Day 2 June 24th London- Arrived at Gatwick Airport 15 minutes ahead of scheduled time, but unfortunately we had to wait on board the plane for 20 minutes because there was no parking space for our plane (Don't you just love it when that happens!) Anyway, after going through customs we made our way to our train the "Gatwick Express". The Gatwick Express goes from Gatwick Airport to Victoria Station non-stop in 30 minutes. From there it was a 2 minute walk to our hotel Park Plaza Victoria, a very convenient location! We stayed at the Park Plaza Victoria, a 4 star hotel for $251.20 GBP or $376.00 USD for 2 nights. SPACIOUS, & modern especially for an European hotel.
Day 3 June 25th London-We bought our tickets on-line for the "BIG BUS TOUR" (a double decker bus) before our trip $52.00 GBP or $80.00 USD for two of us, so we were ready for a FULL day of exploring! The first thing on our itinerary was the "BIG BUS WALKING TOUR" from Trafalgar Square to see the changing of the guard at 10:00 am at Buckingham Palace. Our tour guide was a real hoot, he was full of great local info (especially on the Queen's family), and marched us like a drill sergeant. We proceeded to Buckingham Palace where we were to watch this major event, but we didn't realize that we were supposed to be marching alongside the guards as they proceeded outside the palace gates (on the sidewalk of course)! Our tour guide was 1/4 mile away from us by the time we realized he was gone! We quickly ran to catch our group, whew! Next, was the riverboat cruise on the River Thames; this also was included in the price of the "Big Bus Tour" tickets. After a 30 minute ride we got off with our friends Mike and Mary Ann who we met on Cruise Critics. We had lunch at a very nice place, the Grange Hotel directly across the street from where the river boat tour ends (the Tower Bridge). The Grange restaurant has outside patio garden seating with an ancient Roman wall as its back drop! Great food with ambiance plus, I would highly recommend it! After lunch, we were back on the BIG BUS TOUR to make sure we hadn't missed any attractions in London!
Day 4 June 26th Day of Embarkation- Joe and I got our wake-up call at 5:45 am to catch the "Southern Railway" train down to Southampton Central to meet our cruise ship. From London to Southampton was a 2 1/2 hour train trip and the cost was $8.50 GBP or $12.00 USD for two of us! We arrived at 11:00 a.m. and could see our cruise ship "Eclipse" from the train station, it was AWESOME! My husband Joe was ready to walk with 4 pieces of HEAVY luggage. Even though our luggage has wheels, it was still a little too far to walk! Author notes: If you're planning on traveling by train and have wheeled luggage with pull handles, place your luggage as close to the wall of the train, where the side handle bars are. Pull your handles UP behind the bar so your luggage will not fall over. The only drawback taking the train down to Southampton there wasn't much room storage for luggage. This was Eclipse's fourth sailing. We were very impressed with her, especially our stateroom 7309, a "Sunset Veranda". We had only two small complaints with our stateroom. First, my husband and I have been spoiled in the past with huge aft balconies, so if you are booking a "Sunset Veranda", do not expect them to have a bigger balcony! The second complaint was the storage space! Even though this was a challenge of where to put all of our belongings, somehow it did work out. On a positive notes: Our bathroom was a major surprise, it was larger with plenty storage! The colors of our cabin were very soothing! And we certainly enjoyed the new 32"flat screen TV and the coffee and tea maker! Which I always wondered why it took the cruise ship companies so long to figure this minor but necessary detail out! We had a Cruise Critics "Sail Away" get together at 5:45 p.m. with about 50 members from our roll call. It was fun to finally meet everyone after 6 months or more months of posting! The weather in Southampton was PERFECT, sunny and warm! Terri, our hostess, did a wonderful job not only with our sail away get together, but with our roll call webpage. Thanks Terri! Author's notes: On Cruise Critics we made prior arrangements with 3 other couples who wanted to join us at the early seating at the "Moonlight Sonata". We called ourselves the "Knights of the Early Round Table". I would like to thank Mary Ann and Mike for making our group signs (one per couple), they were great!
Day 5 June 27th Brugges Belgium- Our first port of call, we hired "Rony's Taxis" 8 people round trip for $90.00 EUR or $22.50 USD per couple. We did "Brugges Walking Tour" www.brentjes.com/Brugge%205.html (for map). It was a leisurely stroll along the canals (Venice of the north), streets, and alleys of the medieval city. The walk was only a couple hours long, so as soon as we finished we wanted to find a side walk cafe to people watch and enjoy the other product that Belgium is famous for, BEER! After much debate on which cafe would be the best we settled for "Cafe Francis"! Unfortunately, our waiter was extremely rude and said "No" to any and every request our friends and we had. Not the best way to remember Brugges by! Back to the ship by 2:00 p.m. for a 3:00 p.m. departure which was great! Because tonight was our first of 3 formal nights, along with the Captain's toast at 8:30 and Celebrity's Showtime "Ovations" at 8:45 pm, BTW, the show Ovations was excellent! Author's note: The Belgium people speak two main languages, Flemish (Dutch) and French! No worries though, fortunately our next port of call was Germany, and we love the German waiters and their beer! LOL Day 6 June 28th Day at sea- Celebrity sent out the invitations to our Cruise Critics members (89 in all), to the "Meet and Greet" get together. Our roll call also had an "Indigenous Gift Exchange", which I organized. It was a great success and we met some great people from all over the world. Joe and I received a boomerang from a couple from Wollongong, AU, which was really cool because we almost bought one last November while in Australia. Later, we roamed the "Shops on the Boulevard" for bargains and then had lunch on our veranda. The day was sunny and about 80F, absolutely beautiful. The seas have been extremely calm since we left England. We had dinner with 2 other couples at a specialty restaurant named, "Qsine", which was designed by the CEO of Royal Caribbean (excellent food with a very unique presentation). The menus are on I-pads and the food was served in small portions like tappas, with a contemporary art format. Very good, I would highly recommend it!
Day 7 June 29th Warnemunde Germany- Arrived at our port of call at 9:00 a.m, most of the ship decided to go onto Berlin by train, 3 hours one way, not for us! Joe and I did Rostock and Warnemunde on our own. We took the "Rostock river boat cruise"; 1 hour each way and a great way to take a relaxing cruise! It was about 100 yards down from where our ship was docked. Rostock is another medieval town, not much to it in our opinion. We wandered around for about 1 1/2 hours before heading back to Warnemude. The seaside village of Warnemude was delightful, with 2 miles of sandy beaches and plenty of seaside cafes, which was great to people watch and see the many fishing boats coming in. My husband Joe's main focus here was to get the original German bratwurst and a beer! Warnemunde is an extremely easy town to walk around in, no need for booking a shore excursion here! We returned to the ship about 5 p.m. just before it started to rain....Another great day in a great port!
Day 8 June 30th Day at Sea- Slept in and had a late breakfast at the Oceanview Cafe. Then we went to a lecture on Russia, after the lecture we met our friends at the Corning glass blowing exhibition on deck 15, which I must admit, was very interesting and the works of art were exquisitely done (a must see!!) Then we were off to the health spa to try to work some of the numerous calories off (definitely a losing/gaining battle). The seas have continued to stay calm; less wave action than we had anticipated! The weather was 82F, sunny, and absolutely beautiful. Tomorrow we are in Stockholm.
Day 9 July 1st Stockholm, Sweden- We arrived at 8:00 a.m., our group was the first disembark. Our plan was to use the Hop-on, Hop-off boats for our main mode of transportation for the day. Our ship was docked only 100 feet away from where the HoHo boats are (We were lucky enough to be docked at berth 167 Stadsgardsleden). After paying for our HoHo boat tickets (180 SEK), we were off to the Vasa Museum. The Vasa was a Swedish war ship that sunk to the bottom of the Baltic Sea 333 years ago. The ship was salvaged in 1961 almost completely intact, the Baltic's brackish waters kept the parasites at bay! (Vasa Museum entry fee was also included in the price of the boat tickets). Next stop on the HoHo boat was Gamla Stan (Old town). Gamla Stan is a 15th century medieval city surrounded by stone walls and cobblestone streets. Our final destination was the famous "Stockholm Absolut Icebar", the world's first permanent ice bar. As the name implies, everything is made from ice even the bar glasses. We bought our tickets on-line before our cruise for $170 SEK per person or $21.66 USD (cheaper than buying them at the hotel/bar). You have 40 minutes to enjoy your drink and experience the ice room, the cost of the ticket also includes a warm cape and gloves to wear while you are there. The drink menu had different flavors of "Absolut Vodka". Joe and I decided on the "Baltic Sea" cocktail which consisted of mandarin orange vodka, cranberry juice and a cinnamon stick...Yummy!! After a 15 minute walk to Nybroplan, another pick-up/drop point for the HoHo boats, we made our way back to our ship by 4:00 p.m., one hour before departure at 5:00. Author's notes: Be prepared for the "White Nights"! By now our sunrises were at 3:36 am and sunsets at 10:07 pm! They got worst further north we traveled!
Day 10 July 2nd Helsinki Finland- This port was a little surprising to us, the people went out of their way to be very friendly and the city was beautiful. Again, our main mode of transportation was the hop-on, hop-off trams, buses, and ferry boats. We bought a one day pass (good for 24 hours) for 6.80 Euros per person. The highlights were the "Market Square" and "Suomenlinna Sea Fortress". The Suomenlinna Fortress was built in 1748 and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It's a 15 minute ferry ride from Market Square. A must see! Day 11th July 3rd-St Petersburg Russia- We arrived in Russia at 7:00 am (after 3 time changes since London). We met our DenRus tour group, at the "Tuscan Grille" at 6:45 a.m. Disembarkation went pretty smoothly, we were through Russian customs by 7:15 a.m. The port was full of cruise ships (we heard 12 in all), so St Petersburg was very busy! Our tour leader was knowledgeable, but at times her accent was hard to understand. Day 1 in St. Petersburg was long, 12 hours! The city highlights were first, then a guided tour of the Catherine Summer Palace which was breathtaking! Then we went to the summer palace of Peterhof, Peter the Great, also known as the Russian Versailles. It was equally as spectacular and both were as ornate and expansive as any palaces and gardens we have seen. The czars definitely flaunted their wealth. Next we had a great lunch at the newly built "Summer Palace" restaurant. The food was very good which also included a glass of champagne. After lunch we walked around the world famous fountain park. At the end of day we rode on the Avtovo Metro, a train ride to Narvskaya. The metro stations are very ornate and look like museums. Back to our ship, it had been a VERY long day with a lot of walking, but very enjoyable!
Day 12 July 4th St Petersburg Russia- Another full day of sightseeing in St Petersburg. First a boat trip down the Neva river viewing numerous palaces and cathedrals and a tour of the city. Next was a tour of the Peter and Paul Fortress, where numerous Czars are buried including Peter the Great and Catherine. Next was a spectacular church called Spilled Blood Cathedral, a church built on the site where Czar Alexander II was assassinated on March 1, 1881. Inside, the walls are covered by numerous mosaics depicting religious stories. Across the street, we shopped in a neat bazaar and then had lunch at the Russian Club. Next we went to the Hermitage Museum, the former Winter Palace, which houses over 3 million works of art. It is truly amazing with art from all of the great masters. The palace is a work of art as well with unbelievable gilded walls and ceilings. Again the display of wealth is hard to imagine. We were ready to get back to the ship after another full day. On a finally note, we were blessed with 2 days of good weather (sunny, 78 to 80 degrees)! As per our tour guide, Russia only gets 48 to 60 days of sun! The rest of the year the weather is mostly gray, windy, & very cold!!!! Author's notes: DenRus was our Russian tour company that took care of getting our Russian visas, (most Russian tours companies as part of their tour). Our group of 31 paid $299.00 USD per person for 2 full days of touring which also included our lunches. In retrospect, we would have gone with a much smaller tour group and paid a little more! We had planned on dining in the Tuscan Grill, a specialty restaurant, with four British couples from the group we toured Russia with. We dined at 8 p.m. and finally left the Tuscan about 11p.m. The meal was WONDERFUL! Our group had the best seats in the house facing a large picture window on the stern watching as we left Russia, truly beautiful! The company was great with a lot of ribbing between the Brits and us about the Revolutionary War, especially being July 4th! Day 13 July 5th Tallinn, Estonia- Tallinn is a really neat medieval city founded in 1154. It is still surrounded by the old city walls and makes you feel like you have gone back in time. All of the old buildings are still intact and the streets are all original cobblestone. We had a fun day walking around and visiting numerous gift shops. One of the major highlights was having lunch at an ancient tavern, the Olde Hansa & Krambude Shoppe! The tavern was styled in hanseatic traditions, offering 15th century delicacies and drinks (home brew honey beer). Inside was candlelight only, no electricity, the bathrooms were made like thrones for toilets with an old kettle for a faucet. BTW, they have 2 locations on Market Square. Other than St. Petersburg, this was one of our favorite ports! We came back to the ship after a full day about 5 p.m. and we sailed at 6 p.m. heading for Copenhagen.
Author's notes: Wear good walking shoes, the cobblestones are a killer after a few hours!
Day 14 July 6th Day at Sea- A much welcomed day of rest as we have been going full speed since we left home. We'll be in Copenhagen tomorrow from 8 a.m. till 1a.m. the next day.
Day 15 July 7th Copenhagen Denmark- Another early departure at 8:00 a.m. from our home away from home, the Eclipse, for a FULL day in Copenhagen! We took the seaside walkways into town (about 1 1/2 miles to the city center) to get to the canal boats. The canal boat tour last 1 hour and is a must! There are two canal boat tours at the end of Nyhavn Street, one charges 60 Dkk or $10.00 USD per person at this writing. The other charges 30 Dkk or $5.00 USD per person for the exact same tour. The other tour company is at the end of the canal. Also, there are plenty of ATM's around Nyhavn, which made it very easy to get cash. Copenhagen is one the most expensive cities in the world, so you need lots of Dkks. After our canal boat tour, we all got hot dogs from one of the street vendors and shopped until about 1:00 p.m. Then we headed back to the ship for our next tour at 2:00...SEGWAYS!!! The Segway tour couldn't have been located in a better location, right dead center in front of the Eclipse! Seamus, the owner, is from Dublin, Ireland. He is funny, patient, and he takes you to many unique sites off the beaten path! This was incredibly FUN and worth every penny, 399 Dkks or $63.00 USD per person! The tour was 2 hours long, not counting the time he spent getting us comfortable with the segways (almost like a pro...LOL)! This was a major highlight on our cruise! After the segway tour, we cleaned up for a quick bite and were off to Tivoli Park! This was a little hokey for us, but since it was our last port, we felt we needed to go for it. We got back to the ship about 10:30 p.m. after a very full day. The people that stayed after midnight were treated to a fireworks display. It wasn't like Disney World, but I could see how kids would love it!! Author notes: All though the "The Little Mermaid" was not at Langelinie pier, (she was on loan to the China World Fair for the summer). However, there is an exact replica of her at "Tivoli Park"!
Day 16th July 8th At Sea- Another welcomed day of rest! Went to the spa, watched a couple of movies, dressed for formal night. After dinner, we took in a show called "A European-style theatrical circus celebrating the celestial phenomenon of an Eclipse!" Beautifully done! After the show we decided to go to "The Martini Bar" to have a sampler of 6 different flavored martinis! Our bartender put on quite a show for us, kind of like the movie "Cocktail" with Tom Cruise! But unfortunately we didn't have our camera with us! Not that we were lacking taking pictures from this cruise, Joe had taken over 1,045 pictures so far!!!!!
Day 17th July 9th At Sea- Our last day on this beautiful ship, we decided to go the spa. Later we met our friends on the 15th deck, where a courtyard with natural grass had been designed for playing croquet, bocce, bean bag toss, and horseshoe rings. We had lots of fun; Joe even won a t-shirt in a croquet match. As all things must pass, we then started packing for our trip home.
Day 18th July 10th- Disembarkation was very quick and went smoothly. We had private transportation with "Smith's Airport Service" to Heathrow. We split the cost with two other couples around $32.00 per couple USD. We flew home to U.S.! I can't help but think about a song from the 90's called "Back to life, back to Reality"!...... It is so true!