Silja Line and Viking Line operate competing cruiseferries on the routes Stockholm - Turku and Stockholm - Helsinki, calling in Åland (Mariehamn or Långnäs). Additionally, Tallink sails Stockholm - Mariehamn - Tallinn and Stockholm - Riga. Tallink, Viking Line and Eckerö Line compete on the Helsinki - Tallinn route, which is also the busiest route in the Baltic Sea, travelled by over 6 million people in 2008.
Baltic routes are mostly served by new ships purpose-built for the routes. Older cruiseferries from the Baltic serve as ferries on other seas, or in some cases, as cruise ships.
Viking Line and Eckerölinjen also operate short routes from Sweden to Åland, sailing on Kapellskär - Mariehamn and Grisslehamn - Berghamn. Birka Line, owned by Eckerö, also operates short cruises out of Stockholm.
Generally GTS Finnjet of 1977 is considered to have been the first cruiseferry, she was the first ferry to offer cruise-ship quality services and accommodations, and the first generation of cruiseferries operating from Finland to Sweden were highly influenced by Finnjet's interior and exterior designs. After the fall of the Soviet Union the route connecting Helsinki to Tallinn became highly lucrative, which led to Estonia-based company Tallink to grow and rival the two long-established companies (Viking Line and Silja Line). Eventually Tallink purchased Silja Line in 2006.
The size of Baltic cruiseferries is limited by various narrow passages in the Stockholm, Ålandian and Turku archipelagos, meaning ships not much in excess of 200 meters cannot traffic on these routes. The single narrowest point is Kustaanmiekka strait outside Helsinki, although ships making port at the city's west harbour do not have to pass through the strait. Viking and Silja Line have wished to keep their terminals in the South Harbour however as it is located right next to the city center. The longest ships to maintain scheduled service through the Kustaanmiekka strait were MS Finnstar and her sisters with a length of 219 meters. The longest ship to have ever navigated though the narrows past Suomenlinna sea fortress was MS Oriana (260 m), but that was only possible due to extremely good weather conditions.
The expansion of the European Union has limited the growth of the industry as duty-free sales on intra-EU routes are no longer possible. However, as the Åland Islands are outside the EU customs zone, duty-free sales are still possible on routes making a stop at Mariehamn or other harbours on the islands. Another popular destination is Estonia with its lower taxes on alcohol.
The ferries have been criticized because of the low prices of alcoholic beverages which encourage passengers to become drunk and act irresponsibly. Due to the relatively cheap price of the cruises and availability of duty-free alcohol (which makes it considerably cheaper than on "land" as both Finland and Sweden have a relatively strict taxation of alcohol) many big parties involving vast amounts of alcohol consumption are held on the ships.
Many Finns also buy snus from ferries as its sale is illegal in Finland due to EU regulations.
|Wikivoyage has a travel guide for Baltic Sea ferries.|