The launch of a new Hurtigruten expedition ship will bring Antarctica to the masses, the UK MD of the Norwegian-based company said last night.
The 500 passengers on Roald Amundsen will not be merely ‘waving at penguins’, as guests on some other ships do, but be standing beside them, said Magnus Zetterberg at the launch of virtual reality headsets to give Hurtigruten agents and guests a 3D preview of some of the highlights of the voyages.
‘Everyone wants to go to Antarctica, it’s a bucket-list destination, and just doing a “drive-by” is not what most people want to experience,’ he told me. ‘There haven’t really been any operators with 500-passenger ships in the area. We are going to open it up to the masses – I think a lot of customers will want to go there. Up till now they haven’t been able to afford it.’
Mr Zetterberg addressed environmental concerns by saying passengers would be taken ashore by Zodiac boats in small groups. ‘There are strict rules on what you can and cannot do,’ he said. ‘We won’t take all 500 passengers at one time.
‘We’re really into looking after the environment, getting rid of plastic. That’s also why we’re heading in the hybrid [fuel] direction. We’re very conscious about preserving the environment.’
Britons make up 15 to 20 per cent of Hurtigruten guests and are an important market, said Mr Zetterberg. ‘The British like to cruise. It’s not uncommon for a British cruiser to do two voyages a year so they’re constantly looking for new and exciting things. Hurtigruten is able to do that. Take our Northern Lights promise – if you don’t see them we pay for you to do a half round-trip. We’re so confident that you will see them.’
Mr Zetterberg said being on a ship was the best place to see the aurora borealis. ‘You’re far away from all the distracting lights, even in places such as Reykjavik and Tromso,’ he added.
As well as the Roald Amundsen, which launches late next year, Hurtigruten is building another ship, Fridtjof Nansen, for 2019. Most cabins will have their own balcony and the ships will be equipped with infinity pools, hot tubs and large observation platforms.
The virtual reality sets launched last night – showing such scenes as whale-watching, travelling in a Zodiac and standing high above a fjord – will be demonstrated to travel agents and at customer events. A few will be on board ships to give guests a foretaste of shore excursions.
Hurtigruten is known for its ferry-style services around Norway, carrying passengers, cars and cargo to remote outposts.
Mr Zetterberg said: ‘We’re looking to find new customer segments. Ferry is a very important tradition that we have, serving the people who live up and down the coast of Norway, but that’s just one aspect of Hurtigruten these days. With all the other products and concepts we have developed, we’re focusing on adventure and experience.’