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This is described in their literature as “The World’s Most Beautiful Voyage". It’s not really a cruise. It is better described as a voyage of adventure. The boats are actually working vessels carrying passengers and freight up the coast of Norway. The round trip from Bergen to Kirkenes takes eleven days and calls at 42 different places on the way up the coast. Some are large and important towns like Trondheim and Tromso. Others are small villages which are still dependent on the boats for keeping in touch. You may blink at calling in at Berlevåg at midnight but this is one of the joys of the trip.
Apart from a few stretches of open water, most of the journey is between the islands and mainland so does tend to be calm.
There are eleven boats making the trip. One leaves Bergen every day. The boats vary from the very traditional Lofoten built in 1960, Vesterålen, built 1980s to Polar Lys, Kong Harald and the other ships which came into service in the 1990s to the massive new ships Finnmarken and Midnatsol from 2000.
Choose your ship wisely as the experience on Lofoten is very different to that on the larger vessels and very very different to the millennium ships with their sauna or swimming pools. Visually these look very stylish and like a very upmarket hotel.
Lofoten is a small vessel carrying about 120 passengers. The crew eat in the same dining room and for those who want to be outside there is access to the deck wings which give a marvellous view as you steam up the coast of Norway. It also gives you chance to talk to the crew. A gang plank is still used and there is a crane on the front of the ship used for loading freight. Until a few years ago Lofoten carried cars which were lowered on and off the front deck. The sound of this being wound up and the hatches opening as a port is approached is one of the sounds you will long remember after the journey. Being a small boat it can sail much closer to the shore so views are better. As there are fewer passengers you are likely to get to know most of them during the 11 days voyage. There are a few cabins with two berths on the floor but most have bunks. These are not so good for the less nimble, especially round the top when there is 30 hours of open sea, which can get very rough, apart from a few calls into ports. There is one dining room with a small cafe which doubles up as the shop.
The New ships from the 1990s and the Millennium vessels carry 500-600 passengers and tend to be much more impersonal. There is less chance to interact with the crew as they have their own dining room and visits to the deck are by guided visit which you pay for. There is a large shop. The viewing lounges are larger and have better views than on Lofoten. However there may be less good views from the outside. Cabins are probably larger and there are more two berth cabins. All vehicles and freight are loaded via a ramp in the side of the ship. Fork lift trucks scurry in and out at the ports. Passengers also enter and exit by a ramp through the side.
Vesterålen is described as a mid generation ship – an apt description. It is smaller than the New and Millennium ships. It lacks the character of Lofoten. It doesn’t have a gang plank and freight, goods and passengers enter and leave by a ramp. There is a covered observation lounge running along the top of the ship but this gets very hot when the sun is shining. You also have to contend with the TV. Outside viewing areas vary. There is a marvellous 270 degree view from the very (and I do mean very) exposed area at the bow of the ship. Sailing into the wind you will need all the layers you can muster and will still feel cold. We did one trip on Narvik, a sister ship to Vesterålen, but no longer used on the coastal voyage. We felt it lacked the attraction of Lofoten and the comforts of the newer ships.
Lofoten has a very loyal following and most people have specifically chosen to sail on her. I’ll be completely up front and say that we love the traditional ships and have no desire to the voyage on one of the newer ships. It is a completely different experience. The passengers are also different and it is much more a cruise. Going on Lofoten is an adventure.
At Rorvik the ships cross and it is possible to visit the other ship. It is very interesting to watch responses. Every time the traditional passengers have come off the big ship saying ‘we are so thankful we are on Lofoten’. The larger ships vary. Many booking agents push people onto the newer ships and don’t give them the option of Lofoten. Some of these (especially the men) do regret not having been on Lofoten.
Most people book for the complete 11 day trip. This has the advantage that ports the boat calls at during the night on the voyage north are visited during the day on the way south. You do see all the scenery. It is possible to do either the northbound trip or join the ship in Kirkenes and just do the southbound voyage. This has the disadvantage that friendship groups and way of life have been established. This is particularly true of where people sit… You are breaking in as a new comer.
All announcements on board are given in Norwegian, English and German.
The voyage is exciting anytime. During the winter months, October to March, there is very restricted daylight and it may be too cold to want to be outside for long. From the end of November to mid January, once across the Arctic circle the sun stays below the horizon and there is just a faint glimmer of light at midday. Apparently the schools in Vardø have a holiday on 20th January when the sun appears above the horizon for the first time. The stars are amazing and the moonlight reflects off the snow. Best of all, there is always the chance of seeing the Northern lights.
By May the snows are beginning to melt and the leaves are beginning to appear on the trees. You will leave Bergen in early spring. By the time you get back 11 days later, summer will have arrived. Norway National Day on 17th May is always celebrated on the boat and in the ports of call that day. The communities in the far north always make a point of involving the Hurtigruten boats in their celebrations. We have joined in the processions around the town.
In summer, north of the Arctic circle you are in the land of the midnight sun. The downside of this is that you don’t want to go to bed and miss something. Everywhere is green.
Autumn and leaves changing colour begins late August/September.
There are a variety of excursion run every day. These do tend to be expensive and we have gone on very few. We have preferred to stop on the boat and enjoy the scenery that way. Friends who have been on trips report that there is always a stop somewhere for shopping or refreshments.
In Tronheim, Tromso and Honningsvåg you do get several hours ashore. In smaller places the boat docks from anything from 15 minutes to an hour, which doesn’t allow much time for sightseeing. The smaller places have few shops so if you are wanting a shopping experience forget it. Remember that the boat is running to a strict timetable and won’t wait for you if you are late back.
We love the voyage and have been on it six times. Apart from one trip on a mid generation ship we have always sailed on a traditional boat. Our website with photos from the trips and a lot more information is here:
Fabulous review. Would certainly like to read some more of your cruise reviews.
Hi ESW, what an excellent piece I really enjoyed reading that, and the photo’s are equally as brilliant, I shall look forward to reading more from you some time in the future….
I can’t claim any credit for the photos – husband is the photographer and the web site is his work.
We don’t really do cruises, although we have been on coastal ferries up the coast of Greenland (although this is no longer running that route any longer) and also in Chile where Navimag which runs a service from Puerta Natales to Puerta Monte. I wrote a review for this which can be read on the travel site here:
http://www.silvertraveladvisor.com/Revi … ductReview
The advantage of all of these is that they are still working boats and used by locals as well as tourists.