Baltic & Northern Europe
Princess's transfer service was outstanding. We were met at Copenhagen airport's luggage claim and escorted a waiting bus. We were brought to our hotel and our bags were brought to our room. Two days later we left them outside our hotel door and the bags were delivered to our stateroom. The last night of the cruise the bags were picked up then staged in a building next to the airport bus drop off location, and there were many Princess people directing passengers to their bags then into the airport terminal. Check-in at the ship was very fast with no waiting in line.
For us, we stayed at the wrong pre-cruise hotel, the Kong Arthur. Although the room and bathroom were large and very nice, the hotel is "green," carbon neutral with no air conditioning. The outside temperature got up to 73 degrees but our room was 89 and only went down to 79 at night with all the windows open, which also allowed a lot of noise inside. The hallway also felt like a sauna and we didn't get the More
proper rest following our long flight. The buffet breakfast was really good but not included with the room price. Not a problem for us, but the metro transportation station is a 5-7 minute walk away and the most touristy areas, like Tivoli, Nyhavn, Stroget shopping street, are 15-20 minutes away.
Our stateroom was very nice with a comfortable bed, desk and chair, tv cabinet with refrigerator, small table, 2 small end tables, a large open closet, a shelf unit with safe, and lots of mirrors that made the room appear larger. The balcony was spacious for more than the 2 of us and our cabin attendant kept the room spotless and the ice bucket full. In the bathroom there was a 2-prong U.S.-style electrical outlet (the prongs had to be the same size), a 3 prong outlet above the desk and another one behind the flatscreen tv. The European-style 2-prong plug we used at the hotel did not fit into the stateroom's outlets. The Eucalyptus scented bath products were a minor problem for this allergy sufferer. Room service for coffee a couple of mornings and for bottled water and sodas on other occasions was prompt.
Other than during the first day's emergency muster drill, the ship seemed half empty. It was never overcrowded in the main dining rooms, the Horizon Court buffet, the main showroom, lounges, casino, etc. About 3 non-smoking nights at the Casino was appreciated. Food was good and the service was excellent in the dining room. Water glasses were not allowed to be empty and used dishes immediately were picked up. Even the service in the buffet was good. As soon as you were seated people were taking beverage requests. We purchased and easily used up one coffee card for a slight savings.
One problem did occur at the Internet Cafe the day before disembarkation. The printer wasn't working during the day and caused a lot of problems for people trying to print airline boarding passes. The problem was fixed in the evening and they had a special 15 minute package that we used in addition to the 15 free minutes coupon found in our stateroom.
The highlight of on board activity was John Lawrence's port lectures. The day before each port, he outlined in some detail useful information and history of the city we were about to visit. The in-person shows were better than watching the tapes on tv in the cabin, as he injected a lot of humor into the live lectures. As a bonus, he also gave a lecture about the last Russian czar's family, Nicolas & Alexandra, Anastasia and the other children. He was also available almost every evening to answer questions.
The shows were good, although the best was our night in St. Petersburg. Guessing we would be too tired for an evening excursion, and we were, we were pleasantly surprised to find a local Russian folk dance/song group performing in the on board theater. Although the people who went into town for evening performance were pleased, I don't think we missed much by staying on the ship.
After investigating private shore excursion companies, we decided to use Princess. They may have cost more but each was excellent and well-prepared. After meeting on board, we would march off the ship and onto our tour bus. A tip is to go to the gathering place early. As soon as a busload of people were there, they were led off the ship early. Many times I saw private company's on the dock waiting for their guests or at venues waiting to get in. We always walked straight inside buildings and a couple of times, most notably at the Peterhof summer palace outside St. Petersburg, we were the first group inside. See our port reviews for more information.
Sometimes there was a line to get back on the ship and the worst lines were in St. Petersburg the first day to to through Russian Customs upon entering, then returning, but not too bad to make us late.
Overall, we were very pleased with the Emerald, the Baltic itinerary (although skipping Aarhus and spending more time in Stockholm would have been great), and highly recommend this cruise Less
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Cabin review: Emerald Princess Oceanview Double with Balcony Baja B607
Baja 607 was spacious, with a comfortable bed, 2 nightstands, chair and desk with U.S. style electrical outlet, tv stand with refrigerator and another outlet, small table, large open closet, shelves with safe, nice-sized balcony, bathroom with outlet for 2-prong U.S. plug. Note: European plug used in Copenhagen hotel didn't fit ship's outlets. Mirrors on wall behind bed, over desk, behind tv, and by the door made room brighter and seem larger. We could hear voices from adjoining rooms but not loud enough to understand conversations. Eucalyptus scented bath products. Plenty of of hot water in shower. Didn't like slight salty taste of faucet water when brushing teeth. Convenient extra light switches on wall behind bed. A/C control worked fine. Didn't like oil smell on balcony(from smokestack?) when entering or leaving ports.
Port and Shore Excursions
We visited the pretty Aarhus cathedral and walked through many streets, although almost everything was closed on Sunday. The best vendors are located on the pier near the ship. We purchased some really nice crafts directly from the people who made them.
Unfortunately, we feel this port could have been skipped and wish there had been more time than 1/2 day in Stockholm.
This equaled the best tour on the cruise. The 3 hour train ride to then from Berlin was fine. Somehow we got a private compartment, were able to catchup on some rest, and were kept busy with visits from the train attendant bringing information, maps, bottled water, muffins, large soft pretzels, wine and soft drinks, a lunch with a mystery sandwich, good-sized packages of cake, peanuts, a box of tic-tacs, etc.
Our tour guide, Burkhardt, had an excellent sense of humor and told us stories of growing up with the Berlin Wall and it's aftermath. We visited some city sites as the Eastside Gallery (interesting murals painted on the wall), Checkpoint Charlie (recreated but the guide pointed out the actual sites of the American and East German checkpoints and the path of the wall seen by a double-row of bricks in the street and sidewalk), Brandenburg Gate (spectacular), and the Reichstag parliament building. Lunch was at an upscale German restaurant with prime rib.
Highlights were the 4-piece organ recital at Berlin Cathedral and seeing the huge Greek and Babylonian structures at the Pergamon Museum (check out the website for amazing photos).
We got two good overviews of the City. First, we took the free 3 1/2 hour walking tour by Sandeman's, you simply tip the guide at the end. Starting at City Hall, we got an in depth explanation of the city's history and passed many notable building, statues, squares, etc. Then we took the Canal Tours of Copenhagen, an hour-long relaxing ride through the city's port and canals. This passed the Little Mermaid, although for a side and back view. On our own we also visited Tivoli Gardens and some of the churches and shopping areas.
The highlight of our visit was taking an s-train North for about an hour to the end of the line at Helsingor, a 20 minute walk away from Kronborg Castle. This intact home to Danish kings, then used by the military, was made more famous when Shakespeare used it as the site for Hamlet. The moats, gun fortifications, buildings, underground rooms (take a flashlight or have a flashlight app. on your cellphone), chapel, ballroom, royal quarters and dining rooms, etc. were much more fascinating because we took the 2 back-to-back free English-speaking tours. Renaissance life in all it's dirty glory were brought to life by our excellent guide.
We bought a 24 hour Copenhagen Card to use for entrance fees, plus train and bus fares. Check to see if one would be worth it for your plans. We did not have time to see everything in 2 days.
The Sibelius monument was nice for a quick stop. Porvoo town in the countryside, built in 1346, has a nice church, cobblestone streets, and a chocolate shop with many free samples. Lunch on this tour was at a nearby farm in the pretty area. Returning to Helsinki, we visited the Temppeliaukio Rock Chuch, built into a rock hillside. Modernistic, it is beautiful with rock walls, windows that let in lots of light, and a copper roof.
The Viking Ship museum is a must-see, with 3 ships and other artifacts recovered from grave sites. It was very crowded when our tour group visited, but well worth seeing. Surprising to us was the Holmenkollen ski jump. It didn't sound too exciting in the brochure but is spectacular and huge. The Vigeland Sculpture park has dozens of interesting statues in a beautiful park. The site we enjoyed the most is City Hall, where the Nobel Peace Prize is awarded. The first floor walls are decorated with colorful murals, the second floor houses murals, tapestries and paintings, and the outside entrance is lined with large colorful wood carvings. We also visited the National Gallery, home to the first "The Scream" painting by Munch.
There is a huge tent area on the pier with food and souvenirs.
Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood
An extremely colorful interior and exterior at at this traditional onion-domed church made it a favorite to visit. Photos are amazing, but to see it in person is best.
Our excellent tour guide pointed out several landmarks over the 2 days, including many drab soviet-style buildings. The Peter and Paul Cathedral houses the graves of some tsars, including the family of Nicholas and Alexandra.
2 hours just gave us a glimpse of the treasures housed in this museum and Winter Palace. Countless art pieces by the masters and royal rooms are seen on this tour
Neva River Cruise
The relaxing river and canal cruise passed many significant buildings and sites, some we would later visit. One was a bridge built by the same designer who built the Eiffel Tower, and you could see the similarities. We also saw a couple of 3-masted ships.
Our tour group was the first to enter on the 2nd day of our visit to St. Petersburg. Therefore, we got an excellent view of the ornate rooms although photos were not allowed. I purchased some postcards at the giftshop. The palace grounds are amazing with gardens, statues, fountains, aviaries, and views of the Gulf of Finland. Some of the fountains, all powered by gravity, are tricky--they only go on when one walks closeby, thereby getting soaked. The main fountain area went on at 11:00 to the sound of music.
St. Isaac's Cathedral
This gold-domed church was a pleasure to visit. The ornate interior is spectacular and some of the exterior columns still bear the results of German shelling during WWII.
Another exquiste palace, with a Rasputin figure in the basement where he was poisoned. Gold everywhere, artwork, mosaics, intricate woodwork, tapestries, stained glass, a chapel, a small Russian men's chorus sang a short song in one room.
This is a beautiful city. The Vasa Museum houses a 17th century warship that sank on it's maiden voyage. Perfectly preserved, the museum is extremely dark so be ready with the proper camera settings for photos. Don't overlook the original sails on display behind the stern, or some of the original cannons.
Our tour then took us to City Hall, site of the Nobel Prize ceremony (except for the Peace prize awarded in Oslo). The building has pretty wall murals upstairs. Old Town, or Gamla Stan, is an area of narrow streets where you can really get the feel of the original city. Senate Square is a main meeting area with a statue in the middle and buildings, one with a large wide step area. This is just a few blocks above a market square with dozens of food and craft vendors.
The Emerald cruised that afternoon through the archipelago, a beautiful wooded landscape dotted with homes, old forts, and numerous private watercraft.
What a beautiful medieval city with fortified city walls, cobblestone streets, old buildings, and churches. We walked 15 minutes from the ship into Old Town and visited the City Hall Museum (free restrooms) that houses period costumes, furniture, tapestries, tableware, paintings, and has an interesting attic containing a weathervane and views of the Town Square below. Wandering narrow alleys to discover courtyards, the town is full of shops selling glasswares, crafts, woolen products, cafes, etc. There is a Tourist Center if more information is needed.
Walking up to Toompea Hill, we visited the spectacular Alexander Nevsky Cathedral with it's onion-shaped domes topped with a gold cross, a palace, Tall Herman's Tower, a Catholic Church, and saw good views of the city and port below.
There is also a large craft and food sales area close to the ship.