MaritimeMatters’ Helsinki correspondent Kalle Id continues his ferry tales with a report from a Helsinki-Tallinn day cruise on Eckerö Line’s new FINLANDIA (formerly the Mediterranean ferry MOBY FREEDOM).
As some of you will perhaps remember, my last report on this site was from a day trip to Tallinn on Eckerö Line’s NORDLANDIA (ex-OLAU HOLLANDIA, NORD GOTLANDIA). This time we return to the same port with the same company, but travel on board their new ship FINLANDIA (ex- MOBY FREEDOM).
The MOBY FREEDOM was built in 2001 by the Daewoo shipyard in South Korea as a younger sister to the MOBY WONDER. Her design had been drawn up by Italy’s Fincantieri however, and Fincantieri later went on to built two further sister ships on their own yards, one to Moby and one to the Estonian shipping company Tallink. The MOBY FREEDOM was used on Moby Lines’ services from Olbia in Sardinia (Italy) to the Italian mainland ports Genoa, Civitavecchia and Livorno (Leghorn). The ship type was designed for flexible operations, sailing in cruiseferry mode during weekends and the summer high season and as a more cargo-oriented unit during the winters. Originally she was delivered in a white livery with large Moby Lines hull markings, but this was soon changed when Moby entered an agreement with Warner Brothers to use their Looney Tunes characters on both the exteriors and interiors of their ships.
In March 2012 the MOBY FREEDOM was sold to the Finnish shipping company Rederi Ab Eckerö for use under their Eckerö Line brand between Helsinki and Tallinn. The ship – temporarily renamed FREEDOM – sailed to the Öresundsvarvet shipyard in Karlskrona, Sweden, where she was given a multi-million-euro refit to better suit the needs of the short Helsinki-Tallinn run, which meant an almost complete rebuilding of all her public spaces. The new interiors are the work of the Finnish interior architect Bettina Ingves, who has also worked previously on the interiors of Rederi Ab Eckerö’s NORDLANDIA and ECKERÖ. While at the shipyard, she renamed FINLANDIA following a naming competition. On New Year’s Eve the FINLANDIA entered service between Helsinki and Tallinn, replacing Eckerö Line’s older unit NORDLANDIA.
Wednesday, 23 January 2013
For me, this trip was doubly fun: I got to try out the new FINLANDIA in service and I got to use he new Helsinki tram line that goes more-or-less directly from my front door to the West Terminal where the FINLANDIA departs from. That said, neither experience was exactly a novelty: I had traveled on the said tram line several times before (not just all the way to the ferry terminal) and I had also visited the FINLANDIA late last year when a preview of the (at that time still partially incomplete) ship was given to media representatives. But still, this would be the first time I would see the ship in complete form and get to sail on her.
The tram was crowded – Helsinki Regional Traffic seems to be having difficulties in providing an adequate capacity for the new route – but check-in and boarding went without a hitch, with no queues to speak of. As before on Eckerö ships, the crew were exceedingly nice and polite. This is by no means a luxury product, being essentially a basic transport ship, but Eckerö do go out of their way to make a friendly and, well, homely atmosphere.
We had not booked a cabin – why would you need one when the trip takes just 2½ hours in one direction? – and as our first task on board we set out to find a luggage room. It turned out that the original owners had failed to specify one to be built on board. Eckerö had solved this with a slightly unusual decision of simply stripping two cabins near the entrance of mattresses and putting “luggage room” signs on their doors. Not pretty, but it did do the job. After getting rid of the things we would not be needing during the crossing, I proceeded to give an orientation tour to my traveling companion (that is to say, my wife).
The interior layout of the FINLANDIA is very simple. The entrance vestibule is in the forward part of deck 6, next to the green staircase (the stairs are colour-coded: green, yellow, blue and red from bow to stern). Forward of the vestibule is the EckeröMarket (selling mostly alcoholic drinks and sweets) and the extra-charge Extra-class lounge, aimed primarily at business travelers. Aft of the vestibule the entire deck is given to cabins, and all spaces below deck six are given over to car decks and technical spaces.
The forward part of Deck 7 is given over to the two-storey Bar Nosturi, which has forward-facing views and a band performing for most of the trip. Like most public spaces onboard, the lounge is named after places in or near the West Harbour in Helsinki. In this case, Nosturi honours the combined culture hall-nightclub of the same name near the harbour – literally name means ”mechanical crane”. On the MOBY FREEDOM this was a three-storey space, but Eckerö decided to convert the lowermost floor into the market and Extra class lounge instead. Other than Bar Nosturi, the entirety of Deck 7 is given over to cabins.
Deck 8 hosts the majority of public spaces on the ship. In the front there is the upper level of Bar Nosturi; aft of it there are two small conference rooms on the port side and a small pub – Jätkäsaari, named after the island the West Harbour is in – on the starboard. Aft of Pub Jätkäsaari there is a second, larger pub named Telakka (“shipyard”). Of the two pubs Jätkäsaari is a quiet space serving specialist beers, while Telakka has entertainment in form of a troubadour and karaoke.
Aft of Pub Telakka there is Shop Bellezza selling perfumes and fashion products, followed by Bar Naissaar (named after an island on Estonia’s north coast). On the port side is the ship’s only actual restaurant, Buffet Eckerö. Furthest aft is Cafeteria Satama (”Harbour”), another double-storey space continuing up to deck 9. Apart from the upper storey of Cafeteria Satama aft and the navigational bridge forward, deck 9 is entirely open deck with an outdoors bar midships. Naturally this was not open in January.
After making our little tour of the ship we settled on the upper level of Cafeteria Satama to spectate the ship’s departure. The space has been very pleasantly renovated from it’s previous incarnation as a sports bar, but apparently the insulation is still the original designed for the warm Mediterranean climate. This resulted in frosted windows and a fairly cool temperature inside, particularly in the upper level. We did not mind, as the ship was actually quite hot in the other parts and the colder air gave us a nice chance to cool off.
Soon after departing we passed the FINLANDIA’s sister ship and competitor, Tallink’s Helsinki-Tallinn ferry SUPERSTAR that was en-route to the West Harbour and the quay just vacated by the FINLANDIA. Despite the cold weather outside and the fact I had left my coat in the luggage room I braved the chilly sun deck for a chance to photograph the passing sister. As you shall see later in this narrative, this was not the only time I braved the freezing temperatures without a coat and miraculously I have not fallen ill.
After the little trip to outdoors we decided it was time for breakfast and headed one deck below to see what Satama would offer us on the food department. This turned out to be various types of sandwiches or porridge (there is also an à la carté -menu you can order from). In the end we both opted for one of the stranger objects available, rye bread filled with bacon, omelette, salad and tomato slices. None of the ingredients are of course strange in themselves, but as a combination they were unusual. But the result – which we enjoyed in a multipurpose space between the Cafeteria and Buffet that can be combined into either space – was rather tasty if not exactly health food.
Post-breakfast we checked out the selection at EckeröMarket. I cannot comment on the alcoholic drinks available, but the sweets selection was alright. We ended up buying some spiced almonds made according to a medieval recipe by the Olde Hansa restaurant in Tallinn (the restaurant, serving authentic medieval cuisine, is a must if you’re in Tallinn). stop was Pub Telakka to give a listen to the troubadour (an Italian named Claudio) and sample the almonds.
I must admit that although I otherwise adore the FINLANDIA’s interiors, with Telakka Bettina Ingves had missed the mark. I appreciate the idea of having a pub named “Shipyard” and giving it an industrial theme, but the interior elements simply do not work together. In one place you have pretty normal-looking armchairs, next to them enameled iron stools and next to them different kind of armchairs – none of which work together with each other or the faux rusted-steel wall decor.
After spending a short time listening to the troubadour (his performance was not exactly to our liking) we decided to venture to the front of the ship and see if there were any free seats in Bar Nosturi. The said lounge having live entertainment and forward-facing views it is understandably the most popular venue on board. We did manage to find a free table to the back of the lounge – far from both the music and the views, alas.
By this time I must admit both of us were getting slightly bored. With just two entertainment options available, the 2½-hour trip did start to feel long. Fortunately on the table we took over in Nosturi there was a newspaper with unfilled sudoku and Maria proceeded to teach me how one does them.
The sudoku kept us suitably entertained for the remainder of the trip. Soon we were nearing Tallinn and it was time for me to brave the cold outdoors again in order to photograph ships in harbour. Unlike during out NORDLANDIA visit to the port there were just three ships in evidence: the Estonian icebreaker BOTNICA (recently acquired second-hand from Finland), Tallink’s Tallinn-Stockholm ferry BALTIC QUEEN and Tallink’s new Helsinki-Tallinn 22-hour cruise ferry SILJA EUROPA, which was preparing to set out on her first voyage as a Tallink ship following a recent transfer from the sister company Silja Line.
The slight move southwards had not made the weather any less cold, but I braved it long enough to not only photograph the SILJA EUROPA but also take some photos of the FINLANDIA’s decidedly un-sunny sun deck.Then it was time to head back to Nosturi and another rendez-vous with my wife (who perhaps wisely had decided to stay indoors).
Our original plan for our time in Tallinn had been to visit the Lennusadam maritime museum opened last year. However, with the ship in harbour for a scant four hours, we decided to change our plan just as we were walking off the ship and take a walking tour around Tallinn’s old town instead.
Tallinn prides itself – justifiably – of the city’s old town (Vanalinn), which is the best-preserved medieval city in Northern Europe. On top of that you get centuries of culture from the Swedish, Danish and Russian empires, the German monastic orders and of course the Estonians themselves. The oldest part of the town is located on Toompea hill and commands extremely impressive views over the city. The old town also includes several impressive churches as well as an array of shops, cafeterias and restaurants.
Walking to the old town from the harbour you will also pass the ESTONIA monument, commemorating the sinking of the Tallinn-Stockholm ferry ESTONIA on 28 September 1994 that claimed the lives of 852 people.
After wondering around the old town for a time we decided to head on to a direction we had not visited before and stumbled upon an impressive building that turned out to be the Estonian National Library. The building – like Linnahall we visited during our NORDLANDIA trip – was designed by the Estonian architect Raine Karp, blending mediaeval and native american architecture into what is essentially a modernist building. After a look inside the library it was time to start heading back to the ship – admittedly via a local supermarket to stock up on cheap Estonian foodstuffs.
In our absence the FINLANDIA has shifted quays to the quay previously used by the NORDLANDIA when in Tallinn, in order to vacate the quay we arrived in to the incoming VIKING XPRS. The reason for shifting quays became clear when we boarded: the gangways on the quay we shifted to do not reach high enough for the FINLANDIA’s main entrance on Deck 6. We entered instead to the car deck on deck five and were guided by the crew to the staircases and up to the passenger decks. Hopefully this issue will be resolved in the upcoming months with new gangways built so that the FINLANDIA can use her ”own” quay full time.
Following re-entry and after putting our backpack (now filled with Estonian yogurts, bread and fruit juice) back in the luggage room we headed again to Bar Nosturi and this time managed to secure a table next to the front window. The band were already playing and as we arrived they gave a fascinating lounge jazz rendition of the Finnish song ”Poika nimeltä Päivi” (I would freely translate the title as ”A Boy Called Lucy”) before slipping into a more traditional fare of old-fashioned Finnish dance music. Clearly this pleased our fellow passengers, as the dance floor quickly filled up.
Soon after we departed I noticed a familiar-looking ship’s profile sailing towards us from the horizon. This turned out to be the NORDLANDIA, the ship the FINLANDIA had replaced on the Helsinki-Tallinn run. After the arrival of the FINLANDIA Eckerö tried to sell the NORDLANDIA but could not find a suitable buyer. Faced with this conundrum, they decided to sell their Helsinki-Tallinn cargo ferry TRANSLANDIA instead and operate the NORDLANDIA in freight mode on the route. A bit of a waste of a good passenger ferry if you ask me.
In any case, I decided to brave the great outdoors without a coat one last time to photograph the passing NORDLANDIA. That was carried out fortunately quickly, as the sun was setting and the weather was getting even chillier. Afterwards we retired inside to check out the fragrances in Shop Bellezza. We didn’t buy anything though.
While waiting for the second dinner seating to start we sat for a while in Bar Naissaar. In terms of decor I’d say this particular space is my favourite of all the spaces on board; I really like the brightly coloured chairs in particular. In this regard we didn’t agree with Maria who wasn’t as fond of the space – the particularly disliked the floral-patterned carpet as ”grandmotherly”. I was slightly disappointed on trying out the chairs however, as they were surprisingly small and low. Interestingly, on the MOBY FREEDOM this was the children’s play area – quite a change if you ask me.
The FINLANDIA’s buffet was where we headed for next. This is another space I particularly like onboard. The only surviving elements of its original MOBY FREEDOM decor are the large blue leaf patters in the ceiling, but the interior architect used these as an inspiration for the new decor with floral patterns on the carpets and green chairs. The servery areas have been arranged in two places to facilitate passenger movement: the starters are in the middle of the space, the main courses in the forward end of the room in a semi-enclosed space and the desserts outside the main course enclosure.
Choosing the second seating had clearly been a good choice on our part, as there were only about 25 people in the restaurant in addition to us, meaning window tables to just about everyone (not that there was anything to see as it was dark outside). Eckerö’s buffet was once again rather excellent, particularly when considering the price (26€/person when pre-booked). The food selection was not perhaps as extensive as on other Baltic Sea ferries (or many cruise ships), but everything available was of very good quality. Additional points also for providing plenty of vegetables and other side dishes – and for the restaurant staff actually explaining what each food item was. Having said that, the FINLANDIA’s buffet was not perhaps quite as good as the NORDLANDIA’s had been. Perhaps it was just the lack of the NORDLANDIA’s fantastic mushroom sauce.
Shortly after we had finished our desserts the lights of Helsinki became visible from the ship’s windows. We lingered in the spacious buffet long enough so that we could simply get our things from the luggage room and walk off the ship. Which we did, boarded a very crowded tram and got home about half an hour later.
To sum up the experience, the FINLANDIA is an extremely nice ship on the inside, with good food and a friendly staff. The main problems are lack of variety in entertainment and the fact that the public spaces seem quite small for the number of people carried. This was a Wednesday departure and the ship was probably nowhere near her 2080-passenger top capacity, yet many of the spaces seemed crowded. In this respect it would perhaps have been smart om Eckerö’s part to replace some of the cabins on deck six or seven with an additional public room. Although in this regard it should be said that none of the ships sailing on the route are exactly known as spacious; it’s not unusual to see people sitting on the floors on board the VIKING XPRS, particularly on weekend crossings.
The few gripes aside, our trip on the FINLANDIA was a delightful little day cruise.
End of FINLANDIA to Estonia.
Special thanks to Maria Id, Olli Tuominen, Manuel Hernández Lafuente and Martin Cox.
Kalle Id, MaritimeMatters' Helsinki correspondent, is a Finnish maritime historian, photographer and journalist, with a Master's Degree in history from the University of Helsinki. His early-age exposure to ferry travel led to a lifetime fascination with passenger ships, both the cruise ferries of his home waters and the cruise ships and ferries of further afield. Kalle maintains his own ship photography blog at kships.blogspot.com. Contrary to the popular belief, he writes under his real name.