We have just returned from a two week vacation like none other. Two days in Amsterdam and 12 days on-board Celebrity Constellation touring the Baltic. We were told to pack for wet, cold weather - but we lucked out and had blue skies almost every day. The ship, although ten years old, was like an old friend returning for a nice long embrace. The ports-of-call gave an amazing overview of the Baltic region with their collective and individual histories. And we booked all shore excursions, save one, independently - which was terrific!
Traveling in late May to a northern region can be tricky. I packed two pairs of tennis shoes in case one got wet in the rain. I packed an umbrella. I packed sweat shirts and long sleeve shirts. But none of that was necessary because it was gorgeous! Our day in Germany was 85 degrees and sunny - pack sun screen, which I forgot (unfortunately!). Stockholm, Helsinki, St Petersburg, and Tallinn were in the seventies with lots of sun. Only Denmark was overcast with occasional drizzle. My sun-kissed face is evidence of the amazing luck we had with Mother Nature!
The Constellation was a joy. Returning to her after a long absence was the right thing to do. We had been cruising on Royal Caribbean, which always disappointed. But Celebrity is top notch, as far as we are concerned. The ship holds half the passengers of the larger ships in the industry, so it was a pleasant, non-crowded feel. And Celebrity food can not be beat! I even asked the Executive Chef if they were serving cinnamon ice cream (which I have only ever had on the Celebrity Millennium) which they were not. That and After Eight are our favrites ... So he had cinnamon and After Eight made every night for us ... double portions of both! The attention to detail, the genuine courtesy of the staff, and the calm demeanor of the entire ship makes it my favorite cruise to date. My only negative comment is the terrible casino on board. The slot machines have not been upgraded - so there are no electronic tickets. Coins are still used! It's unbearable if you are a slot player, like myself. And none of the machines payed. I have been on a lot of ships that don't pay very often. These machines didn't pay AT ALL. Very disappointing.
The Baltic itinerary was perfect. There is so much history in that part of the world. We started with two days in Amsterdam - staying at The Times Hotel at Herengracht 137, reserved online at Booking.com. It was the perfect choice - great location, not fancy, affordable. You must see the Anne Frank House - but book in advance at their website to avoid hours in line. This museum is a slap in the face - a cold hard reminder of Nazi occupied Netherlands, and very emotional. And then the first port of the cruise was Warnemunde (Berlin) Germany, where we toured Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp. This set the theme of our cruise: World War II devastation throughout Europe. Every city that we visited was part of the Nazi tapestry telling their individual perspectives and experiences. It was an enlightening experience.
For Berlin, we booked our shore excursion through the ship. It was $325 per person to take a train to Sachsenhausen, then a bus to Berlin. A nice family-style lunch was included in Berlin, and several photo stops. And then a three-hour train ride back to Warnemunde and the ship. It's a long day - but absolutely worth it. We met friends in Stockholm - so that was a great day exploring the city (don't miss the Vasa Museum!). In Helsinki we booked a Hop-On Hop-Off Tour with City Discovery. It was comprehensive but not great. The pre-taped tour informed us that the Church in the Rock was closed for repair. Which, it turned out, was not true. That was a disappointment. In Saint Petersburg we booked with TJ Tours. This was truly a magnificent decision. The tour was 14 people (a manageable amount) in a Mercedes van. Everyone that we spoke to that was associated with the cruise industry told us that we must book Russia with the ship or we would not be able to get off the boat. THIS IS NOT TRUE. TJ Tours took care of everything. They sent us tickets in advance that were also our visas to get into the country. We got to see and tour everything that we wanted to see and tour - and we had dinner with a Russian family! (Highlight!) The two-day tour was $285 per person, including two great lunches; and the dinner was an additional $110 per person. Don't miss TJ Tours. (Fellow cruisers that had booked with ALLAH Tours told me that they were disappointed ...) I plan to write them a lengthy thank you letter. Tallinn, we booked another Hop-On Hop-Off with City Discovery - which was perfect. This is a port that you will want to explore on foot. Don't miss the yarn shops if you are a knitter! Copenhagen was the same - but it was chilly and wet - so we hopped onto the bus and stayed on until we were back at the boat!
This is a vacation that I will remember a life time. Gorgeous weather on a relaxed ship visiting picturesque/historic regions of northern Europe. Celebrity pampered us with their cuisine (don't miss the backstage tour of the kitchen). Critics say that one day (or less in some places) in port is not enough to really see the area. And that's true, to some extent. I will definitely have to go back to Saint Petersburg to tour the Hermitage and the Winter Palace in depth. But it is a comprehensive starter tour for those of us who have never been to the region. And there is no better was to travel than a cruise!