Like its competitor, Hurtigruten, Havila Voyages cruises the Norwegian coast stopping at many small towns. Sometimes the stops are for a few hours but many are only for a few minutes, to load and unload the ship.
This ferry route has been in service for well over 100 years and was originally the only transportation access for many coastal communities. Today, most can be accessed by road but the ferry system is still very much used.
For those of us making the round trip Bergen – Kirkenes – Bergen journey, rooms are available. If you are only traveling one or two stops away, you can sit in any of the public access spaces. You can secure rooms for any length of the trip.
The embarkation process was quick and after a few minutes wait, we were able to board the ship.
We had originally booked a window room on the 4th floor but shortly after we boarded and before we were given access to our room, an announcement was made that there was an opportunity to upgrade to a junior suite. I checked with the reception desk and they showed me a suite that was available. The upgrade price was a significant discount from the standard pricing so we went ahead and took it. The room was large and beautiful, the bathroom, however, was a bit small.
We settled in for our first night on the ship with a dinner of vegan stew and a lecture on the stops we would be making the next day.
The northern lights were nowhere to be found our first night.
After several short stops, we had a longer stop in Aalesund. The town is walkable from the port. It was a cold and cloudy day but we dressed warmly and headed out. The cobblestone streets were lined with cute shops all decorated for the holidays. We stopped in several stores and explored the area before reboarding the ship for the night.
There were a few whisps of northern lights this evening but nothing I consider awesome.
Today’s long stop was Trondheim. It was a bit of a walk from the port but the weather cooperated and although it was cold, we had dressed in layers and were comfortable.
We found a Christmas Market to visit as well as a cute neighborhood with beautifully painted houses lining the river. We walked the streets, visited a few shops, and headed back to the ship.
We experienced an evening filled with northern lights.
The sky literally lit up with this beautiful phenomenon. We would stay outside on the upper deck as long as we could taking pictures and just watching the lights dance, then go inside to warm up in the beautiful observation area on the 9th floor. Once we were warm, outside we would go. We were even able to see them from our balcony. We stayed up way too late watching them.
This morning we crossed the arctic circle. A traditional celebration was had on deck 8 where the group requested safe passage from the Nordic sea king. The days are noticeably shorter, we only saw the sun for a few minutes just barely topping the horizon.
Our long stop today was in a small town called Bodo (pronounced Buda). We did a quick walk down the main street, picked up some hot chocolate at a small grocery, and returned to the ship. It was very cold today.
This evening we were again treated to northern lights that started in the afternoon and lasted all night long.
If the sun came up today, we missed it. There was a little lightning in the sky but dark again within the hour. We were able to get off the ship in Tromso. The ship ports right in town, we walked the festively decorated main street and stopped in several shops. It was very cold but we dressed appropriately so it was not a problem (as long as you didn’t stay in the shop too long). We even saw Santa passing out treats to the children.
The skies were once again filled with the northern lights; we really need to get some sleep!
Another dark day. We stopped in Honningsvag. It was bitterly cold and most of the shops were closed so we did not get off the ship.
The northern lights were out in full force starting in the afternoon.
Kirkenes, Norway - Day 7
The sun never made it over the horizon again today. There was a bit of dawn light in the sky but it only lasted an hour or so. The streetlights never went out. Our long stop today was in Kirkenes.
It was bitterly cold so we dressed in several layers and headed out to a local department store.
The actual town center was about a mile away, the department store only about a half a mile away.
We are only about 6 miles from the Russian border. Many Russian influences can be seen around town including the signage at the stores.
We picked up some fruit and snacks at the local grocery store for our room. They provide three meals a day on this trip but nothing in between the meal times.
The seas were a little rough this evening. The sky was cloudy, we did not see any northern lights this evening.
Hammerfest, Norway - Day 8
The seas have been rough all morning, you have to be careful when walking around the ship. Taking a shower and putting on makeup was an adventure.
The ship is running late to our next destination due in part to it taking longer to fuel yesterday and, I would suspect, the very rough seas.
The town, Hammerfest, was too far to walk to and to get back to the ship on time so we stayed on the ship.
It was cloudy and we did not see the northern lights this evening.
We did attend a lecture about the history of the fishing industry.
Svolvær-Lofton, Norway - Day 9
The day started out with rough seas but they calmed once we entered the Risoysundet straights. It is a very narrow shipping lane that opened in the 1920s, the scenery was spectacular.
In the evening, we visited a historic fishing village in Svolvaer-Loften, and learned about how important the fishing industry was, and still is, to the country. We hiked through snowy fields to look at the homes and cabins the fisherman lived in and learned how to dry fish for preservation. A process that is still in place today.
We did see some northern lights early in the evening.
Bronnoysund, Norway - Day 10
Today we crossed the arctic circle heading southbound. I’m hoping for more light than we have in the past few days.
Our long stop will be this afternoon in Bronnoysund where we hope to find a vegan burger! Although the food is well prepared on the ship, the menu does not change much and the selection is slim if you don’t eat meat, fish, or cheese.
Update – We were able to purchase a veggie burger at a little shop located at the port!!
Trondheim, Norway - Day 11
The longest stop today was back in Trondheim. It was actually one of my favorite stops on the northbound cruise but we didn’t get off the ship today because the port time was early, 6:30 AM, and it had snowed and become bitterly cold since our last visit. They are not great at clearing the snow and ice in most of Norway and it can make a short hike treacherous. Since it was quite a walk to town and no shops or markets would be open at that hour, we just stayed on the ship this time.
Back to Bergen, Norway
Today we head back to Bergen for our disembarkation. It was a pretty leisurely day of packing, watching the last of the coastal beauty, and saying good-bye to new friends. We took the bus to the airport and spent the night at the Comfort Hotel, just a short walk away.
We were very excited to eat some non-ship food and found a local pizza place, Rimini Pizzeria, about a mile away from the hotel. Once we were settled in our room, we bundled back up and walked to the restaurant for a fresh, hot, veggie pizza! Although it was very cold out, it felt good to get out and walk around.
Time to go home!
We got up very early for our 6:00 AM flight from Bergen to Frankfort. After a short walk to the airport terminal, we checked our bags and headed to the gate. The flight was delayed due to an APU issue and then we had to be de-iced so we arrived in FRA about one hour late.
We did not think that the delay would cause much of a problem because we had three hours between flights and the flight attendant told us that since we already had our next boarding pass, we just needed to go to our next gate.
When we got off the plane, however, I discovered an email from Lufthansa stating our bags had only been checked to FRA and we needed to pick them up and recheck them with United to the USA. We found a service desk and the attendant gave us directions on where to go to pick up the bags and where to go to recheck them.
Finding baggage claim was not an issue, it was well marked, but we had to wait 10 minutes for the bags to arrive. Once they came, we raced to find where to recheck them as my three-hour layover was quickly diminishing.
We finally found the United counter and it was utter chaos. We checked with several people working there and they insisted we wait in a very long line with one slow-moving attendant. It took over 45 minutes for this person to wain on less than 10 people! Once it was our turn she told us we’d better run if we wanted to make our plane!
Run we did, through halls and terminals until we reached passport control. There was not much of a line here and we passed quickly.
Once outside passport control, we faced lines that snaked back and forth; it was a maze of people! It was now time to board our flight, we heard the boarding calls over the speakers but when we approached an attendant to see if there was any way to pass quicker they said no (we asked several attendants, and they were consistent in their answers). We finally came to the conclusion that we were just not going to make our flight. We chatted with others in the line, everyone was in the same situation. When you travel to a foreign country you have to play by their rules. Getting upset and being mean to the folks working there can have serious consequences.
So we waited patiently with our new line friends. At one point, we noticed a man in a red jacket taking some people out of line and down the hall. I casually mentioned to him that our boarding time had already been called and we were concerned that we would miss our flight. He told us to follow him (and the group he had assembled). He took us down the hall, up and elevator, and to another security checkpoint that had very short lines. We followed his instructions on which line to go in and once again, patiently waited our turn.
As we neared the screeners, two women slipped under the lane markets and demanded to be let into the front of the line as they were going to miss their flight. I gently mentioned that we were all in the same situation. All of a sudden, three large men from the screening service approached them and demanded they go back under the lane marker to the end of the line. When they shouted that they were going to miss their flight the three guards yelled at them to leave the area and to the end of the line or they would call the police. I believed them and stood perfectly still until the situation was resolved. This interaction took place two feet from where I was standing! The woman retreated and the guards went back to work. Whew, that was a bit scary. I stood perfectly still until I was directed to the next screening station, answered the questions I was asked (politely), and passed quickly through.
We were once again off to the races, literally running to find our gate. I got winded several times and had to slow to a fast walk. We were totally exhausted when we arrive at the gate at our departure time. Normally the door to the plane closes about 10 minutes before the flight departs; luckily for us, that was not the case this time. After several document checks by the gate agents, we were able to board the plane. Our departure was delayed slightly due to luggage transfer but we were just thrilled to have made the flight.
The trip home was uneventful, even the transfer and wait in the US Customs line, although long, was stress-free. It was good to be back in the USA!