. We would highly recommend this ship if you are considering an expedition ship. The officers and expedition staff were friendly, outgoing, approachable and knowledgeable. We also really felt that safety was a top priority and, despite the high seas, never once had an inkling of concern. We loved the zodiac cruising and will treasure the photos and memories. Antarctica is a dream destination with unbelievable wildlife, landscapes, sunsets, rainbows, glaciers mountain peaks and icebergs. We spent a great deal of our time just amazed by our surroundings and the beauty and harshness rolled into one spectacular place. We are fortunate to have experienced it. Read Less
2 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: November 2006
You must purchase medical evacuation insurance and be in reasonable health. While there is a fully qualified doctor on board at all times, the distances from medical services necessitate these measures. Temperatures will drop to about -2 ... Read More
You must purchase medical evacuation insurance and be in reasonable health. While there is a fully qualified doctor on board at all times, the distances from medical services necessitate these measures. Temperatures will drop to about -2 degrees C in Antarctica. Bring layered clothing, a good camera, binocs. and a willingness to be awestruck! There is no doubt it was the 'trip of a lifetime'. Here are some observations. Weather- we had very good conditions, despite it being early in the season. The crossing of the Drake Passage was a dream heading south, and a little lumpy coming back, but not bad! Santiago, Chile and Buenos Aires were warm, as to be expected. In Antarctica itself, the waterproof windbreakers they provided (and you get to keep!) were more than adequate with a decent polar fleece and turtleneck underneath. The coldest it got was -3 degrees C. Food- Norwegian Coastal is Norwegian, and Norwegians eat fish, so expect eight kinds of herring, plus anchovy paste, shrimp and crayfish salads, smoked salmon, gravlax, and the rest of it. I was in heaven, but others, quite frankly, had their fill after a couple of days aboard. But fear not- there was also whole Patagonian lamb, suckling pig, Argentinean steaks barbecued on the aft deck, and lots of salads, endless versions of potatoes, and of course, truly excellent desserts. Especially good were the mousses (usually about three or four of them at lunch or dinner), and the cheesecakes. Most days were buffets, and they were favored over the more formal plate service. There was a Norwegian themed buffet one night, and a Philippine one on another (the staff, other than the Norwegian officers, were almost all Filipino, and a delight!). Ashore in Patagonia, take advantage of the excellent regional cuisine, and of course, drink lots of wine. Onboard, they offered a 4-pack of wine for about $60USD, a deal. For those who needed more than three square, there was a 24 hour self serve cafeteria with coffees, teas, and yet more cakes, pies and other confections. Amenities aboard- limited! No tv's or DVD's in the staterooms, quite a lot of down time between shore excursions and while crossing the Drake (36 hours each way). There is a good library, and you can sign out special books if you need that ornithological atlas or history of Antarctic explorers. There are puzzles and cards. There was a forward lounge that was almost always in use by guests just staring at the wondrous panoramas. A very small fitness room was hardly used, and remarkably, only a few cottoned onto the twin hot tubs located in a very sheltered spot on the 6th level aft deck. A great place to watch, again, the passing glorious viewscapes. There is good internet, and one hour costs $10. What is absolutely extraordinary, though, is the telephone connectivity. A 40 minute card costs $17, and you can call home within seconds. You would think you're talking to someone in the next room, the service is so good. You'll get hooked, believe me. Liquor prices and selection are not the greatest, but there were few serious imbibers aboard. You could bring your own booze if you drank in your stateroom. There was a nightly special, and Aquavit was the favorite. Staterooms- I wouldn't encourage purchase of an inside cabin. With daylight extending 20 hours a day, there is always something to look at out the window. So spring for a decent category. I recommend N or higher. The berths are singles until you get into the junior suite category, and furnishings are spare. But immaculately clean, like the whole ship, and all you need. The bathrooms are snug, but absolutely workable. The wiring is 220 volt, so bring a converter to charge your camera batteries or run that small electronic device you might have brought along. Itinerary-there is no doubt this is 'Antarctica Lite'- we didn't venture much south of 65 degrees, and in fact were blocked from entering Lemaire Passage because of ice conditions. However, we clearly saw the best-of-the-best. If you take an icebreaker, you will get further south but by all accounts from sea hardened expedition leaders we saw pretty much everything you might want to. Later in the season there are more whales- we saw only half a dozen or so, and the penguin chicks will have hatched, but we saw the spring snow fields in all their glory. As well, we got to venture into the Weddell Sea, where giant chunks of the Larsen iceshelf have broken off and would float past in endless succession. The ship could maneuver to within a few meters of these behemoths- sometimes over a hundred feet high (with the other 800 feet or so below the surface). They were well over a kilometer long and half that width- containing about a billion or so gallons of ancient frozen water. Which brings up the point about global warming- the lecturers talked about the issue a lot. Some populations of penguins have been dislocated due to warming conditions, and in Patagonia, the glaciers are rapidly retreating. In Antarctica itself, the ice isn't leaving any time too soon, but without doubt there are changes. The krill, on which the whales, pelagic birds and penguins feed, is diminishing, and areas that were once snow covered-eg at Port Lockroy, are now bare of snow even in their 'May'. If you really feel compromised traveling half way round the world and adding to the CO2 atmospheric load, we can arrange for you to purchase offsetting carbon credits. click here to find out how to offset CO2 Feel good about your adventure! The five days we spent in Patagonia were phenomenal. Perfect weather for Torres del Paine- a long day aboard a coach to get glimpses of the Unesco Heritage Site National Park. Punta Arenas is actually a delightful town, and Puerto Natales, with its endless trekker services, beckons for a return visit. Even tiny Puerto Williams, jumping off point to Cape Horn, has its charms, and we spent a pleasant morning walking around and viewing the 'Yacht Club at the End of the Earth'. We even ran into Rolf Bjelke on the dock, captain of a 40 foot sailboat that he and partner Deborah Shapiro had sailed to Antarctica and overwintered in the very areas we were to visit. Their tale, published as Time on Ice, cemented their legendary status among bluewater sailors. Ushuaia is a sizable town with three excellent museums/galleries- one of them in an old prison! Strongly recommended. Expedition leaders- there were historians, geologists, bird biologists, whale and penguin experts, even a glaciologist aboard. They gave lectures and showed slides/played naturalist themed movies pretty much every day. In German, French and English (separately!) You could not have asked for more topical information. Which suited the guests just fine- most were 50's to 70's, well traveled, well educated, and game for adventure. It was delightful to see a late 80's pair of identical twins decked out in polar gear, eager to get out onto the ice each day. We got about 10 shore landings, each about an hour in duration. The loading of the Polar Cirkel inflatables was done by 'grupas'- in our case 9 groups who were called in rotating order. So you had a pretty good idea of when you needed to be on deck 2, decked out in your gear, lifejacket secured, ready to go. Once ashore, you could stay a bit beyond your allotted hour, because some people always went back a bit early. The boats were safe, fast, and very professionally handled. A couple of times, we just did a little driveabout, weaving between icebergs and along dramatic shorelines. The ship itself was VERY agile, and could literally turn in its own length, thanks to fore and aft thrusters. We got into places I swear looked impassable. For sure, you don't do that on Princess Cruises, and the 100 passenger adventure ships that do get closer just aren't nearly as comfortable. NCV is very good compromise! Most of all, you needed a good camera. I shot over a thousand pictures on my new Nikon D70s digital, and felt like a rank amateur compared to some of the real camera fiends. Despite the hackneyed term, this is a world class experience, and recording it HAS to be one of the greater pleasures. And if you missed the great shot, don't worry- the staff take loads of pictures and sell a CD of the best on the last day. We bought one... Travel arrangements- The inclusive package includes air from a North American gateway city, a night in Santiago (at the 5 star Intercontinental), an internal charter flight to Punta Arenas, return to Buenos Aires with an overnight at the very deluxe Panamericano, then return home. Transfers are included. I STRONGLY recommend air deviations to allow for a longer stay pre/post cruise. It is a long way to travel, and squeezing a couple of extra days either end makes a lot of sense. Our small sub-group got together and did day trips to wine country (Colchagua and Maipo Valleys) in Chile, as well as to Valparaiso and the seaside home of Chilean literary icon Pablo Neruda. We retained a van that comfortably seated seven of us and the knowledgeable driver/guide. The 12 hour tours cost about $90 each/day all in, with the independence to choose exactly what we wanted to see and for how long, plus delightful lunches. We did a half day self directed tour of Santiago, and in doing so ran into the same tour buses that would have been the alternative. Do eat out at any of the fantastic restaurants located within two blocks of the hotel. Imagine gourmet dining for $30/person with exquisite wines. By the way, generous buffet breakfasts were supplied at the hotels. In Buenos Aires we retained a professional guide, who packed in more BA than could have been imagined. Everything from the San Telmo market to La Boca, eating huge steaks at the famous Parilla Las Lilas in Puerto Madero, visiting the Museo del Belle Artes (fabulous!), the trendy area known as Recoletta- with the grand Hotel Alvear as its striking hub, and time left over for shopping- leather and jewelry being very good buys. Norwegian Coastal offers pre/post trips to Iguassu Falls, Atacama desert in northern Chile, even Easter Island. I tried to price these out independently, and their packages were very price competitive. Tipping- is at your own discretion, but please, be generous. The crew on all ships work very hard, long hours, every day, away from family, for pretty low base pay. Your gratuities make all the difference. The recommended amount is $12USD/person/day, on your credit card. If you prefer, vary that, and leave envelopes with cash for your cabin steward and servers. By the way, bank machines work well in Argentina and Chile, and cards are nearly universally accepted. But do take small denomination US dollars, for tips and for incidentals. These are still developing countries, and your dollar looks like three dollars to an Argentinean! A small price to pay for a big privilege in seeing this part of the world. Read Less
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