What a jolt. Icy water was poured down my back. Ah! Ouch! And I volunteered for this? I was on board the MS Nordlys with some 300 other passengers cruising the Norwegian coast. This was our baptism, a rite of passage for crossing the Arctic Circle. It was a chilling experience, but fun with lots of laughs, shrieks and photos. Participation was not obligatory. Many, including husband Bob, passed on the baptism.
The Nordlys (northern lights) is part of the Hurtigruten fleet. “Hurtigruten is not just a cruise ship. It is a unique hybrid, a cruise ship and a ferry,” said David Lam, a member of the expedition team on the MS Nordlys. “It’s a ferry with nice facilities.”
The ship was our home for 11 days as we embarked on a unique voyage exploring the stunning coast of Norway. Our cruise began and ended in Bergen, sailing all the way to Kirkenes on the Russian border and back. Passengers representing seven different nationalities were onboard during our cruise. Many, like us, were senior citizens.
Days on ship begin with announcements in four languages (Norwegian, English, German and French) about 8:30 am. No sleeping in. If you want breakfast, it is time to get up. The ample buffet of all the usual breakfast goodies, including different kinds of smoked fish, ends at 10 a.m.
Days are filled with interesting lectures, relaxing in comfortable lounges, marveling at the ever-changing scenery, and shore excursions. Announcements alert the passing of noteworthy sights. Passengers gather outdoors on deck7 (the Nordlys has 8 decks) for explanations and photo opps. We were blessed with several warm, sunny days, as well as cool and cloudy days, but only one rainy day.We experienced rough seas once. The boat rocked. We rocked when walking as if we had had one too many — but that would have been costly on the Nordlys.
Norway is very expensive. The cruise was very expensive. Alcoholic beverages and soft drinks, not covered in the cruise price, are expensive.
When crossing the Arctic Circle and entering the region of the midnight sun and northern lights we were invited to toast the event with a glass of champagne with a strawberry. I naively thought this was gratis. No. That champagne cost 125 NOK (Norwegian krone, about $12.50).
No matter. It was fun minus champagne. The return Arctic circle crossing celebration involved a spoonful of wretched cod liver oil followed by a spoonful of a sweet liqueur. Grimaces and laughs this time. You could keep the spoon. Plus, have a glass of champagne for a price.
Entering the legendary Troll fjord, a 2-kilometer fjord with a narrow entrance and surrounded with steep-sided mountains, called for another celebration. Most cruise ships are too large to enter the fjord. Smaller Hurtigruten ships, like the Nordlys, can only enter during the summer months. It was amazing to witness the ship turn around in the tight space.
This feat was celebrated with a cup of troll coffee. Price: 99 NOK ($11) for a cup of coffee with a splash of schnapps. But, you could keep the souvenir fjord cup. I had passed on the champagne, but splurged on the coffee – shared with Bob.
“At Hurtigruten we give you the opportunity to travel with meaning. Building on our explorer heritage dating back to 1893, our explorations are grounded in the likings of people who value learning and personal growth over luxury…you won’t find waterslides, casinos or any sort of dress code,” states the Hurtigruten brochure.
We had booked an Arctic superior cabin on deck 6. It had all the necessities, including TV with CNN (important) but was miniscule. Galant Bob took the window side of the double bed. To get in and out, he had to side step.
A German woman from Augsburg told me she had taken four or five luxury cruises. “This is very different. It is not a luxury cruise, but I knew that. I am glad I came. I wanted to see Norway,” she said.
The cruise is an excellent way to see Norway, especially if one participates in some of the shore excursions. They too are pricey, but offer the opportunity to see and learn about this Nordic land. We especially enjoyed biking in the town of Trondheim, a visit to the indigenous Sami, feasting on King Crab pulled directly from the frigid waters as we watched, and several bus excursions through spectacular countryside.
In addition to organizing entertaining celebrations and leading excursions, the friendly and knowledgeable expedition team conduct lectures covering various topics; polar explorations, birds of Norway, Norway and Norwegians, and more. The latter was enlightening. Norway vies with Finland for having the happiest citizens. Dream on, DT, Norwegians do not want to emigrate to the U.S.
While breakfast and lunch were buffet feasts with open seating, we had assigned seats for the three-course dinners. The food was good, innovative and interesting, focusing on local ingredients and Norwegian specialties.
We received a menu with each meal explaining in detail the ingredients and preparation. The salmon was the best I have ever eaten, and the reindeer was a rare and delicious treat.
As mentioned, Hurtigruten is more than a cruise ship. In the late 19th century, services along the 780-mile coastline from Bergen to Kirkenes, a busy route for transportation of goods and people, were unreliable. Shipping companies were invited to submit tenders for operating an express route between Trondheim and Tromsø, or Hammerfest. In 1893, Captain Richard With’s steamer, DS Vesteraalen, established a regular sea link between the towns which was later expanded from Bergen to Kirkenes, a trip of only seven days. The connection was named “hurtigruten” – the fast route. With went on to explore other Nordic destinations.
“This marks the beginning of Hurtigruten’s adventurous and unique explorer operations,” states the company literature. Destinations now include Iceland, Greenland, Alaska and Antarctica, as well as ports along the Norwegian coast.
In addition to cruise passengers, cars, bicycles, motorcycles and some cargo were on board the Nordlys. We met many “walk-in” passengers who used the ship as a ferry from one stop to another. If their transit is less than 24 hours, they can travel without booking a cabin. Some, with backpacks nearby, stretch out on comfortable lounge chairs and sofas. They are free to use all ship facilities, including the jacuzzis.
Hurtigruten is at the forefront of sustainable tourism. The company is building the first ever hybrid-powered expedition cruise ships and has eliminated single-use plastic from all its ships and hotels. Their “Coastal Kitchen” relies on locally sourced products.
Yes, it is expensive. But, it is a beautiful and enlightening experience (minus the baptism and cod liver oil). And now I have a Polar Arctic certificate.
If not a talesandtravel follower, sign up, upper right. Your email is not shared. More about Norway to come: the amazing country, its food, photos of the splendid scenery.. I will also be posting on my trip last winter to Costa Rica. And, whatever else inspires me. Don’t miss out.
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