It was one week into our family vacation in Finland when we decided to fit a two day cruise from Helsinki to Stockholm into our loose schedule. We have been told that Silja Line’s daily luxury cruises were an ideal way to combine a day out in Stockholm with some great onboard leisure and dining – not to mention some fantastic duty-free shopping opportunities! Being Americans with just a couple of European trips under our belts, we had never been to Sweden and were quite excited to be able to add the Scandinavian country to our “been there” list.
I had checked the details out online – the cruise ship Silja Symphony would leave in late afternoon, we would arrive before 10am in Stockholm, where we would have almost 7 hours to explore the city, before sailing back to Helsinki overnight. I took another few minutes on the website to see what else was available on board this impressive cruise ship, and convinced by all I found, booked our cabin through the easy to use online forms.
The ship was docked in Helsinki’s South harbour, Olympia terminal, just a stroll from the famous market place, where we had had a couple of very tasty meals during the previous week. The tram stopped right next to terminal, which was very convenient. Boarding was quick and effortless and we had decided to take advantage of the fact that we were allowed to board two hours before departure at 5pm. The kids were delighted to be welcomed by Moomintroll and My as we boarded.
Luxury accommodation in the Commodore suite
The spacious Commodore suite facing out over the sea had looked ideal for us, and it came with a balcony and even a bathtub. There were twin beds and a sofa bed that would do fine for the kids. A flat-screen TV was wall mounted, and there were complimentary mini bar including a bottle of champagne and a delicious looking fruit basket waiting on a table.
If there was anything we needed we had only to call cabin service, and we also had free access to an exclusive separate Commodore lounge, with a bar and sauna, where we could reserve a table and relax over complimentary coffee and pastries.
Views from the Top Deck
Our cabin wasn’t too far from the top deck, so we decided to pop up and take in the views from there. And what views there were! Looking back, we could see Helsinki harbour and the market place, where the local ferry to Suomenlinna Sea Fortress was busy filling up. There were other archipelago cruising boats docked there too, and behind them stood the majestic white Helsinki Cathedral. The new Allas Sea Pool attraction with its clean wooden lines stood out beneath the big SkyWheel, and behind these the redbrick Uspenski Cathedral loomed over it all.
Dining and shopping on the Promenade
Having enjoyed the views, we made our way to the Promenade on deck 7, to have a quick look at the stores and the restaurants there. Acrobats were busy entertaining the patrons, with stiltwalkers making their way amongst us, and the ship’s mascot Harry the Seal was passing along posing with happy kids for photos and hugs.
As we strolled down it I noted the stores with top brands, and the Gift store where I spotted some Moomin souvenirs that had been made just for the Silja Line!
A late lunch in Sushi & Co.
There were plenty of choices for dining on the Promenade, and after some discussion we settled on Sushi & Co. My husband chose the ‘Nordic Platter’ which had sushi from native species like salmon, arctic char, mackerel, whitefish, and even reindeer, as well as roe from vendace, whitefish and salmon. I took a vegetarian platter, and the kids selected from the Moomin themed menu – the Snork Maiden’s chicken skewer for our daughter and Moominpappa’s Meatballs for our son.
We returned to the top deck just as the Symphony was ready for departure. As the massive ship began to leave the harbour we took the opportunity to capture the iconic Helsinki skyline again on camera. At the right railing we had an amazing view of the impressive fortifications on Suomenlinna Sea Fortress island, and seemed to pass incredibly close to the King’s Gate as the cruise ship eased through a narrow gap between the islands. Ahead of us, the sea looked calm and easy, dotted with lots of the small islands that make up the Helsinki archipelago.
Refreshed by the cooler sea breezes, we made our way back to check out the Commodore Lounge. There was complimentary coffee, tea, and pastries on offer, and a range of new magazines to flick through as we sat in comfortable chairs. The views from the windows were relaxing, the pastries delicious, so we chilled for a while and discussed how we’d spend the rest of the evening on board.
A visit to the Sunflower Oasis Spa
The kids were very keen to try out the Sunflower Oasis Spa, where there were three whirlpool hot tubs and a small kids pool with a slide. My husband and I took advantage of this distraction to enjoy yet another Finnish sauna. Feeling refreshed after the sauna we sit on the chairs with cold drinks from the bar and watched the kids, who had left the largest jacuzzi and were now playing happily in the kid’s pool.
The Silja Land Playground
By now I wanted to have a closer look at the shops on the Promenade, and the kids were happy to stay in the supervised play centre while we headed to the shops. Silja Land Playground is packed with toys and games, a ball pool, and even an ice-cream bar. More importantly, there were other kids there to play with.
Shopping on the Promenade
Our first stop on the Promenade was the Fashion Store which specialised in accessories for men and women. After some happy browsing I found a nice pair of Gustav shoes for myself and a Hilfiger t-shirt for my husband.
Next up was the Luxury Store with an extensive range of jewelry, watches, sunglasses, bags, wallets, and scarves. The selections were all from famous luxury brands; Furla, Sif Jakobs, Skagen, Tag Heuer, Gucci, Hugo Boss, Emporio Armani and Prada.
My final stop was in the Gift shop to buy some souvenirs for friends back home. There was a lovely selection by Design from Finland with famous brands like Arabia, Iittala, and Marimekko. I was told about a Marimekko print that was exclusive to the Silja Line 60 years anniversary, so I got a bag for myself, with some pot holders and makeup bags in the same print as gifts. I also found some adorable Moomin mugs, also exclusive to the Silja Line, for some Moomin-mad friends.
Fine Dining in the Bon Vivant
We had booked to dine that evening in the Bon Vivant restaurant as my husband was keen to try the Nordic Menu. There were plenty of choices for the rest of us on the regular menu; I took the Halibut & Mussel, and the kids chose the duck and sirloin dishes. The Nordic Menu was a five course affair, with selected wines for each course, with my husband being particularly impressed by the Veal & Tarragon and Pike Perch & Ginger dishes. The ambiance was great, very chilled with a live jazz trio performing on a small stage at the entrance to the restaurant.
Feeling pleasantly full and content, we made our way along to the Starlight, an entertainment lounge with live show and a busy bar. We took a table, got some refreshments in, and enjoyed the lively performance by Quantum XXL. The kids were worn out from all the activity, so when the midnight show started we decided to retire for the night.
Breakfast in the Grande Buffet
We were awoken around 7am by excitable and hungry kids, and set off for breakfast in the Grande Buffet which was aptly named. The breakfast selection featured plenty of delicacies directly from the archipelago alongside all the cold cuts, salads, fruits, cereals, yogurts, and everything else you could imagine. We all ate fairly big breakfasts, knowing that we would have plenty of walking to do when exploring Stockholm later.
After breakfast, we all returned to the top deck to get our first sighting of Sweden. The ship’s route took it right along the Swedish coast all the way to Stockholm, with islands large and small to our left. Once again, the views were simply to die for, and the kids pinged from port to starboard looking for lighthouses and sailing boats.
Exploring Stockholm’s Historic Old Town & Djurgården
We disembarked at around 9:45 and grabbed a taxi straight to Stockholm’s famous Gamla Stan, or Old Town, one of the biggest and best preserved medieval city centers in Europe. We stopped for coffee and croissants at a café in Stortorget, the oldest square in the city, and admired the brightly painted buildings around us. Having browsed numerous shop windows, we grabbed another cab and set off for the nearby Djurgården area.
There were two destinations the kids were keen to explore in Djurgården, the Gröna Lund Tivoli amusement park and Junibacken. The rides in Gröna Lund Tivoli kept kids occupied for hours, while in the Junibacken children’s cultural centre they’d get to learn more about the writer Astrid Lindgren and her creations, like the ever-popular Pippi Longstockings. Before heading back to the Silja Symphony, I went to explore the Abba Museum, while my husband took the kids to check the historical Vasa Museum and the old ships at the nearby Museum pier. All comfortably located in the same island!
Duty Free Shopping on Deck 6
Back on board, we freshened up in our Commodore cabin before heading down to browse the massive Tax Free shop that takes up most of deck 6. The kids wanted to get some local brand candies to bring back for friends and for themselves, no doubt. My husband had noted with enthusiasm that there was an impressive whiskey tasting section with one of the finest whiskey he had ever seen. I had my heart set on some makeup and creams, in particular one of Finnish brand Lumene’s Nordic gel masks which would be difficult to find back home.
Dinner in the Grande Buffet
For our last meal we had decided on the Grande Buffet. The menu includes more than 140 different dishes, sides and condiments to choose from and also plenty of vegan options to satisfy travelling food enthusiasts, both adults and kids. Soft drinks and beverages (white wine, red wine and beer) were included, so you can eat and drink as much as you want with a reasonable rate. of 45$. Kids under 12 pay only 12$! The fish and seafood buffet was amazing just by itself, with so much to choose from that I was literally spoiled for choice. While I had no room for dessert, the same was not true of the others who arrived back with cloudberry cheesecake, cranberry kissel, and of course ice-cream!–
After dinner we made our way up to the New York Club & Lounge on the top deck, where we enjoyed a couple of after-dinner cocktails, sodas for the kids, and enjoyed the seascape in style. During the white nights in June – it is sun light all night long, so admiring the stunning archipelago with midnight sun could go on for whole night! However, by 10pm the kids were ready for bed, the lounge was welcoming some lively karaoke fans, so we headed back to our cabin. The bartender had informed us that the New York lounge would transform into a nightclub come the Cinderella hour, and would be packed with a younger crowd enjoying the hottest club music, but we agreed to leave that to a younger generation just this once.–
Final breakfast in the Bon Vivant
Once again the kids woke us early for breakfast, which we took in the Bon Vivant restaurant as there was a special breakfast there just for patrons in the Commodore suites. As with all the meals we had taken on board the cruise ship, it was excellent. The Silja Symphony was due to dock in Helsinki just before 10am, so after breakfast we returned to our cabin to pack up our things, and get ready for disembarking.
All in all, the Silja Symphony cruise and visit to Stockholm was one of the highlights of our vacation in Finland. Our favourite bits were exploring Stockholm’s Djurgården, the excellent food on board the ship, Sunflower Oasis Spa and the incredible variety available in the Duty Free shop. We certainly will be recommending this luxury cruise to everyone we know!
GALLERY – Helsinki Stockholm Cruise with Silja Line: