Expedition Cruising with Hurtigruten
Updated: Jul 10, 2018
Want to get off more than one beaten path while you're traveling, but love the convenience of not having to pack all your stuff every night? Expedition cruising might be exactly what you're looking for.
I've done a lot of "big ship" cruising, and while I love them (they can be a great option for relaxing), sometimes I want something different. I love being outside - exploring, hiking, spotting birds and animals, and just having that down time. And I love being near the water. So recently, when I was offered the chance to try out expedition cruising with Hurtigruten, I jumped at the opportunity.
We sailed on their expedition journey Gulf of St. Lawrence and Bays of Eastern Canada on the MS Fram - starting in New York and ending in Halifax. Our stops were Yarmouth NS, Charlottetown PE, Havre-St-Pierre PQ, Woody Point NF, and Cap aux Meules PQ. Our itinerary also included three sea days, one of which included scenic cruising around Bonaventure Island and Percé Rock.
First impressions at embarkation, it was like nothing we've never seen. There was no one in the terminal except for a handful of ship staff to take your luggage and deliver it to your cabin. We expected to carry it on ourselves, so that was a nice touch. Check-in happened on the ship, at a check-in area on the floor where your cabin was. The entire process was incredibly quick and painless. The check-in window for the entire ship (less than 200 passengers for our sailing) was only two hours.
At 4:00pm, we set sail from NYC - and although it was cold and raining, that's always a spectacular sailaway.
With sailaway compete, we also had to explore the ship. The Fram has 8 decks, 7 of which are accessible to passengers. Deck 2 contains the hold where all the expedition equipment is, as well as the medical center. Decks 3, 5, and 6 are passenger cabin decks. Deck 4 has the dining room, reception, science center, conference rooms, bistro area, and a small shop. Deck 7 has a small gym, a couple of hot tubs, the observation lounge/bar, and some outdoor spaces. Deck 8 has a sauna and more outdoor space. Deck 5 also has access to the outside, where you get to the open air area at the front of the ship.
Our home for the sailing was a bit smaller than a standard cruise ship room, but not by much. It definitely had everything we needed to be comfortable for our journey. We had a porthole, two single beds (during the day, one folds into the wall and one turns into a couch), a desk, two closets, lots of storage and shelving, a TV, and a private bathroom.
Dining on the Fram happens in their one dining room. Each day, breakfast and lunch was a buffet with plenty of options. Dinner was a five course plated dinner on some nights and a themed buffet on other nights (generally the nights we were in port). The themes on our sailing included American, Norwegian, Filipino, and Vegetarian. On the nights there was no buffet, the meal normally consisted of a small salad, a soup, a main (meat or fish), a sorbet, and a dessert. They were able to cater to dietary restrictions fairly easily.
Outside of the dining room, the bistro area is accessible all the time with coffee, hot chocolate, tea, and a station for filling water bottles. Early morning, they put out a small selection of pastries and juices as well.
All activities on the ship took place in the bistro area and adjoining lecture room or in the observation (Panorama) lounge. Daily, there were a variety of lectures available from members of the expedition team, with subjects specific to the sailing you are on or of general interest. Our sailing included lectures on the types of birds and whales we might see on our sailing and photography tips, as well as general information on the ocean, the environment, geology, and other journeys they offer. In addition, we had an information session the night before arriving in any port.
During the day, they also have specific wildlife spotting times (where you can join the expedition team on deck), organized walks around the ship to stretch your legs, and occasionally some other options (we had a crew fashion show, crew talent show, ice/fruit carving demo, and a few receptions).
Something to keep in mind with expedition cruising is that nothing is set in stone. They are always at the mercy of the weather. Fortunately, we we able to do our cruise nearly exactly as planned. The expedition team is amazing, and they do their best to make sure everyone has an amazing time. Since the ship is smaller and carries its own smaller Polarcirkle boats, it means you can easily get access to different ports than the large ships generally visit. On our sailing, we tendered in Yarmouth and Woody Point and were able to dock at all of the other stops. Imagine exploring a field of iceburgs or watching wild life up close from one of those smaller boats!
At the beginning of the sailing, all passengers are divided into boat groups (posted in the information area near reception), and that group is used to call people off the ship for excursions or to the tender boats. The Polarcirkle boats hold 8-10 people each and the Fram has 7 of them. It's really quite a slick process where they load from deck 2. Life jackets (provided) are required, and there's always a team of people to help you get into and out of the boats.
In every port, much like other cruise companies, Hurtigruten gives you the option to disembark and do your own thing or to purchase their excursions. If the Polarcirkle boats are in use, their excursions take precedence over everyone else. When docked, you can come and go as you please.
Hurtigruten definitely has the whole concept of expedition cruising down to a science. On expedition voyages, they provide you with a nice Helly Hansen jacket that is yours to keep. They also have all the loaner equipment you would need for a voyage - kayaks, walking poles, muckboots, water proof suits, etc. Since the Fram is an Antarctic expedition vessel for most of the year, they also have equipment specific for use in that region (for things like arctic camping and glacier walks).
While in port, we opted to do our own thing in Yarmouth, Charlottetown, and Cap aux Meules. We tried their excursions in Havre-St-Pierre and Woody Point. In Havre-St-Pierre, we visited Mingan Archipelago National Park Reserve (specifically île Niapiskau), which Parks Canada opened before the season started just for us. In Woody Point, we visited Gros Morne National Park and did some small hikes. This sailing wasn't a typical sailing for them, so for us, some of the excursion options weren't as interesting (not expedition-style enough) - things like historic walking tours in Yarmouth and Charlottetown.
Because there was a group of travel agents on this ship, we did get to see a bit more than would be normal - with tours of the bridge, visiting the various types of available cabins (options from inside cabins to suites with balconies), a tour of all the equipment, and that kind of thing. All great information for us to help you find the perfect sailing.
In general, we loved expedition cruising on a small ship and we would definitely do it again. The expedition team was amazing and really added a lot to the experience. They weren't ever hidden away, and were frequently out among the guests talking and answering questions. We enjoyed the quiet, laid-back feel of the entire journey. We love Hurtigruten's take on helping combat ocean pollution (they have eliminated single-use plastics on their entire fleet and team members can frequently be seen picking up trash in nature on excursions).
Some general information on Hurtigruten. They are a Norwegian-based company, so their pricing on board is billed in Krone (though they generally provided a rough idea of the conversion to USD). The dress code was casual for all the things, all the time. Internet is not provided, and various package options were available for purchase. Tipping was not automatically included for drinks or dining, but you are certainly welcome to tip in cash (or using a form they provide you at the end of your cruise to add it to your cruise account).
Think expedition cruising with Hurtigruten might be for you? I'm a Hurtigruten Certified Agent and a huge fan of adventure travel, so I'm happy to help any time. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or toll-free at 1-877-987-4770 ext 1071.
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