Two weeks into our Scandinavian family vacation we were heading from Stockholm to Helsinki. Our children are great travelers, but already having been through airport security four times, we wanted a change of pace. After some research, we saw there were overnight luxury cruises on the Baltic Sea with Silja Symphony, which looked perfect for families!
Leaving in the late afternoon from Stockholm (Stockholm Värtan terminal) and arriving around 10AM in Helsinki (Olympia terminal) – it was a great opportunity for our family to unwind and enjoy a plethora of family friendly activities, all while cruising to our next destination!
After a warm welcome on the boat, we checked into our Moomin Family Suite – which had four twin beds and overlooked the Promenade. The suite had a television, closet, and private bathroom. We were able to store our luggage under the beds. Once settled in the room – let the adventure begin!
Our first top was the Kid’s Club. Parents – prepare yourself for an amazing play area your children will not want to leave! There are two ball pits, video game rooms, an art room, play kitchen, LEGO area, and more! Once we saw this, we immediately wished the cruise was longer than just one night.
Our family had first seating reservations at the Grande Buffets – this is definitely a MUST when on this ship! The food selection was endless, with so many options from Asian to Italian, reindeer to sushi, and a section just for kids – this is definitely the way to go. Did we mention there was open taps of beer and wine included in this dinner?! We had a window seat giving us a view of the fjords as we sailed and dined – it was purely magical.
Tip: We arrived at dinner at our seating time – it would be wise to go down and have a drink, then wait a bit for the lines to slow down. Don’t worry – there is plenty of food and you will not miss out on anything except lines!
After dinner we saw an acrobat show – my daughter was entranced by this and is now an aspiring acrobat. After the show we perused the duty free shops – a great place to shop for souvenirs.
Then it was time for even more fun – family bingo and a dance party with Moomin! To be honest we did not know who Moomin was, but it is a very popular show among the kiddos in Scandinavia and now a favorite of our little ones. We danced the night away, our little ones made new friends and got their faces painted. We woke up to a delicious breakfast buffet arriving in Helsinki (everything from pastries to cold cuts to fresh juice) and more face painting for the kiddos (whaaaat?! Amazing!).
We spent the next four days in Finland, but Tallink and Silja line offer perfect mini cruises to Helsinki, Turku, Tallinn, Stockholm and Riga. It is a great way to expand your current Scandinavian trip without the hassle of an airport. They offer something for all budgets and you will leave with memories that last a lifetime!
Upon arrival at the Olympia Terminal in Helsinki we were greeted with cool air and warm people. Public transportation is just a few steps away, making your life a bit easier!
Helsinki is a very compact city, so if you have limited time in this beautiful capital like us, you can still see the highlights. Helsinki has a lot to offer with its eclectic architecture, outdoor cafes, gorgeous parks and kind people. Finland is ranked in the top 10 for friendliest and happiest people on the planet, best place to raise children, etc… which makes this an ideal family destination.
We stayed at the Hotel Katajanokka, where they invite you to “Escape the Ordinary” – a play on words here, as this hotel was formerly a prison! That’s right – when we checked in at reception we were warmly greeted with “Welcome to prison”. It was immediately one of the most unique and fun places we have had the pleasure of staying in!
We learned “Escape the Ordinary” meant “The ordinary is out there. We’d like to think of our hotel as a world with a different set of rules. An ideal world. In that world the groundlaying values are Love, Peace, Liberty and Privilege.” It was quickly very obvious why this hotel was a favorite of so many, and how it has won several travel awards.
Our room was perfect for families – a king bed and a pullout couch with soft linens and historic photos around the room. The best part about the room was the BLACKOUT curtains (amen!) and bath tub! Our girls love to take a bath, and this was the first hotel that had one on our three week journey – needless to say it was a hit.
A buffet breakfast is included in your stay, and it has a wide selection of cold cuts, fruits and vegetables, bacon, eggs, sausage, and fresh made smoothies!
Hotel Katajanokka is a short walk from the Olympia Terminal, making it an excellent choice for those who have just gotten off a cruise.
Senate Square – This is one of the city’s most iconic spots, and represents the oldest part of central Helsinki. The Helsinki Cathedral is the anchor point, and it is easy to see why. This square is the center of politics, religion, and science in the city.
Market Square – Located just beside the harbor is Market Square where you can purchase fresh food, such as meat pastries, sweets and other Finnish delicacies in this bustling marketplace. You can also shop for handicrafts and other souvenirs here.
Uspenski Cathedral – Close to the Market Square, it is a Russian Orthodox Church that is supposedly the largest Orthodox church in Western Europe. Beautiful detail inside is worth checking out! Entrance is free.
Linnankellari restaurant – Located inside Hotel Katajanokka, this restaurant is the epitome of Nordic cuisine. Enjoy organic, seasonal ingredients, sourced locally and prepared to perfection. We spent about 2.5 hours in this restaurant (yes with kids) and everything we had was delightful. We highly recommend this restaurant if you are looking for fresh and delicious food! (Bonus – you can see two of the original prison cells located on the same floor of this restaurant).