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Island spotting on an Åland day cruise

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Island spotting on an Åland day cruise
10:47 CEST+02:00
A ferry trip to Åland provides visitors tourists with one of the best possible ways to take in the Stockholm archipelago, writes René Rice.

If you're planning an exhilarating yet inexpensive day out that incorporates miles of stunning scenery, plenty of sea air, copious amounts of good food and some light entertainment then Viking Line's day cruise to Åland may be for you.

Once you're safely onboard and have come to terms with the curious notion that you'll be sailing from Stockholm for over four hours to a predominantly Swedish-speaking Finnish island, only to quickly change ship and sail right back again, you can relax and take in one of the Swedish capital's most awe-inspiring sights.

Nearly 30,000 islands form the Stockholm archipelago and it is utterly captivating and endlessly photogenic - unquestionably the highlight of the cruise (though it always looks a hundred times better when drenched in sunshine, so keep your fingers crossed for clear skies on the day of your cruise).

Only about 150 of the islands are inhabited all year round, though a number of lucky Swedes own holiday homes in the archipelago. It comes as no surprise that many of these summer retreats provide plenty of eye candy during the trip, with their private sandy beaches, glistening yachts and arresting architecture. For an uninhibited view of the islands it's advisable to find a good spot as soon as you board the ship, as the day cruises can prove very popular - especially during the summer months.

As the islands become sparser and the ship drifts out to the open sea you may begin to crave a little more excitement, which is when Viking Line's entertainment comes into focus. Live music is a regular feature in one of the bars, as well as Karaoke and occasionally even stand-up comedy, which all help contribute to a not unpleasant feeling of being on a longer cruise, rather than just over the day. You can also find onboard a sports bar, café, casino, disco, mini-cinema and of course the ubiquitous slot machines on every deck and a well-stocked tax-free store.

Aside from the inevitable queuing beforehand, the other highlight of the cruise has to be the optional (but highly recommended) Viking Buffet in the late afternoon, on the return leg of the journey. For a very modest surcharge you can enjoy as much food as you can manage from an impressive selection of hot and cold dishes, desserts and cheeses.

With meat, fish, vegetarian and vegan options on offer, as well as a special section just for kids, the caterers clearly make a concerted effort to provide something for everyone.

For seafood-loving expats like myself who haven't had the good fortune to grow up on popular Swedish dishes such as Jansson's Temptation (sweet pickled anchovy and potato gratin), Gravad Lax (salmon cured in sugar, salt and dill) and Laxpudding (salmon and potato bake), and who haven't had much exposure to pickled herrings, fresh crayfish or a varied range of caviar, the buffet really is a truly exciting and rather upmarket affair.

Also available in unlimited quantities during the course of the buffet is a selection of soft drinks, as well as red and white wine and draught beer. Needless to say over-indulgence can be dangerous at sea and may, along with the food, give even the most hardened sailor a queasy stomach. Caution and moderation are advised!

After a long and tiring but enjoyable day at sea on a Viking Line Åland cruise, it's always a rewarding experience to return home, safe in the knowledge that you're back on solid ground and, even better - you won't need to cook dinner.

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