The Northern Lights trip was my first jaunt on a cruise ship, and the cabin wasn’t the only reservation I had. I’d grown up with the idea that a cruise holiday is like being trapped in a cheap and cheerful holiday camp with absolutely no escape, and although that can float some people’s boat, I was somewhat relieved with the reality. Here are five things I discovered on board the Hurtigruten’s Midnatsol in December 2012.
#1. Entertainment is Optional
This had been one of my primal fears. Organised fun has never been my cup of tea, mainly due to the “organised” part of it, but the redcoat cabaret act, rallying reps and other stereotypical horrors I had in mind never materialised.
The closest we came was the day our ship crossed the Arctic Circle, when a collection of crew members donning Viking-esque costumes spouting half Norwegian and half-arsed English enacted some kind of roleplay. You were free to stand and gawp or walk away humming loudly if you so wished; regardless, you received a rather spiffing memento of your crossing:
Another night on deck we were cordially invited to try some Trollfjord Schnapps – black tea spiked with rum – and the only pestering was from myself, vainly trying out my Norwegian phrases on the bartender, whose expression slid from tolerant to baffled fairly quickly. Of course, entertainment being optional went both ways.
Shockingly, the Wi-Fi connection was wiggy in the vast expanse of the Norwegian Sea, and the upper deck’s small library and accompanying board games brought to mind the ancient bookshop where Little Jimmy finds a dusty but magical artifact and goes on an adventure. But who needs this kind of insular entertainment when, in addition to two viewing decks, there are enough observation windows to build a funhouse mirror maze?
This also ensured people weren’t all crowded together in one space, which leads on to number two:
2#: Sanitiser is Your Friend
There was an unwritten rule that on entering or leaving the dining room you had to slather your hands in alcoholic cleanser. Failure to do so meant a disapproving look, or worse, a tut, from the crew member stationed at the door. Anyone who’s worked in an open plan, air conditioned office knows how sickness and bugs can hop from person to person like an unseen demon, so multiply that by a few hundred and you have the situation on a cruise ship. Fortunately, this wasn’t the reason I felt sick myself.
3#: Sea Sickness Didn’t Go Away – It Just Got Distracted
I’d been on smaller boats before with no issue, but the behemoth beneath my feet was lolloping over untamed waves most of the time and decided to take my stomach with it. For the first three days my insides were lopsided and my ears were whirring with nausea, even before I was fully awake, but eventually someone turned the sound down and I realised I could walk straight. Luckily I had something to grab on to if the need arose, because:
4#: The Cabin Was Tiny
Our mid-deck cabin was rather grandiosely labelled a “twin”, but the beds were the size of a bus seat and an ironing board and the shower was almost larger than an aeroplane bathroom. Since we spent most of our time eating in the dining room or on deck scouring the waves for marine life and northern lights, it was a tolerable sacrifice, and to be honest, if you spend your time on an Arctic cruise surfing the net instead of enjoying the view, you should be thrown in the ocean. Or at least made to cough up the £400 upgrade for better quarters.
Speaking of luxury items,
5#: There Was a Rooftop Jacuzzi…and Helipad
It’s a rookie mistake to forget your swimming costume in the Arctic, and I kicked myself whenever I walked past this bubbling pit of awesomeness. It was on the top viewing deck in the open air with its own shower, and hardly anyone used it (strange that), so with a bit of foresight I could have monopolised it for most of the trip. I’m sure the on board shop, which sold pretty much everything else, missed a trick by not selling any swimming gear, as I doubt I was the only person stamping their feet in self-reproach.
As for the helipad, it was more for necessity than any celebrity landings, but it made me think of playground hopscotch and Jurassic Park in a fleeting moment of childhood nostalgia.
Not too shabby for my first cruise into unknown waters, where the only monsters were a bout of sea sickness, a small cabin and a British reluctance to get naked in public. Still, there’s always next time.