Traveling by cruise ship from the dark nights of the Lofoten Islands to the endless daylight of the midnight sun along the northernmost coast of mainland Europe, I am back in the Arctic Ocean. With roots as a coastal steamship company serving isolated towns along Norway’s western and northern shores in 1893, Hurtigruten (The Fast Route) is now a modern cruise line with five-star food and accommodations.
What makes it different from any other cruise you’ll ever take is that it is still a ferry and shipping company providing vital goods and services to the same remote towns it was founded on. While tourists sit on the upper decks eating gourmet food in the lap of luxury and watching breathtaking mountains and scenic fishing villages roll by, serious business travels below. Cars, trucks, hardware, heavy equipment… all the things that are better shipped by water than land or air. Small villages no other cruise ships ever visit are vital stops along the way and gateways to the real Norway, enhanced with onboard programs and shore excursions featuring special landmarks and activities.
No easy sailing for the skippers, though, according to Bjørnar Johansen, purser aboard the M/S Richard With: “We have only a five-meter draft so that we can pass through inner channels where it’s just six meters deep at ebb tide– that’s one meter clearance. In these winds, it’s like maneuvering a haystack.” With tourism booming in the Barents Sea and the Hurtigruten plying these waters year round, this is indeed the fast route to the soul of Norway.
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