Thursday, February 14, 2008

Good-bye, Viking

I do not, generally speaking, travel on the Finland-Sweden ferries to eat. I know that some people who have discussed that issue on various web forums, as well as the owners and managers of said ferries, might disapprove of it, but in general I don't. I have nothing against the fact that many people regard those ferries as giant floating eating and drinking establishments, but I regard them as transportation to and from Stockholm, and to a certain extent as somewhat-cheaper liquor stores.

I don't mind eating in those restaurants if people I am with want to, but if not, I am quite content with sandwiches and suchlike that I bring with me. Yeah, I know they sell sandwiches there, too. I, however, make better sandwiches (I used to do that for a living, and when I am making a sandwich for myself I am obviously a lot less concerned about the price and a lot more concerned about my own taste than Viking Line is). Moreover, I don't think I have any moral obligation to shop or go to the restaurants on the boat if I don't feel like it. I do shop quite a lot, but that's because they have cheaper booze. Their food is not any better or cheaper than in Finland.

Viking Line seems to disagree. Sometime last fall they started confiscating sandwiches from passengers going onboard. For the sake of security, you know. Their PR person, Johanna Boijer-Svahnström, said that there have been cases when people were heating up their food on camping stoves.

I understand the problem with camping stoves, fire safety, and suchlike. However, how likely is a passenger to heat up a sandwich on a camping stove? Especially if he doesn't have an actual camping stove?

"We don't allow it. You can't bring your own food onboard. One could say that if you are going on a cruise, then you should eat there."

She also says that the cruise lasts from the evening till the morning, that during the night the sandwiches can go bad, and the epidemic caused by bad food would be a nightmare to them. I wonder whether she thinks that a person with a few sandwiches can do the Jesus fish trick and feed them to all the other passengers, or that a food poisoning is a contagious disease, or that people bring plague sandwiches with a side order of Ebola.

They have to be careful with the security out at sea, she says. Not as careful as an airplane, but more careful than in a hotel.

That was in September. At the time, a certain web forum quoted Viking Line's rules: "3. Elintarvikkeiden, ruuanlaittovälineiden, alkoholin tai huumeiden tuonti laivalle on kielletty." (It is forbidden to bring food, cooking devices, alcohol or drugs.) This is quite a bit more restrictive than an airplane: I've brought food, cooking devices and alcohol many times on an airplane without any problems whatsoever. The only restrictions were that the cooking devices could not have fuel in them, and nowadays the liquids have to be in the checked luggage.

Viking line was sorely in need of a reality check, such as a reminder that they are in the business of transporting people from place A to place B, and that people might want to transport stuff with them, including, yes, food, alcohol and cooking devices.

The reality check arrived, one way or another, and now the same rules say "3. Viking Line ei salli matkustajien tuoda mukanaan elintarvikkeita, joista on tarkoitus valmistaa aterioita matkan aikana." (Viking Line does not allow passengers to bring foods which are intended for cooking meals during the trip.) This is, BTW, a change from yesterday, when they said "3. Matkustajat eivät saa valmistaa omia mukanaan tuomiaan ruokia laivalla." (Passengers are not to cook foods that they have brought onboard.) The rule proceeds to give examples of stuff you can bring onboard: baby food, food for allergic people. "Uncookable food for those who either don't like our stuff are are not willing to pay for it" remains unmentioned, but I don't see how it could be against the anti-cooking rule.

Except that a few days ago they confiscated cookies, chips and bananas from some family. Sorry, but if they consider cookies, chips and bananas to be foods exclusively or even primarily meant for cooking, especially in the absence of a cooking device, this means that Viking Line has gone, well, bananas.

I think I'll switch to Silja from now on. They might have higher prices, but they don't have stupid rules that they change every day and break every time they feel like it. Besides, IIRC they have a better tax-free.

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