While the experience of sailing Hurtigruten is one of the most rewarding travel experiences I have ever enjoyed, there are some facts about life on board that are worth this separate blog, especially as many of them could be deal breakers for some people when deciding to book.
Firstly, I cannot emphasise enough that Hurtigruten is a ferry route, and NOT a cruise ship kind of experience. There is no structured entertainment; the evening meal is a set, three course affair and, perhaps more surprisingly, after dinner tea and coffee is no longer included. This applies also to the self service, free tea and coffee machines that are available at breakfast and lunch.
People are sometimes surprised that things such as bottled water incur a charge and, like the on board alcohol, it’s a pretty hefty one at that, especially for those unused to being in Norway. A small beer can run to £6, and a bottle of ordinary wine to about £40. Tea or coffee will set you back around £2.80.
The simple truth here is that prices are tied to those charged ashore in Norway, which has one of the highest standards of living in Europe. The Hurtigruten ferries all fly the Norwegian flag, and each has an all Norwegian crew. To top that, they always sail in Norwegian territorial waters on their Arctic adventures. Hence, prices charged ashore are reflected on board. Far better sometimes just to sit back and drink in all that spectacular scenery.
Yes, the cabins are small (save for a handful of suites), but they are perfectly comfortable and, truth be told, you won’t spend a lot of time in them in any event. There are no nice toiletries, save for wall mounted body wash and shampoo in the shower. Bring your favourites from home, if need be.
Forget chocolates on your pillow, too (though, to be fair, most cruise lines already have). And, though the room is cleaned and resupplied every morning, there is no nightly turn down service. You’ll have to master the awesome responsibility of having to unfold your own duvet before bedtime.
No need for all the resort wear that you might take on a cruise ship, either. Practical, multi layered stuff at all hours of the day and night will be far more useful out here than tuxes and tiaras, thanks.
On board, the ship’s regular expedition team lead excursions ashore, and host events such as the ceremony of crossing the Arctic Circle. During time en route between ports, they host lectures, complete with question and answer sessions, on the upcoming ports of call. On some evenings, they will share stories of local lore and traditions that can add hugely to the appreciation of the waters you are actually travelling in.
Another quintessentially Norwegian experience is the periodic, on deck commentaries as you pass some famous headland or marker point. Often as not, the chef will serve up some hot, tasty local tidbits from the same area to ensure that the inner man is as well fed as the mind. It helps to create a sense of immediate intimacy that simply cannot be replicated on a big cruise ship.
On the more general front, these ships can accumulate a covering of snow and ice on the outer decks at any time of the day or night. Always exercise care when walking on any outdoor surface. If you are disabled, or have any form of mobility concerns, then it is definitely best to contact Hurtigruten and get the lowdown from them, before you consider booking a trip. Also note that, at some ports at least, you may have to carry your own luggage both on and off the ship.
Are you guaranteed to see the Northern Lights? No. Hurtigruten cannot make weather, and Mother Nature can be a fickle lady at any season. Though the chances are good in winter, no one can guarantee them.
That said, there are more than enough other visual highlights and heart stopping vistas on this northern odyssey, as I hope this series of blogs has demonstrated. Northern Lights or nay, this is still truly an adventure like no other.
Go with an open mind, some guarded expectations, and plenty of warm, layered clothing. Ditch the notion of a luxury cruise adventure overboard, because Hurtugruten is, once again, not a cruise.
What Hurtigruten is without a doubt, is the authentic Norwegian lifestyle afloat. The crew and cuisine often hail from the same fjord towns. Sometimes, both are taken aboard in a small town at some god forsaken hour of the morning. Hurtigruten ships are sailed by Norwegian skippers that know these waters like the backs of their hands. Those ships are sturdy and accommodating, rather than spectacular and amazing. They will keep you warm, safe, well fed, and (largely) on schedule.
That last sentence is the very definition of what constitutes a voyage, as opposed to a cruise. This is a purposeful, ocean going adventure, where the main attraction- and entertainment- is the magnificent, unwinding scenery of winter time Norway itself.
Keep that in mind at all times, and you’ll never go too far wrong on Hurtigruten.