“ Country: Scotland „
Northlink ferries run regular sailings between Aberdeen, Orkney and Shetland as well as a daily sailing from the very north of Scotland to Orkney. Around 2002, brand new vessels were acquired which are pretty luxurious inside.
The sailings between Aberdeen and Orkney/Shetland take place overnight and there are plenty of good quality cabins on board.
Many cabins including executive ones, outside berths and inner 4 berths. Some cabins can be shared for half the price if you don't mind possibly sharing with a random person or groups of friends maybe can share cabins.
Theres a restaurant, 2 bars, bistro serving breakfast and dinner, cinema showing 3 films each night, gaming machines, childrens play area and an outside deck which is always open at the rear no matter how stormy the weather usually. Under health and safety rules, smoking is only allowed on the outside decks.
The vessels seem to handle the rough seas quite well compared to older vessels as they have more stabilisers built in and are also designed better for the north sea weather. In older vessels, I have been very seasick sailing in rough seas whereas with Northlink ferries I don't really get seasick at all even if it's rough seas unless it's really stormy of course. The crew always advise customers of the weather conditions prior to sailing so you are always kept well informed. I believe that occasionally if sailings are delayed for departure because of waiting for weather to calm down a bit then passengers are allowed on board to use the facilities while the ship is docked.
In the bistro, the food quality is excellent and often uses fresh local produce while it's reasonably priced. The bar also serves drinks, crisps/peanuts and snacks like sandwiches and pies which are also very good and priced reasonably.
As for the cabins, they are very clean and comfortable inside. The mattresses are very comfortable and easy to lie on while the sheets are always clean. There's tea and coffee facilities and all cabins are en-suite with toilet, sink and shower. The shower's are also very good and they are quite powerful while they always have hot water available. Some of the slightly more expensive cabins have a TV and the executive cabins have internet for laptops while you get free wi-fi on all other areas of the ship but you don't get a wi-fi reception in cabins other than the executive cabins. There are some power sockets around the ship that you can use to plug in your laptop if necessary.
Prices for sailings are really good. In mid season the basic price of a foot passenger crossing is £28 roughly with a sleeper seat which are in a very quiet area of the ship and then cabins and/or taking your car is extra.
Inside, the ship is very clean, well lit and comfortable inside. Outside noise doesn't really penetrate inside the ship even the howling of gale force winds outside at times in winter.
For passage of pets, there are facilities on board where pets can be kept safe.
Security seems to always be paramount; there is often a security guard walking round the decks checking everything's in order even in the early hours of the morning.
Update on the restaurant:
Serves starters, main courses and desserts of high quality and freshness which seem worth the price paid. Drinks such as wine, beer etc. are same price as drinks in the bar or bistro. Main courses start from £10.95 and are generous portions while starters or desserts are from around £5. Waiter/waitress table service in comfortable and quiet surroundings. The service was very good so full tip(s) given. Restaurant remains open until late evening even during rough crossings. Reservations can be made for the restaurant and this is recommended especially during summer months.
Northlink runs a couple of routes between Scotland, Orkney and Shetland. Scrabster (N tip of Scotland) to Stromness (Orkney), and Aberdeen to Kirkwall (Orkney) and Lerwick (Shetland). On certain sailings from Aberdeen the ferry does NOT stop at Kirkwall.
++++ Booking ++++
Their website is easy to navigate and book through, and if you are a Shetland resident you can apply for an islander discount which gets you about 30% off your car and passenger fair. This offer has also been extended to a 'friends and family' scheme too which operates at certain times of the year, currently 1st May to 30th June, and 1st Sept to 18th Dec. Islanders have to nominate 6 households to receive the discount. Rather annoyingly this was only announced less than 2 weeks ago, and my family have already booked their tickets to visit grrrrr.
++++ Routes, ferries and accommodation ++++
The Scrabster-Stromness journey takes 90mins aboard the MV Hamnavoe. The journeys from Aberdeen on the MV Hjaltland or MV Hrossey however take quite a bit longer. Aberdeen-Kirkwall is 5.5hrs, Kirkwall-Lerwick 8.5hrs, and direct Aberdeen-Lerwick is 12.5hrs. Southbound journeys get into Aberdeen half an hour sooner than the northbound journeys.
Because of the long journey times to Shetland 117 cabins are available. These book up quickly though. There are a number of options here, two berth outside, executive (with a bunk), premium two berth outside, 4 berth inside, 4 berth inside with TV & DVD, 2 & 3 berth restricted mobility cabins, cabin share scheme, and lastly reclining chairs. I have always booked into one of the shared cabins, they are the best value (from £19.50), although there is the possibility of someone snoring in your room. The reclining seats aren't that great, and a lot of people just bed down on the floor and couches. On one journey I did come across one family who came complete with a large inflatable mattress and duvet! During the summer on the 0630 Scrabster-Stromness sailings there are some cabins available as 'bed & breakfast' where you can board the previous evening between 2130 and 2330.
++++ Boarding ++++
Arriving around 2 hours before the sailing you need photographic ID to board, and if you are in a car you will be directed by the helpful staff. Remember to turn off your car alarm, look in your car manual, there is usually a button or sequence you can press to lock without the alarm. There is nothing more annoying than a car alarm on a ferry, and also it will flatten your battery too.
++++ Facilities ++++
Departing Aberdeen at either 1700 or 1900 there's a bit of time to kill before bed. There's a bar, a restaurant, shop and cinema, unfortunately there isn't any WiFi which is a bit of a shame nowadays. I usually spend some time out on the rear deck, watching for seabirds, dolphins and the seascape in general. There is a deck on the roof, but these ferries don't hang around so it's usually a bit chilly up there. Dinner on board is reasonable, usual dishes are things like lasagne, bolognese, pasta, fish and chips. There is also a luxury lounge and an 'a la carte' menu.
++++ Cabin ++++
Having only ever used the 4 berth cabin share scheme I can only comment on the inside 4 berth cabins. They are pretty simple, with drop down upper bunks, these have a frame which slots into the side of the bunk to stop you rolling out in the night. There are ladders that clip on too, each bunk has a small light. The beds are comfortable, and come with a thin duvet and a pillow. There isn't very much room for luggage, and I usually keep my stuff on my bunk with me. One of my friends did have something of theirs stolen in a shared cabin, so just take care of your stuff. People in Shetland are generally pretty relaxed as there is a low crime rate, but it is easy for people to take advantage of this. There is also a bathroom which has a toilet, sink and shower.
++++ Morning ++++
In the morning I usually get up reasonably early and go outside to watch as we sail up past the coast of Shetland. The restaurant opens at around 6 and you can get a good breakfast. If you have a car you have to disembark when you dock, foot passengers and non-drivers can stay onboard until 0930 drivers can park and come back onboard. There is another option which I think is much better, and that is to go to the co-op or the new harbour café, both of which offer excellent breakfasts.
++++ Pre trip advice ++++
Unsurprisingly it can get quite rough in the North Sea, so if you suffer at all from sea-sickness then get some medication and take it as recommended. It's usually fairly chilly out at sea, so make sure you bring a nice warm jacket and perhaps a hat if you intend to spend time out on deck. Fuel is about 10p per litre more expensive in Shetland than in the rest of the UK, so fill up before you get on the ship, there is a cheap fuel station as you come into Aberdeen.