Great Itinerary, Lowering Expectations
Baltic & Northern Europe
We picked the Emerald Princess primarily for the excellent Baltic itinerary. The ship itself is very similar to two other Princess ships we were on (the Sapphire and Star) and, like the others, a very attractive ship with good use made of the cabin space. Service has suffered as it seems they've cut back on dining staff, but overall was still reasonable and the food still some of the best we've had on cruise ships. One exception is the pathetic coffee they serve; good, fresh brewed, coffee is available for purchase and available for free with a "coffee card" that is also good for 15 specialty coffees (e.g. lattes or espressos). Cards purchased on previous voyages are still good for specialty coffees but can no longer be used for unlimited fresh brewed coffee (or specialty teas) except for the voyage during which the card was bought. This is part of Princess's apparent latest policy of cutting back everywhere and being in the forefront of nickel-and-diming you at every turn. They More
don't, however, pressure you for sales, so the upside is it lowers the cruise cost for those, like us, who spend our money elsewhere.
Speaking of Princess cutting back, we recently learned that effective 8/1/12 Carnival (the owner of Princess Lines) will not allow travel agents to give any cash or equivalent credits and will limit booking incentives to a $ 25 pp non-cash item. This seems very consumer-unfriendly and I think (and hope!) it comes back to hurt them.
One other area Princess could usefully address is their Coupon book. For ourselves, and every one of the other passengers we spoke with, there is nothing of value here.
For those who do Anytime Dining, it can be difficult to get a table during prime dining times (say 6:30 to 8). A good idea would be to speak with the Maitre d' your first day on the ship, give him a $20 or so tip in advance saying, "I know you'll be very helpful if we need anything this cruise." For different reasons we got to know our Maitre d' and we never had to wait for a table and always had top-notch service. Less
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Cabin review: Emerald Princess Interior Double Aloha A629
The ship itself is very similar to two other Princess ships we were on (the Sapphire and Star) and, like the others, a very attractive ship with good use made of the cabin space. Although it was next to the laundry room, we never had any noise problems. And it is very difficult
Port and Shore Excursions
Aarhus is Denmark's second largest city, and is probably added to cruise itineraries to fill the distance between Oslo and Warnemunde (Berlin). The main attraction is the Old Town Open Air Museum (Den Gamle By). It is about a 20 minute walk from the ship, but there are some spots along the way to tour, visit, or get refreshed. Den Gamle By is interesting enough, but is certainly not a major tourist site.
In the brief time available after traveling to and from the port in Warnemunde, we managed to get an amazing amount of sightseeing done. Like most major cities -- think New York, London, Paris, Rome -- doing Berlin in 6 hours or so is insane, but at least we got a good overview.
An amazing amount of interesting information, exceptionally well laid out.
Helsinki is a fairly modern city; in addition, almost the entire city was closed while we were there because they were celebrating Midsummer's Night (the longest day of the year, about 20 hours of sunshine). Still, the Rock Church was open and very much worth the visit. Sibelius Park, with the two statues to the great Finnish composer was also a welcome stop.
The first port of call on our Baltic cruise was Oslo. We couldn't get into City Hall where they award the Nobel Peace Prizes, which was a disappointment, but did get to see the well done Nobel Peace Prize Center. In the afternoon we went to see the Viking Museum (well worth the time) and the Vigeland Sculpture Park, a definite worthwhile stop that could have used far more time. The fjord region is quite a distance from Oslo and was therefore left to another trip
Truly one-of-a-kind, even in St. Petersburg, but there is MUCH that it competes with.
Beautiful, ornate, priceless.
Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood
Like the other churches, definitely worth a visit.
A good overview of one of the great cities of the world.
Beyond even our expectations in terms of how luxurious, well appointed, beautifully furnished, amazingly gilded, and full of priceless art this iconic stop was. Best if seen with a tour company that gets early admission, because the crowds get fierce!
Peter & Paul Fortress
Like all of the cities major attractions, this is a jaw-dropping stop.
Actually, we had time on the FULL 2 day tour to only do the gardens, but they were worth every bit of the time spent there. Besides excellent landscaping and plantings, the statuary and Palace as a backdrop make this a Must See site.
Russian Ballet Show
The Alexandrinsky Theatre was almost worth the price of admission. The ballet company and orchestra were not top companies, but certainly decent, making this a very worthwhile experience.
St. Isaac's Cathedral
Like so much of St. Petersburg, with all the amazing, ornate, beautiful palaces, churches, and museums, you think after a while it would get repetitious, but with sites like St. Isaac's it never does.
Stockholm is the largest Scandinavian city and had many interesting sites to visit. The main highlight for us was the Vasa museum, showing the ship that sank in 1628 almost immediately after launch. The engineers said it was top-heavy. The king, who helped design it, said it wasn't. Guess who was right. Besides the almost perfectly preserved ship it had a lot of information about the times. Due to the limited time we had here, the rest of the tour was a drive around town, with photo stops and some free time, but much more time was needed, especially to see the Opera where the Nobel prizes are handed out or City Hall where the Nobel banquet is held. That, of course, is the common downside of cruises, but the brief overview was excellent.
Tallinn is the capital of Estonia, and the entire Old Town is a UNESCO World Heritage site. We did a walking tour of the town and the only site we had time to go into was the Alexander Nevsky (Russian Orthodox) Cathedral, where a service was in progress. There are no seats in Russian Orthodox churches, so there is a lot of walking around. That gives a lot of opportunity to see the amazing and ornate decorations within all R.O. churches. We had time at the end of the tour to walk around on our own, and enjoyed doing so; Tallinn is just that interesting place to explore.