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Cruise Ship Information

MS Fram is a passenger vessel operated by the Norway-based Hurtigruten Group. The ship is named after the original Fram, the ship used by explorers Fridtjof Nansen and Roald Amundsen. The ship operates in the Arctic Ocean and around Greenland in the summer, and cruises around Antarctica at other times of the year. In December 2007, the ship lost power and struck a glacier in Antarctica, sustaining damage to the starboard side; the collision did not affect the ship's seaworthiness.

Atmosphere on board

Fram, the smallest and newest ship in the fleet of Norwegian coastal line Hurtigruten, was designed for expedition cruises to some of the most remote places on the planet. Launched in 2007, the ship spends the Northern Hemisphere's warmer months in Arctic waters, exploring Greenland, Iceland and Svalbard; November through February is spent in Antarctica, during the austral summer. In between, the ship takes passengers on lengthy transatlantic crossings between the poles.

Fitting of a polar expedition ship, Fram (pronounced frahm) is named after the wooden sailing ship built in 1892 for Norwegian explorer Fridtjof Nansen's North Pole expedition. The original Fram (Norwegian for "forward") completed three trips: an unsuccessful attempt to reach the North Pole under Nansen; an exploratory mission to the Canadian Arctic with Otto Sverdrup; and a South Pole expedition led by Roald Amundsen, who reached the pole on December 14, 1911.

From the moment you step onboard this compact ship, you feel as though you've arrived in a polar region. The artwork, created by Arctic-region artists, reflects both the Arctic and Antarctic with photos of those early expeditions, paintings of snow-capped peaks and (from the South Pole) pictures of penguins. The staircase landings sport glass sculptures resembling icebergs. Highlights are the model of the Fram sailing ship and the exhibit of Fram artifacts displayed in the arcade hallway leading to and from the dining room. Historic objects are on loan from the Fram Museum in Oslo, Norway.

While Fram was constructed to sail on polar expeditions, its owners did not skimp on style. The blond woods associated with Scandinavia are everywhere: in cabin and public room furniture, decor accents and even stairway railings. Fabric colors are rich: royal blue and brick red with calmer colors for the carpeting. Public areas, including restrooms, are always spotless.

The onboard atmosphere is decidedly social. The ship has just two main gathering spots for conversation or relaxing, but they tend to be busy with passengers exchanging onshore experiences and gazing at the stunning land- and seascapes. The expedition crewmembers -- a group of scientific experts plus the staffers who handle the logistics of going ashore -- are often available for a chat, and they conclude every enrichment presentation with a question-and-answer session.

Staffers are friendly and efficient, and most speak at least two languages. They're also flexible by necessity; on expedition cruises, every day's schedule is at the mercy of weather and sailing conditions. When our Greenland itinerary was snarled by fog and ice, the expedition team rejiggered our daily programs -- sometimes multiple times a day -- and kept us informed via timely P.A. announcements in two or three languages.

While most passengers were satisfied with their cruise overall, the ship's biggest flaw is inconsistency. Among the daily nature and history lectures were some of the most engaging talks we've ever heard on an expedition cruise, but also a few of the worst (unfocused, repetitive or simply not useful). While set-seating dinners were typically delicious, the buffet offerings drew some complaints for the lack of variety. Many shore excursions thrilled passengers, but a few were overpriced or underwhelming. And the lack of reliable Internet access was a persistent source of frustration for those hoping to keep in touch with family members, house-sitters or coworkers at home. In the end, though, these were minor quibbles in comparison to the adventures we were having ashore.

Family with Kids/Teens

Children of at least age 5 are welcome, but there are no special facilities for them onboard, and Fram sees very few young passengers. In cases of rough weather, the captain makes the final call on whether children under age 12 will be allowed ashore (due to safety risks). Pregnant women are permitted up to their sixth month.

Past Passenger Programs

The Qilak (meaning "sky") observation lounge on Deck 7 is an exceptionally well-designed space, surrounded on three sides by floor-to-ceiling windows that slant outward and are topped off with a bit of glass ceiling. The front-row swivel seats are a favorite spot to stay warm while watching the ship slowly cruise past massive icebergs at what seems an impossibly close range. Each side of the lounge features a stationary, 85-power spotting scope. The lounge has a restful blue and beige color scheme and is filled with various chairs, tables and bench-type seats. It is the location of the ship's one fully stocked bar.

The Nunami (meaning "on land") lobby, located next to the reception desk on Deck 4 and seating perhaps 25 on couches and chairs, is a popular spot for relaxing, chatting and looking out the large windows. The real attraction there is the faux fireplace -- a large flat-screen TV looping a video of a blazing fire. The funny thing is that it actually feels warm. Talk about the power of suggestion!

Directly behind this digital fire is the Internet cafe, with six computer stations for guest use. You can purchase online time (for use either at the Internet cafe or on your own device) in various increments from reception. Unfortunately, the connection rarely works, and when it does, it's maddeningly slow. Many passengers had better luck staying in touch via calling or texting on their phones.

Fram, above all, is an expedition ship. Therefore, there are two lecture rooms just past the Internet cafe. Each accommodates about 100, seated in ordinary stacking chairs as opposed to theater seats.

A small, pricey gift shop stocked with beautiful Scandinavian sweaters, waterproof pants, various all-weather jackets, winter gear such as gloves and hats, and a few toiletries is also on Deck 4 behind reception.

There is no self-service laundry, but there is next-day valet service at prices consistent with large cruise ships.

Fitness And Spa

The Sun Deck, on Deck 7, is great for relaxing, though on Fram's polar itineraries the temperature is often too cold to make this a longtime resting point. Don't expect fancy loungers; seating is limited to folding chairs made of either wood or blue plastic.

You'll get hours of exercise walking and hiking ashore. In fact, your two feet are the only means of getting around in Antarctica, and numerous hikes are available among the optional excursions on Fram's other itineraries. That said, the ship has a small but attractive wood-floored gym on Deck 7. It's open at all hours and equipped with weights, a Ping-Pong table, fitness balls and numerous machines (treadmills, stationary bikes, elliptical machines and a rowing machine). There are no organized fitness classes.

Step through the gym's glass doors, and you'll find two outdoor whirlpools. We often had the tub to ourselves, as not many passengers seemed to use them.

From the gym, stairs lead up one deck to separate men's and women's saunas, locker rooms and showers. The saunas are huge and have a row of portholes facing forward so you don't have to miss the scenery. We actually watched a glacier one evening from inside the sauna. Be aware that many Europeans use the saunas in the nude. Massages and other spa treatments are not available.

Food & Dining

All meals take place in the Imaq restaurant at the rear of the ship on Deck 4. (Imaq means "sea" in the Inuit language.) The name is fitting, as picture windows line three sides of the bi-level room, offering sweeping sea views, especially when you're facing aft. Seating is at rectangular tables for four and round ones for six or eight.

Breakfast and lunch are open-seating buffets. The serving area is located in the center of the room in a square formation. It is seldom crowded, perhaps because meals are spread out over two hours or more. Or, it could be that there are no trays. You keep returning to the buffet course after course, so you're just filling one plate at a time.

Breakfast consists of the usual cereal and eggs, plus the more typical northern European fare of smoked fish (including eel), cold cuts, yogurt, cheeses and even a small salad bar. All meals also had several types of crusty bread, hard rolls and crackers (including a gluten-free option, though this appeared to have run out by the end of our cruise) for the cheese and fish. At breakfast, you can also order eggs or pancakes from a menu. There are self-serve stations offering water, various juices and coffee/tea, but the waitstaff come around to the tables to offer these as well.

Lunch offers more cold fish, cold meats and excellent cheeses, tasty soup, several types of prepared salads or greens, and cooked veggies, as well as a couple of hot dishes like chicken, rice, duck breast and pasta. If you love chilled fish and seafood, you'll be in heaven. If you're a pasta, beef or salad fan, not so much. Desserts usually number a half-dozen pastries and cakes, a gooey/creamy pudding and ice cream -- all of it delicious. The self-serve water and juice machines are covered up at lunchtime, so the only free options are water, tea and coffee from the waitstaff (Hurtigruten's policy of charging for water during lunch and dinner only applies to the line's Norwegian coastal itineraries).

Servers will sometimes refill your glass if they see it empty, but many passengers elect to pay a little extra to have a one-liter carafe of either still or sparkling water left on their table at lunch and dinner so they can refill at their leisure. This costs 12 NOK (about $2) per person, per carafe, or 120 NOK ($20) per person for the entire cruise. Passengers can bring on their own water or soda, but may not drink it in public areas.

Some dinners are self-service buffets with open seating, but others are plated meals served in either one seating or two, depending on how full the ship is (typically 7 p.m. for a single seating, or 6 and 8:15 p.m. for two). In making table assignments, the ship groups passengers by nationality, but at buffet meals you may find yourself trying to hold a conversation in mingled English, German and/or Norwegian. It's all part of the fun.

Those dinners featuring plated service have one main entree, such as roasted chicken, beef entrecote or pan-fried Arctic char. There is a single alternative to this entree, such as baked trout, T-bone steak or roasted pork tenderloin. These plated dinners are announced only on a small sign placed in a frame as diners enter the restaurant for breakfast and lunch. If a diner does not want the first choice of entree, he or she must tell a waiter by the end of the lunch service. This leads to some diners not receiving their choice, or not having noticed the sign, and then having to wait for their order to be prepared. If diners don't want either option, a bowl of pasta is usually available.

Food-wise, the plated options were generally quite good, but the main dishes on the buffet were less so -- often warm instead of hot, and sometimes overly salty or dry. The two-option plated meals point out another shortcoming, the lack of variety, especially if you compare the daily menus with those of mass-market cruise ships. The salad offerings are merely adequate. Also, there's no noshing around the clock -- no late-night buffets or 24-hour pizzerias.

Aside from the restaurant, the only food outlet is the small, self-service bistro, located behind reception. It offers free tea, coffee, hot chocolate, cookies and cakes, as well as other snacks and drinks for a price. As to bar nibbles, only a couple of light snacks (almonds/peanuts, tortilla chips with dip) are on offer for a small charge. There is no room service.

While the menus reflect Scandinavian and Western European tastes, not those of North America, Fram is an expedition ship, not a floating pleasure palace. Hurtigruten does not advertise the ship itself as the destination -- and the average passenger cares more about the itinerary than the onboard experience.

Drink prices are on the high side, and no tip is added (nor is one expected). Wine ranges from 195 NOK (about $32.50) for a bottle of undistinguished white or red to 825 NOK ($137.50) for quite good French vintages. By the glass, the price is about 29 - 48 NOK ($6 - $8). Cocktails at the bar start around 42 NOK ($7). A cappuccino or espresso is 18 - 22 NOK ($3 - $3.67).

If you'd like to sample multiple bottles throughout the cruise, the ship offers several wine packages. You can purchase between eight and 11 bottles -- including both reds and whites -- for 1800 NOK ($300) to 2475 NOK ($412.51). The whites are mostly from Argentina, while the reds are a mix of European and Argentinean vintages. Note that the packages include a variety of wines (rather than allowing you simply to purchase eight bottles of your favorite type). Purchasing a wine package entitles you to the still or sparkling water package as well.

Passengers are not permitted to bring their own alcohol onboard; it will be confiscated until the end of the cruise.

Entertainment

Day or night, Mother Nature takes center stage, no matter if you're watching icebergs or whales from the ship or hiking onshore. For landings on Antarctica, passengers are briefed beforehand about the area's history and what to expect; stepping onshore, they are immediately given suggestions as to which path to take to see, for instance, a seal resting on a beach, or where to get the fabulous view of icebergs. But after that, passengers are mostly left to wander as they see fit. For instance, four days spent along the Antarctic Peninsula offered a single guided hike, which was a physically demanding trek of about three miles that included steep, snowy slopes.

But on nearly every shore visit to other Fram destinations, including longer Antarctic trips that call on the Falklands and South Shetland Islands, there typically is a guided (or more likely self-guided using the map that's supplied) walk through town and free entrance to museums. Optional excursions in Greenland include a small boat trip to see enormous icebergs up close, sea kayaking or a spectacular helicopter flight over the polar icecap.

The prime extra option on Antarctic voyages is the chance to spend the night onshore, sleeping in two-person tents. Fram is limited to putting only 10 passengers and one expedition-crew escort on shore overnight, so passengers willing to pay the extra fee to sleep on the continent put their names into a drawing. On other itineraries, guests are given the chance to sleep out on the deck of the ship in a warm sleeping bag, often under the midnight sun.

During cruising time, expedition crewmembers give outstanding lectures based on their academic specialties: local flora, fauna, history and culture. (On Antarctic trips, there is no native culture to discuss, so a topic such as "who owns Antarctica?" is substituted.) Lectures are given in English and at least one other language, but in separate rooms, so that passengers don't have to sit through endless translations. P.A. announcements are also made in English, followed by a European language version. Beyond the lectures, the only entertainment is likely to be a kitschy talent show by the crew and an auction of ship items particular to your cruise, such as an ensign signed by all expedition crewmembers. On some itineraries, a musician is on staff to play in the observation lounge in the evenings.

Once dinner is finished, passengers head up to the Deck 7 observation lounge, which has the ship's only bar, for cocktails and conversation, or sit at the four-seat tables on Deck 4 to work jigsaw puzzles, play board games and cards, or linger over a cup of coffee or tea. Some return to their cabins to read or watch TV, which loops a few theatrical films (in English and other languages) and American sitcoms, and also streams a selection of satellite channels such as the BBC, the Discovery Channel and some Norwegian networks. Because landings may start as early as 8 a.m., some passengers go to bed shortly after dinner.

Fellow Passengers

Fram's destinations of Greenland, polar Norway and Antarctica draw a largely non-North American passenger manifest. On our Greenland sailing, at least half of the passengers onboard were German, with a fair number of Norwegians and other Europeans. Antarctic cruises tend to draw more Americans and Asians. Because many excursions require a good deal of walking and even some uphill trekking, passengers generally are fit adventure-seekers in the 50-and-older age range.

The ship usually operates in at least two languages: English and, depending on the nationality of the bulk of remaining passengers, German, French or Norwegian. All P.A. announcements are given in English and at least one other language, and most lectures are also presented, in separate rooms, in two languages. The majority of the European passengers speak at least a little English in addition to their first language.

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.