This was a cruise of firsts in many ways. Bob, Gary and I shared a minisuite. This turned out to work out remarkably well. None of us had spent any significant time in the region so it would be a first exposure for all of us. The only other cool weather cruise that we had taken was Alaska so this was a first cool weather, first European cruise for all of us. Bob and I had cruised a lot on Princess, but this was Gary's first time aboard a Princess vessel.
Since I am retired, I took on the planning responsibility for the trip. This was my first real exposure to Cruise Critic. I knew of it from my brother-in-law, but hadn't really explored it until confronted with doing all the planning. THANK YOU, CC! You really came through. I read all previous reviews, joined the thread for the upcoming cruise and read a couple of guide books. I cannot stress how much better the experience was because I did my homework. Besides information on shore excursions, visas, transportation and boarding logistics, I immersed myself in the history and culture of the region. It was fun recalling those forgotten memories of things like the Hanseatic league(dust off your high school world hsitory). Now I was to come face to face with where it all happened!
Cruise critic also put me in contact with a lot of knowledgeable folks and the information sharing was fast and furious. I think we enjoyed helping each other and looked forward to putting faces to the names once on board.
Our journey to get to the cruise almost didn't happen. Between an erupting Icelandic volcano and a British Airways slight attendants strike, our travel arrangements were in a constant state of flux. In fact, friends I had met on line at CC and had planned to meet on the cruise never made it. Our AA flight from San Francisco via Chicago dodged the volcano, but had to cancel direct BA flights from London to Copenhagen and fly Lufthansa/SAS combo via Dusseldorf going and Frankfurt on the return. They were great flights but cut into our Copenhagen and London time. The airport in Copenhagen is easy to navigate. We had no experience with checked bags as we travel light and do laundry (I highly recommend this but check out Rick Steves if the idea challenges you). A taxi was a fast economical way to reach our hotel. It is very easy to take the train into town especially if you are booked near the main station. With three of us, it wasn't too much more and we were tired after all the traveling, but look for the signs. We also found everyone in Denmark very pleasant and more than willing to help if asked so don't be shy. We stayed at the Hotel Strand which is right on the water. Bob and I have stayed there s we felt comfortable. I was able to use American Airline miles to pay for the room. Rooms are basic and comfortable and the breakfast is delicious. I can never get enough of those European breads and cheeses!
After settling in, we took Gary out for a walk through Copenhagen. Although it was getting late, it stays light later and so we were able to give him a good tour of the city. we had already eaten on the plane so dinner wasn't of any interest. Besides, we knew we would board the Star Princess the next day and there would be no shortage of food.
I'll cover each port but here are some overall impressions of the cruise:
a) there just wasn't sufficient time in almost every port
b) all the ports are very accessible and you can tour independently if you wish. I highly recommend Rick Steves' book on the area if you want to travel independently. We did for the first time and loved it. We took the Princess tour in Gdansk and I felt that it was a great value. We saw things we wouldn't have gotten to
c) there is no shortage of things to do while on board. The Maitre d' wine tasting was a lot of fun and they had some good wines.
d) we went to one of the shows and enjoyed it. There were mixed reviews on some of the other shows from fellow travelers, but I don't have first hand experience
e) food was classic Princess. After you have cruised with them a few times, you recognize the menus. Food was well prepared and our wait staff kept us all laughing and enjoying our meals if somewhat overfed. Although we had all chosen Anytime Dining, we did meet others and manage to get the same table every night at the same time. Only negative was the early morning feeding frenzy at the Horizons buffet.
f) movies on deck were fun, but chilly
g) spa services were wonderful and a great way to start the cruise by getting pampered and relaxed
h) gym was not as crowded on this cruise as on warm weather cruises. I think this correlates to the age group. I was told that there were only 24 children on board which is remarkably low so this cruise appeals to an older set.
i) The Vines wine bar and the specialty coffee service are a great addition.
j) Princess staff (especially in Skywalker's Lounge) were outstanding. Much better than a previous Princess cruise where they all seemed to be rotating off the ship at the end of the cruise.
Finally, both embarkation and disembarkation were a snap. On the way home, we did take the train which was easy, clean and efficient. we just didn't have enough time
I guess the thing to ask is whether I would do this again. My answer is Yes and No. Having cruised, I would rather fly in and spend the time I wanted and then connect to the other cities using the well organized and comfortable Baltic Sea ferry system. I also know I can arrange land tours with Anastasia when I return to Russia. The cruise was a wonderful way to obtain an introduction to the area but a return trip would be more selective with overnight stays to get the feel of the cities. I would also recommend doing your homework and deciding if the various city cards are worthwhile for your individual style of travel. they do make things very convenient. Happy cruising!