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Review of Hurtigruten

Hurtigruten (translated as "Express Route") is a daily freight and passenger ferry shipping service along Norway's northern-western coasts between Bergen and Kirkenes. Often referred to as "Norwegian Coastal Express", Hurtigruten ships operate nearly the entire length of the country and complete their round-trip voyage in 11 days. Hurtigruten's cruise ferry deals are popular as "World's Most Beautiful Sea Voyage" and offer visiting Lofoten Islands, Vesteralen Islands, the Hanseatic city Bergen, Geiranger fjord.

Company history

Hurtigruten cruise line was established by government contract  in 1893, in order to improve communications along the jagged and long Norwegian coastline. On July 2, 1893, MS Vesteraalen commenced the first round-trip itinerary from Trondheim, bound for Hammerfest. The ship arrived at Svolvaer on July 3 (after 35,5 hours) and at Hammerfest on July 5 (after 67 hours). Vesteraalen was navigated by Captain Richard With (company's founder). Currently, Trondheim-Svolvaer ferry route takes 33 hours, while Trondheim-Hammerfest ferry time is 41 hours 15 min.Hurtigruten logo

Only Vesteraalens Dampskibsselskab was willing to navigate the then poorly charted waters. Such a voyage was especially hard during the dark and long winters. Hurtigruten was a breakthrough for communities. Mail to Hammerfest from central Norway, which had taken 3 weeks in summer and 5 months in winter, could already be delivered in only 7 days.

Encouraged by the early success of Vesteraalens, several other companies obtained a concession to operate along the route, extended to run from Bergen (southwest) to Kirkenes (far northeast). 11 ships visit each of the 34 ports daily, northbound and southbound.

  • Currently, Hurtigruten provides 24/7 cargo and passenger ferry service Bergen-Kirkenes. To operate this service, the company receives a Norwegian subsidy. However, in 2017 the subsidy arrangement was changed as preventing ferry competition. Some Norwegian interests also argued that Hurtigruten's Norwegian Coastal Service monopoly is not benefitial to the country and that local passengers will only benefit from more competitive offers.
  • For the period 2012-2019, Hurtigruten was given an USD 600 million subsidy for public transportation services not otherwise provided – including the Bergen-Kirkenes ferry route serving communities without any road or air access. The company's current contract expires on December 31, 2019, with optional 1 year extension.
  • In the end of September 2017, Norway's Ministry of Transportation and Communication invited ferry companies to compete for the Norwegian Coastal Service's subsidy, with deadline for the bids January 3, 2018.
  • The new ferry contract will be signed for the period January 1, 2021 - December 31, 2031.

In the 1980s, Hurtigruten's role changed. Operating subsidies were phased out and the operators put emphasis on tourism. New, larger and more luxurious vessels were introduced, with more attention to restaurants, bars, hot tubs and other comforts. Hurtigruten still serves important cargo and passenger needs, and operates year-round. The last two shipping companies, Troms Fylkes Dampskibsselskap (TFDS) and Ofotens og Vesteraalens Dampskibsselskab (OVDS), merged on March 1, 2006 as the Hurtigruten Group, and a year later became Hurtigruten ASA. In addition to the ferries, high-speed regional express ships and coastal route, the company operates cruises around South America, Antarctica and Greenland.

In the end of 2014, the British private equity "TDR Capital" (specializing in control buyout investments in Europe) acquired Hurtigruten. In July 2014, TDR announced 3 potential buyers for the company and receiving offers from them. Since 2014, TDR Capital has provided the money needed for the purchasing and the refurbishment of MS Spitsbergen, as well as the capital for the dry-dock refurbisments of 4 ships in the Hurtigruten fleet and for two new ship building orders (with optional two more vessels) in an attempt to revive the company.

When TDR bought Hurtigruten, the bid was for USD 884 million. TDR Capital got 90% and both Hurtigruten's shareholders retained 5% of the company each. Future plans are the brand (specializing in explorer cruising / expedition-type vacations) to be popularized on the markets in Asia and the USA. New itineraries will be added, including in exotic destinations, such as Amazon River (South America in general), Caribbean and other not polar regions, in addition to the line's traditional Arctic and Antarctica cruises.

In 2017, Hurtigruten signed a strategic pertnership with Alibaba Group's Fliggy (subsidiary company specializing in tourism). Via Figgy, Hurtigruten scheduled in January and February 2018 and 2019 Antarctica cruises (on the ship Midnatsol) exclusively for Chinese travelers. These itineraries are roundtrips from Ushuaia Argentina and transit through Drake Passage to the Antarctic Peninsula.

New ships (Polar-class expedition vessels)

In early June 2016, Hurtigruten signed a letter of intent for building up to 4 new expedition cruise ships with ice-strengthened hulls, allowing cruising to Antarctic and Arctic destinations. This was the company's largest investment in its 123-year history. It followed the announcement in April 2016 that Hurtigruten will add 2 new Polar expedition vessels to its fleet.

Hurtigruten new expedition cruise ship (bow view)

  • The shipbuilder is Kleven Marine shipyard (Norway). Ship design and propulsion were developed by Rolls-Royce, with assistance of the designer Espen Oino. The construction order included two additional options.
  • The new ships were named MS Fridtjof Nansen and MS Roald Amundsen. These are the world's first expedition ships with hybrid propulsion.
  • The new series Hurtigruten vessels feature latest environmentally friendly marine technologies. The new hybrid technology allows cruising with fully electric propulsion for up to 30 min. The main gain is the total reduction in fuel consumption and CO2-emissions. The new hybrid technology, along with the effective use of electricity onboard and the optimized hull design, reduces bad emissions by neary 20%.
  • Both ships also feature underwater drones (ROV / remotely operated underwater vehicle) developed by Blueye Robotics (Norway). Each drone weights 7 kg and has 4 thrusters for propulsion. The ROV also features a wide-angle video camera designed to work in limited-light conditions. It streams true-color live images to the ship's TV screens, to all cabin TVs and also to the digital diving masks of the passengers cruising on the ship's Zodiac boats.
  • Each of these vessels has 3 restaurants with menus reflecting the itineraries / destinations. The pool deck has bars, infinity pool, Jacuzzis. Building materials used during construction were predominantely Norwegian, with extensive use of granite, oak and wool, among other.
  • WIth passenger capacity 530 each, the new ships were scheduled for launch in July 2018 and July 2019.
  • In August 2017, Hurtigruten made an investment of NOK 300 million (USD 39 million) in Kleven Group for a 40% interest. Along with Hurtigruten, Kleven Group (parent company for the shipyards Kleven and Myklebust) now includes Åge Remoy, the Kleven-owned companies John Kleven and H-Invest, the yacht building company Lurssen (Germany) and the private investor Per Lillebo. Without the newly infused capital, Kleven shipyard was facing bankruptcy.

Hurtigruten new expedition cruise ship (aft view)

The last time when the company had a newbuild was in 2007 - MS Fram.

Hurtigruten cruise experience

Hurtigruten ships provide a comfortable home while touring the charming cities, islands and mountain scenery of Norway. Atmosphere onboard is casual because these vessels are on a mission to transport traveling locals and freight in addition to the international mix of cruise passengers making a voyage out of it. Most of the Norwegian crew speak English. Tipping is optional, though many guests will remember line's dining staff. On the expedition ms Fram, Hurtigruten recommends 50 kroner per day.

Dining, with all meals included for one-way and roundtrip travelers, takes place in a single onboard restaurant. Breakfast and lunch are buffet-style, open-seating, with a good selection of international and Norwegian selections. Dinners are reserved-seat, set-time, 3-course meals. Special dietary requests have to be made in advance. The 24-hour cafe is most often used by the travelers making short trips. Liquor is highly taxed. Passengers may bring their own alcohol supply onboard for consumption in cabins. 

Apart from an occasional musical group aboard during summertime departures, there is no entertainment scheduled by Hurtigruten. The Arctic Circle crossing ceremony is a rousing show for those guests chosen by King Neptune as victims (ice-cold water initiation) and others spectating. Everyone watches the constantly changing scenery from decks or in the cozy observation lounges and midship bars, while some also play games and read. Norwegian sculpture and paintings decorate the entire fleet. 

An extensive tours program is geared to the seasons and includes city walking tours, church and museum visits, dog sledding, birding, kayaking, Lapland cultural tours, and trips to the North Cape. Hurtigruten tours may be pre-booked online. 

One of the best features of Hurtigruten sailings is that the passenger load rotates often with point-to-point cruisers embarking and disembarking along the way.

Itinerary of Hurtigruten

For season 2018, Hurtigruten expanded the company's Antarctica operations to 3 cruise ships. This small fleet was lead by the new 530-passenger ms Roald Amundsen (LNG-Diesel hybrid vessel). The line offers tailored experiences which extend from exploratory itineraries with the 600-passenger ms Midnatsol, to nature-immersive expedition itineraries with the 254-passenger ms Fram.

  • Roald Amundsen (2018) operates from Punta Arenas Chile, combining the Chilean Fjords and Falkland Islands with Antarctica/ Fram and Midnatsol leave from Ushuaia Argentina.
  • All Hurtigruten Antarctica cruise itineraries leaving from South America offer optional land tours, such as Manuel Antonio National Park (Costa Rica), Machu Picchu (Peru), biking excursions (Santiago de Chile), Atacama Desert (Patagonia), Iguazu Falls (Argentina-Brazil).
  • MS Fram also operates on expedition itineraries in the Caribbean and along US East Coast. The list of port destinations also includes 8 countries in Central America as well as Zodiac landings (San Blas Islands, Fort San Lorenzo, Boscas del Toro, Puerto LimónCorn IslandsIsla de Providencia, Cayos Cochinos, Lighthouse Reef).
  • Hurtigruten's US East Coast itineraries also feature large port cities like NYC New York and Boston MA.
  • In Search of the Northern Lights 2018: Passengers are able to see Arora Borealis, experience the Seven Sisters mountain range and see charming cities along the way like Trondheim on the 6-day hunt from Bergen to Tromso / Tromso to Bergen. 2018 Sailing times are January-March and November-December.
  • Coastal Gems of America - Northbound 2018: Hurtigruten offers Coastal Gems of North America trips for the first time. Passengers travel northbound to Canada from Miami or southbound to Miami from Canada sailing into New York to see the Big Apple, and discover the magnificent coast of Maine. The 13-day adventure is available in April & October 2018.
  • Southern Hemisphere Adventure to Antarctica - Southbound 2018: Passengers are able to witness the wildlife of Southern Hemisphere, go kayaking or take a hike at one of the world's most remote places. Sailing through Patagonia and Falklands on the 17-day adventure is perfect for all ages. Southern Hemisphere Adventure to Antarctica – Southbound stars on Otctober 22, 2018 and returns on November 7, 2018.

Norwegian coastal voayges

Hurtigruten's new coastal Norway excursions program was introduced for season 2018-2019 and implements expedition teams. More than 35 of these voyages are new, along with the line's existing shore excursions and themed activities.

Adventure cruisers can expect the unexpected with Hurtigruten, offering:

  • A record number of authentic Norwegian excursions (3-day and 4-day cruise extensions) are offered, raging from gentle strolls to energetic hikes, and from nature-themed tours to urban exploration – on shore and by ship.
  • Professional expedition teams interpret the wildlife, nature and culture along the coast during onboard lectures and port talks..
  • "Young Explorers" kids activity program is custom-tailored (on selected ships and cruises only).
  • Kids-friendly tours / excursions specifically designed for children ages 7-13 yo
  • New astronomy-themed cruises offer stargazing excursions (first introduced in 2018).
  • A locally-sourced onboard food menu mirrors the Norway's rugged coastline.
  • The company offers convenient dates for year-round Norwegian cruise departures. Hurtigruten is one of the ever best options to book the uniquie "Northern Lights" cruises.

Hurtigruten's coastal expedition excursions accommodate all activity levels and ages. They range from the midnight concert (in Tromso's Arctic Cathedral) to exploring Kristiansund mountains by dogsledding with Alaskan huskies. Adventurers are even able to chase the Northern Lights during snowmobile safaris between the ports Kjollefjord and Mehamn.

Among the other excursions on the daily coastal voyages between Bergen to Kirkenes, are themed:

  • Discover Norway’s 2nd largest glacier
  • Catch, prepare and eat king crabs
  • Explore the most powerful tidal current in the world on a RIB-boat safari.

Expedition hosts of the coast are available on 9 out of 11 Hurtigruten ships. Onboard experts share their first-hand knowledge on natural phenomena, wildlife, landscapes and history. They also enhance cruise passengers’ experiences by a variety of activities and interpreting the natural and cultural treasures encountered along the ferry route.

Hurtigruten passengers can also enjoy touring mainland Norway by adding port stays (3 or 4 days) in one of 6 featured port cities (prior to or after the voyage). In BronnoysundTromso and Trondheim, passengers can take “naturban” mini-expeditions on explorer boats while the cruise ship is docked in port.

Antarctica cruises 2018-2019

Via Figgy (Alibaba Group's subsidiary company specializing in tourism), Hurtigruten scheduled in January and February 2018 and 2019 Antarctica cruises (on the ship Midnatsol) for exclusively Chinese travelers. These itineraries are roundtrips from Ushuaia Argentina and transit through Drake Passage to the Antarctic Peninsula.

Hurtigruten company also published the first cruises of 2019-2020 season, unveiling the most extensive Antarctica and Arctic program in its history. Highlights include:

Hurtigruten related cruise news