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Cruise Ship Information

MS Lofoten is a passenger vessel built in 1964, now operated by Hurtigruten in Norway. The ship is now the oldest vessel operated by the company, after the previous oldest vessel, MS Nordstjernen was withdrawn from coastal service in 2012. It operates cruises around the coast of Norway and sometimes in the Svalbard archipelago. The vessel was protected in 2000 by the Norwegian Director General of Historic Monuments to preserve Norway's cultural heritage. She has been refitted several times—in 1980, 1985, 1995 and most recently in 2004.

Atmosphere on board

MS Lofoten, named after the chain of islands off the northern Norway coast, is a much-loved time machine built locally five decades ago. The ship and its two sisters were the last ships designed for Hurtigruten as break-bulk, lift-on, lift-off cargo-passenger ships. All subsequent ships were built for roll-on, roll-off cargo handling. Therefore, the ship's loading and unloading procedures are picturesque reminders of the way freight used to be handled, with fork-lifts maneuvering wooden pallets laden with food, beverages, building materials and furniture for crane operators to swing onboard and lower into the deep forward hold. Oversized cargo is placed on the open deck.

The ship's public spaces echo a small country hotel with wood paneling, brass railings, plush carpets, polished wooden floors, and comfy armchairs and sofas. Original oil paintings illustrate Norwegian coastal scenes and the fleet of ships that came before. Lofoten is cozy, well maintained and spotlessly clean. Only its black hull is a bit battered, the result of many thousands of dockings at stone-hard town wharves. The 32-member staff and crew are all Norwegians, most of whom speak excellent English, and passengers are generally pleased with the onboard service.

Most cabins are tiny, with upper and lower berths. Less than half have private bathroom facilities, and slightly more than half are outsides with portholes instead of windows. That combination might scare off the majority of modern travelers, but a small percentage simply does not mind the cramped cabins because the ship offers a working-ship experience unique to European waters.

Hurtigruten offers daily departures year-round with a fleet of 11 ships, and the majority of passengers on Lofoten specifically choose the ship for its onboard ambience and heritage. The other ships in the fleet are much larger and more modern, have more efficient "roll-on, roll-off" cargo handling and boast far better, bigger and more uniform twin-bedded cabins with full private facilities. Most passengers will want to book one of the newer ships, so it leaves Lofoten to the passengers drawn to its considerable, though old-fashioned, charms. These include cozy, wood-paneled interiors; the ship's small size and lower passenger count; traditional, crane-loaded cargo handling; long-serving crew and likeminded fellow passengers.

Another caveat is that the ship does not have fin stabilizers, so some rolling may occur during stretches of the coastal trip not protected by barrier islands. This will happen mainly just north of Bergen, heading out to the Lofoten Islands and rounding the North Cape en route to Kirkenes, the turnaround port.

Until a new ship is ordered and delivered, Lofoten will remain in Hurtigruten service, catering to a niche market of ship aficionados who come specifically for this ship's genuine link to the past. Its preservation is assured, as it's a Norwegian historical monument.

Family with Kids/Teens

This ship does not cater in any special way to families with children. Unless they're traveling on a short inter-port voyage, they rarely come aboard.

Past Passenger Programs

There are two forward-facing lounges spanning the width of the ship: the Panorama Lounge on Boat Deck for viewing the cargo handling activity and the sea ahead, and a second lounge on the Saloon Deck below, which has a more restricted view forward and good views to port and starboard. A third lounge with bar service is located aft of the cafeteria and souvenir shop on the Saloon Deck. All three have individual upholstered chair and couch seating.

Reception is on A Deck, next to the gangway, and a passenger laundry with a small charge for the detergent is located well aft on B Deck. Until Wi-Fi is added to the ship, most head to Thon hotels during port calls to access the Internet.

Fitness And Spa

There are no pools, jogging/walking tracks, spas or fitness facilities aboard this ship. Passengers enjoy the scenery and fresh air from deck chairs on the Boat Deck and aft on the Saloon Deck. They get their exercise during the multiple daily ports stops by walking around town or on shore tours.

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 Lofotene 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, Lofoten 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 Lofoten 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. Lofoten 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

Lofoten'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.