Experience is the new luxury
Tired of cruises? Try an expedition aboard the MS Roald Amundsen
Emily C. Skaftun
If your image of a cruise ship is a floating monstrosity the size of a city block, full of casinos, colorful iced drinks with bendy straws, and overblown attractions like waterslides or ziplines, housing thousands of drunk travelers on their way someplace tropical—in other words, if you’re the kind of savvy traveler who scoffs at the idea of cruises—it’s time to take another look at Hurtigruten.
The Norwegian cruise company Hurtigruten is best known for its Norwegian coastal route, which was a slow TV phenomenon in 2011. (If you have a spare 134 hours, you can watch it at tv.nrk.no/serie/hurtigruten-minutt-for-minutt. Click “Vis flere episode” until there aren’t any more to start at the beginning, in Bergen.)
The coastal voyage couldn’t be more different from the spring break image many people have of cruises. It’s a ferry route that caught on, a practical way to travel up and down the Norwegian coastline. Since that coastline happens to be spectacular, it’s popular with tourists, but it fortunately lacks the overwhelming hedonism of a big cruise. It has a very different and distinctly Nordic feel to it.
Dare I call it hygge?
Hygge is definitely evident in Hurtigruten’s newest vessel, MS Roald Amundsen, which I was lucky enough to spend the night on last September. This “expedition ship” is destined to spend its days in the extreme marine environments of the Arctic and Antarctic seas, and it was built with that in mind.
One of the cleanest cruise ships in operation, it uses peak shaving and battery banks to run smoothly while producing 20% less emissions than conventional ships of its size. It can also run for up to 30 minutes on battery power alone, allowing it to glide quietly enough to get near skittish wildlife.
As Romeo Rusan, Vancouver port manager for Inchcape Shipping Services, said in a brief ceremony on board the MS Roald Amundsen, “by building cleaner ships, more people will be able to see more of this world as we know it now.”
Perhaps the trendy Nordic concept MS Roald Amundsen best epitomizes isn’t hygge after all, but the Swedish lagom, meaning just the right amount.
MS Roald Amundsen isn’t the biggest cruise vessel, at just over 450 feet long. It’s designed to go where the huge ships can’t, to deliver an experience that you simply can’t get with thousands of your closest friends along. The ship holds a relatively modest 530 passengers, with every cabin having at least a window if not its own deck. You won’t find a casino on board, but there is a science center, library, and lecture hall. On an expedition, you don’t fritter the time away; you put it to good use learning about the places you’re visiting.
(But don’t worry. You can also enjoy saunas, hot tubs, infinity pool, a gym and wellness center, three dining options, and drinks in the Explorer Lounge, not to mention watching the world go by from dozens of cozy seats by sweeping windows.)
The ship is well designed and modern, with a Scandinavian aesthetic that readers of this paper should find familiar. There are well thought-out details like wool blankets that are replicas of the ones that Roald Amundsen had aboard the Fram while exploring in Arctic waters.
But the focus of Hurtigruten’s expeditions is not really on the ship but the destinations. As Hurtigruten CEO Daniel Skjeldam quipped, “Experience is the new luxury,” and premium experience is what MS Roald Amundsen is designed to offer. The ship is equipped with landing boats, all the gear guests need for the harsh conditions they’re likely to find, and, of course, a team of experts to lead expeditions.
If you want to go to Antarctica (and who doesn’t?), this is one of the only ways to get there. I admit that progress on this article was delayed numerous times while I was thoroughly distracted fantasizing about all the ports this ship will call on and coastlines it will pass. Because wise travelers only visit the poles during that hemisphere’s summer, MS Roald Amundsen has to shuttle between them twice a year, which means that if Antarctica and Alaska aren’t your bag, you can also choose to visit Central America, the Caribbean, or eastern Canada.
According to Skjeldam, Hurtigruten’s goal is for people to arrive as guests but leave as friends, and MS Roald Amundsen, with just enough of life’s necessities and comforts in an intimate setting, seems a likely place for that to happen.
This article originally appeared in the January 24, 2020, issue of The Norwegian American.