Seven Ships In Three Hours – An Evening At Helsinki West Harbour

Seven ships in three hours – an evening at Helsinki West Harbour
By Kalle Id

All images © 2011 Kalle Id

Helsinki, the capital of Finland is a busy cruise port during the summer months (largely thanks to the vicinity of St. Petersburg). In addition to this the city is also a busy ferry port, with at least eight ferries visiting the city’s three harbours on any given day around the year.

June 22 was the busiest day of the year in the Port of Helsinki at least as far as cruise ships were concerned, with a total of six cruise ships visiting. In the South Harbour were the KRISTINA KATARINA, SEVEN SEAS VOYAGER and SEABOURN SOJOURN, while the West Harbour hosted the MARINA, ROTTERDAM and COSTA LUMINOSA. To document the event at least in part I decided to head to the West Harbour, where in addition to the three cruise ships four ferries would call during the evening: Tallink’s BALTIC PRINCESS, SUPERSTAR and STAR, as well as Eckerö Line’s NORDLANDIA. In a space of three hours, I managed to photograph all seven ships either departing or arriving.

Sisä-Hattu island photographed later in the evening in the setting sun. A good place for photography though not that easy to access.

The West Harbour is located on the southwestern tip of the cape that makes up mainland Helsinki. The post itself is inconveniently located for photographing departing ships, but across a strait from the harbour is the large residential island of Lauttasaari (the name literally means ”ferry island”), the southern tip of which provides good views for photographing departing ships. However, to make most of the occasion I decided to go even further south, to the small island of Sisä-Hattu (lit. ”inner hat”) that can be accessed by wading across a shallow strait that separates it from Lauttasaari proper.

Drying my feet on the rocky shore of Sisä-Hattu, I had the wonderful view of five different large passenger ships in the harbour. There was little time to admire the view however, as things were about to get moving.

Size difference: Departing for a quick dash to Tallinn, the colourful SUPERSTAR is dwarfed by the COSTA LUMINOSA.

Tallink’s fast Helsinki-Tallinn ferry SUPERSTAR was the first to leave, at 5.30. The 2008-built SUPERSTAR, immediately identifiable by her colourful (some would say garish) livery, is an unusual Baltic Sea ferry in the sense that she was built by Italy’s Fincantieri rather than the Finnish or German shipyards usually relied on by Baltic Sea operators. She’s based on a design developed by Fincantieri for Italy’s Moby Lines, who operate three sister ships of the SUPERSTAR (those are painted in busy liveries featuring Looney Tunes characters).

Despite the fact that the crossing to Tallinn on the SUPERSTAR takes a mere two hours, the passengers can enjoy the services of two restaurants, three more casual eateries and three bars (including a three-deck high forward observation lounge) on top of which there are three different shops. For those who do not wish to mingle with fellow passengers, there are 186 cabins capable of accommodating 520 passengers.

SUPERSTAR outbound, with Silja Line's 1991-built large cruiseferry SILJA SYMPHONY in the background. The SILJA SYMPHONY had departed half an hour earlier from the South Harbour on an overnight crossing to Stockholm.

After the SUPERSTAR had passed behind the islands scattered outside Helsinki, it was time to see which of the three cruise ships in harbour would depart first, as all three had their departure time marked for 6 PM. In the end the first one to leave was the ROTTERDAM, which in the end departed already at ten to six. I presume the scifi-sleek 1997 Holland-America Line ship doesn’t need to much introductions.

ROTTERDAM gliding past Pihlajasaari island, with Viking Line's 1985-built Helsinki-Stockholm ferry MARIELLA outbound in the background.

15 minutes later, it was time for the next departee Costa Cruises COSTA LUMINOSA, one of the 11 Vista-class ships (or Vista-class derivates) sailing for various Carnival Corporation brands. Built in 2009, the COSTA LUMINOSA was the first Vista-class ship built for Costa Cruises, followed in 2010 by the COSTA DELIZIOSA. In 2010 I had the chance to photograph the two sisters together when they were in Helsinki at the same time.

COSTA LUMINOSA leaving port.
COSTA LUMINOSA heading out. As the evening was quite windy, there were plenty of sailboats in attendance for nice maritime-themed photography.

After the COSTA LUMINOSA I was expecting the next ship to leave to be the MARINA, but instead she stayed firmy tied to quay and the next ship to leave was Tallink’s BALTIC PRINCESSat her scheduled departure time of 6.30. While waiting for these ships to move there was further movement in the South Harbour, out of the range of my camera, with Regent Seven Seas Cruises’ SEVEN SEAS VOYAGER departing for St. Petersburg.

BALTIC PRINCESS displaying her owner's penchants for unusual liveries.

The BALTIC PRINCESS was built in 2008 at what was then Aker Yards’ Helsinki shipyard (also located in the West Harbour) as the second-to-last ship in Tallink’s ambitious newbuilding programme that totaled seven ships built between 2002 and 2009 (furthermore the company purchased additional seven ships during the same time span, when they took over the Baltic Sea operations of Superfast Ferries and the rival operator Silja Line).

The BALTIC PRINCESS is used on 22-hour cruises between Helsinki and Tallinn. She departs Helsinki every evening at 6.30, sails to Tallinn where the spends the night and following morning, giving passengers a chance to go ashore, and sails back to Helsinki in the afternoon. The ship can accommodate up to 2800 passengers and the onboard facilities include four restaurants (including, naturally, a Scandinavian buffet), two pubs, five bars (including a two-deck-high dance club/showroom), three shops, a sauna and indoor pool area, plus an array of conference rooms.

In addition to their ships having unusual liveries that tend to be radically different from one ship to the next, the company also lacks a common theme in ship names, as testified by names as varied as ROMANTIKA, STAR and BALTIC PRINCESS.

As the BALTIC PRINCESS was heading out, the ship I most wanted to photograph this evening was finally beginning to move. Some 45 minutes later than scheduled, Oceania Cruises’ (almost-)new MARINA begun her progress towards the open sea. Oceania Cruises’ exciting first newbuilding had been more than adequately covered in MaritimeMatters by the ever-brilliant Peter Knego, so I probably won’t have to go to details about her. What I found interesting, seeing the ship in real life for the first time, was how much her exterior resembles a smaller version on Celebrity Cruises’ Solstice-class ships. As the Solstices are some of my favourites of recent newbuilding (at least in terms of exterior looks), I can hardly complain.

Departing MARINA leaving an empty harbour behind her.
As an interesting note on languages: in Finnish the word marina (in addition to meaning exactly the same thing it means in English) means whining. I presume there was no marina to be heard onboard the MARINA.

By the time the MARINA glided behind the larger islands I was getting rather cold, standing on the fairly unsheltered island in the wind and decided to wade back to the larger island. After reaching the opposite shore my attention was drawn to a ship blowing her horn on the shipping lane. Behind the island emerged my sixth rendez-vous of the evening, Tallink’s second Helsinki-Tallinn fast ferry STAR.

Despite their similar names and the fact they are running mates, the STAR and SUPERSTAR bear no relation to each other in design, being products of different shipyards.

Unlike the SUPERSTAR, the 2007-built STAR is another local product from the (former-) Aker Yards Helsinki Shipyard. Her design draws heavily from the 2001-built English Channel ferry SEAFRANCE RODIN. Like her route-mate, the STAR offers many distractions for the two-hour crossing, with two restaurants, two cafeterias, a pub, an observation lounge/bar and a supermarket. As with the SUPERSTAR, there are cabins for a total of 520 of her 1900 passengers.

The STAR performs a quick 180-degree turn, then reverses into quay. In two hours she's off again. Together the STAR and SUPERSTAR make five return crossing between Helsinki and Tallinn per day.

As the STAR was coming into harbour, another ship was departing from the South Harbour, namely cruise businesses’ Finnish-flagged oddity, the KRISTINA KATARINA. Belonging to Kristina Cruises, the all-Finnish-crewed ship sails to destinations as varied as the Caribbean, Red Sea, Mediterranean, Greenland and, of course, the Baltic. Unfortunately the little St. Petersburg-bound ship was far too away to yield a good photograph. As there was to be no action in the harbour for another hour or so, I quickly nipped to a local supermarket for some very late lunch.

Nibbling my lunch on the rocks on the shore I did not have to wait for an hour for interesting ship to sail into my field of vision. Inbound to the South Harbour was Viking Line’s 2008-built Helsinki-Tallinn fast ferry VIKING XPRS (pronounced ”Viking Express”). Like the STAR she was built in Helsinki and her construction is based on that of the SEAFRANCE RODIN, but compared to her Tallink-owned competitor the VIKING XPRS has a different (and in my opinion superior) interior layout and a more refined exterior appearance.

Distant VIKING XPRS. Largely due to the fact the ship sails to the South Harbour rather than the West Harbour, she takes 2½ hours to sail between Tallinn and Helsinki instead of the Tallink ships 2 hours.

Mirroring the XPRS on the sea lane to the West Harbour was my evening’s last photo opportunity, Eckerö Line’s Helsinki-Tallinn ferry NORDLANDIA. In many ways the NORDLANDIA is a relic of a bygone era in Helsinki-Tallinn traffic. While all her competitors are purpose-built ships from the last decade, the NORDLANDIA started life way back in 1981 as Olau Line’s English Channel ferry OLAU HOLLANDIA. When replaced by a newer and larger ship in 1989, the OLAU HOLLANDIA passed to the Sweden-based Nordström & Thulin, becoming the NORD GOTLANDIA for N&T’s subsidiary Gotlandslinjen. When Gotlandslinjen lost the state-subsidized tender for operate services from the Swedish mainland to Gotland in 1997, the NORD GOTLANDIA was sold to Eckerö Line and her name was shortened to NORDLANDIA.

The NORDLANDIA displaying her new livery, applied in spring 2011.

As the only ship sailing between Helsinki and Tallinn, the NORDLANDIA still operates a traditional timetable. She departs early in the morning, spends the day in Tallinn and departs back for Helsinki in the evening. Recently she had been repainted in a new livery. According to the company, they are actively looking for a replacement for the NORDLANDIA. It remains to be seen if they will opt for a newbuilding or another second-hand ship.

For more images of ferries and cruise ships in Helsinki, please visit


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