Stenaline, an efficient relaxed way of travelling to / from England. With a fast train connection to London. Clean cabins. Good food. Friendly staff.
Read on for a more detailed review. A shorter Dutch version was published on Google Maps reviews earlier.
I (Hans) have been travelling from the Netherlands to London for business meetings for over a year, every 3 weeks. I prefer the ferry over plane, train or automobile.
I Usually go only for one day visits. That used to mean:
- You fly in the day before the meeting
- Leave the next evening after the meeting
- hot bus transfer from Luton Parkway(railway station) to Luton Airport
- Waiting in overcrowded Luton airport
- Delayed flight
- Sometimes getting stuck at Schiphol because the last train has left 30 seconds ago.
I got a bit annoyed by the security circus, delays and waiting at Schiphol or Luton Airport and more.
Some hotels in London are not really offering to what my employer has to pay for them: Mold on the ceiling, noisy extraction fans from a kitchen outside your window, none working air conditioning etc.
When flying back the same day you either have to get out of a meeting earlier to catch a 19:20 something plane or hurry to get an 20:05 something plane which often is delayed. So you are stuck at Schiphol airport. If you have to travel to Deventer or further east, the last train of the day to Enschede leaves at 22:36.
I checked Eurostar trains as an alternative. The time table is not really handy. It is still expensive and when travelling back home you arrive at midnight with a change in Paris or Brussels.
The first time I was first a bit worried about getting seasick, so I flew in by plane an only did the return trip by ferry. The ferry to Hook of Holland leaves from Harwich. This is usually a one hour and thirty minutes train trip from London Liverpool Street station. Liverpool Street Station happens to be a ten-minute walk from the financial district. You can also take the Central Line to cut it down to five-minutes outside peak hours. I cannot recommend the Central Line in peak hours since then it is not faster and the Central Line is really hot inside.
Meetings are usually on Thursdays. On Wednesdays, I work from home. This save me an hour travel time. The office is in Enschede, an hour travel time in the other direction near the German border. I travel by train, so I first have to get to Deventer railway station. This can be done by:
- 30 minutes walk, not attractive with a heavy back pack in summer.
- bus preceded by a twenty-minute walk. See first option.
- bicycle. I have a fast folding bicycle. Taking it onboard the rush hour train and parking it in London is not practical.
- “Ride Now” cab. A sort of cheaper cab, not really an Uber. Taxi fares to/from the station are almost the same a parking the car near the railway station.
The cab picks me up at 15:30. This allows me to take the 15:45 international train from Berlin to Amsterdam or the 16:05 train to Schiphol airport. I change at Amersfoort and then sometimes again at Gouda or Utrecht to Arrive in Rotterdam. Their I take the train to Schiedam, just one stop. From Schiedam to Hook of Holland there are no trains any more. The train service is being converted to a tube system. Like the London Elizabeth line it is delayed to 2019 something. There is a 30 minutes replacement bus service from Schiedam to Hook of Holland. This is usually okay.
in 2018 bus schedules have changed for me, I can usually use a small bus nowadays!.
After arriving in Schiedam by train you can take the underground, (Metro) to Hook of Holland. When I was travelling there was a train replacement services. The train was converted into an underground system. I think the metro is not really faster, only maybe in evening rush our, but it certainly is more comfortable than the bumpy bus ride over the A20.
I arrive at Hook of Holland Harbour at 18:30. Check-in usually starts at 18:45. Check-in, passport check and security usually only takes 5 minutes. Then it is a five-minute walk up and into the ship. I take a shower. I have a good dinner, some coffee, TV and go sleep. The boat leaves at 22:00.
The boat arrives at ~ 4:00 AM in Harwich on the river Stour. When I am still sleeping, most freight is already offloaded. In the morning there is a 5:30 wake up call on the public announcement system. Unfortunately, they replaced “Don’t worry be happy” by some boring muzak. I shave and shower. At 6:00 there is breakfast. At 6:30 disembarkation starts. At 6:40 I am through border control and customs in the Ferry terminal/railway station. There is still some time to buy a real English tea for my commute to London.
Pre-booking the train tickets with your boat ticket saves time and is often cheaper. For commuting to London by train you have two options. I take the slow train from 6:57 at platform 2 to Manningtree and there I change onto the fast train to London. This is +/- 30 minutes faster than the direct train. There is only one stop in between. The direct train, which you encounter as soon as you cleared customs/border control, departs at 8:15 and stops at a lot more stations in between.
The beds are good. The cabins are clean. There is shower fresh / shampoo in your bathroom. The bathroom in your cabin is clean too. I do not think the difference between a normal and luxurious cabin is worth it. At a luxury cabin you get “free” peanuts, chips, beer, wine and soft drinks. There is also an electric kettle, coffee and tea. In addition, there is a hairdryer. Inside cabins, and normal cabins in the back, have no window and a shower curtain instead of a door between shower room and rest of the bathroom. You do not have mobile coverage in the harbour in an inner cabin.
Dinner in both the à la carte Metropolitan and Taste restaurant is good. However, if you do this every 3 weeks it will become boring. The dinner on the night boat of the return journey starts a bit too late. I skip this nowadays and eat in London. Tasty, bitterballen and Apple pie with custard. The latter differs per cook. Recently they scraped the custard from the menu recently. I do not like the ship’s hamburger. The main course with belly bacon is good, unfortunately I get pimples. This course was replaced by something else recently. The breakfast is excellent semi English / Continental. Not special. After dinner, I used to sit down and read near the Barista bar on the back of the ship. It is quieter because you do not hear the noise of the open kitchen of the Taste restaurant.
When booking you are offered a membership card, the so called “extra-card” This card can give all kinds of benefits. If you are a regular passenger, you will become a gold member and get access to the Plus Lounge with the night: Rest, free drinks and fruit.
The Plus lounge is near the Barista bar. Since it is more exclusive, it is even more quiet.
Free Wi-Fi on board is only in the public areas on deck 9 via a crappy captive portal at IP-address. No DNS has been set up for this. The connection is not really usable. Mail and chat succeeds. After an hour you will be thrown out and you can connect again. Since ~ May 2018 also premium Wi-Fi, at high prices, which works in the cabin.
Pay attention! Before you sail, set your phone to flight mode. Offshore there is telephone / data available via satellite that automatically connects your phone via a GSM / 4G antenna on board. Recognizable by a Welcome to Antarctica SMS. Using this is extremely expensive.
There are good dog kennels on board.
I have not tried the cinema yet.
I did not find shop on board exciting. The shop does not sell non-alcoholic beverages and is also quite expensive.
I could pick up a forgotten charger at Hook of Holland at the end of May. I forgot it 3 months earlier.
Tip: the magnet in your phone cover erases the code on your paper cabin card.
Tip: save tickets from a previous trip. This allows you to keep the power in your cabin activated for charging devices. Any other plastic card will work too.
If you travel more often, small accent differences between the Stena-Hollandica and Stena-Britannica stand out. For exampler: the cutlery for breakfast onboard Stena-Britannica is in a cart. Onboard the Stena-Hollandica you will find it near the bread and toasters. The ship uses the time of the port of origin. British time is used on the Stena-Britannica. At the Stena-Hollandica NL, time is used. Originally I went to the UK on the Stena-Britannica and back on the Stena-Hollandica. It made getting used to the time zone of your destination during night sailing very easy. Sadly for me the ships changed order after a few trips. I do not change the time on my phone. That would mess up my calendar. I disable automatic time zone adjustment on my phone and only change the time zone. I also enabled an extra home time zone on the clock on my phone.
Everything included and pre-booked one or two weeks in advance you pay less than 300 euros for a one-day-trip. You can save some money by:
- As a regular passenger, you can pay part of the fares by loyalty card points.
- Booking an inside cabin
- Not having a pre-booked dinner in the metropolitan restaurant. The food in the Taste restaurant is not that great.
- coupon codes or special offers. ANWB has always an 8% offer which I usually use but I also check other offers.
- It may be possible to get the train ticket in the UK cheaper. I did not bother because of the administrative trouble for declarations is more expensive. If it was I private trip, I would investigate this.
- Book train tickets in the Netherlands using coupons from super markets, drug stores etc. You need to know Dutch or know someone who does speak Dutch. These tickets are often only valid off-peak hours. I have to travel some part of my trip in rush hour and for my Job I have a company train card. These tickets are excellent when flying from Schiphol around noon.
My First time disaster adventure, a London cab to Harwich
The first time was, a disaster, not because of seasicknes, but because of disturbances in train travel. The first time, I thought I was smart by taking the Central Line to Stratford and there I got stuck for over two hours. This only happened once. In general train travel between Harwich and London Liverpool Street station is reliable. For some reason there was no train to Harwich. Delays were extended every 5 minutes by another 5 minutes. I finally decided to try an Uber or London Cab to Harwich. I could not get the Uber app working on my phone so it became a London cab. Also getting an Uber in time in Stratford was not possible. The London Cab did accept Dutch “PIN” bank cards, which was nice.
At 19:30 it was still busy on the roads in London. When we finally were outside London, the driver really stepped on it to get me on time in Harwich. We encountered some diversions because of road works. So it became racing in the dark country side between hedges and coble stone walls. The driver sometimes rounded square corners at ludicrous speed. It was a one time adventure. Typical London-cabs are not comfortable at high speeds, they have really stiff suspension and leaky windows at high speeds. This was a new one. At the end I arrived on time in Harwich and had to pay GBP 280,-. I went into discussion with Stenaline because they sold me the train ticket in combination with their ferry ticket. They offered to pay back half the cab fare.