Items for discussion HAL Northern European Explorer June 15th to June 27th:
Exchange of foreign currency back to dollars: A VERY EXPENSIVE thing to do on the ship. I exchanged 30 GB Pounds and 5 Euros with the ship. According to my exchange rate, the GB Pounds should have been worth about $48.00 in US Dollars and the Euros should have been worth about $7 in US Dollars or a total of $55. What I got was $36 and change. That is about 66% of what I paid to exchange dollars for the currencies. I suggest that you use the foreign currency to provide an additional tip to your room steward or any dining room staff who provided service above and beyond. Another idea that sounded good to me was to visit a church and leave the money in their collection box.
Visiting St. Petersburg? The cruise lines all pretty much tell you that you must either use their tours or have a Russian visa in your passport to get off the ship. That is not true. If you have booked a tour with a legitimate Russian tour agency in advance of your arrival, they will issue you a ticket that includes a "Group Visa". Ship personnel do not ask for anything except your ship ID card to get off the ship. Russian immigration will want to see your passport, your tour ticket and the immigration card provided by the cruise line. Be sure to fill out the three items required on the immigration card before you go thru Russian immigration. They will stamp your passport and you will be free to enter. Your tour group will have a representation just outside immigration and will provide verbal instructions as to what to do next. We used DenRus and selected the 2-day Royal St Petersburg tour. While not cheap, it included lunch on both days and we ended up with one other couple along with our tour guide and driver in a Mercedes SUV. Our guide's English was excellent and her knowledge was outstanding. Their web site is: http://www.denrus.ru/valueex.html
Hints for DIYers: Copenhagen-Follow the blue line to the light rail station about a 10 minute walk. Take any train to the city. Tickets can be bought at the 7/11 store at the second entrance to the station. Upon return, check out the Aldi store on the left about a block from the station. We got good wine for very reasonable prices and Holland American did not hassle us upon return to the ship. We had wine in our stateroom and also brought bottles to the dining room and paid the corkage fee of $18.
Warmemunde-A nice little place. Stop at the large resturaunt on the right (the one with sand sculptures) and ask the tourist information person for information on the train to Rostock and location of a cash machine (ATM) as you will need Euros for this port, Tallinn and Helsinki. They have detailed instructions on taking the train into Rostock and changing over to the tram as well as which trams to take to reverse the route. Rostock is worth the visit and we enjoyed walking about the old parts of the city. Be sure to have a German sausage and a beer. Also, their white wines are quite good.
Tallinn-An easy to walk place. Get a map from their TI people and take off on your own! They do have a hop on/hop off bus but walking is pretty easy and you will have to do some walking if you hop off the bus.
Helsinki-HAL has a shuttle bus that cost $10/per person, round trip. Worth the money. The port area has a market which is interesting. Several churches are worth a look. We enjoyed the Museum and the Church of the Rock. Helsinki is a little hilly but fairly compact and easy to walk.
Stockholm (port=Nyhashamm)-We used the HAL bus transit to get to the city. It was a 45 minute or so ride each way. The train is much cheaper but it was a holiday when we were there and we didn't want to get fouled up with the train schedule and possibly miss the ship's departure. We spent about five hours walking around the old city and enjoyed it very much. The return bus allowed us to catch the early bus back at 2:45 pm. There were two later bus departures ( 3 and 3:15 pm). This was a tender port and the tenders worked very efficiently to move people from and to the ship. We did have to do a face to face with Swedish immigration but it was no big deal and we got our passports stamped quickly.
Dover-Our group had a 7:15 am departure time and we got off around 7:25. We rounded up our bags and got on our bus to Heathrow around 8:05 am. The traffic was bad and we got into Heathrow around 11:15 am. Our flight was at 12:05 pm so we had to hustle. We got checked in and headed upstairs to go thru security. Be careful what you pack in your carry-on. The security screener alerted on my wife's bag and it took a long time to get someone to inspect it. They found nothing but we just barely made it onto your airplane. Our carry-on luggage had to be stowed below, so we didn't have access to them during our over the pond flight. We got it all back when we landed in Newark, NJ.