It is only fair to say that we enjoyed ourselves on this trip, and that its (considerable) deficiencies were beyond the control of Hurtigruten or their staff. The principal shortcoming was the weather: we encountered two hurricanes and several unseasonably warm days. Most days were cloudy so we did not get a good sighting of the Northern lights. That is just the luck of the draw, but it was disappointing not to experience very low temperatures, nor to see good aurora, nor to ride a snowmobile. We also saw very little wildlife; again this is nobody’s fault but we saw no unusual birds, no seals, no walrus, no polar bears, no arctic fox, no lynx and no whales.
Hurtigruten staff did their very best to alleviate these problems, but we probably felt that for two and a half days to three days we were essentially cooped up on a boat with little to do. This is where the weak internet connection made itself felt. It was difficult to download another book, or even to look up a disputed fact on wikipedia. I failed to download the Guardian on ten of the eleven days, so had no crossword to attack. Although we were sailing through inhospitable waters, we were never far from land (and certainly not out of satellite range) so I do lay some blame at Hurtigruten’s door for this deficiency.
Finally to those things which could have been done better: our cabins were brilliantly designed in most respects, and dried our towels and clothes well, but the absence (in the main cabin) or inadequacy (in the bathroom) of hooks made it very difficult to hang things up to dry before putting them away. And the hair dryer is not very good (not that I noticed). Because the internet access was so poor it was not easy to run Google maps regularly, so we often did not know exactly where we were. This would be easily solved by placing a few screens around the boat indicating “you are here” on a map. They do this in every aircraft, so why not on a boat?
I was going to comment on the lengthy closure of the bow section of deck 5. This is the only deck where you can walk completely round the ship, including the open bow area. It has been roped off for several days, I had assumed because of ice underfoot. However it is open this afternoon and I have just walked round: now I understand why it was roped off. I had to cling on quite tightly to get round the bow because it was so windy. It would be perfectly possible to be blown off the deck (and the ship) in a strong wind (currently about force 7 or 8 I guess)
Food on board was ample (at breakfast and lunch) and satisfactory (at dinner). It was all pretty tasty, if not exceptional. There was a lot of fish, as expected, and a plentiful range of vegetables, salads and meat. We also had reindeer. The breakfast porridge was unusual but pleasant enough. The thing we really missed was nibbles before dinner. By day 11 we were craving a bowl of olives or some crisps and hummus. It is a cliche that the drinks were expensive, but in the context of the whole trip this was not truly a problem. We had a beer or glass of wine with every dinner and most lunches, which cost us about £350 over the whole trip – not a lot in comparison with the trip itself and the excursions. The weakest provision was coffee. We were entitled to it at meals and we bought the coffee package which allowed us to fill our mugs with tea or coffee at any time in between meals. We probably just about got value out of this (versus buying it each time) but we never had what I would call a cup of good strong tasty coffee. No Jaunty Goat here.
Entertainment on the ship was rather limited: the only films we saw related to local places and phenomena. They were fine, but could have been supplemented by other films of wider interest. There was a similarly limited range of games (chess and Norwegian scrabble, as far as I could see). The ship had a performance area (piano, dance floor etc) but the only live music we encountered was a lone, low key, accordianist who appeared briefly one night. The lecture programme was a good idea, but the lectures, although clearly delivered by an experienced lecturer, were rather unfocused and anecdotal. It was often hard to relate their title to the content.
A further interesting possibility, which was not offered, would have been a tour of the working parts of the ship. I would have liked to see the engine room, bridge, cargo deck and staff quarters.
As a note to ourselves if we were to do the trip again, we would bring a travel kettle (for morning tea), less whisky (we did not finish it) and a few more message-bearing T-shirts (to keep the other passengers intrigued/enraged/scornful).
Tri-lingual announcements have probably improved our German, but not our Norwegian. Occasionally they were also given in French, whenever there was a party from France on board.
Another thought about any cruise: you always lose a day to boredom at the end, so perhaps a longer cruise is better than a shorter because this end effect is proportionately smaller. Is there a way to liven it up? Keep your best book for last? Bring a piece of work to start on (but difficult with poor internet access). And everyone around you kills time in irritating and distracting conversation about trivia