Below is a voyage report of a sailing on last week's Viking Grace sailing from Turku to Stockholm. I really think voyage reports are like buses because two reports come in about Viking Line in the same week! (thanks to Ryan H.)
The departure from Turku
The train from Helsinki (1 hour 50 minutes) leaves you right in Turku harbour (but not actually in the harbour thankfully…but pretty close). The walk to the Viking Line terminal takes around 5 minutes. The terminal has two levels. Downstairs there is a small café-bar. Upstairs are the departure “gates” and self-service check-in kiosks and a small café. I had no online ticket purchased so I needed to buy one at the terminal. I looked for a Viking Line ticket sales desk in the ground floor section of the terminal and upper section but could not find one. There were around 3-4 self-service check-in kiosks, like what you would find at an airport, but no sign of a machine that sold actual tickets. So it was back downstairs again where I found a small office with a hatch where a pleasant Finnish lady offered me a one-way ticket to Stockholm for €79.99 with cabin. I inquired how much extra a porthole cabin would cost and it was only an extra €20. So for the neat sum of €100 I had a trip on board the Viking Grace and a night’s accommodation. Pretty good value. But I got the distinct impression that Viking Line don’t want people buying tickets at the terminal as the office where I bought them did not even have a sign for ticket-sales or anywhere in the terminal for that matter. Like a lot of companies these days, Viking Line want you do everything online.
My ticket had a gate number in the same way that an airline ticket would. I was assigned “Gate 4” which was upstairs. In the terminal there was a mix of elderly Scandinavians and Chinese people. There was an impromptu stage setup just beside the boarding gates where two Viking Line staff members were doing an audience warm-up for the “vonderful evening’s entertainment” ahead. I’ve never seen a ferry company do this sort of pre-boarding warm-up before. Passenger boarding took place via 3 link-spans (one double-deck towards bow) and a further linkspan connected towards the stern of the ship. There was a hostess at the door helping people who might be unfamiliar with ferries and cabin numbering. I find my cabin on deck 5 quickly. It is bright, airy and spacious. My name is up on the cabin’s widescreen TV welcoming me onboard. What a nice touch! I found around half a dozen chocolates left on the dresser. (How comes BF never give any chocolates to their standard-class passengers?) Moreover, there is a hairdryer in the cabin and a telephone. All very cruise ship. But the cabin has one serious source of annoyance. The noise from the climate control system is the loudest I’ve ever heard on a ship. It’s sounds like a vacuum cleaner is embedded into the cabin’s ceiling. Luckily, I am quite good at filtering background noise out when sleeping. Apart, from that the bed is comfy the shower works and it’s all very clean.
Largest "duty-free" at sea?
So time to explore. The ship has a very elegant hotel / cruise ship feel to it. All the lighting on board is subdued. It’s now around 10:30 the main bar is knocking out Finnish folk music. There are least 4-5 bar staff behind the bar. They are expecting a busy night. The “duty-free” shop is heaving with what seem to be Chinese, Finnish and Swedish people. The duty-free shop is the type you would find in a medium-sized airport and certainly the largest duty free I’ve ever seen at sea. The usual suspects are on sale tobacco, booze, fragrances, cosmetics, regional specialities, Toblerone bars. And for those very thirsty Swedes and Finns they had crates of beer on mini-trollies. They also have a souvenir section selling pens, jigsaw puzzles and Viking Line branded ear plugs (very handy for those noisy cabins). I find a corridor bar, the "Rockmore". Unlike the main bar just across the atrium, they sell pints of Murphy's Stout (€6). The barman is friendly and efficient and tells me how it's not uncommon for the Viking Grace to be ploughing through ice in December or January. There is a British singer-guitarist who sings some good tunes including those from Thin Lizzy and Sting. It’s now midnight and the main bar is in full swing. The crowd is mostly elderly Scandinavians dancing with their partners to the live singer on stage. I go to the self-service restaurant. It’s practically empty. There seems to be still hot food available but is the type you have to weigh first. Never having studied Home Economics, I self-serve myself a chicken ciabatta and some water. The ciabatta is €6.90 and the bottle of water (not just any old water but Viking Line branded water) is €2.50. It was tasty and filling.
An unusual growl from the engines...then we stop
I retire to my cabin. Whilst brushing my teeth I hear an unusual growl from the engines. I look out the porthole and our speed has been significantly reduced. Looking at the sea beneath I can see that the bow-trusters are in full-power. Then we stop. Now I know how the Titanic passengers felt when their behemoth of a ship just stops in the middle of the ocean. I check the GPS on my Microsoft phone, we are at Mariehamn in the Aland islands. This is obviously some sort of scheduled stop. However, it lasts for around 15 minutes and we’re enroute again towards Stockholm.
At 6am exactly there is an announcement “we will be arriving in Stockholm in half an hour”. There is no mention of restaurants or cafes being open. I am assuming Viking Line either don’t want to sacrifice operational efficiencies over any revenue earned through selling Americanos and croissants. At around 6:15am a crew member after giving no knock (or at least an extremely light one) opens my locked cabin door. A bit rude and not professional… At 6:20am announcement informing people to go down to their cars.
Disembarkation and overall impression
At 6:30am foot passengers are asked to disembark. At the same time, the first trucks and cars start rolling off the Viking Grace. All very efficient. The ship has a real modern cruise ship feel about her. But as I’ve said the climate control in the cabin was the loudest I’ve ever heard. Is this because of the harsh winters in the Baltic maybe? The beds were comfortable but definitely not on a par with the comfort levels of the Stena Brittannica & Hollandica twins. But overall a positive experience on the Viking Grace.