Highlights of a Hurtigruten expedition cruise

Hurtigruten ships are known for their maneuverability and year-round sailings in often stormy seas. Their fleet of smaller explorer ships can sail into ports too narrow or shallow for larger ships in the fleet. Midnatsol-Hurtigruten

 

Polar-circle-boatsTo navigate extreme conditions, Hurtigruten uses Polarcirkel boats, a unique style of landing craft built with a unique hull design and interior construction for extra comfort and safety for expedition passengers.

These unique adventures, designed for explorer ships with fewer than 200Hurtigruten couple
passengers often result in friendships among guests that endure long after their cruise is over.

 

Kilchurn Castle
Hurtigruten’s explorer itineraries are not your same old, same old. An expedition voyage along the North Atlantic Viking Routes, for instance, includes stops at local attractions that are centuries old–like the ruined 13th century Kilchurn Castle on the Island of Oban.

Education is a key component of every expedition cruise. Hurtigruten employs an expert excursion team and partners with knowledgeable local guides who provide comprehensive information about historic sites, like this restored and reconstructed Iron Age Fort. Iron Age Fort

 

Likewise, the explorer routes are exceptional opportunities. The Viking Routes itinerary begins in Norway, then hops around Scotland before concluding in Iceland. At each port, a menu of on-shore programs enhances the travel experience by giving passengers the opportunity to interact with locals.

One caveat: Expedition cruises are not a good fit for travelers who want lavish entertainment options aboard their ship. These expeditions are designed to keep you occupied off the boat! But if you’re the type passengers who relishes the opportunity to spot a pod of whales, hike alongside sheep and puffins, kayak in caves or photograph rainbows that last for an hour–Hurtigruten’s explorer voyages are a great option.

Quite frankly, until I sailed the North Atlantic Islands a couple of months ago, I wasn’t exactly sure what an expedition cruise was all about.

FRAM-Iceberg-580x235My first clue came when I showed up wearing pink pants to dinner the first night aboard Hurtigruten’s MS Fram. Everybody else looked like they had just emerged from a big box outfitter store. “Honey, you look like an Easter egg in a hay field,” said the passenger from Texas seated next to me, referring to the sea of brown and grey fabrics around us. Furthermore, I’m absolutely positive I was the only one wearing bright fuscia-colored lipstick.

In my own defense, I was a last-minute booking, the grateful beneficiary of a spot on the ship that opened up as the result of a cancellation. And because I am usually available to travel on short notice, I eagerly embraced the chance for an in-depth experience encompassing a true Viking voyage from Norway to the historic landmarks of Scotland, the Shetlands, the Orkneys, the Faroes (including Torshavn, one of the oldest capitals in Northern Europe, founded in the 10th century) and Iceland.

Yes, the itinerary was amazing. Yes, the excursions were enthralling. Yes, the food was fresh, plentiful and delightfully presented. But what I discovered is that people who enjoy excursion-style cruising are travelers for whom the ship and the on-shore activities are a good fit. For me, it was a match made in heaven.

Here are seven reasons why I recommend you take a North Atlantic expedition cruise:

  1. Maneuverability

By definition, an expedition ship is smaller than a standard cruise ship. With capacities capped at a couple hundred passengers, overall length is usually less than 400 feet. Additionally, because the vessels are constructed to sail in extreme conditions, their beauty is more the style of an Olympic athlete than a magazine cover model. Furthermore, an expedition ship is more versatile – able to sail into smaller ports that are completely inaccessible to larger ships. As a result, you’re not competing with thousands of other passengers who get off at the same time you do.

  1. Flexibility

A floating city-type cruise ship is restricted to a rigid timetable and itinerary. By contrast, low passenger volume aboard an expedition cruise allows the captain to wiggle the sailing schedule to accommodate unusually good opportunities to provide exceptional guest experiences. In our case, we lollygagged an extra half-hour one afternoon to view nesting eagles. Another day, we got the option to book a seabird safari aboard the excursion boats. Don’t worry: You’ll never miss a meal because of a floating schedule. Dining hours are simply adjusted to meet passengers’ needs.

  1. Intimacy

A couple hundred passengers sharing the same space for two weeks have plenty of opportunities to forge close friendships. On our cruise, for example, a particularly savvy travel agent had marketed the Viking Route to fiber artists who would be interested in the wool industry of rural Scottish sheep farms. Because of their common interests, these ladies – previously unknown to each other – became fast friends and artistic colleagues during the course of the cruise.

  1. Variety of experiences

Just below the surface of expedition cruising is an entire universe of experiences outside the realm of traditional large-ship activities. For the most part, expedition itineraries are designed for adventure with the active traveler in mind. One day, you might be hiking up a hillside to tour a centuries-old castle or cathedral. The next day, you might be bouncing around the ocean in a Polarcirkel boat – Hurtigruten’s virtually unsinkable landing craft with unique hull design and “step-bow and railing” construction for comfort and safety. Another day, you might spend the morning sightseeing aboard a city tour bus to help you get your bearings before you step off for an afternoon of free time in town.

  1. Education

As far as I know, continuing education credits were not offered aboard our ship; but the level of expertise by Hurtigruten’s team of expedition guides was truly impressive. Daily lectures (in three languages) helped us understand and appreciate what we were scheduled to see the next day. Inquisitive passengers arrived early to get the best seating and stayed after “class” to ask specific questions. I thoroughly enjoyed being in the company of lifelong learners.

  1. Interaction with local cultures

Large cruise ships are limited to heavily commercialized ports of call. Expedition cruises, on the other hand, are able to slither into shallow water where they launch excursion boats to shuttle passengers eight at a time to shore. As a result, we trickled into tiny towns like friends coming to visit. What a treat!

  1. Inspiration

Passengers aboard the MS Fram got up early and stayed out late…only not in onboard casinos and nightclubs. Granted, the average age of our passengers was over 50, but these folks were up early – either in the gym or walking the decks, reading their iPads or making notes in their excursion guides, taking sunrise shots at 4 a.m. or sunset photos at 10 p.m. “I don’t come on these cruises to be entertained,” said my Texas sweetie at dinner. “I come to be inspired…by nature, by adventure and by people. For me, the magic of expedition cruising is what happens when you least expect it: a pod of whales breaches the water, a couple decides to renew their wedding vows in an ancient cathedral or a rainbow glitters the sky and follows our ship for a full hour until sundown. How can you top that?”

Amen, Sister. I’m hooked and rebooked.

Additional information, brochures and reservations can be obtained from travel agents or Hurtigruten, or 877-301-3117; or fax at 888-524-2145. To order brochures 24 hours a day, call toll free, 800-582-0835.

Where to eat in Ann Arbor, Michigan

Ann Arbor is Heart of America. It’s easy to get around and attracts a diverse audience – music fans, art aficionados, theater and film buffs, book collectors, shoppers, foodies, environmental advocates and University of Michigan alums–Big Blues–who hang out at the Big House: the largest stadium in the U.S., with an official capacity of 109,901.

Two of my favorite restaurants are:

Frita Batidos 

French-trained owner/chef Eve Aronoff’s “fantasy” restaurant inspired by her time in Miami.

Expect “slow, natural and local” ingredients in her Cuban street food: The frita, a burger traditionally made from spicy chorizo served with shoestring fries on top in a soft egg bun, and batidos, tropical milkshakes made with fresh fruit, crushed ice, and sweetened milk, with or without rum. $$

Zingerman’s Roadhouse

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Zingerman’s Deli

Chef and managing partner Alex Young is the 2011 winner of the James Beard Foundation award for Best Chef: Great Lakes (selected over four Chicago finalists). Chef Young combines Zingerman’s passion for a global approach to food (not confined to any single movement or interest) with a passion for local and natural foods. $$-$$$