Back in February I took my first ever Hurtigruten coastal cruise from Kirkenes to Bergen. After spending three years as a local guide talking about the Hurtigruten and helping passengers with the Bergen aspects, actually getting to do it myself felt like a completely new experience, and it also helped me understand some aspects of the cruise that I wasn’t exactly aware of. So, I’ve decided to write them down here!
I should highlight that the ship was not a vacation, but rather for training. Working as a tour leader, I will be taking American groups on the ship this summer and my southbound cruise was a chance to learn various aspects of the ship, such as logistics. I experienced all the ports, the general eating and seating areas, the cabins, and even got to go and meet the crew.
Norway is breathtaking
This may seem a little obvious; after all, Norway is advertised as being a stunningly beautiful country. However, I always had the impression that maybe some parts will be gorgeous, and also some parts will start to feel repetitive. This was not the case. The scenery changes every day, and people (including myself) would spend hours just looking out the window. Every day is a different part of Norway, and it is constantly changing. The scenery never ceases to be boring.
The northern Lights are Hard
An assumption I always had (and envied) about Northern Norway was that as long as it was a clear night sky, northern lights were to be seen. This is not true; the northern lights are damn hard to spot (there will be a separate post on this soon).
Hurtigruten famously guarantees the northern lights on its 11 day round trip in the winter. If you don’t see them, you get a free trip. Additionally, the expedition team alert you via the phone in your room if the northern lights are out. So it all seems guaranteed, right?
I was on the southbound trip, and when we went on board we met tour groups during the full 11 days who had yet to see the northern lights. In fact, when I was browsing the Facebook Hurtigruten page I noticed one passenger from my ship saying that he never saw the lights, tried to get a free trip, but Hurtigruten said that they had seen them on that ship.
As we were travelling southbound, around the Bodø area the expedition team announced that the northern lights were out. People rushed outside and looked to the sky, but there were no northern lights to be seen. This had been their only announcement, so many assumed the northern lights were never on this 11 day cruise.
However, the night before, in Tromsø, I had seen the northern lights pretty clearly. As had 30-40 other people. We had all stood out in the cold for about three hours before getting a decent look at the lights. But it was never announced by the expedition team.
This example highlights the importance of taking initiative. You aren’t going to see them clearly inside, and you are going to have to wait hours sometimes to see them. You just have to wait and wait and wait.
This isn’t some gentle fjord cruise
Having taken countless fjord ferries, I just assumed that riding the Hurtigruten would be just as gentle. However, whenever the ship is in open water, it can get very bumpy. I’ve marked all the typical spots where you can expect waves, and that’ll come in a separate post. That said, many people on board said that it was still much calmer than they had experienced on other ships.
The passengers are true explorers
Hurtigruten prides itself on seeing its passengers as explorers rather than tourists, and this shows. People would sit in the panoramic lounge for hours just watching nature, many with binoculars keeping an eye out. Additionally, the excursions placed emphasis on exploring Norway rather than being a tourist in Norway. This gives the ship a wonderful feel; rather than feeling like a bunch of tourists, everyone was adventurous and ready to see Norway. On my Tromsø northern lights night, I remember the atmosphere of waiting outside for hours with 30 other people, all with bigger cameras an tripods than mine, and the excitement and team spirit of everyone helping one another set up their cameras and point them towards where the lights are.
As Norwegian as it gets
What I felt was best about the Hurtigruten was just how Norwegian it was. This can be broken down into several different elements:
- The food: The food is brought in from the ports and it is true and local to the region we are sailing through. Expect reindeer in Finnmark, cod in Lofoten, herring in Harstad, and so on. No burgers and chicken here (though you can find that in a separate cafe), the food makes you feel like you are in Norway.
- The staff: Those who take cruise ships know that the staff is often very international, but on the Hurtigruten expect to find Norwegians who come from the ports you’ll be visiting. They are incredibly friendly and hospitable, so be sure to strike up a conversation whenever you can.
- The setting: The Hurtigruten is not advertised as a cruise, and the on board facilities may seem a little basic to those expecting a cruise. It’s true; the ship is simple and not glamourous. But that’s how Norwegians are – for them, it’s about being cosy over stylish. And it shows.
So, if you are on the fence about whether or not to take the Hurtigruten (it sounds cruisy, it’s expensive, etc), I think the best thing to remember is that it is truly Norwegian, and it does provide a very authentic Norwegian experience.
I will be taking the Hurtigruten five more times in 2019, so be sure to keep an eye out for my future posts (I’m currently working on walking guides for all the ports!).