My wife and I started our journey in Vancouver Canada on Aug. 14th. where we flew to Heathrow via Air Canada 777 service. We were prepared to hate the flight and the service from what we have heard, but were pleasantly surprised. We travelled economy and found the seating space to be adequate considering my 6'1" frame. Customs in Heathrow went smoothly and we soon found ourselves looking for the tube station into London. We had pre purchased the London Pass with transportation so the Piccadilly Line was already paid for and off we went. Glouster Road Station was our stop to our Hotel and to my surprise, once we emerged from the depths of the tube station, our hotel was right in front of us. We stayed at the Bailey's Millennium Kensington near Hyde Park which was a four star for $150 USD/per night. Having pre paid for the London Pass, we checked in and then went touring London. In three days, we saw all the major attractions including Windsor Castle and only made one mistake on the tube. We found the subway system to be easy and effective. We really enjoyed London and the weather was great, only a little rain for five minutes or so that certainly didn't dampen our spirits.
We shared a transfer to the ship with another couple we met through Cruise Critic on Aug. 18th. We used London Airport Cars for both transfers to the ship and back to Heathrow at the end of the cruise. If you use this company you need to be sure to state the amount of luggage you have as they were woefully inadequate for the transfer back to Heathrow. We could not use the vehicle they sent even though we stated our group size and cruise ship luggage. They were not helpful in addressing our problem and we would up finding another company to take us to Heathrow.
Check in was very fast and efficient and we went directly to our cabin as we arrived after 1 pm. We were soon enjoying a glass of wine with our newly met travel companions on our deck.
Our first port of call was Bruges Belgium. Here we enjoyed a private walking tour and a canal boat ride with two other couples met through Cruise Critic. We find the Cruise Critic message boards to be fantastic. We have met and shared tours with a number of couples through Cruise Critic over our last two cruises. All our tours on this cruise were private and we find this to be less expensive than using ship sponsored tours. We booked the Deluxe Four Baltic Pearls tour through SPB tour company. This included over 20 hours of touring in St. Petersburg with lunch both days and the Hydrofoil ride to Peterhof as well as a Canal boat ride down Palace Row, 6 hour touring in Berlin with transfers to and from the ship, 3 hours in Tallinn and 3 hours in Helsinki. The price was $485 USD per person. The guides were very knowledgeable in all places and the group size was about 12 people. SPB puts the group together for you and that group for the most part stays together through all four ports. We also booked private tours in Stockholm and Copenhagen.
Days at sea were restful although we were active in the Celebrity Life programs. We participated in the Ryder Cup Golf competition, the botchi ball games against the officers and the pool volleyball games against the officers. Entertainment on board was for the most part very good and the main dining room food and service was acceptable. The presentation of the food was lacking and they seemed to over cook the beef dishes. We purchased the three specialty dining package Celebrity offered and thought that was of good value. Qsine is a must do and the Murano and Tuscan are very good as well. If you choose just one specialty dining experience, Qsine is my recommendation.
On our turnaround day in Southampton, we did some shopping. They have a very large shopping complex within walking distance from the dock. We had planned to see some of the Titanic exhibits but time was running short as we were hosting a wine get together with two new couples that we were touring with for the Med. portion of our Cruise. As per the Baltic people we toured with, the two new couples we met on the Med. side were very friendly as well. Oddly enough, before we met any of the couples, ourselves and three other couples felt we new each other well enough through communicating on line to book another cruise together. We now have four couples who had previously never met at all booked on an 18 day cruise on Celebrity Solstice from Auckland to Perth. How weird is that?
This was our fifth cruise in the Med. so some of the ports were the same, however we managed to plan different tours that took in some new sights. One of the highlights was Portofino. We enjoyed a specialty coffee on a floating barge just as Portofino was waking up. We seemed to be one of the first tour groups to get there and we felt like we were walking into a painting as we had many pictures of the place previously. In both Rome and Florence, we used Miles and Miles tour company and having used them on three previous occasions, we new what to expect. They are very passionate about their work and their cities and do an exceptional job. They are a family run business and we have grown to know them quite well over the last four years. If you are planning a trip to either of these places, you would not go wrong by booking Miles and Miles for your tours.
Disembarkation went smooth as well. We chose to keep our luggage in our room and take it off with us in the morning. Not many guests know that this is an option. This way you do not need to pre plan what you are wearing the night before and you do not need to attend any disembarkation meetings on the ship. Finding your luggage is not an issue as it has never left your sight.
All in all we enjoyed the cruise, and our only dislike was the time in port seemed to short in some cities. Lisbon is a good example. We docked at 10:30 am. and left port at 6:00 pm. The ship had that evening and two full sea days to get back to Southampton. They could have easily stayed in port longer and we felt like we were being short changed compared to our other cruises on Holland America.