TRAVELLING FROM AMSTERDAM TO LONDON
With the end of our European trip approaching we needed to be back in London to commence the long and rather arduous journey to Perth, Western Australia. There was one slight snag and that being airfare and train tickets from Amsterdam were quite pricey and no last minute travel deals were available.
Sitting in bed in our Amsterdam hotel with the laptop I asked google for a better and cheaper way to return to London. I found a solution from a rail blogger; take a Stena Line ‘Super’ Ferry from the Netherlands across the North Sea to the UK with all arrangements locked in and prepaid online through the Stena Line website. We were both sold with the idea! The idea of overnighting on a ferry of which neither one of us has done before sounded like fun.
The deal was advertised as the Dutch flyer, a combined rail and ferry ticket. Understanding the website to book the correct ferry, I will admit, was a little difficult and I used the advice from the trusty blog The man in seat 61 to complete the booking. The man in seat 61 comprehensively provides all the details of the journey from start to finish and provides some excellent tips for a smooth and hassle free trip. He evens provides the CO2 savings by taking a ferry and train over a plane and it is an 80% saving. As our booking was within 8 days of departure we were issued an itinerary and the tickets were sent to the ticket office at Hook of Holland waiting for collection at the time of check in.
Our booking was for overnight accommodation in a 2 berth outside cabin (cabin with a window). All up, for two people, we paid 187 € and this included the cabin and all transport from Amsterdam to the end destination of London Liverpool Station. If you were unconstrained with a budget, the Captain class cabin provides guests with a double bed instead of the standard bunk beds. The Stena Britannica ferry departs from the port of Hoek of Holland in Rotterdam at 10:00 pm and sails during the night to reach the UK port of Harwich at around 6:30 am in the morning.
So off we went, to take the ferry route that has been operating since 1893….
OUR JOURNEY BEGINS
Getting to the super ferry from Amsterdam was pretty easy and efficient. We left from Amsterdam Centraal Station, catching an intercity train to Rotterdam where we had a 20 minute pit stop. At Rotterdam Centraal station there was a small supermarket where we stocked up on snacks and drinks for the trip. The best thing about European trains is that you can bring your own food and drinks on board. We then took the local train from Rotterdam Centraal (platform 1) to Hoek of Holland. The local train departs every 15 to 30 minutes. Both trains were near new and so clean, the journey was seamless. The train pulls right into the port of Rotterdam and a short walk brings us to the Ferry boarding gate, 5 minutes I would say. Taking the ferry across to Harwich means there is a customs and passport check at the terminal just before boarding.
The super ferry was built by Nordic yards in Wismar Germany and it floats as one of the largest ferries in the world. The Stena Britannica may look like an over-sized industrial ferry from the outside however inside it is fitted almost like a mini cruise ship with all the modern conveniences in making the journey enjoyable and comfortable.
The ferry was under a year old when we traveled aboard and I think its maiden voyage was sometime in October 2010.
The corridors to the overnight cabins feel like a maze, every corner we turn looked exactly the same as the next with the exception of the cabin numbers. Eventually we find our cabin 11405 on Deck 11. The brand new smelling cabin was fairly comfortable for two people. The room was fitted with outlets for the laptop, two bunks, bedding, LCD Satellite TV and en suite and shower. The free wifi was rather slow and we gave up on the idea of checking emails. The one thing missing was a mini bar fridge for our drinks and fruit salad that we bought from the train station, it was no big deal really, it was just one night on the ferry.
As the ship proceeded to depart the port in darkness, we went onto the viewing deck to wave good bye to absolutely no one, it was freezing and such a short trip there was I guess no need for a bon voyage ceremony. I’ve always wanted to do a bon voyage. The ferry sailed past a collection of windmills as we left the Rotterdam port.
For one night aboard the Super Ferry there was plenty to do on a smaller scale than that of a cruise ship. On board there are a few restaurants, casino, shopping, gaming room, kids playroom, cinema room, sundeck terrace, bars and lounges. For the business traveler there is an internet room (slow connection though), meeting room and Bureau de change for all your currency needs.
We ate a late dinner at the buffet restaurant which had a good array of food including healthy salad options. After dinner we drank a glass of wine sitting on cushioned swivel chairs looking out into total blackness, at this point I could feel the ferry’s movements as it cut across the water.
My first night,ever, on the ocean and I did not really have a peaceful sleep to be honest, I think it was all the excitement about being aboard the ferry and arriving in the UK that kept me awake. We also checked in fairly late, around 9:00 pm and spent a few hours exploring and eating before retiring to the cabin at around 1:00 am. Or perhaps, it was my sub conscious recalling Derek teasing me about the possibility of having to jump ship/jump ferry in the event of an accident.
The Swedish ‘Dux’ mattress was comfy and the room was nice and quiet. I woke up around the time of the ferry docking into Harwich, feeling the jerk of the ferry as it was being moored. I looked out the port hole to catch a glimpse of the sunrise over the Harwich port. Hello United Kingdom!
Before we were due to disembark I popped over to the Barista Bar for my first cup of coffee for the day and watched the two large screens running the daily news and unfortunately the news that day was grim, the tsunami in Japan had tragically wiped out many towns overnight. For a second I realised before booking our Europe trip we were initially planning on travelling to Japan.
I wondered why the ferry was referred to as a super ferry and once aboard I realised the ferry also transported trucks and cars across, perfect if you want to drive around Europe! Passengers can bring their cars and trucks aboard. There is even a trucker’s restaurant and bar which I assume is located closer to the section of the ferry that holds the vehicles.
The ferry terminal in Harwich is right next to the train station, and as soon as we left the Super Ferry, we went through passport control to the station. We boarded the empty train at 7:15 am and arrived at the London Liverpool station at 8:54 am. The train journey from the port to the station is very scenic travelling through the multi-coloured shades of green countryside. Be sure to use the toilet at the station before boarding.
We were fairly hungry when we arrived at Liverpool, luckily it is a big and lively station with many food options. We grabbed a coffee and sausage roll then off to our Lukian’s place in Kilburn!
THE EXPERIENCE AND OUR REVIEW
We would take the ferry across the North Sea again especially when considering the price and value received. For us it was a unique experience that we had not encountered before, spending a night on the sea. The cabins were comfortable and well appointed with all the modern conveniences. The process of booking and check in was effortless and we did not miss the experience of catching a plane at all. I loved that we did not have to check in two hours before the scheduled departure like you do for planes and there were no lines at all for check in.
The trains are well connected to the ports and I loved that there was no need to rely on a taxi. Carrying our luggage on the trains was also easy except when we were travelling during peak hour to Liverpool, the closer we travelled to London the train became full of commuting workers and we were taking up a little bit of space. Be sure to select a seat that allows easy storage of luggage nearby.
My only regret is departing Amsterdam later in the afternoon. If we had of departed earlier we could have explored the city of Rotterdam for a few hours and settled into the Ferry prior to dinner.
The address of the Netherlands port:
Stena Line BV
3151 HS Hoek van Holland
Current schedule information at: +31 (0) 174-315800
There are also direct trains from Harwich to Cambridge & Ipswich, see www.nationalrail.co.uk.