My boyfriend and I sailed on NCL's 9-night Baltic Capitals cruise on August 29th from Copenhagen. This was my 5th cruise, 4th on NCL (other non-NCL cruise was on Royal Caribbean), and it was his first cruise. We are in our mid-20s/30s and don't really consider ourselves "cruise people" -- but we chose to go on this cruise because it would allow us to see a lot of different places without the hassle and expense of trains and planes between cities. This area of the world is quite expensive, so we thought that having our meals included on the ship would also help make it an affordable trip (more on the food later).
We arrived in Copenhagen a day early and spent the day exploring this beautiful city. We took the Hop On Hop Off bus around to get acquainted with the layout, and then explored on our own. It was one of my favorite ports of the trip and I wish we had planned another day or two there. We spent the night at the Copenhagen Plaza Hotel. When we arrived in the morning, they kept our bags for us until our room was ready. The hotel was literally right across the street from the Central Station on one side, Tivoli on the other, and the HOHO bus picked up on the other side. The location was the best part of the hotel and we paid for it! The room and the breakfast were pretty underwhelming.
The day of the cruise, we asked the front desk to order us a taxi to the cruise port but the price they quoted us seemed high. So we walked over to Central Station and, sure enough, we saved about $10USD taking a taxi from there and not going through the hotel. We also noticed the that HOHO buses were running shuttles (not their regular route) from certain hotels to the port but we didn't know about that in advance nor do I know the cost of that service.
I am a Silver Latitudes member so once we got to the port around 1:30pm, there was a separate line for us and we did not have to wait at all. It did look like there was quite a long line for everyone else but we were on board in 10 minutes max and our room was ready for us. Our bags showed up a few hours later. We had our first meal at the poolside BBQ, and it wasn't bad. It made us hopeful for things to come -- unfortunately, on the food-front, it only went downhill from there.
Our first port was Warnemunde, and we went into Berlin on our own. The train station was right across the street from where the boat docked, so we walked over and bought tickets for the first train to Berlin, which connected through Rostock. We got to Berlin before lunchtime and set off exploring on our own. We skipped the HOHO bus here and just walked. We ended up in Alexanderplatz and had a couple of beers and some street food, and from there we hopped on the underground and went to Prater Biergarten -- the oldest one in Berlin. It was in a trendy neighborhood that was fun to explore and we were glad we got away from the touristy areas. We can imagine that on the weekend it would be packed with Berliners, but on a Thursday afternoon, there were only about 20 people there.
The way back to Berlin proved to be quite the adventure! That morning we had purchased a round trip ticket into Berlin that left Berlin at 4:30pm and got back to Warnemunde around 7:30pm. When we got to the station to catch our train, we discovered that some WWII bombs had been discovered near the train tracks and that our train was being re-routed as the bombs were being disarmed! What was supposed to be a quick 3-hour journey with one connection turned into a train, to another train, to a 45 minute bus, to another train, and then yet another train. Needless to say, this new "itinerary" made it so that we, and the 20 other or so NCL passengers who had also ventured into Berlin without a cruise-line excursion ended up back at the ship at 10:10pm (all-aboard time was 9:30pm). My BF and some of the other cruisers stranded with us were able to call NCL's Miami offices, who reached the ship to tell them what happened, and they did end up waiting for us. I know that the ships like to use all tactics possible to coerce you into taking their excursions, including telling you they will leave you behind if you're late and not on one of their trips. Luckily for us that was not the case!
The sea days were unremarkable -- we played some bingo with the tiniest prizes I have ever seen; with 100 people playing and paying $60 each, the prizes were $110 and $230! What a joke! We did get 2 massages each that were very good, and did not get too much pressure to buy products. We used the gym several times, but found it to be TINY and always packed at peak times. The hot tubs were nice after a long day in port, but the water was just warm, definitely not HOT.
We really looked forward to St. Petersburg, and paid over $600 to do the 2-day deluxe tour with SPB Tours in a group of 16. To be perfectly honest, we were completely and totally underwhelmed by the tour and the guide. After hearing such rave reviews of this company on Trip Advisor, we were very disappointed. Our guide was dry and scripted, and at times, even smug. We were hoping that going with a local guide would give us some insight into modern Russia, but so little time was spent talking about anything current we felt like we were stuck in 1919! Any questions that were asked about modern Russia were answered briefly and without much insight.
The palaces were grand and all, but all of them had been destroyed in WWII and rebuilt in the 70s. It felt like all the grandeur was fake and for tourists, as much of it was not even replaced with the real thing -- even some of the Amber Room was actually made of enamel! Our itinerary with SPB was supposed to include a subway ride, which ended up just being a walk into the subway station to hear about its historical significance. And the "local lunch" on the second day was at a tourist restaurant -- there wasn't a "local" to be found. At the end of the trip, instead of giving us a survey to fill out, the guide had one of the ladies in the front read out questions about our satisfaction with the tour and the guide (she was right there!) over the bus microphone and have us yell out our answers! And then, we got a speech about how we should go home and give them good ratings on Trip Advisor! Not so much. The absolute highlight of St. Petersburg was the Church of the Spilled Blood -- I have never seen anything like it and it was truly amazing.
Tallinn was OK -- it rained and was cold our whole time there, so I am sure it tainted our experience. It seemed like a cute town with some good shops, but not much else. We took the HOHO bus to the main square, but we easily could have walked from the port and saved the money.
Helsinki was BEAUTIFUL! We saw all the main sites from the HOHO bus, but also got off and walked through the great market by the water, and took sightseeing boat tour that was included with the HOHO. It was such a beautiful way to see the city and have a few drinks on the boat while doing it! We ended up walking from the heart of downtown back to the ship, so really we didn't need the HOHO bus at all. In this case, as in most of the cities, we just used it as a crutch to get quickly acquainted with each place, then got off where we wanted to explore, and made our own way back.
Stockholm was also a beautiful city -- my only complaint is that we did not have enough time!! Especially since I spent a good bit of our time shopping at the H&M Flagship store!!! But really, such a stunning city on the water. This is one place we DEFINITELY plan to return. If I have one point of advice -- DO NOT MISS THE SAIL OUT OF THE STOCKHOLM ARCHIPELAGO! It was stunning, even in the gray and mist, and one of the highlights for us. We had a drink and watched as we sailed through from the Observation Lounge on the 12th floor, forward. Great views.
If I can say one thing about this cruise, it would be that if you like good food, you will be sorely disappointed. We tried pretty much all of the dining options, hoping that the next one would be better than the last. Breakfast in the buffet was pretty bad - I saw them pour the eggs on the buffet line out of a boiled plastic bag. Definitely wait for the omelet station! Breakfast in the dining room was not much better -- it seemed as if they just took what your ordered from the buffet and served you!
Dinners in the main dining room were terrible -- there is really no other way to put it. We ended up ordering two options each just to find something we liked, and left pretty much every meal disappointed. We tried the Italian specialty restaurant -- DEFINITELY not worth $10 each! The steakhouse I would say was on par with Outback, not Ruth's Chris. The French restaurant was decent, but the vegetables in my Coq au Vin were raw! It is supposed to be a slow-cooked, braised dish! If I can repeat -- if you are doing a cruise for the food on board, DO NOT DO THIS CRUISE!
The ports were definitely the highlight of this trip, but if there was one bright spot on the ship, it was the casino. The dealers and staff there were excellent -- well-trained, professional, and friendly. We played a lot of blackjack and craps, and while its certainly not Vegas with the free drinks, the casino staff did comp us rounds a few times and it was much appreciated.
All in all, the staff was nice, not outstanding, the ports were beautiful, and the food was awful. Not a bad vacation overall, but I think we will try another cruise line next time and try to improve the food and on board experience.