MS Fridtjof Nansen is the sister ship to MS Roald Amundsen, the world’s first hybrid-powered cruise ships, and both run on a combination of marine gasoil – the lightest green diesel available – and surplus electricity stored in batteries. Both are Polar Class 6 icebreaker ships, designed to move through frozen water or pack ice, which is perfect for their expedition cruises to Antarctica, the Chilean Fjords, Greenland and through the North West Passage around northern Alaska and Canada.
It’s an expedition ship and Norwegian-made and owned, so as you’d expect there are no airs and graces on board let alone formal nights. You don’t have to change for dinner if you don’t want to, although most people at least swap their waterproofs and fleeces for casual smart attire. During sea days, though, people dress for comfort with jumpers and jeans the norm.
Days are spent either on Zodiac boat expeditions or land excursions, depending on the location, and when back on board passengers can go to lectures about wildlife or local highlights.
There are hosted birdwatching or whale-spotting sessions from the front of Deck 6, which is covered and has strengthened glass windows so even in the roughest weather you won’t get soaked by a wave or rain.
The Observation deck is next to Amundsen Science Centre, where there’s a lecture room big enough for 200 people – the ship takes up to 530 passengers – as well as a science area, library and photo room for smaller workshops.
The science area is particularly good, with imitation bones – there’s a polar bear skull, black bear paw, walrus tusks and albatross skull among them – that are used for talks by the expedition team. Two circular science desks, where the team hold casual wildlife talks, have microscopes for passengers to use, either to look at prepared slides of things like plankton lava, algae and jellyfish, or to take a closer look at your own beach finds with the help of an expert.
The library has English language books – mostly on wildlife, plants or geography – but there are also four iPads with app versions of books and additional videos.
The photo room might be used for arts and crafts workshops but it also has a collection of cameras that can be borrowed for 24 hours, with a photographer to explain how they work and answer your photographic questions.
One deck up and there’s a small but stylish gym with running and cycling machines and weights, while opposite is the wellness centre for spa treatments such as back and neck massage, foot and hand treatments, and facials costing 65 euros for a 25-minute session.
There’s another observation deck at the front of deck 7 but this isn’t covered and gives photographers a better view of dolphins that regularly follow the ship, or birds and other wildlife.
Then on deck 10 there’s the free sauna, a really beautiful wooden room with a huge floor-to-ceiling window so you can see outside – although it’s coated so that nobody can see inside. Swimming costumes are worn in the sauna, which is a wonderful place to warm up after a day in the cold, and it’s only a few paces away from the pool deck where there’s an infinity pool, two hot tubs and a bar with sheltered seating.
The rest of deck 10 is taken up with the Explorer lounge and bar, which serves free hot chocolate and speciality coffees as well as cocktails, and a pianist plays a baby grand piano at key periods.
Finally, deck 11 is an observation deck with an outdoor gym and running track, while deck 3 has a state-of-the-art expedition launch room with seats and a giant screen to show safety and information films before you get onboard one of the 15 Zodiac boats.
The ship also has some double canoes for guests to use on guided expeditions and snow shoes for trekking and there’s a BlueEye underwater drone that sends pictures of sea life back to screens in the Science Centre.
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Whether you opt for an Expedition Suite, Arctic Superior Cabin or Polar Outside Cabin you won’t be disappointed with the décor, it’s simply stunning, although sizes vary.
Floor-to-ceiling bed boards of bent beech wood creates a feature wall to set off soft cotton bedlinen in white and grey and a traditional brown and cream woolen blanket over the bottom of your bed.
Some cabins have contemporary standard lamps teamed with stylish little wooden side tables, while the suites might have leather armchairs, side tables that look like slices of a giant boulder and a desk that look like it’s granite-topped, although it’s not.
All cabins have excellent showers and good storage, while the really swish corner suites have baths as well as showers.
Wardrobe space can be on the small side, even in Arctic Superior cabins, but everybody gets a kettle with tea and coffee – although suites get espresso coffee makers.
About 50 per cent of cabins have balconies, with a small table and chairs, although cabins without balconies include accessible cabins and those with sofa beds for flexible sleeping arrangements.
The very best suites are the corner suites, two at the back of deck 7, 8 and 9 plus two at the front of deck 7 and 8.
These have giant picture windows, balconies, and the aft corner suites even have hot tubs outside, while all suites and some of the other cabins have mini bars and a selection of wine in the room with a bottle of white wine at 35 euros and beer at 7 euros.
The main dining room, Aune, is a big L-shaped room filled with light from the floor-to-ceiling windows at the side and back of the ship on deck 6.
It is a lovely contemporary-style restaurant with a good choice of two-seat and four-seat tables and a few bigger ones for large groups.
Breakfast and lunch are both buffets with a wide choice of hot and cold food and you can sit anywhere you like.
Dinner is slightly more formal, with a set menu and waiter service at one of two allocated sittings – 6pm and 8pm – and always a vegetarian option with a separate menu for vegans. Salmon is almost always available and at dinner you might have a choice of beef tenderloin with asparagus, roasted tomatoes, pomme anna potatoes and béarnaise sauce or oat and mushroom cake with spinach and chips with roasted pepper sauce.
The Aune dining room is next to the smaller Fredheim restaurant, where there’s a much smaller breakfast buffet and a more peaceful atmosphere.
It’s a good place for a quieter lunch or dinner and has a permanent menu for both of elegant burgers, including vegetarian burgers, hot dogs, grilled chicken and more salmon.
The Fredheim also has excellent milk shakes and pudding is simply waffles with a choice of berries and cream or optional ice cream.
The other restaurant is Lindstrom, on deck 9, which is for suite passengers, although others can eat there for a 25 euro surcharge.
It’s a very simple décor, with paintings by Norway’s Queen Sonja – there are more paintings throughout the ship by members of her art foundation – and the menu has a distinctive Norwegian flavour with dishes including reindeer on the menu. Wine and beer is complimentary in all the restaurants at lunch and dinner, although not in the bars.
There is little in the way of organised nightlife on this ship, although those who want to socialise gravitate towards the Explorer lounge and bar, where there might be a pianist playing or folklore expert telling stories about local legends and history.
The pool deck bar is also open and you can take hot or cold drinks into the hot tubs in special metal cups so it’s a fun place to sit and watch the stars come out. Apart from that, evenings are mostly taken up with dinner, where complimentary wine and beer is served with meals.
MS Fridtjof Nansen will be sailing expedition cruises in Antarctica, South America, Greenland, Iceland, Alaska and Canada, the Northwest Passage and Europe, including a sailing in May 2021 from Hamburg to Iceland via the British Isles. See hurtigruten.co.uk for details.