Stena Hollandica, Ferry
Occasionally somebody will claim that a particular Ferry is “just like a cruise ship”, however I am always a little sceptical of such statements. However in this case they are right. The new ‘Stena Hollandica’ which which serves the Harwich to the Hook of Holland route, really is just like a cruise ship, but with car decks. (She also has a sister, Stena Britannica of similar design).
I had chosen to spend a long weekend in Amsterdam. Now it would be all too easy to fly to Holland from London with a no frills (uncomfortable) airline or take the ‘Eurostar’ (channel tunnel train) to Europe. However without doubt, the most civilised way is on one of Stena’s new super-ferries.
The Harwich Ferry terminal has been modernized over the years and is now quite upmarket and comfortable. Harwich is one of the few cruise/Ferry terminals left in the UK that still has its own railway station. You can catch the train from London Liverpool Street and disembark at Harwich’s own station, directly opposite the Ferry terminal building. Alternatively you can park your car there. (There no advance booking of parking – you pay on exist).
The Stena Hollandica certainly looks more impressive from the dock side than most Ferries. The Stena Hollandica (and the Stena Britannica) are currently the largest Ropax vessels in the world with a length of 240 meters, width of 32 meters, a cargo capacity measuring 5,500 meters long (that’s space 230 cars) and a passenger capacity of 1,200. They are 60, 039 gt. The Stena Hollandica was built at Wadan Yards, Wismar, Germany in 2010.
Stena Hollandica and Stena Brittania Stena operate a two ship service to Holland. I chose to do the night crossing to Holland which departs at approximately 2100 hour and arrives at the ‘Hoek Van Holland’ at approximately 0800 hours (there is a 0900 departure arriving in Holland at approx. 1700).
For the return journey I chose the day time crossing, a 1430 departure arriving at 2000. There is also a 2200 departure arriving at Harwich at 0630. (Time-table as of January 2011).
It is important to note that you pay a fare for your transport and an addition fee (which is quite reasonable) for a cabin. Buying a cabin for an overnight crossing is obligatory. There are no reclining chairs on these ships. A cabin for a day crossing is a nice luxury, much cheaper, but not obligatory. (More about cabins later).
Although you are subject to similar security check as an airport there are few queues and no ridiculous rules about fluids and ‘sharps’. You can take as much luggage as you can carry. You can check it in (as you would in an airport) and it will be stored for you. Alternatively you can carry it on yourself.
Decks 1- 8 are crew spaces and three cavernous cargo-decks. The entire deck nine is completely dedicated to passenger facilities. The decks above house the 580 cabins (Stena actually call them cabins not staterooms).
As you reach the top of the very long covered gangway you actually board on a lower deck. You are not greeted by a Foyer, but a small lift. This will take you to deck nine, the passenger facilities. Curiously you have to walk a very short corridor to take another lift to the cabins, there is no direct lift . However there are stairs as an alternative, but this can be quite a challenge if you have heavy luggage.
Deck nine contains various passengers facilities including shops, the ‘Taste’ buffet restaurant, the Metropolitan Al La Carte restaurant, a small cinema (generally showing kids films, chargeable), slot machines, several bars, a coffee bar, some lounges including the Stena-Plus private lounge (supplement chargeable) kids and teens playroom, Bureau de Change, reception desk and a small internet facility (surprisingly free) and free wi-fi. These facilities are as extensive as on a medium sized cruise ship. The only thing omitted is entertainment – there is no theatre or show lounge, but arguably this is not really required on a 7-8 hour crossing. Truckers get their own restaurant, lounge and probably cheaper prices?
You can board several hours before cast-off and enjoy the facilities. I had a meal in the Metropolitan Al La Carte Restaurant. Now I must reveal that the ship was pretty uncrowned during both my crossing which meant I saw the facilities at their best, however the food was excellent and the staff attentive. The meals can be booked online at in advance, quite a reasonable price and a saving is made on the ‘walk up’ price. The ‘Taste’ buffet was designed to look so much better than your average motorway service station. The buffet food in the buffet was also excellent feature a nice salad bar and not just fried items.
The ‘Dutch flyer’ fare for foot passengers with combined rail fare from London to Harwich and from Hook of Holland to Amsterdam, return.
As stated earlier there are 580 cabins divided into 6 grades. These are: ‘Standard ‘ (with two bunk beds), ‘Comfort’ with two twin beds, Captains class with a double bed and Captains suite with double bed more spacious with a seating area. There are also cabins for three and five persons. All have en-suite toilet and shower. There are the inside (no window variety) and those with large round windows or square windows. There are no balconies.
Now on a ferry you don’t get a teak prom deck or outside swimming pool, but the outside deck space is reasonable. However some areas are regularly shut off in high winds, making most of the sea views on offer are gained from looking from the stern. It is worth noting that the sea conditions on this route can be quite challenging at times, but the ship rides the wave pretty well.
So the age of Ferry travel is far from dead. Stena’s two new big ships offer a comfortable crossing to Holland in a near-cruise ship standard ship. The range of on board facilities and food are excellent. I would go as far as saying that these ship offer a mini-cruise and not just a mode of transport. Why not try them while they are still new and shiny.