Our Best Cruise ever !
Baltic & Northern Europe
My family and I have been cruising for two decades, since our kids were small. Now that they're working, it took two years of planing to come up with a cruise that worked for all of us.
We chose the Baltic as a location with many fascinating ports, and chose Azamara since we prefer small ships which can dock in the center of town, and overnight in port so we could really see the town.
Our cruise started with flawless flights on SAS business class from the US -- great seats and great cocktails ! We coordinated two flights so we all arrived in ARB within 45 minutes of each other, and then took a personalized guided tour before boarding the boat (note to RCCL -- you should have this as an option for those arriving in the early AM before boarding is allowed).
The ship itself was a great size -- large enough to have a variety of public rooms and a nice sized suite, small enough to be easy to navigate around, with no need to use the steps (except after a some More
very long days of touring in Russia).
Food on the ship was excellent as well. I would rate the buffet as the best we've had on any cruise -- always fresh, multiple to -- order stations, and it never felt like a compromise to eat there rather than a longer, sit down meal. Aquilina, one of two prime restaurants was nice, but there was really no need to spend extra. And the little grill had great burgers and chicken wings all day.
I'll comment on the ports under port reviews but make one major comment here -- if you're making the effort to get to St. Petersburg spend the extra money for a personal guided tour -- either from the cruise or a Russian based agency (several are reviewed on other sites, we used, and recommend Alla tours) Less
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Cabin review: Azamara Journey
The suite was nice, but not up to the suite we had two years earlier on Silversea. My biggest complaint is that the power outlets (both US and European voltages were UNDER the desk.
I also thought the balcony was too narrow to be usable.
On the other hand, the bed was nice and the suite service was excellent.
Our kids were in two cabins just forward of us. They were only a bit smaller, and didn't have the butler service. If you don't use the butler, the balcony cabins are an excellent value.
Port and Shore Excursions
Just a wonderful city. A very different perspective on three centuries of war with Sweden than we heard in Stockholm (none of which is taught in american schools). Also interesting to compare the base metal domes, etc. of their palaces, churches, etc. with the Russian gold.
I wish we had more time there, more energy and the option of a more comprehensive tour (the only tours available were half--day).
Neat and clean, but not much more to see than the cathedrals near the port.
They've opened a local vender's market with a lot of handcrafts near the pier. My wife bought some potholders, and my daughter -- in -- law wound up with a nice fur--trimmed hat.
A very interesting room, part of Catherine's palace.
It just floors me that people, even royalty, could live in such style. There's more gold on the wall than in many country's national treasury. Again, miles (literally) of art, particularly art related to Russian history.
Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood
I can't imagine the manhours required to make all the mosaics that cover this church, inside and out.
St. Petersburg explains why the serfs revolted -- just look at all the gold and realize how the city (younger than my home town of Philadelphia) was built.
A once in a lifetime experience, two days touring left us exhausted. My wife and I "trained" for six months prior to the cruise (treadmill, dieting), and it was absolutely worth it.
St. Petersburg -- by cruise ship or land tour, is a must place to visit.
One last overall comment -- get a good camera, portable but with a fast lens (lots of places are no flash), and learn how to use it !
Seeing all that art is overwhelming. Rembrandts next to Degas -- pictures you only see in art books and can't imagine they'll let you see up close and personal. We also saw the treasure and gold rooms, which were worth the extra time in the museum.
Neva River Cruise
We did both an hour cruise in the evening and the hydrofoil to Peterhof. Both nice, particularly the hydrofoil which was a pleasant change from our van.
We only saw the fountains and the grounds. Both were amazing, particularly the amount of water moving around and the use of gold. I'm used to copper and other base metals for fountains in American cities.
Only way to optimize your time is with a private tour. We could add a side trip on the subway, have dinner at an authenic restaurant, plus the guide could get us around large crowds in many places.
We used Alla tours and would book them again if going to another city they handle.
St. Isaac's Cathedral
The size is amazing. My kids walked up to the walkway around the dome, and thought it was worth the effort for the view one got from this vantage point.
Very nice town, with a variety of things to do.
We enjoyed seeing the old town, and the area around the castle. My wife and I took a guided to the Vasa museum -- fascinating. My kids feel that between an iPOD and GPS, who needs a guide, and did the city on their own. They found it easy to get around (particularly since the cruise ship ran a shuttle to downtown).
My daughter and her beau took the evening rooftop tour and found that to be quite an experience.
My main complaint is that the cruise line, and the independent mass tours available online all include a panoramic bus tour with all packages. Having two days in town, I would have liked options for a more intensive tour of one or two areas rather than repeating a drive around. For example, we toured the VASA museum, but then had to sit on the bus for another hour being schlepped all over the city. The time would have been better spent seeing another of the museums (such as the Swedish life collection) in the same area.
Much more interesting than we expected. We had a private walking tour, same agency as we used in Russia. This allowed us to get a better feel for this medieval city which was a major contrast to the newer, and wealthier St. Petersburg. My cousin had us buying yarn, something Estonia is famous for.
Unfortunately, the KGB museum (which I wanted to see) was closed the day we were in port.
Nice overview of the area, and a nice break after three hectic days of touring. The kids thought this would be boring, and just walked around the town, which they found to be very interesting (a UNESCO historic site with it's city wall).