Who knew huskies could cause quite so much hysteria amongst a group of well-travelled adults?
“Do you have huskies in your cabin?” was the question on everybody’s lips and from the excitement that reverberated around the ship, you would have thought that our Arctic Superior staterooms had come complete with a pen full of puppies, all bright blue-eyed and bushy tailed. Sadly, the huskies that had caused so much hysteria weren’t real ones, but rather black and white images tucked behind the enormous pillows on our double beds. You see, these black and white back boards were the differentiator between the cabins that had been refurbished and those that had not. Snow-covered hills thick with pine trees were depicted on the monochrome headboards of other newly refurbished cabins, and along with sleek beech units and a sizeable flat screen TV, made for quite the home-from-home during our two nights spent amidst the Norwegian Fjords.
It was the beginning of April and the Into The Blue marketing team had been invited to join Hurtigruten on board the new and improved MS Kong Harald. Regarded by many as one of the best in the business when it comes to negotiating Norway’s northern and western coasts in search of the Northern Lights, along with exploration voyages to Antarctica, Greenland, Iceland and Spitsbergen, Hurtigruten are famed more for encouraging outdoor adventures than tempting you to cosy up inside. Is it really possible to combine the two? On first impressions, MS Kong Harald certainly seems to be the ship to bridge the gap between exciting exploration and those all-important creature comforts.
The ship’s extensive ‘New Arctic Interior’ refurbishment took place during an intensive 22-day dry dock in February 2016, with a skilled team working around the clock to completely transform a vessel named after the current king of Norway. Opulent regalia has been left to the Royal Palace in Oslo however, with the inspiration behind MS Kong Harald’s refurbishment instead reflecting the raw beauty of the country’s stunning coastal landscapes; interiors were influenced by ‘the fire, the waves and the seaweed’ according to Hurtigruten’s CEO, Daniel Skjeldam.
Having spent Friday night in a rather wet and windy Bergen, we practically sprinted through the Hurtigruten cruise terminal (we say practically rather than literally because Norwegian’s do pastries even better than Mr Kipling does cakes. By the time we were to board MS Kong Harald, we were stuffed so full of cinnamon buns that we didn’t have a run in us). Once on board, all memories of a rain sodden city tour slipped away and the cosy but contemporary interiors immediately lulled us into a state of ‘hygge’. The Norwegians are pretty big on making themselves comfortable, so it seemed only fair to grab a coffee and make ourselves comfy in a sheepskin strewn rocking chair at the Multe café. There is something so indulgent about doing nothing but watch as some of the world’s most awesome landscapes pass you by. The icy scenery outside our windows merged seamlessly with an interior that has utilised natural materials, from sleek beech in our staterooms to dark walnut and cream leather in the Panorama Bar and charcoal grey slate in the Torget dining room.
All of MS Kong Harald’s public areas have been refurbished, including its cafes, lounges and dining rooms. It is undeniable that the dining options aboard expedition ships aren’t comparable to those on the world’s biggest contemporary cruise ships, but five-course evening meals in lavish surroundings would simply be at odds with the natural beauty of the region and the adventurous nature of an exploration voyage. Instead, the stylish Nordic surroundings here are as clean and fresh as the air you’ll breathe during a day ashore. The cuisine is heavily influenced by the local Norwegian specialities of the coastal areas through which Hurtigruten’s ships sail; they’re big on fish around these parts, catching it daily and delivering it straight to the ship via boat. We dined on some of the best starters of our lives in the fine dining restaurant, Kysten, where the menu changes every day to reflect the foods of the specific region through which you are travelling.
Head to Multe and you could be forgiven for thinking that you had been transported to one of the cosy cottages that are scattered along the water’s edge. Cosy blankets and super-soft sheepskins are scattered over rocking chairs and benches, the walls covered in a combination of delicate embroideries and chintzy crockery; we even spotted a doily or two. This quaint cafe is the place to head when you no longer concern yourself with calories, for all attempts to refuse the pastries and ice creams on offer here are futile. The only exception to the rule is fish flavoured ice cream, an acquired taste that we hadn’t quite developed when we were tricked into tucking in. It leaves a taste in your mouth that no amount of strawberry or chocolate chip can get rid of, though we certainly tried.
Further along deck 7 sits the Panorama Bar, the best spot on the ship in which to wait for a much-anticipated appearance of the elusive Northern Lights. As its name suggests, the lounge features panoramic windows from which to take in those amazing views across the Norwegian Fjords and you’re encouraged to make yourself comfortable in all-encompassing egg chairs, forcing yourself back out of which is a mission in itself. There’s butter-soft cream leather and sleek walnut galore in here, although the view across the fjords remains the real star of the show both day and night. It was in the Panorama Lounge that we sat when we first heard the call of the Captain, alerting us to the appearance of the Northern Lights on the horizon. We peeled ourselves from the teal sofas, threw on our coats and headed up on deck, where sure enough we could see the pale green glow of the aurora borealis overhead. In that moment, nights were made and bucket lists were ticked.
For many, that is just what a Norwegian coastal voyage with Hurtigruten is all about; raw scenery, vast expanses of nature and rainbow lights that illuminate the sky for the fortunate few who find themselves in the right place at the right time. We venture to Norway for a taste of Mother Nature’s finest work and if we can travel in style and comfort along the way, then that is just fine with us.