Review of Hurtigruten
Hurtigruten (translated as "Express Route") is a daily freight and passenger shipping service along Norway's northern and western coast between Bergen and Kirkenes. Often referred to as "Norwegian Coastal Express", the ships of the line sail nearly the entire length of the country and complete their round-trip journey in 11 days. The cruise has been described as "World's Most Beautiful Sea Voyage," and features highlights including the Lofoten Islands, Vesteralen Islands, the Hanseatic League city of Bergen and the Geiranger fjord. Hurtigruten has around 2% of the worldwide cruise market.
Hurtigruten company history
Hurtigruten cruise line was established by government contract in 1893, in order to improve communications along the jagged and long coastline. On July 2, 1893 ms Vesteraalen ship commenced the first round-trip sailing from Trondheim, bound for Hammerfest. The ship arrived at Svolvær on July 3 after 35,5 hours and Hammerfest on July 5 after 67 hours. Vesteraalen was captained by Richard With, the founder of Hurtigruten. Currently, Trondheim-Svolvær takes 33h, Hammerfest 41h 15min.
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 in the southwest to Kirkenes in the far northeast. 11 ships visit each of the 34 ports daily, northbound and southbound.
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.
Hurtigruten cruising 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.
Norwegian guests are mostly aboard to sail point-to-point and attend conferences, with the next biggest nationalities being German, British, other Europeans, Americans, Australians. Most passengers are sophisticated and well traveled, yet unpretentious vacationers, content to enjoy the picturesque communities and spectacular scenery. Many speak decent English. The average Hurtigruten passenger age is around 50, with few families. However, one of the best features of these sailings is that the passenger load rotates often with point-to-point cruisers embarking and disembarking along the way.
Itinerary of Hurtigruten
In early June 2016, Hurtigruten signed a letter of intent for building up to 4 new expedition cruise ships. This is the company's largest investment in its 123-year history. It follows the announcement in April 2016 that Hurtigruten will add 2 new expedition vessels (600-passenger, 300 cabins each) to its fleet, with the first to be delivered in summer 2018 and the 2nd in summer 2019. Both are currently being built at Kleven Marine shipyard (Norway). Ship design is by Rolls-Royce, with assistance of the designer Espen Oino. This order includes two additional options.
Hurtigruten's new ships will operate in the icy waters of the Arctic and Antarctica. It's been more than 10 years since the line last placed an order for construction of a new ship, the expedition ship Fram. Previously, 3 of the ships have been built by Kleven, with the last one being Finnmarken (2002).
On Hurtigruten Norwegian coastal voayges, the line offers flight-cruise package deals. Bookings are protected with ATOL Certificate. ATOL stands for "Air Travel Organisers' Licensing" (Civil Aviation Authority, UK).