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Home > Member Reviews > CoolBreeze7's Port Reviews of Amsterdam, Berlin, Stockholm, Helsinki, St. Petersburg

CoolBreeze7's Port Reviews of Amsterdam, Berlin, Stockholm, Helsinki, St. Petersburg
Celebrity Constellation cruise in June 2010
Member Name: CoolBreeze7
Cruise Date: June 2010
Embarkation: Amsterdam
Destination: Baltic & Northern Europe
Member Review: CoolBreeze7's Celebrity Constellation Review
Amsterdam
Port Rating: 5+ out of 5+
Amsterdam is an urbane world capital that feels more like a "big village." It is very friendly and walkable. As you know, the architecture, art and history are world-class. The people-watching is fun, too. I think many of the staff at our hotel (Pulitzer) was moonlighting as a model. Take a canal cruise to get oriented, then just walk around.


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Berlin
Port Rating: Not Rated
The history and significance of Berlin makes it a must-see destination. Take the train from Warnemunde / Rostock into the Berlin Bahnhof.

From the dock, we walked into the train station in Warnemunde and learned that they offered a “special” combo ticket to Berlin for a wonderfully low price, say, about 30 euros. This provided passage for both of us on the local train to Rostock, and then the Regional train to Berlin. Note that the combo ticket is one price for your group of up to 5. So whether you have two travelers or five, it’s the same total price. The trip takes 3 hours.

By contrast, Celebrity offers a very expensive excursion to Berlin on a “reserved” train. Their trip takes about 2.5 hours.

The pros of using the local/regional train: - It is much cheaper. - It is exactly the same type of train car as the reserved train Celebrity uses. - You will get a much more authentic experience, travelling with real Germans in and out of Berlin.

The downside: - The local/regional train takes about 30 mins longer and requires a change of trains in Rostock. - Our authentic experience also included lots of students, a few crying babies, and one sketchy character.

But if you want to save a lot of money (at least $200) and have a little adventure, then give it a try. BTW, the German trains definitely run on time!

Berlin itself was, of course, fantastic and interesting. I had a very specific set of sites to see, so we went on our own, using public transport. It’s a big city, so you may want to consider a tour, if you just want to hit the highlights.

Warnemunde is a very quaint port town, so don’t overlook it. We had drinks and a late dinner in the town and really enjoyed it. The locals kept to themselves and were not super friendly, which surprised me, but we still had a nice time.



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Stockholm
Port Rating: Not Rated
Stockholm

Wow. We’ve never seen Sweden, and it is impressive. The early morning sail-in to Stockholm was one of the visual highlights of the trip. The sail-in requires several hours, as the ship follows a narrow channel through an archipelago of small islands, each one more quaint than the next. The locals will wave to you from their picture-perfect cottages. So be sure to get up early to have breakfast on your balcony as you float by Sweden. It’s a must-do.



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Helsinki
Port Rating: 4.0 out of 5+
Helsinki is a nice European capital, but not as beautiful as Stockholm. I enjoyed the open market by the port. My wife was horrified as I ate the “street food” but I thought the grilled salmon and fried fish were fresh and delicious! Also, if you are in the market for reindeer pelts (or reindeer rugs or coats or boots) this is the place for you. Helsinki had a more rustic feel than Stockholm. Technically, Finland is not part of Scandinavia, and it does have a different, more arctic “back to nature” feel to it.



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St. Petersburg
Port Rating: 5+ out of 5+
The highlight of the Baltic itinerary is the two-day stop in St Petersburg Russia. Make sure you have your papers in order. The Russians are serious about security! You will need your visa or tour paperwork just to get off the ship. We would recommend that you take an organized tour. We have friends who are Russian and even they say to take an organized tour! So we booked a tour with Red October. It was pricey, costing about $1500, with tips, for two full days of touring. This did not include an evening activity. We justified the splurge because we felt that this may be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see St Petersburg and we wanted to do it right. Good call. The guides were absolutely worth the price, and we had a great experience. We got a wonderful tour guide (Luba) who spoke perfect English and is extremely knowledgeable regarding art and history. Our driver, Vladimir, made sure that we got where we needed to go in our Mercedes mini-van. One of the advantages of the private tour was that we were able to get early admission into the Hermitage. We had the place to ourselves for a good hour before the hoards arrived.

For our evening in St Petersburg, we booked Celebrity’s “dinner-and-folkloric music” excursion to the Catherine Palace. This may sound cheesy, but it was really enjoyable. Granted, we had to load into the big tour bus (which we really hate) and we sat in horrible St Peterburg traffic, which made us an hour late (which we also hate.) But after that, the experience was great. Celebrity had booked the entire Catherine Palace just for our group, and we were treated like invited guests. There was a band playing for our arrival, and they literally rolled out the red carpet. Musicians and period-style performers were scattered throughout the palace during our private tour. We had a mini-concert and dance recital in the great hall, with performers in period costumes from Catherine the Great’s era. We then had a special “Russian” dinner, which featured very charismatic folkloric dancers as the entertainment. It was a memorable evening, and we would highly recommend this tour.

One other highlight: We asked our guides to take us to a “regular” Russian restaurant…the type where locals would eat lunch on a typical day. They complied. No Tsarist gold here, and no tourists either! The meal was hearty and enjoyable. The restaurant, which was plain and like a diner, served many different types of pies by the slice: meat, vegetable or fruit. These pies looked like large turnovers (a foot in diameter, completely enclosed in pastry dough) and were delicious. Try it, if you can find it.

Final words about Russia: I grew up in the cold war, so it was a bit surreal to set foot in what had long been characterized as the “evil empire.” Yes, there are still the occasional mega-statues of Lenin, as well as hammer and sickle symbolism, but the emphasis from the tour guides was on art, history and Tsarist palaces. I asked a lot of questions about WW2, but that seemed to be a sore subject. Considering that the siege of Leningrad was the deadliest siege in human history and occurred only 70 years ago, that is understandable. Overall, the sights are great and the people are super friendly and accommodating.



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Tallinn
Port Rating: 5+ out of 5+
What a pleasant surprise! When we first looked at the Baltic itinerary, Tallinn seemed like the poor cousin. We initially viewed the stop at Tallinn as a “rest day” after St Petersburg, but in actuality, it was one of the highlights. It is a terrific little walled town, with a Hanseatic heritage. The day we were there, the town held a music festival in the old town square featuring the local high school kids, and also held a craft market with local (not “local, made in China”) crafts. Make sure to take the time to see Tallinn.

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