Sailing the Baltic on Emerald Princess
Baltic & Northern Europe
I travelled the Baltic on the Emerald Princess with my 82 year old mom.
Once aboard, our balcony mini-suite was comfortable and roomy, as described. Meals were fine, although occasionally the evening menu was a bit too eclectic and out there for my taste, and I'm a foodie. Their standard "always available" menu is excellent. The Horizon buffet was very good with many choices.
Evening entertainment included ballroom dancers (so-so), a magician (so-so), a juggler (amazing and hilarious), a Beatles tribute band (great fun) and the EP singers and dancers (fantastic). Playing throughout the ship was a truly fine classical string quartet (all lovely young ladies), a soft jazz combo with singer, Evolution cover band, and a few others. Something for everyone.
Onto the shore excursions, comments are listed individually. But a few points about Russia:
It's all about the bathrooms, and traffic. We did EP excursions both days, but also had a special AAA More
tour to St. Catherine's. Guides were competent, knowledgeable and utterly humorless. We used EP but if I were to do it again, I'd try something else. It's difficult to appreciate the sights when you're so frustrated by the iron control the Russians still exert over their guests. Check your other options. Also YOU WILL BE LATE to everything, so don't book two excursions too close together in time. You will leave late, and you will arrive back late, up to a couple hours. Save yourself stress and don't plan things too close together.
Personal add-on to Bergen, Norway. After the cruise I spent 4 days in Bergen on my own. What a lovely city! But not for the disabled or those who need level ground. It's all on steep hills, and they're so steep there are staircases between the streets. I booked a cozy, utterly simple room with Ingrid's Summer Rooms. She is lovely, the room is clean, quiet, with shared bath and fridge. There's a grocery store 5 minutes away. I ate nothing at a restaurant. It's terribly expensive to do anything in Norway, but I did do the Norway Active tour for my splurge and loved every minute of it. PS, there's also a Noa Noa store near the beginning of the light rail. I got the 48 hour Bergen card and it was well worth it for me. Even with the price of the card I saved over 500 kroner on the things I did. It includes all bus and light rail, a big plus. Less
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Cabin review: Emerald Princess Mini-Suite with Balcony Dolphin D714
D714 was right across from the laundry room, very handy. Because it's very far aft, we did a lot of walking to mid-ships and front to the theatre, but it's right in line with the food, both above and below. It was quiet and comfortable.
Port and Shore Excursions
Aarhus: the sleeper destination. Didn't expect much but enjoyed it very much. We visited the old town Den Gamle By and I went on to the modern art museum (with the rainbow walking circle on top) on our own. No need to book tours for these. They're a 10 minute walk from the ship, and you have much more autonomy on your own.
Copenhagen: Before we set sail we spent 3 days at the Radisson Blu Royal in Copenhagen as part of the AAA tour we had booked. Very convenient to the sights and the train station. While there we had a couple of organized tours to Kronborg and Fredericksborg castles (well worth the journey) and in-town to Tivoli Gardens for dinner. We also used the Hop-On Hop-Off bus, which was nice for my mom to see the city without a lot of walking. I did quite a bit of exploring on my own two feet. If you have energy and two good legs, you don't need any organized tour. The city is easy to get around. Beware of the cyclists, however. Bikes are serious business and have their own lanes, walkers, beware!
Helsinki: a breath of fresh air after Russia, literally. I chose a bike tour with EP and it was lovely. Other people highly recommended the farm visit and the home visit.
Oslo: you can get a 24 hour bus/ferry pass at the 7-Eleven very near the city hall, to the right of it as you approach. The machines at the stations only take cash and the machine right outside the cruise terminal...well, I never saw it. The line at the Tourist Information both at the terminal and in town is LONG and they DON'T SELL bus passes! These are more for organizing tours and bookings. The sculpture Vigeland is well worth the visit, but again, you don't need to book a tour to enjoy it. Take Tram 12, from the stop to the left of the City Hall down by the quay. It's also very easy to catch the ferry there to Bygdoy to the Fram museum and the old village. The old village was lovely, but many buildings were closed.
Warnemunde: We debated about Berlin and decided to stay close. I booked a Friends of Dave tour. He is an American who's lived 13 years in Germany. He was very highly recommended on Trip Advisor. We found him to be knowledgeable, friendly, fun, and worth the booking. This was an independent booking I made on-line. A family situation necessitated his cutting the tour short from a full day to half day but he made a very fair cash refund to us and in fact, I was glad I had the other half day to walk the beach, do a little shopping (there's a Noa Noa store in the ground floor of the big hotel on the beach) and climb the lighthouse.
It's all amber, and if you love amber it's wonderful, but it's just a room.
Aside from the 2 hour traffic jam getting there, we had the palace to ourselves, about 50 in our group. We were greeted by a band, there was a harpsichordist, a flutist, and a string quartet playing. We had champagne and were visited by Queen Catherine herself. There was dancing, a carriage, a tour of the amber room (I think it's there....I know we saw it), a tour of the carriage house, and then we had dinner walking distance away. More than made up for the frustrations of Peterhof earlier in the day.
Very crowded, similar to Peterhof in many ways, with some beautiful art.
St. Petersburg: It's all about the bathrooms, and traffic. Peterhof, St. Catherine's, the Hermitage are somewhat similar, all full of gilded treasures. But logistics, getting there, were awful. Both Peterhof and St. Catherine's are about 20 km from the city center. We were in a 2 hour traffic jam to both and I swear the guide never drew breath the whole time, never stopped telling us things. Logistically, the visit to Peterhof was very frustrating. Our coach left an hour late, and spent an hour in traffic. Once at Peterhof, there's the obligatory potty stop. There are 5 ladies stalls. There were 75 women in line. And our guide told us that he could not let us use pay potties, even though they were availble, no lines, and we were willing. Supposedly he would be reprimanded, since our fee "paid" for the potties. But we wasted 2 hours getting there, and 45 minutes waiting for 7 of our group to use the ladies' room, and of course, the group could never separate. So we never did see the gardens or walk to the sea as promised. The ship did make a concession and refunded 15% of the price back to us (I don't know if it did to others, but I made a friendly but pointed complaint about the mechanics of the trip to the shore excursion desk). I'm told that if you book with an independent group, and your group is small, you can cut to the front of the line, and probably have a little more flexibility. We used EP but if I were to do it again, I'd try something else. It's difficult to appreciate the sights when you're so frustrated by the iron control the Russians still exert over their guests. Check your other options.
St. Isaac's Cathedral
A lot like the mosques in Istanbul...huge, open, beautiful
Stockholm: had barely 6 hours there. I took the ferry (10 Euros for all day) for a quick visit to the Vasa and to the old town on my own. The ferry makes three stops: the ship, the Vasa and the Royal Palace, until 10:30 a.m. After that it makes the complete round of 11 stops. So if you want to get places quickly, try to hop on that ferry early.
Tallinn: Old, old, old. A mix of modern people in an ancient habitat. We did an EP shore excursion. Quite reasonable for the 3 hours and comparable to on-shore independent tours I checked. Don't scorn the Song Festival Grounds. This site is so fundamentally important to Estonians. They say they "sang their way to independence" from the Soviets. Both the Upper Town and Lower Town have their merits. We toured the upper and I explored the lower with a friend.