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Sail Date: August 2019
St. Petersburg, Russia has been on our bucket list for years as has the Scandinavian Countries. We chose this cruise because it encompassed all of the countries we wanted to visit without having to pack and unpack, haul luggage on trains ... Read More
St. Petersburg, Russia has been on our bucket list for years as has the Scandinavian Countries. We chose this cruise because it encompassed all of the countries we wanted to visit without having to pack and unpack, haul luggage on trains or to planes and it was our hotel, our meals and our entertainment neatly packaged!!! We were impressed with how Princess handled the 3500 passengers both embarking, disembarking and on board. The ship was booked solid but it did not feel like there was a crowd with the exception of certain meal times when the Horizon Court was packed. However, there was always an alternative and we ate many of our meals in the Dining Rooms where service, food and presentation was impeccable. Every area of the ship was immaculate and the staff was friendly, knowledgeable and professional. It was a thoroughly enjoyable experience. This particular 11 day cruise included 6 ports which was hectic if you took shore excursions in each one, which we did. We valued the Sea Days for rest and relaxation! This was our first cruise in the 49 years we have traveled together and it will not be our last! Read Less
4 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: August 2017
Took a chance on this Baltic cruise based on itinerary and calander, we've sailed on Princess before and wanted to see what the larger ships had to offer...going smaller next time. The large ships definitely have the glitz and glam ... Read More
Took a chance on this Baltic cruise based on itinerary and calander, we've sailed on Princess before and wanted to see what the larger ships had to offer...going smaller next time. The large ships definitely have the glitz and glam but miss the personal feel we experience on Oceania and Windstar. Embarkation was a breeze taking all of 60 seconds. Gettting on in Warnemunde is easy when 90% of the ship is getting on in Copenhagen. Getting to the port is a bit tricky as Princess will only transport from the Berlin airport and not hotels downtown. Ended up with private transportation. The ship is BIG and our stateroom on the aft on Aloha 737. Was led to believe the aft staterooms have larger decks, this is not the case on Aloha but true for the decks above and below, felt like A bit of bait and switch. That said the room steward took care of everything and did not experience any issues with soot on the deck as some have. Do like sleeping with the slider door open and did have a couple of time needing to close the door for exhaust smell. Weather was cool and not alot of time spent on the swimming decks. The pool areas were largely empty and did use the hot tubs a few times. Sanctuary area was empty the entire cruise. Wanted to use the enclave area but at $199 p/p for the entire trip thought that excessive given only three sea days. Would have liked to see a 3-pack offering or something like that. I usually am less than impressed with the entertainment on these ships but given the size Princess must pony up a few more dollars for entertainment. The guest entertainers were great and even the onboard dancers and singer put on some top notch productions. The best were the Beatlemaniacs. Started every evening at Crooners where Bo and Jason knew our routine. Enjoyed the early seating in Allegro as you then get the same staff taking care of you. They get to know your likes and dislikes and were very personable. The specialty steak restaurant was a let down. Service was fine, presentation left something to be desired, a steak on a plate, and family style sides. Felt a warmer atmosphere in Allegro. We always finished the night at Crooners as well, it gives a great view of whatever is going on in the Piazza. Did all our excursions with off board Trip Advisor or Viator excursions. Would definitely recommend TJ Travel for St Petersburg, we had 6 in our group...the best way to go. Would go on another Princess again but a much smaller ship and shy away from the Big Boys. Read Less
6 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: August 2017
This was the second time we have sailed on the Regal Princess. The first was on the Med Cruise on the first few months the Regal went into service. We found the food in the dining rooms not as great at the first cruise, but the staff ... Read More
This was the second time we have sailed on the Regal Princess. The first was on the Med Cruise on the first few months the Regal went into service. We found the food in the dining rooms not as great at the first cruise, but the staff still helpful and great. The buffet was..well the buffet..as expected. The ports were the attraction for this cruise and they were great. We only used one Princess Tour, Berlin, and it was again the weakest of the tours. We found the same thing on the Med Cruise, the Princess tours were expensive and weak. Private walking tours in Olso, Tallinn and Helsinki were great. TJ tours in St Petersburg ...exceptional!! I can praise them enough! I had read about the delays in getting off the boat in St Petersburg but getting ready to leave at 6am and getting in the first group of nonPrncess Tour passengers to leave made it fairly simple. The room steward Randy helped us out with lots of extras in the room. The notes abut no taxis at the port on disembarkation were exaggerated, we saw lots of taxis at the port beginning around 6am. Shows were not as good as other cruises, but the Beatles cover band was great again. Read Less
8 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: June 2017
I chose this cruise because it stops in Oslo. Few cruise ships include this beautiful city into their baltic itinerary. If you want a complete baltic/scandinavian experience you cannot afford to skip Oslo. Regal Princess ship is very large ... Read More
I chose this cruise because it stops in Oslo. Few cruise ships include this beautiful city into their baltic itinerary. If you want a complete baltic/scandinavian experience you cannot afford to skip Oslo. Regal Princess ship is very large but easy for passengers to move around it. Accommodations were comfortable and rooms were very clean. Food was ok. Portions were small but you could always get more dishes off the menu. Only 2 specialty restaurants but we managed to make last minute dinning reservations without a hassle. Staff was attentive and courteous but service for breakfast could be improved. It was a real hassle to get a buffet table or sitting area during morning hours on port days. The regular dining restaurants that served breakfast, were slow and food took near 30-45 minutes to arrive in most days. Unlike other large ships, Princess cruises has average evening presentations. Nothing like other large Cruise ships with Vegas-style shows, acrobatics, ice skating, comedy shows, or magicians. Every night it was the same repetitive folkloric dancers and singers, and though good at what they do, the presentations were mainly boring. Now, the baltic cruise is port intensive and the "real" entertainment (one can say) is outside the ship. So no big deal for us. Other negatives: The ship docked around 7:30am in Stockholm and left at 2PM. So we had less than 3 hours to tour the city and were rushed to get back to the ship. I think Princess Cruises needs to address this poor port stop and allow for a longer stay there. Also, the internet access is still considered a "luxury item". Slow and expensive. It is time for Princess to better its internet services and offer unlimited packages like other ships do. Other positives: Though expensive the Spa was really good. Service was spectacular and the staff were extremely helpful and kind. I recommend this cruise for adults but would not go with teenagers again. Read Less
6 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: September 2016
After a Princess cruise to the Panama Canal on Coral Princess, we had wanted to do another Princess cruise. The Regal Princess was doing the Baltic and then repositioning to North America. We really liked the variety of ports and wanted ... Read More
After a Princess cruise to the Panama Canal on Coral Princess, we had wanted to do another Princess cruise. The Regal Princess was doing the Baltic and then repositioning to North America. We really liked the variety of ports and wanted to do a Trans-Atlantic. We were not disappointed on either itinerary. The Regal Princess is an incredible ship and it offers much in terms of comfort, dining and activities. What was not good about it? The ship is very large and there are steps (or the nautical, ladders) at forward and aft that go to all levels. The amidship ladder is a bit awkward with the intent being that one use the staircases in the atrium. Generally, that works. We got used to it. It would also be nice to have a bar or lounge on one of the higher decks. The Regal Princess, like most cruise ships, looks for ways to maximize onboard spending. They have made the forward, open deck area into what is called The Sanctuary. This is a nice area that they charge for use of. I wasn't crazy about this but as the temperatures were in the 50's and 60's (F) for most of the trip, it wasn't really an issue. For the first time we did "Anytime Dining" and it worked. We tend to eat early and see the earlier show. Even with 3500 onboard, this was not an issue. We enjoyed all three dining rooms and ate at tables for two, four, six, eight and ten. This gave us a lot of variety in dining partners and we got to know many onboard. Several days onboard they had the pub lunch at the Wheelhouse Bar. This was excellent. I enjoyed the Princess craft beers - Sea Witch (Especially the Red Ale). The Horizon Buffet is very good. An incredible variety of types of food and choices. We ate there a number of times for breakfast and lunch but almost every night made one of the dining rooms. The Horizon Bistro has some incredible desserts. We ate at Alfredo's Pizzeria (Excellent pizza!) and the International Cafe (no charge for a snack or meal but a charge for premium coffees and teas) - both in the Atrium. I recommend the coffee card from the International Cafe. It is open 24 hours a day. I did a fair amount of whisky sipping at the Wheelhouse and send out a salute to Ninad, who provided me with direction on the various single malt scotch whiskies on their menu. He exemplified "consummate host" as many did onboard. I will give the same praise to Ref of Vines, the very good wine bar. I highly recommend their wine flights and tastings. The entertainment onboard was fun! We enjoyed the ships talented singers and dancers and the special performers ranged from very good to extraordinary. The best performance was by the multi-talented Nathan Foley. Martyn Moss is an excellent cruise director and is quite entertaining himself. Sarah, the music director, is the best I've ever seen on a cruise ship. All of the ship's musicians were excellent and adjusted to whatever and whomever came onboard with words of praise from all performers. I also want to acknowledge the enrichment speaker - Dr. Angel Colon. His talks on the development of medical procedures and practices, the Panama Canal and climate changes in the Atlantic were all extremely interesting and educational. The ports were all interesting. We did a few excursions and I highly recommend, when in St. Petersburg, Russia, the two day excursion. This gives you a pretty broad view of the city and its many wonders. Also, you don't have to apply for your own visa in Russia if you use the ship's excursions. I was told by several who did something different that it took several weeks up to over a month to get a visa from Russia. In many ports we used the Hop-on, Hop-off buses and made our own way about the cities. In Greenock, Scotland, we took the excursion to Glengoyne Distillery, where we saw how Scotch Whisky is produced and a single malt whiskey comes to be. I left with a bottle of the 18 year old whisky, my best souvenir of the trip. We also did an excursion in Belfast of the highlights. This is a city we want to go back to and delve deeper into its interesting history. Also, any trip that includes Norway is always a good trip. We had two ports in Norway - Kristiansand and Bergen. As we came onboard in Berlin, we missed Oslo. Generally, I would say that the average age was in the 60's. Too late in the year and too long for very many who aren't retired. There were a few younger couples and even some children onboard but I don't think many were on the entire time but either the Baltic portion or the Trans-Atlantic. Interestingly, It seemed as though people got on and off at every stop. I know that's probably not true but it was different and I didn't even realize that the cruise actually "started" in Copenhagen three days earlier than our arrival in Berlin. Apparently, the ship was completely booked and there was no availability until September 2nd. We did take advantage of the Princess Onboard Deposit Program and look forward to our next Princess cruise. Read Less
19 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: June 2016
I now know that I'm not a fan of big box cruises. The Regal is huge and jam packed. Not my thing. However, if you fancy big crowds, lots of flash aka Vegas, then it's the cruise for you. The staterooms are well appointed, yet ... Read More
I now know that I'm not a fan of big box cruises. The Regal is huge and jam packed. Not my thing. However, if you fancy big crowds, lots of flash aka Vegas, then it's the cruise for you. The staterooms are well appointed, yet small. I did appreciate the laundry mats on each floor. The food was mediocre as well as the service. Our stateroom stewards were exceptional while the dining staff seemed overworked and overwhelmed. The ports were fabulous, however the tours were over priced. We enjoyed touring on our own much more then the cruise ship tours. All in all, it was a wonderful vacation but if I were to do it again I would book a more intimate experience on a smaller ship and cruise company. The entertainment was not very good. We've experienced much better on entertainment on other cruise lines. The fitness area was very nice, but extremely crowded. I did not like that spin classes and Pilates were extra charges! Read Less
6 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: July 2015
So to begin, I am not a cruise lover BUT I wanted to go to St. Petersburg and start from a Berlin visit. All in all, service spectacular, value good, met my needs. Wish the St. Petersburg had been a 3 day stay and that the port for ... Read More
So to begin, I am not a cruise lover BUT I wanted to go to St. Petersburg and start from a Berlin visit. All in all, service spectacular, value good, met my needs. Wish the St. Petersburg had been a 3 day stay and that the port for Stockholm was not an hour bus srive away, cutting into the day in this wonderful city. Sorry that day in Oslo was Sunday as almost everything is closed! Helsinki wonderful as was Tallin, Copenhagen and even lovely Gothenburg. The option to Gothenburg was Arhaus on alternate sail dates. WE had a mini suite I was impressed with room, storage space yes the balcony was tight but adequate. The personnel on ship EXCELLENT, kind responsive and available. Too much sales-pitching every step of the way , selling and hawking something so beware. Art Jewelry, Russian dolls, liquor et al items that you can buy elsewhere for FAR less. Buy the beverage cards ( coffee and drinks) to save yourself money. Every savings counts. Food pretty good, abundant so watch out- it could be a bacchanal. I loved our deck, Lido- and enjoyed its being adjacent to many things I must say smooth operations in embarkation and disembarking. With a Berlin embarkation, so fewer people than the Copenhagen option. Nice variety of folks on the ship so I liked the diversity. I know I will not do a cruise again but with that in mind this was a good experience and perhaps a better vacation option for others. I learned I really like to be in the city not on a ship and have the opportunity to set my own timetable for visiting a wonderful city. Also plan your own excursions for 25% of the cost you pay through the ship. Read Less
Sail Date: September 2014
Royal Baltics and Transatlantic 9/2/14-9/27/14 Embarkation We got on the ship quickly with plenty of time to settle in and explore before muster. The ship was the same as it had been last year when we spent a month on it; large and laid ... Read More
Royal Baltics and Transatlantic 9/2/14-9/27/14 Embarkation We got on the ship quickly with plenty of time to settle in and explore before muster. The ship was the same as it had been last year when we spent a month on it; large and laid out well but still lacking a full promenade deck outside. We went to trivia and quickly found some partners who were good, although Ken was the star player. We won our first trivia and got water bottles, I figure by the end of the cruise we might be able to build a raft of water bottles! Muster was quick and very small and I was surprised how few people there were at muster, not realizing what a small number of people were checking in from Berlin. This was a weird cruise in that it was sold many different ways. Some people embarked in Copenhagen three days before Berlin, some in St. Petersburg, and many embarked in Copenhagen 9/10/14 for the transatlantic. Our dinner was OK, in spite of asking for a large table for 8-10, we were put at a table of 4 and ate alone since our table mates were off in Berlin. We didn't leave Berlin until 10:30 PM. The following day we changed our table to a larger one for 8 and all of our friend joined us at early seating and this became the highlight of the cruise in many ways. On turnaround day we changed our table of 8 to a table of 10 and that undoubtedly became the highlight of everyone’s cruise. We all looked forward to dinner each night, and maybe gained a few pounds too, afte rall food taste better when shared with good friends Problems in the Cabin I Woke up the first morning ready to embrace the day. I had been on the Royal last year for 30 days and experienced some issues so I was ready to embrace a new and improved ship. This was not quite the experience I had. The toilet in my room (A718) was clogged first thing the morning, and you know how that goes when you are traveling. This caused extreme discomfort to us and I spent the morning calling for help. Just like last year, nobody came to fix the toilet until I called 5 times, not my favorite way to start a cruise. We had to vacate the room and race to use the public bathrooms, then to the front desk to ask for help in person, this being the most effective method of eliciting help on this ship. Good grief, I swear I am not doing anything different on this ship than I do on others so I don't understand what the problem is. Could it be related to the power blackout we had yesterday right after we boarded? Problems on the ship Some cruise critic friends took my rear facing deluxe balcony C743 (from last year’s cruise), the infamous soot room, and were beside themselves with how bad it smelled, how much tar was on their balcony, and how unusable it was. Please beware that the issues around the sooty aft cabins, and the plumbing problems still exist. If you have booked any of the aft cabins beware that there has been no fix. Laundry service was another problem, taking 3+ days from the beginning of the cruise, and throughout the cruise the time grew longer, usually 5-6 days. Having spent 10 nights in Berlin pre cruise, I had lots of dirty clothing and was not expecting to encounter this kind of delay. To add insult to injury, close to the close of the first segment of the cruise (the Baltics) they offered a “stuff a laundry” bag promotion where everybody could get as much laundry done as they could fit in a bag for $20. This probably caused more delays for us elite members who were getting our laundry done as a benefit. I refrain to call it free because we spend a lot of money taking a lot of cruises to gain elite status. Trivia and other Games Otherwise the Cruise staff was excellent. The Cruise Director Lisa Ball was fantastic; she was very involved in all aspects of the shipboard activities and even called trivia. We really enjoyed her presence and appreciated how involved and active she was, truly a team player and in no way full of herself like some CD’s can be. Lisa really set the bar high for me! Food/Dining experiences-- Main Dining Room We had the best dining table ever, seating for 10--infamous Table for 10 group--and we were close to the back with decent views of the water. Our table was filled with good friends, people we have cruise with before and got along with well, my dear friends joined us for the Transatlantic portion and they got along fabulously with the rest of the group, becoming instant family. I cannot tell you what a difference the right mix of people make for a successful dinner group. So what if we were loud and raucous every night. We spend each night laughing till our tummies hurt (really) and generally being so jovial that we were infectious. Most of the tables around us became louder and looked like they were having as much fun as we were. Laughter was breaking out all over the place. Yes one of our neighbors look like they were suffering being close to our loud and joyous table, and they looked grumpy and bent out of shape much of the time but I suspect this was how they were all of the time, independent of our proximity. ☺ Our tablemate B (not his real name) started this kleptomaniac routine, which he performed throughout the entire 25 day cruise. He was imitating some lady we had talked about who was on a world cruise and had tried to steal all of the dinnerware, utensils, and whatever else she could get her hands on until she got caught. B would casually start stuffing utensils, sugar containers, plates, glasses, and more, often while the head waiter Arkie (short for Arkadius) stood talking to us about what we did that day, or any special orders we asked for. We laughed and laughed every time Bob did this shtick, as he slowly and surely made all the dinnerware disappear. Then he would stand and all the stuff would fall from his clothing causing all of us to squeal with joy and laughter! No matter how many times he did this, we could not stop laughing at it. B should be a comedian! Our waitress D (short for Dorota) was fantastic, as was her assistant waiter Zoran. Zoran was not around as much as D, I guess he was getting the food all the time, Princess has changed the way the wait staff works and I was told its normal to not see the assistant much. D really put up with us in such a perfect manner; sometimes she faked being stern when we were having food fights, or just being loud and noisy, and other times joining in as if she was part of our group and she was! Our neighbors had appointed her “Queen” of the dining room staff and she regally wore her the crowns they brought for her. She was incredible in her manner and perfect at negotiating large, loud groups! We all loved her dearly. I always order extra vegetables for each night. Initially I had grilled Asparagus and Spinach steamed with garlic brought to the table every night. My tablemates were quick to agree that this was a very good thing, generally the dinner plates do not have many veggies on them and we all loved the extras. As the cruise went on they first ran out of Asparagus, then they ran out of Spinach. I asked for Broccoli instead and it always came steamed with garlic, I think garlic makes everything taste better. During the Baltics portion of the cruise our fixed dining time was 6pm, and during the transatlantic portion, we were supposed to come at 5:30, although we always showed up between 5:45 and 6pm. The only negative to dining at the traditional early seating is that we always missed sail always. The trade off was well worth it, late dining was between 8 and 8:30 and that was just too late for all of us to eat, digest, and get to sleep for early ports. Sabatini’s We went to Sabatini’s to celebrate our friends wedding anniversary on one of the formal nights. We actually dressed for it, although you don’t have to dress formally on formal nights to dine here. We had our infamous Table for 10 group and started at 7pm and we did not finish until close to 11PM, that’s how much fun we had! The food was excellent, with a few exceptions, and service was great too. Food always tastes good when accompanied by good friends and good service. Horizon Court Buffet At the beginning of the cruise the HC is incredible, do try to make it up there on day one for lunch because you will be amazed at the variety they have there, including 4 carving stations. We often went up to the massive buffet at 11:25 am, a perfect time for Ken to grab breakfast and me, lunch, timing being everything here. I always grabbed some yummy grilled veggies, wild rice and asparagus, some lean brisket or other lean meat, Roasted Chicken, and a veggie salad with lo cal dressing. There were many healthy options in the Buffet, no need to feel deprived if dieting. I really enjoyed eating at the HC for Breakfasts and lunch, but really hated it at dinner. The dinner options were far less abundant than the options during the day. Half of the Horizon Court was closed, or refashioned for Fondues or the Crab Shack. The grill area was always closed, no yummy fresh grilled veggies or meats for dinner were ever available, although they always has several carving stations opened. At dinnertime nuts and dried fruits and lot of veggies and meats were plentiful but as the cruise progressed they seemed to run out leaving less options. I tried to make a trail mix to take with me on port days as a snack, don’t forget to bring ziplock baggies for this. At 5:30 pm there is always an array of deli meats and sandwiches which can be used to make sandwiches for the next days port visit, if you are so inclined to do that this is the place. On several occasions we brought the infamous table for 10 group to the HC, we even found a table for 10 and this became our alternative dining spot although we only ate here twice because of late port visits or because we wanted to see a sail away. Formal Nights On our first formal night, we dressed for it but hated to as we always do! I noticed that lots of people did not dress for formal nights, many choose to eat at the Buffet. I think we ended up dressing for every formal night except the last, mostly because one of the 10 enjoyed it so much and we wanted to make her happy! Man Overboard During one of the last sea days there was a surprising “man overboard” announcement and we were all asked to go back to our cabins for a head count. Everybody did this pretty quickly and mostly hung over the balcony railings looking for whomever had jumped ship. Our room Steward came by and noted we were in our cabin. Meanwhile I noticed a beach ball like red thing floating in the water off the port side of the ship, by this time Captain Sagani had turned the ship around and we were heading back the way we came. A tender boat was lowered into the water and I saw it heading straight for the red ball then suddenly it turned and started going away from it. I could not believe this, I grabbed the phone and called passenger services and told them to tell the captain that the red floating thing was off the port side at 11 o’clock. After a few minutes, the tender boat turned and headed straight for the red thing and in quick time they determined it was nothing more than a fishing marker. Captain Sagani came on and told us that the passengers and crew were all accounted for, complimenting us on one of the quickest counts he had ever seen, and also thanking the passenger who called and directed them to where the red ball was. I hope I was not the only person who called. Meet and Greets (2) We had two M&G’s, the first one was during the “Most Traveled lunch” and only one staff member showed up and he was very late. That staff member was the Safety officer and he was hijacked by several people who were having soot issues, poor guy he did invite questions! The second M&G was more crowded and a few more crew members attended including the CD. Both were in Club 6, not terribly conducive large groups and lots of folks had to stand or sit on the floor during the introductions. I know I missed this because I was sitting in the center part of the room and all the activities took place close to the bar area, which is also the smallest area! Ports and Princess Tours We did one Princess tour during the 25 day cruise, and this was in Kristiansand, Norway. We did a cruise through the Blindleia Passage to Lillesand, a cute and charming little town which was quite scenic. The cruise was nice but the guide was not very exciting and I just didn’t feel any passion or love from him, something I notice that good guides always have. The town was mostly closed, not only because it was early in the day but also because it was late in the season and most residents were there for the summer only. Finally, we only had a half hour to visit this place and it was not enough time to walk through the narrow lanes of the town, so we didn’t see much of it at all. The excursion was not worth the money we spent on it at all! Other than that, we only did private tours. Disembarkation Disembarkation was quick and easy, especially since we booked a transfer to the airport with Princess. We left our room by 8:30am and waited no more than 20-30 minutes in our appointed meeting place before we got off the ship. Immigration was quick and easy, and our luggage was neatly placed in its proper area and we found a porter who hauled our 3 pieces to our transfer bus and off we went to La Guardia. Unfortunately our driver was unable to take us to the departure area of the airport, he grumbled some excuse and dumped us at the arrival terminal and we had to schlep our luggage upstairs to find the proper check in area. This was a mess and most of the folks just grabbed their luggage and dragged it up to the proper place, like us. I did notice that the excuse our driver made, that his bus was too high, there were no restrictions on height up at the departures area and we had been duped by a lazy, know-nothing bus driver!   Read Less
Sail Date: September 2014
August/September 2014 Berlin and Royal Princess Cruise: Baltic’s and Transatlantic Part 1: Berlin and Royal Princess Baltic’s Cruise 8/23-9/2/2014 Pre Cruise time in Berlin We had a delightful 10 day stay in Berlin before we got on ... Read More
August/September 2014 Berlin and Royal Princess Cruise: Baltic’s and Transatlantic Part 1: Berlin and Royal Princess Baltic’s Cruise 8/23-9/2/2014 Pre Cruise time in Berlin We had a delightful 10 day stay in Berlin before we got on a cruise ship for the Baltic’s and Transatlantic cruise back to NYC. We really enjoyed Berlin and it was probably the highlight of the vacation. We stayed in Berlin at the Adina Apartment Hotel Berlin Hackescher Markt, 11 An der Spandauer Brcke, Berlin 10178. Located in the historic district of Mitte, it was also located in the old Jewish District and an easy walk to the river Spree with its many boat ride opportunities. We loved this hotel; it was in an awesome location and enabled us to walk almost everywhere. It took 15 minutes to get to the hotel from the airport, although we came in late at about 9pm and there was no traffic at all. It was located next to the train station/subway station at Hackescher Markt, as well as a tram line, making it a perfect jump off spot for all discoveries. As an added bonus we were surrounded by lovely restaurants, I cannot say enough about this hotel. The hotel staff was excellent; they were always available to help with directions and suggestions. There was free Internet available for use in the lobby area and the lobby area had lots of couches and chairs and places to gather and email. The rooms were well appointed; we had a nice sized room with a huge balcony and a nice kitchen for snacks and morning coffee. It was well stocked with all the dishes and cooking utensils for making meals and even a dishwasher to clean up afterwards. We had an excellent coffee maker and they provided coffee. Around the corner were several well-stocked markets so we could buy whatever we needed such as coffee, fruit, and even meat, cheese, and bakery items. During our stay we used the Ho-Ho bus, there were actually 3 different ones but we choose the least expensive one because it served our needs well. Make sure you check out all the Ho-Ho buses, their maps and costs so you can compare and pick the one that suites your needs best. We also used some “Frommers” and “fodors” walks to familiarize us with the areas. Some of these walks are available for free on the web. Our second day we used the Frommer's walking tour called "Dark past, Bright future". We walked through Mitte as we meandered our way past the new Jewish synagogue as well as a part of the ancient Jewish synagogue, among other interesting places. We found this wonderful Middle Eastern restaurant called Dada Falafel, which is very close to the Jewish synagogue. The food was delicious; we each ordered different plates and loved every morsel of food that we got there. The falafels were yummy, as were all the sauces, couscous, hummus, and more. This was one of the best falafel's we had in a long time. This was certainly a be-back kind of the restaurant; we ended up eating here four times in the 10 days we were in Berlin. Not only was the service spectacular, they had live entertainment and the singer and pianist, which were wonderful. In total that day we must've walked 8 miles and my feet were killing me. We retired early because we plan to get up really early and have a full day of touring. We had the reservations for the Reichstag tour the following day and were excited to visit. It turned out to be a highlight of the stay, it was interesting and at the top of it were magnificent views of Berlin. Got up early that day and ate at a local restaurant for breakfast which was really delicious. The restaurant was called Hackescher Hof. The breakfast menu was lovely, I had scrambled eggs with spinach and feta, wonderful toast, all of this for a mere €4.50.. We love this restaurant so much we ended up eating here almost every morning for breakfast. On to the Reichstag, we really enjoyed the experience and because I had made reservations in advance we got in quickly without waiting on any lines. After visiting this we walked to the Holocaust memorial, a haunting tribute to those murdered during the Nazi era. We also visited Checkpoint Charlie, as well as the Topography of terror. This was a somber afternoon but well worth the experiences and learning’s. Tomorrow we would visit the concentration camp outside Berlin. We found a Hertz car rental and grabbed the car we reserved and drove back to the hotel, we found driving in Berlin easy as well as all over Germany. Ken got to drive one 100MPH on the Autobahn, which was really fun! Having picked up our car the day before, it was time for our Mosaic tour of Sachsenhousen concentration camp with guide Brian. This camp was located close to Berlin although Chris and Ken had different opinions about how to get out of Berlin and ignored our GPS, who we finally referred to as Flossie! Anyway it took us three times as long as we anticipated to get to the train station where we would meet our mosaic tour guide Brian. Gratefully Brian waited for us. From there we walked for miles to get to the entrance of the concentration camp. My feet were killing me and we hadn't even begun the tour. Brian gave a fantastic tour, for me it was so enlightening where I had thought it might be simply frightening. This was an educational tour and I learned so much, I really was impressed with Brian. Our tour mates were very kind as they waited for us an extra half-hour because we were late and we were really grateful for them. I highly recommend mosaic tours if you want to learn about what happened in a typical camp from a historical perspective. In spite of this being such a horrific subject, Brain taught me about how serious the new Germans are about anti-Semitism and all hateful behavior. I have to say I came away from this with a newfound love of the German people, as a Jew this says a lot! http://www.mosaictours.org/ We came home fairly late, taking much less time to get back as the boys learned how to get back to Berlin using GPS! We decided to walk up to a new restaurant called Amrit, an Indian restaurant very close to the falafel place. The food was quite delicious, except the appetizer plate, which was really terrible, all fried and tasting bland. In spite of the food being tasty, the service was not very good. The waiter pointed to my husband stomach and embarrassed him, and all of us thought that was very rude. Good thing he didn't do that to me cause I would've slapped him hard. So even though we enjoyed the food we would never go back there again. We stop for some dessert, Chris had to have apple torte and we walk to a restaurant on the river spree to get it. I had a scoop of ice cream, after ordering something called a Caramel Crunch, which was so hard it practically broke my teeth. I am not sure what they did to the Carmel but even the waitress could not eat it! Although we had returned here several times this ended up being our last visit. Another dinner place we visited several times which was across the street from our hotel was a Mediterranean restaurant called Trattoria Ossena. The food was quite good and reasonably priced. They had yummy thin-crusted Pizza’s and great pasta dishes. They did not have free tap water so we had to pay for bottled! After dinner we stopped at Häagen-Dazs and got some ice cream, right across the street and around the corner of our hotel, very convenient! We stopped here too much, my clothing was getting tighter and tighter! We took an Underground Tour of bunkers under subways, it was recommended by one of our friends who were staying at our hotel. This was a fantastic tour, really illuminated the way the Nazi’s thought and I was pleased with how humble our tour guide was, she was accurate and really owned the way the people of Nazi Germany’s views were very messed up and negative. I found this incredible attitude all over Germany, these people were model citizens who had learned and had grown from the negative Nazi prejudices’ to full ownership of the atrocities of that thinking. I really loved Berlin, and all of Germany and found this expanded vision everywhere I went. It was a great learning for me. http://berliner-unterwelten.de/guided-tours.3.1.html We also took several Canal rides on the Spree River—first we took a one-hour tour which was nice but very limited in where it visited. Several days later we took a 4-hour tour which visited all the locks and took us to many interesting locations. The 4 hours tour was about one hour too long and we jumped off the boat and found our way back to Berlin’s Mitte district easily using subways, trains, and trams. After being in Berlin for 10 days we really got the hang of public transportation and would have rented the car for less days since we paid for it, its parking space at our hotel, and gas (diesel). We all agreed that Berlin was a wonderful place to visit and were glad we had such a long and leisurely visit. http://www.sightseeing-point-berlin.com/cruises/regular-cruises/spree-river-cruise/ Transfers with SPB—I had arranged for transfers for 10 from Berlin to the port over a year in advance. When I made these arrangements we were set up to pay $80 pp for a total of $800 for the bus/transfers, and we were set for a departure time of 9am at our hotel Adina. Several friends from cruise critic who were not staying at our hotel had arranged to share a cab from their hotel to ours. I had booked a large 16 seat bus for 10 so that we would have no problems with luggage, based on an experience I had with transfers in Buenos Aires several years ago where there was not enough room for everybody’s luggage and that resulted in luggage being piled up in the bus with us and somebody got hit in the head by flying luggage. I was not going to have that on the transfers I arranged for. A few weeks before we left for Berlin and the cruise, we all got a note from Viktoria who stated that the prices for the transfers had doubled in price. She had not actually contacted the bus company early on and by the late date she did contact them the price had doubled. Everybody was very upset needless to say, and a many folks complained. She finally offered to do the transfers for $100pp, and everybody agreed to that price increase. We were all about compromises given no other choices at that late date. You’d think this is the end of the story but it gets worse! Our transfers were set for a 9am pick from our hotel because the port was at least 2 hours away from Berlin without traffic. Everybody was ready to go by 8:45 am at the hotel unfortunately the transfer bus did not actually show up until close to noon. Apparently Viktoria was having problems arranging for these transfers because she left it to the last minute, and needless to say, people were very upset and worried about making it to the ship on time. Our group was put in a very compromising position and the price increase should have never happened, let alone the 3 hour late pick-up. Thankfully the bus was roomy enough for everybody’s luggage and the driver was nice as well. However there were more problems we encountered when paying for the transfers. Some people were charged $75 for two transfers, while others were charged $75 per person. Those who paid more were upset and those who paid less didn’t want to talk about this! All in all, this was a very weird experience and thankfully it all turned out OK. Be careful using them for transfers, this is not their forte! 9/2/2014 Royal Princess Baltic’s Cruise Part Two 9/4/14 Tallinn, Estonia Our first port was Tallinn, was a beautiful town that was very old and filled with cobbled streets and lots of charm. We pulled into the port town early and began our tour at 9 am. We disembarked quickly, went through immigration and boarded an SPB bus, which took us to a meeting point. We would be expected to find our way back to the ship after our tour and free time in this lovely town. We met our guide Triin who was a statuesque blond with a fantastic manner and expert knowledge of Estonia through many political incarnations. She oriented us to our meeting location, gave us an overview of the history of Tallinn and off we went on our small bus, headed for Toompea hill, also know as Upper town. We got off the bus in our small group of 14 and began our slow descent to lower town in what I like to call the gravity tour! The upper town was old and cobbled, I was glad I wore a sturdy pair of shoes with lots of support. This is no place for flip-flops or heels. We visited the Russian Orthodox Cathedral of Alexander Nevsky with its beautiful mosaic interiors. Silently we watched as people participated in confession as a Mass was going on. This was a lovely church, and it was nice to see it filled with people. We were not allowed to take pictures but the gift shop sold many books and postcards as well as religious artifacts. Next we headed to a lookout point where we could see a panoramic view of the Lower Town. Triin pointed out several steeples, one of which was the tallest building of its time. The red rooftops where so picturesque and the ancient medieval towers and walls were visible from above. We were warned against pickpockets, which was much appreciated. President Obama had been there yesterday and Triin showed us where he stayed in one of the tallest buildings in town. She got very emotional when she talked about how Obama promised them freedom, in light of the former Russian occupation and the German occupation before that. Triin had grown up in a different Tallinn, one that was compromised by their former Soviet government. She was deeply touched by Obama’s speech. We headed down to the Lower Town via a narrow cobbled street that was steep with some steps and very slippery, descending from Troompea hill and upper town to the Lower town filled with all the medieval walls and towers. The narrow streets and alleys were so scenic as we walked through Catherine’s Passage and headed for the Gothic town hall, which was built in the early 1400’s. We passed some old tombstones and a Dominican Monastery on the way to the ancient walls that surrounded the old city. On the way Triin treated us to some delicious fresh spiced almonds which were being made on the streets, after we left Triin we went back to buy some of these nuts they were so good. Our tour ended at the old Viru gates, which was where we could find our transfer buses back to the ship. Instead of heading to the ship, we walked back to the large square where an open market was going on and sat and people watched. Then we found the shop where Triin said the best Marzipan could be found, and it was delicious and very reasonably priced! We also found an ancient Pharmacy, one of the oldest working Pharmacies in Europe and it was quite interesting with its displays and the still functioning pharmacy. Slowly we meandered our way back to the bus, passing a flower market and a clothing market as well. On the way we stopped at the port and grabbed some free Internet, something we did at almost every port! We used SPB tours for all the sightseeing we did in the Baltic’s including Copenhagen, Helsinki, Stockholm, Tallinn, and a deluxe 2 day tour in St. Petersburg, Russia. We paid a total of $640 dollars for all 6 tours, which was a great price. The company is far better at providing tours than transfers. https://www.spb-tours.com/ 9/5-9/6/14 St. Petersburg, Russia DAY 1 7.30 am – 6.00 pm--meet guide at 7-7:30 after we went through immigration, which was quick and easy and not nearly as time consuming as we were expecting. Our Guides name was Maria and she was very hard to understand. It took me a full day to process her pronunciation and language differences, by that time half the tour was over. We had arranged for a group of 10 of us as a totally private tour and these two days we were a smaller group of 10 rather than the 14+ other people had. We paid a bit more for this; it was worth it not to have to struggle to hear the guide. One downside here is that we probably did not get the best guide because our group was smaller. Here is what we did on day one, and the order in which we did it: • City sightseeing tour. • Subway ride • A visit to Peter and Paul's fortress and cathedral, the burial place of the Russian Emperors • Shopping at a place where they had “free’ bathrooms, free shots of Vodka or coffee, and free nibbles. • Hydrofoil ride to Peterhof • Walk in the Peterhof Lower fountain park and the Upper gardens • Drive to the Tsars’ Village • Late Lunch at a local restaurant where they would not allow us to drink the Vodka our guide gave us earlier in the day. We snuck some anyway, under the table. • A visit to the Catherine's palace with the Amber room and a walk in the park We were exhausted after our first day, and delighted to hear the bus had free Internet, from this moment on we all were emailing pictures to each other and our families and facebook, and texting/emailing up a storm. We found many buses throughout Europe have internet access, or hotspots as they are called. DAY 2 8.00 am – 5.00 pm-- we meet the guide at 8-8:30, this time immigration was even faster. Our second day started out well, we got off the ship quickly and we finally met up with Viktoria as it was time to pay for all our tours, past-present-and future. This is where I noticed some inconsistencies in what she charged us for the messed up transfers in Berlin. See my transfer notes above. Here is what we did, and the order we did it in. • City sightseeing tour through the canals by boat. Here we had a different guide who spoke perfect English, I wished we had a guide who was easy to understand like this fellow. Not that Maria was not a good guide, she was fine and embodied a typical Russian. She did not change her clothing for the two full days we spent with her! • Special early entrance to the Hermitage • Lunch at a local restaurant where we had savory and sweet cakes • A visit to Church of Our Savior on the Blood • Excursion to the Yusupovs' Palace • A visit to the St. Isaac's cathedral Our special early entrance to the Hermitage was a joke; we were immersed in a long line of others who were also privy to this “special” early entrance. It was so crowed that I hardly had to use my feet to walk around, I was swept up by a large crowd comparable to my experience of being at the Great Wall of China on May 1st when all of China visits the wall. I was not certain how special our early entrance was when I had to wait for 5 plus minutes to see the special items in each room we visited, and even then I had to fight for viewing space as some people suffer from entitlement issues and push and step on toes all the time. DO NOT WEAR SCANDELS because your toes will definitely be stepped on! Also, carry tissues which can be used as emergency toilet paper, and as a mask to get you through some smelly bathrooms like the one we used in the Hermitage Museum! Our Bus driver was great, at one point after visiting the Hermitage, my cell phone was out of juice and our bus driver was able to charge it up in about a half hour. This was much appreciated because I did not realize how much power the cell phone uses when snapping photos. I used my cell as a camera throughout the whole trip as Ken was the official cameraman! Our meals were included in the tour price; they were not great but adequate and represented typical Russian meals. I liked the sweet cakes better than the savory cakes on the second day, but then I have a huge sweet tooth. This was very close to the Hermitage and we walked to the restaurant once we exited the museum. The streets of the city in this area smelled of sewage badly. After two full days of touring we were ready to go back to the ship as early as possible, we actually did not visit St. Isaac’s cathedral because we were burned out on sightseeing! I was glad I had not planned any extra night visits the night before because I was all toured out. We certainly enjoyed our two-day tour with SPB in Russia and would recommend it as a comprehensive and less expensive alternative to ship tours. 9/7/14 Helsinki, Finland We had a 3-hour tour in Helsinki with SPB, here we were on a larger bus with about 32 people. Our guide was from Scotland, not a native of Finland although he had lived there for many years and was knowledgeable. We stopped at an interesting place on the coast where a giant balloon was set up and I spied a farmers/craft market, which I cannot resist. We talked the guide into letting us have a quick 15-minute break here so we could peruse that market. We all bought a few items, me a long sock hat and my friend found several baskets of berries, because she was not able to get any berries on the ship she was happy to find some here. They were expensive, but good! On this tour we only got a short visit to some of the more important places such as Senate Square and the Lutheran Church that towers over the square. We found free bathrooms in the church, had to climb a lot of stairs to get to it but it was worth it if only for the magnificent views it afforded. We did not have much times here, it seemed like we spent most of our time on the bus doing sightseeing from there, including a very short stop to see the Olympic Stadium used for the 1952 Summer Olympics! Our longest stop was at Sibelius Park where we visited the Steel Pipe Monument built over the course of 10+years by a female Finnish Artist using 527 steel pipes which honored the Finnish composer Jean Sibelius. This was quite unusual and we all were able to climb around it and under it and see the interesting way it was created. After viewing this monument, we took a walk to the river and learned more about this area. Our final stop was the Rock Church, a one of a kind Church built into the bedrock with quarried stones. It was mid-day and a church service had just ended so we were allowed into this unusual place. It was so crowded here, certainly not a great place for those who suffer from claustrophobia. We were pushed and shoved by what seemed like hundreds and hundreds of tourists all vying for viewing space. This was supposed to be a quiet place but all I could hear was screaming children and I was horrified by the behavior of the crowds. I made my way out of there as quickly as I could! Our tour ended where it began, although it was supposed to end at the train station it ended instead at the entrance to the port. This port had quite a few local shops with local items and I found it to be a good place to buy some stuff, this was not an inexpensive place at all and most of the items were very expensive, but at least they were all local to Finland. 9/8/14 Stockholm (Nynashamn), Sweden I was totally surprised by Stockholm! The day started off chaotic, mostly because it was a tender port and there was a giant issue with communication. We were instructed to meet at 8 am by the guy who organized our private SPB tours, always at the IC. Meanwhile throughout the morning there was a series of announcements about the tenders, one telling us we would be late due to fog, the next telling us we would disembark immediately since they going to fill the 5 Limo tenders at the same time. It was quite confusing. We went from having a leisurely cup of coffee to racing for the tenders! We all got on one of the five tenders and made to early to the SPB buses. Now that we all knew that there was internet hotspots on all the SPB buses, we connected to our emails and web browsers and played. This is both good and bad; it's free but distracts us from the tour guide’s narration. Anyway we were ready for our 5-hour tour! When we finally reached Stockholm, I was surprised at how pretty it was, large and scenic. We stopped at a lookout and our guide pointed out some historic landmarks. Back in the bus, our next stop was the town hall/ government center. This was a lovely brick building filled with lots of history, pomp, and such. We had a half hour here, walking up and down the stairs and looking at the different decorations and rooms in it. We also had a few minutes to shop in the gift store but the prices were so expensive I did not buy a thing. Next we visited the very interesting Vasa museum, with the humongous ship smack in the middle of the giant room built for it. This ship had sunk the day it sailed for the first time. There were three levels in this museum, all providing different perspectives to view the ship. Ken would have liked to stay here longer than the tour afforded, next time we are here we will visit this museum for half a day in order to see it all. We ate at the cafe because we did not bring any sandwiches from the ship, when will we learn? It was good and very expensive. We paid close to $20 for soup, salad, and bread and shared it! After the Vasa Museum we headed to the oldest part of city called the Gamla Stan. We went on a quick walking tour with our guide who oriented us and brought us to the meeting place where we were expected to be in one hour. Off we all scattered to make our way through the narrow, cobbled streets perusing shops and restaurants and again put off by the high costs of everything! I visited some antiques stores in search of old glass/crystal doorknobs, which I collect when I can find them. No such luck here, we ended up sitting in one of the squares and people watching until it was time to go meet our guide at the bus. Our guide actually left us here, so we gave her a tip, piled into the bus, and off to the port where we would have to tender back to the ship. The tenders were empty and it was easy to get back to the ship. 9/10/14 Copenhagen, Denmark (turnaround day, start of Transatlantic) This was the final stop for this segment of the tour, turnaround day. This was also our last SPB tour, making this the 6th one we had in as many days. The port was far from everything, it took us 20+ minutes to get into the city and the drive was not very scenic. Our first stop was to see the Little Mermaid, which was right at the waterfront, perched out on a rock. Of course it was very crowded and we had to wait and take our pictures when the crowds subsided. There was shopping around the Little Mermaid and here I bought a cute magnet for 5 Euros, it was the best deal in town! From here we went to Amalienborg Palace and Square which is the residence of the Royal Danish Family. I had fun trying to take a selfie with the guards, who did not talk and did not smile! We bumped into lots of princess tours here, as we did everywhere we went with SPB, one of my main complaints about this private tour company who never took advantage of going to places at times when the ship tours were not there! Next we passed the city centers highlights like Tivoli Gardens, the Opera House, and Town Hall Square and stopped at Christianborg Palace for a tour. We spent a significant amount of time here visiting all of the rooms of this complex which houses the Danish Parliament, the Supreme court, and the Prime Ministers offices. It was a beautiful complex filled with art, tapestries, and beautiful furniture. In the Royal Reception rooms we saw many beautiful tapestries lining the walls, each telling a different story about the culture and history of Denmark. Then we went to a large square where we had 1.5 hours of free time to visit, shop, or eat. We choose to eat at a local restaurant on a small and scenic side street while one of our group shopped! I had the most expensive but delicious sandwich here, made of dark rye bread, mango chutney, goat cheese, and shredded beets, it was yummy and I ate every bite. Ken ordered a side of fries (10 Euros) and they were not so good! On the way back to the ship we passed Nyhavn (the new harbor), where in spite of being promised to see and walk this most scenic area, we were out of time and not able to see it at all! It looked lovely and I was bummed out that I missed it completely. Part 2: 9/2/2014 Royal Princess Transatlantic Cruise Ports 9/11/14 Kristiansand, Norway We did one Princess tour during the 25-day cruise, and this was in Kristiansand, Norway. Kristiansand is Norway’s fifth largest city and it is beautifully located on the scenic southern coast. This is a popular vacation spot for the Norwegians, summer is the busy season and we were visiting it during the between season where it is still summer but most kids have gone back to school and vacation time is over. I had a tough time finding out much info about this town, which is why I opted to take the Princess tour in the first place. Had I know that the ship would be docked right in the downtown area, close to many quaint streets which were easy to get access to, I would have done a DIY tour instead. Most of my friends had just walked off the ship and followed the many streets to lots of places, including a fresh fish market that was practically next to the ship. There were a lot of activities in this downtown area, not to mention lots of shopping. On our Princess excursion we did a cruise through the Blindleia Passage to Lillesand, a cute and charming little town that was quite scenic. The cruise was nice but the guide was not very exciting and I just didn’t feel any passion or love from him, something I notice that good guides always have. The passages was striking in a haunting way, with all of its interesting rock formations, and perfectly calm waters. The homes around this passage were expensive, in the million-euro neighborhood for most of them! It was a beautiful area. The town of Lillesand where we finished the cruise was mostly closed, not only because it was early in the day but also because it was late in the season and most residents were there for the summer only. Finally, we only had a half hour to visit the town and it was not enough time to walk through the narrow winding lanes throughout, so we didn’t see much of it at all. This town was so cute; it certainly deserved more time than we were allotted to visit it. If I ever come back here I will find my own transportation to get back to Lillesand, it really required several hours to explore during “open” hours. The excursion was not worth the money we spent on it at all! 9/14/14 Reykjavik, Iceland Iceland was an amazing place to visit. We had a private “Golden Circle Tour’ which covered many of the striking geological formations and other interesting aspects of this lonely Island in the middle of nowhere. Our guide picked us up promptly and off we went to explore the natural attractions of Iceland. Our first stop was Thingvellir National Park, the drive to this place was spectacular and our guide filled us in on all the historic and geological tidbits we needed to know in order to enhance our visit. Thingvellir Park is located in a rift valley and was covered in most places by lava from an ancient volcano. It was also the location of the ancient Viking Parliament. It was eerie and haunting to walk through this geological wonder because it contained the Mid-Atlantic ridge, which runs up the Atlantic Ocean all the way through Iceland and beyond. This ridge separates Europe’s tectonic plate with the Atlantic plate and is the place where much of the new land on earth is produced. Its very unusual in that most of the ridge lies deep in the ocean and is difficult to explore but here in Iceland it is above water and easy to access. This ridge causes Iceland to have many Volcanoes and Earthquakes since this is where two tectonic plates meet. Beating the cruise ship crowds was awesome; at first we had the whole place to ourselves, although soon more and more busloads of people arrived. We got to walk through a large part of this area, crossing a river and passing by some interesting formations and waterfalls. This was an astounding area; one could have one foot in Europe and the other on the Atlantic plate, which ultimately goes to the Eastern edge of the USA. It was an amazing place to visit, a definite must see. From here we could see in the distance one of Iceland’s many Glaciers, another amazing site to behold! Our next stop was Gullfoss Waterfall, another amazing natural sight that was breathtaking. Having this place to our selves once again, we beat the big buses and had a few moments to ponder and pose for pictures as well as selfies with our whole group. These falls were magnificent, a term I will use over and over again to describe Iceland’s geological wonders! As we hiked down to get close to the falls, water was spraying and it was good we had raincoats with hoods on to protect us as it also started to rain a little. These falls with their double cascade that plunged down 105 feet into a deep gorge were nicknamed the Golden Falls, and they produced many rainbows although I had a hard time photographing any of them. The sun was playing hide and seek with me! Our next stop was Krysuvik Solfataras, also situated in the Mid Atlantic Ridge. This was a very interesting area with steam vents, bubbling mud pots, hot springs, algae deposits, and geysers all among a very stark landscape. We sat waiting for the largest geyser called Strokkur to blow, and it was shooting off water and steam every few minutes. Some explosions were taller than others, but it was very predictable and we could stand in front of it and capture a picture while it blew pretty easily. We were among many people now so it took several minutes to gain access to the spot. The smell of sulfur was strong in the air. This place was busy with many tourists by this time so it was difficult to get pictures of the Geysers and bubbling mud pots without people in them! Nonetheless we all got the photos we wanted and walked across the street to several places to eat. Most of us had packed a bag lunch off the ship so we went into the less expensive restaurant to eat, there were picnic tables everywhere and this seemed like the best place to settle in, and several of our group bought food here and we all sat together. At some point, a man came up to us and asked us to not eat our bag lunches here so we left and went out to the van to finish our food. We did not go back in to buy anything at the store that was connected to the restaurant either, although we did use the restrooms before we started eating. Next we stopped at a cute country store, which all the girls had to go into, our guide bought several loaves of bread while we bought Chocolate bars made in Iceland, Icelandic Salt, and several different candy’s all from Iceland. This was the place to buy souvenirs, the prices were the best we could find and we were glad we had stopped here and gotten out. We all wondered about the bread our guide bought, but not for long! Our next stop was amazing; we pulled up to a spot close to a large group of wild Icelandic Horses and their babies (foils). Our guide brought us over to them and taught us how to feed them, it was so exciting and I was completely in travel ecstasy! We sat feeding them for 15-20 minutes, snapping pictures and selfies and oohing and awwing away as these incredible horses gently ate out of our hands. We learned that these horses are very special; Iceland does not allow any horses from outside in so the breed is very pure, and very unusual looking. These horses are shorter and stockier than other breeds; they have more hair and look distinctly different from other horses. They were magnificent to interact with and this was a once in a lifetime moment for me. Now it was time to head back towards Reykjavik and the port, we had been so immersed in this lovely country that time seemed to stop! I was shocked at how late it was. We stopped at The Pearl on the way back to the Port. This 10-story complex was quite striking because of its unique circular architecture and the fact that it uses geothermal heat to serve Reykjavik’s water storage needs. Iceland runs completely on geothermal energy, it is free and they are one of the only countries that totally rely on this green energy. Anyway we all went inside and took the elevator, or stairs, to the top to see some great views of Reykjavik and to make purchases at the store! There was also a glass-domed restaurant at the top that revolved but we had no time for that. As we headed back to the ship our guide talked about how autos cost a lot to buy here but if you buy an electric car, the energy is free and you do not pay taxes on it. A good incentive, we saw a lot of electric cars around. We made a quick detour through Reykjavik, stopping briefly at the interesting church for pictures, and hearing a few interesting tidbits about the town’s past. We drove down several streets and saw lots of places to shop and eat but we did not have time for any of that. Our day was done, we had seen some amazing sights in Iceland and I was certain that I wanted to return and see more! One last note here about the Northern Lights. Several days before we got to Iceland I had gotten a heads up from a NASA and a Northern Lights list I am on that there had been several large solar flairs and it was a sure bet that there would be Northern Lights on the day we were in Iceland. I was so excited about this, it’s a lifelong dream to see this spectacular display of lights, and now I was surely going to see them. Our guide had informed us that the lights were definitely going to be visible that night if it cleared up, but it never cleared. We did not see any lights at all because it remained cloudy for the two days it took to get back to Europe. So I guess this trip was not going to be the one I saw the Northern Lights on, that remains on my bucket list! 9/17/14 Glasgow (Greenock), Scotland We had a fantastic tour with George Martin owner of Go-Go bus tours of Scotland, we really pack a lot into our 6 hour day and I fell in love with Scotland and the Scottish people. I woke up to the sounds of Bagpipes, looked out of my balcony to see several Bagpipers playing for us as we pulled into port. It was so memorable and haunting, I love the sound of Bagpipes first thing in the morning. I cold not wait to get off the ship and start the day. We met at the IC and were off the ship quickly and without problems. Our driver and guide George was waiting for us and our tour began. We drove into Glasgow, maybe 25 minutes from the port, and listened as George filled us in on the Scottish history and lore. We were all mesmerized by the sound of his voice and his lovely Scottish accent. Our first stop was at the Beautiful Glasgow Cathedral; it stands on the spot where St. Mungo founded Glasgow in the 6th century. This cathedral is a massive complex including a cemetery hill, and some gorgeous grounds. The Cathedral itself is humungous, with a large interior and lots of lower levers, all made of these massive stones and wood. We spend a good half hour exploring all the nooks and crannies of this place, and really enjoyed it. We were leaving just as the massive busloads of cruise ship tours were arriving, perfect timings. We visited a lovely and free museum also on the grounds where they had plentiful bathrooms and a great gift shop with lots of reasonably prices goodies and mementos. This is where I bought a Celtic mood ring, and one for each of my tour mates and we all enjoyed wearing them and mine is still on me! As a good private guide should always do, George had timed our visit to miss the giant busloads of people again, he even got us to the free museum bathrooms before the crowds descended! As we left the bathrooms, a long line had already formed for the bathrooms. Good going George, this distinguished him as a superior tour guide and throughout the day we managed to miss crowds everywhere we went. It was fantastic. Next we headed to the oldest house in Glasgow, a lovely 3 story stone house where I took to smelling those ancient stones, they smelled so earthy and I loved that sensation of smelling all the history and soot that passed through this home. I could have spent hours in this ancient place but the clock was ticking and we had many places to explore and things to visit. I begrudgingly departed from this wonderful and ancient home with a face full of soot and a very happy demeanor, I felt like a kid again, and that is why I love to travel so much as it brings out my creative imagination. From here we traveled past the east end, the old medieval part of town and Glasgow Green, Britain’s oldest public place. We stopped to visit the People’s Palace and see the Victoria Fountain, the world’s largest terracotta fountain. It was quite beautiful and a perfect place to eat our bag lunch. After we visited the Peoples museum with its green conservancy and its lovely collection of historic pieces depicting life in Glasgow during WWII and later after the war, all the way up to present times. This was a very interesting and informative place, we had to be pulled away for it because time was ticking and we had more places to see. We traveled along the banks of the River Clyde we pass St Andrew’s Cathedral and through the new central business district. This area was formerly the site of the shipbuilding yards and has now been transformed, results of this regeneration can be seen in the modern design of the recently erected buildings such as The Glasgow Science Centre, the “The Hydro" and The Riverside Museum of Transport and Travel. Our tour continued to the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, the buildings of Glasgow University and the Botanic Gardens. Glasgow was the Host City for 2014 Commonwealth Games and the Kelvingrove complex had a wonderful store with items from these games, some of them on sale. We spend some time at this complex, enjoying a free organ pipe concert, some free Internet, and a quick look at the art and antiquities that were displayed here. I even found a painting from my Great Uncle Josef Israels displayed in the museum, it was so touching to find a piece of my history here! We headed back to the ship, totally sad that it was already time to go. We all enjoyed George immensely, he was an incredible guide and host and we appreciated touring with him very much. On our way back to the ship we had a lively conversation about politics as this country was going to vote tomorrow whether to leave England and become independent and George was well versed in the pros and cons although he would not tell us whether he voted yes (leave England) or no! We fell in love with Scotland and decided right then that we most certainly would return soon! George Bryan Martin Company owner, Go-Go Bus Tours, Scotland. Tel: +44 (0) 1475 686070 Mobile: 0781 324 9197 email: enquiries@go-goscotland.com Website: www.go-goscotland.com For 8 people, the cost would remain at 270.00 GBP. 9/18/14 Belfast, Northern Ireland Alister with City and Causeway Tours We had an incredibly fun and exhilarating experience on a private tour in Belfast, Ireland. Our guide was born and raised in Belfast and had great knowledge of its history, topography, and knew all the back roads to the best places to visit when trying to see it all in one day! What a day we had. We were picked up at the port promptly at 9am and departed for our first official stop at the Giants causeway, a natural wonder of the world and National landmark. On the way we took a small two lane coastal highway, which was magnificent and called the Antrim Coast Road. Later we also drove along the very scenic Torr Head road. Alister pointed out landmark after landmark including an optical illusion where we could see Scotland, and many other seaside points. We stopped at a small seaside town and bought drinks, and had a potty stop; this town was called Glenarm Village. After refreshing our diet cokes, water, and of course candy for my dear 95 year old aunt, we heading onward down the coast. Alister was quite animated as he drove scaring us a little but truly showing his expert knowledge of the roads and landmarks. We really enjoyed this guide as he epitomized all that we had come to love about Northern Ireland, with his animated passionate style. So what if he drove while looking at us, calculating expenses on a calculator, bringing up iPad pictures, and illustrating with both hands! He had pointed out the “Jesus handles” for us to use while we careened down a tiny dirt back road. These were especially appreciated when he showed us a spot where he said "look at this, it looks like we are going off a cliff" as he floored the gas and we went flying over a hill gaining some air before we touched down on land! The girls kept applying lipstick; we figured we should look good when we died. It was our ongoing joke, nobody ever felt that they were in danger, Alister know the roads well and we never saw more than 2 other cars on all of the back roads. Alister was also knowledgeable in botany, pointing out flowers and plants and describing what they looked like in full bloom. On Torr head road He stopped at some blackberry bushes and I climbed out and gathered berries for my group. Allotter offered us his slightly used coffee cup, lined with napkins, to put my berries in. He also clipped whole branches of berries for us to eat. Only one of us got berries crushed all over her pants, and we all survived unscathed (the following morning;) from eating those wild berries! We made a quick detour threw the town of Ballycastle and onto the Carrick-A-Rede rope bridge which we opted not to do, but the stop was much appreciated for a rest stop, and the magnificent views of the coast. We bumped into many friends here from the ship and it was nice to compare notes, our guide was certainly a stand out. Next we headed for the Giants Causeway where we walked or rode down to the largest natural wonder of its kind in the world. This stop was perfect for all as some of us chose to walk while others opted to take a bus down to the columns of basalt rock formed by ancient volcanic eruptions, or by some ancient giants as told in a fairy tale we listened to after our visit. Alister insisted that the tale was the true story and we all fancied it as truth, when you visit you be the judge! One note here is that there is a charge for the bus rides up and down to the causeway, one euro each way. We sort of snuck on since we honestly answered we were coming from the Royal Princess (true) which implied we were on a Princess tour (we were not) and we were scurried onto the bus without having to pay! The causeway is magnificent and should not be missed, although I doubt the visitors center is worth the money it costs to go inside, and after all this place is all about nature and the great outdoors. We all had plenty if time to walk, take pictures, and muse at these giant formations. Up at the visitors center we were told we needed to pay 8 Euros to go inside, including visiting the store, so we opted to spend our "magnet and trinket money" elsewhere. We met our guide at the pub and headed to Dunluce Castle and the town surrounding it where we ate the best scones ever at the "Wee Cottage." They truly were the best I have ever had; don't miss this place, a small eatery with delicious food. One of the waitresses was from California, we chatted a little about how she ended up living in such a different place than Southern California. We also bumped into another tour group with City and Causeway tours and they were having as much fun as us, I have only good things to say about this company. Our guide took group pictures of us at every stop; we all appreciated these Polaroid memories, which we would cherish forever. Anyway leaving the "Wee Cottage" we headed for Bushmills Whiskey distillery where we had the option of sampling the whiskey, taking a tour, and of course shopping for Whiskey, some of which could only be purchased at this location. We spent about a half hour there then departed heading back to the port on a different more direct road, which was nonetheless quite scenic. We stopped at a small stream where our guide pointed out some Salmon, which were easily seen as they jumped out of the river on their way upstream. As we approached the port we took a quick drive through Belfast, our guide teaching us about the division between the Catholics and the Protestants and the walls that were built to divide them. These walls were quite disturbing, reminding us of the Berlin Wall which divided the city for so many years. Belfast's walls were colorful, filled with lots of graffiti, slogans, and colorful pictures depicting different aspects of each side. It was sad to see so much division amongst the Irish. We arrived back at the ship with plenty of time to spare, and there was lots of shopping at the port. We thoroughly enjoyed our day with Alister, he was such a character and made our visit interesting, exciting, and added a sense of authenticity that really made a difference. He was bright, wacky, well informed, and really knew the back roads and roads less traveled, making this one of my favorite port visits of the entire cruise. City and Causeway Tours cost was 50GBP pp for and 8 seater bus which was very comfortable. http://www.cityandcausewaytours.com/ 9/19/14 Cork (Cobh), Ireland Took a tour of Cork and the Blarney Castle with Butlers Tours in Ireland as recommended by someone earlier on this the roll call and they had organized this private tour for up to 20 people. On Trip Advisor Butlers Tours had received fantastic reviews. The tour I signed up for involved visiting the town of Blarney and the Blarney Castle to kiss the famous stone followed by a visit to the Woollen Mills just across the road. Next we were supposed to travel to Kinsale enjoying a panoramic tour of Cork city on route plus stopping at Charlesfort just to enjoy the stunning views or partake in the guided tour. After Kinsale, if time permited, we would take a coastal drive out around The Old Head of Kinsale before going back to Cobh, where again if time allowed we would have a visit to Cobh's Cathedral and The Queenstown Story. Butlers Tours quoted approx 21 E per person for 20 people. The tour we actually took when a little differently than what was promised. We did not have a good tour guide/driver. Our driver/guide advised us that the drive to Kinsale was very long, it would take a hour to an hour and a half each way and that Kinsale was boring with nothing to see. I could tell he didn’t want to take us there, he was selling the long drive and boring story heavily and this info conflicted with my own personal research. I read that Kinsale was famous for its many restaurants and pubs and lunch there was recommended before a stroll around its narrow and winding streets. My info indicated that Kinsale was a must see kind of a place! The driver had convinced the whole bus to drop Kinsale and I had to protest in order to get to see that town. I had a funny feeling about the driver and could tell he didn’t want to drive to Kinsale, and after my protesting he reluctantly agreed to take us there! The folks on tour with us also agreed that it was on the tour plan although I could tell they did not want to take that long bus ride. Guess what, it only took a half hour to get there, the same to get back to the ship, and everybody loved it the best! That’s right, the whole bus thanked me for insisting, and we all agreed that it was the best little town we had seen, not as commercial and touristy as Blarney and easy to walk and enjoy at ones own pace. In Blarney I kissed the stone! We arrived at the Blarney Castle and gardens with plenty of time to visit. We all walked toward the castle and I was nervous because of the 122 stone steps one must take in order to kiss the Blarney Stone! As we approached, we could see the castle was high and that there was a small line coming out of the castle, it was a line for kissing the Blarney stone! I could not believe how crowded it seemed to be, and I was ready to give up climbing up those stairs to kiss some strange stone. While some people had told me this would entail stepping on very steep and almost impossible stairs, I was thinking I would not do the climb but my dear beloved friends would not let me back out. After all it was on my bucket list! Anyway they encouraged me to do it, and reminded me that with this line, it would be slow going up so I did not have to worry about getting out of breath. OK I decided to do it! The line went slow, wending its way up the castle with plenty of rooms to step into for the claustrophobic like me. My pals kept telling me that there was an opening coming up, sometimes the stairwell was dark and closed in but there was merely a few steps before the many openings so it was easy. For the first time in my life I was grateful for being in a line, we went up slowly and I never felt out of breathe or closed in. At the top I was so excited I could have burst. The views were unbelievable and as we slowly made our way to the exact spot where we had to get on our backs while a nice guy held us as we also held ourselves and slowly pushed out and kissed that stone, and all the folks who had come before me!!! I was ecstatic; I had accomplished another bucket list item and felt proud! I was so thrilled that I had done this and I thanked my friends again realizing that in this case, it actually did take a village!!! We did a quick drive through Cork because one couple was so set on not driving the prolonged period of time the driver exaggerated about and instead chose to walk around Cork on their own and take the train back to the station. When I bumped into them later during the cruise they were bummed out that they had missed Kinsale, especially in light of the short drive time and lack of traffic that the driver insisted we would hit (we hit zero traffic). At least they did enjoy visiting the city of Cork. We were so pleased with the town of Kinsale, and ate at this restaurant called the Blue Haven Café, which provided a great place for us to eat and ponder the beautiful scenery. Several of our group decided to shop rather than eat, so this was a perfect place to meet, we grabbed a large table under a cover outside because it was raining lightly and sporadically. The waiter was so kind and helpful, I asked a question about something that was not on the menu and he ran in and got my answer (no) so I ordered a delicious sandwich made of cheese, which was grilled with tomatoes and beets, no mayo. It was so yummy, a different cheese, which I don't remember the name of and never wrote it down so I cannot describe it at all! Someone else in my group ordered soup, which was also delicious, and others ordered wine, coffee, and beer. We all had a great time here and hated to leave, but alas we had to as our bus was leaving. Besides Blarney and Kinsale, we did not visit any of the other promised sites, we stopped at a look out over Kinsale, I guess this was Charlesfort (Really Charles fort) but we were not given any time there and barely had time to get off the bus and take a picture. Naturally time did not permit us a coastal drive, Cobh’s Cathedral, or the Queenstown Story! Our friends who were also on a Butler’s tour did visit the Cathedral and several sites we did not visit, instead our driver “advised” us to extend our visit at Blarney, which ate up all of our time. Everybody but one couple arrived back early at the bus in Blarney, it was raining and everybody was ready to go but we waited thanks to our horrible driver/guide. He was a happy camper with more time to read his book! The moral of this story is to beware of the old bait and switch tactic, do your own research and be wary of driver/guides who try to talk you out of visiting a place you planned on visiting. They may be motivated by a bad night before, a bad argument with somebody, a hangover, gas prices, or even reading a good book like our driver was doing, he would have preferred having more time to read than drive! It was very sad when one gets stuck with a driver or guide (or both) who does not like their job and has little passion for the places they visit or the people they are hosting. We have all experienced bad guides who talk like robots and clearly do not like what they are doing in contrast to the passion filled guides who capture our attention with amazing stories and clear love of the places they take us. 9/23/14 St. Johns, Newfoundland Missed port due to high winds so on to Halifax for an overnight stay. 9/24/14 - 9/25/14 Halifax, Nova Scotia Arrived early, the evening before our appointed port day of 9/25, and got off the ship by 8PM. We visited a few open stores; one was a convenience store where we bought some cokes and water, and a few snacks. Then we found this store called the Chocolate Café and Chocolates by Design and it was delicious. I purchased some delicious chocolate treats to bring back to my dear Aunt for her 95th Birthday, and we sat and enjoyed using the free Internet that was available here. Of course I had to try some of the chocolate and it was really good. I was glad we had come off the ship, the walk was great and the chocolate was even better! We saw a group of people eating a chocolate fondue and it looked so good, but I could not convince anybody to have some with me! It looked to die for; sadly we had just eaten dinner and dessert on the ship so it was not meant to be! Day 2 in Halifax Took a full days tour to Peggy's Cove and Halifax Historic City. Our guide Jonathan picked us up at the ship promptly at 9am, explaining that this port was like the “Ellis Island” of Canada. As Jonathan drove us away from our ship, he started teaching us about Halifax. We drove through the city and first visited a lovely upscale neighborhood where Jonathan claimed to live. As we drove past this wealthy neighborhood, which had homes that were so beautiful including lovely Victorian manors’ as well as more modern and Historic mansions. He was joking as he pointed to one of the largest homes in the area, a lovely Victorian, that this was where he actually lived. We all laughed, this is where we all would have loved to live in fact! We also drove past St. Paul’s Church, the oldest Anglican Church in Canada. Finally we drove past several hospitals including the Grace Maternity Hospital, a Children’s Hospital and the Victoria General Hospital. Our first stop on our tour of Halifax was at the Public Gardens, which were the oldest in Canada. We walked through the many winding paths as our guide Jonathan illuminated the various flora and fauna we spotted in this lovely garden. We learned about what plants could grow in this climate, and what could not. Jonathan was quite well versed in his knowledge of plants, and I could tell he spent a lot of his free time here. It was a beautiful place to begin our tour of Halifax. Next we visited the Halifax Citadel National Historic site of Canada and really enjoyed it here. Although we did not have time to go inside, we did have enough time to go to the front entrance and take a picture with the Scottish guard who was silent but gave off a nice vibration, so it was OK to stand close to him and get your picture taken. Well, I hope it was because I did this! This citadel is located on a hill high above the city and afforded us great views in all directions. We could even see our ship off in the distance. The cost to visit inside was certainly not very expensive and next time we will go in and have a look. We stopped at The Fairview Cemetery because of everybody’s interest in Titanic information since it was bound for Halifax. This Cemetery had some of the victims of the ill-fated RMS Titanic buried there and it was interesting to hear their stories and see the way their tombs were maintained, and some were not maintained as well as others! We learned about how some of the very wealthy people had very sparse tombstones, I could not believe it! This was certainly a worthwhile place to visit; we were there for about a half hour. We stopped at a Canadian Maple Candy store for “free” candy including fudge tastes, maple cookies, and coffee. After a few minutes the store started filling up with several busloads of tourists so at this point we went through it quickly because lots of us did want to buy some souvenirs. As the bus folks come in we started getting pushed and shoved, people took cuts in front of us as if they were entitled and that was our cue to exit stage left! We were all out of there quick at this point! Then we were off to Canada’s most famous lighthouse, Peggy’s Cove. This lighthouse is supposed to be one of the most unique, captivating and exhilarating places to visit in Nova Scotia with it s red and while exterior. It is the only lighthouse in North America that houses a post office, although I did not get close enough to see it. There was a quaint and historic fishing village here as well and most of the houses had been converted into stores. We walked out to the actual lighthouse amongst many tourists there, too many people here for my liking and I rested on a rock at a distance to get some space to myself. The rocks were so unusual and interesting, formed by ancient glaciers with sharp lines in them, making it easy to walk on as if they were some kind of ancient road, it kind of reminded me of the Aztec lines in Chile. There was also a man playing bagpipes, which lent an eerie feeling to the whole place. We walked back to the designated meeting area after giving up on a long line for the bathroom in the large store closest to the lighthouse. Surprisingly I found a free bathroom a few steps away at a Pewter store, there was no line and I was able to get in immediately. Lesson learned, never go for the most obvious bathroom, as there will always be another just up the road! 9/27/14 New York City (Brooklyn) disembarkation day Part 3: Royal Baltics and Transatlantic Cruise Review 9/2/14-9/27/14—Just the Cruise Embarkation We got on the ship quickly with plenty of time to settle in and explore before muster. The ship was the same as it had been last year when we spent a month on it; large and laid out well but still lacking a full promenade deck outside. We went to trivia and quickly found some partners who were good, although Ken was the star player. We won our first trivia and got water bottles, I figure by the end of the cruise we might be able to build a raft of water bottles! Muster was quick and very small and I was surprised how few people there were at muster, not realizing what a small number of people were checking in from Berlin. This was a weird cruise in that it was sold many different ways. Some people embarked in Copenhagen three days before Berlin, some in St. Petersburg, and many embarked in Copenhagen 9/10/14 for the transatlantic. Our dinner was OK, in spite of asking for a large table for 8-10, we were put at a table of 4 and ate alone since our table mates were off in Berlin. We didn't leave Berlin until 10:30 PM. The following day we changed our table to a larger one for 8 and all of our friend joined us at early seating and this became the highlight of the cruise in many ways. On turnaround day we changed our table of 8 to a table of 10 and that undoubtedly became the highlight of everyone’s cruise. We all looked forward to dinner each night, and maybe gained a few pounds too, after all food tastes better when shared with good friends Problems in the Cabin I Woke up the first morning ready to embrace the day. I had been on the Royal last year for 30 days and experienced some issues so I was ready to embrace a new and improved ship. This was not quite the experience I had. The toilet in my room (A718) was clogged first thing the morning, and you know how that goes when you are traveling. This caused extreme discomfort to us and I spent the morning calling for help. Just like last year, nobody came to fix the toilet until I called 5 times, not my favorite way to start a cruise. We had to vacate the room and race to use the public bathrooms, then to the front desk to ask for help in person, this being the most effective method of eliciting help on this ship. Good grief, I swear I am not doing anything different on this ship than I do on others so I don't understand what the problem is. Could it be related to the power blackout we had yesterday right after we boarded? Problems on the ship Some cruise critic friends took my rear facing deluxe balcony C743 (from last year’s cruise), the infamous soot room, and were beside themselves with how bad it smelled, how much tar was on their balcony, and how unusable it was. Please beware that the issues around the sooty aft cabins, and the plumbing problems still exist. If you have booked any of the aft cabins beware that there has been no fix. Laundry service was another problem, taking 3+ days from the beginning of the cruise, and throughout the cruise the time grew longer, usually 5-6 days. Having spent 10 nights in Berlin pre cruise, I had lots of dirty clothing and was not expecting to encounter this kind of delay. To add insult to injury, close to the close of the first segment of the cruise (the Baltics) they offered a “stuff a laundry” bag promotion where everybody could get as much laundry done as they could fit in a bag for $20. This probably caused more delays for us elite members who were getting our laundry done as a benefit. I refrain to call it free because we spend a lot of money taking a lot of cruises to gain elite status. Trivia and other Games We played trivia a lot but encountered a really lousy cruise staff member named Geof who was such a bummer; he ruined the experience for a lot of us. He ran a cruise long progressive trivia and was so rude to the captain it really offended many of us. This cruise long game took place at around noon on every sea day and was often interrupted by the Captains daily announcement. Every time the Captain came on Geof would make faces and act like the captain’s announcement was so boring and useless and then he would make “speed it up” gestures and pretend that he was dying, or just dropped to the floor as if in prayer, all centered around making fun of the Captains announcement. When the captain finished his announcement, Geof would clap and talk about how long winded the captain was. Frankly I was embarrassed for the Captain, I though Captain Dino Sagani was one of the more personable and informative Captains I have ever cruised with. This guy Geof was a fool, and quite full of himself! I did not like him at all. Otherwise the Cruise staff was excellent. The Cruise Director Lisa Ball was fantastic; she was very involved in all aspects of the shipboard activities and even called trivia. We really enjoyed her presence and appreciated how involved and active she was, truly a team player and in no way full of herself like some CD’s can be. Lisa really set the bar high for me! Food/Dining experiences-- Main Dining Room We had the best dining table ever, seating for 10--infamous Table for 10 group--and we were close to the back with decent views of the water. Our table was filled with good friends, people we have cruise with before and got along with well, my dear friends joined us for the Transatlantic portion and they got along fabulously with the rest of the group, becoming instant family. I cannot tell you what a difference the right mix of people make for a successful dinner group. So what if we were loud and laughing every night. We spend each night laughing till our tummies hurt (really) and generally being so jovial that we were infectious. Most of the tables around us became louder and looked like they were having as much fun as we were. Laughter was breaking out all over the place. Yes one of our neighbors look like they were suffering being close to our loud and joyous table, and they looked grumpy and bent out of shape much of the time but I suspect this was how they were all of the time, independent of our proximity. Our tablemate Bob started this kleptomaniac routine, which he performed throughout the entire 25-day cruise. He was imitating some lady we had talked about who was on a world cruise and had tried to steal all of the dinnerware, utensils, and whatever else she could get her hands on until she got caught. Bob would casually start stuffing utensils, sugar containers, plates, glasses, and more, often while the head waiter Arkie (short for Arkadius) stood talking to us about what we did that day, or any special orders we asked for. We laughed and laughed every time Bob did this shtick, as he slowly and surely made all the dinnerware disappear. Then he would stand and all the stuff would fall from his clothing causing all of us to squeal with joy and laughter! No matter how many times he did this, we could not stop laughing at it. Bob should be a comedian! Arkie enjoyed our antics throughout the entire cruise, he was drawn to us because we were infectious with joy! Our waitress D (short for Dorota) was fantastic, as was her assistant waiter Zoran. Zoran was not around as much as D, I guess he was getting the food all the time, Princess has changed the way the wait staff works and I was told its normal to not see the assistant much. D really put up with us in such a perfect manner; sometimes she faked being stern when we were getting raucous, or just being loud and noisy, and other times joining in as if she was part of our group and she was! Our neighbors had appointed her “Queen” of the dining room staff and she regally wore her the crowns they brought for her. She was incredible in her manner and perfect at negotiating large, loud groups! We all loved her dearly. I always order extra vegetables for each night. Initially I had grilled Asparagus and Spinach steamed with garlic brought to the table every night. My tablemates were quick to agree that this was a very good thing, generally the dinner plates do not have many veggies on them and we all loved the extras. As the cruise went on they first ran out of Asparagus, then they ran out of Spinach. I asked for Broccoli instead and it always came steamed with garlic, I think garlic makes everything taste better. During the Baltic’s portion of the cruise our fixed dining time was 6pm, and during the transatlantic portion, we were supposed to come at 5:30, although we always showed up between 5:45 and 6pm. The only negative to dining at the traditional early seating is that we always missed sail always. The trade off was well worth it, late dining was between 8 and 8:30 and that was just too late for all of us to eat, digest, and get to sleep for early ports. Sabatini’s We went to Sabatini’s to celebrate our friends wedding anniversary on one of the formal nights. We actually dressed for it, although you don’t have to dress formally on formal nights to dine here. We had our infamous Table for 10 group and started at 7pm and we did not finish until close to 11PM, that’s how much fun we had! The food was excellent, with a few exceptions, and service was great too. Food always tastes good when accompanied by good friends and good service. Horizon Court Buffet At the beginning of the cruise the HC is incredible, do try to make it up there on day one for lunch because you will be amazed at the variety they have there, including 4 carving stations. We often went up to the massive buffet at 11:25 am, a perfect time for Ken to grab breakfast and me, lunch, timing being everything here. I always grabbed some yummy grilled veggies, wild rice and asparagus, some lean brisket or other lean meat, Roasted Chicken, and a veggie salad with lo cal dressing. There were many healthy options in the Buffet, no need to feel deprived if dieting. I really enjoyed eating at the HC for Breakfasts and lunch, but really hated it at dinner. The dinner options were far less abundant than the options during the day. Half of the Horizon Court was closed, or refashioned for Fondues or the Crab Shack. The grill area was always closed; no yummy fresh grilled veggies or meats for dinner were ever available, although they always had several carving stations opened. At dinnertime nuts and dried fruits and lot of veggies and meats were plentiful but as the cruise progressed they seemed to run out leaving less options. I tried to make a trail mix to take with me on port days as a snack, don’t forget to bring ziplock baggies for this. At 5:30 pm there is always an array of deli meats and sandwiches that can be used to make sandwiches for the next day’s port visit, if you are so inclined to do that this is the place. On several occasions we brought the infamous table for 10 group to the HC, we even found a table for 10 and this became our alternative dining spot although we only ate here twice because of late port visits or because we wanted to see a sail away. Formal Nights On our first formal night, we dressed for it but hated to as we always do! I noticed that lots of people did not dress for formal nights, many choose to eat at the Buffet. I think we ended up dressing for every formal night except the last, mostly because one of the 10 enjoyed it so much and we wanted to make her happy! Man Overboard During one of the last sea days there was a surprising “man overboard” announcement and we were all asked to go back to our cabins for a head count. Everybody did this pretty quickly and mostly hung over the balcony railings looking for whomever had jumped ship. Our room Steward came by and noted we were in our cabin. Meanwhile I noticed a beach ball like red thing floating in the water off the port side of the ship, by this time Captain Sagani had turned the ship around and we were heading back the way we came. A tender boat was lowered into the water and I saw it heading straight for the red ball then suddenly it turned and started going away from it. I could not believe this, I grabbed the phone and called passenger services and told them to tell the captain that the red floating thing was off the port side at 11 o’clock. After a few minutes, the tender boat turned and headed straight for the red thing and in quick time they determined it was nothing more than a fishing marker. Captain Sagani came on and told us that the passengers and crew were all accounted for, complimenting us on one of the quickest counts he had ever seen, and also thanking the passenger who called and directed them to where the red ball was. I hope I was not the only person who called. Meet and Greets (2) We had two M&G’s, the first one was during the “Most Traveled lunch” and only one staff member showed up and he was very late. That staff member was the Safety officer and several people who were having soot issues in their cabin balconies hijacked him. The second M&G was more crowded and a few more crew members attended including the CD. Both meetings were in Club 6, not terribly conducive large groups and lots of folks had to stand or sit on the floor during the introductions. I know I missed this because I was sitting in the center part of the room and all the activities took place close to the bar area, which is also the smallest area! Ports and Princess Tours We did one Princess tour during the 25-day cruise, and this was in Kristiansand, Norway. We did a cruise through the Blindleia Passage to Lillesand, a cute and charming little town that was quite scenic. The cruise was nice but the guide was not very exciting and I just didn’t feel any passion or love from him, something I notice that good guides always have. The town was mostly closed, not only because it was early in the day but also because it was late in the season and most residents were there for the summer only. Finally, we only had a half hour to visit this place and it was not enough time to walk through the narrow lanes of the town, so we didn’t see much of it at all. The excursion was not worth the money we spent on it at all! Other than that, we only did private tours. Disembarkation Disembarkation was quick and easy, especially since we booked a transfer to the airport with Princess. We left our room by 8:30am and waited no more than 20-30 minutes in our appointed meeting place before we got off the ship. Immigration was quick and easy, and our luggage was neatly placed in its proper area and we found a porter who hauled our 3 pieces to our transfer bus and off we went to La Guardia. Unfortunately our driver was unable to take us to the departure area of the airport, he grumbled some excuse and dumped us at the arrival terminal and we had to schlep our luggage upstairs to find the proper check in area. This was a mess and most of the folks just grabbed their luggage and dragged it up to the proper place, like us. I did notice that the excuse our driver made, that his bus was too high, was BS, there were no restrictions on height up at the departures area and we had been duped by a lazy, know-nothing bus driver!   Read Less
1 Helpful Vote
Sail Date: August 2014
I am a young adult and I enjoy traveling with my parents when I have the chance. I live in Germany and had been wanting to do a Baltic cruise for quite awhile. We booked our trip on the Royal Princess for August 2014 and had a fantastic ... Read More
I am a young adult and I enjoy traveling with my parents when I have the chance. I live in Germany and had been wanting to do a Baltic cruise for quite awhile. We booked our trip on the Royal Princess for August 2014 and had a fantastic time. We chose the Royal Princess because it gave us the ability to board at the Berlin stop. The actual port is three hours from Berlin and called Warnemunde. My parents and I met in Berlin, and then took a German-operated bus to Warnemunde, and then a taxi to the port. Check-in was super easy, as there was no line. It took about ten minutes. We think that most people boarded in Copenhagen a day or two before, so the port at Warnemunde was pretty empty. We thought the ship was gorgeous. Our room was an obstructed balcony cabin on the 7th floor. The balcony was enormous and we did not mind the obstructed view. It was a small room, but nicely furnished and totally adequate. The television was new and worked great, and the bed was comfortable. We had a small fridge, an American-style and European-style outlet, and a big closet area, which we appreciated. The bathroom was small, but fine, and our only real complaint was that there were very few options to hang towels. We would have preferred to re-use our towels, but we had no way to dry them between use, and they usually ended up on the ground and then were replaced. We ate most meals in the buffet area, which was split into a more relaxed atmosphere where you could get your own drinks, and into a slightly fancier area, in which drinks were served by waitstaff. There was some repetition on the food for each meal, but there were always so many choices, that the repetition did not bother us (in fact, we found some favorite things, and looked forward to eating them several times). The waitstaff were extremely attentive and friendly, and also seemed to joke amongst themselves, which gave us the impression that they enjoyed their jobs. If we ever wanted something special, they always went out of their way to try to make our wish possible. We were extremely impressed with the staff. I used the gym almost every day and found the machines to be almost new and in excellent condition. The gym was large, and there was not a single time when I had to wait for an elliptical or treadmill. They did offer classes and seminars, but I did not participate in any of those. My parents went to a show almost every night, and I joined them occasionally. The illusionist was very entertaining, the hypnotist was very impressive, and the ship's cast of dancers and singers was very talented. My parents also really enjoyed the comedian. We were excited to go to the movies under the stars, but by the very end of August, the weather was just too cold to sit outside for a movie at night. The crew always set it up though, complete with blankets, so we could have gone if we wanted to. We also really liked the port lecturer, Loie Lennon. She was very friendly and really knowledgable about each city. She provided her own photos and gave us helpful tips. She always plugged the ship's excursions, but not in an aggressive way, and included information for people doing the ports on their own or for those who had booked private excursions. She was also available for questions during her "office hours," and seemed to genuinely enjoy talking to guests about the ports. She did not speak much of the history of each city, but rather focused on the practical information, which was more important anyway. The highlight of the cruise though, of course, were the ports. We chose to use SPB Tours for the ports where they were offered. We were absolutely thrilled with the company - the booking was easy, the office staff was extremely prompt and helpful, and all of their guides were outstanding. Our first stop was Tallinn and our guide was Silja. She was lovely, very knowledgeable, and did a great job managing the group. We saw some farther away sites in a small bus, and then walked in the old city. Tallinn is lovely and we really enjoyed the day. Our second stop was St. Petersburg, and we had two jam-packed days with Alexander. Viktoria met us at the dock, and it was a wonderful personal touch. We toured the city with a group of 16 people in a small bus. We did everything - subway ride, boat ride, hydrofoil ride, palaces, museums, and even a bit of shopping. It was exhausting, but well-worth it. Alexander is young, bursting with knowledge, and very open to questions. He was a genius at logistics - it is truly impressive how Alexander and SPB Tours in general can pack in so much in such a short time. Our only complaint is that we did not have enough time and felt a bit rushed, but that had nothing to do with SPB Tours or Alexander. Then we went to Helsinki, which was not as exciting as St. Petersburg, but still very interesting, and our guide George was lovely. He focused more on Finnish culture than on Finnish history, and we enjoyed seeing both the downtown of the city, as well as some of the parks on the outskirts. Our final stop with SPB Tours was Stockholm, which is a gorgeous city. Our ship docked pretty far from the city, so SPB Tours organized a bus transfer. Our guide Katja was great, and showed us the town hall, the Vasa Museum, and the old town. We also had a bit of free time for shopping. Due to the distance of the ship from Stockholm, the day was pretty short, but we still had a wonderful time. Overall, we were extremely impressed with SPB Tours and would highly recommend them to anyone considering doing a Baltic cruise! Once we got back to Berlin, it was time to disembark, and the Royal Princess made it very easy. Since we did not have much luggage, we chose the option to disembark on our own, and we just got off with the other passengers early in the morning. We had heard some rumors that the ships try to keep private tour passengers on the ship for longer each morning, giving those who booked the ship's excursions priority. We did NOT experience this, as for most ports, everyone was allowed to disembark at the same time and no one asked what sort of excursion we were doing. For St. Petersburg, they did announce that private excursion customers should go to a separate area, but they were allowed to disembark right away, so there was no delay. We also were not asked to fill out a customs form for St. Petersburg. Overall, we were really thrilled about every aspect of the trip, from the ship, the food, the ports, and especially the excursions. Our only real complaint (mentioned above) is that there were not more places to hang towels, and certainly that did not impact our enjoyment in any way. We would enthusiastically encourage anyone thinking about doing a Baltic cruise to choose Princess and to take the SPB Tours! Read Less
Sail Date: May 2014
The ship has its good points; we enjoyed the food, the entertainment and facilities. The service was very hit & miss aside from our cabin steward who was excellent. The passenger services desk is a fiasco, they don't answer their ... Read More
The ship has its good points; we enjoyed the food, the entertainment and facilities. The service was very hit & miss aside from our cabin steward who was excellent. The passenger services desk is a fiasco, they don't answer their phones and as you get towards the front of a great long line they tell 'elite' passengers to cut in front of you. Given that people are generally in the line to sort out some shortcoming of the cabin or service this is infuriating. The restaurants are usually closed at lunchtimes which leaves you with a very limited options unless you want to join the bunfight in the cafeterias. For example, the pizzeria which is usually open serves good food but has very limited choices which we got rather tired of on a 10 day trip. Service in all the restaurants was well-meaning but sometimes very slow. Rather than have one server throughout the meal they have tried to employ 'production line' techniques with often dire results. I usually felt we were in a sausage machine rather than a proper restaurant, we often sat there starving for 15 minutes until the 'bread-boy' put in an appearance. The much vaunted 'anytime dining' does not really work, it should be called 'when they get around to you dining'. We sometimes had to wait 45 minutes or so for a table. As everybody mentions, the lifts are mad. There are no stairs midships where they are often needed to go one or two floors up or down so everybody piles in to the lifts which were programmed by a lunatic. Every one stops at every floor when they are called, but people have often taken another lift or given up so often nobody gets on or off. As a result journeys take forever. This could be corrected quite easily, if only they could be bothered, even at this late stage. Numerous passengers, both on board and in their reviews, have mentioned the crew being made to 'nickel & dime' passengers at every opportunity. They are absolutely right, it is not compatible with providing good hospitality, it is grasping to the point of rudeness. Endless 'photo opportunities' and interruptions to sell drinks, beauty treatments etc. etc. Even the water on board sucks unless you pay $1.50 plus 15% per small bottle, see what I mean? I believe I am right in saying the only 'free' beverage on the entire ship is right at the back, topside in the cafeteria where you can get tea, coffee or unpleasant tasting water out of machines. Our previous experience with Princess, on the Golden doing an Alaska cruise, was very good but it was several years ago and I'm afraid Princess have since gone downhill. The experience this time was little better than a rather poor trip we had with Carnival. Based on our experience we would try a different line next time but unfortunately we had already booked up for a trip from Japan on the Diamond in October. From what I have seen of the reviews for that ship we will be keeping our fingers firmly crossed. Read Less
Sail Date: May 2014
Right away we were impressed by the size and beauty of the new Royal Princess ship. (We sailed on the last Royal in 2009.) This ship was inaugurated in June 2013 and our voyage was her first visit to the Baltic Sea. She dwarfs many of the ... Read More
Right away we were impressed by the size and beauty of the new Royal Princess ship. (We sailed on the last Royal in 2009.) This ship was inaugurated in June 2013 and our voyage was her first visit to the Baltic Sea. She dwarfs many of the other Princess ships with her impressive 19 decks and 3,500 passengers. We were looking forward to exploring all the features we had read about on this new ship, including the new Sea Walk that extends out over the water for fabulous views as well as the larger and more spacious Atrium. We had heard complaints about the lack of a mid-ship staircase as well as small balcony size. There were no lines the day we boarded, which was a port day (Berlin) for most of the passengers, so the public areas were quite empty and we got a good look at the well appointed decor. The next evening they would be packed with people trying to get a view of the captain and the champagne fountain, a Princess favorite. Meanwhile, we enjoyed finding our way around this enormous ship. We learned quickly that we did not miss the mid ship staircase at all. With our cabin on the 16th floor forward and most activities on 5, 6, & 7 aft, we would not be using the staircases much. If anything, we wished for more elevators. It seemed each one would be full and then stop at every floor. The Horizon Food Court and Bistro were on our same Lido (Deck 16) aft so no need for stairs there either. Also, once you are in the Atrium, they have stairs between the main 3 floors and we used those often. The Piazza and Atrium are really the center of activity on the ship. They had line dance classes in the afternoon (on Sea Days) and a band you could dance to each evening. Sometimes there was a string quartet playing or a specialty act; it was rarely quiet. The two floors above were opened up to reveal popular spots like Alfredo’s pizza dining, Crooners, and Bellini’s as well as the Photo Gallery and the Facets gift shop. New in the Photo Gallery on the Royal is facial recognition! Enter your name on the touchscreen monitor and behold your photos from the entire voyage appear! This is the greatest thing and you now avoid “the big search” of looking for your photos among the thousands of other guest photos on the myriad of gallery walls. The walls of photos are still there of course for those that like to hold the photo in your hands. Wonderful feature! The new Sea Walk itself extends out for a few feet on both sides of the ship and is a little less than anticipated. On one side you really just look down (way down) to see the Promenade deck below. It seemed to be a bit of a novelty and we did not see many people pausing there. In fact, most seemed to avoid it once they had checked out the view. Our dining and service experiences were excellent on the ship. The first evening we ate in Alfredo’s, where they serve specialty pizzas and antipasto salads. The food is free and they have a nice selection of wines, which made for a lovely first night meal. We ate dinner mainly in the Symphony dining room and had excellent waiters and staff each time. We also ate at the Crown Grille steakhouse on my birthday and had a perfectly cooked steak and lobster dinner ($25 pp). The Horizon Court on Deck 16 included a Bistro section as well as a full buffet. They had a great selection of food all through the day and we never lacked for choices. The first day we did not even realize how far the buffet extended because we stopped first in the Bistro, finding yummy things there to eat. I also have to mention that the soft serve ice cream stand out by the pool was a big hit, especially at then end of a long day of touring. Our other favorite spot was the International Café on Deck 5 in the Atrium. They have specialty coffees, desserts, salads, and the best chocolate croissants ever. Early in the morning you can get them still warm and fresh out of the oven, a real delight. I must say the food on this voyage was the best of any cruise we have been on. We really enjoyed ourselves. All of the ports on this cruise were new to us and we enjoyed all of them. We explored Tallinn, Stockholm, and Aarhus on our own. We used ALLA Tours for the 2 days in St. Petersburg and were very happy with them. We used Princess for tours in Helsinki, Copenhagen, and Oslo. As others have described, Copenhagen was a traffic nightmare for anyone getting off the ship. Our tour was cut short due to the loss of time sitting in traffic, but after registering our complaint with the shore excursion desk, the tower was removed from our bill. We were happy not to be debarking there. Our stateroom was a mini-suite with balcony, full couch, and bathtub! The extra space is so luxurious and the rooms are elegantly decorated in beige tones. We had two flat screen TVs with on demand movies and port talks along with the usual Sea news channels. There was a heavy curtain that we used to partition the room when one wanted to nap while the other read. As rumored the balcony was small, with just enough room for two chairs and a table. We were happy with it though, and utilized it several times in spite of the cool temps in the Baltic. (Request an extra blanket or two from your steward). Debarkation was easy as well. We walked off with our luggage about 9:00 am with no lines or problems. Our overall impression of Royal Princess was quite positive. However, I yearn for a ship the size of the previous Royal with the luxurious feel of the new Royal. Unfortunately, I believe we would have to find another cruise line right now for that. In spite of size, I would give Royal Princess an A+ for an overall excellent experience.   Read Less

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