This was my first trip to Europe, and was very happy that we were flying into Stockholm a day before the cruise. Stockholm was pleasantly surprising and very warm - I would say the high was about 80. Lots of local people sunbathing and out and about. I think the funniest thing was it was "Iron maiden" day in Stockholm - a heavy metal band from the 80's was playing a concert and it seemed like everyone in Stockholm was wearing Iron Maiden t-shirts!
Sunday was cruise day and it was rather rainy and windy and gray, and the temperatures had dropped into the mid 60's. We were part of a group that took a bus to the port from the Sheraton - it look us about 35 minutes and was pretty neat as we got to see a little bit of the Stockholm area on the way. We checked into the cruise easily about 11 am, no lines, and were on the ship in about 20 mintues. We were able to go directly to the room and drop off our carry-on bags. We had a nice balcony cabin and the room had plenty of storage space. We went up to the pool bar and got a beer, but it was really windy and rainy, so we decided to go ahead and get some lunch. On the way into the Windjammer buffet, the cruise had a table setup where you could buy a drink package (water, sodas, or alcohol). Since the beers we just bought were approximately $13 for two,we decided to take the drink package. You must buy it for each person in the cabin, and it was around $55 per person, per day. For us, since we both like to drink beer, or have wine at dinner, or have nightcap, this was a good deal.
Lunch at the Windjammer was basically the same each day..pretty standard cruise buffett food. We did eat at the pool solarium one day which had pizza and burgers, but both the pizza and burgers left a LOT to be desired.
That afternoon we explored the ship, and just got a feel for where everything was. Our luggage arrived at the cabin at approximately 4 pm, but one bag made it a little later at just before 6. We had a group cocktail party we were required to attend at 5 pm, and early dinner seating we were required to attend due to the group we were with. I did not like the early dinner seating, as some of the ports we had excursions on got back just before 6 and we did not have time to shower and get ready before the seating.
The dinner was in the Aquarius dining room was always good, however, there was not a lobster night (to the disappointment of my SO). Each night you could pay EXTRA for the lobster and steak..I think the additional costs were form $22-$36 (?).
The first night we spent socializing, playing a little in the casino, and getting ready for our first port, Helsinki.Note: the time moves forward 1 hour going into Helsinki.
On Monday, we docked in Helsinki, and disembarked into a madhouse of people trying to get onto a limited amount of buses for the tours. It was pretty cool int the morning, about 60 degrees, and warmed up to about 70 by midafternoon. This was the most disorganized thing I have ever seen. Peole were literally cutting into line in fromt of hundreds of people, pushing, and shoving each other. It took us almost 1 1/2 hours to get from the port onto a bus! Very frustrating. Once we got on the bus, it took us maybe 20 miinutes to get to the "tourist' section of Helsinki. (note: it is a very long wway to the downtown area from the ship - there is no way to walk there).
We purchassed a tour theough RC - a self-guided walking tour of Helsinki. This was a BIG MISTAKE. They gave us Ipods with headsets and a Google Earth map with no street names and dropped us off in front of a department store in downtown Helsinki with instructions on how often the bus would be back to pick us up.
The walking tour was completely frustrating, as you are trying to walk in a very big city with lots of traffic and people and listen to the Ipod at the same time. I felt very un-safe doing this as we were constantly warned about pickpockets. The traffic is horrendous here, and you must pay attention when crossing streets! We ended up doing about 3/4 of the tour before giving up and heading back. We met several other people that did this tour that said it was extremely frustrating! I would recommend just taking a shuttle transfer to the downtown area and walking around and exploring on your own. They had a beautiful port and outdoor shopping area, along with beautiful churches and monuments. If that is your thing, you may want to take a guided tour, however, I prefer to explore on my own.
That evening, we went to the 6 pm dinner, and then went to the Juggling show in the Masquerade theatre. We both thought this show was "cheesy" and it only lasted about 45 minutes. We ended up back in the casino, then off to bed.
Note: the time changed again going to St. Petersburg by going forward 1 hour. Also, this time of year, it is pretty much daylight all day, except for the sunset about 11 pm, and then the sun comes back up again about 3 am. It was really hard to sleep.
Day Three and Four St. Petersburg - we purchased a two day excursion from RC. It was worth it, but each day was extremely long and exhausting and I felt like I had been on a cattle drive each day. The first day took and hour and a half to get off the boat and through customs. There was no freedom at all to explore on your own on these tours and I could have skipped a few things and not missed them. I would highly suggest if you have the money to hire a private guide and not go with a group. I really would have enjoyed more time at some things and less time at others. The weather was a little cooler here, in the 60's each day and there was a lot of wind!! Some observations:
The Hermitage was EXTREMELY impressive, but had what seemed like thousands of people trying to get in. It was beautiful, however the crowds were out of control and we were pushed and shoved the entire time we were there. I honestly do not remeber much except the crowds and feeling the need to get OUT!
Church of the Spilled Blood: Very cool, but CLOSED on Wednesdays!
St. Peter's Church - Nice, but total waste of time to spend as much time there as we did. Again, being in a large group was frustrating.
Food: We had two organized lunches, both had exactly the same food :shots of vodka, a glass of wine, water, rice, peas, and some chicken in sauce (gross), and tiny pieces of bread with caviar.
People: The Russian people seemed very depressed and did not speak English very well at all. They will absolutely not take dollars. The gift shops are pretty much all the same. We found the best prices to be right in the port before you get on the boat. They also bargained with us there and gave us some good deals. However, my opinion is save your money until Tallinn! haha
It was just pretty neat to be in Russia, but,with the time change, jet lag, and long 9 hour days of walking, I was exhausted.
The Vision of the Seas had a really cool party the first night in St. Petersburg- called a White Night party. We all wore White and they had a buffett set up on the pool deck, dancing, bartender contests, etc.until late night. DOn't miss this party! The crew all got on the dance floor and did group dances - it was great!
Fifth Day: Tallinn, Estonia. Our favorite port. We had cancelled our tour tickets from the day before and got a refund, and boy, are we glad we did! It was a short walk to Old Town off the boat, and this port was so fantastic I couldn't believ it. I would recommend just wondering around and shopping, eating, and enjoying yourself. Too much to see, we would come back here again in a heatbeat. Save your monry to buy lots of souveniers here. One of the fun things we did was take a motorized pedi-cab back to the port! Whee!! Beautiful weather in the 70's. After the port, it was 70's night on the boat. The staff dressed like 70's people and they played disco music and did congo lines around the inside of the ship - very funny as one group of crew guys dressed like the Village People and my blackjack dealer was one of them. Couldn't stop laughing at them.
Sixth Day: Riga, Latvia. Woke up to pouring rain, rain, and more rain. Thankfully we brought rain ponchos. We cancelled our tour here and got a refund.
We finally got a break in the downpour, and walked to Old Town ion the drizzle. I did not enjoy this destination at all..the peole were not as friendly and had very poor English. I think we were tired from the rush and go-go-go, and this port was just an Industrial City with an Old Town that could not compare to Tallinn at all. If it was up to me, I would have gone back to the boat and slept all afternoon, but my SO wanted to see the town. We ended up playing pool in a pool hall with some locals, ha!
Saw a great show on board - Argentenian bolo dancers and drums - VERY COOL!
Entered a Texas hold 'em tournament - complete waste of money as they let people buying in as much as they wanted. Boo.
Seventh Day: Day at Sea... Ahh, time to sleep in finally. Just hung out on the boat and relaxed. Did some shopping as the last day on the boat is when the put things on sale. (hint, hint)
Easy disembarkation last day, was exhausted! The ship was in ok shape, no specialty restaurants, but that was fine. I hear the boat is going in for renovations this fall. I wuld not do another Baltic cruise, but glad I experienced it. I would go back to Tallinn anytime.