About us: This was a Dad and Daughter trip. My family cruises together often as a group and my wife and I cruise as a couple on occasion as well. We have been aboard Carnival Legend before, having traveled from Tampa on a prior trip. Galveston is a very convenient port for us. Consequently, we tend to use Carnival often, although we have also used RCL and Holland America Line as well from other ports.
Booking the cruise was very easy through carnival. We lined up our flights through Expedia. I am not sure that the Cruise line might not have been easier, but that is how I did it. On the other hand, I managed a first class upgrade to JFK at least, so that was not too bad.
Embarkation day. We had booked a private tour through London Private Tours David Hamed. More on his company can be found at Trip Advisor. The benefit here was sharing a private tour guide for just the two of us, along with a nice van to take the trip in. Very roomy. The night before David had booked a wonderful meal at a restaurant in the Shard. What views and what food! David picked us up from our hotel and traveled east out of London to the County of Kent, a beautiful area arriving eventually in Canterbury for a Cathedral and City Tour, followed by Dover Castle, the RAF Memorial on the cliffs of Dover and other of the beaten path attractions. We were delivered to the Cruise Terminal in Dover at approximately 2:45 pm.
Embarkation was really incredibly painless. We were aboard at 3:00 pm.
Monday, July 15th. On Board the ship we found we were going to have the legendary John Heald as cruise director, along with his side kick Calvyn. Throughout the trip we found John to be funny and engaging, although he was a bit incognito when not on stage. For those who like a more accessible cruise director this might be an issue, however it was not for us. His side kick was a guy whose apparent schtick is being in your face out of the closet 24/7. This did not bother us, although we did wonder how many parents with children found adult themes such as this to be a bit out of place at times. My point is that there is a time and a place for things, and 24/7 leaves little in the way for alternatives.
The Shipboard experience The interior design is interesting but not too shocking as we have been on the ship before. It has been toned down from the Tampa times to reflect a less party-centric crowd and more family oriented crowd. Take note of this Mr. Asst. Cruise Director.
The ship does have a Serenity Area. Once the area is hopefully better defined and segregated similar to the concept on Magic and so on, it will be more attuned to the crowd on this ship. I am sure this will be addressed at the next refit. There is not an apparent Spa deck program yet on this ship. I think that doing something like this would improve Spa traffic and also reduce the number of annoying plugs and announcements apparently necessary.
We did late seating and hit the jackpot with our dinner guests. They were from Florida and were just lovely people. The young lady at the table and my daughter got along famously. The wait staff was very attentive. Irnya from Ukraine took the time to give us some really good tips and advice about St. Petersburg.
Bruce the Piano guy did a good job.
The wine and food pairing at the steakhouse during the day was informative, particularly for my daughter. sommelier tries. Nikolai the sommelier did a great job.
Formal nights tended to be dressier than your average Caribbean cruise. It was not a get drunk cruise crowd. However, it was not Cunard starch either. Men can do fine with a conservative blazer and wool slacks straight up to formal evening attire should they chose to do so.
The Crowd: The crowd was fairly international primarily Brits, Canadians, Americans, Aussies, a few Spaniards and a sprinkling of various other nationalities. English was almost universally the spoken language. While the average age was probably a bit over what you see on the Fun Boat types of trips, there were still plenty of families with children. The crowd was almost universally well deported with one notable exception detailed later. There was also one family from Argentina who seemed to almost miss the ship sailing at nearly every stop, including St. Petersburg (not a good idea) and it got to be an event to line the rails for their dock sprint. The Cruise Director, John Heald, even got on the intercom in Helsinki to announce a special watch sale in their honor. Very funny.
The Stops: Wednesday, July 17th Copenhagen. We did the Castles of New Zealand tour and it was really good. The history is fascinating and the facilities were gorgeous. The Lutheran Church in Frederiksborg Castle was a sight to behold along with the rest of the red brick and copper roofed faciltity. Kronborg Castle is a fairy tale facility commanding a narrow passage between Denmark and Sweden. It was the theme for Hamlet and apparently was used to collect duties until the pesky Americans started to refuse to pay in the 1800s.
Thursday, July 18th - Germany. We did the Berlin and Prussian Palaces Tour because it offered a good balance between WWII era history and the past and we were richly rewarded for this choice. Carnival uses a company called European Land Excursions to run this tour. The trip was efficiently run and jam packed without seeming rushed. The hostess on the train trip to and from the port in Warnemnde was Isabelle. She was warm, friendly, and engaging during the entire trip. Her knowledge of the area and the helpful tips and insights she provided were most beneficial to us. From a total customer experience perspective, Isabelle was one of the most effective hostesses I have experienced in many years.
Irma was out tour guide in Berlin and Horst was the driver. They worked beautifully together and ran the day like a well-oiled machine. It was never rushed, things were on time or ahead of time, and she packed in plenty without having it ever become overwhelming. Irma was really quite knowledgeable and was able to bring the history of an area or attraction to light be it from the 17th century or the 20th. She was a joy to be with the entire day. I was lucky to have her as a guide and my daughter agreed.
Overall, I would say that this tour guide combination and experience was the best we had on the twelve day trip. We saw many of the sights in Berlin such as the Holocaust Museum, Checkpoint Charlie, The Richstag. Under den Linden area, the Olympic Stadium, Potsdam, Sans Soucci Palace, Charlottenburg Palace (which was magnificent), and others.
Back on board it was open seating, but we skipped it to go topside and enjoy the German oompah band until sailing along with good sausages and brewskis on tap.
Saturday, July 20th - Helsinki. We booked the city tour and steam train to Porvoo excursion which wa cancelled due to mechanical issues, and ended up doing a private tour. We saw all of the things several combined ship tours would have seen without the waiting for stragglers. The tall ships were in port and it was really a sight to see. The Church on the rock and the Lutheran Cathedral are not to be missed. Porvoo was an interesting old town and we took time to do some wandering of the old steam train yards across the river which yielded great photos of steam locomotives and so on. Finland is a very nice country with friendly people. They are Social Democrats. The guide told us that there was a high suicide rate amongst young people who do not make it into the professional programs. Apparently they have to pass a grueling exam just to enter a lottery.
Sunday-Monday, July 21st - St. Petersburg. The Russians are really serious about immigration and so forth. If you are not on a ship tour, you have to get a Visa in advance. We did the two day grand tours from the ship. They were actually very good. We also did the folk dance instead of ballet and we really did enjoy it.
PLEASE NOTE: We were told many times about the problem of pickpockets in St. Petersburg so be careful of your things. We were told you can use Euros in many places and USD in some, but in the museums they seemed to want Rubles. We never used a credit card in St. Petersburg.
Tuesday, July 23rd - Tallinn. We took the walking tour. Tallinn is a wonderful old medieval town with a rich seafaring and trading history. The Guildhalls and commercial areas were very nice. We elected to stay after the tour and explore some more. Walking back to the cruise port was a snap. The shops were reasonably priced and a savvy buyer can find some nice buys on linen. Quality and pricing varies from place to place so it is fun to shop and to deal. The town square and the areas inside the walls were the highlights. Estonia has been fought over extensively by various parties, it seems. The people appeared to be quite thrilled with their independence. It was a completely different atmosphere than that found in St. Petersburg. The internet service and cell service was first class. This place is really wired in a wireless sort of way!
Friday, July 26th - Amsterdam. We were signed up for the Van Gogh Museum tour. It was cancelled by the ship. This was the third tour of the cruise not to work out, and once again it turned out for the best. We bought a Holland Pass at the cruise terminal which gave us unlimited tram and other public transportation, plus a nice canal tour, and finally fast pass entrance to the Van Gogh Museum. This was a huge home run for us. We managed to see all of the major highlights by tramming to the canal tour located closest to the museum and then which gave us a really comfortable tour before the rest of the cruise ship crowds swarmed in. Plus, fast pass entrance to the Museum was pain free, except for the looks from some of the folks in the other long lines who went for the cheap route. Holland Pass was definitely the way to go. We had lunch at a wonderful Indian Restaurant and headed back leisurely to the ship. Coming in and out of Amsterdam, including going through the locks was a joy to observe from the balcony.
The only blemish relates unfortunately to a certain family in the crowd. We had a nice suite on deck 6. There was a family in one cabin with two very young children, the oldest of whom could not have been have been out of 4th grade. The parents would essentially toss the kids out of the cabin at various times of the day and have them roaming the ship on their own. I am not making this up. One day the boy was out in the passage way too long and wound up soiling himself. The steward almost grossed out cleaning his hand prints off the passageway walls, and understandably so. Plus, World War III erupted in the cabin several times daily amongst parents as well as parents and kids and this was plainly within earshot up and down the hall. Security appeared multiple times. It is a shame. In Tallinn, my daughter and I were eating when an Aussie couple we had met stopped to chat. They started to describe kids they had found unaccompanied that morning and sent back to their parents with a crew member. They were amazed when we guessed the cabin number on the first try. Folks, when you become a legend like this on the Legend, it is not a mark of distinction.
With the notable exception of the classless parents, this was really a nice cruise. The ship was well maintained in its gaudy splendor, the crew was uniformly wonderful, the service was great, and the prices were reasonable, particularly if you purchase your wine carefully. We did do the Steakhouse twice and it is really a nice experience as well. Overall, the food was not quite as good as the last time on the Legend, particularly in the buffet, but we tend to avoid that anyway.
Carnival has had some bad luck recently, but it looks like they are working hard to make things right and get back on an even keel so to speak.
My suggestions: Dont make your customers mad by changing your frequent cruising program at a time like this, keep your foodservice reputation high, make sure to make the excursions happen, and man up to take care of reprobates when they appear.
The shore excursions that made were uniformly excellent. I did not downgrade for the cancellations.
Final Recommendation - This Cruise is a keeper. It has the right ports of call, great excursion options for those that make, plenty of alternatives when they don't, and a ship that is up to the task. Be sure to consider an excursion to or from Windsor Castle or Canterbury at the front or back end of the trip.