The timing could not have been worse. Just as Hurtigruten’s second hybrid expedition ship, Fridtjof Nansen, completed its first ‘showcase’ sailing around the British Isles, the coronavirus pandemic put a global stop to all cruising.
However, I was fortunate to be on board that sailing – and what a stylish ship she turned out to be.
On boarding in Tilbury, the ship’s classy Scandinavian design was immediately evident – it’s definitely a class above Hurtigruten’s older-style vessels.
Light woods, Norwegian granite, oak and birch merged seamlessly with swish lamps and elegant design. Artworks handpicked by Her Royal Highness Queen Sonja of Norway and her art foundation adorned the walls, a glowing ornamental fire was a magnificent centrepiece in the Observatory lounge and retro Nordic skis in fine-dining restaurant Lindstrom paid homage to Norwegian heritage.
A huge seven-storey TV screen showing beautiful Nordic landscapes and wildlife in the central foyer set the tone for ship’s outdoorsy expedition vibe – and was also wonderful viewing from glass-walled lifts as we ascended to our cabin. Guests will definitely feel more at home in gilet and walking shoes on this ship than evening dress and stilettos.
Cabins, which are all outside, are compact but well-designed and the modern spacious bathroom has controllable underfloor heating. Fifty-percent of cabins have balconies.
Attention to detail with today’s cruiser in mind has been paid throughout. Aune, the main dining room, has lots of tables for two and long high benches for singles or others who want to mingle. Floor-to-ceiling windows provide a light, airy feel. Platters of langoustine, oysters, king prawns and salmon were the stars of the lunch and dinner buffets which offered plenty of choice. Dinner was waiter-service on occasion.
At cafe-style Fredheim, steam buns and delicious crab rolls and burgers were served alongside thick milk shakes and sizzling waffles with cloud berries – yum. Gourmet restaurant Lindstrom, which I found offered a limited menu, is free for suite guests, €25 supplement otherwise.
However, it’s the hybrid ship’s eco-credentials that are making industry heads turn. A battery-powered propulsion system, which combines battery and diesel power, uses 20-30 percent less fuel and reduces CO2 emissions significantly. Excess electricity generated can be stored in batteries, where there’s space to increase capacity six-fold in the future.
Just as much effort has gone into ‘above stairs’ too. I particularly liked the recycling bins in cabins, though they took up quite a lot of space, reusable water bottles and hydration stations on each floor. Some crew uniforms are made from recycled plastic and hairdryer bags from recycled linen.
A ‘we go green’ sign on the door indicated when guests didn’t want their cabin cleaned. For every guest who does that, Hurtigruten will donate half a euro to an environmental fund. It’s a great idea but I wonder how many guests will forgo their daily clean on a premium product?
The eco-vibe extends to excursions, too, in the shape of beach clean-ups and conservation projects. Armed with litter-picker and sack, we set about cleaning up RSPB Radipole Lake in Weymouth while our colleagues tackled Chesil Beach. It was a rewarding and bonding experience.
A state-of-the-art science centre also sets this ship apart. Expect to see members of the 22-strong expedition team pouring over industrial-sized microscopes studying such things as sharks eggs. We were invited to join Jenna from the Orca Foundation one morning to collect data on porpoises and dolphins after departing from Portsmouth harbour. There’s also books on birds, wildlife and glass cabinets displaying bird skulls and walrus tusks. A Blueye underwater drone will relay pictures from beneath the ice in polar regions.
I never made it to the early morning wildlife watching but those who did were rewarded with great photographs of dolphins.
Wildlife and cultural lectures held during the day and evenings were streamed to cabins so you could watch them while relaxing in your pyjamas. Our evening storytelling session on polar explorer Fridtjof Nansen, after whom the ship is named, was fascinating.
I found plenty to keep me fit including a well-equipped gym, heated pool and 150-metre running track. Relaxation opportunities included a spa (treatments from 65 euros), hot tub, sauna with a huge panoramic window and comfy day beds in the Observatory which were ideal for an afternoon snooze.
Ironically, it wasn’t the coronavirus pandemic that played havoc with our itinerary in the end. Storms and rough seas put paid to our calls at the Isles of Scilly and Isle of Man. On the plus side, we had an extra day in Liverpool where we enjoyed an entertaining Liverpool City Sights’ Beatles bus tour and sang along to the band’s hits as we toured the homes and haunts of the Fab Four. A fitting fabulous finale to an utterly fab ship.
Due to Covid-19 Hurtigruten has suspended its Norwegian coastal voyages and expedition sailings. Please visit Hurtigruten website for the latest information.
Fridtjof Nansen was scheduled to depart on a 15-day Iceland expedition cruise on 24 June and operate 16-day Diso Bay – Heart of Greenland itineraries from Reykjavik in July and August. From January 2021, it is due to sail 12-day cruises in Antarctica from Buenos Aires.
Silver Travel Advisor recommends Hurtigruten.