Sailed from Harwick on 2/7/12, the embarkation could not have gone smoother. We arrived at 11am and were had unloaded our luggage, parked the car, registered and boarded the ship all within 45 minutes. The ship looks very clean and welcoming; we were greeted on board and shown to the windjammer dining room. We were so pleased with the ship having recently returned from P&O Ventura which was in a dirty condition, that we mentioned this to an officer on board; she took our cabin number and to our surprise a nice bottle of red wine with 2 glasses was left in our cabin.
The cabin was available at around 1pm and in a very clean condition , the balcony door was very stiff, this was dealt with very soon but was still quite hard to open. Two days into the cruise a bad smell started to emit from the toilet, again this was dealt with very soon but quickly came back again. Further attempts to eliminate it with strong chemicals did little to remove it. On day 4 we were moved to a very nice cabin a substantial upgrade from the one we had booked, and we were also given a 15% voucher for a future cruise, so all in all they could not have done more for us.
Food: was OK in the MDR nothing special but a good variety so I don't think you would starve. We did have some problems with food being at best lukewarm on cold plates; we pointed this out to the head waiter who did her best to resolve the situation. The service depended on who you got, some tables had very efficient staff, and others had slow staff. The people with diamond club badges in did seem to get priority service. Again the head waiter tried to resolve the situation but this resulted in the waiters going over the top and this made the experience quite uncomfortable. We were given a special lunch in Portofino's to compensate. One of the most bizarre moments was on the overnight stop in St. Petersburg, we were all put on open dining due to late trips so basically say anywhere with waiters from that section. We ordered a bottle of water for the table, but the waiter did not understand what a bottle of water was! He then called his head waiter who replied when asked for a bottle of water "you want chardonnay" this process went on for a full 5 minutes; after this I lost it a bit, told her where to stick the chardonnay and we had our evening meal in the Windjammer. The dress code is adhered to by quite a lot of people but unfortunately the jeans and tee shirt brigade seem to go unchallenged in the MDR. In the Windjammer the quality of food is quite good and very varied. In retrospect it may have been easier to eat there every night and cut down on the tips.
Entertainment: This was first class in the Theatre; production shows were very good as were the speciality acts. Entertainment in the bars was very good apart from the sing along bloke. The dance instructors did not seem to be very accomplished, having witnessed them on the dance floor; as a professional I feel able to comment on their ability. What was annoying was to see them trying to show off on the floor knocking people out of the way, they just seemed to be there to enjoy their selves and not mingle and help others. The main dancing was in the atrium, not the best of venues as the floor is very small, the dance floor in the Safari room is much larger with a nice wooden floor, but the atrium is the place for all the main activities. The casino is large and this is the only way to get from one end of the ship to the other on deck 6, this is the room where smoking is permitted and means if you wish to traverse the ship and do not want to breath in smoke you will have to go down a level and run the gauntlet of the crowds in the shops. Regarding the shops better save your hard earned cash for on shore as the on-board venues are very expensive, but then you expect that these days as with drink prices, so better to negotiate some good OBS.
Port of call: first stop was Copenhagen, this is a great place and easy walkable from the port. The port area has some nice shops, but things are cheaper in town. The little mermaid is 5 minutes from the ship, don't get confused with the big concrete one outside of the shops. Just follow the path from the ship, walk around the marina, follow the path and the statue is right in front of you. It is very small but usually there is a crowd round it so not hard to miss. Keep following the path and this will take you into the centre of the town past the palace.
Next call was Stockholm, you can walk it but it will take about an hour, either pay through the nose on the shuttle or follow the blue line and get the number 1 bus. It is a nice enough place but not for us, so just take it on face value.
Next was Helsinki, You will need to get the shuttle; this is provided by the town and is cheaper than RCI. It is a long way out and a quite complicated walk. It is a lovely place, don't miss Stockley's or the open market on the town harbour, I can't praise Helsinki enough. Take a look at the facade on the railway station you may recognise it from batman's Gotham City.
St. Petersburg, you need to go on an organised trip or get a visa (these are very expensive). It all depends on what you want to pay regarding excursions, there are some great places but you will notice a lot of poverty around. Basically it is what you make it.
Tallinn, Not worth paying for a shuttle unless you have mobility issues, it is an easy flat walk into town. Tallinn is a beautiful place with something for everyone, well worth eating out on this day. Don't miss the old town, accessible from a lot of steps from the main square. There is also a winding road but this will take a little longer. There is a nice cafe part way up the steps, good coffee and cakes.
Last was Gothenburg, This has had a lot of bad press in cruise critic, but we four it to be a great place especially if you like a bit of shopping. It's not a place with palaces or quaint buildings, but it is a very smart clean place with a nice river running through it. This is a good place to spend all the money you have left over, Krona being best but prices are also in euro, but you get a better deal with local currency. It is a nice place to eat, drink and hang out, a very forward looking place. You will need to get the shuttle as it is about a half hour drive so impossible to walk it, the bus drops off in the heart of town on the main street so easy to orientate yourself from there.
In general loved the ship and the style of it, it never felt crowded, but size and shape of ship are a personal preference. RCI are penny pinching, there are no special touches in you cabin, they do a bit of towel folding but would much prefer pamper packs, dressing gowns and slippers.
Disembarkation was superb; we were given a time of 8.40 and were given drinks and pastries in the waiting area. You can use your cabin until the time to go but you will need to go to your assembly point as the announcements are given over a radio not over the loud speaker. At precisely 8.40 we were told we could leave, we boarded the shuttle bus to the car park where are cases were waiting, and was driving away by 9.10.
The question is would I sail with them again, especially in this class of ship, the small number of passengers does make for a smooth process every time you leave and join the ship. The ship is large enough to have all the amenities you need, unless you want bigger things like ice rinks that you would find on larger ships, but then you need to weigh up the advantages of a larger ship with the amount of people vying for the attractions and transport.