Amy and Rachel recently spent a weekend onboard Hurtigruten’s newly refurbished Kong Harald, one of the eleven ships which regularly charts the Norwegian coastline. Starting from the colourful but rainy UNESCO-listed city of Bergen, the torrential and consistent downpours during their two-hour walking tour before boarding the ship did not dampen their spirits, and after two nights onboard, they were both truly impressed. Find out why Amy and Rachel ‘heart-igruten’ Hurtigruten…
A proud history, pioneering spirit and unparalleled experience
For over 120 years, Hurtigruten have been operating along Norway’s coastlines, when Richard With’s newly formed shipping company began offering weekly departures between Trondheim and Hammerfest onboard the steamer, DS Vesteraalen, and, a little later, from Bergen to Kirkenes. The Bergen to Kirkenes route – which today forms the company’s ‘Classic 12-Day Round Voyage’, which is frequently referred to as ‘the world’s most beautiful voyage’ – could be done in only seven days and was named ‘hurtigruten’ – ‘the fast route’. These services established a regular sea link along the 780-mile coastline from Bergen to Kirkenes, a busy route for transportation of goods and people which had heretofore been a long and arduous journey with unreliable and infrequent services, and with few night sailings. Richard With, the intrepid owner, had other ambitions, and in 1896 he transported a prefabricated hotel from the mainland to Svalbard, placing it outside Longyearbyen, and in the same year established the ‘Sportsman’s route’ from Hammerfest to Svalbard, serviced by the steamer DS Lofoten, captained by Otto Sverdrup, who later made a name for himself as Frditjof Nansen’s legendary commander of the famous polar vessel, Fram.
This rich heritage and pedigree has established Hurtigruten as leading experts not only in the Norwegian coastline, but in expedition travel. Today they are the world’s largest explorer cruise company, and whilst they remain true to their Norwegian routes, their itineraries have since expanded to include Iceland, Greenland and Antarctica (and Arctic Canada up to Baffin Island, new for 2017), and charting warmer territories, such as the Amazon.
Exciting destinations, expeditions and authentic experiences
During our two nights onboard, we sailed from Bergen along the Sognefjord, Norway's largest and best known fjord, and the second longest in the world. It was a delight to wake up on Sunday morning to head out on deck and see blue skies, sunshine (unlike the torrents of Biblical-like rain in Bergen the day before) and astounding scenery surrounding us. The waters of the fjord were smooth and mirror-like, perfectly reflecting the domineering mountains, still capped with snow, and the occasional sights of remote, rural houses. It was breath-taking. We continued sailing until Skjolden, where there were a number of excursions available. Rachel and I were allocated different excursions, so I headed off to visit the Urnes stave church, the oldest and only UNESCO-listed church of its kind. Stave churches are medieval wooden churches, once typical of north-western Europe, and it boasted some wonderful old Norse carvings on one side of the building (the oldest part), which were reminiscent of the style seen in the Book of Kells and Lindisfarne.
Hurtigruten is perhaps best known for its Norwegian Coastal Voyages, which it has been perfecting over 120 years. Originally a weekly service, daily services were introduced in 1936, with a ship leaving Bergen every day. Today Hurtigruten continues to have eleven ships on this route, including the Kong Harald. However if you're expecting this to be a typical cruise, you'd be wrong. In some ways, it's more akin to a ferry service, and you'll find some people will only stay on for a number of ports, hopping off after just a few hours (or a couple of days), plus expedition teams now join the Coastal Voyages, acting as 'hosts to the coast', providing informative lectures and showing 'points of interest' from the deck whilst onboard and leading a range of expeditions and activities ashore, enhancing passengers' experiences. The addition of the expedition teams to the Coastal Voyages is something of a revolution, as something is happening all the time, and there's a great freedom of choice, whether you want to get involved or simply relax.
However Hurtigruten explores further afield, covering both Poles, with expeditions in both the Arctic and Antarctica. Following Richard With's legacy, voyages and expeditions still explore Spitsbergen and Svalbard, and through Spitsbergen Travel, Hurtigruten offer land-based holidays in Spitsbergen itself, with the recently renovated Radisson Blu, the world's northernmost full service hotel, the mountainside Spitsbergen Hotel, which boasts spectacular views, and is housed in the former reception building of the mining company which was previously the centre of Longyearbyen, and the Coal Miners Cabins, situated in the New Town where the miners themselves lived, and recently refurbished to become the popular and hip place to chill out, enjoy a burger, and stay. Throughout the year, sightseeing trips and wilderness evenings are offered - during the summer, guests go out into the mountains and on the water, enjoying Isfjord safaris, hiking, day trips by boat to Russian Barentsburg or the Russian ghost-town, Pyramiden, fossil hunting trips and even summer dog sledding, while in winter there's the chance to go ice caving, walking through the heart of a glacier, dog sledding and snowmobile safaris, and of course aurora activities. Some trips are combined with a Hurtigruten voyage.
There are some truly exciting itineraries to look forward to with Hurtigruten in the upcoming future, starting this October when MS Midnatsol begins sailing in Antarctica. Midnatsol's Antarctica programme will be a game changer - offering greater comfort and more offerings onboard than most of the ships currently in Antarctica. Plus, as a larger and more accessible ship, it's got a more attractive price tag and - because landings in Antarctica are capped at 500, and Midnatsol is a 650 berth ship - no single supplements can be offered! In 2017, Hurtigruten will be returning to the far north of Greenland, and will be exploring both the Amazon, with two 2017 sailings in Manaus, and the Arctic frontiers of Canada, past Baffin Island!
It's fair to say that Hurtigruten specialise in visiting some of the most scenically beautiful and wildlife-rich destinations in the world, with a focus on nature, wildlife and culture both on the Norwegian Coast (boosted by the remarkable Arctic phenomena of the Northern Lights between October and March and the Midnatsol in the Polar Summer) and further afield. And this remains true whether they're sailing in polar or warmer waters.
SCANDI CHIC AND A COMFORTABLE BASE
Kysten (Arctic Fine Dining)
Kysten and Brygga
The MS Kong Harald, the ship we were sailing on, had recently been refurbished with the ‘New Arctic Interior’. The MS Polarlys has also been refurbished in the same style, and by autumn the MS Nordkapp and MS Nordnorge will also boast this sleek new look. Hurtigruten’s upcoming Expeditions Ship, the MS Spitsbergen which will be launching operations in June, will also feature the ‘New Arctic Interior’.
The New Arctic Interior represents a total makeover and a sexy revamp for these ships, and we were both very impressed with the results. ‘Scandi-chic’ would be one way to describe it, and the design gave the ship a very contemporary, but relaxed, feel. Long gone are the somewhat heavy and flashy furnishings and interior, instead the décor of the public areas were crisp, clean, and contemporary, with lots of airy lightness, making plenty of use of natural materials such as wood, slate and leather. The public areas – and refurbished suites – now boast interiors which reflect the coastal landscapes guests sail past. The bar was also moved into the Observation Lounge, a smart move enabling guests to enjoy a refreshing drink along with the views.
After disembarking the Kong Harald, we had the opportunity for a whistle-stop tour around MS Midnatsol, which was also in Bergen that day. A member of the 'Millennium' class, the Midnatsol joined the fleet in 2003 and has an entirely different style to the Kong Harald, which is one of the earlier ‘90s class vessels’. From late October 2016, Midnatsol will start operating expedition voyages to Antarctica, expanding Hurtigruten’s presence in the Antarctic waters, and offering ‘softer adventures’ ideal for multi-generations (complete with a ‘Young Explorers Programme’). She’s already ice-enforced, but before her Antarctic explorations, she will undergo some modifications, including a new tender pit to replace a cargo door, for launching more expeditions into the Antarctic. As soon as we boarded Midnatsol, we were greeted by a multi-deck Atrium, and she immediately felt and looked more like a cruise ship. With wide, spacious public areas including a mixture of entertainment lounges and bars (and an amfi lecture theatre), and quieter places to relax and observe the passing scenery (and wildlife) or read quietly, the Midnatsol makes for a comfortable base for any adventure, Antarctic or otherwise. With plenty of large windows or floor to ceiling windows in the public spaces, the Midnatsol makes for great viewing opportunities to watch the wonderful scenery and wildlife whilst inside the ship, but it has also got spacious deck spaces (complete with warm Jacuzzis!).
Midnatsol - Two-deck observatory lounge
Buffet Restaurant on Midnatsol
Midnatsol - Atrium
Perhaps the most unique ship in Hurtigruten's fleet of (soon to be) 14 is the MS Lofoten, first put into service in 1964. Today the Lofoten is the oldest ship still operating the Norwegian coastal route, and has been recognised by the Norwegian Directorate of Cultural Heritage with a protected status, given in 2001. In 2015 she was refurbished back to her classic sixties style, and she's acknowledged as the pearl of the fleet.
Whichever class of ship you're sailing on in the fleet, Hurtigruten ensure that you're enjoying a comfortable base to enjoy land-based experiences and adventures.
Food, Glorious Food
If there is perhaps one way to win my affections, it’s through food. And with an abundance of fresh products, and delectable food, the cuisine onboard hit the spot! In keeping with Hurtigruten’s relaxed, laid back atmosphere, the main dining (Torget) is a buffet restaurant and serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. However, there is the addition of the new a la carte speciality restaurant, Kysten, which offers ‘Arctic Fine Dining’ and Brygga, which is more bistro-style. Kysten and Brygga share the same open-plan space and are demarcated in very subtle changes in seating. The focal point of Kysten and Brygga is perhaps the tank of large king crabs, where you can pick which one to eat – possibly the freshest crab to eat at sea! On deck seven, there is also Café Multe where you buy pastries and ice cream which ranges from the usual suspects such as vanilla and strawberry etc to the divine cinnamon and apple pie flavoured ice cream, which I thoroughly enjoyed, and the somewhat acquired taste of fish-flavoured ice cream, which I must admit I wasn’t quite brave enough to try!
However, wherever you eat onboard, you’ll be feasting on the most delicious and freshest locally sourced produce. With the introduction of the ‘Norwegian Coastal Kitchen’ in 2013, Hurtigruten re-invented their kitchen, added an a la carte menu, and collaborate with over 50 local farmers and food suppliers along the Norwegian coast, with some suppliers even supplying products whilst the ship is sailing! As can be expected, the result is sublime fish and seafood as the stars of the meal. However, be sure to try some of the tasty reindeer and, to be honest, I could have plates and plates of their beetroot! On the first night, we dined in Kysten and Brygga, sampling some of the Arctic fine dining from the a la carte menu which combines both local produce and old Norwegian traditions. We thoroughly enjoyed our Arctic fine dining, which was elegantly presented and exquisitely tasty. The menus are designed to reflect the stunning scenery along the route the ships take between Bergen and Kirkenes, a journey which, taking in 34 ports, provides an unique opportunity for daily supplies of locally sourced fresh produce, with ingredients coming both from the coast and inland. Dishes include scallops from Bodil in Helgeland – hand picked by divers and served with bits of Norwegian chorizo by Tind from Standa, and cauliflower cream – and reindeer carpaccio from Finnmark for starters, and entrees including Arctic Char from Sigerfjord, fresh, Norwegian cod loin, and Modnet okse, or extra-hung sirloin beef sourced from Trøndelag, served with a red wine sauce with capes, bacon and onion, and potato cake.
With a relaxed and laid-back atmosphere onboard, friendly service, delicious food, some truly amazing views (and a comfortable and chic observatory lounge from which to enjoy them), and stylish and contemporary interiors, Hurtigruten offer an excellent onboard experience. Add to that, an experienced expedition team to provide an enhanced experience both onboard and ashore on all their ships, plus a wide range of wonderful destinations, and that's why we heart-igruten Hurtigruten!
If you're interested in travelling with Hurtigruten, why not contact our Hurtigruten specialists today?
01234 326 778
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Classic 12-Day Norwegian Coast Round Trip and the Northern Lights
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