A few thoughts concerning the Emerald Princess itself. Although this was my first experience with a mega-ship with over three thousand passengers, I've taken several trips with Holland America. I was not looking forward to long lines and cattle call tours, but this itinerary fit my ports of choice, my price range, and my schedule.
Overall, my experience was extremely positive. The international crew is upbeat and well trained. The cruise director was informative without breaking in with the continual peppy intrusions I grew to despise on HA. Not once did I feel that I was part of a massive tourist package, though of course I was.
Food was excellent, tasty and beautifully presented. Did not attend any of the specialty restaurants. Didn't feel the need to. Lucked out with table mates, a diverse and congenial group.
About half the time I had dinner in the dining room, other times at one of the buffets. I particularly enjoyed the meals which were themed to our ports, both in Berlin and St Petersburg. HA does nothing like that. Even the coffee, much reviled on these boards, was not as bad as I was expecting.
My one issue, and it's a big one, concerns the complete lack of response to my complaint of obnoxious and unsupervised children monopolizing the pools and whirlpools. Although an advisory was delivered to each stateroom early on, advising parents that children must be supervised, there were often kids running, diving, and doing cannonballs with absolutely no consequences. My written complaint was ignored. As positive as was the remainder of my experience onboard, that one issue could be a deal breaker. Someone is going to get hurt. There will be lawsuits.
A much smaller quibble, they're still listing kroons as Estonia's official currency. How often do they update these port information sheets?
John Lawrence is Princess' own "Baltic Treasure.." His port lectures are not to be missed, especially if you plan to go off on your own. His personal insight and quirky sense of humor come through best during his live presentations, although much of the same information from his CD is replayed afterwards on TV.
I'd read so many people say that they'd wished they had John's CD in advance of their trips that I ordered a copy from his website and watched it once soon after I booked my trip and again about a week before departure. I also caught his live lectures whenever I could.
John's CD was the single best resource I used in preparing for my trip. Unlike other travel writers, John's information is specific to your cruise. He's aware of your time limitations and allows you to make the most of every minute.
Anyone reading this will see that I followed the advice of many on Cruise Critic. Obviously, this a very intensive cruise. Several times a day I would be reminded of the importance of doing your homework to maximize your limited time ashore.
So glad I opted for the ship's transfer from the airport. My last cruise out of Copenhagen I took the train to Central Station, then a city bus to the pier. Cheap but labor intensive, schlepping bags from place to place.
This time there was a Princess cruise representative at baggage claim who directed me to the bag drop off then to the bus. On our way about fifteen minutes after collecting the bags. Highly recommended. The driver was very personable and provided a mini-guided tour of Copenhagen on the way to the ship.
Lots to see in Oslo, and much of it is accessible on foot. I bought an Oslo pass, but since I walked everywhere and visited only one museum, I really didn't get my money's worth.
The ship docked directly across the street from Akershus Castle so I crossed through the grounds on my way to the Opera House, a must see if you have any interest in contemporary architecture. The interior is as spectacular as the exterior, and it's free. From there I wandered through Central Station, walked through part of the Stroget and since the ship was only a few blocks away, decided to return for lunch. I passed both the Museum for Comtemporary art and the Architecture Museum. Should have made a quick stop at both but thought I'd have time on the way back to the ship. As it turned out, I had the time, but not the energy.
After lunch I took the opposite direction toward city hall, a quick look at the National Theatre and the Royal Palace and then the National Museum. Like most tourists my goal was to see "The Scream," but I found the collection of European Impressionists to be quite impressive as well.
Though I had a few more hours before sailing, I decided to head back to the ship and a well deserved soak in the hot tub. On the way I stopped at an classic Norwegian cafe for a rest and a cider. Eleven dollars! They're not kidding when they say that Oslow's an expensive city!
Another beautiful midsummer day for our arrival at Aarhus. We we docked near the Danish Royal Yacht, guarded by handsome military men, providing an unexpected photo op.
I'm a real fan of the Danish-Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson so I walked to the ARoS contemporary art museum to see his installation, "Rainbow Panorama. ". By the time I finished with the museum, my plan to spend a few hours at Den Gamle By was shot. So I took a different route back to the ship, along the Stroget with a detour to see the cathedral. Of all our ports, Aarhus was the one I would have chosen to skip, but having spent an afternoon there, I found the city most enjoyable.
Warnemunde is a beautiful little seaside resort town. A perfect way to spend your time if you don't want to spend most of your day on a non-air conditioned, non-narrated, crowded train ride to and from Berlin. Not much to see in a cultural sense, but pretty streets to wander, a beautiful beach with sand like powdered sugar, and a nude section, if that sort of thing appeals to you.
Tallinn Old Town is a delight. For $10, I opted to take a shuttle bus to and from the port., thus avoiding what appeared to be a time consuming and boring walk of over a mile in each direction. You really don't need to do much other than wander the cobbled streets, climb Toompea Hill for some spectacular photos of the medieval city below, stop at one of the many cafes and browse through shops full of typical tourist tchotchkes.
Just before returning to the ship, I visited the Occupation Museum, a short walk from Freedom Square. A powerful and sobering reminder that Estonians have paid a heavy price for the lives the have today. Its remarkable that these people who have suffered so much, maintain such a positive and optimistic outlook.
If you can get ahold of the documentary, "The Singing Revolution," before you leave, you will gain valuable insight into Estonia's painful history. Just before returning to the ship, I visited the Occupation Museum, a short walk from Freedom Square. A powerful and sobering reminder that Estonians have paid a heavy price for the lives they have today. Its remarkable that these people who have suffered so much, maintain such a positive and optimistic outlook.
I've been to St Petersburg before, but hadn't been to Peterhof. Without a visa I needed to take a organized tour and a ship-sponsored half-day trip excursion seemed to fit the bill. Although our guide was a lovely young woman, there were the lines. To enter the building, to use the restroom, the mandatory bag and coat check, the required plastic booties. Being herded from room to room by grim faced matrons. I was miserable throughout. Wish I had skipped it. Perhaps the private companies handle it better.
Our overnight in St Petersburg featured a Russian Cossack dance show aboard the ship. Although I cruise for destinations not entertainment, I found this production very well done. No need to take the excursion for a folklore show. The second day in St Petersburg, I took the ship's walking and subway tour. It's the kind of thing that I'd prefer to do on my own, but no visa; no independent travel in Russia. This tour was as well organized and informative.
The port of Helsinki looks like a massive construction project. Using public transit seemed complicated so I took a shuttle which dropped us off right at the edge of the Esplanade from there, it was easy to explore the city on foot.
Helsinki is a beautiful city and the weather was perfect, so I cut back on what I'd planned to see and instead spent a lot of time just wandering around the open air market or sitting on a park bench along the Esplanade enjoying the people and the scenery.
Then I picked up the 3T tram which travels a figure eight through the city. Got off near the Sibelius monument. From there, it was an easy walk to the Rock Church, then the contemporary art museum and back to the shuttle stop.
I'd done a considerable amount of research about Stockholm, and it soon became obvious that our short five hour visit would allow for only a few highlights. The idea of a ship's excursion began to look better and better. I didn't want to spend my day watching the clock or racing around to make sure I got back in time.
So I booked a tour which included my top priorities, the Vasa Museum and Gamla Stan I got to see what I'd come for and had no worries about quite literally missing the boat. As much as I prefer doing things on my own, there are times like this where there's no way I could have covered the ground that I did by myself.
Our tour guide got us to the Vasa within a half hour of its opening, provided excellent commentary throughout, and directed us to a special exhibition in the basement which I'm sure I would have missed otherwise. We were left with a little over an hour in Gamla Stan. Not enough shopping time for some, but I didn't see anything that I couldn't live without.
After a relaxing sea day en route back to Copenhagen, I was one of the first to depart the ship because of an early flight out. If you opt for the airport transfer, Princess makes it simple.
Obviously, I enjoy researching my trips almost as much as taking them. I'm as addicted to my smartphone as anyone else, and I downloaded many apps before my trip, but nothing beats an old fashioned, good quality, city map. Not the ad-filled freebies you get as you leave the ship, but high quality travel maps that you've gathered in advance. Marked up and annotated with information you've gleanened from the research that you've done.