EDITOR’S NOTE: When we were asked to send someone to Sweden to experience one of the most notoriously alcoholic weekends known to man – the Swedish booze cruise, there was only one man we thought of: Pete Boyland. We gave him the assignment and let carnage ensue.
This blog post has been assembled from Pete’s submitted notes, these were mostly scraps of words written on scraps of paper – the back of beer bottle labels mostly but in one case a severed human finger. One file consisted just of the phrase “Budget for death” over and over on a roll of perfectly folded toilet roll.
Here is his report…
5pm Friday – Surrey
The initial euphoria of winning the right to represent Staggered on this booze cruise has long faded, leaving me with only a quiet dread of what might lie ahead. What would these Swedish expect of me? I’d seen enough of their fearsome drinking to know they were not a race to be trifled with. But to be stuck at sea with thousands of them, all imbibing like there was no tomorrow? However the news reached me this week that me and my attorney Greg would be travelling in company. Two of the girls from the PR company, Ben from FHM, and two ladies from Cosmopolitan magazine are joining us. As I sit on the Gatwick train watching the sun go down in a blaze of orange fire over Dorking, I take some comfort in the fact that, on this mission into the heart of darkness, we will not be alone.
8pm Friday – Gatwick
Our flight is delayed by an hour. Already the dark forces begin to move against us. The airport, like it’s cousins the world over, is a desolate soulless place, devoid of any culture to distract the weary traveller. We settle into a dark corner of the Bridge Bar and take comfort in the free-flowing ale. This means when we meet our travelling companions we will be drunk, but first impressions are sacrificed as we begin to enter the timeless haze of the drinker with no place else to go. It is only honest that our new friends see us as we mean to go on.
1am Saturday – Scandic Malmen Hotel, Stockholm
After more drinking on the plane, we arrive in Stockholm. The black streets of the unknown city at night glare at us as we pass, daring us to venture forth and discover their worst secrets. The hotel has a salubrious modern feel and is sponsored by Gibson, with a range of priceless guitars on the walls. We begin to feel like rock stars, proud, fearless and indestructible. Let this city do its worst.
We meet Eddie, our benefactor and guide, who has been in the hotel bar for more hours than any sane man could endure. But there is no stopping him. We leave the girls to rest and head out into the night.
4am Saturday – The Patricia Club, Stockholm
Eddie has taken us to the Patricia, a packed floating nightclub full of the kind of fiends who need somewhere to drink when all the warm friendly bars have locked their doors and barred their windows. Our host tells us this ship was involved in the evacuation of Dunkirk, and the souls aboard tonight could scarcely be less traumatised than the British Expeditionary Force of 1940. The band play Oasis and the reaction is mute. They play a Scorpions number and the whole place erupts.
We head for the open deck. A pleasant lady gives me a cigarette, before telling me how the English have a poor reputation for drinking. I am unsure if this is a warning or a challenge. We meet Remi, a massive tattooed man who has just been released from eight months in prison for “knife violence”. He tells us one too many times that he will never go back, and shows us the scars. Eddie leaves us to our own devices, but we press ahead, and find the bar.
One of the bouncers decides Greg has drunk too much – an interesting judgement as hardly anyone on the ship could stand – and we welcome the chance to escape into the night. Ben decides we should buy hot dogs in a valiant effort to soak up some of the booze, and we go to bed.
10am Saturday – Scandic Malmen Hotel, Stockholm
I give up shouting at Greg to get up, and tip him onto the floor by one ankle. He takes this surprisingly well, and we head down for breakfast. I have decided it is important that we arrive on time, to ensure the girls realise that despite our late night, we are made of strong stuff and will not be daunted by the day ahead – whatever it may offer. But there is no time to collect our thoughts before we head off into the clear fresh daylight of Stockholm.
12pm Saturday – Stockholm
We vanish into the city, and begin to see the sights. We pass the scene of the crime at the Patricia, now standing serene and quiet on the dockside like an alcoholic, cringing in the daylight and trying to forget the terrible wild debauchery of the night before. We see the changing of the guard at the Royal Palace, and I can’t shake the creeping fear that the soldiers are here for us. The glinting of the sun off their cold steel bayonets haunts me as we cross the frozen harbour to enter the old town.
A quick trip around the shops finds us in the middle of Stockholm’s fish market, where we enjoy a superb fish soup for lunch. Greg recoils from the smell and goes off the take pictures, finding a vast department store called PUB, and another called Lagerhaus. Were these mere traps, concocted to confound the bemused English drinker? The darkness is with us. We follow the stone lions through the busy streets to the Vasa Museum.
4pm Saturday – Vasa Museum
We arrive at a huge unassuming warehouse in the East of the city, and I expect to be bored by another museum. However, far from the endless stuffy exhibits in glass boxes, we are met by a vast 17th century ship, which was entombed at the bottom of the Baltic for 300 years, before being exhumed in the 1950′s. The icy water has left the Vasa amazingly preserved, and the feats of engineering and art achieved in her creation are inspiring. However, the whole experience is shadowed by the knowledge that the ship sank on her maiden voyage, less than two miles out to sea – with the loss of some 50 souls. Seeing the bones of those found in the wreck, displayed beneath the ancient prow of this once-proud vessel, sends a chill down my spine – particularly as within two hours we will be sailing though precisely the same waters.
6pm Saturday – The Cinderella Dock Gate
The nature of the Viking Line cruise is made clear by the warning at the port – you absolutely, totally must not bring any of your own drink on board. The Scandinavians suffer very high taxes on alcohol, but once the ship is out of port, the booze becomes tax-free. I follow the rules and give up my bag for inspection, but am singled out anyway, with the accusation “your speaker?”
I think they have spotted me as a journalist and the game is up, but the sailor is referring to my iPod dock. He explains that I cannot use this in my cabin, lest I disturb my neighbours. His reasoning is fair, but given the amount of drink that is about to be consumed, you could probably hold a firework display with no danger of rousing anyone. We have a guided tour and a couple of drinks, and the girls retire to get ready for dinner. But there is no break for us.
9pm Saturday – The Cinderella Restaurant
Forgoing any chance of a lie down before dinner, we allow Eddie and Gitte, a lovely Finnish lady from Viking Line, to take us to the three-story nightclub on board. The worst of the fiends congregate on the top floor, where you are allowed to smoke – a real novelty for us Brits who have been banned from smoking indoors since 2007. However, the ingrained smell on our clothes and hair in the morning reminds us this is not always a good thing – but for now there is only the club.
We rush to escape the predictable karaoke by drinking through the bar, beers chased down with jet black liquorice shots that leave you stunned and gasping to breathe. To push ourselves wildly on at this pace would end in tears, so we welcome the opportunity to stop and have dinner in the ship’s all-you-can-eat restaurant. Priced at about £30 per cover, this offers an impressive range of cold starters, fish, beautifully roasted meats and all the trimmings – with the enticing promise that it includes all-you-can-drink too. I kid you not – they have beers and wines on tap (literally), and you are free to help yourself.
Now faced with this terrible opportunity to make complete pigs of ourselves, I was forced only once to verbally restrain my attorney, who doesn’t possess my powers of self-control. However, the merciful sailors shut the restaurant well before midnight, coaxing you onwards into the increasingly inebriated ship-wide party that is by now well underway.
11pm Saturday – The Cinderella Wine Bar
In a last-ditch effort to keep us cultured before the inevitable decline, Gitte takes us to the wine bar, where the girls make the most of some of the finest wines available to humanity. However I am already too far gone to enjoy a good cellar, and before long the ambience is broken by the news that Ben has lost his cabin key. Following an extensive but fruitless search, during which Eddie also loses his key, it is clear the dark forces have caught up with us. We stand poised like raftsmen on the edge of a waterfall, struggling in vain to stop the flow before the inevitable plunge into unknown chaos and mayhem. I chase down a G&T to steady my nerves, and let go of the oars.
1am Sunday – The Cinderella Nightclub
We drag the girls back to the nightclub with promises of liquorice shots, and before long we are holding onto the bar to steady ourselves, despite the fact the sea is completely calm. We have yet to meet another British person, but the locals are extremely friendly, and their English is impeccable, even through the clouds of smoke and liquor.
Many of the Swedes and Finns tell me they have been on this cruise a number of times before, and through their shared tales I begin to recognise the beasts I am among, who think nothing of drinking from noon until noon again, and I realise these are my people. Even the most attractive girls are happy to chat to us, despite the fact we are now obviously very drunk, and there is none of the snobbishness or tension which has ruined the majority of English nightclubs. The karaoke has been keelhauled in favour of an excellent band, and Eddie drags the girls onto the dance floor. There are more shots and more new friends (most of them female, due to Greg’s roving eye). We venture onto the freezing deck to smoke, sober up and meet more new people, before heading to the late bar, the last stop for booze, the Alamo – the Rock Club.
3am Sunday – The Cinderella Rock Club
While the three-story club was large, roomy, and well lit by all manner of disco lights, the rock club is dark, impenetrable, and heaving. We have lost most of the girls by now, but we bravely dive into the depths of the pounding cavern and get in the scrum for the bar. A brief disagreement ensues, when a Finnish girl and her friends refuse to believe we are here to write about the experience. Possibly they expected a greater level of professionalism, decorum and sobriety from members of the press. However we manage to overcome any unpleasantness through the power of pogo dancing to Guns N’ Roses, and as the shots keep coming and exhaustion finally catches up with me, I lose the Finns, I lose Greg, and finally lose my balance.
One of the Finns finds me propped against a bass bin and takes me outside for a smoke to sober me up, but by this point I realise her grasp of English is far better than mine, which has been reduced to little more than endless rambling about how I’ll be sorry if loads of English louts take this trip and ruin it for her. She assures me that this won’t happen, as the Swedes and the Finns love the English, but reveals her darkest fear – that there may be more Germans. Upon this beautiful note of international accord, I decide to forgo goodbyes and do a Captain Oates, slipping away quietly back to my cabin before someone has to carry me.
10am Sunday – The Cinderella Spa
Once again raising my attorney from his bunk is a fight, but the promise of a cleansing spa is enough to drive him to seek detox. We enjoy all manner of mineral shower scrubs, followed by a relaxing Jacuzzi and sauna. I dip my toe in the ice cold plunge pool and recoil, but this could just be the shock my system needs, and by now there are a dozen Swedes egging me on. Driven by a reckless sense that my national pride is at stake, I jump, and survive. The shock followed by several large glasses of water is enough to see my hangover running with its tail between its cloven hooves, and now it’s time to eat.
12pm Sunday – The Cinderella Restaurant
I’ve been promised the best burgers in the region in the restaurant, which again lives up to expectations. The food settles the last of my stomach’s complaints, and we relax to watch the Baltic ice floes passing the cabin windows. One look at Eddie and Ben, who got up late, assures us that the spa treatment was not in vain.
By now Eddie is a broken man, and sits with a haunted look before his lunch, as we laugh mercilessly at his plight. But it is the laughter of a friend, as we all feel strangely bonded by the wild reckless abandon which we have witnessed over the last 48 hours. I think it may be time for another beer.
4pm Sunday – Stockholm
A few more beers are drunk, but by now no-one’s heart is really in it, as our bodies rebel against the fresh assault of toxins. There is time for duty free shopping and one last wander around the deck in the stunning Baltic sunshine, before we arrive back in Stockholm. A taxi ride is followed by the inevitable tedium of the airport, and we finally say our goodbyes at Gatwick before heading our separate ways. My mood on the train home is one of quiet reflection mixed with all the great memories I have just made, and I want to rant to my fellow travellers all about the amazing weekend I’ve just had. But I note the sideways glances and averted eyes, and realise they can see the darkness which has followed me. But by now I have passed its examinations and defeated its trials, and it sits beside me as a weary but happy friend.
- Just Party from £99 – A one-night cruise onboard the Cinderella party cruise ship, a buffet dinner including wine/beer and a sea breakfast.
- Stay & Sail from £159 – One night in Stockholm’s Scandic Malmen hotel, a one-night cruise onboard Cinderella with a buffet dinner including wine/beer and a sea breakfast.
- Saturday flight and sail from £179 – A flight to Stockholm on Saturday morning, a one-night cruise onboard the Cinderella party cruise ship, a buffet dinner including wine/beer, a sea breakfast and a return flight to Gatwick on Sunday afternoon.
- Fly, Stay & Sail from £259 – £279 – Return scheduled flights from the UK, a night in Stockholm in the Scandic Malmen hotel with breakfast, a one-night Cinderella party cruise, buffet dinner with wine/beer and a sea breakfast.
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