We found out about this cruise through some friends we had met last summer when we sailed on the Celebrity Xpedition to the Galapagos Islands (wonderful trip!), and since my husband had never been to the Baltic countries we decided to join them and another couple. The ship is very nice for the most part, all food was very good, service was mostly impeccable. We loved our waiter (Kristijan) and assistant waiter (Santos) in the main dining room and our cabin steward (Luis) and his assistant (Manuel) were so sweet and thoughtful and kept our room spotless and tidy. Our stateroom was the biggest and best we have ever had on a cruise. It was a great relief to be able to sleep in a very comfortable, normal sized bed, and the room and bathroom were very spacious and well appointed. The excursions we took were good for the most part. I made a point of choosing tours which did not go to cathedrals or museums. We visited a horse farm outside Helsinki, a dairy farm outside Tallinn (we sampled the dairy products which were all very good) as well as a private home in one of Tallinn's suburbs, and an inn outside Copenhagen where we were served a wonderful lunch (and saw many wild geese and ducks), as well as the lovely coastal town of Dragor, and the Carlsberg brewery with its Jutland horses (the beer's pretty good too!). We toured Berlin with SPB tours; our guide Heather was terrific. Toured St. Petersburg with Natasha German from Rubicon Tours. The crowds in St. P. were horrible (we'll never go there in August again!), but Natasha did the best anyone could in trying to steer us clear of the mobs and allow us to actually view the brilliant art pieces of The Hermitage. (I usually tire of museums quickly but the holdings of L'Hermitage should be seen by anyone who has the chance.)
Now onto the actual cruise. The ship is lovely, but strangely planned with bars and theaters seemingly tucked away into any available crevice. Don't know why there are so many bars, since most of them seemed to be empty most of the time and none were especially inviting. The ship activities while we were at sea were not bad and we enjoyed playing trivia games and going to lectures on spies and subterfuge as well as talks on the histories (and colorful characters) of the countries we visited. The evening entertainment lineup was mediocre at best, however. We enjoyed the British singers and comedians, but a "hypnotist" put on such a hokey show that none of us believed the "volunteers" from the audience were actually hypnotized. The ship's in-house singers and dancers were not uniformly talented. Some of them were excellent and some just average. Drew Pavlov is very funny (corny jokes!) and charming (very good at smiling!), but I'm not sure how adept he is at being a cruise director (let's just say we have had better on previous cruises).
My main reservation in recommending this cruise is the groups of teenagers and younger children who were allowed to run wild on the ship. These kids fed seagulls and threw French fries overboard (supposedly a big NO NO) and played with the ice cream machine to see how much ice cream they could get on a cone while spilling most of it on the floor or deck! Teenagers commandeered the elevators for races at night (one girl gave me "the finger" for no reason one night while we were standing by watching them race the elevators), and younger children threw tantrums, screamed at their parents, and generally disrupted traffic on the ship. One girl screamed at her father while we and a lot of other people were trying to use an elevator. She was on the elevator but her father was not. We finally got them to make up their minds about using the elevator or not and then the girl punched her father in the stomach while he just stood there and grinned at her. While all this running, screaming, obscene gesturing and cursing, food spilling, and general unpleasantness was occurring, crew members and staff seemed unwilling or unable to take charge and put an end to it. I do not think passengers should have to get involved with this kind of uncalled for nonsense, but after so many incidents I was ready to start screaming myself. I will not go on a cruise during the summer months again (unless we go on a ship which does not have children on it!).
In addition, the buffet on the 14th deck was very nice, with a wonderful selection of just about any kind of food one could desire, but there were times when it was very crowded and it was almost impossible to find a seat. This was partly due to the fact people were saving seats, or occupying more room than necessary, or wouldn't move themselves or their belongings over to allow others to sit down. Meanwhile the buffet managers stood around shooting the breeze as if everything was going smoothly. (The waiters did not attempt to help with seating either.) If the managers are not going to "manage" then why are they there? There are too few drink stations for coffee, tea, water, etc. The existing stations are not well designed and were very crowded and backed up at all meal times.
The ship's crew (or "the stripes", as my husband calls them) were mostly not visible and when they were they did not interact with the passengers as far as I could tell. We had dinner with Captain "Nikos" on our last night and he was wonderful: very personable, friendly, gracious, and charming. We were very pleased and impressed with our experience with him, but the rest of the crew seemed not to be interested in meeting or talking to any of the passengers.
I will say that the shops on the ship were nice and sold a large variety of items in a fairly wide variety of price ranges. The specials and sales offered great prices on certain items, but the tables where items were displayed were too crowded and it was difficult to find anything I wanted much of the time (although I did score some good deals at the $10 sale on the last day!).
Also need to mention the specials on Internet use and laundry. As basic Captain's Club members we received coupons for discounts on these and other services, which were greatly appreciated, and we used the $40/bag deal on laundry which was offered toward the end of the cruise. We were very happy with the laundry charges and service.
We did not use any of the fitness facilities or go to the spa. I intended to take advantage of one of the spa specials, which looked like pretty good deals, but due to the number and duration of the excursions we took, unfortunately never made an appointment. Also did not go to any of the "big screen" movies, so cannot comment on the quality of the movie theater, etc.