We prebooked through the internet the Hop On Hop Off bus (www.hop-on-hop-off-bus.com)along with a 1 hour Canal Boat Tour (www.getyourguide.com/copenhagen); enjoyed both. We viewed the Little Mermaid from the front (HoHo bus) and from behind (Canal boat). We walked around Tivoli Gardens (the 100 year old amusement park) and along Nyhavn, the waterfront. Copenhagen was a nice and colorful port with lots to see.
Since our daughter had never been to Berlin, she chose to do a cruise line excursion called Berlin Highlights by Motor Coach to the sites in Berlin and a stop at a former concentration camp. She enjoyed the day. My husband and I chose, at first, to walk around Rostock. We had to visit St Marien Church twice because we didn't know the astronomical clock dating back to 1472 was behind the altar. Fortunately, our 2nd visit was around noon so we saw the lovely display it puts on at that time. Passing pleasant pedestrian shops and cafes on our way to the market square with its interesting-shaped buildings, we then opted to take the local train to Warnemunde and were so glad we did. I like to people-watch so I adored the train ride. Warnemunde was delightful. Although there were 3 cruise ships docked there, hence, crowds of people, it was "very visitor-friendly" as 1 review I read said. Besides a cruise port, it is a seaside resort with many locals covering the beach. There is a sea promenade, lighthouses, Alter Strom which is a walkway lined by captains' and fishmen's houses with pubs, cafes, and boutiques. We were lucky enough to be there for Warnemunde Week festival which entails different events, entertainment, and markets. It was here that we ate the best soft ice cream ever! It was sold in a little stand on the boardwalk near the cruise center. When ready to go back to the ship, we took a boat which left from the Warnemunde dock to Rostock. I enjoyed Warnemunde more although much smaller than Rostock.
We arrived in Stockholm @ 5PM one day and did not leave until 4PM the next day. We were delighted to see the Hop On Hop Off buses waiting at the pier although their runs usually end before that time. It was a special arrangement to give us one loop around the city with no stops for that night. Some people opted to get off and knew beforehand they had to find their own way back to the ship. Bright and early the next morning, there they were again waiting for us. Once again, I, the ultimate planner, had prebooked HoHo tickets for the bus and boat, so off we went. My suggestion which I didn't follow and almost regretted it, is to go to the Vasa Museum first, as early as possible. It gets so crowded later in the day and the lines are long to get in. The 400 year old wreck now turned into a monument is a bit pricey to get in but one of the major attractions of Stockholm. Also, Gamla Stan is a must see. It is the Old Town with narrow streets and 16th century buildings. We met a very honest storekeeper there who kept giving us back our Swedish money when we were paying for a few souvenirs telling us we gave her too much each time. I wish I had written down the name of her store to recommend it for anyone's souvenirs. If you want to see the changing of the guards, get in front of the Palace's open courtyard before 11:45. A band marches in front of the troops and some of the troops are on horseback. They march to the courtyard and the change happens around 12:15. The area is roped off and very crowded. Gamla Stan is just behind the Palace. Both the HoHo boat and bus were good means of transportation around the city although we ran out of time and did not get to the Hard Rock Cafï¿½. The HoHo line that went near there took too long so we did not want to chance missing the ship since it departed @ 4PM.
In Helsinki we took our first cruise line tour “Helsinki Highlights” because the internet told us the Hop On Hop Off buses didn’t go to the port but there they were. We had already paid for the cruise line tour so we were at the mercy of the tour guide. She gave us too much time at places where there wasn’t much to see. For example, we stopped @ Sibelius Park for 20 minutes where there were only 2 sculptures and at Senate Square for an hour with 20 other tour buses but we zipped by the Olympic Park without stopping. Unfortunately, for my husband and myself, we were on the wrong side of the bus and missed the Stadium. Then on our way to the Rock Church, our bus backed into a car so we sat for 15 minutes while our bus driver and the car driver hashed it out. Finally, someone asked if we could get off the bus and walk the block to the Rock Church which is a must see. We were only given 45 minutes to get there and back since the accident had taken up our time. At the end of the tour we chose the option to be dropped off downtown. We walked around on our own for a while but got bored and took the shuttle back to the ship. We found Helsinki to be a bit boring.
Our introduction to this port was from the unfriendly passport agents you had to go through each and every time you got off and on the ship. Boy, were they nasty! They acted as if they didn’t want us there. We had chosen a 2 day tour through the cruise line: “Showcase St. Petersburg.” We started the day with a drive through St. Petersburg. Wearing head phones and being able to hear our guide was a big plus. We had an early morning admission into the Hermitage which lasted for 2 long hours. Our guide was “into art” so each and every detail in each and every room was pointed out. She wouldn’t even let us use the bathrooms because “the lines were too long.” After that we took a few more loops around the city and then were taken to a souvenir shop with a bathroom and shown to a small café for lunch on our own. Having been warned about drinking the water or ice in Russia in several reviews, my husband, daughter, and I saw the Golden Arches and headed down the street to McDonalds although its Russian name did not resemble its English counterpart. Fortunately, one of the other customers understood English and helped us order. He actually smiled which we hadn’t seen since we left the ship. Russians don’t smile, not even to each other, we observed. Anyway, the afternoon part of the tour took us to Peterhof Palace where we walked around the beautiful gardens and fountains there. Another “must see.” Again those ear phones were a blessing. Another drive through the city followed and we finished the first day of the tour with a hydrofoil boat ride. That was marvelous.
We got back to the ship later than expected and had only an hour to wash up, change, and grab a bite to eat to be able to meet for our evening excursion: the “Evening Folkloric Spectacular” and it was. The costumes, the dancing, and the athletic ability of the male dancers kept us awestruck. We had gone to this show on our last Baltic Sea cruise but this one was even better. Don’t miss it.
The next day we had a different guide for our tour who took us to Catherine’s Palace. When we got there, there was a huge line. This annoyed our guide. She had words with someone in charge there and the next thing you know we were headed to the front of the line ahead of people who were there before us. The tour was good. Then we were driven to a huge mall, shown the escalator to the food court and told to be back on the bus in 1 hour while our guide went back to the bus to take a nap! It was obvious that this mall was not accustomed to tourists so we had a hard time ordering lunch without our guide’s help. After lunch we visited the inside of St. Isaac’s Cathedral and went to the Church of the Spilled Blood. We chose not to pay the admission to go inside but wandered around the area and the souvenir stands there. After a few more loops around St. Petersburg, we were returned to the ship.
St. Petersburg was my least favorite port. I think the draw of “Russia” makes you curious but we found the people to be cold and unfriendly and we got tired of having to pay extra each time for our camera to be used in a museum or a church. Yes, the city’s buildings, cathedrals, and museums are beautiful but the unfriendliness is evident.
Tallinn was my favorite port of all. We booked a private tour through www.shoreexcursionsgroup.com called Exclusive Medieval Tallinn Hilights. It was basically a walking tour although a van took us to the Upper Town and then dropped us off with our guide. There were only 8 of us. We went to Dome Hill, the Russian Orthodox Church of St. Alexander Nevski, and walked through cobble-stone streets and blind alleys to some magnificent viewing platforms from which we could see the Lower Town and its rooftops and steeples. We went to Kiek in de Kok which means "Peek in the Kitchen" because they said that from the top you could see into the kitchens of the rest of the city. We descended to the Lower Town passing many other interesting buildings and were told about their significance in Estonian history. The tour ended in Lower Town where there were shops, cafes, and markets. It was a bustling area. One place in particular was the sweater wall which was down an alleyway near the Viru Gate but, beware, those ladies are tough to bargain with! I read that there is a free tour every day @ noon, leaving from the tourist information center at the corner of Harju and Niguliste Street but our tour was pretty good. The Estonians are a friendly, happy and proud people (except for the ladies at the sweater wall). It was a great port.