Just completed our first cruise. Very aprehensive upon booking - heard/read so many horror stories about cruises. This trip fits into a 6 month European trip we are doing and we certianly did not want to have a bad experience. We survived the Tras Mongolian and Siberian rail journey so arrived at embarcation of 'Star' holding our breath. What a fantastic greeting and embarcation; absolutely flawless - 46 minutes from taxi to being seated for lunch. As first time cruisers we obviously have no reference points so everyting is based on other extensive travel we have done and service comparisions. Whilst the ship is 13 years old we found the presentation of all areas in top order and would leave some 5 star hotels to shame in respect of upkeep. Attention to keeping things clean was remarkable. All entry points to food areas had service people with hand cleanser which certianly gave on confidence about health. Our balacony stateroom midship deck 9 was ideal. Midship keeps you in handy location to all parts of ship activities. Stateroom steward was excellent - most contact with this crew member and without a doubt they can make your personal space a very nice environment.
When you book a cruise like this and there are so many 'free dining areas' it's not too difficult to find an area where dining can be enjoyable and relaxed. Some of the maketing of the on board options can be confusing; example "cover charge" to some may mean in addition to the actual meal cost, but no it's a flat rate for the total meal in a specality restaurant. The package offerred is well worth considering. As is the bulk wine purchasing - you treat the ship as your home - buy the wine at a good discount - keep t in your cabin/fridge and take it with you wherever you go. We found this an extremly cost effective and social way of exploring all bars and cosy spots on the ship.
We had done extensive research into various porst we were calling into and made our shore excursions based on this; saves a lot of time when it comes to booking - we chose to book prior to boarding for a couple. Dont be pressured into booking hop on hop off bus trips as it can force you to be dockside on some mornings at 7.30 / 8am whereas a slow breakfast and stroll down to the dock and purchase you bus ticket at a practical time was our way. (Copenhagen do the canal trip as oppossed to the bus.) AND St Petersburg; read up on the requirments of the Visa. Some promotional material will give you the impression that you cannot leave the ship unless you are booked into a ship tour - this is not correct. If you have a valid visa for Russia for the period of time you are in St Petersburg you can come and go as you please for the period of time you are there. Check that out. Some tour costs are eye watering and can take you upwards of 9 hours. If you are independant you simply get the shuttle bus outside the terminal into the metro and often you can fit in about 4 major attractions yourself.
Whilst on board you come to expect certian crowds in various areas but the practical traveller will recognise if it's an at sea day and its sunny then there is going to be a demand for deck space - this ship had stacks of it but it was amusing to listen to some who when the sun moved, or was it the ship !, and they were looking for space, they complained that there was not enough room !! youwill never please some people. Overall a wonderfulexperience made all the better by a fantastic crew who simply made your time on board a pleasure.