We just got back from a two week trip to Norway. The second half of the trip was a Northbound journey on the Hurtigruten. Pictures can be found here: http://www.flickr.com/gp/91205047@N00/68Y511
Our ship was the MS Nordkapp which is part of the contemporary line of ships. It was the perfect choice for us, not too big and not too small. But, keep in mind that this is a working ship and not a "cruise". Service is not a top priority.
We were lucky enough to book a Junior sweet on the 6th deck which was great. It is basically the size of two rooms with an extra couch, chair, queen bed and mini fridge. Since we had a lot of people traveling with us, our cabin was the place for daily happy hours (Yes, we brought our own booze). Please note that all 5th floor cabins (including the two most expensive suites) have to put up with people walking and standing in front of their windows all the time.
- Breakfasts were your standard full Norwegian buffets. There were always hot food choices as well as 2 to 3 kinds of cereal. As with all breakfasts we had in Norway the bread and jam were superb. There is no assigned seating for breakfasts. Note that the buffet was kind of chaotic since most people didn't like to wait in lines for their turn.
- Lunches were overall average. There were more salad options and lunch meat options than at other meals. Also, there was always a soup option that was pretty good. However, the other hot choices were average at best in my opinion. My wife and I had soup and salad and made roast beef sandwiches on more than one occasion. They did have pretty tasty desert options from ice cream to mousse to cake. Once again, there is no assigned seating and the buffet can be chaotic.
- Dinners were both hit and miss. For our 6 nights we had 2 buffet dinners (1st and last nights) and 4 set 3 course meals. The buffet the first night was probably the worst meal on the ship. The last buffet was very popular because it was a seafood and shellfish buffet. Of the 4 set meals, three were excellent and one (reindeer steak and brussel sprouts) was not very good. The dinner menu is typically posted prior to lunch so that you can see what they are serving. There were two seatings for dinner on our trip and seating was assigned prior to boarding the ship in Bergen (on the upper floor where you board the ship. Line up EARLY for the best tables)
- Finally, be prepared to guard your used plates if you get up but want to re-use them. The only example of fast service we saw on the ship was in the dining room when plates were cleared immediately after you "looked" like you were done.
- We went on two excursions (Sea Safari at Bodo & the Bird Safari at Honningsvag) and both were very fun.
- Sea Safari: This excursion is billed as a trip to see Sea Eagles and the famous tides at Saltstraumen. We did see eagles at a distance and the tides were more interesting than I expected. All this is done in a Zodiac where you straddle a cushion (imagine riding a horse) while you are decked out in a full jumpsuit provided for you. We had perfectly calm weather so the zodiac trip was a lot of fun although it started to get uncomfortable after about an hour. I could imagine the trip being pretty darn uncomfortable in medium to bad weather so keep that in mind.
- Bird Safari: This excursion involves about a 45 minute bus ride and about 1.5 hours on a small boat. On the bus, you see some interesting houses and most likely reindeer (~1500 are "ranched" on the island). The bird preserve is spectacular. The small island is very picturesque to begin with but coupled with 100's of thousands of birds, it is quite the site. We saw sea eagles up close (at least 6 were seen at one time), Puffin, Ganats, Razor Bills, Guillemots and may more birds. This is a must do excursion for bird and animal lovers. The boat does rock a bit so you may want to take precautions if you are prone to motion sickness. Note: that the North Cape excursion is at the same time so you can only do one. We had beautiful weather while the North Cape people couldn't see their hands in front of their faces due to the fog which made their trip just about pointless.
- The Geiranger Fjord is stunning. The weather was perfect for us which of course helped. The Southbound trip doesn't go into Geiranger
- The Troll Fjord is pretty neat. Very narrow fjord and the boat turns around on a dime at the end. You hit this at around 11:30PM Northbound but much earlier in the day Southbound
- For you photographers, late evening light (9PM to Midnight) was phenomenal and much better than early morning light (although early morning is probably 4AM to 6AM and I honestly didn't get up that early). It is some of the best light I have seen and is great for picture taking. I had both a wide angle (18mm to 50mm) and zoom (70mm - 300mm) lens for all photos.
- We were surprised that we didn't see more wildlife from the boat. Sea gulls were basically the only bird seen regular and apparently a porpoise was spotted behind the boat one day. But, compared to some other coastal seas (California, Alaska, Baja) this one is devoid of wildlife. Over fishing has reduced bird populations by 70% in some areas so other marine life must be impacted as well.
- I already warned people about 5th floor rooms and the blocked view. Also, note that 6th floor rooms under the lounge are prone to the "nightclub" noise from the one man electrical band that plays at least until midnight. Plus, some 6th floor rooms view is the orange lifeboats. So, book in advance to get the room you want.
- The sun deck on the back of the 7th deck is THE place to be and was always crowded. We preferred to hang outside on the 5th deck so we could walk around and see all sides of the ship based on the scenery. Chairs are available on both decks but the 5th deck is the ONLY place you can be up front and be outside.
- The weather was great for us but there is still boat motion on a ship this size especially the farther north you go out of the protection of islands. Bring precautions with you if you are prone to motion sickness just in case. We didn't need any however.
- You can check in early in Bergen (4PM for 6PM boarding) and drop off your luggage. It will be outside your cabin when you get on board.
- Smoking is allowed on all outside decks. Since many guests smoke and almost all the crew did, it was hard to escape the smell. The biggest disappointment was seeing many of the crew walk out of their way to flick their butts over the side into the water as opposed to putting them in the ashtray next to where they were smoking.
Ports of Call:
- There are at least 4 ports of call everyday northbound. If the ship arrives late at a port of call, they will still leave on-time and just reduce the overall time at that port
- Some towns are very picturesque (Alesund, Skjerjoy, Honoy, Honningsvag, Svolvaer, Trondheim)
- Some towns are plain and more industrial and like the real Norway (Bodo, Rorvik, Vadso, Kirkenes)
- The longest stops are in Trondheim and Tromso. Trondheim is lots to see but Tromso was very disappointing (The polaria is worth a stop however to see the bearded seals)
Lots of info here, but feel free to ask any questions that I haven't addressed.