So - onto the full cruise review!
Our cabin was spotless and was kept nice and tidy by our cabin "boy", Husni, throughout the cruise. The ship itself is pretty clean but some of the carpets are a little worn. Ship maintenance is a never ending task and there was always something being painted or repaired. The inside smoking ban has helped to make the interior more pleasant with no more nasty stale tobacco smells.
What can you say? They bend over backwards to help and are always smiling and joking. Nothing is too much trouble for them. I cannot say a bad word about any of the crew.
We ate at both the Lido buffet and Meridian restaurant. The food was of a high quality at both. The buffet is not "help yourself" but the servers will put as much or as little as you want on your plates. Finding seats was a little trickier on this cruise, perhaps because the weather meant more people ate inside. The Meridian food is superb and as good as any hotel or restaurant I've eaten at. The service was fast and efficient and we had two very good waiters - Bem and Richie - who kept us entertained.
The quality of entertainment is in the eye of the beholder. I heard one person compare it to Butlin's in the 70's but as someone who used to holiday every year at Butlin's in the 70's, I can reassure people it isn't that bad. We didn't think the evening stage shows were very good this year and the quality of the singing in particular was poor. The evening game shows were generally good, but did get a little silly at times; the "Miss Celebration" contest was very cringeworthy, although my kids loved it. During the day there were plenty of games, quizzes, lectures and films to keep just about everybody amused.
Now, let's deal with the ports of call:
Some problems with the weather meant we were late arriving at Stockholm and our visit there was cut to a little less than three hours. The journey in to Stockholm is a complete joy; a three hour trip through the small islands and inlets of the archipelago. Once in the city, we wandered around the old town and the Royal Palace and took a pleasant stroll along the water front.
The ship was forced to berth some distance from the city, probably due to our late arrival. A complimentary shuttle bus was provided to the city but the queues were horrendous and we had to wait 40 minutes before we caught the bus. Apparently only two buses were available. That was the only hiccup, though, but it did give the moaners a chance to air their voices! Once in the city we took the 3B tram which is a circular route taking in the main sites, wandered around the shops and watched some street performers that were quite entertaining.
As you are not allowed ashore without a visa, we took three excursions at St Petersburg. These are not particularly cheap (£30 - £40 per adult) but there is a good selection. We went to the Hermitage which was OK, but very crowded and rushed. Our guide was very good. Public toilets are rare so take the opportunity to go when you get one! In the evening we went to the ballet, "Swan Lake". This was excellent. Getting out of the theatre was a farce; around a thousand people were funneled through two tiny exits. One shudders to think what would have happened had there been a fire. The other trip was a guided coach tour around the city with plenty of photo stops.
An absolute delight of a city, helped by the warm weather! The city is not big and it was easy to wander from the ship, through the cobbled streets to the main sites. We enjoyed a drink at the town square and visited the oldest pharmacy in Europe!
This is a very pleasant seaside resort with frequent rail services to nearby Rostock. We spent the day wandering around Warnemunde, though, as there are lots of shops, bars and general "goings on" to keep you amused.
The excursions to Copenhagen were fully booked so we decided to explore the town. We were pleased we did as there is loads to do. A shuttle bus dropped us in the centre, right next to a small flea market. The church is a short walk away and right next to that was a small museum. Entrance to this was free for cruise passengers and you got the impression that we were special guests at the town. They even provided a brass band to see us off!
All in all it was a very good cruise. The weather wasn't brilliant but we didn't expect that for northern Europe. The sights and the enjoyable time onboard more than made up for it!