Here is my own in depth and comprehensive voyage report on my experience of the Harwich - Hook of Holland service operated by Stena line.
Outward: Harwich - Hook of Holland
Date: Mon 09/07/18
Vessel: Stena Hollandica
For the outward journey I opted to take the 'rail and sail' offering which composed of a single ticket from London Liverpool Street to Harwich International, an overnight crossing and an onward ticket to any rail station in the Netherlands at the cost of £119. Without further a-do I boarded the Greater Anglia service which departed from London Liverpool Street at circa 17:30. The one and a half hour journey allowed me plenty of time before arriving at the docks to opt for early boarding on board the Stena Hollandica. Check in, passport control and body/baggage scanning was fast and effective and I was one of the first passengers on the vessel. I booked a standard inside cabin and I must say I was very impressed with the quality which was arguably the best I have seen on a ferry as it was modern and very clean. With a couple of hours before departure I took the opportunity to explore the vessel. This was my first time sailing out of Harwich and my first time on the new vessels. Both vessels that operate this route the Stena Hollandica and Stena Britannica were specifically designed and built for this particular route and were launched in 2010, I remember following there construction and development avidly, particularly as someone who uses UK/Dutch ferry crossings quite often. Stena line boast that these vessels are the 'largest' ferries in the world/Europe but it must be noted that this is in terms of length at 240m, in terms of gross tonnage they sit at 3rd/4th behind the Color line vessels. As a passenger you may not necessarily notice there sheer size as all cabins are located on decks 10/11 this whilst all passenger facilities are condensed onto deck 9. These compromise of a guest service area, shop, 2 bars, restaurant, casino, buffeteria, cinema, interactive zone, arcade, kids area, and cinema. It must be noted that the ship is split port and starboard with truck driver space taking up one side of the vessel. Passenger deck space is located at the rear of the ship, and extends slightly toward the front of the ship but not the full length. It appears there is a lot of deck space on deck 11 and above which does seem to extend along the legnth of the ship but this was closed off, and I am not sure is ever open to passengers something we see a lot on ferry's today, which seems a shame.
With an announcement from the captain the vessel departed on time at 22:00, and after watching our departure in the darkness from Harwich I opted the have a meal in the buffeteria. The options available were vast, from salads, sandwiches and an array of hot meals, with a good selection of desserts, cakes and drinks. I opted for a salami pizza, a traditional dutch apple pie and a bottle of water. The overall cost was around £16 which seemed reasonable, the pizza was excellent, as good as any restaurant, the apple pie was also excellent and had a lovely sweet glaze and a whip of double cream and a dark chocolate gratuile. Suitably full, i had a stroll around deck before bedding down at a modest 12:30. Contributing to the fantastic weather, sea conditions were excellent and I barely noticed the ships roll and I slept pleasantly until the ships wake up call at 06:30.
Disembarkation once again was fast and effective and before I knew it I was outside the terminal awaiting the bus to Schiedam, awaiting the train to Rotterdam Central on onwards to Amsterdam. It must be noted that in the past there was a direct rail link from the terminal at Hoek to Rotterdam and onwards, however, this is being currently being converted to light rail system which will not be completed to later in the year.
Return: Hook of Holland
Date: Thurs 12/07/2018
Vessel: Stena Britannica
My return trip was hastily planned and I was lucky to book a ticket on the day of departure. I again booked a standard inside cabin at the cost of £88 however it must be noted that this was not a rail and sail combination meaning I had to organise my own tickets from Amsterdam to the Hoek and from Harwich to London Liverpool Street. Once again I arrived at the Hoek well in advance for departure, and was able to take advantage of early boarding. Embarkation was again was quick and effective such to an extent that I was the first foot passenger on the vessel. I did note however that there was no baggage/body scan unlike on the outward journey. Being first on the vessel gave me an enormous sense of personal satisfaction, knowing that I was the first person out of 100's to be onboard. Again I had a couple of hours to explore the ship although the Britannica and Hollandica are pretty much exactly the same in design, so I spent most of my time on deck looking out onto the Europort estuary. This is a fantastic place to obseve as there is so much passing traffic from small barges, coasting vessels, large freight, supertankers, freight ferries and also the P&O pride of Rotterdam/Hull which nests over the river and passes around an hour before the Stena line departure.
Departure on this occasion was around 15 minutes early as the vessel made a 180 degree turn and meandered out of the dock.The vessel seemed well loaded, as with the outward departure, the vast majority appearing to be Dutch and German which is good. Opting not to eat I spent the majority of my time out on deck, sea conditions were very calm and there was plenty of traffic on this busiest of shipping lanes. It appeared that the majority of passengers had retired to their cabins and by the time I decided to retire to bed at the rather mature time of around 01:30 I felt like I was the only person on the ship. It must be noted the ship doesn't really get out of first gear for both crossings, I would estimate we were cruising at a speed of around 12-13 knots and the vessel seemed to dock well in advance at around circa 04:30 (i was awaken as the vessels engines briefly piped up and rumbled presumably for docking) allowing for an early departure for truck drivers. A short but calm and pleasant sleep made way for the wake up call for breakfast was at the modest time of 05:30 with disembarkation at 06:30 for foot passengers. A swift disembarkation allowed plenty of time for the 07:20 service to London where I continued my onward journey home.
I have to say the Stena Line have absolutely nailed their offering on this ever popular route which offers a cost effective and pleasant option for travelling to the continent. Both the design of the ships and the service offered on board is finely balanced for freight and commercial passengers alike. I can not praise the vessels more for their design, layout, cleanliness and customer service which represent excellent value for money and a thoroughly relaxing journey. For those, like me, who prefer to sail than fly and want a pleasant way to travel over to Holland from the south of England at a price competitive if not cheaper than the airlines I could not recommend it enough. I have also travelled to the Netherlands using the enjoyable DFDS service from Newcastle which is operated on a different entirety altogether with a mini-cruise focus (I am guessing P&O from Hull is similar). If anybody wants to ask me anything about the service please PM me.
Value for money: 10/10
On board experience/facilities: 9/10
Customer service: 9/10
Overall satisfaction: 9/10