EMBARKATION: This was a dream. We took a taxi from central Stockholm where we had been for 2 nights. We arrived around 12:15 and they were already boarding. Before we got all out of the taxi, our bags were whisked away for us. We were directed inside, filled out our medical questionnaires (for H1N1) and stepped up to check-in with no line or wait. Within a few minutes we were stepping onto the ship and at the Windjammer for lunch.
SHIP: Well decorated and simply laid out. The public rooms were attractive and clean. There were always enough chairs but they were SO close together that we were constantly squeezing between them.
FOOD and DRINK: We ate in the dining room for most breakfasts and dinners. The food was consistently good and well presented. The kids were given a children's menu which had the standard fare, but also offered catch of the day, steak etc. My daughter has a more grown up palate so always wanted to get the fish and ordered her appetizer off the adult menu. This was never a problem and was even able to get 2 shrimp cocktails when asked. The menus for adults were different nightly and based on a theme...Italian, Baltic, etc. We were never pressured into bottled water and after the first night it was never mentioned again. The same was for wine and alcohol. It was available but never pushed on us. The Windjammer had excellent breakfast buffets and lunches with loads of interesting options including a carving station, international foods and wrap sandwiches, but we found the one dinner we ate there disappointing. The coffee on ship was always available but inconsistent in quality. Lemonade, Iced Tea and tap water were also readily available. Our kids enjoyed the soft-serve Ice Cream machine which was always on. The Solarium also had burgers, hot dogs, Pizza and fries always available which was great!
SERVICE and TIPPING: Everyone on board was friendly and professional. We didn't get the impression that anyone was working for tips...they all seemed to love their jobs. The guest service was helpful and no question was silly for them. We pre-paid our tips which was fantastic. We were given like a voucher which we put into envelopes and gave to our Steward, Head Waiter, Waiter and Assistant Waiter. My only gripe was that our Head Waiter never made any appearance...even on the last night, and we were unimpressed with having to give him a tip. We wish we had the option of withholding tips or giving our vouchers to someone who really enhanced our vacation.
STATEROOM: We were aft on the second floor....next to the elevators and over the departure deck. It sounds like a crummy location but we never heard any noises at all...even from neighbors. Of course on port days, we could lightly hear the sea pass machine below us, but it was inconsequential in the daytime when we weren't in the room. The room itself had plenty of storage for the 4 of us to put our belongings away and the suitcases fit easily under the bed. Our Steward kept our room looking great with clean towels and even towel animals all trip.
ACTIVITIES: Pool, Solarium, Spa, Gym, Shuffle Board, Rock Climbing, Game Room, Arcade, Casino for a start...lots of demonstrations and games we didn't attend. We are the relaxing type on ship but there was always something to do if we wanted it. The pool was always full with kids mainly because the solarium was the adult pool but it did get hot in there. There is no slide for the pool. There is also no where for younger children to go because there is a strict rule on swim diapers.
ENTERTAINMNET: The stage singers and dancers were OK for us and definitely of cruise ship quality. The specialty acts were fantastic. We enjoyed every band playing in the Centrum no matter the style. They were very enjoyable musicians.
ADVENTURE OCEAN: The first day is Open House where you can look around and ask questions. There isn't anything out to see but it is a chance for the kids to look around. In the evening at sign up, the kids can stay and play for an hour and get a lanyard for their sea pass. They also wear a wrist band with the muster location in case they are not with the parents during an emergency. I liked that. There are 2 nights the kids can eat with the staff and one lunch (for a fee) on the last day. My kids ate dinner with the crew once but they were 2 of only 4 kids who did that. They spent every moment they could in the club. There were science experiments, crafts and games daily...and a theme every afternoon and evening. They came home with scads of souvenirs from hats to bags to stuffed toys to their crafts. The staff was energetic and really fun for the kids. They really had a smile every time we picked them up.
EXCURSIONS: We had the luck of visiting friends in Tallin, but old town is very close and walkable from port. I would suggest a local tour since there is a lot of interesting history. In St Petersburg, we chose the Hermitage Tour and it was well worth it. The Hermitage is fascinating and the perfect amount of time given how crowded the museum is. We were there in the morning tour and it was unbearably crowded by midday. Keep in mind that there is little opportunity to shop on this tour and what is offered on the street isn't of any quality. In Stockholm, we were there 2 nights pre and 1 night post cruise. We loved the entire Djurgarden area and would recommend that for families. There is plenty to do that would fill an entire day easily. Gamla Stan and the Palace are not as wonderful as advertised and crowded on port days.
DISEMBARKING: Very easy. We were assigned a color and lead off the ship by color. We were one of the last colors called which was perfect for us because we had no connections to make. It was a leisurely morning at breakfast and a quick game in the game room. Once we were off the ship, our bags were readily available as was a taxi. We were able to quickly get back to the center of Stockholm and to our hotel.
Overall a great trip and we would easily choose RCCL again. If this ship were in a warmer climate, we would hesitate simply because the pool area wouldn't be able to handle children AND adults on a hot day but this ship is perfect for the Baltic itinerary.