For decades, Norwegian Coastal Voyages was a company travel professionals knew for being the mainstay for cruises up and down the Norwegian coast. A few years ago, the company was sold and purchased by a few parties, and new leadership (the former CEO from Norwegian Air) was brought in to helm the operation. The company's name also changed to Hurtigruten (which means "express route").
In 2018, this small company, that not many have familiarity with and was founded in 1893, is celebrating its 125th anniversary. Talk about being under the radar!
A lot has been happening at Hurtigruten, as the company moves to redefining itself as a premium world exploration travel leader. New hybrid ships, which we've written about previously with much enthusiasm, are being launched in 2018 and 2019.
I had the opportunity to go to Norway and have my first experience of Hurtigruten aboard Midnatsol. The ship was spotless, the crew is 70% Norwegian and well paid, (there is no tipping), and they really were a great egalitarian staff. Hurtigruten's guest satisfaction scores have been up every quarter and are at record highs for the brand.
The main attractions to Hurtigruten are itinerary, excursions, nature, and onboard food and comfort. While not offering a luxury product -- nor does it purport to do so -- the ship was comfortable and offered rather good food. Cuisine has been upgraded, and the line is promoting its Norwegian Coastal Kitchen concept, introduced in 2014, featuring farm to table food - with all fresh ingredients and no frozen ones, (except in polar routes where they have to stock and can’t buy locally). Breakfast and lunch are buffet style. Dinner is plated, and upgraded options are available. Fish soup, sour cream pudding, Swedish pancakes are some of the local specialties. On Midnatsol an alternative dining venue offered South American themed cuisine.
Hurtigruten is focused on exploration and destination immersion, and their tag line is: Awaken your inner explorer. There are expedition teams on nine of their 11 ships now, including the Norwegian Coastal voyages. Nearly 100 shore excursion programs are offered with a focus on a variety of outdoor nature-based activities. The immersive experience includes a low-level security in Norway, allowing locals to come onboard for lunch, visits, etc., providing guests a chance to get to meet the locals.
Beyond the Norwegian coastal cruises, Hurtigruten has made a name of itself in Arctic and Antarctica, where it's a significant player. In fact, the line spends about 80% of its deployment in these polar destinations. In the Arctic, for example, their sister company own hotels and operate a variety of land programs, from multi-night camping, dog sledding, snowmobiling and other active adventures. A team of three are full time Svalbord-based. The company is promoting Svalbard as a year around destination, with northern lights, dog sledding and snowmobiling a highlight in the winter months.
The line has been cruising in Antarctica since 2002, and is the most experienced cruise line here, and going deeper into the continent than most others do on the Fram, which is for more hard core adventurers than Midnatsol, offering two landings per day, with longer hikes, overnight camping, and kayaking options between ship stops. Both ships offer science labs, snowshoeing, kayaking and a lecture program.
In the meantime, the Norwegian coastal cruises have remained hugely popular and selling out in the summer season. With the addition of expedition teams on the coastal voyages, itineraries can now be as active as a traveler wants. Lonely Planet calls the Norwegian coastal cruise the most beautiful voyage in the whole world, and the line now offers 90 excursions on this voyage, including horseback riding between ports, snowmobiling, dog sledding and more.
This year Hurtigruten arrives in North America and, in addition to some East Coast voyages, will conduct a partial Northwest Passage cruise. It's a great opportunity to check out their active adventure style of cruising.