In 2012 I had the unique experience of cruising across Sweden when my dad and I sailed the Göta Canal from Stockholm to Gothenburg aboard the 29-cabin Juno. The ship, which set sail for the first time in 1874, holds the title of the oldest running passenger ship in the world.
After spending a few days in Stockholm, we boarded Juno to head to another great Swedish town, Gothenburg. When my dad and I boarded the ship, we were offered a place to store our luggage outside of our cabin. An offer which we declined, but I really wish we had said yes to. The room was so small that the only time my dad and I could be in it together was when we were sleeping in our bunk style beds.
After getting situated in our room, we were called down for a meeting that would highlight our itinerary and, of course, go over safety procedures. It was at that time that it was brought to our attention that the canal was very shallow. So shallow, in fact, that certain areas were only a meter deep. Our cruise director then informed us that hull of the ship was 1.5 meters underwater, which prompted the question, “Won’t we scrape the bottom?” His response? “Oh yes. Many times.”
At one point, we did get stuck. What could have been a somewhat alarming experience was nothing more than peaceful. There was water pumped into the canal, and we were on our way in no time.
The ship itself was small, as one may expect a ship transiting such a small canal to be. There were two indoor public spaces – a lounge and a dining room. Of course, there was also the stateroom; but as mentioned before – it was a place for sleeping not hanging out. It should also be noted that the stateroom did not have its own bathroom. There were a couple bathrooms on each level of the ship that had toilets and showers.
The best space to gather on the ship was on the top deck. There was a covered seating area that allowed us to view the canal and the sights around us. Unlike a river cruise, we were able to see the countryside we passed in great detail because the canal was so narrow.
The only downside to the outdoor seating was the temperature. Sweden is notoriously cold, and although we went in mid-June, our experience was probably different from others who visit Sweden at that time. It was a very cold June, with certain temperatures as low as they were on New Year’s Eve of that year. However, I threw a few coats on and was fine.
It was bizarre going from busy Stockholm to the small towns that we visited on the river cruise. The trip captured the quaint Swedish countryside that is often so lovingly mentioned. The slow pace was refreshing and relaxing. We visited towns with cute shops and were greeted by cheerful locals ashore.
The ship navigated through many locks, a process which we were able to watch firsthand. In Berg, there were a series of seven locks that the ship had to climb. We got off the boat and wandered through town and the ship slowly climbed. It was unlike anything I had ever seen.
The trip was ideal for me, but I will note that there were not any other Americans onboard. Everyone was either Swedish or Norwegian – but majority Swedish. Though a bit of a generalization, Swedes are fairly reserved.
That being said, most Swedes speak English. The staff held meetings in both English and Swedish, and we never felt left out. My dad and I got to know the couple who we dined with, Mikael and Eva, as well as our other dining partner, a solo traveler from Germany named Katrin. We only talked to one other pair of travelers throughout the voyage – two sisters traveling together from Luleå, a town in Northern Sweden. While no one ever felt particularly cold toward one another, if you are someone who travels to fill a need for socialization, this might not be the trip for you.
Although I usually say that I cruise for connections that I make and the community that I am surrounded by, that was not the case aboard Juno. As I said, there were only five people that I spoke with other than my dad and the crew. But I didn’t miss chatting with others. It was nice to sit outside in the quiet and take in the world around me. We took interesting tours, and we got to wander cozy towns. It was an experience so unlike anything that I have ever done before, in a country that is so familiar to me (my dad lived in Sweden off and on for nine years).
It was a truly unique experience that I would recommend for anyone willing to let go of what they are used to when it comes to river cruising and for those who can readily embrace the moment.
If I were given the chance to take this trip again, I would; especially now, as an adult. Would you?