A viable weekend, anytime.
1. So easy to find a short trip in most weeks Hurtigruten’s reputation is growing due to some clever advertising and an alternative offering to traditional cruising withs trip options from a few hours to a day or two through to full voyages lasting typically up to two weeks. Hurtigruten’s appeal has spread and was clear on this trip with German, Scandinavian, Italian, French, Irish, North American, Chinese, Dutch, Indian, Australian and UK amongst the passengers and I sure people from several other nations as well. Ten years ago the lack of useable information on line would have deterred us from such a trip; nowadays it takes very little time to organise all aspects of any trip using Skyscanner, Booking.com, euro train websites and local transport info websites as well as Hurtigruten’s own excellent website. Although this was our first Hurtigruten trip of more than one night duration we had already been on 4 of its other ships. The first trip (which sold Hurtigruten to us) was an opportunist trip during a 3 night break in hotel in Tromso when we realised a local ferry from Tromso could get us to a port in time to get a Hurtigruten ship sailing back into Tromso on the same day. After that all our trips have been organised well in advance. There are small voyage options on almost every day throughout the year from various ports so there is great flexibility to travel when you want. By contrast there are only a few mini cruise opportunities in the main peak season from the UK on the mass market cruise ships so this gave us a lovely short break while waiting for the next long cruise trip to come around. If you consider a weekend break look at options from Bergen, Aalesund, Tromso, Molde, Trondheim and Bodo. 2. Bergen to Trondheim The Bergen to Trondheim trip (or the return trip which misses out Geiranger) are available on many days, and are two of the easier trips to arrange. There are daily direct flights between Bergen and London with low fares if you book sufficiently in advance and on many Sundays there are direct afternoon flights back from Trondheim to London and often flights to Tronheim on Friday evenings where you can pick a ship up in Trondheim early Saturday. We flew out Thursday evening and stayed in the comfortable Clarion airport hotel just a three minute walk from the International terminal in Bergen. From there we had the choice of the Fly Bus into Bergen at 100NOK adult fare for a single trip or the Hurtigruten bus to the port terminal at 160NOK per adult, although it may be free for those on longer trips. The Hurtigruten bus stop is about 50 yards from the hotel entrance and the Fly Bus only a slow three minute walk away. We choose the latter with just an easy ten minute walk from the drop off stop in Bergen to the Hurtigruten terminal. You can buy tickets on board or slightly cheaper via a ticket machine at the bus stop. Hurtigruten accepts luggage at Bergen from 1.30pm, the check in commences at 3pm, boarding at 4pm after a short safety video, open dining from 6pm and sailing at 8pm. You can find info on line by searching on the words “Bergen Hurtigruten” and we followed that pre boarding itinerary to the tee, giving us time to wander around Bergen and have a coffee and bite to eat without the need to take our light hand luggage with us. The attractive main tourist area is easy to get to from the Hurtigruten terminal providing you are able to walk 15 minutes each direction. In Trondheim with the ship going north, you do not need to leave the ship until close to noon, although you do need to vacate cabins by 8am but then you can have a leisurely breakfast. There is a train and bus service to Trondheim airport which leaves from close to the port or nearby hotels. With a late flight back you could also book a day room at either thet Radisson Blu airport hotel or town Hotel 3. What is Hurtigruten Like? The word “Cruise” tends to provoke a variety of images and expectancy , not least pools, huge sun bathing decks, masses of people, loads of balcony cabins, spas, all inclusive food, selection of cabin , theatre shows, wall to wall entertainment and things to do plus lots of time in port to explore. Hurtigruten will be different. These are also working ships providing a key coastal transport service; ours was heading north from Bergen to Trondheim where we disembarked after two nights on board. The main highlight for many on this leg of a 12 night full sailing was likely to be the daytime sail through the magnificent fjords to Geiranger which Hurtigruten only provides during the summer months. This was just a weekend break on what is normally described by Hurtigruten as a “voyage”, rather than a “cruise”. On the Norwegian coastal voyages with Hurtigruten even in the main ports of call, the ships are only in port for a few hours and in others just 15 to 45 minutes while they drop off and pick up passengers and cargo. Such are the numerous and close proximity of ports of call, explorer tours can even begin in one port before you embark the ship again in another port. Midnatsol and her sister ship Trollfjord are the biggest ships in the fleet at circa 16100 gross tonnage and just over 442 feet long so small by current cruise standards, But like most of the other sizeable ships of Hurtigruten are attractive and comfortable; the smaller and older ones such as the Vesteralan are fine but not so modern and perhaps more for connoisseurs for anything other than a short trip. On all ships however there are great viewing lounges as the voyages are totally geared for gazing at the scenery, skies and nature. Although Midnatsol is 13 years old, she is in excellent condition and comfortable and has a very modern looking interior in all the public areas with some great views through the enormous areas of glazing on board. The main dining room has better views than most of the main dining rooms found on the mass market cruise ships we have been on. Midnatsol has viewing lounges on decks 8 and 9 that look over the bow, a good walk round promenade deck, a number of quiet areas and library on deck 8 and other small bar and lounge areas as well. The newer and bigger ships are fully air conditioned throughout. You don’t need a cabin to come on board. You can hop on at one port and get off at another. The trip from Aalesund to Geiranger attracts a lot of day visitors before it returns in the evening again to Aalesund where many then get off. Therefore the ship will often carry more passengers than there are beds. Getting your lounge seat before the day trip passengers get on board is recommended. In port it was quick and easy to hop on and off the ship. As all ports were in Norway there was no waiting for customs to give clearance nor any waiting for masses of ropes to be secured. Security is low key, there seems to be a sense of trust that no one will bring the wrong thing on board. It might have to be stricter in time if the turbulence in the World spreads to more European countries. The staff on board are friendly and willing to assist and all speak English, but there was no waiter service in the bars (there is in the main restaurant). It was not an issue and there were no long queues at the bars. There is a tiny gym, sauna and two Jacuzzis on the bigger Hurtigtruten ships, but no spa, no swimming pool and no theatre. The most to expect is a talk on some aspect of life, local food, history or nature in the places you are visiting and maybe an evening combo playing some light music in a small lounge or playing cards or a board game. There are some exciting excursions especially in the winter months, but nothing is anything other than expensive. Save for breakfast, which was included in our fare, we had to pay extra for lunch and dinner on board. We could have booked all our food pre cruise but we did not as we had 2400 NOK on board credit due to a cancelled trip by Hurtigruten. The credit did not go far. The cheapest bottle of wine cost circa 450 NOK (£41) at the time and dinner was charged at 445 NOK (£40) per person per meal; (excluding drinks)! Beer as is common in Norway is exorbitant in price and spirit prices were beyond what I was prepared to pay. We paid £544 for an “outside cabin” accommodation (with breakfast only) which is quite expensive. I saw a balcony cabin today for two on P & O’s Ventura next month (September) priced at £458 but with FULL board. There are no on board gratuities to pay as a rule; it is totally up to the individual and there is no expecation of tipping. 4. Cabins There are suites and balconies on Midnatsol, but very few and not available generally at time of booking for people like us only doing two nights. The price for one is very expensive compared to a mass market cruise ship. For our two night trip we could only book the type of cabin as the actual cabin number was allocated at check in. Our basic accommodation was described as an outside cabin and was at the bow. I would call it an inside cabin with connecting tubes to the outside! Others in the same category had a normal window further from the bow. We never intended sitting in the cabin for long periods anyway. Our ensuite bathroom would not have been out of place on any mass market cruise ships but the main cabin area with two single beds, one of which was a fold down plus two port holes built in the inner skin of the hull of our cabin near the bow was not typical of any modern cruise ship cabin. It looked more like the pictures for some tourist class accommodation on the ocean liners of the 50’s. Viewing out was like looking the wrong way through a pair of binoculars as we peered through the two connecting tubes about 3 feet long and 15 inches in diameter. Nevertheless, the cabin was quite comfortable and with plenty of space, the air con good and it was a good size so for two nights it was fine. There was no kettle. To get hot drink making facilities you need to buy a higher grade of cabin. But don’t expect a totally undisturbed night. The ship stops at ports of call on a 24/7 basis. At about 3am, we were awaken to many sounds of metal clunking, other noises and mechanical vibration as we spent half an hour in a port of call. You could not sleep through it but as soon as moved away from the dock the noises ceased. 5. Eating on board There are a number of eating options. For early breakfast it is just confined to the main restaurant on deck 5. It is a buffet format and was a very good spread and with breakfast taken over 3 hours there was always seating space. But for dinner in the same area on the first night which was an open sitting buffet format, too many people wanted to eat at the same time before sailing. The buffet server area was too crowded with the numbers to be a wholly pleasurable experience. Second night it was waiter service with two sittings and table allocation and there was no such issue re crowding. I am quite fussy with what I eat so some things advertised like a Bergen local “delicacy” made of lamb’s head parts is not something I am going to try! But the buffet was fine and had plenty of choices. The buffet labelling was sometimes inaccurate or non-existent. My partner needs a gluten free diet generally and she chose carefully but was still ill most of the first night due to a reaction to gluten. At least on the second night she had especially prepared food. The second evening waiter service dinner experience was disappointing. Some of the food lacked stimulating flavours and with no menu choice and some poor quality meat on my plate; the food was far from top notch and the waiting staff although willing (we were told they were mostly new) needed far more training and direction. For the price it should have been our best ever dinner at sea. Hurtigtruten were apologetic and we returned to the cabin to find a complimentary bottle of wine. That was a fantastic response. There is alsoa café (Coastal Kitchen) available for food throughout the day serving some excellent tasty selections at much lower (although not low) prices than the main dining room, like reindeer sausage and potatoes. Had it not have been for the on board credit we would have eaten there in the evenings rather than the main restaurant. We ate lunch at the café on day 2 and the food quality and taste was in our opinion much better than that in the main restaurant later. The other option is a small but more expensive a la carte restaurant (with large windows and waiter service in the evenings) on deck 5, although I could not quite work out the varied tariffs on display. But with one of us needing gluten free, it was not for us anyway. 6. Improving the service The on board experience of Hurtigruten is geared for people to relax and look out to sea from the lounges and restaurants however there is some poor quality of glass along the sides of this ship on deck 5 at the café and in the expensive Midsummer a la carte restaurant which distorted the actual view considerably. That could be corrected although I appreciate that comes with a sizeable cost. But it should be easy to provide a few menu choices for dinner, with better quality control of food and better managed waiting staff in the main dining room without a material outlay. 7. So will be travel again? Any weekend break with Hurtigruten appeals (despite my reservation with the main dining experience on more than one trip) but the longer voyages to the North of Norway and back remain a bit beyond our financial means taking account cost of fare, meals and excursions. We will however happily return at the end of September for a Trondheim to Bodo short trip on its latest ship Spiztbergen.
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