When I get back to the Hurtigruten terminal, the same girl is on the reception desk.
She had mentioned when I originally checked in that I should return to the terminal before the boat left, when I explained that I pretty much understood the principle that if I was not on the boat when it left, I would miss the cruise… She hands over my envelope which contains tickets and my pass, and then I head up for the ‘safety briefing’.
There are a few other people waiting with me. The safety briefing has been highlighted multiple times, including the ominous ‘The safety briefing is mandatory and if you do not take it, you will not be allowed to to get on the boat!’ so I’m expecting something significant.
In fact, it’s a video, which says, quite simply, if you hear the alarm, get to the lifeboats, put on a life jacket, and get off the boat. The video goes through this entire statement in about 2 minutes, then spends 90 seconds repeating the same basic information all over again, including another example of the alarm we should listen out for. I dont know what I was expecting, but from the description and warnings I expected more than the common sense info they provided.
Once the briefing is over, we are taken to the ship. There is a nice covered walkway, but the MS Lofoten is so small, that we have to go down the steps and take the fire escape and walk out to the boat, and are introduced to a very familiar process.
The primary contents of the envelope contain your Hurtigruten key card, and each key card is unique to you and the voyage and boat you are taking. The keycard is important for a number of reasons:
- It’s your room key. Dont forget it (although they will let you back in if you ask nicely!)
- You can associate it, on board, with a credit or debit card. This means you can use the card each meal for drinks (if you haven’t prepaid for water or wine), at the cafe, and even the on-board souvenir shop.
- You will need it every time you leave and enter the boat. You cannot leave without it, and you certainly wont be let back on board. It’s how they track whether all the passengers on the ship are on board before they leave a port.
It’s a brilliant system, not only from a safety perspective, but also convenience. If I had a complaint, it’s that I often forgot it when rushing out of my room because of the northern lights or other announcements.
Once on the ship, I start to take a look around and get my bearings around the decks before ultimately finding my room. My suitcases have been placed outside of my room, and I get the bags in and then do some very brief unpacking so I can hang up my shirts and put stuff away as good as I can. My room is, compact, about what you’d expect, with two fold out beds and a small desk, as well as a wet-room shower/toilet. I actually love small tiny spaces like this, so I’m perfectly happy.
Afterwards, I head back out to look around the deck and take some photos, before heading down to the restaurant for the buffet evening meal and start to meet the other passengers, although I eat alone as do many others, all slightly nervous of the other people on the cruise. This also introduces yet another standard operating procedure – before entering the restaurant you must use the hand sanitiser to prevent spreading infection around the boat.
After dinner I go and check why I do not have the coffee mug that will provide me with unlimited coffee for the journey (and also acts as a souvenir), and then we get an info blast from our ‘tour organiser’ Aesgir.
We are introduced to the senior members of the crew and then we are given instructions about life on board, including the importance of your key, and how things will work. A few interesting pieces of information come from that:
- The phone in your room also provides announcements. Press the F11 button (which was already pressed on mine) and you will hear all general announcements. These start at 7am and finish at 10pm and announce departure and arrivals at different ports, interesting views while out, excursion availability and many other things.
- The F12 button, if pressed, will work only between 10pm and 7am and will provide notification of northern lights if they are seen so that you can wake up and go see them. Obviously they are easier to view at night, so if you came expecting to see them, the alarm is vital.
- The hand sanitiser is crucial, not only in the restaurant, but also when leaving and joining the boat, even if you only step off for a minute.
- The MS Lofoten was built in 1967 and although refitted recently, still keeps a very traditional feel. The Hurtigruten line has been running for many years and still does the same basic route stopping at the different ports.
- We also learn what will turn out to be a significant piece of information. There are only 43 passengers on board a cruise ship that can take 150, so we are a small, very tight knit group. In fact, only 43 of us went all the way to Kirkenes, just 23 made the entire northbound and southbound trip.
- Finally, perhaps the most crucial piece of information of all, is that each night after dinner there will be an information sheet downstairs in the reception that will tell us all what is happening over the next 24 hours. It will contain a list of the stops, excursion, and activities, as well as any special sights we will see on the way past.
After the info dump, we still have two hours before the ship will leave Bergen. It’s dark outside, but the air is very crisp and I am loving the cold. It’s also surprisingly peaceful. I sit for a while out on one of the decks listening to some audiobooks and just enjoying the tranquility.
At 10:30, the last few people have arrived on the boat and we finally set sail. Although it is pitch black I do try my best to capture some photos of Bergen as we leave. Some of the decks are slippery. In fact, the main rear deck is entirely covered in an inch thick layer of ice. By 11pm I have had a long day, and decide to head to my cabin and bed.
My first problem is working out how to turn my sofa into a bed. I decide to sleep on the lower bunk and finally work out the catch and release mechanism and fall pretty much straight asleep.