DFDS Seaways Esbjerg & LEGOLAND Billund Mini Cruise Review
In May 2011 we were invited by DFDS Seaways on-board an increasingly popular mini-cruise sailing from Harwich in Essex, South East England to Esbjerg on the West coast of Denmark. The mini cruise included overnight accommodation on-board the vessel after spending half a day in Esbjerg city, followed by a day at the world famous LEGOLAND Billund theme park. This is our family mini cruise review.
Getting to Harwich International Port
Harwich is located on the East coast of Britain, in the county of Essex. The port is located in Parkeston which is around a 20 minute drive from Colchester. It's about an hour away from Stansted Airport and around two hours drive from Central London.
Due to its location, Harwich is popular with families from the South East of the UK though is easily accessible for residents in the South West, Wales and the Midlands.
Travelling from Cardiff we drove along the M4 and around the M25. We detoured along the M11 and followed the A120 along to Harwich (although the most logical route was the A12 from Junction 28 of the M25).
The entrance to the port property sits beyond a roundabout serving a small retail park and a Morrisons supermarket. There's also a Premier Inn hotel located across the road from here as well as a Lidl supermarket.
Ferries from Harwich to Esbjerg tend to be predominantly used for freight, transport of cars or transport of caravans and camper vans. As such, many passengers sailing from Harwich to Esbjerg take their vehicles with them so port parking is not usually required. For mini-cruise passengers, ample car parking is available and is located right next to the terminal building, beyond the port security barriers.
The car park is located after the manned security barriers into the port loading area, taking a right and then a left into the car park. It is a Pay on Return car park that charges by the hour up to the first 24 hours, then by day thereafter. When we visited the daily rate was £7.80 which is very reasonable for port parking. Current pricing can be found here .
Harwich Port is also used by cruise lines so part of it is segregated off for these passengers. Follow the signs for the ferry as opposed to the cruise ship signs and you'll be fine!
If you arrive too early, the town of Harwich is a couple of miles further driver and has a quaint dockside, a beach and some historical monuments. It was very blustery when we visited but we still saw a fair bit in just half an hour, thanks to the easy accessibility of the sea front.
The port terminal sits directly above Harwich International Railway Station making it a great choice for many who live in the South East. London Liverpool Street is where you need to catch the train to Manningtree which lies to the North East of Colchester and to the West of Harwich. From here it is a direct line to Harwich International Railway Station. From London, it's about an hour and a half journey to Harwich Port by train.
If you are travelling from Scotland or the North of England you may want to consider flying into London Stansted Airport or London City Airport . It's then a few train journeys to connect you to Harwich via Colchester. The journey should typically take around two and a half hours from Stansted Airport to Harwich port.
Checking-in at Harwich
A lift or set of stairs takes you up to the terminal building which is located beyond the railway station. As you enter, there's a café on the left hand side and a Stena Line information desk ahead of you. Walking around to the left (beyond the café) you'll find the DFDS Seaways office tucked away to the left.
In here you can check in which we did in the space of minutes. A large seating area can be found beyond the check-in office where you can catch a glimpse of the MS Dana Sirena over the walkways.
Toilets are available if you need them.
Boarding was also a slick and quick process
Boarding was also a slick and quick process. The doors opened and a queue of passengers formed filing through to departures. We didn't hear any announcements but the waiting area is small and it's clearly obvious to see when people are boarding.
Staff checked our passports and boarding cards at the door which leads through a UK Border Agency spot checking area. We weren't stopped this time so carried on to the departure door where boarding cards were scanned. A quick walk along the walkway right to the end led us to the entrance to MS Dana Sirena. The entrance is located on the open cargo deck at the rear and a short walk through the corridor led to a staircase and lift rising up or down to service the cabins.
We headed up to level 10 where the Commodore De Luxe cabins can be found, locked behind a private access door for use by Commodore passengers only. We were guided to our room by our cabin steward who gave a brief introduction and sorted our breakfast arrangements with us.
Dana Sirena is a unique vessel and we have written a separate ship review to cover in-depth information on what you can do on the vessel, the variety of cabins available and much more!
Arriving in Esbjerg Port
Once docked, we left the ship at a different location to the one we board. Boarding in Harwich happens at the rear of the ship whilst boarding at Esbjerg Port happens at the front.
A quick stroll along the covered walkway leads to Customs where after a quick check of the passports we had officially landed in Denmark.
After passport control, turn right to get out of the complex. We headed straight forward through a set of double doors which leads to the car area of the part. Turning right before these leads through the DFDS office and out onto the open streets of Esbjerg.
From here, it's a short walk into Esbjerg city itself, walking to the end of the road, crossing a few streets and heading right. There's a handy map DFDS Seaways gave customers on the mini cruise with directions into the city.
Esbjerg Visitor Guide
In the past DFDS Seaways haven't run that many mini-cruise holidays to Esbjerg but in recent times they are becoming more popular and as a result, they are looking at offering more. Unlike the Newcastle to Amsterdam sailing which offers the possibility of exploring the vibrant city of Amsterdam, this Harwich to Esbjerg mini cruise offers the chance to explore a quaint yet small port city. As such, it is a radically different mini-cruise so the question is what did we do with our half-day in Esbjerg and what other attractions are there in Esbjerg?
Key Attractions in Esbjerg
Esbjerg is a small city in Denmark with a strong maritime heritage. It's not the biggest of tourist ports but there's still plenty to see and do to immerse yourself in their rich culture.
Man Meets the Sea
The Men at Sea attraction is by far one of the most significant in Esbjerg. It's an art installation featuring four 9 metre tall men seated overlooking the vessels leaving or entering Esbjerg harbour. We have seen pictures where the art piece is crowded with visitors flocking to see it however we were lucky enough to have the statues all to ourselves when we visited, meaning we could get plenty of great photos!
Museums and Galleries
Across the road from the Men at Sea statues is the Fisheries and Maritime Museum which is popular with families. This museum documents Esbjerg's maritime history but also features a seawater aquarium with fish found in local waters. There is also a seal enclosure featuring both common seals and common harbour seals, with an opportunity to feed these at selected times in the day.
Art lovers should visit the Esbjerg Art Museum which has been recently renovated and features one of the finest collections of modern art in Denmark.
For more history on Esbjerg then a trip to the Esbjerg Museum is a must, where the ever-changing exhibits tell the story of key parts in the Esbjerg timeline.
Esbjerg is not short of architectural sights either. The Esbjerg Water Tower should offer fantastic views over the city but wasn't open when we visited which was a shame.
The Esbjerg Railway Station is another attraction of architectural significance. Built in 1904 this iconic building features two turrets framing the entrance.
For modern architecture then the Elsam A/S Esbjergværket Blok 3 is a key sight, as one of the highest buildings in Denmark. The chimney spans up 250 metres into the sky.
Much More in Esbjerg
These are only a few of the main attractions. Esbjerg has loads more attractions including parks, galleries, churches, museums and more. Head on over the Visit Esbjerg website for more information.
Esbjerg is the fifth largest city in Denmark but has more of a small town feel than a city vibe.
We walked along the mainly pedestrianised high street which seemed to cater more for fashion brands. We expected to see a few more global brands than we did but there was plenty of choice nevertheless.
The high street was lined with plenty clothes rails and was quite busy though it didn't feel overcrowded. It had a sense of personality but familiarity too.
There was a distinct lack of restaurants for dinner though. We walked around a few times trying to recollect our research we had done on the Internet prior to visiting (serves us right for not taking that piece of paper with us!). Nevertheless we, along with another mini-cruise family we spotted, chose to dine in Jensen's Steakhouse , a restaurant specialising in barbequed meat dishes. We were fortunate to get a table looking at the queue of diners waiting to enter which seemed to grow longer as we progressed through the meal, which is a good sign of quality.
The food was tasty, generously portioned and was very good value. The restaurant itself felt much like a Pizza Hut with a salad bar in the centre of the restaurant.
For authentic Danish meals, primarily fish based meals, there were a couple of other restaurants we found that would suit better. However the cost of such places was substantially more though they did offer a set two or three course meal offering a little better affordability.
A Hotel For the night?
Our hotel for the night was the Dana Sirena herself. A lack of experience running mini cruises from Harwich together with a lack of information for both passengers and staff meant there was some confusions and disorganisation.
We could leave our luggage on-board for the duration of our holiday
On the plus side we had the same cabin throughout the mini-cruise which meant we could leave our luggage on-board for the duration of our holiday.
The negative side was that due to the small amount of passengers enrolled on this mini-cruise sailing there wasn't much available on-board other than the TV inside the cabin. Nightlife was non-existent on-board that evening as most of the crew were given the night off. A benefit of the Commodore De Luxe cabins is access to the Commodore Lounge where we spent most of the evening sat in quiet comfort watching a sister cargo ship (DFDS Tor Line) being loaded with truck trailers by very skilled drivers moving in mesmerising harmony. Fun for someone who likes logistics, presumably not so much fun for those who don't!
LEGOLAND Billund Guide
The following morning we had breakfast, met up with the other families before boarding our coach transfer to LEGOLAND in Billund. There was some more confusion as it had transpired the coach had been booked in UK time (GMT) rather than Danish time (CET). After an hour's wait the coach arrived and we headed on over to Billund.
Billund sits slightly North of Esbjerg and is the home to LEGO headquarters. This is tucked behind the LEGOLAND Billund theme park, opened in 1968, which is famous for being the first of many parks worldwide.
A visit to LEGOLAND is essential for any LEGO fan, young or old, and there was plenty to do here for us grownups as well as for families.
LEGOLAND Billund Guide For The Grown Ups
You might think LEGOLAND is a place for kids to have fun which it is, but they have also catered very well for adults too. When we visited, we noticed the vast majority of visitors were families with children aged up to (and including) teenagers. There were also plenty of adults visiting, enjoying reminiscing of childhood memories playing with the iconic LEGO toys.
LEGOLAND Billund is the original LEGOLAND theme park and as such, it still retains some of its heritage. For example, in Miniland, you can take a look at the original set up which shows how it used to look.
Miniland was our favourite aspect and the attention to detail is simply amazing. The choreography of the moving elements of Miniland was impeccable and you feel completely immersed in it as you walk around. There are different themes throughout Miniland, each zoned by means of footpaths. Some models though were interconnected so elements such as trains ran underneath the footpath between two zones.
Each zone represented the best from each country. Holland featured moving windmills and canals whilst America was showcased by and interactive Hollywood set where you could remotely control the camera positions right through to a large scale space shuttle launch at NASA.
There are plenty of shops to browse through along with dozens of food and drink outlets too, including a popular coffee shop. We indulged in a milkshake from the Ben & Jerry's outlet and watched families compete against each other at the Falck fire station ride.
We also stood in the viewing area and watched the fantastic ride Power Builder. If ever there was a ride that allowed children to "get their own back" on parents then this was it. Children program the movements of a robotic arm for around a minute or so of motion. Then once everyone was completed it they and/or their parents get on the ride which consisted of a seat on the end of a robotic arm. The personalised programme then runs, throwing the passengers around in all directions, turning them upside down and throwing them from side to side.
Another great ride for adults and children alike is the LEGO Studios, which regularly runs 4D movies. These are 3D LEGO films featuring memorable characters and an array of enjoyable 3D effects but with the additional element of touch. Huge overhead fans whirred on fast action scenes, heaters glowed when it cut to a fire scene and water sprayed as the fireman tried to tackle the burning fire. The movie lasts around five minutes and is popular, especially if the weather takes a turn for the worse which it did towards the end of the day.
Keep an eye out for all the models hidden around the park. These include small LEGO figures on the roof of buildings right through to large scale sculptures dotted around the park. Also keep an eye out for rocks shaped as LEGO bricks!
The park features a huge flagship LEGO shop offering all the currently available LEGO sets and across from this was a clothes boutique selling adult and children's clothing. If we had one criticism it was there wasn't enough LEGOLAND souvenirs and clothing (branded with LEGOLAND). Undoubtedly the LEGO sets act as a souvenir but as far as gifts for friends and family go, there wasn't much choice when we went.
Overall, we found plenty to do without taking children though we could have used an extra day to explore a bit more of Miniland. If you are a fan of LEGO, perhaps having played with the iconic toy as a child, then a trip to the original branded theme park is a must!
LEGOLAND Billund Guide For The Little Ones
LEGOLAND Billund claim to have over 50 activities across the park but it felt like there was much more than that. The park caters for children of all ages and has rides for the very young right through to more intense thrill rides such as Power Builder, where you can control your own ride, rollercoasters and water rides.
The park is split up into several distinct themed areas.
Miniland offers real world scenes in LEGO sized formats. Iconic locations from around the globe have been recreated using millions of LEGO bricks and all scenes feature an interactive element or sounds and motion. Buses and trucks drive along, boats sail along, trains tootle along and even the airport is running to a strict schedule! New for 2011 was a Star Wars scene featuring a large AT-AT, Stormtroopers and the iconic pair of R2D2 and C3PO.
You'll also find the iconic LEGO train running around Miniland as well as the ever-popular Driving School where children aged 7-13 can drive in LEGO cars on a realistic roadway. Also check out the LEGO Safari ride and the Miniboats ride that takes you past amazingly detailed LEGO replica statues and sights from around the world, such as the Statue of Liberty.
Duplo Land has been developed for younger guests and features gentle rides suitable for parents and young children to go on together. A trip on the Monorail is a must for a bird's eye view over the park.
Pirate Land is surely self-explanatory, featuring pirate themed rides! The multi-dimensional pirate ship swings back and forth but also turns side to side too. There's a pirate ship ride where you can squirt water at passers-by - but they can also squirt water back at you in several places too! You will also find a small water park that is weather dependant where children can splash about, perfect on a hot sunny day.
Imagination Zone offers kids the chance to get close to sea life in the Atlantis ride, where a walk through the Sea Life centre follows a short LEGO animation presentation. There's also some water based amusements which are interactive and great for burning off excess energy!
Legoredo Town is a classic and is a Cowboy and Indians themed area of the park. Go panning for gold or ride the coasters. There's even a camp with authentic wigwams where we saw a group of guests toasting marshmallows on an open fire. Seasonal country and western concerts also take place here though these weren't running during our visit.
Adventure Land is where you'll find Egyptian themed rides such as The Temple and Jungle Racers - large scale LEGO swamp boats that you control as they spin around.
Knights' Kingdom is the castle themed area offering a couple of rides and a themed buffet restaurant. It's also the host to a seasonal water show which wasn't running when we visited.
Lastly there was LEGO city where the flagship ride has to be the Falck Fire Brigade, where families compete against each other to race in a LEGO fire engine to put out a fire. The amazing thrill ride Power Builder is also located here where children can program the robotic arm ride to move in whichever way they choose, creating a programme for the arm to thrash, rotate and tilt the passengers in all directions.
On top of the rides there are plenty of food and drink outlets serving everything from snacks (ice creams, doughnuts, pancakes, candyfloss, coffee, etc.) to full meals (buffet, hotdogs, chips, pizza, chicken, grills, pasta, etc.). Prices are reasonable and in line with typical theme park prices. There's also a selection of shops and boutiques selling LEGO toys and merchandise.
Rides have certain restrictions but the park has been well designed, offering enough to satisfy all age groups from very young toddlers right through to teenagers. Queues weren't that long with the longest wait time for us being just five minutes at the LEGOTOP, which offers amazing aerial views over the park.
Rides seemed to last for a few minutes each which helped keep the queues short and the children happy! There's nothing stopping you from re-join the queue after the ride for another trip if you wished.
Overall, it looked like great fun for kids of all ages and it is somewhere we would visit again (with children). The only difference is next time we've look at staying at the on-site Hotel LEGOLAND as part of a longer package to Denmark.
At the end of the day the coach transfer took us back to Esbjerg port where we queued for boarding. As part of this mini-cruise and the continued use of the cabin throughout the stay, we didn't need to check in which saved a little bit of time!
Had we have needed to, checking in as a foot passenger in Esbjerg is simple. The ticket office is easy to find and is the same one you walked through on departing the ship on your arrival. Once you have checked in it's a case of queuing for boarding. There aren't that many seats in the office as the bulk of passengers are car and campervan passengers so board that way.
We arrived around ten minutes before boarding commenced so there was a little standing around but it passed by quickly.
As soon as boarding was allowed, the queue moved swiftly with quick passport checks of all passengers. To be perfectly honest I think most of the passengers boarded in the space of five or ten minutes which is very quick indeed for passport control.
We made our way onto deck to watch the remaining cars, vans and camper vans drive onto the ship, which was fairly full with cargo destined for Britain.
The staff on-board the MS Dana Sirena pride themselves on punctuality
The staff on-board the MS Dana Sirena pride themselves on punctuality and the ship set sail perfectly on time. The weather leaving Esbjerg was patchy, with a little drizzle and a strong wind which meant there was very gentle rocking on the return journey but nothing too noticeable. There was a strong cross wind as we sailed out of the port but this tapered off as we turned to sail back to Britain. The ferry was carrying a nearly full load of cargo which helped weigh the ship down cutting through the waves rather than riding on top of them.
The ship arrived in Harwich at midday, welcomed by glorious sunshine and a very light breeze. We slowed to navigate around a container ship as we entered the port and expertly glided into the docking bay when we arrived at Harwich port.
Disembarking was swift, with a very small queue at the UK Border Agency checkpoint, partly due to the small amount of foot passengers on-board. A member of staff was waiting at the very end helping directing passengers to the exits and the correct platforms for onward rail journeys.
The mini-cruise we were on is rare in the sense that it only takes place a couple of times in the year. The day in port gives the crew a chance to deep clean the ship as well as get off in the evening and let their hair down in unsuspecting Esbjerg.
Unlike mini-cruises to Amsterdam where you can stay in Amsterdam itself if you want to and explore the city more, there is a limited amount of sightseeing you can do in Esbjerg without venturing further.
Nevertheless, we found this itinerary to be a great combination. We spent half a day in Esbjerg which is about the right amount of time in our opinion. The following day is spent in LEGOLAND which again is about right if you're travelling as a pair or group of adults. If you sail with children then you may find that a couple of days at LEGOLAND Billund would be better, with a hotel stay in the awesome LEGOLAND Hotel .
We'd say that this mini-cruise is perfect for adults or small families wanting a taster of Denmark, Esbjerg and LEGOLAND. As adults we crammed as much as we could into the day at LEGOLAND but would have easily spent a second day there exploring Miniland in more depth.
The best thing about this mini cruise was that it wasn't too restrictive, allowing a good half a day to explore Esbjerg which was great fun and worthwhile.
The only negative aspect was the disorganised feel at times, though this was down to lack of communication and inexperience. As more mini-cruises are offered in the future we reckon the systems and procedures to support these will tighten, resulting in a more professionally organised mini cruise experience.
We'd suggest considering an Esbjerg and LEGOLAND mini cruise to couples of any age as well as to small families with children. For ultimate LEGO fans and families with budding builders we'd suggest that taking your car and staying a little longer would be a smarter decision.
We have compiled a list of useful links that should be helpful if you are now considering your very own mini cruise (a festive break or otherwise) sailing with DFDS Seaways.
To really get the most out of a short break holiday to Denmark you ought to buy a guide book or a map if you are taking your car. A little bit of research before you go means you can maximise your time in this beautiful country, cramming in as much or as little as you choose to do. Clearly LEGOLAND Billund is a must but there are plenty of other sights to see too. Below are some suggestions of the most popular guide books for Denmark.