...because you thought Sweden was Switzerland!

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

It's the journey, not the destination

Part 3 of 3 of our Finland cruise story

So, Helsinki wasn't anything to get excited about, but at least the journey there was something I could see myself repeating. There's just something about the change of atmosphere in a ship that makes one not care about where you're going – It's a real change from being on a cramped plane seat wishing you were somewhere else. And if time flies when you're having fun, well, there's really no shortage of things to do there that you'd think they designed the program for ADHD folk. I kind of liked it :-)

The Promenade on Serenade's deck 7,
where some restaurants and shops are.

Check in was a breeze, a far cry from the intimidation-game they play at most airports. In fact, it was almost too easy that it could have been disturbing: the check-in personnel didn't even bother to open our passports to see if they belonged to us! (Though, they don't check passports between Sweden and Denmark either, so I guess it doesn't make a difference). According to the film they show at the check-in line (which, to judge by the people's clothes, was made in the early 90's), they were also supposed to put our bags through an X-ray, and open suspicious-looking bags. They should just stop showing that movie and save electricity: there wasn't even an X-ray machine in sight, and of course our bags weren't checked either. The clever thing is that the boarding card doubles as the room key, and that it''s also the boarding card for the return journey. Even returning to the boat from Helsinki was a breeze: a woman puts your boarding card under a bar code reader, and in you go... Some groceries in Holland were stricter than this! On the other hand, it really makes the trip free from tension, something I wish airplane flights could be.

For 300 kronor, sleep under 2 car decks

We're cheapo and we got this cruise on a discount, so we didn't expect much from our room in the first place. For 300 Swedish crowns, we got to stay two nights in a 9-square meter space at the bottom-most deck of the boat. It was quite a featureless room in comparison with the ones they show in the cruise liner ads, but nevertheless it had a bunk bed with sheets and pillows (the upper one folded away), a chair and a dresser, a telephone, and our own toilet and shower with towels, soap and shampoo, hot and cold water, toilet paper, and even a hairdryer. Beats going to the plane toilet, where you share the seat with a hundred other people. You won't even mind that the room doesn't have a single window.

Hej Marcus!

... Oh wait, it can't have windows, because I hadn't mentioned that deck 2 is actually under the waterline. And it's under decks 3 and 4 too, which are parking levels that fit up to 450 cars. Obviously they can't be under the waterline because they need to roll in and out of the boat. Instead, that place is reserved for poor students like us ;-) Reminds me of that horrible movie Titanic (yuck, did I just mention Titanic?) That poor bloke Jack could be living in a room under the water line as well. At night when everything was quiet, there were bonging sounds at night that we imagined to be little icebergs hitting the keel. I'm not complaining though. However, if I had more money, I would definitely put it in one of the upper rooms either facing the sea or into the Promenade. But as it is, the 9-square meter cubbyhole really isn't bad, especially in short trips like these. And if you've got nothing against tenting or staying in hostels – students usually don't – then this one isn't a different experience.

Yehey, buffet!

Besides, you could forgive the room when you come and dine in the same dinner buffet with families you know are living in the better quarters. While the family-guys were digging into the dorm food – meatballs, sausages, burger patties, fries (frankly, I can't understand why you pay for a whole buffet just to eat pre-fab sausages!) – we, the real dormers, were enjoying salmon, shrimp, artichokes and fish pates with a free bottle of white wine. Haha!

The buffet breakfast was also a treat. They had huge bowls of cereal, fresh as well as preserved fruits, eggs prepared in different ways, Norwegian salmon, traditional Swedish herring, and even Finnish pirogi (which is rice baked in bread, picture shown here). The pirogi were as much Finnish as the buffets got, actually. According to one of my guidebooks, Jacques Chirac allegedly said to his seat-mates in the July 2005 G8 summit that Finnish food was the worst in Europe, adding that "one cannot trust people whose cuisine is so bad". Well, don't ask me – I've only had Hesburger and the Finnish pirogi so far, and both of them at least tasted the way they looked. When I asked a Finnish girl in my masters program what the best Finnish food were though, she answered after a moment's hesitation: bread, and Fazer, a brand of chocolates.

Tax free, entertainment and the thirsty Finns

Lastly, there's the main reason why so many go on these Finland cruises: the tax free shop on deck 6, and the entertainment (read: parties, for most people). Personally, I'm not into dancing, and unfortunately, we missed the last performance of the Beatles look-alike band on our first night on the boat. On the second night, they had been replaced by a hip-hop band to please the younger crowds that come on weekends. We didn't feel for that; however, we did have a good time people watching in the tax-free, especially when the thirsty Finns came along.

You can't bring an unlimited number of tax-free goods with you to land. Rules here restrict you to a maximum of 2 cases of beer + a maximum of 2 liters of wine + 1 or two liters of hard drinks, depending on alcohol strength – but that's not exactly a small amount of alcohol. As a "service" though, the staff anticipate that some hard folks will want to buy the absolute limit they can carry, and thus prepare ready-to-buy trolleys of alcohol! Kind of funny but a bit pathetic actually. I can't imagine anyone rolling out with one of these things with a straight face. In that case, they must be really determined to get their booze.

If you want the word "wino" written on your forehead,
go home with one of these in hand

The craziest when it came to entertainment must have been this circus show they held in the middle of the Promenade: a male acrobat performs tricks in- and outside a rotating wheel... in a moving boat. That was amazing, and sometimes I think he feigned to be out of balance just to scare the audience. I caught him on film skipping rope outside the wheel (here on this link). He did it blindfolded too, only my camera did what it does best for and performed Error 18 when the interesting things start to happen.

Now, we hope to someday repeat the cruise experience, maybe on the way to the medieval town of Tallinn in Estonia (the fjords of Norway seem more beautiful, but a cruise there is also much more expensive). Hopefully, it will be in a corridor with less drunk 20-somethings next time. So yeah, the only real down side of the Finland cruise itself was the journey back, when the boarding Finns saw the cruise as an excuse to stop being Finnish-like and instead be boisterous (one of them, obviously not sober, was being pushed around in a grocery cart by his mates). I had little sleep that night thanks to the Finns occupying the neighboring cabins. Basing on the last time I heard their voices, they stayed awake drinking in the corridors until 3AM, until the inevitable happened and someone ran to take a puke... right outside the elevator door. Thankfully, there was another elevator in our deck. Nevertheless, we decided to take our bags directly after breakfast the next day and waited upstairs until arrival in Stockholm, rather than running into some unpleasant sight again.

More pictures at my Multiply album!


Blogger aka Cheryl said...

this is such a long entry, now i know how you feel abt my travel stories. hahahaha

4:23 AM

Blogger Christianne said...

Cool! Mura ng kuha ninyo sa tickets. Pwede kaya ang 2-year-old na bata diyan? (which is my question for everything... hehe)

5:36 PM

Blogger Ahoy! said...

Hej both of you!

Cheryl: Hey... but I *like* reading your stories! Really! :-) Hmmm so you must have liked mine. Hahah!

Christianne: Yeah, and it's even cheaper on Mondays (at least some Mondays... better look at the site to make sure which ones are "dead" seasons.

For two nights and with the two buffets and bus transfers, we paid about 1,500+ together, but it can surely be just as cheap for you guys since you don't need bus transfers to the port (and I assume buffets are cheaper for children, though I'm not sure).

The cruise is very child-friendly! They have a playground, several activity centers for children and young adults (even teens), and they arrange games where the children look for "clues" in the boat, in teams. In fairness, not all the passengers are drunkards. There were many families with children, some of them even with infants in prams (there's also a nursing room for lactating moms).

:-) Try it! But maybe go to Tallin, or at least try Helsinki in the summer. We obviously went in the wrong time of the year!

7:01 PM

Blogger Christianne said...

Nice! Sige will look into this in the warmer months :)

2:53 PM


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