Ferry Cruise Eemshaven – Kristiansand – Eemshaven (Holland Norway Lines)

  1. Booking
    1. Route
    2. Ship and Operating Company
  2. On Board
    1. Cabin
    2. Facilities
    3. Encore: The Show Nights
    4. Shore Excursions in Kristiansand
    5. Crew and Fellow Passengers
    6. Prizes
  3. Getting to Port
  4. Embarkment and Disembarkment
  5. Summary

Booking

Holland Norway Lines is a start-up and so far still a pretty small operator, thus their booking system is lean which keeps the process simple. It took just a few minutes to book my 2-day trip on their website https://hollandnorwaylines.com/(available in Dutch, English, German and Norwegian). This is marketed as a „mini cruise“ but basically it is just a return ticket.

As usual on my ferry cruises, I went for the cheapest available single-occupancy accommodation with a sea view, which in that case was a 2-berth outside cabin at 148.00 € per night. To be able to test the buffet restaurants as well as other food outlets, I added just one dinner (at 35.00 €) and one breakfast buffet (at 15.00 €).

Holland Norway also offers a shuttle bus from the train station in Eemshaven to the ferry terminal, which is highly recommend. Transfers are not necessary in Kristiansand, as the ferry docks very close to the city centre.

There were no shore excursions or activities offered for the 5-hour layover in Kristiansand.

The total came in at 350.00 € for a trip of two days. I booked about four months ahead.

My ticket was emailed within a few seconds. Two weeks before sailing I received another e-mail with comprehensive information on checking-in and the stay on board. While I liked the brief, bulletin-style of their communication Holland Norway was a little vague about WiFi (there are passes available at the ship’s reception desk) and did not mention that they run as a cashless operation. Well, the latter may just not be worth mentioning any more in the more advanced parts of Europe.

Route

The route connects Eemshaven, a port near the Dutch city of Groningen, with Kristiansand in south-western Norway. Eemshaven port opened in 1973 and is currently expanded to accommodate a new LNG terminal. The Meyer Werft Papenburg uses Eemshaven as an equimpent port for their newly built cruiseliners.

M/S Romantika so far is the only large passenger vessel operating out of there but there is substancial traffic to the Frisian island of Borkum on smaller boats.

It takes a while to leave the port and enter the mouth of the river Ems through the Doekagatkanal. The ferry sails another hour or so across the Groningen Watt and passes between Rottumeroog and Borkum into the North Sea.

After crossing the German Bight on a north- to northeasterly course the route follows a a courss parrellel to the coast of the Danish provinces of Ribe and Rinkjobin. The coastline is mostly out of sight, with only fishing trawlers and offshore windparks indicating land proximity . This, there is also no mobile coverage from Danish providers for that part of the trip.

During the night the ferry passes the Skagerrak Strait and approaches the southern coast of Norway.

Technically, high winds and rough seas could be expected in autumn, especially in this area, but on my crossing in late October the seas was perfectly calm northbound. We experienced some strong winds from the south on the way back but the sea itself remainded relatively quiet.

Crossing the Kristiansandfjord is the last part of the journey. As this Fjord is not as deep as other Norwegian fjords the port is reached pretty soon.

The Romantika moores in the Kristjansand ferjeterminal which is close to downtown

Ro/Pax Ferry M/V Romantika mooring in Kristansand ferjeterminal

Ship and Operating Company

By nature the M/V Romantika is a typical Baltic ferry. Built in 2002 by Aker Finyards in Rauma she served for Tallink on several routes in the Baltic Sea.

In 2021 the cruiseferry operated on charter for the Tanger Med Port Authority as part of “Operation Merhaba” – Morocco’s annual expat homecoming – and as a hotel ship for the Glasgow COP26 summit.

She has been chartered by HNL on a three-year bareboat (i.e. dry-lease) contract and is used solely on the Eemshaven to Kristansand relation since April 2022. The ship has been reflagged and registered in the Dutch regiustry (IMO #9237589) with Eemshaven as her home port.

Shipyard Plaque M/V Romantika (Aker Finn Yards)
Shipyard Plaque M/V Romantika (Aker Finn Yards)

Powerd by four Wärtsilä diesel engines with a combined output of 35.676 HP she can reach up to 41 KM/H while typically crusing at 33 KM/H. As a vessel of the Baltic Sea the M/V Romantika of course has a reinforced body an is classified as ice class 1A Super.

In HNL’s configuration the ferry can host up to 1,600 passengers in 727 cabins and 300 cars.     

Holland Norway Lines is a recent addition to the European ferry market. The company was founded by Stena Line “veteran” Bart Cunnen and his friend Patrick America who brought together a group of local private investors in 2021.

So far the company operates just this one route, focussing on fright forwarding, holiday related car travel from southern Norway and the Benelux-countries as well as western Germany and minicruise passengers.

HNL also plans to develop emission free sea travel and to launch a hydrogen powered ferry as early as 2027. Even tough the Groningen area is a hot spot for this technology in The Netherlands, this timeline seems a little overambitious. Hydrogen power would have to be brought up to scale massively in order to propel a large cruise ferry across the North Sea. Meanwhile, the company should consider some ecological quick wins such as stopping to sell beer from the sun deck bar in plastic cups.

On Board

Cabin

The cheapest available outboard accomodation on HNL means a 2-berth outside cabin located on deck 5, the lowest passenger deck. The cabin was cozy and of pretty average size. The furniture and materials seemed to be from the original outfit and were a little worn but in good general shape.

The ensuite bathroom is clean, functional, and as per usaual on ferries pretty small.

Also a staple on ferries: at least one piece of linen is not quite so clean. In that case the fitted sheet on one of the beds.

Facilities

Most facilities can be found on decks 6 and 7 with the reception, a boutique and duty free shop, coffee shop and the “Grande Buffett” restaurant, a small sit down restaurant, grill room and pub. The “Starlight Palace”-theatre is unusually large for a ferry and spans the stern sections of both decks.

There is a conference center and a wellness area on the top deck of the ship (deck 9).

Outdoor facilities are a bit rare on the Romantika, unfortunately. Only two decks (deck 6 and 8) have outside areas at all. There is a small outside bar on deck 9 with some limited fresh air seating available. Outside space in fact is so scarce that when the ship left port in Eemshaven passengers had to push and shuffle quite a bit to get a place at the railings to take a good photo.

To sample most of the offerings on board, I just booked one dinner and breakfast in the buffet restaurant and got the rest of my meals from various snack outlets on board – or my suitcase (pro tip: stock up at Albert Heijn supermarkets in Groningen; they have an excellent deli-section).

Dinner in the Grande Buffet was pretty standard for a ferry crossing to Scandinavia. Those buffets have been kind of a household name for travel copy writers since in the 1980s, think “While on board enjoy voluptuous dinners from the Scaninavian Gourmand’s Buffet”. HNL’s approach is, thankfully, a little toned down and the catering consists of a plain yet tasty fare with a nice spread of salads, some pickled and smoked fish as well as simple scandinavian mains, such as meatballs, carved pork roast and vegetables. For desserts there are cakes, puddings and a cheese board. Everything I tasted was good, yet not outstanding and a some dishes could have used a little more seasoning.

Drinks are included with dinner and there was an open tap with beer and even wine. This could have easily lead to some over-indulging on my behalf, however, I don’t believe in wine from a tap and while I am a firm believer in beer coming out of there, it was Heineken – and there is only a certain amount of this concoction I can stomach (i. e. a half pint).

Even though the ship was nowhere near fully booked, the restaurant was pretty crowded and noisy at dinnertime. The seating arrangement in large banquette tables didn’t help there and I would have appreciated a few quiet nooks for solo travellers.

There is no tap water available outside the paid meals, so pack some water bottles. Drinking water in the shops is super-expensive; at 4.00 € oer bottle it was just 50 cents under the cheapest beer!

Breakfast is served in the same restaurant and has pretty much all you can ask for to start off a day of sightseeing. The bakery items were quite nice and there was unlimited coffee flowing. While the bacon from the hot section was crispy and flavourful, the scrambled eggs sat a little watery in their chafing dishes.

I went to the Coffe & Co self-service café on deck 6 for a light dinner on my first night and got a cesar salad with a chocolate bar for under 10 €. The salad was tasty but the salad leaves were a little tired already.

Coffe and cake on the way back to Eemshaven set me back 9.50 € and were a little disappinting as the apple pie was bland and tasteless.

Encore: The Show Nights

To review even more outlets, I took one for the team and attended, well in parts, the evening shows on both sailings, enjoying a bored cover band posing respectively as a disco ensemble (northbound) and a country and western band (southbound).

Service in the Starlight Palace was hilariously bad on both nights. On the disco themed night I had to wait almost an hour before one of the servers even came into the vicinity of my table. After trying eye contact, friendly waving, and a sotto voce ‘excuse-me’, I finally addressed her with a firm „I really would like to order something“ only to be told that she would come back in a moement. Which she did, but only after straightening out the menus on every empty table in the section. In the end I got a ‘Sex on the Beach’ cocktail (well, it was d i s c o night, so stop judging). It was nice and refreshing, due to the fact that it contained next to no alcohol in it bit lots of ice water.

Having learned my lesson on the following, country themed, night. I proceeded straight to the bar, While service there was much faster, one could, unfortunately, watch the barman fixing the drinks. Tuning into the dude-ish country and western vibe, I ordered a White Russian. The bartender began textbook-style by mixing vodka with coffee liqueur over ice in a tumbler. He then started to look around the bar searchingly, finally found what he was looking for and: topped up the drink with long-life cream from one of those small plastic pots. Come on, dude.

Well at least the cocktails weren’t that expensive at 7.50 € and 9.50 € respectively.

Shore Excursions in Kristiansand

As COVID-regulations prevented my getting ashore on my last mini cruise to Oslo, I was really looking forward to explore Kistiansand on this trip. HNL hands out flyers with a map and a few suggested walks and attractions. Those come in handy as there are no further tourist activities offered. I might have appreciated to be able to book a guided walk or bike tour.

Kristiansand is a compact and pedestrian friendly city though and the ferry port is just a few hundred meters from the city centre, so I happily walked to the Domkirke church and through Posebyen old town with its‘ wooden houses from the late 19th century.  

The fog that greeted us upon arrival didn’t lift unfortunately, which made the day a little gloomy. Kristiansand is the centre of the “Norwegian Bible Belt” and sunday rest is taken serously here.The downtown area was pretty deserted with a lot of cafes and pubs closed and the sidewakls folded up (as the German saying goes). This made the town fell a bit of a stiff and off putting on this Sunday.

Before heading back, I walked up a hill near the harbour to catch some views, fog permitting, and shared a lunch of protestant simplicity with two dignified and quiet sparrows on a bench.

After that it started raining so I called it a day and headed back to the ferry terminal to check-in for my return journey.

Crew and Fellow Passengers

Most crew members I met were nice and helpful. The check in staff was especially friendly, efficient and provided a lot of information. The bartenders on the outdoor bar were equally nice and cheerful.  As mentioned, the bar staff in the Starlight Palace were the exeption to the rule.

What I liked very much on this trip was the cosmopolitan, relaxed and diverse mix of fellow passengers. It seemed that people from all walks of lifes, ages and genders used that weekend in October for a bit of late year holidaying. Everyone congregated on deck for the sailing from Eemshaven sampling a few last sun rays drink in hand and a relaxed smile on the face.

The return trip was a little quieter, as a lot of passengers disembarked in Kristiansand.

Prizes

Whenever I got something to eat or drink outside my prebooked meals, I found the food prizes to be OK and the drink prizes a little erratic. 4 € for a simple cup of coffee or a bottle of water is pricey, while 4.50 € for a beer and 7.50 € for the cheapest cocktail is a bargain.

Buying Alcohol generally is an added incentive on those ferry cruises, as they feature “real” duty free (Norway beimng a non-EU country), and Scandinavia is a high tax region for adult drinks. M/S Romantika’s duty free store is sizable, yet smaller than on other ships. Prices might have been attractive for Norwegians but not that weren’t that different from supermarket prices in my place. As the whisky selection was also pretty mainstream, I just got an enamel HNL coffee cup as a souvenir.  

Be adivsed that the ship is cashless and payments can be made with maestro or credit cards only. Make sure to pack a spare card and have your PINs ready, as I encountered a lot of issues with the POS-terminals and was constantly swiping, touching and re-inserting cards.

Getting to Port

Groningen is the closest city to Eemshaven port and there is a newly built trainline running every 60-120 MINs from the beautiful neo-renaissance central station.

You can book your train ticket in the comfortable app of NS, just learn from my mistakes and don’t get a return ticket, as they are only valid on the same day. The trip to Eemshaven takes about 50 MINs.

The best train to catch the sailing 12:22 pm departure. The trains runs directly to the port and terminates right between the harbour mole and the docks. The 12:22 is the only train that is met by HNL’s shuttle bus service which takes passegers right to the terminal. You can add this transfer to your booking for just 2 € each way and I would not recommend walking to the terminal on the unpaved, barren roadside.

Intermodality: trains station, shuttle bus and M/V Romantika ferry in Eemshaven port.
Intermodality: train station, shuttle bus and M/V Romantika cruise ferry in Eemshaven port.

Embarkment and Disembarkment

Foot passengers are handled in the small HNL terminal, which is a semi-permanent tent structure. You have to present your passport and reservation number to obtain your boarding card which is also your cabin key. Norway is not part of the EU but associated with the Schengen-treaty, so there are no not always border checks, but you should still carry propper identification. There may also be customs checks, especially upon entering Norway.

The terminal has a small cafe, shop and waiting area. Boarding the sip is „Greek Island Style“, i. e. you walk to the vessel and up the ramp into the cavernous car deck. To me that is the same treat as bus boarding an aircraft, for you get really close to operations. HNL has a golf cart ready for passengers with mobility issues. There is also an elevator to the upper decks.

Summary

Travelling on a new route by a completely new ferry company was a sprecial treat. Even as this operation started ony a few months ago, everyone involved knew what they were doing. All steps of the journey were well-organized and easy to navigate. I even got a shore excursion. The highlight was the ship: I just loved this ferry with her classic silhoette and elegantly cut lines. Shipshape inside and out the Romantika was good place to spend two nights at sea and she attracts a very pleasant mix of passengers. Once someone teaches the barman how to make a proper White Russian, they will achieve perfection on the North Sea.      

This trip was 100% carbon-compensated.

Ich freue mich über Anmerkungen und Kommentare!

Trage deine Daten unten ein oder klicke ein Icon um dich einzuloggen:

WordPress.com-Logo

Du kommentierst mit Deinem WordPress.com-Konto. Abmelden /  Ändern )

Twitter-Bild

Du kommentierst mit Deinem Twitter-Konto. Abmelden /  Ändern )

Facebook-Foto

Du kommentierst mit Deinem Facebook-Konto. Abmelden /  Ändern )

Verbinde mit %s

Diese Seite verwendet Akismet, um Spam zu reduzieren. Erfahre, wie deine Kommentardaten verarbeitet werden..