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Hurtigruten, take 3

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Oct 23rd, 2013, 07:27 AM
  #1
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Hurtigruten, take 3

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//...013/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.
hetismij2 is offline  
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Oct 23rd, 2013, 07:34 AM
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"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."

Nice report Hetismij. I am laughing at the above.
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Oct 23rd, 2013, 07:39 AM
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Thanks for the report. This is on my "must do" list, I'll go back and read your other reports.
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Oct 23rd, 2013, 07:41 AM
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Heti, great trip report and wonderful pictures!Thanks for sharing!!
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Oct 23rd, 2013, 08:02 AM
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One thing I should have added is that if I do go again I shall end the trip in Trondheim on the way south next time, and fly home from there. There are only a couple of stops during the day which makes the final day and a half tend to drag a bit, especially if the weather isn't good. For first timers though it is worth doing the full round trip, unless you want to save a little bit of money.
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Oct 23rd, 2013, 08:59 AM
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yes, thanks for the entertainment, hetismij.

I don't think that I could ever "stomach" a cruise, except perhaps a river one, as I am a vey bad sailor but that doesn't mean i don't like reading about them.
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Oct 23rd, 2013, 09:05 AM
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I enjoyed your photos and report enormously, hetismij. You really nailed the mood. Outstanding rule-of-thirds.
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Oct 23rd, 2013, 10:50 AM
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Yes, a very well written trip report and spectacular photography to match. Enjoyed every bit of it immensely. Thanks for sharing.

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Oct 23rd, 2013, 12:21 PM
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Thanks everyone.

Ann - The ships are stabilised, and the seas hardly ever get really rough since you are going between islands most of the time. Even the short patches of open sea aren't that open. The friend who took the extra photos took sea sick pills a few times, but hated the fact they sent her to sleep and she missed so much, so she stopped taking them. And do you know what - she survived just fine. She spent a lot of time out on deck, as we did, and even the gales didn't faze her.
I saw some people with those wrist bands too. Mind over matter?
Opt for a cabin on a low deck, an internal cabin if you aren't claustrophobic (cheaper too!), as near to the centre of the ship lengthways as you can get and movement is minimal.
Choose slightly earlier in the autumn than we did, or maybe April/May and the chances of storms are much lower too. Go on, you know you want to .

I actually felt worse on the cross channel ferry last week than during the storms in Norway.
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Oct 23rd, 2013, 12:49 PM
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hetismij - I know about the open sea having been introduced to sailing by my DH many years ago, and i know all about cabins in the middle lower part of the boat, as we frequently get the ferry to France.

Just the thought of inflicting even the risk of 10 days of misery at sea is quite enough to put me off, thanks.

no way, jose!
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Oct 23rd, 2013, 01:35 PM
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Just as well I didn't post the video then .
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Oct 24th, 2013, 07:36 AM
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Thanks for the great photos. This is on my bucket list someday.
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Oct 24th, 2013, 12:13 PM
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Anyone thinking of doing the trip might enjoy this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yra8x...ure=youtu.be&a

The Hurtigruten trip from Bergen to Kirkenes in 5 minutes, based on the Norwegian TV coverage of the voyage on 22 June 2011. It was shown live on Norwegian TV, the whole trip that is, not the condensed 5 minute version.
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Oct 24th, 2013, 03:31 PM
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Just as well I didn't post the video then>>

lol, hetismij, i found this one:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fR-LFh2xqac
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Oct 25th, 2013, 09:32 PM
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hetismij2, when did you leave Bergen? I think we were a few days ahead of you leaving on September 20 on the Nordnorge.

Including 3 days before in Bergen and 3 days after in Oslo, our weather was amazing the whole time. Very little rain and rather warm. Not what we had expected. The North Cape was a bit breezy, but nothing like you described. The afternoon and evening after we left Kirkenes gave us the roughest seas. 9-12 meter waves. I just hunkered down in the library while doing my laundry. Guess that would have been about September 26 or 27. Felt sorry for the large group of Americans that got on in Kirkenes as they probably thought it was always like that. You mentioned liking winter better. Isn't it often rough then? Our Tour Director warned us to "take care of ourselves" and stay inside and off of the decks. Funny that yours said just the opposite.

Good to hear that we made the right choice in getting off at Trondheim on the return. Thought we may have missed something between there and Bergen.
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Oct 25th, 2013, 09:38 PM
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Forgot to mention that your photos are great!

We probably had a bit more color in Kirkenes, although it was a rainy day for the excursion to the Russian border. Further south, you definitely had more of the Autumn Gold as most of the trees we saw were quite green, although Hammerfest (one of my favorite stops--much too short) had some good color.
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Oct 26th, 2013, 08:35 AM
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Clousie, we left on September 26th, so waved at you on your way south. In fact I have a photo of you - well the Nordnorge .

Most people stayed firmly inside during the storms, despite the encouragement. It would have had to be a whole lot worse than it was to get me to stay indoors.

I haven't had storms in the winter. Snowfall yes, but the sea has always been kind, and the weather generally good. I just like it more somehow.

I hope you enjoyed your trip, I know you were a bit nervous about it all.
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Oct 26th, 2013, 04:58 PM
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Our entire trip was wonderful, hetismij2. Everything went very smoothly from checkin with SAS at Newark (and that's saying a lot) throughout our trip and return home.

We really liked the Nordnorge and fortunately didn't seem to have the problems you did. I was a bit surprised at some of the things you mentioned, especially about meals and food, since I assumed each ship served similar meals. You seemed so pleased with your previous voyages. We were also on the 3rd deck and found it most convenient for getting on and off with having to grab coats, etc. Our cabins were aft on the starboard side so perhaps that made a difference. Didn't think they were noisy and usually never even was aware of nightime dockings. As you mentioned, I would have been very disappointed to have paid for a higher deck cabin and have to keep my drapes closed because of people walking by.

I was concerned about being bored, but didn't even crack the novel I brought. Did read travel books and a great one that a friend lent me on Norwegian food, which we all found to be quite good. I felt as though I lived on cheese and fish (my choice) at lunch and think I only tried two items from the hot side of the buffet. Now that I'm home and buying some wonderful artisan cheeses trying to replicate those in Norway, I keep thinking, "I should have eaten more cheese!"

I'll try to post a trip report and photos soon. I'm finding the trip difficult to explain to others either through words or photos.
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Oct 27th, 2013, 02:08 AM
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I'm so glad you enjoyed it Clousie.
It is very hard to explain the trip to people, even harder to explain doing it three times!
The menus for the evening meal were standard across all ships this trip, and were generally good, but let down by the lamb and pork dishes.
I don't think I had a hot dish at lunch either, preferring the salads, fish etc. DH had a full three course meal every lunchtime, so he certainly got his moneys worth .
Did you buy new mugs or use your friends?
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Oct 27th, 2013, 09:43 AM
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We bought our own cute little cups and filled them with lots of mediocre coffee. Did seem as though it was better from some machines than from others. As I believe you said, absolutely no one would have questioned which cup we were using. Even the Tour Director, who was great, mentioned that couples "really each should buy their own cup," but his tone and expression indicated otherwise.

Will have to get started on that trip report and figure out how to link photos in Shutterfly.

I couldn't remember the pork dinner, but looking back at the menu, I see it was served the night after we got off in Trondheim. I do remember the lamb, but not how well cooked it was. However, I do like rare lamb. Pork would be another story.
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