Constellation - Northern Europe: Celebrity Constellation Cruise Review by Ellis M
Overall Member Rating
Constellation - Northern Europe
Destination: Baltic Sea
OUR CRUISE AND TOURS OF THE BALTIC COUNTRIES
On Friday, June 30, 2006, Ellis and I took a flight out of Florida's Orlando Airport to the Gatwick Airport in London, from where we rode by bus to Dover, England, and boarded the big and beautiful Celebrity Constellation ocean liner for one of our most memorable journeys - our two-week cruise of nine of the most beautiful and interesting countries and major cities of the world.
Our first shore excursion, on Tuesday, July 4th, took place in Stockholm, Sweden. This capital and largest city in Sweden is a major commercial, manufacturing, financial, transportation and cultural center. It is located on the eastern coast of Sweden, where Lake Malaren joins the Baltic Sea, and is situated on approximately twenty islands. With its many waterways and parklands, this beautiful city is often called the "Venice of the North". Adding to the beauty of the city are its colorful structures which More punctuate the skyline. While in Stockholm, we rode by a bus which took us to various city districts, each with its own special character and which gave us an excellent introduction to Stockholm as seen from both land and water, including Fjallgatan, with its magnificent view of the city, as well as the enchanting medieval Old Town, Gamla Stan, with the Royal Palace overlooking Stockholm's inner harbor, but also numerous other magnificent old houses and palaces.
During our tour, we also saw the 13th Century Church, best known as a place for royal burials and which dominates the island of Riddarholmen; the Old Wrangel Palace, once known as the King's House, today houses the Court of Appeal, and from the key we had a wonderful view of the impressive City Hall, the site of the annual Nobel Prize Banquet. We then continued past the Royal Opera House and through the modern shopping and business areas at Hamngatan and Sergels Torg before boarding a motor launch for an approximate fifty-minute canal tour through the Eco Park, Stockholm's National City Park. We then cruised along Strandvagen, one of the most exclusive areas in Stockholm, and through the green and lush park areas of Djurgarden,once a Royal hunting area but today regarded as Stockholm's amusement and recreation center with great parklands and beautiful gardens. Out in open waters we passed Fjaderholmarna, the Feather Islands, being the first real archipelago island, then continued passed Prince Eugen's Waldemarsudde, the Grona Lund Tivoli and much more before leaving the boat to rejoin our coach. We concluded our panoramic sightseeing with a drive along Strandvagen, across the Bridge to the island of Djurgarden before returning to the ship.
Sweden is located in the eastern part of the Scandinavian Peninsula, bounded by Norway on the north and west and Finland on the northeast. With an area of more than 170,000 square miles, Sweden is the fourth largest country in Europe and boasts a coastline of approximately 4,700 miles. Extensions of the Kolen Mountains in the northwest area of Sweden forms part of the border with Norway.
The following day found us in the City of Helsinki, known as a city of the sea and the capital of Finland. Overlooking the Gulf of Finland and the Baltic Sea, Helsinki is located on a peninsula with a fringe of small islands. The city is surrounded on three sides by water and, therefore, is a natural seaport. Helsinki Harbor presently handles most of Finland's maritime trade. They also produce agricultural and dairy products, along with lumber and wood. The city's spacious streets are interspersed with gardens and parks. With the absence of high-rise buildings, Helsinki is able to retain a small-town atmosphere.
Our shore excursion offered an overview of this beautiful city and some of its major highlights. From the pier we passed the Helsinki Shipyard before continuing toward the heart of the city along the coastal road. We passed Embassy Park and the colorful open-air market before arriving in the neoclassical Senate Square. Perched above the square's wide steps we saw the domed Lutheran Cathedral. The square is surrounded by the University, State Council Building and Cathedral. Continuing our tour into Mannerheim Street, the main thoroughfare of the city, we passed the Parliament House, National Museum and Finlandia Hall. This unique marble structure is the concert and convention center of Helsinki.
Later we visited Temppeliaukio, one of Europe's most unusual modern churches. Carved out of solid rock and topped with a copper dome, the Rock Church is a Helsinki landmark. Due to its magnificent acoustical qualities, the church is also used as a concert hall.
We also made a photo stop at the Olympic Stadium, site of the 1952 Olympic Games. Our tour then took us to Sibelius Park, where we saw the unique stainless steel monument erected for the Finnish composer, Jean Sibelius.
On the 6th of July, we arrived at St. Petersburg, Russia, where we spent two of the most interesting, enjoyable and memorable days of our entire trip. We were met here by Maria, our official tour guide, assigned by Alla, owner of Alla Tours, a private tour company which we had hired to guide us through this monumental city.
Situated on the eastern coast of the Gulf of Finland, it is considered the most European city of all the cities in Russia. Once the capital of Tsarist Russia, it boasts Italianate palaces, ornate cathedrals and broad boulevards. Built on marshy islands at the mouth of the Neva River, along the Gulf of Finland. this was Peter the Great's city and vision. St. Petersburg is a very beautiful city at any time of year but particularly in late June during the famed "white nights" when the sun never seems to set, and the city never sleeps. St. Petersburg was built by Peter the Great in 1703 as Russia's "Window to the West". Today it claims over 5,000,000 residents, but the layout of the city never gives you the feeling of its being overcrowded. This is a city that remains one of Europe's most beautiful. Where Moscow may intimidate, St. Petersburg enchants. The city has more than five million people living within its borders and is the largest seaport in the country. It is also an important maritime center for Russia. Built on a network of islands, it features 65 rivers and canals that crisscross the city. It is a city of palaces, cathedrals and residences for the nobility. In 1712 St. Petersburg became the capital of Russia. The city continued to grow under the leadership of Catherine the Great. She is also credited with starting the Hermitage Museum, bringing in treasures of art from all parts of Europe. Rich in history, St. Petersburg is also known as the main focus of the revolution that took place at the beginning of the 20th century. The Palace Square is best known as being the center of many of the early political struggles. It was here that "Bloody Sunday" took place, starting the revolution of 1905. Many feel that the Hermitage, with the possible exception of the Louvre in Paris, is probably the biggest museum in the world with the most outstanding quality of displays. The collection is so large, it is impossible to see it all - there are more than 3,000,000 works on exhibit. To properly view the exhibits, it would take years.
Our drive through this city featured a multitude of St. Petersburg's famous landmarks, which included the famous Bronze Horseman, the Admiralty Building, where the city's three main avenues meet; the impressive, broad Nevsky prospect, Rostral Columns; St. Isaac's Cathedral, The Cathedral of Spilled Blood, Palace Square with the Alexander Column; Cruiser Aurora and many others. Catherine Palace, typical of Baroque style, was built for the wife of Peter The Great in the village of Tsarskoe Selo, or today's Pushkin, and it became known as the Catherine Palace. We also entered the grounds of the Peter-and-Paul Fortress and also visited the cathedral inside where the tombs of all the Romanov dynasty rulers and their family members have been buried, starting from Peter the Great, himself; the Hermitage Museum, of course, which we visited during our city tour; Peterhof, the Summer Palace of Peter the Great and also called the Grand Palace; a visit to the Great Synagogue; The Yusupov's Palace, the only mansion of St. Petersburg nobility which is outstanding not only for its architectural and artistic merits, but also for the events that happened there in December, 1916, when Grigory Rasputin, one of the most mysterious persons in Russian history, was assassinated there. While visiting this Palace, we witnessed the enactment of his murder in the "Rasputin basement", where all the personages of that drama were depicted as wax figures and where it was recited to us by our tour guide. Our tour also included a visit to St. Isaac's Cathedral, the 3rd largest domed cathedral in the world after St. Peter's in Rome and St. Paul's in London. The cathedral can accommodate an audience of up to 10,000 people and is graced with 112 solid granite columns weighing up to 114 tons each.
Our next port of call was Tallinn, which is the capital of Estonia and is located on the Bay of Tallinn, an inlet of the Gulf of Finland. Situated in northern Europe, Tallinn is a major Baltic port and naval station, as well as being a major industrial center. The town has also been known as Reval and in 1248 received town rights from the Danes, who controlled the region. Tallinn throughout its history has been a vital player in international trade. Estonia belonged to Russia from 1944-1991, and during that time industry started to flourish. In August, 1991, Estonia declared the reestablishment of its independence, and in 1994, the last of the Russian troops left the country. There are few places in Europe where the aura of the 14th and 15th centuries survive intact the way they do in Tallinn's Old Town.
Our panoramic tour of Tallinn passed us through Kadriorg Park en route from the port in the city of Tallinn. A highlight of the park is the Song Festival Grounds with an amphitheater specially built for the popular Estonian Song Festival. We passed by the Forest Cemetery where distinguished Estonians are buried amongst the pine trees. We then continued on to Pirita, the beachside location of the yachting complex built for the 1980 Olympic Games. From this vantage point the 18th century ruins of St. Bridget's Convent could be seen.
A short drive followed where ancient walls and tower gates came into view. Arriving at the Great Coast Gate of Tallinn we observed the magnificent "Stout Margaret" Cannon Tower. After this we walked the short distance up Toompea Hill to Palace Square to view from the outside the baroque Toompea Castle now housing the Estonian Parliament. We also visited the Alexander Nevski Cathedral, which dominates the city skyline. Departing from Tall Hermann Tower we continued past the original city walls built in 1229, then proceeded past St. Kaarli's Church, the Estonian Opera and the Hotel Viru, Tallinn's premier hotel located just outside the Old Town en route to the port.
The following day found us in Klaipeda, Lithuania's only seaport on the Baltic Sea. It is a major ferry port with connections to Sweden, Denmark and Germany and is situated close to the mouth of the Curonian Lagoon. The buildings of Klaipeda have a picturesque framework architecture similar to that found in Germany, England and Denmark, and the area was converted to Christianity by the Teutonic Knights. Klaipeda is the oldest city in Lithuania and gateway to the lush natural beauty of the Curonian Spit.
Our tour in Lithuania had us exploring life in Lapiai Village of 300 inhabitants just east of Klaipeda. We drove through the main street of the village and saw the houses and flats which were built during Soviet times to house the workers of the collective farm. The drive took us past the sawmill, which is the main employer of the village people in present times. We saw the large reservoir (also built in Soviet times), which was intended to provide water for irrigating land in the village area, now used for recreation. We learned about village life in the days of the collective farm and how it has changed since Lithuania regained its independence in 1990.
Coming back to the village, the tour continued to the school, which had about 150 pupils from Lapiai and local villages. Our excursion continued down the hill and into the valley below. On the way down we passed the house of a well-known local artist and jeweler and viewed some of the sculptures in his garden. In the valley we visited the small holding of a village family, comprising of father, mother and son. They subsist off the land, using old traditional farming equipment, work the land with a farm horse and milk their two cows by hand.
Our next stop is the home of their neighbor, the former British Defense Attache to Lithuania. We visited the old house (1926) and original outbuildings and wandered around the large garden at the end of the valley where we could see the Lapiai Castle Hill. We were served drinks and light refreshments, then returned to Klaipeda Old Town for a thirty-minute stop for shopping.
Another of our most memorable ports of call was Gudynia/Gdansk, Poland, where, as in St. Petersburg, we took a private tour with our own group from the Internet website, "Cruise Critic", on Monday, July 10th. Gdynia is located in northern Poland in the Gdansk Province on the Gulf of Danzig, which is an inlet of the Baltic Sea. Besides being a major seaport, it is also home to one of Poland's leading naval bases. Gdynia and Gdansk are two of the three cities that make up the Troimiasto. The other is Sopot.
This coastal city only recently became a major port for Poland. It wasn't until 1924 that the country transformed the little fishing village into a major port with container and ferry terminals. It was for reasons of prestige and military security that prompted Poland to start the construction of the port. Construction was completed by 1934, and Gdynia became one of the most important ports in eastern Europe. The people of Gdynia have an ongoing love affair with the sea. After many years the sea by Gdynia became clear of pollution and debris and is now a year-round resort specializing in types of water and underwater activities.
The capital of Poland's Gdansk Province, the city is located at the mouth of the Vistula River at the Baltic Sea. With a 1000-year tradition (they celebrated their millennium in 1997), Gdansk offers fascinating monuments and old buildings, many of which were literally brought from the ruins. However, the city is probably best known as the birthplace of Solidarity, the movement where workers struck for higher pay and benefits. The success of Solidarity was the main force to free Poland from Communist rule.
The city is more than just shipyards and manufacturing. It also has many fine churches, museums, theatres, a concert hall and opera house. Among some of the sights is St. Catherine's Church, the origin of which goes back to the 12th century and features an outstanding carillon.
Our private tour took us from Gdansk for a 1 1/2-hour bus ride to the historic Stutthof Concentration Camp, now on display as a museum, showing where many Holocaust prisoners were confined and executed during World War II. A variety of pictures on the walls showed a number of these prisoners and their captors. On our way back to the ship, we were taken to a large outdoor shopping mall, where we spent about an hour until we were to be picked up by the bus for our ride back to the ship. The bus never appeared, however, and we learned later that it had broken down a few streets away. Luckily, the problem was corrected about half an hour later, and we were on our way before the ship was on its way at 3:00 p.m.
Our next port of call was Warnemunde & Rostock, Germany, from where we took a rather lengthy bus ride inland to the capital city of Berlin, where we were met by our tour guide, Jonathan, who took us for a ride through much of the city and explained its connection to the Jewish faith. Later we had lunch at a delightful German outdoor restaurant, following which we were taken to a Holocaust museum, where he guided us through a one-hour tour before we were driven back to the ship, which set sail at 9:30 p.m. for
Beautiful, beautiful Copenhagen, where we docked promptly at 12:30 p.m.
Copenhagen is the capital of Denmark and is situated on two islands, which are connected by bridges. Most of the city lies on the eastern coast of Sjaelland Island, while the rest is in an area called Christianshavn on Amager Island. The city is a major seaport and commercial center with the citys business districts extending from Sjaelland Island to Kongens Nytorv, the main square. North and east of Kongens Nytorv is the fashionable section of the city with the royal and governmental palaces and buildings. The world famous Little Mermaid makes its home in Copenhagen. This statue, which reclines on a rock at the harbor shore, has come to represent Copenhagen. The Little Mermaid is the work of Edvard Ekiksen, a Danish sculptor. It was set in its present place in 1913 near the ruins of the Kastellet (the Citadel).
The following day found us in Oslo, Norways largest city and leading seaport, as well as the principal commercial, manufacturing and cultural center of Norway. It is located on the Aker River at the head of the Oslo Fjord and is the capital city of Norway. Modern in design and architecture, it is famous for its many parks, public statues and museums. The very long and narrow country of Norway reaches so far north that the Arctic Circle runs about halfway between its southernmost and northernmost points. 95% of Norway is covered by forest with more than seventy per cent consisting of mountains, lakes, moorland and 1,700 glaciers. Measured straight, the coastline totals 1,625 miles, but that figure multiplies to 13,125 when counting in all of its fjords. Known as the Viking Capital, Oslo is surrounded by magnificent scenery from the majestic fjord upon which it rests to the vast forest-covered hills. Situated in the heart of Scandinavia, Oslo lies at the head of the Oslo Fjord in the southeastern quadrant of Norway close to the Swedish border.
Ellis and I chose to remain on board the ship while it was docked at Copenhagen and then Oslo, as we had had the pleasure of visiting and touring both of these memorable cities during previous travels.
The Celebrity Constellation, stretching 964.6 feet and measuring approximately 91,000 tons, set sail on its maiden voyage in May of 2002 and has offered its more than 2,000 passengers the finest in luxury cruising. While on board this spectacular vessel, we enjoyed the best in dining experiences and a huge variety of other activities. Among these was some of the finest Broadway-style entertainment, a wonderful health and fitness center, a delightful library, a variety of shops on board, an Internet cafe and numerous lounges throughout the ship for rest, relaxation, musical entertainment and dancing. Of many of these shipboard amenities we took full advantage during this two-week cruise adventure whenever we were not on shore, and we now look back very fondly on all of this as we at the same time, look ahead toward our next cruise experience. Less
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