We were on the Midnastol in August, one of the most modern and largest of the fleet, but still small by the standards of some cruise liners.
I remember my grand mother, who did the cruise in the early 1960s, saying the trouble was that 'there was always another fiord to view'. We disciplined ourselves to go to bed at a reasonable time, for the timings are such that what you do not see on the way north, you see on the way south.
The Midnastol has a sign saying 'the most beautiful voyage in the world', and given chats with fellow passengers, that is probably correct.
In general the Hurtigruten's greatest asset is that it does what it says on the tin; it is not over hyped.
There is little entertainment beyond the scenery, the main attraction, although an entertainer in the bar area. I noticed Bridge playing, Scrabble, jig saws and much reading.
The shore excursions were not pushed at you. There are a number each and every day. You were made aware of them, that is all. We took the Gerainger fiord to Molde excursion, the Bodo Maelstrom excursion and the north-bound 'North Cape' excursion. We felt all excursions were worth it, and the guides were excellent.
The age range of the passengers was complete, from babies (probably Norwegians) to pensioners, with a noticeable skew towards seniors.
The Hurtigruten is like no other cruise – its raison d'etre is to deliver cargo and act a passenger service for Norwegians on the northern coastal areas.
If there is one piece of advice above all others to give you, it is this -- Do not be late getting back to the ship after a shore excursion, for the ship will leave without you and you will have to make alternative travel arrangements! It happened to 3 passengers on our journey who then had a very expensive taxi fare. The point is each landing (and there are typically 4 a day) are for a fixed amount of time; from a little as 1 hour which allows you to stretch your legs on shore to hours in the bigger ports like Tromso, Hammerfest, etc.
The food is excellent, although not haute cuisine. Breakfast & lunch are self service with a massive choice. Evening meal was a daily changing fixed menu.
As for cabin choice – be careful. We choose an outside cabin on an upper deck and were well pleased with it. I would avoid an outside cabin on the deck with a walkway outside of it (deck 6), and especially one where the view was obstructed by a lifeboat. I did overhear one passenger complaining to a companion that she had received an upgrade from an interior cabin (thus loosing a TV – no great loss to me) to an outside cabin, which was behind a life boat. I could see her point. If an internal cabin is OK, then I would have investigated cheaper, more central, lower; e.g. Deck 4.
The Hurtigruten offers 'a wine offer' – given Norwegian alcohol taxes we refused and did not regret it, although many passengers did take it. Nearly £40 for rather ordinary wine, but similar prices through out Norway!
The Hurtigruten offers 'a water offer' – a fresh bottle of filtered water per meal. We took this offer, and perhaps we regretted it. First, one offer per couple is sufficient, not one per person. Second, the Hurtigruten is Norwegian, is 'first world'. The tap water is 100% safe to drink; the crew do.
The Hurtigruten offers 'a coffee offer' – free refill all voyage. We did not take this, and felt it a reasonable decision. We bought coffee or warm chocolate as we wished.
We travelled Bergen, Kirkenes and back down to Trondheim for a train to Oslo. The great thing about travelling up and down is that what you do not see on the way north, you see on the way south. However if you are on a more limited time budget [say an American visiting Europe], one way would be enough. Then which way? Going north allows the Gerainger fiord, whereas southbound there is a an incredible daylight passage through the Lofoton islands. If, due to the winter sailing schedule, the Gerainger fiord excursion is not available, then north to south definitely.
If I were to do the trip again, I would wonder about planning a trip as far at Tromso and hiring a car to visit the Lofoton islands, and then return south again by boat. The point being that the geography divides into 3 section. The southern most portion is fiord country, the middle the Lofoten islands [just like children draw mountains, straight up, straight down], and the most north section which is flatter and more barren. If whether one can do this and book one's cabin I know not.
We had a stop and over night in Trondheim, which was kind of a wasted day. One can 'do' most of Trondheim in the northbound stop. And getting straight onto the train for Oslo would have given us an extra day in Oslo, which would have been welcome.
Norway starts to close shop in late August, the things available in September and later must be more limited.
The Hurtigruten advertises on-ship internet access. Whilst technically true, in practice it is disappointing. The internet access expensive and slow, because it is via low orbiting satellites which can be obscured when in a fiord. By comparison the ship is always close to land and my mobile (GSM cell-phone) seemed to work most all the time. So in future I would investigate the viability of internet through a GSM phone – or restrict it to public library access where it is free of change in Norway.
Obviously there are some viewing areas that are better than others. However we found that there was always a reasonable place to view the scenery, which is the star of the show.
Unfortunately there are always some passengers who try to reserve seats whilst they go for breakfast or lunch, etc; we witnessed passengers who read guide books written in German doing said practice. The Hurtigruten has a policy that this not allowed, and will collect belongs and declare them lost property for collection from the purser. Well done, Hurtigruten!
In my view, the Hurtigruten should remove the television from the library area, and such televisions as there are should be fixed on Norwegian TV; appologies to you CNN addicts. The Hurtigruten produces a 1 page news summary in about 6 languages including Britsh-English, American-English, German, French etc.
Prices in Norway are very expensive, £1 for each of a postcard and a stamp therefore!
The weather is variable; for us it varied between hot with mirror calm seas (magic), through clear skies (great), cloudy skies (ok), rain and low cloud (that was at the North Cape where one could hardly see 10 yards, miserable). The day south just after the North Cape, was 'rough seas', so much so that only one third of the passengers partook of the evening meal. The Hurtigruten is only in open water in 3 places; most often it is sheltered behind coastal islands.
In summary, do I want to go again next year? Answer no. Would I like to go again some time in the future? Answer yes.