We choose the Prinsendam for it's smaller size and fine reputation for friendly, professional service and great itineraries. It did not disappoint, we were impressed by the size of the cabin and bathroom, the cleanliness of the ship and the well trained staff. We had sailed to Alaska with HAL and enjoyed that trip.
For the first time in six cruise we had the open seating option and enjoyed meeting new people every evening. On a small ship, 800 pax, you then start to see familiar faces in the Crow's Nest, the library (well stocked) and around the ship we were often greeted by a friendly hello from a couple or a family we dined with on a previous night.
The ports were easy to do on our own, we only booked tours in St.Petersburg, using an independent agency, ALLA-Tours.com. The did an excellent job for 25% less than the HAL excursion desk for the same stops. We were part of a group of 12 in a Mercedes mini bus, the ship's tours were for 40 on a big bus with lots of time spent waiting to gather the stragglers (we heard afterwards) There was no problem about Russian visas, ALLA takes care of that at no cost. Others used Dendrus and SPB tours and were happy with the experience.
Everyday was sunny and blue sky, we were very lucky with calm flat seas and beautiful weather for two weeks. The sun rose at 0430 and set at 1100 pm, amazing! Northern latitudes at summer solstice.
HAl is easy about bringing wine onboard to enjoy in your cabin and Warnemunde, Germany had two nice supermarkets close to the ship where we bought a few bottles of wine at good prices after we returned from our train ride to Rostock. We look forward to sailing with Prinsendam again in future.
The ship sailed from Tilbury, an hours tube and train ride from London. We stayed two nights in a hotel near Paddington Station and took the District Line tube from Edgeware Rd. to West Ham. There we transferred to the C2C railroad for the trip to Tilbury Town where we were met by a free shuttle bus to the pier. It cost 10.50 pounds each, you can buy tickets at Paddington in the Rail info office. They were very helpful. The ship was originally to have left from Greenwich, so this was a less convenient port.
My husband and I travel light with one rolling carry on suitcase and a tote bag each, so it's easy to take a train and we don't worry about the airline losing our luggage. The travel lecturer on the ship arrived with no suitcase and waited ten days for it to catch up to the shop. If you have several suitcases and can't manage on the tube and train a taxi would cost about 65 pounds, we were told.
We bought day passes for London Transit for 5.20 pounds each ( a good value since one ride is 4 pounds.) We visited the Tate Modern, St. Paul's Cathedral, just across the Millenneum Bridge. We enjoyed the Grace Kelley wardrobe show at the Victoria & Albert Museum and the Turners at Tate Britain. The British Library is another must see to view a copy of the Magna Carta among other treasures in the exhibition hall.
Great weather in London, too, it was perfect for walking the shopping areas near Harrod's and riding the red double decker busses along Regent's St and into the City.