Our family just returned from the 11-night round trip Bergen to Kirkenes on the Finnmarken. It was a reunion cruise for the descendants of family members who emigrated to the US in the 1800's. Following are my comments about the cruise and trip in general.
1. As a coastal steamer, the Finnmarken was a fine ship. If you can swing it, book a suite with a balcony. Beds were comfortable with lots of storage and entertaining space. The balcony was especially useful when called to view the northern lights as you could pop out in your pj's and coat instead of getting dressed to go to the upper decks. Try to get an even-numbered cabin, as the odd numbers were on the side of the ship where the cargo doors opened and it created quite a racket late at night at times.
2. We travelled in October and the seas were fairly calm on the northbound portion of the trip. However we did experience several rough nights on the southbound portion. We needed Dramamine so would advise you bring motion-sickness medication just in case you need it.
3. All of the staff we encountered were great. They work 22 x 11-hour days on and then have 22 days off. Most are native Norwegians and perform more than one function on the ship.
4. You can take booze on board to drink in your room. Hurtigruten does not xray or check your bags when you embark. There was a small fridge in our room and we were able to restock it at the various ports. Ice is available in the 4th floor cafe. You should be aware Norway has really tight rules around the purchase of alcohol. Most alcohol has to be purchased in the Vinmonopolet. From Wikipedia, "As the arm of the Norwegian government policy to limit the citizens' consumption of alcohol, primarily by means of high cost and limited access, the primary goal of Vinmonopolet is to responsibly perform the distribution of alcoholic goods while limiting the motive of private economic profit from the alcohol industry. Equally significant is the social responsibility of Vinmonopolet, to prevent the sale of alcohol to minors and visibly inebriated customers." To this end, they are open limited hours each day. Beer and cider is available in some grocery stores, but only until 8:00 p.m. weekdays and 6:00 p.m. weekends. Stores are not open on Sundays. Like everything in Norway, alcohol is expensive when compared to North America.
5. European lodging does not usually provide washcloths and Hurtigruten follows this example. Please remember to take a supply with you.
6. Food served at dinner in the dining room was restaurant quality. Unlike a larger cruise, there is a vegetarian menu and one choice for dinner. If you don't like seafood, you can ask for the alternative protein. We had halibut, arctic char, salmon, shrimp, cod, flounder, reindeer, beef and pork. You could also buy pizza and burgers in the café on the 4th floor. We didn't eat in the al la carte restaurant, Babette's, as the food on the menu looked pretty much the same as what was being served in the dining room. Water, tea and coffee are always available. They don't serve coffee and tea in the main dining room after dinner, but it is available on the 4th floor. I suspect this is to discourage lingering as they need to get the tables ready for the next seating. The buffet breakfast and lunches had lots of choices, but getting around can be time-consuming especially if the cruise is fully booked. Don't miss the hot chocolate between the juice and coffee dispensers.
7. As a family of 15, we were able to keep ourselves entertained with cards, games, puzzles and reading. Even then, we were all glad when the cruise came to an end. I suspect couples travelling alone may especially find the second half of the trip boring. Because of the time of year we went on the cruise (October), most of the southbound excursions were after dark or really early in the morning. And due to severe wind on the last few days, the ship didn't even go into scheduled ports on a few occasions. Be sure to check the sunrise and sunset times before you book your excursions. Horseback riding on a beach in Lofoten would not be much fun in the cold and dark. The selection of excursions is better in summer and winter than autumn; the main reason we chose that date was to see the northern lights. And yes, we did see the northern lights and they were glorious.
8. Speaking of the northern lights, I took a DSLR camera and was not able to capture any pictures with it. However, I downloaded an app called Northern Light Picture Taker on my iphone and with it was able to capture the lights.
9. There are washers and dryers on board which are free to use. Please note, they are self-soaping. As a North American, I was not used to this, and unnecessarily added a Tide Pod to the first load resulting in very soapy clothes. Also please note the second washer in was over-soaping the clothes; hopefully they will get this repaired.
10. We took too many clothes. For autumn you need t-shirts or golf shirts, sweatshirts and/or wool sweaters, jeans, a packable down-filled vest, a waterproof soft-shell coat with a hood, wool hat, wool scarf, gloves and rain pants or a rain-poncho. Umbrellas are largely useless if the winds are blowing. You also need warm boots with non-slip soles and sneakers.
11. We got off the ship in most ports and walked around on our own. One great find in Honningsvag was The Galleries on Mageroya which features the beautiful art work of Eva Schmutterer.
If we had to do it again, we would have disembarked the ship in Kirkenes and flown to Oslo for a few days before returning home. The scenery was beautiful; the first week flew by but the second week dragged a little.