You can enjoy summer cruises safely
This summer, you can cruise from Helsinki to Kotka, Hanko or Mariehamn.
The passenger ship companies operating out of the Port of Helsinki have added new cruises to their summer timetables: for example, ships travel to Tallinn, but passengers only disembark in the destinations in Finland. Such summer destinations include Kotka, Hanko, Turku and Mariehamn, at the very least.
“On the return journey, ships that have crossed the Finnish border will go through border control based on a risk assessment. In other words, passengers on such cruises generally do not need to undergo border control, unless there are specific reasons for it,” says Deputy Chief of the Port of Helsinki Border Control Unit Max Pratsch.
However, passengers still need to prepare for border control. This means that they need to have their passports or other identification documents suitable for travel on them, even if they do not leave the ship outside Finland. In addition to this, passengers arriving in Helsinki from abroad must have negative COVID-19 test results or a certificate of a prior COVID-19 infection. In the absence of these, the passengers must get tested at the border.
“Shipping companies have done a great job in ensuring that people have these papers on them in Tallinn, and then we check them again here in Helsinki,” says Director of Health and Substance Abuse Services in Helsinki Leena Turpeinen.
Turpeinen says that the process needs to be changed once internal border control stops and passenger numbers increase.
“In that case, people can’t be stopped at the West Harbour, since that is a health hazard in itself. If testing is required, passengers would need to be directed inland,” Turpeinen explains the considerations.
The COVID-19 formalities do not concern ‘mini’ or ‘shopping cruises’ where passengers do not disembark outside Finland.
“The Port has aimed to create a separate queue for these people since they do not need to get tested or show any certificates. However, we have noticed that many of them get the free test voluntarily,” Turpeinen says.
The Ministry of Social Affairs and Health has sent a proposal for temporary legislation changes for commenting to municipalities and hospital districts. The proposal suggests that people arriving in Finland from abroad would be required to present a reliable certificate of vaccination or prior infection or a negative test taken before arrival. The changes to legislation would be valid until the end of May 2022.
A Finnish version of a cruise to Sweden
Viking Line has kept operating on the routes between Turku, Åland and Stockholm and between Helsinki and Tallinn throughout the pandemic, mostly for cargo. This summer’s speciality are local cruises from Helsinki on M/S Gabriella.
After a 15-month pause, the shipping company will open to Helsinki–Stockholm route to passengers on 12 June as a modified version whereby Gabriella travels to Mariehamn via Stockholm and back to Helsinki. Cargo and liner passengers will be left in Stockholm, but cruise passengers do not disembark there at all. However, cruise passengers may disembark in Mariehamn in the early evening of the second day. They have 3.5 hours to see the local attractions either on their own or on a guided tour.
“This is a Finnish version of a cruise to Sweden. Since passengers only disembark in Mariehamn, there are no testing or quarantine requirements for them,” says Sales Director of Viking Line for Finland and Estonia Kaj Takolander.
M/S Gabriella will be making seven such cruises in June. The ship also offers unique Finnish cruises from Helsinki to Kotka, Hanko and Turku.
“We decided to offer a wide range of domestic travel. It has been received extremely well,” Takolander says.
From Helsinki to Kotka, Hanko and Turku
Gabriella will depart to Kotka via Tallinn on 18 June for the first time. On the second day of the cruise, passengers have time to see the attractions in Kotka from 10 am to 7 pm. In Kotka, the ship docks in the Kantasatama harbour, right next to Maritime Centre Vellamo. Kotka also offers extensive opportunities for cruise passengers, such as a chance to rent bicycles.
M/S Gabriella will depart from Helsinki for Turku via Tallinn on 4 July. Passengers also have nine hours to visit Turku. On the cruise to Turku, passengers can even bring their own cars. The bus tours offered also include one to Moomin World.
M/S Gabriella will head to the spa town of Hanko on 8 and 10 July. Like with the other domestic cruises, the second day of the cruise will be spent in the destination.
In addition to cruises via Stockholm, Mariehamn can also be visited via Tallinn from 30 June onwards. On this cruise, passengers will have seven hours to see the city of Mariehamn, which is also the home of Viking Line.
Viking Line is also planning cruises from Helsinki to Visby and Riga later in the summer.
Silja Serenade to move to the Tallinn route
Tallink Silja is also focusing on cruises departing from Helsinki where passengers do not disembark abroad. M/S Silja Serenade, normally operating between Helsinki and Stockholm, will travel to Tallinn for the first time in the ship’s history.
On the cruises starting from early June, the ship will only carry cruise passengers from Finland – no cargo or liner passengers. Passengers will not be able to disembark in Tallinn, either; instead, the same passengers return to Helsinki. However, from the perspective of border control, the ship has been abroad. This means that passports will be checked at the Olympia Terminal until mid-June, which is the end date of the current decisions on internal border control, and possibly even after it.
From Midsummer onwards, M/S Silja Serenade will cruise from Helsinki to Mariehamn via Tallinn and back. Passengers can spent eight hours on shore in Mariehamn.
“This route will not accept passengers from Tallinn until the border between Finland and Estonia is opened,” says CEO of Tallink Silja Margus Schults.
The shipping company has also previously announced M/S Silja Europa’s charter operations to England. Once it returns, the ship will take on the Åland route, after which it will start its normal 22-hour cruises to Tallinn.
“Potential disembarkation will depend on whether the internal border control continues,” Schults says.
Throughout the pandemic, the shipping company has been operating M/S Baltic Princess and M/S Galaxy using a ‘cargo ship concept’ in which passengers services are limited. In June, these ships will resume their normal service levels, which will allow for overnight cruises and hotel holidays in Åland.
Tallink Silja is also planning destination cruises from Helsinki to Riga, but Schults states that the realisation of these plans depends on Latvia’s situation in July. M/S Silja Symphony will be undertaking 11 cruises from Stockholm with Ystad and Visby as its destinations.
Eckerö offers one-day cruises to Hanko
Eckerö Line has launched one-day cruises to Hanko. The ship will depart Helsinki at 9 am, after which it will visit Tallinn to leave liner passengers and cargo, but it will not accept new passengers. From Tallinn, the journey continue to Hanko, where the ship will arrive at 3:30 pm. The passengers have about four hours to visit one of the most beautiful summer towns in Finland, either independently or on a guided tour. The ships will arrive back in Helsinki at 11 pm.
“This is the first domestic cruise for Eckerö. We sold cruise tickets for three Saturdays in June. The demand was high, so we also opened three new departures for Hanko for July,” says, Eckerö Line’s Marketing and Communications Director Ida Toikka-Everi.
She points out that six-hour mini cruises to Tallinn are also available in the day or evening. Since passengers do not disembark in Tallinn, they only need to their regular travel documents.