Monday, 26 May 2014

Experience: Finlandia

I'm safely home from another trip to my other hometown. The initial purpose of the trip was to try out Finlandia, which was the last large ferry on the Tallinn - Helsinki route I hadn't been on.

Finlandia and Explorer

On a side note, as I was enjoying my time on board the newest ship in the Eckerö Line fleet, her ex-fleetmate Translandia ended her final journey at a beach in India. She was still here much after my interest started, leaving the Baltic Sea only a little bit more than a year ago. Farewell.

<moment of silence>

Back on topic. Considering the only major con Finlandia has compared to others - the timetables -, I had two options. I could have either gone and then return straight away without getting off the ship or spend a night in Helsinki, and I'm very glad I chose the latter. I would've probably found it extremely difficult to turn around right at the front door of my favourite city and despite the fact that I enjoyed my time on board Finlandia a lot, 6 hours in a row would have been too much.

I've also determined that travelling solo may as well be the best kind for me, because when it turned out that I'd be doing the trip alone, I felt a burden fall from my shoulders. No need to take account of anyone's needs and endless possibilities and ability to do whatever I feel like, and I usually feel like either taking ridiculously long and aimless walks or getting in touch with locals and/or fellow travellers. Long before this trip I had a feeling that I won't be alone during the trip, and the feeling was justified. Hardly an hour after my departure from Tallinn I met the person who ended up accompanying me during most of my stay in Helsinki. Briefly, I was hanging out with someone from the other side of the gulf for a big part of the trip. I dare say it was the best option for me because I really don't feel like a tourist in Helsinki anymore. I spent the night at Stadion hostel, which is a good place to consider if you're not seeking luxury.

But when it comes to Finlandia, based on my experience, the timetables really are the only con. The price-quality ratio is definitely by far the best. As I boarded, I immediately noticed that the design of the interior is quite interesting compared to any other ship I've been on. The ship is also very simple; there are no dead ends and it's impossible to get lost because there are signs and deck plans everywhere on the walls and floors, neatly complementing the design. That made getting around the ship enjoyably easy.
In addition to that I saw the sundeck being washed before the departure and adding the fact that most information was freely available in four languages, I think I'm right to say that visible effort is put into making the ship a pleasant environment for everyone.

First thing I saw after boarding
Another staircase
Funnel and.. what a surprise, another sign.
I especially liked the sundeck. In the middle of the ship it was full width and there was a bar and a small elevated sitting area right in front of the funnel. It left a cruise ship like impression, the only thing missing was a small swimming pool.

There was always live music at least in one place on the ship and the general atmosphere was very nice. Something that probably applies to all ships of her class (adding Superstar of Tallink and the Moby Line ferries) is the great view from the large windows at the bow and stern.

Bar Nosturi
Satama Cafeteria
I also chose to have prepaid lunch on board. The Eckerö Buffet was a really nice place and the food was really delicious, especially the desserts. In fact, I spent most of the journey to Helsinki eating there.

Of course I couldn't let go of a chance to take lots of photos at sea, especially since the traffic is quite heavy nowadays. In fact, as we were approaching Tallinn I didn't really get a chance to go inside between the passing ships.

A tugboat towing a barge
Explorer, Balmoral and L'Austral in Tallinn
Ryndam, Princess Anastasia, Star and Norwegian Star in Helsinki
Silja Europa arriving in Helsinki
Explorer near Tallinn
Superstar passing Eurodam
Viking XPRS leaving Tallinn
HSC Merilin doing the same
The gorgeous AIDAbella, also outbound
Celebrity Infinity in Tallinn

Saturday, 17 May 2014

Royal Princess and the new cruise quay

Today has been a big day in many ways. For me it was special for the cruise ship calls. Today was the first call of the Empress who is the only ship doing turnarounds in Tallinn, and also Royal Princess. Built in 2013, she's the 10th largest cruise ship in the world and since today by far the largest to ever sail to Tallinn. Along with her first call there was a ceremonial opening of the new cruise quay at the port which I was lucky enough to attend.
When I arrived, the orchestra was playing and later some speeches were given - The Estonian Minister of Economics Urve Palo, Tallinn Deputy Mayor Taavi Aas, board member of Port of Tallinn Allan Kiil, and the manager of the Estonian branch of BMGS (the company who built the quay) Leho Alliksoo. They all stressed the importance of cruise tourism in Tallinn and good service and asked the philosophical question - who came first, the city or the harbour? - and reached the conclusion that it must have been the harbour. After the speeches, the symbolic knot was untangled and the harbour master and the captain of Royal Princess exchanged commemorative gifts. At the same time, the Royal Princess sounded her horn, which was the theme from Love Boat.

The ship and the orchestra
The minister and the ship

Leho Alliksoo and Allan Kiil
The two captains
The symbolic untangling of the knot
From the left: Captain of Royal Princess Dino Sagani, me, Harbour Master Ülo Kikas
Since new cruise quays aren't opened every day (the older one was opened 10 years ago), I'm very happy I could attend. I'm lucky to live in a city where the importance of cruise tourism is understood and I hope that the development will continue in the same direction. The call of the Royal Princess was only possible thanks to the new quay, which means that Tallinn is now ready to welcome some of the largest of cruise ships. 

Here's a video of the Love Boat theme and more photos of Royal Princess.

The horn came rather unexpected and I filmed it quite spontaneously, which is why this video isn't exactly widescreen or HD or anything.

Port side
Lifeboat 1

Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Of the past and the future

Although it's now more than two weeks since Discovery called and many ships have visited, I haven't seen any, mostly because either the timing or the weather or both have been rather awful. I have been making plans, which I like to do a lot. Still, I haven't made any long-term travelling plans whatsoever, and at this point I'm not able to. But I have determined that I'll be taking advanced practical sailing courses in late June, which is just as exciting, if not more.

The Eckerö Line interview I briefly mentioned in my last post went very well. I was warmly welcomed by the head of the Estonian branch Katrin Sirk, who told me many interesting things about the history of the route and the company, showed me potentially useful sources and gave me a big book about the company. I'd like to point her out as a great example on how to be nice to people, not to mention that I'm very grateful.

Today the results were released of a study on the non-financial results of different companies; an article I read about it focused on Finnish customer satisfaction with the major ferry operators on the Gulf of Finland. It turned out that Eckerö Line has the highest customer satisfaction rate. In the light of this news I'm glad that I'll be finally giving them a first try in less than two weeks. In fact, I'll spend a weekend in Helsinki and use Finlandia for both crossings.


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