Norwegian Cruise: Bergen to Tromso
Towards the end of 19th century Captain Richard With came up with the idea of a regular steam ship service to link the north and south of Norway. From that idea came the present Hurtigruten service which links Bergen and Kirkenes, and over 30 ports along the way, and which delivers goods, mail and passengers to their associated communities.
This 'Coastal Express' eventually grew into the present fleet which, along with the more traditional vessels, now boasts a new generation of larger ships with more cabins and facilities such as panoramic lounges which travellers now demand. One of their cruises is the Northern Lights Cruise.
Northern Lights Cruise
The usual route to Bergen to pick up M/S Finnmarken is via Heathrow but, living in Leeds, we chose to avoid that particular problem and fly from Leeds/Bradford for a nominal amount extra. Transfer from the airport to the ship was easy and quick although the location of the stand for the Hurtigruten coach isn't too obvious: it's just to the right of the exit from Arrivals.
Arriving late in the afternoon in February 2008 it was just going dark and so we were unable to see anything of Bergen on the short journey. On arrival at the port luggage is left in the luggage hall immediately after alighting from the transfer bus and cabins are allocated once on board the ship. Be sure to ask to be woken should the Northern Lights appear!
Food on board is varied and of good quality. Dinner on the first night in Bergen is often a buffet with a wide selection from which to choose whilst on other days it is waiter service featuring dishes such as reindeer steak! Breakfast is a self-service buffet and there is a good variety of snacks and light meals available throughout the day from the small cafe.
Drinks, alcohol in particular, are very expensive. A litre of wine costs upwards of £37! Even with the slightly reduced costs which the drinks package offers you may wish to have a few alcohol free days.
For anyone expecting typical 'cruise entertainment', there is none. It's not that kind of cruise. However, having said that, a very competent organist and singer did provide music in the bar during our cruise.
Once you have left port there is always plenty to see. The scenery is beautiful and it's possible to go ashore at several of the stops. If you choose an escorted cruise then you may be lucky and get a guide like ours who will take you on an 'unguided walk' around the towns where an official tour is unavailable.
In towns such as Alesund and Trondheim organised tours are available and may be booked onboard but they offer relatively poor value for money.
In addition to spending time by going ashore or watching the ever-changing coastline there are, from time-to-time, themed voyages with 'visiting' lecturers. It would, however, be wise to investigate the quality of the lecturer and obtain details of the sessions as the one we experienced was quite poor.
As far as the Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis) are concerned, there are no guarantees. We were lucky and saw them on three nights. Possibly not the best display as, at the time of our cruise they were close to their minimum, they were never-the-less impressive. Photographing them was, at first, a little hit and miss but using a digital camera with exposures of around 30 or 40 seconds at f2.8 with an ISO equivalent of 400 produced some acceptable images. Using an extra wide angle lens and something to keep the camera still improved the results.
Having flown from Leeds/Bradford meant that we had to spend an extra night in Tromso rather than flying back immediately we had disembarked. However, this wasn't a problem as we wanted to go on the dog sledding excursion.
The Tromso Villmarkssenter minibus collects guests from their hotels for the 30 minute journey to their 'Wilderness Centre' where, after a brief introduction, appropriate clothing is provided before going outside to meet some of the 240 Alaskan huskies. What follows is quite magical and being pulled on a sledge through the snow covered landscape by 12 huskies in the dark for around 60 or so minutes should not be missed: highly recommended!
Overall impressions of the cruise? Not inexpensive, but well worth considering and a very pleasant change from the warmer parts of the world we have previously visited. We wouldn't have missed it.