If you’re looking for a different type of cruise experience, head north rather than south this winter for a trip with the Norwegian cruise line, Hurtigruten, which takes travelers to the snowed over Arctic and to the North Cape for a bucket list worthy adventure. And while it isn’t for everyone, this is a fantastic trip for anyone that doesn’t mind a little cold.
And I say a little because Norway isn’t the frigid climate a lot of people make it out to be. Mild Gulf Stream water gives the Scandinavian country the mildest climate of anywhere on earth at its latitude, which includes parts of Alaska, Serbia and Greenland. That means that even when its cold and dark in the winter, if you’re dressed properly, it isn’t too extreme to feel uncomfortable exploring. Which is great, because Norway is famous for hosting some of the world’s most beautiful landscapes. The country’s northern coastline is full of islands, inlets and fjords, that will take your breathe away, as well as winter adventures you can’t find anywhere else- think dog sledding at night under the Northern Lights, an arctic dip into chilling water in the Norwegian Sea and visiting the North Cape, an area past the arctic circle that is the world’s northernmost inhabited place.
The cruise route, which starts in Bergen, runs 1,500 miles up the coast to Kirkenes, which is a few hundred miles above the Arctic Circle. Passengers can go all the way in an opt for a 12 night cruise, or hop on in different port towns for shorter voyage. Hurtigruten has 11 ships, which make an endless loop and stop at 34 ports along the way.
The way the company operates helps passengers build in a lot of flexibility if you have only limited time or only want to visit stops that personally appeal most. The places I was most interested in visiting were along the Northern Coast, a region that feels unspoiled and otherworldly. I hopped aboard the Nordnorge (a 623 passenger ship) in Bodo and departed in Tromsø for a four-night cruise. (Both have towns have airports, making for easy travel). I stayed one night in each town, making for a weeklong trip.
An experience on board is very different than typical cruises in America. Hurtigruten started more than 120 years ago as a way to transport people between cities and deliver supplies. Today they are still working ships, carrying cargo and mail but have also been outfitted to attract tourists.
On board, you won’t find casinos, bars or ritzy shops, which is quite refreshing. My ship was classified as one of the companies 6 contemporary ships, but it still wasn’t fancy, featuring only a small bar, a café, retail shop and main dining area. Standard cabins are simple, with two double beds, closet space and a desk area. While it isn’t luxury, it’s comfortable, and keeps the focus on the mission at hand: to enjoy Mother Nature.
What the ship lacks in luxury, it makes up for in food. Most of the larger cruise ships loose food quality because they are producing food for thousands of people. But here, you can tell food is made to order.
Breakfast (a buffet of yogurt, fruit, smoked salmon, fresh breads, eggs, potatoes and more) is included in the base price of $897, which includes the cabin. For an extra spend of $628, lunch (also a buffet with even more smoked fish options, baked vegetables, salads, beef and more) is included. Dinner, was seated a few nights with a three course dinner, offered a seafood buffet another night (hello, mussels, crab, shrimp) and was a la carte the last two nights. This is a style where you order an appetizer, main course and desert from a fixed menu that changes based on season and what fish the chef picks up ship port towns (while we are usually sleeping). Choices for the main course during our voyage include a fish cake (aka fish and chips) cod loin and a reindeer filet.
Where this company really shines is with excursions, which are offered daily and led by members of the on board expedition team. One of the most popular is dog sledding in Tromsø, which is billed as the capital of the Arctic. While we didn’t see the Northern Lights, it was incredible to be guided by moonlight and our musher’s headlamp swooshing through an open field. And meeting husky puppies after a warm up with hot coffee and tea is another highlight.
Another top pick is the Arctic Dip, which yes, as crazy as it may sound, means jumping into the Norwegian Sea, which will absolutely take the breath right out of you but earns serious bragging rights.
Visiting the North Cape, an area 240 miles past the Arctic Circle and is the northernmost inhabited place in the world, is one of the most popular picks. When arriving, I was awestruck to see a dramatic cliff that the North Cape Sits on and could instantly tell why it’s easy to see why Vikings called this “the end of the world.”
Related: We have a list of the Top 6 Excursions Offered By Hurtigruten On The Northern Coast
When it was time to disembark, I left not only with an abundance of omega 3 (Yes, I ate fish for every meal) but an appreciation that a cruise line isn’t trying to be the biggest and most lavish on the sea. Sure, the company could market towards that, but the experience here, is focused on allowing people to enjoy some of the most untouched places in the world.