Critique on Our Antarctica Cruise on Hurtigruten’s MV Fram January 26, 2008 to February 2, 2008
Part I of IV Parts:
Audre wanted to go to Antarctica; Dimitri was ambivalent about it. While we were in Santiago, Chile in May 2007, we heard about a new ship built by a Norwegian company that has cruises in the Arctic and the Antarctic. At a meeting of the American Association of Chile, representatives of Hurtigruten, the Norwegian company, came to make a presentation about their cruises to Antarctica. At the meeting, we met a member of the AAC who had been on an cruise to Antarctica with Hurtigruten. She was extremely enthusiastic about the cruise and the company.
As we got more details about the new ship, the MV Fram, Dimitri and I both got more interested. The design of the ship looked terrific, with a large observation deck, 2 Jacuzzis, 2 saunas, a big gym and a Internet access on board. The itinerary in Antarctica sounded good and we had never heard anything bad about Norwegian ships or their hospitality services. It was colossally expensive, however. We booked a junior suite nine months before the cruise and were able to negotiate an upgrade to a suite and the early bird discount. The price was US$14,000 for 9 days, 8 nights. We figure it cost $1750 per day for the 2 of us. This included everything except drinks, wine and laundry.
We were glad we went to Antarctica but not thrilled. The scenery was spectacular when we finally got to Paradise Harbour but it took around 2.5 days to get there. We would have liked to fly to the Antarctic Peninsula and pick up a ship there. There is a lot of time wasted crossing the Drake Passage (36 hours each way) too.
While the ship was magnificent Hurtigruten, the company operating it, wasn’t. The food was good but not as good as it should have been for the price and we would have preferred more served meals rather than buffet arrangement. There was not enough personal attention by the staff and we were not made to feel like they valued our business.
Click here to see all of the pictures of the ship, the penguins and the icebergs (and everything else) that we took.
Part II of IV Parts:
The Particulars of Our Trip
In December 2007 we re-confirmed the reservation we had made in the preceding May. In early January, 2008 we arrived in Ushuaia, Argentina where we were to board the MV Fram on the 26th. The MV Fram was in port and we heard from another tourist that it had been in port for a few days. This started to worry us because there were cruises scheduled for this period. Without any trouble we went on board the MV Fram one day and met a receptionist who showed us around. She explained that a lifeboat had been damaged by an iceberg and that the ship was in port for repairs. The ship was magnificent and our suite, 543, fantastic. We asked whether we could bring our own wine on board and she said “yes”. We also asked whether there was a corkage fee and she said “no”. We were happy and getting very excited. We also read a critique of the MV Fram on the Cruise Critic website and it sounded good. Click here to read the review.
A few days later in a restaurant, we met some crew members of another ship who explained to us that the MV Fram had lost its engine power and had drifted onto a glacier during the Christmas cruise. The captain decided to abort that cruise and to cancel 2 other cruises to fix the engines (as well as the life boat that was damaged). Click here to read a story about the encounter with the iceberg online in the website called Cruise Critic. The Hurtigruten website never mentioned the accident or the canceled cruises. We thought that was strange and inappropriate.
We were relieved to see the MV Fram leave port on January 12th for its scheduled cruise. We bought 9 bottles of wine for the cruise. We continued to look forward to the cruise and to make arrangements with the local travel agent for our luggage to be picked up from our hotel in Ushuaia. We met the local travel agent but ultimately decided to get to the ship by ourselves by taxi. Most of the passengers were coming to Ushuaia by plane from Santiago, Chile on the morning of the cruise, would take a tour around Ushuaia, and then would board the ship in the afternoon.
On the morning of the 26th Dimitri called the local travel agent to find out what time we could board the ship. The travel agent said something along the lines of “you have been canceled.” At first Dimitri didn’t understand. Dimitri thought he meant that the cruise had been canceled. Dimitri called the agent back and was assured that there had been a decision made by the local representative of Hurtigruten to cancel us because of a double-booking.
Fortunately, we had a cell phone number and were able to contact Jane Huseby in Santiago, the person who sold us the cruise package. At first she misunderstood the situation too. She thought we were talking about cancellation of a flight back to Santiago (of course we were never flying to or from Santiago; we had our car in Ushuaia). Eventually, after several telephone calls, she offered us a discount on another cruise date, a lesser type of cabin and one other choice. We said, “no” to all the options. We only wanted to take the cruise on the 26th in the suite that we had booked nine months before. In the meantime, we decided to get a taxi and to go to the ship at noon, about 4 hours earlier than the other passengers were to board.
At the gangplank we were met by the Assistant Purser, Janniche. She was very pleasant and arranged to have our luggage brought on board. When she couldn’t find our names on the passenger manifest, we showed her our written confirmation from Hurtigruten in Santiago. She woke up the Chief Purser, Musti. After Musti joined us and was confronted with the problem, we suggested she call Jane Huseby. Eventually, Jane and Musti decided that we should be in suite 543 because we had booked and paid for the suite eight months earlier. The other people were to be put in another cabin.
So we were on board, in the cabin we had reserved. But our enthusiasm for the cruise had been seriously adversely affected. Musti and Janniche assured us that we would have a fabulous time on the cruise and the double-booking would be a distant memory.
Our suite was truly great. The storage was terrific and the comfort level was excellent. The only problems were the bedding and that the TV didn’t work as it should have.
On our queen-sized bed, there was a mattress cover and 2 separate duvets--no sheets, no blankets. This is how we remembered the bedding from our six-month exploration of Sweden and Finland. We hated it then and we knew we didn’t want that type of bedding on the cruise. The Philippina maid used 4 single bed sheets and 2 blankets to try to create a more suitable situation for us. It worked but just barely, meaning that when I inched over to snuggle with Dimitri, some part of me was bare. But it was better than duvets, that make us sweat.
Okay, so now we are really settled and prepared to have a wonderful time. We are brought a fruit basket and a bottle of champagne from Hurtigruten and we have a nice celebration with some cheese and crackers that I brought on board.
The first night was a buffet dinner and it was fine. We sat with some nice people from England, near Oxford, and a couple from Scotland joined the table. We brought a bottle of our wine to the dining room. The dining room manager came to our table and told us that we couldn’t bring our own wine to the dining room without paying a corkage charge. We told him that the receptionist had assured us that there was no corkage charge. He said that he made the rules in the dining room and that there was a corkage charge. Dimitri was adamant and Else, the hotel manager came to the table. We told her the entire story of boarding the ship three weeks earlier, getting a tour and asking about bringing our own wine and corkage fees as well as the response. The solution for the problem of corkage was postponed and fortunately the people at the table sitting with us had a great sense of humor. They defused our anger and we had a fun dinner with them. The ship left on time at about 8 p.m. Saturday night.
After dinner there was a welcome meeting where the captain, Steinar Hansen, explained the problem with the engines during the Christmas cruise and assured the passengers that all of the problems had been fixed and that there would be no problems on the cruise. He was not a good public speaker. On the other hand, the expedition leader, Karin Strand, was a warm and entertaining speaker. She introduced her staff and the officers of the ship. There was a safety drill as well.
The following afternoon we had a big meeting about our wine and corkage fees with Else, Musti, Janniche and the receptionist that we had met originally. It was finally arranged that our wine would be kept in the dining room and discretely brought to the table so as not to alert other passengers. There would be NO corkage fee. That being settled to our satisfaction we were prepared to really enjoy the cruise. But we have a bad taste in our mouths from the first two awful experiences. And we are thinking that Hurtigruten is dysfunctional--one booking office doesn’t communicate with another; the receptionists are poorly trained, the website doesn’t state the rules about bringing wine on board, etc. And, although treated properly, we were never made to feel really welcome or as if we were important to the company, if you know what we mean.
Our first day of sailing was through the notorious Drake Passage, passing the famous Cape Horn, for 36 hours. The day was sunny and the sea was not too rough. We sat out on the deck of our suite and enjoyed ourselves (fully dressed in coats and hats and gloves). There were a couple of lectures, one with Rudolf Thomann and the other with Bob Rowland. The excursion leaders were good and their lectures were interesting.
Breakfast was a buffet but you could order eggs cooked to your specifications, pancakes and omelets. Lunch was also a buffet but dinner on Sunday was served. At both breakfast and lunch there were smoked fish on the buffet, typical of Scandinavia. I never buy that for ourselves because Dimitri doesn’t like it. So at lunch I had a salad and some smoked fish. I Iike it and the selection on the MV Fram was good. In addition to salads, there was a full buffet with hot food, soup, breads and desserts at lunch.
That night we were scheduled for the later seating, at 20:15; that was fine with us although we couldn’t eat with our friends from the night before. The served dinner was quite good. A bottle of our wine was brought to the table without incident. After dinner a movie about Ernest Shackleton was shown which we didn’t see. Instead, we went back to our suite and watched a movie on our computer. We couldn’t hook up our Archos 605 personal video recorder to the TV in the room because it really wasn’t a TV or some such problem. (When we asked for a technician to help us hook up our personal video recorder to the TV, he was useless.)
Actually, the TV in the room didn’t work. The schedule wasn’t posted as the screen said it would be and only one channel repeatedly showed the same boring (poor quality) movie about Antarctica. We were told there was a problem with the system that hadn’t been solved.
In the afternoon of Monday, our second day on board, we arrived at Half Moon Island at the South Shetland Islands. The excursion to Half Moon Island was well planned and we enjoyed seeing the chinstrap penguin rookery up close.
We were given a jacket, a life vest and high boots. It was about 2° to 4°C. Fully dressed, we weren’t cold. I didn’t wear the Hurtigruten jacket, instead I wore a coat I had bought in Santiago for our Chilean winter season (and had been carrying around in one of my suitcases just for our Antarctica trip). In accordance with the rules for landings on Antarctica, the boots were washed before and after each landing (and it was mandatory to wear the special boots). This landing site was in its summer condition: very muddy. So the penguins in the rookery are red with the dirt of their droppings and the soil. When they waddle back from the sea they are nice and clean. Evidently the krill they eat makes their droppings red. We were supposed to stay a few meters away from the penguins but they walked up to us and so we were really close. At this point we are at 62° S and are having fun!
Another bottle of champagne was awaiting us in our suite. This time the champagne was from Jane Huseby to apologize for the screw up with our booking. We invited Ann, Geoffrey, Sylvia and Neil, our first night dinner companions to share the champagne. After all they endured the foul up with corkage fees too. We had a lovely cocktail party (with the snacks that I had brought on board) and have a great photo on our balcony to commemorate it.
After dinner that night the ship continued south to Deception Island at around 10 p.m. It doesn’t get dark that far south so when we went through Neptune’s Bellows to get to the crater inside Deception Island we could see it as we soaked in one of the two Jacuzzis.
We used the gym, the sauna and the Jacuzzis whenever we could (when we were crossing the Drake Passage, in both directions, they closed the Jacuzzis). On Tuesday morning, we had excursions at Port Lockroy and Goudier Island. Now we were at 64:49° S.
After the lunch buffet, we arrived at Paradise Harbour on the Antarctic Peninsula across from Bryde Island. It was beautiful and fun. At this point there was much more snow and not so much mud. The excursions were well planned and the leaders had very good information. After a climb up a hill at Paradise Harbour we slid back down a snow track on our buts.
On our excursion boat was a man whose voice sounded familiar to me. I had heard the voice on Saturday, after the passengers who flew in from Santiago had boarded. It took me until Tuesday to figure out whose voice it was: it was Bob Adams whom I had worked with in the ‘80’s in Los Angeles. Bob was on the investment banking side of initial public offerings when I was practicing law, working on the same transactions. Recognizing him was totally cool and, when I introduced myself, Bob remembered me. Later on the cruise, Bob, Dimitri and I had a lovely chat. It was fun to have such a chance encounter in such a remote place.
Of course we have zillions of pictures of penguins and some seals as well. On Wednesday, we sailed through the Lemaire Channel to land on Petermann Island, between the Antarctic Peninsula and Booth Island at 65° 10.68 S. It’s getting more and more like our “concept” of Antarctica—lots of gorgeous icebergs and lots of glaciers and lots of whiteness. It was cold but there wasn’t any precipitation and it was actually sunny part of the day.
It would have taken 1.5 more days to get to the Antarctic Circle and so that wasn’t part of the itinerary. Too bad; a “been there, done that” item that we can’t cross off the list.
We were not able to land at Neko Harbour on Wednesday because the excursion boats would not have been able to cope with the icebergs (is that a sign of global warming?) so we did small boat cruising outside of the harbor. Neko Harbour, by the way, is where the ship lost its engine power and drifted into the glacier.
On Thursday there were some clouds and some sun. We went to the gym in the morning and then used the Jacuzzi. In the afternoon we were supposed to have a landing at Brown’s Bluff. Again there was too much ice and we were unable to land. The ship cruised the Antarctic Sound and it was quite beautiful with all of the intensely blue icebergs. People saw minko whales. We just saw tails—I guess we don’t have the patience to sit and watch for them.
Thursday night Sylvia and Neil bought our group drinks in the Observation Lounge and the Philippino crew put on a show. The Norwegians said it’s good that the crew was Philippino because they can entertain. If the entertainment were up to the Norwegians, the passengers would be bored. Very revealing! The Norwegian officers were “correct” but not warm or particularly personable. Hurtigruten seemed to us dysfunctional. We wouldn’t recommend the company.In fact, we chose the ship, not the company. If we ever go on a cruise again, we will be more demanding of the cruise company.
On Friday we sailed around Gibbs Island before starting back through the Drake Passage. There was a served dinner on Friday and Saturday nights and both were quite good. We were able to arrange having a large table and we ate with our friends from our first dinner on board. Both Friday and Saturday night served dinners were much better food than any of the fare served at the buffets.
The trip back through the Drake Passage was rolling but not rough and there was some sun. By 7 a.m. we were along side in Ushuaia. We were among the last to leave the ship and had no trouble getting a taxi to our hotel in Ushuaia.
Now that we've been to Antarctica, we understand what Teri McLachlan meant in Excursions for Expats when she said in the Antarctica section of her book: "Reason to visit: Love of rugged nature, penguins, unique locations, penguins, add a continent to your 'Been there, done that' list, penguins, crossing the 'Dreaded Drake' Passage, penguins, Cape Horn, penguins!" We had satisfied our curiosity about penquins so thoroughly that we didn't even stop at the famous Pennisula Valdes in Argentina to see more penguins.
We created a list of suggestions and sent it to the company. They are attached in Part III. Part IV is the Hurtigruten response to our suggestions (which we found unsatisfactory).
Part III of IV Parts:
Suggestions for MV Fram 25 Jan. 2008 “Discover Antarctica in Ten Days” Voyage
We joined the Fram in Ushuaia on 26 Jan. 2008. We were very impressed with the expedition staff and enjoyed all of the landings as well as the lectures. The Fram is beautifully designed and a very comfortable ship. The cabins are well designed and have enough storage for a 8 day voyage. Musti, the Purser, and Janniche, the Assistant Purser, are professional, yet friendly and engaging. We enjoyed the cruise and have the following comments and suggestions:
o The television doesn’t work easily and turns itself off randomly
o Many items on the menu aren’t operational (such as the Daily Programs)
o There should be current movies showing on the Video channels
o There should be music available on the television
o The television should be usable as an alarm clock
o The shower door needs a latch to keep it closed when showering
o Body lotion should be complementary
o We do not like the style of bedding that is a comforter only on top of a mattress. We like to have a fitted sheet of quality cotton on top of the mattress (that is the correct size for the mattress). Then we like to have a flat sheet of quality cotton and a light blanket (again, that is of the correct size for the mattress). This style of bedding should at least be an option.
o Wine should be included in the price of the cruise.
o There should be more served meals. Out of 8 dinners, only 3 were served meals. They were much more pleasant meals and the quality of the food was better too.
o When there is a buffet at lunch or dinner, there should be assigned seatings so that there are not hoards of people lining up at one time (should be done the same way as the landings)
o The doors of the restaurant should open on time (not 2 or 3 minutes late)
o There should be skim milk and other low fat options
o The food is good but it should be more creative and refined
o There is no information on the Hurtigruten website (or anywhere else) to alert passengers that there is a corkage charge if wine is brought on board and the Reception staff that we encountered is not trained about the rules on bringing wine on board.
o There should be a movie or a lecture offered after dinner in the conference rooms
o Tend to be too hot and people fall asleep
o The leather chairs are designed in such a way that they are extremely uncomfortable and the chairs with fabric are not much more comfortable
o The cabinets with the books and games should be left unlocked
o More machines are needed (and there is plenty of room for them)
o It gets too hot in the gym and fans are needed
o The temperature should be 40° - 41°
Check in procedure:
o There should be a better system to eliminate the long line down the “gang plank” on the first day boarding check in
o Some of the Receptionists lack customer relations skills and act like prison guards.
o Some of the officers do not seem comfortable around passengers.
o Some of the wait staff do not know the items that can be ordered from the menu at breakfast
Part IV of IV Parts:
The Hurtigruten Response to Our Suggestions
Hurtigruten sent us a letter in response to the comments we sent them. This is the response:
Phone: +47 76967600
HURTIGRUTEN ASA Telefax: +47 76967601 Havnegata 2, P.O.Sox 43 Booking: +4781030 000
8501 Narvik HURTIGRUTEn
www.hurtlgruten.comNO 914 904 633 VAT email@example.com
Audre Engleman and Dimitri Moursellas
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Case no. File no:
Our ref: Your ref: Date: 2008/000276 541
Bente Rydland 12.03.2008
Havaas MS Fram 25. January 2008
Thank you for your letter of29.02 bringing to our attention your experience from the explorer cruises on MS Franl. We appreciate to get response fronl our guest, and have forwarded your letter to the ship as well, and get comments from the hotel manager.
Regarding your experience ofthe double booking situation, we have asked our office in New York to answer you direct1y.
We have noticed all your points for improve, and will continue our work to give the best for our guests.
Cabin: We have problems with television on board; we do not get the signals in Antarctica. We are working to tind other solutions, we know that the picture sometimes "freeze" for minutes. The doors to the bathroom is only a problem when it is rough weather, then it must be used a strap. The style ofbedding is standard on all our ships; we have to use non-flammable and no allergic materials.
Restaurant: Sorry for the information you was given regarding bringing your own wine onboard, and the corkage charge you have to pay. According to our regulation there is not allowed to bring own wine to the restaurant, the routines is now changed onboard. The dinner during the crossing is served meals, but in Antarctica is it served as large buffets with both cold and warm dishes.. This is because ofthe flexibility because ofthe different times on landings. This is based on experience from our previously seasons, and we have different topics, such as Norwegian, Asian e.g.
Evening entertainment, observation deck: There are lectures and movies some evenings, depending on other activities. The chairs in the Qi1ak Bar are not comfortable to sit in, we have sent complaint on that to the shipyard, and hopefully they will be replaced.
Gym and Jacuzzi: The fitness room is well equipped, and there are room for other activities as well, such as ball, gymnastic etc. The Jacuzzi is 39 degrees Celsius, which are the official requirement.
Check in procedures and training: Queue is difficult to avoid when mostly ofthe guests is arriving at the same time. In order to do the check in as quicklyas possible, we have done all the registration ofpassports, cabin numbers e.g. before the guests are arriving. But all have to be photographed upon arrival, so every single guest has to pass thru our checkpoint. We bringing your comments regarding receptionists, officers and wait staff to the ship, and also your positive experience with the purser Musti, assistant purser Janniche and the expedition staff.
We thank you for your letter and proposals, and will do our best to give our guests a pleasant voyage.
Yours sincerely HURTIGRUTEN ASA ~\)-R~~
Bente R Havaas
Sales support Dlrect: 76 96 75 22 Bente.email@example.com
copy: HURTIGRUTEN INC New York Email: firstname.lastname@example.org