Even though Hurtigruten’s Trollfjord is nearly at its 645-passenger capacity, there are lots of open spaces and always a window-side seat for me to slip into or a quiet corner in one of the neatly partitioned lounges where I can sink into a book.
Most of my fellow passengers — a mix of British, Germans and Japanese at the moment – are, like me, primarily on the cruise to see the Northern Lights. All the rest – the villages of Norway, the craggy snow-covered peaks, the wildlife – is an extra bonus.
And in a quirk not usually offered on cruise trips, we also get to be part of community life along the way. While Hurtigruten offers some cruise ship-style formalities (we sleep aboard and dine at the ship’s eateries), one huge difference is that with each port of call we pick up a fair share of overnighters or day guests using the Trollfjord for pure transport. Hurtigruten, in Norway, is a national transport hub, much as cruise ferries serve locals in Sweden and Finland.
Indeed, Hurtigruten is considered the lifeline of the Norwegian coast, delivering everything from refrigerators and newspapers to boats and bodies in the ports, most of which are very small towns, where we stop. A journey on the line is also very much a rite of passage for Norwegians, too, as evidenced by one couple who celebrated their 40th anniversary with a slow dance to an Elton John song in the Fjordbar on Deck 8.
Others I’ve met on this trip range from a traveling salesman selling climbing gear whose car is waiting for him below deck to a doctor from Oslo on his way to his first residency in the far north.
Another thing I’m loving about Hurtigruten experience? It’s not fattening me for the chopping block. Breakfast and lunch, served buffet style, are a delicious spread of healthy salads, Norwegian fish dishes (salmon, caviar, trout, cod), creamy Norwegian cheeses and hearty meats (don’t be surprised if you see reindeer or whale carpaccio on the menu). Dinner, served in two seatings, is a sit down, three-course affair that incorporates everything from king crab to more staid offerings of the chicken and steak variety. The goal here is to be as Norwegian as possible, I suppose, while managing to satisfy the picky British and German palates, too. And they have succeeded.
Cabins are available in doubles, triples, quads (with couches that convert to beds) and suites (with queen beds, some with balconies). And I’m loving the heated bathroom floors, desk and ample closet space. Other onboard amenities: a small fitness room with cardio equipment and weights, two outdoor hot tubs on the sun deck, a library, men’s and women’s saunas and a small theater room screening slideshows on the Northern Lights or replaying highlights from Norway’s recent skiing domination at the championships in Oslo.
All my mellowness won’t last too much longer, however.
The hunt for the northern lights has beginning to get serious, and I’m prepared to wake up in the middle of the night if an announcement alerts me that they’re doing their wondrous green and blue thing. Excursions like dog sledding in Kirkenes and a snowmobiling trip in Lapland also await. And if I need a wake up call in the interim, of course, a brisk stroll for an Arctic blast of air on deck nine will do just the trick.
By Terry Ward