Friday, 30 March 2018

Traditions and Obsessions on a Baltic Cruise

Baltic Sea Between Helsinki and Stockholm, March 11th to 13th 2018 (and various other dates)

The Stockholm cruise is somewhat an institution among the Finns. And Swedes, too. The previous call it ruotsinlaiva (Ship to Sweden) and the latter finlandsfärja (Ferry to Finland). Especially in the ruotsinlautta case, one is supposed to overeat at the buffet, drink the cheap booze, party in the overtly colourfully lighted disco, including at least some dance steps to the 80's hits played by a cheesy cover band, sing some karaoke with deepest of feelings, buy some more cheap booze from the tax free and pass out in someone else's cabin. All this wearing glitter decorated tops and polyester shirts, possibly changing wearer during the night.

Sunsets are the only reason to go outside during the winter,
in the summertime there are additional bars on decks

Kids are supposed to, according to their ages, pass out early by sugar rush caused by the cheap candies bought from the tax free, cry in terror of their parents behavior or scheme their way to the very first sip of alcoholic beverages. In the morning, parents are supposed to throw up and take the kids to Gröna Lund amusement park, where the kids throw up and then it's time to go back to the ship and do it all over again.

Even though the EU has ruined the really cheap booze part and there are occasionally actually good bands performing, you can still live this dream. Anyhow, there are other options. Like, here I am, as I write, relaxed, having a sip of sparkling wine (not the very cheapest, I might add), well fed, surrounded by pretty much sober families. The scenery passes by peacefully and if it was summer, I could even see it. A success!

Staring at the scenery

There are two ferry companies, Viking Line and Tallink Silja, of which Silja is traditionally regarded a tad classier but is accordingly more expensive. I've traveled both, found the differences quite small and ended up using Viking Line, because of the prices and better location of the harbor in Stockholm.

The main rule is to travel starting Sunday–Wednesday. Thus you avoid the most drunk weekdays of Friday and Saturday on board. Also, the trips are cheaper. Following ads, or even by joining Viking Club, you get quite favorable special prices, starting from a few euros. Offers don't happen between start of June till mid August, though, because the ships have more than enough customers in families with vacationing school kids then. So go before / after. By answering the company's email questionnaires and buying enough stuff from the tax free, you might get an offer for another cruise, and then the same happens again and all of a sudden you're in the Viking Loop. I should now, I traveled eight times last year.

Why? you ask. WHY ON EARTH??!!!! you might even put it. Well, the biggest reason is obviously Stockholm, but more on that in another posting.

The welcoming port of Stockholm

When in middle of travels, I need my methadone, and a short trip abroad, anywhere abroad, is just that. Also, for some reason, I sleep very well in ships – especially in a tad more luxurious two persons cabin, equipped with a two persons soft bed, which is just large enough for one. The humming of motors gives me such a good sleep. Furthermore, I find the few hours in open sea, when internet doesn't really work, very relaxing. Viking Line has lately very kindly eased the non-internetting, by making the users renew the connection once in an hour and changing the password every day. Rather than going to info to check the new password in one's pajama's, it's so very alluring to just give up and read a book. Of course, it's also quite relaxing not to be able to actually go anywhere, without serious risk of drowning.

I mentioned the soft beds of a tad more finer cabins. Let's go deeper in that. Never settle with the cheapest option of windowless cabin. The stereotype of drunken Scandinavians is based on reality, and you might spend some time in your cabin, trying to avoid them. Or non-internetting. In the cheapest cabins, you'll have a good chance having one or eight of them as neighbors, too, or even more horrific teenage versions. Quite loud. So, upgrade at least to a cabin with a window, it really is not that expensive. The cabins are quite small and it's not exaggerating to have one of four persons all to yourself. The mentioned lux but still affordable cabins are available in the ship Mariella only.

The cheapest cabin with a window option on the left, 
a tad more expensive on the right.
Humans added for scale.

In my childhood I dreamed of the overwhelming buffet of the ship, pouring with shrimps and chocolate sauce, my favourites at the time. Respectively. Nowadays I sport a tad more developed taste, but the food still is ok. The wine is included in the reasonablish whole deal price, which drives people to drink too much and buy scarves they can't afford, but overall the ambience is quite civilized in the restaurant. There are other restaurants on board, too, but let's just say that it helps to be a carnivore. With a vegan friend of mine, with whom I started my career as cruise ship regular, we usually buy fancy food in advance and do not leave the cabin. A very viable option, that one, too.

Example of a moderate picnic in the cabin with food oriented friends

The buffet includes food, too

The tax free shop looks innocent enough and you'll walk in like "oh, there's nothing I'd have to buy from here, I'll just stroll to the candy shelf and buy me a chocolate bar", but be warned: amongst all the usual nothing special stuff there might be lurking something you just feel compulsed to buy. Like a Balmuir scarf just your colour, too expensive, last one left. Just a random example. For those believing in the almighty power of Elizabeth Arden's 8 hour lip balm in curing dry lips, leper and broken limbs; it's sold here very affordable. FYI: In Finland the stuff is known as Ellun ihmerasva (Elsie's miracle cream) and it has a cult following.

Defs not a shopping trip

Pieces of Information

Viking Line departs from Helsinki at 17:30, arrives in Stockholm the next morning at 10, departs back to Helsinki the same day at 16:30 where it arrives at 10:10 next morning. You have to be in the ship half an hour before the departure. The scheme is almost the same with Tallink Silja. 

• Ferry companies: Viking Line, Tallink Silja
• Other people done the cruise:  Malins mix (in Swedish), Wandering Dejavu (about a Silja cruise), Nordic Fairy

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