We took a United flight from Dulles airport on Thursday, two days before the ship departed. We stayed at the Hilton London Paddington - great location. We had one day to take in the London sights so we took advantage of the HOHO bus. Our first stop was at Leicester Square where we waited about 20 minutes at the tkts booth and got two 1/2-price tickets to see We Will Rock You. We then got back on the HOHO bus, and stopped near the London Eye, where we paid a little extra to get ahead of the very long line and had a magnificent view of the city. We then took in many of the classic London sights. We stopped at Harrods's for a late lunch, took on a few more sights, then ate dinner near the Dominion Theatre and enjoyed the show.
On Saturday morning, we took a cab to the Waterloo Station to board the Southwest train. Months earlier, I had learned through the cruisecritic sight about the phenomenal 1.50-euro deal per person on the Megatrain from Waterloo to Southampton. We left London at 9:39 am and arrived promptly at 11:17 am. Could not have been easier. We took a cab from the South Central stop to the port (a 5 euro cost), left our two bags with the porter, went through the Celebrity line in about 20 minutes and waited another 20 minutes to board the ship.
Once on board, we looked around a bit, and then headed straight to the Oceanview Cafe for lunch. Our room was not ready, so we took our two carry-on bags with us. Lunch was very good - I had Indian food and my husband had the carved beef.
Since we had been on the Equinox recently, the ship felt very much like coming home. We love the Solstice class ships - they are simply beautiful. The details are magnificent. The appointments are captivating. The ships also have some of the best staff on any other cruise line we have taken. They are very attentive to guest's needs and seem genuinely happy to please.
After lunch, we went to our room and unpacked. We had a lovely balcony with a wonderful view. Later that afternoon, we attended the cruisecritic sail-away party at the Oceanview Bar and met many of the wonderful folks whose insights had helped us plan this fantastic trip.
We chose Select Dining and wandered into the Moonlight Sonata Restaurant around 7 pm. This is the first time on a Celebrity cruise that we had not had an appointed time for dinner, and we thoroughly enjoyed not having to worry about what time dinner was scheduled. We chose a table for two, but were close enough to our tablemates to have some great conversations. Each night we were seated at a different location in the Select Dining area. We had a great meal and walked around the ship until it was time to attend the Welcome Aboard Show. Our cruise director, Nick Weir, was the best cruise director we have ever had - talented, engaging, funny, and never forced.
Sunday, June 27 Bruges, Belgium On day two, we had a quick breakfast at the Moonlight Sonata, and met six cruisecritic friends, for a shared taxi ride on the Brugse Taxi Service into Bruges (cost was 24 euros for 2). You are not allowed to walk onto the port of Zeebrugge, so the taxi service was a perfect option for us. The town looked like a fairy tale city - quite charming. We followed a walking tour of the city the group's organizer had found on the Internet. We enjoyed a 30-minute canal trip that started near the Church of Our Lady for 6.90 euros each. The guide's English was excellent and he was very funny. After the canal trip, the eight of us saw some sights and then had lunch at one of the cafes in the main square. Our party had delicious mussels and my DH thoroughly enjoyed his Belgian waffle with strawberries, ice cream and chocolate. We then went shopping for chocolates. We were back on the ship by 2 pm.
Monday, June 28 At Sea We woke up late the next morning and just made it to the cruisecritic party where we met more lovely people. There was coffee, tea and Danish available. We participated in an indigenous gift exchange and received some adorable sandal-themed spreading knives. The best gift was an Australian boomerang. The weather was pleasant for most of our trip, with warmer temperatures than we were expecting in the Baltics. The seas were also exceptionally calm - no rough waters throughout the entire cruise. We spent most of the day by the pool where there was ample seating and later ate dinner and attended the show.
Tuesday, June 29 Warnemunde, Germany We did not opt for Berlin, so we had a leisurely breakfast on the ship and then strolled onto the port where we took a passenger boat to Rostock. The ride took about 45 minutes and once in town we walked around and visited the small shops. We had some bratwurst and pastries, stayed in Rostock for 2 hours and then took the boat back to Warnemunde where we wandered around the town for a 1/2 hour and then got back on the ship. It was a very hot day, about 100 degrees, so we were happy to be back on board.
That night we tried Qsine, which was marvelous. We had a scenic window seat and an excellent waiter from Turkey who guided us through the expansive menu. We started with the disco shrimp and Mediterranean wall - both excellent. My DH had the filet and I had the sushi pops. Some of the best mac n cheese, I have ever tasted. We ended with the cupcakes and "the surprise," which I will not divulge, but it was delicious. It was my DH's birthday, so they also brought out a piece of chocolate/nutella cake with an edible chocolate Happy Birthday sign on it. We also enjoyed their chocolate covered strawberries and crème brule eggs. The presentation was very creative and the taste matched it beauty.
Wednesday, June 30 At Sea We woke up late again, just made it to the Oceanview Cafe for breakfast. We relaxed on our deck until lunch where we attended the Captain's Club event - roast beef, sushi, coconut shrimp, spring rolls, crepes, and fruit/marshmallow skewers. The Celebrity Eclipse Band, Inspiration Strings (their classical strings group), and Sound Decision (their acapella quartet) entertained at this event. We met many members of the crew including the captain and the Hotel Director Simon Weir (brother to cruise director Nick). Afterwards we rested by the pool. It was so warm out that it seemed everyone on board was enjoying the pools and hot tubs - quite unusual for a Baltic Sea cruise.
Thursday, July 1 Stockholm, Sweden In Stockholm, we took the HOHO Boat just as you walked off the ship to your left (10 Euros/$15). Our first stop was Old Town, where we walked along the quaint streets, stopping here and there at the shops. When we got to the Royal Palace, we had a cinnamon roll in the courtyard. We got back on the HOHO and headed to the Vasa Museum, which was very interesting. Our next stop was Grona Lund Tivoli, a small amusement park that was very quaint. Although their currency is the Krona, we had no problem using Euros. We got back on the HOHO boat and went right to the cruise berth stop, then walked onto the ship. Stockholm is a very beautiful city. Since it consists of about 20 islands, the HOHO boat is an ideal way to go. Again, we had perfect weather, close to 75 degrees.
Friday, July 2 Helsinki, Finland In Helsinki, we took the independent local shuttle bus (8 Euros or $10 roundtrip). The bus dropped us off at the Swedish Theatre in the downtown area. We walked about a block to Stockmann, which is the largest department store in the Nordic countries. We then walked a few blocks to the Kauppantoni Market, the open market, and sampled some reindeer meatballs and fried fish. We bought some licorice (1 euro for 1 piece) and some cinnamon rolls (4 euros for 4). There was a marching band that passed right by the market and we watched as merchant's filleted fish. The market was filled with both locals and tourists and we enjoyed our time there. We then walked passed countless furniture stores and made our way back to the theatre for the short ride back to the ship. That night, we ate at Tuscan Grille, which was fabulous. My DH enjoyed the crab dip, Caesar salad and filet. We had excellent service again - so much, so that we booked for another night.
Saturday/Sunday July 3-4 St. Petersburg, Russia Excellent. We used SPB tours and shared our tour with six others from the cruisecritic board. The ship arranged for all those taking private tours to meet first at the Tuscan Grille to help expedite the process. We met at 8:45 and by 9 am we were greeted by Viktoria Rother, our point of contact on the Internet, and another Viktoria (Vika), our knowledgeable tour guide. Customs was extremely quick and efficient in Russia. We had asked for a slightly abbreviated two-day tour of the city and SPB could not have been more accommodating. The driver and guide escorted us in a large air-conditioned van (it was about 85-90 degrees) through the city. Vika's knowledge of the English language was impressive. She pointed out many of the great sites in an engaging and entertaining manner. We made a quick stop for some photos and headed toward our hydrofoil ride to Peterhof. Once there, we walked in the Peterhof Lower Fountain Park and the Upper Gardens - simply magnificent. We then drove to the Tsars' Village and had a quick stop at a local blinis place. After lunch, we visited Catherine's Palace, the amber room and then strolled through the park. Our driver had us back to the ship by 5:15. The rest of our party decided to stay a few more hours for shopping and a snack/beer at a local pub, but we were too exhausted to join them. On day two, we walked off the ship at about 8:45 and were on our way to the city sights by 8:55 am. We visited the local farmers' market and perused the food aisle, where we were given samples of honey and peaches. Our driver then dropped us off at a beautifully adorned subway station where we took a short ride to another stop. We walked along Nevksy Prospect, and had an early lunch at a perogi "stolle" place. The perogis were filling and delicious. We headed toward the Hermitage and bypassed the crowds as our tour guide had prepaid tickets. The line must have been a few hours long. The place was packed and magnificent. We stayed a few hours and then made our way to Peter and Paul's fortress and cathedral, the burial place of the Tsars. By 4:30, we were back on the ship. We paid $255 per person for a private 2-day tour for eight people and we felt it was well worth it.
Monday, July 5 Talinn, Estonia It was very hot and we decided to walk the 15 minutes into town. Not much to see, although the prices for Russian vodka was less than in St. Petersburg. We paid two euros to go up a castle and enjoyed some ice cream while we viewed the city. We were happy to return to the ship.
Tuesday, July 6 At Sea We relaxed all day. We enjoyed one of our favorite parts of the ship's itinerary - the brunch. It was a beautifully displayed feast, with carving stations for various meat and fish as well as a chocolate fountain. We then went to the backstage tour, and met some of the singers, dancers, and acrobats.
Wednesday, July 7 Copenhagen, Denmark We ordered a Copenhagen card a few months before the trip, which was well worth it. The card gives you free or discounted admission to some of the city's top attractions as well as free entry into the bus, train and metro system. We took Bus 26, which runs from the Langeline pier (a few steps from where we docked) to Radhuspladsen, a street close to Tivoli Gardens. Our plan was to take the guided walking tour in the old city of Copenhagen with Hans Christian Andersen (Richard Karpen, a New Jersey native who now lives in Denmark and dresses like the famous fairy tale author). We missed the first stop at the Tourist Information Office, but caught up with the group of about 15 in the center of the Town Hall Square at 10:45 am. It was easy to find Karpen in his top hat and long coat. The tour was about 90 minutes; it was a most entertaining and educational experience. We paid $20 each and he took Euros as currency as well. After the walking tour, we perused a few of the museums and stopped for lunch at one of the cafes Karpen had recommended. We strolled through the "walking street" where we found a lovely bakery that took American credit cards and we purchased some delicious Danish. We then walked to the Tivoli Gardens, which we entered free with the Copenhagen card and admired the many flower displays and fountains. We found our way to Tivoli's replica of the Little Mermaid and took various photos. Unfortunately, the real statue was on exhibit in Shanghai during our trip. After a few hours of admiring Tivoli, we took Bus 26 back to the pier and rested for a bit before our dinner at the Tuscan Grille. It was another wonderful feast.
Thursday/Friday, July 8-9 At Sea Two leisurely days at sea, which were needed after this very intense itinerary. During one of the sea days, we had a tour of the bridge, which was quite interesting. It was a bit cooler towards the end of our trip, but we still enjoyed our time in the hot tub.
Saturday, July 10 Southampton We decided last minute to take the ship's excursion to Stonehenge and enjoyed the famous site. We walked around a bit taking photos and then before we knew it our one-hour was up and we were driven to Heathrow.
A fabulous vacation.