Fram Cruise Review by Trade Wind
- Sail Date: September 2018
- Destination: Arctic
These cruises were not cheap. With associated connecting flights, each UK passenger would pay a minimum of £10,000. Arguably, this was a reasonable cost for this fantastic experience, visiting notable historical sites on a ship “purpose built as an expedition vessel”, and apparently well suited for “the added navigational challenge of ice in the water .... no need to worry, though, … with a 1B ice class, ship-depth sounding database, extractable forward-sounding sonar and iceberg search lights - and the Captain and his crew are experienced in sailing treacherous waters …” Hurtigruten state in their Terms and Conditions that: “If we have to make a significant change or cancel we will notify you as soon as possible and … will offer you [the opportunity to] withdraw from the booking completely in which case we will as soon as possible, refund all money paid …”
Despite global warming, the normal state of the Northwest Passage is that it is blocked by ice. In 2016 and 2017, the only cruise ships to successfully traverse the route were accompanied by icebreakers. This information is freely available. In the summer of 2018, the Northwest Passage was blocked by ice, as usual. No cruise ship was able to complete the journey.
When the Fram arrived at Lancaster Sound with the first, westbound passengers on 3rd September 2018, she was unable to proceed any further. It is inconceivable that Hurtigruten were not aware of the impossibility of completing the planned itinerary for this group of passengers. Canadian ice forecasts are published and archived. Cruise ships from other companies had already cancelled their visits to Cambridge Bay (see the Cambridge Bay website).
The second group of passengers, scheduled for the eastbound cruise, left the UK on 8th September. On 5th September, Hurtigruten dispatched an email stating that the Fram would be “unable to reach Cambridge Bay and the embarkation point for your voyage will be changed.” No mention or offer of cancellation was made. There seemed no reason to assume anything other than that this was a relatively minor change to the itinerary, perhaps changing the embarkation point to somewhere close to Cambridge Bay.
As it was, a tortuous journey to northern Baffin Island was arranged for this second group of passengers in order for them to join the Fram. After two days in that area, the Fram sailed to Greenland, some five days earlier than planned, having never entered the Northwest Passage at all.
Hurtigruten must have known that they would have to make a “significant change” to the planned itinerary for this second group of passengers before those passengers left the UK. Not only did Hurtigruten know that they had failed the first group of passengers, the Fram was now incorrectly located to achieve anything like the advertised itinerary for the second group. The purpose of the trip, the planned traverse of the Northwest Passage was deleted, and the passengers were taken to a different continent.
Passengers were very dissatisfied. The situation was ironically summarised by the Norwegian Captain of the Fram who said, “I appreciate that you have paid for a Rolls Royce and received a Lada.”
Complaints to Hurtigruten have resulted in obfuscation, delay, refusal to meet face-to-face and the offer of derisory compensation.
Shockingly, having failed to deliver during 2018, Hurtigruten is currently advertising the same, two, mirror image cruises, on the Fram, for August/September 2019, and have “sold out” a new itinerary for a cruise on the MV Roald Amundsen between Alaska and Greenland during the summer of 2019.
Passengers who have booked berths on these cruises should beware of the likely deceit, ensure that at least part of their payment is made by credit card, and ensure that they have legal cover as part of their travel insurance. They should be fully aware that no cruise ship has managed to traverse the Northwest Passage without being accompanied by an icebreaker. Neither the Fram nor the Roald Amundsen are icebreakers, whatever the glowing and misleading words used to describe them in Hurtigruten’s brochures.
From this experience, in my opinion Hurtigruten should be avoided. I will never travel with them again, and would advise other potential passengers to look elsewhere. There are many other companies running “expedition cruises”.