Return to the Baltic Sea
Baltic & Northern Europe
This was our second cruise to the Baltic the previous one having been 4 years ago.It really is a lovely part of the world with great ports to visit.
Had an enjoyable cruise on Vision from Stockholm in July 2012.This is the oldest ship that we have sailed on in a long time so we were prepared for her to be showing her age especially as she is due for a major overhaul sometime next year.
Embarkation at Stockholm was handled smoothly and speedily and we were on board shortly after 12 noon.The public areas of the ship were in much better condition than I thought they would be.Had lunch in the buffet and explored the ship.I was pleasantly surprised when touring the spa to be told that the relaxation area could be used anytime free of charge. I was also able to sign a waiver which allowed my 14 year old to use the gym facilities.
Cabins were released at about 1pm.We had booked an inside cabin,but a week before sailing we were e mailed by RCI to say that we had been upgraded to More
an outside cabin.The luggage arrived almost as soon as we went to the cabin.My husband and children went to the pool while I started to unpack.It was whilst I was doing this that I started to notice how dirty the cabin was-coffee mug rings on bedside lockers,carpet not hoovered, fingermarks on mirrors,rubbish in the bin and someones used razor in the shower cubicle.Oh well not the end of the world and I always travel with disinfectant wipes so I got to work.I thought things would be taken care of when the room was turned down for the night.After dinner I returned to the cabin and it had been set up but only for two people.We had our two children with us.I managed to pull down the two pullman berths and they both had dirty bed linen on them.I went to Guest Services and told my story.A very nice apologetic girl said she would deal with it.It took a further two hours and 3 visits from different housekeeping staff to get the cabin set up for 4 people.We have never experienced anything like this before.Housekeeping supervisor was very apologetic and arranged to have the carpet steam cleaned and assigned a fresh cabin attendant to us.
On the first sea day we were upgraded to a Junior suite by way of an apology and also offered 30% of the price that we had paid for this cruise off of a future cruise.
The Junior suite was disabled accessible and huge. It was kept very clean and I didn't need to get my wet wipes out for the rest of the cruise!
Every time we came back to the cabin something had been left for us-chocolate covered strawberries, backpacks and baseball caps, crayola things for the children.
We took all of our evening meals in the dining room and had excellent friendly service from both of our waiters.The Head Waiter(A woman) was also very attentive.We ate breakfast at both the buffet and the main dining room.The buffet was always busy but we never had any major problems finding a table.
We went to several of the theatre shows.We have been spoiled by some of the shows on bigger ships so found some of the performances a bit basic.
There is a good size library but it also doubles as a cigar lounge.I think this should be re -thought.Despite air purifying machines the smell of smoke is very evident.Also smoking is allowed in the casino.We would have donated more money here if it was a smoke free area.
Enjoyed the covered swimming pool area.The rock climbing wall did not open often due to high winds but my daughter loved this when she did get to try it.We also made good use of the table tennis tables and the shuffleboard.
My 9 year old loved the Adventure Ocean.All of the staff seemed friendly and engaged the children well.She did the usual colouring in of a pillowcase ,had her face painted a couple of evenings,enjoyed a pirate night,played lots of dodgeball and generally enjoyed herself.She also loved the Pets At Sea and is now the proud owner of a lion wearing a RCCI chefs suit.
My 14 year old went to the teen club a couple of times but was not very keen to go back.She thought the staff were nice and the lounge was a good hang out space, it was some of the teens that she did not feel comfortable with.As we are from Europe she has different references from US teenagers and she feels excluded.This is a very subjective thing and obviously can vary from sailing to sailing.There was a group who were travelling together and they seemed to dominate events.This was a shame as she has really enjoyed meeting kids from all over the world on previous cruises.She came to the shows and lounges with us in the evenings and had an enjoyable and inspirational chat with the lady Captain at the Crown & Anchor meeting.
The Captain and her officers were highly visible around the ship in the evenings.
We did our own thing in all ports except for St Petersburg where we took a ships excursion which exceeded our expectations.
Disembarkation was very smooth.After breakfast in the main dining room we walked off the ship to find our luggage waiting for us.I had prebooked a taxi for 8am to take us to Arlanda Airport at a cost of 390SEK. There was no sign of uor taxi and my husband asked adriver from the firm that we had booked with if he could help but he quoted 900SEK for the same journey.Fortunately for us the pre booked taxi arrived at 8.10am and we were at the airport with time to spare.
The weather was very pleasant and we enjoyed the Vision. For a ship of her age she is in good shape. There have been changes since we last cruised with RCCI -no individual toiletries in lower grade cabins,no chocolates on pillows,decline in food quality,having to pay extra for lobster and good steak etc but I think cruising still offers good value for money and for us it's more about the ports than the ships anyway.
We do not have any brand loyalty and have cruised with RCCI,Celebrity,Disney,NCL and MSC in the past and if the itinerary and the price suited us I would consider RCCI again.
We had a problem with our initial cabin but I felt that the way Guest Services handled things made up for it and we had a good holiday. Less
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Port and Shore Excursions
Ship docked in Gdynia.They only offered a shuttle to Gdynia centre so we ended up taking a ships tour which included free time to Gdansk.We had intended to only use it as transport and do our own thing when we got there but the guide was very knowledgeable and spoke excellent English.We went through Sopot on the way which was a lovely beach resort. The bus also stopped outside Oliwa cathedral which was a bonus.Toured inside St Marys Church.We had a couple of hours on our own but it began to rain so we spent most of the time sheltering having lunch and then coffee and cakes.We passed by the Solidarity shipyard on the way back and we also saw the current home of Lech Walensa and the football stadium that was used for the Euro 2012 championship.
We didn't do much here as we have been here before.There was a shuttle bus into town for €10 return but we took the local bus #16 from just outside the port gate.I had intended to buy a 1 day ticket from the driver but he just waved us all on board for free.The return journey cost €8 for 2 adults and 2 children.We got off the bus near the Cathedral and just wandered around the harbour and browsed the market stalls.It was a sunday and not many shops were open but the market was operating.It was a very hot day and we enjoyed the shade of the beautiful gardens in the city centre before taking the bus back from the same square as the shuttle buses.
The ship docked as close to the old town as it could possibly be.It took us about 5 minutes to walk from the gangplank to a gate in the old city wall.We wandered around the old town and managed to see lots of the main sights from the outside at least. The town is full of lovely coffee and cake shops and there were lots of stalls with really nice handicrafts not just the usual tourist souvenirs that you find in most places.We walked to the Freedom monument and saw the soldiers there with their straight legged marching technique.There is a lovely park adjacent to this where you can hire boats and pedaloes.
The guide gave an excellent commentary.The new port is well equipped and much closer to the city than the old one.We Stopped at Rostral Columns.St Isaacs Cathedral and Church of Spilled Blood for photo stops.We saw Aorara ,Peters cabin,the monument to Peter the Great and lots more. Had a very informative tour of the Peter & Paul Fortress.
The coach dropped us beside the entrance and we were first in when they opened the doors.Every room and gallery that we went into was empty and we saw so much and got some amazing photos in deserted galleries and on the staircase. Priceless.The collection is overwhelming and our short visit only skimmed the surface but we saw all the highlights with expert commentary.It was very hot and there is no air con.I had taken small hand held fans and water and was glad of it.There were clean bathrooms here.Coach picked us up outside the exit.
Peter & Paul Fortress
We had wanted to take a private excursion as when we were here before we did ships tours and they were very slow moving and more about shopping than touring.However we were only in port for one day and it was a monday and the Hermitage is closed to all except very large tour operators on a monday.I e mailed several beforehand and those that said they could get us in were very expensive so reluctantly i booked a full day ships tour that included The Hermitage.it turned out to be the highlight of our trip.The guide spoke excellent English.There were 40 people on our bus all of whom were fit and able bodied.We never lost anyone or had to wait anywhere for anyone.Lunch was included and was a salad followed by veg soup,then a chicken in cream sauce with potatoes followed by apple streudel.There was caviar on bread and sparkling wine and vodka shots and bottled water and coffee or tea included.This was in the Literary Cafe on Nevsky Prospeckt.
Stockholm is a wonderful city and we spent 2 nights pre cruise in the Elite Marina Hotel.It is on the water and you can get a boat into town or over to beside the Vasa Museum and Grona Lund.We bought Stockholm Cards for 2days which included public transport and museum and attraction entry.For us it was great value as we dipped into a lot of places that otherwise we would not have.
Junibacken is a great place for anyone with small children particularly if they are familiar with Astrid Lindgrens books.My daughter at 9years was just about young enough for it and we went at about 4 o'clock on our first day and by the time we were leaving we had the place to ourselves and she was able to play on all the equipmnent and had a great time.We also enjoyed the Vasa and ate swedish meatballs here which were delicious in the restaurant with a water view.We also went to a small aquarium and then onto Grona Lund amusement park.
The next day we visited a couple of churchs ,saw City Hall,watched the changing of the Guards at the Royal Palce,visited the Palace ,saw the crown jewels,Visited the Nobel Museum and then took a vintage tram to Skansen.What a great place for a family day out.Open air folkpark combined with a zoo and a small aquarium.
Stockholm has an excellent public transport system and all the Swedes we encountered speak fluent English.
We had a lovely day in Visby.This is a tender port and Vision of Seas uses her own lifeboats for this process.It was an adventure in itself.The sea was choppy and it was like being on a rollercoaster until we got into the harbour walls.
We walked for about 5 minutes when we got off the tender and took a bus to Kneippbyn which is 4 km from Visby.It is not Disneyland but it has a few rides and go karts and pedaloes and canoes.One of our reasons for visiting here is that it has the original house from the Pippi Longstocking Movie which was filmed on the island.There was also a singing and dancing show with Pippi and Kling and Klang.It was all in Swedish but it was lovely.There is also a small water park which is good for all ages.There were no queues to go on anything and our children loved it here.We took pool towels from the ship.We took the bus back to the top of the old town.It goes on to the Port as well.We wandered downhill through the old medieval town back to the port.Its a lovely place.There was a big market in the middle of the square and lots of places to eat.The tender back was livelier than the morning one and a wave crashed in and soaked us.I was wet all the way through and was glad this hadn't happened in the morning.
My children have asked if we can go back to Visby for a family holiday and I can see why Gotland is such a popular destination for the Swedes.It is unspoilt.The Swedish people are very relaxed and polite and they all speak fluent English.