Cruising from Stockholm to Helsinki is a great way to see both cities. Since it’s a sixteen hour trip, it serves not only as transportation but accommodation and entertainment as well—it actually doubles as a sightseeing tour for the Stockholm archipelago so you can skip the separate boat ride (unless you want to actually spend time on one of the islands). For our cruise, we chose the Viking line (over Tallink) based purely on price. Both lines offer very similar accommodations, meals and services and both can be booked online.
After dropping our bags in our cabin, we ventured upstairs to the “sun deck” hoping to find a place to sit and enjoy the view as we sailed through Stockholm’s archipelago. To our surprise, the “sun deck” was literally a barren metal deck—no chairs or benches in sight. So we found a spot on the railing to enjoy the sunshine and the views as we followed a caravan of cruise ships through the narrow channels for about an hour until we were out into the open sea.
When booking online, you can pre-purchase meals with your ticket which is cheaper than buying the same meals on the ship. Buffets aren’t usually our first choice, but we wanted to experience the Swedish smorgasbord! So, we elected the last seating for the buffet dinner. As the doors to the dining room opened there was a mad rush to the tables. We made our way to our assigned chairs, filled our plates with what we assumed is typical smorgasbord fare: cold and hot fish, meatballs, bacon-wrapped cheese and scalloped potatoes. We tried the cold fish (e.g. herring and salmon) but it was a bit too fishy for us so we stuck to the warm dishes. Next, we filled our glasses from the tap with red wine—a nice bonus to the buffet was unlimited beverages…including beer and wine.
As we settled into our meal, we met Mia and Tobbe, a fun couple from Sweden that were doing the round trip journey as a short vacation. Tobbe, like us, skipped the cold fish dishes—he said they were a waste—and then promptly flagged down the rolling bartender to order vodka shots. Apparently it’s part of (his) tradition for a Smorgasbord. I initially declined, but somehow the shot came anyway compliments of Tobbe. The vodka, Finlandia, was actually quite good.
We got to know our new friends better over dinner and learned about their love for American muscle cars and motorcycles; their love for American television shows (The Walking Dead and Friends); their dislike of the cold Swedish winters; plus other colorful, cultural insights about Sweden and Finland and their perceptions of America. My name was deemed so American that it was colorfully announced as “F*!$ing Kevin” and instantly associated with the main character in Home Alone. What a riot! We hit it off so well that we didn’t even realize the Smorgasborg was closing until the lights dimmed and the wait staff kicked us out of the dining hall.
We continued to the ship’s pub for a night-cap (or two) with our new friends and enjoyed the live music from a talented female singer with a raspy, singer-songwriter style. She was great at engaging the audience but it was a bit odd to hear such a diverse international crowd sing along to John Denver’s Country Roads…”take me home…to the place I belong…West Virginia!” We laughed and had a great time with our new friends including a Bon Jovi singalong at one point. All in all, it was a better than anticipated evening with some very fun company…maybe a little too much fun!
What will make this cruise so memorable isn’t the cruise itself. It’s the authentic connection and interaction with fun-loving locals—even if it’s in on a touristy cruise ship—that make it an experience we’ll remember for a long time.