Booze Cruises on the Baltic

They call them ‘drunk boats’. You leave sober and drain the bar of the last duty free paradise

There are ‘captains’ logs’. There are photos. There are hundreds of first-person accounts, thinly disguised behind nicknames, posted on Internet forums that the uninitiated and those hungry for Scandinavian traditions can read to get an idea of the phenomenon, and many articles on travel sites. David Whitley of the Grumpy Traveller writes: “Maintaining all the dignity of a bawling spinster at her umpteenth friend’s wedding, the three lads are slumped against the wall of the ferry terminal with impressively vacant expressions. Next to them is a tremendous haul; case on case of cheap lager and a glittering array of empty bottles. They may be waiting for a taxi…

They are adorned with thick enough beer coats to keep them warm for the winter, have eyes that tell sorry tales and are drooling like excitable Labradors. This is perfect; even better than the rumours would have me believe. If the people coming back on the early ferry are utterly blootered, then heaven knows how fun the party boat is going to be.” The ship was sailing from Helsinki to Tallinn. But it could just as easily have been Stockholm, Turku or some other Baltic Sea port.

These enormous ferries are cruise ships. Floating luxury hotels that offer a cheap day of relaxation or escape, cradled by the sea and alcohol, where the trip is more important than the destination. And each year 17 million people take one of these trips, for a ‘break’ that lasts from two to 48 hours. It’s no surprise, then, that these cruise ships are known as ‘drunk boats’ (with apologies to Rimbaud and the psychophysical transport of his bateau ivre). Students, another large group of regular passengers, call them party boats or drill boats (for drilling of a purely carnal nature).

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