In northern Norway, the port of Sortland in Vesteraalen scored big with a whale safari for passengers aboard the Costa neoRomantica this summer. “It only took a 45-minute boat ride from the harbor and there was a large herd of whales, with one passenger telling us he took more than a thousand pictures to put on his blog,” said Hugo Naess, harbor master.
A variety of shore excursions are offered, including nature and bird watching tours, an introduction to Sami culture, salmon fishing, kayaking, boat tours to Trollfjorden, a visit to a fishing village or the Hurtigruten maritime museum.
Pending the season, passengers can experience the midnight sun or northern lights and dog sledding.
For those wanting to go ashore by themselves, the center of the town is only 100 meters from the pier with shops, restaurants and museums, and car rentals are available for those venturing farther on their own.
“We only concentrated on attracting cruise ships three or four years ago,” said Naess. “Our goal was five calls a year after five years. Already this year we are having 11 calls and are expecting 18,000 passengers – half in the summer and half in the winter. Last year we had five winter calls.”
With more cruise calls booked for 2016 and 2017, Naess said the near-term goal is to have 20 to 25 calls a year.
Sortland has the advantage of having a 450-meter-long pier with a draft up to 10 meters and can thus accommodate the largest cruise ships alongside. There is also a passenger terminal.
Naess said he thinks the 1,350-passenger neoRomantica is a comfortable size. “Our infrastructure can support bigger ships, and we have enough coaches. The challenge we have faced and are working on is to supply enough guides who speak English and German as well as Spanish, Italian and French.”
Sailing 12-night cruises from Hamburg, the neoRomantica will call at Sortland several times this summer. Other callers include Cruise & Maritime Voyage’s Magellan and Phoenix Reisen’s Amadea. The AIDAcara is booked for 2017.
In addition, Norway’s coastal service, Hurtigruten, calls in Sortland twice a day.
With approximately 10,000 residents, Sortland is known as the Blue Town; the concept was created by an inspired local artist who has since been painting city buildings blue.
“We are relatively new to the cruise industry,” commented Naess. “Thus, we offer not only a new port, but a fresh alternative to the lines that have been sailing to northern Norway.
“Other ports in the region are also more exposed to weather conditions, while our port is always calm year-round. I have been here for 20 years, and we have never had to cancel a call due to weather. Our costs are reasonable, and we can service the ships with fuel, provisioning, fresh water and waste handling.”
Sortland is a member of Cruise Norway as well as the Cruise Northern Norway & Svalbard association, promoting cruising in the region.