Having boarded at Southampton, a quick and easy process, we made our way to our Sunset Veranda stateroom. Now this was impressive. There was plenty of room and our veranda was spacious with table and chairs.
We were surprised to find on the first night that having asked for a table of 6 or 8 we were allocated a table for 2. Now I love my wife but we spend all day together and it is much nicer to meet others and discuss alternative issues and find out more concerning how to achieve great shore excursions without emptying the bank. Anyway this was resolved on day 2 and for the rest of the cruise we had a lovely table of 8 and made new friends.
It is not often that I am able to review medical facilities but on this occasion I was a regular visitor. This came about as a consequence of an infection to a wound achieved prior to the cruise in a running accident, who says exercise is good for your health? My arm had swollen considerably on the afternoon of day 2 and during my first visit I ended up on an IV drip and missing the first formal dinner. The facilities on this ship in this regard are very good and the medical staff very helpful. By the end of the cruise I am sure I am on their Christmas card list. The swelling also meant a visit to the Emergency Room at Rostock Hospital in Germany where i felt abandoned by the ship as I was not accompanied and the majority of the staff did not speak English. Hey ho I was able to use my E111 here rather than medical insurance so at least my costs were down. The saddest part of this day though was having to miss a tour with "Friends of Dave", a tour raved about by previous guests on Travel Advisor - well worth looking this one up.
Helsinki was brilliant in as much as we took a ship's excursion on a rib boat travelling at 55 miles an hour across the water and lunch on one of the islands.
The next stop was St Petersburg, many before me have described this as a wonderful city and I would not challenge those views. We took a two day tour here as it was better than sorting our own visas and in any event would we have felt as safe - I doubt it. It was also St Petersburg's birthday so there was a carnival atmosphere about the place. If you are going be prepared to be exhausted at the end of two days and to have been flooded with information.
When we got to Tallin the hop on hop off buses were right by the ship. At the cost of 10 Euro you can be taken to all the sites that the Panoramic ship's tour goes to at a fraction of the cost. Most people go to the old town at Tallin and it is impressive. However I would recommend a visit to the old prison. This was established during the communist era and many people were incarcerated, tortured and hung here. Surprisingly the tour buses don't go here and the tour guides deny ever hearing of it but it is an easy walk from the cruise births and is open from 12 noon until 9pm. It is only 2 Euro and expands understanding of a past era. The one thing it does not have is a guide book and try not to use the toilets as I am sure they have not been emptied since the prison closed.
We had a fantastic time in Stockholm but this was because we met up with a pal I had not seen for 27 years.
The last port of call was Copenhagen. Again the hop on hop off buses stop at the cruise terminal and cost 18 Euro - why pay much more for a shore excursion going to the same places. The little mermaid is an easy 5 minute walk from the ship and the city itself is also a flat, easy walk if you prefer. The canal boat trip is highly recommended and there seems to be two lines you can use. DFDS will charge you 70 Danish Krona whereas the other only charges 40 DKK for the same amount of time and itinery. Don't miss the Resistence Museum close to St Albans Church. It is free to enter and again demonstrates a period of history within Denmark.
Getting back now to why this ship is not 5 star when it comes to food. There are a number of eating places without extra cost. Oceanview is a buffet on deck 14. Always very crowded and we did see them putting new food on top of old. The Moonlight Sonata is on decks 3 and 4. At breakfast you get a choice of express - here there is no food choice, you sit, it arrives and you leave but at least someone brought it to you. The alternative is picking from the menu - sadly the menu never changes so becomes predictable and boring. You can also have lunch in this venue but again the menu seems to be the same from start to finish and when you are brought cold chips or allegedly Creme Brulee ice cream that is really vanilla and your observations are met with a shrug, not good. Moonlight Sonata is also the evening venue. The food here had two sides to the menu; the first stayed the same everyday; the other had variations but sadly not a dish from the country we visited that day and again not up to 5 star level.
The worst part though was the sommelier on our table, wine waiter to you and me. For ten days he ignored Ros and I despite serving others. I began to think we had a cloak of invisibility on us. The last straw though was when he took our wine glasses to give to others on the table - Mr Grumpy appeared and I then demanded wine - even though I did not actually want any that night, maybe that was his plan all along!
There are other venues for dinner but these will cost you another $30 each and i am told then you get 5 star service!
My recommendation for breakfast is on deck 12 where there is a healthy eating spot - much better than the others and just a shame we did not find it until the last 3 days.
We had a lovely time despite my injury but that was really down to the locations, weather and company.