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How To Plan A Norway Coastal Cruise In 2023

Since 1893, Hurtigruten vessels have been a fixture along the Norwegian coastline. To this day the vessels still carry cargo and local passengers but they are best known globally for their roundtrip cruise-like experience.

The classic voyage from Bergen to Kirkenes and back to Bergen takes 12 days with departures available on most days throughout the year. For passengers considering a trip in 2023, Hurtigruten offers a couple of special itineraries to mark its 130th anniversary.

But the line also now has competition on the classic coastal route. With its brand new eco-friendly ships, Havila points towards the future of the coastal voyage and is well worth consideration.

What to expect on a Norwegian coastal cruise

Something that trips up seasoned cruisers about the Norwegian coastal experience is the significant difference in concept. It’s important to understand that the vessels from both Hurtigruten and Havila are not cruise ships. They have more in common with the cruise ferries that shuttle people between countries all over Northern Europe.

While they are well fitted out, the ships don’t offer a lot of the entertainments you’ll find on more traditional cruise lines. The ever-changing Norwegian coastline is the star attraction.

Another important difference is the port calls. As working ships, they call at many of the 34 ports for just a few minutes, just enough time to unload and load cargo and passengers.

Roundtrip cruise passengers do get a few hours to wander around bigger ports like Ålesund, Trondheim and Tromsø, but that’s still much less time than with traditional cruise lines. Organized excursions are available to help you make the most of the limited time.

One thing that the coastal cruise does have in common with cruise ships is the focus on premium, sustainable dining.

Both Hurtigruten and Havila push their local food concepts heavily, both featuring a focus on seafood and ingredients obtained from the ports along the route. Most of the ships feature a classic restaurant with breakfast and lunch buffets and table service for dinner, alongside a premium dining option.

Hurtigruten or Havila?

While Hurtigruten’s historic brand is a big part of the appeal of a coastal cruise, don’t ignore Havila for that reason alone.

The Havila vessels offer an almost identical experience with the added advantage of being capable of sailing on battery power for hours at a time. If you’re concerned with the environmental impact of cruise ships, this may sway your decision.

That being said, Hurtigruten is also investing heavily in greener ships. Its fleet is in the process of being retrofitted with hybrid technology, while the company pursues its plan to introduce zero-emissions vessels by 2030.

Which line you pick may come down to the best dates for you, as the two lines always run on different days from Bergen. So if you have a specific set of dates in mind, the decision will be made for you.

Hurtigruten’s special itineraries for 2023

To mark the line’s 130th anniversary, Hurtigruten has launched two new itineraries set apart from the traditional coastal route. Both routes spend more hours in fewer ports for a more cruise-like experience.

The ‘Svalbard Express’ offers travelers a return trip from Bergen to the Arctic archipelago of Svalbard, while the ‘North Cape Express’ is the first ever Hurtigruten itinerary to depart from Norway’s capital city, Oslo.

When to take a coastal cruise

Norway’s cruise season typically runs the summer months for fjord cruises and the winter months for northern lights cruises in the north. But because of its double life as local transport, the coastal voyage is available on most days throughout the entire year.

If you don’t mind a full ship and paying a premium, the summer is a wonderful time to visit the Norwegian coastline.

The main reason to visit in the winter is to see the northern lights. You’ll sail for many hours away from light pollution, giving you a great chance for a sighting if the skies are clear. While the prices can be a little lower, it’s also much colder and of course, the darkness means you’ll see less of the coastline.

Shoulder seasons are where the best value lies. Fares are lower and the ships will be quieter than during the busy summer, but the weather will be more uncertain.

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