For anyone wishing to try cruising without having to spend a lot of money or spend too many days at sea there is another option other than the recognised cruise lines. There are several ferry companies operating out of the UK with regular crossings to Europe, some of which require an overnight stay on board resulting in an economical way to experience cruising.
Obviously the facilities on board these ferries are not in the same league as the large purpose built cruise ship with their swimming pools and numerous other resort type attractions. However, the standard of cabins and restaurants can be refreshingly good and it can certainly be a most relaxing way to cross the sea as part of your European holiday or in my case a mini trip in its own right.
We was sailing out of Harwich with DFDS on the m.s. Dana Sirena. m.s. Dana Sirena was built in 2002 and can accommodate over 600 passengers and 435 cars and provides an alternative daily service, carrying car and foot passengers as well as freight from Harwich on the east coast of England to Esbjerg in Denmark. The crossing takes approximately eighteen hours and you can choose from three cabin grades and have inside or sea view cabins.
The time of departure was 18:00 and check in was from 17:00, unlike airports there is no need to arrive hours before. We arrived in good time at 16:45 and as we had driven to the port we left our car in the Pay at Meter car park, it was then just a short walk (or lift) up the stairs to the terminal building. There is a cafe and toilet facilities as well as the DFDS office prior to the departure lounge, Harwich is also served by a direct rail service to London Liverpool Street and other local branch networks for those not wishing to drive.
Check in was quick and efficient and we were soon settling into our twin cabin with sea view, the cabin was small but comfortable and had its own private shower/wc. I arranged to have a tour of one of the Commodore De Luxe Class cabins and lounge, these are situated higher up on the ship and can only be accessed by staff and passengers staying in those cabins, the cabins are larger and more resemble a good hotel room than the standard cabins, you also have access to a private lounge and bar where you can take your meals if you wish, there is always a steward on hand to help.
Feeling rather envious of the fantastic views and comfort of the Commodore Class I returned to my own cabin and got ready for dinner. There are four eating options, The Seven Seas Restaurant, Explorers Steakhouse, The Blue Riband Restaurant and The Lighthouse Cafe. We decided to treat ourselves to The Blue Riband Restaurant with its a la carte menu, excellent food and very pleasant surroundings, the waiters were very attentive. Tables by the windows are reserved for those staying in the Commodore Class
cabins. The Seven Seas Restaurant serves hot and cold food from a self service food station and for lighter snacks then the Lighthouse Cafe should suffice.
After dinner we took in the entertainment in the bar, a male singer/guitarist who was very entertaining with a good mix of songs. We then retired for the night to our adequately comfortable beds. Ships time is one hour ahead of British time C.E.T.
I had a very pleasant walk around the deck before breakfast, a little bracing as this was mid October but the sea had been (and will continue to be so throughout our cruise) very calm. Breakfast was a full English in The Seven Seas Restaurant, after that it was a case of relaxing until our arrival in Esbjerg at 13:00.
The ship does offer a coach excursion to Ribe, a beautiful town to the south of Esbjerg but as we had experienced that excursion on our last mini trip to Esbjerg (which incidentally was from Harwich on board The Dana Anglia some ten years earlier and was a three day mini trip with one night in port in Esbjerg) we decided this time to make our own arrangements and once ashore we headed directly to the offices of Scandlines and purchased tickets for the next ferry over to the little island of Fano.
The crossing took just twelve minutes on what is basically a car ferry with an upper deck for passengers with basic seating available. The island of Fano is well worth a visit for anyone who enjoys scenery and peace and quiet, it has many thatched cottages and has a certain charm about it. We explored Fano for a couple of hours before returning to Esbjerg where we discovered that as it was a Saturday afternoon most of the shops were closed. We found a nice cafe/bar and whiled away the time before boarding at 17:45 for our 18:45 departure.
As we had enjoyed our meal in The Blue Riband Restaurant so much the night before we decided to eat in there again. We did look at the food available in The Seven Seas Restaurant and it did look very nice and would have been easier on the pocket but we felt like spoiling ourselves as we were having such a good day. As with the previous night, the food, service and atmosphere were perfect, I certainly didn’t expect to find such good food on a ferry across the North Sea. After dinner we took in the entertainment again in the bar before retiring to our cabin.
In the morning we had a full English breakfast in The Seven Seas Restaurant before having a walk around the ship, it was a beautiful sunny Autumn day, the sea was the calmest that I had ever seen the North Sea (and I have crossed it dozens of times) and as we sat on deck resting, taking in the sunshine we really could have been on a cruise. We arrived back in Harwich at 12:00 feeling relaxed and recharged.
For anyone wanting a mini break with a difference this is certainly an inexpensive option, DFDS also have a service from Newcastle to Amsterdam and have a good selection of short breaks in Denmark, Sweden and Holland.
Robert Lidster, January 2009
Gary Phillips went on a Harwich to Esbjerg mini-cruise in May 2009 and writes about his experience…
The Harwich to Esbjerg route operated by DFDS Seaways is somewhat unique in that it seems to serve a few different functions at once; the standard ferry journey that allows you to transport both you and your car to Denmark, giving access to Scandinavia, as a freight operation, and also as an inexpensive mini-cruise.
We chose to give the mini-cruise a try as it seemed attractive as a low-cost means of taking a short break without the stress of going via an airport. So, we drove from central London to Harwich, a journey which, even on a Friday took us exactly two hours by taking the A12 out of town all the way to the port. On arrival, we swept straight into the car park adjacent to the terminal and walked the few steps to departures in time for the 17:30 departure. The car park was just £7.50 per 24 hours, but note that the rail service from London Liverpool Street also runs right up to the terminal.
Checking in took no more than a few minutes and before we knew it we were walking up the gangway to the “Dana Sirena” itself. Finding our room was pretty easy, it was a sea view room on level 7, which had a clever room-card key system to let us in. The room itself has a large window, two comfortable stow-away beds with a pillow and soft mattress each. To keep us occupied, as if we really needed it, there was a choice of videos on the TV as well as Sky and BBC news. For me, the best feature of the cabin was the shower which had fantastic pressure which regulated just the right temperature. In the bathroom you also have a lavatory and wash basin but above all there was plenty of room.
By this time we were both ready for food, so off we went to the Seven Seas restaurant on level 8, which opened at 18:30, Danish time. On arrival we were told that we had to book a table as the place was already full, so we booked and came back an hour later. The waiter service was attentive and friendly; the food I have to say was excellent, with plentiful choice of healthy, well cooked food. After dinner, the Commodore lounge is a perfect place to put your feet up with a pint.
At the time of booking you have the choice between the three restaurant options, but you save money by booking ahead. We chose the buffet option at the Seven Seas, as opposed to the Blue Riband restaurant, or the Explorer’s Steakhouse. If you want a cheaper option you have the Lighthouse Cafe downstairs, which has comfortable leather seas all around, the kid’s zone, and large round windows to gaze at the front of the ship moving through the North Sea.
We were lucky with the weather; the North Sea was flat calm for most of the journey and actually got calmer as we got closer to Denmark. This allowed for plenty of time outside on deck to view the great number of commercial ships and the oil and gas platforms that you can see along the way. It also lends itself to wildlife spotting, with the great variety of birds and sea life that the North Sea supports. DFDS supports the ORCA charity that monitors sea life, a representative on board made an interesting presentation about the whales and dolphins that can be spotted.
After 18 hours at sea, we were in sight of land again, or rather the vast sand banks that can be seen along the Danish coast. As we came closer to Esbjerg, we were greeted by the four giant statues “The Human by the Sea”, apparently aimed to depict the purity of man before he came to harness the power of sail, which is where the artist thinks things started to go downhill! From a personal viewpoint taking to the sea in this instance was a great choice.
We had four hours to kill in Esbjerg, so we strolled off along the portside to the town centre. What we were really surprised by was how little traffic there was. It may have been the weekend, but you sometimes could cross the road without seeing a single car in the distance. This would inevitably come as a shock to a couple who live practically alongside Bayswater Road in central London.
The Town Square was where it was at though, with a great number of people sat outside enjoying a beer and a chat in the balmy sunshine. No doubt there are days when Esbjerg is under siege from the North Sea winds, but that day was a real spring sunny day, and a joy. In terms of shops, you can find plenty along Kongensgade and Torvegade but what really surprised us was a leather and mink shop, a sign that the people of Denmark have a level of freedom greater than ours – would a mink shop survive 24 hours in politically-correct London without getting vandalised?
As the weather was so good, there wasn’t anything we could be motivated to do other than to sit and enjoy the sun with a cold beer. Talking to the locals was fun, and all thoughts of the hustle and bustle of city life were truly absent.
We had to be back at the port for 17:00, for boarding at 18:00 and no sooner had we checked our sun-tans in the mirror, we were booking a place at the restaurant again, this time with a sea view, which was great.
If you are looking for a weekend away, with or without your kids, we would recommend the DFDS “Dana Sirena”, particularly if you are within easy travelling distance to Harwich. For £125 per person, you can two nights, each with a large, buffet breakfast, and evening dinners included. Furthermore, you get total relaxation, making you feel completely refreshed on your return home.