We boarded at Dover where the boarding process was a little chaotic. The shore staff seemed to have run out some types of colored cards and started handing out different colours for the same boarding group so rather confusing! We got on-board and our suite by 12 though.
Once we got on-board, things were great and we had our lunch at the Lido and got our bags in our suite by 1.30 pm.
Food: Pinnacle was excellent especially the Sommelier's dinner. If you had to choose between Le Cirque and the Sommelier's dinner - pick the Sommelier's dinner. Tamarind was okay (especially the soups) but the dim sum and entrees were not great. I would clarify that we are Singaporean Chinese so maybe our taste buds are jaded...The main dining room was very good and I would do fixed dining again. Lido was a decent buffet dining restaurant (hotel coffee house standard). The beer and sausage fest poolside dinner on the Berlin shore day was a very nice event too.
Ship shore excursions: we only did the Stockholm one and the Canterbury one(because we could keep our luggage on the bus before going directly to Heathrow). The Stockholm palace and old town tour was made difficult because of the huge crowd in the palace, no one could hear the guide through the noise. In the end, most of the tour group elected to walk around on their own once we left the palace instead of continuing the tour in the town with the guide. I bet that the crowd would be worse in the peak tourist season. The Canterbury tour was fun and informative ( probably because it was not crowded).
Private shore excursions: We used SPB tours for Estonia, Berlin, St. Petersburg and Helsinki. All had very personable and informative guides. Especially for St. Petersburg, the small group sizes made a major difference in terms of getting into attractions. At Catherine's palace, big tour groups waited more 30 mins in the rain while the small groups got through the gates immediately( it still felt a bit like a refugee situation though).
One odd thing for both ship and private tours, none of the guides seemed to believe in using paddles so that tour members could identify them at ship side or in a crowd. Maybe it was early in the 2011 summer season and the paddles were not ready yet...
Service: Everything with a smile especially our cabin steward(Toro) and the Neptune Lounge concierges. We loved the daily towel animals.
Gym: Well equipped with lots of cardio equipment.
Cabin: 5186 is an aft deluxe verandah suite with a fabulous view and balcony. Leaving Dover, we experienced 40 knot winds against a cruising speed of under 20 knots and I nearly thought we would lose a piece of the lounge furniture to the wind. Overall, we never felt much motion in the cabin and slept well every night. Other than Dover, we did enjoy being in the balcony for the sailaways especially in Nynashamn(Stockholm) where we could observe the raising of the lifeboat after the tendering operations.
Deluxe verandah suite privileges: Neptune lounge and concierges, breakfast at pinnacle, suite luncheon and cocktails, unlimited laundry/ dry cleaning. All of them were fabulous! Priority embarkation - we had a shorter line for the check-in counter but that ended in the confusing room of colored cards. Priority tendering: we did not use it becuase we took a ship excursion at the only tender port.
Highly recommend: sign up with ship services for the 'Renewal of Vows' ceremony. For this cruise, we were the only couple and it felt very meaningful.
By the end of the cruise ( our first ever!), we had already decided to put down a deposit for our next cruise!