Copenhagen - We spent two days pre-cruise in Copenhagen at the Marriott. The Marriott is on the water, about a 10 minute walk from the city center, a good choice as there is major subway construction going on at the city center around most of the older major hotels. Copenhagen is a lovely, walkable city with interesting shops and attractions. We spent an evening at Tivoli, which had beautiful flower gardens, pleasant entertainment, as well as some of the best restaurants in the city. Even if you are not "into" amusement park rides, this is a very worthwhile place to spend some time. On weekends, there are also fireworks. The entrance to Tivoli is just across the street from the Town Hall, right in the center of the city.
We also visited the royal reception rooms at Christianborg Palace, which was about a 20 minute walk from our hotel, also in the city center. This is also very worthwhile, and easy to do independently. There was a small boat dock just a few hundred feet from the Marriott entrance, near the Hans Christian Anderson Boulevard bridge, with tour boats leaving every hour or so. The boat tour of Copenhagen takes about an hour, costs less than $10/person, and gives a very stunning and different perspective than touring the city on foot or by bus will give you. Similar boat tours may also be found at Nyhavn.
One word of warning for those who stay in Copenhagen before the cruise: make a note that there are two cruise terminals in Copenhagen. To board the ship, you need to go to the Freiport terminal. The other terminal, Langelinie, is closer to town, but it is strictly for ships that stop for the day. Another tip: HAL has no limit to the amount of wine that you can carry onboard, however, there are no shops at the cruise terminal. We brought a tote bag, stopped in the food store around the corner from the Tivioli entrance, and stocked up on as many wine bottles as we could carry.
The Ship - This was our first HAL cruise. We have sailed on NCL, Princess, and Celebrity in the past. Boarding on the Eurodam was rapid. We boarded late in order to spend more time in Copenhagen. Our luggage arrived in our cabin almost immediately after we boarded. We were in an aft balcony cabin, 6126. A typical balcony cabin, in our experience, with somewhat less storage space compared to other cruise lines.
The Eurodam was to our eyes more understated and less glitzy than other ships on which we have sailed, but we liked it very much anyway. If you are expecting rock climbing walls, waterslides, glass blowing exhibits, lawns, circus acrobats, bowling alleys or ice rinks, pick a different ship! What the Eurodam excels at is just a good, old fashioned cruising experience, with a great itinerary and wonderful service. The demographic on the ship was decidedly on the older side, but that may have been in part because most schools were still in session when we cruised.
We particularly liked the Crow's Nest, set far forward in the ship on Deck 11. It had a great view, as well as an excellent library, internet cafÃ©, bar and coffee shop. We appreciated the informative talks given in the Crow's Nest at each sailaway â(EURO)" kind of like having a free tour out of the harbor. Great use of this space, compared to other ships on which we have sailed that have a similar multi-purpose room at the bow.
The ship has a midship pool that can be covered, depending on the weather, and also a small outside pool aft. Both pools were little utilized during this cruise. The weather was generally cool and overcast, which is typical in the Baltic in late May. It never got above 70 degrees Fahrenheit.
We thought service was uniformly excellent throughout the cruise. We had a particularly excellent cabin steward. We used open seating dining, and although we never made reservations, we never had to wait for a table in the dining room. This was a very different experience than we had on other cruise lines, which sometimes have difficulty accommodating all the passengers who used the open seating dining option. The dining room service was also excellent. The ship held a very pleasant German beer fest complete with a local oompa band on the pool deck just before the late sailaway in Warnnemunde.
The ship's free room service also was excellent. Breakfasts were delivered on time and hot, with many more options than have been available to us on other lines. This was an excellent option on excursion days. We especially appreciated the fact that room service was also available for breakfast on debarkation day, and we could wait in our stateroom until our group was called, rather than being chased out and herded into public spaces at an early hour.
The Lido Buffet food was just so-so compared to other lines on which we have sailed. We only ate there a few times during the cruise (such as for lunch on the sea days). We had a wonderful dinner one night at Tamarind, which was well worth the $15/person upcharge. There is a very pleasant indoor lounge with a great view high above the ship, next to Tamarind. It is called The Silk Den. We got the sense that few guests ever got there, because it was in a part of the ship accessible only by the midship elevators.
The fitness facility was a bit smaller than on some of the newer ships on which we have sailed, but it was nice that they had a Pilates reformer there for guest use. Unfortunately, none of the fitness staff members had any idea how to use the reformer, so it was strictly for experienced guests to use on their own.
Excursions - We took no HAL excursions but used SPB tours based on other recommendations posted on CC. We partnered with another family whom we met on CC for a private five-person, two day tour of St. Petersburg, which allowed us to customize the tour. This turned out to be a great choice. We had an excellent tour guide in St. Petersburg (Elena), and were able to pace the tour as we wished. It was well worth the money to avoid the lines which are ubiquitous at all the tourist sites in St. Peterburg, and to use our short time there most efficiently. We zipped from place to place, and were able to see the Peter and Paul Fortress, the Winter Palace, the Hermitage, Peterhof and the Catherine Palace, as well as many other places. We also took the general SPB tours of Berlin, Stockholm and Helsinki. The Berlin and Stockholm tours were excellent, but the Helsinki tour was only fair.
We deliberated a long time over whether to go to Berlin or not. We finally decided to do it because we might never get to see it any other way. Berlin turned out to be the biggest surprise of the trip. We were not expecting such a majestic, spectacular and vibrant place. We were sorry we did not have more time there because it is full of amazing museums that we wish we could have had time to explore. It was interesting to see how the Berliners have tried very hard to confront and reflect on their troubled past honestly, with tasteful and powerful new buildings, memorials, monuments and history museums throughout the city.
We did not take an organized tour of Tallinn, but opted instead to walk from the ship around the medieval old town on our own, which worked out just fine. Tallinn is full of small cobblestoned plazas and narrow alleyways, with lots of amber stores and craft vendors. We took a self-guided walk that we printed off the internet. We found the best crafts on and around a street called Katherine's Passage. This is an excellent port in which to get reasonably priced souvenirs, especially woolens and amber jewelry, which were more expensive at the other stops.
We opted against taking an organized tour in Kiel, as it was the last day of the trip, and we were tired. We were pleased to see that Kiel was a pleasant, walkable little town, with a shopping street and waterfront promenade close to the ship dock. Although another CC reviewer called it "gritty," we thought it was similar to our own hometown on the East Coast of the U.S., meaning that it was a real, working seaport town. We enjoyed a nice stroll through the town and along the waterfront.