No cruise company is as committed to Norway as Hurtigruten, formerly Norwegian Coastal Voyages, whose 11-ship fleet plies the Norwegian coast year-round. Several of its most upscale vessels offer the 11-night Norwegian Coastal Voyage from Bergen to Kirkenes and back to Bergen year-round, with two nights in Oslo at the start of the program and one night on return. This cruise also is available for seven days on the northbound voyage and six days southbound, sailing one way and returning by road or air. Rates for the 11-night cruise range from $3,249 to $5,467, depending on the season.
Bergen is the big-port capital of fjord cruising, the place to embark and disembark, and a lovely and vital town it is. Named Cultural Capital of Europe in 2000, this ancient city looms large in Viking sagas—until the 14th century, it was the seat of the medieval kingdom of Norway. Bergen’s houses have a red- and black-brick look, patterned after the Hanseatic architecture of the merchants of Northern Germany who established a major trading post here, holding sway until the 18th century. For the best overview of the city and harbor, cruise passengers should take a 5-minute funicular ride to the top of Mount Floien, then ride down and start exploring friendly Bergen, from the Hanseatic Museum to Troldhaugen, home of composer Edvard Grieg. Clients visiting between May 20 and June 4 will be in place for the annual Bergen Music Festival.
From Bergen, Hurtigruten offers a 3-day overland circuit of this superbly scenic area, including a ride aboard the Bergen Railway—named one of the world’s top rail experiences. The adventure train travels a breathtaking route from the mountain station at Myrdal down to Flam, nestled in the innermost corner of the Aurlandfjord, winding past forbidding lakes and cascading waterfalls, and herds of goats and reindeer.
A 14-day Spectacular Norway cruise, including the 3-night escorted land excursion with the Bergen Rail trip, starts at $6,399 pp dbl.
When cruising in the land of the midnight sun (at its 24-hours-of-daylight best mid-May to July), some of the highlights of the summertime shore excursions and activities include a tour of historical Trondheim and an Art Nouveau tour of Alesund, an encounter with Norway’s indigenous Sami culture in Hammerfest, and a midnight concert in Tromso’s Arctic Cathedral. Passengers also try their hand at fishing on an Arctic safari, hiking to Svartisen—Norway’s second largest glacier—and exploring the eastern border region with Russia by riverboat. In winter, cruise passengers go dog sledding in Tromso, sample a Lofotr Viking feast, join the Sami people in a snowmobile safari in Lapland, and visit the Kirkenes Snow Hotel.
Hurtigruten, incidentally, has launched the Layaway Getaway program, which allows passengers who book any May through December 2009 departure by Feb. 28 to make monthly, no-interest payments, and still have the option of canceling with a 100 percent refund up to 70 days before departure.
The number of monthly payments depends on the departure date of the chosen trip—from three payments for those departing in May to 10 monthly payments for December sailings.
Russia The leading river cruise destination in Russia is the Volga, a river that has been a thoroughfare of commerce and culture for centuries. General Tours is marketing its 7-night Splendid Waterways of the Czars cruises between Moscow to St. Petersburg aboard the 59-cabin Volga Dream, Russia’s first luxury ship, which under Western management adds new comforts to this waterway cruise with outside staterooms, flat-screen TVs, and fine wines at a la carte lunches and dinners. Six escorted excursions in the river port towns en-route, including three UNESCO World Heritage sites, are included in the cruise cost, priced from $2,299 pp dbl. (What is not included in costs is a visa, essential for U.S. citizens visiting Russia.)
Cruise highlights include a walking tour of the lovely Golden Ring town of Uglich, founded in the 10th century, with visits to the imposing Church of St. Demitrius of the Blod, built on the site where Ivan the Terrible’s son Dimitry was assassinated. In beautiful Yaroslavi—one of Russia’s oldest cities with lovingly preserved churches from the 13th to 17th centuries—passengers browse through the local market to experience a bit of daily life along the Volga. Following a sailing across scenic White Lake, a visit is made to the village of Goritzy to tour the Kirill-Belozersky Monastery, founded in 1397, and on the next day passengers cruise Lake Onega, Europe’s second largest lake, to Kizhi Island for a walking tour of the Open Air Museum of Architecture, with stellar examples of traditional Russian wooden structures, including windmills, houses and churches.