Norwegian Coastal Voyage in the Boreal Summer
The MS Midnatsol is one of the ships in the Hurtigruten fleet cruising the 1,330 miles along the coast of Norway between Bergen in the southwest and Kirkenes in the far northeast near the Russian border. Because the warm Gulf Stream comes up from the Caribbean and hugs the Norwegian coast, the waters in even the ports north of the Arctic Circle do not freeze, so the Hurtigruten ships can operate year-round!
The ships stopover at 34 ports in Norway, each of which receives a daily call from at least one of the Hurtigruten vessels. The northbound voyage from Bergen to Kirkenes takes 7 days, and the southbound voyage back to Bergen is 5 days. Either way, the scenery is spectacular!
The coastal liners stop at some different ports on the northbound versus southbound segments, but also many of the same ones, so passengers get used to meeting other Hurtigruten ships along the route. Many cruise guests do the classic round-trip voyage, but travelers can also embark or debark at any stop like a day tripper. Norwegians often use the coastal liners as a car ferry or like a European train—a reliable means of year-round transportation.
The Hurtigruten Midnatsol is a great vacation option for those who love destination-oriented cruises or those who like to immerse themselves in the culture of a different part of the world. The experience is much like a traditional cruise for the cruise passengers, and the western coastal and Arctic scenery is some of the world's most beautiful.
Norwegian Coastal Voyage Activities
Watching the magnificent Norwegian scenery slide by is the most popular activity onboard the Hurtigruten Midnatsol. After all, people book passage on the ship just to see the west coast of Norway and the area above the Arctic Circle. On a mid-August cruise from Kirkenes to Bergen, the ship has a couple of hours of darkness each night, but with the ship traveling most of the day and night and stopping at ports at odd hours, there is always lots of activity to keep one occupied onboard.
Since the ship stops so often (over 30 times in 5 days) and the itinerary is destination-focused, there aren't nearly as many organized activities as seen on other ships. However, guests can still experience many unique activities. From enjoying freshly-caught shrimp that have been cooked the traditional way by boiling in seawater to crossing the Arctic Circle, this cruise offers sights and activities that can't be replicated by doing it yourself. The views of the Norwegian coastline and the unbelievable sunsets over the mountains make each day even more enjoyable.
Antarctica Voyages in the Austral Summer
The Hurtigruten MS Midnatsol travels to the other end of the earth during the northern hemisphere's fall season to begin a series of 15 to 18-day expedition cruises to the Patagonian region of South America and Antarctica. The ship makes a stopover at the Chilean naval station at Cape Horn, which is often called the "end of the world."
Although the ship can carry up to 1000 passengers on its Norwegian coastal voyages, less than 500 are allowed on Antarctic cruises. This is great news for guests since they have plenty of common area space to relax and enjoy the magnificent scenery of Antarctica and Patagonia. The freight and car storage area on deck 3 are transformed into a storage area for the kayaks and Rigid Inflatable Boats (RIBs) and a boarding area for guests to enter and exit the RIBs.
Although the number of guests onboard is less, the food and service are as good as what is served on the Norwegian coastal voyages. Guests primarily dine at a buffet in the main restaurant, but the ship also offers a light lunch at the small bistro and an exceptional à la carte dinner (for an extra surcharge) at the Pampas specialty restaurant.
Most shore excursions are included on the Patagonia and Antarctic Midnatsol cruises, so guests spend time ashore exploring in ports like Puerto Williams in Chile and the "end of the world" at Cape Horn. Travelers also get to leave the ship for a few hours each day in the RIBs to visit the Shetland Islands and the continent of Antarctica. While ashore, they can go hiking or swimming, and kayaking and snowshoeing are offered at an extra fee.
While onboard, the voyages include an expedition team who give numerous educational lectures on the region, wildlife, and the team's experiences in the Arctic and Antarctic. They also operate a science center for guests to see items collected on the voyage, and a professional photographer gives tips on how to best capture the scenery and wildlife. Some voyages include a special guest speaker like Lewis Pugh, who is an endurance swimmer and the United Nations Patron of the Oceans. He has partnered with Hurtigruten to promote the preservation of the world's oceans and increase the number of Marine Protected Areas in Antarctica.
Some of the onboard activities are the same for Norwegian and Antarctic voyages; others are different. Guests go ashore in the RIBs every day the ship is in Antarctic waters and they also get to go exploring in the RIBs. Alternatively, you can opt to sit in the hot tub or sauna and watch the scenery pass by.
Cabins and Suites
Although the MS Midnatsol of the Hurtigruten group can transport over 300-day trip passengers along with 45 cars and tons of cargo freight on its Norwegian coastal voyages, the ship also can accommodate 638 traditional cruise passengers in its 298 cabins and suites of eight different types.
On Antarctic voyages, the ship does not carry ferry passengers or freight, and the number of cruise passengers is kept under 500 in accordance with the limits set by the signers of the Antarctic Treaty of 1959 and members of the International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators.
Like most expedition ships, the staterooms are smaller than on more mainstream cruise ships, and the Midnatsol does not have a lot of balcony accommodations. However, all of the staterooms have their own heating/air conditioning control, heated floor in the private bathroom, television, and daily service from an attendant. They also have a telephone with a button to turn on or off the announcements (be sure to leave the button "on" when awake if you don't want to miss anything). The suites and some of the cabins have a hair dryer and small refrigerator. The tap water is drinkable in all the staterooms and is also okay for refilling water bottles. All of the plug-ins are European-style, so North Americans need to take along an adapter to charge up their camera and phone batteries.
Five of the aft suites have balconies, and ten of the Grand suites have a huge bay window with floor to ceiling views of the ever-beautiful Norwegian or Antarctic coastal scenery.
Dining and Cuisine
The Hurtigruten MS Midnatsol has one large dining room for its cruise passengers. Breakfast and lunch are buffet-style and open seating. Dinner is either a buffet or is a dinner served by the wait staff at one of two assigned-table seatings at 6:30 pm or 8:30 pm.
The two buffet meals are similar to those seen on other mid-sized cruise ships. The breakfast buffet has a nice mix of diverse items, along with a selection of juices, coffee, tea, or the amazing hot chocolate. The lunch buffet includes a choice of several salads, a soup of the day, main courses, cheese, bread, and a selection of desserts or fruit. Both breakfast and lunch buffets feature some type of fish or shellfish since they are very popular with Norwegians.
Dinner on Antarctic Voyages
Dinner on Antarctic voyages is often a buffet similar to lunch, but the Midnatsol has several expedition theme dinners served by the wait staff. These theme dinners celebrate explorers from different countries by featuring food either from their homes or the region they explored. For example, the Norwegian dinner features reindeer carpaccio, lobster soup, cod loin, blueberry sorbet, and apple tart.
Dinner on Norwegian Coastal Voyages
Dinner in Norway is usually a location-driven buffet with the same dishes served on every Hurtigruten ship. The ship's dinners were much better than most guests expected on our southbound voyage on the Hurtigruten Midnatsol.
The Midnatsol also has a small bistro cafe with takeaway food, along with a nice seating area and lounge nearby. On Norwegian voyages, this cafe is open almost all the time and serves a la carte items primarily to the day trippers who do not have access to the dining room. However, cruise passengers can purchase snacks, drinks, or other items in the cafe using their room key card, and the charges will be billed to their account.
On voyages with no day trippers or ferry passengers, the bistro serves a complimentary light lunch.
As noted earlier, the Midnatsol looks more like a traditional cruise ship indoors and outdoors than it does a ferry or freighter. The Midnatsol has many lounges onboard since it needs to accommodate both the cruise passengers and day trippers. The decor is contemporary and Scandinavian, with bright colors and comfortable chairs. The ship also has cocktail bars on both decks 8 and 9 and a lounge with live music and a dance floor. The forward panorama lounge on deck 8 is one of the best indoor places to watch the passing scenery. There's a large theater that is used for meetings, lectures, or movies and some small conference rooms nearby are also used for meetings.
Although the ship sails the non-tropical Norwegian coast, Patagonia, and Antarctica, it has more outdoor deck space than expected, with a large sun deck and two hot tubs on top deck 9 and an outdoor promenade on deck 6. Like most cruise ships, the outdoor deck chairs fill up quickly on nice days on Norwegian sailing, but there's plenty of space on the Antarctic sailings.
In addition to the indoor and outdoor seating areas, the MS Midnatsol has a small fitness center with nice views, a spa, sauna, science lab, well-stocked retail shop, library, and Internet center. The ship has WiFi onboard that works well in common areas and in some cabins.
Whether you head way up north on a coastal voyage of Norway or to the far south of Antarctica, you'll love the staff, activities, food, and new cruise friends. However, the best features of the Midnatsol's two different destinations are the amazing scenery, wildlife, and experiences you'll remember forever.