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Boarding the Havila Castor: Iceland/Norway Multigen Trip Day 7

a blue, gold and white ship at a dock

Edit: In case you don’t want to read my whole journal, I published a new post with just my tips on boarding the Havila Coastal Voyage in Bergen.

Havila’s Norway Coastal Voyage is not your typical cruise. The route it takes from Bergen to Kirkenes and back is traditionally a ferry line, and has historically been plied by a different company, Hurtigruten. Hurtigruten is still doing the trip, but the Norwegian government recently authorized Havila to share the timetable.

Because it’s pretty new, I think Havila still has some kinks to work out in its communications and service. We loved the cruise, but there are some procedural things that could be streamlined. The boarding process, which I’m describing today, included a few communications hiccups that I hope they’ll be fine tuning. And while Havila is new at this route, I’m new at cruising altogether, and I made missteps in the process as well.

Checking in for the Havila Coastal Voyage

A gray building with parking lot and crosswalks in front.
The Jektevik Terminal, where you board the Havila ships in Bergen.

Note: I put all my tips for potential Havila passengers in Italics.

Check-in started at 3 p.m., with boarding running from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. (We had not received any info from Havila about when or where to check in, and originally thought we could check in bags earlier.)

At 4, our group was in line in the Jektevik Terminal, pulling our suitcases along. Once we got to the front, all the staff needed from us was our passports — we didn’t have to present any tickets or reservation confirmations. This was a relief, because, again, Havila had not sent any boarding instructions so we weren’t sure what we were supposed to show.

They photographed each of us, and gave us lanyards, then took our bags. A sign at check in told us there was a junior suite available for upgrade, but when we asked about it, we were told that we’d have to upgrade on board. We were also given a folded piece of paper with some information printed on it, which I didn’t take the time to read carefully. If I had, I’d have noticed an important detail: The ship would depart Bergen at 20:30, i.e., 8:30 p.m.

As of June 2023, when we boarded, the process did not include a temperature check or questions about Covid symptoms. We were also not asked if we were bringing any alcohol on board, although the company web site says you’re not allowed to.

Boarding the Havila Castor

After stopping at the terminal restroom, we went up an escalator and crossed a bridge to a room that led directly onto the ship. At other ports, we would enter and exit the ship via a ramp, but here in Bergen, we stepped on board right from the terminal.

If I ever take this cruise again, I’ll immediately board the ship at this point. Everything you can do in this preboarding room, you can also do on board.

In the pre-boarding room, TVs were playing a safety video, first in one language, then another. A crew member instructed us to watch it before boarding. There was also a line here for signing up for dining times, so I told my family I would get us signed up while they sat down and watched the video. I had plenty of time to watch the video from the line, in fact, I saw it multiple times, in several languages.

Once the English version of the safety video ended, I tried to get the family’s attention from the line, to urge them to board without me. I knew my parents were interested in upgrading, so I didn’t want them to miss a chance at that junior suite. But they stayed, because they had missed the beginning of the English-language video, and had to wait for it to loop through the other languages until it got to English again. This video also plays continuously on the TV in your cabin.

Once the family finally boarded, I waited in line some more. By the time I was about third, an employee showed up and informed us that we could also sign up for dining reservations on the sixth deck, at the restaurant. Many of those in line behind me left to do that. Since I was so close to the front, I stayed. But the people directly ahead of me took forever. Apparently they had not been aware they would be expected to schedule standing mealtimes for the whole cruise. (This info is on the web site somewhere, but like the time and place of boarding, you have to dig for it. I think it would be great if Havila sent out an email with boarding day instructions, including how dining times work.) They were mad that they had to do it right now since they hadn’t chosen their excursions yet. I wondered why they had gotten in this line if they weren’t ready to choose their meal times. Finally they left without choosing, and then the head waiter tried to tell me that the slots he’d been offering them — which were the same slots I wanted — were no longer available. I insisted that I wanted the times I’d just heard him offer the other couple, and he relented. Yay!

A paper with a schedule for dining on a cruise ship.
If you’re a Douglas Adams fan, you know why getting Table 42 was a good sign.

They assign breakfast, lunch and dinner times in the main Havrand restaurant as a set. You don’t say, let’s see, I’ll take an early breakfast but a late lunch. You choose from, for example, 8 a.m./1 p.m./6 p.m. or 7 a.m./12 p.m./5 p.m.

We chose a 9 a.m./1:30 p.m./8 p.m., the last “late” breakfast choice available by the time I got to the front of the line. We thought this schedule would help us avoid missing meals due to port times and excursions, although I later learned that the dining staff would be flexible if we needed to change. You can also eat in the Havly cafe anytime you want.

Reserving our dining times, I ran into a problem: I was supposed to provide both my cabin number (which I knew) and my parents’ cabin number (which I didn’t know). Niether Erik nor Mom answered my texts and calls. After a minute or so of waiting on them to answer, the staff let me book the table for five with just my cabin number. After I booked the time, I asked if I could now upgrade one of our dinners to Hildring, the fancier restaurant on board. He said I had to go up the sixth deck to book that. At that point, I wished I had gone straight to the sixth deck to begin with in stead of ever waiting in this line.

Before I went, the head waiter told me that tonight’s dinner would be “open seating,” meaning that we could show up any time from 6 to 7, or after 8 p.m., to eat.

Signing up for fine dining

I boarded the ship, barely even noticing that I had made the transition from land to sea.

I didn’t have to walk through an Xray machine or have my carry-on checked. In fact I didn’t notice any security at all.

I walked up to the sixth deck in search of the restaurant upgrade line. Fortunately there wasn’t much waiting there at this point, for which I was grateful, because my day of running around Bergen was really starting to catch up with me. Antoine, who introduced himself as the sommelier, scheduled us for the night we wanted in Hildring, the fancy restaurant. He also informed me that king crab would be on the menu that night. Double yay!

Buying a drinks package

Antoine asked if I also wanted to sign up for a drinks package. Previously, my parents and I had tried to figure out the difference in price between the alcoholic drinks package — 50 drinks for 5995 NOK, about $561 now — and just buying drinks off the menu. Our pre-trip estimation was that the drinks package would work out to about the same price per drink as buying a la carte, so it wouldn’t be worth buying the package. Now that I had access to the current menu, I realized this was wrong. Drinks — a glass of wine, a cocktail, a beer — ranged from 129 to 139 NOK, or $12 to $13. So paying $561 for 50 drinks was saving $39 to $89. But would the four of us adults drink 50 drinks on the six days we’d be on board? (The last day of the seven-day trip doesn’t count because the bar’s not open and you leave the boat before lunch.) We had at least one excursion from which we’d get back late, so if we didn’t have a drink that day, we might have only five evenings to use the package, meaning between the four of us we’d have to use 2.5 drinks each per day. I decided to go for it, and texted Erik to ask for everyone’s approval. They said yes, so I signed up.

Havila currently charges $614 if you pay for the 50-drink package in advance. At the current exchange rate, it’s a much better deal to buy it on board for about $561. Also, there are other beverage packages you could buy: packages with more or fewer alcoholic drinks, a non-alcoholic drinks package, and a “Havila Gold” package that comes with various upgrades.

Deciding when to eat for “open dining”

The whole time I had been working on all these sign ups, Erik had been texting me updates like, “We’re in the bar on the 9th deck,” and “We’re eating cake,” and “Mom and Dad already bought drinks.” Now, I rushed upstairs to make sure no one ordered more drinks without the drinks package info.

I slumped into a chair at a table with Erik and Toth, feeling rather worn out. They offerd me some cake, which I declined. Mom offered to go to the bar to get me a drink, so I explained the drill: Give my room number (not theirs) and tell the bartender that the drink should go on our drinks package. I hoped the package had already registered in the system. I felt like as soon as Mom confirmed that the drinks package was working, I could finally relax.

But when Mom brought my aperol spritz to the table, she told me that as a thank you for all the work I’d put in getting us signed up for everything, she’d decided to pay for the drink for me rather than using one of our 50 credits. That was of course very nice of her! Yet I felt frustrated that I didn’t get the satisfaction of using the drinks package I’d just signed up for. The aperol spritz was icy and delicious, though.

While I sipped it, we discussed what time to go eat. I told them the information I’d received: between 6 and 7, or after 8. (I think normally on the first night passengers can dine any time after 6, but on this trip they had a large group scheduled to eat at 7.) I suggested we wait until 8, because we were supposed to be able to get into our cabins at 6, and I couldn’t wait to lie down. Mom suggested we eat at 6, because Erik and Toth hadn’t eaten much all day. At that moment, it was after 5 p.m. I asked Toth if he could wait until 8 to eat and he said yes. Then an announcement came on saying there would be a departure celebration (or something like that) on the top deck at 8:30 p.m. Mom pointed out that we might miss that if we ate at 8. But in my mind, the announcement was talking about an event that would kick off at 8:30 and continue indefinitely. I figured it wouldn’t do any harm if we showed up at, say, 8:45, after eating. So I reiterated that I thought we should eat at 8, and Mom accepted this. In retrospect, I should have listened to my mother! Isn’t that always the case?

I took my drink and walked outside, planning to walk all the way around the ship to get a good look at Bergen. I’d walked all over the city that morning, and wanted to top off my day with this final perspective. But almost as soon as I stepped outside, an announcement said that there would be a meeting for all English-speaking passengers in the conference room on Deck 6 at 5:30 p.m. I sighed. It was already 5:25. Mom and Dad decided to stay at their table with Toth, while Erik and I attended the meeting. We could pass on any important info we learned.

Passenger orientation

Sitting in the conference room, my mostly full drink in hand, I couldn’t really take in all the information the head of excursions was rattling off about the different decks, the times of things on the ship, etc. I did absorb a few things, such as instructions on how to order breakfast — if you want sausage, or whatever, you have to tell them how many pieces you want. Askjay, the excursion director, told us that the cake that had been served today was in celebration of the 150th anniversary of this coastal route, and that there were extra guests on board to celebrate, but they would soon have to disembark. “We will have our own celebration, tonight,” he promised. We immediately fell in love with Asjay, who was super funny in a low-key Norwegian way.

Moving into our cabin

Two beds in a cabin on a ship.
The bed closest to the camera is the pull-out.

Finally, at 6 p.m., the meeting ended, and we went down one flight of stairs to find our room on deck 5. Mom and Dad’s cabin was one deck below and on the opposite side of the ship. They had not successfully upgraded. Our bags stood outside the door, so we brought them in and unpacked. Our bags did not appear to have been opened by staff. The small containers of alcohol we had packed were still there.

The cabin, a Seaview Superior Double, was nice! Erik and I had a full size bed for the two of us, and the couch was pulled out into a full size bed for Toth. The space between the two beds was narrow enough that I had to shuffle in sideways. There were outlets in reach of both beds. We had one window, which of course didn’t open. There was a desk with a chair that we never sat in, due to the sofa bed being extended. A large flat screen TV.

an open cabinet on a cruise ship
Drawers would have been nice, but we put our non-hanging clothes on these shelves.

Just inside the door, there was a wardrobe with four cupboards, including one with a clothes bar, although we were only given about three wimpy wire hangers. There were no drawers, so we had to sort of pile our clothes that didn’t hang at the bottoms of the cupboards. There was also a small fridge, and a countertop with a kettle and coffee maker. Our suitcases all fit neatly under the beds. The bathroom had a shower with a partial enclosure, sink and toilet. The air conditioning was set to pleasantly frigid. I was happy to know it could get nice and cool in there, since we didn’t have a balcony door to let in fresh air.

Erik and I lay down and flipped through the channels on the TV, which included a static screen with schedule information. Again, I wish I had registered that the ship would leave Bergen at 20:30. Or maybe I did notice this, but mistranslated the military time in my head to 10:30 p.m. At any rate, the sailaway was not on my tired mind.

Our first dinner

At about 7 p.m., I closed my eyes and tried to nap. At 7:20, my mom texted and said they’d meet us at our cabin at 7:45 to go eat. By 7:50, we were standing in a long line for the dining room. After we’d waited 5 minutes or so, a crew member walked along the line, explaining to all of us that the sitting wouldn’t begin until 8, so we were welcome to go do something else for awhile. I wish I’d had the presence of mind to ask him something like, What’s the latest we could eat? Usually I am very into planning and making sure no one misses anything exciting, but on this day, I had been too overwhelmed to think ahead.

We finally got seated about about 8:10. Being new — and most of the food being Norwegian — we had a lot of questions about the menu items. We had to ask for a drinks list, and received one for the table to share. My parents’ cocktails of choice were not listed on the menu, and it took awhile to explain them to the waiter and for him to figure out how to punch off-menu cocktails into his handheld device. Then the waiter took the drinks list away, only for us to realize after that Toth had wanted to choose a non-alcoholic drink for himself, so we had to get it back.

Missing the sailaway

All this to say, we took quite awhile to get our order in, and didn’t have any food yet at 8:30 when the boat started moving. It took me completely by surprise. All the sudden it sank in that this — actually departing from the harbor — was what Mom had been worried about missing. And I hadn’t even gotten the chance to look at Bergen from the perspective of the ship, like I had wanted to! Now it would be too late. I jumped up and tried to run outside, but I was unfamiliar with the ship and didn’t realize that the sixth deck doesn’t connect to the main outdoor space. I returned to the table and dejectedly told the famliy I hadn’t been able to get outside. There was still no food, and Toth, seeing how disappointed I was, urged me to go ahead and run upstairs to the decks with outdoors space. At that moment, I noticed the elevator in the restaurant! I rode up to the ninth deck and ran outside.

The view from the back of a ship leaving Bergen, Norway.
By the time I got out on deck, we were 7 minutes out and Bergen was receding in the distance.

Bergen was already receding into the distance at this point. At least I managed to catch a video of it disappearing. Of course, because it was June, it was still bright daylight.

When I returned to the restaurant, our first course had arrived. Our assigned table was a large round one in the middle of the room — the tables next to the windws were all for parties of four or smaller. What I hadn’t noticed whe we sat down: I’d chosen a chair with my back to the window. Our table had extra seats, though, so I shifted. As we ate, we began enjoying the sights of Norway’s beautiful coastline, studded with small islands.

Between dinner and dessert, around 9, I hopped in the elevator again, to check out that celebration Askjay had mentioned. I thought maybe there would be complimentary champagne or something. All I found was a few people standing around the outdoor bar, having a drink and looking chilly. I returned to our table and reported that it didn’t look like we were missing anything.

A dish of yellow panna cotta with a strawberry wedge and green topping.
At each lunch and dinner, there are several dessert options and all were good.

By the time dessert arrived, it was sinking in for me that missing the sailaway had been a big bummer for all of us — and it was my fault. Mom asked to see my video, but you couldn’t see much. But I tried to put my frustration behind me and enjoy my panna cotta — which was delicious.

Hot tub

two glasses of champagne with the sea in the background
The yummy champagne served on board soothed away the first-day fatigue.

After dinner, Erik and I changed into our bathing suits and jumped in one of the hot tubs, which I’d noticed on my two trips up to the top deck during the meal.

A woman and a man, both with gray hair, hold up glasses of champagne in a hot tub.
Hot tubbing under the midnight sun — it’s almost 10 p.m. here — became a nightly ritual for us.

A day of ups and downs ended on a strong up note. Antoine, at the bar, gave us our champagne in plastic glassware for the hot tub (between this and dinner, our party had now used about five of our 50 drinks, which helped me relax about not including that first one). We had the jacuzzi to ourselves. Soaking in the bubbling water, sipping cold bubbly and watching beautiful islands slide past on one side, the bucolic coast on the other — well, that was all pretty amazing. All the stress and exhaustion and frustration of the day melted away, and I realized that this was going to be an excellent week.

More on our multigenerational trip to Iceland and Norway

Day 7: Last Day in Bergen

Day 6: Exploring Bergen

Bryggen Walking Tour Review

Moxy Bergen Hotel Review

Day 5: Reykjavik to Bergen

The Iceland Phallological Museum (NSFW!)

Reykjavik Airbnb Review

Reykjavik Lebowski Bar Review

Thingvellir National Park, Iceland

Day 4: Iceland’s Golden Circle

Day 3: Reykjavik in a Day

Day 2: Arriving in Reykjavik

The Blue Lagoon

Day 1: Traveling from Chicago to Reykjavik

My Iceland Recommendations

Overview: Multigen Trip to Iceland and Norway Cruise

Kris

Tuesday 26th of March 2024

Thank you but this is extremely confusing since all infos are also mixed with personal happenings ... sorry.

carrielynnkirby@gmail.com

Wednesday 27th of March 2024

Here's a more straightforward informational post on what you need to know to board: https://themilesmom.com/2023/09/13/everything-you-need-to-know-about-boarding-a-havila-coastal-voyage/

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