I've got to tell you, I was very impressed with NCL, both before we cruised and during. The Baltic 12 day cruise was awesome with the highlight being the 2 days in St Petersburg Russia, particularly with our private tour guide Anya we found through the internet (www.guidestpetersburgrussia.com) but more on that later. I will try to categorize our cruise experience by pre-cruise information, arraignments and preparations (telephone & internet) and then the actual resulting experience both on the ship and in the various ports. Hopefully this information will help all future cruisers.
Initially, I checked all the cruise sites and found that NCL had prices lower than the consolidators which is a change from what I'd found in the past so I booked through them on the phone (this turned out to be fortuitous as I will explain). They gave me discounts for being an old guy and also for being retired military. The phone center people that worked with me were very helpful every time I called. They answered all my questions even to the point of quoting NCL guidance so there was no questions on procedures (particularly the procedures for bringing on our own wine). I even got them to provide a partial wine list and we tried the wines before we left so we already knew what we liked (and the cost).
We don't use the cruise excursions when we cruise so I booked everything ahead of time thru the internet. I found limited information about port visits from NCL other than their excursion information but that is understandable, but cruise critic reviews were very helpful in establishing our own excursions. We spent 4 days in London (6th visit) pre-cruise and stayed near the airport (and tube station) and took the tube in which worked well and reduced costs for hotels. We had booked a Shakespearian play at the Globe Theater online which was very enjoyable. Otherwise did the normal tourist stuff in London as there is always something new to see and of course the obligatory shopping for the ladies (I usually sit in a Pub nursing a beer during shopping). We had rented a car, actually a mini van to hold the luggage, (which was cheaper to park at the hotel for 2 of 4 days than rent for 2 separate days) and drove to Dover, saw the Castle and dropped the vehicle off and the rental guys took us to the ship.
We had Port side rooms so we'd be able to see the white cliffs while sailing away. Embarkation was the quickest and easiest I have ever experienced. We were apparently amongst the last to get to the ship as there were dozens of check-in folks and just a few guests checking in so took about 15 minutes to get into the door and on the ship for the 4 of us.
We walked from the ship into the city which was past the Little Mermaid and was a pleasant 20-30 minute walk. Wandered around down town (shopping of course, which left me in a street side Cafe nursing a beer) toured Rosenberg Palace (location of crown jewels of Denmark), ate lunch outside next to the water in picturesque Nyhaven then trekked off to Tivoli which was a ways away. Good thing I had my GPS and had pre-loaded all the sites we would see (except Russia and Estonia) on the maps at all the ports. Disappointed at Tivoli as it was $25+ per person just to get in and not really wanted to do the rides (and spend more $) and being limited on time took a picture of us at the entrance and left. Overall it was a beautiful city with a mix of past and present. We had a relaxing day and saw a few sites.
I had pre-reserved a rental car through SIXT rental as it was the only company that would rent one to us on a holiday (we arrived on 1 May - May Day). Instead of paying a cab to take us to the rental car I paid to have the car delivered to the port and apparently we were the only ones to do so. It turned out to be cheaper to have the car delivered than take a cab, as we had to drop the car off at the closed rental office and cab back to the ship! As in England, the GPS was priceless getting around Berlin and Germany. We used it walking also. We had watched the news and there had been demonstrations in Berlin for May Day and when we arrived we saw street closures and politzi everywhere and the GPS became very very necessary. We initially tried to stay away from where we heard all the noise and cops but turned out they had closed off the area around the Brandenburg Gate for a huge street fair and the news media again had blown the minor demonstrations out of proportion just to confuse us. Ate a German lunch next to the Holocaust Memorial, wandered around Tiergraden Park, drove to see the "Wall" (which had cars parked in front of it and was hard to photograph, drove to the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial to look around and drove the 2 hours back to the ship and arrived back about 1 ½ before departure
Beautiful medieval city. We just walked from the port to the old downtown (10 minutes) and wandered the cobble stone streets and took copious pictures. No set itinerary for us, we just wandered in and out of churches etc; ate a traditional lunch in the city square, shopped (except me of course -beer time), enjoyed the parks and old city walls. Another relaxing day on shore
The highlight of the trip. Met our tour guide at the port facility and the four of us were escorted both days by Anya and our driver Nicholas. You can't get off the ship unless you have a visa or are on an escorted tour private or group. As stated before I had gotten my visas ahead of time thru the internet (handled by Anya) and had them in hand when we went thru Russian immigrations. I got us the private tour although it was slightly higher it was well worth the cost. Anya was able to take us to the front of each line at every venue and designed our itinerary especially for us. She even provided Ruble coins when needed to use the restrooms, something we wouldn't have prepared for! There were some last minute changes she emailed to us even after we were on the cruise due to changes at the venues in preparation for the annual celebrations in front of the Hermitage for May Day and the celebration of victory over the Nazi's military parades (I forget what they call it). We "snuck" in a back entrance and thus didn't have to wait in line at the Hermitage for entrance. We toured the city, went to Peterhof, the Hermitage (as mentioned), Yusopov Palace, Church on the Spilled Blood, Saints Peter & Paul Fortress and Cathedral. St Pete is a marvelous city, all while being continuously provided information (and funny Russian stories) by Anya
Got on the "hop on Hop off" bus at the dock and did the tour of the city first and listened to the tour (earphones provided on the bus in 9 languages). Then got on and off at various venues. Saw the White Church, Olympic Stadium with views of the city from the tower, Sibelius Monument and again a traditional meal for lunch. A very cosmopolitan city. The bus got us back to the dock also.
Meet a friend from Norway near the Vasa Museum. The ship arrived hours before anything was open so we sat around waiting for our friend for a couple of hours at a cafe next to a canal. Saw the Vasa, walked a bit and took the "Hop on Hop off" boat tour (English and Swedish guide talks) around the city and went to the changing of the guard ate a traditional meal (again) and I did my beer thing while the ladies shopped. Mostly wandered and visited with our friend.
My wife always enjoys the sea days and we had 4 interspersed into the shore visits so plenty of time to rest between trips, especially since we had 4 busy days in London before the first sea day on initially starting the cruise. We found the free style cruising more to our liking than traditional dining as we could come and go on the ship to eat as we wanted. The service and crew were exceptional. The food was good but not extraordinary, but then I am used to army food so it was well received for food prepared for 3000 people (including crew) every meal. I WILL USE NCL AGAIN!