OK - so we were two first-time 30something cruisers not really knowing what to expect and booking mainly so we could see St Petersburg in a cost effective way. We considered the price of the cruise fantastic: £150 sterling (plus £60 taxes) for an indoor cabin. We chose the indoor as it was a short cruise and we didn't plan on spending much time inside at all.
We travelled from Scotland to Stockholm via Ryanair (due to the incredibly cheap £5 flights!). Ryanair fly to an airport 80minutes away, but we had pre-booked the coach and it delivered us right into the Stockholm coach station just before midnight. Our hotel was the Nordic Sea right next door and we managed to get an upgrade on arrival. Hotel was very nice and breakfast (included) was great. (Booked through hotels.com for £40).
We were able to store our bags at the hotel and tour Stockholm in the morning before collecting bags and getting a bus again from the coach station next door to the port (about 25mins). Stockhom was suffering a heatwave this day and so the walk from the bus to the boat was rather torturous. We agreed we'd take a taxi next time!
There seemed to be a bit of a rabble outside the terminal when we arrived, no real queue for the bag drop-off but staff were very helpful and polite. Bags gone, we entered the terminal and saw lots of lines - oh no! but a member of staff approached us and on realising we had all docs and had filled them in directed us right to the front of a queue. Once again, staff were so friendly and polite. After another short queue through security we were on the ship.
The ship carried just over 2000 guests and 750 crew and is one of the smallest of the RCI fleet. It is 10yrs old but still very glitzy and exceptionally clean. (Nice touch were the doors on the "public" lavatories swinging OUTWARDS so you have loads of room in the cubicles!).
Our stateroom was internal and as expected, functional and small but perfectly fine for us. Storage and shelving was impressive for a small room. The room was set up as a double bed, but I spoke to a steward and within a couple of hours (in which time we went for a wander) it was converted to twin.
Our steward, Julio was constantly cheerful and always greeted us with "Laaaayyyydeeeees" - really added to the fun of the cruise. (his Towel animals - something of which I had lived in ignorant bliss until then - were also great! ) In fact all staff were incredibly polite and helpful and you really did feel looked after.
We had decided on "My Time Dining" and dined twice in the dining room and twice at the Windjammer cafe.
Windjammer was an open buffet - lots to choose from. It did get very busy at peak periods and we had to walk around a few times to find tables but on the whole we thought it was great. Dining room was set up like a fine restaurant and service was very good.
Entertainment was on the whole good. The Champagne terrace always had great piano music - jazzy / bluesy tunes and was lovely for sitting chilling with a cocktail.
The Schooner bar also had a piano but we felt this was a duplication (and not a great one). We'd have preferred a pub type bar rather than another glitzy attempt and a juke box or more contemporary tunes. The Revue cast put on performances each night and these were better than expected (although when they performed their own tunes we were not as impressed). The cruise director, Matt Sole was unfortunately exceptionally "cheesy" and a bit more "Butlins" than we liked.
The biggest hit was the Towel animal demonstration!!! (and if you'd suggested this to me before I went I'd have been scornful, but we really did find ourselves easing into the whole cruise ambience and embracing things like this).
As it was a short cruise, there were ports on day 2 and 3 with one day cruising before returning to Stockholm. Tallinn was beautiful and we easily walked into the old town from the port so did not purchase an excursion.
We did however opt for the full day St Petersburg excursion (£90) as it saved us organising visas or negotiating with a local firm. We got to see everything we wanted and were taken for lunch at the Radisson (champagne and vodka included). Our tour guide, Victoria was lovely. We didn't get to the spa as we only had one full day on the ship but it looked good (although on the first day, the indoor pool was being painted).
This being a short cruise out of Stockholm, 90% of guests were Swedish. Ship announcements were made in English and Swedish so we picked up a lot of the language! We enjoyed being part of a multicultural ship and were glad we hadn't booked one out of the UK. Some of the entertainment was geared for Scandinavians but there were always alternatives on offer as well.
Disembarkation was smooth and we grabbed a taxi as soon as we were out of the terminal, straight to the coach station where we stored our bags and spent the day in Stockholm before returning to pick up our bags and get our connecting bus to the airport.
All in all a great break; fantastic value for money; great locations; wonderful service and a real eye-opener to the world of cruising. We plan to cruise again, maybe for 7 days and hope to get a larger ship with more opportunity to try out all the amenities on board.