Named after the lights that dance across the long winter night sky, the MS Polarlys is the third vessel with this name.
WORDS CARRIE HUTCHINSON
What’s in a name
It is the Norwegian word for aurora – the literal translation of polarlys is polar light – so the name is befitting of a vessel that was custom built for the coastal express and spends the year journeying along the coast of Norway, making the most of the midnight sun during the summer and searching out the dancing lights when winter falls. MS Polarlys was built in 1996, but was treated to a complete refurbishment in 2016. It’s muted, Arctic-inspired interior design greets up to 619 guests on a single voyage. While on board, they get to enjoy all its amenities, including three restaurants, observation lounge, a bakery, bar, ice cream bar, hot tubs on the deck, a sauna and, of course, an observation deck from where to enjoy the spectacular fjords and glaciers.
MS Polarlys, Bronnoysund. Photo: Merle Klein
Hurtigruten guests on RIB-safari in Salstraumen. Photo: Rune Kongsro
One of the best aspects of sailing with the Polarlys on the coastal express is the number of calls you’ll get to enjoy in port. There’s the chance to explore beautiful towns and cities, as well as become acquainted with friluftsliv, the Nordic concept of getting in touch with nature. It was first popularised by playwright and poet Henrik Ibsen, who used the term when writing of the value of spending time outdoors for physical and mental rejuvenation. Unsurprisingly, given the events of the past year or so, friluftsliv is seeing something of a revival. On the Polarlys’s itineraries, you’ll always find plenty of opportunities to hike in the mountains or walk along the coast.
Polarlys the first
This current cruise vessel isn’t the first in the Hurtigruten fleet to bear that name. That was the SS Polarlys, built in 1912 as a coastal passenger and cargo steamer. She sailed the up and down the coast of Norway for 28 years before, while anchored in Bergen in 1940, she was captured by German troops and taken over as an accommodation ship. After the war, SS Polarlys returned to her coastal service until 1951, when she became a Royal Norwegian Navy ship and was the renamed the Valkyrien.
Fun fact: the SS Polarlys was the setting for Georges Simenon’s detective novel Le Passager du Polarlys, originally published in 1932.
Hurtigruten MS Polarlys (1952) in Trondheim ca. 1990. Photo: Trondheim Havn
Norwegian coastal express ship SS Polarlys from 1912 arrives in Molde. Photo: Anders Beer Wilse (1865–1949)
Hurtigruten lost much of its fleet during World War II, and a program of rebuilding it began. The second iteration of the SS Polarlys was the seventh ship to be launched after the war, built at Aalborg Shipyard in Denmark and launched at the end of 1952. She could carry 450 passengers in 186 berths. For the following four decades, the Polarlys carried passengers along the coastline of Norway, first from her home port of Bergen then from Tromsø. After two refurbishments – during the second, cabins with toilets were installed – the Polarlys was retired in 1994 and sold to the international charity, Mercy Ship. Renamed the Caribbean Mercy, she sailed the Caribbean Sea, providing humanitarian and medical assistance to those in need for more than a decade.