Pre-cruise – Sunday and Monday, 6/9 and 6/10 To Copenhagen
Just for some background, this was my tenth cruise, my wife’s eighth cruise and my step kids (daughter age 17 and son age 21) fourth cruise. I have previously cruised on Carnival and Royal Caribbean as well as Norwegian and have found them to be comparable in quality. This would be our first time in a suite on Norwegian Cruise Lines so I was eager to try out the suite life.
We left on Sunday, June 9 for the journey to Copenhagen. The trip actually almost did not happen though. Upon waking up I checked our first flight from DFW to Atlanta and it was delayed an hour which wasn’t good news at all. We had a 2 ½ hour layover in Atlanta before our next flight to London which was now reduced to only 1 ½ hours which was tighter but still doable. I checked the flight status an hour later and it was now delayed almost two hours and the layover in Atlanta was down to 40 minutes which was no longer doable and panic set in. My wife called American Airlines but they weren’t much help and we were advised to get to the airport as soon as possible. Thus we hurried and finished our last minute packing, loaded up the car and headed to DFW airport. The news at the check in counter was pretty grim as we were told that we could not make our connection in Atlanta (and certainly our luggage wouldn’t make it) and that there were no other flights available within the next two weeks which could get us to Copenhagen. I’ve never had this happen before so was in full panic mode. Would the trip be over before it even started? We talked to a second person at the check in counter and she helped us devise a game plan. There was an earlier flight to Atlanta that would give us plenty of time to make our connection but it was of course full. We could only fly standby and hope that all four of us made it on the flight. We waited at the gate as this earlier flight boarded and it seemed bleak (as the boarding was almost complete) when they called my name and amazingly they had four slots open for us (as we were first on the list of standby passengers on a list of 23 people waiting to fly standby on this flight). Thus, we flew from Dallas (DFW) to Copenhagen on American Airlines with a layover in Atlanta of 2 hours. Our next flight was from Atlanta to London Heathrow on British Air and things went much better with this flight. My wife and I got upgraded to World Traveler Plus for some unknown reason which meant lots of legroom, a larger screen to watch “on demand” movies, a foot rest, and a nice quiet cabin. It was a very relaxing flight. The kids said that the normal cabin was good too so all were happy. We had another 4 hour layover in London before our last flight from London to Copenhagen on British Air. We finally arrived in Copenhagen on Monday evening at 5:30 pm with all of our luggage amazingly intact!
It was sunny and warm upon our arrival in Copenhagen and we got a taxi (no problems at all finding one although we had to wait for a station wagon to fit our four large pieces of luggage in the trunk) and headed to an apartment I had found for our two nights pre-cruise stay. The taxi driver at first couldn’t find the address I gave him on his GPS but it eventually came up for him and he found it with no problem. Most people in Copenhagen speak English so language wasn’t a barrier at all here.
It was 6:30 pm when we reached the apartment and Jette (the owner of the apartment) immediately came out to greet us. We rented a two bedroom apartment which features a larger room with two beds, another smaller loft with two more beds, a small kitchen and a bathroom. There were also a couple of sitting areas and three televisions in the unit as well as free wifi. The train station was within a five minute walk so the location was convenient as well. The refrigerator also came stocked with a few beers and sodas and some rolls that could be heated up. We really enjoyed our stay here and Jette was very hospitable. She sold us some train tickets ( a 10 clip card) too which made things easier for us.
We were hungry so we ventured out and a few blocks away was a convenience store and pizza restaurant. We ordered a pizza and brought it back to the apartment and then turned in for the night shortly after dinner, although it was still light out at 10 pm at night! I woke up at 3:30 am for a little while and the sun was out and shining brightly in the room. This was common as the sun usually set at 11 to 11:30 pm and rose at 3:30 am most of the places we visited on this trip.
Pre-cruise – Tuesday, 6/11 Copenhagen
We took an S train from Danshoj station (near our apartment) to Flintholm station where we transferred to a metro to Kongens Nytorv. The trains (we took s trains, metro and regional trains during our stays in Copenhagen) in Copenhagen were all modern and fairly easy to figure out. We only had a conductor ask for our tickets once during all of our rides, although we were told the penalty was pretty steep if one did not have valid tickets. We walked from the metro station to the Netto boats for a canal tour. The Netto boats are cheaper than the DFDS boats by almost 50% for pretty much the exact same tour. We found this canal tour to be a good overview of Copenhagen as we got to see the Little Mermaid (although it was hard to get a clean picture of it due to a large crowd on the shore), Amalienborg Palace and Christiansborg Palace, as well as several different regions of Copenhagen. The tour took about an hour and the weather was perfect as it was just about 70 degrees and sunny.
After the canal tour, we walked about 10 minutes to Ida Davidsen for lunch as we wanted to try smorrebord which are basically open faced sandwiches. We were seated right away and told we had to go to a counter to pick our sandwiches (they had samples of what was available that day). I thought they had 500 different sandwiches but apparently there are 500 possible sandwiches of which they only make 20 or 30 kinds each day. I tried a pork sandwich with grilled onions and several other toppings and it was quite good. The meal was expensive though for just sandwiches (over $100) which we found to be a theme when eating in Copenhagen. It is definitely not a cheap city for dining out.
After lunch, we walked to the Stroget which is a pedestrian street closed to cars and lined with shops. We enjoyed window shopping but didn’t purchase anything and stopped for a pastry along the way at a bakery that looked good. We then walked up to the Stone Tower and climbed to the top for a nice scenic view of the city.
Finally, we took a train from Norreport station back to our apartment. After relaxing for awhile, we walked to a local café for dinner where we ordered burgers and club sandwiches for another $100 meal! We made sure the blinds were shut before going to bed tonight as the sun would be rising quite early (we learned our lesson from the previous night).
Day 1 – Wednesday, 6/12 Embarkation
We slept much better with the blinds shut and woke up feeling rested and refreshed. We checked out of the apartment at 10:45 and took a taxi (Jette had called one for us) to the pier. I had printed out the name of the port, and just handed the print out to the taxi driver so there was no problem finding the Norwegian Star. We also discovered that most Copenhagen taxis accept credit cards. I had heard that American swipe and sign credit cards would be a problem in Copenhagen but we found we could use our cards pretty much everywhere without problems. The only places we had trouble was the small pizza place for our first dinner and a taxi cab in Stockholm. There were also a couple of small shops where we asked and they said they could not accept our cards. We found it best to ask first rather than just assuming our credit cards could be used. On those occasions where we could not use our credit cards, I was able to use cash. I found that almost every city we visited would accept American cash (and in Russia they preferred it to Rubles).
We arrived at the port around 11 am and dropped off our luggage (there were plentiful luggage porters around to assist). We went inside, breezed through security and checked in for the cruise in the suite line (there was no one else in line so it was really quick)
After checking in, we were introduced to our butler Gary and were handed our room cards. A minute later, they announced that the Star was ready to be boarded and we were personally escorted upstairs to Cagney’s for lunch. We met Omar the concierge and were quickly seated for lunch after I asked Omar to book the chef’s table for me and my step son (more about the chef’s table later in the review). This was the quickest and best embarkation we’ve had for all of our cruises. NCL does a great job in this regard and it is even better for suite guests.
Cagney’s for lunch was very good. The menu featured several sandwiches, steak, a couple of fish dishes, salads, etc. They also had an excellent shrimp cocktail appetizer that featured jumbo shrimp. The menu did not change during the week but there was enough variety to keep me happy. This is definitely a nice perk for suite guests.
We made our way to our family suites 12516 and 12518 which were amazing cabins. Each cabin featured a large flat screen TV, DVD player, Lavazza coffee maker, table and chairs, a sitting area with a coach and chairs, extremely comfortable beds (although I never saw a pillow menu), lots of storage room, large windows (no balcony), and a large bathroom with both a tub and glass shower stall. It felt more like a hotel room than a cabin on a cruise ship and we loved the rooms.
Our kids room was decorated with birthday decorations and a birthday cake (it was both my wife and step daughter’s birthdays during the cruise) so we had some cake to celebrate! We checked out the television and noticed the channels were very limited (probably the most limited of any cruise I’ve been on) but there was a DVD library of about 100 titles available for suite guests. The TV did not have interactive features which I missed as I like to keep track of my account status, check restaurant menus, etc. I managed to make due “old school” style though as I had the reception desk print out my account balance every few days. We had $500 in “on board” credit per cabin due to an American Express promo when we booked the cabins. This definitely helped out with specialty restaurants, photos, and other purchases. We could not use the credits for gratuities though so still had to pay for them.
We ventured out to explore the ship and visited the Stardust Theater, Spinnaker lounge, the fitness center, several specialty restaurants and the pools. We returned to the staterooms, and our luggage arrived shortly thereafter. Gary, our butler, came by and said hello and brought us two trays of snacks. We really looked forward to and enjoyed our snack trays each day at 4 pm and during the duration of the cruise we received fruit, canapés, cookies, brownies, little sandwiches, and cheese plates. We unpacked and then it was time for the dreaded safety drill. Our muster station was in the Stardust Theater and we didn’t need to wear our life jackets so it actually wasn’t a bad experience.
We decided to try the Versailles dining room for dinner tonight, which is in the back of the ship. The food here was good but not great. Freestyle dining (eating whenever you want) sounds great in theory, but I do miss the camaraderie and rapport that develops when you have the same waiters/waitresses for the entire week (and they learn your likes/dislikes). I also missed getting to meet and know your tablemates (and potentially meeting new friends). It was nice though being able to eat when we wanted to and not having to rush back to the ship from excursions to fulfill a particular dinner time, so it works well for the Baltic itinerary. It also seems that the dress code is getting more casual on NCL as jeans are now permitted in virtually every restaurant and shorts are allowed in most of them. This helps with packing as it’s no longer necessary to bring a separate set of clothes just for dinners (although I realize that many still enjoy dressing up).
After dinner, we relaxed and decided to skip the Welcome Aboard show as tomorrow would be a long day. As a note I didn’t care much for the cruise director Archie Archbold. I barely saw him the entire cruise and he didn’t seem very personable during his announcements. On other cruise lines, the cruise directors seem much more engaged and visible. Another area that NCL could improve upon is reducing the number of announcements regarding bingo, sales in the shop, art auctions, etc. On several occasions, I attempted to nap during the afternoon only to be woken up by an announcement for bingo or the like.
One other note about bingo: On other cruise lines, my wife and I enjoy playing bingo but we discovered on a previous cruise that NCL has taken up-selling to a whole new level with their bingo games. On Carnival and RCCL, we usually spent $10 to $20 (the high end for any of their bingo sessions) and had a good time. On NCL, the basic packs are $20 to $25 and to really have a realistic chance of winning, one had to spend upwards of $100, which is ridiculous to us. The reason for this is NCL uses bingo machines, which basically play the entire game for those who purchase them (they are idiot proof) and replicate 70 to 100 game cards for each game. So, instead of spending our $10 to $20 per bingo session during the week, we played no bingo at all.
Day 2 – Thursday, 6/13 Warnemunde
The Star docked on time at 7 am this morning in Warnemunde, Germany. We went to Cagney’s for breakfast and it was fantastic. The menu does not change each day but features omelet’s, waffles, pancakes, French toast, Eggs Benedict, Crab Cakes Benedict (which my step son ordered virtually every morning of the cruise) and a couple of fish dishes. I had the Eggs Benedict most mornings and it was delicious and perfectly prepared. They also had a buffet each morning with rolls, Danish, croissants (the chocolate croissants were delicious), cheeses, meats, cereals and orange and cranberry juice. Fresh squeezed orange juice is available for an extra charge. The French press coffee was among the best coffee I’ve had and was so smooth and flavorful. The breakfast at Cagney’s alone would be a good incentive to me to book another suite in the future with NCL. We also developed a nice rapport with the staff here (the same rapport that I missed at dinner time) and they got to know us during the week and were always very friendly!
We had scheduled a 12 hour tour to Berlin with Alla tours (we got a good price on the tour as we also booked with Alla for St. Petersburg. We were really looking forward to the tour and it turned out to be somewhat of a disappointment partially due to the tour guide and partially due to the fact that Berlin is so far from the port. We boarded a jam packed bus for a three hour ride to Berlin with only a short stop along the way to break up the long drive. The German countryside was scenic but homogenous so quickly became monotonous. Also, the air conditioning on the bus did not work very well so it often was too hot for comfort. This became more of an issue on the drive back to the port as it was a fairly warm day in Berlin with temperatures reaching the mid 80’s. Obviously, something was not functioning properly with the bus air conditioner (only a trickle of air blew out of the vents) but when mentioned to the tour guide, he merely made excuses.
We finally made it to Berlin and the bus was split into two groups of 25-30 to make touring in Berlin more manageable. We drove past many sights of Berlin and it was a good overview of the city but we did not make many stops. The only real stop during the day was at the Brandenburg Gate which I really enjoyed. We also stopped briefly at Checkpoint Charlie. I was extremely disappointed that we did not stop at the Berlin Wall (not even to take a brief photo) as that was one of the top sights I was looking forward to.
Lunch was also a disaster as were taken to a subpar German restaurant with no choice given to eat anywhere else. The lunch was not included in the tour price and upon receiving the bill, I was informed by the waiter that they did not take credit cards and I had no Euros with me. The tour guide should have announced the “no” credit card policy before we sat down to eat. It put me in an awkward situation that I certainly did not appreciate. Ultimately the tour guide paid for our lunch and I paid him back with American dollars (apparently the restaurant would have accepted dollars but I was also not instructed of this fact either). The food was average and I’ve had better German food at local restaurants here in Texas. All in all, the lunch was handled poorly by the tour company.
Before heading back to Warnemunde, we had a 45 minute shopping stop near a department store. Unfortunately, there were no souvenir shops around so this was also a bust for us. There was basically no opportunity during the tour for any souvenir shopping.
Even with the assorted problems (a/c, lunch, poor shopping), we were still glad we did the tour and got to see Berlin. It is definitely a city that we want to return to one day. I was not however that pleased with Alla tours and hoped that our Russia experience with them would be a better one!
We returned to the ship and it was raining pretty hard. NCL employees greeted guests with umbrellas though so we didn’t get wet. This was a very nice touch I thought. I was exhausted so the wife and kids went to Aqua for dinner which they said wasn’t as good as Versailles. I ordered a pizza “anytime” for five dollars and it was a good size and tasty. We retired early as we were all quite tired from the long day.
Day 3 – Friday, 6/14 At Sea
Thankfully, today was a day at sea to rest up after the previous day’s epic journey to Berlin. I slept in and skipped breakfast today for one of the only times on the trip. We mostly relaxed and read today although we did go to Cagney’s for lunch (I had the swordfish sandwich which was very good) and attended a magic show by Jocko and Maria which was an enjoyable show by a Greek magician. We went to La Cucina for dinner tonight for my step daughter’s 17th birthday (she got to pick wherever she wanted for dinner). I had some lobster pasta, chicken parmesan and lemon curd ricotta cheesecake, all of which were very good. It was a very good meal and enjoyed by all of us.
After dinner, we attended Deal or No Deal which is modeled after the TV game show. To play, one purchases a game card and two game cards are selected at random. Those lucky two get to play the game on stage, but everyone else can also play along with their game cards to win prizes. It was a fun concept, but we only played once (they had several sessions during the cruise) as game cards were twenty dollars each. This seemed overpriced and we would have played more often had the cards only been ten dollars or less. They also were selling lottery type pull tab cards also for twenty dollars each (I’ve seen them for five dollars on other cruise lines). Thus we did not purchase any of these.
This was a nice relaxing day which was well needed as the next five days would be fairly grueling! We had to set the clock forward one hour tonight in preparation for our arrival in Estonia.
Day 4 – Saturday, 6/15 Tallinn, Estonia
We docked in Tallinn, Estonia at 9 am. I downloaded a self guided walking tour from a well known site mentioned often on cruise critic so I would be the tour guide for the day. Getting off the ship was a breeze and we headed for our first stop of the tour which was the Great Coastal Gate. From there, we walked to St. Olav’s church, the walls and towers of the old city, Toompea hill (for a scenic overview of the old city), Cathedral of Saint Mary, Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, Toompea Castle, and St. Nicholas Church. We walked and walked and walked some more but enjoyed the tour as the weather was sunny and near 70 degrees and perfect for a nice day outdoors. After our tour, we shopped in some souvenir shops and the flea market in the central square where they had some hand crafted items and interesting foods (they had horse sausage at one booth).
It was lunch time now so we decided to try the Beer House for lunch. I really wanted to try a pretzel (there wasn’t time to get one in Germany) and the menu out front clearly advertised pretzels. I ordered a pretzel along with fried Bavarian cheese and bratwurst. The rest of my family all ordered pizzas. After a little while, the waiter came back and told us that the “pretzel is finished” which could be interpreted several ways. We eventually figured out that he meant that they were out of pretzels so my quest for a pretzel would have to wait. The food was all very good though and it was a good choice for lunch.
After lunch we shopped some more and eventually made our way back to the ship. I estimate that we must have walked four to five miles today and we were definitely worn out. We tried Moderno for dinner tonight which is a Brazilian Churrascaria restaurant (there is a salad bar and they bring around skewers of various meats). Things got off to a shaky start as the tables were too small for a party of four and thus there was not room on the table for everything which made it feel really cramped. Also, they brought us filet mignon which was raw in the middle (not rare but absolutely raw). We mentioned this to the waiter and he had some properly cooked filet mignon brought out (and as much as we wanted) and it was delicious so this problem was handled well. In addition to the skewers of meat, they also brought around some pineapple on a skewer that was cooked in brown sugar and it was absolutely delicious. We asked for several more rounds of that during the meal and they always happily complied. The side dishes of mashed potatoes and grilled bananas were also quite tasty. I would recommend trying Moderno.
We attended the Cabaret show in the Spinnaker Lounge which consisted of the singers and dancers from the Stardust Theater singing various Broadway songs. We actually enjoyed the show quite a bit more than we anticipated. Immigration forms for Russia were delivered to our cabin and we filled those out in anticipation of our arrival there the next morning. We had to move the clock forward another hour tonight so before we knew it, it was midnight and time to turn in.
Day 5 – Sunday, 6/16 St. Petersburg, Russia
The Star arrived at 8 am today in St. Petersburg, Russia for an overnight stay. We booked a two day grand tour through Alla tours and I was a bit apprehensive after a less than stellar tour in Berlin but hoped for the best. One of the perks of being in a suite was priority debarkation which we decided to take advantage of this morning. I had read that immigration could take a long time in St. Petersburg so I wanted to be one of the first ones off the ship if possible. We showed up at La Cucina (after our daily breakfast at Cagney’s) at 7:45 am for express debarkation and waited for about 20 minutes before a line formed and we were marched through the restaurant. It seemed like everyone in a suite on the ship was using the early debarkation so it was a fairly sizeable line. We walked to some private elevators at which point everything came to a halt. The NCL representative told us that we would have to wait for immigration to clear the ship and it might take a few minutes. Finally, after another 20 minutes or so, we were let on the elevator and were quickly off the Star and through immigration in about 5 minutes (ahead of everyone else on the ship). Immigration in Russia requires passports, tour tickets (which act as a visa), and the immigration form which we received in our room the day before we arrived. I was surprised that one also had to go through immigration to get back onto the ship but the line was never very long fortunately (after the initial day one crunch).
We quickly found our tour guide from Alla tours and she led us to a comfortable minibus which seated about 15-17 passengers. Two other families of four (both with teenagers) joined us so we had a nice group of 12 for our two days of touring. One of the families I had met via cruise critic and both families were great touring partners. Our tour guide was Oxana and she was very knowledgeable and did an excellent job. She was also very efficient and walked very quickly most of the time. It was a chore keeping up with her at times (I almost got lost when stopping to take a picture in the Hermitage) but she did a good job of making sure we stayed on schedule.
We started our tour and the weather was perfect once again, sunny and cool. Our first stop was at a Russian market to see the various meats, vegetables, and fishes that they typically sell. Next, we rode the subway for one stop. The subway is one of the deepest subways anywhere in the world and is decorated fairly lavishly. Then we arrived for an early entry at the Hermitage which is a massive museum housing many, many masterpieces. We saw paintings by Monet, Rembrandt, El Greco, Da Vinci, Velazquez and many others. The museum possesses over 3 million pieces of art, only a small portion of which can be displayed at one time. We spent over two hours here and barely scratched the surface. At first, the museum was fairly empty but by the time we left, the crowds were getting pretty difficult to maneuver. This seemed to be a theme at most of the St. Petersburg attractions (large crowds) but we still considered this city the highlight of our trip.
After the Hermitage, we headed to the Church of our Savior on Spilled Blood which was spectacular from the outside. We stopped for lunch at a Russian Restaurant which was pretty good. We had a salad, borscht, a chicken entrée and ice cream for dessert. No complaints about this lunch at all. After lunch, we continued on to St. Isaac’s Cathedral and Catherine’s Palace. I really enjoyed Catherine’s Palace and the Amber room in particular was quite beautiful.
It was a jam packed and tiring day but also an amazing one with the sights we saw. We also made a couple of quick souvenir stops along the way which was a good thing to us.
We made it back to the ship at almost 6 pm so freshened up and ate dinner at the buffet which I did not like. The buffet on the Star felt antiquated and does not have individual stations like on other ships we have been on. If I want to just get pizza for example, I have to wait on line through all of the other items to reach the pizza section. I’m glad we only ate here this one time.
We had an evening shopping tour planned with Alla so were back off the ship at 8:30 for that. Of course, it was still bright and sunny out until almost 11 pm so there was plenty of daylight left! Our cruise critic friends arrived (the same family from our two day tour) and off we went. We stopped at a souvenir shop that wasn’t that great and decided to try to find a souvenir shop we had been at earlier that day. Fortunately, the driver (different driver from the day tour) was able to figure out where that shop was which made everyone happy. Then we walked down Nevsky Prospekt which is the main shopping street in St. Petersburg. Finally we drove around St. Petersburg a little more and arrived back at the ship at 11:15 pm. We were all exhausted so immediately went to bed.
Day 6 – Monday, 6/17 St. Petersburg, Russia
Day two of our St. Petersburg extravaganza arrived all too soon and we were back off the Star by 8 am to meet our group. It was a bit windy and drizzling so a much cooler day than the previous one, but I enjoyed the nice change from the heat of Texas summers.
We stopped to take some pictures of the canal and waterfront area and then embarked on a boat ride which was a slow sailing along rivers and canals of the city. This gave us a different perspective of the city and was relaxing, although I could not always hear the narrative too clearly. Next up was a visit to Yusupov’s Palace where we heard the interesting story of Rasputin who was a peasant who gained favor with the Imperial family and was eventually murdered.
We had packed lunches today which consisted of a pancake (sort of like a large crepe sandwich), an apple, a Russian chocolate bar and a juice box. It was actually much better than I expected and we got to enjoy it during our smooth 30 minute hydrofoil ride out to Peterhof. We had a wonderful tour of the Peterhof fountains (a highlight for me) before a thunderstorm arrived and it rained for about 15 to 20 minutes (and we all took cover in the restrooms). The rain quickly moved on though and the tour resumed. We were getting really tired and out feet were quite sore after two days of extensive touring (plus a day of walking in Tallinn prior to Russia), but there was one more sight to see. We drove back to St. Petersburg and stopped at St Peter and Paul Cathedral, where almost all of Russia’s emperors and empresses are laid to rest.
The final stop of the tour was at a souvenir shop at Alla’s headquarters to pay for the Berlin and St. Petersburg tours. I found it amazing that one didn’t have to pay anything until the last day of touring in St. Petersburg. I guess they have never had problems with individual’s skipping out after the first day of touring (or after the tour in Berlin) and not paying. The souvenir shop was excellent as there was a large selection of nesting dolls, Faberge type eggs, t-shirts, amber, vodka, chocolates and many other items. We bought our fair share of souvenirs here for certain!
We arrived back at the ship at 5:15 pm and were starved, so we headed to Versailles for dinner. We had to wait about 25 minutes for a table and were given free drink vouchers to use in the Red Lion Pub next door. This was the only time we had to wait to eat dinner during the cruise. We attended a show (the kids skipped it) by Brenda Cochrane who had played in Chicago on London’s West End. She was very talented but we were exhausted so left early and went back to the room to relax. Fortunately we got to set the clocks back one hour tonight so gained an extra hour of much needed sleep.
Day 7 – Tuesday, 6/18 Helsinki, Finland
Since we had $1000 of on board credit we decided to try one NCL tour (today in Helsinki) and we let the kids pick it out. They decided on Helsinki by Land and Sea which sounded interesting to them. We had to meet in the theater at 8:30 am and after a 10 minute wait, our tour was called. Many people seemed to be taking this particular tour and we filled up three large buses before getting underway. We drove a short way to a nearby pier and boarded a two story boat for the sea portion of the tour. The upstairs was open to the elements but it was yet another beautiful day so we headed up there to sit at a table. I got a little bit warm so I decided to check out the downstairs which turned out to be air conditioned so I stayed down there with my wife while the kids hung out upstairs. The boat sailed past several sights and was relaxing and fairly interesting but not spectacular. I did enjoy seeing several large ice breaker ships. The Baltic Sea is fairly shallow and does contain that much salt, so it freezes over quite often in the winter months and thus the need for ice breakers. We also saw several large ferries from Stockholm sail by. They leave Stockholm at 5 pm and arrive the next morning in Helsinki;
After the boat portion of the tour completed, we had 45 minutes at an outdoor marketplace (market square) where we found many items that we liked such as handcrafted purses, t-shirts, wood carvings and a variety of nice souvenirs. Time soon ran out (I wish we had more time here) and we boarded the bus for the land portion of the tour. We passed the Presidential Palace and Uspenski Cathedral and then made a stop at Senate Square for some pictures. We then continued on past the Olympic Stadium and Opera House and made another photo stop at Sibelius Park where there is a statue made up of over 600 steel pipes to honor the Finish composer Jean Sibelius. We were given the opportunity to be dropped off in downtown Helsinki but we chose to return to the ship as we were still recovering from the long touring days in Russia.
We ate lunch at Cagney’s which was good as always and then retired to the rooms for a well needed nap. Tonight was the Chef’s Table. I signed up for it when we first boarded and my step son and I were very excited about it. My wife and step daughter are fairly picky eaters so they decided to eat dinner at the Blue Lagoon (comfort food) and watch a movie while we feasted on gourmet cuisine.
We met at Gatsby’s Bar at 6:30 pm and were immediately seated by the hostess (for the evening) at a reserved section of the bar and served sparkling wine. Other members of the group arrived and we were photographed as a group with executive chef Andreas Sommerfeld on the steps nearby. This pre-dinner gathering gave all the participants a chance to know one other and helped contribute to the feeling of camaraderie and rapport that continued throughout the evening.
We were led through La Cucina to a private dining room that seemed to be set between La Cucina and Aqua. The room was filled with paintings and the table set exquisitely with Versace china. Each group had their photo taken with Chef Sommerfeld and at the end of the evening each group was given a signed copy of the menu along with the two photos that had been taken. Chef Sommerfeld acted as the culinary guide for the evening as he introduced each dish and explained its major ingredients. He also gave insight into how each dish was prepared. In addition, the head wine steward spoke about the wines which were to accompany each course of the meal. These wines included a sauvignon blanc from New Zealand, a California chardonnay, and a cabernet sauvignon also from California.
The meal began with an amuse boche that featured molecular gastronomy. A mango provided sweetness while jalapeno ravioli provided spice. This was an interesting and delicious dish as one let the whole spoonful slide into their mouth and let it sit there until the flavors popped. The second dish was an Ahi Tuna Tartare which had amazing flavor. There were also four kinds of lavosh (tomato, basil, curry, and lavender) on the table. The third course was an asparagus cream soup that everyone raved about. It made me want to lick the bowl clean as it was that good. This was followed up by a goat cheese tartlet and then a grapefruit granite to cleanse the palate.
It was now time for the two main courses and first up was a pan seared sea bass. Everyone raved about this dish and cleaned their plates. Course seven was a veal chop that was so large that it looked like a bone in rib eye steak. It was served on a bed of sautéed spinach and was accompanied by Anna potatoes. After the veal was served, truffle veal jus was poured over it and the combination of flavors was fantastic. I was starting to get really full but there were still two courses to go in our nine course gourmet extravaganza. A cheese course was served which consisted of two kinds of cheese (one was a pungent stilton) along with honey comb, pickled watermelon and bagel chips. Finally we reached dessert. The men were all served a yogurt mousse dome filled with raspberries and the women were served the chocoholics delight which was a dark chocolate cake with rum infused bananas. Several at the table seemed disappointed that they could not try both desserts so extras were brought out so that everyone could try both desserts.
After dinner we were led back to Gatsby’s Bar for a night cap cocktail of anything we cared to order. Finally, the evening concluded at around 11 pm. The four and one half hours had flown by and it was truly an evening we would always remember. We were told that we would receive invitations for a galley tour on the last day at sea which I thought was an excellent extra that I had not anticipated. At $89 per person, the chef’s table sounds expensive, but I found it to be a great value considering the quality of food, and the signed menu, photos and galley tour. I highly recommend it! We got to set the clocks back one hour again tonight.
Day 8 – Wednesday, 6/19 Stockholm, Sweden
We arrived in Stockholm at 8 am and had our normal breakfast at Cagney’s before walking off the ship for a day on our own. I had considered using one of the hop on hop off buses that stopped right at the pier (there was a green bus and red bus available) but decided against it after talking to a woman at the information desk at the pier. We wanted to go directly to the Vasa Museum so we could enjoy it before it got too crowded. The buses both made multiple stops before they would arrive there so it would take quite awhile to arrive at Vasa if we used them. Thus we decided to take a taxi directly there. In Stockholm, each taxi has different rates that are displayed on the side window. The rates can vary quite a bit so it’s a good idea to check the rates before entering a taxi there. A good rate would be between 300 and 350 kr although we saw some that had rates over 1000 kr. Buyer beware.
We found a taxi with a good rate and arrived at the Vasa about 15 minutes later. The Vasa Museum displays the only almost fully intact 17th century ship that has ever been salvaged, the 64-gun warship Vasa that sank on her maiden voyage in 1628. The ship was salvaged in 1961 and restoration work is still ongoing. The main hall of the museum features the ship itself with many different vantage points available to view it. There are also side exhibits showing construction, sinking (it was built without enough stability and a wind gust blew it over and water flooded it through the open gun ports), location and recovery of the ship. It was not very crowded when we arrived so our strategy of coming here first certainly paid off. By the time we left though, the crowds were building. We shopped briefly in the museum store (they had small models of the ship amongst other souvenirs) and then caught another taxi to old town.
Upon arriving at old town, this second taxi driver said he could not accept American swipe and sign credit cards even though the first taxi driver on the way to Vasa had no problems accepting my credit card. He tried processing my card but told me that he could not figure out how to make it work. I only had American dollars with me and he eventually accepted that when I told him that I had no other method available to pay him. When taking our third taxi later in the day, I relayed this information to the taxi driver as I wanted to make sure he could take my credit card. He told me that all Stockholm taxi drivers know how to accept American credit cards and he seemed upset that the second taxi gave me a problem. He told me that the driver probably just wanted cash so pretended that he could not figure it out.
We walked around old town and did some more shopping and had lunch at an Italian restaurant that was fairly good. We each ordered pizzas and mine had reindeer as one of the toppings which was interesting. We then walked to a department store to find my step daughter a purse and we had success as she found one that she really likes. We then took our third taxi of the day back to the ship to relax for a bit before dinner.
As we sailed out of Stockholm at 4 pm, we sailed through the archipelago which extends for 37 miles of various islands and towns. I went out on deck for an hour or so to watch the scenery sail by. It reminded me a bit of sailing through the inside passage in Alaska and was very scenic. Some of the passages we sailed through were extremely narrow so I was glad that we seemed to have a competent captain!
It was my wife’s birthday today so we decided to dine at Le Bistro for dinner, which is a French restaurant. I ordered mussels, escargot and lamb and it was all very good, although I was somewhat ruined for life by the chef’s table the previous night (as nothing could compare to it). My lamb was a fairly small portion but they offered to bring me a second helping to which I gladly agreed. Service was excellent and we all enjoyed our meal.
Day 9 – Thursday, 6/20 At Sea
This morning, my step son and I had the galley tour that accompanied the chef’s table experience from the other night. We are breakfast at Cagney’s and met at Gatsby’s at 10:00 am for our tour. I expected a short tour of the kitchen but instead we were treated to an in depth two hour tour of the kitchens as well as the food preparation and storage areas by Chef Sommerfeld. It was a nice accompaniment to the chef’s table dinner. We learned some interesting facts two such as the Star has to order their beef from the USA as they receive complaints if they buy European beef. This is due to the fact that European cattle graze on grass and have a different flavor from grain fed beef.
I ate lunch today in the Blue Lagoon and got some fish n chips which were average. We spent the afternoon relaxing and packing. Dinner tonight was in Versailles and I didn’t like anything on the menu so asked for some pasta but they didn’t have marinara sauce as an option. The waitress said she would see if she could get some marinara for me and ending up bringing me a delicious plate of freshly cooked pasta with marinara. Thus dinner was quite good.
We attended the Elements show and really enjoyed it. It featured a mix of magic, Cirque De Soleil type acts and dancing and was really well done for a cruise ship production. It was hard to believe that the cruise was already over. I enjoyed the smaller size of the Star and we all agreed that it would be hard to go back to a non-suite cruise after our wonderful suite experience with NCL. I found the service to be excellent on the ship and never encountered an unfriendly member of the staff.
Day 10 – Friday, 6/21 Disembarkation, Copenhagen
We were spending two more nights in Copenhagen after the cruise. We originally wanted to spend three or four nights in Copenhagen before the cruise but that plan didn’t work out. We used frequent flier miles for three of our four airfares and the only available flight home was on Sunday the 23rd. Thus, we spent two nights in Copenhagen pre-cruise and two nights post-cruise. I didn’t mind splitting up the time in Copenhagen as it gave us the opportunity to stay in two different places.
We opted to carry our own luggage off the Star and also to use priority debarkation available for suite guests. We ate breakfast in Cagney’s at 7:50 am, made it back to our rooms by 8:40 am, and had an easy walk to La Cucina. The restaurant was deserted (it was now 9 am) but a woman immediately showed up and escorted us to the private elevator (same one we used for priority debarkation in St. Petersburg). We were met by Omar when we got off the elevator and he walked us off the ship by 9:05 am. The whole process took mere minutes and was the smoothest debarkation out of all of our cruises. Once again, the suite life proved to be a good way to go. There was no passport control or any immigration to deal with so we got into a line for a taxi and only waited a few minutes before we were on our way to the Crowne Plaza Copenhagen Towers for our two night stay.
We prepaid for a family room which was basically two separate rooms with a door connecting them. The price was really good though and we had four beds and two bathrooms so everyone was happy with the arrangements. The Crowne Plaza is near the airport and fairly far from downtown Copenhagen but it a couple minutes walk from the metro and regional train station (they share the same station). There is also a mall nearby that is a five minute walk from the hotel. We liked that it was close to the airport since we had a really early flight on Sunday morning.
We arrived at the hotel around 10:30 am and the room wasn’t ready yet so we walked over to the mall and had some lunch at Burger King and looked around a bit. We returned to the hotel and finally were able to check in a little before 2 pm. After resting a bit, we took a regional train from Orestad (the station near the hotel) to Kobenhavn H (Copenhagen Central Station). The hotel desk sold train tickets which was convenient.
We walked to the Hard Rock Hotel near the train station to buy a t shirt and hat and then entered Tivoli Gardens. Tivoli Gardens is an older amusement park and gardens and has quite a few restaurants. We walked around and enjoyed the gardens and then the kids played some games of skill for fun. I finally found my pretzel at a German Beer Hall type restaurant and it was fantastic. We ate dinner at Café Ultimo which was a decent Italian restaurant. On our way out of Tivoli we noticed security asking people to move and a line crowding each side of the sidewalk. Shortly thereafter, the Queen of Denmark walked in. I’m not sure why she was there but it was pretty neat to catch a glimpse of her.
We headed back to the hotel via the regional train and watched some television (there were one or two English channels out of the 30 some channels offered) before calling it a night.
Post-cruise – Saturday, 6/22 Copenhagen
We scheduled a Castles tour through Viator for 10:15 this morning, so we took the regional train to Copenhagen central station and walked to the meeting place for the tour. When we arrived at the designated place though, there was no bus or representatives from the tour company to be seen. We walked back and forth in front of Tivoli and finally I asked someone and he told us it was a half mile back in the direction we had come from. So we walked back and still found nothing. I asked a representative for one of the hop on hop off tours and he gave me excellent instructions for finding our bus. It was of course back in the other direction the half mile that we had just walked. We finally found the bus and soon after the tour started.
The tour would visit three castles, two of which we would take a tour of (the third was just a photo stop). We drove along the coast of Denmark which featured seaside vistas and arrived at Kronborg Castle, which is the setting for Hamlet. It started to rain when we arrived but the tour company had umbrellas for everyone which was handy and appreciated. Kronborg Castle had a medieval feel to it and had wonderful views of the sea. Our next stop was at Fredensborg Palace, which is a summer residence for the Danish Royal family. We only stopped here for 15 minutes to take some photos.
We stopped for lunch at an informal café type restaurant which was average but did the trick for satiating our growing hunger. The lunch stop wasn’t until 1:45 pm which I felt was a bit late. After lunch we visited the 17th century Frederiksborg Castle, built in Renaissance style with a touch of Baroque. It is now a national museum containing paintings, tapestries, furniture, porcelain and silver. The castle was huge and hours could have been spent here but our tour was fairly thorough and enjoyable.
We headed back to Copenhagen and arrived at 5:30 and caught the regional train back to the hotel. We had planned to eat dinner at the mall again to have something a bit cheaper but learned that it closed at 6 pm on Saturdays. Thus we ate dinner at the hotel which featured expensive burgers and sandwiches. Had I known the mall closed so early, we would have eaten in Copenhagen before travelling back to the hotel. But dinner was good at least, even if overpriced. We had a very early flight the next day so we went to bed early.
Post-cruise Sunday, 6/23 Home
The first of our flights home was at 7:20 am from Copenhagen to London Heathrow Airport on British Air, so we checked out of the hotel at 5:30 am and had a short taxi ride to the airport. Check in took a long time but we still made our flight with plenty of time to spare. They served a breakfast sandwich on the flight which is more than I expected.
We had a four hour layover in London before our 12:25 flight from London Heathrow to DFW airport in Dallas on American Airlines. We ate one last breakfast in Europe (we were still hungry) before heading the rest of the way back home. Our flight was on a 777 so we would get personal entertainment systems (each seat has a screen where one can watch movies, TV shows, play games, etc). We were served lunch and two snacks during the flight and the food was actually pretty good. The flight home was uneventful and all of our luggage made it without getting lost so all’s well that ends well! Thus our trip had sadly drawn to an end. It had been an amazing but tiring time that was thoroughly enjoyed by all.