A ship named Mariella, one of the Viking Line fleet, makes regular sailings between Stockholm and Helsinki for over more than three decades. Apart from its transportation purpose, it — as every self-respecting cruise ferry should do — offers a broad variety of entertainments.
Departing from Stockholm
I leave a hotel where I spent the night after my trip from Turku to Stockholm. It’s a few hours before the next voyage starts (this time my destination is Helsinki). The weather is nice, and I decide to get to the ferry on foot.
My way partially runs through Gamla Stan, the historical part of the city. I enjoy the charming narrowness of old streets and the frozen vastness of Söderström. I have my farewell look at the Stockholm City Hall (notable) and Radisson Blu Waterfront hotel (recommended).
Stadsgården, the wharf where I continue my walk, surprises me with major road works. There is a legion of orange-clothed workers, various machinery and a plenty of bright signs. The place is not at its best sightseeing shape, but at least it’s impossible to run astray in the midst of those temporary fences.
I don’t lose my way and get to the Viking line terminal. It takes me about an hour of walking at a leisurely pace to get here from the area of Central Station.
There is still quite some time until the boarding process will start, and the waiting hall is almost empty. Without a crowd of hurrying passengers this place seems to be even bigger. Though, it’s still friendly and has all necessary means of comfort — like benches, sockets and toilets.
There are also quite a large number of luggage lockers. The price for using one of them is 60 SEK (about 6 Euro). The interface is cash-free, which is, as for me, great — there’s no need to find an ATM or deal with some kind of banknote-to-coins change machine. Just use a bank card, press the red button and don’t forget to get the door-opening code.
Mariella, the ship which I am about to get on a bit later, is already here. It looks humongous in comparison with the terminal, let alone cars and people. Fun fact: there were a few years in the 1980’s when this watercraft was the largest in the world among all cruise ferries.
Light hours in winter come to an end early, and by the time of departure it’s fairly dark, despite it is only 16:30. The ticket checking is over. The lights of the city are on. The ferry leaves Stockholm, which is beautiful at any time of the day.
The Route: Stockholm to Helsinki
The route between Swedish and Finnish capitals is quite straightforward and has only one intermediate stop. Around midnight a ferry takes up the berth at Mariehamn of Åland Islands, stays there for just five minutes and then continues its way.
The distance that ferry covers is a little less than 500 kilometers. The trip lasts for about 17 hours — that’s a plenty of time for having both fun and a proper rest.
The Cabin: Seaside Premium Large
This cabin lives up to its name: it is really large and has a big two-part window. Speaking of the latter, it offers quite an intriguing view if you get here early.
As far as I concerned, the part of the ship you can see from the cabin before the departure is called bow visor. The purpose of this feature is to open access to the lower decks for cars, trucks and other wheeled vehicles. The type of ships equipped with this system is named Roll-on/roll-off (or, as the simplification fans address it, ro-ro). Of course, during the trip a bow visor is descended, and a passenger can have an unobstructed view. But, enough about technical nuances, let’s explore the interior.
This cabin has a feeling and characteristics of a fully-featured hotel room. A sofa, two chairs and a stool, a coffee table, a desk and two bedside tables, numerous lamps, a wardrobe, a trash bin, a hair dryer, a fridge with a set of drinks, a climate controller, and a large LCD screen… I almost forget that I am not at some building on firm ground.
A thing that deserves a special mention is a real, huge, full-sized double bed. A perfect equipment to make passengers’ dreams as sweet as possible!
And yes, there is also a shower and a toilet. Everything is clean, all systems are go, and the temperature of water adjusts smoothly.
It’s hard to imagine any compelling reason to leave this cosy space. It has everything one could ask for, except for food and including Wi-Fi. Anyway, if you decide to step out, don’t forget your boarding pass — it also works as the door key and is essential for getting back to the cabin.
The trip on a night ferry differs radically from the daylight voyage. While the latter is all about the view, beautiful nature and contemplation, dark hours do not offer you a lot in terms of seascape admiring. The only outside objects of interest now are the coastal lights at the beginning of the route and near Åland. I use an open deck to take a look at them. Although, even the deck itself offers more to my curiosity.
Frankly speaking, for the most time of the cruise looking through a window gives you just the understanding that the natural satellite of the Earth is still in its place. Which is definitely useful, but not surprising information.
Being on a ferry when it’s utterly dark outside is like spending time on a spaceship somewhere in the middle of the universe. A vast and boundless obscurity surrounds your vessel, but you have on board everything that modern science and technologies can offer you. There is nothing to worry about, you are safe and sound — so, you spend your time wandering around decks in the search for entertainment.
The good thing is that Mariella tries hard to keep its passengers joyful and satisfied. This caring works on various levels, and I decide to start according to the Maslow's hierarchy of needs — from the physiological need for food. The buffet fulfills this desire perfectly. It offers a broad variety of meals, desserts, snacks and drinks and is ready to feed any starving person (38 Euro for a place).
If you are in a more exalted mood and striving for lofty matters (or just not hungry), the ferry is pleased to offer you a kind of cultural entertainment. There is the place where you can listen to a live music band and maybe even — let's dream wild! — do some dancing.
Care for some gambling, want to try your luck, simply love neon lights, bright buttons and sharp electronic sounds? Mariella has something for this occasion as well!
One way or another, there are lots of various ways to amuse yourself. Nightlife on a ferry is bustling with activities of different kinds, levels and budgets.
But please be careful and reasonable! Some people get carried away by this life-affirming parade of joy and lose their heads in the literal sense of the word. I mean, seriously — I meet a couple of them.
I try to keep my head on straight and stroll in quiet and less crowded places, just looking around. Aloof from the commotion, amidst empty halls and stairways I feel myself at a set of some arthouse movie about a big forsaken hotel. Well, semi-forsaken.
During my unfocused and quite sleepy exploration I found an example of clear and cute object design. It’s the wall clock which shows two different times simultaneously. What a touching concern: now I will not get lost in a difference between Swedish and Finnish time zones!
At some point I find myself on the deck 5, where my cabin is located. Well then, I’d better quit my strolling to and fro and use another great opportunity that the night gives me — a deep and healthy sleep. I am coming, the double bed of room 5329!
Arriving to Helsinki
When the morning comes, my seaside cabin pays off generously. The darkness is gone, and I have one of the best observation points on the whole ship!
Of course, I can’t stop staring out the window and miss the breakfast, regardless of the fact that it was included in the price of my ticket. Nevertheless, I am sure about two things: most of the passengers sleep through an early taking of food after a fun night; the view from my cabin worth missing a meal, even if the meal is good.
Helsinki welcomes Mariella and its short-term inhabitants with the famous cathedral which stands on rising ground and is well visible from afar. It’s 10:10, and the ferry arrives to the Viking Line terminal.
It’s a 20-minutes walk from here to the center of the city, and I guide my steps there — passing by the resting ship, cargo trucks and a cheerful graffiti.
A few more words
First of all, I would like to recommend the cabin called Seaside Premium Large to everyone who loves to sleep. It may sound immature, but the importance of a big, soft, and comfortable bed cannot be overemphasized, especially during a travel. My second recommendation goes to lively, fun-seeking hedonists: choose a night trip, it shares your mood and taste for life. But, whatever your preferences and view of existence are, remember that the sea is your friend and book some ferry tickets on Vikingline or Directferries or Tallink Silja Line.