We recently returned from an Antarctic cruise on Roald Amundsen and I wanted to pass on our impressions on the company, the ship and the cruise.
Most people have likely never heard of Hurtigruten unless they have taken a ferry in Norway. The company is best known for operating the ferries that travel up and down the coast of Norway but they also have several cruise ships and do cruises in North America, South America and Europe. Bookings can be made through travel agents, via the US internet site or via the Norway internet site. Prices for cruises through the different methods seemed to vary more than is normal for cruises we have taken on other lines so I would check a few to get the best price.
We chose the Roald Amundsen because it was a new ship with modern accommodations and did “Expedition” cruises to Antarctica. There are a wide variety of ships and itineraries you can choose from when going to the Antarctic and we wanted to find a good mix of cost, adventure and comfort. We did a lot of research on this and chose Roald Amundson. The ship turned out to be just what we wanted. The ship was new and spotless. The Antarctic weather can be unpredictable so we chose a cabin with the least amount of motion in bad weather. Our cabin was RR418 which was on the lowest deck and in the middle of the ship. While the weather was mostly very calm we did have three days with 40 knot winds and 15 foot waves and we had no issues in our cabin.
The cabin was larger and better equipped than we had expected with a double bed, a sofa and a desk. There was less storage space than we would have liked but since the attire is very casual we packed minimally and did not have any issues. The closet initially had only three hangers and when we requested more we got 10 hangers which was more than we could use.
There are three restaurants on Roald Amundsen, two of which are available free to everyone and one that is available to suite customers and for a fee for others. Aune is the main dining room where most people ate three meals a day. Most days this was served as buffet to accommodate the shore excursions. For our cruise there were only three dinners with a set menu and assigned seating. For us we found the buffet vastly superior to the set menu. The buffet for all meals had a good mix of beef, pork, chicken, seafood and vegetarian items. I am not much of a seafood fan and I could always find three or four items that I liked. The second restaurant is Fredheim and is kind of like a fast food restaurant and serves hamburgers, hot dogs, tortillas with various filings and milkshakes (very good). We tried Fredheim twice for dinner and found it very good. We did not try Lindstrom which is the suite and for fee restaurant.
Our cruise started in Santiago, Chile where the cruise included one night in a hotel in Santiago. When we arrived at the Santiago airport there were Hurtigturen people everywhere directing people to gathering points. Unfortunately our Hurtigruten experience did not start well when we found out they did not provide transportation to the hotel. Evidently you could have purchased this from Hurtigturen but we somehow missed this. For such a minor cost on an expensive cruise this seemed like something Hurtigruten should include particularly since this is the first exposure most people have to Hurtigruten. So we managed to get a shuttle to the hotel for about $10 each and arrived at the InterContinental hotel and the room and service was very good. Hurtigruten also had a checkin area in the hotel where you were assigned a group for departure to the airport for the flight to Punta Arenas the next morning and given luggage tags. Our bags were collected in the morning and the next time we saw them was in your cabin on the ship. Continental breakfast was provided in to go bags along with many coffee and tea stations in the hotel lobby. When your group is called you board the bus and proceed to the airport for your flight to Punta Arenas. Even though the flight is a charter each person must checkin individually and proceed through security to the boarding area. There did not appear to be any limitation on the amount of luggage you could check (we checked three bags between the two of us) and no one questioned anyone’s carryon either. Although the flights to Punta Arenas are early flights it appears you arrive in Punta Arenas before you can board the ship. So the bus gives you a little tour of Punta Arenas for about 2 hours before you proceed to the ship. On the ship there is a checkin process where you get your cabin cards and a lanyard. Before the ship departs there is the mandatory briefing and escort to your lifeboat station. You are also given your boots and jacket and assigned a shore group (we were the wandering albatross).
The ship requests that you use the Hurtigruten app on your phone of tablet to find out about activities on the ship. The app can be downloaded for both Android and IPhone and is really a must have for the trip as this is how you are informed when your group will go ashore, any changes in the itinerary and the daily schedule. The app uses the onboard wifi (which was free and worked well for us). The daily schedule includes lectures and other activities conducted by the Expedition team members. The Expedition team includes individuals with a variety of areas of expertise and are your guides in the Antarctic. We had marine biologists, ornithologists, glaciologists and other experts on the Antarctic and its wildlife on the ship. The ship does not have a self service laundry and the prices to have laundry done is on the high side.
On the first night of our cruise the captain announced that the Discovery channel was onboard filming our trip for the Mighty Ship series and also announced our itinerary would differ from the typical as we would be going much further south than normal (we ended up going below 70 degrees south). The good part was we got to experience the edge of the ice sheet in zodiacs but the down side is we spent less time around the Antarctic archipelago which has more wildlife. So our cruise was not the typical itinerary but I think in general the landings were pretty typical.
The day before a landing is planned the head of the Expedition team will give a briefing on the landing site, its history and what you can expect to find there. The app gives you the time your group is expected to depart the ship. The order is rotated so each group is the first off and the last off. The landings in the Antarctic are generally a half hour to an hour depending on the location while stops in the Falklands allow you to stay as long as you like.
Each landing group has about 30 people and when your group is called you go the “pit” where you wait to board the zodiacs. Each zodiac holds 12 people so three zodiacs take your group ashore. If you are taking camera or other equipment ashore it must be in a backpack so that both your hands are free when you get into and out of the zodiac. The Expedition team stresses this as there can be waves and wind when you board and you need both hands to grab the people helping you to board/exit the zodiac both at the ship and onshore. Once you are in the zodiac you can take your camera out but you must have it back in the backpack before you exit the zodiac. Onshore that Expedition team maps out where you can go to not disturb the wildlife. Generally they keep you 15 feet from penguins and farther from fur seals. Generally where you can go in the Antarctic is relatively small, 200 to 300 yards so a half hour to an hour is plenty of time ashore. Each landing is dependent on the weather and sometimes they had to revert to Plan B, C or D to find a landing spot. On days with landings it appeared they tried to accommodate two landings when that was possible. On our trip we had six landings and two days where we cruised in the zodiacs but did not land.
On the Falklands we stopped at Stanley and also two settlements where there was much more walking with one involving 3-4 miles of walking and the other 1-2 miles. Each settlement included an unlimited amount of “tea and biscuits” or cookies and coffee/tea served by the hosts at the settlement. Note a settlement is generally a house, barn and a lot of pasture located on an island.
One thing I can say is we brought too much cold weather gear. The coldest day we had was -5C and the warmest was 14C. The key was to make sure you were protected from the wind both in the zodiac and onshore. The jacket they give you is a pretty good windbreaker but otherwise provides little warmth. My typical attire was a merino wool medium base layer upper and lower, t shirt, jacket, waterproof pants and fingerless wool gloves. On the coldest day I added a wool sweater and was never cold. Going ashore you must wear the rubber boots you are given and I added wool liner sock and heavy wool socks. Onboard the typical attire was casual pants, jeans or sweatpants with a polo or t shirt. I have very nice moccasin slippers and I wore them all over the ship.
In summary we loved this cruise and we loved the Roald Amundsen. The crew were excellent, the lectures were in general interesting and well presented, the landings were fantastic and we found the food very good with a large variety. Both my wife and I noted that throughout the cruise the fruit seemed fresh and very tasty which for a 17 day cruise seemed amazing. We were disappointed in some small things like the lack of transportation at the airport and the small tables in the dining room. The vast majority of the tables in Aune are for two people and we find the interaction of a larger group of people at dinner to be a significant part of our cruise.