On a recent trip to Riga, Latvia, I brought friends who wanted to see some of the region to make the most of our trip. Since there are many great cities along the Baltic Sea coast, Riga being one of them, we checked to see the ferry situation. Perhaps we could take a day trip to another city on the Baltic, such as Tallinn, Helsinki, Turku, or Gdańsk. Well, Riga offers no ferries to any of those destinations, or actually to any destination save Stockholm, Sweden; so Stockholm it was.
The company that offers the ferry service is the Tallink Group, operated out of Tallinn, Estonia; in addition to the Tallink line of Baltic ferries, they also own the Silja line, a Finnish company operating between Finland and Sweden.
I’d heard many stories and rumors regarding the Tallink ferry from Riga to Stockholm from some of my local friends. From it being a drunk Lithuanian seaborne haven to the crew perpetually dismissing calls of “man overboard!” – I must admit, I was intrigued.
My friends and I decided to leave on a Monday afternoon; since the ferry is an overnight ordeal, about 17 hours in length, we would arrive Tuesday morning in Stockholm. We are more budget travelers, so we opted for the most economical board we could find; the Tallink ferries have numerous room options, priced all the way up to €824 ($1105), but we split one B-class cabin on the interior of the ship (no windows) for the four of us, at a relative bargain – €131 ($175) to split 4 ways. Originally when we planned the trip, we were only going to be three people on this ferry, and we were happy to know that there are shared B-class cabins, where a single person could book a bed in a 4-person cabin for only €33 ($44), exactly a quarter of the cost.
Our friend Normunds took us from our hotel to the Riga Passenger Terminal located in the heart of the city, just north of the Old Town on the banks of the Daugava River. The ferry terminal is a simple affair, since this Tallink cruise is the most substantial option that docks there, I imagine. Inside about 45 minutes prior to departure, I went to a machine which gave me a numbered ticket, and then I waited about 10 minutes for my number to be called. Once it was my turn, the lady was able to validate my reservation by my passport, and I was given four boarding passes and four beer coupons, which gave us 50% off the price of one beer onboard. We then immediately turned around, took the nearby escalator to the mezzanine area, and went through an unmanned checkpoint which scanned our tickets and allowed us across the gangway onto the ship.
Stepping off the ramp onto the ferry – which doesn’t seem to do it justice, as this ferry can hold up to 2,500 passengers – we found ourselves in a grand-looking atrium on the 5th level which had hallways leading to all over and a gold-plated staircase with mirrors all around; this is totally not the Staten Island ferry, that’s for sure. The ship was named the M/S Romantika, one of two ships that alternate each day providing daily service to and from Riga and Stockholm (the other ship being the M/S Isabelle). We got lost, certainly, but made it to our room – the very last one at the rear of the ship – eventually. Upon opening the door, we were amused by how cramped it was, but weren’t bothered by it; coming from New York City, we’re more or less accustomed to shoebox-sized living quarters. The room was spartan, with a tiny wet-bathroom as soon as you enter, a coat rack opposite that, a lilliputian desk (I’m running out of adjectives for small), an overhead mounted television, and then the beds taking up the rest of the space. One bottom bed is fixed as a couch, and opposite that is a wall-mounted pull-down bed (what we in the U.S. call a Murphy bed), as well as two additional pull-down beds above, for a total of four. We put our stuff away, and then it was off to see the ship.