My cruise aboard Hurtigruten Expeditions ‘MS MAUD’ was unlike any other cruise experience I’ve had, and in so many ways.
Usually, I’d do a day-by-day account of the cruise, but if I tried that with Maud, I’d still be here this time next year – that’s how much I want to say about it! Instead, I’m going to give a more condensed overview of my Northern Lights Expedition Cruise and one that I hope, by the end, leaves you wanting to experience it for yourself. Although some aspects of the sailing weren’t quite what I expected, it’s left me wanting more, so I guess it did what it was supposed to do – it sucked me in, gave me a taste and then said see you again!
This sailing was a Dover round-trip, which was perfect for me as I don’t like to fly. Check-in was faultless and before boarding the ship, there was one little thing that I loved. It sounds silly, but my cruise card was already attached to a rather sturdy lanyard, and I liked that. I suppose I’d say it was the first taste of expedition life – you couldn’t simply put your cruise card in your back pocket because the adventure wouldn’t allow for it, or a flimsy shop-bought lanyard. It had to be expedition proof.
This carried on once onboard and I was directed to Deck 5 to pick-up my expedition jacket. Now, this jacket, I am still in love with it, and I barely had it off my back for the duration of the cruise. Made by Helly Hansen exclusively for Hurtigruten, it’s warm, waterproof, windproof, flexible, and light weight. It has a clear pocket on the left arm which is for your cruise card during expedition days – so you don’t need to go rummaging in all your layers of clothing to find it! Genius! It also has 2 Velcro sections – one on each arm – and these are for your expedition boat group identifications. I was a Puffin and I wore mine on my right arm. The jacket is yours to keep, but you do need to hand in your boat group at the end of the cruise. I’m going to say out loud here that I think you should be able to buy them. It’s only a small thing, but it’s part of the cruise.
Hurtigruten Expeditions – Dining
When you think of Expedition sailings, you instantly imagine all these fantastic experiences ashore and I’m going to get to those, but first, I want to highlight something that I don’t see a lot of people talk about when it comes to Hurtigruten, and that’s the food. Why am I mentioning food first? Because it was far better than I could have expected.
There are 2 dining venues onboard that are open to everyone. Restaurant Aune is the ships main dining room. For breakfast and lunch, this is a buffet option but for dinner, it’s table service. Restaurant Fredheim is the second option and is open from 12 noon until 20:30 every day. Here, you can get burgers, hot dogs, simple things such as steak and grilled chicken, crab rolls and then other options that change every few days. Fredheim also offers a small take-away menu which I loved! I tried to make lunch my main and healthiest meal of the day, that worked for me, and in the evening if I wanted anything, I’d dial up Fredheim – usually for a ship-sized portion of French fries. I’ll just take a minute here to say that the vegetables were always so good! I know, they’re just veggies, but I’ve been on so many cruises where the galley couldn’t even get a sprout right – Maud’s team were the masters! On one occasion, I had a plate of vegetables for lunch, and I was in my element.
There’s also Restaurant Lindstrøm which is reserved exclusively for suite guests at breakfast and lunch. In the evening, this is also the main restaurant for suite guests, but those not staying in suites can book for 25 euro per person. I didn’t dine in Lindstrøm very often, I was usually still full after lunch and the menu didn’t always work for me. That’s personal preference, though. Everything offered sounded amazing and I didn’t hear a single bad review from others onboard, but I was still partly restricted because of a medical diet and some things, I don’t eat. Full stop. There was always local produce available. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many dishes or ingredients on a cruise menu that were local. There was everything from Arctic Cloudberries to Reindeer and local fish. I ate Rudolph once, during a Norwegian cruise, and I promised my Mother I’d never do it again – she was mortified – so that stopped me in my tracks on those dishes.
Hurtigruten Expeditions – Norway Tours
So, now I’ve covered the food, let’s get down to the real business of ports! This itinerary visited, Loen, Reine, Alta, Tromsø, Narvik, Bergen and Egersund. Between those, we had 2 coastal cruising days which were expedition landing days and on top of those, we had some seriously good moments of scenic cruising! Maud, well, what a ship! That girl is built for cruising the polar regions and she handled the twists, turns and the odd angry swell, like a pro.
There is a selection of included tours available which you can do if you wish, you just need to let the Expedition Team know so they can save you a place. They included the Narvik War Museum, Funicular in Bergen, Fishing Village guided tour in Reine, the Loen Skylift, and the Northern Lights Cathedral in Alta.
As well as the included options, there’s also a few optional tours and I booked myself on four of those: Husky Sledding and a Northern Lights Chase in Alta, the Polar Park in Narvik, and the Briksdal Glacier tour in Loen.
I really enjoyed my tours, so I’m probably a bit biased, but I think I made the best choices. My favourites were probably the Northern Lights Chase and the Birksdal Glacier. I’d never seen a glacier before and to say I was overwhelmed is an understatement. What I saw before me was hugely impressive, but I’m told that it has shrunk a lot over the years. It was quite a damp and windy day in port, but that didn’t hinder our tour – our expedition jackets kept us warm and dry – and everyone seemed to really enjoy it. It was on this tour that I met the lovely Joan and she and I buddied up for several other tours during the cruise. I also collected some rocks on this trip and had David, the onboard Geologist look at them a few days later. Apparently, one of them was a nice slice of quartz and the others were a collection of metamorphic rocks which had been transformed over the years by heat, pressure, and other natural agencies. Nothing overly exciting, but I had no idea, they were just stones to me until he looked at them and these aspects of the cruise, I found fascinating. I joked and said that it was like being back at school, only this time I appreciated what I was being told and I wanted to be at the front of the class to learn as much as I could.
I love animals, so naturally the Polar Park and Husky Sledding HAD to be on my list. We had the entire Polar Park to ourselves, or at least, that’s how it felt. The animals were beautiful, had lots of space and were clearly very well cared for. I was in awe of the bears. They were so beautiful and majestic. There was one that had the mannerisms of a dog – she was asking for treats and seemed clearly huffed when she realised, she wasn’t getting any more. The Arctic Fox’ were also gorgeous and very playful. The entire park was unique, and I suspect in the winter months, when covered in snow, it’s an even greater adventure.
I’d visited Holmen Husky several years ago during another Arctic cruise but then, it was thick with snow. I knew this wouldn’t be the case for my cruise, but I wanted to see it in a different light and experience the husky ride under different conditions. The dogs were desperate to run and play, and the puppies in training were an absolute joy – full of mischief! The ride itself was very different to how it is when the ground is covered in snow (it’s a lot more comfortable in the snow) but I was glad that I did it and I think the dogs were overjoyed that we were there. Again, I think we had Holmen all to ourselves. I HIGHLY recommend Holmen Husky, it’s a family-owned and run business and the welfare of the animals and training of the humans is top priority. These people know what they are doing, and the dogs clearly love life! There were a lot of people on my cruise that didn’t book this trip because they were told there was no snow and the ride would be on wheels, in my opinion, they made the wrong choice. Yes, it’s very different in the snow, but there’s more to this tour than just the ride. It’s learning about the dogs, meeting them on a one-to-one basis and enjoying the warmth and atmosphere of the lavvu – a typical Sammi tent. On the coach back to MAUD, there were 30 happy faces, all having loved their time at Holmen.
After the thrill of the huskies, it was time to run up the gangway, grab my packed lunch and head out on the Northern Lights chase. There was an hour-long presentation onboard before leaving – a sort of introduction about what to expect and why the team running the tour had chosen the location that they had for us. We would drive 50km south of Alta and set up camp for a few hours in the middle on nowhere. It was a great location choice and within minutes of us being there, the sky started to dance. We had 2 solid hours of Northern Lights, and I was frozen by the time we left. I think I may have been the only guest on tour that didn’t once step inside the lavvu. I stayed out beneath the night sky relishing in every second of that tour. The show carried on once back at the ship and for our sailaway – we were incredibly fortunate.
Overall, I was very pleased with all the tours. I didn’t get the chance to do a lot of the included options, but others seemed very happy with them, and I was pleased with the optional ones I’d booked. I absolutely recommend that you consider some of the optional tours because they enhanced the experience. Norway doesn’t come cheap, but if you’re embarking on a Hurtigruten Expedition sailing, you really should soak yourself in every aspect of it, including the optional tours.
Hurtigruten Expeditions – Expedition Landings
I mentioned that we also had some expedition landing days, so let’s get to those. Our first was at the Svartisen Glacier and I’d put my name down for the Science Boat. Unfortunately, so did a lot of other people, so I was moved to this on our second landing day. It turned out to be for the best because if I hadn’t been moved, I wouldn’t have had the chance to do the 5km hike to the Glacier.
Our second day found us at anchor in Lekka and within minutes, MAUD’s calves (her RIB’s) were on the water, getting ready to take us ashore. As in virtually every other port, there was the option to go kayaking or hiking, as well as doing the landing, but this day for me was all about my eagerly anticipated Science Boat trip. We left the ship with Tim at the wheel and after a few minutes we’d lowered the sea anchor and were having our lesson on the Secchi Disk. The disk was created in 1865 and is used to measure water transparency or turbidity in bodies of water. The disc is mounted on a pole or line and is then lowered slowly into the water. The depth at which the disk is no longer visible is taken as a measure of the transparency of the water. This measure is known as the Secchi depth and is related to water turbidity. Since its invention, the disk has also been used in a modified, smaller 20 cm (8 in) diameter, black and white design to measure freshwater transparency. We played with this for a while until the tape measure snapped, and then we moved onto our plankton collection.
Hurtigruten Expeditions – Onboard Science Program
I’ll start this section by sharing this link with you, which will explain in far more detail than I can give you, what the Hurtigruten Science Program is all about and how YOU can get involved both onboard and ashore.
Examples of Scientific Research Onboard
Seabird Distribution with the Antarctic Site Inventory — Surveys throughout the Antarctic Peninsula help scientists understand how seabirds are using different habitats and provide valuable information about their life cycles.
Cloud Observations with the Globe Program — By observing and recording cloud cover timed to NASA satellite fly-overs, guests can help scientists understand how surface and air temperature are affected by cloud cover, and how clouds will respond to a changing climate.
Happywhale — We assist in tracking individual whales throughout our world’s oceans by harnessing the power of whale watching enthusiasts – our guests – expanding our scientific knowledge of their behaviour and distribution.
Sea Leopard Project — A non-profit study aimed at a better understanding of the behaviour, ecology, and population dynamics of Leopard Seals on the Antarctic Peninsula to promote their conservation and safe human-seal interactions.
Fjord Phyto — Study phytoplankton to better understand how they respond to water temperature changes in the polar regions, providing a key to help mitigate future environmental impacts.
Earlier in this blog, I mentioned that not all aspects of the cruise were what I had expected and by that I meant that there weren’t quite as much ‘hands-on’ science-based things happening as I thought there would be. But as I also said, it sucked me in enough to leave me wanting more because when these events took place, I was like a child in a sweet shop – I loved every second of them – and even now, I am still doing my own research into many of the things I was told, especially about plankton because our specimens were INCREDIBLE!
I was engaged through the enthusiasm of the Expedition Team. These people know their stuff and they love what they do. Tim was one of these people, he took us out on the Science Boat and subsequently ran the session onboard relating to our specimen gatherings. He made it exciting! When he put the plankton findings under the microscope and spotted something interesting, he showed clear excitement and that, ultimately, made us excited. It was genuine – that’s the word I’m looking for. I could say a million things about these sessions but, in reality, I could never do them justice. These are things YOU need to experience for yourself.
Hurtigruten Expeditions – MS MAUD
Let’s talk about Maud. She’s small, very intimate and has a fabulous crew! I felt very much at home within hours of boarding and, of course, my stunning suite also helped with that. I couldn’t have asked for, nor did I expect such a beautiful space to call home for 2-weeks. The bay window was my favourite feature. I liked to move one of the chairs and just sit there watching the world go by – it was my relaxation space and right there in my own cabin.
There are several public areas where passengers can enjoy some down time before and after exploring. My favourite was the library. Now, it’s not a library in the conventional sense, as such. The books available are mostly left behind by other passengers and are a mix of English and Norwegian. The space itself is just perfect. I enjoyed it most in the evening when the world outside was dark and the lights inside were dimmed just enough to let you relax. It connects to the Explorer Bar which is another very nice space and seemed to be the most popular in the evening. One side is quite dark and atmospheric, allowing you to relax after a heavy day ashore, and the other is bright enough to sit and play games or read while you enjoy your evening tipple.
Guests could also enjoy the two-levelled Explorer Lounge at the very front of the ship, a small gym, male and female saunas, hot tubs, laps of Deck 6, a small shop with branded items, Helly Hansen merchandise and other bits, the Lecture Hall and, of course, the Science Centre.
There were numerous lectures and other events happening onboard and I wanted to give you a few examples below:
Norwegian Coastal Kitchens – these culinary experiences were held out on Deck 9 and included fresh waffles, delicious hot chocolate, grilled salmon, and reindeer hot dogs.
Lecture: The Magic of the Arctic Light of Northern Norway – all lectures were streamed to the TV in your cabin on channel 5.
Introduction to Norwegian Folk Dancing – this was held out on Deck 9 and was mostly hosted by Magnus, an individual with so much love and enthusiasm for what he does. I watched and I laughed until my ribs ached.
Wildlife Watch – this was offered every morning on Deck 6 from around 08:30
Lecture: Plankton – Drifting Through Life – this was an introduction to the world of plankton and readied us for things such as the Science Boat tour.
Green Stay – I absolutely LOVED this! Basically, alongside your ‘Do Not Disturb’ leather door sign, you also had a ‘Green Stay’ option. Hurtigruten Foundation is funded by direct donations and several onboard initiatives, including auctions, fund-raisers and the ‘Green Stay’ program. Every time you hung this on your door, you let your cabin steward know that you didn’t want your cabin cleaned, therefore saving energy, water, detergent, and power. Every day you used this a donation was made.
Arctic Circle Baptism – We had crossed into the Arctic Circle, and it was time to be initiated. Those who joined in were sharply awoken by a ladle of ice and freezing cold water being poured down their back. I had just washed my hair, that was my excuse, and I was sticking to it!
This is just a very small example of what was offered. If there’s anything you want to know, about anything, please don’t hesitate to leave a comment and I’ll do my best to give you the answer.
Thank you, MS MAUD
My days were jam packed because there were so many things I wanted to get involved with and go and learn about. I’ve never had that on any other cruise and I’ve done a few over the years. It was a totally different cruising experience, and I relished every second of it. I enjoyed active days and relaxing evenings with no need to rush back and change/dress-up for dinner.
The onboard atmosphere was very relaxed. It wasn’t about ‘show’ it was about learning while exploring some of Norway’s most incredible places. We were all there because we wanted to broaden our scope, in more ways than one, and do that alongside people with the same ambitions. We wanted to leave places in a better state than they were when we arrived – so there were beach cleans – and we wanted to ask questions that we’d get honest answers to. Of course, we also wanted the little luxuries that come with cruising and Hurtigruten fulfilled that in every way.
I’ll finish by saying a huge THANK YOU to MS MAUD and her AMAZING crew! Everyone onboard was brilliant. You all made my experience memorable, enjoyable, and immersive.
AD – I was a guest of Hurtigruten for this cruise.