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Sail Date: September 2008
We're Rookie Cruisers and always wanted to see Russia, plus my wife has Norway relatives so the Baltic Cruise fit our needs and wants. Arrival/Embarkation - Tropical Storm Hanna delayed our connecting flight in Newark NJ and we ... Read More
We're Rookie Cruisers and always wanted to see Russia, plus my wife has Norway relatives so the Baltic Cruise fit our needs and wants. Arrival/Embarkation - Tropical Storm Hanna delayed our connecting flight in Newark NJ and we just made it for our SAS flight, but our bags didn't make it to Copenhagen. Thanks to reading these blogs, we weren't that surprised and since we connected through Stockholm which was our first port of call, we got our bags while docked in Stockholm. With the travel insurance we were covered for the extra clothes we bought in Copenhagen and Stockholm. My wife was accosted by a pickpocket near the Copenhagen train station but the victim turned out to be the punk - my jet-lagged, tired, hungry, nicotine-deprived wife body slammed him and all he got out of her backpack were her cigs before he fled the scene! We let our guard down in the busy Copenhagen train/Tivoli area - beware extra in this area. We got on the ship just fine, arriving just an hour before deadline 8pm, so no lines at all, most had already embarked before us. The ship was impressively designed. We felt it had all the features/comforts of one of the Las Vegas strip casinos, which was fine for us. I liked the fitness center and got my value out of that with daily workouts. The food was 4 out of 5, enough variety to keep it interesting, with all the staples to stay fueled. We pretty much ate Anytime and for dinner and enjoyed meeting and talking with different couples in the DaVinci and Michelangelo dining rooms for dinner. We rarely ate during our land excursions since we fueled up so well for breakfast and dinner on the ship. I do agree a self-serve soft ice cream or frozen yogurt would be a nice touch, for free, but the free popcorn made up for that. I do agree with some of the other bloggers that the extras do add up to $1K average extra spending unless you are vigilant about only eating the free food and not buying/spending extra on clothes, souvenirs, gifts, etc. But there shouldn't be any cost surprises The day trips we pretty much did our own exploring in Stockholm, Helsinki, Tallinn, Gdansk, and Oslo. The only tours we did were the grand St. Pete and Gdansk Roads of Freedom tours. We feel like while the tours are informative and secure, we like to explore independently to experience some of the local culture - a good way to do this, by the way, is by visiting the major shopping malls like NK in Stockholm and Stockmann in Helsinki - fun people watching on top of shopping! We visited my wife's cousin in Oslo which was icing on the cake. We felt the cabin room was functional for our needs - after all we barely spent much time besides sleeping and intimate time there. The tour briefings and TV shows were helpful, and we felt the entertainment was just "good", but we didn't expect much more anyway. In St. Pete we recommend the Folkloric Dance show on the first night - what a treat of dance and song! I really liked every port of call for each city's unique offerings and charm. The only negatives were the "Disney facade" main walk in Gdansk (but hey they were destroyed in WWII) and the litter and dirty streets/pickpocket in Copenhagen. We felt most cities were clean except Copenhagen. We enjoyed seeking out each city's Nazi/Soviet oppression/resistance museums. We're in late forties/early fifties and felt fairly young compared to mostly seniors on this cruise. We do advise that this is a whirlwind cruise of nearly non-stop activity so be prepared and use that first day at sea to unwind and prepare for the next 7 days of 7 cities! Our weather was cooler and damper than we'd like, but I actually felt very comfy with it, better than unbearable heat in summer in other parts of the world. Disembarkation was efficient but not sure if worth $49. We'd have done the self-check out but didn't want to get up at 5am! Flights home were fairly smooth except my wife bought some Aquavit (strong Norwegian liqueur) in the duty free shop in Copenhagen, and forgot to put it in her checked bag when clearing customs in D.C. connecting flight, so TSA had a party on her! Not sure if we'll cruise again anytime soon but we highly recommend this cruise for those who want to see Scandinavia and St. Petersburg. We got a great deal by booking nearly a year in advance, and got flights on Expedia from Denver to Copenhagen for under $1K each roundtrip, so came under $4K for each of us, or $8K total, a definite bargain for the memories and experiences we chalked up in ten action-packed days! Read Less
Sail Date: August 2008
We are a couple in the early 40s, this was our 5th cruise (plus a river cruise on the Yangtze in China) Arrived in Copenhagen in the morning, used the train to the main railway station (easy 15 minute trip for 30 DKK, every few minutes a ... Read More
We are a couple in the early 40s, this was our 5th cruise (plus a river cruise on the Yangtze in China) Arrived in Copenhagen in the morning, used the train to the main railway station (easy 15 minute trip for 30 DKK, every few minutes a train) and took a taxi to the pier from there for 130 DKK. Put our luggage in the lockers at the train station for 40 DKK in between to walk around in the city for some time. Afterwards we found out that there probably is another good way if you like to go to the ship on your own: Take the Metro from the airport (only one line, every 5 minutes or so) and go to Kongens Nytorv station, change to bus 26 and you will get easy for just 30 DKK very close to the ship. Went to Embarkation around 13:30 and it took us just minutes to get on to the ship and in our cabin. Best embarkation process we ever had ! Our cabin C226 on Caribe deck was very nice, big half covered balcony, enough space for everything, even though we thought they could have some more drawers and spaces for our clothes, but finally everything fit quite well. Our cabin steward Carlos did a great job, we rarely took notice of him but everything was perfectly handled by him. We liked the food on the Crown Princess in general, and if you know how picky we are that means a lot :-) The only exception I want to mention is our evening at the Crown Grill. We had our wedding anniversary and wanted to have a special dinner that evening. What a bad idea to choose the Crown Grill for that. The waiters where far worse than in the Da Vinci and Michelangelo dining rooms, where we had most other nights our Anytime dinners. For example they delivered our steaks and then we had to wait more than 5 minutes for the sides we had ordered, so the steaks where half cold by then. And the food quality was below average at best, we did not like any of the food we got there. In the standard dinners we always had some nice things at least, not so in Crown Grill. Go and waste your money somewhere else, but not there. Buffets for breakfast, lunch and dinner where sometimes very nice sometimes average, but always there were some nice things to be found. Pizza and burgers where quite good, same for the soft serve ice cream. And before I forget: the ice cream in the international cafe (USD 1.50 for 3 scoops) probably was the WORST I ever had in my life. What a junk. But other people seemed to like it, no idea why. We did not go to many of the shows, but I think what we saw looked not very good. The TROIKA russian folklore was boring, the other dance shows nothing we liked. The magician was quite good, even though not half as good as the one we saw on board the Norwegian Jewel (Shawn Farquhar, if you ever get a chance, visit his show!!) The small entertainment in the Piazza sometimes was quite nice, the bands we saw, especially Amante, were horribly bad. MUTS is probably nicer when you have warmer weather, but it was quite nice anyhow, just a bit cold. For the ports we did most on our own, only in St.Petersburg we had booked with Alla Tours. The tour was informative, but we were not happy with our guide Elena. She gave lots of information and provided a quick path through all the sites, but for us she made the impression that she doesn't like her job at all. No smile, no joke, no nice stories, just facts&figures the whole two days. And what Alla really should change if she wants to keep her customers happy is saving 5 Dollars for a cheap lunch. Hey, do you go to St.Petersburg to get carried to a cheap GREEK restaurant for lunch ? What a crazy idea.... If customers would need to pay 10 USD more to get an authentic russian lunch I am sure they would be happy to do so. And what also makes the whole thing a bit worse than it has to be is the choice of places for shopping. Why don't they go to a place where you could at least shop for SOME other things than the usual matrushkas and vodka ? Why does the shop has to be a mile away from the next "normal" shops ? We did not like that... Don´t get it wrong, the tour in total was OK and well worth the money, but there are always things to be improved. Disembarkation again was very easy, we left the cabin at 08:00, went for breakfast, met as ordered in the Club Fusion at 09:00 and left the ship 5 minutes later, walked to the train station and took the next train towards CPH airport. In total that was an extremely nice trip with very many positive and a few negative aspects. The Crown Princess so far was the best ship we had, a little better than Norwegian Jewel, far better than Carnival Miracle. The AIDA ships we had (Arosa Blu and AidaCara) are difficult to compare as they have some advantages for german speaking customers but are in the same league as the Norwegian Jewel for us. Read Less
Sail Date: August 2008
My family and I have cruised before with Royal Caribbean and Carnival Cruises. With this being our first Princess cruise, and hearing so much about how great Princess was compared to Royal Caribbean, we decided to give Princess a try for ... Read More
My family and I have cruised before with Royal Caribbean and Carnival Cruises. With this being our first Princess cruise, and hearing so much about how great Princess was compared to Royal Caribbean, we decided to give Princess a try for a change. Check-in was extremely quick and organized. I would have to say that it was very efficient and extremely quick. We checked in at prime time (around 1pm-2pm) and had to wait outside for a little but once inside the tent, check-in was quick and smooth. We had a Balcony Oceanview Room which was amazing. I thought the room was large and had plenty of space. The bathroom was a little smaller and tighter and they give a lot of space for closet space (which I thought could've been slightly smaller to allow more bathroom space or room space). With it being a newer ship, launched in 2006, we thought the Atrium would be grand with high ceilings and a larger space but it only covered maybe 4 floors when the entire ship itself had 19 decks! It was small and tight and felt like a mediocre type of Atrium. We were definitely not impressed. We had traditional dining, which we always love when cruising. The dining room was mediocre as well. It definitely did not have that luxury or affluent feel to it. It felt like a normal dining room. The food selection was average as well. We were definitely not impressed with the food or quality of the food in the traditional dining room. I ordered soups for the first few days and soon realized that all their soups are incredibly salty. There weren't as many choices of dishes as I would prefer especially for pasta dishes and even during their Italian themed night ... We did try the Crown Grill and Sabatini's which are the specialty restaurants on board which cost a small fee but definitely well worth it. The food quality was a lot better and there were more choices. We probably would've eaten at these every night if we had tried them earlier on during the beginning of the cruise. The buffet food is horrendous ... just tastes like cheap cafeteria food that I would eat back in Elementary school. It was disgusting ... We were also not impressed with the service or the friendliness of the staff. Our dining room waiters and the stateroom steward were great but overall, we felt that most of the workers we encountered whether at the buffet, casino, gift shops, etc, no one had smile on their face nor did they even look like they were happy being there. You can tell they were just unhappy workers. And a lot of them serviced us without being nice and were almost rude. Definitely disappointed in the staff service. We also felt that there were not enough activities available. We felt that the ship itself was mainly targeted to senior citizens. There was not much of a focus to younger adults (around late 20's-early 30's). My husband, sister and I were so bored one night that we wanted to play video games which are only available at the Teen Center and they would not allow us to play them even though there were NO ONE inside the Teen Center (it would only allow 13-17 year olds in there). Not only were we rudely turned away but we were turned away from a location that was completely empty. We did take a few shore excursions which I think were great. They were extremely organized and used great local agencies that had great tour guides who were extremely well informed and spoke great English. We were disappointed in one tour which was in Gdansk, Poland. We took the Ez-Gdansk tour and the tour guide could not speak English well, was hard to understand. The Movies Under the Stars was great. We had popcorn and blankets which really helped a lot during the cold nights but that was definitely something that I enjoyed. The Fitness Center and Spa were nice and large. There were lots of machines available and even fitness classes. I was surprised that there was no large jogging track. It was extremely small and I was surprised how people could use it without getting dizzy. Entertainment on board was average. We went to a few shows that were somewhat entertaining. The musicians were great and I thought the String Quartet did a great job. Overall, you couldn't tell that there were 3,000 passengers on board. They did a good job organizing it and making sure that not everyone was crowded into one area. I was also disappointed that the Ice Cream Bar was not included in the total package and you had to pay for the Ice Cream. It wasn't even good ice cream ... they also sold bottled water on board which costs an arm and a leg for and I drink a lot of water. I should've stopped in town and bought water at the local grocery stores to bring on board. The port destinations I thought were great. The only one I probably wouldn't be too excited about was Gdansk, Poland. There really wasn't much to see and it's an hour away from the port. We definitely not impressed. Some of the photographers were rude and not very nice. They were definitely frustrated working with people. Internet access is very expensive and not widely available. Overall, we were really disappointed in our cruise. We thought we would expect a much grander ship and better service and better food than Royal Caribbean and ended up getting less than average everything. We decided we're going to stick with Royal Caribbean from now on ... Read Less
Sail Date: August 2008
My wife and I have travelled on several different cruise lines and consider ourselves to be able to be objective and discerning in our opinions. We have covered different parts of the cruise spectrum from medium priced to an expensive ... Read More
My wife and I have travelled on several different cruise lines and consider ourselves to be able to be objective and discerning in our opinions. We have covered different parts of the cruise spectrum from medium priced to an expensive line. We chose the Crown Princess having been very satisfied in the past and because the sailing dates were convenient for the time we had available. The Cabin Steward was excellent and the service in and to the cabin was beyond reproach. The cabin was always re-made early and was kept spotless. Information while on board was adequate through the Princess Patter. However, we we not aware of the world going on through any means other than television. No world Newspaper appeared to be available. Dining was somewhat hit and miss and as a result generally unimpressive. Food was often served cold and the choice of menu unimpressive. We are non meat eaters. Whilst every meal offered fish, the choice was very poor. Salmon was on the menu every day with very few alternatives. It used to be possible to have a flambe as a sweet. No more is that an option. The fresh fruit was very unimaginative. Have grapes gone out of fashion? The Baltic cruise is about St. Petersburg in large part. We were advised that we should travel with a ships cruise as it was expensive and necessary to obtain a Visa. That is a misrepresentation of the truth. We arranged to travel with a local Agent. They provided us with proof that they would obtain the paperwork. They did so and we approached the customs with some trepidation. We were ready with the documentation which was not requested by the official at the gate. The entertainment in the main theatre was very disappointing. The shows appeared to be under rehearsed and the single acts were of a poor standard. The various side shows were much better. Embarkation and disembarkation was handled expertly. Little time was wasted both on reaching the ship and leaving for home. All flights were on time. Read Less
Sail Date: August 2008
My mom and I went on the Baltic Cruise, which included Berlin instead of Oslo unfortunately. The reason we chose Baltic is because i was born in Russia (I´m 30) and my mom lived in St. Petersburg after she married. It was a chance of a ... Read More
My mom and I went on the Baltic Cruise, which included Berlin instead of Oslo unfortunately. The reason we chose Baltic is because i was born in Russia (I´m 30) and my mom lived in St. Petersburg after she married. It was a chance of a lifetime to go back to our roots (it was my mom´s dream to see the wonders of St. Petersburg and to show them to her daughter).. The first and most important thing that anyone going on a cruise with Crown should know is that they will charge you for everything and anything they can, by charge i mean OVERcharge. First of all, I arrived via Barcelona to Copenhagen, my mom via NYC. We took a taxi to the port. The cost was 40e for both, Princess charges 45e per person- don´t waste your money. We embarked the cruise hassle free in the afternoon and were ready to sail. I read the booklets in our cabin to see how life on the cruise would be. Rather than talk about the ports, all great, i want to talk about how Princess overcharges on every and any little thing. I felt they were just nickel and diming us to death. TIPS- This angered more than anything else. Princess charges you $10-$11 per person per day without question for tip. There was no prior notice about this charge before booking. What they did was take the choice out of your hands. I loved our waiters at Da Vinci and our cabin stewart and would have loved to make a choice about how much and who gets my tip. It´s terrible that we had to leave the ship embarrassed that we couldn´t hand an envelope with money to our favorite staff. If you have money to spare than great but if you are travelling on a budget than forget it. It angered me that this was not explained at all prior to booking. Internet- 75c a minute or $55 for 100 minutes- TERRIBLE! No where have I ever seen such a charge for internet use. I live in Barcelona and have used many different internet stations and this was really disgusting. Princess knows that this is the most common way to stay in touch with relatives and business so they just charge how much they want knowing people have no choice. On top of the severe price, the internet was soooo slow that you wasted $5 just waiting for the page to load!! Drinks- $45 per person for the Coke "deal". The tip I suggest is only getting one of these "packages" and sharing with your cruise partner. Their free choices was water, iced tea and coffee. The iced tea and coffee were disgusting so Coke was your only choice. Considering how much money they are getting from everything else on the cruise they could have let soft drinks be free.... yeah right. ATM and Exchange- another joke. $5.50 to get money, are you kidding?? On our last day we needed money for a taxi back to the airport. First we had to use the ATM then exchange the dollars for crowns. Don´t get fooled by the exchange computer, they charge $3.30 for the process, the screen says you will get (for example) 350 crowns but instead you get 300 plus U.S. dollars for the rest. Casino- My mother and I don´t gamble but we tried a quarter machine and I won $11, that made up for the loss at the ATM and exchange. In cruise Store- Don´t waste your money. As much as Princess tries to convince they have the best deals at every port, they´re wrong. There are many beautiful shops with cheap good and better selection at every port. The prices for little "chachkis" like key chains are from $19.99 and up! Don´t let them fool you, amber is at every port and better priced. Tours- All are severely overcharged! Don´t waste your money at Tallinn, Helsinki, Stockholm, or Copenhagen. Tallinn is an easy walk from the port and and a beautiful walk through town. Helsinki, Stockholm and Copenhagen can be done much cheaper through Hop on Hop off or river tours. I would recommend St. Petersburg be done through a tour outside of Princess, cheaper and probably a better lunch. We did the tour through Princess because we were led to believe this was the only way. The tour guides were great, the lunch was a joke (we had chicken both days of the tour), and the price... through the roof. Berlin- why in the world they chose Berlin as a tour is beyond me. three hours by train to get there and three hours to return $300. My mom and I chose to stay in town. We heard from other passengers the train ride was terrible and exhausting. We happily walked to Warnemunde and a short ride to Rostock- both beautiful little towns and much more fun than a 6 hour train ride! Finally, i have to commend the waitstaff at Da Vinci, the head waiter, for always seating us at the table for two by the window and our steward who was always smiling and helpful! My final warning, be prepared for no less than spending another $1,000 on top of your cruise charge. Read Less
Sail Date: August 2008
Our Baltic cruise was from August 18 - 28, 2008, and we traveled from Washington, DC (Dulles Airport) to our Port of Embarkation, Copenhagen We chose Scandinavian Airlines System (SAS) from Dulles. There was an early afternoon flight ... Read More
Our Baltic cruise was from August 18 - 28, 2008, and we traveled from Washington, DC (Dulles Airport) to our Port of Embarkation, Copenhagen We chose Scandinavian Airlines System (SAS) from Dulles. There was an early afternoon flight that departed at 5:15 PM August 17 and arrived in Copenhagen around 7:15 AM the next morning. SAS uses an Airbus A330-300 for this route. This is a comfortable plane, although seat-pitch in economy is about as tight as it gets. SAS has followed the lead of many other carriers and now offers more leg room in their Economy Plus - for a substantial additional cost. The service and food onboard SAS was quite nice - comparable to other international carriers such as British Airways. Their entertainment system in economy is also fairly good, although they do not offer movies on demand. The flight was on time and arrived in Copenhagen a few minutes ahead of schedule. Copenhagen Immigration was a fairly rapid process; even though only two officers were staffing the checkpoint, we went through quickly. The luggage arrived intact, and if you choose the "Nothing to Declare" line, Customs is a breeze as well. We decided to use the train to enter the city of Copenhagen. The Danish Railroad (DSB) has a prominent ticket booth once you leave Customs and enter the Arrival Hall. The line was long and slow when we were there on a Monday morning, but after about 20 minutes, we had our tickets in hand. One-way tickets are 30 Danish kroner (DKK - at that time about $6.00) per person. The train runs every 20 minutes and is very comfortable. It is easy to maneuver your luggage onto the train. There are only two stops before you reach the Central Station and the journey takes less than fifteen minutes. Once there we stored our luggage downstairs in the storage lockers. The large boxes cost DKK 40 (at that time about $8.00) and can accommodate a fairly large suitcase plus some smaller bags. The instructions for how to use the lockers are not necessarily crystal clear from the step-by-step pictures. Pick an empty box, place your luggage in the locker (make sure everything fits), then close the box and the payment screen will light up with the amount of money to insert. You will need DKK coins. (A change machine is available across from the desk that provides "regular" luggage storage.) Once you pay the correct amount, the machine provides you with a circular plastic token. When you return to pick up your luggage, just place the token in the "retrieve luggage" slot, and your locker will pop open. Since the weather was nice, we did some on-foot sightseeing, focusing on the main street (Stroget). A word of warning: because we were starting out at what was close to 3:00 AM back on the East Coast, our state of sleep deprivation soon caught up with us. It became increasingly hard to move about. A "grande latte" and a croissant at a near-by coffee shop helped immensely, however. There is a convenient Tourist Information Center within a block from the Central Station, and several ATM machines for obtaining some Danish currency. The stroll down Stroget was very pleasant - lots of high-end stores to explore. The Stroget ends in a large circular plaza, where among other sites the National Theater is located. If you cross the plaza, you will come to Nyhavn, which is a very charming part of town located on a canal. Multiple out-door restaurants and coffee-shops await you, and you can take boat tours of the city from here. We made it back to the Central Station around noon, and then got a cab from there to the pier. We had incorrectly assumed that the location of the ship was the oft-mentioned Langelinie Cruise Terminal, but when we arrived there, the Crown Princess was nowhere to be seen. Our cab driver managed to get us to the correct Pier - Friedhavn - another 5 minutes or so from Langelinie. We were met by porters who not only helped take the luggage out of the trunk of the cab, but were friendly and expeditious. The embarkation process went very smoothly - they had actually started around noon. There were no lines, and we were on the ship within a few minutes and in our cabin shortly thereafter. We were upgraded at no additional charge from a cabin with a porthole to one with a veranda - nice! After a quick lunch in the Horizon Court buffet restaurant, we were back in our cabin where the luggage had already arrived. Stockholm The approach to the archipelago of Stockholm starts early in the morning - approximately 5:00 AM or so. We had some rather dense fog, so there was a certain mystical feel to passing through the narrow passages between the islands at a fairly brisk clip. Regardless of the weather, it is probably worth getting up and taking a look. If you miss it, you can obviously hope that the sun will be shining when you depart. The ship passes among hundreds of little islands, most of them with little adorable vacation homes - ranging in size from very, very small to quite large with private tennis courts. The ship arrived in Stockholm on time, and it docked within walking distance of downtown and the old city. There is a blue line on the concrete to guide you out of the dock area, and then it is an easy walk along the water to reach downtown. We explored the Old City, which is the original settlement of Stockholm. It has many quaint streets; some barely larger than a tight alley-way. The Old City has a festive feel and can easily be explored in an hour or so. In the afternoon we took the EZ-Stockholm excursion, which is a guided bus tour that explores a few of the sights around downtown. It makes just a couple of stops for picture-taking. The guide was very knowledgeable, but we probably could have done without some of the exquisite details regarding the Swedish pension system and the cost per square foot for apartments in downtown Stockholm. Unfortunately, the ship leaves Stockholm already at 5:00 PM, which does not allow for a whole lot of time to explore this picturesque city. The ride out of the harbor is quite spectacular (weather co-operating) as the ship navigates among the many islands of the archipelago. Helsinki Note: There are two time changes on the Baltic Cruise; one to Helsinki and one to St. Petersburg. Each change is one hour ahead. Keep this in mind when booking early AM excursions! We arrived in Helsinki at 10:00 AM. The weather was cool and cloudy, and rain was forecast. The port of Helsinki is a working port and the center of Helsinki is about 2.5 miles from the ship. There are several ways to get into town including a shuttle for $10 round trip (recommended), public transportation and walking (not recommended). Expect some confusion with lines for the shuttle mixed in with lines for tours. But there is someone near the ship's gangway by the tourist information bus to help guide you and hand you a free map of Helsinki which is invaluable. The shuttle takes about 15 minutes to arrive in town and it drops you off at a central location on a street called Mannerheimintie, which is right near Helsinki's large department store called Stockmann. The store has a free restroom on the top (6th) floor, and if you ride the escalator down from the 6th floor you may want to stop and browse among the many departments, including a nice souvenir section. People speak fluent English so you need not worry about being misunderstood. Make sure you understand in which direction you want to walk as it isn't obvious which way it is, for example, to Market Square by the harbor. Study your map closely to make sure you know the name of the street on which you are traveling as it can be easy to become turned around. Among the sites that should be visited are: Market Square, with its many stalls of colorful fruits, vegetables and other wares. It bustles with activity, music and is a lively place to visit. This is at the end of the Esplanade by the water. The Lutheran Cathedral on Senate Square a couple of blocks north of Market Square. It is a gorgeous wedding-cake-like structure capped by several smaller domes and one large dome of green and topped in gold. The large train station with its art deco reliefs of four men holding lights on either side of the main entrance, and its clock tower. The inside is cavernous but rather plain. This is several blocks west of the Lutheran church. There are other sites described in other travel books but the above should take you about one and a half to two hours including a visit to Stockmann. The shuttles run every 15 minutes back to the Princess Cruise ship so if you visit in the morning you'll be back on board just in time for lunch. Although rain was forecast the day actually turned out to be sunny to partly cloudy and we had time to catch some sun on an upper deck. Back on board we had time to attend afternoon tea which was served in the Da Vinci dining room. There was a short line when we arrived right before the start of tea. Once in the dining room we found a table for two and then tea was served by white-gloved waiters. The tea was hot and delicious and served from silver tea pots - no tea bags, please! Servers came around with various treats. I sampled many of these treats - little sandwiches of salmon, cucumber and shrimp, plus cookies, pastries and scones with clotted cream and jam. My companion showed more restraint having a couple of little sandwiches only. Afternoon tea was deemed a success. We enjoyed a relaxing happy hour in our cabin, savoring a bottle of Nobilo Sauvignon Blanc. (We had ordered a wine sampler for our cabin prior to our trip and enjoyed some wine before dinner each evening in our cabin.) We watched the sun set over Helsinki harbor. After a brief nap we made ourselves ready for an early dinner in the Cafe Caribe. The theme was German - we had a delicious selection of cured meats, sausages, and roast suckling pig. A Grolsch beer was the perfect accompaniment. Because of the time change ahead for St. Petersburg plus an early AM tour, we decided to make it an early evening. We watched several small cruise ships leave in the same direction as us - most likely Silver Seas and Seaborne. St. Petersburg - Day 1 We reserved the EZ St. Petersburg tour for 7:45 AM - 11:15 AM. This meant that we needed to be awake at 6:00 AM in order to meet our group in the Fusion Bar at 7:30 AM. Since there was a one hour advance of time from Helsinki to St. Petersburg, we needed to be asleep early the evening before, in order not to be too tired the next day. Note: On tours that start early the breakfast buffet area is crowded with people for breakfast. Also for a ship as large as the Crown Princess there are several early tours that congregate in various places in the ship, sometimes with several different tours in the same place, which can be confusing. Even though you are scheduled to congregate at a certain time, you will probably have to wait around until your particular tour group is called. For EZ St. Petersburg we waited until just after 8:00 AM when our group was called. After going through passport control which was relatively efficient, we boarded our bus. Note: You are notified several times prior to St. Petersburg to have a copy of your passport, and the ship's Passenger Services will do this for you free of charge. You give the copy to passport control the first time you leave the ship and then you don't need another copy for the second day. Of course you also need your original passport to pass through passport control, where they slip a little card into your passport which is your day pass to St. Petersburg. Don't lose it or you will have to pay a fine. The tour guide (Elena) spoke very good English and the tour bus driver (Sergei) was very good as well in driving us through the traffic. Since it was a weekday there were lots of cars on the road. We were successfully navigated first through the port area and then St. Petersburg itself by our driver with several stops for photo opportunities and chances to buy souvenirs from reputable stands. The guide was very good in pointing out different sites and didn't overwhelm us with too many facts. She also was good in telling us to stay away from people who were walking around with items to buy since they may either give poor money conversion and even be involved as part of a pickpocket operation. We had reservations at the specialty restaurant Sabatini's ($20 each) for 8:00 PM but showed up 30 minutes early - which was hardly a problem, since the restaurant was practically empty. It appeared that this type of specialty restaurant was not a huge hit on this particular voyage, even though the restaurant is beautiful, has a nice view over the back of the ship and the atmosphere is as hushed as any top-flight restaurant on land. Service was impeccable, friendly and attentive. We ordered a bottle of white wine - Michel Redde Pouilly-Fume. Although initially a bit too cold, it gradually improved. It turned out to be an excellent choice for the entire meal - nice body, intense and a clean steely flavor. Although the menu is extensive, you have to make only two choices - the soup/salad course and the main (second piatti) course. The meal started out with a nice assortment of antipasta selections: prosciutto, Bresaola ham; mushrooms, artichokes, etc. Next, there was a deep-fried deviled crab ball accompanied by a small ricotta cheese flan. The flan was superb, but the crab ball was somewhat less memorable (at least for somebody from Baltimore). Next, a small sampling of zucchini - buttermilk and parmesan battered and deep fried - accompanied by calamari. The next course was a choice of soup or salad. I chose the tomato soup with grilled shellfish - very nice. My companion had the tender baby field greens which were more like bits of romaine and other robust lettuces. This was followed by a combination of hand-made potato and ricotta ravioli topped with a slice of black truffle and pappardelle simmered in mushroom veloute. After all of this, it was finally time for the main course. I chose the jumbo sea scallops which were beautifully presented and delicious, and my companion had the roasted Chilean sea bass which was lovingly prepared. Dessert was a selection of savory sweet treats. St. Petersburg - Day 2 We signed up for an Hermitage excursion on this day and were scheduled to meet on the dock at 8:50 AM. This actually meant that we needed to go through passport control first and then meet our tour group. Note: Make sure you allow enough time to go through passport control, although in our case it was quick and we allowed ourselves a few minutes extra to arrive on time. Once again we were assigned an excellent tour guide (Irena) and driver (Sergei). Since it was a Saturday, traffic was much better. The tour guide handed out headphones and a device you attached them to in order to hear her as she gave instructions once we got to the Hermitage. Note: There are probably many cruise ships in port also offering tours of the Hermitage, and in our case we found ourselves in a long line that moved along not too slowly but not too quickly. We were told we were entering a back entrance because we were there before the official 10:30 AM opening. Once inside the Hermitage our guide talked to us through our earphone receivers instructing us what to do, but if you were not close to her, her voice broke up. However, she held up a yellow flower for us to keep our eyes on, in order to make sure we didn't get lost. The tour was interesting when it showed the large, opulent and incredibly ornate rooms of the several buildings that comprise the Hermitage. However, since it is an art gallery the tour inevitably veered toward the art itself which to us was not as impressive. There was some Impressionist art, Italian art and Dutch art by some well known masters, but frankly we've seen much more interesting art in other museums. The purpose to us was to see the buildings themselves, the beautiful floors and ceilings with their intricate mosaics and designs, the ornate chandeliers, the peacock clock, the malachite vases and tables, etc. We got a flavor of both buildings and art, and as the morning progressed it became increasingly crowded, so much so that we had to really pay attention to our guide or else we would have become totally lost in the Hermitage. Fortunately our guide gave us places to gather in case we got lost so we could be found again, and allowed for a bathroom break and a museum shop break. All in all she received high marks from us. We spent the rest of the day napping, watching a very good juggler in the ship's Piazza, and dining in the Cafe Caribe where they had a nice Mexican buffet. Tallinn Estonia We decided to have breakfast in the Da Vinci dining room. The breakfast menu is fairly limited - and offers very little that is not also available in the Horizon buffet. Service is very efficient, and there was no trouble finding a table for two. My companion tried the poached eggs on an English Muffin and they were reasonably well prepared. Eggs Benedict were not on the menu, however. Tallinn is close enough to walk to from the ship. There are shuttle buses but they leave you outside the old town and you still have to walk. Our advice: Walk into town if you are in OK physical shape. If you do a Tallinn excursion chances are they will take you on a walking tour that is the same as if you walked around yourself. Since it was raining we decided to leave the ship later than docking time of 7:00 AM. So we left at 10:00 AM giving us only a couple of hours in Tallinn as the ship was scheduled to depart at 1:00 PM. It was about a 20 minute walk into town plus a few minutes in a shopping mall just outside the port area to use the ATM for some Estonian krooni - at that time 100 krooni for $10. The way into town was fairly intuitive but a bit adventurous. The lecture from John Lawrence (our ship's Cruise Director) the day before was quite detailed and told us to look for "Fat Margaret", a historic fort site that is, well "fat". Once we found that, we walked into town on Pikk Street, turned left at a church and entered the main town square. The problem we found was that we had to juggle maps under umbrellas which was cumbersome, so we were not sure how to get to the upper town from the town square. But we eventually found a way up. Although rushed, we felt we saw the main sites of Tallinn as the rain abated. Also off of the main square there was an information office that was very good at guiding us to necessities like free restrooms and mailboxes. We found a postcard stand that also had stamps so we were able to dash off a few postcards in our travels. Unfortunately we had to return to the cruise ship rather quickly as time was growing short. The weather again turned rainy and windy and the last part of the walk to the cruise ship was daunting in that umbrellas and hats were trying to fly away from us. Note: When leaving a port early like Tallinn at 1:00 PM, there will be mobs of people who want lunch, and in our case all of the tables inside the Horizon and Caribe dining areas were totally filled. We ended up outside at one of the tables around the pool area. Fortunately there was an ice carving demonstration and a Fosters beer that saved the day. My companion opted for an interesting Gdansk presentation in the Princess Theater while I went to the bartender's demonstration in the Piazza and won a cucumber-apple martini by remembering one of the ingredients! Gdansk We were up early to enjoy a quick cardio workout followed by 15 minutes in a hot tub outside by the pool in the brisk morning weather. The ship docks in Gdynia which is about an hour ride to Gdansk. By 9:00 AM we were ready to head down to meet up with friends who live in Gdynia, and they showed us around Gdansk and the seaside resort Sopot. If you don't know anyone in this port, you will probably want to book one of the cruise tours to Gdansk where you will be able to purchase amber items (jewelry, carvings, etc), as the Baltic area is rich in amber which is a fossilized tree resin. Gdansk itself is amazing in that it was destroyed during World War II and has subsequently been almost completely rebuilt as it was originally. You may also want to visit Sopot which has a beach and also the longest wooden pier in Europe. Back in the cabin, we organized our purchases; straightened out some misunderstanding regarding missing Cokes from the mini-fridge, and sampled one of our delicious wines - Kiara Private Reserve 2006 Chardonnay from Sylvester Paso Robles Vineyards. We then dressed up and checked out some of the ship's bars for a Gdansk Sail-away drink. We tried the Skywalkers Lounge - but it was too cold and too empty. We settled for the Adagio Bar where I enjoyed a Vespa followed by Campini. We retired to the cabin - in part because I was beginning to develop symptoms of congestion and a cold. I tried baby aspirin as a first line of defense. At Sea We woke up around 7:00 AM and my throat was a bit scratchy. I tried some Alka-Seltzer to help alleviate the symptoms, and decided to defer my work-out. The gym was in the atonement phase - pretty filled up when my companion used it around 7:30 AM. It was a gray day but the seas were calm. I attended a napkin folding class headed by Chelsea, one of the cruise personnel, and came back with some interesting designs. They had a fairly amusing "cooking demonstration" in the Princess Theatre with the head chef - this was also a promotion to sell his cookbook for $28.00. Interestingly, when preparing the scallop dish, the chef made the point that sea food should be cooked only briefly - does that hold true for salmon as well? Not in the DaVinci dining room, apparently. The show was followed by a quick tour through the ship's galley for the Botticelli restaurant which was kind of fun and eye-opening. We attended Cruise Director John Lawrence's lecture on Oslo and as usual it was very informative. We took a brief break before having a late lunch around 2:00 PM. The rockfish and sautEed shrimp were delicious and not overcooked - more evidence that the Horizon Court does a better job with seafood dishes than the main dining rooms. We checked out the "champagne hoopla", which turned out to be a bunch of folks throwing hoops over a champagne bottle - with much ooohing and aaahing but not interesting to us. I then secured tickets for the BIG Bingo jackpot at 4:00 PM; alas, this was not our day. Oh well, next cruise... This was all deservedly followed by a nap. We had reservations at the other specialty restaurant Crown Grill ($25 each) for 8:00 PM - the restaurant was fairly busy but we were seated next to a porthole where we had a great view of the sunset. (This restaurant is on a lower deck and some of the tables nearer to the entrance may have to compete with some noise from the photo gallery.) Service was pretty good, a little rushed however. We ordered some red wine. We ordered carpaccio of lamb for one appetizer, and scallops with foie gras for the other appetizer, both superb. For the main course I had the 8 oz. filet mignon and my companion ordered the New Zealand lamb rack. With the main course several side dishes are set at the table for you to serve onto your plate. These included garlic mashed potatoes, baked potatoes, French fries, creamed spinach, corn and a couple of other vegetable side dishes. It was a bit overwhelming and I think it would have been better to have had them served to you on your plate. That said, the filet mignon was cooked just as I ordered it, medium rare and it was delicious. My companion's rack of lamb was also very good. I ordered the molten chocolate dish with chocolate ice cream and it was outstanding. My companion ordered the dessert sampler and it was also very tasty. Oslo Oslo greeted us with partly cloudy weather. (The person who thinks the jogging track is on the sundeck (above our cabin) woke us up around 6:00 AM.) We got an early start - My cold was beginning to resolve after aspirin, Sudafed, and Alka-Seltzer. We were ashore in Oslo shortly after 8:00 AM and explored the Akershus Fort in some detail - nice views of the port and the ship. We then walked around to the Opera House - about a 45 minute walk along the water area, a little tricky navigating the at-times disappearing sidewalks - where we were to meet up with Beathe (my companion's niece) at 10:00 AM. The Opera House is a beautiful sleek structure in white marble - sitting right on the waterfront. Once we had figured out how to get there, we checked out the main Railway Station across the street, where it cost 10 Norwegian kroner (NOK - $2.00 at that time) to use the bathroom! No wonder Oslo has surpassed Tokyo as the most expensive city in the world. We then walked back to the Opera House where Beathe was already waiting for us. We wandered around the Opera House, and took a peek inside until the fire alarm sounded and we had to leave. We strolled down Karl Johans Gate - all the way up to the Castle. We got a picture of the tall soldier at the gate. We then walked back to the waterfront and had coffee, plus a sandwich for Beathe - all for the princely sum of 233 NOK (about $45 or so). Beathe walked with us all the way back to the ship and got a picture of us waving from our balcony. After a light lunch (barramundi) and a Grolsch beer, we tried to catch a brief nap - but couldn't because of too much excitement from the day. We then packed and put our luggage outside of our cabin door. We opened our very last bottle of wine - an Altos Malbec. Outside, the winds had picked up quite a bit, and we imagined a blustery crossing to Copenhagen. Copenhagen After a frisky crossing, we arrived in Copenhagen in the early morning hours. Disembarkation was relatively painless and we were transported back to the airport where we caught our plane for home. All in all it was a very good trip and we would recommend Princess Cruise Lines, the Crown Princess ship and it's personnel, and especially the Baltic itinerary to anyone who would like to explore this part of the world. The ten day period of time for this particular cruise is not too long and allows you to experience quite a lot of the local flavor of the port cities. Conclusion Things to Keep in Mind One problem we discovered is making phone reservations for dinner for "anytime dining". We had earlier made a reservation one day for 6:00 PM in the Da Vinci room and then decided later that we would opt for the Cafe Caribe. However, when calling the first time to cancel we were put on an indefinite hold and gave up. Later we tried again only to be told that dining reservations were closed for the day. So we had no means to cancel our reservations. In general the phone reservation system as well as the room service system can be overwhelmed which means being put on hold indefinitely, and dining reservations for anytime dining must be made before 4:30 PM or else you are out of luck. The concept of "anytime dining" is itself somewhat of a misnomer. Anytime dining is billed as having your meals when you want and with whom you want. Actually when you reserve a time for dinner, you are given only certain choices: 5:00 PM, 5:30 PM, 6:00 PM, 8:15 PM and 8:30 PM. These choices were given even though we phoned for the reservations as soon as they were opened at 8:00 AM for reservations. So in effect they are giving times similar to the fixed dining schedules and not "anytime dining". Tours and events such as wine tastings shouldn't be covered in constant talk. Let the participants savor the experience and talk among themselves, especially wine tastings. Strengths o Very speedy and effortless checking-in procedure; including very helpful porters on the dock. o The Piazza in the center part of the ship had several excellent shows - jugglers, acrobats, etc. that kept us entertained. o The Caribe and Horizon Court buffets were strong on their food choices and innovative themes. o The specialty restaurant Sabatini's is excellent with food, service and atmosphere. o The Cruise Director gave very informative talks about the ports we visited. If you miss them you can always see them on the TV in your cabin since they are on a continuous loop on one of the channels. Weaknesses o "Anytime dining" is really a misnomer - at least if you want to make reservations. You are limited to 5:00; 5:30; 6:00 and 8:15 and 8:30. These times are clearly chosen to overlap with the fixed dining seatings. o The gym is crowded - and the overall space is small for a ship this size. The gym is equipped with Precor gear; about 22 treadmills, 5 elliptical machines, a few stationary bikes, and an assortment of strength training machines. At times, a section of the treadmills were roped off "out of courtesy for the passengers in the suites below". o The waiters in the dining rooms may tell you fish dishes can't be cooked on the rare side when you request it, perhaps due to the fact that the cruise line may be trying to avoid people getting sick if the fish is prepared improperly. Read Less
Sail Date: August 2008
My family (me, my husband and 17 year old son) joined our neighbors (husband, wife, 15 year old boy and 10 year old girl) on a cruise to the Baltic. They were first time cruisers, and were excited to participate after our glowing reports ... Read More
My family (me, my husband and 17 year old son) joined our neighbors (husband, wife, 15 year old boy and 10 year old girl) on a cruise to the Baltic. They were first time cruisers, and were excited to participate after our glowing reports of cruising to the Mediterranean on the Emerald Princess in 2007. The trip started in Copenhagen and ended in Copenhagen. Our friends arrived in Copenhagen 2 days prior to embarkation. We arrived 1 day early. Both parties were subject to lost luggage. Two bags lost for our friends. Two bags lost for us (me....the only girl in our party...with no clothes to change into.) We were told upon arrival that our bags could arrive later that day...there was another Air France plane coming from Paris...and we could come back and check. When my husband pointed to a wall of baggage (hundreds of bags) piled up in the area and asked if it could be in that lot...they said, no those were lost bags from YESTERDAY that they hadn't had time to scan yet.Baggage is a secure area, so later, upon arrival back to the terminal, we had to call so someone from Novia (a company Air France and other airlines pay to run baggage...and check in) could let us in. They refused...said they were too busy. When we reminded them that we were informed to come back.. they didn't budge. We spent $40 going to and from the airport-wasted. I bring up the lost luggage thing because Princess was the one who handled it. The pursers office took a very thorough report and called each day...to apprise us of the situation. I had my luggage the first port day we had....sitting like beacons of light in my stateroom, on my return from a day in Stockholm. A word to the wise....This Novia company is contracting out to do a lot of things for airlines...so far we know SAS and Air France use them. Not only are they poor in baggage handling...they also checked us in at the end of the trip...and they have limited access to the computers. In other words, they couldn't print boarding passes for us for our Boston connection (Delta Airlines). We would have to manage that ourselves in Boston. So in Boston we had 45 minutes to clear customs, get our bags, clear 2nd checkpoint, return our bags, run to another terminal, get someone to print us boarding passes, and then get to the gate that the security guy said would take 10 minutes to run to.....lucky our connection was delayed. My husbands bag didn't make it...but we did. SO...my point, I don't know how long it will take for this Nokia group to be found out and not get any more contracts...but beware of anyone who uses them. I've never encountered so many lost luggage stories on a trip before. And in our party of 7 people, 4 different people at different times were hit. So enough of that..beware of Novia....let's talk about the cruise. EMBARKING THE SHIP: Nobody embarks as quickly and as efficiently as Princess. A dream... both Princess cruises we've taken. COPENHAGEN: All I have to say is $60 for 3 starbucks drinks and 3 cinnamon rolls at the airport. $10 for Big Mac at McDonalds. Local fare....$10 for cup of onion broth (supposed to be french onion soup.) So-it's expensive...but it's a beautiful city. Maybe don't go in early, or stay after, unless you plan for the expense. The city is definitely worth seeing, there's lots to see. We went to see the Hamlet Castle, saw all the palaces of the royalty, Little Mermaid statue, Tivoli Gardens. Was a great couple of days. STOCKHOLM: We fell in love with Stockholm. Lots to see, all well taken care of. HELSINKI: It wasn't until our tour bus left without us, because we were stuck in line at a shop (with clear instructions on how to find another bus back to the ship)that we got to see some cool local flavor. A high school band playing in a gazebo in a beautiful little park. A nice walk to a bus that returned us safely to the ship. We will always remember our tour guide's words, "Finns don't smile much, they don't make small talk, and they are never late.) ST, PETERSBURG: We did the 2-day tour and went to see Swan Lake at the ballet. You have to know ahead of time.....It is all amazing, but don't expect Paris. It is dingier than my group expected..so maybe, if you come in knowing that...it will not disappoint. When we got off the boat to go through customs, there was a band of musicians playing the Star Spangled Banner. Russians...playing it, welcome to Russia. When we went to Peterhof...there were more musicians playing American music. Our time in Russia would up being a strange mix of being welcomed and being frowned at. The ballet was wonderful-Swan Lake in St. Petersburg. What more could you ask for? Well, maybe air conditioning. Uh, oh..my dirty americanism is showing. Tallinn (Estonia): Don't miss it! We almost did. Our cruise only had one at-sea day, so we nearly missed this jewel! Go see the people who so joyously enjoy their 16 year freedom from Communist rule. Go see the Rooca-Al Mare museum, situated in a park with actual farm buildings moved there from different parts of the country, so all can see what life was like 200, 100, 50 years ago. You could still smell the smoke from the stove in one of them. Enjoy the folk dances they do at the end of the tour, with the women and children dressed in authentic folk costumes. GDANSK & SOPOT (Poland): Another favorite stop, Gdansk is a beautiful town in Poland and Sopot is the seaside resort area attended by Europeans. BERLIN: Berlin was our favorite!!!! Princess put us in our own comfortable train cars, attended to by cheery local college kids, for our 3 hour trip to Berlin. They time flew by in our comfortable surroundings, and what a town to see...is Berlin! We were taken to all the landmarks you would expect, including a square where one of the book burnings occurred.They have a glass floor in a part of the square, where they have a room underneath with 20,000 books in it. They took us to a museum built in honor of the US soldiers who helped Berliners survive a siege during which they had no food. Speaking of food, they gave us the best food I've ever been given on an excursion during a cruise. If you can't do Berlin, others told us the port town of Warnemunde was an incredible well-day spent, also. So..the Baltic was beautiful, a fun time for all of us... The Crown Princess was identical to the Emerald Princess we sailed on last year..identical in form, anyway. I don't know the why of it---but we felt a "cattle-call" experience, unlike the Emerald, when we could never figure out where all the people were! On the Crown, we were hardpressed to find a place to sit together at breakfast.....we were all crowded together in the Princess theatre, prior to excursions. (The Emerald ship divided us into different meeting places prior to excursions) Now, I don't know if it was the fault of the ship management, or if it was the nature of itinerary, but the Emerald way was better-Lines should be minimized....it's what drove me away from cruising years back...only to have my mind changed by our 2007 cruise on the Emerald. The food on the Crown wasn't as good as the Emerald (except in the Crown Grill) the restaurant, and the buffet were not as good. Read Less
Sail Date: August 2008
Crown Princess by BJBRown Baltic Sea August 8-18, 2008 BACKGROUND: The following review will be colored by the fact that my husband and I are independent travelers. We enjoy renting an apartment in a foreign city, shopping at the ... Read More
Crown Princess by BJBRown Baltic Sea August 8-18, 2008 BACKGROUND: The following review will be colored by the fact that my husband and I are independent travelers. We enjoy renting an apartment in a foreign city, shopping at the local markets, using the local transportation system, using the local currency and essentially "living on the economy." We were traveling with my sister-in-law and our 14 year old nephew, and I think their review might be somewhat different from ours. As for me and my husband, we will not take another Princess Cruise. ITINERARY: Our cruise began in Copenhagen, with stops in Stockholm, Helsinki, St. Petersburg, Tallinn, Gdynia (for Gdansk), and Warnemunde (for Berlin). CRUISE REVIEWS, FINDING CRUISES, PACKING, ETC: Ed Schlenk has provided an excellent overview of finding reviews, cruises and other details about traveling. His review can be found at: http://www.cruisereviews.com/PrincessCruises/StarPrincess53.htm PRECRUISE: MOST IMPORTANT THING TO DO - Whether you are an independent traveler or not, if you are taking a Baltic Cruise you should buy the Baltic Treasures CD by John Lawrence. I attended every one of his lectures on the cruise, and he not only gives information about the ports that we will visit, but HE GIVES INFORMATION ON PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION FOR INDEPENDENT TRAVELERS. His web site is: www.johnlawrencecd.com PRECRUISE: OTHER - As we are independent travelers, we wanted information about Russian visas, docking piers, public transportation to ship, public transportation in port, internet capability and one of our party wanted to leave the cruise a day early. Below is a list of our precruise attempts to get information from the Princess Cruise line. PRECRUISE: LEAVING THE SHIP - I sent a fax to Princess Cruises six months before our cruise requesting information on leaving the ship early. There was no response. After a week, I called and was told that it wasn't a problem—I just had to clear it with the Purser and then clear customs. As it turned out, this information was wrong. It appears that anybody can leave the ship any time that they want (when the ship is in port). We did try to check out with the purser on Day 9, but the lines on the last several days of the cruise were 30+ minutes long. We simply walked off the ship, there was no customs, and our credit card was charged in full (including the 10th day of tips that we obviously did not use). Also, there is tremendous pressure to have your luggage transferred to and from the ship to the airport. Since we were using public transportation, we just walked on and off with our luggage. (We felt safer this way as on Day 4 of the cruise there were still 60 people who still did not have their luggage from their inbound arrival.) PRECRUISE: RUSSIAN VISAS - We have a friend in St. Petersburg that we wanted to visit when we stopped at this port. Therefore, I wanted to get a Russian Visa so that the four of us could spend time with our friend and have a personalized tour of the city. Granted, this is expensive. The cost of the visa is now $131 and then there are some mailing costs, too. (But this was cheaper than the Princess excursions). Also, we had to get an official invitation from our friend to include with our visa application. I was strongly discouraged by both the Princess Cruise line and my travel agent from getting a visa. When I asked for a letter of confirmation of the cruise (which the Russian Consulate said that cruise lines give), Princess Cruise did not send a letter. They would only give me a copy of my receipt which I already had. My travel agent said that he looked on the web at a blog subscribed to by 2500 travel agents, and no one recommended getting a Russian Visa. I simply persevered and obtained visas through the San Francisco Russian Consulate. (The Russian tourist agency DenRus (www.denrus.ru) is another place to go for independent travel in Russia.) We were told by Princess that independent travelers would need not only their passport and visa, but a photocopy of the photo page of our passports and a Standard Tourist Confirmation. Neither of these were requested by Russian customs. In fact, since we were visiting a friend, we did not have a Standard Tourist Confirmation, and I was nervous about that, but we had no problems. The best advice that a friend gave me was that when applying for a Russian Visa and you don't understand what they are requesting, just write a letter of explanation. This worked fine. We received our visas and passports in two weeks. PRECRUISE: PORTS OF CALL - It took another long call to Princess Cruises to get a list of ports where we would be docking so that I could determine how best to get into the city. I'm sure that the reason this doesn't go on the cruise site is that the cruise line wants to sell their excursions. I think it would be a nice gesture to put docking information, maps and public transportation on the web site, since I don't believe that it would hurt their excursion income at all. PRECRUISE: INTERNET ACCESS - Yet again, I called the 800 number to find the cost of internet access. I was told that if I brought my own computer the cost would be $.50/minute, and if I used their computer it would be $.75/minute or I could buy plans to reduce the cost. One of the first things we learned onboard was that there was no $.50 plan if you brought your own computer. A simple approach to this is: If you like communicating by e-mail and surfing the web DO NOT TAKE A CRUISE. As a practical matter, regardless of how they may CLAIM they have internet access, it is so slow and expensive and frustrating you will wish you had never logged on. It took 21 minutes to send one e-mail at one point. At 50 cents a minute that is more than $10 for an e-mail!! The system is down more than it is up. The on-site personnel are available only a few limited hours per day (the remainder of their day no doubt spent in therapy - who would want that job?). The line to complain, get credit for lost minutes, etc. was constant. The same problem affects laptop use. We were given a preposterous reason for why it was down so much: Their satellite was at the equator and we were so far North! Sure, I'll just bet the Captain - mildly interested in where the icebergs might be - had to wait 21 minutes for his GPS to respond. This was an example of one of the most frustrating and insulting parts of this experience: The staff treated us like we were idiots. We got more answers of a nonsense nature than you can imagine. My feeling is that the only words the staff should be allowed to utter are "Get on the bus". PRECRUISE: CURRENCY - We obtained currency for all the countries that we would visit before we left the US. The ship does dispense local currency from machines—I don't know what the exchange rate is but there is a fee of $3.50 per transaction. CRUISE: PURSER'S DESK (SERVICE COUNTER) - I was amazed at how little information that I received, and the information that I did receive many times was wrong. This service counter had no information about the internet, about the pictures taken onboard or about tours. We were directed to different areas. When I asked about public transportation in St. Petersburg, I was told that there was none. Funny, as I took the free bus to the gate. When we reported a very noisy stateroom, someone came to look but nothing happened. When I asked about the train service in Copenhagen, I was told that there wasn't any. I don't remember where we found the information, but we ended up walking off the ship and walking about 15 minutes to the Nordhavn station. CRUISE: MEALS - We chose the Personal Choice dining option which meant that we could have breakfast between 7-9am, lunch between 12-2pm, and dinner between 5:30-10:00pm. We only had to wait in line once for dinner, and after a few days found that we could make reservations. The food was good, but not excellent. I did have a very bad breakfast one morning which I started to write up on the evaluation slip. When I showed the evaluation to the waiter to let him know that I had marked the food bad but the service good, he told me that if I turned that it in he would get a black mark against his name. Interesting way to run a ship. Another thing that was a surprise to me was that soft drinks cost $2 each as did special coffee drinks. You can buy soft drink cards ($42) and coffee cards which makes it a little cheaper if you drink a lot of soft drinks and coffee. We only tried the buffet once and found the food to be terrible. None of the four of us ever went back. CRUISE: BEST VALUE - By far, the best value was the Chef's Table. For $75 each, we had a tour of the kitchen and an hors d'oeuvres party with delicious food, lots of champagne and gorgeous carved fruit and vegetables. Then we moved to the main dining room for entrees, white and red wines, a lobster and veal dinner, after dinner drinks, roses for the ladies, cookbooks for each couple and two complimentary pictures—one of the entire group and one of our group. The only negative was that there was too much food—everything else was fabulous! CRUISE: WORST VALUE - We signed up for two wine tastings—one for $9.95 with four wines and some explanations, and one for $25. for six wines with food pairings. With the latter, there were simply two more wines served with some hors d'oeuvres with no descriptions of why one wine might taste better with one food over another. We were disappointed (again!). CRUISE: FUNNIEST EXPERIENCE - We were traveling with my husband's sister. For his birthday, she wanted to surprise him with the "Chef's Table" dinner. She called the 800 # prior to the cruise and was told that she would have to book the dinner when she was onboard. The first thing that she did when we boarded was to make a bee line for the Purser's Desk. They told her that they would put her on a waiting list but that they did not know when the dinner would be scheduled. She told them that this was a surprise so not to have any contact with my husband. The Chef's Table schedulers then managed to not only call him and slip an invite under our door, but they CHARGED THE DINNER TO US as well! What a surprise! This is going to be a family joke for years to come. CRUISE: CLOTHING - My husband and I don't enjoy dressing up, so I was glad to see that the dress code was not enforced. We did try to look presentable, but we chose comfort over style. CRUISE: TOURS - We thought all the tours were overpriced, so we did all the cities on our own. We just walked off the ship, and either took public transportation or walked into town. We enjoyed the leisurely pace of our tours very much. Read Less
Sail Date: August 2008
This review covers the Crown Princess Scandinavia/Russia/'Berlin' cruise from 8/8/08 to 8/18/08. After being a CruiseCritic.com junkie for months prior to this sailing, I am glad to have the opportunity to contribute my own ... Read More
This review covers the Crown Princess Scandinavia/Russia/'Berlin' cruise from 8/8/08 to 8/18/08. After being a CruiseCritic.com junkie for months prior to this sailing, I am glad to have the opportunity to contribute my own opinion. Travel to port of embarkation: The biggest difficulty I had on this whole trip was the travel to and from the ship. Once aboard everything was worry free. I arrived in Copenhagen one day prior to sailing, but found my luggage did not make it. I wound up spending a couple of extra hours at the airport filing lost baggage reports and locating the Princess rep so he could get my bags to the ship if/when they did arrive. (NOTE - Although it appears that there is a line for the service window, one must actually get a number, like at the deli counter. They only serve people in the order of their numbers. Later, I met a family who travel to Copenhagen frequently who told me that they automatically go and get a number at baggage service, so they will be first in line when their luggage doesn't show up - apparently a common occurrence.) It was very simple to take the train to downtown and find my hotel from there. This was made easier by the fact that I only had my carry-on bag to carry- (thanks, AirFrance). I stayed at The Square Hotel which was more than adequate. Great central location, nice buffet breakfast. Sorta small room, but large by European standards. I'm glad that I arrived a day early because it wasn't until the next morning that one of my bags arrived. I didn't see the other bag until on the ship after dinner the first night. The front desk called a cab but I think someone else grabbed it, so they called for another one which arrived within 10-15 minutes. I met a group of 6 in the lobby who were also on the Crown and ran into them onboard many times. Embarkation: I was planning to arrive at the port around 11 am. However, I was forced to go shopping in Copenhagen to replace the lost items from my luggage. None of the stores open before 10 am, so by the time I shopped and checked out of the hotel I didn't get to the ship until about 1 pm. Although Princess recommends avoiding this time of day, the lines moved quickly and I was aboard in about 20 minutes. Stateroom: I had an inside cabin on deck 12. It was pretty spacious and I don't think it would have been worth the price difference for a balcony cabin. It was nice being on deck 12 as you only had to go up two flights for the Lido deck w/pool and buffet. The cabin was two doors down from the laundry room and I did hear noise from the dryer at 4 am on a couple of occasions. Ship info: The layout of the ship was unimpressive to me, compared to Royal Caribbean's Navigator of the Seas. The 'focal point' of the ship is its 3 story atrium but I didn't find it dramatic or impressive. I much preferred the Promenade on NOS. It took a few days to learn how to get around. The pools were nice and there was never trouble finding an empty deck chair, but there weren't many pool days though. Dining: By reputation, this is the area where Princess is supposed to outshine other cruise lines. By my experience, it was only incrementally better than RCI or Norwegian. I would give it an A-/B+, versus a B+/B for the others. For dinner, I dined with other groups a few times with reservations which were easy to get near the times that we wanted. I also ate with a large group a few nights who had an extra seat at their table, and did anytime dining and the buffet a couple of times. I didn't have any bad meals, but I also didn't have any meals that were particularly memorable. I enjoyed the lobster tails one night and king crab legs another night, but the preparation was nothing special. The buffet was ok, nothing different than any other buffet. The food was the same all the time, especially at breakfast and lunch. They did have a Bavarian night once which was the only time I saw different items. It was a nice feature to have the burger stand and the pizza stand both available on the pool deck. I'm not a big ice cream eater, but I noticed the lack of a self-service soft ice cream machine, which other cruise lines have. Last but certainly not least, THEIR COFFEE REALLY S*CKS!!! This was mentioned by many, many people on board. The coffee is definitely instant, it tastes exactly like the liquid concentrate Douwe Egberts that I have to suffer with at work, (not what I wanted to be reminded of while on vacation). And they have the nerve to charge extra for regular coffee at the International Cafe!!! Compare this to RCI's always free Seattles Best Coffee. [To the Princess management (and I know you read these reviews): What does it say about your 'upscale' ship when I repeatedly saw people leaving the dining room and returning with 'real coffee' that they had to get (and pay for) at the International Cafe, rather than drinking the dining room coffee????] Ports of Call: Stockholm - Went to the Vasa Museum, which was very interesting, probably the most interesting thing in Stockholm. Walked around the Old Town, but there wasn't anything remarkable. Went to the Nobel Museum which took all of 15 minutes, but was included with my Stockholm pass. The ride into the city through the archipelago was very scenic though, and was worth waking up early for. Helsinki - Took the Princess shuttle into town. Walked to the Stone Church which was impressive, and went to the open air market. St. Petersburg - For most people this was the most anticipated port, and it lived up to expectations. I did the Princess 2-day comprehensive excursion and enjoyed it thoroughly. We never really experienced big lines except at the Hermitage. The guide was decent, nothing extraordinary. I wish we had had more than one hour to see the art at the Hermitage, but its a big city and you can't see it all in two days. I talked to people who raved about the private tours that they took, but this one seems just as nice and was worth doing for the simplicity of booking with just a mouse click and not having to worry about visas or being let off the ship in time, etc. Tallinn - this was universally agreed to be the hidden jewel of the whole trip. An easy walk from the port, this is a beautiful city; the pictures don't do it justice. I noticed many people walking around w/Rick Steves book doing his walking tour. Don't miss this port!!! Gdynia/Gdansk - We did a privately arranged tour of Stutthoff concentration camp. The weather was grey and cool that day, which seemed appropriate for such a somber place. It was worth seeing though. Warnemunde - Decided not to go to Berlin as I didn't relish the thought of 6-8 hours on a train just to ride around Berlin for a few hours. Took the train to Rostock, which was quite easy. Just ask for directions at the Tourist Information desk when you get off the ship. I enjoyed Warnemunde more than Rostock however. It is a beach resort town, mostly catering to German tourists. Its quite easy to spend a leisurely day walking around, going to the beach, finding nice pastry to eat and great beer to drink. Copenhagen - For no stated reason, the stop in Helsingor was cancelled and we went to Copenhagen on the last day. Having already spent a day here, there wasn't much that I needed to see, but we went to the Carlsburg Brewery which was enjoyable and they do have a very nice selection of beer in the bar; two beers are included w/ the tour and you can purchase more (or take the tour with some non-beer drinkers like I did, so you can use their coupons) Service: For the most part, the service was very good. Some were excellent (Edgardo my steward, and Jimmy the waiter), most were very good, and some were indifferent. There was ALWAYS a medium or long line at the service desk. It seemed understaffed as there were usually empty counters - even when the lines were very long. I didn't use the excursion desk but during the few hours (very few) every day when they were open, the line snaked through the whole atrium. Entertainment: These were long days in port and it didn't seem like too many people were up for much entertainment at night. I went to one show, which was just ok and didn't feel like I was missing anything the other nights. Karaoke was available most nights and was entertaining. After 10 or 11 pm it was hard to find anyone awake who was more than 25 years old. Disembarkation: I did the princess transfer to the airport. It went smoothly, although I didn't like getting up at 4 am. What I really didn't like was finding out that AirFrance had cancelled every flight to Paris that morning (where I had to get my flight to the states). Seeing a long line at customer service I immediately went and got my number (having learned from experience on my arrival to Copenhagen). Eventually wound up getting re-routed through Frankfurt on Lufthansa and arrived at home about 8 hours late, having spent the day at the airport. Obviously this was not Princess' fault, but maybe this is something related to Copenhagen as I have never seen so many people whose luggage was delayed upon their arrival. Summary: The itinerary made this a terrific trip. The complaints that I have about Princess are mostly in comparison to other cruise lines. The ship, service, and food were mostly very good to excellent. I just didn't feel like there was much to warrant their premium pricing. Read Less
Sail Date: July 2008
Great cruise. Weather was nice in every port we visited. Toured with Alla in St Petersburg. Lots has been written about delays getting off the ship for a private tour not handled by Princess. We had no trouble at all. We arrived in the ... Read More
Great cruise. Weather was nice in every port we visited. Toured with Alla in St Petersburg. Lots has been written about delays getting off the ship for a private tour not handled by Princess. We had no trouble at all. We arrived in the main dining room about 6:35 AM and received a pass to get off the ship. Our group (4 of us) was called at about 6:50. We were on the dock looking for our tour guide by 6:55. Never had one problem. Princess could not have been more accommodating in helping us get off the ship. On day two of our St Petersburg tour we arrived back at the ship about 4:15. We thought that was a little early till we saw the mad rush of tour buses arrive about 5 PM. It must have taken many of those who arrived at that time 30 to 45 minutes to get back on board. We had a wonderful tour guide named Elena. St Petersburg is a beautiful city. The Alla tour was about $80 more than Princess but well worth the money and personal attention. Our guide really knew how to get us to the front of the lines. We toured all the other ports by ourselves with no Princess tours. We used Rick Steves book on the Baltic to see what we wanted to see. We did use Princess to get into Gdansk as it is about a 45 minute trip from the port. The cost was $39.00 each. Read Less
Sail Date: July 2008
We just returned from a whirlwind tour of Eastern Europe. We chose to start our trip with a land tour (Cruise Tour). The land tour was part of the Princes package, but it was run by Globus. Our tour started in Budapest, then on to Vienna, ... Read More
We just returned from a whirlwind tour of Eastern Europe. We chose to start our trip with a land tour (Cruise Tour). The land tour was part of the Princes package, but it was run by Globus. Our tour started in Budapest, then on to Vienna, Prague and Berlin, two nights in each city. It was well worth it. We had an excellent tour director, Justin who took care of all our needs, to perfection, and our bus drive, Enrico, was the best. The hotels were first class and the included meals were excellent. There is free time in each city and there are optional tours during that free time, they can be quite expensive and there were some that were just not worth it. We drove from Berlin to Rostock where we boarded a ferry to Copenhagen to get the ship. Embarkation was quick and easy. Day 1 - Day at Sea - Thank goodness after the land tour we needed that day for R&R. Day 2 - Stockholm - We did the tour that included the Ice Bar, fun experience. Day 3 - Helsinki - Took the shuttle bus into town and did our own thing. Day 4 - 5 - St. Petersburg - We took the 2 day grand tour. It was exhausting but well worth it. I can't begin to go into all the sights we saw, it was just so amazing. Yes there were crowds, but we never had a problem at any of the sights. The longest we may have waited to get into a site (The Hermitage) was about 10 min. I don't know why so many people put down the ship's tour. It was very well organized and put together. The only disappointment we had was with the included lunches. They were in a huge Hall and there must have been 10 other tours eating at the same time. The food made me yearn for the Horizon Court. (Chicken & Rice the first day Fish & Rice the second day) not very good and if you don't care for fish, better bring a peanut butter sandwich. It can be made at the horizon court at breakfast (this is what we did, just be sure to bring some sandwich bags from home when you pack.). Day 6 - Tallinn - Again we did this on our own. Very quaint and picturesque city, not enough time there. Day 7- Gdynia - We took "Gdansk ON Your Own", beautiful city, great shopping! Day 8 - Warnemunde - We chose to stay in Warnemunde since we had spent 2 days in Berlin on the land tour. Beautiful, quaint seaside town, lovely walking around and easy to get to from the ship. Easy walking distance. The people that took the tour to Berlin were so exhausted when they returned, they spent 2 to 3 hours on the train (going) that was not air-conditioned and then on a bus to get into Berlin (the temp. in Berlin that day was 95 -100). They left the ship around 8:30 am and didn't return till after 8:00 in the evening. We found most (not all) of the vendors in all the ports took US currency, some would give you back change in US and some would give you change in local currency. I used my debit card for some purchases and that worked out very well. Now on to the ship - The Crown Princess - Amazing Ship This was our 6th Princess cruise. The menu was OK but we found ourselves eating at the Horizon Court several evenings because the menu selection was ho hum. One point that bothered me was, on past cruises, lobster night the menu reflected "twin lobster tails" this year is was "lobster tail and giant prawns" what happened to the "twin"? Come on lobster night is one of the highlights (besides the king crab legs) of the dinning experience. The cold soups are to die for, don't change a thing about them! I would like to see some good old fashion fruit pies, i.e. apple, cherry, lemon meringue, blueberry, etc. The cookies, again, were to die for, I don't know if they have them on the other ships, this was the first time I've seen them. I wish I had some now; just thinking about them makes my stomach yearn. The pizza is great, love Princess Pizza. It bothers me there is a charge for ice cream, yes you can get free ice cream between 3:30 -4:30, come on Princess stop nickel and dimming us and have free ice cream, so it doesn't have to be gourmet, just plain good old ice cream or soft serve - NO CHARGE! You would make a lot of people happy. The staff in the dining rooms were very accommodating, there was only one incident, our waiter was very sullen and gave us the impression he was not happy being there. To my surprise when I finished my first course instead of removing the fork, as they always do, and replacing it with a clean one, he took it off my plate and laid it down for me to use on the next course, first time that happened. I wish I had taken notice of his name but then again I did not want to make any trouble, it must have been a bad day for him. The ship is just beautiful, the shows very good, the comedian (Kevin Hughes) was very funny. Don't miss his show. We played lots of games, trivia, to tell the truth, etc. lots of fun, but how may luggage tags can one win. I have so many I will have to give them for Christmas presents, Princess how about something else for prizes, after all one can only use so many luggage tags! If you do the Baltic Cruise be prepared for a very slow internet service and sometimes none at all. All in all it was a wonderful vacation, once I returned home and started reliving this fantastic trip, I am amazed at all the places we visited and the wonders we experienced. We love Princess and will probably book any future cruises with Princess. But how about free ice cream and not just for one hour a day! Read Less
Sail Date: July 2008
We selected Crown Princess because of the ten-day itinerary from Copenhagen and also because many friends had told us that Princess was a wonderful cruise line and we should try it.This was our fourth cruise, the previous three fantastic ... Read More
We selected Crown Princess because of the ten-day itinerary from Copenhagen and also because many friends had told us that Princess was a wonderful cruise line and we should try it.This was our fourth cruise, the previous three fantastic cruises being with NCL. The price was more expensive for an equivalent room on NCL so I guess I had higher expectations from Princess from the beginning. Embarkation ran smoothly and quickly. However, we were on an SAS inclusive flight from London and we arrived at the ship with only an hour to spare before the ship left port. Thus everyone else had already boarded. Nora, our cabin steward was excellent. She was always friendly, helpful and did a wonderful job. We found the ship to be clean and the atrium and dEcor in many of the main rooms was tasteful and attractive. Generally the Crown Princess staff were friendly and helpful. Our tours were well organized and we thought our guides were excellent. They all spoke very good English and gave us interesting and informative tours. Disembarkation and embarkation at the ports ran smoothly on every occasion. The weather was beautiful the first three days but then it turned cold and wet and we hit gale force 8 winds with rough seas. Variable weather is to be expected on a Baltic cruise. I was pleased that Princess took safety seriously and cancelled our visit to Poland because it was too dangerous to go in. Thus we had an extra day at sea. But I was disappointed that there were no contingency plans when this must happen several times in a season. Organization onboard was terrible - they were still showing the cruise director talking about what to do in Poland on TV when they had already announced we weren't going. It was 2 pm by the time the new schedule for the day was delivered to our stateroom - by which time we had missed several things we would have attended. There were quite a few things I felt lacking. For example, where were the hand sanitizers? After so much attention had been given to notifying us about how a virus can spread rapidly onboard, hand sanitizer was sadly unavailable. I saw only one bottle in the buffet. On every NCL ship we have been on there is hand sanitizer at the entrance to every restaurant and other public rooms and as you get on and off the ship in every port. And there were no folded towel animals on the bed every evening, which are always fun to come back to. It is the little extras on a ship that add to the enjoyment of a cruise. We chose anytime dining and discovered that Princess had not really got this worked out yet. At first we couldn’t understand why we were in line waiting for a table when many people were walking past us straight in to dinner. I found out that half the anytime dining restaurants were set aside for reservations. So I called reservations and asked for a table at 7 pm. The response was that reservations were only for 6:00 pm or 8:30 pm. That is not anytime dining! We found food to be average with occasional wonderful menu items. Menu choice was limited – particularly breakfast, which became boring very fast. We ate at Crown Grill one evening and really enjoyed our meal. It was worth every penny of the cover charge. Food was cooked to perfection and service was excellent. All in all we had an enjoyable cruise but we wouldn’t rush out to choose Princess over NCL. Read Less
Sail Date: July 2008
Pre Cruise--Flew to Copenhagen 2 days ahead and stayed at Marriott booked on Priceline. The hotel was thankfully air conditioned as we hit a heat wave. We flew Burbank/Seattle/Copenhagen and made our connections as did our luggage. We took ... Read More
Pre Cruise--Flew to Copenhagen 2 days ahead and stayed at Marriott booked on Priceline. The hotel was thankfully air conditioned as we hit a heat wave. We flew Burbank/Seattle/Copenhagen and made our connections as did our luggage. We took a cab to the hotel since we were tired and had 2 25 inch suitcases and 2 carry on pieces. We were able to see all the sites on foot. We took the canal tour, went to Tivoli and the Ice Bar. We did Rosenberg Castle, saw the palace, the round tower and Stroget. Food was expensive, we ate one dinner in Tivoli and one at Cafe Netto. We took a cab to the port, and were eating lunch by 1 pm. We had brought our swimsuits and hit the pool. It was still very hot and the pools were like bath tubs. Our luggage arrived, we unpacked and then it was time for the drill. We ate dinner at the Buffet the first night where we enjoyed the Seafood Buffet. I requested Chef's Table on the phone and followed up in the dining room to make sure we were on the list. Day One--It was cooler, so we went to hear John Lawrence. His talks added so much although we had bought the DVD prior. He is a better speaker in person and is willing to answer questions afterward. We had a Cruise Critic meeting at 12:15 and about 20 people showed up. The Assistant CD put in an appearance as Billy London was too busy. Day 2-Stockholm--we had the Stockholm card--it was convenient but not necessary. We took the bus to Vasa, I had the wrong bus directions but another CC couple was very helpful getting us to the right place. If you take the bus go past the port gate 100yds, look for the blue WC and go up the steps, the stop is right there. You have to change busses in Slussen. We made it to Vasa before the crowds, then we took a bus part way back and got off to see the Synagogue and Wallenberg memorial. Next, we went to the City Hall tour which starts on the hour. Afterwards, we went to Gamla Stan and then back to the ship. Day 3--Helsinki--We took a bus to see the market which was fun--lots of furs, interesting food. We looked at some churches and then got on the 3T tram to do the loop. We were able to pack some lunches in ziploc bags from the ship. This was helpful as food is very expensive and we didn't want to waste time eating. Day 4/5--We did an exhausting tour with Alla. We covered all the highlights and we were lucky to do the outside tours the first day as it rained on the second and we were mainly inside at the Hermitage that day. Everything is very elaborate in St Petersburg, it is just amazing. Apparently the Russians were bombing Georgia at the time but we were unaware. We had an excellent guide and paid with US dollars which turned out to be a good choice as the rate of exchange is not exactly the same if you use a credit card--be sure to read Alla's email confirmation carefully. Day 6--Tallinn--Very unexciting, maybe it was the weather. We took a cab with another couple to the top and walked down. Do not attempt to walk up. The cobblestones are a killer and it can be slippery.We also found the new temple, its not far from the port. There is also a large market near the port where we bought wine. Day 7--We had bad seas and could not make Gdynia, spent a rocky day at sea. Day 8-Day at sea to rest and recover. We attended the art auctions for entertainment. Day 9--Oslo--Early start--went to the tourist bureau and got the Oslo card for 20 percent off. Used the tram to go to Vigeland, it was a cloudy day. We spent some time there and then returned to town and got on the 91 ferry to Bygdog to see the Viking museum, Fram, Kon Tiki. Went back to town and followed John Lawrence's walking tour to see City Hall, the Nobel Museum, the Palace, shopping street, etc. Day 10--we had a 3:50 flight so we opted to take the city/Dragor tour. We had to meet at 8:15--all the luggage was taken to the airport except for carry ons. We had an excellent guide and enjoyable day, it beat sitting at the airport. Our flight home was uneventful. Ship--We were on the Crown one year ago, it is holding up well. Cabin--We were assigned a cabin one week before and ended up with an aft inside. It tended to be noisy when docking. Entertainment--We went to a few shows. We found the Cruise Director lacking. There was a pretty good comedian and an Australian singer and well as a magician. Dining--We had anytime dining and never had a problem getting in. We took a table for 2 as we were too exhausted to socialize but we always ended up talking with people next to us. The food was pretty good, portions small at dinner, and breakfast became a bore very fast. We did attend Chef's Table. Although it was the second night of our St Petersburg tour, we managed to find the energy. We really enjoyed it--the portions were huge--really too much. But it is amazing how fabulous the cruise food can be. We also received a signed cookbook and pictures with the Chef. It was a very worthwhile dinner! Weather--we had some wacky Baltic weather. It was very hot the first 3 days in port. Afterwards it got cold. You really have to be prepared for all possibilities. In summary, there is lots of walking and the itinerary is exhausting. This is a cruise that has to be planned out. Decide what you what to see and get going! Read Less
Sail Date: July 2008
This review is written from the perspective of the independent traveler, and for those with particular interest in Jewish Heritage sites. Comments on the Crown Princess: -Most everything was great. -Good use of our balconies, as our ... Read More
This review is written from the perspective of the independent traveler, and for those with particular interest in Jewish Heritage sites. Comments on the Crown Princess: -Most everything was great. -Good use of our balconies, as our weather was surprisingly beautiful. Watched many sails in and away from the balcony -No alarm clock in cabin, and wake up calls were unreliable. -Had traditional dining, but "anytime dining" would have worked as well. For the "anytime dining" many people booked the same "table area" in order to get a particular waiter each night, either at the same time each evening, or at various times. -I am not a coffee drinker, but others complained that the coffee is terrible. Apparently they use "syrup" instead of coffee beans. The International Cafe on level 5 offers real coffee as well as cappuccinos for an up-charge. You can also purchase a "coffee card". This cafe also has lovely salads and sandwiches, which are free. Gelato is an extra charge, and so is the ice cream bar on the buffet level. -Internet on our voyage was almost useless!! It was totally down for the majority of the trip, and when there was a signal it was so slow, that we were hardly able to access the sites we needed. Lots of unhappy customers! We did ask for and got 50% reduction in our Internet package. Not a lot of time to spend on Internet in ports, but in Gdansk there is a great, fast, cheap internet place right off the main pedestrian street, which is DLUGA. If you are coming through the Golden Gate on Dluga, take your first left, and you will see a large yellow internet sign on the opposite side of the street. -did not get to many shows, but thought the comedian Kevin Hughes (on for 2 nights in Explorer Lounge - day of Helsinki, and day of Tallinn) was excellent! "White nights" are amazing- sun sets very late- 10:30 in some ports to even later in others. Sun rises as early as 3:30 am in some cities! Taxi back to airport- approx. $75 CAN- no problem getting a taxi, but it was Saturday. Walked off ship at 8:00 am. Ports Copenhagen -arrived at 7:30 am. The terminal we arrived in was under construction, and there was a long crowded snaking path to get to passport control, which took about an hour. There are Princess reps at the airport, and you can always purchase their transfer on the spot and take your luggage straight to the ship, even if it is too early to board. We thought the transfers were expensive, and going to the ship would then require an expensive taxi ride back to the city, and then again later back to the ship. Took the train into town. (paid with credit card at the ticket booth- others reported having problems paying at the machines with their credit cards, as it asked for a PIN). Easy , fast.(It is only 2 stops) We followed others out of the station by going up the stairs- don't do this. Stay on the level that the train arrives at the get yourself into the terminal building. Signs point to baggage, which is downstairs. It was open early. The have both a checked baggage area (which is more expensive), or lockers where you insert your money into a machine which gives you a plastic disc corresponding to your locker number. This disc is then reinserted into a machine close to the locker both to lock and later unlock your locker. The medium size lockers fit our suitcase and our carry on bag in each of 2 lockers. City is very walkable. Covered many of the main attractions. Did the canal tour (the cheaper one recommended by Rick Steve (Nett0-Baadene). Take if from bridge at Homen's Kanal rather than from Nyhaven, as our boat never stopped in Nyhaven, as they couldn't get through this canal. It gave us a good overview of the city from the waterside. Boat does not take credit cards. We had Denmark money, but they said they would take USD as well. Jewish Museum- bit hard to find. It is right next door to Royal Library on grounds of Christanborg Palace. When facing the Royal Library it is on left hand side. Movie gives a good overview, and building itself is very unique. Resistance Museum- also a bit hard to find. It is approximately one street parallel to the canal somewhere between the Gefion Fountain and the Royal Palace. Called "Frhedsmseet" (Corner of Esplanaden and Churchill Parken). Very interesting history on Denmark's saving of their Jewish people during the war. Took a taxi to the ship about 3:30 pm. Taxi takes credit cards. No wait to board at this time. Stockholm We were on our balcony early as we traveled through the Archipelago. Confirmed with guest services that we were docked at Standsgarden , which we were. There are 2 Ho-Ho boat companies which run right at the end of the dock where Princess docks. They open a security gate in this location when the ship docks. If it is not open upon your return, the main entrance is walkable. Same price for both companies. We were on the Aphrodite, which runs less often than the other company, but we managed well with their timetable. (100 Sek per person). We paid with Sek, but I believe they also sell tickets in USD and euros. We went to the Vasa Museum first- even though we got there early it was mobbed with people (apparently gets even worse later). See the movie, and take the guided tour which is offered with your admission.These give you an excellent overview of the ship and the restoration process. One is on the top of the hour, the other on the bottom of the hour. We only spent one hour in the museum so that we could catch the boat. You could opt to spend much more time there if you are interested as there are many exhibits of the items found on the ship, and recreations of the way of life on the ship. We then continued on the boat, and got off at the Royal Palace stop. Walked to City Hall (maybe 20 minutes) and took the tour here. Found this to be an amazing building. It is where the Nobel Banquets are held. Had just enough time to walk through Old Town (Gamla Stan), and we opted to walk back to the ship along the water (About ½ hour walk). If you get back on the Ho-Ho boat, you have to do the whole loop again, which will take you 45 minutes. There is a Jewish Museum in Stockholm (www,judiska-museet.a.se), but it seemed to far to get to in the short time we had in this port. On our balcony once again as we sailed away through the magnificent Archipelago! Helsinki Used the 3T tram to get around. Tired to get to town using bus #16 very near to where the ship docks. This did not work too well for us. Many people waiting. Bus took very long to load, as everyone needed change. Saw bus #14, who said he was going to Market Square, but he did not sell the DAY TOURIST TICKET (6 euros), and apparently did not end up going to the central area of town. We waited forever for another bus #16, and decided to walk into town, which took us 35 minutes at a good clip, taking a shortcut, by walking on Purstokatu street which borders the park, instead of going along the coast. I would consider taking the ship shuttle if you do not wish to walk ($6 USD one way , $10 round trip) as these come frequently. We also walked back to the ship as the bus went annoyingly right by the bus stop where there were a dozen ship passengers waiting. As we were walking back, we noticed that the 3B tram does make a stop about ½ way back towards the ship. Look for the most southern stop on the route map, and this could be big help to you on the return if you don't mind some walking, (we enjoy walking.The return along the water was enjoyable- lots of people out enjoying the sunshine.) We did not do the whole 3T route. Just used it to get places that we couldn't walk to. Rock Church is worth visiting. (Temppeliauko). When we first got there it was closed to visitors because of a Baptism. We got back on the Tram to continue to Sibelius Monument. After going to the Olympic Village (the elevator to the top for 2 euros was very much worth the views of the Village and of the whole city), we used the 3B Tram which runs in the opposite direction to travel back to the Rock Church, and then again to return to the main part of the city where we covered many of the sites by foot. We found that there was lots of time in Helsinki to cover all the sites we wanted to see. St. Petersburg By now the clocks have moved forward 2 hours (one before Helsinki, and one the night before St. Petersburg), and we are up very early to meet our group of 10, at a central meeting spot in order to leave the ship at 6:45. We totally ignored the ship's instruction to meet in a lounge, and walked easily off the ship (did not go to the line that said "independent passengers", although there was no one in this line either), and we were off the ship with no delays.Noticed line ups starting to form as we were on the other side of the customs booth. Alla was already there, but we had to find her, because our trip was not supposed to start until 7:30. No problem getting off the ship on day #2. We covered lots of ground both because of the time of day, and because it was a Sunday, and there were no traffic issues. Got back to the ship about 5:30 on day 1, and waited a bit in line. Note- we returned to the ship at 4:45 on day 2, and reboarded easily. As more and more buses returned to the ship after this time, there was long line ups to get back on board- some people reported waiting one hour. Went visited the Grand Choral Synagogue, and although I am pleased to have gone here, it was not much of a "tour"- more like a question and answer with the Cantor. They had a table set up selling things, but the Rabbi nesting dolls that I wanted to buy were not displayed. (Later heard from another group, that they asked to go to the synagogue gift shop, and they were available here. I did see them at one of the touristy shops that we were taken to, but there were $98 instead of the $30 I was expecting to pay at the synagogue) First lunch was at a cafeteria "pie" restaurant. Very good food, and inexpensive. Day 2 we opted to purchase Alla's box lunches ($15 USD) which we ate en route from Catherine's Palace to Peterhof, and it was a good time saver. Food was good. (By the way, no one checked our bags at any port getting off the ship, and we had no problems taking fruit and snacks off the ship. We could have easily taken sandwiches off had we chosen to). We had a great 2 days with Natasha- covered all the site. The hydrofoil was a relaxing way to return to the city from Peterhof. We visited the smaller "cottage" called Monplaisire on the grounds of Peterhof, instead of the Grand Palace, as we were told that it would be better to see some different architecture than something similar to what we had already seen at Catherine's Palace. The crowds at Catherine's Palace were awful!! Our tour guide took us to washrooms in a different part of the palace rather than in the entry where everyone else was waiting and where the wait would have been at least ½ hour or more!! It was well worth seeing this Palace, but the crowds were a definite problem. Stopped at the Holocaust Memorial (modern statue of weeping woman) very near to Catherine's Palace. Tallinn Easy walk from the ship. We started with Rick Steve's tour of the Old Town, which worked well as it became more and more crowded. Walked to their beautiful, brand new synagogue, which is outside of the Old town, about ½ walk at a quick pace, and the building manager gave us a tour of the chapel. Estonian Jewish Centre- 16 Karu. Stopped to use internet on our way at the main department store, downstairs near the bus station , called "Metro". Used visa for ½ usage) We then walked to Occupation Museum (I would do this the other way around- go to Occupation Museum from the Old Town, then walk to synagogue, and from there back to the ship. We ended up backtracking). Thought this was a very well designed museum- small but informative. Would have loved to have more time here to watch the movies which covered different time periods. Entry is only with Estonian money. The woman selling tickets was very helpful to us, and converted her personal money for our euros in order to get into the museum. (Very inexpensive- it was about 3 euros for both of us). Would have loved to have more time here in Tallinn, but if you are only going to visit the Old Town, time is sufficient. Bought wine in the "Sadamarket" which is a large tourist building right next to the ship dock, and had no problem bringing it on board. Gdansk Took ship's excursion "Gdansk on your own", as I was worried about return by train. Guide pointed out important landmarks along the way, which was helpful . Went by Oliwa Cathedral. Would have liked to visit here, but it is much too far from town. Passed by and stopped to take photos on way back of Solidarity Monument. Town was very pretty. Used good internet here. Don't miss Mariacka Street! Had lunch at one of the restaurants with an outdoor patio along the main street Dluga for local fare. Found that we had too much time in Gdansk. Would have returned earlier to the ship, but were trapped by the schedule of the tour bus. Tons of traffic on our return trip (took 1 ½ hours) Oslo Not enough time in this port. Beautiful to watch the sail in and sail away. We dock by 7:00, so you can catch the views along the Oslo fjord on the sail away. We were off the ship at 7:00, went straight to the Tourist Information in the cruise terminal, which luckily was open, and bought the Oslo card with credit cards for 20% discount for cruise ship passengers. (If the office had been closed, would have walked 15 minutes to another location called Traikanten across the street from the Royal Palace, which opens at 7:00 , and also give the 20% off to cruise ship passengers). We found the pass to be very worthwhile. Started by taking trolley line 12 from Aker Brygge (10 minute walk from ship- walk to trolley station to the left of City Hall). 10 minutes to Frogner Park and the Vigeland sculptures . The stop is "Vigelandparken" - driver is very helpful. Used Rick Steve's guide for assistance in understanding the sculptures. Park is gorgeous, and we covered it before the crowds arrived. We then opted to take bus 20 (in direction back towards city), and transfer to bus 30 to go to the Viking Museum. Could have returned to where we started to take the ferry, but thought this would avoid crowds trying to get onto first ferry over, with subsequent crowds at the Viking Museum. Worked out very well for us. Got to Viking Museum, and it was open before 9:00, even though the posted hours were 9:00. Visited here before the crowds. Walked to other end of Bygdoy Peninsula (15 minutes) and saw the Polar Fram museum (loved this- very experiential- you can actually come aboard this ship and see all of the inside). Slipped into the Kon- Tiki Museum for a quick visit, and the to the Maritime Museum, which has a great film. Thought we could catch the first film at 10:00, but it didn't show until 10:15 due to a private showing for a tour group. All of these museums were opened before the posted hours, and saw everything when the Museums were empty. Walked to Holocaust Museum (about 15 minutes at a quick pace). Could get there by getting back on Bus 30, and would have done this, but none were coming and we didn't want to wait. Museum will provide you with audio tour, which is helpful, as none of the displays have English translation. Most interesting part of the Museum was the basement floor which documented the experience of the Norwegian Jews. Once again would have taken the bus back to the Fram to catch the ferry over to City hall, but walked back instead of waiting for the bus, which passed us along the way. Ferry does limit number of passengers, so keep this in mind if your return is close to sailing time. Saw a number of sites in town (Munch's painting "The Scream") in National Gallery. (Must lock knapsacks in locker in front- they supply the kroner coin). Worth going in to see main hall in City Hall. We did not have time to take a tour. Not nearly enough time in Oslo. Read Less
Sail Date: July 2008
My husband and I just returned from a 10-day cruise to Russia and Scandinavia with Oslo aboard the Crown Princess. What an adventure! We departed from Los Angeles on July 7th for Seattle, where we met our connecting flight to Copenhagen. ... Read More
My husband and I just returned from a 10-day cruise to Russia and Scandinavia with Oslo aboard the Crown Princess. What an adventure! We departed from Los Angeles on July 7th for Seattle, where we met our connecting flight to Copenhagen. Our United flight out of LA was delayed two hours and we barely made our connection. After arriving in Copenhagen via SAS airline (which was very nice, especially as we went first class), we discovered that my husband's luggage made it and mine did not. We suspect that it didn't make the connection in Seattle. Of course, I packed all the wrong things in our carry-on. Luckily I had the little packet of toiletries and extra socks that the airline provided as well as an extra pair of underwear in my purse! We arrived in Copenhagen on a rainy day on July 8th (they are 9 hours ahead of LA) and stayed at the SAS Royal Copenhagen, a very nice five star hotel with super modern Danish furnishings and a good breakfast buffet. The hotel was right across the street from the famed Tivoli Gardens, which we wanted to explore, but it was too rainy. We enjoyed walking through the shopping areas down the street, and ate an early dinner at the Hard Rock Cafe nearby, where I was able to buy a clean shirt to wear the next day. The US dollar is weak. Be prepared to spend $10.00 for a beer and $25.00 for a cheeseburger, but it was very good and the people friendly. The next day, July 9th, my luggage still hadn't arrived and we boarded the ship at about 1:00. Even though the ship holds over 3,000 passengers, embarkation was fast and smooth. We inquired about my luggage at the purser's desk. A lot of people had missing luggage, and Princess was very accommodating, providing me with free express laundry service and a toiletry bag. They contacted the airport right away. Day 1- The first full day was at sea, and I had to buy some sweats and a tee so my clothes could be laundered. We missed the formal night that night, as I had no clothes. Day 2- Stockholm. My luggage finally arrived Hooray! It was off to the Absolute Ice bar and walking tour of old Stockholm. The Ice Bar is definitely touristy, but worth doing once in your life. It was located in a hotel (can't remember which), and looked like it was converted out of a small conference room, holding only about 35 people. The room is kept at 28 degrees Fahrenheit. The walls are lined with blocks of ice, the bar is carved ice, the tables are ice blocks, and there are even ice sofas covered in animal hides to sit on. The glasses are made of ice, and we all got a cocktail of Absolute vodka and pear juice. The cute Swedish blonde behind the bar assured us that the glasses are only used once, and that we got to keep them as souvenirs, which got a laugh! We were all provided with thermal capes and gloves to wear. Fun! Day 3- Helsinki Finland. We took the tour of Old Porvoo and the countryside. Porvoo is one of the oldest cities in Finland, and we spent a couple of hours touring the old section of town and stopped at a good little deli for lunch. The highlight of the excursion was a visit to a working horse ranch on a beautiful grassy, flowery, tree-filled ranch, where we were shown gorgeous horses and fed tea and cake. The weather was sunny with big puffy clouds, and the setting couldn't have been prettier, and our hosts more gracious. Our tour guide was very knowledgeable. Day 4 and 5- St. Petersburg. We bravely opted for the two-day,nine hour each, grand tour. We weren't fond of getting up at five o'clock AM while on vacation, to be on a bus by 7:15, but to see the beautiful sights of Russia was worth it. We had a wonderful Russian guide named Tatiana, who was probably in her twenties, and just knew everything possible about St. Petersburg. I can't possibly go into all the details of our two-day trip, but we saw the most breath-taking palaces, cathedrals, countryside, and, or course, the Hermitage. This tour required a lot of walking, and as there are few places in the Hermitage to sit; people were getting really tired. If walking is an issue for anyone, think twice before participating. If you are in fairly good shape, it it worth it to see so much. My only complaint during the St. Petersburg tour was the lunches. The first day we were herded into what appeared to be a decorated warehouse with about 800 other tourists where we were fed a lunch of salad, blinis with caviar, soup, and chicken with rice. A lot of people complained about the crowds and food, and said they felt like cattle. Lunch the second day was in a smaller restaurant with a similar menu (very good fish instead of chicken) and those we spoke to liked it much better. Let me just say that Russia is crawling with tourists at this time of year. How else this country can accommodate all of them any better I'm not sure. I hate to be too critical. Day 6- Tallin, Estonia. We took a short walking tour of old Tallin, about a 7-minute bus ride from the dock. Our tour guide had English that was halting at best, and he was pretty boring, sometimes having us stand in one spot while he rambled on and on for way too long. At one point, people were so bored that they discreetly wandered in to the gift shops! Finally were we released to wander about on our own for a while! Since it would only be a 15-20 minute walk into town, I'd recommend walking to town on your own. It's a great place to shop for souvenirs or have a bite, very charming. Day 7- Gdansk, Poland. We took a walking tour of Gdansk with a very sweet and knowledgeable guide named Yola, where we stopped to shop for amber. From there we drove about an hour to Malbourk Castle. If you really dig all things medieval, this is the tour for you. Lunch was not until almost 3:00, something I would have like to have known in advance, as I would have eaten a bigger breakfast, but was worth the wait. We ate at a traditional Polish restaurant near the Castle, and it was very good. Day 8, at sea. By now my husband and I were exhausted and fighting head colds, so we spent this relaxing day napping and just hanging out. The pace of trying to see everything can be grueling. Day 9- Oslo. We took a tour of the Olympic ski jumping site, the Viking museum, and the Vigeland Sculpture Park, all are must-sees. Day 10- Disembarkation in Copenhagen. About the ship- We loved the Crown Princess, probably the nicest in the fleet of the ones we've sailed on. We especially liked the International Cafe for a light snack, the coffee bar next to it for gourmet coffee that's much better than can be had at the buffet, and Crooner's, a martini bar with the world's nicest waiters that shake and pour your martini with style and flair. We quickly became regulars there and got to know the waiters well. Over all, the service can't be beat on Princess. The crew are friendly and attentive. We witnessed quite a few gripey and loud-mouthed passengers and I think when you go out of your way to be nice to the crew members, your effort is returned twicefold. We will be sailing on the Crown to the British Isles in July of '09 and look forward to the ship and the crew very much. About our cabin- We were on the Emerald deck, in a standard room with a partially obstructed view, at our request because the savings is substantial. The bedspread looked a little worn, but other than that, the room was clean and comfortable. I liked the fluffy down comforter! Entertainment- We saw no shows as we were too tired after dinner, so I can't really comment on that, but it has been very good on past cruises. Dining- The food on Princess, is good, but I wouldn't call it great. I don't really expect it to be on a cruise that serves 3,000+ passengers a day, but one thing could be improved. We have been on 6 cruises with princess, and I never could understand why the cuisine doesn't reflect the countries that we visit. I understand that they are trying to please an international crowd with varying palates, but it would be nice if at least one choice on the menu each night reflected the cuisine of the country we visited that day. I'm a foodie, and part of the fun of traveling is trying the local dishes. Where was the caviar and borscht? About the weather- We lucked out with the weather. Temperatures were between 66 and 71 degrees, and partly cloudy most of the time. We rarely needed more than a light windbreaker. It only showered a couple of times, but as the weather can change rapidly, it never hurts to have an umbrella. About the trip overall- If you like a restful cruise sunning ourself on the Lido deck and sleeping late, this is not the cruise for you! If you are an early bird, and love adventure and culture, you'll have it in droves! Because most of the sights that we wanted to see involved excursions that started early and went all day, it was hard to avoid a hectic pace. We both caught colds that we are still trying to shake a week after arriving home, so pace yourself if you can. When cruising the British Isles next year we have vowed to pace ourselves a little more slowly, especially since it will be a 12-day rather than a 10-day cruise, and it's not worth wearing yourself out after the first five days. I'd rather see a little less and have some time to relax. I am in my early forties and my husband is in his early fifties. We are not retired, work hard, and go on vacation partly to rest. As a teacher, I'm scheduled enough during the school year. I don't need to be overly scheduled on my vacation. Don't get me wrong. I had a great time and I'm glad we went, but I just want others to be aware of what kind of a trip this is. You are not so much vacationing as touring, and there is a big difference. Wash your hands a lot and use the antibacterial gel provided to avoid catching colds. A lot of people were getting the sniffles on our ship. Overall, this cruise was a real adventure that we will never forget! Read Less
Sail Date: June 2008
We arrived in Copenhagen three days before the cruise. We stayed at the Scandic Copenhagen hotel. This hotel is about three blocks from the Central Train Station and the same distance from the Tivoli. From here we were able to walk ... Read More
We arrived in Copenhagen three days before the cruise. We stayed at the Scandic Copenhagen hotel. This hotel is about three blocks from the Central Train Station and the same distance from the Tivoli. From here we were able to walk anywhere in the city. The cab ride from the airport to the hotel was about $50.00. We elected to take the train for $6.00. It was an easy ride. We walked the three blocks from the train station to the hotel. The Scandic was lovely. We had free breakfast and free internet service. The staff was helpful and friendly. The rooms were spotless. On our second day we did the tour with the gentleman who calls himself Hans Christian Anderson. This was an excellent, informative tour. For about $11.00 U.S., we became experts on Copenhagen. "Mr. Anderson" made several dining and shopping recommendations that were right on the mark. He even interviewed people on the street, asking them questions in response to our questions. We also did the hop-on-hop-off cruise in Nuhavn. We spent two relaxing evenings at the Tivoli. There were seven people in our group and we had 17 pieces of luggage. It took two cabs, one large and one small to transport our group to the ship. Make sure you know where the pier is; there is nothing on your ticket or travel documents to let you know and there are several piers in Copenhagen. We boarded the ship around 3:00 and the process was very smooth. Our staterooms were ready and our luggage arrived shortly after we did. The ship was pristine. Someone was always cleaning and polishing the outside decks. Our room steward, Luisa, was a gem. She couldn't do enough for us. The ship was beautiful and beautifully maintained. She sparkled inside and out. We elected to do the anytime dining and this went well. We usually ate at 6:30 and never had a wait. The service was very good (we had only one bad experience with a nervous waiter). The food was not excellent, but it was good. There was a nice variety. Even when we didn't enjoy the entrEe, there were other parts of the meal that we enjoyed. So we never left the table hungry. The food was occasionally cold, probably because they were not using covers for the plates. We tried the Crown Room one night. We went there for the lobster and they were out of lobster. They did not tell us this until we were ready to order. Six people in our group ordered steak and they felt that the meat was a cut above that served in the dining room. My shrimp was the same as in the dining room. The side dishes were excellent, especially the black and blue onion soup. Most people in our group felt that this dining experience was not worth the $25. surcharge. The buffet was very ordinary. During peak hours at breakfast and lunch, it was almost impossible to get a seat. The food was mediocre and was always room temperature. I think they have better food at the State Prison. We tried the little cafe on the Plaza deck and ended up eating some of our breakfasts and most of our lunches there when we were on board the ship. They have delicious breakfast pastries and a nice selection of lunch salads and sandwiches. The adjoining coffee bar had the best coffee on the ship. We elected to have room service for most of our breakfasts. The muffins, fruit and yogurt were good and we did not have to brave the mob at the buffet. The food was always served on time. We loved the pizza by the pool. Others in our group tried and liked the Trident Grill. One of our favorite experiences was high tea in the dining room. For the most part the service was excellent. Everywhere we went people smiled and were friendly. We were told by staff members that they signed on with Princess for 8 months. They live on board and get their food and medical care for free. They are given a plane ticket home at the end of their contract. They can sign up again when their vacation is over. Many have worked for Princess in this manner for years. They work sometimes 12 hours a day and they work hard. Some of the staff are married to other staff members and have children who are cared for at home by relatives. We had one negative experience with a surly employee from the Purser's Office and one bad waiter. That was not bad, given the number of people we inter-acted with on the ship. I thought that the shops were reasonable and all of us enjoyed shopping on board. The port lectures and movie selections were great. I would have liked to see an American news channel. We had an inside stateroom and everything was compact and shipshape. We had plenty of room to store the clothing and incidentals in the three suitcases we brought with us. We did not feel closed in; in fact we spent little time in our room. This cruise was so port-intensive that we had trouble staying awake for the evening activities so I can't really rate them. There was one very funny comedian, however. There were plenty of activities for the time at sea. There were computer classes, pottery classes, and dance and fitness classes among others. My husband loved the gym and the employees there were very helpful. They attempted to explain the equipment and program to one of my friends. She thanked them but told them that she planned to spend all her time eating!! Princess is committed to raising one million dollars for Susan Koman Breast Cancer Foundation. We did the three mile walk (9 times around the ship) and it was fun. The charge was $15.00 and we received a baseball cap commemorating this. They also served snacks during the walk and you could stop in and help yourself. This walk took place as we were leaving Norway, so we could see the fjords while we walked. It was a memorable experience. In Stockholm, Talin, Helsinki, and Olso, we took the shuttle into the center of town and toured on our own. We did the Gdansk, on your own tour. In Helsinki, we were fortunate enough to secure the services of a guide when we got off the shuttle. This worked very well because most of the activities are in the center of town where the shuttle left us. We were there during Midsummer so many shops in Helsinki and Stockholm were closed. We were disappointed that there was not more time to explore Stockholm and Oslo and could have done with less time in Helsinki. I noticed that Princess is increasing the time in Stockholm for their 2009 cruises and that is a good move for them. All in all the ports were great. Five people in our group did a private tour with DenRus. On the first day we met at 6:10 A.M. by the gangplank. We just walked off the ship when it was cleared. There were about 30 other people who did the same and there was no problem. It took about five minutes for us to clear immigration. The next day we left at 8:30, and again had no problem. Alana, our guide from Denrus, was great. I had sent several e-mails back and forth to Natalie, of DenRus and our tour went well. We crammed a lot into the two days Peterhoff, the city orientation, walk on Nivsky Prospect, several cathedrals, the Catherine Palace, the Hermitage, a Metro ride, a canal ride and the hydrofoil to name a few. She was pleasant and professional and we learned a lot from her. We did not like the fact that we were taken to several souvenir shops. The prices are inflated and our tour guides gets a commission for taking us there. If you do a private tour with DenRus or Red October, do your homework first. Check guidebooks like Fodor's and Frommer's and decide where you want to go for the shopping. Incidentally, the Museum shops had some lovely items so when you are mapping out your tour, make time for the shops. We were gone from 6:30 AM on the first day until 7:30 at night. On the second day we left the ship at 8:30 and did not get back until 4:30. We paid slightly less for our private tour the ship's tour with its busses of 50 people. If there was something we did not want to do, we just told Alana and we moved on. This really enhanced our trip to Russia. Debarkation went smoothly until it was time to wait for a taxi. We were in the 9:30 group because we stayed over in Copenhagen again. The taxi lines were long; we did not get a cab until about noon. Once you are off the ship, there is no one to help. It's like "Good-bye - Good Riddance." This was our forth cruise and the most enjoyable so far. I was very pleased with Princess and would especially recommend this cruise for the ports. My husband and I left our group after the cruise and hopped on a train to return to Stockholm. We spent four days there before returning home. This is a beautiful city and was a perfect end to a perfect vacation. If you have further questions, please e-mail me at pearbar5@sbcglobal.net. Read Less
Sail Date: June 2008
Dear Fellow Cruising Friends, This is the story of our June 18-29, 2008, Crown Princess Cruise to the Baltic's -- Cabin # E 717. We booked this cruise, (our 23rd) more than a year ago with our master cruise counselor who once ... Read More
Dear Fellow Cruising Friends, This is the story of our June 18-29, 2008, Crown Princess Cruise to the Baltic's -- Cabin # E 717. We booked this cruise, (our 23rd) more than a year ago with our master cruise counselor who once again found us the best vacation ever! My husband is from Swedish ancestry and I am from Polish Ancestry. It was a great opportunity to actually see the countries that our grandparents came from. We flew out of Grand Rapids, Michigan to Chicago, then on an over night flight on SAS arriving in Copenhagen on June 19th arriving 16 hours later (including layovers) - 4408 miles from home and ready for adventure. My husband Curt and I are in our early 50's and traveled with family friends (also in their early 50's) who were embarking on their second cruise. After traveling together on an Alaskan cruise and having such a great time on the Sapphire Princess we knew we had to cruise together again! Happily right before we left we all we upgraded from an inside cabin to wonderful outside cabins with large windows. We had a great flight that included 2 meals, snacks, complimentary alcohol, video entertainment (movies, video games, TV shows, and music), pillows, blankets and wonderful service. What a treat as our tickets stated that we had no meals and no entertainment. The stewards also passed through the plane at 45 -60 minute intervals with water. Before we were served our second meal they also passed through with warm washcloths. What a treat as we were flying in the cheap seats! I can't even imagine how the people in first class were treated because we were given the best service we have ever had on any flight! Way to go SAS! One note: Although our luggage was checked through from GRR to CPH, upon arrival in Chicago we had to go to the United/SAS desk and get the boarding pass for the second leg of our flight. After going through security in the international gate, we also had to register our passport at our departure gate with international security. The gate called numerous times for people to have the APIS check of passports and you could not get on the plane without going through this check. Once you pass through the international security check point there is very limited food choice. You either have to catch a meal before going through security or go back through security again. Note that you can not bring any liquid such as soda etc. through the security gates. There are limited soda and sandwich choices near the gate, but the big restaurants are immediately in front of the international security check area. We arrived in Copenhagen, Denmark right on time at 1:20 pm. We went through Copenhagen security and had our passports stamped and then on to the luggage carousels. A Princess Representative met us in the luggage area. We walked our luggage out the doors where Princess handlers gathered the luggage and the next time we saw it was in our room. Not having ever been in Europe we chose to take the Princess transfers. Check in to the ship was painless and quick. Have your pre-printed boarding pass laid out in your open passport with your credit card and "I have not been ill" papers and away you go! There was a picture snap and we were on the ship and in our cabin. Less than an hour from the time we got off the plane we were on the ship and ready for fun! We had the great luck of not only sharing our table with our wonderful traveling companions Don and Teri, but with new friends Bill and Daisy from Australia and Russell and Jennes from Texas. I have to say that there was no table in the dining room that had more fun than our table. We looked forward to dinner each night and most nights closed down the dining room with the waiters. Our first day was at sea and it was a grand choice that Princess let us have a rest day. We did not have another day to take a deep breath for 8 more days! The Hot tubs were hot and the pools were warmly heated. We did not gamble so I can't comment on the Casino with the exception that our dinner companion Bill told us that he made several deposits. The shows were entertaining if you had the strength to stay awake after a day of touring. The lectures were interesting and we were entertained by the variety of speakers and subjects. Our Cruise Counselor left some great ice-cream coupons in our cabin that served us well later in the cruise. You could also get a 10 punch ice-cream card for $18.50 for 10 items. This would have been well worth the cost if a melon sized sundae or a large shake could entice you into more food. There were numerous complaints about the coffee being nasty, but, I felt the food was tasty and nicely presented. Sadly, I think on a 10 night cruise where you can have your hearts desire in food each night even steak and shrimp get old for some. For me, I am thrilled to have someone serve me and clean up after. What a treat to have our waiter Sam and his assistant Nicholas take care of us every night. They were personable and polite and even when we might have been having a little too much fun at our table they gave us the best service with a smile each night. Our first port was Stockholm Sweden. We got up early to enjoy the trip through the Swedish Archipelago. It was a wonderful 4-5 hour trip. We enjoyed the wonderful beauty of Swedish shoreline. We sat on the back deck of the ship eating breakfast and then on the promenade deck in chairs watching life pass by. What a treat of beauty. We chose the Princess Tour --Stockholm & Vasa Museum - 12:15 - 3:15pm We were to "Experience the Capital of Scandinavia on a narrated drive about town". We toured the Vasa Museum, home to the oldest fully preserved warship in the world. The Vasa was built as the flagship of the Swedish fleet. The Vasa foundered on her maiden voyage. The wreck was discovered and raised between 1956 and 1961. It was a most interesting site. Because the museum is kept at the same light as the ship was when it was under water we found that we had to take pictures without flash and lighten them when we got home. You could walk right up to the ship and be within "spitting distance". What a wonder. It was so perfect that you really have to wonder if it was real. We went to Fjllgatan - one of Stockholm's highest points that offers panoramic views of the city skyline and its graceful waterways. We stopped there for photos. Then we continued on to Riddarholmen - where we saw the City Hall set on the waterside. We arrived right in time to see the changing of the guard at the Royal Palace. We also drove passed the National Museum and the Royal Dramatic Theater. We drove passed the city centre to the neighboring island of Djurgaden, regarded as Stockholm's outdoor recreation centre. It was a nice, easy tour with minimal walking. Next, onward to Helsinki, Finland. We chose the Princess Tour - Helsinki Highlights. Once again we chose a narrated drive. We visited Senate Square, Helsinki's central square that boasts 19th-century neoclassical buildings - a legacy of the Tsarist period. We marveled at St. Nicholas Cathedral. It was truly a picture taking opportunity. We continued on to Temppeliaukio Rock Church - Designed by architect-brothers Timo and Tuomo Suomalainen the church was completed in 1969. The church is carved into bedrock; only its graceful copper cupola rises above the curved rock walls. At the Sibelius Monument - Located in Sibelius Park we got to see the stainless steel sculpture that was inspired by Sibelius' musical vision. A relief of the composer stands next to the monument. While there we met a lovely man who brings his dogs to the park to play with the American tourists. We had a great time playing with his 5 time world champion dogs and feeding the multitudes of birds. We traveled on a nice motorcoach and traveled along the shoreline for views of Suomenlinna Fortress - the "Gibraltar of the North" and passed the Esplanade, Helsinki's famous design street, passed. the Market Place and the Presidential Palace before continuing on Mannerheim Street - the city's longest avenue. We drove alongside the Olympic Stadium, Opera House, Finlandia Hall, National Museum, Parliament and Kiasma - the Museum of Contemporary Art. At the end of our tour we had the opportunity to remain in town for independent sightseeing or shopping. However, you are then responsible for your own return to ship and by the point the jet lag was really kicking in and knowing that we would be spending 2 long days in Russia we decided to get back to the ship for a nice nap. We chose to tour Russia with Denrus Tours - (www denrus.ru). We paid them in advance and received our ticket via e-mail several weeks before our departure. One thing I would suggest is that you check your e-mail on the day that tickets are promised to be sent because if your computer is picky like ours it will kick the tickets into the spam folder and delete them. Thank goodness the fine people at Denrus sent us another set of tickets and we were able to print them and start getting excited about our adventure. We had no problems getting off the ship. The 4 of us met our group of friends Bill and Janine alone with Ellen and Michael in the dining room as Princess suggested. We sat for about 45 minutes waiting to have our number called. We were escorted off the ship and into the line for those not taking Princess tours. We were in line for another 45 minutes, but the time went fast as there was a wonderful band playing songs while we waited. Others who were in our Denrus tour group got off the ship immediately when the ship was cleared but had to wait for us on the bus. The choice will be yours to wait on the bus or in the dining room. One way or the other the tour does not leave until everyone gets there. The second day we walked off the ship and through the Russian passport check without incident. The days run together in Russia. There is so much to see...so many things to learn. Our tour guide Ludemilla was a charming and crusty individual who kept us on our toes and got us to the best spots to enjoy Russia. We went to Peterhof Palace & Grounds - Built to rival Versailles, the palace sits atop a hill overlooking the Gulf of Finland. Peter the Great drafted the layout for the 300-hundred acre park and supervised the design of the palace fountains. The Grand Cascade, the most famous fountain group, features Samson prying open the lion's jaw as water cascades down terraced steps and small spouting fountains flow from smaller sculptures. Some of the hi-lights were visits to the Throne Room, the Portrait Room, and the White Dining Room. The Peter and Paul Fortress was originally built to protect the city from Swedish attack, the fortress soon became Russia's Tower of London, a place for imprisoning political prisoners - including Peter the Great's own son. We went to the visually overwhelming Peter and Paul Cathedral - the city's tallest structure in the days of Peter the Great. The ornate interior boasts gilded iconostasis, 18th century paintings and icons - and the tombs of many Tsars and Tsarinas, including Peter the Great and Catherine the Great. After a tour of Peter and Paul Cathedral and Fortress we boarded a flat boat for a Canal Cruise. It was a 60-minute journey traveling the Fontanka River, the Kryukov Canal, the Moika River and the Neva River. Peter the Great conceived the Neva as the main thoroughfare of the city and from the beginning the river was included in the whole architectural ensemble. During our journey we passed under numerous picturesque bridges and admired the exteriors of the many beautiful buildings in St Petersburg. Sadly, it was warm and we along with many of our tour companions were caught nodding off. It was a very relaxing part of the tour! While on the canal tour we saw the Rostral Columns. The columns imitate the ancient Roman practice of displaying the prows of captured enemy ships on a column. My very favorite stop was St. Isaac's Cathedral - The cathedral's massive central gold dome - one of the largest in the world - is covered with 220 pounds of pure gold and dominates the city skyline. The Cathedral was commissioned by Alexander I in 1818 and took more than three decades to complete. After the October Revolution of 1917 the cathedral was turned into museum. I could have stood there for days with my mouth open just taking in all the beautiful mosaics and paintings. We went to St. Isaac's Square which is situated to the south of St. Isaac's Cathedral. In the center of St. Isaac's Square is a monument to Nicholas I - the equestrian statue which has only two points of support. Opposite the Cathedral, on the bank of the Moika River, stands the former palace which was built for Princess Maria, the daughter of Nicholas I. Today, the former Mariinsky Palace is the seat of Legislative Assembly - St. Petersburg Council of city's Deputies. At the Hermitage our guide Ludemilla gave us the best tour! She is an Art Historian and Art Professor at a Russian University. What art she did not know about was not worth seeing. She made those of us who were "Art Challenged" develop an appreciation for the masters. . The Tsar's former Winter Palace and four other buildings house one of the world's premier art collections. Ludemilla took us through the display rooms, which contain over three million art works, including paintings by Da Vinci, Rafael, Monet, Rembrandt, Renoir - to name a few. Designed by Rastrelli, the Baroque Winter Palace boasts patterned parquet floors and ornate staircases. Art overload!! We visited Yusupov Palace and went through the palace's magnificently restored apartments and saw an exhibition of photographs, waxworks, and the actual cellar room where Rasputin was poisoned and then shot. The palace was built in 1760, the Yusupov's, a wealthy Russian noble family, acquired the palace in 1830. The palace was the site of the assassination of the monk Rasputin, whom Prince Felix Yusupov and other nobles feared as a baneful influence on Tsar Nicholas II. Be prepared to wear the provided foot covering while you are here. It is a little slippery. We only had the opportunity to drive passed the Church of the Savior on the Spilled Blood. This church sports a fantastic and ornate "Russian-style" exterior and is built on the site of the March 1, 1881 assassination of Tsar Alexander II. The church is distinguished by its picturesque silhouette and rich colorful decoration. The facade is lined with ceramic tiles. We got to see this beautiful church 2 times on our tour. Close enough for pictures, but not close enough to touch. This Church was everything a Russian Church should look like. Although many have questioned the need to visit the magnificent "Palaces of the People", the St Petersburg Metro (subway) was stunning. We rode the subway between Kirovsky Zavod north to Narvskaya Metro station. The subway was truly an art museum in its own right, and it also gave us the opportunity to get the feel for the Russian people who lived in St. Petersburg. We rode passed the Bronze Horseman which was built by the order of the Empress Catherine the Great. The monument is dedicated to the founder of St. Petersburg, Peter the Great, and stands on Decembrists' Square facing the Neva River. We did not do much shopping. There was too much to see. Both days of touring included lunch. Lunch was ok. Both days lunch did come with vodka and champagne. Russians enjoy their "medicine" and Ludemilla was most concerned that we take our medicine to stay health! The only thing I wish I would have done in Russia is to grab my husband and dance a quick waltz in one of the many beautiful ballrooms that we toured through. I did not think of it until I got home and I think it would have been fun to dance on the floor that so many famous people danced. Before we arrived in Estonia we were lucky enough to run into fellow tour mates Pam and Hal who had downloaded a walking tour from the internet. www.brentjes.com/tallinnwalk.html They graciously allowed us to tag along with them. It was a short 20 minute hike to the gates of the old town. Once we walked through the archway in the medieval city wall we were transported to another time. I kept saying that I thought I had walked into the movie "Shrek". Hal acted as tour guide and took us all around the town following the instructions of the tour. His downloaded tour took us to all the hi-lights and we were crossing paths with others who were taking the Princess Walking Tour. We saw Fat Margaret, The Alexander Nevsky Russian Cathedral, The Parliament Building and Tall Herman. We hiked up to the Toompea Overlook and took some really exceptional pictures of the beautiful landscapes. We also spent a little time in the town center shopping. This was the only place I wished that I had brought along some Euros. It was a great place for those got to have souvenirs. The next day we were in Poland. We joined friends Hal and Pam, Ellen and Michael as well as Andrea and Scott for a day long tour that will remain in my heart forever. Scott booked this tour for us and for the 4 couples that took this tour together it was a time of heart wrenching sadness and mind numbing sights. We all met on the internet in the Crown Princess Cruise area on the dock. Our tour guide Andrew Falkowski picked up on the dock and we began our tour in a 9 person van. We toured though Gdynia and Sopot arriving in Gdansk about an hour later. We traveled onward through the city to the Stutthof Concentration Camp. Stutthof Concentration Camp was created by the Nazis close to Gdansk at the very beginning of World War II. It is a place of extermination of inmates from 23 lands, the place of Holocaust of thousands of Jews. We went through the Gate of Death, barracks, watch towers, gas chamber and crematorium. We saw how people lived and died. We saw the ashes and skeletal remains that had been shoveled from the crematorium and preserved under glass where they were originally found. We saw where the Nazi's hung a person each day as an "example". Andrew told us how people tried to live and survive here. He told us stories of mortification, degradation, the horrible living conditions of the inmates, extermination by hunger, murderous work, gassing, mass shooting, hanging and needlings which ended with "medical attention" all employed here for the "Final Solution". It was a terrible place. We were warned by other cruisers who visited this place that we would be taken to the brink of tears. I was unprepared for the feeling of everything being sucked out of me and for our little group all we could muster was deafening silence. It was overwhelming empty feeling and I never ever want to feel the emotions that overtook me while I was there. After our tour of the camp we silently journeyed back for a stroll on the streets of Gdansk. "A gem of the ancient Polish Kingdom" would be an understatement. We visited Old Town, Old Crane Machinery, and Long Market Square with Neptune's Fountain, Town Hall, Golden Gate, Torture House, Arsenal, St. Mary's Church, and Mariacka Lane with its terraces and amber shops. We were able to see a picture of what the city looked like after the war. Nothing was left except foundations and half of the clock tower. Looking down the same view at the same street that had been totally decimated, it was hard to believe that it had been built back to its former glory. What a beautiful, alive place. There was happiness and color and the smells of Polish cooking, friendly people and glorious flowers. It was a total contrast to what we had seen earlier in the day. This tour will long be the worst and best tour we have ever taken. Our next day was at sea and we were too tired to be anything but tired! There were many things to do on the ship but there was also the underlying sadness that we only had one more day to tour Europe and we were on our way home. We got some packing done. In Oslo, Norway we took the Princess Tour -Ez Oslo. It was a narrated drive exploring Oslo's scenic highlights - we chose this no walking tour as we though we would be beat by the time we got to the end of the cruise. We went passed the 13th -century Akershus Fortress which today is part museum, and part military area before turning towards the City Hall - inaugurated in 1950 at Oslo's 900-year jubilee. The Fortress was immediately across the street from where the ship was docked. There was no entrance fee and once we were done with the bus tour we spent several hours walking through. We went passed the Parliament, before proceeding down Karl Johan Street, named after the Swedish-Norwegian king in the early part of the 19th century. Along the way we passed the oldest part of Oslo University which dates back to 1813. The tour went passed the Royal Palace, built in the first half of the last century, and today, the residence of the Royal Family. Although we would have loved to walk through the Vigeland Sculpture Park we only had a brief glimpse as we stopped at the entrance. We took the steep climb up Holmenkollen Hill. Perched high above Oslo, Holmenkollen is the cradle of ski jumping and the site of the 1952 Olympic ski jumping competition. On clear days, the view to parts of the town and the Oslofjord with its many islands is impressive. We drove down the busy "Bogstad-veien" with its many shops, and continue along the Royal Park passing the House of Artists, and down to "Stortorget" - the big market square and Oslo Cathedral built in 1697. We stopped at Ekeberg Hill. From this vantage point we could see the harbor, the fjord with its many islands, and a large part of the town stretching out in the valley below. As I said, after we were returned back to the ship we walked 100 feet or so to the Fortress for some exploration. There is a small gift shop at the dock. Sadly the next day we were up and back into the dining room to wait for our transfer to our tour of Copenhagen and then home. We chose the Princess Tour -Debarkation Tour - Copenhagen City & Tivoli Gardens We boarded a large bus and started a multi hour tour that lasted a good 3 hours before we arrived at Tivoli Gardens. Our tour drove through Copenhagen and passed the Old Stock Exchange, which boasts a copper roof and a spire formed by four intertwined dragons' tails, the 16th-century Holmenes Church, attended by the Royal Family, the Town Hall, Tivoli Gardens and the Nyhavn waterfront. We went to the Royal Palace and of course a tad of early morning shopping at the dock after visiting the Little Mermaid. At 11 am Tivoli Gardens opened and we had 90 minutes to stroll the gardens. Tivoli Gardens is Copenhagen's legendary pleasure garden and features merry-go-rounds, roller coasters, concerts, and dancing, as well as cafes and restaurants. Our guide gave us the basics and left us to explore on our own. After all the hype I was really expecting something special and am sad to say I was somewhat disappointed. Our tour ended at Copenhagen airport where we gathered our luggage and schlepped to the longest line I have ever been in. Although we had 2 ½ hours until our flight left we made the gate by the seat of our pants. There were many delays at the counter. It was a little on the tense side for many who had flights before ours. We had a great flight home on SAS. Upon arrival at ORD we had to go through immigration with our customs paperwork, claim our luggage that had been checked through from CPH to GRR, move it from the luggage claim and put it in a pile 10 feet away to be put back on the next flight. I tell you about having to claim your luggage when you go through American Customs as a friend also had luggage checked all the way through and did not know they had to claim it (thought it would be waiting at their final destination) and it was taken by the airline because no one claimed it - the whole Homeland Security procedure. What a surprise to get home and not have your luggage waiting for you. It took several days and much paperwork to get the wayward luggage released and sent home. We had a great time! 11 days, 1600 pictures, a bevy of new friends, more memories than a normal person deserves to have and we are Home Sweet Home. No matter where we cruise I am always teary eyed by how much I love to set foot back in the USA. We are so very blessed and are now looking forward to our next adventure - Ireland and Scotland! Read Less
Sail Date: May 2008
CROWN PRINCESS - Scandinavia & Russia (w/ Oslo) - Roundtrip Copenhagen, May 30 - June 9, 2008 By Carrie Finley-Bajak Background Information One week prior to departure, I got cleared for the cruise. After finding a willing and able ... Read More
CROWN PRINCESS - Scandinavia & Russia (w/ Oslo) - Roundtrip Copenhagen, May 30 - June 9, 2008 By Carrie Finley-Bajak Background Information One week prior to departure, I got cleared for the cruise. After finding a willing and able friend to join me on the cruise we scurried to take care of last minute daycare issues and to rearrange our schedules. Luckily we have passports and are able to pull a trip together at short notice (as well as accommodating husbands.) I found a roundtrip air ticket for $1,200 to travel from Southern California to Copenhagen. The Copenhagen airport is very nice, modern and orderly. The Princess team at the arrivals/baggage area was plentiful and very helpful. Probably the best meet and greet team that I have seen to date. We could have purchased the Princess ship transfer for $48.00 each but we opted for the $60+total cab fare instead. The taxi driver was equipped to take credit cards. We considered taking the train but decided against it at the last minute. The train looks easy enough except for the last stop where one would have to wait for a taxi (not that many around) or walk to the ship. When we arrived at the ship we experienced some confusion because we did not have our bag tags yet. Soon enough we were crossing the gangway and embarking the vessel at 4:30 pm Friday, May 30th, 2008. Stateroom Our inside cabin was an on the Plaza deck (deck 5), 224. The cabin was small and very cramped. Also, there were random noises that startled me awake nightly. We reported the noises and with a lot of consistent calls to the front desk we could have moved cabins about 4 days into the trip. We opted to stay put and ignore the noises. The cabin turned out to be in a prime location especially since it was very close to the main piazza area, the International Cafe, wireless internet (yes I brought my laptop) and the gangway. Our cabin steward was fantastic. He was generous with the toiletries, accommodating to our late nights and very professional. We set sail for Stockholm, Sweden at 8:00 pm. Once settled in, we headed for the Welcome Aboard Buffet. Fellow cruisers were not happy that the staff had to serve all the items. In fact prior to getting a plate a staff member disinfected each passenger's hands (yea!). The cruise prior to ours had a nasty outbreak of a gastro-virus. The food was varied and the flow of the lines was nice. Instead of a linear buffet, there were two sides of the Horizon Court serving the same food. The food was good. After getting a bite to eat we explored the ship. Ship Info To say the ship is huge is an understatement. There are about 19 decks and when looking up from the ground one is dwarfed. The ship was built in June 2006. She has a passenger capacity of 3080, 1200 crew members with a gross tonnage of 116,000. The ship is 951 feet long. There are 1557 total cabins with 1105 of those outside and 452 inside cabins. There is ample space for passengers to roam without feeling the crunch of the crowds. Overall the public rooms are sophisticated and well appointed. There is a good mix of country club casual and contemporary design throughout. The ship is clean and spacious. Crown Princess is a member of the Grand-Class of ships. Crown Princess is an immense floating 5-star resort. The most impressive assets of the ship are the amenities. The piazza-style atrium is a crowd favorite. Princess says it best when they describe the piazza as "a bustling hub of the ship with a street cafe atmosphere, featuring live music and entertainers throughout the day and evening." The Italian-inspired dEcor is charming. The upper deck is devoted to outdoor living spaces. The Calypso Reef and Pool has a shallow area where passengers can watch "Movies Under the Stars" on a 300-square foot LED screen. The Terrace Pool (adults only) is a traditional pool area that offers fabulous views over the ship's stern. The Neptune Reef and Pool area is surrounded by two whirlpools. The Lotus Spa Pool offers a small sheltered pool, two hot tubs, and two outdoor showers. The Lotus Spa Pool has a current-machine for one person to swim laps against. The spa is connected to The Sanctuary, an adult's only outdoor deck area. On our cruise this area was wasted since it was not a warm weather destination. The lounge chairs were very comfortable and the private massage area was gorgeous. However, a $3.00 charge for wait service was a bit of overkill. In addition, the $20 daily fee or the $10 half day fee to use the space was also a bit extreme. The Sanctuary should be included in the cruise price. The food on the menu looked delicious and I was hoping that they would serve this cuisine in other locations on the ship. The spa food suited my taste but since I was not participating in the Sanctuary experience, it was not available. The area does promote relaxation but at a steep price. The Lotus Spa was ok. The thermal suite was in a bad location and there was no need to purchase the separate steam bath packages as the women's locker room offered both wet and dry saunas. A little disappointing that they did not create the thermal suite area with sweeping ocean views. The spa was nice with the usual menu of services. The Fitness center had state of the art machines, treadmills, bikes and classes. The Sports deck had a basketball/tennis court, and the Princess Links nine-hole putting course (hosting incredible views.) There were also virtual golf simulators which were a lot of fun. Crown Princess has a nice Internet center. There are many signs all around warning passengers that the connection is not broadband and that it can be very slow. Despite the warnings many people attempted to sign up and got very frustrated. There is a small library. Read the daily Princess Patter to confirm the hours of operation to avoid disappointment. The onboard shopping is plentiful. On this cruise, some of the best bargains were had onboard. The art gallery is located on the Plaza deck and there are opportunities to participate in art auctions. Hearts and Minds Wedding Chapel is available but must be prearranged. There are two live web cams onboard so make sure to tell your friends and family so they can watch where you are. Entertainment Our Cruise Director Billy London did an excellent job. He was funny, competent and seasoned. He celebrated 30 years at sea during our voyage. Each morning there was a live broadcast from Cruise Director Billy and he went through the Princess Patter to distribute all pertinent information. We had great full production shows with live dancing and singing. There were jazz musicians, pianists, comedians, acrobats, magic shows, cooking demos, and local entertainers from the various ports. The port lectures and resident expert onboard was Mr. John Lawrence. He spoke live about each port and his lecture replayed on the Princess TV channel throughout the day. Crown Princess has a lot of smaller venues that hosted unique performances. Crooners is a centrally located martini bar located off the main piazza. The staff was exceptional especially the native French bartender named Florian. Larry Dunsmore played an exciting string of hits with his nightly one-man show. When Larry was not playing, he was busy getting the crowd involved with a "raise your hand if you...." type game that thrilled the audience. Tradewinds is another watering hole offering refreshments on the open deck while gazing at the beautiful scenery. Other locations to relax and unwind are the sophistical piano bar called the Adagio Lounge. This lounge is a bit of a walk and away from the main piazza area. The Adagio seemed to serve Sabatini's' restaurant. Skywalker's, located high over the stern, has outstanding views during the day and at night it is the late night spot to dance and adjust to the time change. There is a minimum age for Skywalker's at night and a bouncer to enforce the age limit. Club Fusion is the ship's third major live entertainment venue. This area is useful for dancing, playing games and meeting friends. The Wheelhouse Bar had beautiful wood work and was a big hit with smokers. The live music was very nice. Of course there is also a casino and one night it was designated smoke-free. Gatsby Casino has slot machines and gaming tables. Dining A whole new level is reached with Princess and the Personal Choice Dining concept. Guests can enjoy a savory appetizer paired with a glass of wine at Vines, or they can take in the expansive top-deck views during an Italian extravaganza in Sabatini's. Princess has long been known for its array of alternative dining opportunities. Alternative Dining is available at Sabatini's and the Crown Grill. Both venues offer the finest ingredients, the best service and impeccable food. Quality of product is hands down better than most of the run of the house offerings in the dining room. Book ahead to get the best selection of reservations. Nominal fee with gratuity is added to shipboard account. Lunch was always available in the Dining Room or the Buffet. A typical dinner menu had at least twenty selections, not including the Dessert Menu which usually had upwards of ten offerings. Crown Princess' full range of dining options includes: • International Cafe - The International cafe offers specialty coffee drinks and serves a changing menu of a la carte items throughout the day. Passengers may enjoy freshly baked croissants or beignets in the morning, gourmet panini sandwiches at lunchtime, afternoon tea or chocolate fondue later in the day, or pre-dinner tapas in the evening. An Italian gelateria will also scoop up assorted flavors daily and serve fresh homemade bon bons. Purchasing a coffee card is a great value as unlimited premium coffee, hot tea and hot chocolate are included with the price of the card. Also, large paper cups are available and are useful to-go containers for shore excursions. • Vines - A wine and seafood bar that will tempt passengers in the evening with an assortment of fine wine and cocktail pairings accompanied by a selection of chilled seafood "cocktails"-- appetizers including salmon, oysters, sushi, gravlax or other treats from the sea. • Crown Grill - A showplace eatery with an open, theater-style kitchen where chefs custom-prepare steamed shellfish -- such as lobster, scallops, clams and mussels -- and cooked-to-order steaks and chops. A $25 fee applies for dinner, some items may carry an additional charge. • Sabatini's -- Princess' famed Sabatini's Italian trattoria features a new top deck location aboard Crown Princess to offer fine dining with a view. The stunning new venue offers a grand entrance, views on three sides with dramatic vistas overlooking the wake of the ship, and open-air dining on the aft deck. An all-new menu, plus custom-made fine china and new stemware, makes this Italian extravaganza a fine dining experience to remember, which will subsequently be introduced in other Sabatini's restaurants throughout the fleet. A $20 cover charge applies for the Sabatini's dinner. • Main dining rooms -- We had anytime dining. There are three restaurants. One serves traditional seating and two are focused on Anytime Dining. It seems that Princess has got it together with this non-traditional dining concept. We never had to wait to dine and we had our choice of eating alone or with others. The menus were varied but some of the provisions were a little less than perfect. However, due to our location in the Baltic I was able to overlook the occasional wilted piece of lettuce. My most memorable meal was the scallops which were delectable with a melt in your mouth consistency. All items were varied, innovative, fresh and pleasingly plated. The food service was impeccable. • Cafe Caribe -- This themed buffet captures the tastes of the Caribbean and beyond. Offers an alternative to Horizon Court. Has nightly dinner themes. • Horizon Court -- A primary feature of Princess ships, the top-of-the-ship restaurant features floor-to-ceiling windows with stunning sea views as a backdrop for a quick breakfast or casual dinner. The Horizon Court offers a variety of buffet meals or snacks. • Trident Grill -- For a quick poolside lunch, this outdoor venue is the perfect place for hungry passengers to get freshly grilled burgers and hot dogs for a tasty al fresco meal. And the American fare at the grill offered French fries and burgers. A nice break to the heavy food in the dining room. • Pizza and Ice Cream Bar -- The homemade pizza was delicious! Poolside pizzeria serving Princess' trademark Italian-style fresh pizza by the slice. • 24-Hour Room Service -- Princess provides 24-hour room service enabling passengers to enjoy breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks in the privacy of their own staterooms or enjoying the view from their balconies. In addition to the always-available room service menu, passengers can also order special room service-only offerings, such as a special Champagne Balcony Breakfast ($30 per couple) and an elegant four-course Ultimate Balcony Dinner featuring delicate sweet lobster tails plus a full evening of special touches ($50 per person). We did not want to spend any extra time in our inside cabin so we did not partake in room service. PORTS OF CALL 1 Copenhagen, Denmark 8:00 PM 2 At Sea 3 Stockholm, Sweden 10:00 AM 5:00 PM 4 Helsinki, Finland 10:00 AM 6:00 PM 5 St. Petersburg, Russia 6:30 AM 6 St. Petersburg, Russia 6:00 PM 7 Tallinn, Estonia 7:00 AM 1:00 PM 8 Gdansk (Gdynia), Poland 9:00 AM 6:00 PM 9 At Sea 10 Oslo, Norway 7:00 AM 2:00 PM 11 Copenhagen, Denmark 5:00 AM Shore Excursions The shore excursion office is very busy on Crown Princess. We opted to do our own city tours and found that most of the cities were very easy to walk around. We used the recommendations of Mr. John Lawrence, our port lecturer as a guide. The ship provides adequate maps and general information about currency, customs, and local life. The only city that requires a tour is St. Petersburg, Russia. St. Petersburg shore excursions run from a two-day extravaganza to more doable smaller doses. Russia requires a tourist visa for US citizens. The ship can act as a sponsor for a Visa if needed. This needs to be done months in advance. A lot of people liked hiring the car option that is listed on the shore excursion offerings. The most popular tour, and a sold out tour, was the two day St. Petersburg option. If this is something that interests you, make sure to pre book. Copenhagen, Denmark We arrived and went directly to the ship. This waterside city of Copenhagen is packed with old-world charm alongside some of the world's most avante garde architecture. We found that Copenhagen is a vibrant, modern city with a long and fascinating history. Sweden, Stockholm Getting into the city by foot was easy. But make sure that you know which pier the ship will dock if you plan on meeting friends. The Swedish capital, Stockholm, is not only Scandinavia's largest city but also its most enchanting, with its centuries-old alleyways and squares being spread across an archipelago of 14 islands. We visited the Nobel Museum, the Royal Palace and the Gamla Stan. We enjoyed the hop-on/hop-off boat. We used the credit card and did not bother with the currency. The weather was perfect. Finland, Helsinki We took the bus from the port that was arranged by Princess for $10 rountrip. The 10 minute ride was nice and the bus dropped us off at a central location. We walked through the Espanade, visited some sites then took an hour boat ride around the a cluster of promontories and peninsulas. We learned a lot about the 450 years old city. The city was clean and offered wide avenues lined with buildings echoing centuries of architectural excellence from Gothic through to art deco and cutting-edge contemporary. Russia, St. Petersburg Situated on the Gulf of Finland and spread over numerous islands in the Neva Delta, St Petersburg is a city of arched bridges, winding canals, wide boulevards, elegant palaces, impressive squares and ornate churches. We took a canal tour called, "Venice of the North" on the fist day and then a tour to The Winter Palace and the Hermitage Museum on day 2. It was glorious. We did not have to wait in long line to get off the ship. It was great. Make sure to have a photocopy of your passport. Impressive sites include the golden spires of St Peter and Paul Cathedral, the magnificent gleaming dome and grand colonnaded façade of St Isaac's, to the colorful multi-domed Church of the Resurrection. We never could get over the fact that it never gets totally dark. Due to its northerly latitude the sun never dips far enough below the horizon to create total darkness. Estonia, Tallinn This port is very close to Old Town. Very easy to create your own tour. Follow the crowds into the Estonia's ancient seacoast capital. The Old Town offers winding, cobbled streets and a historic city center. The walled old town is divided into two parts: Toompea Hill was the residential area of the aristocracy and gentry in the old days, while the Lower Town operated independently. Poland, Gdañsk Poland is another city that passengers might want to pre book a tour. We took the train from Gdynia into Gdansk. We found a change booth at the train station to convert some US dollars. Just make sure to pay attention to the names of the stations and plan on not very many people speaking English. The train ride was a destination in itself. Gdañsk is an important port, situated at the mouth of the Vistula River on the Baltic Sea, and throughout its history has been a major trading center. It is the best known of the Tri-City complex that it forms with the modern seaport of Gdynia and the fashionable beach resort town of Sopot. Norway, Oslo We were only in Oslo for a very short period. The shops were mostly closed but the harbor was bustling with activity. This expensive city is remarkable. It is charming and legendary. The sail in and sail away are truly amazing. Oslo, situated at the end of a 70-mile (110km) long fjord, is Norway's capital and its largest city, rich in culture and folklore with a fascinating Viking history. DEBARKATION This was the easiest and fastest debarkation that I have ever had. The efficiency was astounding. We took a taxi back to the airport. There were plenty of taxis, probably because we were among the first to get off the ship. Princess pushes very hard for all passengers to pre-book their transfer to the airport. The process takes a little longer and you get one more chance to be herded with the masses and it costs more money. However, I did like taking the taxi and the fact that we were able to save money. The airport was a cluster of humanity though and I heard that if you take the transfer from Princess you might be able to avoid a lot of the crowds. CONCLUSION The ship was big. There were a lot of people. You only noticed the people during the sea days (there were only 2) when everyone collected in the same place - the piazza. But the ports of call and the amazing location made this a trip of a lifetime. The staff worked double time trying to accommodate bizarre requests and demanding passengers. I would recommend this ship and itinerary anytime. Read Less
Sail Date: May 2008
Please enter your review.Perspective: My husband and I have cruised twice, both times on Princess. The primary attraction for us is the chance to see several places efficiently. (And, on this trip, it seemed an ideal way to travel with an ... Read More
Please enter your review.Perspective: My husband and I have cruised twice, both times on Princess. The primary attraction for us is the chance to see several places efficiently. (And, on this trip, it seemed an ideal way to travel with an older parent.) We're not particularly cruising enthusiasts, so this review will probably be most helpful to similar cruisers. Embarkation: We arrived shortly before 1 p.m. and encountered a bit of a line outside the cruise terminal. The waiting area was shaded, though, and the line moved fairly quickly. Two of our bags had been delivered by the time we got to our cabin, and the third arrived while we were at the buffet getting lunch. Five stars. The ship: It seemed in fine shape, about what you'd expect for a vessel that's got an army of people trooping through. Other than the carpet, the wear and tear wasn't noticeable. Certain places were crowded at certain times (Princess theater around showtimes, buffet) but mostly things seemed manageable. It seemed like it was possible to find a quiet, deserted place onboard most of the time. The Terrace Pool, for instance, was pretty empty except right around sail-away each day. Skywalkers was generally abandoned during the day, too. Four stars. Breakfast: We split our days between the dining room and the buffet for breakfast. Both were adequate, nothing special. Two stars. Lunch: We hit the buffet most days for lunch but opted for pizza or burgers a couple days. The salad bar and the cookies were the best parts of the buffet. The pizza is surprisingly good. Three stars. Sabatini's: We ate one dinner at the up-charge Italian restaurant. My husband and I tried it on our first cruise, on the Golden Princess. It's been moved to a better location on the Crown, with a lovely view out the back of the boat. The appetizers are served family style, and all you choose are your soup, entree and dessert. If anyone in your party is averse to seafood or is otherwise an unadventurous eater, you may not get your money's worth. Check the menu ahead of time to be sure. Four stars if you've got the palate for it; one star if you're a steak-chicken person. Crown Grill: The up-charge steak restaurant was well worth the investment, everyone in our party agreed. One quibble: don't waste your time on the s'mores dessert. It's really just a milk chocolate cake with marshmallow crème filling. Four and a half stars. Dinner: We had anytime dining and split our time evenly between the two dining rooms. We ate as early as 5:30 and as late as 8:30 and never encountered a wait of any significance. (We were always willing to share a table.) My husband thought the food was much better than we experienced on the Golden Princess in fall 2006. I thought some things were better, but by the end of the cruise felt like I was starting to see recycling in action. I order a pasta dish one night with a lobster sauce, and the lobster was very tough. Perhaps left over from surf and turf night? Another night I ordered gnocchi that was listed as being in a portabella mushroom and asparagus cream sauce. The dish held four slices of plain old button mushrooms, not a portabella in sight. And the sauce was a tomato cream - not a hint of asparagus anywhere. We were impressed with the fish each time we ordered it, so perhaps that's the way to go. Three and a half stars. Entertainment: Well, what can I say? We're in our 40s and perhaps not the target audience. We thought most of the entertainment was pretty awful. The one exception was the pianist in the Crooners bar - Larry Dunsmore. We ended up there most nights. He was gracious about doing requests, even when someone came in and demanded "My Way" five minutes after he'd already sung it. We talked to several different groups that thought the Russian show on the boat was so bad that they walked out after 10 minutes. Five stars for Dunsmore, one star for everything else. Spa and gym: I never had trouble finding an empty treadmill, even on sea days. I'd recommend getting as far as possible from the area where the do classes and the personal trainer workouts, though. They turned up the sound on the music impossibly loud. I had a Swedish massage one day, which was very good. The spa does have a shower and locker area, but you'll have to find them on your own. No one at spa reception shows you there, or even tells you that they exist, which struck me as strange. I also had a great pedicure. Three and a half stars. Excursions: These were a mixed bag. Helsinki City Highlights was probably our favorite. EZ St. Petersburg and Stockholm weren't particularly good. They hustle you through the Hermitage pretty fast on that tour, but if you're willing to wander away from your guide just a little, you can see more of the collection. We were pleasantly surprised by the Russian Folkloric show - the Army choir was impressive. People should pay special attention to the information about the amount of walking and steps involved in the tours and choose accordingly. Three and a half stars. Internet Café: By far one of the biggest ripoffs ever conceived by cruise lines. The connections are horribly slow, and there's nothing quite so frustrating as waiting for a page to load when you're being charged by the minute. Unfortunately, sometimes jobs and real life force you stay in touch with the real world, even on vacation. One star. Service: We had some really terrific service, particularly from our cabin steward and one of the bar stewards in Crooners. Particularly toward the end of the cruise, though, the service in some areas became snippy. We saw lots of mixed-up orders in the dining room and much slamming of plates and cutlery. At dinner on night 7, a server slammed a door so hard on one of the serving cupboards that everyone at our table jumped and looked around to see what had happened. Four and a half stars for the first half of the cruise, three and a half for subsequent days. Now, I will say that the staff may have been a bit worn out by the passengers by the end of the cruise. Which brings us to… Fellow passengers: My goodness. For folks who are mostly retired and at leisure, with the financial resources to travel and good enough health to do so… an awful lot of passengers were very, very cranky! Remember that everyone's cruise is more enjoyable if we're all on our company manners. It's unfortunate, of course, when you feel that the service you're getting is not what you signed up for. But try to handle your complaints productively and through proper channels. Listening to you kvetch is not what your fellow passengers signed up for! Read Less
Sail Date: May 2008
We seemed to have very good luck according the natives of the Baltics. We had sun and relatively mild weather the entire trip with temps ranging from 58 to 67 degrees (F) from May 20 to May 30. First Great Point...Princess Cruises and ... Read More
We seemed to have very good luck according the natives of the Baltics. We had sun and relatively mild weather the entire trip with temps ranging from 58 to 67 degrees (F) from May 20 to May 30. First Great Point...Princess Cruises and the Staff of the Crown Princess were exceptional and well organized. We booked our entire vacation with Princess and we found the entire experience stress free and the organization well managed in the Baltics. Besides the body floating next to the cruise ship in St. Petersburg, the entire voyage was exciting and we found the crew, shipboarding dining/entertainment, and cruisetours excellent! We actually arrived in Copenhagen, Denmark 2 days early on Sunday, May 18. Princess representatives met us at the airport in Baggage Claim and escorted us through the terminal to the Mercedes Benz taxi to the Hotel (SAS Radisson Royal Hotel next to Tivoli Park). While we did get slight drizzle for a few hours on Monday, the Sun rose early (between 4:30 AM to 5:00 AM every morning) and set late (between 10:00 PM to 11:00 PM). We had perfect weather as this region normally gets 30 days of Full Sun without rain per the tour guides. Tours and discount attraction tickets from Princess were available in the Lobby of the Royal Hotel. On May 20th, Princess arranged the baggage transfers from our Hotel room straight to our Cabin on the Crown Princess. We had no wait at cruise terminal and check-in took less than 5 minutes. We spent the Sea Days really exploring the ship. For a ship with 3000 passengers, it did not seem crowded at all. The only time I ran into crowds that made it appear crowded were the first evening shows (standing room only) and the occasional breakfast buffet when finding a seat was occasionally hard to find if you want to sit alone with your wife, otherwise we shard a table with others. FOOD and DINING SERVICE: I read in one or two previous reviews that Dining Service from the staff was impersonal but we found our attendants to be very nice, friendly and attentive in both the Anytime Dining rooms (Da Vinci and Michelangelo) and Buffets (Horizon and Cafe Caribe). On-Board Entertainment: On-Board Lecturer Series and Shows Princess did an excellent job preparing for tours by hosting live lectures for each port of call and major shopping tips which were rebroadcast on the TV. I found the information and tips extremely useful as I have never been to any of the Baltic Destinations including Stockholm (Sweden), Helsinki (Finland), St. Petersburg (Russia), Tallinn (Estonia), Gdansk (Poland), Oslo (Norway), and Copenhagen (Denmark). All the Shows had original productions and the first shows were standing room only. Cruise Tours: We booked all of our shore excursions through Princess as this was a first trip to the Baltics. In Russia, you need to book with Princess as that is the only way to get off the ship as Russia requires pre-arranged Visa's unless you go on a cruise tour. Russia was the only country that required these tight screening/passport standards but it was well worth the additional screening lines to see the Hermitage Palace/Museum, Peter the Great and Catherine the Great Palaces, and other major sites. If I ever visit these locations again, I will probably book tours on my own for Norway, Denmark, Sweden and Finland as these are very Tourist Friendly countries where the local population is friendly and helpful (and just about everyone speaks English from Grade 4 and up). We found the best shopping deals for Amber in Helsinki, Finland and Gdansk, Poland. Viking trinkets had the best prices in Stockholm Sweden and Oslo Norway. Great Ship! Great Cruise! Read Less
Sail Date: May 2008
Summary This trip review is looked at from two angles: the ports themselves and the cruise experience itself. I will not deal extensively with the various ports (since other reviews last year have done marvelous jobs at that already and, ... Read More
Summary This trip review is looked at from two angles: the ports themselves and the cruise experience itself. I will not deal extensively with the various ports (since other reviews last year have done marvelous jobs at that already and, for the most part, these cities have been unchanged for the past 400 years, so I don't think one year between reviews justifies a need for further evaluation. I will, however, try to provide some pointers gained from our experience. Overall, for the price, we got our money's worth. We got the itinerary we were looking for; the ship was well run; the cabin adequate and well kept; the food acceptable and the service was as to be expected if not better. That said, there were disappointments and from those disappointments, while not many, tainted the cruise experience such that we will think twice before picking Princess again, if only for the purpose of seeing how other cruise-lines operate. The food was only "acceptable"; there was a lack of information; Princess seemed to nickel and dime you; and disembarkation for St. Petersburg was terrible; and Princess' constant pushing of their on-board shops versus buying on land, turned us off. Background My wife and I are in our late 50s. This was our fourth cruise having taken three previous cruises on NCL. We have traveled extensively in Europe always on our own making our own travel arraignments and going it alone. We decided to try a cruise this time to Europe and picked Princess for a number of reasons: the itinerary - visiting all of the Baltic capitals seemed to be ideally suited for a cruise; Princess had anytime dining which is a must for us; the cruise started in Copenhagen as opposed to England which meant that we did not have to chance bad seas in an English Channel crossing and it gave us more time to see more of Copenhagen which we thought we would need; with the US dollar being so low, we thought that this would be an affordable way to see Europe; and we picked Princess to see how NCL compared to other cruise lines. We picked a balcony cabin because we felt a porthole cabin would be too claustrophobic although we knew from experience that the minuscule time spent on the balcony meant that the extra money spent would be a waste. (Wouldn't it be nice if ships offered a choice between using the extra square footage as a balcony or inside the cabin.) Flights Traveling from the West Coast, we knew we were in for a long haul. From experience, we knew flying business class (obviously!) was the way to go if we could manage it. Using a whole lot of miles, we cashed in those for round trip business class tickets on Delta. We flew through Atlanta straight to Copenhagen. (A note here: try to avoid Heathrow if you can. Not only is it a mess of an airport, they charge you very high airport taxes and fees as opposed to other airports.) I have to say, the Delta service was extraordinary. The food was better on the plane than on the ship. And the service was 100 times better than on the ship. (Why is customer service not high on the list (or even, it seems, a concern) for cruise ships? I realize that pre-arraigned fixed tipping creates a loss of incentive, but, they don't tip airline stewardesses and stewards and they show, at least, a modicum of interest in customer service.) We left early for Copenhagen to allow us to arrive a day before the cruise embarkation. This extra day allowed for potential airline screw ups - delays and lost baggage, neither of which occurred - and for extra time sightseeing in Copenhagen which we really did not need. This extra day eliminated that need for any more time in Copenhagen after the cruise, but we scheduled an extra day because Princess had warned us (in their general brochures) not to schedule a morning flight. I believe that we could have made it to our 11 AM flight and saved time and money. Copenhagen Hotel We stayed at the Marriott. It was well located and we could use points (to again avoid being hit by the lowly US dollar.) Oftentimes, we have been (and you may be) tempted to try the local flavor hotels, especially the older or smaller quaint ones. In my humble opinion, most times, unless you are in a particularly small town or cultural setting, stick with the plain vanilla Marriott. No surprises. The rooms, service and amenities are pretty much as you expect in the US. You won't get too much of the local flavor, but when you are tired and just want a hot shower and a good bed, you want no surprises. Using points also gave us access to the Executive lounge. This was a godsend. They provided free continental breakfasts and afternoon appetizers, all the beverages (including alcohol) you could want, and free internet service (including computer). Given the cost of food, this extra was worth the cost of admission alone. Embarkation If I could give some advice, it would be to go to the ship late in the afternoon and give yourself some time to get to the dock. The late sailing time (8 PM or so) enables you to spend time during the embarkation day in Copenhagen to sightsee until about 3 or 4. Why rush to get to the ship only to sit there for hours or spend money going back to central Copenhagen. The Marriott does offer a shuttle bus, but it leaves around 11. Thus, we decided to take a taxi. However, if you are taking a taxi to the dock, late afternoon will hit rush hour traffic. Plus, and this is important, taxis (from the city center or city hotels) don't like to go to the cruise dock for embarkation because it is usually only a one-way fare for them. They will give you some excuse for not taking you there - "no room for your bags", but have the doorman help you get a taxi that will take you there. It may take some time finding one who will, hence, give yourself about an hour. You can take the local bus or train, but I think that is more hassle than it is worth. If you take the train (or local bus), you have to drag your bags to the train station and then drag them from the train depot to the cruise pier. That last leg looked to be about 3/4 mile, crossing busy roads. I saw people doing it and they were huffing and puffing and not looking too happy. The bus stop is located close to the train stop. The cost of the taxi was about $45. Sure it is more expensive, but you are on vacation and you can make up the cost elsewhere in the trip. Processing for embarkation by Princess was a breeze at that time of the day. Ship As I said, we got our money's worth even though there are criticisms. Remember, you are on a mega-cruise (McCruise?) and volume business is what its all about. So, while we all should expect 5 star service, we (me included) need to remember that we are not paying for 5 star service. So, with that expectation, I believe, that on the whole, Princess delivers. The Crown Princess is a huge boat. It holds over 3,000 passengers and another 1,200 or so crew. That is both good and bad, I suppose. With a large boat (OK, ship), you may be less subject to rough seas. And, a large boat gives you more places to roam, especially important on a longer cruise - over seven days. However, there are crowds everywhere. The gift shops; deck chairs, buffet lines and tables and other common areas always seemed to be crowded. Food. Food is always a biggy in cruise reviews and for good reason: that seems to be the favorite (only?) thing to do on the ship - eat. I thought the food in the dining rooms was fair to good. The salads always seemed to be a little limp, but the otherwise, the rest of the dishes were OK. My complaint here would be the selection. There was not a whole lot of selection for the entrees. In the buffet restaurants, Horizon Court and Caribe, the food was barely OK to lousy. The selection did not seem to change at all, especially for breakfast and lunch. Desserts were good, however, and there was never a shortage of food. There were also burger and pizza bars at no additional charge. Other critiques: the specialty restaurants were a hefty add-on charge - we did not try one this cruise as our experience has been that they just were not worth it and in speaking with someone who did, they concurred; charging for ice cream - lousy ice cream too; (Tip: if you want ice cream, go to the pay dessert/tapas bar next to the coffee bar and pay for the gelato - same price, but better ice cream). And, at the start of the cruise, at what must have been a cost savings attempt, Princess had servers at the buffet line doling out the portions. There must have been many complaints as this practice ended after a day or two. Credit to Princess for changing if this indeed was what happened. Finally, the coffee is almost undrinkable at all of their restaurants (not the coffee bar). Go to the coffee bar and figure on spending a few bucks every time you want coffee. Service. The service for general needs, as with on most all cruises, was timely and adequate. What seems to be the universal criticism, however, is the attitude of the servers which, at best can be described at times to be ambivalent, at worst, disdain. On this cruise, I found that to be only partially true. It was true in the buffet restaurants, but not so in the sit-down restaurants or our cabin steward. Our cabin steward always had a smile and a hello for us. And, on the whole, with a few exceptions, the wait staff in the sit-down restaurants were eager to please. At the specialty bars, etc., the service was good, if not very good. Criticisms. A few. 1. Nickel and diming by Princess. What is this with charging for a place to go for some peace and quiet? Princess charged something like $15 for a half day in the "Sanctuary" lounge. Will Princess next charge for deck chairs? They are already charging extra for food: specialty restaurants, ice cream. Tip: if you want someplace inside to go for peace and quiet during the day, go to the Skywalker Lounge at the stern of the ship. It is absolutely vacant, they leave you alone (or you can order a drink) and you get a terrific view. 2. St. Petersburg. Princess misleads you when they say that you can only use their tours otherwise you will need a visa. You can book with any number of local tours directly. (See my comment below on St. Petersburg.) And it was just a mess in debarkation. I realize that the Russian immigration only provides six or seven agents to process the whole boat. However, for Princess to reserve all but one of them for the Princess tours and then hold everyone back onboard until there is absolutely no one in line was just ridiculous. As a consequence, we were left waiting for an hour before we got off and thus, held up our tour group. Tip: No one tells you, but when Princess tells you to go to the lounge to get a debarkation number, go there a full hour or more before you need to get off the boat. 3. Debarkation in Copenhagen. See comment below. 4. What happened to ATM machines onboard? (Tip: You'll need cash in a few places for local transportation. While they say ATM machines abound in Europe making travelers' checks a thing of the past, in all of the ports we hit, ATM machines were hard to find in the immediate pier area. There is a cash conversion machine on-board, but, of course, you need cash. We finally resorted to just giving US dollars for tour guide tips.) My last bit of criticism has to do with Princess's warning about buying from local vendors and constantly pushing their own on-board shops to buy things. Their warning: you can't be sure that what you are buying locally is the real deal or if it breaks or is not the real thing, getting satisfaction once you get home. This, of course, is all true. However, in my opinion, this really hinders the diversity and choice of what you can buy. For example, amber jewelry is a big shopping item on this cruise. While you have a nice array of choices on-board, they can not compare with what you will find in, say, the old town of Gdansk. So, while I agree you will take a chance if you buy locally ... there should be another option -- Princess could have considered to do as some other cruise lines do: pre-screen various merchants who will agree that they will be customer responsive to Princess passengers and have their stores indicate that they are an "approved store". (Princess can charge a fee for this to make up any money they loose from on-board sales.) While the price of goods will likely be made higher for going through this certification option, at least you would be afforded an opportunity to buy locally with less fear. It would not only support the local merchants, but give you a greater selection of items. Ports of Call. As I mentioned, I will not give a blow by blow recount of our visit in each port and what they had to offer. Rather, I will try to give a few tips that will hopefully make things easier and better for your brief stays. All in all, you will not have sufficient time to do everything you want to do in each and all of the ports. To think that you can do all you want to do in, say, Stockholm in 5 or 6 hours is unrealistic. So, make a list of what your priorities are and develop a plan on how you might try to accomplish that. For example, if your target sites are spread around, see if a Hop-on-Hop-off (HOHO) bus will get you there. Or, think about taking a guided tour provided by Princess. Given the dollar's value, the price of a Princess guided tour is not much more than a HOHO bus. And, listen to John Lawrence's talks on the various stops. He has good practical insights on what to do and how to get around. His talks were invaluable. My conclusion is that you will see most of what you want to see in each city, but you will feel rushed and you will not get a good flavor of the city. Stockholm. You have a very short time here. We wanted to see the Vasa Museum, then the local palace and do a bit of local shopping and walking around. The Vasa is located away from the city center. So, we opted for a Princess city tour that took us to the Vasa and then back into town for a tour of the armory. Forget the armory, it is a total waste of time. But, do see the Vasa as it is indeed impressive. Our Princess tour also did not leave us any time to stroll around the old town streets. That was a big disappointment for us. If we had it to do over again, either we would go it alone or we would take the city tour, but do our own thing when they got back to the old part of town. Helsinki. There was not anything really in particular we wanted to see except the Rock Church. So, we opted for the HOHO. You can catch this at the dockside, but be aware that they DO NOT take credit cards, contrary to Mr. Lawrence and the local tourist guides dockside. They'll take US Dollars, but likely at a poor exchange rate. Walking the Esplanade was disappointing and not worth doing. The most fun was the open market. St. Petersburg. This will be the highlight of your trip. Spend your money and energy and take a two-day tour of as many sights as you can fit in. You will likely never get back here and the history is very interesting. Listen to John Lawrence's talks if you are not familiar with the history. It will enliven your experience. And, my suggestion is to take a local-based tour. Permit me here to plug Alla Tours http://www.alla-tour.com/ We booked with them. (There are others such as DenRus, but we liked Alla's itinerary.) Don't worry, Alla does not ask for any payment up front or credit card info. The tour package was equivalent or better than Princess. It was also cheaper. And, they use only 21 person vans, rather than huge buses. That makes getting off and on the vehicles much quicker - something you will do frequently on the tour. You can also customize and reserve one for your own group. Alla was always eager to please us. And, the tour guide, Elena, was excellent, just excellent. Every expectation of the tour was realized, which was good since St. Petersburg was expected to be and, in the end, was the most significant stop of the cruise. Just give yourself plenty of time - at least an hour -- to get off the boat to meet up with your tour group. Tallin. This was somewhat of a disappointment. You can walk to the old town, but it is a hike - a good 30 to 45 minutes and some of it uphill. And, once there, we did not find it too exciting, just souvenir shops, basically. Gdansk. Go into Gdansk and do not think about staying around the boat and walking into Gdynia. Directions into Gdynia would be too complex and John Lawrence did not even want to try. Plus, it did not look like there was much there. Either take a Gdansk-on-your-own for the transportation to Gdansk or a city tour which is only about $10 more. We were pleasantly surprised. The old town with all of its shops was much more interesting than expected and better by far than Tallin. There was much in the way of amber if that is what you are looking for. Oslo. Two things were on our itinerary here: Vigeland Park and the Noble Peace Prize site. Since Vigeland Park is outside of the main part of the city, you will need transportation. We took the local trolley car. You will need local cash to buy your tickets - two tickets for a round trip. Give yourself time to get the tickets as it will take you a few minutes to figure out the machine (no English here) or to wait for those in front of you to do the same. If the trolley comes before you can get your ticket, enter the car at the front and pay the driver the cash. It will cost you a bit more, but, maybe like our driver did with some folks, because there was such a crowd of tourist needing tickets and he wanted to stay on schedule, he just took off. I don't know if he ever did get the fares from those folks. We were there on Sunday and just about everything was closed. Probably good too, because Oslo is supposed to have the highest cost of living in the world. As for the Noble Peace Prize, you have two options: the Noble Museum and the City Hall where they present the Prize. We took the Museum tour (tour is free, but there is an entrance fee). I think we might have gotten just as much out of the experience to go to the City Hall and take there free tour (with entrance fee). But, the museum has a lot, if you want to spend the time. Disembarkation in Copenhagen. If you are going to the airport to fly out that day, take a Princess bus. If you are not, take a taxi. The Princess will get you off the boat early in the morning to meet you plane if you take their bus. However, the bus charge is something like $45 per person. A taxi into town is $45 for the whole car. Finally, at the airport, give yourself plenty of time for security checks. We had our passport checked three times and had to go through two metal detection machines. Finally, mellow out and be happy. You are on vacation. Read Less
Sail Date: May 2008
Overall a great cruise. Had great weather. Only rained one day before we boarded in Copenhagen. Excellent service. Was upgraded from inside to outside cabin. You can no longer buy liquor in duty free shop on ship and bring it to your room ... Read More
Overall a great cruise. Had great weather. Only rained one day before we boarded in Copenhagen. Excellent service. Was upgraded from inside to outside cabin. You can no longer buy liquor in duty free shop on ship and bring it to your room so bring some on in your bag. On cheap side, we made a sandwich from the buffet for lunch for the many day stops. Bring baggies. Excellent shows. Get to them early because theater is standing room only several nights. Comedian Hughes excellent, very funny. No tour required in most stops except for transport in Gdansk and tour of St. Petersburg. Sure would be helpful in all places for ship to provide minimal amount of currency just for bathrooms. That would be great touch. Otherwise hotels and museums are best option to find wcs. This cruise was novel for us given different currency required in each port. Value of dollar so low did not spend much off ship. Memories: beautiful Gydnia, and sculpture park in Oslo, Church of Blood in St. Petersburg and fountain park there, cathedral and russian church in Helsinki. Complaints: It is not right for Princess to have 5 or 6 gates for Princess tours and only one for all others in Saint Petersburg. I don't know if Princess bought off Russian immigration but it left a foul taste to be treated as we were there. The customs situation should be the same for everyone. Princess tour people should not be treated preferentially. We tried to change lines but a guy in military fatigues told us to return to the independent outside tour lines. Alot of people moved with us in the attempt. I would suggest to others that they ignore the Princess tour sign from the get go and get in that line right away. I think the guy in the fatigues was a Princess stooge. Just a guess. We heard afterwards that others had no problem doing this; we were too conspicuous. Line leaving to independent bus and returning at Stockholm was ridiculous. Then told to move to another line that was much longer when lines were split. Not right. Sometimes it was difficult to find seat in Buffet. Alot of people just don't leave after finishing and it being cold, or cool out, few were eating outside. Contesting amount of tip process also ridiculous. Have to meet at certain time to reduce tips - come on. That alone is reason to reduce tips. Movie under the stars never used in Baltic - early cruise too cold. They should route signal to rooms to improve tv options that were very limited. Problems with signal throughout cruise. Minor complaint about people using lcd screens to take pictures during shows. Very inconsiderate. Take pictures the old way without flash and without lcd if you have to but think of others behind you before using the lcd in a dark theater. Otherwise very impressed with cruise. Great food and entertainment. A Read Less
Crown Princess Ratings
Category Editor Member
Cabins 4.5 4.1
Dining 4.0 3.8
Entertainment 4.0 3.6
Public Rooms 4.0 4.2
Fitness Recreation 4.0 3.9
Family 4.5 3.9
Shore Excursion 5.0 3.7
Enrichment 4.0 3.4
Service 4.5 4.2
Value For Money 4.0 3.8
Rates 4.0 4.1

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