We embarked on the Baltic Cruise on the Norwegian Star on August 5 from Copenhagen. We overnighted at the Copenhagen Hilton, which was a $60 and 30 minute cab ride from the port. Our stateroom was a 'penthouse with a large balcony' (10000) at the very front of the ship, just below the bridge. Our participation in the Casinos at Sea program provided a welcome discount from the brochure price.
We prefer to dine in the stateroom after long days on port excursions, and to take almost all breakfasts in the suite. Suites enjoy a more extensive menu, and all room service is served by the butler. Evening meals can be ordered from the menu of the main dining room or, from a specialty restaurant if willing to pay the supplement. Partially consumed bottles of wine are stored and retrieved as desired. (The stateroom has a table with four chairs, making dining quite convenient.) The stateroom is spacious, well-furnished but with lots of nicks and scratches. The balcony is very spacious with three lounge chairs and a single small table. On only one night was the wind too strong to allow use of the balcony. That said, we closed the 'storm door' at night to prevent whistling and wind noise.
Embarkation using the suite priority desk was relatively quick and painless. It was the introduction to the cost/time of dealing in several languages. We were escorted onboard about 30 minutes after arriving at the port. Our luggage arrived in the stateroom a few hours later. A perk of the suite passage is that breakfast and lunch can be taken in Cagney''s on deck 13. The service is invariable quite good, and a relaxed atmosphere compared with the Market Buffet.
Other cruisers: We were surprised at the multi-national composition of the cruise, necessitating all announcements in five languages! Seemed to take forever to complete. Many, many multi-generational family groups ranging from 5 to 15 or 20 family members, and from infants to grandparents.
Dining: We found the lunches in Cagney's to be very good at the start of the cruise, but went downhill as the cruise progressed. We stopped going there for lunch after an absolutely awful gumbo soup (with chopped hotdogs, rather than spicy sausage) was offered (and refused) and a micro-waved (by admission of the waiter) formed chunk of salmon was offered for 'fresh smoked' salmon! The Blue Lagoon and Market Buffett became the choice for lunch.
We ate two dinners in the Market Buffet; both rather late in the evening so after the main dinner time rush complete with marauding kids and large family gatherings. The first night was simply quite good with multiple tasty offerings (including a chocolate creep with whipping cream); the second was simply quite awful with a mostly cold (how could that change from one night to the next?) offering of bland selections.
We ate only one dinner in a main dining room (Aqua) with good food and service. The first night offering was steak and lobster and both were quite good. A dinner in the Italian Restaurant was very enjoyable with good food and service. In contrast, the dinner in the Bistro was simply not very good. An appetizer was so small, that the waiter offer a second! We will skip the Bistro in the future.
Dinners served in the stateroom were always very good and enjoyed in a quiet atmosphere.
Service: We had extensive contact with our butler (Caesar), who we nicknamed the 'Perfect Butler' and Hermaine our cabin steward, who we nicknamed "Animal Master' for the inventive towel animal sculptures left each evening. He claimed to have 14 animals in his repertory! Both were pleasant and most competent. They added immensely to our enjoyment of the cruise. If you can afford the additional cost, upgrading to a suite is well worth it.
Entertainment: Sparse, and, with the exception of the final night show "Elements", forgettable. The only offering on a couple of nights was the "Deal or Non Deal' imitation. On the second night, a group of high school students presented a competent selection of traditional folk dances. Kind of fun, but really!
We enjoy gambling in the casino. Given the largely family composition of the cruise, the casino was never very crowded, and smoke was never an issue. $5 limits were common. Most of the dealers were competent but not very personable. The younger (male) dealers needed basic lessons in customer service! We have had more enjoyable times on other ships.
Port Excursions: We purchased a package (online) from SBP (roughly $425, payable at the completion of the first day in St. Petersburg) that provided a tour in all ports. We choose to skip the tours in Germany and, instead, enjoyed a day onboard complete with a massage. Tallinn provided an interesting mix of old (medieval) and Soviet era architecture. We were driven to top of the hill in the center of the 'old town' and walked our way downhill. Most enjoyable were the antidotes of the guide, Nelli, about life under the Soviet regime, and current issues facing the country, such as promoting population growth and encouraging child bearing. A few thousand cruisers were crammed into a small area with narrow cobble-stoned streets. Pickpockets were, evidently, much in evidence, as our backpack was riffled as we walked costing my wallet complete with credit cards and other cards. The guide and SBP handled the situation very well, providing a small bit of money and accompanying us onto the ship to ascertain that we had no problems. Fortunately, we had left our passports on the ship. Be very careful at this and all other ports!
The tour of St. Petersburg included a day trip to Catherine's Palace and to Peterhof. Our very knowledgeable and personable guide, Alice/Alicia, made the day interesting and challenging. She was a professor of art at a local university, complemented by a pleasing personality. Earphones that transmitted her comments to members of the group made communication easy. The second day started with a short subway ride. Honest, it's worth it, particularly on a Saturday morning when it is nearly deserted. Then on to early admission to the Hermitage. Our group, and a couple of other tourist groups, gained admittance at 9 AM, but it opened at 11 AM. So, we had the place almost to ourselves for two hours! The only complication was that a portion of the Impressionist collection was closed for the enjoyment of VIPs from Moscow.
Two days well spent!
Tours of Helsinki and Stockholm were brief and with few highlights. The Vasa Museum is very interesting, while the tour of the City Hall was too long and not of great interest. At the Vasa Museum, a young Chinese was most exercised that his grandfather had been robbed! As noted elsewhere, the cruise into Stockholm is a moving panorama of small islands, villages, ferries and local life.
Spa: In a word: disappointing! Aggressive selling of creams and other remedies is to be expected but this was ridiculous. Access to the thermal suite should be provided to those purchasing a service. Access is possible on/easy from deck 11, but not well marked. Access, down the stairs, from deck 12 is hard to find and a bit confusing.