See fjords from comfort of a coastal steamer Norway: Vessels carry passengers as well as cargo along the country's west coast.

THE BALTIMORE SUN

I would like information on means of travel through Norway's fjords other than big luxury cruise ships.

Norwegian coastal steamers known as mail boats are worth considering as a cruise alternative. The 11 steamers travel along the west coast of Norway, sailing from Bergen to Kirkenes at the Norway-Russia border and back to Bergen, crossing fjords and calling at ports along the way.

The service, which has been operating for 103 years, no longer delivers mail but still carries cargo and local passengers. The ships make the northbound trip in seven days and the southbound voyage in six. Passengers may travel in either direction or take both legs in a 12-day voyage. There are 34 stops in each direction, but ports visited at night on the northbound trip are seen in daylight when traveling south (though in the height of summer, the midnight sun season, there is lingering light almost around the clock).

The voyages do not sail into the biggest of Norway's fjords, but one stop requires navigating through the dramatically narrow Troll Fjord.

There are several sightseeing excursions available on the trips. In one, offered only on the northbound leg, a catamaran picks up passengers from the steamer and sails through the Vagsboten and Holands Fjord to the foot of the Svartisen glacier, on which participants can walk. The half-day trip is $75 a person.

A package of four different excursions from various ports is offered in each direction, between May 1 and Sept. 30; the price is $135 a person northbound and $163 southbound. Round-trip passengers can sign on for seven excursions for $224 a person.

Five new ships were added to the fleet in 1993. They are bigger than what are called the traditional ships (490 passengers vs. 120 to 170), have two lower berths in cabins rather than upper and lower berths, and have a glassed-in viewing lounge.

Voyages take place year round. Rates for the 12-day round trip in June, July and August range from $1,375 a person in a double cabin in a traditional ship to $2,855 a person in the most expensive double cabin in a new ship. (The rates for suites, available only in new ships, are higher; the most expensive is $3,785 a person during that period.) The seven-day northbound voyage is $896 to $1,858, and the six-day southbound voyage is $759 to $1,573. The price includes all meals, taxes and port charges. September rates are $1,195 to $2,245 for 12 days, $660 to $1,237 for six days and $779 to $1,461 for seven. At other times of year, rates are lower, with winter being least expensive.

There are packages of 11, 12, 15 and 16 days that include round-trip airfare between New York and Norway, hotels, train within Norway and either a leg of the mail boat voyage or the round trip. Summer rates start at $3,105 a person for 11 days to $3,830 for 16 days.

Information: Bergen Line, 405 Park Ave., New York, N.Y. 10022; (800) 323-7436 or (212) 319-1300. For brochure: (800) 666-2374.

There are also several tours of various lengths, mainly out of Bergen, that focus on the biggest, most scenic fjords. As a rule, they are offered May to late September. Among them:

Bennett Tours, 270 Madison Ave., New York, N.Y. 10016, (800) 221-2420, fax (212) 779-8944, offers a variety of fjord tours, with tours of two, four, six or seven days. The cost for two days is $290 a person in a double cabin and $1,190 for seven days. The rates include breakfasts (most buffet) and dinners. The tours may take in major fjords like Geiranger, Hardanger and Sogne and such other coastal attractions as the Trollstigen Mountain Road, Seven Sisters Waterfall and Briksdal Glacier, plus city tours.

Fjord Sightseeing, Post Office Box 4063, N-5023 Bergen, Norway, telephone (47 55) 25 90 00, fax (47 55) 25 90 01, offers four-hour fjord sightseeing cruises out of Bergen for $36.

Hardanger Sunnhordlandske Dampskipsselska, Post Office Box 2005, N-5024 Nordnes, Bergen, Norway, (47 55) 32 14 80, fax (47 55) 32 12 24, runs several fjord day tours out of Bergen, including ones focusing on Hardangerfjord ($61), Eidfjord ($61) and Jondal ($50).

Fylkesbaatane i Sogn og Fjordane, Strandkiaterminalen, N-5013 Bergen, (47 55) 32 40 15, fax (47 55) 31 05 76, offers a one-day trip to Sogne Fjord and Stalheim mountain; $76. Another, $78, sails to Sogne Fjord and then tours the Flam gorge by train, $78. Tickets are available at railway stations in Bergen and Oslo.

Pub Date: 5/19/96

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