My husband and I are in our early fifties. We cruised with my parents, who are in their early seventies and fairly active. This was our sixth cruise, and our third with Holland America. We enjoy cruising with HAL even though the average age is probably in the sixties.
We flew into Amsterdam and took the train from Schiphol Airport to Rotterdam Central Station. Be aware that your American credit cards may be rejected when buying train tickets (as ours were), so carry enough euros. The cost for the 50-minute train ride was about 11 euros. From the Rotterdam Central Station we paid 2,40 euros for a short tram ride (Tram 20 or 25) to Wilhelminaplein, which is a block from the cruise ship. Check-in at the Rotterdam went smoothly and quickly. The first lunch at the Lido buffet was disappointing. The food was mediocre. HAL takes the lifeboat drill very seriously, so don't try to skip it. Dinner that night (and every night) in the dining room was very good. Allow about More
an hour and a half to eat in the dining room.
Our first full day was a day at sea. This gave us time to recover from our flight and explore the ship. The Rotterdam is a beautiful ship with very good facilities. I was impressed by the library, and many people used it. The shops rotated their inventory to reflect the current port. There was a "Russian bazaar" onboard as we left St. Petersburg. Our room, which was a standard outside cabin, was spacious enough as cruise cabins go, and it had more storage space than we could fill. The lighting was good. The bed was very comfortable, but I was disappointed to find stains on the sheets. The satellite TV was not working until the very end of our trip, which was a great frustration for my husband as he tried to keep up with sports. The shower had a good adjustable showerhead and plenty of hot water, though the temperature varied somewhat on busy mornings. The twice-a-day cleaning service of the room was excellent. We used the self-service laundry room: $2 for wash and $1 for dry. You can get quarters at the Front Office. The temperature settings on the dryers were not reliable.
Overall the food was very good. Breakfasts at the Lido were very good. Lunch was good but not great at the Lido. I got tired of eating the same fruit over and over. Once we had dinner at the Lido, and it was just as good as in the dining room. The best meals were at formal nights in the dining room. The staff seemed to make an extra effort on those three nights (the first two at-sea days and the next-to-last night of the cruise). We went to a few of the afternoon teas; the Dutch High Tea is not be missed, but the Indonesian Tea is also special. Service at all meals and teas was very good. We became quite friendly with the servers in the dining room.
The entertainment--both music and comedy--was geared toward people older than we are, so after a couple nights we stopped attending. My parents enjoyed the entertainment much more than we did. We went to a big-screen movie one night, but people kept coming and going and caused a lot of distraction.
The great advantage of this particular cruise on the Baltic Sea is that you can go to a country a day without packing and unpacking each day. For me, the purpose of a cruise is to get you in comfort to the places you want to see. By that standard, this was an excellent cruise.
I have reviewed the ports individually (there were seven of them), but I have a few general observations to make about the ports: *We never needed to take a taxi from the port. Either we walked, or HAL provided a shuttle for a few dollars. *At the ports on this cruise, you can get by with just US dollars and euros and credit cards. There were a few places that would not take dollars, but those places took euros. We used dollars even with the street vendors in St. Petersburg. *In some ports we saved money by going ashore fairly early in the morning and then returning to the ship for a late lunch at the buffet. The earlier you go ashore, the less crowded the sights are. *We used at-sea days to rest and to learn about upcoming ports. Port talks are shown continuously on the TV in your stateroom.
Disembarkation went smoothly. We were off the ship by 8:30am. When we disembarked in Copenhagen, we walked from the Freeport Cruise Terminal to the Adina Apartment Hotel to stay for three nights. (We probably should have taken a taxi for that distance.) Our one-bedroom apartment was spacious, modern, and clean, and it had a full kitchen with dishes and pots. We shopped at the adjacent grocery store and saved money by making our own breakfast and dinner. From the Adina, the number 26 bus goes to the major tourist attractions of Copenhagen. There is also the Osterport train station fairly nearby, which we used to get to the airport at the end of our trip. Less
Aarhus was one of my favorite ports. We walked from the ship to the cathedral (beautiful inside), the small but excellent Viking Museum in a nearby bank (look for signs), and the Church of Our Lady (interesting crypt). Then we walked along the canal, past high-fashion shops and outdoor cafes to Den Gamle By, the open-air folk museum. Den Gamle By is a must-see for anyone with the slightest interest in history. I felt like I was living in a postcard. There are workers acting out the everyday activities of the time. We saw a woman making food in the kitchen and a boy playing a harmonica and a man driving a horse and buggy, all in period costume. Den Gamle By accepts US credit cards. We had an authentic Danish lunch there. It was a long walk back for my parents in their seventies, but we could not find a taxi or a bus map. (The HAL Travel Guide was no help at all in figuring out the bus system.)
The center of Oslo is within easy walking distance of the dock. We used US dollars or euros wherever we went. I found the Nobel Peace Center to be disappointing for the money, but other relatives enjoyed it. The City Hall was closed to tourists while we were there. We followed the Rick Steves walking tour by the theater, past the university and royal palace, and to the National Gallery (free admission, good Scandinavian collection). The best thing about Oslo was the various squares with statues, fountains, and flowers. We walked around the Akershus Fortress (free admission), which was very interesting and had great views of the city. Food and souvenirs were extremely expensive; I paid $16 for a small troll doll. We returned to the ship to eat lunch.
Warnemunde is an easy walk from the ship. We walked along the canal and looked at the shops. At the end of the canal is a large beach and lots of sailboats out on the water. We found a harbor cruise that took US dollars ($9 for an hour). The cruise was good for people who are interested in ports and shipbuilding or who just need a rest. For lunch we had inexpensive fish and chips and paid in euros. Two souvenir shops near the ship had German food items and nautical items, but we could not find T-shirts or fridge magnets. I found amber earrings at a shop along the canal that were a better bargain than the earrings on the ship. My US credit card was accepted.
St. Petersburg is by far the most amazing port. We opted to pay for two day-long shore excursions with HAL. The first one was called "The Glories of St. Petersburg." After dire warning from the cruise director about long lines to get off the ship and mean Russian passport officials, we got from our stateroom to our tour bus in just 30 minutes. The tour was operated professionally and efficiently, and our guide was excellent. Catherine's Palace was not crowded in the morning. We had a nice lunch included in the price. The Hermitage in the afternoon was more crowded, but manageable. We got some free time to look at the impressionism rooms. The Hermitage takes US dollars and credit cards. The small booths outside of Catherine's Palace took US dollars. The second day our tour was called "Imperial St. Petersburg." This was an excellent tour. We breezed through passport control the second day and went straight by bus to Peterhof Palace. It is amazing inside, but the grounds and fountains are even better. We had a delightful time and good weather. We had an included lunch on the grounds and had Russian folk singers for entertainment. Then we took a half-hour ride on a hydrofoil back to St. Petersburg and boarded the bus again. We drove by many famous sights on our way to the Church on the Spilled Blood, which is not to be missed. The inside is as fantastic as the outside. The souvenir marketplace across the street took US dollars. On this tour a couple drive-by sights were dropped from our itinerary for lack of time. We had two excellent, informative guides. There was no need at all for us to have Russian money in St. Petersburg.
Holland America provided a shuttle bus into Stockholm (roundtrip $14) to the Opera House, which is just across a bridge from Gamla Stan (Old Town). We followed the Rick Steves walking tour of Gamla Stan and spent an enjoyable few hours exploring. Here US dollars are not always accepted, but euros are. Everything is very expensive (lunch $20-$30). Try to catch the Changing of the Guard at the Palace; the band plays and it's an interesting ceremony. To avoid high prices, we returned to the ship for a late lunch.
Tallinn was within walking distance of the ship. We spent about four hours following the Rick Steves walking tour of the Old Town at a leisurely pace, stopping to shop here and there. My parents in their seventies managed the walk clear to the top of the hill. I suggest you get off the ship early because the cruise ship crowds become more intense by noon. The Nevsky Cathedral is outstanding. All shops in the Old Town seemed to take euros, but everything is overpriced. We paid in US dollars for souvenirs at some stalls set up near the ship.