While planning our Christmas holiday road trip we ran into a timing obstacle. We really wanted to travel to Eastern European countries that we hadn’t been to before but didn’t want to drive in a circle which would require time wasted on overlap. Hmm. As we were just about to scrap our plans and settle for something easier and less exciting I came across an overnight ferry from Kiel, Germany to Klaipeda, Lithuania. It would save us a couple days of driving and the painful doldrums of retracing our steps through a country we’ve seen.
We had the option of five seats on a shared deck or a cabin with 4 berths. We went for the private cabin. As we booked last minute we had to settle for an inside accessible cabin. Although a little frightened by the prospect of 24 hours with no windows we hit the purchase button before we lost the option of a ferry altogether. Since we are a family of five we needed to book one additional seat in the main cabin so that we each had a ticket, but we intended for someone to share a bed in the cabin. No problem, this goes with the territory when traveling as a larger family.
Preparation for our journey involved planning for wavy seas so I brought along Dramamine, peppermint essential oil, peppermint tea and acupuncture needles (don’t worry, I’m a professional), just to be safe. We also considered food. Our family prefers to eat vegetables, lots of them and good quality at that. We feared the boat would have less than adequate healthy foods for us to enjoy (which reminded us of an Adriatic crossing with only crisps, crackers, cookies and candy for 8 hours) so I shopped in Bremen earlier that day. I packed a shopping bag full of fruits, chopped veggies, nuts, dried fruits and snack bars. We brought playing cards, Top Trumps cards, Settlers of Catan and colouring books to pass our time. We all had books to read and movies sorted on our iPads. We had no idea of what to expect life to be like on-board as my online searches for reviews of the sailing came up blank. All I knew was that I had three kids to feed and entertain for 24 hours.
Due to a delayed dinner at a rest stop somewhere on a German autobahn, we arrived at the ship literally at check-in closing time. The thought of missing the boat was incredibly stressful knowing very well that there wasn’t another departure for three days. So much for our shortcut to start our winter holiday! The security man at the gate had regretfully informed us that we should’ve checked in first at the main terminal before pulling up at his gate. Oh no! He took pity on us and kindly let us enter anyway to park our car so we could run back inside to pick up our documents. We made it onto the ship at the last minute with several other cars who were tardy as well.
We drove our car to the top deck of the ship and parked it closely together with other vehicles while men positioned concrete blocks around our tires and dragged heavy chains to secure everyone in place. Any personal items that were needed from our car had to be brought inside at this time as once we set sail we weren’t allowed back to our vehicles. We noticed that for some reason the radio wouldn’t turn off. We fiddled with it for a bit, turning the car off and on again a couple times, but to no avail. We hoped it would eventually turn off before the battery died, but figured that one of the nearby cars would give us a jump start at the other end of our journey, if necessary. Grabbing our belongings, we made our way inside to begin our Baltic Sea voyage.
The first thought I had once we were in was “what was that smell?” I finally decided it was a cross between an ashtray, body odour and an automotive shop. Yes, that was definitely it. We had to check in on-board at a reception office to pick up our room keys. Big, heavy, clunky keys. Following the maze of hall-ways we found our handicapped suite. A large but simple room with four berths, a desk and a bathroom complete with shower, sink and toilet. It was clean on first inspection but if you looked a bit harder it wasn’t as clean as you would hope. I decided to not look any further.
The ferry had a lounge with a bar, a tiny duty free gift shop, a small children’s play area, an upscale dining restaurant, and a café all on the one deck. It appeared to be mostly men with commercial vehicles making the crossing, however, there were a few other families. No one else seemed to speak English which didn’t bother else but somehow made it feel very foreign.
After a short walk around the ship, we decided to settle in for the night. The ship departed around 11pm from Kiel and we hoped to have a good night’s sleep for rejuvenation and to pass the time. Sadly, our youngest had just started with a cold so I thought it would be best if I slept with her to comfort her in the night. After I popped some Dramamine we tucked in. The night was long as I was kicked and cried to for hours. Our oldest sat up several times in a sleepy state talking non-sense and our son dangled from the top berth causing us alarm. Stephen and I repeatedly got up to move him toward the middle of his bed. Needless to say, sleep was lacking.
We woke in the morning to an announcement (in German, Lithuanian and, finally, English) that breakfast was being served in the dining hall. After a quick shower we made our way to the restaurant. It was closed! We questioned whether the announcement was for the last call and, if, in our sleepy state, we had misunderstood. We agreed that lunch wasn’t too far off so we snacked on some clementines I had brought along and busied ourselves with reading, colouring and holiday maths homework. We all tend to roll with the punches pretty easily – a quality that is essential to travel. Looking through the ship’s windows we saw a spectrum of grey: steel-grey water, topped by the lighter grey wintery sky. We had 12 more hours to go.
When we purchased our tickets online we were given the option to purchase dining credits and make reservations for the fancier restaurant with table service. We had no idea at the time if the restaurant would be so busy that reservations would be essential. We thought it best to book ahead for our lunch and dinner meals so not to worry about food during our journey.
When the time for our lunch reservation came around, someone from the ship came to gather us. We were the only ones there! From our table we could peer out through a glass divider at the neighbouring cafeteria-style café, where the entirety of the ship was enjoying lunch. It made us feel a bit snooty to separate ourselves in this way. We had a waiter, a very large menu, and tables with white linens. We tried to ignore the awkward separation we had placed between ourselves and the rest of the passengers and carried on with our meal. The food was surprisingly delicious and fresh. The options were healthy and varied (steak, fish, salads, pasta, etc), in stark contrast to our previous Croatia – Italy ferry experience. We sat back, relaxed and accepted our solo diner situation as we laughed and played card games. The time seemed to pass so quickly in our family bubble. Dinner came and went the same way.
We arrived in Klaipeda at 10:15 pm and we were pleased to find that our car radio was off and that the car started. It took about an hour for everyone to disembark and we seemed to be the last ones to drive our car across the ramp. We survived our voyage and did so thankfully without sea sickness, and we managed to keep ourselves entertained and well fed. Yippee, we were in Lithuania!!!!