A royal crossing on board King Seaways

King Seaways leaving North Shields, heading to IJmuiden.
King Seaways departing North Shields two days before our crossing. Picture Antoine H.

30 years ago on that day, a German shipyard launched its latest day ferry, the second of the ‘Peter Pan class’: Nils Holgersson, whose keel was laid on 03rd October the previous year. Nils Holgersson is a 162m-long RoPax ferry, that belongs to the ‘super ferries’, actually ferries that were bigger than those ever built before. From her maiden voyage on 26th June 1967 to late-1992, Nils Holgersson has been operated. Following the collapse of her owner (SweFerry), she was sold to Brittany Ferries for $60 millions in early-1993 which rebuilt and renamed her Val de Loire. We first met her 10 years later, in 2003, and she is the first ferry we have ever sailed on board. Therefore, she has a very special place in our memory. Unfortunately, she was sold to DFDS Seaways in 2006 which renamed her King of Scandinavia, preventing us from sailing on her again. She was later renamed King Seaways.

However, we have decided this summer to go to Scotland. And we have also chosen to sail on board our beloved King Seaways on that 6th August, 10 days before her anniversary and almost exactly 12 years after our last crossing with her. That was also to be the first time we would use DFDS Seaways’ services, having mainly travelled with Brittany Ferries. Eventually, we were really looking forward to board again a ferry we really missed.

To wish an happy birthday to our beloved King Seaways, we propose you today this illustrated Travel Report, written by our Editor-in-Chief, Antoine H. and our Responsible of Pictures, Benjamin H..

King Seaways leaving North Shields, bound to IJmuiden (Amsterdam).
King Seaways. Picture Antoine H.

On that 6th August, we arrived in North Shields two hours before departure. There were already cars in the Ferries Terminal and boarding has already begun, leaving plenty of time to passengers that arrived early to walk around an almost empty ship. There were not too much queue, with an efficient check-in staff. We were surprised when we discovered that we have already been recognised when we arrived in front of the check-in cabin, probably thanks to a registration plate recognising system. Once having gone through the customs, we headed to the bow of King Seaways to photograph her.

When we came back a few minutes later, it was already time for our car to board, although we were very early. Actually, DFDS Seaways’ crews do take time to complete the boarding process, and begin it as early as possible. Indeed, they really pay attention to the parking of cars inside the Garage, to prevent them from any damages made for example by another passenger which do not pay attention to his neighbours when opening his door… DFDS Seaways does have top-of-the range requirements about the welcoming of its guests, which is really appreciable.

Boarding on board King Seaways in North Shields, the harbour of Newcastle.

Once our car has been parked, in the middle of deck 5, we went for a tour of the car deck. King Seaways has a very convenient garage for a ship that does not require double-deck link spans. Indeed, she can ship lorries on deck 3 without having to remove a full-width mezzanine car deck on deck 4 to increase deck 03's heigh clearance as on board Pont Aven or Bretagne.

Moreover, Brittany Ferries added in 1993 an extra-car deck on deck 4 to increase Val de Loire’s car carrying capacity for their popular Irish and Spanish service. These decks are installed at mid-heigh on deck 3 on its port and starboard ends, leaving the central part of deck 03 clear for 4 lines of lorries.

5 meters above, King Seaways’ has been designed with an extra car deck on Deck 5, that can carry lorries in full-length when the mezzanine car deck of Deck 6 is lifted up. This make the garage very convenient, with a capacity of 600 cars, which is not dramatically decreased by the loading of lorries. However, King Seaways has become too small for this popular routes, and DFDS Seaways can not ship as many lorries as they are requested to ship.

Having visited the Garage, it was already time for departure. I went on the aft outdoor decks, whilst Benjamin went to the forward outdoor deck.

Departure of King Seaways from Newcastle bound to IJmuiden seen from the bow.

Departure of King Seaways from Newcastle bound to IJmuiden seen from the stern.

Although these manoeuvres are usually more impressive when seen from the wheelhouse, the U-Turn from both the bow and the stern of the ship has been really impressive. Actually, there is not so much space between both ends of the ship and the quays on both sides of River Tyne. Moreover, King Seaways does not have Controllable Pitch Propellers and Stern Thrusters either, which does not ease the U-Turn. It is said that to enable larger ships to berth in North Shields, a new ferry terminal should be built...

Then, the ship set sail in River Tyne, heading to the channel end’s. The channel is surrounded with lovely buildings, including lights houses and a castle on the North. At the end of the channel, several ships were waiting for King Seaways to clear the channel, including a RoRo cargo ship. Remember that Newcastle is close to Sunderland, where Nissan has a factory, and therefore a lot of cars are exported from North Shields, Newcastle’s harbour. Moreover, the ferry terminal is close to a car park where new shiny Audis are parked…

Once the ship has set sail in open waters, we went inside to visit the passengers accommodation decks. The first thing that really pleased me is to see that every thing is clean and seems to be new, although the ship is 30 years! This is however eased by the fact King Seaways' crew has 8 hours at both ends of the route to clean the ship, and they really pay attention to do so. Moreover, the accommodations are very comfortable. Eventually, the colours chosen by DFDS Seaways are very plain, enhancing the luxury impression. Princess Seaways is also very comfortable and clean, but she lacks a little something to reach King Seaways’ perfection. King Seaways really deserve to be a cruise ship.

Guest Service Centre on board King Seaways, located at deck 07.
The Guest Service Centre. Picture Antoine H.

Yet before continuing our tour in the public spaces, we chose to have a quick look at private places… Therefore, we headed to Deck 1 for a visit of the Engine Room. We were welcomed downstairs by King Seaways’ first engineer, a friendly man that explained us a few details about the ship’s engines and engine control room. At this time, King Seaways was only propelled by three of her four engines, resulting in less power transmitted to one of her two propeller shafts. To balance that and to prevent the ship from turning, the officers had therefore slightly turned the rudder located in front of the most powerful propeller shaft to balance the force of both propeller shafts.

Engine Control Room on deck 01 on board King Seaways.
The Engine Control Room. Picture Antoine H.

The engine room is not equipped with computers as on board newer ships… or as on board Princess Seaways whose computing system has been overhauled. Instead, we have lovely buttons in King Seaways that works well – otherwise the ship would not be here any more in such this great condition. However, it is considered replacing this system by computers in King Seaways’ next drydocking period in January, which is likely to take place in Gdansk. First Engineer explained us also that compared to other ships, every valves are manual, whereas they would now be automatic. Engineers can also subjugate precisely the Alternators' output to reach the needs of the ship. Therefore, the engineering team has to do every thing by itself, giving it a more accurate power of control than with a computerised system.

Generators' contro panel on board King Seaways.
The Generators' control panel. Picture Antoine H.

We then head with the First Engineer in the heart of the ship. This place is noisy (therefore we had to wear hear protections) and hot, but it really pleases me. We first so the old four generators (whereas most ships we know have only three) that gives power through the ship.

Then, we headed in the main room, in which are located four beige engines that are the main ones. Our guide opened one cylinder, showing us the little mechanisms that are fuelling it. All around the room were disposed unpacked cardboard boxes with the MaK’s logo on the side: these are parts to maintain the ship. As she sails most of the year, most of her maintaining is made at sea. The deliveries are made via a hatch in the car deck, and installed via cranes installed above the engines.

A quick look in the Engines Room of King Seaways, with the real sound in it.

Then, we went through several water tights door, and met the two propeller shafts of the ship, that were turning at a bit more than 500 rpm. We went through a lot of pipes, heaters, sewage plants… we also met the stabilizers’ pumps. Everywhere, it was as on the main decks: very clean. Would you believe if I tell you the ship is 30 years old? After such a visit, it would be impossible to doubt about DFDS Seaways’ reputation of well maintaining its ships.

We went back in the control room where we thanked 1st Engineer. It was time to go to the opposite side of the ship, in the wheelhouse. Upstairs, we were welcomed by a friendly officer that was standing alone, named Johan. Indeed, only one officer is required in the wheelhouse at day time when the ship is sailing in open waters, whereas they are two officers at night times. Once again, we have been able to notice the great condition of the ship. The wheelhouse is equipped with freshly-installed new radars and maps although the ship is to be replaced within five years. The CCTV system was also being replaced through the ship – King Seaways’ maintenance really matters to DFDS Seaways.

After this short view inside the bridge, we went back in the passenger areas. Throughout these spaces, we found several pictures that obviously come from DFDS Seaways’ archives, featuring seamen and DFDS’ former ships.

We went across most of King Seaways' corridors, that were all very clean and well maintained, giving once again a good idea of how much DFDS Seaways pays attention to its ships.

We said that those corridors are decorated with pictures, but they are also decorated with models of former or current DFDS Seaways’ ships, including on board King Seaways a model of my favourite DFDS’ ship. These choices on King Seaways' decoration confirms that we are on board a ship which is sailing, and not in a ashore hotel.

King Seaways offers a wide range of entertainment, with two bars, a Pub, a Casino, two Cinemas… everything that we would expect from a cruise ferry. The non-for-profit ORCA has even an allocated place in the ship where wildlife guides teach the public about marine life and animals. King Seaways also has two shops selling perfumes, alcohols… however, we prefer Brittany Ferries’ shops, which proposes wider ranges of products.

When it comes to eat, King Seaways also offers a wide range of restaurants to meet everyone's preferences among which Little Italy (Italian cuisine), the Explorers Steakhouse, the À la carte Blue Riband, the Seven Seas buffet and the Light House Cafe for smaller hungers. Therefore, there is a much wider choice than on board Brittany Ferries' ships. Hence, DFDS Seaways' guests can find what they are looking for from the simplest dish to the most gastronomic one more, leaving plenty of choice.

We had a steak at the Explorers Steakhouse that evening. The waiters were very polite and nice, as most of the ship’s crew actually. They proved also to be very efficient. The food was delicious and its quality was very satisfactory, although the meal was not as rare as what I would have expected. For desert, we had a cheesecake which was fine too.

A steack served with its sauce and its crisps at the Explorer Steack House, on board DFDS Seaways' ship King Seaways.
My meal at the Explorer Steak House. Picture Antoine H.

However, the big issue of DFDS Seaways' restaurants is the bill: eating in those restaurants is very expensive, much more than on board Brittany Ferries' ships, whose meals are already expensive yet are also more refined. Moreover, we have never been disappointed by the baking of Brittany Ferries' dishes, whereas we have been a bit disappointed this time.

After our diner, we decided to head outside, where we enjoyed the open decks that have been largely rebuilt by Brittany Ferries when they purchased Val de Loire. It now enables King Seaways having bigger outdoor decks than Princess Seaways. We especially love the front outdoor deck, since it is not usual having such a promenade onboard a ship. The Sunset was wonderful seen from open waters. Once again, we noticed that DFDS Seaways is really well-maintaining its ships, since there were a lot of fresh paints on the floors, on the purpose of preventing them from rusting. Although every company does this, DFDS Seaways is the only one to make such repairs when the ship is not drydocked, something which is eased by the 8 hours the ship spend each day at harbours.

Then, it was already time to sleep. We headed to our cabin, a Commodore Class one. Actually, these cabins are very affordable, especially when you book early: there were only a small 40€ differences between a Commodore Class cabin and an outside 4 berths Seaways class cabin. Actually, the sailing itself is very affordable with DFDS Seaways. The Commodore cabins are bigger than Seaways class cabins and have two single beds and one double bed. The decoration inside is nice and is in great condition. Even the bathroom is much bigger. Those cabins also have a mini-bar and guests can enjoy breakfast at bed if they request it. However, Commodore Class cabin's guests does not have access to the Commodore Lounge.

We both slept well in this cabin, cradled by the slight rolling movement of the ship and the slight regular vibrations made by the ship's engines. It is true that the engines are vibrating a bit on board but it is very comfortable and we enjoyed it. And when it comes to stability, King Seaways is a very good sea keeper. Indeed, she was faced to 2m-heigh waves that were cross waves, on the other hand she was rolling only a little, probably thanks to her stabilizers. We did not have travelled on board a lot of ships that are that stable.

The following morning, we ate at the Explorers where Commodore Class customers' breakfast is served. The breakfast is served on a buffet, on which guests can help themselves with as many food as they want. The buffet offers a wide range of products, offering both English and Continental Breakfast. The food is well cooked and delicious. Friendly waiters come often to clear tables from unused plates and cutlery. Moreover, they do restock very often the buffet, leaving at all times plenty of choice to guests.

The breakfast buffet at the Explorer Steack House on board King Seaways.
Breakfast's buffet on board King Seaways. Picture Antoine H.

However, it was already time to arrive in IJmuiden. I headed to the ship's forward deck to witness the arrival, whilst my colleague headed to the stern. King Seaways headed smoothly in IJmuiden's channel, passing through wind farms before arriving close to the coast. IJmuiden is not a lovely place, with beaches surrounded by factories with big funnels. The harbour however has many lovely Light Houses. IJmuiden is the entrance of Amsterdam's harbour, and therefore there are several locks, and abundant ships in its waters.

Once King Seaways was close enough from the continental ferries terminal, she began performing a U-Turn between a small Island called Forteiland and the Ferries Terminal's pier, where there is plenty of room to enable the ship turning. The U-Turn took a lot of time, probably because of the lack of controllable-pitch propellers. Once the U-Turn has been performed, King Seaways began moving backwards. When her bow door was at the level of the Link Span, she began using her bow thrusters going to her side. Then, crews threw the moorings to the ashore staff.

Arrival of King Seaways in IJmuiden from Newcastle seen from the bow.

Arrival of King Seaways in IJmuiden from Newcastle seen from the stern.

Eventually, it was time to go to the cabin to pick up our things, before going to the car deck. Indeed, since crew has not requested its guests to free their cabins until arrival, I have been able leaving everything in the cabin, which is very comfortable when you are loaded, while car deck is supposed to open 15 minutes before arrival. At the same time, other companies request passengers to free their cabins 30 minutes before arrival to begin cleaning the cabins (this time is really precious to them since they have short turnarounds), without granting access to the car deck to enable passengers not waiting loaded in the main halls.

Unfortunately, it was now time to leave the ship. As we were parked on deck 5, we had to wait for deck 3 to be half emptied to disembark, leaving sadly a very nice ship, to which I wish once again a very Happy Anniversary.

Disembarking King Seaways filmed from our car, parked at deck 05.

King Seaways departing North Shields, bound to IJmuiden.
King Seaways departing North Shields. Picture Antoine H.

King Seaways leaving North Shields.
King Seaways passing the Southern Pier in North Shields. Picture Antoine H.

To put it in a nutshell, after such a pleasant crossing, I have no doubt that DFDS Seaways is one of the best company I have ever travelled with. Indeed, the company offers a value-for-money service, which is not too much vain. I really enjoyed this simple service, since it is what I am looking for on board a ferry. The price of a cabin is not too high, since it costs less than 300€ to book (early) a Commodore Cabin. On the other hand, the accommodations are very comfortable and King Seaways is really well maintained, from her hull to her funnel. The only negative point is the prices applied on board: eating or shopping is really too expensive. Fortunately, passengers have a wide choice of eating onboard. Crews are also very kind and obliging, and they do well their jobs. Eventually, the North Shields - IJmuiden route is very convenient one for passengers that would like to go to Scotland from Germany or the Netherlands which are close to the harbour without having to drive too much. The timetable is also very convenient, with an all night to rest and begin its holidays: Just Sail Away as DFDS Seaways says.

And after having sailed again on board King Seaways, I am now sure that she is my favourite ship. An old lady but in a very great condition. On the other hand, she will now miss me twice more than before sailing on her again…

We would like to thank warmly King Seaways' crew for its kindness, professionalism and availability. We would also like to especially thank King Seaways' First Engineer; Johan who welcomed us in the bridge, the staff of the Guest Service Centre and the waiters of the Explorer Steak House, and we wish them a good continuation.

Eventually, we wish King Seaways a pleasant continuation she deserves and look forward to sail on  her again.