We sent cruise expert Rob off to Norway with Hurtigruten to tell us all about life onboard MS Kong Harald. Read about his experience below and find out what's also in store for MS Midnatsol.
After a rather early start, a pub breakfast at Gatwick and a long wait, I finally met the other travel agents flying from Gatwick to Bergen at the Norwegian Air check in. We checked ourselves in, using the self-service machines, and sent our luggage on its way. The entire check in took no more than five minutes for me to complete, and then I had time to myself to clear security and explore Gatwick’s vast selection of shops. Finally, it was time to board the Norwegian flight to Bergen. The aircraft was clean and looked new, which I would have expected because Norwegian do not have any aircraft older than five years old. Our departure from Gatwick was delayed approximately 30 minutes, but finally we were in the air and on our way to Bergen. The two hour flight was comfortable, albeit the leg room was only just enough, and we arrived into Norway at 2pm local time. After disembarking the plane and clearing customs, I went to collect my luggage and to my surprise, it was already going around the conveyer belt before I had even got there! After loading our cases on to the coach, we set off to composer Edvard Greig’s house for a short tour, before heading off to the Scandic Nepture hotel in Bergen. The four star hotel was clean and the atrium was lovely. The room could be updated however the hotel was fine for my first night in Norway. In the evening, we set off to a small out-of-the-way bar, which would never have been found by anyone who did not know the area. We were greeted with a couple of welcome drinks, some light snacks, and the chance to get to know our colleagues from the UK for the next few days. After a couple of hours, we made our way to the Funicular Railway, to go up Mount Floyen and enjoy a delicious Norwegian three course meal. After filling up on the delicious cuisine and getting to know some more people from all over the world, we set of to return to the hotel, which was delayed for another couple of hours due to the spontaneous decision to have a couple of drinks in another bar. Finally, we made it back to the hotel to enjoy our first night’s sleep in Norway.
After a delicious buffet-style breakfast, we were greeted with some local guides, to take us on a two hour walking tour of Bergen. Bergen is a lovely city with one small flaw; it rains a lot. Today was no exception but the tour went ahead and showed us everything Bergen has to offer, from the old docks to the city’s narrowest alleys. I would definitely recommend this excursion to anyone travelling to Bergen, as it gives great information and also the chance to have free time before returning to the ship. Hurtigruten own their own terminal in Bergen, and do not share it with anyone else, so it is never over crowded. At the desk, we had the option to setup an onboard account, send our luggage on its way to the cabin, and receive our complimentary Wi-Fi access codes. After heading up the escalator, there was a brief emergency processes video and we were then able to embark the 300-passenger ship – MS Kong Harald. Once on board, I had time to drop my carry-on bag off at my cabin, to find my suitcase had beaten me there. The simple cabin offered twin beds which fold into the walls, a television and a small bathroom. The restricted view still allowed a lot of natural light into the cabin, which made a huge difference when compared to inside cabins (of which there are none on this ship). Before departure, we were invited to a welcome drinks reception on the top deck (deck seven) where the captain wished us a pleasant time on board, and we got to sample some delicious “Polar Bear” beer, brewed in Norway. Finally, at 5:30pm, MS Kong Harald set sail for Skjolden. On board the ship, there are two places to have dinner; a buffet and a main dining room. Tonight, we were invited to dine in the main dining room, which offered some amazing cuisine. The starter consisted of orange roe with mussel, covered in a sauce. It is clear the Norwegian’s like their fish, as the main course was also a fish dish, and consisted of a piece of cod with some vegetables. The cod was, in my opinion, one of the most delicious meals I have ever had on a cruise ship. After the main, we enjoyed a dessert wine and a chocolate waffle dish.
After dinner, a couple of us decided to explore the ship, however this was cut short as an announcement was made that the Northern Lights could be seen. Never have I seen so many people running upstairs on a cruise ship, with the staff encouraging them! I made it to the front of the ship and looked up at the sky. The faint wispy green glow was enough for me to be happy to have seen this incredible natural phenomenon. I stayed outside for approximately 45 minutes enjoying the view, before deciding I was too cold so headed inside to enjoy a few drinks at the bar. Drinks onboard were quite pricey but costs did coincide with Norwegian prices. For example, a Jack Daniel’s and coke cost 119 Norwegian Krone, which using the exchange rate of 11.5, works out just over £10. After a few drinks and getting to know some German and French agents, it was time to head to bed for the early start the following day.
After another delicious buffet-style breakfast, we made our way to the lecture room where we learnt of Hurtigruten’s exciting plans for future exploration of the Antarctic region. MS Midnatsol will take passengers here at a decreased capacity to make for a comfortable journey and coincide with regional law. There was also good news for single cruisers and no single supplements for these cruises. The lectures finished just after midday, and after a hearty lunch, we prepared ourselves for disembarkation in Skjolden. We arrived at 2pm, and were greeted by a local band. As we got off the ship, we were provided with a free bottle of water and an energy bar, to keep us going for the afternoon of shore excursions. There were three excursions on offer: a RIB ride, a Walking Tour and a trip to a UNESCO church. I was lucky to try out the RIB ride. After a short walk from the ship to the boat, we were provided with a set of very warm overalls which went over my thick coat. At first I was rather warm, and decided to avoid taking a hat, although they recommended it. As soon as I was on the water, travelling at over 70mph, I regretted this decision! The 60 minute RIB ride took us to various attractions along the Fjord, including waterfalls and caves. After returning to the start point of the ride, and returning our overalls, we returned to the ship to enjoy some more free time, prior to our 6pm departure. The ship left promptly at 6pm, and we returned along the Sognefjord to enjoy the views before dinner at 8pm. Tonight, we dined in the buffet restaurant, and I soon found myself enjoying a delicious Atlantic Char with some vegetables. This was followed by a very succulent chocolate cake and the whole meal included wine that never seemed to be empty! After chatting, drinking and eating with my colleagues, we went off to the bar and spent the evening enjoying the panoramic views of the fjord, while enjoying wine and the traditional Polar Bear beer. Eventually, it was time to return to the cabin for my final night’s sleep on board.
Sadly, today is the last day of what has been a brilliant visit. A brief breakfast was followed by two very interesting lectures. The first was telling us all about Svalbard and the wonderful nature and scenery available – last year every cruise to Svalbard had a Polar bear sighting. We were also told how there is constant darkness in Svalbard between November and February, and constant daylight between May and August. I can just imagine being there in January, eating lunch at 2 in the afternoon, as I look up at the Northern lights – how incredible! The second talk was about the Race to the South Pole by a Norwegian Explorer. He told us how explorers in 1912 raced to the South Pole, and the risks and dangers they faced - a very interesting and engaging lecture. After lunch, we had the chance to sample some food from the new Norwegian Coastal Kitchen that Hurtigruten are introducing – the smoked lamb and salmon were divine. We had some brief free time on board, before arriving back in Bergen, where we were told there was a small surprise in store. MS Midnatsol was going to be in Bergen the same day as us and we were able to go on board for a quick tour. I expected the ship to be similar but I could not have been more wrong. This ship was much larger and the décor was even better than that of MS Kong Harald. To end our time in Norway we had a couple of hours free time in Bergen to wander around before returning to Hurtigruten’s terminal for our 15 minute transfer to the airport to return home.
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