Baltic Cruise June 2013
Booking and Boarding Process: Our reservation was made by phone with RCL 7 days prior to the sail date. We took the option of a guaranteed balcony stateroom combined with compulsory My Time Dining and pre-paid gratuities. We were advised the number of our deck 7 stateroom some 48 hours prior to sailing. This stateroom has a slightly restricted view in that the lifeboat cover/canopy prevents viewing the ship side, this was not a great issue for us.
The car park in Harwich is served by an efficient free shuttle bus service From dropping off our luggage in the car park, to boarding the vessel took less than 30 minutes. ( on-board by 11:30hrs)
General Remarks: This was our 3rd cruise on the BOS and we were greatly impressed by the upgraded Centrum area and the future introduction of high wire acrobatics within this is zone will be a spectacular sight. The addition of the dedicated Diamond lounge is also a significant improvement to those frequent cruises eligible for entry. The addition of the extra speciality” pay for use” dining outlets made little difference to our overall cruise experience/enjoyment as we very rarely use these.
Our only two concerns were the apparent increase in the number of areas where smoking is now allowed and the almost constant badgering to spend spend spend on RCL extras. (Photographs, shuttle buses, spa treatments, speciality dinning, tours, additional activities and finally “additional gratuities in excess of pre-pay) The smoking issue is now the most likely reason we shall stop cruising. Around the world, shore establishments have an almost blanket ban on smoking, can cruise ship designers not incorporate totally segregated areas where those who wish to smoke can do so without causing inconvenience and potential health issues with their fellow passengers. Even the crew in large numbers can now be frequently sighted, smoking on deck IWO of the galley on deck 5. (Something I have never seen before on any cruise.)
The entertainment was somewhat varied ranging from average to excellent, the cruise director we found somewhat ineffective but his staff were top class and provided good service throughout the cruise. The pre-port information given by RCL as per normal, consisted in the main to flogging their port tours and very little assistance or information being given to those not booked on organised tours.
Communications/Internet: Despite recent massive improvements in satellite communications, RCL continue to grossly overcharge for sat. telephone calls and an absolutely appalling internet service.
Stateroom: Deck 7 balcony was very much as expected with no recent upgrades or changes to the decor or furnishings. The sofa bad continues to loose it’s shape and the back now has such a slope it is almost impossible to sit upright.
Dinning Experience: We utilised the Windjammer for most lunches and found the food to be rather bland and boring, with very little real choice and the quality was that of a low cost cafe. Limited selection of fresh fruit, poor quality salad and cheese that was more fit for mouse traps.
There has been a definite deterioration in the quality of food provided in the windjammer over the last few years and the overcrowding at busy times is just crazy. Leave your table unattended to get a second course and the table is cleared with new faces as sitting at your place by the time you return. As a result of our late booking we were required to take the option of “My Time Dinning” We made an enquiry on the 1st day and found that by choosing their quiet time of 17:45 to 18:30 we were seated with no waiting period and at a table size of our choice. (Congratulations to Mohit, Denisse and Nische for their outstanding attention and service in delivering a dinning experience well above our expectations a definite WOW) We generally use the Park Cafe for breakfast preferring the slightly healthier option this supposedly provides. For some unknown reason breakfast cereals were not available in the Park Cafe on this cruise which was a bit of a disappointment especially as these were noted as the first item on the menu board.
Gratuities: A rather thorny subject, despite prepaying gratuities, despite paying a further 15% service charge on drinks etc, despite a line being added to receipts for even further gratuities, gratuity envelopes are still delivered to all staterooms with the obvious inference that a further additional gratuity is expected. When are cruise companies going to come clean and admit that gratuities are in fact used as a supplement to crew wages and to incorporate this into their wage structure and to the cruise price quoted at the time of booking. Thus leaving “true gratuities” only to be given “as a gift” for exceptional service where this is deemed appropriate by the recipient of the service.
Cruise Itinerary: This was the main reason for booking this cruise. I am very pleased to report with the exception of Gothenburg all other ports lived up to and exceeded our expectations.
Copenhagen: A great port of call, relatively easy to walk ashore and lots to see and do, just not enough time to do it all. Managed to see the changing of the guard at the Royal Palace and took endless pictures of a wonderful city.
Stockholm: Again a great port of call, the walk into the city centre took us around 20 minutes and there were great sights to see and things to do.
Helsinki: This is an OK port, but looking rather run down in places, quite picturesque in parts but do please beware of pickpockets in the city centre. The Rock Church is a must see.
St Petersburg: An absolutely fantastic port of call. It is compulsory when going ashore to take a tour unless you have a full Russian entry visa. Due to our late booking we were unable to book any tours with the local tour companies. We heard nothing but glowing reports of the tours by Alla and Denrus, our 2 half day tours with RCL were also very good and surprisingly quite cost effective. (Most probably due to the very high excellent completion from local tour companies)
Tallinn: A fantastic port, very close to the cruise berth and well within walking distance, around 10 minutes and your enter the town walls. It is a medieval town with a fantastic maritime museum. (Bargain of the cruise at £4)
Gothenburg: This is a port where transport is definitely required to travel to the city. The cruise terminal consists of a small fabricated hut in the middle of an industrial complex with almost nothing to see or do locally, other than a to visit the local Volvo car museum!!! Due to the rather restricted time in the port, 11:00 to 17:00hrs. this is not an ideal port of call and one where there is a definite need to get ashore as quickly as possible. Having said that Goteborg there is not too much of interest to see in the city centre. We took a boat tour from where the shuttle bus dropped us off which was good value. After this we took a short walk around the large shopping centre before returning to the ship feeling rather let down with Goteborg.
Overall the cruise was very enjoyable and on reflection probably good value for the cost.