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Cruise Ship Information

MS Finnmarken is a Hurtigruten vessel built by Kleven Verft (de) in Ulstein, Norway in 2002. She is the third ship to sail for Hurtigruten under that name.

Atmosphere on board

If a cruise along the coast of Norway is on your bucket list, there's no better line to sail with than Hurtigruten. Norwegian to the core, it started out as a line that carried people and freight between various ports in Norway, but it has since evolved into a type of cruising hybrid that an increasing number of Americans find downright intriguing.

Although it's one of just four vessels in the Hurtigruten fleet to be built after the turn of the 21st century, Finnmarken is still a working ship, carrying cruisers, cargo, mail, cars, daytripping backpackers and other passengers who might only be onboard for a couple of days (or hours) as they travel between ports along Norway's coast -- both northbound and southbound. There are constant comings and goings, with several port calls taking place in the dead of night, sometimes for as little as 15 minutes until something (or someone) is brought onboard or offloaded.

You won't find a spa to pamper you, a kids club to keep your children occupied or enough entertainment options to make your head spin. (In fact, there are no entertainment options at all.) But a sailing on Finnmarken will leave you feeling like you've explored a fair portion of Norway in elegant surroundings, at a reasonable price, without exhausting yourself. (After all, what's the point of needing a vacation after your vacation?) Food onboard is excellent -- even if the offerings are limited and somewhat repetitive -- and the line's new Coastal Kitchen menu provides a great way to get a taste of fresh, local fare.

You'll pay a hefty sum for a cruise on Finnmarken, and you'll receive fewer onboard bells and whistles for the price. But, overall, the cost is nothing compared to what you'd pay for a land-based stay in Norway, which is one of the priciest countries to visit. If it's a peek at breathtaking scenery you're after, you'll get it in spades, along with exciting cuisine, elegant accommodations and a friendly environment where nearly everyone speaks English.

Family with Kids/Teens

Because Finnmarken also acts as a means of transportation for locals, there's no minimum age for children to travel. However, the ship offers neither organized activities for kids nor babysitting services. A ridiculously small playroom can be found midship on Deck 4 in the corridor that leads to Restaurant Finnmarken, the ship's dining room. All you'll find in the playroom are a table and chairs, some random blocks and a tiny selection of other toys. If you're traveling with young children, you might want to bring board games or other toys from home, as there's not much else onboard to keep them occupied. Teens interested in history and nature, however, would probably enjoy a sailing aboard this ship.

Past Passenger Programs

Deck 3 is where to find the reception desk (and usually the gangway when disembarking), a couple small banks of tables and chairs, and the luggage storage area for short-term non-cruise passengers. Follow the signs to the car lift, and on your way you'll find the laundry room. It's free to wash and dry your clothes in any of five washers and five dryers. Even soap is included. A couple of ironing boards and irons are available, too. Additional laundry or dry-cleaning services are not available.

On Deck 4, you'll find the Fiinstuen Library on the port side, just outside of the Floybaren bar. It's tiny, but it's an ideal escape for anyone looking for a tucked-away spot to read or play board games. The book selection is painfully small, and most of it isn't in English, so we recommend bringing some reading material with you. Likewise with board games, as we saw just one lone checkers set available for use.

Other public areas on Deck 4 include four conference rooms forward; restrooms on either side of midship (two each for men and women); and an info desk next to the library, where passengers can book shore excursions and grab a copy of each day's schedule. A hole-in-the-wall shop sells Norwegian sweaters and other apparel, jewelry, postcards, stuffed animals and other souvenirs, as well as extremely limited toiletries.

An Internet station on this deck is basically just empty tables with some jacks for attaching personal laptops via Ethernet cables (not provided). In the Brotoppen Panorama Lounge on Deck 8, there's what can loosely be called an "Internet cafe." It consists of just two desktop computers with Internet access. We found teens monopolizing them on our sailing, but the Internet connection was horribly slow anyway, so we weren't missing much. Free Wi-Fi is available shipwide, but the signal and speed are abysmal unless you're in port. There's also nobody to help with tech issues onboard, so if you have problems getting connected, you're out of luck.

Smoking is prohibited in all indoor areas of the ship. It's permitted on outer decks and cabin balconies.

Fitness And Spa

Finnmarken has no spa or salon facilities. However, there is a small two-room gym on Deck 8, aft. Open 6 a.m. to midnight, it features one step machine, one elliptical, two treadmills, two rowers, three exercise bikes, free weights up to 66 pounds, medicine balls up to 18 pounds and a variety of weight machines, yoga mats and step boxes. It also has men's and women's locker rooms with showers, saunas and lockers (locks provided). No organized fitness classes are offered.

Just below the fitness center, aft on Deck 7, you'll find the ship's only pool, flanked by a hot tub on each side. The area was used regularly on our sailing, but it was rarely crowded. Plenty of sun loungers and tables with chairs can be found near the pool and on the outer decks surrounding it. Chair hogs weren't an issue -probably due to the chilly weather along Norway's coast, even during summer sailings -- so there was never a seating shortage.

Food & Dining

Cruise travel with Hurtigruten doesn't come cheap, and you'll end up paying extra for lots of things that many other less expensive cruise lines include in the price like room service, round-the-clock access to food, and even water.

With the purchase of "full board" cruise fare, you're entitled to breakfast, lunch and dinner in Deck 4's Restaurant Finnmarken at no extra cost. Breakfast (usually 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. with variations depending on the itinerary) and lunch (usually 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., also with variations) are both buffets with open seating; they can be a bit repetitive, offering items like eggs and bacon, cereal, yogurt, cold cuts, cheeses, breads, fish, caviar, fruit, and a variety of soups and cold salads each day.

It's definitely quality over quantity when it comes to dinner, which is set seating (at either 6:30 p.m. or 8:30 p.m.) with waiter service. (Exceptions on the northbound journey are the first and sixth nights, which are buffets with open seating.) Thanks to Hurtigruten's new Coastal Kitchen initiative, each night's meal is prepared using fresh ingredients sourced from local farms and fishermen in the ports the ship visits. The presentation is phenomenal to boot, but picky eaters won't be happy that there's only one set appetizer, entree and dessert each day. Examples include Hitra crab cocktail with salad, toast and Norwegian-style cocktail sauce; halibut with steamed cabbage, pickled onion, baked potatoes, carrots and butter sauce; and Tjukkmolkspudding (thick milk pudding) with sea buckthorn (a berry) and aquavit ice cream. On another night, the menu might feature Aaland Gard cheese with salad and cloudberry syrup; beer-braised beef with pearl barley, root vegetables and potatoes; and nyr cheese with berry compote. (Special dietary needs -- gluten-free, vegetarian, etc. -- can easily be accommodated with advance notice.)

Staff in the dining room are friendly but not the most attentive. Those used to cruising with other lines might be surprised at the amount of time it takes for drink orders to be taken and plates to be cleared between courses or trips to the buffet.

If you're craving something different or something after hours, other options are available for a fee at the 24-hour Morestuen Cafe, midship on Deck 4. You'll pay for the privilege of choice, however, and it's expensive. Ham, chicken and salmon sandwiches range in price from about $10 to $13, a meal of beef with baked potatoes and sauteed veggies will set you back more than $36, a hamburger costs about $25, and a half-liter bottle of water runs nearly $7.

For those with a sweet tooth, additional snacks can be procured at Deck 7's Babettes Cafe. Choose from berry tarts, giant chocolate chip cookies, meringues, cupcakes, ice cream, specialty coffee beverages, and other indulgent items that change daily. Prices aren't cheap, but they also won't break the bank. For reference, all coffee items hover around the $6 mark. One evening, after returning from the North Cape, the staff at Babettes offered hot chocolate and waffles with berries and cream. It came with a price tag of about $8.50, but it was certainly delicious. This venue is open every day, but there are no set hours.

The biggest gripe for every fellow passenger we asked is that drinks aren't included with dinner. If you want even so much as a swig of water, you'll have to shell out more than $4 for a bottle or purchase a $40 package that entitles you to one bottle at both lunch and dinner each day. (Or bring your own bottle.) Machines for free water are provided throughout the rest of the day (including mealtimes), but they're put away for dinner.

Room service is available for breakfast daily from 7:30 a.m. to 10 a.m.; menu items include orange juice, cheeses, meats, boiled eggs, bread, butter, jam and fruit for a fee of about $8.50. You can order via doorknob-hanger menus found in your cabin. Just be sure to hang them outside before 3 a.m. for delivery the following morning.

Entertainment

Three main lounges can be found aboard Finnmarken. The largest is the Brotoppen Panorama Lounge, forward on Deck 8. There, you'll find lots of sofas and chairs with tables for sitting and enjoying panoramic views (hence, the name) of the passing scenery. There's also bar service, so it's a great place to enjoy a quiet drink in a relaxing atmosphere. You'll also find a small dance floor (never used on our sailing) and a tiny selection of books, with very few in English.

Another nice place to relax with your libation of choice is the purple, orange and tan Stiftsstaden Bar on Deck 7, midship. Right next to Babettes Cafe, it offers plenty of seating and a quiet atmosphere in which to read or unwind. Don't get too excited about the views, though, as lifeboats block much of the prime window real estate.

Floybaren, a bar on Deck 4, near the front of the ship, throws off more of an upscale vibe with dark woods and burgundy couches and chairs. The space also boasts a bar, a dance floor (even though there was no dancing on our sailing) and large picture windows on both the port and starboard sides. This is the place to be for after-dinner cocktails, coffee and tea.

Because there are no sea days on Finnmarken itineraries, passengers have plenty of time to leave the ship and explore various Norwegian ports. As such, onboard entertainment and activities are practically nonexistent. You won't find casinos, trivia, production shows, bingo, comedians, karaoke or any of the other typical cruise ship diversions. A handful of talks and films are offered about Norway, its culture and the surrounding scenery, wildlife and natural phenomena like the Northern Lights. These presentations take place in the ship's conference rooms, forward on Deck 4, and they're given in a few different languages.

On the fourth day of our northbound sailing, after crossing the Arctic Circle, an "Arctic Circle baptism" ceremony was held outside on Deck 8. Allow a crewmember in a creepy Neptune costume to dump a ladle full of ice water down the back of your shirt, and you'll get a free shot to warm you up.

On the last night, Finnmarken docked near Berlevag for about 15 minutes to challenge fleetmate Nordkapp to a friendly competition. Armed with balloons, streamers, banners, Norwegian flags and all manner of decorations, each ship assembled its crew and passengers on deck to scream, shout, wave, and cheer to see which vessel could be the loudest. As far as we know, there was no official winner, but it was a lot of fun, complete with music, dancing, and crewmembers banging pots and pans while dressed as Vikings -- an interesting display, to say the least.

Otherwise, you're expected to make your own fun by reading, relaxing and taking in the passing scenery.

Fellow Passengers

The passenger mix is an international one, with the largest contingent hailing from Germany, followed by Scandinavia, the Netherlands, the U.K., America, France and Japan. The overall makeup varies by season, however. Because of the cost of cruising with Hurtigruten, passengers are generally affluent, and they fall within the 50-and-older age bracket. We also saw several multigenerational family groups onboard; we found that generally, they were English-speakers with Norwegian roots.

Tipping

There is a non-tipping policy on all ships. However, if you feel that individual crew or staff members should be rewarded for providing exceptional service, tipping is at your discretion.

Our recommendation

Very enjoyable cruise, great food, limited entertainment and only one main restaurant.

Note: if you use a credit card, they do ‘hold’ a deposit on the card, in addition to ‘charging’ your room bill at the end. So make sure you have sufficient funds, as it takes 10 working days to clear the holding deposit.

Cabins were small, but comfortable. No tea / coffee making facilities in the room. The coffee onboard I found horrible, so take your own if you are a fussy coffee drinker. The water onboard is drinkable.

If you are not a big fish eater, do make the restaurant manager aware, as most dinners were ‘set’ menu’s, and they will serve you alternative options to fish.

Take sea-sick tablets or wrist bands.

The ship is a ‘working’ ship ie. ferry. So it carries locals/cargo between ports.

It only got ‘light’ after 10am in the morning, and it was dark again by 3pm. The days are very short.

We were lucky enough to see the Northern Lights, three nights in a row! We found the best place to view them was on deck 6.