Port and Shore Excursions
Copenhagen - Overall, a great country with friendly, helpful people. LOVED Tivoli Gardens! We did a walking tour with Richard Karpen - http://www.copenhagenwalks.com/1024x768/default.htm He was excellent, even for our kids, ages 11-18. It was very helpful to learn a bit about the area before exploring on our own. He has a great way of telling a story and presenting the information. Another amazing tour we did was a Jewish Copenhagen tour by a lady that has kids herself, Charlotte Thalmay - http://www.jewish-copenhagen.dk/the_rescue_route.html. There is a children's award winning book called "Number the Stars" about how the people of Copenhagen rescued the Jews during the Holocaust.The lady that does the tour father was on the boat talked about in the book. The tour was basically the book coming to life. She is a story teller and my kids all paid very close attention and loved this tour. Really, I can't say enough about how great this tour was. It is a tour I will always remember.
Helsinki, Finland - To us, this was the dullest of the ports and not very interesting. This would be the day to take a break if you need one after 2 days in the amazing St. Petersburg.
This is the day after the 2 full days in St. Pete so we went to the zoo. It is on a beautiful little island and they have some unique wild cats there, as well as a tiger and lion. It was a small but interesting little zoo that my kids enjoyed. There really wasn't anything else to do in Finland. We were there on a Sunday which was also a holiday. Market Square was closed but we walked around that area. I didn't see anything of interest to kids/teens. Glad we did the zoo.
Germany - My husband and two older kids went to Berlin with SPB tours, a tour we booked with other families from our roll call. They said that all went very well and their guide, Heidi, was excellent. They learned so much and had a great day. I wanted to do something with my other kids, ages 11 and 13 so we did a ship's tour with NCL called Rail, River, Road that went to Rostock. It was okay. Our guide was very dull and I didn't find Rostock very interesting but I knew my younger kids were not ready for the 3 hour trip to Berlin. We also walked around Warnemunde, climbed the lighthouse there, shopped, and had ice cream. The beach was beautiful but too cold to swim (mid June). It was a nice area but not enough to fill a day.
St. Petersburg - St. Petersburg was our favorite! We didn't overdo the museums but the one my sons loved the most was the Artillery Museum. We heard from others that said by the time they were done with their two day tours, all of the museums and palaces started running together and it was just too much of the same thing over and over. We are glad we mixed it up. My husband took my boys to the Artillery Museun with our driver and guide while my girls and I went to the ballet. We did a noon ballet performance at the Mariinsky theater. We bought the tickets directly from the Mariinsky website and paid 1/4 the price! TJ travel knew just want to do and we picked up the tickets the day before at the theater. It took 5 minutes. We loved this theater! We did do Peterhof, all of the fountain areas and the palace there, but we didn't do any other palace or museum. We drove to Peterhof and took the hydrofoil boat back on the first day. The Hermitage is too big to conquer on such a short trip. Also, something else we did that was the absolute highlight of our trip was an orphanage visit to Baby House #16. We got to play with the 3 year old group for 2 hours for their "outside time" from 4 to 6 the first day. The kids all said this was the best thing they have done on the whole trip, even my sons, who were reluctant. It was such a hit that TJ travel is planning on adding this as an option to their tours. I had set it up myself because I had been on past trips with Orphan Outreach. We also did the inside of St Isaac's cathedral, inside and out of Church of the Spilled Blood, a visit to the old farmer's market, a visit to the new metro stop/station (to see the art work and ride the very long escalator down, which our kid loved) a visit to a chocolate store (where you still buy like they did in Soviet times), had lunch at Sadko with traditional Russian food and great service (but kind of pricey), and made a few other stops for picture on our two day tour with TJ Travel. We never felt rushed because we didn't try to jam in tons of stops. We had planned a public canal tour at 7:00 on the first day but were too tired so we canceled this and went back to the ship. We also had about an hour to shop the 2nd day at a place with good prices compared to another place we had stopped. Our guide was absolutely amazing! We learned so much from her and she had a way with kids as well as adults. Her name is Alla Semenova and her email is email@example.com TJ travel was the tour company and they were great. Everything went extremely well from start to finish. My kids said this was their favorite guide of the whole trip.
Stockholm Sweden - We combined the Vasa Museum with Skansen, since they are close together. One thing that I didn't see mentioned much on these boards is the issue of transportation in Stockholm. You really do need a plan in advance! It is somewhat chaotic. The Hop On Hop Off bus is expensive if you just need it to get to Vasa and takes longer. We prebooked a taxi from Stockholm Taxi a few weeks in advance and we are glad we did. Otherwise, it would have been a very late start to the day. I didn't see any easy way to quickly leave the port area. Also, getting to the Vasa early is critical We were able to get there at 8:50 AM and beat the crowds. We watched the 9:00 show in English and did the 9:30 tour in English and then had free time. By then, the line was out the door! Skansen was much nicer than I expected. My kids loved the animals there. We could have spent all day there but we had to be back on the ship by 2:30. Skansen is great for all ages. Make sure to arranage a pick up time for a taxi. You don't want to use any taxi company in Stockholm because prices aren't regulated and you can get a very high bill at the end of a ride. I read about this beforehand. Taxi Stockholm was one recommended and we were pleased.
Tallinn, Estonia - We booked in advance the KGB museum by sending them an email. No deposit is needed. You can learn about it at - http://www.sokoshotels.fi/en/hotels/tallinn/basic-information/hotel-viru-and-kgb-museum/ I highly recommend this if you are any interest in the Soviet period or want to learn more. The tour guide makes this tour. It was fascinating! I learned more than I expected about the Soviet era. We also booked in advance the Kiek Kok tunnels. My kids liked this also. We also walked around the Old Town. One thing I wanted to mention was that we were under the impression that the cruise dock was very close to Old Town. It wasn't really that close and there were no taxis waiting. It was at least a 30 minute brisk walk. The walled town was also more spread out than I had imagined. It wasn't a problem for us but would definitely be a problem if you have issues with long walks or if the weather was poor. It wasn't as straight forward as I was lead to believe.