This was my first Crystal Cruise and it was wonderful. This is going to be a lengthy review but I had such a hard time finding out any info on specifics for the Baltic Cruise that I want to give future cruises the info that I wished I had beforehand. I had done quite a bit of research before selecting which line to use for the Baltic Cruise and I am very happy that I picked Crystal. We really liked the fact that the ship overnighted in Copenhagen at the beginning and Stockholm at the end of the cruise. This saved us from hotel stays at the beginning and end of the cruise. We were also very pleased that we had 3 full days in St. Petersburg. Many of the other lines only spend 2 days in St. Petersburg. I am very glad that we had the time to experience everything that we did. This cruise was titled “White Nights” due to the extensive amount of daylight we had. When I review the ports, I’ll mention sunrise and sunset times.
Embarkation: Very smooth. Our flight landed in Copenhagen around 7:00 am the morning of embarkation. We had paid for Crystal transfers on both ends, just for convenience sake. We were met in the arrivals hall by multiple Crystal Reps. They stayed with us while we waited for our luggage. We were able to send whatever luggage we wanted to the cruise ship. We kept a small day bag with us and were taken by bus to a local hotel (Scandic Hotel Copenhagen). A conference room was available for us. There was tea, coffee, and water along with some danishes. There were a few Crystal reps here who had maps of the areas and suggestions for what to do until we would be bused to the ship at 11:45. There was free wifi available at the hotel. We walked around some lakes right in front of the hotel and just rested. We had had a long flight and did not sleep at all. The ride to the dock was quick and we were on the ship with bording cards within 15 minutes. Very smooth and painless.
We were told that cabins would be ready at 3:00 pm. We went to the MDR for lunch. After lunch, we dropped our day bags into our Cabin and put stuff into the safe, then went up to the Lido deck with our books and read and rested for a bit. We went to the cabin at 3:00 pm and were a bit disappointed to discover that it had not been completely cleaned – the mini fridge still had ½ consumed drinks from the last cruise, there was only 1 robe, and other minor things. Our cabin stewardess Marisa quickly appeared and apologized for the state of the room. It seems our originally assigned stewardess quit with no notice that morning and Marisa had been pulled very late from another floor to take over. She told us the cabin would be to Crystal’s standards when she made up the room in the evening, and it was. The only other hitch was that our two checked bags were in the cabin by 4 pm, but our two pieces of hand luggage were not there. I went to reception and notified them. Within 20 minutes our luggage was located and delivered. We then had 3 follow up phone calls from different departments confirming that it had been delivered.
Food – very happy with food in all locations. We did dining by reservation, with a 7 pm table for 2 on most nights. We ate at both Prego and Silk Road as well. Service was wonderful in all locations. We were lucky in that we had the same waiter for all the nights in the MDR when it wasn’t open seating. Peter and his assistant Marilen were very attentive. We tried food from both the new / fusion menu and the traditional menu. We only had breakfast in the MDR once and instead ate up on the Lido deck every morning. Service was excellent most mornings. I know that some have complained about coffee on the Symphony but my mother thought it was excellent. It is strong, which she likes so that is why some may not like it. Lunch most days was in either the Trident grill or the Lido. One day was an Asian buffet in the Lido, with lots of sushi. At dinner, our wine glasses were never empty unless we were done. The servers in the Cove and Avenue Saloon quickly learned our favorite drinks and were very prompt with service.
Entertainment – Mark Farris in the Avenue Saloon was the absolute highlight of the cruise. I am amazed at his talent and the way he interacts with the crowd. He recognized people that he had sailed with before, one couple from 3 years ago. He is a master entertainer and Crystal is very lucky to have him.
Tom Daniels played the piano in the Crystal Cove most evenings. He was a delight to listen to. As mentioned above, we did dining by reservation at 7 pm, so the pre-dinner music timing did not mesh with when we were in the Cove for drinks, but we enjoyed people watching just the same.
Vivian Clement Trio – we went to listen to them one night and were very disappointed. Both of us felt that Vivian really couldn’t sing. She was off key on every song she attempted.
Production Shows: “A Taste of Things to Come” the first night was a nice introduction to what we would see on the cruise. “Curtain Call” – very high energy and entertaining. Imagine – I was disappointed but my mother enjoyed it. I felt that the entertainers picked music that they wanted to perform and did not consider their audience. I also felt they tried to tell a story, which did not translate well. There were some more abstract parts and I felt these were better.
Philip Wojciechowski – concert pianist – My mother went and enjoyed it. We were docked in St. Petersburg and she was a bit disappointed that there wasn’t more Russian composers played. No Tchaikovsky.
Diva – Karen Grainger – great show. Karen is very talented and it was a very fun evening. To be honest – this was a very port intensive cruise and some nights we were just too tired to see the show. We also did dining by reservation at 7 pm so the timing of the shows often did not work with our dinner timing, which we were fine with.
Public Rooms – The Symphony may be 20 years old, but you would never tell. We found all the rooms to be very spacious and welcoming. We enjoyed the Palm Court for reading and relaxing, as well as for the Mozart Tea. The Trident Grill area was a delightful space to have lunch. On some days the roof was completely closed and others it was partially open. Weather was not conducive for it to be fully open. I was surprised to see that smoking was allowed on the aft decks and up on the Lido. I thought with the changes to Crystal’s smoking policies that smoking was only allowed in the Connoisseur’s room. It didn’t really bother us too much, but we did have to change sides a few times due to smokers. We were mainly seated in the elevated section of the MDR, and had no issues here either.
Enrichment Activities – again, this was a very port intensive cruise, with only 1 sea day, so we did not have much opportunity to take advantage. Dan Raviv from CBS was a lecturer and while we were not able to catch any of his live talks, we were able to watch the replays on the TV. Commander Jeff Roberts, from the British Navy, gave a wonderful talk on St. Petersburg. Nicholas Roberts also gave a very nice presentation on what types of souvenirs to purchase in SPB, and some suggestions on how to tell if they are authentic or fakes. It was very informative.
Internet – I wanted to keep up with work e-mails so I purchased 2 hours of internet time for $50. The staff in the Computer room were able to quickly configure my smart phone, so I could check e-mails via the ship wifi. I had taken my Nook Tablet but they were not able to get it configured. This worked out. I was able to check my e-mail almost every day from my cabin. There were only 2 times that I tried to get on line and it wasn’t working. There was plenty of signage that there was no guarantee as to internet reliability while in the Baltics. Other than the expense, I was satisfied with the internet. I think Crystal charges way too much to use the internet and am very happy that on any future cruising I do with Crystal I will have 60 min free a day now that I am a Crystal Society member.
Debarkation – very smooth process. We had a 10:00 am flight and had to meet in the lounge at 7:15 am. Our bags had to be out in the hallway by midnight the night before. We were given color coded / numbered tags that corresponded to our departure group. When we arrived at the airport, we stayed on the buses until they had the luggage unloaded. It took about 10 minutes. We had checked in the night before and already had our boarding passes so just had to go to the bag drop area. This only took about 20 min. Security was very simple as well and we were quickly at our gate.
Overall Impression – I was very impressed with Crystal. I thought the overall experience and service was excellent. We thought Crystal was a very good value for the money. I am afraid that Crystal has spoiled me and it will be very difficult to go back to a mass market line for cruising. We really enjoyed the smaller size of the ship. We never felt that we were sailing on a full ship and no place was ever crowded. If I had one area of disappointment, it was interactions with any officers. Granted, we were not able to attend any of the Captain’s receptions because they did not line up with our dining time. We also missed the Cruise Critic meet and mingle because it was held when we were at dinner. We never met any officers and even when we did see them walking on the ship, we were barely acknowledged by them. We would get a brief hello, but that was it. From everything I have read on Cruise Critic, I was under the impression that they mingled much more with the passengers and went out of their way to make you feel welcome. This did not happen to us, but we were first time cruises. Obviously we just don’t rate. The rest of the crew / staff were amazing and very welcoming.
The ship overnighted in Copenhagen to begin the cruise. We had planned to go to Tivoli Gardens in the afternoon of the 1st day, but we were too tired. We just relaxed on the ship. The next day, we took a ship excursion, Royal Highlights – this was a 3 hr tour. We stopped by Amalienborg Palace Square for a photo stop and had a brief walk to see the opera house. We were supposed to go to Christiansborg Palace for a tour inside but there was some royal function being held so instead went to Rosenborg Palace for our tour. It was very nice and we got to see the crown jewels. We then drove to the Little Mermaid for a photo stop and back to the ship. The ship was offering a free shuttle from the pier to an area in the city center. After lunch, we attempted to walk to Nyhavn and were going to take a boat ride. I somehow got us lost and instead we went to the US Embassy. We saw sections of Copenhagen that most visitors don’t get to see. The guards at the Embassy were very nice and quickly had us pointed in the correct direction. This detour took about 1½ hours but it was a nice day for a walk. Because of getting lost, we did not have time for a boat ride and instead walked from Nyhavn back to the ship, without getting lost this time. Nyhavn is a very delightful area, filled with restaurants. All aboard was 5:00 pm, Muster was 5:15 pm and we sailed at 5:45 pm, a bit before the scheduled time of 6:00 pm. Of note, sunrise was 4:27 am and sunset was 9:58 pm.
The ship docked in Helsinki at 9:00 am. There was a free shuttle from the dock to the top of the Eplanade. We took the shuttle then bought an all day bus pass. We took the 24 bus to the Church of the Rock (Temppeliaukio). We took the bus because the way to the church was all up hill. There was something going on, so we weren’t able to go into the church proper, which was too bad. We then walked down towards the shuttle stop. Along the way we passed the Cathedral of Helsinki and Senate square. There was a huge gay pride celebration going on, which was fun to people watch. We made it back to the shuttle stop. This took about 2.5 hours total. We went back to the ship for lunch. After lunch, we went back into town via the shuttle. We walked down to Market square, where a huge market was being held – crafts, food, other vendors. We then walked to Uspenski Cathedral (Greek Orthodox) and there was a baptism being held. We watched silently for a bit. We then took a ride on the huge ferris wheel (12E). It gave a nice aerial view of Helsinki and the harbor area. It was then back to the ship. All aboard was 5:30 pm and we sailed at 6:00 pm. Sunrise was 3:58 am, sunset was 10:49 pm. We lost 1 more hour this night.
Warnemunde – very delightful seaside resort. The ship was scheduled to dock at 7:00 am. I’m not sure exactly what time we came into port. We had originally planned to take the train to Schwerin to see the castle, but the weather was overcast. We did not want to be too far away from the ship in case it turned to heavy rain. It was a very easy 10 minute walk from the ship into the heart of town. The ship had provided very nice maps with points of interest and a walking tour outlined. We spent about 2 hours walking the town and then returned to the ship for lunch. After lunch, we walked to the train station in Warnemunde and purchased a round trip train ticket to Rostock for 3.7 Euro. The train ride took 20 minutes and trains left every 30 minutes. It was very efficient. Once at the hauptbanhof (main train station) in Rostock, we took a 5 or 6 tram to the Old Town area (Altstadt). Again – we had a nice map from the ship that gave us points of interest. We walked for about 2.5 hours. Rostock is bigger than Warnemunde, but had more impressive old buildings and churches we were able to go into. We took the tram / train combination back to Warnemunde and returned to the ship. All aboard was 8:30 pm. Many passengers took the all day excursion to Berlin. They left at 7:30 am and returned between 8:30 - 9:00 pm. The ship was a bit late leaving waiting for the last bus back from Berlin. Dinner was open seating in the MDR. Sunrise was 4:40 am and sunset was 9:48 pm.
we arranged for a private 3-day group tour through Alla Tours. It was wonderful. There were a total of 10 of us from the ship, which was a perfect number. The ship was scheduled to dock at 8:00 am. We met our guide at 8:45 am the first day. Because we did a private tour, we did not have to get Russian visas. We only had to show our tour tickets and passports. Immigration was very quick – less than 5 minutes. We started the day with a tour of the city. Some things on the itinerary had to be changed a bit because they were running the SPB marathon this day and there were road closures and more traffic than expected. We had a photo stop at St. Isaac’s cathedral then went to the Church of the Spilled Blood. Amazing. We were there right when it opened and our tour guide expertly put us at the front of the line. We had lunch included and the service was horrible. We were the last table served, when food came out, it was not hot. We were supposed to have 1 hr for lunch but it took between 1:30 – 1:45. After lunch we went to the Russian Museum for 1.5 hours. Then it was to the Peter and Paul fortress, with a visit inside the church and a 45 min boat ride to wrap up the day. We then went to a souvenir shop to shop and pay for the tour. We had 35 min here. We were a bit late due to traffic issues and were back at the boat at 5:40 pm. I should note there are some nice souvenir stores in the pier. Prices here were very similar to what we found throughout the city. Sunrise was at 4:39 am, sunset 11:24 pm. Some passengers went to the ballet or a folk show this night. There was a very nice hot buffet in the Crystal Cove that started at 11:30 for those returning since they missed dinner on the ship to do this.
Day 2 – started at 8:00 am. We drove to Peterhof for a tour inside and a 1 hour walk through the fountains / gardens. We were there right as they turned the fountains on. We then had lunch. It was much better than yesterday with much quicker service. Then we drove to Catherine’s Palace for a tour inside and a walk through the gardens. We were back at the pier at 5:00 pm. Sunrise was 4:40 am, sunset was 11:23 pm. Many ship passengers went to Moscow this day. For those who went, they left the ship at 7:15 am and returned at midnight. The ship had a very nice hot buffet in the Cove that started at 11:30 pm or midnight for those who went to either Moscow or to the Ballet.
Day 3 – We left the ship at 9:00 am and the day started with admission to the Hermitage. We had about 2.5 hours to tour. Even with the special early admission, the museum was very busy and crowded. We then had a very nice lunch right next to the square outside the Hermitage. After lunch we went to St. Isaac’s cathedral for our inside visit, since we were not able to get in the first day. Then we went to Yusupov palace. We made our guide cut our visit short here because we were nervous about getting back to the ship, given the traffic, and most of us wanted to do some more shopping. We were back at the pier at 4:40 pm. All aboard was 5:30 pm and we sailed at 5:50 pm (early – scheduled at 6:00 pm). Sunrise was 4:41 am and sunset was 11:22 pm. We sent clocks back 1 hour.
We got up early to watch the sail into Stockholm, through the archipelago. It was very pretty and sunny. The ship docked at 8:00 am. We took the Stockholm sights & Vasa museum tour. It was 3.5 hours. We left the ship at 8:45. We had a brief drive and went to the Vasa museum. We had about 1.5 hours here. We then had a city drive with 2 brief photo stops. Then we had a 10 minute walk around the Gamal Stan (Old town area) and they pointed out where the ship shuttle stop was, next to the Opera House. We went back to the ship for lunch. After lunch, we took the ship shuttle and walked around the old town area some more. We were going to walk to the Ice Bar at the Grand Hotel, but again the weather was looking pretty nasty. My mom didn’t want to get caught out in the rain, so we just walked around Stockholm some. We also passed on a canal cruise. It started to rain as soon as we were on the shuttle back to the ship.
Ship docked at 8:00 am. We had a relaxing morning and took the ship shuttle into town. It is 3 blocks from the entrance to the old town. From here, we walked up the hill to the Alexander Nevsky cathedral, which is at the top. We explored the Toompea area (at the top of the hill) then meandered back down the hill and through the old town. We stopped in at least 4 churches &went to town square where a great craft market was held. We then walked to Fat Margaret and back to the shuttle stop. We spent 3 hours in Tallinn. I found prices in Tallinn much better than in St. Petersburg and got a very good deal on a matryoska doll here. We went back to the ship for lunch and decided to spend the afternoon relaxing on board to recuperate from St. Petersburg. All aboard was 4:30 pm and we sailed at 5:00 pm. Sunrise was 4:10 am and sunset was 10:39 pm. We set our clocks back 1 hour again.