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.
See our latest Hurtigruten cruise deals and read more about Hurtigruten's recent ship updates for MS Kong Harald.
Updated March 2017
We sent Callum from our commercial team on a wintery adventure with Hurtigruten to Norway and the Arctic Circle. Read all about his snowy cruise and stay below.
There’s nothing quite like a snowy adventure to Norway & the Arctic Circle to get you in the Christmas spirit, and Hurtigruten’s Arctic Highlights itinerary was perfect to do just that.
Sailing from Tromsø to Kirkenes and back, we joined the ship already inside the Arctic Circle, to which proudly carries the name of Hurtigruten’s founder, MS Richard With. The cabins were ideal for the nature of the trip, providing a perfect place to rest our heads between ports along the Norwegian coastline. The dress code was informal throughout the ship, perfect for this type of voyage. It was normal to see everyone walking around in fleeces and walking boots ready to explore the next port of call or prepared to dash out on deck at the first sign of a Northern Lights sighting being called by the ship’s Captain.
The Panorama lounge & bar was the perfect spot to sip a hot coffee or refreshing cold drink in comfort while watching the snow-capped coastline sail by. The informal feel flowed through to the restaurant too, a relaxed buffet with a variety of hot & cold dishes to suit everyone. The fresh ‘caught today’ seafood was delicious, especially the incredible king crab; and the reindeer steak from the a la carte restaurant was a particular highlight.
We were impressed with all the crew onboard who were always friendly and attentive, creating a relaxed and friendly atmosphere, and gave us great advice on where to visit. We found them to be incredibly informative, full of history and information on each port of call. But the ship really was secondary to the hero of the trip, the itinerary. The Arctic Highlights itinerary was superb, with hotel stays in Tromsø too, we got the full Arctic Norway experience. In Honningsvåg, an excursion to the North Cape saw us visit the most northerly point of Continental Europe and less than 2,000km from the North Pole itself. Next was Kirkenes situated right on the Russian border – a visit to the SnowHotel which they were still constructing with nature’s help, and the hotels neighbouring reindeer enclosure and husky kennels gave for some fantastic photos to take home.
Sailing back down towards Tromsø, we got our first experience of the natural phenomena Aurora Borealis – commonly known as the Northern Lights. They were awe-inspiring, truly majestic and an absolute must for everyone to see. We saw them multiple times throughout the journey, all different shapes and colours and they really made the whole experience just that more special. We had a quick stop in Vardø for an Arctic swim in the Barents Sea and at only 4°C and wind-chill at -12°C, it was an experience we won’t forget in a while! Although when back onboard the Captain presented us with a certificate awarding us for the brave decision (or arguably mad) to take a dip in the sea.
Hammerfest was our last stop before arriving back in Tromsø and it was beautiful. Everything was covered in a soft duvet of snow and looked like a picturesque Christmas card, adding to the fact at this time of year in the Arctic Circle there’s only approx. 2 hours of daylight a day so every house around the port was illuminated with their festive Christmas lights too. With snow around us in every port, the child within shone through many times and there were plenty of snow angels and snowball fights along the trip.
Back in Tromsø for a last stay at the Radisson Blu Hotel before our flight home, there was enough time for shopping and sampling some of Tromsø’s great nightlife; a favourite being Rorbua Pub which with live music, local beers and an open fire, was perfect to thaw out after a walk around the city. Tromsø is a fantastic city full of things to do. Highlights included the Polaria Arctic Experience to see the bearded seals during feeding and a visit to the Polar Museum which has a fascinating insight to the history of Arctic Norway.
By far the most exciting and special highlight of the trip was husky sledding through the snowy mountains of Tromsø. It felt like we were sledding through a Christmas story and it capped off an amazing adventure, ticking a must-do off our bucket lists and something I would recommend everyone to try. We can’t wait to join Hurtigruten on another one of their breathtaking itineraries visiting this spectacular part of the world.
Got any questions or comments for Callum about his Arctic cruise? Tell us in the comments below.
See all Norwegian Fjords and Arctic Circle adventures.
Walter & Rico's Norwegian adventure with Hurtigruten
Top 5 Norwegian Fjords
A holiday with the purpose of working, or making a difference to the lives of those who are less fortunate can be a worthwhile and altruistic project to under-take. The practise doesn’t need to just be restricted to human causes. It can also relate to wildlife or the environment. These types of breaks are perfect cross-generational holidays, ideal for anyone, whether traveling alone, as a couple or family. There are many different options for anyone wanting to work abroad as part of a holiday, and there are also a great deal of varied and interesting destinations you can travel to. In recent years, the top 3 places to take such a holiday were India and The Philippines, with Thailand in third place. India is third among the world's countries in terms of the highest number of endangered mammal species and top 10 in terms of the highest number of endangered plant species, making it a popular destination for conservation volunteering, which is one of the most popular types of volunteering programs abroad. Thailand is also noted for its strong opportunities in terms of conservation Volunteer holidays. As a whole, the country also ranks amongst the top 10 in the world in terms of having the highest number of mammal species which are endangered. The country also has a rich history of biodiversity, for which assistance to preserve is always needed.
Expedition experts Hurtigruten offer a unique and thrilling opportunity to experience expedition cruises to Antarctica. Launching another ship into Antarctic waters, with science labs on board and their very own team of in-house scientists, making it a perfect voyage for anyone who wants to learn and participate as they holiday. They will offer practice field experiments and lectures and the chance for everyone on board to follow in the footsteps of other explorers, making it a research holiday you can truly learn from.
The Galapagos Islands are truly an area of outstanding beauty, and offer unique experiences in terms of not only the wildlife you will see, but the landscape too. Charles Darwin found the inspiration for his ground breaking book “The Origin of Species” here and scientists still consider the area to be a truly living laboratory. A wildlife cruise such as this would offer the opportunity to undertake dives with fully qualified guides, as well as exploring the more Western side of the islands, known to be of interest because of their volcanic activity. There is also plenty of scope for research based opportunities here, through places like the Charles Darwin Research Station.
Becoming a sports coach at a local school, teaching children in the inner cities to play football, cricket or tennis is a volunteer break which offers the opportunity to teach groups of between ten and thirty children. This type of break would involve teaching pupils sports skills for around three to five hours every day. Cricket and football are the most popular and in demand sports, children and adults alike will practise these games on any available space they can. Anyone embarking on this type of project would have the support and back up of the local teachers from the schools themselves.
Visiting the Philippines offers the chance to work for a few days as a volunteer farm hand, a break which would enable the holidaymaker to give something back to the local populace, which, for the most part, relies on tourism to thrive. Helping to build walls, to reconstruct buildings, general maintenance and upkeep of farmland and helping with the care of agricultural animals are just some of the tasks that could be undertaken. A portion of your trip money, usually in the region of £50 to £100 will go directly to local communities as a direct donation. In some cases, there may be an expectation that participants will engage in fundraising in their home countries after their holiday is over via online campaigning, though this is not compulsory.
Traveling out to Thailand offers the option to work on marine conservation projects. Here, the main opportunity would be to work with helping to preserve the reefs and the waterways. Work can vary and depending on the holidaymaker and their level of expertise exercises could undertake research dives, beach clean ups and also overseeing the care and release of sea mammals that have been looked after and are now ready to be released again.
Carnival Cruises last year announced the launch of their new brand Fathom – a cruise line which provides “social impact cruises” allowing holidaymakers to take part in a few days of in-country volunteering , forming the largest part of their week long break. At the time of launch, Fathom were predicting that as many as 40% of people embarking on this type of holiday with them would be first time cruisers. The maiden voyage to be made by fathom will be to the Dominican Republic, with future itineraries including Cuba and it is hoped that there will be expansion and more diversity in the regions these cruises will visit. The aim is to make these cruise breaks a perfect solution for people who want to make a difference; and those embarking on them will be afforded the opportunity to work with local foodbanks, animal or wildlife projects and also with other non-profit agencies.
There are many benefits to taking a holiday like this. For the price of a regular holiday there is the opportunity to have the best of both worlds – a holiday and a chance to get away from it all, combined with the chance to meet and work with likeminded people, as well as the local populace. Making a genuine difference to the lives of local communities, or to help preserve the ecology and wildlife of an area can mean that it remains safe for generations to come. Often after returning home there will be the opportunity to keep in touch and communicate with others who have volunteered, seeing how the hard work put in evolves over time, particularly with ecologically based projects that can be immensely rewarding. In terms of a break away from every day routine as part of a life changing experience, or for a family who would like to become more involved with helping to conserve the natural world for generations to come, Volunteer holidays are the way forward – holidaying with a conscience.
Walter from our Commercial Team and Rico from our Sales Team were lucky enough to go onboard Hurtigruten for a Norwegian adventure, here's how they got on...
Hurtigruten, as the name suggests, is a fast route along Norway's coastline. As a working post ship, these ships fly a split flag, a requirement for all ships delivering mail. You get a sense of this when the ship occasionally docks for only 15 minutes delivering mail to these remote fishing towns. Other stops are considerably longer to allow for sightseeing and excursions. The ease with which these ships dock and depart from each port with minimum fuss took me by surprise. Onboard announcements are made in Norwegian, English and German. Whilst day to day sailing through this region is one breathtaking view after the next, the overall experience is authentically Norwegian including a ceremony on the open deck where shots of schnapps are raised with the ships horn marking the crossing at the Arctic Circle. After announcing the launch of a new programme to source local Norwegian foods, Hurtigruten offer freshly prepared salmon sashimi on the open deck, a welcome accompaniment to the majestic surrounding scenery of waterfalls, snow capped mountains and natural wildlife.
The impeccable service, friendly & helpful staff and the finest locally sourced cuisine served onboard Hurtigruten stand as proud testament to this great Norwegian brand. If in any doubt, rest assured that a place of honour in the reception area is reserved on the entire fleet of the official portraits of His Majesty King Harald (in Admiral uniform) and Her Majesty Queen Sonja - keeping an eye on the proceedings onboard.
The Northern Lights
It's not surprising that due to their unpredictability, a great deal of mystery surrounds the Northern Lights, ultimately the prevailing scientific explanation for this natural phenomena is nonetheless interesting and enlightening. Taking memorable photos of the Northern Lights takes some preparation - Hurtigruten supply a flyer onboard with tips and detailed guidelines on how to set your digital camera to take the best pictures. There is much to explore and experience in this largely unspoilt natural wonder beyond the Arctic circle. My suggestion is to go for the destination - the Northern Lights will be an added bonus.
Finding yourself on the back of a sled attached to a pack of huskies must be the quintessential winter experience. Alaskan huskies are harnessed in prescribed formation. Lead, racing, team, wheel and swing dogs - each with their own specific task working as a team lead by the verbal commands of their musher. A reminder of the partly lost role of mans loyal working companion providing an efficient means of transport across this otherwise impassable wilderness. Avid mushers compete in dog sled races and share interesting stories of their arduous feats of this winter dog sport.
Bidos - a traditional Sami dinner is served after the dog sledging excursion. Reindeer herding is still central to Sami culture and crucial to their subsistence providing meat, fur and transportation. So it comes as no surprise that Bidos is reindeer stew accompanied by a broth made from the same meat and vegetables.
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