When traveling in Scandinavia, there are a variety of ways to get from point A to B, but the overnight ferry from Helsinki, Finland to Stockholm, Sweden is next-level fun.
Before taking the overnight ferry, I wasn’t sure if cruising was my thing. For one, I’m honestly not that interested so-called luxury travel. Though it’s occasionally fun to be coddled, When abroad I often prefer a two-star stay that offers a more authentic cultural experience. In addition, I quickly grow weary of crowds, tight timelines and being herded. More, I tend to get motion sickness, so the idea of staying on a boat throughout a trip sounds stomach turning.
That said, I know a number of people who really enjoy cruises. And frankly, I love ferry rides. As another plus, I’ve been a long time member of The Love Boat fandom. So when I learned about the overnight ferry ride that feels like a cruise from Helsinki, Finland to Stockholm, Sweden, it seemed like the perfect experiential travel sampler platter. I excitedly grabbed a plate.
There are a couple of ferry lines that offer the trip from Helsinki to Stockholm (or vice versa): Tallink Sillja Line, Viking Line, and St. Peter Line. After checking the online reviews, I opted to take Viking Line. As I was actually leaving from Estonia, I had to book a separate ferry from Tallinn to Helsinki, burn a few hours exploring the Helsinki waterfront area, then board the ferry from Helsinki to Stockholm. It was fun, and all part of the amazing journey in my mind. (Had I opted for Tallink Silja Line, I could have cruised from Tallinn, Estonia to Stockholm direct.)
I boarded the Viking Line ship with excitement. My first cruise! I’d upgraded to a higher-level cabin and booked the fancy shmancy dinner buffet and champagne breakfast; hey, if you’re gonna go, go big, right? I’d been schlepping from hostels to budget Airbnb rooms for a couple of weeks and cooking for myself, so the prospect of having a comfy cabin and delicious food on a luxury cruise line was thrilling.
My cabin was beautiful–so much bigger and better than I had imagined possible. I had a living room, a desk, two television sets, a bathroom with shower and a balcony.
My dinner reservation was set for just after departure. So I quickly changed from my rainy day urban hiking leggings and boots to a dress and heels, and made my way to dinner.
The buffet, I’d read online, featured local specialties and unlimited wine and beer. It was quite a spread! There were loads of fresh fish dishes, as well as meats, salads and desserts.
During dinner, some Russian gentlemen sitting at the table beside mine exchanged pleasantries with me. On their way out, one of the men stopped at my table and began speaking Russian to me. His friend translated, “We are going to our room to take a nap right now. But he looks forward to seeing you at the disco.”
The disco? Maybe I WAS on The Love Boat. “When does the dancing start in the Acapulco Lounge?” I thought.
I smiled and nodded to the Russians, choking back a giggle at the word “disco.”
I enjoyed my cabin for a little while, then headed out to see what the ship had to offer for entertainment.
It turns out, duty free shopping is a huge deal on these ferries. Alcohol prices and prices in general throughout Scandinavia are high, so when locals take the ferry, they stock up on food, clothing, jewelry, perfume and alcohol. It’s a big part of the draw for most people, who bring their hand trollies and fill them up with bargains.
In walking around the ship, I also saw a day spa and several restaurants, as well as a sports bar, a lounge with live music and a club, a.k.a. “disco.”
I ordered a drink, took a seat in the lounge, and listened to some live music for a while. Passengers were having a great time, drinking, dancing and debauching. After a while it got a bit lonely sitting there by myself, so I took the staircase down to the “disco.” There was the Russian passenger, who must have been keeping an eye out for me. By now he was visibly inebriated; i guess the bottomless drinks at dinner, the “nap” at his cabin and maybe the mini bar had helped him get there. He grabbed my hand and pulled me to the dance floor, where we danced for a half song. I turned to go, and he grabbed my hand, as if to ask me to stay. I waved him off, and headed back to the lounge to escape his insistence. Soon afterward, I made my way back to my cabin to retire for the night. It was 1 a.m. I sensed the party was nowhere near ending.
Back in the cabin, I found it was too dark to watch the world float by. So I turned on one of the televisions and watched The Birds for a little while before tucking in to bed.
A few hours later I woke up, feeling a bit off from the rocking of the boat and the wine. I watched the white caps on the water for a few minutes, barely visible from my cabin, then went back to bed.
My champagne breakfast came way too early, but I tore myself from my bed and headed down for food and more importantly, coffee.
Breakfast featured an interesting mix of thinly-sliced meats, traditional American breakfast foods, and what appeared to be leftovers from the dinner buffet. But who am I to question it? Maybe people in Scandinavia do eat meatballs for breakfast. I figured, why not.
I sipped my champagne as we floated blissfully into Sweden.
The ferry from Helsinki to Stockholm was great, and an experience I’ll not soon forget. The service was wonderful, the food was delicious, and my cabin was extremely comfortable. I’d highly recommend it for anyone who wants a fun way to travel between the great cities of Scandinavia.
As for me, I’m still ambivalent about the prospect of cruising in general. It’s nice to be taken care of, and it’s an easy way to make one’s way around the world. Maybe someday I’ll give it a go. For now, the sampler platter satisfied my hunger…and the bottomless glass of wine satisfied my thirst.
I’m guessing I’m not the only one. What’s the Russian word for “hangover?”
Charish Badzinski is an explorer and award-winning travel and food writer. When she isn’t working to build her blog: Rollerbag Goddess Rolls the World, she applies her worldview to her small business, providing strategic communications, media relations and writing support to her clients.
Find Charish on Twitter: @charishb
Rollerbag Goddess Rolls the World by Charish Badzinski is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.