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Not exactly a trip report, but an honest review of Hurtigruten Coastal Express

Not exactly a trip report, but an honest review of Hurtigruten Coastal Express

Old Mar 10th, 2023, 05:05 PM
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Not exactly a trip report, but an honest review of Hurtigruten Coastal Express

In early Feb 2023 we completed the 7-day Northbound journey from Bergen to Kirkenses (sort of…more on that later). It was hard to find post-Covid reviews of this excursion, so I wanted to offer this. The trip exceeded our expectations in every way. First, our expectations: It’s a working supply ship, so…rustic, probably dated, not necessarily the most comfortable ship, possibly loud during loading/unloading, boring (very little choice in on-board activities) but the food would be good. We brought ebooks to keep ourselves occupied.

We were delighted that our low expectations were all wrong! Our ship was the MS Nordnorge, which we genuinely fell in love with. Built in 1997, refurbished in 2016 and 2022 (certain decks). We felt she was elegant, welcoming, and comfortable. We have never been on a cruise before, so keep that in mind; we have no basis for comparing Nordnorge to fancy cruise lines. I loved that you could walk from one end to the other in 30 seconds. We never got bored and hardly even had a chance to read our books.

Our experience started at the Hurtigruten Terminal in Bergen. Check-in and luggage drop-off was a breeze. We were then free to explore the lovely town of Bergen on foot for several hours. The passenger lounge opened at about 4 p.m. There were snacks and beverages, including a really delicious fish soup. The lounge was comfortable, and we could watch the ship unloading and loading goods. We boarded at about 5:30. Cabins were available at 6:00 p.m.

Our cabin was #616, in my opinion it had to be the best cabin on the ship. It was categorized as “QJ, Arctic Superior; Larger outside cabin with limited/no view”. We chose it specifically because it looked larger (on the deck plan), and decided a view was not necessary as the Explorer Lounge was always available. We were shocked at how large it was! A bedroom and living area separated by a curtain and the large TV, a desk, and tons of storage. The window near the bed did have a view of the lifeboat, but the window in the living area was not obstructed in any way. The living area had a full sofa and coffee table. I was able to unpack ALL our clothing and winter gear into the closets and cabinets. The bed was very high off the floor, leaving lots of room for suitcases underneath. The bed and pillows were very comfortable and the bed linens felt very luxe. We liked the Arctic decor. The bathroom was more than adequate, water pressure was good for washing long hair, and there was a clothesline included for swimsuits after the hot tub. I genuinely could not think of thing that would have made the room better or more accommodating. It’s location was almost in the middle on deck 6 (out of 7). We never heard sounds or noises of the ship working, docking, unloading. I spoke with people in different cabins, and this was not their experience. In some of the lower deck cabins, they were awakened at night due to sounds and vibration changes during the ship’s docking/unloading. I had come equipped with a white noise machine, but never needed it.

The ship was easy to navigate. Elevators at both ends, but with all we were eating, we used the stairs. The Explorer Lounge was comfortable and roomy, with great views of the passing landscapes. For picture-taking, we would go to the outside Observation Deck on deck 7. The FitnessRoom was nice, but honestly we were too busy to use it. Loved the Hot Tubs on deck 6. We did not visit the Sauna. Because we had been traveling for a week by the time we got on the ship, I had to do laundry. Bought tokens at the shop (about $3 USD per load, which included washer and dryer). The laundry soap was automatically dispensed, no need to bring your own. The Shop had a decent variety of things useful, souvenirs, snacks and candy. The Lecture Halls were used for daily/nightly informational sessions, usually one conducted in English and the other simultaneously in German or French. There was a Bakery/Coffee Shop, a Bar, a Bistro, and a Fine Dining restaurant in addition to the main dining room. These were often used by point-to-point passengers who did not have meal plans, but were open to anyone (generally at an extra cost). If you have the Tea & Coffee package, you just show your room card to ask for a coffee cup at the bakery, then it was self-serve. The only downside was the barista was often quite busy making custom coffees, so the wait could be long to get that cup.

As far as the food, you’d have to be a pretty picky eater to find something to complain about. The food was fresh and delicious, with the buffet re-stocked constantly by staff. Breakfast and lunch were buffet style and dinner was served at your table. The choices for breakfast and lunch were almost overwhelming. Hot foods and cold, soups, salads, fish in all forms, meats, beautiful cheese arrays with crusty breads, gluten-free options, fresh fruits, desserts - it was really endless. A heavy emphasis on Nordic foods, but not exclusively so. We were very pleased with the variety each day. At dinner, there was always a choice between meat, fish or vegetarian for the mains, and also a variety for starters. Desserts were good, at least 3 choices each evening. There seemed to be enough staff to handle all the diners; only on the first night there seemed to be a bit of a delay between courses due to staff (maybe she was in training? We never saw the slower one again!).

The scenery was really beyond compare the whole trip. We were lucky enough to be sailing during a full moon. The moonlight reflected off the white snow-covered mountains along the coast and really made for stunning vistas.

The shore excursions we splurged on were well executed. I can see why they are so expensive; they have to reserve a bus and driver to get the group to the activity, and they always had local guides on the excursions we took. Many of them involved some type of food or drink (which honestly, they could forgo and perhaps charge a little less). The one excursion I would recommend as a must-do (in winter) is the dog sledding. So much fun, and the dogs are really fascinating to watch and meet when not working.

The staff members we encountered on the ship were amazing. For one thing, they all spoke multiple languages. But they were all friendly, welcoming, knowledgable, and interested in how to make the trip better for you. These folks are pros. They really gave the journey depth.

On to “well, we didn’t really sail all the way to Kirkenes”. On the night of our 5th day at sea, the Captain called us all in to the Lecture Halls for an update. A bad storm in the Bering Sea meant we couldn’t complete our journey. The 15-18 foot seas would have made us all miserable. This is where the staff really outdid themselves, and Hurtigruten showed its true quality. About half of the passengers were meant to leave the ship in Kirkenes, while the rest were taking the journey round-trip. We sailed into a sheltering fjord at Alta (where I assume the ship remained until it was time to take the southbound route back to Bergen). Those of us who were to disembark at Kirkenes were taken the next day by fancy coach across the top of Norway and across a bit of Finland to Kirkenes, about an 8-hour bus ride. Hurtigruten really went above and beyond, sending an excellent excursion leader with us, feeding us hot meals and snacks at every turn, stopping for stretch breaks, pointing out the reindeer, moose and foxes we passed. It never got boring. Once in Finland, the Northern Lights made several beautiful displays, and the bus driver would always find a place to pull over so we could get out and gape. They had made hotel reservations for each and every one of us, and in addition, refunded us for the 2 days we missed on the boat (which was in truth only 18 hours). Any excursions that were missed were also reimbursed. I was truly amazed at the herculean feat of making all these arrangements and still have everything go off without a hitch. I felt the company was very generous with their refund policy. In addition, it was very simple to claim your refund, they walked you right through it and did not make it complicated. Our generous refund arrived 3 weeks after the end of the trip. Kudos to Hurtigruten.
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Old Mar 10th, 2023, 06:26 PM
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I am so happy to read your report! We also had a fabulous experience on our Hurtigruten Bergen to Kirkenes. We have never been on a big cruise ship either but loved what Hurtigruten provided.
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Old Mar 10th, 2023, 07:39 PM
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Thanks so much for your 'not exactly TR' - Sailing Hurtigruten has been on my radar for 3 or 4 years. Always assumed it would be a summer trip but it sounds like winter is a terrific option. Will have to do some new research
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Old Mar 10th, 2023, 07:59 PM
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Now that’s a cruise I could imagine doing. Thanks for the report.
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Old Mar 10th, 2023, 08:20 PM
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Wow! Thank you for taking time to post this! I want to do it now!
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Old Mar 11th, 2023, 05:21 AM
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Fascinating report. I'm not a cruise person, but this one has certainly piqued my interest.
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Old Mar 11th, 2023, 06:52 AM
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Add me to the want-to-go list!
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Old Mar 11th, 2023, 03:25 PM
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Thanks for the great info!
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Old Mar 11th, 2023, 11:43 PM
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The Northern Lights have truly been spectacular this winter in the Nordics.
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Old Mar 12th, 2023, 12:11 PM
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Count me in as newly interested! Sounds like a great winter option! Thank you for honest and well-written assessment! Did you hook any other destinations onto the cruise portion?
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Old Mar 12th, 2023, 12:31 PM
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In May 2020, we were supposed to go on a cruise in Norway but heti kept suggesting this option. Thanks to your report, I'm going to revisit the Norway options. Thanks!
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Old Mar 13th, 2023, 12:40 AM
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Thanks for sharing this, I had considered doing a similar trip but put it off this year. But maybe next year... I had heard that the shipping line has cruise passengers as well as locals going from A to B and it is also a supply ship. It sounded strange, do you think it worked, having that mix? Also if you were in a port, was it only for an hour or so while they unloaded supplies? You mentioned excursions so I guess the ship must have stayed in dock for a while. Also curious about the languages, did you ever have a problem understanding things? I have not visited Scandinavia but have heard (may be wrong) that most people in that region speak English.
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Old Mar 15th, 2023, 11:23 AM
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Wow, sounds great! This wasn’t even on my radar, but you’ve definitely given me something to consider for the future!
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Old Mar 15th, 2023, 06:40 PM
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And the food was outstanding!!
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