Wow!! This cruise exceeded our expectations in every respect! We had only cruised once before, (to Alaska on Norwegian Cruise Lines in 2005) and that was enjoyable, but we hadn’t sailed from the UK and didn’t know what to expect.
We arrived at Southampton at noon (for 1.30 pm boarding). We were impressed by the efficiency of the whole operation. We were directed to where we dropped off the baggage (we didn’t have to lift a thing), parked the car, checked in, had a glass of bubbly and were in our cabin by 1.00 pm. We went straight to the Oceanview Cafe for lunch and to meet friends, then went back to our cabin – the baggage was waiting for us and we were able to unpack. An excellent start to the holiday.
We had booked Celebrity Select dining and found it really good. On the first night at Moonlight Sonata on 4th Floor there were about 10 people in front of us. We booked for 7.00 pm for the rest of the cruise, but changed to a different time when it suited us and never had to wait. We had the same table for 4 of us every night (or one next to it), the same waiter and wine waiter, both of whom were excellent, friendly, knowledgeable and efficient. The menu was excellent, with fixed classic dishes and a different 4-course menu each day – we enjoyed everything we ate! We dined at Qsine one night and Murano one night. Both were enjoyable experiences, but we felt that the Moonlight Sonata was so good we wouldn’t bother again.
Tea, coffee and water are freely available in the Oceanview Cafe and we filled our water bottles there to take out with us. The water everywhere on board ship is the same (treated on board) and is drinkable.
We didn’t bother with any drinks packages. We enjoy a glass or two of wine or beer, but are not heavy drinkers. There was a huge selection of wines but only a few were familiar to us – and we drink wine everywhere we go. We chose the cheapest wines and a bottle gave us a glass each with a little over for the next day. Prices seemed high but we got used to it - even with the dreaded 15% gratuity, which is now included in the bar price! We found perfectly acceptable wines at around $30 a bottle. Draught Heineken was $5.75 for half a litre - not a lot dearer than in a fancy pub in UK.
Fortunately, Celebrity has a less strict attitude to bringing alcohol on board. We brought a large bottle of wine with us and, when asked, our cabin steward provided some wine glasses so we were very content! At Warnemunde we even bought some small bottles of Sekt and that was OK. The Security people actually told us we could bring beer and wine on board, in moderation - but spirits are forbidden.
We had breakfast in the Oceanview Cafe mostly – always busy at that time, but great selections of well-prepared food. Sometimes it took a few minutes to find a table – as we were 4 people – but people moved all the time. We had lunch there mostly – huge selection of good food ranging from English, US, Italian, Indian, Asian. It was very busy at times. The Aqua-spa Cafe on deck 12 is small, but was good for light breakfasts.
We found the cabin extremely comfortable and quite big enough. With the large locker over the bed, plus the drawers and wardrobe, there was plenty of storage for clothes. The 32” TV had a connection for HDMI cable and I could have connected my camera to it to view pictures taken (about 1100 altogether!). There’s a 220V socket in the bathroom and one in the cabin so bring 2 adaptors. The bathroom was a good size with more storage space than we have had in many hotels.
There was entertainment provided throughout the ship during the evening and even sometimes during the day. We went to the shows most nights and generally enjoyed them. The Dance Troupe was very ‘active’ but samey, with one of the girl singers was a ‘screecher’. Some of the dance routines left little to the imagination and were not really suited to more mature audiences! Maybe OK for younger guests. The last show, a sort of “European-style theatrical circus extraordinaire”, had good acrobats but unnecessary music and dancing - we were at a loss to understand the point of the production with a lot of ‘ooohing’ and ‘aaahing’ from the singers. However, all the solo artistes were fine, even the Hypnotist, who didn’t impress others on Cruise Critic – he only managed to hypnotise 11 out of 30 volunteers, but it was entertaining.
We did our own thing on shore. At Zeebrugge we found a free shuttle minibus to the dock gate and took a tram to Blankenberge, a 10 minute ride. We had good Belgian beer and coffee there. At Warnemunde, we walked to the station, took the train and tram to Rostock, walked round the town – now up to West German standards after the DDR years, had a beer, a bit of lunch with more beer then took a Harbour Cruise back to Warnemunde. On arrival there, we men had a Bratwurst to remember Germany. The ship docks only 10 minutes walk from the town at Warnemunde and it really is a pretty place.
We did our own thing again at Helsinki, but took the local Shuttle bus to the centre (€8 return). We then took a city tour on a Hop on, Hop off bus (expensive at €25 and we felt it was a bit of a rip-off). Unfortunately, it poured with rain so we went for a beer on the way back to the Shuttle!
We had a Private Guide for St. Petersburg, found through Trip Advisor. He had already guided friends of our friends so had a good pedigree. Just 4 of us in a Mercedes minibus – we crammed everything into two days with no crowds, except the Hermitage where it’s always very busy. We visited the Treasury (Gold Room) where we had a private guide in addition to our tour guide. It’s more expensive this way but it was worth every penny – we couldn’t have seen all that we did any other way. In the evening we did the Russian Folklore Show at the Nikolayevsky Palace, which was fantastic! It is really amazing but two exhausting days. There was a lot of walking and standing around – but so worth it! Russian beer wasn’t up to much, however!
In Tallinn, the ship docks only 10 – 15 minutes from town. There was a market on the dockside and we found that was the best value for souvenirs. We took a €10 bus tour and could get off and on when we wanted. Brilliant! We toured the Old Town and Kadriorg Palace and Art Museum - well worth a visit. Very nice beer and bruschettas for lunch, too! We loved Tallinn with its cobbled streets and quaint buildings. It has wonderful shopping, too.
Stockholm and Copenhagen were both lovely. The sun shone, we took the Celebrity Shuttle bus to the centre each time for $15. Then in each place we took water-buses, trams, buses and we walked. The Vasa Museum in Stockholm was wonderful and a ‘must-see’. We ate light lunches – the Smorrebrod (Open Sandwiches) in Denmark are a must! Try a ‘sharing plate for two’ – it will almost feed four. Both places are expensive but well worth the visit. Swedish light beer was just that – light, but Tuborg Classic, in Denmark, was hoppy and rich-tasting.
We attended some of the lectures offered on board, and found them excellent and informative. Our only problem was not enough hours in the day, and not enough energy to do everything!
The weather in the Baltic was beautiful for our trip, apart from rain in Helsinki, so we were very fortunate. This made our visits even more pleasant. The sea wasn’t always calm, but we never felt uncomfortable. All members of crew – without exception – were happy, smiling, informative and helpful. They did their best to provide everything we asked for. If there is something not provided which you want, then you should just ask.
Disembarkation was just as quick and slick as everything else about this cruise. We shall return................................!