Posted on Wednesday, February 27, 2013 by Kalle Id
A GRACEful Ferry Tale, part 2
by Kalle Id
MaritimeMatters’ Helsinki correspondent Kalle Id continues his Ferry Tale from onboard Viking Line’s new, liquid natural gas -powered VIKING GRACE.
All photographs are copyright © 2013 Kalle Id, except where otherwise noted.
Friday, 15 February 2013
Sleeping onboard the VIKING GRACE, it immediately became evident that the ship is extremely quiet. Even though she uses traditional fixed propellers instead of podded propulsion, due to technical limitations of her structure as a car ferry (the machine housing of a pod would protrude through the surface of the car deck, or so I’ve been told), there were almost no vibrations or engine noise. Our waiter in the Oscar restaurant the previous evening actually told us that she had trouble sleeping at night because it was too quiet – she kept waking up and thinking something was wrong and the engines had been turned off. This was testified by the fact that while we slept the ship called at both Långnäs and Stockholm – and we peacefully slumbered through both ports.
The big thing about the VIKING GRACE’s engines is that, for the first time in a large passenger ships, they can run on liquid natural gas (LNG) in addition to conventional marine diesel oil. With new emission control regulations due to come to effect in 2015 in the Baltic Sea, North Sea and the East & West coasts of North America, this dual fuel capability is extremely important. Compared to the conventional diesel fuel, LNG produces 88% less nitrogen oxides, 15% less carbon dioxide and virtually eliminates sulfur oxides. Hence, when run on LNG mode, the VIKING GRACE is more environmentally friendly than any other large ferry or cruise ship around. In this increasingly environmentally conscious era it may very well be that the VIKING GRACE is the first of a new generation of passenger ships. Certainly she will not stay the only LNG-powered passenger ship for long: two LNG-powered ferries will be completed to Fjord Line for Norway-Denmark services later this year, while on the cruise ship front Viking Ocean Cruises are investigating LNG as the fuel for their upcoming cruise ships.
After waking up fairly late at 11 AM, we we headed up to the Sweet & Salty cafeteria for breakfast (if you can call it such). I opted for a fruit salad and Maria chose the ”health option” of a chocolate muffin. In terms of decoration Sweet & Salty is definitely the most boring space onboard, finished in white and light grey colours with almost nothing to brighten up the space. Whereas almost everything else on the ship the interiors are interesting, the cafeteria certainly isn’t.
After breakfast it was time to head out on deck as we were about to pass the three ships sailing on the 24-hour cruise circuit from Stockholm to Mariehamn: the BIRGER JARL, VIKING CINDERELLA and BIRKA STOCKHOLM. The weather was not spectacularly good (as you can see from the photos), but the photo opportunity could not be passed up as this was my first time photographing the BIRKA STOCKHOLM with her new name and livery. Until this January, the only purpose-built cruise ship on the Baltic was known as the BIRKA PARADISE, but her owners decided to change their concept away from a Caribbean cruise theme and into a more local Baltic theme. At the same time they wished to rename their ship simply “Birka”, but as such a ship already existed in the Swedish register her official name became BIRKA STOCKHOLM, while she is marketed simply as the BIRKA.
After the cruise ships had passed we headed back indoors and took the chance for more indoors photography in daylight. This also meant a longer visit to the utterly fascinating Club Vogue, which is finished in what I can only describe as 1970s retro style. If anything, her decor and particularly the use of black and orange hues remind me of the brilliant Grill restaurant onboard the 1977 superferry FINNJET.
The daytime photo tour also brought us to the Frank’s Casual Dining restaurant, which we did not visit for eating purposes during the trip. The venue works somewhat differently from other shipboard restaurants, as there are several “action stations” with different themes within the restaurant, from where you order your meal and then go to eat at the table of your choosing. The decor of this area is unusual, with light hues dominating the center of the venue and the service counters, but on the sides these give way to shades of black and blue.
Following the photo tour we headed to the Retro Bar on deck 10 to give our non-Finnish traveling companions a taste of the blight of Baltic Sea ferry cruising: the karaoke. While my views of karaoke are negative to say at least, the venue was extremely popular and it was very difficult trying to find seat for four in the bar, with the tables populated by the ship’s older demographic, who were clearly enjoying both the singing and the young and enthusiastic karaoke hosts.
The name Retro Bar is clearly in reference to the entertainment rather than the look of the space, as it is no more or less retro than any other space onboard. What does set the space apart is the combination of white with bolder colours like black and yellow, which gives it a more adventurous and less subdued appearance from many of the other areas.
Following our short sampling of the karaoke it was time to head out on deck again, this time for our short mid-day call in Mariehamn. This is an excellent opportunity for photography as the timetables on the Turku-Stockholm route are arranged so that there are four ships calling in the port in quick succession: first the two Silja Line ships on the route, followed by the two Viking Line ships shortly afterwards. This also gives passengers a change to take a short day cruise from either Turku or Stockholm, departing the port on the ship in the morning, changing ships in Mariehamn and returning home in the evening.
This time we didn’t get to photograph three ships however, as Silja Line’s recent addition to the route, the BALTIC PRINCESS, had been delayed and skipped Mariehamn entirely in order to catch up the timetable. However, this still left Silja’s GALAXY and Viking’s AMORELLA to photograph.
After the call at Mariehamn our original plan was to eat lunch at the buffet on the 15.00 seating and then head in the evening to the Spa. This plan was ruined by the lunch seating in the buffet being fully booked, which forced us instead to opt for the 17.00 dinner seating. We then planned to simply reverse our original itinerary and head into the spa first, but this plan was in turn foiled by the fact the spa was also full. The lesson learned here is that it’s a good idea to book both the buffet and the spa in advance.
As we were feeling somewhat peckish, Maria and I decided to head back to Sweet & Salty for a quick lunch. Sweet & Salty has an interesting option for dining: there are buffet tables for salads and warm dishes from which you serve yourself and you pay at the cashier based on how much your portion weighs. A similar arrangement is in use on the VIKING GRACE’s fleetmate VIKING XPRS. We had not tried it before but it turned out to be eminently practical – and the quality of the food was also very good, particularly considering the cheap price.
Following lunch Maria and I headed one deck down to see the large tax-free supermarket. It was impressively sized and had a good selection, but somehow the arrangements of the displays made it resemble a basic land-based supermarket. Not necessarily a bad thing, but compared to the surprisingly stylish shopping spaces on most Baltic Sea ferries the VIKING GRACE’s shopping areas seemed somewhat dull.
After our shopping excursion we perused the cruise programme and decided to head to the Seamore champagne bar where a live pianist was playing. A quiet piano bar is something I have been hoping for a long time Baltic Sea cruiseferries would add, and on the VIKING GRACE my wish has finally been granted. On one hand I feel I neglected the other entertainment venues for the purposes of this reportage, but on the other hand I only had 23 hours to spend onboard and since I was finally granted my piano bar wish I feel I was entitled to enjoy it in the fullest.
As the enjoyable afternoon progressed it was soon time to head into Buffet Aurora for our second dinner onboard the VIKING GRACE. While the Oscar à la carte -restaurant had been half-empty at best, the buffet was fully booked. Fortunately Viking had opted for the traditional ”line” solution when arranging the servery areas, instead of the more fashionable but utterly impractical ”island” arrangement. The arrangements meant that even with 500 people in the restaurant, there was no need to queue for a long time.
The buffet has, in recent years, been a victim of the shipping companies need to save money, with both the selection and quality of the food being decreased. Fortunately, this was not the case on the with the VIKING GRACE. The selection was wide and the quality was good through-out the different courses. The only negative comment I have to give is that some of the fish starters were drenched in vinegar, hence completely obscuring their original taste. Everything else served was top-notch.
In terms of decor, Buffet Aurora is an archetypal VIKING GRACE interior, with a mostly grey palette livened by yellow, purple and green accents, a few completely different chairs thrown into the mix, interesting ceilings and lighting fixtures, and space dividers nodding to Finnish modernism of the 1930s-1950s period.
By the time we had finished eating the arrival in Turku was drawing near and we decided to head into our respective cabins to pack up. On the Turku-Stockholm route, due to the short harbour times, cleaning of the cabins for the next departure is already begun before arrival (you still retain the use of your cabin, of course, but things like bedsheets might be missing) and we hoped to pack before the cleaners arrived and hence help their work. No such luck, the ship’s effective cleaners had already visited our cabin. Never the less, we packed up and decided to enjoy what was for us the most exotic feature of the cabin: a TV (since we don’t have one at home).
As arrival in Turku drew nearer we headed out on deck for one last time to spectate the arrival. Already in harbour by the time we arrived were Silja Line’s cruise ferry BALTIC PRINCESS and their cargo ferry SEA WIND, while further back in the harbour Viking Line’s ISABELLA (the ship the VIKING GRACE replaced) was laid up, awaiting next May when she will be deployed by Viking Line on the Helsinki-Tallinn run.
Soon it was time to leave the VIKING GRACE behind. For one final ship-related exercise of the evening, we drove out to Ruissalo, an island outside Turku next to the shipping lane, to photograph the departing BALTIC PRINCESS, SEA WIND and VIKING GRACE. That was my final farewell to the VIKING GRACE at the end of this cruise, but I’m sure to return again.
End of A GRACEful Ferry Tale, part 2.
Special thanks to Maria Id, Bruce Peter, Elspeth Hough and Martin Cox.
For more ship photography by Kalle Id, please visit kships.blogspot.com.