Hurtigruten, the 120-year-old Norwegian cruise company with U.S. offices in Bellevue, WA, is expanding three onboard initiatives, all designed to enhance guest experiences, that it’s been pilot-testing this year.
TMR talked with Gordon Dirker, managing director-North America, about the programs.
Q: What can you tell us about Hurtigruten's new Expedition Style Voyages?
A: In the past year we've market-tested having an expedition team on the Coastal Norway route and the results were hugely successful. So the program will slowly roll out across the whole fleet. In 2016 we will have them on three ships on the Norway route.
Our ships deliver mail and goods to 35 ports along the coast. That's how the company started all those years ago. Now the region is a tourist attraction so we're adding value by putting these teams on the ships. People really appreciate learning more as they travel. Our expedition teams will take them canoeing, or hiking up a mountain where they plant a Norwegian flag. Onboard they give lectures about Viking history, the geology, and wildlife of the region.
Q: In 2015 Hurtigruten did a soft launch of Vintage Era Voyages. What are guests experiencing on these cruises?
A: The Vintage Era cruises are held aboard the Lofoten, which is a ship we've had since the early 1960s. In 2016 we move into the hard launch, and we're putting more marketing muscle into it for the U.S. trade. We've brought the ship back to its '60s style, a “Mad Men” style. Staff are dressed in the uniforms from that era, the dishes and china are from that era, the décor is vintage and the activities offered are from that era, such as fishing off the deck of the ship. The concept works well for people who are enthusiastic for that era.
The ship carries only 100 passengers, and some cabins have shared facilities. We won't be marketing those in the United States; we will only market cabins with private facilities here. These cruises attract purists—the people who are mad about steam trains, for instance, or vintage clothing. It's really a step back in time.
Q: Hurtigruten recently added an a la carte dinner menu on some of its coastal voyage ships. How does it work?
A: We added the a la carte menu this summer on five of our 14 ships, and it's now being rolled out on the whole fleet. Guests can pay $19 per dinner to upgrade, if you will, to an expanded menu.
Hurtigruten offers a standard three-course, fixed-entree dinner, so with this new option guests receive a menu with choices of a variety of selections, and a fourth course. It's a premium experience. We don't have specialty restaurants. But with this new program we will have either a separate dining room or a separate section of one dining room for passengers who choose this option. Our standard fixed dinner, by the way, can be changed if someone doesn't like what's being served. If we're serving lamb from a local farm—because all of our food is locally sourced—and you don't like lamb, and want beef instead, we can do that.
Q: Hurtigruten is a kind of hybrid cruise line, part expedition, part niche. Who are the agency clients who would be a good fit for the line?
A: Generally, boomers who like to do things that are not mainstream are potential Hurtigruten customers. We break it down into four major types: those looking for culture and history; nature lovers; activity-focused people; and those who are looking for something different, like those who hike to Machu Picchu.