More time please at St Petersburg and Tallin
It was by pure chance that we booked the cruise. I was scanning the advertisements for a cruise around the British Isles when I spotted the Fred Olsen advert for St Petersburg and the Baltic Capitals. It was on my 'must do' list for 2013. The price was right. The date and length of cruise just right, so why not. The Black Watch is a small ship with a big heart. Obviously, her age dictates that she looks a bit tired in places but she is obviously a battler and she is a pleasure to be a passenger on. You could always find a quiet area to read and reflect, or company in one of her many lounge areas. You were not aware of the Black Watch being small as there always seemed to be plenty of space and room. Her personnel are second to none. The service we had throughout the cruise from the dining room staff and room attendants was second to none. They always had a smile, were always cheerful and nothing was too much trouble for them. The food was an absolute delight with something More
for everyone. Just couldn't be faulted. The evening shows were a pleasure, and the Black Watch Company are to be congratulated. No bad language from the comedian just pure fun and laughter. The singers and dancers plus musician's throughout the ship were a delight. There are two shops on board. Small but full of goodies. In fact I bought a lot a goodies with no regrets. Ladies, do not bother to take clothes with you, they carry a beautiful range of clothes and swimwear. My husband also purchased some items of clothing. Very pleased at the fact he wouldn't find them on the High Street. You won't find a rock climbing wall or a water ski facility on board this ship, but who really needs it. Not I. If you are seeking warmth, comfort, good food and company, interesting speakers (we had several), the opportunity to go on excursions that give you a taste of the various countries
and lots of different activities during the day (including how to play bridge and learn to dance), then the Black Watch is for you. Try it and see.
Would prefer to sail from and to Southampton as it is much easier from the Midlands. Thought the booking in at Dover an absolute farce. Upon arrival we were allocated a number, told to sit and wait for it to be called out so that we could then book in. It was never called out. After an hour of waiting in vain, we made enquiries to find that the system had disintegrated and basically we were to queue alongside others who had just arrived. Totally inadequate number of seats available within the hall. Why allocate a time for people to book in, if that instruction is then totally disregarded. Surely it would be easier on every-one, if once booked in you could then proceed to the ship.
An absolute mess. Instead of arriving at Dover, whereupon a taxi would take us to the Ramada Hotel where we would collect the car and arrive home at a reasonable time, we docked at Southampton at approximately 9.30 with a three hour coach journey to Dover. Granted it wasn't the fault of the shipping line that the weather was horrendous, but why use Dover if it is renowned for problems when the weather is bad. When we arrived at Dover, it was noted that the P & O Ferries were still running backwards and forwards and that a large ship had docked that same morning. Mmm! There was no help at Dover from Porters as they were busy? with luggage for the return trip. In fact the physical help at Dover was absolutely non-existent. In the pouring rain, I had to gather up my luggage (4 x items), find a trolley (like gold) then stack it myself onto a heavy cumbersome trolley and push it to the reception area. There were no taxis to be seen anywhere, and we had to ask Dover Reception to help out with contacting a taxi company, which she did. All in all, a very wet, bedraggled and fed up person. Agreed it was not the fault of Fred Olsen that the weather was bad, but the extreme lack of help and attitude at Dover was naughty, and when I choose my next cruise I will steer clear of Dover.
Missing Port - Turku, Finland. Complimentary Port Shuttle Bus was available, however we went on a trip - Panoramic Turku. A pleasant trip out ending up in Naantall, a pretty town alongside the archipelago. A much appreciated comfort stop and a coffee and cake in a beautiful timber restaurant followed by 'free time' to explore the area. Ideal trip for those with a limited mobility problem.
Missing Port - Kristiansand, Norway. Arrived on a Sunday. Elected not to go on a trip. Big mistake. Used the 'Noddy Train' (10 Euros per person - big rip off) from the port to the centre of the town. The 'noddy train' would only stop at the one place) Everywhere closed up for the day except the Church and a few bars. Very disappointed. Would suggest 'find an alternative port of some interest or at least with some life'. Less
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Cabin review: BC8008
Cabin No 8008. Two fixed single beds. Both comfortable. Just enough room within the cabin for a chair and small round table plus a dressing table with complimentary tea and coffee. Past experience told us how much room we had to store suitcases (between dressing table and balcony doors)so we ensured that the cases could all fold into the one large one. Small balcony, but standard throughout the ship. Small closet, but plenty of storage room within. Cabin had two generous wardrobes with draws, not enough hangers, but I always take some of my own. We had a restrictive view from the balcony, but we had been made aware of that upon booking. Fortunately, it was no problem and the minute viewing restriction was caused through three small 2 x man life boats. The shower was adequate, but I would have preferred it a little larger. The toilet system seemed to run all night which was a bit irritating and the panel board separating the balconies was slightly adrift as it kept banging when there was a wind. Room was easily accessible from the lift and whilst we were on board it was a quiet corridor. Cabin looked tired and could well do with a refurbish and super duper clean.
Port and Shore Excursions
We went on the 'City Tour' and found it very interesting. In fact, Copenhagen, Denmark is on our list of must do's next year. The only regret I have, is that we didn't book onto the Copenhagen and Carlsberg trip which I think covered the same trip as we did but incorporated the Carlsberg Brewery.
Helsinki from Land and Sea. Well worth the time and money. A must do. Very interesting and informative. We were lucky. We had a good guide. Just a little more time in the Market Square before boarding the coach would have been nice, but that was only so I could have a coffee and cake. Mmm.
Unfortunately due to slight mobility problems we had to be rather selective about the trips we chose to go on. At this port we elected to go on The Mollie and The Minster trip. We enjoyed the coach trip through a very flat landscape which stretched for miles and miles as far as the eye could see. I would have preferred a little more time at the 700 year old Minster and I felt that the guide rushed us through very quickly and the history of the building was very slight. The historic Molli narrow gauge steam train was a fun trip and we ended up at Kuhlungsborn where we had a refreshment break. The tour guide(s) made an awful lot of fuss and bother about a cup of coffee (from a flask) and a slice of typical German cake. Bit OTT I thought as I have had better at our local M & S. I was more interested in strolling along the promenade adjacent to the beach. Unfortunately, time didn't permit more than a 10/15 minute stroll. I do not regret taking a trip, but regret having chosen this one. The guide was obviously a 'time and motion' expert, and he kept referring to German time and how long we had available to us (very little). With hindsight I should have chosen perhaps 'Best of Berlin' or 'Flavours of Rostock'.
Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood
The Building itself well worth the visit, if only we had been allowed more time to study. There was so much to see and admire. We were not impressed by the guide in this instance as we were literally whipped around the church itself and before we knew it, we were outside and making our way crocodile style to the souvenir shop, which was a very long interior with thousands of items for sale. We should have insisted on staying where we were and continue to enjoy the beauty and history of the building and marvel at the external facade instead of being bundled along for an unwanted shopping spree. The trip was advertised with shopping time, but I thought we would have more time allocated to the Cathedral and just 30 minutes to the shopping. I think the actual trip to the Cathedral could be incorporated easily within the Panoramic City Tour with extra time allowed. Do go and see the Cathedral it is well worth it.
Good Value. Covered a lot of ground and the guide was interesting. We had to do the boring inevitable souvenir shop (unfortunately this was part of the actual tour, so I couldn't complain). However, the toilet was complimentary - a word used a lot whilst in St Petersburg especially in conjunction with souvenir shops and they did serve up good coffee and a shot of vodka (both free). The contents in the shop were cheap and a lot of persons stocked up. I do feel that on this particular trip the excursion to the Church of the Savior on Splilled Blood could be incorporated by adding on an extra 2 hours to the trip as the two excursions covered the same roads and saw the same points of interest. I would recommend this trip.
A must. Fantastic. If only we had more time. The guide was very good and informative. The Hermitage was clean, warm but no where to sit. But of course this seems to be the norm every where. Beautiful building, tired in parts, but that goes with the territory. We were extremely fortunate in that we were the only ones within the Hermitage on the day we visited. Apparently they opened it up just for our cruise ship. Profuse thanks to the person who arranged it. If I am allowed to be negative, it was that on the way to the Hermitage Museum via the coach, we were requested to fill in a form confirming that we would pay Â£5.00 for being allowed to take photographs. We signed it and subsequently paid for it at the end of the cruise. A number of fellow passengers didn't fill in the form and still took the photographs. No signage was seen in the Hermitage advising that charges would be made for camera use and no identification marks on the person/camera were made to confirm that individual had the right to use the camera. It's a silly niggle I know, but it did annoy me. When selling the trip they should stipulate the extra over charge will be applicable.
It was the first time we had seen a ballet and it was an obvious choice of trip to make. First time in Russia, first time to the ballet. It was Swan Lake. I had nothing to compare it with so I am unable to be critical. There were times when I thought one or two of the dancers were out of sync and I do wish they smiled occasionally (perhaps it is not the done thing). The building was of course old, tired and in dire need of refurbishment with a trip hazzard of a red stair carpet. Perhaps this is something for the future. I was disappointed by the fact that only a handful of people dressed up for the evening performance and they all seemed to be off the cruise ship along with ourselves. I had been advised (in this instance totally incorrect) that the Russians dressed up for the Ballet and that if you were to go in wearing flip flops and shorts and/or jeans and jumper you would be totally under dressed. Well, we wore the dinner jacket and the pretty dress with heels. Should have gone in jeans and jumper. It seemed to be a sell out performance which is good for them and provides a good atmosphere for everybody attending. Incidentally, although the seating was tired looking, it was comfortable with plenty of leg room. Well worth the trip.
Big mistake. We should have a taken one of the advertised trips, as we would have seen far more of the area. However, we caught the 'shuttle bus' at Â£5.0 p/person. Valid for multiple journeys. Very good value if you just wanted to sit on the shuttle bus all afternoon. Tallinn is a beautiful and interesting city. The historic city centre (Old Tallin) well worth the time and energy to visit. We did it our way via the shuttle bus and walking, but would advise taking one of the trips and hopefully with a guide who is brilliant and makes the place come alive for you. Would have preferred a whole day there instead of just the afternoon.