As of July 2021 – my subjective take.
Cruising from Kiel, Germany to Oslo, Norway is the classic european ferry cruise and a very popular way to scandinavia, so booking was as straighforward as can be. Logging on to Color Lines well-structured website https://www.colorline.com/, all sorts of passages can be quickly found and booked.
I had decided to treat myself to that trip upon completion of my COVID-vaccination and by the time of booking operations were still suspended due to COVID. Color Line offered hassle free reebooking, upgrading every fare to a flexible fare (worth 50.00 €). I even had to take them on that offer, as regular services were not back again in early June 2021 so I had to move my trip to July.
I opted for their Mini Cruise offer in a 3***star sea view cabin, their ceapest outboard option. Inboard cabins are around 70.00 € cheaper; promenade view ones about 40.00 €.
Various other cabins and suites are available up to the Owner’s Suite which comes with a massive surcharge of almost a 1,000.00 €. Together with half-board (2x breakfast, 2x dinner) my 2 1/2 days at sea came in at 430.00 €
To make the most of the 4 HRS stoppover in Oslo, I added a city tour at 44.00 €. However, the pandemic still impaired my journey in the end and disembarking during the stoppover was still impossible by July due to the long waits. Thus the tour got cancelled.
This has got to be one of the most spectacular ferry routes in northern europe. The Color Magic and her sister ship Color Fantasy leave Kiel in early afternoon to start a leasurely cross of the Kieler Förde, an expansive natural harbour. The port of Kiel usually hosts a few other ferries and cruise ships. Upon departure you pass the German Naval Yards, a huge navy base and the national naval memorial in Laboe.
Heading due north, the route traverses on the frontier of the North and Baltic Sea crossing Kategat and Skagerak – marine areas with magnificent vistas of small islands, green coasts and a lot of interessting ship traffic.
Around 18:30 HRS the ferry passes under the great bridge across the belt (Storebæltsforbindelsen).
Upon entering the Oslofjord the scenery changes to deep, dark waters and lush islands. As the ferry sometimes sails pretty close to the shore, there is ample sightseeing from the cabin windows and outer decks.
After breakfast the ferry docks in Oslo to have passengers disembark on their journey further up north or to a few ours of shore leave, if they should be on a cruise ticket.
Once again the most interessting parts of the jounrey are during daylight (at least in summer) and Kiel welcomes you back two days later around lunchtime.
Ship and Operating Company
The Color Magic is the biggest car ferry in the world with a capacity of some 2,700 passengers in 1016 cabins and 560 vehicles. This passsenger size roughly puts her also in the category of large, albeit not the biggest, cruise ships.
It is registered in Oslo to Color Line Cruises AS (IMO #9349863). Four Wärtsilä diesel engines produce about 42,000 HP and propell this grand ferry to a top speed of 22,1 KN (41 KM/H).
Built in 2006-7 by Aker Yards Oy in Turku, Finland, it solely operates the cruise ferry service between Kiel and Oslo.
While cruise ferry often is a mere marketing label, color line states thier ships are in fact cruise ships with car decks. That is actually quite credible – as both ferries offer typical cruise ship ameneties such as spas and indoor pools, spacious restaurants, a promenade deck with cafés, shops and a pub. The Color Magic was hands down the most comfortable and luxurious ferry I have so far travelled on.
The cruise feeling was enhanced by majestic blue and white colur sheme and the spotless condition of every square inche, inside and out.
The booked ***star sea view cabin was spacious, came with a queen size bed, a small desk, a table and a tiny fridge. There was a wall-mounted TV screen which featured a few German and Norwegian stations as well as a moving map and a bow-camera. The bed was comfortable and larger than the usual berths. The bathroom was small, clean and functional.
The list is endless… there is a buffet and a more formal restaurant, several bars, cafés, a pub and a self-service snack bar. The duty-free shop on the lower deck is huge and highly frequented as Norway is outside the EU, thus some real bargains are to be had on alcohol and tobacco.
The indoor promenade fetatures several more shops. There is a also cinema, a theatre and a night club.
Outdoor spaces on the decks were not overly spacious though and did not have too much furniture.
While the main promenade was a crazy explosion of colours, living up to the ships name, the cabins were a little toned down and quite comfortable.
The main restaurant had the typical subdued brown and beige colour with lots of draperies that are also found in older Norwegian hotels and restaurants and that seem to encompass wealth from abundant natural ressources distributed in social democratic fashion over an entire country.
Food and Drinks
My ticket included a dinner and breakfast buffet each way which is served in the Grand Buffet Restaurant. The variety, presentation and quality there was phantastic! Seafood featured prominently of course, and there was was also a distinct scandinavian touch to many dishes with three different varieties of pickeled, herring, cured beef and reindeer and lovely berry compottes for dessert. Dinner included water and coffee (decaf available).
Other drinks were charged extra, yet I found the prices to be reasonable. I think my tonic water was around 5.00 € or so. Beer and cocktails in the various bars where on the expensive side as this was a Norwegian ship and a large glass of, watery, Hansa came in at about 6.80 €.
Crew and Fellow Passengers
As much good as I had to say so far, the crew where a bit of a letdown on this trip. While I know that scandinavian people are not as chatty as, say, Americans and I normally appreciate that, the crewmembers I interacted with where downright cold. Most interactions I had with them went without a greeting, please or thank you on their behalf. The front desk agent I got a WiFi pass from did not even speak a single word to me. They all made sure I remembered that this was NOT a cruise after all.
The server at dinner on the first evening was the one exception – she was so eleoquent, helpful and friendly that she almost made up for all her crewmates on that night.
International travel was slow to get back into gear after long border closures and travel bans and the load on this particular sailing was light. I spotted mostly families and elderly couples from Germany and Norway going to or returning from their holidays, as well as some business travellers. There where also some groups that seemed to be on a booze cruise. They were a bit hectic down in the duty free shop, but did not cause any irritation beyond that.
Norway is also a popular destination for eco-minded, German middle-class travellers who draw a lot of destinction out of owning an elderly Volkswagen camper. It was quite funny seeing them a little out of place on this ritzy cruise ferry picking on the vegan quinoa bowls they had brought onboard and trying to keep their well-behaved children out of harms – i. e. the ice-cream stands – way.
My meals were included so there is was little elso to spend money on. As I had left my jumper in the hotel in Kiel, I had to get one on board an found it to be reasonably prized and the quality was good.
A lot of passengers made mad use of the duty free sales. The shop is huge and they sell trays of canned beer including a trolley! Stocking up makes probably sense if you live in Norway – or have an extended holiday there – but prices match regular German supermarket prizes. There also were no interessting whiskies on offer so I left it at that.
Getting to Port
Kiel is well-connected to DB German Railway services and you can just walk from Hauptbahnhof to Norwegenkai where the Color ships sail. ‚
If you want to drive to the ship without taking your car onboard, you can park it right next to the ship. Reserve your sopt at www.portparking.de/en; a three-day-ticket is just 30.00 €.
Embarkment and Disembarkment
Foot passengers are handled in an airport-like terminal at Norwegenkai. You have to present your passport and COVID-documentation on the lower level and then ride up the escalators to the 1st floor where you can obtain your boarding card which is also your cabin key.
Norway is not part of the EU but associated with the Schengen-agreement, so there are no regular passport checks but still you should still carry propper identification. There may also be customs checks, especially upon entering Norway.
This is a trip I wanted to take for a long time so it was a nice treat after being grounded due to COVID for more than sixteen months. The ship was really comfortable and the route scenic and full of maritime action. However it is – as it said on the tin – trying to be a cruise and is almost as expensive as one. Investing 150-200 € extra can probably secure you a spot on an even longer „tasting cruise“ on a propper cruise liner. A trip on a „working ferry“, on the other hand, usually comes in cheaper and is, at least in my humble opinion, just more romantic.
This trip was 100% carbon-compensated.