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Review: MS Nordlys

Cruise - Ocean Cruise

The Hurtigruten, Northern Lights and Midnight Sun

  • By SilverTraveller Steve-Newman

    18 reviews


  • Jun 2010
  • Solo
  • Regular holiday
  • Outside

150 people found this review helpful

The Hurtigruten experience starts at 2000 ft! As you approach your chosen airport you fly over snow capped mountain ranges interspersed with fiords filled with turquoise coloured water that give you a taste of what is yet to come. With your travel documents you also get a superb 200 page A5 booklet which tells you all about the cruise in minute detail and what you can expect to see.

If you are dedicated cruiser then you must expect something different here for the Hurtigruten is not so much a cruise as more a way of life. You are in fact a guest on an explorer and working cargo ship that calls at ports delivering the mail, doctors supplies, supermarket goods, locals journeying back and forth to work or going to the dentist.

The beauty of this is that the ship’s ambience changes at each stop as people get on and off. Schoolchildren desperate to try out their English are joined by businessmen in suits and seasoned travellers who decided to break the journey to explore a town or the local area.

Don’t think too that what you have here is some sort of tramp steamer. Most of the fleet are modern ships with an intimate friendly atmosphere and some of the newer ones have jacuzzi, gyms and a spa.

Also you don’t need to get a port or starboard cabin depending if you’re travelling south or north to get a view of the landscape rather than the ocean. The ships weave their way through channels with hundreds of islands of all shapes and sizes either side of you. At times it feels as if you can almost literally stretch out and touch the walls of the steep cliff sides as well as those of the pitched, rich red, mustard yellow and brown houses so beloved by the Scandanvians.

This is not a cruise with vast open water stretching to the horizon either side for hours at a time. Having said that at times the ships veer out to sea and at once are visited by gannets, puffins and other seabirds going about their daily business. This a cruise not about getting to destination but about the cruise itself.

At any given time there are eleven ships on this route and clever timing means that the ports visited by day going north are arrived at by night going south and vice versa. There are options of flying to either Kirkenes in the north or Bergen in the south to start you journey but to many people the there and back of the full 12day return journey is the ultimate in cruising.

I found myself on the Nordlys (Northern Lights) a comfortable , modern vessel on which all the crew spoke excellent English. If you want to see the Northern Lights you must time your visit to the latter and early stages of the year. If like me you go during midsummer you are more than amply rewarded by the fantastic colours and the phenomana of the Midnight Sun. It did not seem at all odd for the entire ship to be up at 1 o’clock in the morning as the captain took the ship to visit some spectacular rock formations. I counted some seven nationalities chatting and laughing and gladly warming ourselves with the hot soup provided.

The Hurtigruen has been called the most beautiful cruise in the world and you soon see why when you travel down the 10 miles of the fiord that leads to the World Heritage site of village of Geiranger. Cliffs that are thousands of feet high with waterfalls cascading down almost the same distance, glower over you and dwarf any ship beneath them. All this against a backdrop of blue sky and white clouds whilst Sea eagles drift nonchalantly past to keep you company.

The stern of the ship is very cleverly designed for you to appreciate the scenery with three levels of sightseeing deck. The highest deck is large open area which will comfortably accommodate you and the other passengers in the chairs and loungers provided should you wish to watch the world go by and catch a few rays at the same time. If however it’s a bit breezy or there’s a drop of rain in the air there are also enclosed viewing areas where you can sit protected from the elements which are open at the back to allow you to walk onto the main area.

Hurtigruten do the excursion side of cruising very well and they cover a range of sightseeing, historical, cultural and wildlife options. These are planned deliberately to get you under the skin of this amazing country. We visited Trondheim, Tromso, went out in a rubber dinghy to see incredible whirlpools and currents and visited the North Cape, mainland Europe’s most northerly point.

At some places you also get time to walk around and explore, however as this is a working service the ships will not wait. If you get stranded it’s up to you rejoin the ship at your own expense! The ship has four public area computers and Internet access was free throughout the voyage via a password you obtain from reception.

However you can’t send attachments and you are limited to sending text only emails but you can interact with social networking sites.

The biggest problem you will have is packing before you go and deciding what clothes to take. Do also take sun cream with a high protection factor I thought I wouldn’t need it but trust me you will and I had to buy some locally. Remember that Norway is on the same latitude as Alaska and Greenland so a warm fleece, hat and gloves and a waterproof is definitely recommended. However Norway is warmed by the gulf stream so I found myself with three layers on walking around Trondheim when I suddenly realised I was sweating profusely and the locals were in shorts and polo shirts!

A few hours later the temperature whilst watching the midnight sun on deck combined with the wind was very cold and we were wrapped up like arctic explorers, which on reflection is exactly what we were. In other words take both sets of clothes and let your body and fellow passengers tell you what to wear.

Do not expect entertainment and all the facilities you get on the bigger ships but in reality you don’t need them. The library has a large selection of fiction and non fiction books plus board games from chess to Trivial Pursuits and I saw many seasoned Hurtigruteners with cards and other games.

What makes this trip so special is that the breathtaking scenery and local life both unfold around you. At one point it appears there is a solid wall of cliffs stretching across the horizon completely blocking your way. Known as the Lofoten Wall it’s only as you get closer you realise that it is actually a series of islands.

Huge triangular frames now appear on the shoreside covered with drying cod destined to be sold as stockfish to countries such as Italy and Brazil. A common site at villages their importance is reflected in the shape of Tromso’s Arctic cathedral where the chandilers represent the ice crystals of the polar night. A walk around Tromso is a delight as no other town in the polar region has so many wooden buildings and the Polar Museum a short walk from the town centre is a fascinating experience.

The other thing to remember about this trip is that you do actually see two completely different temperate zones of the planet. From the lush vegetation and tree festooned south you cross over the Arctic Circle and the land becomes bare rock and tundra. If it is your first time in crossing the Circle you will have the opportunity to meet King Neptune! Just as crossing the line at Equator on board ship there is an equivalent voluntary ceremony here but this time you are baptised with ice!

This is a cruise where you make your own entertainment and the beauty of it is you don’t even realise you’re doing that. The most beautiful cruise in the world? I’m not sure about that but if it’s not it must come a very close second.

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This review is solely based on the opinion of a Silver Travel Advisor member and not of Silver Travel Advisor Ltd.

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Other Members' Thoughts - 2 Comment(s)

  • coolonespa
    over 6 years ago
  • ESW
    over 8 years ago
    What a great review. We've made 6 trips on Hurigruten now and have thoroughly enjoyed each one. We've always chosen one of the traditional boats which still have the crane for loading goods onto the front deck area.

    I've always wanted to see the Northern Lights. We booked a trip for late February/early March. The first few nights were cloudy and our hearts sank. We were just finishing dinner as we sailed out of Tromso when the message came ‘Northern Lights!’ The dining room cleared in an instant and coffee was forgotten as everyone rushed on deck.

    At first we were decidedly underwhelmed. All we could see was what looked like spotlights flashing across the sky. It was bitterly cold on board so we went back to our cabin and put on every layer of clothing we possessed as well as the thick woollen blanket from the bed.

    Back on deck the show was gradually beginning to warm up. We could see flickering lights illuminating the mountains. Swirling lights gradually filled the whole sky. At one point it looked as if there was a huge jelly fish above us with tentacles hanging down.

    It was the most amazing site I have ever seen and one I’ll never forget.