Russia in 72 Hours: Day 1 – From Helsinki to St Petersburg

In my previous post, I told you about our whirlwind 72 hour trip to Russia. In this series of posts, I’ll be taking you through day by day of our trip. So, lets start with Day 1.

1220: Arrived in Helsinki from London. We flew with Finn Air. Immigration was a breeze (in fact, one of the nicest immigration officers I’ve ever come across!)

1300: On our way to Helsinki Ferry port. We booked a yellow line taxi from Helsinki airport. This is a shuttle type taxi, which takes up to 12-15 passengers going to the same destination. It is a time effective and cost efficient option. It cost us 39.50 for 3 of us and there was one other passenger.

1345: Arrived at our destination, Helsinki West Terminal. Make sure you get down at Terminal 1, because this is where the Princess Anastasia leaves from. Terminal 1 is quite run-down and in need of a face-lift, especially compared to the shiny Terminal 2 which is 500m away.

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The check-in to princess Anastasia was open, so we queued up. At the check in, you get your boarding pass which doubles up as the room key, and arrival and departure cards, which you have to hand in at Russian immigration.

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Boarding the ship wasn’t open yet, so we decided to store our bags at the terminal and walk over to the centre of Helsinki.  There are luggage lockers available at the terminal. A small locker costs 6 Euros, and can store 3 cabin bags. But, beware, the lockers are coin operated only, so bring Euros in coins. There is nowhere to change money at the terminal. Nearest place I found was a sandwich shop, a 5 minute walk away .

Walk to Helsinki from the terminal is about 35 minutes. We visited the Kamppi chapel and the small market in the square and decided to head back.

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1600: Boarding the ship was now open. You go up to the first floor of the terminal and follow the signs. First, there is a ticket check, followed by an Immigration check. Then we walked up the gang-plank into the ship. At the boarding there was a welcoming party and you can take a picture with the captain.

We were then shown into our cabin which was on deck 4. But lo and behold, there was a surprise. The cabin was already occupied, and full of other people’s belongings. So we headed to the reception of deck 6. Reception staff couldn’t work out what was going on, but they gave us another cabin a few doors along.

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1900: After all the safety drill announcements were complete, the ship cast off and we were on our way. The top deck provides great views as you get on your way. (Just watch out for the seagulls!)

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We settled in and started to explore the ship.

The Cabin

It is a 4 person cabin consisting of 4 beds, 2 down and 2 up & folding down. There are also 2 towels per person and clean pillow and bedding. Mind you, the pillow is on the extremely soft side, so I made one up with extra duvet.

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Bathroom is basic, but good enough for one night. There is a good shower, sink and toilet, and it is done in wet room style.

There is only one plug point for the whole cabin. Which is a problem when you could have up to 4 mobile phone, plus other devices to charge.

Ship Facilities

Food options – There are 3 options on board, all on deck 7:

  • A La Carte New York: A La Carte restaurant, nice ambience, but expensive (~20 – 30 Euros for a main course)
  • Italian Napoli Mia: Good food & reasonable price, so it very popular. They don’t have a reservation system for the tables, so if the restaurant is busy, you have to wait for an empty table. And there is no queuing system, so you have to wait for someone to finish with a table and pounce!
  • The Princess Garden restaurant: The largest restaurant on board, this is a buffet style restaurant. Dinner tickets cost 34 Euros per person, and must be purchased at the main reception.

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There is also a 23 hour cafe, teh Bake & Coffee on deck 6, opposite the reception. It is great for a quick bite to eat, but pretty expensive (4 Euros for a packet of crisps, and 2.50 Euros for a tea). This serves small snacks, hot drinks and there is also a hot water boiler, which is free.

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There’s plenty of evening entertainment, in the form of bars with live music, karaoke,  a casino, a night club and a cinema. If that’s not for you, there is also a spa and beauty salon on board.  There is a duty-free shop on board as well, but like everything else on board things here are pricey.

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Tips for travelling on the Princess Anastasia:

  •  Bring a hot water flask. There is free hot water available from the cafe on Deck 6.
  • The only dinner available to purchase on board are from the 3 restaurants listed above. The duty-free sells packets of crisps, chocolates etc, but no substantial food. If you don’t want to the expensive dinners, bring a couple of pot noodles, tea bags and coffee. You can get hot water from the cafe on deck 6.
  • Everything on board is expensive. In fact, I found Princess Anastasia to be more expensive than a cruise, but of a lesser quality.
  • Dinner arrangements are a mess. The places with space are very expensive, and the only good restaurant has no seating reservation system.
  • From the airport, get the train to Helsinki Central station. The tram to the West Terminal leaves directly opposite the station. This costs about 5 Euros. You can also stop at Helsinki central station, explore central Helsinki and get the tram to terminal later.  There is nothing to see or do near the West Terminal, so it is best to spend the extra time in the city centre and get to the port nearer the departure time.
  • Bring a multi way plug – there is only a single plug point available in the cabin.
  • If possible, get a cabin on Deck 4. It is several floors below Deck 7 and 8, where the bars and night clubs are, so very quiet, but the entry and exit doors are also on this deck (which comes in very handy for beating the immigration queues when you get to St. Petersburg the next morning (See my next post about this).
  • The 3G signal disappears quickly after you leave Helsinki. There is wi-fi on board, but like everything else on board, this is not cheap.

Next week, I will tell you all about Day 2 of our trip, exploring St Petersburg.

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