Under the Swedish flag, my daughter Britton and I are underway, cruising across Sweden on the world’s oldest passenger ship still in operation. The ship’s name is Juno, built in 1874, and operated by The Gota Canal Company. Juno is capable of carrying 54 guests, but for comfort, the company limits capacity to 48.
The three categories of staterooms are on three decks, and even the top categories are small, similar to a sleeping compartment on a train, as the pre-cruise documentation explains it.
Passengers are advised to pack lightly, although luggage can be stored – and retrieved on a regular basis. My daughter and I kept our two, 24-inch bags in our room, along with a few smaller bags. That left us with little floorspace, and sometimes maneuvering, when we were both in the room, became a matter or acrobatics – or awkward dancing.
Exiting the lower bunk bed was a bit like doing the limbo, because of the lack of headspace above me.
Still, the stateroom experience was exceptionally charming, and I began to call our way of getting around in the confined space, the Gota Canal dance.
Though small, the room is designed smartly. There is a closet that allows for hanging six to eight items. A sink basin with running water is situated in a cabinet that also has storage underneath for small bags, such as purses and camera bags. The cabinet opens and closes to expose or hide the sink basin. Closing it creates extra space on top, which is where we found our complimentary bottle of champagne and strawberries upon boarding (included only in the top-deck categories).
During our four-day transit, we would cover about 500 nautical miles, navigate 66 locks, lifting Juno 92 meters (301 feet) above sea level. Starting at 9 a.m. Wednesday in Stockholm, in front of the Royal Palace, we will end our cruise in Goteborg on Saturday at around 2:30 in the afternoon. There will be lots for us to see and do along the way, including guided tours, as well as opportunities to get off the ship to bicycle or walk.
Juno’s timetable is more of an aspiration than a rigid schedule. The reason: the canal’s shallow draft, maximum 2.8 meters. Juno’s draft, 2.82 meters.
The captain assured us that we would drag the bottom many times during our transit. Not be alarmed, though. “They can’t afford to build ship’s with steel this thick any longer,” he told us during the welcome. Juno may be old and small, but she’s sturdy.
The captain also told us that the pitch propellor sucked up everything, such as “bicycles,” he said jokingly, but which was probably true. Stolen bikes thrown into the canal. The captain said we would see divers from the ship now and then clearing the propellor.
Dragging bottom, clearing the propellor, transiting 66 locks, all the reasons why the timetable is only an aspiration.
Our fellow passengers are from Sweden and other parts of Europe – as well as North America. One woman from Lulea, in Sweden’s north, is traveling with her cousin, a Swede from the United States. They had another cousin who lived along the canal, and as we passed, we all waved to him from the ship. We also are meeting a friend for ice cream on Thursday. He lives within a few minutes of the canal.
Breakfast, lunch and dinner are served in two smallish but attractive rooms, the main dining room on the second level, and a lounge on the top level. All meals are included in the fare, but beverages, with the exception of tap water, cost extra. There is an Honesty Bar, where you retrieve and account for self-service beverages, on the top deck.
Dining is pleasant, and the food good, beginning with a starter and followed by a main course and dessert. Fresh breads are served tableside. Seating is assigned, but guests can request to change tables. We are seated with a couple from Stockholm and a woman from Germany. English is our common language, but we three non-Swedes are eager to learn a few Swedish words and phrases.
Our first stop and chance to go ashore was in Trosa, a charming town with a canal running through the center. It was Sweden’s National Day, so most of the shops were closed. We watched a parade and explored the town, stopping for coffee, before heading back to Juno.
On the dock beside Juno, an 87-year-old man serenaded us with his accordion and Swedish songs. It was a sweet moment, someone who appeared to enjoy giving people the gift of song.
We enjoyed a complimentary glass of sparkling wine as we sailed away from Trosa on a beautiful sunny day, a wonderful start to what is turning out to be a memorable cruise across Sweden.