Having talked about taking a Hurtigruten cruise through the Norwegian fjords for some years my wife and I have just returned after completing the six-day voyage from Bergen to Kirkenes on board the Kong Harald. As other reviewers have pointed out, this is not a classic cruise ship but more an up-market ferry. My first impression of the ship was that she was highly functional, well maintained and smart in appearance. We called into over 30 ports on the voyage north; the majority for under one hour, although there tended to be one stop each day for around three hours. Ship handling was well practised and impressive.
Let me start by saying that we were fortunate enough to have good weather and the scenery we passed throughout the entire voyage was utterly spectacular. Most of the voyage is through the archipelago of islands that makes up the Norwegian coast, which ensures a smooth passage. On some days, for a few hours, the ship is in open sea and subject to the weather conditions. This voyage is particularly weather dependant. Had it been raining, cold and overcast, we would not have been able to spend so much time on deck. There are insufficient chairs for all passengers to enjoy the passing scenery from within the ship and when at full capacity, as we were, we would have been forced to retire to our cabin, which would not have been either satisfactory or my idea of a holiday.
The flights and transfer arrangements booked for us by Hurtigruten were efficient and faultless. Equally efficient were the embarkation and disembarkation procedures.
We had opted for an Arctic Superior cabin on 6 deck. This ensured that without a weather deck outside the cabin (like 5 deck) we would not be bothered by passengers walking past the window and either blocking our view or looking into our cabin. The cabin itself was compact; the width being the length of a double bed plus about 250mm. The en suite bathroom was equally compact. Having said that, the cabin had adequate storage and was entirely functional. The bed was comfortable and had plenty of storage space below it for suitcases.
Our ‘Select’ package included full board, tea and coffee and Internet access. The meals are served in the main restaurant, with open seating at breakfast and lunchtime and allocated seating at one of about six times between 1800 and 2030. One real complaint is the amount of queuing that was necessary until a free table could be found.
The evening meal before sailing, breakfasts and lunches are a self-service buffet. There is ample choice of good fresh food, with a preponderance of fish dishes. The bulk of the food is cold but there is always a hot option. We enjoyed the freedom of these buffets. There were occasions when we opted to eat later during the serving period when items from the buffet had run out and we were told that there were no replacements. The set, three-course evening meal was far less impressive and well below the standard I would have expected on a cruise of this cost. Having queued for and been disappointed by the set meal on the first night at sea, my wife and I decided to upgrade to the a la carte restaurant on board. For a reasonable 220 NOK/person (around £22) we were able to have a three-course meal of genuine restaurant standard; serving delicious, well-presented dishes of scallops, smoked duck breast, carpaccio of reindeer, Arctic char, lamb, cod, beef steak and the most memorable, a stunning dish of reindeer steak. The restaurant was under subscribed, there was no queuing and the service from the wonderful Suzanne, was jolly, relaxed and attentive. My advice to anyone who likes good food and is about to undertake the cruise, would be to book a table in the a la carte restaurant every night.
The passengers were almost exclusively of retirement age. Twenty two nations were represented and the majority were northern European (German, Scandinavian, British or French).
Dress on board throughout the day was relatively casual; denim jeans, sweatshirts, down filled jackets and waterproof tops. Dress for dinner was either the same or slightly smarter but definitely not in any way formal.
In summary: If the weather is good, the view of passing scenery is unsurpassed. The six-day cruise ticked all the boxes for me and I had no desire to remain on board at Kirkenes and sail back to Bergen. Our only disappointments were the queuing to get a table for meals and the poor standard of the set menu evening meal. Thankfully this could be overcome by eating at the excellent a la carte restaurant. So we are glad that we did the voyage and enjoyed it enormously but do not hanker after a repeat performance or a winter cruise to see the northern lights.