As my family and I made our way towards the departure lounge, I enjoyed seeing the glowing anticipation on the faces of my two little children. It wasn’t a shock to see them so excited, already up past their bedtime and knowing that a host of treats were in store aboard the boat. However, as I glanced around I realised just how many others, young and old, had the same look, as an expectant buzz filled the boarding platform.
The Turku-Stockholm Viking Line cruise is something I have done several times before but its appeal never fades. I clearly wasn’t the only one who felt this way as I surveyed the jovial faces of the Finnish and Swedish travellers who come from all corners of the country to take the cruise, something of an annual, leisure-time tradition. Whether they are spending a weekend in Sweden, a day and a night partying on the boat, or a ‘picnic cruise’ to the Åland Islands, the choices provide something for every generation!
Coming from the UK and spending many summers of my youth holidaying in France, the attraction of a boat journey is something that is rooted in my vision of summer. But with all due respect to the English Channel crossings, they simply do not compare to their Baltic cousins. Not only does the route weave its way through the magnificent Archipelago – sailing through the forest islands of summer or the frozen magic of winter – but also the region’s prestigious shipbuilding industry and the healthy competition between the major ferry companies means the standard of vessels is really high.
We travelled on the most modern of all the cruise boats, Viking Grace, and I booked the family into a Premium cabin that included a sea view. The cabins were spacious and extremely comfortable, but with so many activities on board it really didn’t matter what cabin we had as we spent such little time there. For those planning on hitting the nightclub and drinking their weight in alcohol, upgrading to the bigger cabins is worth the investment. As the departure time was quite late I thought that it might be a case of straight to bed, but as the kids disco was announced over the tannoy grumpy old dad was immediately over-ruled! After being dragged onto the dance floor to body-pop to Lady Gaga and Antti Tuisku, I found my niche with some classic acoustic at the bar next door and got my revenge hollering along to Bon Jovi, S&G and other classics my kids failed to appreciate (they really should be used to my bad singing by now).
After dragging ourselves from a peaceful slumber, we lazily found our way to the delicious breakfast table. Both this and the lunch buffet had such abundant variety that we could have easily managed with just one meal during the day. The great buffets were a combination of Swedish, Finnish and Åland archipelago flavours. On top of this, the lunch and dinner buffets come with unlimited wine, beer or cider. After our breakfast we headed to the spa complex for some sauna and a Jacuzzi. Relaxing in the Jacuzzis we feasted on panoramic views of the Swedish archipelago whilst my son and daughter dared each other to enter the ‘Snow Cavern’, which was essentially a walk-in freezer, perfect if you just want to ‘chill out’ (I know, I couldn’t resist – sorry)!
The children’s schedule for the day was packed with movie screenings, dance classes, discos and other entertainment. There were also 5 separate playrooms with bouncy castles, ball pools and even a pedal car track on the top deck. However, if you have young kids the really great thing about the cruise is that there is room to let them off the leash. With our kids being small we still followed them everywhere but because they could explore and run around the boat it provided a touch of freedom that added to their experience!
For adults there are bars, restaurants, nightclubs and the duty-free shops. I have taken the cruise with groups of friends on several occasions. It’s great to be able to dance the night away without having to stand in a queue for a taxi at the end of the night and knowing that you bed is just downstairs. It also means you can chill out on deck the next day and spend some quality time with friends or family without anyone having to hurry away. I think this is really one of the unappreciated values of such a cruise. Quality time where there is literally an ocean between you and the hassles of your daily life.