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Gateway to the northern isles
Member Name: sax_man_al
Advantages: Comfortable, relaxed, only way to take a car
Disadvantages: Seasickness, can be rough, long journey, no WiFi
++++ 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.
Summary: A relaxed overnight trip to Shetland, or stop on Orkney on the way
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