The Arctic Cruise – Norway

WATCHING a fully-grown man wrestle a stuffed fish, while I’m knocking back a shot of cod liver oil, isn’t something I thought I’d be doing.

I’m aboard the Richard With, one of thirteen Hurtigruten cruise liners in operation along the Norwegian coast.

We’re leaving the Arctic Circle after four days exploring the stunning Norwegian fjords. Harald, or ‘The Cod Man’, is wearing a plastic Viking hat, while waving his stuffed fish and handing out cod liver oil, to celebrate another successful arctic adventure. Although I’m told of its health benefits, I can’t help but quickly wash down the thick, greasy, shot with champagne.

I’ve joined 373 other passengers from around the world – Germans, Americans Swiss, Italians, Australians and Brits – who have flocked to experience what’s known as, ‘The World’s Most Beautiful Voyage’.

Hurtigruten

It’s hard to disagree with that. The sun shines constantly, literally around the clock, giving picture-postcard views from cabin twenty-four hours a day. Plus, the seafood is amazing and there’s plenty to see and do.

My Atlantic adventure began in the town of Tromso, just a two-hour flight from Oslo, and before embarking on the cruise we paid a visit to the famous Mack’s brewery.

Built in 1928, the brewery makes special beers for famous musicians performing in the town –Iggy Pop is the latest to have ale named after him. Music is played when brewing a new beer, causing the malt to move differently – giving each bottle a unique taste, so I’m told. No wonder this place is popular with Brits – the pub below has a staggering sixty-seven different ales on tap. I sample just enough before they begin to all taste the same.

There are plenty of other adventurous things to see and do, however. Hurtigruten’s cruises fall into the category of ‘adventure tourism’, dispelling any myths that cruises are only suitable for pensioners.

I’m twenty-nine and have barely felt more alive – I’ve been kayaking on the island of Håkøy, enjoyed a furious RIB-boat safari tour of the Norwegian fjords, enjoyed a breath-taking drive across the iconic Atlantic Road and attended a rock ’n’ roll festival, of which very few OAPs turned out for.

Hurtigruten

Other less exhilarating, but no less exciting, activities have been watching the midnight sun ‘go down’, a cathedral concert and the christening of ‘Spitsbergen’, the newest of the Hurtigruten fleet.

While the cruise liner I’m on feels slightly dated, having been in operation since 1993, the latest vessel is mightily impressive. It boasts 100 state-of-the-art cabins, accommodating 174 guests. The food on board is all locally sourced – and couldn’t be any fresher. The chefs are so proud of their seafood; they’ll even treat you to a fillet showing on deck, so you can learn to dice your salmon to perfection before digging in.

Hurtigrutne

Tonight’s dinner is a monstrous 5kg King Crab, freshly caught of course.  Though, having gorged on food already today, it’s a struggle to even finish one claw. Meals are never far away on board. Lunch is served just two hours after breakfast ends, and you only wait a few hours for dinner.

The restaurant staff are very friendly and don’t judge anyone going up for seconds, or indeed thirds, at the all-you-can-eat buffets. They will however confiscate any alcohol which isn’t bought from the restaurant or bar – sadly I find that out the hard way, as my nearly-full bottle of beer is taken from me. Like the on the mainland, alcohol on board the ship isn’t cheap. My round of four gin and tonics comes close to £50.

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For those not wishing to put on any holiday weight, there’s a gym on deck, so guests can squeeze in a quick workout between meals… I opt not to bother with a belly full of salmon and cake.

This type of cruise can be as adventurous or relaxing as you make it. I’ve had a packed few days and having not seen darkness since last week, it’s been hard to get a full night’s sleep while on board. I’ve relied heavily on power naps to keep my energy levels up.

A welcome break from activity comes in the form of a coach tour around Trondheim, Norway’s third biggest city, behind the capital Oslo, and Bergen, which is our final destination.

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Here we’re given a guided tour of the Nidaros Cathedral – home to the incredible Steinmeyer organ – one of the largest cathedral organs in the world. As we wander round the 11th century building, it does feel good to be on solid ground for a few hours.

Yesterday’s ocean was choppy, it was the first time all week that I felt I was on water, as my cabin did its best to rock me to sleep. Luckily, the seas have since calmed and peace and quiet has been restored inside my room, upon our return.

Having set out on this cruise almost a week ago, my body is feeling the effects of the adventure tours. My arms ache from the kayaking, my legs are tired from the walking tours and my eyes are tired, but still, I find myself twice looking at the notice board for the next cruise.

As I disembark for the final time, in Bergen, I’m greeted by a beaming Harald, minus the stuffed fish and toy Viking hat, who looks fresher now than he did at the start of the voyage. I guess those shots of cod liver oil must be good for you after all.  I, however, am ready for bed after being worn out by my arctic adventure.

Who ever said cruises were just for over sixties.