Silja Symphony is quite possibly the best reason to come to Helsinki -- partly because if you don't like what you see at the other end, you can hop back on and return to Stockholm!

Somewhat less cryptically, m/s Silja Symphony is one of the world's largest and most luxurious passenger ferries. (Evidently, it was at one point the largest, but the Ulysses currently running between Dublin and Holyhead seems to have claimed that title.) Basic capacity facts:

At the moment (and for the foreseeable future), the Symphony (and its near-identical twin Silja Serenade) plows back and forth between Helsinki, Finland and Stockholm, Sweden, with a token stop at Mariehamn in the Åland Islands so it can claim tax-free status.

The trip takes a leisurely 16 hours, but the schedules are arranged so that departures are around 5 PM and arrival around 9 AM. To keep you occupied during this time, the ship features not only the obligatory tax-free shopping market full of (relatively) cheap alcohol, tobacco and candy, but an entire "Promenade" full of little specialty shops and restaurants. This Promenade crosses the length of the ship -- 200 meters! -- and is 4 floors tall with a glass roof above, so the end result resembles a shopping street paved with parquet. Elsewhere on the ship, you can find the Sunflower Oasis miniature aqua park, the Caracalla Baths spa, two discos, a casino, a movie theater, the famed Silja all-you-can-eat Buffet, a number of à la carte restaurants, and more.

Surprisingly, all this swank is quite affordable, since Silja's business model relies on profits from these stores and services, not so much the tickets themselves. A current campaign advertises a cabin for four people for cruise to Stockholm and back for €84, which works out to €10.50/direction/person. This is, however, for the cheapest "Tourist II" cabins on floor 2 below the car decks, and while thanks to Silja's policy of not allowing teens on board on weekends they aren't quite the pigsties that competitor Viking's offerings are, they're still at best strictly functional: bunk beds, a shower/toilet squeezed into half a phone booth, and a dysfunctional alarm/radio. Sufficient for illicitly consuming tax-free booze and crashing afterward, yes, but not very much else.

So the last time I took the Symphony, I was traveling with a guest from afar and decided to splurge a bit on a Promenade level cabin, with a list price of €240 for 2 (although I got it for half that). But on reaching the terminal we were told that thanks to a booking screwup our cabin was already taken -- would we mind an upgrade to Silja class? (List price €382.) Why no, we wouldn't... so we rode the elevator to the giddy heights of the 11th floor and opened the door to our cabin with trepidation. We were met with an immense double bed, couch, TV and stocked minibar including champagne with all contents free. The large windows opened out onto the Promenade below, and to top it off coupons for the "special" champagne brunch were thrown in. Alas, some of this free bubbly went to waste, as the missus had brought along something a little better...

There are, of course, even swankier cabins available: a Commodore class cabin (nearly twice the size of the Silja cabin, which isn't exactly small) is €500 and the ship's solitary Silja suite is no less than €760 (in the off season at that). The law of diminishing returns would seem to set in at some point though.

In all, if you ever find yourself in Scandinavia, you owe it to yourself to cross the Baltic Sea on Silja Symphony.

Just the Facts, Mister

Length: 202,8 m
Beam: 31,5 m
Gross tonnage: 58,377t
Speed: 21 knots
Built: 1991 by Kvaerner Masa Yards, Turku, Finland

Personal experience

Log in or register to write something here or to contact authors.