Huge highs but lows too by beauchamp45Sail date: / Traveled as: Couple
Ship: MS Roald Amundsen / Destination: Europe - Northern Europe
We have just returned from what was advertised as a 12 day sailing on Hurtigruten‘s new ship Roald Amundsen and what turned out to be a 10 day trip, to Svalbard, Greenland and Iceland. We are a married couple in our late 50s and early 70s from the UK and have travelled on over 30 cruises including 2 Hurtigruten Norwegian coastal voyages which we loved for their simplicity and variety and very reasonable pricing. We had originally booked on Fridjof Nansen the sister ship but this was cancelled as the ship is not yet ready. When my husband made the new booking for Roald Amundsen he was told there were no connecting flights available yet but would become available if we looked on the website. We were so pleased to see an announcement that flights and transfers were now available for U.K. passengers for £99 per person. When I rang to book these we were told that this price was for new passengers only and that our price would be £454 per person. We eventually felt we had no choice but to pay this. We had a very long flight to join the the ship in Longyearbyen - we left our home in Leicestershire at 10 am on the Friday morning and finally boarded the ship just after 5 am on the Saturday morning. I had previously asked Hurtigruten if we would be able to sleep on board that night and they said of course we would. This was not true. As a great and very welcome surprise to me my husband had upgraded us to a suite. We were supposed to have a priority champagne check in. This didn’t happen and we carried our own luggage on and queued in various places until we were able to check in, it was chaotic and not a good start after such a long journey. We finally got the card keys for our suite on deck 8 (841). This was one of the highs. A light spacious room with comfortable seating and a large set of French doors to a clear glass balcony, other suite and cabins towards the middle of deck have a metal fronted balcony because of the red stripe on the ship branding it ‘Hurtigruten’; this is not mentioned in the publicity literature or reflected in price differences. There was ample storage throughout and an excellent bathroom with heated floor and with a spacious glass doored shower. The huge advantage to having a suite is free laundry so when we arrived home we had little washing to do. We had been assigned breakfast and 5 out of 10 dinners in the speciality restaurant Lindstrøm. Lunch could be taken in the self-service Aune main restaurant or the free to us, but not other passengers, Fredheim restaurant. Breakfasts in Lindstrøm were always excellent - great service and choice. Dinner in Lindstrøm is from an a la carte menu with an amuse bouche, starter, main course and dessert - the main problem is that it did not change throughout the cruise - I don’t like fish and that left my choices even more limited - I ended up having the same beef main course three times and eventually left most of it. Service, however, is excellent and suite guests get free wine with lunch and dinner which is good quality and free flowing. We often had lunch in Fredheim which serves ‘street food’ - burgers, dumplings, sausages, tortillas, crepes etc - tasty, good quality and excellent service. However, the menu never changed and we got tired of eating the same food for lunch and for 4 dinners out of the 5 we had no table in Lindstrøm. We were assigned a table in Aune for the 6pm sitting for those 5 nights and went the first night. It was a chaotic buffet with no menus, huge queues with people pushing in. The order of food did not resemble standard eating. It started with ‘main’ courses served tapas style in tiny bowls, followed by soup, then two salad selections and then a very limited dessert selection. The main courses were cold but the food was good quality. On my first trip I gave up because of the queues and the strange selection. I went again later and got bread and a small salad. We didn’t go again for dinner but did go 3 times for lunch as Fredheim had got boring. The experience was similar. The ship itself is one of the highs - public areas are tastefully decorated in Scandi style, think upmarket IKEA not luxury cruise ship. The Explorer Lounge is the only inside bar and observation lounge. It is spacious with a wide range of seating and we were almost always able to sit where we wanted to. Bar staff are excellent and soon got to know names and preferences and always had a warm friendly welcome. Drinks prices are comparable with bar prices at home - a large gin and tonic being 7€. Downstairs on Deck 6 is the Science Centre where there were a wide range of lectures and talks on the next day’s itinerary. The lectures were generally well-presented and informative. The next day talks were fun and interesting but gave little concrete information about the next day and we had to wait for a late night or early morning delivery of a paper copy of the ship’s daily programme to find out concrete details which made planning difficult. The talks in English were generally held at 9.30 pm which seemed late and interrupted the evening. We had expected an action packed itinerary (we had to get a medical declaration of good health for the trip - this was problematic as our GP refused to complete and we had to go for private consultation which cost £200 for 10 minutes, nothing was cheap about this trip!). In the ten days we got off the ship 5 times on the RIBs. There were 3 x 90 minute walks on land - two hikes in beautiful countryside and guided by red flags not the explorer staff and one landing in the beautiful, isolated settlement of Ittoqqortoormiit. These were highlights but short and the rest of the day was spent sitting around. They were done in rotations of groups of about 100 - some got off early at 8.30 am, some had to wait all day till as late 4.30 - 5 pm. There was a spectacular trip in the RIB around the icebergs in the Bjørne Islands but this was only an hour and the member of the explorer staff accompanying us had to be asked questions rather than offering information; he wasn’t a specialist though he was friendly. The last day was a choice of excursions at our stop in Iceland. We chose the Highlights of Snaefellsnes. The tour was excellently organised, not by Hurtigruten, and very informative with a very knowledgeable guide. It was, however, very expensive at £144 for 5 1/2 hours. In all we felt we could have been offered more on such an expensive trip which led to long days. We fortunately had free WiFi to occupy our time and lots of reading matter. The WiFi is free for suite guests but 17€ a day otherwise. It was good in Longyearbyen and Iceland but intermittent elsewhere. We wouldn’t have paid extra for it. We booked the trip not only for the Arctic scenery but also for wildlife. We saw polar bears three times which was a great joy. We got good photographs and were pleased to see the bears looking healthy and well-nourished unlike the footage of lone bears on icebergs one sees in nature documentaries. We saw brief glimpses of various whales, a few seals and some birdlife though not nearly as much as we’d been expecting. When it came to our transfer to Reykjavík airport at the end of the cruise we were disappointed by the arrangements. We’d booked everything through Hurtigruten as we thought this would be efficient. Our flight was at 12.30 pm. We were told our transfer would be at 7 am for a 45 minute ride to the airport. We queried why it was so early. This was not well-received and we got the glib reply, “Well we have to clean the ship”. We knew the next group of passengers was boarding at 8 pm; it’s a new, spotless cruise ship. Larger ships we have been on manage to do the turnaround much quicker, often in less than two hours. We were told that we’d be called by deck at 7 am. In fact there was a general announcement for everyone on the 7 am transfer to leave the ship at 6.50 am. In conclusion was it a good trip? Yes, it was - the trip of a lifetime to see remote places and polar bears close up. Was it what were we’re promised in the itinerary? Not really. We were supposed to spend days 5 - 8 in the North East Greenland National Park. After our first day there at 10 pm a very serious captain told us that the Danish authorities wouldn’t allow it as we didn’t have a pilot, they are required for ships with over 250 passengers - Hurtigruten should have known this. Our alternative was days spent in the beautiful Scoresbysund. We didn’t feel we’d missed out but many passengers did. Would we do it again? Very unsure about this - a good cruise but it could have been so much more. Hurtigruten must do better with this beautiful ship and her attentive staff.