I’m super pumped to be writing this one! I’ve wanted to try expedition cruising for a very long time, and when this chance came up, I jumped at it. So here’s the scoop.
Earlier this year, I got an invite to experience an expedition cruise with Hurtigruten. So full disclosure, Hurtigruten footed the bill for part of this trip. But you all know me… I always say what I think, so this will be a totally honest blog/review. I’ve had Hurtigruten on my radar for ages for bucket list trips to Norway and/or Antarctica and I’ve had some potential clients inquire about them. I knew I would love them and they did not disappoint.
Our adventure starts in a typical Fuller fashion… bust ass to get ready around doing other stuff. So I got ready for Market, went to Market, unloaded from Market, and then we headed to Halifax. Arrived at our hotel with fog lingering everywhere, and Greg’s random comment about planes likely not landing in it was true. Of course the planes that weren’t landing included ours, that was supposed to arrive that night, so we could fly away on it in the wee hours of the next morning. Luckily for us, we got a heads up mid-evening the night before, which meant we could actually sleep in past 3:30 am. Much better than finding out at the airport. The flight was delayed several more times, but we eventually got on a plane the following afternoon. Then another plane broke down across both runways, so we got to sit on that plane and hang out for a while. But we finally made it to NY about 7 hours late and managed to salvage plans with friends.
We dumped our stuff at our hotel (Courtyard New York Manhattan/Chelsea) and grabbed an Uber to meet our friends at Grand Bazaar NYC (where there was a vegan pop-up happening)… strolled through, had some eats, and then wandered off to find some craft beer (which included strolling through a street fair) at Gebhard’s Beer Culture. Thanks for coming out to hang out with us Michelle and Paul!
Since our ship wasn’t boarding until mid-afternoon, Monday morning was spent wandering around NYC – had some breakfast, visited Washington Square Park, had some lunch, did lots of walking, and then we headed to the ship.
Boarding a small expedition vessel at the Manhattan Cruise Terminal is very different from boarding a mega ship – in a very good way. We walked in, there was 3 guys taking our bags to the ship (we expected to carry them on ourselves, honestly). We went through the same security line as our bags. It took about 5 minutes to get on the ship. Check-in happens on the ship itself, on the deck where you live. The entire process probably took about 30 minutes from the time we got out of our Uber to when we walked into our room (and only because we were in a check in line behind several couples who overly complicated things).
Our room was small, but not a ton smaller than an inside cabin on many larger lines. We had a Polar Outside cabin, which had 2 beds (one folded into a couch and one folded up against the wall), a desk, 2 closets, a private bathroom (also smaller than larger cruise ships, but still with enough space for what we needed), and plenty of shelving. We got a tour of the various cabin types later in the voyage, and they have everything from inside to suites with balconies.
We had a muster drill before sail-away, which consisted of the usual information on what to do in case of an emergency at sea, but also included how to put on a full survival suit and the expedition team escorting us to where the life boats are stored. Then it was time for sail-away from NYC. There’s lots to see sailing out of NYC, but it is a bit nicer when it’s not cold and raining. It’s a nice vantage point for viewing the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island.
The rest of day one was spent exploring the ship (there’s 8 decks, but deck 1 is crew only, deck 2 is equipment storage and the medical center, decks 3, 5, and 6 are all passenger cabins, and deck 8 is outside deck space and a sauna… deck 4 and deck 7 are pretty much where all the action is. Deck 4 has the dining room, the lecture halls, the shop, the coffee shop, information center, and reception. Deck 7 has the observation lounge/bar, gym, and hot tubs), attending a welcome reception, going to a presentation on how things would work in general, and having dinner.
Our first full day on the Fram was a day at sea with beautiful weather. Daily, the schedule consisted of some scheduled wildlife watching (where the expedition team would be out on decks helping you hopefully spot some), stretching your legs with a mile walk around the ship, lectures by various members of the expedition team, a presentation on the next port, and that kind of thing. For day 1, we picked up our Hurtigruten jackets (a gift to you when you are on an expedition cruise with them). We had a presentation on photography tips from the expedition team photographer Chelsea and a presentation on ducks by one of the ornithologists Manuel. Because I was there as a travel agent, I also had a general presentation on Hurtigruten itself. In the evening, there was a presentation on our first port of the trip, Yarmouth, and a storytelling session by Tom about the northern lights and the legends that surround them in countries around the world.
First stop – Yarmouth, Nova Scotia. So considering we live in New Brunswick, we got a lot of weird looks when we told people we were going on a cruise to Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, Quebec, and Newfoundland – but although we’ve been to all but one of these provinces, we’d only been to one of the stops where this cruise was going. So it was mostly new to us too – except we were already prepared for the weather. Yarmouth was one of two tender ports for us on the Fram. The Fram carries its own tender boats on board (7 Polarcirkle boats, that each carry 8-10 passengers), and the process to unload them from the ship and load them with passengers is fairly quick. But, Hurtigruten, like most cruise lines, disembarks passengers first that are going on their excursions. This meant that after the ship cleared customs (this was our first stop in another country), and after all the excursion passengers were off, we were about 3 hours into the process. Everyone on the ship is divided into boat groups (information like this is posted in the information center near reception), so you’re called off the ship in boat groups. Fortunately, downtown Yarmouth isn’t very big, so we had plenty of time to explore.
The people of Yarmouth gave us the warmest reception I’ve ever experienced leaving a cruise ship. This was the Fram’s inaugural visit there and they treated us like royalty. Their farmers market even opened up on an off-day for us. We walked around exploring some of the local businesses, had some lunch at Rudder’s, visited the farmers market, found some coffee (one of the few complaints I had is the lack of decaf coffee on board), and headed back. Where we docked in the harbour was right across from some lighthouses – the one that belongs there and a new one (that looks older) that was constructed for a movie called Lighthouse that is currently being filmed there.
Back on board, we rounded out the day with dinner, a lecture on seabirds with Dan from the expedition team (a fellow Canadian and a lovely person to talk with), and an expedition team fashion show, highlighting the gear available in the shop on board (this is actually pretty genius and I’m not sure why none of the mega lines have been smart enough to do it, since some of them have a fairly hefty focus on shopping).
Up next, another day at sea. Sea day 2 consisted of a chance to visit the bridge, another travel agent presentation on the Hurtigruten product (we had some great members of their team onboard with us), a lecture on the ocean by Hannah from the expedition team, the usual wildlife viewing and deck walks), eating, and a port presentation about Charlottetown. I had bought some yarn in Yarmouth, so I also crocheted a headband while sitting around enjoying the ocean view. In the evening, there was also some surprise entertainment, which consisted of some trivia with the expedition team (winner winner, chicken dinner… we’re international, interline trivia winners at this point). In a team of 6 with 4 Canadians, we really killed it on the second round trivia about Canada. Free drinks for us!
Next up, Charlottetown… but we didn’t arrive until afternoon, so we attended a lecture on kelp by Katya from the expedition team – another one of our faves. My Dad is from PEI, so it’s safe to say I’ve been to PEI many times. It’s been years since I’ve been to Charlottetown though, and it’s much hipper than it used to be. We didn’t have any plans for Charlottetown but to wander around… so we did. We had some lunch at Hopyard (with the best vegetarian food I’ve ever had in a restaurant – pad thai fries are genius!) and some tasty craft beer. And then we set out to walk around some more and made it exactly one building to Beer Corner (be sure to press the blue button if you go to the bathroom while you’re there), where one drink turned into a couple of hours and a great chat with the bartender that was working and another passenger from our ship. We gathered up some beer to go (admittedly, the beer situation on the Fram was pretty dire… they had started the cruise with one type of beer on draft and two in bottles – all Norwegian – and by day three, they were out of all but the draft), explored a bit more, found some Starbucks (the coffee situation was also slightly dire, but I don’t drink enough coffee ever for that to be a deal breaker), checked out a local bakery, and then headed back to the ship.
We rounded out Charlottetown day with dinner and a behind the scenes talk about Hurtigruten by Tom.
Next up, Bonaventure Island. This day was pretty much a sea day, so we spent the morning picking up loaner muckboots (for excursions in Havre-St-Pierre and Gros Morne, as we were warned there was still snow), and listening to a lecture on rocks by Hannah (she has a real flair for presenting, because honestly, I likely wouldn’t normally go to a lecture on rocks… and I even like rocks… climbing on them, sometimes taking their picture, you know, that kind of thing).
So Bonaventure Island is in the Gulf of St Lawrence near the Gaspé Peninsula and is actually part of a national park. Because it’s breeding season for gannets and other seabirds, you can’t go onto the the island this time of year. So we sailed as close as we could to it and hung out for more than an hour. As we were approaching the island, it looked to be really snow-covered in a few places, but as we got closer, it was actually thousands and thousand of gannets. National Geographic kind of moment, really awesome!
After Bonaventure Island, we sailed on a bit to view Percé Rock, a big limestone rock with a hole in it – considered one of the world’s largest arches over water. Even though we didn’t get off the ship, this was a really fun day. We were in gale force winds for a large part of the day, and watched the birds drift in them was really cool. For people who get seasick easily though, you would have enjoyed this day much less I’m afraid.
To wrap up the day, there was dinner, a port presentation for Havre-St-Pierre the next day, and the evening entertainment of fruit and ice carving was cancelled because the ship was really rocking (and I’m pretty sure a lot of people were sick).
Quick commentary on meals on the Fram, for anyone interested. Breakfast and lunch always consisted of a buffet (over a 2 hour time period for each). Lots of variety, both European and North American style options. Dinner was a 5 course set menu on the days we weren’t in port and themed buffets on the days we were in port. The food was quite good, better than I find most cruise lines, and after some initial confusion, they were able to accommodate serving me vegetarian meals. I think with a much smaller group of passengers (we were less than 200), it does give them room to prepare better food – but in interacting with some of the crew, you could tell they really care about what they were serving. Themed buffets included Norwegian (a huge seafood spread), American (stereotypical hamburgers and hot dogs), and Filipino (complete with a whole roasted pig).
Land ho! Sunday found us in Havre-St-Pierre, Quebec. Sailing in, we were greeted by an accordion player and many of the locals. Another windy but beautifully sunny day. This was one of two ports where we had decided to give a Hurtigruten excursion a try and we were heading to Île Niapiskau in the Mingan Archipelago National Park Reserve. This was really more our style and more what we expected from an expedition cruise. Parks Canada opened the park up just for us, and some of their guides had even gone in in advance to shovel some of the areas they wanted to show us. We took a small boat over from the pier, exploring some of the other islands along the way, and then toured around Île Niapiskau with a guide for a few hours before heading back. The monoliths here are really neat and the view from higher up is beautiful. Nice to get out and explore.
Back at the port, we still had a few hours to explore, so we did. We visited a few of the local businesses (several of them opened just because we were in port) and had some tasty lunch (one of the best seafood chowders I have ever tasted and some snow crab) at La Promenade. The locals set up maple syrup on snow tasting and some live music for us near the port as well. As we were getting ready to sail out, the locals came out with their Acadian flags to wave good-bye, really a charming touch.
To round out today, there was lectures on the Arctic response to climate change with Hannah and ocean acidification with Saga.
Want to see a beautiful sail-in? I HIGHLY recommend sailing into Bonne Bay in Newfoundland. So absolutely stunning. I was out on deck for hours! (after listening to a great lecture on expedition cruising in the Arctic, with stunning photos of penguins, puffins, and other birds, by Dan). And so this brings us to our second-to-last stop in beautiful Newfoundland – a province I hadn’t been to yet and will definitely be returning to. We did another Hurtigruten excursion here, so we were off to explore Gros Morne National Park. The small portion of it we saw was absolutely amazing, so we’ll be making our way back to see more of it for sure. We started with a hike along the Eastern Point Trail. By then, the weather had turned and it was beautiful and sunny, and we had outstanding views everywhere we looked.
From here, we headed back to our snazzy school bus and headed over to the Tablelands to hike along the base with a guide from Parks Canada. The Tablelands are amazing and I would love to see them in the summer. Lots of cool rocks to look and more amazing views.
This park is so beautiful in fact, I think it should get to have some more pictures without me rambling on…
Following our exploration of the Tablelands, we headed to the interpretation center for a brief video (it’s still under construction and getting ready for the season), and then back into Woody Point where we had another hour or so to explore. We tried to stop at the convenience/liquor store, but they were closed for supper (had only they known that three buses of people were about to let out there). We walked around a bit, and grabbed a Polarcirkle boat back to the ship. Sail-away from here was equally stunning!
Rounding out Newfoundland day was a port talk on Cap-aux-Meules and a lesson on knot-tying.
Hello Magdalen Islands! I’ve always wanted to visit you. This was our final port stop on the Fram, and we couldn’t have asked for better weather. We decided to do this one on our own, and we had a great day exploring around the island. We stopped for some lunch (and one of the best coffee’s I’ve ever had) at Cafe d’chez nous and Greg tried one of the local beer. This is a really cute spot and the food was great. From there, we carried on down that main street, stopping here and there as we felt like it. And then we met up with the trail along the ocean and followed it back, exploring the beach as we went and enjoying the weather. The red rock cliffs really reminded me of PEI. There was a big lookout area near the port, so of course Greg needed to climb to the top. I had a nice conversation up there with a lady from NB that had moved to the Magdalen Islands. We bought a few little things here and there, Greg found a few more beer (we had one last sea day coming up), and headed back to the ship.
On the ship today, we also had a presentation on plastics in the ocean by Tom. I really like Hurtigruten’s initiative to remove all single use plastics from all of their ships – they are the first line doing this and it’s really impressive. I can definitely endure the small hardship of trying to drink a slushy drink without a plastic straw. We also witnessed first hand members of their expedition team picking up litter while out on excursions. I hope more lines take notice of this, and I know it’s made me think about what I can do better. Today wrapped up with a talent show by the crew. You could tell they weren’t being forced into this and they had such a great time. There’s some pretty talented crew on that ship.
One last sea day to round out the voyage. We had a presentation on the Halifax explosion by Dan, a presentation on cormorants by Manuel, another travel agent presentation, a presentation slide show of photos from the voyage from the expedition team photographer, and a farewell reception with the Captain and crew.
We also had a chance to tour all the equipment they keep on board with the expedition team. This was awesome and gave us a great idea of everything that is available when expedition cruising with them. We toured the hold, where all the Polarcirkle boats, survival suits and other gear, kayaks, snowshoes, and more are. They set up all the equipment they used for camping in Antarctica and explained the process, and answered all of our questions.
The final day on this cruise came with a lot less stuff to figure out than some other cruises for sure. Tipping isn’t automatic on drinks or anything else on a Hurtigruten cruise. If you want to tip, you can do so in cash or they provide you with a form where you can specify the amount and they charge it to your account (linked to a credit card, the same as most cruise lines). While Halifax is a union port and would normally require porters handle the luggage, we were docking at a pier with no terminal building, so we could just walk off with it ourselves.
General thoughts on cruising with Hurtigruten. I would definitely do it again and would highly recommend it to anyone looking for more a more adventure-based experience. Their price tags on some itineraries can be high, but they really do an amazing job. I loved that the expedition team was around the ship all the time and available to talk to (and we spent a fair bit of time talking to many of them). Their itineraries in coastal Norway, Svalbard, Iceland, Antarctica, and the Northwest Passage all look amazing. This is a company that can really help you cross off some amazing bucket list items (like camping overnight or glacier walking in Antarctica to kayaking around iceburgs to visiting giant colonies of penguins).
I love the overall laid back feel of the journey. There’s nothing pretentious about this line. There’s no casino, no production shows, no pools or poolside entertainment. I really enjoyed just having some quiet and admiring the views. Dress code is all casual all the time. They all try so hard to make sure everyone is having an amazing time (and there was a few really trying passengers with us on this journey). I’ve heard first hand accounts of what they’ve done to help wheelchair-bound passengers be able to enjoy a small boat trip around the icebergs in Antarctica and how they’ve shoveled stairs into giant snow banks to ensure a boat could land.
You need to be able to go with the flow when expedition cruising and I like that a lot as well. You are completely at the mercy of the weather, especially in some of the more extreme areas they visit. You might not be able to stop where you planned, or you might end up with some extras stops. They always have a plan A, B, C, and D… and we were very fortunate to have done plan A.