Emerald Princess Scandinavian and Russian Cruise
Baltic & Northern Europe
This was our 2nd Princess cruise. Last year did the Grand Mediterranean on the Ruby and loved it, so I had high expectations. I was a little nervous as I knew the Emerald is due for dry dock in a few months. The Emerald Princess exceeded my expectations.
We arrived at the ship about 2:00pm and were in our cabins by 2:15pm. We had 2 balcony rooms with adjoining balconies. I was pleased with the size of the rooms and pleasantly surprised to see that the closet and storage areas were just as large as in a mini-suite.
Relatively painless, done on the 1st evening in various lounges or restaurants and it lasted about 30 minutes.
We dined the 1st night in Sabitini's as it was a gift from our travel agent. The food and service were excellent. There is a lovely view out the back of the ship. All of our other dinners were anytime dining in the Michelangelo Dining Room. We had the same wait staff (Edwin and Yulia) every night but one, and had an More
outstanding experience. One of our party is a vegetarian and a little picky. Every night the head waiter (Martins) came to our table to go over the choices for the next evening. Several nights they served her veggie burgers from the Trident Grill near the pool! We thought that most of the food was great. The only exception was probably the steak entrees which we thought were good, but not great. We also did the Chef's dinner for the second time which is really special and well worth the money. They really make you feel like a VIP.
Most mornings we did not have time for breakfast and grabbed a muffin or yogurt parfait from the International Cafe. Good quick food, and my husband loves the cappuccino and brewed coffee. They had 3 pub lunches on our 11 day cruise and we ate at all 3 of them. My 18 year old son LOVES Princess's fish and chip and bread pudding! I love the pizza but only managed to eat it once.
We generally do not do a lot of shows, but even with our busy itinerary managed to see a few. The variety show with ventriloquist Steve Hewlett was funny and entertaining. It was not Vegas show quality, but I wasn't really expecting that type of show. I would say the same for the magician, Luca Volpe. He was not Houdini or David Copperfield, but I would not expect someone world class to be on a cruise ship. We enjoyed the short show. The farewell shoe with Pianist Liam Stewart and juggler Tibor Szobo was excellent. We also enjoyed Liam (this was his 1st cruise!) most night in Crooners and Tibor in the Piazza. Our favorite show in the Princess theater was the International Crew talent and variety show. It was really fun to see the young lady who served us coffee in the International Cafe perform a traditional Indonesian dance and the bartender from Crooners belly dance.
We did not use Princess's shore excursions, we did all ports on our own except for St. Petersburg where we did a private tour for the 4 of us. The Emerald's port lecturer, John Lawrence was excellent and we had preordered his DVD on the Baltic ports. (johnlawrencecd dot com) I felt that this and cruise critic more than prepared us to do our ports on our own.
I love the flow of the Emerald and for having over 3000 passengers it almost never seemed crowded. There were 2 exceptions. 1.) Some port days everyone tried to disembark at the same time and this was not pleasant. Security did do a good job of moving the crowd quickly. and 2.) On sea days and some evenings the shops would set up tables in the halls outside of the shops. Even though almost all of the merchandise could be found in the shops for the same price, it tended to create a shopping frenzy with the passengers.
We were supposed to meet in Michelangelo restaurant at 7:50am and wait to be called. We had a nice breakfast in Da Vinci dining room at 7:15am and by the time we got to Michelangelo at 7:53am a lady told us our group had already been called and to proceed to the ramp on deck 4. We had our luggage and were in a mini-van taxi by 8:05am. We heard a lot of stories about a lack of taxis, but there were plenty there when we disembarked. The taxi from the port back to the Marriott was 162.58 DKK or approx. $26.97.
A few final thoughts:
I would definitely recommend both the Emerald Princes and this itinerary! Almost everyplace we went took credit cards and we had no trouble with businesses accepting our sign and swipe card. I researched credit cards to make sure that I would not be charged conversion fees. I used a Capital One Master Card. I used local ATMs to get a small amount of currency in each country. I only used cash for tipping, and a few small businesses that did not accept credit cards. I researched ATM cards and used one that does not charge any fees and returns all other bank fees to the user. I used Capital One and Charles Schwab bank ATM cards. Don't forget to ask for a signed tax free form to get you 18-25% VAT tax returned to you. The amount you need to spend varies in each country, but it is usually anything greater than $20-$45. You take your receipt and the signed tax free form to the global tax free desk in the airport when you leave Europe and they will either give you cash or put the money back on your credit card. This took us about 20 minutes at the airport. Less
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Port and Shore Excursions
This was our least favorite port, but I am sure that the weather influenced our opinion a little. As soon as we got off the ship, it started to pour. We darted into the Magazin department store to re-group and look at our maps. The Magazin has clean, free bathrooms btw. I decided that the weather would not be great to go to Den Gamle By (open air museum), so we took the bus to the Moesgard Museum. We bought 2 hour bus passes from a machine on the bus for 20 DKK ($3.28), and the machine did not take credit cards. The locals were very friendly at the bus stop and on the bus. They were definitely the highlight of this port. The main attraction at this museum is the Grauballe Man, the world's best preserved bog body. He dates to the late 3rd century BC, during the early Iron Age. He is so well preserved you can see his facial hair! After about 1 1/2 hours at the museum we took the bus back to the city center. The weather was still drizzly so after walking around for 30 minutes and looking at the Aarhus Cathedral we went back to the ship early. Teenagers did use free wi-fi outside of McDonalds for a few minutes. (I did talk to some people on the ship who went to the Open Air Museum and enjoyed it despite the rain.)
We arrived in Copenhagen about 7:45am 2 full days before our cruise. As soon as we collected our luggage we proceeded to the airport information desk and purchased
4- 72 hour Copenhagen Cards. (479 DKK each, approx. $79.41 each)
We then took the train to central station and walked approximately 1/2 mile to the Marriott. The train was very nice and the walk was not bad, but we had a lot of luggage (a large suitcase and carry-on roller bag each). It was difficult to get the large bags on and off the train and the sidewalk was not smooth and had a lot of morning rush hour pedestrians. We decided that even though public transportation was included with our CPH card that we would take a taxi to the port. When we got to the hotel around 9:00am they had a room available for us! We stayed on the executive floor of the Marriott and really enjoyed the hotel. Our city view room was pleasant, we could see Tivoli. The room was large and clean and had free wi-fi. We ate breakfast in the executive lounge everyday. The evening food was enough to be considered a light dinner. The local food was good, but did not impress me enough to recommend the cafes where we ate.
We had a fabulous time touring Copenhagen for 2 1/2 days. We more than got our money's worth from the CPH cards. We visited Rosenborg Castle (where the crown jewels are located), Amalienborg Castle (where the Royal family currently lives), Chrisitanborg Castle and the underground ruins, the Jewish Museum, the National Museum, The Round Tower, The Design Museum (would not have gone to this museum but it was included in the pass and we passed it) , Tivoli and went on 2 canal tours. We really enjoyed the castles and enjoyed the canal ride so much that we went on 2! Tivoli was beautiful and I am glad that we went, but it was very crowded and I was disappointed that the rides were so expensive in addition to the admission. ( 75 DKK or $12.50 for one ride, 199 DKK or $34 for a multi-ride ticket).
On embarkation day we stored our luggage until 1:45 and then took a van taxi to the port. The taxi cost 211 DKK or $35.
Copenhagen, Denmark (again):
Our taxi got us back to the Marriott by 8:30am and they had a city view room on the Executive floor ready for us. After using the restroom the toilet would not flush and I also noticed that the mechanism that holds the handheld shower device upright was broken and it was hanging down. I called down to the front desk and clerk immediately brought us keys to a canal front room across the hall and a bellman to move our luggage. I was very pleased withe the customer service. We headed out to the Glyptotek Museum. We had left this museum for today because it was not included with our CPH card. This one was of our favorite museums of the entire trip. It was a clean, beautiful building and the art was incredible! There were many original Monet's, Gauguin's, Van Gogh's, Picasso's, Degas' and other great impressionists. We then walked the Stoget and ate lunch at one of Copenhagen's many Shawarma restaurants. (our vegetarian was excited when she saw hummus and falafel on their sign) We were a little nervous that it might be seedy, but it was full of locals the food was quite good. In the evening we "borrowed" bikes from one of the many City Bike locations. You put a 20 kroner coin into the lock and it releases the bike, when you return the bike it returns your coin. You can find a map of their locations on their website,
We bought all day public transportation passes from a machine at the bus stop. To get to the bus stop walk 2-3 minutes our of the port area, turn left and cross the road. The tickets were 7 euros each or approx. $8.63 each. You can take a bus to the market or to the Rock Church. I don't remember the numbers, but the signs at the stop list where the busses go. We walked around the market, the Cathedral and saw the Rock Church. We wanted to go the the Soumelinna Fortess, but I was afraid we would not get back in time. We met up with a young man that my son knows from the internet. He took us to a local restaurant for lunch where we had reindeer. It was pricey and not great. Our vegetarian could not find anything at the restaurant so we took her to Subway. They had "Vegepihvi" which she said was similar to a vegi-burger and delicious. The city hall is across the street from the market and has clean free bathrooms, free wi-fi and they had a nice wood carving exhibit too. We took the bus back to the ship without problems. It was a low key, but pleasant day.
Oslo was my teenage kids favorite port! We went straight to the information desk in the port terminal and purchased 4- 24 hour Oslo passes. (they give a discount to cruise passengers so instead of being 270 NOK each, they were 216 NOK each, approx. $36.39 each) We also bought stamps and postcards at the same information desk. We followed the crowd 5 minutes into the city and took the ferry to Bygday Island. They dropped us at the 1st stop and we went to the Viking Ship Museum. It is not big, but is really amazing. We they followed the street signs and walked about 10-15 minutes to the Holocaust Center. This is a beautiful, moving museum. They gave us English Audio guides with our Oslo Pass Admission. We could have stayed here all day, but did a quick tour and then walked about 10-15 minutes to the Fram, Kon-Tiki, and Maritime Museums. They Fram and Kon-Tiki were especially good, but I had everyone on a schedule so we only stayed about 45 minutes in each. We then took the ferry back to city central and were so close to the ship we decided to go back for lunch. (I told them they had 30 minutes max to eat and use the rest room!) We then toured the Akershus Fortress and Resistance Museum as they are literally at the ship's gangplank. Both of these were really good! We then took a tram to Vigeland Park and walked through the park looking at the amazing sculptures. We were lucky enough to have perfect weather which made this day really enjoyable. We took the tram back to city central and walked through City Hall, where they hand out the Nobel Peach Prize. We walked into the Nobel Peace Prize Center (it was included with our passes), but the exhibits required a lot of reading and we still wanted to walk by the Royal Palace (not as impressive as the Palaces in Copenhagen) and buy a t-shirt at the Hard Rock Cafe. We made it back to the ship with only about 15 minutes to spare! We had a great marathon day and the only thing we missed that we wanted to see was the National Gallery and Edvard Munch's, "The Scream". That will be another reason to return to this beautiful city! (By the way we did all of this for $36.39 per person!)
We made a family decision not to travel the 3 hours each way to Berlin during our one day in Germany. I am hoping to do a land tour in the future and be able to spend more than 6 hours in such a large and amazing city. I got a lot of information from cc, and we decided to take the train to Schwerin and spend some time in Warnemunde as well. We followed the advice of travelanni dot webs dot com and it worked perfectly! We walked to the Warnemunde train station and bought a Mecklenburg Lander ticket for 30 euros $37.00 for 4 people. We bought this from a machine using euros with the help of an attendant. I don't think the machine took credit cards. We took the train to Rostock and transferred to the 11:07 train to Schwerin. The only problem with this type of ticket is that it is not good until 9:00am, so that did not give us enough time to get to Rostock for the 9:07 train to Schwerin and that train only runs every 2 hours. The train was nicer than I expected and it was a pleasant ride. We walked from Schwerin central station about 5 minutes to a lovely shopping/ eating area. You can see the Castle down this main street. (Schiostrae street) We were hungry so we ate at a really good Greek restaurant called Pegasus. We were a little limited because of our vegetarian, but it ended up being a great choice. We then enjoyed the castle for several hours. The inside and the gardens are both amazing. We took the 3:53pm train back to Warnemunde and spent another hour or so walking the quaint streets of this German sea-side town. We walked to the beach to see the Baltic Sea and the famous wicker beach chairs. The only thing that would have made this day better would have been to leave Warnemunde early enough to make the 9:07am train to Schwerin, but that would have been a lot more expensive. Note to those looking of free wi-fi; if you purchase something at the "Crew Corner" in the Warnemunde train station you can use their wi-fi for free. This includes paying 50 cents to use their clean restrooms.
Catherine Palace was stunning. It was very interesting to see the photos and drawing of the Palace after the Nazi devastation on the way out. I am so glad that they were able to return he Palace to such a place of beauty. *While we waited for our tickets to the Palace, our driver took us to his family church, Feodorovsky Cathedral also in Pushkin. It was Saturday morning so the Orthodox service was in session. We put our scarfs on our heads and went inside. It was a beautiful and special experience.
Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood
The Church of the Spilled Blood is gorgeous both inside and out.
The Hermitage museum is magnificent and I am sure that 2 1/2 hours we only touched the surface. I was impressed that our group was admitted early and we never really encountered any crowds.
Neva River Cruise
As I mentioned in my Alla review we did not enjoy the city tour by boat. However if the seats were tolerable and we could hear the guide I am sure that it would have been enjoyable.
Peter & Paul Fortress
The Cathedral at the Peter and Paul Fortress was interesting as it had the tombs of many of the Russian Tzars including Peter the Great. *Make sure you use a restroom before arriving at the Fortress the bus that contained the toilets had the smallest and dirtiest bathrooms I have ever seem in my life! I am quite small and I could hardly fit in the stall and the stall walls were only shoulder height. Ironically you had to pay to use these facilities. We did have a good laugh the rest of the trip talking about the "pi** bus" and how it "pi**ed us off"!
Peterhof fountains and gardens were spectacular. We did not go inside the Palace, our guide told us that it is very similar to Catherine Palace. The hydrofoil ride back to the city was very pleasant.
We scheduled a private (just our family), 2 day comfort tour with Alla Tours. We also planned our own evening excursion for Friday night with Alla's driver escorting us. I will first review Alla Tours and then review the port of St. Petersburg.. Alla was very responsive and easy to deal with through her web-site message service. Both mornings and Friday evening we had no trouble disembarking the ship and showing our tour ticket to customs in place of a Visa. Both mornings our guide, Kate was standing just beyond the customs booth waiting for us. Kate was very personable, spoke very good English, and knew a great amount about Russian history and culture. Our driver, Alexander (he went by Sasha), was great! He was a retired military pilot and an excellent driver. I am glad that I used a private company over the ship's tour and had a great two days. I do however have several complaints regarding Alla Tours:
The 2nd morning we were taken to Alla's souvenir shop to pay for our tours. Alla was not there when we got there, so us along with many groups had to wait for her arrival to pay for our tours. There was then a very long line to pay when she arrived. We were picked up from our ship at 8:00am and did not leave her shop until 10:30am. So basically we lost 2 1/2 hours of our very short time in St. Petersburg!
Our guide did not have our tickets to many of the attractions we toured (the Hermitage, St. Peter and Paul Fortress) and we had to wait for either Alla's husband or another guide to bring us our tickets. We were a a small group and moved very quickly, so I did not appreciate waiting outside an attraction 20 minutes for another guide to bring us our tickets.
Our one hour boat tour of the city was terrible! The seats were very uncomfortable and the boat was so loud that we could not hear ANY of the guide's audio. It was very disappointing because in Copenhagen the canal boat tours were so great.
I had e-mailed Alla several times about our dinner on Friday night and she assured me that she had made a reservation and that everything was set. However when we arrived at the restaurant, the Maitre 'd did not have our reservation. Luckily, despite the small restaurant being almost full, he quickly added 2 places to a lovely table that was set for 2 and accommodated us. I will never know if the mistake was on All's part or the restaurant.
Despite my complaints we had an awesome 2 days and I would use Alla or perhaps another private tour company again.
I had seen a program on the travel channel about the Grand Hotel Europe and it's Caviar Bar and L'Europe Restaurant. I was trying to decide if it would be a better experience to dine at this restaurant or attend a Russian Ballet. I then read that the major ballets would be on vacation while we were in St. Petersburg. I then discovered that we were lucky enough to be in St. Petersburg on a Friday night and that every Friday evening L'Europe has "Tchaikovsky Night". This is from the hotel's website: "Paying tribute to the great Russian composer, who spent his honeymoon at the Grand Hotel Europe, this is an unforgettable evening of classical music, ballet and fine dining. Enjoy timeless classics from Swan Lake and other great works performed by local dancers and a 13-piece orchestra while dining at L'Europe." I was not disappointed. We enjoyed the best meal of our lives and thoroughly enjoyed the orchestra, ballet dancers and 2 opera singers!
We loved Stockholm, the only problem was that we had to be back on board by 1:30pm. It was not enough time! We disembarked and immediately bought tickets for the hop-on hop-off boat going to the Vasa Museum. The tickets were 100SEK or $14.94 each. We got to the museum and got in line by 8:10am. The museum opens at 8:30am. Once inside, the museum is so spacious the crowd thinned out. It is truly amazing to see this Swedish warship that sank on its maiden voyage in 1628. We finished the museum in about an hour, but the hop-on boats don't start their rotation until 10:00am so we decided to take a taxi to City Hall where the Nobel Prize Banquet is held each year. The information desk at the museum called a taxi for us and warned us that only certain taxi companies are regulated, others will charge whatever they want. The company they recommended was Taxistockholm dot se . The taxi cost 162 SEK or $24.21. We were at the City Hall in a few minutes and went on the 10:00am English tour. It is a beautiful building and it was amazing to be in the same halls where so many Nobel Prize Laureates have dined and danced. We then walked about 15 minutes to the old town, Gamla Stan. We went in some shops, walked by the Royal Palace and took photos outside the Nobel Museum. We then should have taken the hop-on bus back to the ship, but he kids really wanted to get another Hard Rock t-shirt. So we took a taxi (same company) to the Hard Rock and had the driver wait while we got the shirts. He then took us back to the ship. This taxi cost 324 SEK or $48. This was not our most economical move, but everyone was happy!
I loved this adorable Medieval town. I printed and used the walking tour by Lair Bear that I had read about on cruise critic. (brentjes dot com / tallinn) The walk was relatively easy to do and at each stop on the tour I read Jay's commentary. My 18 year old son was very impressed. After we completed the tour we enjoyed exploring the town and shopping. The town is very picturesque and charming! We had a great lunch at Kompressor, the legendary pancake house. They were similar to crepes: mine was with chicken and feta cheese, son had salami and cheese, our vegetarian had peach and cottage cheese. This was one of the cheapest and best meals on our trip! The meals were only 4 Euros each, approx. $4.93. (komprssorpub dot ee) Everyone was happy! Kids used free wi-fi standing outside McDonalds again for a few minutes. By the way the post office across from the Alexander Nevky Cathedral had the cheapest postcards in town and a table where you could write your cards.