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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
And that was the story of how Kalle Id celebrated his 32nd birthday in a most adult fashion.
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.
After touringthe 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.
End of (A Delayed) Springtime SYMPHONY — Part One.
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.