We started with 2 nights pre-cruise in Copenhagen. We got the 24 hour Copenhagen Pass at the airport which included all public transportation and admission for over 65 attractions and museums. We were on high speed as soon as we landed so this Pass was an amazing deal for us. We took the train from the airport to the center of Copenhagen (about a 45 minute trip) and checked into our hotel. One word of warning that I know others discussed as well, but make sure your train is heading the right direction. It's easy to think you have the right track and get on it the wrong direction. We stayed at Clarion Mayfair Collection Hotel which was selected since it was walkable from the Central Copenhagen Train Station (two short blocks). Also, the fact that it included a full breakfast, a tea time as well as a light dinner from 6-9 pm. Trip Advisor had given the hotel amazing reviews but the one bad issue I saw that most often came up against it was that it was on the cusp of the red light district and had a "club" across the street. I found that once getting there, in reality, it was really just a great landmark with the lights of the signs an easy way for finding our hotel in the evening, since it is right across. It was more of an upscale Gentleman's Club and by no means an issue. It did not feel unsafe or seedy in any way but yes, there is definitely huge signage letting you know that "Lady Love" is there. :-) We had a room overlooking the front of the hotel and found no noise coming from it. The included food was excellent at the hotel and the "light dinner" that we did attend both evenings was so much more than we were expecting. Very creative and tasted great which is why we did make a special trip back the second night just for this. They change the menu each night but both of our nights were amazing and fun things to try.
Copenhagen: I had been here before in the late 70's and loved this city, but my husband had not, so having the Copenhagen Pass, we started with some of the basics that were all included in the pass price. This pass is pretty extensive and there was nothing that we had wanted to do that wasn't included in the admission price, so it is an excellent deal if you plan to go to more than a few of the places on this pass. We started with the Canal tour that is about an hour long and gives you a quick overview of this very walkable city. Our tour was done in English so we got a very good insight of the foundation. Like most European cities, this too had a pedestrian street that we walked with lots of shops and restaurants , although we used it only as a street to get from point A to point B. Since we had taken an all night flight and didn't get in until the afternoon, we were exhausted, but after dinner, we went in to Tivoli. This is a scenic amusement park that is known to be Walt Disney's inspiration for Disneyland. We were not there to ride rides, but to see the place lite up at night. I'm not sure it is a good deal if you are paying to just walk around but with it free with the pass, it worked out great for us. The Nimb Restaurant is gorgeous with all the lights and fountains. I had wanted to get smrrebrd which is a Danish open faced sandwich, unlike anything we have in our country so since my first choice place of Ida Davidsen wasn't opened on weekends (I had seen it when Samatha Brown was doing a Copenhagen segment), we went instead to Groften in Tivoli. Normally, I wouldn't have paid admission to get in the park to go here, but we were already in. Tivoli has many of the Michelin Awarded restaurants so this isn't a typical amusement park with unappealing fast food. At night, they have many free concerts and stage shows. The night we were there, they had anything from ballet to an Australian band called Wolf Mother that I would say is a cross between Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath with a few others tossed in. Since this was the night we flew in, we watched a few numbers, took lots of night time pictures, ate since although we had the light dinner, that came in as lunch time since we were still on east coast time in the U.S and then went back to the hotel. The next morning, we got up and after a great breakfast at the hotel and we headed to Christiansborg Palace and were actually going for the ruins underground, but first ended up at the admissions desk for the actual palace and since it was included in our pass with separate admissions, we did both. This is the palace that the Queen of Denmark will use on occasion for her various receptions. Very elegant but we really didn't stay long since we were really there for the ruins which were fascinating. From there, we went to Rosenborg Castle where the Crown Jewels are. Lovely grounds as well. All of this is very walkable and we headed over to Rundetaarn which is the Round Tower which is the oldest functioning observatory in Europe but has a viewing platform of the city at the top. You get up by walking a cobblestone spiral type road inside the building. Since we had a great sunny day and enjoyed our view from the top here, we headed to the s-baun to the Church of our Saviour which took a lot more energy since it's a lot of stairs on the inside and then an external winding staircase in the corkscrew spire. With the wind and small path, it made it a bit hair raising but was quite an adventure. Our pass was coming to the end of the 24 hours so we headed over to the Hans Christian Anderson Museum which was near our hotel since we were tired and wanted to be there for tea time. This is one thing I would probably pass on in the future but since we didn't actually pay for it, it was acceptable. It has a lot of displays with HC Anderson's various stories where they give you the 2 or 3 minute version in an animated display in various languages with some history about him, but surely not worth a special trip. We took a short trip over to the Amber Museum which has the largest personally owned piece of amber on display and all sorts of other pieces, but again, nothing to make a special trip for. Spent some time in Nyhavn which is the adorable harbor there and probably the area that most would be familiar with the pictures from this part of town. We had seen the Little Mermaid from the canal tour but walked over there for another picture since the sun was wrong the day before on our canal tour. We were EXHAUSTED but saw so much and slept well after all of that.
The next morning, we slept in since this was the day we were boarding our ship. We had a late breakfast and headed to the cruise ship by taxi. The Eurodam was lovely. We, like most of the ship, those paying before final payment were upgraded in cabin category. We had paid for a guarantee balcony and got the most expensive verandah mid ship category on deck 8 but this was more the norm on this sailing than the exception. The cabin was pretty much like most cruise lines of this category so nothing stood out as being bad or good. It was nice and comfortable. I don't think I had ever been on a ship that had so many people talking about their great upgrades, but this was a good feeling for all of us. Our Captain for this sailing was Bas van Dreumel from the Netherlands and our cruise director was JC. One of the things we enjoy on many of the lines is the travel talks by the travel guides and Ian did an amazing job with his seminars. Although, we basically knew what we were doing in each port, we still would go to his seminars since you always pick up so many tidbits that make your time in port so much more fulfilling. I highly recommend these and Ian was very informative on this sailing.
Food was very good. We had first seating in the main dining room and our wait staff as well as our cabin stewards were exemplary. I found the Lido deck to be higher quality than most buffets on past cruises and the breakfast with the made to order eggs benedict or omelets were always well done. We did eat in the dining room for breakfast just once which was also good, but this was our first cruise we were seriously happy with the lido. Room service quality was just so so in comparison to even our last HAL cruise for breakfast (room service). We never used them for any other than our first early morning in St. Petersburg. For alternative dining, our all time favorite was Tamarind. This is a Pan Asian Restaurant and after cruising the major main stream cruise lines, I would by far give this the highest rating of any on any ship. The service was as good as it gets, the food was creative and so tasty and I was so unfamiliar with so many of the options you could have, but everything was amazing. If you are on this ship or the Nieu Amsterdam, I would book this early since it was already completely booked by the time we even got on the ship. I had heard this might be the case and had booked it before our cruise but tried to book lunch which is free but wasn't able to be booked before the sailing and by the time we were on the ship, it was completely booked. This has a $15 pp fee but so very worth it. We did not try Pinnacle since reviews from the ship were mixed and so many other cruise lines have similar upscale dining and although some are good, anything after Tamarind was going to be just so so anyway. We did do the free Italian Restaurant Canaletto. It was a nice variation, but for food quality, I would say it would be similar to an Olive Garden so if you are looking for authentic amazing Italian food, this may not be your place, but if you want a change from the usual dining room, this was still nice. We loved the table side antipasto and they also bring you cotton candy before your dessert. Yes, cotton candy.... and no, don't ask me what this has to do with Italian, but it's kind of fun since I'm sure I haven't had this since I was a child. One other thing I would mention not to miss, is that most lines will have your afternoon British Tea and this one also gave us a Dutch Tea, but the most fun/unique of all was the Indonesian Tea. If you are only going to do one tea, this is the one not to be missed and with most of the staff being Indonesian, it was great. Also, another fun time was in our first German port. They had a huge German 'barbeque'??? set up on the lido. Lots of great German Food and they had an Oom-pah band playing. Side Bar: This style of music is probably found more in Bavaria but it's what most people will think of for German music, so although this really wasn't the right German region for it, it was still a fun time.
The crew on this ship was 60 percent Indonesian (something that HAL tends to have in high percentage) with the next highest grouping being Filipino. One thing that has always drawn us to HAL is the high quality of service and this ship did not let us down. We did use the "fill the bag with laundry" which was $26 for as much as you can get in. Tip: If you roll everything, you can definitely fill it with huge amounts. Everything came back the next day washed and pressed. And yes, even the things you never iron at home like your nightgowns, t-shirts, etc....EVERYTHING was ironed. It's a great deal and if you know you will use this, you don't have to pack as much or bring home lots of dirty laundry.
In regards to entertainment, I have to admit that this sailing was one that I saw very little. This was port intensive and my brain was exploding on all I was learning, so it was early to bed most nights. The few things we saw kept us entertained and basically were on par with usual cruise line entertainment. Meaning that it's fun if you don't have your expectations on expecting Broadway quality, but a fun way to spend some time. On sea days, we took in any lectures available. We played some name that tune or movie clip trivia games and were good at coming in second or third place. But no...no cigar. The weather was very cool and in some cases cold, so there wasn't much of the pool lounging going on compared to many other cruises. They do have a cover on their pool areas to keep them warmer, but that gives off a different feel. While so much of the U.S. was going through heat waves, we were keeping pretty cool. We did hit rain for short times here and there and some was major down pouring, but nothing that would damper our great cruise.
Tallinn, Estonia: This was our first port and has a midieval Lower Town which is still surrounded by the old city walls. All of the old buildings are still intact and the streets are original cobblestone. I had printed out a walking tour map with detailed information on various places that we followed. It was a cute town but I have to admit to being a little underwhelmed with this location since I had been to Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Germany a month earlier and this reminded me so much of that in a lesser form. With that said, if this is your first time seeing something like this, it is going to be wonderful for you. We had lunch at a cute outdoor cafe and during this time, we were under an awning, but the rain cut loose. Seeing all the tour groups getting drenched and not looking overly happy with having the guide still having them walk through all this without even a rain coat instead of taking a break was a bit interesting, but hey...our restaurant gave us blankets and turned on their cute heaters above and lit these cute midieval looking fire poles which also gave heat. We had planned to do some shopping after lunch but the rain had us calling our day a bit early. The weather was great for the first part of the walking portion for us. I had been told to do much of your Russian shopping in this town since prices are much less than in Russia which from the little I saw, I would agree with. We just decided with all the rain, we would head back to the ship after lunch.
St. Petersburg, Russia: We had changed our clocks head by an hour two nights in a row before this port so the early starts for tours felt even earlier, which meant that a lot of us were going to bed early to not be totally worn out by the time we got to St. Petersburg. We did the two day Deluxe Tour with SPB. I had found 4 other couples on CC to make up a tour group of 10 of us to keep our group smaller, but to also get us some discounts (much less than what the ship tours were charging). Our tour guide was named Svetlana and I'm hearing that ALL of the guides in this tour company definitely know their history. This is where my brain went on overload. I had been reading up on Russian History and didn't go in blindly, but I will say that until you have been to this area, it's hard to even imagine. The Czars definitely flaunted their wealth!!!!! Not to mention that I have never seen a photo that does many of these places justice. We started first by going to the deepest subway station in St. Petersburg which sounds like nothing, but this was much like a museum and so ornate and had gorgeous mosaics. We toured the Peter and Paul Fortress, where numerous Czars are buried including Peter the Great and Catherine. We took the hydrofoil over to Peterhof. The Lower Fountain Park and the Upper gardens were one of my personal favorites in St. Petersburg. The beautiful fountains (most of which were reconstructed because Peterhof was behind enemy lines during the Nazi siege of Lenigrad) at Peterhof were beautiful. I doubt you will ever find anything quite like it in the rest of the world. Afterwards, we had lunch just outside Peterhof in a hotel restaurant that gave us a three course meal. It started out with Borscht, but from there, I have no clue. It was a beef type dish similar to beef stroganoff but not quite what you would expect that to be like. The Russians don't cook with a lot of spices, so many items may feel plain by our standards, but was a nice experience. From here, we went over to Catherine's Palace with the famous Amber room which was stolen by the Nazi troops during WWII, but now recreated by Russian craftsmen. We could take pictures in all rooms other than the Amber room although I had seen professional pictures before getting there. This palace is filled with 18th century paintings and ornate rooms. Just magnificent. The grounds are also extremely well groomed and a pleasure to walk through. After this full day, our group was beat so none of us went back out for evening entertainment since we had an early start for the next day in St. Petersburg as well. Most of us grabbed something at the buffet or room service and just went to bed. The next morning we took the canal boat tour down the Neva River viewing palaces and cathedrals along the way. From there, we had early entrance to the Hermitage. This is the imperial palace of the Romanovs that was stormed during the Bolshevik Revolution and hosts over 3 million works of art from all of the great masters. It would take years to view everything in here, so there was no way we were going to do more than a small dent in it, but what an experience. Our guide weaved us in and around so many sections of this place with wonderful stories to bring it all to life. For lunch, we went to a deli type restaurant that served these great Russian Pierogi. They come in so many different flavors of meat, vegetable, cheese or fruit and each of us picked two different kinds and a drink. I actually enjoyed this meal more than the first day even though this was more casual. Since I made the mistake of not taking notes and thinking I could do this from memory, please pardon me if I'm getting some of my locations mixed up in order, but I think I have this right. This was a lot to take in within two full days and with so much history, it was overwhelming. I don't say this in a bad way. Just that it was exhausting to a brain. :-) I think our next stop was the Church of our Saviour on the Spilled Blood. This was built on the site where Czar Alexander II was assassinated. The outside is something most will recognize and the inside was filled with mosaics depicting religious stories. From here we went to Yusupovs' Palace. It is the scene of the infamous Rasputin murder as well as being the residence of the wealthy Yusupov family. We ended our day with St. Isaac's Catherdral which is the largest Russian Orthodox cathedral in the city. By this point, my brain was shutting down since I had taken in so much more information than I'd ever had on a cruise in a two day time frame, so I will just say that St. Petersburg is a one of a kind in this world. Definitely worth a visit!
Helsinki, Finland: Since my husband had been here on business about a year ago and I tagged along, we had taken in most of the tourist attractions of this city. This was the day after St. Petersburg so we decided to just take the 15 minute ferry over to Suomenlinna and have a quiet day. This is a maritime fortress off the coast of Helsinki and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It was nice that it wasn't crowded but yet had many people walking around in various directions. One of our more relaxing type of days and needed desperately after our last two busy days.
Stockholm, Sweden: We woke up early so we could view our passage through the second largest archipelago of the Baltic but the weather was misty so the views were much better for us on the way out since the day turned out to be much nicer as the morning progressed. Our ship had a prime location for this port and we were about 100 feet away from the Hop on Hop off Boat stop so we used this for our main form of travel in this city. As soon as getting off the ship, the HOHO boat was making a special direct stop right over to the Vasa Museum which is where we were headed. We were one of the first ones in this museum and had been told to go early since it gets very crowded by the afternoon. This is a museum that houses the restored warship Vasa which sank in 1628. The ship was salvaged in 1961 almost completely intact and the Baltic brackish waters kept the parasites at bay. The museum shows a 20 minute film in various languages that gives a good background to what you are seeing. I have to admit that the sounds of this museum didn't appear very interesting to me, but I kept hearing it was the number one attraction and felt I had to give it a fair try. It was much more interesting than I was expecting and when we were leaving, the line to get in was extremely long outside the building, so this was good advice given to get there early. From there, we took the HOHO boat over to Gamla Stan. This is the Old Town section of Stockholm,. At noon time we went over to the Royal Palace to see the military parade at the outer courtyard for the changing of the guard. We found a cute place for lunch and had a sample like platter with lots of different Swedish specialties, but I doubt I could find the place again since we just stumbled on it in our exploring. We explored more of the city and from there we just took our time by boat and headed back to the ship. Another great day.
Warnemunde, Germany: From this port, many go into Berlin. For all of our travels, I do the planning in our family but in this case, I did feel I needed input from my husband regarding the topic of "Berlin or no Berlin". My husband vetoed Berlin and after talking to many that did make the 3 hour trek in and 3 hours back, we felt comfortable with our decision. Although we had been to southern Germany the month before and certainly could have found our way around, there was something intriguing about the private tour on Trip Advisor given by "Friends of Dave" that covered Warnemunde/Rostock and Wismar so we took his tour instead. Dave was very informative and certainly knew his history. The tour price was all inclusive and we enjoyed a strudel and coffee/ tea in the morning and the lunch was at what turned out to be our favorite restaurant from a port on this entire cruise. It was Brauhaus am Lohberg which was actually in an old brewery that had been there since the 1400's. Amazing food and such a well decorated place. If you are looking for an alternative choice to Berlin from this port, I would definitely recommend him as his history is also filled with humor which keeps it from getting too dry and you don't spend most of your day traveling to and from your location. For us, it made more sense to spend our time exploring this area and getting more depth than what we could have covered with the short time that would be used in Berlin after the long commute both ways. Warnemunde is an old Hanseatic town of Rostock and a resort sea town. It's quite cute and would easily be able to be explored on your own but we welcomed having the background history. In Wismar, it's a quaint town with the historic center being designated a UNESCO world cultural heritage site. When we returned from our tour, we wandered around for awhile in Warnemunde since it wasn't all crowded with cruise ship passengers since most were still making the trip back from Berlin at this time. An all round fun day!
Kiel, Germany: For this port, we had planned on having 10 of us from CC take the train in to Lubeck. I have to admit that I was running on empty so I was dragging and really not looking forward to another long day, but it turned out that I wasn't the only one feeling this way. Basically we all bailed plan A. We went back to the cabin and rested some more and did get off the ship in Kiel, but as many have said, there really isn't a lot there. So we walked the pedestrian walkway of shops and restaurants, went over towards the water where they had several boat tours, but we were boat toured out, so just watched and relaxed on a bench. Found some internet in the library. We headed back to the ship and saw the crew on computers in the terminal, so after getting more rest, we came back and logged on again. Free internet wasn't easy to find in Baltic part of the country, so this was a big treat. I usually don't want to spend my time on the internet when we could be touring, but we were beyond exhausted by this point, do it was fun catching up.
The next day we departed the ship and it went extremely smoothly. Sometimes this can be a real chaos time for cruises, but this was fast and efficient. We headed over to the train station near the cruise port, took the train to the airport, had lunch and then off we went. Since we had been in Copenhagen a few days before the cruise, we had purchased a 10 strip of tickets for public transportation after our 24 hour Copenhagen Pass ran out. Those that were coming to the train station for the first time after the cruise, were told that there were no places to buy tickets in the train station and someone had to go get them at the closest 7-11. I have no idea how far it was, but when you have all your luggage, this may be something others may want to be aware of. It does appear most of these types of tickets are sold at the 7-11 instead of a train or bus station since our hotel also had sent us to one before we rode our first bus after our Copenhagen Pass had expired.
This was a great cruise, with a great ship and crew, and great ports of call. Considering only ports of call, this wouldn't be our favorite cruise, but certainly would come in as a top five contender and one we would highly recommend. This review was another "Pay it forward" for all of those that helped so much with the cruise planning for our own cruise and I hope some of these ideas may help others. Happy Sailing!