After chatting on the Cruise Critic Roll Call boards for months, some of our group are leaving for London. The group have been a lot of fun and as we all take turns heading out, the excitement builds.
Wed. May 4 We leave home for our flight to London. We fortunately have a non stop from Chicago to London's Heathrow, leaving Chicago at 5:30 pm and arriving in London at 7 am.
Thurs. May 5 Arrive in London at 7 am and have arranged ahead of time for a driver to meet us from Just Airports to take us into London proper to our Hotel.
Going thru customs at Heathrow was a nightmare, over an hr. in lines that just wouldn't move. Finally got thru and headed to our prearranged meeting point and the driver was not there. We did manage to find another one from the same company who phoned and we eventually found our driver outside instead of where he was supposed to be.
Got to our Hotel, the Kensington Forum, which I had gotten on Priceline for only $75, however, in all the times we've used Priceline this was the first time the hotel would only allow you a bare minimum, twin bed room. They were so insistent on selling us an upgrade, that we just refused on principal. We planned to be very busy anyway, but be forewarned if you should get this hotel.
Checked in, and headed straight back out to see all that we could in a limited time frame. Found the double decker red tour bus and off we went. That was the only way to see so much in such a short span of time. Price for the bus was 20 British Pounds per person for 24 hrs and we were able to purchase the tickets right in the hotel at the Concierge desk.
After being out all day long, we wanted a true fish and chips dinner in a local pub, not a tourist restaurant. The Concierge again gave us great information and we were able to walk there from the Hotel.
Definitely exhausted, and to bed quite early. The time changes have caught up with us.
Fri. May 6 Up very early to have breakfast and be picked up for our drive to Dover. We had arranged for transportation with a lovely lady, Denise Ryland, of Tours of the Realm. Rather than merely driving us to Dover, her services include a tour thru the countryside rather than highway routes. It was just a delightful day with quaint small towns all along the way, fields, animals and a great lunch in a pub in a small town. We were able to enjoy the wonderful weather and have lunch outside in their garden near a pond. Continued on and drove thru many, many small towns before arriving in Dover at our Hotel.
If you really want to see something of the countryside rather than just highway to Dover, Denise is definitely the one to contact. What a delightful lady. www.toursoftherealm.com
Since Denise lives in Dover she was able to recommend a good place for us to have dinner that evening.
After checking into the Churchill in Dover and getting things to our room, we found ourselves lucky enough to have a harbor view room so we would see the ship early the next morning.
As for the Churchill.....very old rooms, ours had crooked floors that you about ran downhill to the bathroom. We actually put the pillows at the foot of the bed to sleep. Keep that in mind if booking your room there.
Had dinner at Cullins Yard, which was a very easy short walk from the hotel. A casual pub and wine sort of place serving a lot of seafood. After dinner, took a walk along the waterfront, back to the hotel for drinks and early to bed.
Sat. May 7 Woke at 4:30 am to see that the Constellation was already at the pier in Dover. Cab is picking us up at 11 to head over to board. Had a nice breakfast, then realized that every person in the hotel was trying to get to the same place. It was a zoo of people and luggage all vying for the cabs.
We got onboard at approx. noon, dropped off the carryons in our cabin, which was 7199, a corner FV Aft cabin which was wonderful. Ran down to check our dining room arrangements to find that rather than a table for 2 we were at an 8. The Maitre' d promptly changed it for us and showed us the new table which was a great location on the balcony about ½ way back and looking directly down on the first level and at the staircase.
Looked around a bit, loved the artwork and the sculptures that were placed in rather unlikely spots.
Muster drill was at 4:15 pm which went off on time and we were back on our balcony in plenty of time for our sail away. We had several of the people from our CC roll call group come to share the sail away with us. Monica, Jeff, Shaun, Larry, David, Carlene, Jim, Laurie, Deb, deb and Robert, Kat & John. It was fun to finally meet the people who I've been talking with for so long.
Most had early dinner, but we choose to always have 2nd seating.
We changed and left for our nightly drink in the lounge before dinner. At dinner we found the most delightful waiter and asst. waiter, Bernard and Daniel. They took great care of us for the entire trip, even going so far as to make special potato dishes for me on two different occasions when they knew I really liked that particular dish. They just went out of their way to be pleasant and go that extra mile.
Off to the casino to end our evening.
Sun. May 8 Sea Day Most people on the ship seem quite uncomfortable today. It's not necessarily rough water, just a strange movement and even the most experiences cruisers are a little off. After inquiring about it with some crew members, they told us it was due to the shallow water we had to go thru all day. Water was only about 150' deep and it causes some strange reactions.
Cruise Critic get together this morning at Michael's Club. They opened the doors for us, let us in and that was it. Nobody from the ship was there and we were quite on our own. Never had that happen before.
Also Mother's Day and at dinner all the ladies are given a rose. Nice touch when being away from home and our kids.
Ship appears to be in great shape, of course we don't look for things wrong and just enjoy being at sea.
Tonight is also the CDS masked ball. Definitely kept an open mind and went, masks and all, but about 15 min into this and we left. It was so crowded that you had a hard time getting in, and once in, there just weren't enough places to sit where you could even see what was going on. I do have pics of the changes made to the room and personally just found it disappointing.
Mon. May 9 Oslo, Norway Arrived in Oslo promptly at 7 am and able to be off by 8 am. It was a beautiful little town and you are definitely able to walk. The ship docks right at the foot of town. Directly to your right of the ship on the cliff you'll see Akershush Castle. We walked first to Frogner Park which really is a must see with all the statues. Yes folks, it is nude art, but gorgeously done and shouldn't offend anyone. It depicts families and was quite enjoyable.
The weather was quite chilly, but did warm up in the afternoon. Just as we boarded the ship, the sky opened up and it poured.
We departed promptly at 2 pm. The departure is amazing to watch with all the islands and spots tight enough that you wonder if you'll make it thru. Definitely watch this sail away.
Plan to sleep in late in the morning and enjoy another sea day, after that one the ports will get quite intense.
Got to our cabin for bed and found an invitation to join the Captain's Table for dinner the following night on our first formal evening. Looking forward to that.
Tues. May 10 Sea Day Slept in and just basically relaxed all day. Met at our prearranged location for drinks before meeting Captain Papanikolaou for our dinner. He is a charming man and quite personable.
Wed. May 11 Stockholm, Sweden Up early to watch our approach to Stockholm. Coming in, it almost seems one could reach out and touch the land we are passing. Well worth watching.
Got off the ship about 9:15 am and took the free shuttle to the Opera House. Same location to return to the ship.
Walked to the Royal Palace planning on the tour, but the information given by Celebrity was incorrect and it didn't open for tours until May 15th. Walked Gambla Stan (the old town) and enjoyed some nice shops and galleries. Back to the Palace at 11:30 for the Changing of the Guards at noon. It was a great show, but really long. We thought it was about over after 30 - 40 min. but heard an announcement about the next half. We left at 12:45 and it was still going strong.
Walked and had lunch in a great little Italian place called Restaurant Michelangelo. Had an outstanding lasagna dish with a light cream sauce that was to die for.
Took a cab after lunch to the Vasa Museum, as the information regarding the ferry was also incorrect and it was not running. It was quite interesting and worth the time to see.
Later took a cab back to the Ice Bar which was not open other than tour groups at this time of day, but the man at the door was fabulous and told me to just give him my camera and he'd be happy to take all the pictures I wanted for no charge. Worked for us.
Back to the ship at about 4 pm for a 5 pm sail away.
Weather here was very cold, damp and chilling all day.
Thurs. May 12 Helsinki, Finland Arrived at 9 and were off by 9:15. Free shuttles again running from the ship into town. We were docked at the pier quite a ways from town and not the pier at the marketplace.
The shuttle drops you off at Stockman's Dept. Store. It was a great walk down the esplanade to the market place. Nice local crafts, fresh fruits, vegetables, flowers, fish, coffee. It was fun to walk thru.
From there it was an easy walk to both the churches, the Russian Orthodox near the market and the Lutheran church in Senate Square. From there we walked past the palace and on to the Church of the Rock. Keep in mind, this was a very long walk and don't believe the "10 min" for a min. It was an unusual church and we were glad we got to see it. There was an orchestra practicing in there when we arrived, so just sat and listened for quite awhile. They were really good.
Back onboard around 3 exhausted.
Tonight we have dinner at Ocean Liner's. It was a great dinner and should not be missed.
Add another hour time change to the clocks tonight, it's now approx. midnite and still not completely dark outside. Reminds me of being in Alaska.
Fri May 13 St. Petersburg, Russia We had hired Denrus to do a private tour for both days for just the two of us. We really wanted to maximize what we would be able to do and see. We were able to be off the ship by 7:30 with no problem. We had been given Priority Disembarkation Tickets, but were also told to report to a lounge to wait to be allowed off. However, we had been forewarned by Denrus, to just come off when it was docked, so we did. Headed down on our own and right off without any problem whatsoever. To get thru customs and be allowed thru, we did have to show the tickets we had been sent by Denrus proving that we were part of a specific group. You must bring your passport and a photocopy with you to get off also. They will return your passport to you, but keep the photocopy. They give you a red ticket in your passport which you must have and show to return onboard. If you lose that little red ticket, it's a $50 charge for another. Tuck it away in a safe place.
We met Ilya at exactly the location we had been given and learned that Ilya himself was to be our guide for both days. He is quite an amazing young man with knowledge of the city that boggles the mind.
We first drove around the city looking at various sites, then headed S. of St. Petersburg to the Imperial Summer Residence, the Catherine Palace at Pushkin. Just amazing to see the wealth in this building. We were to have a walk thru the gardens and park, but it started raining and we left.
We then drove back to the city for our arranged lunch with a Russian Family. It turned out to be a lovely lady named Natalia, her daughter and her grandson who lived in this apartment. The grandson was at school, but Natalia and her daughter were there. She had gone to quite a lot of trouble to make this big lunch for us. Altho she spoke no English and we spoke no Russian, Ilya spent a great deal of time being translator for both sides. Some things are just universal, Motherhood, Grandma's and family. It was quite humbling to see people with so little, yet so happy. I wouldn't have missed doing this for the world. It was indeed the lunch I will never forget.
After lunch we went to the Peter and Paul Fortress, then on to the Hermitage.
We returned to the ship at about 6 pm, fast clean up, grabbed a bite to eat and were picked back up at 7 pm to go to the Folkloric show. It was a great show and I would highly recommend seeing it.
Day 2 in St. Petersburg Picked up at 8:30 by Ilya and since it was raining, headed to the Metro for our ride and view the stations. This is quite amazing in itself. It's only a short time out of your day, but worth seeing, these stations are just amazing.
From there, off to the Grand Palace of Peterhof, where there was a specially arranged early opening for the people who had all hired Denrus. We later learned that the people who took the ship's excursion here had to wait outside in the rain for over an hr. before being allowed in. The grounds here were just amazing with all the fountains, but again, it was raining, so it just took some of the pleasure out of it all.
For lunch on Day 2 we told Ilya to select somewhere for us. He did a great job and I enjoyed a Russian Salad Bar, quite different from any at home, for sure. The three of us enjoyed some Russian Beers also.
After lunch we were off to Yusupovs' Palace, followed by a visit to the famous St. Isaac's Cathedral.
On the return to the ship, we stopped to see the Aurora. Returned to the ship at about 5 pm.
Totally amazing 2 days and a job well done by Denrus. If any doubts about hiring them, just do it, it was certainly money well spent.
Sailing at 6:30 for Tallinin.
Sun. May 15 Tallinin, Estonia Took the free shuttle into town and just walked around the old town, and the upper town. Shopped for some gifts here, nice handmade linen things along with some hand crocheted scarves.
Mon. May 16 Sea Day Slept in late and just relaxed most of the day. We had our 2nd dinner at Ocean Liner's booked for tonight. Relaxing day after all the ports and running we've done.
Tues. May 17 Rostock/Warnemunde, Germany After so many days of walking around all these towns and being cold and rained on, we just got lazy and booked a ship's excursion this morning. It was the Rostock/brewery tour. For people who never take a ship's excursion, we had a really good time. It was enjoyable in Rostock, ending at the brewery with beer and pretzels.
Got back to the ship about 1, had some lunch and headed back out. On the way out there was another tour leaving and just being lazy, asked if there was room. Sure enough, so we jumped on that one too. It was the Historic Mecklenburg/Molli Steam Train tour. It was absolutely a great afternoon getting out of the city and into the countryside and to the beach. Turned into a nice warm sunny day there and we really enjoyed it. The Steam Train was pretty nice too and just a fun day.
It was open seating in the dining room so we decided to just do the buffet so we wouldn't miss the sail away. We had been told by crew and people in town that it was a great one. Most of the town comes out and is on the pier to see you off.
They were right, there were so many people there it was quite touching. All the flashes from camera's going off and people yelling, whistling and waving. What a nice ending to a day.
Wed. May 18 Copenhagen, Denmark Took the free shuttle into town once again and decided that since the sun was actually out, we'd head for the canal tours first. Got on one immediately and about ¾ of the way thru it, again we are poured rain on. Fortunately we had learned the hard way and now brought umbrella's with us everywhere.
After the canal tour, the sun came back out and we headed to the main pedestrian st. in the town. Walked that from one end to the other, did a bit of shopping and back to the ship freezing.
We headed out for the evening to Tivoli Gardens. Walked around and found a great restaurant for dinner. It was a Danish Buffet with a full lamb on a spit, sausages, every sort of food you could imagine with local beer to go with it. Great dinner. Came out to finish our walk around and again, rained on. We gave up and headed back to the ship.
Thurs May 19 Day 2 Copenhagen
Since we were due to sail at noon, we just decided to take a slow lazy morning and sleep in, have a leisurely breakfast and not race around. As we were having coffee in our cabin, they announced that the time had changed and we weren't sailing until 2 pm. Had we known that, we probably would have been back in town for the morning. So instead, we just walked down to the shops on the pier, looked around and headed back onboard.
Fri. May 20 Sea Day WE really did need this sea day. This was an exhausting trip with all the walking we did, and especially in the cold and rain. Will spend the afternoon packing up for our return home.
Sat. May 21 Dover Into Dover early and off the ship by approx. 8:30. We had a shared ride arranged and were being picked up at 9:30 to head to Heathrow once again.
Got to the airport and it was like a zoo. We stood in the check in line for a minimum of an hr., so make sure you leave yourselves plenty of time there. Then also the line thru security. They aren't kidding with the 3 hr. time span there. Probably the worst back up of people I've ever encountered in any airport.
We had a 4:15 flight home and arrived back in Chicago at 6:15 totally exhausted.
Summation: Ship - wonderful, with probably the best crew we've ever sailed with. Everyone we dealt with was going that extra mile to make sure everything was great.
Ports - Some great, some not so great, but a lot could probably be blamed on the weather that we had. If I had it to do over again, we would book later in the season and hope for warmer weather.
Travel - leave yourself as many extra days on either end as you can. London was great, Dover was great and I wouldn't have wanted to miss staying in either of them.
I did bring all the dailies home, so if there is anything in particular that someone is interested, I will surely try to provide it.
If you made it this far, you're a hero!