Day trip to Helsinki & conclusion on ferries to Helsinki

Today I went on a short trip to Helsinki. Usually for short trips like this I wouldn’t bother with a trip report, but I figured that there are things worth documenting this time, so I decided to make one with just a single entry, written today (30. April) at 22:28 after the trip.

Tallink’s current mainline “shuttle” service between Tallinn and Helsinki is currently served by two very similar ships: Megastar and MyStar, introduced in 2017 and 2022 respectively. More details on these ships are in my previous post, but this trip was about the ship that served the route before MyStar entered service. Star, built in 2006, remained in service on the route at a slower speed and provided two additional departures per day on weekdays. Weekend service was more complicated: on Saturdays, only the 6:30 departure operates (and its return trip from Helsinki) and on Sunday, only the 14:45. This played a role in selecting when to take this trip.

About a week ago, Tallink announced that they will be offloading Star on a long-term charter to Irish Continental Group for services between Great Britain and Ireland. This was not a huge surprise, MyStar and Megastar already provide a lot of capacity on the route so it would seem logical that Star be made redundant. Usually, once the ship has been chartered, it does not return to the Baltic Sea for Tallink operations. Therefore, it is safe to assume that the last operating date before the charter for Star, May 1, is its last day of operations in the Baltic Sea altogether. May 1 however is a Monday, meaning that both of the scheduled Star departures would operate. This is where the layout of the port of Tallinn comes into play, shown below.

Credit: Port of Tallinn

Terminal D, where Tallink operates from, uses quays 1, 3, 5 and 7. Quay 5 is the “traditional” quay for Helsinki ever since the terminal opened in the late 90s. A complex network of gangways links it to the terminal itself and no fewer than four passenger bridges are present for the different ships that have used this quay, past and present. Until MyStar entered service, Star used this quay as well, however afterwards she mainly used quay 1, because 5 would be occupied most of the time by the two newer ships and 1 was the only other quay with a passenger bridge high enough for deck 7 boarding. The exceptions to this are weekends: on Saturdays after coming back from Helsinki she berthes at quay 5, unloads passengers, and moves to quay 7 to make way for other ships. The next day, she would move back to quay 5, load passengers, and head off to Helsinki and on the way back, dock at quay 1 again. Therefore, the Sunday departure at 14:45 was the only way to board Star at quay 5, and that’s exactly what I had booked.

I arrived at the port at 12:45 so I could see Viking XPRS arrive at terminal A and also to see the move from quay 7 to 5 for Star herself. The rooftop of the parking garage of terminal D provides a great view for this, albeit it was quite chilly. MyStar left quay 5 for its scheduled 13:30 departure to Helsinki at about 13:12, as soon as she was out of the way Star slowly made her way in, moored by 13:40. I went downstairs to the terminal to check in and awaited the boarding call, which came at about 14:05, as expected. Despite the gangways being heavily rebuilt in 2017 for the arrival of Megastar, the old bridge for Star was still in place, which had been used since the ship’s entry to service. This would in fact be the last time this bridge would be used, it is useless for Megastar or MyStar. Another thing I saw was the second link between the 5th and 7th quay gangways. Opened in 2011, I once spent hours researching why it was built and what purpose it serves and came up with nothing. I did see an evacuation plan mention it, so perhaps it was built for that purpose only, and perhaps for servicing the ships too?

Anyways, the trip itself. As Star features no Sitting Lounge, finding a good seat was quite a challenge. I eventually settled on a stool on deck 8 near a window, not exactly comfortable but since I moved around anyway trying to see the ship’s features for the last time it wasn’t too bad. Fortunately, Burger King was operational as well. Our speed was only 18 knots, far less than the 27 the ship was designed for. Otherwise, it was Star as it always has been. The journey was scheduled for 2 and a half hours, but it was closer to 3 since we left Tallinn almost 20 minutes early. At Helsinki we berthed into quay LJ7: the “traditional” Tallink quay at terminal 2 since its opening in 2018. Certain Star departures used LJ6 to the north instead, which was also the “traditional” quay before T2 opened, but this was not the case today. Regardless, the old terminal 1 at Helsinki is now closed and regardless of the quay we would have used, passenger deboarding was through terminal 2. I only had about 1 hour in Helsinki: I was due to head back on the 19:30 Megastar.

I bought a “single” ticket for public transport, technically valid for only one journey with interchanges, but it is actually valid for 80 minutes and since nobody could verify what journey I actually took, I used this to explore the new metro extensions in Helsinki. The newest extension opened in December of last year from Matinkyla to Kivenlahti, but I only went as far as Tapiola: my ticket was only valid for zone B regardless. Some trains terminate at Tapiola so I wanted to see how that’s arranged. The station itself has nothing special: two platforms, one for each direction, and it seems that there’s a siding behind the station where the actual reversing move takes place. Sure enough, a train with a destination of “Terminates here” showed up on the westbound platform and within a few minutes it was back on the eastbound platform. I took that same train back to Ruoholahti to head back to the port.

From Ruoholahti I walked to the nearest tram stop to get tram 9 back to the port. I arrived with plenty of time to spare, boarding hadn’t even started. I settled in at Megastar’s Sitting Lounge for the 2-hour journey back. Tallink’s app claimed that deboarding at Tallinn would take place on decks 7 and 8, so I was hoping to use the secret back door on deck 7, but alas only deck 8 was opened. Instead of taking the moving walkway down from deck 8, I took the lift instead. It took us just one level down, although crewmembers can take it all the way to ground level. I got one last look at the lower level before heading out of the terminal. Again, I took the lift from the 3rd floor to the 2nd, which features a one-way gate to block people from entering the 3rd floor without a boarding pass. From there I walked to a bus stop and got home at about 12:20, having been out for just over 10 hours.

This concludes my adventures in Helsinki, for now. During the last 12 months I have taken this journey 5 times and have seen almost every combination of departure and arrival terminal, every ship and even done 2 trips with a car. With Star gone, a significant portion of infrastructure at both ports will never see use again. For the near future, Tallink will operate the route with just 2 ships. Should they reintroduce a slow ship, such as Silja Europa or Galaxy, perhaps I’ll go see that…