When we arrived at the ship, we learned that there had been a possibility for a tour for family members before sailing away. Pity we did not knew that in advance.. Where was that mentioned in the info we received??
When sailing out of Rotterdam (quite a trip as the cruise terminal is right in the City), HAL missed the opportunity to teach the passengers on the many interesting things to see on both sides of the river. HAL should hire an Rotterdam guide for this part. Not only the industrial areas are of interest, but also the waterworks that protect Rotterdam were passed without notice.
Not many Europeans wear often formal clothes, so the tuxedo can stay at home. During formal nights, dark suit and tie is ok.
It was the last trip of this season, but to find underwear from previous cruise passengers under the bed... Cabin steward was very sorry...
As for the prices on board: a cup of tea will cost you [incl service charge] 1.80 US Dollar, A Beck's beer 5.75 US Dollar an Orange juice 2.80 US Dollar a Coca Cola 2.20 US Dollar and a bottle of wine for your dinner approx USD 40 and up..
Our first excursion was "Castles of North Zealand" around Copenhagen, Denmark
Nice and relaxed tourguide. We visited 3 castles and went into one of them.
Trip started at 09:00 and we were back on the ship on 14:30
The was no stop for coffee, there was no stop for lunch, while there was time enough, as the ship departed around 16:00. If we had known this in advance we would have taken care of some sandwiched.. However, eating was not allowed on the bus...grgrgrg.
On a previous cruise we commented on an excursion to HAL, but there standard reply was "Sorry, but trip was carried out as described" (with that logic they can extract all air out of the bus and still say that air was not part of the package...). So we did not complain to HAL directly. Conclusion: we do not recommend this excursion.
In Warnemunde (Berlin on the Cruise schedule), we stayed in the area. (Seen Berlin before). From the other passengers we learned that the Berlin trip was ok. Special train, 3 hours to and 3 from Berlin and approx 5 hours there. We did a trip with Dave into Schwerin and enjoyed that very much. It was a small group. You probably find him when googling "Dave excursions Warnemunde" or "Friends of Dave" or something.. He reacts promptly to your emails and advance payment is not required. Just give him the cash after the tour, which also includes local train rides. Time for lunch and coffee breaks! Perfect tour. (He keeps the groups small and uses microphone and earphones to talk to you.. very convenient)
In Tallinn, Estland the excursion "The best of Tallinn" was ok. Good guide, good stories, nice city, nice views, even a short medieval concert in a church. Very well organized. Also a perfect experience. (although it was helpful that I had downloaded the OpenStreetMap of all the Baltic cities on my Garmin...so that we could wander around).
St Petersburg, Russia is somewhat of a problem because of the Visum regulations. You need a visum if you want to go to the city by yourselves. Obtaining a visum is possible, but you need an "invitation" from some Russian agency.(And with that you can ask for the visum at your local Russian consulate) Even that might be arranged. But the agency HAL referred us to, asked for all my creditcard details as well as the cvc code.. That is where we stopped. I do not like our creditcard info to wander around in Russia somewhere.. So we stayed with the HAL excursions..
"Journey Through St Peterburg" was indeed all it was. A coach without airco and hardly any windows that could be opened. A hard-seat bus in which we all asked the guide to turn off the heating.. But there was no heating on! The guide "explained" That it was mostly cold there, so airco was not needed.. We drove to the city and hardly saw any tourist attractions. We stopped at a tourist shop [which main attraction was the bathroom, as she said they were rare there.. ], and then she explained where and when the bus would be waiting for us. Waste of money... We certainly do not recommend this excursion... But... we had a journey through St Petersburg, so.. the trip was executed as described...grgrgrgrg...
But even with a visum, there were no taxis at the cruise terminal, and to the next busstop, I estimate a 2 mile walk at least...the cruise terminal was very remote. As the guide explained, Russians need a visum to visit Europe and the USA, so this is there way to respond to that.. Only when you go on HAL tours there is a way around.. (Otherwise, cruiseships probably would not stop at St Petersburg at all..)
The excursion "Evening at the Hermitage" was amazing. (By comfortable airconditioned bus this time) . The guide was using mic and had earphones for all of us, and knew very well what he was talking about. He did not introduce himself (not a Russian habit?) but he obviously knew about art, Russia and its history. Hermitage in the evening exclusively for HAL groups was a wonderful experience. Impressive! Certainly worth it. Recommend this one!
The other Petersburg excursion that we did was "St. Petersburg through the eyes of the Russian people."We expected to get some insight on how ordinary people lived and worked. None of that. The guide only responded to specific questions on that subject and had no story of her own. We did a 7 minutes journey on the subway and that was what we saw of "Petersburg through the eyes of the Russian People". Before that we were off loaded at a shopping mall, which most of us had seen the day before, and afterwards we were pushed into a souvernir shop. But the "best part of the trip" was a wodka tasting... So our conclusion is "save your money" and don't do this trip. HAL probably will respond that "trip was executed as described".. A pity.
The Stockholm roof excursion was an experience. Although it was limited to one building only, it was well organized and the guides were ok. If you take this trip, you'll be around in a few hours, so there might be some time left in the afternoon. Be ware that later in the season, the time you can spent in Stockholm is limited, as the ship has to leave the archipelo before sunset, and cannot arrive before sunrise.
On the shore excursions, I also mentioned my complaints with the shore excursion officers. However, when they started again "was executed as described..." I stopped that discussion.