Saturday, 18 February 2017

Experience: A Megastar was born!

Two years have flown by quickly; I remember when Tallink announced a newbuild for their Shuttle service in early 2015, and it feels like yesterday. Yet, somehow, a whole ship was designed, built and fine-tuned in that time. And she wasn't even rushed at all, which I saw first-hand when I embarked on her maiden voyage on the 29th of January. And I did not only do the first crossing; in fact, I was on board during her entire first day in service, a total of four crossings. In addition to Sverre, with whom I did the entire trip, I met tens of other ship enthusiasts as they also did her first sailings either from Tallinn or Helsinki, or both. In addition to the arrival of the Megastar, there was plenty of other things happening on the Tallinn-Helsinki route to be excited about, as well; but about those I will write in my next posts.

Megastar in the outfitting stage at Meyer Turku in November 2016
In addition to the first voyages of the Megastar, we also did the last voyage of the Superstar with a smaller group  of other enthusiasts. The atmosphere on the ship was almost eerie with foggy weather and only 228 passengers on board out of her capacity of 2080. After being replaced by the Megastar, she was taken over by Corsica Ferries and left Tallinn a few days later, bound for the Mediterranean for the next chapter of her life.

The gangway signs in Helsinki had already been prepared with a makeshift solution. No surprise there, as a completely new terminal with new arrangements and new signs will be ready soon.
Looking at the signs on board, and considering the ship was built in Italy, you could hardly say that she's leaving - instead, that she's returning home. I doubt her new owners will feel the need to change much.
Mandatory Funnel photo
The view of ships in Tallinn seen from the Superstar as she parked on the most remote berth. As the sight of the Megastar on her designated berth has since then become common, the biggest oddity here is actually the Rosella replacing the drydocked Viking XPRS. 
The maiden voyage was very nicely scheduled into the afternoon of the following day, departing at 13:30. The festive mood started already in the terminal, with lots of passengers gathering, a small wind orchestra playing, balloons tied to the rails near the boarding area and complementary sparkling wine coupons being distributed.

I am generally not too keen on sparkling wine, so I decided to keep this coupon, as it has much more value to me. 
The first thing I photographed on board was the already famous horse in the Victory Bar.
Around the time of departure, most of the ship enthusiasts gathered on the outside decks, which sort of ended up as the meeting point where we all became aware of how many and who of our friends and acquaintances had showed up for the occasion. Another set of people came on board in Helsinki for her 2nd voyage, so altogether, we met a lot of like-minded people.

Overnight, the Superstar had been moved to another remote berth on the opposite side of the basin. The crew on board waved to us and horn blows were exchanged. 
Mandatory Funnel Photo
After arrival in Helsinki, as most passengers disembarked, we had excellent opportunities for taking some unobstructed interior photos, with the shiny interiors looking exactly like in a brochure.

The wonderful winter garden, deck 9 aft. Slightly heated, sheltered from wind and thankfully, a non-smoking area, it was very nice and cozy.
The Sea Pub, just inside from the winter garden.
Victory Bar sitting area
There was a lot of variety in the interior. This one from Fast Lane self-service restaurant.
Fast Lane
Fast Lane servery area 
Starboard side of the Lobby on deck 8, an area I'd like to refer to as "Area X" due to the x-shape created by the walkways going through as they divide the area in four...
... as can be seen on this mandatory deck plan photo.
Coffee&Co in the forward part of the lobby
Lobby Shop in the aft part of the lobby, perfect for some light purchases and souvenirs, in case the gigantic Traveller Superstore just aft from here is too much, being entirely dedicated to the usual tax-free goods (although not actually tax-free in this case).
What baffled all of us was the rather minuscule information desk, occupying one little corner of coffee&co.
An addition surely welcomed by many is the sitting lounge, providing a nice working  and resting space for those who are not so keen on the bars and restaurants.
The new and fancy suction mooring system was not yet used on her first passenger-arrival in Helsinki; instead, a rather large team of deckies were working the ropes.
The buffet restaurant
Back in Tallinn again, as we entered to claim our buffet dinner, the nice angled window just under the bridge gave a nice view of the loading of the upper cardeck.
Another view of the Buffet restaurant with the said window in the middle.
After a nice hearty dinner, it was time to look at the huge Traveller Superstore, which occupies a huge aft area on two decks and features a nice atrium...
... as well as a separate elevator to provide better accessibility on both store decks without any need to go out of the store.
Forward of the store on deck 7 is the Garage, a first-in-the-world feature allowing the passengers parking there to access their cars during the entire voyage since passenger access to cardecks was banned following the Estonia disaster. Here, cars are seen exiting the garage as the ship has arrived in Helsinki.
The garage and entry to the store look very much like any mall parking lot on land.
The kids' playroom
On the fourth and final voyage of the day we had one of the ship's just 47 passenger cabins for ourselves, which is where we spent most of the voyage too, as it was definitely getting late and it had been a long and active day.
Her first week in service was far from uneventful, which unfortunately caused delays; she has had issues with her bow ramp, and when that wasn't an issue, a passenger had a medical emergency. But technical issues are not unexpected in very new ships, and as it has now been some time since anything was heard, I dare to presume that the challenges have been overcome.
As for my impression, I'm definitely happy to see that Tallink, Meyer and their partners have put a lot of thought and effort into her, as it certainly shows. She has that modern look and feel that I definitely am a fan of. It is hard to compare her to the other serving Helsinki-Tallinn ships, as I would say that she represents a new generation of fast service on the route, dealing with many of the problems the previous purpose-built ships tend to have as well as improving the experience with new features. So, I definitely dare to recommend her.

The Megastar coming out of Tallinn on the following day, slightly delayed...
... and going, leaving behind an impressive wake. Seen from the Rosella.

Sunday, 5 February 2017

Experience: New Year on Stavangerfjord

Although 2017 has barely started, one thing is for sure - I will remember it as a year I got to welcome on a wonderful cruise. This time it was a special New Year cruise organized by Fjord Line; both the Bergensfjord and the Stavangerfjord were put to do these special cruises, and our choice ended up being the Stavangerfjord from Bergen to Copenhagen via Stavanger, and back. For practical reasons we decided to disembark in Stavanger instead of Bergen, which gave me an additional city to discover.
But before I got to embark on the Stavangerfjord, I had to get to Norway.

Monday, 23 January 2017

My 2016

With yet another year behind, it is time to write a summary of what it has been like for me. I noticed quite loud wishes for the year to be over faster, particularly in relation to all the celebrity deaths, but I've always wondered why are people hating on 2016 if it is just a certain period of time, a social construct, like any other year, with no further meaning than what we give it ourselves. And the night between the 31st of December and the 1st of January, like any other night, has no magic powers to end all misery. So in the end, all we can really do is take life as it is, do what we can to make the world a better place and not worry about what we can't do.

Friday, 30 December 2016

Experience: Crown & Pearl Seaways, Bohus & Oslofjord, and best birthday ever!

After disembarking from the Finnsun, I did not actually head home - instead, I flew straight to Norway again and spent a few peaceful days there with Sverre before he had to head back to work on his ship. Nonetheless, already before the end of August I was back in Norway again, this time for a remarkably longer and more adventurous stay, which also included a worthy celebration of my 20th birthday. It also marked the first time I chose to travel to Norway without flying; I started the journey by taking my old favourite Viking Grace to Stockholm.

Thursday, 29 December 2016

A Very Finnsunny Summer part 2

As time went by, many things and tasks became routine and other aspects of life at sea prevailed. I was no longer excited like a little kid for a usual evening bridge watch or to grab  the paintbrush to give a fresh touch to some railings or walls, or even less, the dreadfully boring ISPS watch. The crew changed over time and with that, so did the environment and I had to learn to work with different people who have different expectations, and I saw differences between the good, the great and the amazing (as, very fortunately, I did not meet any bad people during this OBT). I also started to realise that working at sea is definitely not good for people with fear of missing out, as life on land never stops and having to miss something amazing due to being "stuck" on a ship can sometimes be quite the bitter pill to swallow.

Wednesday, 28 December 2016

A Very Finnsunny Summer, part 1

As I mentioned in the end of my previous post, it was well known to me that to ensure the best progress with my studies, I would have to do 60 days of on-board training (OBT) during the first summer break. I admittedly had many doubts and worries about whether I'll manage to do that; while my school has very excellent opportunities for on-board training and there is a very nice and handy OBT placement system for students of Finnish maritime schools, I was worried that my still not very fluent Finnish skills would deter my opportunities there. However, it was during my very last course of the year when I was notified that I have been placed on a large ro-ro cargo ship called Finnsun for 60 days - just as I had requested, as my wish was to get it over with in one go. That was then some 4 days before I was due to board. Needless to say, I got very busy and on the 31st of May I took my suitcase and sat on the bus, bound for Kotka.

Sunday, 16 October 2016

Life in Aboa Mare

For now, I thought I'd write a bit about what's been routine since last September, when I started my maritime studies in Aboa Mare. Some may recall how I wrote about my aim to continue in Estonian Maritime Academy multiple times a few years ago, but eventually the prospect of getting my education in English with a broad and international approach made me change my mind about that, as well as my lifelong dream to move abroad, even if not so far.

I'm now in my 2nd year and I can say that the decision has had its pros and cons, but I certainly haven't had to regret it. The system fits me very well, as we usually do only one or two subjects per week, and those subjects change every week. The main downside is that one can't really afford getting sick or being away at sea during some mandatory attendance courses, but in my eyes, the variety such a system allows for is great and definitely makes up for everything.

Friday, 30 September 2016

Experience: No(r)way!? Part 3 - Stena Saga and other fun places

 This is the 3rd part of a trip report. Part 1  Part 2

Following the amazing experience, it was right to take a few days off and chill and enjoy life in Fredrikstad (as well as grow a new jawbone to replace the one I lost in Flåm), though those few days did include a quick trip to nearby Sarpsborg with a visit to Inspiria Science Center and Badeland waterpark.

In my spare time I like to hang out in space
 As we sailed towards Oslo on the Color Magic a few days earlier, I told Sverre that of the ferries sailing from Oslo, Stena Saga is definitely next on my list. And once again, I had no idea that we were already booked for the sailing on the 29th of April.

Wednesday, 21 September 2016

Experience: No(r)way!? Part 2 - How I lost my jawbone

This is the 2nd part of a trip report. First part can be found here.

I left the last part off at walking through Oslo with Sverre after the Color Fantasy cruise, having no clue where he was taking me. All sorts of scenarios were going through my head and I had settled on the guess that we were going to a hotel, though we could've just as well be simply taking a train back to Fredrikstad, or onward to somewhere else. For entertainment, I shared my wildest thought of "We could also be heading to the airport to fly somewhere?" with Sverre, who remained quiet...

Monday, 19 September 2016

Experience: No(r)way!? Part 1 - Color Fantasy

Now I've finally come to the point where I can write down one of my absolute highlights of this year so far - my first trip to Norway to visit Sverre, from the 21st of April until the 2nd of May. It was a rather unusual one for me as prior to the trip I didn't know anything except my arrival and departure dates and times, and what to pack. Sverre was the one doing the plans for my stay and he was very keen on keeping it all a secret, so I had no idea what to expect and didn't really fully believe anything was happening at all until I sat on the plane.