PROS: (1) Amazing cuisine. The food was creative and plentiful, and always available. There was also plenty of variety. Occasionally, we would have a dry piece of meat, etc., but for the most part, the cuisine was remarkable (especially in the main dining room). On a daily basis, I tried at least 2 dishes that I never tried before, which could be a twist on a traditional version of a basic dish that I have tried before.
(2) Wonderful crew in all public rooms, especially in the main dining room.
(3) Quick and efficient boarding for embarkation and de-boarding. Waited only minutes for a taxi at approximately 8:30 a.m.
(1) The ship is more than a little weathered. The carpet is heavily stained and worn. The flooring is scuffed everywhere. However, the ship is slated for refurbishment, and I was able to look past the visible flaws after a few enjoyable days.
(2) The ship is clean, but does not always smell clean. As a fellow traveler accurately stated, all bathrooms smell like dirty mop. Public and cabin restrooms are in desperate need of a serious bleaching to rid of the moldy, dirty smell. The cabin restroom doesn't smell ventilated.
(3) Our cabin was the dirtiest cabin we ever had on 8 cruises. There was a lot of previous passengers' hair on the bathroom tile. Many stains in the sheets, and one pillow case was flat-out yellow next to another white pillow case. The sheets smelled disgusting, like they should have been replaced months ago. It was disappointing.
(4) Cocktails. Not a lot of variety in terms of cocktails, and they inexperienced bar tenders were making them. Never tasted right.
(5) Terrible room steward. I know that the room steward isn't my keeper, but the room stewards have cleared dishes in past cruises and kept rooms spotless. Besides entering to a dirty room, when we asked our room steward if we are supposed to clear our own dishes, after they sat in our room for days, he said that 'he clears them, but he thought we were still eating'. He still never cleared dishes days later. We put a dirty napkin with the dirty towels each day (the same napkin) to be taken to laundry, and he would not take it away with the laundry, but would continue to put it on our counter. His point was made. However, we feel that the cruise line would not endorse his attitude if we did go through the steps of alerting them. I try to give them allowances since they work hard and long hours.
(6) Enrichment. I went to one cooking class for Pavlova. The 'instructor' was simply an event planner that the ship used to teach us how to make Pavlova, although she just came from the Mediterranean and didn't know much about Pavlova. It was frustrating because the audience had to teach her how to make it, and had to correct her when she made mistakes. And, when one audience member asked her what type of vinegar the recipe called for, she wrongly guessed 'cider vinegar'. So, the 'culinary institute' was somewhat of a joke, and a waste of time. There was no knowledgeable chef instructing the class attendees.
(7) With so much talent in the world, the entertainment was sub-par. I thought past reviewers were being too hard on the ship, but no. I found no musicians playing in public rooms during daytime hours or by the pool. And I could only find musicians at 9pm, and those ones weren't stimulating.
Beautiful weather improved our impressions of each port we visited. The weather and climate was out of a fairy tale. We aren't sure that we would enjoy the ports as much had it been chilly or gloomy. Each port has its own special something to offer travelers. In Finland, the shopping was spectacular. Food vendors at the market sold salmon the way American vendors sell popcorn. It was the tastiest salmon I ever ate. The crafts and souvenirs were handmade in Finland, and not the generic made-in-china variety that you get at so many other tourist destinations. Sweden is pristine and immaculate. The Vasa ship was spectacular to view in person. St. Petersburg is very depressing, and it makes you appreciate your home. The opulence in the museums is limited to only the museums. At Warnemunde, we rented a car and were able to travel to many cities in one day. We recommend this trip as other passengers indicated that the train to Berlin was too long. Schwerin was gorgeous. Lubeck was okay. Rostock was very Americanized. Warnemunde was a true tourist town like the ones you find along the coast in Western Michigan.
We didn't do any excursions offered by the ship. We went through T.J. tours in Russia and had an amazing tour guide and tour. She took us to authentic, Russian restaurants. We were able to bypass most lines to enter the attractions, and we went to the Hermitage before opening hours when there was not a lot of foot traffic. Copenhagen, Stockholm, and Helsinki have hop-on-hop-off buses parked right next to the cruise ship. So, the itinerary is very favorable for travelers that seek to do their own thing.