It is often said about cruise holidays that there is a cruise for everyone. And that is very true, the variety of cruise ship and destination is at times almost overwhelming, and it is important to choose not just the right designation for you but the right cruise line and in some cases the right ship. Get your choices right, and you are going to have a fantastic holiday experience with memories that you are going to treasure for the rest of your life. Get any of those choices wrong, and you may find yourself being pretty miserable and vowing never to take a cruise again. This is really true of a cruise to the Northern Lights. There are big ships and little ships, luxury or expedition ships, ships where you will be entertained on board and those where you will be entertained on the shore.
In this blog post, I am going to look at why you might want to cruise to the Northern Lights along the Norwegian Coast, and then at one of the cruise lines offering this voyage, the expedition line, Hurtigruten. I will look at the pros and cons of a Hurtigruten cruise, so that you can consider whether this line is and the Norwegian coast is something that is right for you. In subsequent posts I will look at the offerings of some other cruise lines, which may or may not be more suitable for you.
Norway is widely considered to have some of the most stunningly beautiful natural scenery in the world. The Fjords are among the 7 Natural Wonders of the World the area is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Then you have the Northern Lights, and the Midnight Sun, two extraordinary natural phenomenon, perhaps best observed in Norway, and, in the case of the Northern Lights, possibly from the sea, where there is less light pollution.
But perhaps best of all is the opportunity to experience and share the Norwegian philosophy of Friluftsliv. The word was coined by the poet Henri Ibsen and roughly translated means free air life. It means having a strong connection to nature, a respect and love for the outdoors, and a belief that Nature is there to be enjoyed by everyone. Friluftsliv is credited with being one of the reasons why the people of Norway are considered to be among the happiest in the world.
A cruise around the Norwegian coast and among the Fjords are therefore for those who not just enjoy Nature, but being out in Nature. Although it is perfectly possible (and indeed legitimate) to view such wonderful scenery from inside the ship, it is by far best experienced out and in it.
Hurtigruten perhaps have more experience than anyone else in offering cruises along the Norwegian coast. They have been doing it for just under 130 years, and so it is fair to say that they know it well.
Their cruise to the Northern Lights is unique in that it is not just a cruise. The ships run every day almost a a ferry and carry cars, post and packages between every port at which they stop. They are very much working ships as well as expedition ships, and are a vital part of life for the Coastal towns of Norway. This unique service is both an advantage and a disadvantage.
The arrangement gives an enormous amount of flexibility to passengers. If you want to take a one day, two day, five day, or 12 day cruise you can. You can get on and off at any port at which the ship stops. Perhaps you would fancy longer than the few hours longer. Simply pack up, and stay until the next ship or the one after that. If you want to get a real insight into life along the Norwegian coast, a Hurtigruten cruise will give it to you in spades and in way that no other company can match.
The drawback is that you are pretty much on a ferry. Loading and unloading the ship can be noisy, particularly if your cabin is located near the loading areas. Some of the ships are quite old and small. I would advise avoiding the MS Lofoten, which was built in 1964 and which has not been refurbished. On the other hand MS Richard With, built in 1993 was refurbished in 2018 and the Finnmarken is due to be refurbished in 2020. The ships are comparatively small, with some having a passenger capacity of just under 600, tiny compared to the modern cruise liners of today. Although the capacity is, say 600, the number of beds on board will be around 100 fewer, reflecting the “ferry-use” of the line. Small ships mean that rough weather can be quite turbulent on board. The MS Lofoten does not even have stabilisers, another reason why you might not want to travel on this particular ship.
Hurtigruten’s ships are known as expedition ships. They are designed to take you to experience the heart of the destination. You will have lecturers and guides on board, there will be activities and guides aligned to the purpose of the trip, such as photographers and kayakers. You will not find entertainment as you would on some of the larger ocean going cruise liners.
Accommodation is comfortable rather than luxurious, although the MS Finnmarken will be refurbished to a much higher standard. WiFi is an additional extra except for some
Cuisine is local, often being sourced from the ports in which the ship stops, along what is known as Norway’s coastal kitchen, for example lamb from Geiranger, King Crab from the Barents Sea, cheese and cod from Lofoten, reindeer from Finnmark. The ships have also been providing a vegan menu since 2015.
Although the services and facilities are basic compared to most of their competitors, the experience is unrivalled, but to get the full benefit it is essential to take as many of the on shore excursions as possible. Some of these are purchased on board, although most will be purchased before departure.
- Full Board
- English speaking Tour Leader
- On board lectures and presentations on history, biology, geography and culture
- Photography and camera instruction
- Port presentations
- Loan of trekking poles, snow shoes ice spikes
- Captain’s dinner and a farewell event
Also included is Young Explorer, a complimentary rear round programme for children aged 6 to 12 years. The Young Explorers will learn about other cultures, the importance of nature in our daily lives and the impact of humans on our planet. There are daily on board activities to give children a deeper understanding of nature,, climate and culture. They will be introduced to topics like wildlife, local food, environmental protection and famous explorers.
This option is offered on MS Finnmarken, the most child friendly ship in the fleet on the Norwegian Coast with a playroom, heated outdoor pool, and great facilities for activities
The Northern Lights Guarantee
If your purpose for cruising the Norwegian coast is to see the Northern Lights, A Hurtigruten cruise is a sensible option to take. The Lights are a phenomena of nature, and cannot be switched on and off at the flick of a button. You may see them or you may not. The period that is best is from September though to about March. The Lights may occur during the Norwegian summer but it is difficult to see them because of that other Norwegian natural phenomena, the midnight sun, when it is simply not dark enough to see the the Aurora.
If you take the 12 night cruise to the Northern Lights during the winter season, your chance of seeing the Lights is very high. So high in fact that that Hurtigruten will give you another 7 day cruise free of charge if you do not. They have hardly ever had to honour that commitment.
Where you will go
Some cruises will depart and return to Dover. Otherwise you can start and finish at any of the ports between Bergen and Kirkeness.
Bergen is considered rot be the gateway to the fjords. It is an ancient city, dating back to 1070m and one of its highlights are its colourfully painted wharves and cobblestone alleys. One of the available excursions is a hike around the tow.. If you are staying in Bergen for more than a day you might consider the popular ‘Norway in a Nutshell” tour, which takes you through some of the spectacular Nordic scenery and includes a ride on the Flam Mountain Railway.
Day 2 sees us in Alesund, an “Art Deco city and should include a tour of the Aquarium. Hiking and Kayaking tours are available..
Trondheim is the next stop, a mix of the ancient and the modern. From September to May you can ride on the world’s most Northern tramline, and explore Trondheim by Kayak, or bicycle.
Day 4 sees us crossing the Artic Circle, which is the point where your chances of seeing the Northern Lights improve (during the long winter months). During winter sailings, there is a multimedia show on board, “The Magic Light, Aurora Borealis.”One of the excursions here is to the Saltstraumen by small boat to experience the world’s most powerful maelstrom, which will certainly get your heart beating a lot faster.
We also view majestic Lofoten, the 1000 m high wall, a collection of mountain peaks that appear to form a straight line. We might also visit the Lofoten Viking Museum where we will be welcomed into the chieftain’s house for a real Viking feast.
On the 5thDay of the cruise, we are celebrating Artic heroes in Tromso. You can enjoy a thrilling dog-sledge ride, enjoy cross country skiing, go deep sea fishing in an Artic Fjord and go hiking with one of the Hurtigruten guides. In the Summer, you can take a kayaking excursion to get much closer to marine wildlife.
Day 6 sees us at North Cape, one of the most northern parts of Europe, and into the heartland of the Sami people.
Day 7 sees us at Kirkenes, which is just a few kilometres from the Russian border. You can try dog sledging, snow-shoeing, and of course you will not want to turn down the opportunity to swim in the icy Artic. This is also the turn around part from the Cruise.
Why would you want to go back on the same route? Partly because you may want to try out some of the excursions that you did not get a chance to explore on the way up and partly because some of what you sailed through at night, you will now be passing through during the day.
For a land based alternative, please have a look at our Lapland pages: https://inspirationtravel.co.uk/holidays/lapland/