A Postponed Ferry Tale: Springtime SYMPHONY – Part One

A Springtime SYMPHONY – Part One

by Kalle Id

MaritimeMatters’ Helsinki correspondent Kalle Id revisited the Silja Line Helsinki-Stockholm ferry SILJA SYMPHONY last May, after the ship had received a multi-million-euro refit the previous Autumn. Due to scheduling problems, the Ferry Tale from this May trip is finally out for reading now.

Silja Line official website: www.silja.com

Kalle Id’s ship photo blog: kships.blogspot.fi

All photographs are copyright © 2015 Kalle Id, except where otherwise noted.

The SILJA SYMPHONY passing though the Kustaanmiekka Strait outside Helsinki a few weeks after the ferry tale detailed here.
The SILJA SYMPHONY passing though the Kustaanmiekka Strait outside Helsinki a few weeks after the ferry tale detailed here.

Technical details for the SILJA SYMPHONY:

Built 1991, Kvaerner Masa-Yards Turku New Shipyard, Finland

Tonnage 58 377 GT

Length 203,03 m / 666 feet

Width 31,93 m / 105 feet

Draught 7,12 m / 23 feet

Ice class 1A Super

2 852 passengers

3 001 berths

410 cars

Speed 21 knots

Saturday, 2nd May 2015

The two Silja Line sisters sailing between Helsinki and Stockholm, the SILJA SERENADE and SILJA SYMPHONY have given sterling service for the past quarter of a century. Last year the ship’s current owners Tallink Grupp decided it was time to give the pair a thorough refit. The SILJA SERENADE was rebuilt in spring 2014, with the SILJA SYMPHONY following in the autumn and receiving a more thorough refit than her sister. I actually visited the press showing of the refitted SILJA SERENADE (but never wrote about it here for some reason), but never got to sail onboard the refitted ships properly. Until now, that is.

Memories from Autumn 2014, when the SILJA SERENADE (left) and SILJA SYMPHONY (right) were in Helsinki at the same time, following the latter's return from drydock. Photo copyright © 2014 Kalle Id.
Memories from Autumn 2014, when the SILJA SERENADE (left) and SILJA SYMPHONY (right) were in Helsinki at the same time, following the latter’s return from drydock. Photo copyright © 2014 Kalle Id.

By a happy coincidence, my own, my wife Maria’s and the SILJA SYMPHONY’s timetables worked together perfectly and my birthday happened to be a day when the SILJA SYMPHONY sails from Helsinki. The day itself was a gloomy, rainy day, when only the bright green of emerging young leaves on the trees betrayed the fact this was May and not November.

Memories from even further afield: the SILJA SERENADE's rebuilt pool area, photographed during the press tour of the ship in February 2014. Reportedly the jacuzzi pictured here is the largest on the Baltic (together with the similar one installed on the SILJA SYMPHONY, that is). Photo copyright © 2014 Kalle Id.
Memories from even further afield: the SILJA SERENADE’s rebuilt pool area, photographed during the press tour of the ship in February 2014. Reportedly the jacuzzi pictured here is the largest on the Baltic (together with the similar one installed on the SILJA SYMPHONY, that is). Photo copyright © 2014 Kalle Id.

Check-in at the Olympia Terminal in Helsinki was quick (as it almost always is) and about an hour before the 17.00 departure we happily stepped on the warm and blessedly dry promenade of the SILJA SYMPHONY. As I have probably mentioned in previous Ferry Tales, the SILJA SERENADE and SILJA SYMPHONY were the first passenger ships ever to be built with a horizontal atrium, a feature that has been later picked up by Royal Caribbean.

Home sweet home, for the next two nights at least.
Home sweet home, for the next two nights at least.

Our cabin was a standard A-class twin cabin (that looked like it had been converted from a four berth one by simply removing the upper pullman berths) with a window. Although small by cruise ship standards, the standard cabins on the SILJA SYMPHONY and her sister are larger than on most Baltic Sea ferries – and perfectly adequate for a two-night cruise. For those who want more space, the ships also offer a number of larger cabins in the deluxe- and commodore classes (some of the latter have private balconies), as well as several suites.

In the recent refit, the main tax-free shop on deck six, below the Promenade, was radically expanded (at the expense of Orient Café and a large chunk of the main waiter-service restaurant). Admittedly the resulting Tax-Free Superstore is much more pleasant than the old crowded shop. This photo is again from the SILJA SERENADE's press showing, as I neglected to photograph the shops of the SILJA SYMPHONY. Photo copyright © 2014 Kalle Id.
In the recent refit, the main tax-free shop on deck six, below the Promenade, was radically expanded (at the expense of Orient Café and a large chunk of the main waiter-service restaurant). Admittedly the resulting Tax-Free Superstore is much more pleasant than the old crowded shop. This photo is again from the SILJA SERENADE’s press showing, as I neglected to photograph the shops of the SILJA SYMPHONY. Photo copyright © 2014 Kalle Id.

After settling in in our cabin, I conducted Maria on a brief tour of the changes to the ship. Five new shops and a sushi restaurant have been added on deck seven along the Promenade; the buffet restaurant buffet restaurant has been rebuilt, a larger main tax-free shop and a new italian restaurant have been added on deck six; and a new children’s playroom is now found on deck five. The sushi restaurant and new playroom are currently exclusive to the SILJA SYMPHONY.

I'm quite partial to the décor of the Sushi & Co. restaurant, to be honest. Notice the queue to the El Capitan tex-mex grill restaurant in the background; apparently, the added restaurant options did not effect the popularity of that particular venue.
I’m quite partial to the décor of the Sushi & Co. restaurant, to be honest. Notice the queue to the El Capitan tex-mex grill restaurant in the background; apparently, the added restaurant options did not effect the popularity of that particular venue.

The next order of business was dinner. We had made a reservation at the new Italian restaurant Tavolata for the second night of the cruise, so for the first night we headed for the new Sushi & Co. along the Promenade. After being initially skeptical of sushi, I’ve become quite partial to it during the past years; it is also rather popular in both Sweden and Finland (at least in the large urban centers), so a sushi bar was a natural addition to the ship. However, during our cruise it seemed to be the least patronized restaurant onboard.

Sushi & Co's special platter. Worth every cent.
Sushi & Co’s special platter. Worth every cent.

Which is a shame, as the sushi (made by two genuine sushi chefs) was rather excellent. We ordered a special platter with 15 pieces of sushi and 15 pieces of sashimi, more than enough for two. The fish was amazing, melt-in-your-mouth fresh. The actual sushi was very good but not perfect; the rice was a bit too salty (sushi rice should be slightly sweet) and some of the sushi pieces had quite a lot of wasabi added by the chef. Then again, as far as sushi I’ve eaten outside Japan goes, this was amongst the best. And at 35€, the special platter was very nicely priced (bear in mind that on cruise ferries, meals are not included in the price of the trip).

The new Siljaland children's playroom is rather colourful indeed! Photo copyright © Silja Line.
The new Siljaland children’s playroom is rather colourful indeed! Photo copyright © Silja Line.

For dessert, we headed down to the children’s playroom on deck five, as it features a Spice Ice ice cream bar by the Finnish ice cream maker Ingman. Silja Line have for decades marketed themselves as the child-friendly ferry operator and nowhere is this more evident than in the SILJA SYMPHONY’s playroom. The space is fairly large (it used to be the ship’s spa) but despite the size it was packed with children and parents – and this despite the fact there are children’s activities elsewhere onboard, including a kids’ disco every evening, hosted on alternating days by Moomintroll and Silja Line’s own children’s mascot Harri Hylje (‘Harry Seal’). With the kid’s room and the eating area of the ice cream bar packed, we retreated a few deck up to eat our desserts at the benches in the stair lobby.

Coinciding with the SILJA SYMPHONY's refit, Silja Line re-introduced their delightful children's mascot Harri Hylje (who had been retired a few years earlier, when Silja decided to concentrate exclusively on their status as the Official Seacarrier of the Moomin). This clearly delighted the little passengers, as I heard several children inquire “when does the seal come back?” in the playroom. Photo copyright © Silja Line.
Coinciding with the SILJA SYMPHONY’s refit, Silja Line re-introduced their delightful children’s mascot Harri Hylje (who had been retired a few years earlier, when Silja decided to concentrate exclusively on their status as the Official Seacarrier of the Moomin). This clearly delighted the little passengers, as I heard several children inquire “when does the seal come back?” in the playroom. Photo copyright © Silja Line.

And that was the story of how Kalle Id celebrated his 32nd birthday in a most adult fashion.

Eating ice cream like a proper adult. Photo copyright © 2015 Maria Id.
Eating ice cream like a proper adult. Photo copyright © 2015 Maria Id.
Speaking of doing things like a proper adult: throughout the ship there are little motion sensor games to keep children occupied in places like elevator lobbies. And since we are proper adults, both Maria and I had a go at the game where you have to jump up and down to help Harri Hylje bounce a ball on his head.
Speaking of doing things like a proper adult: throughout the ship there are little motion sensor games to keep children occupied in places like elevator lobbies. And since we are proper adults, both Maria and I had a go at the game where you have to jump up and down to help Harri Hylje bounce a ball on his head.

Next, we visited the Promenade which is the venue for early-evening entertainment every day. Tonight’s entertainment was Jumping Sailors, an Ukrainian group specialising in impressive feats on the trampoline. Thanks to its very high ceiling, it is an ideal venue for acts like this.

Impressive acrobatic feats on the Promenade. Those in the cabins with windows facing the Promenade had even better views.
Impressive acrobatic feats on the Promenade. Those in the cabins with windows facing the Promenade had even better views.

After touring  the shops along the promenade, we ventured up to the highest decks and the New York Club, which offers superb views of the surrounding sea. Unfortunately, it’s also the venue of early-evening karaoke, the plight of ships catering for the Finnish market. Thus we relocated to the Bow Bar, a cozy lounge with superb forward views on deck eight. As there was no entertainment of particular interest anywhere onboard in the evening, we soon decided to retire for the night, in order to be up the next morning.

Not-so-early evening in New York Club & Lounge, though the late-setting May sun gives the impression the hour is earlier than it is.
Not-so-early evening in New York Club & Lounge, though the late-setting May sun gives the impression the hour is earlier than it is.
The Bow Bar – and indeed all of Atlantis Palace – still mostly retains the original décor from 1991, whereas the rest of the interiors have been refitted since then, some spaces several times over.
The Bow Bar – and indeed all of Atlantis Palace – still mostly retains the original décor from 1991, whereas the rest of the interiors have been refitted since then, some spaces several times over.

End of (A Delayed) Springtime SYMPHONY — Part One.

More to come…

Special thanks to Maria Id and Lassi Liikanen.

Go to Part Two: A Postponed Ferry Tale: Springtime SYMPHONY – Part Two

Kalle Id

Kalle Id

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.
Kalle Id
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