Cruise ports: This is advice for people who hate paying inflated prices for excursions and also enjoy taking public transit. My husband and I have always enjoyed learning the transit system of the cities we visit- they are cheap, reliable, and you feel a lot less like a tourist. We never had any problems using public transit in any of the cities on our cruise and if we had a question, people were always happy to help.
There are many places were you can get free wi-fi just outside the ship. Just remember that you can't just join the network - you also have to open a browser and click on "accept" or "join" which will invariably be in a lanugage other than English, but you should be able to figure it out.
I would also suggest you get 100 in Euros, which are accepted at most places in most countries (even the ones that don't use Euros.) Dollars are sometimes taken too, but you will get a better exhange rate with Euros (especially when we cruised, the dollar is very strong against the Euro.) However, take some one dollar bills for toilets - at places they'll ask for a dollar or Euro and of course the dollar is worth less.
We arrived 48 hours before our cruise in Copenhagen. It's easy to get a train from the airport to central station and from there you can get an S train, bus, or cab.
We booked the cruise through Priceline and I was very disappointed in their "free night hotel offer." The coupon was only good for $70 and I couldn't find any rooms for less than $140 a ight, even though there were plenty at that price on other sites. So I booked the Ascot Hotel and Spa for $135. Great location 5 minutes walk from central training station - close to Tivoli and Town Hall. Rooms are small, but clean and quiet. Staff was very helpful. The gym is tiny.
I got a Copenhagen Card which has free transit on everything EXCEPT the hop on buses. Here's what I did, in order of what I liked best:
- Canal Tours - 1 hour beautilful, relaxing way to see the city. You get it from Gammel across from Christianborg Palace.
- Rosenborg Palace - smallish beautiful palace with the amazing crown jewels.
- Danish Design Musuem- 10 minutes walk from Little Mermaid near where the cruise ships dock. Very extensive - not just Danish design and furniture, but from everywhere.
Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek - fantastic art collection and museum
- Amalienborg Palace- changing of the guard and small museum with nice exhibit of the queen's gowns from the last 40 years
- Danish Design Center - interesting exhibits but not nearly as extensive as the museum. (This is near Glyptotek.)
-Tivoli - NOT worth the 90 Kroner admission if you dont have the card unless you want to ride the rides. I saw a nice performance of comedic ballet but otherwise reminded me of Kennywood Park in Pittsburgh.
- The Copenhagen Card gives you access to the #11 Circle Bus which is a very small electrice bus that circles the central area. Great way to get around but don't except narration. Ironically the other person who didn't speak English on the whole trip was one of our bus drivers.
- I visited Christiana in the morning and not much to see. In the evening I'm sure it's more lively. This is the squatters commune but police have cracked down on drug use. If you visit the Savior's Church, the entrace is nearby ..66 bus will take you to the main gate.
- Little Mermaid is one of those things you have to do and right next to where the cruise ships dock when they come in for a day. But she's tiny. On the Canal Tours you will see her from the back pretty close. There are beautiful grounds nearby with a cool fountation and chuch.. on the way to the Design Museum.
- It's an expensive city, espeically dinner. Dont go for the 2- 3 course dinners.. try sandwiches or pizza.
-New Harbor is very pretty place to walk aroudn and have a drink or food.
-There are free bikes although keep in mind it might not be around if you go somewhere and put it in the stand. You put 20 Kroner in and get it out if you return to another free bike stand. If you are a short person you may not be able to get the seat down far enough. I'm 5'3" and could barely ride it.
-Biking is actualy the perferred mode of transit in Copenhagen so there are bike lanes on every street. If I didnt have the free transit I would have rented a bike and taken it everywhere. Be careful when you get off a bus or cross the street because you might be stepping into a bike lane.
-There is a great square that has tons of restaurants, most of which are pricey. But we ate at, which was very reasonable. I had a fantastic smoked salmon sandwich. And my husband loved the hot dogs at the Anderson Bakery directly across the street from the central train station in between the entrances to Tivoli and the Nimb building.
-Everyplace takes credit cards BUT you need a PIN. In hindsight I would have only changed $20 just to have some coins.
We wanted to take public transit to the ship but it is hard to get to Freeport Terminal. Reporteldy the best thing is the #26 bus, but the walk is 10-15 minutes, so we got a taxi. It was 150 Kroner. NCL took the bags from the trunk.. we didnt have to touch them. Check-in was easy and you can eat lunch in the Seven Seas dining room until 2pm.
Warnemeunde is the first port. Most people go to Berlin but since we've been there we opted for a relaxed day. Afer lunch on the boat, we took the train to Rostock, which has an old city center. The ship is 5 minutes walk from the train station. Before you get there pick up the helpful brochure from the tourist office on Rostock and Warnemeunde sights. Buy an all day ticket for 4 Euros. Take the S train to Rostock central station, then the #5 or 6 tram to New Market. Just use the same ticket.. no one asked to see if but you're supposed to validate it on the tram. The market had great fruit and veggies. Across the street is the pink Town Hall. Nearby is St. Marion church which was built in the early 1200's! It has amazing sculptures and an astronomical clock built in 1470. You can keep walking down the main shopping street until you get to the Fountain of Joy, which would be way too erotic for any U.S. city. Keep going and youll get to one of the city's old gates and fortifications. You can then take the tram back.
Warnemeunde is a vacation spot for Germans with a beach. I'm not sure if its ever warm enough to actually go in the water. Lots of shops and resaurants along the inlet with a beer garden right next to the train station. Beautiful old lighthouse you can go up for 2 Euros.
Tallin, Estonia is one of the best-preserved cities in Europe. Estonia has been occupied almost continually over its history and you get the impression that it was a sleepy backwater for decades, no, make that centuries. So the great part is you can still see buildings from medieval times. the ship docks 15-20 minutes from old town. NCL didn't have a shuttle bus, but the Celebrity ran one for $10. If you walk, you'll probably enter through Fat Margaret's Tower. I was going to take an 11 am two hour tour with City Bike, which is near that entrance. But they said they didn't have the required two people. I also decided maybe I didn't want to do do it because it's all outside the old town. You can also rent a bike here for only 1.5 Euros an hour, much cheaper than bike shops near the center of town. It's on Uus St. just past the gate.
I said on Uus until I got to the center of town. While Tallin is amazing in terms of all the buildings, I'm not sure there's too much worth seeing inside them. You could buy a Tallin Card and go to all the tiny museums but none of the guidebooks suggested any of the musuems were great. I did pay 4 Euros to go inside the Town Hall. It was interesting and I guess it was worth it, but it doesn't cover going up into the tower.
The Town Hall is the best prereved Gothic building in Europe and the central focus of the square, which has at least 5 restaurants. Oddly there is just one bench to sit on; apparently the idea is to sit at a restaurant and drink or eat.
Most of excursions I saw for Tallin involve walking tour but the tourist info office just off the square has a FREE on every day at noon. It's 2 hours and was very well done because the guides work for tips. Yes, it was a little big but I could always hear the guide. We went outside Old Town and saw the Estonian independence monument which looks like a shrine to the Euro. Then we saw the Viru gates which have cannonballs imbedded in the walls.
We walked up to the pink Parliament building, which is across the Nevsky Cathedral, built a century ago. I walked inside and then left the tour to meet my husband. We ate lunch at Hunt Heel which was cited in Steves guidebook. The turnip soup was fantastic and the shephered's pie decent.
We walked to the nearby Holy Spirit chucch which is the oldest church in Tallin, dating from the 14th century. It has fantastic wooden carvings and altar, but we couldn't get close because there was a mass going on in English.
I did some shopping afterwards, buying some amber earrings. I'm not sure how the prices compare to elsewhere. Amber is one of the main thigns to b uy here, along with woolen sweaters, linen, and things made out of wood (half the country is forested.)
I walked down the main street of Viru, returning by the main gate where the shuttle bus goes and taxis wait. Just before you leave, there are stalls selling handicrafts along the wall of the city.
I bouught two pairs of amber earrings at a shop on Viru and the prices seemed to be much better than what I saw in St Petersburg and also on the ship when they had ther "50% off" sale.
Even if it wasnt required to book a guided tour here I think it would be a good idea. It's such a big city and the sites are spread out. I had heard good things about SPG Tours and they were by far the cheapest alternative. We paid $190 for a "moderate" two day tour, which is supposed to be a little more relaxed.
First, getting off the ship was amazingly easy. I thought NCL would try to get its own tours off first but there's nothing to stop you from walking off. The whole disembarkation process took about 15 minutes. Our small bus had 15 of us, a great size. Elena was a great guide. We saw all the big sights - you can read the description. My only complaint was we stood in line for 75 minutes to get into Catherine's Palace. Elena wasnt sure which line to stand in .. you would think she would know but maybe they change it up. We were almost in when a scary guy told us we had to go to the back of the 2nd line. At least it was a nice day and there are worse places to wait.
It's hard to say what the highlights are since everything was so beautiful. Probably Peterhof gardens and the Moscow subway stations. One tip - we were supposed to stroll on the main thoroughfare and we asked our guide to go to a grocery store. At first she steered us to the most expensive store in town, but when I protested, she told me about Passage. one block away. The grocery part is in the basement and you can use up all your rubles on chocolates, candies, etc. that would cost you double or triple elsewhere.
My other main tip is be sure to change some money into rubles. First, you will need them for the public toilets - 20 rubles. We also used them for lunch because we went to casual places. We had blinis at Peterhof..very good (red fish=salmon.) And we had pierogis at Stooler near St. Peter and Paul fortress. Not like pierogis I'm used to but more like pies.
After St Petersburg, Helsinki is rather anticlimatic. I would say if you are really tired you could even skip it or do just a half-day on shore. Helsinki is not an old city and was even modeled after St Petersburg, but it is much plainer.
I had heard that the 7 Euro tourist card is a great way to see the city as you can use it on trams, buses, and even the ferry to Suomenlinna. But there's just one problem.. you can't buy the card on a regular bus or at port. Maybe you can get it online beforeheand, but here's what I did. I walked into town from where we docked, which was Hernesaan Artholmen. (Alas, smaller ships are able to dock right in the center of town but we were too big.) I walked 45 minutes to Market Square. It's a lovely walk and you can do a lot of it along the sea but does take up sometime. Then I bought the tickets at the Tourist Info office and took the #16 bus back to the ship to collect my husband. I could have bought a single ticket on the #16 but I think that was at least 2 Euros.
The bus takes about 15 minutes from the ship to the square- it's not that far, but there was quite a bit of traffic along the Esplanade, their main shopping street. Market Square is lively - the best part are all the little stalls. Now you wouldn't want to buy any goods because Finland is ridiculously expensive, but there was some very interesting seafood available.
I needed to go the bathroom but the Tourist Info office didn't have one and directed me to City Hall. I walked up a bunch of stairs but it was actually the Lutheran Cathedral which was probably the sparsest house of worship I've ever been it. There is a WC which you have to pay 1 Euro or dollar to use.
We then got o the ferry to Suomenlinna, which was free with out Tourist Card. It's a lovely 15 minute ride. It's absolutely free to walk around the site, which is a UNESCO heritage site, but you have to pay to go into the various museums. You could spend all day there but we just walked to the Finnish submarine and back.
Then we got on the 3T Tram which goes all over town in an hour loop. You can of course get off and on as much as you want. We were pressed for time so we just got off at the Church of the Rock. It certainly is unlike any church I've ever seen, arising from granite. It looks a little weird from the outside but is enhanting inside. If you belive Christ is the rock then you can almost feel it.
When you exit the church, if you make a right and then a left at the first street, you'll see the School of Economics, which has an interesting facade of what looks to be sterotypical people from all over the world, including a cowboy. You can get the tram from here, but we made a left and got on the 14B bus, which also goes back to the cruise terminal.
The main train station is a gorgeous Art Deco building - would have liked to have time to see the inside.
My biggest regret was I saw a nice Design Museum, which I would have liked to have gone to, but didn't have time.
ALSO, there was free wi-fi just outside the ship, which was great. We were even able to access it IN the ship by resting my iPad against our window.
I woke early and enjoyed going past the many islands of the archipalego. (You go back the same way so make sure to catch it in the afternoon if you like to sleep in. There are countless tiny islands with just one or two houses. I assume they are vacation homes.
Coming into Stockholm harbor was definitely the most breathtaking of all our entrances. Stockholm is actually made up of many islands and you can see them all spread before you. Do NOT do an excursion in Stockholm unless you want to get out of the city. There are hop-on boats just beside where you dock and the price is only 10 Euros or 15 dollars. It was a fantastic way to see the city - amazing views and no stress over traffic. We took the Aphrodite boat because it seemed a little nicer and even had a WC on board, but they are all the same price. BTW, there is no need to get Swedish kroner.. every place took either Euros in cash or a credit card.
The boat makes 8 stops, which is more than adeuqate for seeing the city. Unfortunately we had a very limited time in port - 8:15 to 2:30 so we had to rush through things. Boats comes every half hour, so be sure to get a schedule so you can time getting back to the stop and don't have to wait. The boats are very good about staying on schedule.
While virtually everything doesn't open until 10, the Vasa museum opesn at 8:30, so go there first. We had the place almost to ourselves for the first hour and then it was filled with tour groups.
The Vasa is even more impressive than I imagined. I have never seen anything like it before. Imagine a ship hundreds of years older than the Titantic sinking on its maiden voyage and being almost perfectly perserved. There's a great 25 minute film you should watch that explains the ship's creation and demise. You could stay here for hours but we did it in about an hour and 15 minutes.
The hop-on boat made a couple of stops and then we arrived at the south end of old town. We walked about 2 blocks in from the water and then north. Head to where the Nobel musuem is and you'll find yourself in a beautiful square. We didn't have time to go in the museum. If you are facing the museum, there is a street behind you and if you go walk half a block, there is a great little cafe. We had quiche and a sandwich and ate in their courtyard. They took credit cards.
We then walked up to the palace. (It's a 10 minute walk from the hop on boat stop.) This is a large complex and we timed to get there for the changing of the guards. My advice is get there for the end of it because there are so many people around. A band plays for half an hour. They played popular tunes including what I could have sworn was the theme from the Love Boat. At the end they do the guard change which is pretty cool. I was able to get a good view because I bought a palace ticket and there is an archway you can view things from just before the old palace museum. But I think anyone can go there - just look for the entrance to Tor.
I'm sure most people come to the palace just to wander around and see the guards. You can also walk up to the royal chapel for free. However I did buy the 20 Euro combo ticket which provides entry to 4 museums - the royal apartments, the old palace, the treasury and antiquities museum. I liked the apartments - it's the Roccocco style, but unfortunately some of them were closed due to the darn king being there. The treasury has a numbered of jeweled crowns but unfortunately no actual jeweles. The Old Palace was very interested - it burned shortly after it was built in the 1600's but you can see some of the original rooms and furnishings. I didn't make it to the antinquities room.
When I exited the old palace, I was facing a beautiful park so I walked over and took some pictures. You can see the opera house and some ornate historic buildings. Then I walked back to the palace and the stop for the hop-on boat. It was 45 minutes back to our ship so unfortunately I didn't have time to get off at any of the other stops, but at least the recorded narration alerted us to some beautiful buildings, including the gorgeous drama school Garbo attended.
It was almost heartbreaking to leave Stockholm and get back on the Sun. Many of my fellow cruisers said we would have preferred to have skipped a day in Helsinki to spend 2 days in Stockholm. We did see a few people exit in Stockholm with their luggage so that might be an option if you wanted to spend a few days in Sweden.
Over the next five hours, we went through the archipalego and the captain was great at pointing out various sights, such as a prison for rich people and the Hitchcock islands - tiny isles covered with blackbirds.
In summary, I would rank the ports like this in order of enjoyment and interesting things to do:
St. Petersburg, Stockholm, Copenhagen, Tallin, Helsinki and Rostock are kind of a tie.
We heard that the Sun was tired and food not so great and I will just say those people are way too picky. It's a fine ship.. food is good, never have to wait for a table, and the furnishings looked fine to me. My only main complaint if like all ships they use that horrific ice tea formula but I ask for a pot of tea and ice and make my own at the table.
My husband and I are tryig to eat healthy and it's really not hard to do. Every dinner has a light entree and you can just ask them to put sauce on the side. You can always eat by yourself if you want.. there are plenty of tables for
We have a cabin with a porthole which is well designed.. can fit all your stuff just fine and put suitcases under the bed. There's even a closeline in the shower for swimsuits or if you want to wash clothes.
They have seasick pills at the reception desk which helped on the way from Warnemende to Tallin. Our cabin is at the front of the ship so it's a bit choppy.
The service we have had has all been great. Bottom line is I have no reservations about recommending the Sun. Here are the highlights:
Great itenerary with good time in ports. No tenders and no issues disembarking. I was always off the ship in two minutes, except Russia and that was only 15, due to immigration. BTW, while you should always take your passport with you, I was only ever asked for it in Russia.
Excellent service in restaurants and cabin - we alternated in both 4 and 7 Seas. To me its hard to tell the difference. The best thing is to just check both menus in the atrium on 5.
Great food - good variety and every night they have a regional speciality. They even have a tapas bar which is a fun place to go for appetizers before dinner. I don't understand the people who said the food was the same--every night there are 4 new entires. Now, the lunch menu is the same, but you are only eating lunch on board a few days.
Good entertainment - pretty similiar to other cruise ships with Broadway review type shows. They also have local groups come on the ship to perform. The German show was good and the St Petersburg Military Ensemble was fantastic with traditional Russian singing and dancing. They also have a nice variety of acts in the various lounges. One thing I enjoyed was the singers from the ship's production team would sing cabaret style in the lounges.
We also enjoyed Marinelle who sang Adele/Alanis Morisette type songs with a guitar, and the showband's performances. There was a great French acrobat team.
Also no one in the lounges gave us a hard time about not ordering drinks. They would ask once and when we said no they wouldnt pester us.
The fitness center is large for a ship this size. I never had to wait to use the elliptical trainers or the weights. They also offer a free stretch and abs class early in the AM, but charge for most of the other classes.
Cabin rooms are well designed and the beds are quite comfortable.
This is not a gigantic ship, which we appreciated. I know some people like the mega ships, but on a ship this size, you get to know most of areas and you're not walking endlessly. Also, it seems like you keep seeing the same people over and over again.
The freestyle concept really is embraced wholeheartedly--not just for meals. For example, you can choose what time you want to disembark (within a 2 hour window.).
Perhaps because we were one of the season's first sailings, people werent always knowlegable about things. I was trying to get info about disembarkation for a prviate tour in St Petersburg and the customer service person was pretty rude. I know they hate when you don't pay their exorbiant prices for excursions but they should at least be able to tell you what gangway to take.
I also kept asking if there was going to be a shuttle bus at Tallin and they said no-you don't need one. Well,you certainly do if someone has difficulty walking a mile. They could have at least said, well, we dont have one but there's a good chance one of the other cruiselines will be running one. When I saw there was a shuttle bus, I had a discussion with the asst. cruise director who was standing outside and he said, "You're not allowed to take it becaue it's just for Celebrity." That's ridiculous - if a bus isnt free, they are happy to collect $10 from anyone.
It would be awesome if a cruiseline actually helped you tour independently, but they would probably go broke without their high priced excursions so I'll just do my own research and let all the saps go on those overcrowded tours. The Excursion desk actually does have map of each port so don't be shy about asking.
Prices on the speciality restaurants are way too high.. even the Italian one has a $10 cover and others go up to $25. THEN you have to pay even more for items like lobster.