Antarctic cruising – the Norwegian way – how Hurtigruten is redefining expeditions to the icy ends of our planet
Swiftly rising in popularity and prestige, Norway’s Hurtigruten Cruise Line is making huge waves in the Antarctic cruising scene. Maybe because sustainability and eco-conscious travel are at the forefront of all they do. Or, maybe, it’s because they deliver exceptional experiences to discerning explorers – those who crave experiential travel, out-there adventures and a multitude of on-site activities – aside from taking them on an unforgettable cruise to the southernmost ends of our planet.
Mind you, Hurtigruten doesn’t serve up the kind of palm-tree-and-cocktail cruise affair that’s become ubiquitous all over the world. This Norwegian institution is very much aimed at adventure seekers, wildlife lovers, history lovers and those who wish they could feel like old-world explorers. Being in the 21st century, of course, you’d have to go to a lot of effort to emulate the efforts of explorers like Shackleton, Amundsen and Magellan (and let’s be honest, you probably wouldn’t want to) but on Hurtigruten expedition cruises to Antarctica, you can get as close to that as possible. You may not BE an old-world explorer heading into Antarctica…but you sure as hell will FEEL like one.
Please see the following Hurtigruten cruises on the Viva website
How many amazing reasons could there be to choose a Hurtigruten cruise for your next trip to Antarctica?
Here are our top 10!
1. Hurtigruten has a long and illustrious cruising history in harsh lands- you will be in good hands
When heading to the harshest continent on earth, you’ll no doubt want to feel safe: relaxed in the knowledge that you’re hands of someone who knows what they’re doing among glaciers and stormy seas. Hurtigruten is one of the most respected Polar cruise lines in the world – a mega brand that started 126 years ago from just a single hard-core steamer, nicknamed ‘hurtigruten’ (‘the fast route”, in Norwegian). This Norwegian cruising powerhouse set up regular ferry services between the Norwegian mainland and the Arctic archipelago of Svalbard and has grown slowly, but steadily, over the last century. Few cruises lines have the intimate polar-cruising experience that Hurtigruten. These are some of the most experienced expedition crews on earth – just what you need when cruising to Antarctica.
2. Cruise the old-fashioned way, in superior modern comfort
Hurtigruten has been avant-garde since the beginning and their commitment to keeping up with the times is clearly evident in the comfort levels on offer aboard their expedition ships. Although cabins do get progressively more luxurious the farther up the cost-level you go, the no-nonsense Norwegian practicality (the one that trumps overdone bling) still shines throughout the vessel. All cabins and suites are beautifully appointed, comfortable and classy but if you’re looking for ‘flashy decadence’, do know that you won’t find it here. That’s just not in line with the Hurtigruten philosophy. A wide choice of cabin comfort levels offers something for every budget but rest assured there will be nothing you’ll miss.
3. Medium sized vessels offer a more intimate and immersive cruising experience
If you’ve ever hyperventilated at the mere sight of a gargantuan 4,000-guest cruise liner, Hurtigruten hears you, loud and clear. None of the Hurtigruten vessels carries more than 970 guests, with the Antarctica vessels being particularly small. Out of the three expeditions ships heading south, two carry 500 guests whilst one, the MS Fram, carries only 200. This makes for a much more intimate cruising experience, overall, as staff can dedicate more of their time on each passenger and guests, for their part, don’t need to wait hours to disembark and enjoy their on-shore excursions. Naturally, you can’t expect there to be the kind of amenities found on mega-liners but if having a casino, 12 restaurants, 20 shots and nightly dancing show is NOT at the top of your cruising wish-list when heading to Antarctica, then you’ll agree this is a stellar positive indeed.
4. Smaller vessels also allow for wider panoramic windows
It certainly helps when you don’t try to fit thousands on a cruise ship but Hurtigruten, on principle, also design their vessel to emphasise landscape viewing and wildlife-spotting in Antarctica (hence the lack of ‘cabaret shows’ in the evenings). Who would want to sit through a show aboard a cruise liner in Antarctica when you could be soaking up the sights of glaciers and icy horizons through a 2-storey panoramic window instead?
5. You'll not only cruise like a Viking... you'll feast like one too
Reflective of the local Norwegian heritage, the cuisine aboard Hurtigruten is sensationally distinctive even on sailing routes that are nowhere near the home-region. In Antarctica – about as far away from Norway as one could get – you can be feasting on salmon, reindeer and herring (alongside an array of freshly caught) with every meal being a celebration of ancient Norwegian cuisine intertwined with modern, international tastes. There’s no doubt that seafood lovers will have a field day on a Hurtigruten cruise to Antarctica (seafood gelato, anyone?!) yet do know that there are plenty of alternatives too.
6. There's always a crazy array of activities on offer
Antarctica expedition cruises are revered for the sheer array of activities they offer, none more so than Hurtigruten’s. Snowshoeing, kayaking, hiking and even ice-camping, these are just some of the amazing activities on offer in Antarctica, alongside a host of magnificent Zodiac explorations of remote coves and beaches filled to the brim with colonies of penguins and sea lions. Ever activity is aimed at immersing you even deeper into the wild Antarctic landscape and, although some require a greater level of fitness than others, decent agility is a requirement for these kinds of polar expeditions.
7. The most advanced technology allows for the most sustainable (and quieter) cruising experience of all.
Given the news over the last few weeks, it’s easy to simply regard ‘cruising’ as a horribly polluting endeavour. But it really doesn’t have to be. With its focus firmly placed on ‘sustainable explorations’ Hurtigruten proudly introduced their brand-new hybrid-vessel this year, the MS Roald Amundsen, a stunning vessel that uses an electric-hybrid propulsion system to cut emission rates by up to 20%. The CEO of Hurtigruten has pledged to continue on the company’s quest to find propulsion methods that aren’t oil-based and, given the release of the Amundsen, we’d say they’re on the right path. A particular bonus of this high-tech system is that it makes the vessel much quieter at cruising times, so they’re even more enjoyable for guests.
8. The Hurtigruten Expedition Teams are unbeatable
Each Hurtigruten vessel carries a knowledgeable expedition team, each member an expert in his/her field and each one itching to share his/her insider knowledge with guests. From naturalist guides to expert biologists, you’ll meet a bunch of superior guides aboard your ship who’ll give lectures and presentations specific to your chosen destination – be it the Falklands, South Georgia or the Antarctica Peninsula. They’ll enlighten you with their knowledge before every excursion and will guide you safely ashore, making your Antarctic expedition cruising experience all the more rewarding.
9. Well-equipped fitness and wellness facilities onboard!
The Norwegians are renowned for their enthusiastic attitude towards fitness and well-being and their expedition ships are certainly no different, especially when considering their high-energy itineraries in Antarctica. Morning exercise classes will get you geared up for a full day of explorations and wellness treatments (including spas and hot-tub soaks) will feel like a heavenly delight after a full day out on the ice. Funnily enough, these extra splurges aren’t even classified as ‘luxuries’ aboard Hurtigruten cruise; they’re simply seen as an integral part of expedition cruising in extreme destinations.
10. No two Hurtigruten Antarctic cruises are ever the same
Whilst most cruise liners tend to replicate the same voyage, time and again, Hurtigruten promises a unique adventure, every time ships set their sails towards Antarctica. It’s this commitment to the ‘exciting unknown’ that makes them so revered. Always on the lookout for unexplored coves or to sail further out and south than before, to read the ice and the conditions to change plans if need be and to be always open to take advantage of new situations, be it a greater ice melt or the sighting of a whale. For this reason alone, Hurtigruten is also building a strong ‘return business’ from first-time Antarctica sailors.
Please see the following Hurtigruten cruises on the Viva website
General Overview of Hurtigruten Antarctica Expedition Ships
MS Midnatsol – 500 guests
The ‘Midnight Sun’, as this vessel is named in Norwegian, offers 12 cabin styles from you to choose from, ranging from two-room Owner Suites on upper deck with private balconies to twin-room lower deck cabins with restricted views. The three main cabin levels are Expedition Suite, Arctic Superior and Polar Inside. A stunning two-floor panorama lounge offers unsurpassed landscape viewing and you’ll also find bars, restaurants, a library, presentation room, wellness centre, fitness studio, spa and hot-tub on board.
MS Fram – 200 guests
The smallest of the fleet, the famous MS Fram takes Antarctic exploration to a whole new level, her diminutive size allowing for deeper sails into smaller inlets and bays which larger ships simply can’t reach. She was built just over a decade ago, with the aim to bring guests and their wild destinations, closer than ever before. Extensive viewing decks (at front, specifically) allow for glorious wildlife spotting and photography and her high-tech navigation system and higher ice-class ranking making her one of the most advanced Polar vessels in existence, today. You’ll have 127 cabins from which to choose, of varying levels of comfort and price, with similar cabin options as found on the Midnatsol. Guests will have full use of the onboard gym, sauna and hot tubs.
MS Roald Amundsen – 500 guests
It wouldn’t be a stretch to call the Amundsen a state-of-the-art expedition ship – that’s exactly what Hurtigruten’s latest addition is. Amazingly, all of cabins aboard the Amundsen are outside, with over half boasting private balconies. Moreover, some of the superior suites boast an outdoor hot tub as well, for that jaw-dropping Antarctic landscape viewing experience. This is by far the most luxurious Hurtigruten vessel of all and, being among the first to explore Antarctica aboard such a high-tech, environmentally-friendly and exceptional vessel, is bound to be something truly special. Three restaurants, plenty of viewing deck space, lounge areas and a very special place they call the Amundsen Science Center, will make your Antarctica expedition an affair you’ll never forget.