Prinsendam 5-24-14 Kiel Canal & Baltics Departure & arrival in the Netherlands, 5-22 & 5-23:
Our flight on United from Newark to Amsterdam was delayed by two hours due to a variety of factors. This made our arrival late morning rather than early morning.
Upon arrival at Schiphol airport, we quickly cleared immigration and customs and within 30 minutes of arriving at the gate our luggage was retrieved. We found our way to the hotel shuttle area and called the Hampton Inn to let them know we were waiting. A few minutes later the shuttle came by and we were at the Hampton by 11:00.
Good news, our room was ready! This gave us a chance to freshen up before our touring. Afterwards, we enjoyed “Lunch” at a local restaurant set on a pond in the adjacent office park. “L’Hirondelle” had very good food, a nice atmosphere, and reasonable prices. Next we walked to the train station and set off for our afternoon in Utrecht.
We had prearranged a walking tour of Utrecht through “Utrecht Free Tours.” They offer a standard tour on Saturday only but we were there on a Friday. One of their guides, Jasper, offered to give us a tour on Friday afternoon. The tour was excellent and he pointed out several landmarks important to my family history, as Utrecht was my father’s birthplace. Pre-tour communication was excellent and it was a terrific afternoon!
After the tour, we noticed a “Hema” shop with some interesting inexpensive wine featured. We picked up two bottles to pack for the cruise. We took the train back to Schiphol and enjoyed dinner at the “La Place” restaurant in the main transportation center. After dinner we rode the train back to Hoofddorp and the Hampton Inn.
Saturday, May 24, 2014 – embarkation
Awaking at about 7:00 we could see the sunlight through the edges of our windows. We enjoyed a great Hampton breakfast. Scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage, all types of breakfast baked goods, fruit, “By the cup” coffees, etc. All in all, this is a super Hampton!
We were ready to leave early, so we walked with our luggage across and down the street to the main Hoofddorp station entrance where there were lifts to the platform. As we exited the lift, our train pulled in. We boarded the train and rode it to Amsterdam Sloterdjke station, at which point we transferred from the train to the #82 bus to Ijmuiden. We waited about 15 minutes for the bus, which ran late. Another couple heading to Prinsendam also boarded #82 here. The 40 minute ride was pleasant enough. The bus’ are really not set up to handle a lot of luggage, but we found the smaller cases could sit in the “Wheelchair” area and we just had to hold the one large case next to our seat. Still, we arrived at the Ijmuiden cruise port (after walking and carrying luggage over the dike) by 11:00.
Upon arrival, we were told they were not ready to board and gave us boarding #7. While one of us made a rest stop, they called #1 and as one of us exited the necessary room they called #7. We were not in the front of the #7 line, but were checked in within 10 minutes. It was necessary to board a bus to go the short distance from the terminal to Prinsendam. If we had known this we would have left our larger “Carry-on” with the porter to handle. Still, we were onboard by 11:30 and went directly to our cabin, #263, an “E” category outside on deck 7. We are impressed with the cabin and especially the woodwork and walk-in closet. We unpacked the two carry-ons and took a slow walk down to the La Fontaine dining room for the Mariner’s welcome aboard lunch. The menu was more extensive than we recently experienced on Westerdam. Lunch was very enjoyable and both food & service excellent.
After lunch we explored deck 8 and entered the showroom just after the cruise director began what was billed as a talk on the ports and how to get the most out of them. After ten minutes we departed to continue exploring as all we heard were the features of the ship and upcoming wine and food events. We toured the spa, walked around the aft pool, and found our way to the Lido.
We walked around the lido buffet and talked a bit with the happy crew at the Terrace Grill (it’s still the Terrace Grill on Prinsendam). The Grill has deli selections in addition to the typical burgers, chicken sandwiches, and hot dogs. We headed back to our cabin to find the large suitcase had been delivered and our laundry was picked up. We love the “Unlimited” laundry package HAL offers.
We finished unpacking shortly before the 3:30 muster drill. We attended the muster drill and were able to get into the second elevator heading up when it was complete. An informal “Cruise critic Meet & Greet” was held and we met three other couples from CC. This was a nice time and Roger, the piano player came in and was playing tunes until we left at 5:10 to get ready for dinner.
Dinner at table 171 was very good. One of the couples at our table did not show, so it was just the two of us and a couple from Australia. We had an enjoyable conversation and the food was very good, as was service. Yet, we left the dining room at 7:00 feeling like something was missing. The dining room staff did not introduce themselves, welcome us onboard, or interact at all other than taking our order and bringing the food. The ass’t Maître de’ visited the table next to us and spend a lot of time with them, but never stopped at our table. I hope things get better tomorrow, as we choose fixed dining in order to have a relationship with our wait staff.
After dinner we enjoyed the Station Band in the Ocean Bar. This is a four piece band and they are very good. We stayed through their first two sets, and wandered the public decks, took a few photos, visited the shops, and tried to start an internet package. Apparently the system is down. Sure hope this gets corrected soon as I do need to stay connected to my business e-mail! One walk around the promenade to see the sun nearly set and we called it a night.
Sunday, May 25 – the Kiel Canal transit.
A "Perfect sea day.” We thought we heard a knocking on our door. Wait that is a knock on our door! Who would knock on our door so early? What? It’s 9:10! The first time ever in all our cruises we slept in so late the room steward knocked on our door before we were out and about. Guess the last few days tired us out.
So much for our plans for a dining room breakfast. Up to the Lido for breakfast, still on full service. The food was great, but it likely took as long as the dining room would have taken. Excellent waffles and a nice ham Omelet. Just as we finished breakfast our explorations guide came on to begin the Kiel Canal narration. We went up front for the entry to the lock and then wandered to the aft to see the lock close.
The Kiel Canal transit is very different than Panama. From the start to the finish, there were people all along the length. Bicycle paths go the entire length. There are various viewpoints; people were in all of them. Waving, some with flags, some yelling “Hallo” (in German, of course).
During the course of the day we passed under numerous bridges, enjoyed a dining room lunch and dinner, and it warmed up so much that we needed to change into t-shirts and I actually used the hot tub. In many ways, this was the “Perfect ‘sea day.’”
Before dinner we went to the Crow’s nest for happy hour and the pianist. Roger is superb. We later found out he is actually half of the Adagio duet. Dinner service was good with again just four at our table of six. Still, our waiter is efficient but not very friendly.
After dinner we visited the Ocean bar and listened to the Station Band until taking pictures of the completion of our canal transit just before the show. The show tonight was Iris Kroes, winner of the Dutch “The Voice.” She was entertaining and I enjoyed her unusual presentation of several songs while both singing and playing the harp.
After the show, we took a few photos of the near-sunset and visited the Crow’s nest for “Sinatra night” with Piano Bar Entertainer David. We sat with a couple from cruise critic and shared several cruising tales including some of their world cruise on Amsterdam in 2013.
A few notes on our impressions of Prinsendam thus far: Overall, we love the ship. Our cabin is great. Overall service has been almost great. Food so far 9 out of 10. Entertainment? Hey, three live music venues for a ship with less than 900 passengers we certainly can’t complain. I thought having a depressing movie “10 years a slave” as the main entertainment on embarkation evening to be less than an inspired choice, but no one was forcing anyone to go to the movie. There was no live music by the pool, and it didn’t appear there is even a bandstand up there. But we found the peace while watching the German countryside slide by to be very pleasant.
Monday, May 26th – Sea day
No knocking on the door this morning, except for the room service at 7:03 AM. Coffee, tea, and croissants are a good way to start the morning. Silly I forgot to order creamer. We visited the dining room for breakfast and enjoyed a very nice time. Seated at a table of 8, with two couples from Australia, we learned that there are 58 Aussies on board.
We attended “Good morning Prinsendam” where last night’s entertainer, Iris Kroes, was being interviewed. Iris seemed more at ease and sang three songs as part of the interview. This was immediately followed by a port talk on Riga, Talliin, and St. Petersburg. This was quite nice and simply provided port information rather than being a big sales push for their own tours.
We had received an invitation to the Mariner’s lunch today. Attend we must as we really enjoy the delft tile that attendees are given. The menu was different from that seen on prior cruises, but it still isn’t great. Choose between one salad or one soup (one choice each), two entrees (Roast hen or trout) and everyone get the same dessert. After lunch we checked out the lido deck but decided it was too cold & windy, even near the Lido pool, a somewhat sheltered area.
We found a small ice cream cone and sat in the Lido for a while. Afterwards, we sent back to our room for a little rest and photo editing. We then did the one mile walk around the deck (4 times around = 1 mile), arranged for a future cruise certificate, withdrew some of our OBC courtesy of the casino, and all too soon it was time to get ready for the first of three formal nights on our cruise.
Dinner this evening was fine, with Jumbo Shrimp Cocktail on the appetizer menu, so I had two, one in place or soup or salad. After dinner we attended the Captain’s welcome aboard toast and lasted 30 minutes of the show, Irish comedian Paul Brogan. We visited the lido for a late evening tea and adjusted our watches as we lose an hour tonight before our visit to Riga tomorrow.
Tuesday, May 27 – Riga, Latvia
We enjoyed our morning “Knock on the door” at 6:30 with our coffee and tea. We were at the dining room for breakfast at 7:35, and were seated with a couple from Holland. Soon, another couple from Holland joined us. Perhaps it was the early hour but these were the most unfriendly Dutch people we’ve ever met.
Still, breakfast itself was good and we met cruise critic friends at 8:30 to head out to tour Riga. It’s chilly here today, about 55 with a heavy overcast, so jackets were in order. With a 10:30 Old Town walking tour scheduled, we thought we had time to take in the “Art Nouveau” area of Riga beforehand. Sure enough, with the Rick Steve’s chapter and a map handed out and the gangway, we found our way directly across part of the city and a pretty park to do the Rick Steve’s Art Nouveau walk. We took tons of photos of these unusual building facades. The walk ended not too far from the Old town so we began to walk towards our 10:30 appointment, arriving about 10:15. The T.I. had free Wi-Fi so we were able to quickly hook up and check the not too comforting forecast for the next few days.
We were met by Michael from Smile Line tours and were given an excellent near two hour walking tour for 12 Euros/pp. He walked us past and through churches of all types, bars, a shopping arcade and even an Amber museum. When the tour was over he gave us directions to the central market. The market is unique in that it is housed in five recycled German Zeppelin hangars. We stopped for some hot tea, coffee, and apple cake and a chance to sit for 20 minutes.
After our break we parted from our touring friends so we could explore individually. We walked some more of the market and decided to return to the Amber museum and shop we previously visited on our tour. We were able to fully explore the Amber room museum and bring home an Amber jewelry item for the DW’s collection.
After this is was after 2:00 and time to head back to the ship for our 3:30 departure. Back on Prinsendam, we visited the pool grill for the first time this voyage. I enjoyed a hamburger on a giant croissant, and DW had a deli sandwich. Both were very good. Hot tea from the lido completed our late lunch. A brief rest and working on this log until it was it time to get ready for happy hour and dinner.
We visited the crow’s nest for the daily happy hour, watching as the ship sailed down the river to the bay of Riga. We really enjoy Roger, the pianist. Two of the recliner-style seats at the front windows became available and they are extremely comfortable. We stayed there until dinner time.
Dinner tonight was good. Our server, Ade, seems to be coming out of his shell a little. He brought me Shrimp Cocktail for an appetizer although it was not on the menu. We asked if he went ashore and he said it was “Too cold.” Our Australian friends did not show up for dinner, and only four place settings were ready. Ade said there is no third couple assigned to our table. We enjoyed all the food tonight; my “English style” Roast Beef was excellent.
After dinner we changed into more comfortable shoes and laundry had been delivered. We put that away and went back to the crow’s nest and found the same two chairs open. We stayed there until it was time for tonight’s show, said to be the “Premier” of “Bravo,” by the singers and dancers. Despite being quite tired after the busy port day we really enjoyed the show. After the show, we obtained a couple of teas from the Lido and called it a night.
Wednesday, May 28, Tallinn, Estonia.
With a late port arrival we did not order morning room service. We were surprised to sleep until nearly 8:00, and we then proceeded to breakfast in the dining room at about 8:30. We were seated at a table for two along the windows. We tried a few different things for breakfast today, all of which were very good. There was a breakfast event in the dining room for people who were on back to back cruises, of which there were many. The captain was welcoming them as they arrived.
Due to very heavy winds, we were delayed docking in Tallinn by about 15 minutes. It was also COLD today! 43F, combined with winds made for a “Real feel” temperature around 30 degrees.
We were off the ship shortly after the “All clear” and walked at a fairly fast pace into town following the Rick Steve’s excellent directions. Right at noon we found the main T.I. office and inquired within about the “Free walking tour.” They pointed out a sizeable group a half-block down the road. There were about 25 or so on the tour; it appeared many were from the giant Princess ship in port before we arrived.
The walking tour was quite good; the only negative being that with a group that size it would have been much easier to hear the guide with some amplification. At one point the tour stopped in front of a pharmacy. I ducked into the pharmacy to pick up a backup supply of one medication I was concerned with running out of. Towards the end of the tour it descended down a very long switchback type of staircase. Thinking that, even going down, this was too many steps for someone’s knees, we diverted and followed Rick Steve’s instructions to get back down along several roads. The incredible thing is that we arrived back at the main square just a little after the group that had taken the stair way down!
At the suggestion of the guide, we visited a coffee shop on the square that was actually tucked away into part of the town wall. An excellent coffee break was enjoyed as was the complimentary Wi-Fi. After our break we were down to two hours before all-aboard time and began our trek back to Prinsendam, stopping along the way to take a look at some of the goods for sale. Nothing was purchased save for a t-shirt, but we did get some ideas and noted some prices for comparison at future stops.
We were back on board, after walking through a gale along the pier, at about 4:00. We went directly to the Lido for hot beverages and ran into one of our touring friends. After some quick refreshment, it was time to get ready for dinner.
We arrived at the dining room on time and again found ourselves alone at the six-top. Dinner tonight was excellent. The roast Turkey was superb as were the spare ribs that could be cut with a fork. After dinner, our wait staff brought us a special Anniversary cake and sang us the celebration song.
Due to our losing another hour to a clock change tonight, and the very early start in St. Petersburg tomorrow, we called it an early evening after dinner. We meet our “SPB tours” group at 7:15 tomorrow morning so it will be a quick night!
Thursday, May 29, 2014 – St. Petersburg, Russia – day one
A 6:00 knock on the door with our morning coffee & tea began our very busy and long day. We were still at sea but the TV said we were just 4 nautical miles from St. Petersburg. We docked right on time while we had breakfast in the Lido. I was surprised the Lido wasn’t busier. We met our group of 14 from cruise critic who had all signed up with SPB tours at 7:15 at the Ocean Bar.
We never heard an announcement that we could proceed ashore, but we saw a few people on the gangway so we proceeded to deck 6 and were waved off the vessel. We all had our documents in order and cleared Russian immigration quickly. By about 7:35 we met Katie (Katherine) our guide from SPB. By 7:45 we were in our Mercedes mini-bus heading out on our tour of the city. We made several photo stops and took a late “Rush hour” Metro ride. The Metro stations and trains are clean and free from graffiti. In fact, we saw no graffiti until late in the day when our driver diverted from the normal route trying to get around massive (and we were assured, unusual) traffic jams.
We did one part of the SPB “Two day deluxe” tour and due to a number of reasons did not get back to the ship until 7:30. I would give today’s touring four stars out of five but will not go into details as this is a cruise review/log.
Back on Prinsendam, we dropped our coats in our cabin and went to the main dining room, where they were delighted to seat us in the anytime dining section. Dinner was very good and I had a double portion of the rib eye steak, perfectly done. After dinner it was time to call it a night as we have another busy day planned with SPB tours tomorrow including early AM entrance into the Hermitage.
Friday, May 30, 2014 – St Petersburg day 2:
Day two in St. Petersburg, Russia began much like day one. Rain outside our window and an early knock on the door. Breakfast in the lido with cruise critic friends and then gathering everything together for another full day of touring. We walked off the ship at about 7:20, cleared Russian immigration in about a minute, and met up with most of our touring group all too early for our 8:00 pick up by Katherine of SPB tours.
They were right on time and whisked us to an early morning canal boat ride followed by a timed entrance to the Hermitage museum, aka “The Winter Palace.” We enjoyed lunch at Stolle, a “Pie” place, and thought it was good but would have been much better had the pies been warmed when served. We also visited the Church of the Spilled Blood, St. Isaac’s cathedral, and another palace famous for executing faithful servant Rasmussen. Finally, the long promised stop at a souvenir shop “Where Russians shop” was the biggest disappointment of the day. When the HAL tour bus pulled up, we knew for sure this wasn’t “Where Russians shop” for gifts.
Back at Prinsendam by 4:40 (for a 5:30 all-aboard) worked out well. Just enough time to get ready for dinner. Our dining companions were back after having missed a few dinners due to colds. They also had good experiences in St. Petersburg and we were able to share some adventures.
The day was not yet over as the onboard shops promised a “Russian bazaar” with an additional 10% off for early bird shoppers. So to the shops we went. After a while, I heard that the scenic cruise commentary has begun so I retreated to the crow’s nest to take photos of the Navy base we passed and Kronstadt Island and the Russian equivalent to Holland’s Delta works project which also looked somewhat like the Chesapeake Bay bridge-tunnel.
We stayed in the crow’s nest but the piano man hadn’t shown up by well after the advertised time and the two days in St. Petersburg had caught up with us. We had clean laundry to put away and more to send out so it was time to call it a night.
Saturday, May 31, 2014 – Helsinki, Finland
coffee delivery began our day at 6:30 as we were scheduled to dock at 8:00 in Helsinki. We had arranged an 8:15 meeting time with friends to tour Helsinki with, using Rick Steve’s instructions into town, his self-guided walk and then a self-guided “Tram tour.” We enjoyed a dining room breakfast and met our friends to get off the ship. So far as we could tell, we may have been the first “Do it yourselfers” off the ship, even though we docked early and the “OK to go ashore” was sounded at about 7:50.
We followed Rick Steve’s directions only to find that tram 4T only runs in conjunction with the ferries. We found the nearest tram 4 station which was a few blocks further. We bought all day transportation tickets from the driver (8 Euros each) and took the tram to the stop near Market Square. We took photos of the Russian church (Uspenski Orthodox Cathedral) near the square and began our walking tour. We were unable to enter city hall as it was locked up due to today being “Graduation day” for many of the schools. We visited the T.I. office and took the suggested tour detour to Senate Square and toured the Lutheran Cathedral. Visiting the cathedral gift shop we took advantage of a coffee break.
Back to our tour, we saw all the main sights of Helsinki including the famous Stockmann’s Department Store. We walked all the way to the Temppeliaukio Rock Church but after all the effort was turned away as the church was not opening today for tours until 1:30. At that time, we found tram #2 and began our tram tour. An interesting thing happened as we approached the ‘Oppera’ stop. A local asked if we would like to “Really see something live;” many of the Opera singers were going to perform the Finnish national hymn in a public square at 12:00. It was now 11:57. We said “Sure” and followed her off the tram.
Arriving right at 12:00, this woman explained that this event was being staged as some were objecting to the singing of the hymn at graduation ceremonies as the hymn has “Some” religious references. Sounds just like things happening every year in the US. There was quite a crowd, and five balconies full of Opera singers leading the crowd in the singing of the hymn.
We made our way back to the tram and caught the next #2 tram to continue our tour. Apparently work was being done on the tram line as the tram deviated from the route in our guide. After about 45 minutes, we exited the tram back near the main train station and made a stop at a “Burger King” for beverages and a chance to sit for a few minutes. We caught the next #4 tram back to Market Square for a chance to peruse the many vendor stalls. No treasures were found and by 3:00 we were getting hungry and ready to return to the ship. As we arrived at the tram station, #4 was pulling in and now knowing where we were getting off our return walk to the ship was not as lengthy as the morning walk to the tram.
The pool grille was calling and we were “Blown away” by the service from the pool bar server. I ordered a diet coke using my soda card and he asked DW if she would like anything. She asked for water. When he brought our drinks he asked DW if she would like iced tea, lemonade, or coffee from the lido. Wow, we don’t recall ever being offered the “Free” beverages being brought to our table by a server. Kudos to the Prinsendam staff.
During our midafternoon snack, we were reviewing our experiences with SPB tours in St. Petersburg and concern that the 6 hours expected in the “Bus” for the Berlin excursion in several days would be too taxing on our of our medical conditions which were aggravated by the bouncing around in the bus in St. Petersburg. Therefore, a call was placed back to Russia and SPB tours. Due to today being a Saturday, the nice gentleman I spoke with took down the information and asked that I call back Monday afternoon from Stockholm.
It was formal night tonight, so get ready we did. Dinner was excellent with King Crab legs on the menu, one of my very favorite dishes. I asked for a double portion and they did not disappoint! We weren’t too interested in the show, two mini-concerts by Niki Ataman and Iris Kroes. However, an 8:00 movie was offered, Disney’s “Frozen.” There had to be two dozen or more in the theater for the movie and we really enjoyed it. Tomorrow we have another full day with a visit to Mariehamn, Finland and an evening sail-in to Stockholm, Sweden.
Sunday, June 1 – Mariehamn, Finland.
We woke this morning to a knock on the door. No surprise there, except that we had not ordered room service coffee. It was 7:30, and it was our laundry that we sent out last night being delivered. They know we are usually up early and we did not put the “Privacy please” note in the key slot. One comment – the laundry service on Prinsendam has been fantastic and in most cases it is coming back in less than a day. What we sent out this morning was waiting in our room after dinner tonight.
We went to the dining room for breakfast and the ship was docked and cleared early. Returning to our room to gather our things, we walked outside on deck 7 and found that there was a local group dressed in traditional clothing playing music for the guests as they left the ship. We listed from the rail and applauded when they finished their piece. This was obviously appreciated as in return one of the ladies curtseyed and they all had a big smile.
Leaving the ship at about 9:20, we were given a local map and told to walk down the port until we came to the guard. We walked, and we walked, but we never found the guard. We noticed a tour bus leaving via a roadway so we back-tracked to that road, only to find it blocked with a gate. I found a “Bicycle button” and pressed it. Like magic the gate opened.
We had a pleasant morning stroll down the waterfront to the esplanade park that went virtually from one side of the island to the other. We passed a church with a service in progress, and could faintly hear the music from inside. Reaching the main town we found that everything was closed. A few local men saw us and several other Prinsendam passengers and offered that at a local waterfront park, just two blocks away, we would enjoy the bird house, roaming peacocks, and complimentary toilets.
We ventured to the park and it was very nice. There was also a beach with a few families and children actually in the water (which had to be less than 50 degrees F). Adults had no more than feet in the water! After the park we walked along the waterfront walking/biking path until we came to a 24 hr. Shell petrol station. We could see that attached to the convenience store was a glass-enclosed deck, so we stopped there for a coffee/water/local treat break. Afterwards we went back to the town center and as the time was approaching noon, a few stores began to open.
One small department store advertised shoes in the window and one of us wanted a more comfortable pair of shoes for evening wear on board, as the heels brought from home were hurting too much. A small miracle happened as a pair of designer suede shoes in the right size were on clearance for 24 Euros. That purchase made, we began the long walk back to the ship.
We would have gladly paid for a taxi to save the mile walk, but none were to be found. The ship had moved to a closer dock and now we found immediately next to the Prinsendam was a museum ship that was the last wooden sail cargo vessel actually used in service. I would have loved to tour the vessel but by this point needed to just get a late lunch and relax.
Our opinion on Mariehamn, it is a very nice town. Is it worth a day cruise stop? Likely not. We decided to take a brief nap until the promised “Pofferjte Tea.” What is a Pofferjte? It is the best, most delicious Dutch treat ever. We arrived at the tea at about 3:05 to find quite a crowd, and a chef making Pofferjtes in a very large Pofferjte pan. We were seated and served tea and offered crepes, scones, cupcakes, but no Pofferjtes. After 20 minutes we asked about the Pofferjtes. “They are still being made.” We did not have all day, as we wanted to be able to observe the pretty sail away, so we left.
Seeing no manager in the dining room, I stopped at the front desk to express our displeasure at a “Pofferjte tea” being advertised and then not being served any Pofferjtes. They took notes, along with my name and cabin number.
Due to these delays plus an inordinate amount of time for an elevator to go to the crow’s nest, I missed most of the sail away. Time to get ready for dinner. On arrival at the dining room the excellent dining room host asked me what happened at the tea? He was very apologetic and told us he heard they had difficulty with the electric Pofferjte pan. 30 minutes later one of the dining room managers came to our table with a bottle of wine with the apology of the staff. The wine, a Cabernet Sauvignon, one of our favorite types, was greatly appreciated.
There was a change to the original itinerary announced by the captain this evening. Rather than made the sail into Stockholm in the early morning, when most would be sleeping, we were sailing in this evening and would be docked overnight. Immediately after dinner, we proceeded to the crow’s nest as we were already into the beginning of the archipelago. We stayed there until 10:35, when we were 20 minutes from docking, as it was just getting too late. This sail-in rates among the top 5 in the world, and we agree it was extremely pretty.
Tomorrow we meet our touring friends at 8:20 for a busy day seeing the highlights of Stockholm, Sweden!
Monday, June 2, Stockholm, Sweden
6:30 was the coffee & tea delivery time this morning as we prepared for a big day touring Stockholm. We had everything ready and enjoyed a 7:30 dining room breakfast. Leaving the dining room we found two of our cruise critic friends who had decided to join us today. Shortly later, another two friends joined us and we left Prinsendam together.
Stockholm does their cruise visitors right. Immediately at the ship they have a T.I office. They have three “Lines on the pavement.” One line directs visitors to the local bus, one into town (2.4 KM from our dock) and one to the “Hop on, hop off, boats” (our choice).
The T.I. called to make certain the boats were running, and they were, so off we went. Five minutes later the boat pulled in. A total of eight passengers were ready for this first run of the morning. The captain encouraged any with an interest in seeing the “Vasa” museum to go their first, as today was the first day they were opening at 8:30 for the season.
Four of us took his advice, and was that ever a great decision. The Vasa is the oldest and best preserved wooden warship that is nearly 400 years old. It is so well preserved as it tipped over and sank on its maiden voyage into the deep, brackish water of Stockholm harbor. It was raised in 1962 after 333 years on the bottom, and has been preserved and researched since then. It is 98% original.
The museum offers 25 minute tour twice an hour. We showed up for the 9:30 tour along with a total of ten people. Our tour guide was the director of research for the museum; he said he was filling in as they were short on guides today. He gave us a one hour superb tour. I felt like I had just completed a most interesting and absorbing college course. After his tour, we explored a bit on our own, using suggestions he offered. Finally, we took in the 17 minute video on the building, sinking, raising, and preservation of the Vasa. If we saw nothing else in Stockholm this visit made it worth the trip!
We left the museum after a brief stop in the gift shop. A very attractive T-shirt caught my eye. When I plugged in the 775 Kroner price into my currency exchange ap, it was a $118. T-shirt! Well, I think that will stay on the shelf a little longer! While approaching the “Hop on, hop off” dock, the boat pulled in. Talk about timing! We boarded and enjoyed a relaxing ride around the harbor exiting at the Royal Palace. It was 12:10 and the changing of the guard ceremony begins at 12:15.
This is a very elaborate, decorative, and long ceremony. We stayed about 15 minutes into it; time to take plenty of photos and video clips, and headed out on our “Old town walk” from Rick Steve’s port guide. The walk was very enjoyable and not too long. When reaching one of the squares the guide mentioned a certain “Recommended” bakery and we obtained what would pass for lunch.
While eating lunch on a bench in the square, the woman next to us asked if we were visiting. We enjoyed an engaging talk as she told us about the history of the square and how she loves living in Stockholm. We completed the walk near one of the hop-on stops and after about 10 minutes hopped on another boat.
The ladies all headed back to Prinsendam but the men hopped off at the city center stop just to take a few photos, see the pretty park and stately buildings, on hopped on the next boat.
Back at Prinsendam it was time to call SPB tours about our Berlin tour cancellation request. They were very nice and said they would refund more than half the tour cost. I figure what they refunded represented the admission fees they wouldn’t be paying and a portion of the transportation. Upon questioning, they said they had 14 passengers from Prinsendam on the tour in a 16 passenger mini-bus, the same as we had in St. Petersburg. This certainly wouldn’t work for one of our health issues so we accepted their offer.
We ran into our table companions and they had just returned from touring and told us they were bushed and would not make dinner tonight. We went alone and completed dinner in an hour. Tonight’s dinner was a disappointment as both entrees we ordered were not to our liking. However, a late lunch at the pool grille meant we really weren’t all that hungry so no problem there.
We visited the lido for ice cream and cookies and ran into some friends. I enjoyed an hour or so of the sail out through the archipelago before heading to the showroom to see Kenny Martyn. Kenny was billed as one of the best Clarinet players in the world but he also played the alto Sax and a Ukulele Banjo. His show was rather sparsely attended (likely people were just too tired) but it was very good.
Tomorrow is a much needed sea day. No knocks on the door expected and the “Privacy please” note is in the key slot!
Tuesday, June 3 – Foggy day at sea
No place to be, no hurry today. Waking at our own pace, we enjoyed a dining room breakfast at about 9:00. After breakfast a coffee was enjoyed from the Explorations café. We attended “Good morning, Prinsendam” where cruise director Rick interviewed the entire cast of five singers and two dancers. We learned something interesting – the smaller ships (of course) have smaller stages, so their cast has more singers and fewer dancers than the larger ships. Perhaps this is why we have enjoyed the shows so much more on Prinsendam.
After the interview, all guests were invited backstage to walk through the tight areas the cast has to prepare and do quick changes. A very enjoyable morning. Next we wandered the ship a bit and ran into friends. Time was spent in the shops and the 35% off on Amber accessories was hard to resist, so a few purchases were made. Sea days are costly!
It was foggy and drizzly when we woke up and remained that way all day long. Sure hope the weather gets better for Germany tomorrow. On the pool deck (under cover) a Swedish smorgasbord was set up for lunch. Seafood soup in a bread bowl and apple/berry pie was enjoyed. We ate indoors in the lido as temps in the 50’s combined with the damp drizzle did not make for pleasant outdoor dining.
This afternoon “Indonesian tea” was offered. We attended and were pleased to see Prinsendam offer this special tea as it had been “Discontinued” on Westerdam when we cruised on it in February. Not quite as deluxe as we’ve seen on some ships but it was very nice. We went straight from tea to a shore talk on Warnemunde and Copenhagen. Brett does a nice job covering options. Our plans for the Warnemunde stop will not be finalized until we visit with the T.I. on shore. Rumor is there is a historic steam train nearby…
The crow’s nest was offering happy hour and a great view of the fog. At least if a whale or something would jump in front of the ship it would be something to write about, but we certainly enjoyed Roger’s piano playing. Dinner followed in the dining room.
Tonight we are trying to stay up late. The movie offering is “Monument’s men.” We’ve wanted to see this and as it ties in with the cruise, it seems a good time to take it in. But we also want to see the show. So, movie at 7:30 and the show “Red Hot & Blue” at 10:00.
Tomorrow we are in Germany. Since we never set foot in Germany while in the Kiel Canal, this will be our first visit.
Wednesday, June 04 – Warnemunde, Germany
Warnemunde is in what was “East Germany” prior to the 1989 fall of the Berlin Wall which led to the reunification of Germany. Cruise ships began to visit here in 1991 (three of them that year) and now over 200 ships per year make port calls here. The majority of cruise passengers leave the ship very early in the morning and return very late in the evening, spending 6+ hours in buses or trains going to Berlin and back. We had originally planned to do the same but as noted earlier, changed our plans and made this into a “DIY” local tour day. By the way, finally a “T-shirt” weather type of day! Not quite shorts weather, but high 60’s and sunshine made for a pleasant day ashore.
We enjoyed a dining room breakfast in a dining room with only a handful of passengers. Departing the ship at about 9:00, we followed Rick Steve’s excellent directions to the T.I. office. The T.I. office quickly provided directions to a local inter-city bus, schedules, and information on the Molli narrow-gauge historic steam train. Seeing that we had just missed the bus, we took a walk down the Warnemunde waterfront to the beach.
After visiting the beach we wandered back using Rick Steve’s suggestion to take an inner road filled with quaint homes. Gardens are very small but they are filled with flowers. We found the pharmacy as my eyes have been getting very red. While the pharmacist’s English was limited, she understood my situation quickly and provided the proper eye drops for about 8 Euros. Just a note, back home, this would have required a visit to the family doctor, a prescription, and a visit to the local pharmacy. The co-pays alone would have been over $60.00, plus who knows how much the insurance company would have paid. After two applications (three times a day is suggested) my eyes look perfect again and the itching has almost entirely gone away.
Leaving the pharmacy we made our way to the bus stop. After just a few minutes the bus arrived as scheduled. We pointed out on the schedule to the driver where we were going. Two tickets were 7.2 Euros. This was a pleasant ride on a rather new Mercedes bus. We passed horse farms, fields with crops, and several small towns. Finally in about 35 minutes we arrived in the town of Bad Doberan.
The bus route ended right at the train station that serves both the local intercity trains and the Molli Steam train. We had just enough time to buy our tickets and we heard the train pulling into the station. We took seats in the back of the last coach, imagine our surprise when the engine was soon bearing down on the “Rear” balcony of the train and coupled to our coach! Yes, we were in the first coach, not the last coach.
We had a very nice time on the outbound train ride and were entertained by a local family with a young boy, maybe about 7 or 8 years old. He was super excited to ride the train. His Opa (Grandpa) met the train at the first stop and ran along outside the boy’s window taking photos. At the next road crossing, he was waiting in his car taking photos. We saw him continually as the train made its way down the line, until the boy and the two ladies (Mom and Grandma?) got off at the beach stop and he ran to his Opa.
At the end of the line “Kuhlungsborn West” there is a nice historic station and a small museum, along with a café. We decided to get off and wait for the next train (1 hour) and explored the museum. We then enjoyed some beverages including a superb German beer at the station café. The hour went quickly and as the train pulled in I shot some video clips of the pristine 4-6-2 steam engine. I peeked into the engineer’s cabin as they were re-coupling to the train and it is burning coal. This coal must be super clean as we did not notice any ash.
The ride back we were in the last seats in the last coach. This allowed me to spend time on the rear “Balcony” of the train to shoot photos and video a few times. A unique thing about the train line is that it goes right down the main street of Bad Doberan, including the part that is a pedestrian mall. We could read the price tags on clothing that some shops had hanging on outdoor racks! Soon we arrived back in Bad Doberan and used the automated ticket machine to buy train tickets back to Warnemunde, connecting through Rostock.
We had thought to tour Rostock, but reaching there at 3:30 we decided another two hours would make it too long a day, so we took the next train to Warnemunde. By the time we were back on Prinsendam it was 4:00. We enjoyed a snack at the pool grille and noticed the festive decorations around the lido pool. Tonight is a “German beer fest” to welcome back the many who made the trip to Berlin and missed their normal dining time.
We however, did go to the dining room. We had friends join us so had a full table of six. The dining room was very empty, however. Dinner went quickly and the prime rib was perfect. When we finished dinner, all six of us headed up to the lido festival. A local “Oompah band” was performing and they were very enjoyable. The chefs, waiters, and servers were all enjoying the festivities as well.
At 9:00 we called it a night and found a slice of Apple Strudel to take back to the room. Yum. Tonight Prinsendam heads north again as Copenhagen, Denmark, is our port of call tomorrow.
June 5, 2014 – Copenhagen, Denmark
Having our room smoke detector go off at 2:00 in the morning was not a fun experience. It was just our room. The front desk person called the bridge and after a brief check of systems they removed the battery so we could go back to sleep.
We were in no rush to wake this morning as we were meeting friends to “DIY” tour Copenhagen at 9:00. As we were getting ready for breakfast at about 8:00 maintenance knocked on the door. They saw we would soon be leaving so they came back after we left the room.
We managed a “Rushed” dining room breakfast and asked for a separate table to speed things up. We met our friends and while grabbing our jackets Anton told us that tonight would be the final laundry opportunity. Off the ship, we found the bus stop for bus #26 (which has changed since the Rick Steve’s volume was published). Very quickly the bus arrived and we paid 7 Euros for two tickets.
We left the bus at the stop by city hall square, and quickly found a 7-11 with ATM’s outside. Withdrawing what we thought would be enough Danish Krone we obtained coffees and sodas at the 7-11. We walked down one long block to the T.I. office where we met Hans Christian Anderson, or actually superb guide Richard Karpen as recommended in Rick Steve’s. Hans told us that the tour would begin in a few minutes and to relax at the T.I. while we waited.
This was a great walking tour, passing in front of Tivoli Gardens (not yet open), City Hall (closed for the day as today was a holiday – Constitution day), and then into the old town. Hans told us interesting tales of Danish history, about Denmark today, the royal family, Danish socialism, and of course the interesting buildings including the Lutheran Cathedral of our Lady, which we toured inside.
Rather elaborate for a Lutheran building, with a fantastic sculpture of Risen Jesus behind the pulpit and sculptures of the twelve apostles along the sides. The sculptures were all done by famous Danish sculptor Bertel Thorvaldsen. An organist was playing the pipe organ during part of our visit.
The tour continued in the unexpected sunshine and Hans did not request payment until the end of the tour. He suggested a local place for a light lunch and we followed his directions. We believe the recommended establishment was closed and ended up next door. It was okay, and likely overpriced even by Danish standards, but we had a light lunch and were able to sit and relax for an hour.
We then headed to the palace for Richard’s 1:30 tour of the palace as “Sir Richard.” Only one problem – we reached the palace and waited for him. When he did not appear we realized we went to the wrong palace. That is the first time we’ve done this while self-touring, but we didn’t realize there were multiple palaces to tour in Copenhagen, and the one we went to, the Christianborg palace, was close.
A check of the map found the correct palace, the Rosenborg Castle, was about a 20 minute walk away. As the Rosenborg was three stars (Not to be missed) in our guide, we headed that way. Rick Steve’s guide provides a self-guided tour of the palace and we found the tour to be rather comprehensive. As we came out from seeing the crown jewels of Denmark, we ran into Richard and apologized for missing his tour. He was very gracious and assured us that we had taken part of the best tour in the morning. He also made certain we were aware of how to return to our ship.
During the palace tour it began to rain. The sunshine turned into rain quickly! It was a moderate rain and we needed to walk two blocks to the bus station. Reaching the corner we saw the bus waiting for the light. Three of us made it onto the bus when the door closed on the last of us. Fortunately it opened and we all rode the bus back to the ship.
The rain had just about stopped so three of us took a small detour to see and photograph the famous “Little Mermaid” statue. We had 79 Krone left in coins and managed to spend them on trinkets at the port-side souvenir shops.
Back on board at 4:10, with a 4:30 all –aboard, we visited the lido for cold water and small tea-treats. We then prepared ourselves for the last formal night of the cruise. Something happened to us that has never happened before – an officer “Hosted” our formal night table. This meant free wine for the table. The young lady manages Human Resources on board and was very nice to the six of us at the table. Oh yes, six of us and the prior day we invited another couple, from Western Australia, to join our table. We really enjoy our Aussie friends at dinner and all get along well.
After dinner we attended the show rather than take in the movie. We should have gone to the movie. The magician, Peter Mehtab, we found boring. It was hard to follow his tricks as they were not always enlarged on the screen. After the show it was time to call it a day as we did much more walking than anticipated and one of us was hurting pretty bad. All in all though, we really enjoyed Copenhagen.
Tomorrow is a sea day heading back to Ijmuiden, and then our long trip home on Saturday.
Friday, June 6 – Sea day
Beep Beep Beep. The fire alarm went off again at 11:30 in the evening. This time it woke other neighboring cabins as well. They took the battery out again and replaced the entire unit during the day. Meetings were held with the guest services manager and an agreement was reached.
It’s called a sea day but it could also be called a day of eating. No reason to rush this morning and a dining room breakfast was enjoyed. We attended the Good Morning, Prinsendam show where Kenny Martyn was interviewed. He also played a few numbers and the orchestra leader participated on the piano and also with singing.
We began to pack and a laundry delivery arrived. We took the folded laundry just as it came back and put it straight into the suitcase. We found it was very pleasant on the lido deck as the sun was warm and being sheltered from the breeze it made for a nice chance to enjoy the area. Our dining companions joined us and we had a great time. We got burgers from the grille one last time and took them inside to eat with some roll call friends.
At 2:00 I attended a talk by our cruise director on Ernest Hemingway. His presentation was very complete and he has an enthusiasm for Ernest’s story that was evident. 3:00 was the Royal Dutch Tea. We always try to make this event as we really enjoy a few of the Dutch pastries that are prepared by the culinary team.
After the tea we completed our packing and visited the Crow’s Nest to enjoy Roger on the piano. The final dinner of the cruise is the “International dinner.” Towards the end of dinner the parade of the crew to say goodbye was held. The Prinsendam serves real Baked Alaska and it was wonderful. While the first few days our serving team seemed reserved, they became friendlier as the cruise went on. Starting the third day they had a Shrimp Cocktail for me every night for an appetizer and this was greatly appreciated. Their smiles and sincere “Thank you” when we handed them each an envelope at the end of the evening was heartwarming.
The same thing goes for our room service team, who were outstanding, the entire cruise. The laundry service was used every day and in fact our last clean laundry was delivered during dinner after we thought we had finished packing. Good thing there was still room in our carry-on.
We took in the 7:30 movie followed by the 9:30 “Dancing with the stars” competition. The winner was truly outstanding, getting straight 10’s from the judges, and the greatest applause by the audience.
Saturday, June 7 – the journey home
We met touring friends from the roll call for breakfast at 7:00 in the dining room. We both had “Blue 2” luggage tags and had agreed to share a taxi to the airport. Our friends work for united airlines and suggested that it couldn’t hurt to ask if we could be put on an earlier flight as they were trying for the same flight to Washington Dulles and seats appeared to be available.
Blue 2 was supposed to be an 8:00 departure but as of 8:30 they still had not called it. We decided to join the group from “Pink 3” and slipped off the Prinsendam for the last time this cruise. The shuttle bus took us to the terminal and sure enough the luggage was all there. We were directed to waiting taxis and loaded the luggage into a taxi-van and headed to Schiphol airport. The trip took about 20 minutes and was 96 Euros. Ouch. We certainly understand why Rick Steve’s says don’t use taxis in Holland! It’s a good thing we split the cost.
Our friends were directed to the VIP check-in line and asked if we could follow them in, and they said certainly. Likely just because we were with them, the very helpful agent spent over 10 minutes on the computer and on the phone but for the small charge of $75 each, was able to get us onto the 11:00 flight. What we didn’t realize until we were on the plane, we were also in “Economy Plus!” The additional legroom made a real difference for us as we are both rather tall and one of us is dealing with rather severe knee issues.
When we realized (while still in the gate area) that there was no earlier connecting flight to Newark, I went on-line and booked an Enterprise car rental at Dulles to leave near home on Monday. This was a great idea but the execution was a challenge. Everyone at United in Dulles was very understanding that we did not want to hang around the airport for nine hours for a one hour flight to Newark, but getting the checked bags from customs to the main terminal became a big hassle. They insisted we could not take the luggage ourselves through the terminal, as that is again a “Secured area.” We were told the bags would be on “Belt three” in 45 minutes, it actually took two hours and the intervention by a very helpful baggage agent who made several calls on our behalf.
Renting the car went quickly and we were soon on our way home. For a summer Saturday, traffic mostly flowed well and we pulled into the driveway at 8:25 PM.
This cruise experience was close to a “Five star” cruise. The fact that on several evenings there was no real “Show” was detraction. On the other hand, three live music venues going all evening, every evening is a compliment. Having the fire alarm go off two evenings in a row was a major detraction. As we told guest relations, we can understand “Stuff happens” once, but not twice – that is just sloppy handling as the “Problem” was not fixed the first time. Overall, I’m giving this cruise experience four stars out of five.
Dining was excellent. Our room was excellent. The one thing about our room that needs fixing is the “Reading light” that is fixed in place right over the right side of the bed. That could be fixed the next dry-dock (but likely won’t). I hit it several times with my head as did others as all the rooms seem configured in this manner. Service was almost always excellent. Dani, the dining room host was great to interact with.
If our experience is typical, Prinsendam gives a quality cruise – and it is perhaps a small step above the larger HAL ships in luxury, dining and service. If you are looking for a very active cruise, with tons of activity options look elsewhere. I know one of the friends we sometimes cruise with would have found Prinsendam “Boring.” This was a very active itinerary and we enjoyed the overall experience very much.