Think a cruise for kids has to be all waterslides, ziplines and mouse ears? Think again. If your kids care more about culture and nature than nurturing their video game skills in a floating arcade, Norway may just be your best bet.
A sailing on the Hurtigruten line — which offers comprehensive seven-night northbound tours and six-night southbound tours — is a great way for the entire family to not only relax but enjoy what could be one of the best values in notoriously pricey Scandinavia. The cruise line is not only a working delivery, delivering food, fuel and mail to the ports up and down the entire Norwegian Seacoast, but also what local folks use as a ferry to get from one tiny port to another. So whoever you pass in the hallway or end up sitting next to in the dining room just may be speaking Norwegian, English, French or German — cruises here are a bucket-list experience for many European families.
Lest you think you’re getting on a fishing vessel, it’s easy to see why it’s a once-in-a-lifetime kind of tour once you’re onboard. Convenient family accommodations (Hurtigruten offers up to a dozen different configurations depending on the vessel) mean you can fit three and four to a room. But once you see the rest of the ship, you probably won’t spend much time in your cabin, for the common areas (and top sleeping decks) have all been renovated and there are plenty of common areas to spend some quality time. Onboard the M/S Nordkapp, for instance, the Panorama Lounge’s cozy fireplaces and comfy chairs on the bow are perfect for taking in stunning views of fjords and waterfalls for hours, or cozy up with a book on the couches. The Multe bakery and ice cream bar is decorated to look like Grandma’s house and there are rocking chairs and benches with homey knickknacks to kick back with a cappuccino or homemade frozen treat. Jump from the sauna to one of two Jacuzzis on the upper decks, or opt for a little entertainment courtesy of the onboard Expedition Team, a fun quartet that presents short skits and cultural lectures on the indigenous Sami people, for instance. On land, this same team leads hiking treks and seasonal optional tours. Kids will love the opportunity to go dog sledding with huskies in the winter, or meet and greet the pups and walk them when there’s no snow on the ground. There’s also a “meet the Vikings” tour, snowmobiling in the Arctic and a high-speed RIB Zodiac “safari” to the world’s most powerful tidal current.
You’re going to work up quite an appetite, which is where a fun dining experience comes in back onboard. Breakfast and lunch are buffet-style with open seating, and there are plenty of local delicacies to try, including salmon, savory reindeer stews and fresh-baked breads. At dinnertime, your seated meal with times for plating is like a roadmap of the day’s adventures — each menu includes a description of where you’ve sailed and who’s helped produce the cheese, raise the lamb or catch the cod. It’s hearty enough to doze off and enjoy a great night’s sleep. The Expedition Team even does the hard work of keeping their eyes open for the Northern Lights, and onboard announcements herald the arrival of the Aurora Borealis if you want to throw a jacket on over those pajama pants. What’s even better, Hurtigruten’s new Northern Lights Promise means if they don’t appear on select 12-night cruise departures, you can take another six- or seven-day voyage free of charge. (Full details are on the website.)
Tip: If you’re traveling in summer, opt for the seven-night tour that starts in Bergen to explore the UNESCO-listed waterfront there. Staying in a hotel for a night or two before boarding the boat means it’s easier to segue into a different time zone, too, before instantly being afloat.