As professional musicians from Jacksonville, Florida, we don't usually take expensive luxury cruises, but there is no question that the Seabourn Sojourn delivers the value and exceptional quality of food, facilities/stateroom and service expected for the price. One night we had amazing Nigerian shrimp that were 10 inches long! The staff members were always helpful and attentive. While we know it's their job to be friendly, they were sincere. With less than 400 passengers on board, we had all the amenities of the big ships, but none of the crowds for dining or disembarkation. The people on the cruise were mostly interesting professionals from the US. We enjoyed dining at Restaurant 2 seated with other passengers, with exceptional food and tableside informance about each of the dozen dishes served. Toward the end of the cruise, we got a tour of the galley with the head chef to see what goes on behind the scenes to make the magic happen for the passengers. All the artists, performers and cruise director were excellent, not over amplified, and they went out of their way to engage with the passengers - and even stay in touch after the cruise. We also like the all inclusive policy - no bills for drinks or tips at the end to worry about.
As amazing as the ship was, it was the great port cities that were the highlight of our trip. Seabourn provided a travel/history expert on board to speak about each destination to help plan excursions or activities. With the exception of Stockholm, the Sojourn ports right in the city center. We are good walkers and like to explore on our own, so we easily walked to all the city highlights in Helsinki (such as the Church of the Rock), Tallin (Alexander Nevsky church, shopping for amber) and we covered all of the quaint city of Visby. Though you might not choose this cruise for the purpose of going to Tallin or Visby, both were surprisingly delightful medieval walled cities.
The Stockholm embarkation port was quite a ways from the city center and not at all glamorous. Fortunately we arrived in Stockholm a few days early to see the sites and insure our arrival for the cruise. The Arlanda Express train got us from the airport to our hotel in 15 minutes. We stayed at the Frey Hotel (mentioned in Stieg Larsson's 3rd book) which was reasonably priced, friendly and perfectly located to walk to the Royal Palace, Gamla Stan, Opera House, Skansen, Vasa Museum and central downtown. When the ship leaves port in Stockholm, it goes by the 24,000 islands in the archipelago with great views on both sides of the ship. Though it was raining hard when we departed, delay dinner and stay out on deck to experience this!
The highlight for us and the reason most of the passengers were on the cruise was to visit historic St. Petersburg. Though the ship docked right in downtown St. Petersburg, the sites are spread out and it is not a walkable area/city. You also have make advance arrangements with a St. Petersburg tour in order to get your 72-hour tourist visa. Recommended by a friend in Jacksonville (who lives in Riga, Latvia), we contacted Timofey Kruglikov of Tailored Tours of St. Petersburg. (www.tour-petersburg.com). Via email, we discussed our interests and Tim then emailed an outline plan for each of our 3 days. Tim took care of our visas and met us with a private car and driver at the ship each morning. He is a scholar in so many areas and has a wealth of knowledge in history, art, and architecture. He is an native of St. Petersburg and speaks openly about the changes in Russia in the last decades. Tim personally guided us at the Hermitage, Russian Museum, Peterhof, St. Isaac's and shared deeper meanings of symbols in much of the art. If you love art/history Tim will flood your senses and you will learn so much! It was also a very crowded time of year (August) and somehow Tim planned our entrances to exhibits so there was never any wait time. When you have so little time to visit, it's nice not to have to wait in huge lines, which we saw many. We saw the major sites and had time to visit many other places not offered on excursions and we had access to rooms not accessible to the large tour groups. Tim is congenial, sincere and has a great sense of humor. We highly recommend his affordable and wonderful guidance while in St. Petersburg! Many of the passengers took the excursion to Moscow and enjoyed it, but were exhausted with the extra travel.
We like to travel and explore cities by public transport and usually pack light with carry on and small roller bags. Our disembarkation was in Copenhagen and we easily got from the port to our hotel in the central city by train in 15 minutes. We met some fellow cruisers making the same trek and made good friends quickly! We stayed at the Imperial Hotel which was adequate and conveniently located by Tivoli Gardens and again, walking distance to nearly every major site. We were there on a Sunday so some things were closed but the Nyhavn restaurants were bustling and the bike portion of their Ironman triathlon was going on. It was amazing to see thousands of bikes parked everywhere in this northern city
The hardest part was coming home. We were thrilled to have a non-stop from Copenhagen to Atlanta on Delta but what a long flight ending a trip of a lifetime, that we would recommend to anyone.