Norwegian Sun Cruise Review by sunsetstar: Great Itinerary, Bad Cruise Line
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Great Itinerary, Bad Cruise Line
My husband and I booked the Baltic Cruise with NCL for our one year wedding anniversary. We had preferred the Princess itinerary, but it was more expensive, and with us both being under 35, we thought we might be too young to sail Princess. It was our first time on NCL... and it will be our last.
Embarkation: We arrived in Copenhagen a day early, so we took a taxi from The Square Hotel in downtown for about $20. Boarding was open from 12pm-3pm and we arrived at the pier about 1pm. The line was only about 20 minutes long.
They did inform us of a stomach virus that had broken out on the previous sailing. I will say they made a good effort to keep this sailing sanitized. They sprayed everyone with hand sanitizer at every turn and even did not allow self-service on the buffets until about day 7. However, I did get the virus on the last day of the cruise.
The Ship: It's an older ship, but that's not a big deal if it's maintained. It is laid out a little oddly More and there weren't many lounge areas with seats near windows. The room, however, was dingy. The bathroom was rusty and our shower curtain was mildewed. The couch in the room was so dirty, I was afraid to sit on it. No towel animals in our room either!
The Staff: Having sailed on Royal Caribbean before, I had high hopes for good service. I was let down. We didn't meet our room steward until the 3rd day and rarely ever saw him again. The wait staff in the Seven Seas dining room was flighty and very slow. Perhaps with not having assigned tables with the same people every night, they weren't as concerned.
The Food: It's very clear NCL wants you to pay for their specialty restaurants. We opted to try the Moderno Brazilian Steakhouse for $20pp. It was actually worth it, since it was the best food we had. The Seven Seas dining room's food was so bad, we ended up only eating there 3 times. Steaks were way over-cooked and fatty and our lobster was tiny. Desserts were mediocre. The Garden Buffet food was mediocre at best. Having to wait 10 minutes while they grilled hamburgers was ridiculous. We found that eating breakfast in the Moderno was the best bet. It was a continental breakfast, but there was always seating. The Garden Cafe was too small and rarely were seats available. Skip their Tapas also. They were just replated items from the buffet and looked like they had been sitting out for hours.
The Shows: The "Rock 'n Roll" show was horrific. Their male singers were terrible. The "Shout" and "Encore" shows weren't as bad. We did like the Russian language classes they offered. The BBQ on the deck during sailaway in Russia was nice.
Overview: The itinerary was great and the ports were fantastic. We were let down by high hopes of good service and good food. We'd always had that on RC in the past and NCL just let us down. Less
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Port and Shore Excursions
Arriving into the airport, we took a train from Terminal 3 for about $6pp to the Central Station. There was a ticket kiosk by baggage claim that accepted credit cards. At Central Station, we walked only about 3 blocks to our hotel.
Stroget was a good place to do some shopping and hit up a bakery for pastries. The Danish Design Center was a bust. We did Tivoli for a few hours and it was nice. It was about $15pp and they even took AmEx for entrance.
The next morning, we walked to Nyhavn for a DFDS Canal Cruise. We got one of the first sailings of the day, around 9:30am. It was about $15pp and they took credit cards. Our boat was half full, so it was easy to see the sights. We saw the Opera, Library, Ameliaborg Palace, Little Mermaid, etc. The next sailing was packed, so we were happy to get there early!
We took a taxi from The Square Hotel to the pier for about $20-$25. It took about 15 minutes.
We caught the ferry from Kauppatori to the Suomenlinna Fortress. It was a 15 minute ride out and was about $6pp round-trip. On the island, there were shops and cafes and historical sights. Plus, plenty of open space to just relax and rest. It was about 75 degrees that day, so there were lots of sunbathers and beachgoers on the island. We spent about 2 1/2 hours on the island in total.
Back in town, the Upenski Cathedral was nice to see, but was closed to go inside. The Senate Square and Lutheran Cathedral were must-sees, but only took about 20 minutes total. The inside of the church was very bland. But they did have a clean bathroom for $1.
We spent the rest of the day shopping on the main drag and having lunch at a cafe. Since we had the time, we opted to attempt to walk back to the ship. The streets aren't all straight and easy to navigate, but we wandered through some cute neighborhoods and stopped at a neighborhood grocery for ice cream. All told, from the end of the main shopping street (away from the Market) back to the ship took over an hour to walk.
We passed the shuttle bus stop for Princess on the way. Of course!
We purchased train tickets ahead of time online for $115 for both of us. Once leaving the ship, the train station was just to the right, past the ferry, about a 5 minute walk. We changed trains in Rostock and the total travel time was about an hour and a half.
In Schwerin, it took about 10 minutes to walk from the main station to the center of town. Their main boulevard had lots of cute shops and we stumbled into the middle of a festival. Their town square had a good tourist info stop. The Schwerin Cathedral was nice inside, but we skipped paying to climb to the top. I imagine it was a good view, but it was drizzling when we were there.
The walk to the Palace was about another 10 minutes and the gardens were very pretty. It was about $6pp to tour the inside. The inside was just OK. We had lunch at one of the many cafes back in town.
After taking the train back to Warnemunde, we had plenty of time to walk around town. It was a lot cuter than I had expected. There were shops along a canal and deeper into town, a cute church and plenty of bakeries.
The first day, we did the Imperial St. Petersburg Tour. It started at Peterhof Palace, which was about a 45 minute bus ride away. We breezed through the Upper Gardens, and I think I was the only person on the tour to step aside to snap a few photos. The inside of the palace was great and they divided us into smaller groups and we had head-sets to hear our guide. I wish we could have had free time in the gardens out back, but breezed past the main fountains in just a minute or two. I never did get a good photo from the bottom, since they whisked us off into side gardens to less-impressive, though very cool fountains & garden areas.
The hydrofoil back into town was very rocky, but a quicker 30 minute trip back to the center of town. Our bus then drove us to lunch back near the pier at a hotel restaurant. Salad, main course of meat, rice, and veggies, and then dessert wasn't bad. We had photo stops near the stock exchange and then spent about an hour at St. Peter & Paul Fortress, seeing the inside of the cathedral. A quick photo stop at St. Isaac's Cathedral ended the day.
We opted to not do an evening tour, and we were glad that worked out. We didn't get back through passport control until about 6:25pm and the evening tours were meeting at 6:45pm. Not much time to grab dinner if you needed it!
The second day, we did the City by Double Decker Bus Tour. We had chosen this tour since it was the only one that really offered free time in the city. The bus tour was about 2 hours long with no stops. It took us past a lot of the same places we had seen the day before, but also went to Nevsky Prospect. We were dropped off at the Spilled Blood Cathedral and had 3 1/2 hours on our own. We spent the time on Nevsky Prospect, looking at smaller churches and having lunch at a cafe. Do take the time to go back to the Spilled Blood Cathedral. It was one of the most magnificent places I've ever seen. It was mosaic tiled from top to bottom.
That afternoon, we were taken to the Hermitage. Our group was able to walk in past other waiting lines. We spent a good 3 hours with our tour guide, who took us to the main highlights. We had about 20 minutes of free time at the end. We could have gone off on our own had we wanted, but it was much easier to navigate the expansive building and see the highlights with a guide. We're not huge into art, but it would have been an injustice to go to Russia and not see this museum.
Getting off the boat was a nightmare. Our tour met in the lounge at 7:15am, but we didn't get called to leave the boat until 8:15am. We had to take a tender to shore, which took about 15 minutes. Finally, we made it to our bus for the 45 minute drive into town. We were dropped off near the Opera House. I wish we would have been told ahead of time where we were being dropped.
Thankfully I had done research ahead of time, since everyone swarmed our guide once we got off the bus in town for directions. We walked a few blocks to Hamngatan Street to catch the #7 tram toward Waldemarsudde. We never saw a ticket kiosk, so we didn't buy any tickets. It took less than 15 minutes to get to the Vasa Museum and we walked in the door around 10am. Tickets were about $15pp and they accepted AmEx.
We spent an hour at the museum. We skipped the video but walked around to all the levels. It wasn't very crowded when we arrived, so we took advantage of that. By the time we were leaving at 11am, tours from NCL were arriving in droves. We hopped back on the same tram to go to Skansen. It was just another 5 minutes down the road. It cost about $20pp but was a great place to spend an afternoon. We spent about 3 hours there and felt like we saw a lot. Definitely find the bakery. They were the best pastries I've ever had and it wasn't even marked on the Skansen map!
Our bus was to leave at 3pm, so we took the tram back to town and had a few minutes to peak in the King's Palace before leaving. The 45 minute drive back to port was OK, but then we had to wait about 20 minutes for a tender. The line was ridiculously long! Only 4 tenders were running when every tour was arriving back. Another example of bad planning on behalf of NCL!
We had heard that Rick Steves had a great walking tour of this town. Since we didn't need to buy his book, I was able to find it on his website and print the entire tour with a map. It was very informative and took us through both the lower and upper parts of the old town. It took us about 4 hours to do the bulk of the tour.
We did find a lot of good shopping in Tallinn and all shops took credit cards and had English speaking clerks. Some even had decent restrooms. Dodging the large tour groups was a pain, especially at scenic overlooks. The tours, thankfully, only stopped for a few minutes, so they cleared out eventually. I would advise doing this town on your own. It was easy to navigate and compact and everyone local was extremely friendly.
We had lunch in the main square at a sidewalk cafe. It was expensive, but the ambiance was great and there was a festival going on in the square, so we had a prime seat for the concert. After lunch, we did meander some side streets that were more off the tourist track. We actually went outside the city walls in one area to find ourselves in a really nice art/garden display and another small festival with very good folk singers.