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Trip Report Hurtigruten, take 3

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It was never my intention to do this trip three years running. But a two for one offer, including on airfares, was just too good to miss. The first two trips were on the Vesterålen, one of the older ships in the fleet, and also one of the smallest. This time we were on the Kong Harald, larger and newer, but not one of the largest Millennium ships.

We flew from Schiphol to Bergen, KLM. Our flight was slightly delayed by a flat tyre, which meant we arrived in Bergen just too late for a Hurtigruten shuttle, and resulted in a 50 minute wait for the next one. Luckily it was dry, and warm so the wait wasn't so bad.

Check-in went smoothly at the Hurtigruten terminal, and we signed up for the cruise card at the same time.
After the safety talk in the terminal we boarded, bought our new red mugs, filled them and added a muffin on the cruise card to see us through until dinner.

Our cabin was on deck 3. We chose that because of the price, this third trip was to be as cheap as possible. We actually had the largest cabin we've have ever had, though the bathroom was probably the smallest.
It is a noisy deck, being near the engines and car deck, but the noise didn't bother us. I'd have been more upset by a cabin on deck 5 with the promenade deck outside the window. Deck 6 is the quietest deck for cabins, but it gets more movement in storms, and the cabins are basically the same size as down on deck 3. They just cost more because they are quieter. There are also two suites on board, on deck 5, so again with people constantly walking past your windows, and indeed blocking your view since they are at the bow.

You have an assigned table at dinner after the first night. Table assignments are always a mystery to me on the Hurtigruten. On my first trip I was assigned a table with 7 Germans. I don't speak German. Luckily I could move since the ship was less than half full. On the second trip we were on a table with a French couple and a couple of Germans, even though we specified we spoke English and Dutch. This time we went to dinner and found a small square table, set for three! The third party was a delightful Australian woman, Andrea. After two nights she moved to the first sitting though as she found the second seating too late.
The food was generally good, though the breakfast and lunch buffets lacked variety somewhat. the set meal in the evening is small, but sufficient. The food was however never hot, only lukewarm at best, and on two occasions not good at all - DH's lamb chops were so raw they hadn't seen heat at all and were in edible, and my pork, on the last night was also bloody in the centre. I complained and was told the chef had checked the temperature and it was good. I refused to eat it. I know nowadays pink pork is apparently safe, but this was more than pink, and it goes again all my upbringing to eat pork like that.

The other niggle on the trip was the toilet in our cabin, which stopped working 5 times in two days. The tech staff were quick to come and fix it, but it was embarrassing and frustrating to have to keep reporting it. We had to use the public toilets for the best part of one day. It was finally fixed when we called them out after midnight one night. The next day the cabin next to ours had a similar problem.

The last two trips were winter/spring trips. This was autumn, which meant a different schedule, and a visit to the Hjørundfjorden, near Alesund. Geirangerfjord is off the Schedule, at least this year, partly due to the increase in large cruise ships visiting it, but also to offer regulars something different. We also visited the Trollfjorden on the way south, where previously we had only seen the entrance.

We had amazing weather for the first few days, calm, sunny and warm. Frustrating as a photographer as it was such a hard light, but lovely as a holiday goer. Plenty of people out on the decks enjoying the sun. There used to be blankets in the cabin to take on deck. Sadly health and safety have got to work and they are no longer available. You have to buy one in the shop nowadays. Given how full my bag was there is no way I could have brought one home so I didn't bother.

On the other trips we had booked excursions, but on this trip, aiming to keep costs as low as possible, we booked just two. DH took the excursion to Munkholmen, an island off Trondheim, previously a monastery and a prison, now a place popular with Trondheim residents in the summer. My knees weren't up to the trip so I stayed behind, and enjoyed some quiet time on board. He says it was worth the money, with the boat trip, seeing other parts of Trondheim and learning a bit of history. He wasn't impressed with having to wear a habit though.

We also did the Russian border excursion in Kirkenes, simply to get us off and away from the boat for a while. Whilst there is not a lot to see at the border itself we did get to enjoy some lovely scenery, and fantastic autumn colour. Our guide was lovely, really good, and as a Sami he sang a Yoik as we arrived back at the harbour. That was a goosebump experience!

We tried to go ashore at most ports, even if only for 5 minutes, to see the villages and towns along the route. In winter we were less inclined to do that due to the road conditions, afraid of slipping and breaking something on the icy paths. I'm known for my ability to fall over my shadow and damage myself so I was extra cautious in the Norwegian winter.

Sadly the calm weather didn't last and we had a couple of good force 10 gales on the trip. I felt sorry for the people going on the breakfast at the North cape excursion - one told us she was afraid for her life up there it was so windy. We loved being out on deck during the storms. Because of the islands the waves were never seriously high, but the wind was amazing. The crew actively encouraged people to go out on deck and enjoy the wild weather. Most people didn't though. We couldn't dock in Kjøllefjord due to the wind, which meant an excursion was cancelled, which was disappointing for those booked on it, and we missed a couple more stops on the way south because we couldn't dock. One, Kristianund had been announced as a short stop, but we just went straight past it, which was a bit of a shock for the three people wanting to get off there. I have no idea how Hurtigruten deals with a situation like that - whether they try and take the passengers there on the next ship or what they do.

We saw the aurora twice, neither time was very spectacular. The first time the decks were full, people were getting cross with one another, and I thought a couple of photographers would come to blows. The second time there was just me, DH and a Dutchman on deck, for what was better display. I think many people either didn't realise there were northern lights, or had been disappointed by the first showing so didn't bother again. The most spectacular display of the trip, clearly seen in Trondheim, was invisible to us in the north under a heavy layer of cloud.
On previous trips the aurora were announced, even at night if you chose. On this trip even though the tour leader said they would be announced on your cabin speaker by pressing F1, it turned out the hotel manager had ruled no announcements after 10 pm.

Our tour leader tried to organise things that those of us on the flight back to Schiphol, on a tight connection, were the first off the ship in Bergen, and our luggage was the first off the belt. It didn't entirely work but the theory was good. I was glad we had checked in online and chose to have our boarding passes on our phones. It meant we could drop our luggage and go straight through at Bergen, where all the others on the flight (60 odd people) still had to either check-in or print their boarding passes at the half a dozen KLM machines. We had time for a cup of coffee before boarding, whereas some barely made the plane.

The Kong Harald is more luxurious than the Vesterålen in some ways. The beds are the same, not terribly comfortable - though I can't comment on those in the suites, as we didn't avail ourselves of the upgrade that was available (nor did anyone else!)- but the public areas are larger, and with a higher finish. We did have WiFi in our cabin too - though that was not true for all cabins. There was more entertainment offered - including a pianist every evening in the bar. He even organised a pub quiz one evening, which we won! It was heavily biased towards the British, so it had to be us or one other team, the poor Germans didn't stand a chance :). Despite (or maybe because of) all that I still preferred the Vesterålen. The design means it is more sociable, not only with others doing the full trip, but with the Norwegians using it as a ferry. I know others who have hated the Vesterålen though, so it is very subjective of course.

Would I go again? Yes, in winter, on the Vesterålen. Just not for the next couple of years. :)

Photos of the trip: http://www.buckphotos.garafiano.nl//Norway_2013/index.html
Click on the i symbo for captions and on the arrow at the top to start the slide show, or skim through, as you please. A couple of the photos in the Trollfjorden (those of the ship) were taken by an onboard friend who went on the sea eagle safari.

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