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In January 2009, Stena Line confirmed they were continuing their recession-busting modernisation programme by investing Â£1.8m in a thorough upgrade of the Stranraer-Belfast route’s single conventional vessel, the Stena Caledonia (ex-St David of 1981). This followed on from a not dissimilar amount spent on the route’s HSS Stena Voyager in 2008. The plan appears to have been to move the ‘Caledonia’ back into primary use for passengers, rather than the reserve/freight/night ship she had tended to become by default with the Voyager taking most passengers. Falling oil prices since the decision to invest was made however seem to have changed things – the refit went ahead, but in the event the HSS has remained in full use and so the Caledonia’s new facilities have, in the brief period since she returned from refit, been largely underused.
For anyone who has sailed on the ship before, upon boarding it is quite hard to orientate yourself as the entire centre section of the ship has been swept away – of all of the four ‘Saint’ class ships, the main deck of the former St David perhaps most lived down to billing with a predomination of fairly uninspired fixed seating. Save for the cinema and shop at the stern (largely unchanged) and the cafeteria forward, this has now all gone, replaced with a very open plan Barista Coffee House with a small Stena Plus lounge to starboard in the area formerly housing part of the Motorists’ Lounge.
The effect is a little overwhelming but certainly, given the ship is destined to remain on the North Channel for a few more years yet, she was overdue a refurbishment. Stena, and their house interior designers Figura, have been stung by criticism in the trade press recently concerning some of their more recent refurbishments and, as in parts of the refitted Stena Nordica, a determined effort has been made on the ‘Caledonia’ to allow quiet spaces where one can simply sit and read, snooze or work on a laptop. Although the open-plan nature of the Barista Lounge mitigates this to an extent, areas have been notionally designated for families and as a quiet lounge although this may take some policing if it is to be effective on a busy sailing.
In summary however, it was great to see the Stena Caledonia revitalised. Even if the ship is going to have only a relatively short future in her present operation, it is clear that Stena don’t intend to let the ship be run down before retirement. The refurbishment is certainly fairly dramatic and doubtless not to everyone’s taste – I’ll let you draw your own conclusions and below are some recent images from on board the ship, with a few pictures of the same spaces interspersed as a reminder of what used to be. Click on the pictures for larger versions.
Click here for a main deck plan photograph of the ‘new’ Stena Caledonia. Fakta om Fartyg has a mid-90s deckplan here (the ship was essentially unchanged up to the recent refit. A plan of the ship as St David can be found here.