I took this cruise in July 2011. It was my second cruise on Vision of the Seas, an exact repeat of the one I took the year before that departed from Stockholm and visited Helsinki, St. Petersburg, Riga, Gdansk and Visby.
Though some people prefer the newer ships, I really liked Vision due to its somewhat smaller size. We didn't have some of the problems that I've heard about on other ships with crowding and not having enough deck chairs, seats in the Windjammer, etc.
This is a port-heavy cruise, with only one day at sea, and ports that generally take a whole day to sea. For that reason, I didn't partake as much in the ship's entertainment as I might have on a cruise with lighter ports. I found the service in the bars to be very good, as was the dining room and cabin service.
My least favorite part of every cruise is embarkation. I don't blame the cruise line for it, but it seems such an arduous process of waiting in long lines to embark. But once on the ship, everything went smoothly.
I really liked the demographics on this ship. I favor a younger demographic, and a mid-summer cruise is good for that. There were a good number of young adults that add life to the cruise. I also liked that there were a lot of non-Americans on the cruise; I did not want to go to Europe and then only hang around with Americans. It was a really nice mix of younger, middle-aged and older passengers, and a good international mix.
The trip through the Stockholm archipelago is my favorite part of the cruising itself. I got a nice seat on a high deck up in front of the ship and just watched the sights for a couple of hours. The seas were pretty calm the whole time other than the last night, when we had a windstorm that precluded going out on deck.
The solarium and gym were very nice. I loved to swim in the solarium pool at night, and I spent a lot of time before dinner in the gym. There was a certain "crew" of the same people who were in the gym every day, and I got to talk to a few of them. Nice guys.
The ports were fantastic. It was so interesting to see the Russian influence in Helsinki. The tour in Helsinki was so-so. We missed seeing the Rock Church, and for some reason, we were only given about 5 minutes to look at Senate Square. Luckily, I had time to go back and spend some time in Senate Square on my own.
St. Petersburg came next. We had a very interesting tour guide whose family had been high up under the Communist system. She seemed less than enthralled with developments under the current regime there, but I thought it remarkable to be able to voice these misgivings to foreigners in Russia. That in itself was very interesting. We saw Catherine's Palace outside the city, which was fantastic. And then we took a tour of the Neva River and saw a lot of beautiful landmarks from the water. St. Petersburg is the most "alien" feeling stop. You can't go off on your own because of visa restrictions, so the visit there is much more controlled.
Riga was my "sleeper" favorite, in that it wasn't an original destination, but accepted because it was part of a larger trip. I was due to go to the Auto Museum, but the tour got cancelled and I just toured Riga on my own. It is a stunning city. So many parks, churches, and beautiful buildings. It had a very friendly, open feel. One would never have guessed that it was so recently part of such an oppressive regime and how much suffering had taken place there since 1940. It was really nice to see how well it seems to be recovering.
Gdansk is a bit of a misnomer for the next port. The ship docks in Gdynia, an unremarkable place, and it's necessary to travel from there to other places. Gdansk is about 30 minutes from Gdynia. This year, we chose to go to the Malbork Castle, about a 90 minute bus ride from the port. It was a fantastic choice. The castle was beautiful as was the surrounding area, and the Polish people were so friendly. They reacted especially well if you tried, as I did, to address them in their own language.
Last stop was Visby. This was the only stop where we weren't blessed with beautiful weather. This is a great stop and we took a nice tour here.
This was a trip that I tremendously enjoyed, both from the standpoint of the ports visited as well as life on the ship.