Put aside your impressions of cruises as pricey, all-inclusive Caribbean affairs. In Scandinavia, of all places, budget cruises are a tried-and-true Cheapo-friendly transportation option without parallel. Here we look at budget-friendly "cruiseferries" between Stockholm and Helsinki, Tallinn, and Turku, among other destinations. Wondering why, how, and, most importantly, how much? Keep reading, Cheapos.
Stockholm's Fabulous Budget Cruises
The Baltic Sea's network of inexpensive ferry and catamaran lines, which operate year-round, provide some of the cheapest sleeping and transportation options in the region.
Around the Baltic, where bus or rail travel between the largest cities is impractical or impossible and jet transport is often too expensive, boat travel has evolved into an inexpensive way to explore the region. Locals rely on these cruiseships as budget-friendly quick breaks. The advent of duty-free pricing loopholes has helped keep fares so low.
This all adds up to an ideal Cheapo transportation option for those looking to conserve their cash in and around Stockholm, one of the priciest cities in Europe.
Whatever floats your sea buffet
And then there's the bonus: tied up in the Baltic cruise deal is the notorious all-night party with which the locals are oh so familiar.
Connecting the Swedish capital with the Finnish Åland archipelago, Helsinki, Turku, and Tallinn, cruises are favored by locals itching for a quick, cheap, and effortless escape. Aboard they meet people, enjoy taps aflow with golden beer and buffets spilling over with mayonnaisey salads, dance to Swedish schlager hits under rotating disco balls, and party until they wish they hadn't scarfed that last pickled herring.
Some of the better ways to keep busy involve playing slot machines and boogieing to Russian Top 40 tunes. Both activities are great ways to meet party-hungry droves of Swedes, Finns, Estonians, and Russians who consider a night of debauchery on this kelluva tuhkakuppi (or "floating ashtray" as some Finnish pals described it) to be a rite of passage.
Not in the mood to party all night long?
We don't mean to suggest that you'll be forced to listen to drunken Scandinavian renditions of "Oh, Susanna" for the duration of your passage. The atmosphere on board is conducive to meeting all kinds of people. Those taking advantage of its charms run the gamut, and if you pick the right ones to befriend, you can wind up spending the night playing chess, discussing football and politics, or practicing Swedish.
And if you'd rather get sleep, you can always retreat to the cabins below the racket. Quarters range from functional, curtained-but-windowless two-berth deals with shower to swanked-out suites overlooking the sea.
Tapping into the deals
Our epic SEK 79 trip with Viking Line (site in Swedish) from Stockholm to Turku by way of Mariehamn did not include a cabin (who wants to be in bed when the Finnish Tony Bennett is crooning and scraps from the sea buffet are still out?) but very reasonable multi-berth cabins were also on offer.
Rates for private cabins with bathroom and shower can be as low as SEK 92 (cheaper if you're really lucky) per person, and slightly more expensive on longer routes, weekends, and during the summer.
Digging up the cheapest fares is a snap if you can make sense of the Finnish, Swedish, Estonian, or German websites where the best deals are advertised. But because many of the prices apply only to tickets purchased in the country of departure, it's wisest to buy them while traveling.
Hey, you can even bring the young'uns without spending a single euro?
On some lines kids under 12 boat for free. Seniors, students, youth (under 17), and large groups of travelers also enjoy decent discounts.
How come so few tourists?
Baltic cruises are publicized primarily in the cities from which they depart, and are aimed more at locals looking for a practical way to visit overseas friends or a convenient getaway than at tourists. Although some tickets can be purchased online, most are sold from the cruise lines' vendors throughout the cities and in the cruise terminals themselves.
You could be paying less for this trip than for a single cocktail in Stockholm.
With the Stadsgården terminal situated in northeast Södermalm (Stockholm's supercool hipster 'hood) you'll be ready to explore as soon as the anchor's dropped. Just mind your öre!
Cruise Cost Index
Sample prices for the off season (August 14 to June 1) are in Euros
Stockholm -- Turku
Fare: €14.00-€29.00 (adult); €10.00-€23.00 (reduced)
Cabin: €10.00-€24.00 per cabin (2 - 4 beds)
Stockholm -- Mariehamn (Åland)
Fare: €11.00 (adult); €8.50 reduced)
Stockholm -- Helsinki
Fare: €32.00-€56.00 (adult); €25.50-€45.00 (reduced)
Cabin: €24.00-€66.00 per cabin (3 beds)
Stockholm -- Tallinn (via Helsinki or Mariehamn)
Fare & Cabin: €80.00-€102.00 per person (includes cabin on long route)
Note that even cheaper seasonal deals can be found. Two night Stockholm-Tallinn cruises during the late fall, for example, can be as inexpensive as SEK50 (about €5.50). In order to take advantage of the best seasonal deals, pay attention to the travel sections of Swedish newspapers.