When the ship is in the polar regions, everything onboard is geared towards maximising time ashore, while in other parts of the world, the daily routine is much as it would be on a regular cruise ship, with shore excursions and onboard activities.
Landings in Antarctica and the Arctic are done in waves of 100 at a time, with passengers divided into sub-groups named after animals and birds -- petrels, penguins, whales, seals and albatrosses. You're given a Velcro patch to stick to your jacket that denotes your group. All groups rotate, so everybody gets a turn at going first, and last.
Boarding the boats is both fun and exciting. The ship's 16 rigid inflatable boats, or RIBs (custom-made for Hurtigruten, so they're not Zodiacs -- they're bigger than standard, taking about 16, and extremely powerful), are kept in a tender pit below decks, so there's no waiting around for them to be lowered by crane. You embark via the Expedition Launch on Deck 3, a cool space with scarlet webbing military aircraft-style seating and giant screens beaming images of wildlife ashore. This serves as a briefing area and an assembly point for 36 passengers at a time. A door slides open and you step into the tenders, secured to a platform that folds out of the side of the ship. Passengers disembarking incoming tenders are channelled through a different way, via the automatic boot scrubbers and big sponges of disinfectant, mandatory for biosecurity.
Other activities in polar regions include kayaking, snowshoeing, hiking, ice-cruising in the RIBs and camping. Kayaking and camping cost extra and camping is organized by lottery, as places are limited.
The ship operates in two modes: as a regular cruise ship, stopping in ports and offering a range of excursions, or as an expedition ship, in polar regions, when landings and most activities are included.
From April 2020, one excursion in each port is included -- probably a sightseeing tour, or a hike. In Alaska, where the ship will sail in summer, a lumberjack tour and a visit to a cannery are included, as well as various walking tours. Others incur a charge and are at the expensive end; in Chile, a full day to Torres del Paine National Park costs €249 (admittedly for a 10-hour tour, so perhaps justifiable) and a vineyard visit with wine tasting €119.
When the ship is in Antarctica, you can expect one landing a day, done in strict rotation of groups to make things fair, and a choice of other activities, from kayaking (€149 on my cruise) to ice cruising in the RIBs, at no charge. On a landing, you'd normally get around 90 minutes to explore, which in most places was plenty; you can't walk far in Antarctica as there are strict rules about getting close to wildlife and the expedition crew mark out trails and barriers in front of seals or penguin colonies. There was always adequate time to commune with penguins, get good shots without people in the way and sit and absorb the views and the silence. Walking poles are provided.
In Alaska, there's no rule about a maximum of 100 passengers on shore at once, so expect more time ashore. Roald Amundsen will use branded Zodiacs for exploring and landing in Alaska, rather than its own RIBs, to comply with US regulations.
Several lectures are given by the expedition team every day on topics ranging from whales and seals to geology, photography and history. Talks take place in the Auditorium, a grand name for what's actually a rather uncomfortable space at one end of the Science Centre on Deck 6, with hard chairs and very poor sightlines, despite screens all around the room. Talks are streamed to cabin TVs, which is often a more comfortable way of watching. The Auditorium's giant LED screens can slide sideways and open out into the Science Centre so that for briefings, people sitting in the Science Centre itself can see and the speaker stands in the middle.
Talks are in English with simultaneous translation into German, with separate lectures in French. This may change according to the language groups on board. The excursion team of 19 includes several people with seriously impressive resumes, from PhD students to historians and marine biologists. On our voyage, some were more engaged with passengers than others, which we put down to the ship being new.
Several citizen science projects are available for passengers to join. Most are connected to apps that anybody can use, regardless of what ship they are on, although using the apps with an expert is both fun and educational. E-bird is a survey that logs birds, conducted twice a day on deck with the on-board ornithologist, while Happy Whale is a whale tracking app to which you upload photos of tail flukes and dorsal fins. There's also a NASA Cloud Survey.
More interestingly, some of the expedition team incorporate their PhD research into guest activities. For example, you can go out in a tender with a marine biologist to collect phytoplankton and then examine the plankton under the microscopes in the Science Centre back on board.
One of the most exciting features of the ship's science offering is the Blueye underwater drone, a nifty little garget that beams footage back to the ship from as deep as 150 metres to big screens, iPads or headsets. The drone is deployed wherever conditions permit.
All entertainment on board is educational. On our cruise, there were two watercolor sessions in the Photo Room, a seminar room off the Science Centre, as well as a chance to model and paint a miniature clay penguin. Sometimes, a film would be shown instead of a lecture, usually about exploration, and on one sea day, a trivia quiz took place in the Explorer Lounge.
A cocktail pianist plays in the Explorer Lounge in the afternoons and evenings, creating a pleasant soundtrack to a beautiful space, surrounded by windows. Other than this, though, there's no nightlife; there isn't really any demand for it.
The Explorer Lounge, the main bar, is a serene space, occupying more than half of Deck 10 and seating 240, done out in pale wood, blues, greys and browns and accentuated with nautical artefacts. Decorative touches include a chart table, where a paper chart of the voyage is displayed. This lounge is the main social hub of the ship, flooded with light, with seating all around the windowed perimeter and a row of comfortable day beds facing forwards, under sloping glass. Tea, coffee and cookies are available at the bar, and this is the place to come for a decent espresso, rather than the machine-made drinks on offer in the Science Centre and the Aune restaurant. Drinks are reasonably priced; a beer is €5, cocktails €7.50 and a selection of Aquavits, a Norwegian speciality, €7.50. There's no additional service charge. The lounge is open all the time, with bar service from 10 a.m. to midnight.
The back half of the room is sometimes used for lectures, with TV screens around the walls; several of the talks for smaller groups, the French-speakers, for example, were held here. This section can be closed off with a sliding door.
The Pool Bar, located aft on Deck 10 and overlooking the infinity pool and Jacuzzis, is open from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., weather permitting. The bar menu is the same as in the Explorer Lounge, with tea and coffee available all day. A rich, delicious hot chocolate is available from an urn from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., free of charge. Shots can be added for €8.50.
The Science Centre
The Science Centre on Deck 6 is the educational hub of the ship, decorated with maps, replica animal skulls, lists of wildlife sightings and interactive screens. The expedition team have their reception here and are generally available to chat with. There's a giant touchscreen world map and a big table by an orca skull used for small, informal chats, mini-lectures and gatherings, or plugging in laptops to share photos. Shelves of books hold reference guides in several languages, as well as a small fiction section. Two tables of high-end Zeiss microscopes are used for guided sessions. There's always a happy buzz in this area, with people coming and going to talks, stopping for coffee or reading in the comfortable chairs.
There are two large, 10-person hot tubs aft on Deck 10 as well as a heated infinity pool. Loungers are available, while there are cosier seating areas under shelter either side of the bar. The seating area on the right side is the ship's only smoking area.
One deck higher, Deck 11, there's a walking/running track, 150m around, well-used by joggers and passengers walking in the fresh air. Outdoor gym equipment is dotted around the track, with instructions on use.
There's another outdoor viewing area, the Observation Deck on Deck 7, on the ship's bow, a popular spot when there are whales and dolphins alongside the ship. Just under this, on Deck 6, there are toughened windows all the way round the bow, making a nifty and sheltered spot from which to watch the action out of the wind and spray.
There's even space for science experiments here, including a specimen tank. The ship has no wraparound promenade deck beyond the running track, but there are sheltered deck areas on Deck 6 by the Science Centre to which you can make a quick exit when a sighting of whales is announced over the PA.
The onboard currency is the Euro. US and Canadian dollars, pounds sterling and Danish, Norwegian and Swedish Krone are also accepted.
The ship is accessible to the less mobile. There are toilets for wheelchair users on Decks 6 and 10 and several wheel-chair adapted cabins, as well as three elevators.
There is a medical centre on Deck 3. Appointments and medication are charged for but seasickness pills are handed out free at Reception.
Filtered water dispensers are available on every deck, offering chilled, room temperature or carbonated water. A metal Hurtigruten branded flask is given to each guest to keep.
Laundry is fast and efficient. Laundry bags are made from upcycled hotel sheets and clothes are returned wrapped in tissue paper in a wooden box, as part of the line's plastic-free initiative. It's not cheap, though; €5 for a pair of trousers or a shirt and €2 per item of underwear. There is no passenger launderette.
The gift shop on Deck 6 sells jewellery, soft toys and logowear, as well as a good stock of hiking trousers and tops and Helly Hansen outdoors gear -- gloves, thermals and hats. There's also a wall of everyday necessities -- and anything you can't find here is available from an extensive shopping list in the cabin featuring everything from chocolate to deodorant.
The reception desk is also on Deck 6, just along from the expedition desk. The expedition team handles everything that takes place off the ship and the receptionists take care of hotel-related matters onboard. A second reception area, on Deck 4, is only used on embarkation days and is strangely redundant for the rest of the voyage.
A small spa opposite the gym on Deck 7 has three treatment rooms and offers massages and facials, using products made by Darphin, Kalahari, Guinot, PH-Forumula and Ecru New York. Treatments are charged by time: €65 for 25 minutes, €125 for 50 minutes and €215 for 75 minutes.
There's a magnificent sauna on the right side of Deck 10, seating at least 20, with a whole wall of glass. Separate changing rooms, lockers and showers for men and women are located either side. The sauna schedule includes mixed, men-only and women-only sessions and, this being a Norwegian ship, the sauna is clothing optional. It's also a popular spot for socialising.
The small Fitness Centre on Deck 7, open from 6am to 10pm, features SKILLMILL equipment – bikes, running machines and rowing machines, as well as free weights and yoga mats. There's a small area for matwork at one end. The area is unsupervised.
Hurtigruten is generally family-friendly but less so on polar cruises. The minimum age for travel to Antarctica and South Georgia is five and even then, children under 12 will be considered for each landing based on conditions. There's no children's menu on Roald Amundsen, or babysitting.
A Young Explorers' program, offering educational and fun, science-based activities operates for six to 12-year-olds when there are kids on board.