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MS Nordstjernen Review

MS Nordstjernen Review - Sailing to 80 Degrees North

My Arctic adventure to Svalbard included a 5-day trip on the MS Nordstjernen ship with Hurtigruten. The ship was built in the 1930's and is essentially an icebreaker that has been kitted out as a cruise ship. What the Nordstjernen lacks in space and luxury, it makes up for in character, charm, and convenience.

MS Nordstjernen docked at Longyearbyen

If you are expecting an immense vessel, packed full with amenities, I advise booking a cruise with P&O, or Royal Caribbean. The Nordstjernen is an expedition ship - it is meant to sail through tough seas and survive the harsh conditions of the high Arctic.

MS Nordstjernen docked whilst we enjoy a shore landing

I knew exactly what to expect due to my experience with expedition ships in Antarctica. To that end, I wasn't disappointed and the MS Nordstjernen served as my home away from home during this enthralling trip.

Life ring on board the Nordstjernen

In the paragraphs below, I have created an MS Nordstjernen review and analyzed what this ship has to offer, enjoy!

Accommodation

If you are expecting luxury and spacious accommodation, the MS Nordstjernen will disappoint. My cabin was the size of a broom cupboard - no exaggeration! I paid for a basic stateroom, and it really was basic. Within the room, there was a bunk bed, and a sink - that was it! Luckily, I had the cabin to myself and didn't have to share. This meant I could put my luggage and belongings on the top bunk.

For two people, I can imagine the cabin space would be an issue. Despite this, I only slept in the cabin, so the space wasn't really a problem. This type of cruise is not luxury - it's an adventure and you should be out on the deck, taking in the breathtaking scenery.

My small cabin on board the MS Nordstjernen

This is exactly what I did. Moreover, the beds, although small, were really comfortable. I had a restful sleep each night and never got too hot or cold.

Old staircase towards my cabin

There are also no private bathrooms on the MS Nordstjernen - each section of cabins share a bathroom and toilet. I never found this an inconvenience as the shower room was always empty when I wanted to use it. It was also spacious, and the shower ran wonderfully hot.

Ship facilities

As I stated, the ship isn't luxury and it's not like a Royal Caribbean cruise liner. To that end, the facilities are minimal. Don't expect a swimming pool, sauna, and sun loungers! There is several comfortable seating areas. Moreover, there is the main dining area, and a small bar at the back of the ship.

Insignia and signs on the MS Nordstjernen

I think the ship has a small library too but I never found it so I am not sure! The deck areas have seating, and plenty of open viewing areas so you can see the stunning landscapes outside. This is where I spent most of my time – bracing the elements and enjoying the dramatic Arctic scenery.

Food and drink

During my time on the Nordstjernen, I pigged out completely. I got used to eating three full meals a day, and as much tea and coffee as I could physically drink.

Norwegian Flag on board the ship

The catering was magnificent. From the quality of the food, to the variety and presentation - everything was perfect. I couldn't have asked for more. This is coming from someone who is usually a fussy eater!

Breakfast

Breakfast was served promptly between 07:30am - 08:30am each morning. At first, I thought this was too early - I was never going to get up in time for that!

But from the first day, I realized this was a necessity. Having an early breakfast meant we could take more shore excursions and have much longer days exploring.

Insignia on the ship

The breakfast was a self-serving buffet meal. There was an excellent choice. Each day, I enjoyed fresh orange juice, coffee, cereal, croissants, and a cooked meal too.

They even served classic stringy bacon that you only ever seem to get on holiday! This awesome mix set me up for the day, and gave me energy for the day's activities.

Lunch

Lunch varied depending on the shore excursions and their timing. Generally, lunch was a buffet. There was usually a starter, such as soup, and a choice of different mains.

Hand rails outside on board the MS Nordstjernen

I basically shoved everything on my plate and tried a little of each dish. For example, one day, there was spaghetti and meatballs, and roast pork with potatoes. Again, the quality was amazing - I literally ate like a king!

Evening meal

Even though I had stuffed my face at both breakfast and lunch, I was still ravenous for the evening meal. This is because we hiked approximately 5 miles per day in winter clothing.

My body must have needed the nourishment. The evening meal was generally a set three course meal, with a sumptuous starter, main, and pudding. You can see what meals I enjoyed below:

  • Day 1: Buffet, excellent choice
  • Day 2: Salmon pate for starter, Lamb shank for main, Apple tart for pudding
  • Day 3: Duck breast with cranberry for starter, Smoked Salmon for main, lemon cream for pudding
  • Day 4: Scallops for starter, tenderloin beef for main, couldn't manage pudding!

I don't think I have ever eaten this well! Certainly not so much exquisite good. The portions weren't huge, but it all tasted and looked divine. I even tried some dishes that I hadn't before such as the Scallops. For me, the food was certainly a main highlight of the ship itself – I always looked forward to the meals!

Comfort and sailing conditions

Obviously when traveling on a ship for a prolonged period of time, comfort and sailing conditions are important. Generally, the MS Nordstjernen was an excellent ship. Despite its old age, it felt homely, and welcoming. It felt like my home from home.

Comfort

As part of my MS Nordstjernen review, I considered comfort. The ship was extremely comfortable. Although my cabin was tiny, the bed was still soft and pleasant to sleep in. Furthermore, the different quarters such as the bar, and dining area were always warm.

MS Nordstjernen main mast

I never felt cold on the ship, even when temperatures dropped. Additionally, the seating areas were well-furnished and easy to relax in.

Sailing conditions

I had previously experienced horrendous sailing conditions in Antarctica - the Drakes Passage knocked me for six and I ended up in bed for a day with sea-sickness. Luckily, sailing on-board the MS Nordstjernen was much more pleasant.

The first night, conditions were rough - the boat rocked quite ferociously whilst I was asleep. For the next three days, the conditions were amicable, and I experienced no sea-sickness.

Setting out to sail in the Arctic seas

The last night, however, we traveled at faster speeds to make good time back to Longyearbyen. This meant that the boat rocked, a lot. I became sea-sick and had to lie down for most of the evening. Overall, the sailing conditions were manageable.

I would still advise taking sea-sickness tablets, however, if you are prone to it. When the sea is rough, you can feel the motions of the waves and it can be disorientating.

Shore landings

When sailing in a ship such as the MS Nordstjernen, shore landings are usually conducted using small zodiac speed boats. This was exactly the case during my Arctic adventure.

Zodiac boats preparing for shore landings

The whole process was organized and well-managed. The passengers were split into different speaking groups - English, Scandinavian, and German. This meant you disembarked each time with familiar faces.

We were required to wear a life-jacket whilst on the zodiac boats. This was a necessary safety precaution. The boat trips were fun and reminded me of Antarctica.

Zodiac boats stored on the ship

The small zodiacs zipped along the water - it was such a rush to feel the spray of water and the cold blast of air on my face. Some journeys were bumpy as the zodiacs skimmed along the waves - I never felt unsafe, however.

The expedition crew who took the shore landings were exceptional. Steffane who was our guide was a fountain of knowledge – he gave me loads of useful information about the different birds found in Svalbard and experiences he had with polar bears. The shore landings were obviously the best part of the trip, and the organization of the staff and crew made them that much more enjoyable.

Rope piles on the main deck

MS Nordstjernen – A comfortable and well-equipped ship

The small cabin size really didn't bother me at all. As I said earlier, if you want a luxury cruise experience – go to the Caribbean! The MS Nordstjernen is functional – it does exactly what you need and more. It provided me with a comfortable and safe base from which I could experience the wondrous landscape of Svalbard – and that in the end, is why I visited!

The MS Nordstjernen

Hurtigruten have an amazing ship bursting with life and character. Furthermore, the staff and crew made my experience that much more enjoyable. It would certainly be a pleasure to travel on this historic vessel again!

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