General comments you may find helpful
Personal comments about clothing, weather, eating and other things about being in Norway and on Hurtigruten. They are based on our experience in March and May on traditional vessels.
When to go
For the aurora you need dark nights (plus clear skies and good luck) so the nearer December the better your chances. However the north gets little daylight in winter so you will see relatively little of the scenery, though people who have been then enjoyed the arctic dawn/dusk and moonlit snow. Going in early March we did miss the light nights of May.
On five trips we saw virtually no rain on the voyage, but had taken an umbrella as talisman. Bergen, with a reputation for rain, has only given us one wet day out of about twenty - but that day was WET!
We spent nearly all of our spare time (ie when not eating or sleeping) on deck. Personal comfort depended a lot on sunshine and shelter. Near Tromsø at a clear, bright midnight in May you could feel heat being sucked from your body. Watching the aurora near there at the same time in March we needed every layer we had plus a blanket. On the traditional vessels it was easy to find a spot where you were sheltered from the wind. This even applied to the bridge wings, though changes in course could mean relocation to the other side. On Narvik there was a platform beneath the bridge. This could be very windy due to the shape of the superstructure unless, paradoxically, you went out on to the small platform right in the middle.
If you intend to spend time on deck (and if you don't why not stay at home and watch the promotional video?) you will need plenty of layers, especially out of summer. Several thin layers will be better than a few thick ones. Go for natural or special insulating fibres, avoid ordinary synthetics. Have top wind/waterprof layer(s) including your legs. Don't forget hats and gloves. Walking boots/stout shoes with thick socks will help keep you warm and be useful for walking. In places underfoot conditions between ship and town can be quite rough. Sunglasses, sunblock, aftersun and lipsalve are advisable throughout the year.
If you will forgive the indelicacy we saved up old shirts and underwear for the voyages and threw them away after wearing them. Cabin space can be limited, luggage that collapses is better at fitting in.
Incidentally Norway's smallest coin is 50 øre, but shops like to price things at NOK 9.99 or whatever. Tills round prices up and down automatically and it gets quite complicated if you try to understand credit card receipts, so don't worry about the last two figures. Most bottles are returnable for a deposit. And always carry small change with you - public toilets are rarely free.
On board our ships breakfast and lunch were buffet meals. As you would expect there was a lot of fish, but also a good range of other hot and cold dishes. The Norwegians don't pile their plates up. They will go back to the buffet for a new plate for different dishes - several times! A dirty plate will be removed from your table and the cutlery put on your side plate if you haven't already done so yourself.
Look out for gammelost (old cheese) on the cheeseboard and try a bit. Highly prized by Norwegians it looks a bit like a biscuit, is low in fat, high in salt and tastes like old socks, better make it a small bit. Cold whale was black, rubbery and tasteless. More palatable is rømmegrøt, a sour cream porridge. We only saw it once per trip and enjoyed it as starter, sauce, pudding...
Ship dinners alternated between fish and meat. Second helpings were almost compulsory on TFDS (but virtually impossible for desserts - cloudberries are superb). Larger ships may be different.
On the last day you will probably be asked to clear your cabin early. We packed first thing so we did not have to be moving round in the cabin during some of the more exposed bits after Florø. On one trip some who hadn't wished they had.
Binoculars, cameras, maps
Print films and batteries are widely available from the kiosks on quays at many ports, or special photo shops in towns. Slide films are not so easily available, take plenty with you. A lot of people steadied cameras on ships' rails - not a good idea as engine vibration will cause camera shake. Tripods on deck for the aurora don't work for the same reason.
I tried to use prime lenses rather than zooms, but changing them in the cold forced me back to zooms whilst at sea. A fairly wide range is desirable, for instance in harbour you may well need a 35mm lens, but at sea you may want 100mm or longer to pull in passing islands. (Those lengths apply to 35mm SLRs, not those new-fangled digital contraptions.)
A map will help you follow the journey. There are some good bookshops just up from Torget in Bergen. Cappelens kart 13 covers all of Norway at 1:1,000,000 on a single sheet but is arranged in a series of panels which can be confusing. EuroMap Norway covers all of Scandinavia at 1:800,000 on a double sided sheet. We found this easier to read and use. Cappelens also do five larger scale sheets (Hurtigruten needs four) but unless you're keen these are difficult to use. If you are really keen consider a road atlas, difficult to know which page you're on and expensive, but easy to handle, especially if it's windy.
Newspapers and radio
Odds and ends
In many places like post offices and booking offices there is a numbered queuing system, sometimes with different queues for different services. look out for signs saying 'vennligst ta kønummer'.
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Updated 07 May 07