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Cruise Ship Information

MS Vesterålen is a passenger vessel operated by the Norwegian-based Hurtigruten. The vessel was constructed in Harstad, Norway in 1983. She was refitted in Bremen, Germany in 1989 to increase passenger capacity, and then later in 1995. As of 2010, the ship operates cruises primarily along the coast of Norway.

Atmosphere on board

Part of Hurtigruten's "Mid-Generation Ships," Vesteralen was built in 1983 and overhauled in 1995. The vessels sails Scandanavian itineraries, focusing on the spectacular Norwegian Fjords.

Family with Kids/Teens

With no baby-sitting services or dedicated kids facilities onboard, Vesterålen is not a family-targeted ship. That said, plenty of families with young children cruise from port to port, and it's not even uncommon to see families with a young child or two onboard for the longer sailings. In port, there's usually an activity on offer that older kids will like, such as wildlife excursions to view sea eagles, snowmobiling and dog-sledding. Cabins with extra berths on Decks 6 and 7 are good for families, as they have two bunk beds and a sofa bed in a single room and can sleep up to five people. While the ship's menu does not specifically have children's food, the galley is open to requests for special foods for young passengers. The buffet usually has items that kids will enjoy, too, like cheesy pastas and breaded fish.

Past Passenger Programs

Vesterålen 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.

Vesterålen 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

Vesterålen 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

Vesterålen'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.