Seafaring Norwegians love to explore faraway lands. But they also love to come home. They’re drawn by the siren call of their own majestic coastline, bathed by three seas and thousands of miles of clear blue fjords, and dappled with enchanted isles and skerries sheltering fishermen and nature-lovers in classic red-and-white cottages, and herds of reindeer, flocks of white-tailed sea eagles and other wildlife. Luckily for Norwegians-and other savvy travelers - Norway’s spell-binding coast can be easily explored aboard Hurtigruten ships.
Part cruise line, part national treasure, Hurtigruten has transported Norwegians, along with their mail and cargo, since 1893. Today, vacationers also can take Hurtigruten’s Norway coastal cruises to 34 ports between Kirkenes, near the Russian border, and Bergen, western Norway’s cultural capital and gateway to the fjords. On one-way 6, 7 and 11-day cruises, passengers journey northbound or southbound. On the 12-day round-trip cruise between Bergen and Kirkenes, passengers see all ports, both day and night.
On every coastal cruise, passengers call at small fishing towns, and storied ports like Hammerfest, the world’s northernmost city; Trondheim, early Viking capital and site of medieval Nidaros Cathedral; Tromsø, Northern Norway’s largest city and home to the architecturally renowned Arctic Cathedral, and Øksfjørd, site of one of Norway’s largest glaciers. All passengers celebrate the special thrills of visiting the North Cape, the world’s northernmost spot, and crossing the Arctic Circle.
Depending on the season, coastal cruises offer varied shore excursions, including pre and post-excursions. In summer, when the midnight sun shines through much of the night, and in fall, when the leaves change color, travelers sign up for such excursions as King Crab Safaris, riverboat rides to the Russian border, reindeer-spotting expeditions and horseback rides through the Lofoten Islands. Winter brings the glorious Northern Lights, and optional winter-spring excursions include a snowmobile safari through Lapland, sledding with huskies and a visit to the ice-bound Kirkenes Snow Hotel.
All Aboard Hurtigruten!
Hurtigruten’s fleet-which also journeys to Antarctica, Greenland, Iceland and Spitsbergen, to Europe’s historic cities, and even transatlantic-includes 12 medium-size cruise ships, each carrying 600-1,000 passengers. I booked summer passage aboard the 445-foot-long M/S Midnatsol, configured, like its sister ships, to maximize passenger comfort while highlighting passing scenery. In addition to an array of pretty sightseeing lounges, including two grand panoramic lounges at the bow with floor-to-ceiling windows, there was a fitness room and a sauna with large picture windows, and several bars where passengers enjoyed soft drinks, beer and aquavit during the day, or at night while listening to piano music. In a spacious, sun-filled restaurant, Norwegian specialties like baked cod, grilled salmon, pickled herring and roast pork, along with salads, side-dishes, and traditional desserts like multekrem - golden cloudberries folded into fresh cream - were served at breakfast and lunch buffets as well as sit-down dinners. On the open-air Sun Deck, passengers basked in the warm rays, took photos, or greeted each new port filled with colorful fishing boats and freighters.
Hurtigruten ships offer a range of cabin categories, from spacious suites with living rooms and outdoor decks to compact standard cabins with a desk, two couches that convert into a single or double bunks, a head with a shower, and a spacious closet.
Experiencing Onshore Wonders
Hurtigruten’s 2 to 6-hour optional shore excursions, costing about $40-$440, offer a good mix of experiences and are worth every penny. On small, individualized excursions, passengers get up-close and personal with local fishermen, native Samis and other coastal residents as well as abundant bird and wildlife. Bus tours, carrying larger groups, are less active, but allow travelers to explore a number of villages and historic sites.
For adventurous types traveling in summer, as I did, the King Crab Safari, a Kirkenes pre-excursion, features a truly unforgettable fjord cruise aboard a rigid-hulled inflatable boat (RIB). En route, your fisherman-guide traps at least a dozen giant king crabs, which you later feast on in a rustic, candlelit fishing shack. On a reindeer spotting expedition, passengers follow herds as they graze on treeless tundra under the midnight sun, then roast tasty reindeer meat over an open fire for breakfast. Sign up for a sightseeing-boat trip through the high, narrow Trollfjord, or saddle up a sturdy Icelandic horse at Hov Hestegård horse farm and ride along the Lofoten Islands’ white sands.
A more conventional bus excursion, A Taste of Vesterålen travels through a mosaic of beautiful isles with stops at historic sites like the splendidly painted, 12th-century Trondenes Church. On The Atlantic Road, passengers visit the 13th-century Kvernes Stave Church, and dine on bacalao with dried cod, tomatoes and potatoes. But the highlight is the Atlantic Road itself, a five-mile engineering marvel built over several islands, and connected by causeways, viaducts and eight bridges, including the Storseisundet, which seems to twist in mid-air.
Excursions certainly ramp up the adventure on Hurtigruten cruises. But don’t be surprised if you or your clients become mesmerized by the passing scenery and are reluctant to leave ship. Of the many attractions of a Hurtigruten coastal cruise, Norway’s spell-binding coast is always the most enchanting.
For More Information
Hurtigruten Classic Coastal Cruises start at $1,362. Special offers include Fly-Voyage Packages, which can cut travel costs by 50% or more. For details on all cruises-and on Hurtigruten’s special Travel Agent Resource Center and Hurtigruten Academy online seminar-call 866-552-0371 or visit www.hurtigruten.us For information on Norway, log on to www.visitnorway.com