One of the benefits of using a Eurail pass is that there are often associated discounts, for example, ferry and bus rides where trains don’t go. After I decided on a whim to extend my Stockholm trip and head to Helsinki, I quickly discovered it would take days to take the train from Sweden to Finland, and the stretch across the border would require a bus ride as well. Plan B was to check out my ferry options on the Eurail website. There were two, and one of them (the Viking Line, no less) had an option that was overnight, and cheaper than a hostel (with the Eurail discount). Sounded like a good money saver to me!
Maybe it was because I booked in a bit of a rush, (I’m unsure why I completely missed all of the warning bells), but when the “ferry” had options for cabins, I should have realised it wasn’t your average passenger ferry. It wasn’t until I was hopping on and was greeted by dancing girls in tiny, sequinned, vegas style bikinis, with Cuban music blasting that I realised it was actually a cruise!
I went straight to the information desk to find out where I could set up camp and was handed a program of events for Cuban Night onboard, with dancers, DJs and drink deals in the multiple bars. My first stop was the cafe to find some space and take advantage of the free wifi.
Cuban night in full swing
And what a sight it was! I was at least 60 years younger than most people there, and there was some kind of bingo/quiz thing going on. It was all in Swedish or Finnish, I’m not too sure. But when the old crooner came out to sing classics, sinatra style, the hilarity escalated exponentially. His rendition of the Pussy Cat Dolls’ “Don’t Cha” was a particular highlight of the evening.
Later on I decided to check out the “nightclub” scene. I wasn’t expecting too much, so I was pleasantly surprised to walk in and find a full Cuban dance spectacle unfolding before my very eyes! Most entertaining. The costumes seemed more like they were from Rio, but that was fine. All adding to the novelty. From that moment I decided I needed to take up cuban dancing. From the look of the dancers it is a very good exercise program! Not too sure if I’d be found in those costumes though. I can tell you on very good authority that they are every bit as unsecure as they look.
I figured the best way to get festive and embrace the mood was to have a gin and tonic – clearly the most cruise appropriate drink. So clear, in fact, that it was the “cocktail” on special.
Unfortunately when the dancers were gone, some truly grotesque (as in, toothless grotesque) drunk Russian sailors quickly realised I was the only female in the bar (it was a very quite Tuesday night) and it seemed they didn’t understand English when it came to the words “F*ck” and “off” or any other variations implying they should get out of my face ASAP. So my Cuban night adventure was over as quickly as it started and I went back to the seating area to set up camp.
The reason the ferry was so cheap (45 euro return), aside from the Eurail discount, was that I hadn’t paid for a cabin, but instead just the passenger fare, which meant a small room with aeroplane style seating. There were a few people who had pushed chairs together in the cafe to make beds, and when I retired to my lodgings I found the better option was to use my jacket, a couple of jersey’s and my pack to make myself a little bed. Worked pretty well! There was one other person asleep down the back so it was nice and quiet. Unfortunately, when the bar closed it turned out the creepy sailors were also stingy like me, and came stumbling in to the little wee room. With one other person out cold down the back, and no-one else anywhere nearby, suffice to say I didn’t feel like I would be having a relaxing and quiet night’s sleep in that room. Even if I was worrying unncessarily about any sketchy behaviour, it was a prime moment to recall some helpful travel advice from my mother along the lines of ‘if in doubt, get out.’ So I packed up my bed and found a nice patch of carpet near the couple sleeping in the cafe and felt far better about the situation!
I was woken up fairly early in the morning, not so much from the sun rising, but from an almighty crunching noise coming from below. As it turned out, it was the sound of the ship forging its way through icy seas. Another fascinating experience to add to the list! As the sun rose, I went to the restaurant on one of the upper decks where they had a Nordic Breakfast Buffet for 9 euro as I watched the sun rise and the shores of Finland get closer. It was a bargain, mostly because I managed to sneak a packed lunch of sandwiches, cake and boiled eggs out of it. Win.
All in all a pretty hilarious way to travel! The entertainment was a laugh, I’ll sleep on the floor for a bargain any day (so long as there are no creeps near me) and the cafe’s and bars weren’t too bad a deal either. Sadly on the way back it was Cuban night again which made me feel a little cheated. Had my cruise been later on in the week and in peak season, or even just with some travel companions, I reckon it would have been a pretty awesome “night out” whilst also getting from A to B.
No shortage of scenic views of Stockholm and Finland along the way