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, such as the thoroughly refit Silja Europa, and the Rosella filling in for the Viking XPRS.

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.

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