While it is striking to follow the continuing high level of innovation across the cruise industry as lines seek to differentiate themselves from the competition, it is no less interesting to note the extent to which the ferry industry is watching, learning and applying many of the lessons learned.
Given the size of vessels being operated, large parts of today’s global ferry industry seek to emulate the onboard experience of a cruise ship combined with that of an airport departure lounge. Bars, restaurants and supermarkets — complete with trolleys — to help you transfer your duty-free purchases to your vehicle somewhere below deck.
However, it has not been all plain sailing. The European ferry and short sea industry was truly in fear of being priced out of the market with the introduction of the Emission Control Areas in the Baltic and North Seas. The prospect of losing market share to the rail and trucking industries was very real based on several credible reports that were commissioned at the time. A saving grace has, of course, been the fall in oil prices for those who have not invested in Exhaust Gas Cleaning Systems (scrubbers), but also a determination by the industry to aggressively compete for market share.
Photo above: Talink's LNG-fuelled Megastar. Photo: Pjotr Mahhonin/Wikipedia.
The demise of the cross-channel ferry industry was also predicted with the opening of the Channel Tunnel in 1994. Eurostar and Eurotunnel services are undeniably successful, having handled 21 million persons at a daily average of 57,000 in 2016, not to mention averaging 2.6 million cars and coaches along with almost 1.6 million trucks each year, making it by far the world leader in piggyback transport. Even so, the market continues to grow and ferry companies have rarely been stronger thanks to investments in providing a unique guest experience at amazingly competitive prices.
When we speak of a unique guest experience, it goes further than the Viking Line weekend singles cruises between Stockholm and Helsinki. Rather it’s providing accommodation, food, drink, entertainment and relaxation to suit everyone’s pocket. A prime example is one of the latest ferries to operate in the Baltic Sea, the 2,800-passenger Megastar which operates on the busy run between Helsinki and Tallinn in Estonia. She is a GRT 49,000 tons, 27 knots, LNGpowered fast ferry offering previously unsurpassed standards of onboard service. Built at the Meyer Turku shipyard in Finland for US$260m, Megastar’s two x 300 m3 cryogenic LNG storage tanks are below deck, unlike the earlier standard bearer in LNG hybrid propulsion, Viking Line’s Viking Grace. In addition, the propulsion system is diesel-electric, meaning that instead of being mechanically coupled to the twin propeller shafts, the main engines form a power plant which produces electricity for all electrical needs ranging from propulsion motors to auxiliary systems and hotel functions. This allows starting and stopping engines depending on power demand and improves the fuel efficiency as the engines are able to run at their nominal power.
Passengers on Megastar have the choice of three travel classes (Star, Comfort and Business), as well as two separate lounges, a sitting lounge and driver’s lounge for truck drivers. There are seven different restaurants and cafés on board, including a buffet, á la carte or casual fast food. She also offers numerous pubs and bars, a 2,800-square-metre Traveller Superstore and a children’s playground.