Cruise line from Norway brings ‘giant, floating Prius’ to Alaska’s Little Norway

A cruise ship on calm waters with mountains behind it
The MS Roald Amundsen stops in Frederick Sound on May 24, 2022. (Photo by Joe Viechnicki/KFSK)

It’s visitor season again in Petersburg, and cruise ship passengers are already wandering the streets in brightly colored jackets. This year a Norwegian cruise line is stopping here for the first time, with a state-of-the-art hybrid ship. And it’s excited to connect with Petersburg’s Norwegian roots.

Passengers arrive in small, bright orange boats. They attend a cultural presentation at the Sons of Norway Hall. And outside, they snap pictures of the Viking ship. It’s a little smaller than their cruise ship, the Roald Amundsen. But it shares the same roots.

“Roald Amundsen was — is — the national hero of Norway,” said Steffen Biersack, an expedition leader with the cruise line. “He’s the first man who actually flew over the North Pole with a with an airship, which then landed close to Nome. So that’s why in Nome, and on the other side, where they started in Svalbard, they have the identical bust of Roald Amundsen in bronze. And he was the very first man sailing through the Northwest Passage. So he’s quite the explorer.”

The MS Roald Amundsen is one of the larger ships to visit Petersburg and can hold just over 500 passengers. It stays out in Frederick Sound and lighters passengers in on smaller boats. It’s sailing to Alaska this summer for the first time after voyages scheduled for 2020 were canceled due to the pandemic.

Hurtigruten Expeditions, the cruise line, began in Norway in the late 1800’s when it established a coastal route.

“In Norway, hardly any places are connected by street. So they had to have a system to provide the people in the fjords with food with news with whatever it is, and then they also transported fish, herring mostly on the coast,” Biersack said.

And if that sounds familiar, the feeling is mutual. Biersack said of Southeast Alaska, “It’s such a stunning country. It’s like Norway on steroids, you know? It’s so much wilder. The peaks are higher. The trees are taller. It’s great.”

The Roald Amundsen was completed in 2019 and  features cutting-edge technology. It’s a hybrid vessel and uses battery packs in conjunction with its four diesel generators. One of the crew described it as a giant floating Prius. Its propellers face forward, so they pull the ship through the water rather than pushing it. And while the ship does have two anchors on board, it doesn’t use them much.

“We have something else which we call DP – dynamic positioning,” said Biersack. “That means the ship has very, very accurate GPS systems, several of them. And this dynamic positioning is operating the bow thrusters and the propellers and keeps the ship in position without an anchor. And it’s so precise that we do not move more than five or four centimeters at all. Even when the wind picks up, then the system kicks in and gives us more stability. So then we can stay in a spot where an anchor would actually not catch.”

The ship will continue to Vancouver and then turn around for its next voyage up to Nome. It’s scheduled to call in Petersburg two more times this summer.

“I had a lot of very big honchos on the ship last trip, because it was the very first time we did that,” said Biersack. “And we all agreed that Petersburg is the coziest of the places. Definitely. And you have a Viking ship.”

During the Roald Amundsen’s next stop, the Petersburg Chamber of Commerce plans to present it with a wooden plaque, hand painted in traditional Norwegian style.

KFSK - Petersburg

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