Stenaline, an efficient relaxed way of traveling 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 traveling from the Netherlands to London for business meetings for over a year, every 3 weeks. I prefer the ferry over plane, train or automobile.
Plane and hotel annoyances
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 a 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 an 20:05 something plane which often is delayed and 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.
Checking the Eurostar train option
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.
Trying out the Stenaline Harwich to Hook of Holland
The first time I was first a bit worried about getting sea sick, 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 10 minute walk from the financial district. You can also take the Central Line to cut it down to 5 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.
First time disaster adventure and London cab to Harwich
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 They 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. 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.
Regular Deventer to London trip
Meetings usually are on thursdays. On wednesdays I work from home so I do not have to start travelling from Enschede which is almost on the German border. Starting from home in Deventer saves me 45 minutes. 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 20 minute walk. See first option.
- bicycle. I have a fast Birdy folding bicycle. However on the ship and in London I have no use for it. I prefer to not to park it in the bicycle parking at Deventer railway station overnight.
- “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 anymore. 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 usually is okay.
Bus schedules have changed for me, I can usually use a small bus nowadays!.
The Metro finally works
Not used this myself yet but from Schiedam or Rotterdam you can now travel to the Hook of Holland by Metro instead of the replacement bus service that was offered instead of the train during the conversion from train to tube system. I think it is not really faster, only maybe in evening rush our, but it certainly is more comfortable than the bumpy bus ride over the A20.
Arriving in Hook of Holland
I arrive at Hook of Holland Harbout at 18:30. Checkin usually starts at 18:45. checkin, passport check and security usually only takes 5 minutes. Then it is a 5 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.
Arriving in Harwich
The boat arrives at ~ 4:00 AM in Harwich on the river Stour. When I am still sleeping most freight is already ofloaded. 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.
Commuting to London from Harwich International
Pre-booking the train tickets with your boat ticket saves time and is often cheaper.
For commuting to London by train you have two option. 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 harbor in an inner cabin.
Dinner in both the a 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. However 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. Also this course was replaces 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.
Xtra membership card and Plus Lounge
Offer your free Xtra card when you pay. If you travel often you will become a gold member and get access to the Plus Lounge with the night: Rest, free drinks and fruit.
The Xtra Lounge is near the Barista bar. Since it is more exclusive, it is even more quiet.
There are good dog kennels on board.
I have not tried the cinema yet.
I did not find Stena shop on board really interesting. 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 wil work too.
Wifi and satelite based mobile internet onboard
Free WiFi 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 wifi, 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.
Stena Britanica versus Stena Hollandica
If you travel more often, small accent differences between the Stena Hollandica and Stena Brittanica stand out. For example, the cutlery for breakfast onboard Stena Brittanica is in a cart. Onboard the Stena Hollandia you will find it near the bread and toasters.
British time is used on the Brittanica. At the Hollandica NL time. This makes getting used to the time zone of your destination during night sailing very easy.
Adjusting to British or European time
As soon as I get onboard the chip I change the time zone on my phone to the local time of the ship. This makes adjusting to the time on the arrival port easier.
I DONOT 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.
Everthing included and prebooked 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 traveler pay some of the fares by Xtra card points.
- Booking an inside cabin
- Not having a prebooked 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, drugstores etc. You need to know Dutch or know somewone who does speak Dutch. However 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. (However,these tickets are excellent when flying from Schiphol around noon).