103 years of service between Bergen and Kirkenes along the west coast of Norway. The route is recognised as one of Europe's biggest attractions and has been internationally acknowledged as the "world's most beautiful sea voyage"
Arturo Paniagua Mazorra, November 22, 2005 (The first pubblication was dated August 1996 and was an abstract from Vision, the Ulstein Group magazine)
The effect of the Gulf Stream
The voyage on the Hurtigruten or Coastal Express has attracted many superlatives but can best be summed up as "an 11-day non-stop scenic tour to the top of the world".
The west coast of Norway is located in the high northern latitudes and even crosses the Artic Circle, yet the coastal areas have developed with thriving communities. By contrast, similar latitudes in areas such as Canada, Greenland and Labrador feature cold Artic wastes.
The difference is caused by the effect of the Gulf Stream, which sweeps warm waters from the Caribbean across the Atlantic, and then north of the British Isles and onwards to the Norwegian coastline. Thanks to the Gulf Stream the coastline and fjords remain ice-free in the winter and the coastal communities can escape the extremes of climate found elsewhere at such latitudes.
The coastal scenery
The first thing to remember about this service is that it is a voyage rather than a cruise. There are no discos or cabaret evenings, and passengers are not cajoled into playing deck games or participating in aerobic classed.
The main attraction is the unparalleled beauty of the coastal scenery between Bergen and Kirkenes, some of the most dramatic and stunning in the world, which can be enjoyed at a leisurely pace in a new fleet of purpose-designed wessels offering every modern luxury.
The present Hurtigruten route covers a total distance of 2.545 nautical miles (4.716 km) from Bergen vía Geiranger to Kirkenes and back to Bergen.
Between Bergen and Kirkenes
The route passes through magnificient fjord landscapes, the chalk white beaches of Helgeland, stunning mountain ranges such as De Syv Søstre (The Seven Sisters). The ports along the route include both city harbours and smaller coastal towns. The latter is specially predominant in Northern Norway, where the harbours entrances and quays can also give only marginal clearance for the larger ships. And at each port of call provides a kaleidoscope of colours and new impressions.
The jagged Lofoten Islands, the large island of Senja and many more stunning features pass by. In the summer the service enters the land of the Midnight Sun, and in the winter the northern latitudes offer the spectacle of the Northern Lights or Aurora Borealis.
Each day of the year a steamer leaves Bergen on an 11 - day voyage that makes 66 calls at 34 different ports and covers more than 2,500 miles (note that ports called at day from Bergen are called at night from Kirkenes).
For the many coastal communities the service is part of Riksvei No 1, Norway's principal highway offering regular fast and reliable links between the southern and the northernmost ports for passengers and cargo.
Regular sailings mean that voyages can be tailored to suit busy travel schedules, or passengers can indulge themselves in the full 11-day round trip for an experience with memories to last a lifetime.
The two operators of the route have freight forwarders in all the ports for loading and unloading cargo and passenger management. The holds of the vessels are let to freight forwarding agencies.
The History of 103 years of service
In 1891, August Kriegsman Gran, the Norwegian national steamship advisor, came up with the idea of providing an express boat service between Trondheim and Hammerfest.
Two companies offered the route turned down the opportunity as they considered that sailing during the dark and stormy winters was impossible. At the time only two marine charts existed and there were only 28 lighthouses north of Trondheim.
The challenge was eventually taken up by Vesteraalens Dampskibsselskab (VDS), a relatively young steamship company based in Stokmarknes. Capitain Richard With of VDS and his pilots had been keeping accurate notes on courses, speeds and times taken to sail the route, and felt that the service would be viable.
On 18 May, 1893, the government signed a four-year contract with the company, providing the backing to support a weekly sailing between Trondheim and Hammerfest during the summer, and Trondheim and Troms¯ in the winter.
The schedule included nine ports of call along the route.
On 2 July, 1893, the steamship Vesteraalen first left Trondheim for Hammerfest.
This modest beginning heralded a new era for the remote coastal communities, providing industry and inhabitants with a ready means of transport between towns, and ultimately to the outside world.
Letters, for exemple, which previously took up to three weeks to reach Hammerfest from Trondheim during the summer, and up to five months during the winter, could now be delivered by the Hurtigruten (Coastal Express) in just a few days.
Vesteraalen reached Svolvaer in 36 hours, and 67 hours after leaving Trondheim the ship dropped anchor in Hammerfest harbour on 5 July, half an hour earlier than scheduled. At all its ports of call the vessel was recevied with cheers and celebrations.
Several other companies followed the initiative of Richard With and VDS, and as the number of ships serving the route gradually increased the route was extended southward to Bergen in 1898. In the north, Vads¯ was included as a port of call in 1907, and Kirkenes in 1914. For a short period there were weekly sailings from Stavanger, but from 1936 to the present day a Coastal Express has headed north from Bergen daily. This service was only interrupted by the Second World War.
During the service's 114 years of operation more than 80 ships have plied the route. The first were taken from other domestic Norwegian or foreign routes, but eventually ships were designed and built specially for the Coastal Express.
These have been specially equipped with refrigerated compartment, roll on/roll off facilities for loading cargo on pallets, and vehicle holds. In addition the new generation vessels featured extensive single-class public facilitiens, conference rooms and quality cabins, some of the with picture windows or balconies.
Although the main purpose of the service was to link west coast communities, attracting tourism to the route was considered a necessary souce of additional revenue even in the very earliest days.
Brochures in several languages promoted the route, the first in English being printed in 1894.
The Fleet The actual fleet are composed by twelve ships. The oldest is the Lofoten, the last representative of the traditional Hurtigruten steamer, built in 1964. She is the most intimate of the fleet, with only half cabins with private facilities, but plenty of character. She offer the opportunity to sail in Norway's only floating national historic monument.
The mid generation ship were built in the early 1980's and refurbished in mid 1990 with a new cabin section. Each can transport 320 passengers in cabin with two berths and upper and lower berths, all with private facilities. They features a panoramic lounge, conference rooms, etc. Usually only two mid generation were used in the Hurtirguten service, but this winter the new Midnatsol will de used as an hotel ship in Italy during the Winter Olympic Games, and the old Midnatsol II will be renamed Lyngen to substitute her.
About five billon NOK has been invested in the fleet in the period 1993-2003. TFDS started operating new vessels in 1993, 1994 and 1996, and OVDS introduced new ships into service in 1993, 1996 and 1997. The new or contemporary class were the first built to cruise standards, and accommodate 490 passengers each.
The first three were built in Germany, and the last four in Norwegian yards. All are similar in size, but each ship has its own specific inside decoration, mainly from Norwegian artists and designers. They offer several suites and all cabins have two lower berths and private bathroom with heated floor.
The main public room on board are a large panoramic lounge, a restaurant, a club bar, play room, fitness room, library, etc. as well as a conference area.
In 2002 and 2003, TFDS introduced two new ships and OVDS one new ship into service. The trio form the so called Millennium Class.
These ships are the bigger and most modern in the fleet, with the latest technology and the level of comfort you would expect to find on new cruise ships.
The 2003 built, 15,000 ton, 674 passenger ship Midnatsol has an ultra modern design. She is a sistership of the previous Trollfjord.
The ship's interior is dedicated to the Norwegian summer.
"Midnatsol" means Midnight Sun and large glass surfaces allow the outside light to enter, creating a proximity to nature throughout the ship.
She has a large two-story panoramic lounge on the two upper decks and a top deck with saunas, a gym, a bar, and a large sundeck.
Deck 5 houses the main restaurant, cafes, an arcade with playroom, shops and lounges.
Deck 8 also has several lounges, including an Internet cafe, TV lounge, and a library. There are 19 suites, some with a balcony.
All cabins have telephones, heated bathroom floors, and TVs.
Next winter will be chartered as an hotel ship docked in Savona in the Winter Olympic Games.
The 2002 built, 643 passenger ship Finnmarken has a more traditional outdoor design than her two sisters. Inside, she is decorated in Art Nouveau style, reminiscent of the first Coastal Voyage ships. Norwegian artists have decorated Finnmarken with drawings, watercolours, oil paintings, charcoal drawings, lithographs, and sculptures. A tiny atrium is located from deck 3 to 8.
The roof of the atrium is like a greenhouse, and connects with the observation lounge.
The fitness center has saunas and a massage room, close to the hair salon and the Internet cafe on deck 8, while the outdoor swimming pool is on deck 7, with a telescopic glass roof (a novelty for a Hurtigruten ship).
Several restaurants, bars, panoramic lounges, observation areas, and indoor and outdoor cafes are located throughout the ship. There are 32 suites, some with a balcony and Jacuzzi. All cabins have telephones and TVs, and all bathrooms have heated floors.
The 2002 built Trollfjord is Midnatsol's sister-ship. The Trollfjord has a six deck high atrium, with glass lifts and black Barents granite interiors, a two level glassed in observation area above the bridge on deck 8, close to the library, Internet café and several bars, and dining rooms for 335 passenger at the stern on deck 5.
Norwegian artists have decorated the ship, and Norwegian wood and stone are used throughout the interior.
Large windows let the light and scenery into the public areas, mainly on upper decks.
The sauna and fitness area are located on the deck 9. Deck 5 houses two restaurants and several cafes.
There are 19 suites, some with a balcony. All cabins have TVs and heated bathroom floors. Also, the ship has extensive conference and meeting rooms.
And, late September, Fincantieri gained an order from OVDS to build a new coastal express ship for delivery in Spring 2007.
The contract, which also includes the option to deliver a sister ship in 2008, is worth approximately €70m ($85m at today's exchange rate).
The 12,000gt newbuild is designed with ice-class specifications for summer cruises in Greenland and winter sailing on Norway's Hurtigruten route. The vessel will accommodate 500 passengers, with capacity for 25 vehicles.
As a result of this huge investment, the average age of the fleet of the nine newest ships is about seven years. Since introducing new ships after 1991, the passenger beds has increased dramatically, from almost 2.000, to more than 5.500. The capacity for cars has show a similar growth with an overall capacity of 508 cars, 3,3 times the capacity in 1991 (152 cars).
The Coastal Express meant that places such as the Lofoten Islands, Troll Fjord, Skjervøy Island, Hammerfest and North Cape became accessible to international travellers who wanted to visit the Land of the Midnight Sun, and in the winter to see the Northern Lights or Aurora Borealis.
The success of tourism is proving to be the basis for the route's future.
Cooperation with air travel companies is contributing to the route's survival as it increasingly relies on attracting travellers, tourists and adventurers all year round. The route is recognised as one of Europe's biggest attractions and has been internationally acknowledged as the "world's most beautiful sea voyage".
But both Hurtigruten owners explore more possibilities to expanding its programs for the 2005 season. A cruise tour program to the Lofoten Islands and two fjord regions was introduced in late April on the traditional Lofoten.
Designed for active travelers interested in nature, three new 10- and 11-day cruise tours on the 171-passenger Lofoten add hiking, fishing trips and lectures to a daily excursion program. The voyages from Bodo or Bergen go north to the Lofotens and explore fjords as far south as Stavanger and the Lysefjord, stopping at many places not on the regular coastal itinerary.
Another veteran, the 1956 Nordstjernen offered last summer adventure cruises to Spitsbergen. She cruises northbound from Longyearbyen to Moffen Island to experience the stark beauty of the Svalbard landscape and see some Arctic mammals like whales and the king of the Arctic, the polar bear.
During the voyage, the guides hosted some informal lectures to complement shore visits, most of which used Zodiac. Usually, the cruise offered one landing per day.
But the Hurtigruten owners think that the increases in passenger number aren't enough to fill up the capacity gained with the larger vessel.
Also, the Government subsidies are gradually being withdrawn.
So, both OVDS and TFDS begun in the late 1990's to investigate the possibilities of the cruise market in the Mediterranean, in the Caribbean and in other the Chilean fjords.
Four years ago, the first ship was send to the Chilean coast.
Next winter, Norwegian Coastal Voyage will increase its capacity in Antarctica 100% when the Nordkapp joins Nordnorge for NCV Expedition Voyages from November to March, marking the first time the line will deploy two vessels there.
The ships, built in 1996 and 1997, will carry a limit of 350 passengers each to the White Continent.
The main product, an Antarctica and Chilean Fjords 19-day expedition package from New York to Buenos Aires and Santiago, have doubled departures, from eight to 16, from Nov. 2 to Feb. 15. The ships sail on 15-day soft-adventure cruises between Ushuaia, Argentina, and Puerto Montt, Chile, via the Drake Passage, the Antarctic Peninsula, Cape Horn, the Strait of Magellan and the Chilean coast.
The Antarctic season begun in the winter 2002-2003, and was a complete success. The vessels have an ice class hull and were excellent expedition cruise ships.
Another question is the regular talks to merge among the Coastal Express operators divisions of Troms Fylkes Dampskibsselskap (TFDS) and Ofoten og Vesteraalens Dampskibsselskap (OVDS), the shipowners of the Coastal Express fleet. Soon or later, it appear that one ship owner must take control over Hurtigruten business.
Both Hurtigruten operators noted that the last season its best ever summer season, with increased passenger revenue.
Both companies notes there has been a clear tendency towards half roundtrips, with more passengers choosing to experience only one way of the journey along the Norwegian coast.
The Norwegian fjord were rated the world's best untouched travel destination by National Geographic Traveller magazine this year, and the Hurtigruten are the best way to visit it year after year.
For further information: Hurtigruten, OVDS, Norwegian Coastal Voyage