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Cruise Ship Information

MS Midnatsol is a Hurtigruten vessel built by Fosen mekaniske verksteder in Rissa, Norway in 2003. It is the fourth ship to sail for Hurtigruten to bear this name. She has a sister ship, MS Trollfjord which also sails for Hurtigruten.

At 04:00 AM on the night of 14 December 2003 the ship was on a southbound course between Ålesund and Måløy when the main power supply failed and Midnatsol lost all engine power. The ship was approaching an underwater reef and the anchors were set out in an attempt to stop the drift, but the attempt failed. All 102 passengers were ordered to the lifeboats after an attempt to connect a towing hawser from another vessel also failed. The situation was very critical and Midnatsol sent a Mayday message. The ship was only 150 meters from shore when one of the anchors finally caught. Not long after, the crew managed to restart the main engines and the ship went on to Florø. The cause of the engine stoppage was an overgrown inlet to the engine's coolant systems.

In August 2004, the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation was recording aboard MS Midnatsol for the series Hurtigruten 365. The recordings took place in one year, and the result was 20 episodes that were shown on television.

Atmosphere on board

How many port calls in a one-week sailing qualifies a cruise as "port-intensive"? Six? Seven? Eight? How about 35 ports in seven days?! Improbable as that may seem, the vessel that sails this itinerary is the equally unlikely combination of a luxury cruise ship, a cargo ship, a car and passenger ferry, and an expedition vessel. Hurtigruten's MS Midnatsol, of the line's "Millennium Class," joins the fleet of 13 ships that together sail year-round up and down the west coast of Norway. (Note: Prior to September 2007, Hurtigruten was known as Norwegian Coastal Voyage to Americans; it's now marketed as Hurtigruten worldwide.) Passengers may book the seven-night northbound trip from Bergen to Kirkenes, located hundreds of miles north of the Arctic Circle, or the six-night southbound sailing, which reaches the same ports. However, since ports called at during daylight hours on northbound sailings are reached at night on the return -- and vice versa -- many passengers choose to combine north and southbound itineraries into a 12-night roundtrip, with different shore experiences offered each way.

 

In addition to traditional cruisers, many passengers -- mostly Europeans -- use the Hurtigruten ships as point-to-point transportation along the Norwegian coast, including up to 50 who travel with their automobiles. The result is a continually changing passenger makeup. One day on our sailing, for a few hours the normally mature ambience of the ship was strikingly enlivened when a group of preteen Norwegian backpackers boarded. Four hours later, at the next port, they were gone, and the atmosphere changed yet again.

 

Hurtigruten ships also carry cargo, calling at villages large and small, docking only as long as necessary to load and offload passengers and cargo, sometimes in as little as 15 minutes. And, unlike the long, drawn out docking procedure we're used to on conventional ships, the Midnatsol zips in and out of port in a flash, aided by triple bow thrusters and a state-of-the-art pod.

 

Though many port calls are short, extended shore excursions are possible; passengers merely rejoin the ship at a port further along the route. Midnatsol's small size and maneuverability also allow it to explore narrow and out-of-the-way fjords that the big ships simply can't enter. To make the experience even more expedition-like, the cruise director describes natural and cultural aspects along the way over the ship's PA system.

 

Bottom line: Midnatsol is a ship for the self-entertaining seasoned traveler who wishes to get a really close look at the fjords and communities along Norway's coast, is comfortable traveling with a passenger load that is mostly European (Americans number about 10 - 12 percent), and whose cruise experience is not diminished by the absence of many of the usual trappings of life at sea: entertainment, casino gaming, bingo, etc. Hurtigruten caters to the same clientele for the Norwegian fjords that would choose Cruise West or Society Expeditions over the "majors" for cruising Alaska.

 

Service onboard is efficient and extremely friendly, but without the fussy, almost obsequious attention often equated with cruising.

Family with Kids/Teens

These cruises are not recommended for children. There is a tiny play area, limited essentially to a couple of small structures and wall-mounted, kid-friendly video presentations.

Past Passenger Programs

Midnatsol means "midnight sun," and the ship's decor beautifully embodies this theme. Even staircase landings are tiled in polished marble inlaid sunbursts. Oranges, reds, browns and yellows predominate throughout the ship. From the moment you enter the five-deck atrium, dominated by a stunning 49-ft. painting in "midnight sun colors," you are struck with the warmth and brightness of the interior design. I was also delighted at the large collection of original Norwegian artwork, extremely extensive for a ship this small; it took a couple of days to take it all in. The major public decks are Deck 5 and Deck 8. Deck 5 is dining central, with the main restaurant all the way aft and a 24-hour cafe midship. Deck 5 is also the location of the ship's small gift shop.

 

Midnatsol has two bars, but one of them is only open during the warmest summer months. The main -- and for most of the year, the one and only -- bar, and its comfy little lounge, are located midship, just forward of the library and Internet cafe and aft of the two-deck observation lounge.

Fitness And Spa

Midnatsol has no pool. In its place a large sun deck functions, weather permitting, as a platform for passengers to recline in lounges to watch the drama of the fjords and islands parading by. There is a sauna and small gym, and many passengers can be found early in the morning circling the ship on Deck 6 at speeds ranging from hare to tortoise to snail.

 

A number of shore excursions are offered, catering to four languages: Norwegian, English, German and French.

Food & Dining

Looked at from the perspective of American tastes, the most charitable thing that can be said of the cuisine is that it's a work in progress. On the positive side, the breakfast and lunch buffets featured a slew of tasty Norwegian delicacies that would be hard to find in that variety or quality anywhere else in the world. We're talking four or five different varieties and preparations of salmon in a single buffet, moose and reindeer meat, fresh shellfish and smoked seafood and sausages. However, the finishing details were lacking. At breakfast we found not fresh linen but paper napkins the size of those doled out by soda fountain table-top dispensers. And aboard this ship self-service buffet really does mean self-service; don't expect stewards to hover around with carafes of coffee or to help with your tray. Paper napkins were the norm at lunch and dinner as well, though larger than those offered at breakfast.

 

Dinner was a disappointment. Served at assigned tables in two set seatings, the three nightly courses included a soup or salad to start, a main course and a dessert, but no selection; only one choice for each. Portions are adequate, but not humongous, and the number of courses is fewer than most Americans expect. This is definitely a ship for those who eat to live, rather than live to eat. The fresh seafood and delicious desserts were high points, especially the pastries and fresh berries.

 

For those who wish a more extensive number and variety of choices, it is possible to order an optional a la carte dinner menu a day in advance. This option, however, carries the stiff extra charge of 350 Kroner (about $55). This menu, which remains fixed throughout the voyage, include choices of a warm salad with king prawns, ragout of scallops "Noilly Prat," and tatar of reindeer fillet for starters; lightly roasted breast of duck, fillet of monkfish or fillet of reindeer as main courses; and cloudberry parfait, chocolate symphony or a cheese plate as dessert courses.

 

There is also a 24-hour cafe on Deck 5 which serves pre-prepared cafeteria items as well as cooked-to-order pizza, burgers, hot dogs and fries. But prospective passengers should be aware that this cafe is not a free amenity; there is a charge for each item that finds its way to your tray. A burger and fries runs 90 Kroner (about $14) and pizza ranges from 63 to 98 Kroner (about $10 - $15.50) depending on size and toppings.

Entertainment

Hurtigruten aptly states that aboard their ships Mother Nature provides the entertainment. On our sailing there was a lone pianist in the Deck 8 lounge, but the presence of a musician or combo onboard is not 100 percent certain. During shoulder seasons (January - March, October - December), naturalists and historians come aboard to make presentations on subjects ranging from the Northern Lights to Norwegian Christmas traditions.

Fellow Passengers

Midnatsol'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.