This was a ‘Northern Lights’ package tour from Bournemouth airport flying Bournemouth to Bergen 21/2/18 with Germania, a German budget airline, before boarding MV Polarlys at Bergen. The airline was pretty basic, minimum leg room, lots of TV adverts we had to sit through but a reasonable flight. No checks on cabin baggage restrictions at check-in so overhead lockers overflowed.
At Bergen airport there were plenty of transfer buses. Everyone had Hurtigruten luggage labels apart from us since we were not sent any. Transfer was OK, didn’t have to wait around too long, had safety instructions in the terminal then proceeded on board.
We booked an Arctic superior package which meant a double bed and a free tea/coffee. The cabin was a reasonable size with plenty of storage space. In fact all the cabins seemed to be the same size, just different bed/bunk configurations.
Then we were off. Bear in mind that this was a working ship stopping at some 32 places going north and the same coming south. Some of these are in the middle of the night and can be noisy so you will get woken up but by the end of the voyage you will have just about got used to it. Some stops are longer than others and the duration of individual excursions reflect that. Organisation of events and excursions was quite good but shore times in some place were quite limited and some excursions seemed were rushed . Some of the excursion descriptions were a bit elaborated on for what was actually on offer so may be a bit disappointing when stuck in the back of the bus on sightseeing tours for a couple of hours without much chance to explore. To give an idea, excursions were available at 17 stops, a choice of 43 excursions in all. We went on 7 excursions, a total of £1165 for 2 people. And what of the Northern Lights, which after all was a main reason for going on this coastal voyage. Well, we did see the lights on 2 nights, but not the vivid green/red we expected but a dull sort of grey, rather like clouds moving about. With the correct shutter settings and exposure times, they would appear green but trying to photograph with a smart phone for example was a total waste of time.
Norway is a very scenic country with impressive views and as the ship sailed mostly close to the coastline and in fjords, there is plenty to see. Since the Germans in WW2 burnt down most of the towns visited, they have been rebuilt. The economy is fish, shipbuilding and natural oil/gas. Since all power requirements are from hydro-electricity, all the gas is exported so Norway has a very strong economy. This is reflected somewhat in prices, Norway is expensive. The on-board shop prices were about 4 to 5 times what you would pay in the UK for the same thing. A large section of deck 5 was set aside to clothing and gifts but didn’t see much trade going on. You could purchase drinks packages on-board to go with your meals, £100 pp for a water package and £250 pp for a beer/wine package. Most people opted for a free glass of drinking water instead. A pint of Arctic beer was £13.5….tried it once, it was quite flat so didn’t bother again. A glass of champagne was £10. So turned out to be an alcohol free voyage.
Apart from English, there were Germans, French, Dutch and Italians on board but surprisingly no Chinese or Japanese who normally get everywhere. Some Germans were quite rude, and very pushy when it came to the self-service meals. There was one panoramic lounge on board, some people hogged the seats there and reserved them when not supposed to. Because the boat was very full, and picking up passengers along the way, there were times when we could not find anywhere to sit in the lounge areas so ended up a lot of the time in our cabin. Lectures and presentations were generally in Norwegian, English and German.
Generally speaking the ship was overbooked and mealtimes were a bit chaotic. Organised chaos in fact. There were 4 settings for lunch and evening meals and seating was pre-determined with the welcome package. There was no choice. Some seats had plenty of room and sea views. We had neither. We were crushed onto a round table next to a wall, seating for 7. Our mealtimes were 1.30 pm and 8.00pm; we would have preferred earlier but couldn’t do anything about that. Lunch and breakfast were buffet and evening meal was mainly fixed menu waiter service. Hurtigruten prepare their evening meals from the ‘Coastal kitchen’, ie locally sourced food they collect during the voyage at the places they stop so at least it is fresh. However, whilst the food is fine, there is not a lot of quantity, should you like big meals, and there is no menu choice. The only item we did not enjoy much was reindeer. Eating arrangements in general would be a major complaint with Hurtigruten. There was not enough space. There was a fine dining restaurant and a burger bar which were hardly used which could have expanded the normal dining area.
Unlike joining the ship, disembarkation was a bit chaotic with the decks supposed to disembark one at a time but a lot of people pushed in and created a crush at the baggage reclaim. At Bergen airport there were only 2 check-in desks open, no electronic sign in, so there was a long queue going around a fair bit of the concourse. We didn’t learn until later that Germania had problems so a different plane from DAT.dk was substituted but no-one told the check-in staff so we were allocated seats for the Germania Airbus but the DAT.dk plane was a McDonnell Douglas MD83, a totally different layout so all the boarding passes had wrong seat numbers. Chaos and a delayed take off. Now this was quite a long plane, the pilot had never been to Bournemouth before and could not manoeuvre the plane on the taxiing strip to the gate so we had to have a truck tow us in. More delays and chaos. Finally got home 3 hours late.