My husband and I have sailed with Regent (formerly Radisson) twice before - Alaska 04, and the Panama Canal 05, both on the Mariner. The Baltic cruise in June 06 was our first one on the Voyager. I have seen lots of postings on the boards asking for comparisons between the two. Quite honestly, I think they are clones! The same wonderful suites, excellent service and superb food. I think the only negative about the Voyager versus the Mariner is that there is indeed vibration aft! But we were forward and heard and felt nothing.
We boarded in Dover. We live in Switzerland and travelled to London three days before, staying at the Milestone Hotel in Kensington. This is a wonderful hotel and its standards mesh well with those of RSSC. We hired a car on the Sunday and drove to Kent where we visited some lovely gardens and stayed in a terrific B&B (The Olde Moat House). I dropped my husband and the suitcases at the Cruise Terminal in Dover and returned the car to Hertz (not such great service, at least at the Dover end. There is no shuttle to the Cruise Terminal and the woman was most unhelpful! Fortunately, I know Dover and was able to walk to the station and get a taxi there!!)
Our luggage was taken from us and we were ushered to a large waiting area, with comfortable seats. After about a 15 minute wait - they were dealing with passengers in small groups - we went through security and boarded the Voyager.
Check in was in the Constellation Theatre, and the customary glass of sparkling wine (note: NOT champagne!) was nice. We were told that our suite would be ready about 3pm. We had a light snack at the Pool Grill while we were waiting (having had an excellent breakfast at the B&B we didn't need more, but lunch was available in La Veranda).
At 2.30pm we were told the suite was ready and went there. Two of our suitcases were already there and the others arrived within a few minutes. Our suite was lovely - a bit smaller than the Penthouse on the Mariner, but with a bigger bathroom (shower and bath) and huge closet. Enough hangers for even me!! One could almost have used it as a dressing room.
We ate in the Compass Rose on the first night and were delighted to find that the choice was every bit as good as on the Mariner.
Our first port was Amsterdam. We docked at Ijmuiden which is around 40 minutes by bus and fast ferry from the Central Station in Amsterdam. I had planned to take the bus and ferry into town. We have been there often and all we really wanted to do was have Rijstafel for lunch(!). However to my delight there was a shuttle bus service organised for us, free of charge. It took about 45 minutes to get into town and we were dropped at a convenient point, near the canal boat-bus stop. After lunch we went back to get the bus, but there was a delay and we ended up having to wait while the driver finished his lunch break. Some people were upset by this but I figured that the shuttle was an unexpected bonus so I just sat down to wait in the sunshine!
That night was our first formal night. There seemed to have been a bit of a hiccup with this -- on the web site the next day was listed as formal. I had made reservations at Signatures for this night, and so we were a bit disappointed not to eat there on the formal night. There was the traditional captain's reception where we met the Captain for the first and only time during the cruise. I must say I found this strange. On both the Alaskan and Panama cruises the captains were very much in evidence, walking around the ship, greeting guests etc. We felt that our captain in Panama really cared about his passengers. However the Norwegian captain on the Voyager seemed a recluse and we scarcely saw him. He did appear at the Seven Seas cocktail, but not at the final crew show.
The next day was a sea day and we had our first lectures. Four members of the BBC Antiques Roadshow were on board and they were just superb. The first lecture especially - from Paul Atterbury about Scandinavian design - was a blockbuster! A real tour de force!! We also had Sandra Bowen from the BBC on board and she lectured on many topics to do with Scandinavia - art, music, history etc. She is wonderful and I am thrilled to see that she will be on our November cruise from Rome to Ft Lauderdale.
We spent a day in Rostock and took a sightseeing tour of that city. Most passengers headed off for tours to Berlin - which is a fair distance away. We started our tour with a boat ride down the river to Rostock from the port of Warnemünde. This was great fun. Our guide, Peter, was excellent and approaching Rostock from the river was beautiful. It is an old Hanseatic city, which was almost totally flattened in the war, and is now re-built in the old style. Our walking tour was super. We learned a lot about the city, and even visited the former Stasi (German secret police) headquarters. We then went back to the ship by bus and collapsed!
Our next port was supposed to have been Visby in Sweden. However there was a very strong wind blowing and the captain could not get the anchor to hold. He tried four times, with no luck. The Voyager is too big to get into the small port, so he had no choice but to cancel the stop. From what we could see from a distance the town looked very pretty and I am sorry we missed it!
The following morning we docked in Tallin, Estonia. From the water this small city is exquisitely beautiful - and walking around the old town was a delight. Unfortunately our guide wasn't great, and she seemed to leave us on our own too much rather than explain what we were seeing. (Too much shopping!!) After about an hour we left the group and walked around on our own. There were at least four cruise ships in town that day, and our guide was a student who, I think, had been pressed into service because there were so many tourists. She was very informative about Estonia, and its history so it was too bad that she didn't quite understand her role in showing us the old town.
The absolute highlight of the entire trip was St Petersburg. Until the last minute the officers and tour staff (headed by Larry Slater, who had been on the Mariner with us in Panama and who is a wonderful Tour Director - or "Travel concierge" as they are now called!) thought we would dock in the port. Instead we were able to go right up the Neva and we docked at the first bridge with the wonderful buildings of St Petersburg all around us. Much better than the rusty old port! We had hired a private guide and car for St Petersburg, and this change of mooring confused our guide who went to the port! However she appeared and off we went.
Just a word about Russia - if you can, get a visa. I know it is a hassle, and it costs a lot, but it is so wonderful to be able to get on and off the ship at will, with the same ease as walking out of the front door of a hotel! People without visas had to be on RSSC organised tours. We had our visas and in the evening could just go for a stroll along the river, watching the locals - mostly walking their dogs! It gave us a real freedom that I would have missed a lot.
We drove around the town a bit - it was Sunday morning so the museums wouldn't be open till 11 - and saw the Peter and Paul fortress, Peter the Great's log cabin (quite a place! Very small and primitive) and the battleship Aurora. Then just after 11 we went to the Hermitage. Galina, our guide, took us around the Impressionist rooms and then we went to the gold room where we had an appointment with the Director. (Galina was not only a fabulous guide, but she has amazing connections! We never queued to get into anything and frequently saw things that were closed to the public). In this case the gold rooms were closed for lunch, and the Director took us around. It was a privilege to see them without anyone else there. In all we spent about 3 hours in the Hermitage before going to The Old Customs Hosue restaurant for a very late lunch.
After lunch we visited St Isaac's Cathedral, then the Church on Spilled Blood, and ended up around 6pm at the main market. I was impressed with the quality of the fruits and veg. on sale there, though Galina said the meat wasn't much good. On Monday Galina took us to Peterhof to visit the gardens (and admire the wonderful fountains) and then on to Orangienbaum to visit Catherine's Chinese Palace. This was closed for the day, and the director met us and gave us a personal tour. This palace should be on everyone's list. It is small, and wonderful. The parquet floors with inlays representing flowers and fruits etc have to be seen to be believed. And unlike many of the other palaces it was not too damaged in the war. In fact the Director told us that Catherine's bedroom - which we saw - had not really been touched since her death!
We drove back into town and had another late lunch this time at the Grand Hotel, before going to the Youssopov Palace. There again we arrived as it was closing, and spent two hours with Galina visiting all the rooms and learning heaps about Russian history.
On Tuesday morning we went to Catherine's palace at Pushkin (Tsarskoe Selo). We had coffee with the associate director and then she left us to see the palace with Galina. No one else was there except the cleaning staff! Normally the amber room has two lines of people, each going in opposite directions. We saw it alone. Amazing. We were really sorry to say goodbye to Galina! I think we'll have to go back there in the winter to see the many things we missed!!
The Voyager sailed from St Petersburg for Stockholm at around 4pm. While it was nice to see the open sea, it was sad to leave such a wonderful city behind. It takes about 24 hours to get from St Petersburg to Stockholm, and since it more or less was a sea day there were lots more lectures to attend. However the highlight of the day had to be sailing into Stockholm, through the archipelago, seeing the tiny islands and lovely houses and all the water traffic.
We docked in Stockholm near the Sijla Ferry line dock (the one that goes to Helsinki) and again RSSC organised a shuttle bus to town. We were still tired from our adventures in St. P, so we spent a quiet evening on board, having dinner at Latitudes. I have to say a word about this restaurant. On the Mariner in Alaska we ate there and thought it was very so-so. Consequently we didn't bother to try it on the Panama cruise. However I had read that they have re-focused the menu, and so we ate there not once, but twice! it is now a seriously good "Indo-chinese" restaurant...we loved it!
We didn't take any tours in Stockholm because we've been there lots before, so we really appreciated the shuttle bus which, unlike the Amsterdam one, didn't stop for lunch! We got into town early and spent a lot of time walking in the Gamla Stan (old town) which at that hour was people-free! We then went shopping at NK the main department store, and almost got caught in a shoot-out! As we left NK for the Opera to get the bus back to the ship we heard gun shots. We found out later that some masked, armed men had robbed the jewelry department and as they made a get-away, were pushed to the ground by the onlookers and arrested by the police. Happily all we heard of this were the sirens but several people from the ship saw the whole event. This is a really unusual happening for quiet Stockholm.
Our last formal night was the night we sailed from Stockholm. The crew put on a terrific show and dinner was superb - prime rib of beef, I seem to remember. The elusive captain was nowhere to be seen! In the end his non-appearance started to bug me, and since we are sailing on the Voyager on November 4 I made enquiries as to whether he would still be on board. The crew members I spoke to thought not. So I hope we get a more convivial captain on that cruise!
One crew member who will be on board is Bryan, the Cruise Director. He is simply wonderful, and we appreciated his work very much. Many people in his job are quite corny, but he wasn't. He is a charming person and we are looking forward to seeing him again. With all the sightseeing we did, we didn't go to all the shows. However the Peter Terhune group have new productions and their opera evening is absolutely top notch!
On the last day, before we docked in Copenhagen at 4pm, the Antiques Roadshow gang hosted an "Antiques Boatshow" where people could bring things they had with them, or photos of antiques, or items they had bought on the cruise. It was amazing informative and great fun!!
Finally we arrived in Copenhagen. We docked at Lange Linie, about a 5 minute walk from the little mermaid. We didn't go into town that night, preferring to enjoy the Voyager for a last evening. Then on the Saturday the sad time came to say good bye. Because we were staying in Copenhagen and were thus not pressed for time we were one of the last to disembark. That suited us fine!!
We spent the weekend in Copehagen. It was one of the hottest weekends of the year - around 30C and without a cloud. We stayed at the Radisson SAS Royal across from Tivoli. This is a good hotel, but in the room we had first the AC just couldn't keep up with the heat! We went to Tivoli for the evening but on our return to the room it was like a furnace. The staff moved us to another room with much better AC and we were very comfortable. The hotel has a good breakfast buffet, which was included in our room rate. All in all we liked it for its location - Tivoli and the Central station - its very pleasant staff, and Arne Jacobsen's design. However it is not what I would call luxurious! Comfortable, yes.
We flew back to Switzerland on the Monday - and now we are counting the days until we board the Voyager again!