Imagine being on the first cruise to sail since the coronavirus shut down that entire industry for nearly four months.
Hurtigruten Expedition Cruises’ Benny Didriksen knows: He was a captain on the MS Fridtjof Nansen for what the Norway-based cruise line says was the first international cruise since to sail since the worldwide lockdown.
“It’s a happy happening,” Didriksen told USA TODAY shortly after returning from the cruise. “The world is slowly getting back (to normal) again.”
Shortly after Norway made the declaration to allow international cruises in its territorial waters again, Hurtigruten had itineraries ready, the cruise line’s vice president of global communications, Rune Thomas Ege, told USA TODAY. The company, which is based in Tromso, had been in close contact with German and Norwegian authorities as Hurtigruten approached their return to international waters.
“MS Fridtjof Nansen departed on her first expedition cruise from Hamburg, Germany, a few days later,” Ege said.
On June 26, the ship started a 15-day itinerary headed to the Norwegian coast including stops to explore fjords and a mountain, albeit without traditional shore excursions.
Hurtigruten has set a capacity limit of 60% for he ship, which holds 500 beds, for the time being to ensure there is enough room on board to maintain proper social distancing, according to Ege. For this journey though, they didn’t quite hit the capacity mark.
“(The) first cruise had over 160 guests,” he said. “We’re happy, considering it was on sale for less than a week prior to first departure.”
Passengers on board echoed Didriksen’s positive review.
“The mood on board (was) very positive. Everyone is happy that such trips are possible again,” said Ulrich Slotta, from Hannover, Germany, who was on board with Birgit Hackerott, told USA TODAY.
Slotta said it felt good to be on the boat, though he has noticed some pandemic-induced changes, as expected.
In addition to the lowered capacity, Hurtigruten has instituted temperature checks in the dining rooms, eliminated the buffet and frequently reminded passengers to maintain social distancing. Masks are required, though only on the deck, he said.
“The staff is very committed to the hygiene regulations,” Slotta added.
Another noticeable change: The ship has not made any port calls and the passengers have only disembarked for social-distancing-friendly activities like kayaking and paddle boarding. But Slotta said that that didn’t dampen their experience on board.
“We knew beforehand that landings and port stops would not be possible on this trip. But the Hurtigruten Expedition team offered cruising with the small boats in many places and so we could enjoy the Norwegian coast and fjord landscape,” he said, referencing one excursion in the famed Geirangerfjord.
“We could also go kayaking and watch the seabirds. There were also interesting lectures,” he said.In fact, there were so many opportunities for activity that he didn’t even crack a book.
All in all, Slotta said he and Hackerott both felt safe on the ship even as coronavirus concerns persist around the globe.
He wouldn’t hesitate to sail again. And he’ll have the opportunity to take a repeat voyage with Hurtigruten, if he so desires, as the cruise line plans to restart 14 of their 16 ships by the end of September.
And with more restrictions beginning to lift, including some Norwegian restrictions, Hurtigruten will be able to schedule some excursions, such as hiking, starting July 15, Ege said.
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