Monday, 3 December 2012

12 days with Hurtigruten: Day 12

Hurtigruten MAP_0014
Back to Bergen and then home

The last 4½ hours of the trip are spent on the panorama lounge at the front of the ship because our cabin has to be vacated by 10 am to enable it to be prepared for the next trip and new passengers.

We steam south on a very calm sea with a clear sunny sky and reports of temperatures of –7c in Bergen (it was 8c when we arrived 12 days ago).

Although the scenery is nothing spectacular, the occasional something pops up to delight us such as this island which

Isolated houses

 is not very large but has on it a few houses

Isolated Houses Close Up
Isolated Location

arranged around a light house. All of the islands have a slight covering of snow although it feels too cold outside to snow.

Then we pass through a very narrow channel called

Shoemakers Channel Approach

Shomakeren Channel which is named after a shoemaker who lived nearby and made a good living from repairing the shoes of sailors on passing ships.

It is marked by a couple of lights,

Shoemakers Port

one on either side of the channel.

Shoemakers rear view

It looks narrow to us and would feel even narrower on larger ships in the fleet and apparently is so narrow that the largest ships often choose to avoid it, particularly at night.


One thing we noticed when sailing up the coast was that almost every rock was marked by a lighthouse or small light such as those in the photographs above.

Bergen approach

As we approach Bergen, we are greeted by a snowy landscape

Bergen Hurtigruten

and shortly we see an empty Hurtigruten quay awaiting our on-time arrival.

The MS-Lofoten’s Fog Horn

I have been attempting to record the Lofoten’s fog horn for a number of days without success.

It does not sound it if we are in the “official fleet hours of darkness” (not when it is actually dark because that can be most of the day).

It sometimes sounds it when we pass another ship of the fleet but the convention is that the north bound ship determines if it is to be lights flashing or fog horns sounding and all of the ships in the past few days have flashed lights.

It also sounds it when we approach a port and about five minutes before we leave it but again, only in the official hours of day light.

A combination of all of the above rules means that I have not managed to record it during the past week!

However – my failed attempts have (apart from creating some mirth amongst my fellow passengers) come to the attention of our Guide and the ship’s Captain and it has been agreed that I will be given prior warning of when it sounds as we approach our final destination. They have also agreed to sound the noisier of the two fog horns and so, 10 minutes out of the port I get to hear the horn

and if you click on the play arrow above, you will hear all 22 seconds of it yourself!

Leaving Lofoten

And so, we arrive and disembark for the last time,

Last View

and we get a last view of the MS Lofoten which will be leaving port to repeat the trip (in about 8 hours time) as it has done more than 1500 times over the past 48 years and will continue so to do until around 2018 when it might be taken out of service.

Our bags have arrived back in the terminal before we do,


the ever efficient Norwegian transport system ensures that the coach to the airport is waiting outside of the terminal

Snowy Bergen

and about 5 minutes after getting off the Lofoten, we are moving with speed along snowy roads towards the airport in a country

Smowy Bergen

where they have even cleared the pavements of snow. Snow does not seem to cause any problems here.

Our flight home is nearly empty (16 passengers in a 169 seat plane) and arrives on time and follows the usual route with three

Flight Back

times round the holding pattern to the east of London because of congestion at Heathrow.

Putting to one side the breakdown of the inter-terminal railway at Heathrow Terminal 5 giving us a 30 minute delay and a long walk plus the fact that only two of the e-passport gates were working, we quickly collect our bags, eventually get to our car and drive home on nearly deserted snow free roads.

And so, 12 days and 13 hours after we closed our front door, we open it again to a warm house (thank-you Monica) and unpack before going to bed.

And on the following morning, we wake up to the news that our local airport is closed because 1 cm of snow has fallen on the runway overnight. This would never happen in Norway!!!

So what did we think of our trip?

It is difficult to summarise a 12 day trip like this but:

Travelling there

We travelled there and back independently because we thought the Hurtigruten quoted charge for arranging flights, a hotel and buses was ridiculously high. So high in fact, that our own costs of getting to Bergen and back (for the two of us) were less than the Hurtigruten charge for one person.

The hotel we stayed at in Bergen (The Terminus) was fine and we have no complaints or comments at all on it.

The MS Lofoten

The MS Lofoten is a lovely old ship (48 years old). The key word here is “old” – it creaks and rattles a bit, it is faded in parts, it has no stabilisers, it has “no” many things and that is why people choose it. The crew work hard at maintaining it. We found them cleaning the outside windows at 11 pm when we were in one port, and the cleaner onboard when we seemed to be polishing the brass and sweeping spotless floors continuously. Heating on the ship was a bit erratic – we were either far too hot or a little cold, again it is an old ship thing.

The Lofoten is small and that is its greatest asset because provided you make an effort to join in, then you rapidly become part of its small family. I think that in high season with some 350 people on board, it might feel a bit over crowded and certainly the forward lounges (on two levels) could not house everyone if they wanted to see things from the front.

Overall, the cabins are ok. We were lucky with our one which was excellent, those down in the bowels of the ship might feel a bit cramped and some might be noisy but I have no means of comparing these cabins to those on the larger ships – they might be exactly the same and this might not be a small ship thing.

Do you want to travel in a home or a hotel is really the question you should ask when choosing a ship.

The food

Dinner was well presented and very good and not over-facing in quantity. Lunch similarly was very good although the vegetarian hot meal option rarely looked (or tasted) inviting. The lunch salad buffet and numerous desserts were superb. Breakfast was ok but only barely so for vegetarians.

Alcoholic drinks are ridiculously expensive (a Norway not a Hurtigruten thing) but you can drink your own alcohol in your cabin (absolutely not anywhere else in the ship). Whilst you can get water with your meal, the staff are not allowed to leave a carafe of water on your table unless you have paid 19NoKr for it and there is no tap or jug of water for you to top up your glass yourself. This seems very peculiar and as a result I felt thirsty during most meals.

The company has a policy of moving tourists meal times to accommodate trips (a perfectly reasonable thing) or to accommodate groups coming onboard at a port to eat a meal (this seems to be a Norwegian custom) and the subsequent meal times were far too early. When you are going out on a Hurtigruten arrange tour, there is no facility for you to substitute a meal for a packed meal (which you could then eat when you were hungry and at a more appropriate time) and therefore you have to sneakily make something at the table and take it out with you.

Ship’s Services

All ships have an on-board Tour Leader. Ours was the multi-lingual Asgeir LarsenAsgeir Larsen and we thought he worked very hard to ensure that our trip went smoothly and that when there were hitches (such as not enough people to run a booked excursion) that an alternative was provided. He also had a sense of humour and on most occasions, could match ours!

Every night after dinner, we collected a programme for the following day which showed port arrival and departure times, places of significance, ship passing times etc. Written by Asgeir, it was very useful.

Our cabin was cleaned promptly and well every morning whilst we were at breakfast.

The right time of year

We chose to go in winter because we wanted to see the snow and the northern lights. We only saw snow up in the far north and we saw the northern lights on three evenings. Seeing either is a bit of a gamble and we won on this occasion. We understand why people repeat the trip in their “other season” and when time allows, we will do a summer trip. We might go on a larger boat because although it will have more passengers, it will have much more space and therefore might not feel as crowded (as we think the Lofoten might) when it is full.

In summary

A great 12 days which we thought was good value for money. We travelled with a great bunch of fellow travellers and thought that the service the Hurtigruten staff gave us was excellent.

Next – In February 2013, polio vaccine distribution in India with my Rotary club.


  1. Clare @ EcoFriendlyLink.com2 February 2013 at 14:06

    Thank you SO much for such a wonderfully detailed as well as thoroughly entertaining description of your Hurtigruten trip - I really appreciate it!

    I'll be doing the South bound trip in February and your blog has really helped me with my pre-trip research.

    I'm going on the Finnmarken and I agree with you about the size and homely feeling of the Lofoten which won't be present on the Finnmarken. But I'll certainly be making an effort to meet with other travellers.

    I'm really looking forward to this trip - I've wanted to see the Aurora Borealis since I was a child - although I'm decidedly concerned about the coldness. I'm currently living in Mauritius, a tiny island in the Indian Ocean which is delightfully warm and sunny. (A cardigan is the most that is required on a "cold" winter's night). So, assuming I survive the cold, I'm hoping for a great trip.

    Thanks again for a really super series of articles on your trip!

    1. Thank-you for such a lovely comment on our blog. You will find the temperatures very different to Mauritius and you may have to buy specialist warm clothes here. We strongly recommend thermal underwear, very warm wind proof trousers, a gilet (armless under jacket), a good padded jacket, thick gloves and a good hat! Do bring your cardigans as well - layering is the key. Have a good time and let us know how it goes.

  2. Paul and Pat...I am SO happy to have found your blog on your Hurtigruten trip! I'm going to be doing the Northern route on the M.S. Finnmarken this November, and reading your experiences of Norway during that time of year has been really enlightening. Thanks also for all of your VERY helpful links, charts, and opinions. I'll definitely refer back to all of them as my trip gets closer. Can't wait to go!

    1. We are very pleased that you found the blog useful and that you are going on a similar trip - we really enjoyed ourselves. Do let us know how you got on when you have done the trip.

  3. Pat and Paul, thanks so much for your blog. My partner and I have booked the Bergen-Bergen trip in December-January, and now I'm even more excited to take the trip after having ready your entries. I know that I will return to the blog as we prepare for the cruise. We plan to take one of the smaller ships because we've been on several very large cruise ships and want a different experience.

  4. Hi Pat & Paul,

    We have really enjoyed reading your blog. We are doing the same 12 night round trip in November this year, and are looking forward to it even more now! I did have some concerns about food, as I am a vegetarian too, but you've put my mind at rest there.

    We hope you continue to enjoy all your travels.

    Nick & Emily

  5. As I said in the blog, food is not brilliant for vegetarians but I certainly did not go hungry. Lots of salads for lunch plus whatever vegetarian dish they prepared for the evening meal gave us more than enough to eat. I hope you enjoy the trip as much as we did - we hope to do it again in the summer sometime.

  6. I have just read your entire set of Hurtigruten blogs - thank you so much! I have been wanting to do the trip above the Arctic circle and hopefully experience the Northern Lights for years, and have just started researching whether it will be our next big trip. (I'm not retired yet, so we don't do them often - last one was India in Dec of 2012.) Your descriptions have been much more helpful than the reviews on Cruise Critic! I do have one question, which is whether there was an excess amount of smoking on the ship? We have found that to be true on other European ships, and an acquaintance who traveled on Hurtigruten told us that almost all of the crew smoked, and seemed to do so all over the ship. This bothers my husband greatly, and could make the trip unpleasant, so it is something I want to check out.

  7. Neither of us are smokers and therefore this reply is a little vague, and there were few passengers when we travelled and therefore not a lot of potential smokers. Smoking was not allowed anywhere within the public areas inside the ship but was allowed on deck and they tried to restrict it to certain places downwind. If you have a cabin with an opening window, then there is a strong chance of smoke blowing through the window (but few cabins have opening windows). The crew did smoke (particularly on the Bridge) but not in public areas. Our view is that it is not a problem unless you are particularly sensitive and it can be managed (close windows!). Thank you for your comments, they are much appreciated. I might even ask Hurtigruten to give us a free summer trip so we can blog it for them!

  8. Harriet - if you want to ask us anything by email, make a comment with your email address and I will respond direct to it. Of course I will not publish your comment so the email address will not get published (and I will delete this comment in a few days)

    Paul & Pat

  9. Pat, Paul: Thank you, you are a mine of information! To someone like me, dithering over questions of big-ship-little-ship? winter or spring? cheap cabin? how dark will it be? how will a vegetarian fare? this is fantastically helpful. And an enjoyable read to boot - ta very much for taking the time to do it.

  10. We are so pleased you found the blog useful. We very much enjoyed our winter trip and would like to do a spring one some time. The Lofted is a great ship to travel on but is for travellers rather than tourists. We hope you enjoy your trip if you decide to go.

  11. Hi Pat and Paul --

    I stumbled on your blog while Googling "Hurtigruten cruise" and am so very glad I did. I'm thinking of going with my mother on a Hurtigurten cruise this summer and even though you went in winter, the information you have on your blog is so very helpful as well as interesting.

    I've never been on a conventional cruise before, only one a short Ha Long Bay cruise -- and was wondering if 12 days would be too long. But you've convinced me that it'd be a good option for Hurtigruten. Thanks for that. The company really should treat you guys to a free summer cruise! :)

    1. Some people do the cruise in one direction only but then they miss out on a lot of the scenery. We too think that Hurtigruten should offer us a free summer cruise so that we can write about it but I suspect they have no idea the blog exists.

      We hope you both enjoy your trip, in Summer the scenery should be beautiful and you will have nearly 24 hours daylight when you get up north.

      H'way the Toon

    2. Hi again Pat and Paul --

      My mother and I did indeed go ahead and opt for the 12 day cruise, and thoroughly enjoyed it. Thanks again for helping to sway me to give Hurtigruten a try.

      I've started blogging about my Norwegian experiences, with a link to your blog embedded in the following post:-

      Good luck to Newcastle United next season...but it's the Arsenal forever for me! :)

    3. We are delighted you enjoyed your summer trip, we would like to do the summer version one day - and yes I agree with you that Hurtigruten should offer us one free!

      As for Newcastle - they need more than luck next season (or indeed any season) !

    4. Hi again --

      A quick correction: early June is still spring in Norway... as can be seen by the high one day on the cruise being a low 6 degrees Celsius! :D

      Oh, and my mother and I went on the MS Richard With. Large compared to the boat you went on but we still managed to make friends with other passengers. :)

  12. Pat and Paul,

    Many thanks for your blog I found it very interesting and informative. My wife and I are setting of on the same cruise on November 9 but we'll be on the Trollfjord, a much larger vessel.

    Regarding demographics, we certainly fall into the 'upper age range' bracket as the cruise is to tick off a few of my bucket list items - cruise, fjords, northern lights and I celebrate my 60th as we cross the Arctic Circle!

    A really good preparation for our trip and thanks once again.