Our first time in a floating resort
Baltic & Northern Europe
After landing in Amsterdam, we took the train (15 minute ride)which conveniently took us right to the port and after a few minutes walk we arrived at the Constellation's berth. We were expeditiously processed through check-in and shown to our ocean-view stateroom. My husband was extremely concerned that he'd get seasick since this was our first cruise so we ordered a stateroom on the second deck. When we put out to sea, neither my husband nor I realized we had left shore until only after I had opened the curtains and saw open sea! Happily, throughout the whole cruise neither one of us felt a thing and our cruise was seasick-free.
Our stateroom attendant catered to our desires including extra towels and maintaining the room expeditiously. We were definitely pampered in a way we could really get used to!
The sea days were filled with all sorts of activities and we were rarely in the room, from lectures on the boat's navigational systems and ecology to the fitness More
center and spa we were kept happily busy all day long. Although one could just hang out with a good book next to the pool and relax without doing a thing.
The ports of Stockholm, Helsinki, Talinn and Copenhagen were quite interesting but we felt didn't need any organized tours since it was possible to see the important places by ourselves. The only port we did feel it was necessary to book an organized tour was in St. Petersburg. Since the Russians are known for their bureaucracy we needed someone to organize our visa and other necessities. We didn't take the ship's port excursions since we felt they were overpriced and didn't cover many of the places we could see with an independent tour company. Also the ship's excursions covered only half-days for both days we were in port and the independent company took us for a full day excursion on both days for much cheaper. We also went to see the ballet, Swan Lake, at the famous Alexandrinsky Theater which was of a very high quality, although the Bolshoi didn't perform it. They were away on tour at the time. This the indepenent company also organized for us. Of course, the dining experience was something we had never encountered and the quality of the food was very high, although the chicken and fish dishes I found to be quite dry. The rest of the cuisine, especially in the Seaside Cafe, catered to our preferences of salads and healthy eating, although we couldn't pass up the desserts and visits to the ice cream bar!
As we pulled into Amsterdam we realized that our dream vacation was coming to an end, so I ran up and got a brochure featuring other cruises offered by Celebrity so we could get a head start in planning our next cruise!
The disembarkation process was very smooth and we were able to carry our own luggage off the ship and take the short walk back down to the train station and on to the airport for our flight home. Less
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Port and Shore Excursions
This port was similar to Amsterdam in that it had many canals. Upon arriving we decided to go on one of the one-hour canal boat rides. This was a great opportunity to see the general sites by boat and to see the quaint houses along the canals. We also saw Hans Christian Andersson's house which was an unexpected extra. We then headed over to the synagogue which was closed, unfortunately. We then wandered around the city and went into some clothing stores which were terribly overpriced.
We then headed back to the ship which left about 6 hours after it had entered the port.
Since we came into this port very early in the morning on a Sun. practically no stores or museums were open. Fortunately, on the way in to the city by bus we saw an open flea market and memorized where it was so we could go back there later on. After wandering around and realizing that we really couldn't see very much we headed on over to the flea market. This was a typical flea market attended by only Finns who didn't speak English. We went from stall to stall where so many used things were displayed from clothes to kitchen ware. We finally came upon an antiques table where we saw and bought an antique hand-made, metal, painted fishing boat. We continued to browse the table and came upon a carved deer's horn. My husband picked it up and was about to buy it when he looked on the bottom and saw an engraved Nazi swastika. We were so alarmed that something like that would actually be out in the open that we threw the horn on the table and ran out of the flea market as fast as we could.
We then headed over to the Rock Church and were so impressed with the fact that this church was actually in use and was hewn out of a mountain of rock. A pipe organ is also in use there and the acoustics are so good that I'm sure the sound must be terrific. One can actually sit in the pews and get a feel for the ambience of this magnificent church.
Since everything was so expensive in this port we didn't even stop for a cup of coffee or cake. We just headed back to the ship with our find.
St. Petersburg is so huge and has so many museums and palaces that it would take at least 3 weeks to see everything. Upon coming into this port, we were expeditiously shepherded through passport control and were met outside by our independent tour company, SPB. They took us on a general bus tour through the city with photo stops at various monuments. Then it was on to Peterhof Palace by hydrofoil. This was a terrific experience in that we had a panoramic view of the city and got to the palace in only half an hour instead of an hour. Since traffic is so bad in this city any kind of short cut is appreciated. Peterhof Palace is truly like Versaille and, in our opinion, even more impressive. It's definitely worth a trip there to see what extent the Czars went to show their importance. It's no wonder the Bolsheviks revolted in 1917. All the tax money from the poor people throughout the country was used to fund the lavish palaces. We also saw Catherine's palace, the Hermitage and some churches all of which were built by the Czars. We then went to a farmer's market where farmers displayed their various wares from vegetables to fish and honey. This was a good opportunity to see how the regular Russians from the outskirts market their wares. That night my husband and I went to a ballet, Swan Lake, which was in the Alexandrinsky Theater, a 200-year-old theater. Since the Bolshoi wasn't in residence at the time (they were on tour) we saw a comparable troupe. This was a great experience and we didn't fall asleep during the performance after such a hectic day! The performance was only 2 and a quarter hours so it was definitely doable. We got back to the ship around 11pm by a van from SPB that took us to the theater, too.
We definitely recommend going with an independent tour company since the prices for the ship's excursions in St. Petersburg are very expensive and don't cover full days while in port, only half days.
Before arriving in Stockholm we were informed that we'd only have about 6 hours in port. My husband and I outlined the most important things we should see during this short time and started out on our tour. We went directly to the Royal Palace where we bought tickets to view the Royal Apartments. Since we didn't have much time we couldn't see the whole palace but we had to buy tickets for the whole palace. We more or less raced through the apartments and official visiting areas so we could see the changing of the guard. It was well worth it since it was so impressive. The actual changing of the guard was accompanied by a full band which marched into the quadrangle next to the palace ahead of the guards. This whole spectacle turned out to be a real show and there were crowds of people to attest to that. After that we ran to see the Vasa Ship Museum where we caught a tour which explained the history of the shipwreck. One of the most memorable things, in our opinion, of this museum was the display of skeletons which were found on board the ship. This gave the museum a more personal feel to it. From there we ran back to the Old Town to try and find the Nobel Prize Museum but no one seemed to know where it was. Since time was getting short and we had to get back to the ship we had to skip it. We wished we had had more time in Stockholm to just see the basic places. The prices in Stockholm were very expensive so we didn't buy anything there.
This was one of the most charming ports in the cruise, in our opinion. We were able to walk into the old city from the ship where we saw quaint houses painted in bold colors. The streets are made of cobblestone which gave a feeling of antiquity. There are jewelry stores galore and we found many good bargains on various forms of amber. They were a lot cheaper than on the ship and everything was genuine. We climbed up Toompea Hill and saw the old church and fortress. This in itself was an experience and one can get waylaid with all the affordable shops and antiques along the way.
We were only in this port for about 6 hours so before we knew it we had to get back. On the way back to the ship there's an outdoor souvenir area but we don't recommend buying anything there since it's very expensive and one can find cheaper things in town.