Background: My wife and I are in our late 30's, and have no children. We are Americans from California, and we currently live in Germany. We work for the U.S. Department of Defense as Civilians. This is our second cruise. Our first cruise was an Eastern Mediterranean cruise two years ago with Royal Caribbean on the Splendor of the Seas, and we absolutely loved the ship and the destinations.
We chose this cruise because it did not start in Dover, (I have been there before, nothing special about the place), and I did not want to pay for a longer cruise because it did not seem worth the extra money for the boring part. We also liked the fact that the cruise took place after school started, so it would minimize the amount of children on the cruise.
Copenhagen: We flew in the night before, which is a nice small airport. There is an ATM immediately on the left once you clear the baggage claim (If you don't know, ATMs give you the best exchange rates, so we always try to get local currency from them). We rode the Metro into town, which was very cheap compared to a taxi. Getting tickets from the ticket machines was difficult, one type only took credit cards with the chip in it, and the other type took only small bills and coins, but we only had big bills from the ATM. So we had to stand in line and buy tickets from the ticket counter. We stayed at the Scandic Hotel; it is a few blocks from Tivoli. It was a nice and clean hotel, but it is a little on the older side, and is due for a refresh. I do not know why, but they upgraded us to a suite, and the suite was very nice. It had a great view, and it was a big room. The breakfast was pretty good, and all things considered, we would stay there again.
We ended up walking around the area that night and having a few beers. We had a good time. The next morning, we did some sightseeing, but the weather was not cooperating at all. It kept going from light rain to heavy rain and back. We took a cab from the hotel to the ship, and it cost us 120 Kroners.
Bad news: At the dock, we checked our bags with the attendants, and my wife decided to check her small carry-on bag as well to avoid holding it while waiting in the long lines to get onto the ship. When the bags finally arrived, my wife's IPod Nano was gone from her small bag. We immediately reported it to our cabin attendant, and she told us to report it to the passenger services desk. At the passenger services desk, we explained what happened, and he told us that we have to fill out a lost and found report. He went on to say that, we need to check back towards the end of the cruise, and then if it did not turn up, we could fill out a formal report. This did not sit well with me. It was obviously stolen by someone on the baggage crew, and this extra step was stupid and a waste of time. I did not push the issue, and decided to play the game and get on with the cruise. This definitely put me in a very bad mood, and it took a few hours for me to put it behind. Now I knew better about putting valuables into checked bags, but I did not know that my wife did not know this rule, so when she checked her small bag, I did not think to ask her if she had anything valuable in it, I figured her valuables would be in her purse. This turned out to be a learning experience.
Not being satisfied with just doing a lost a found claim, we filled out a customer comment form, detailing the whole experience. A couple of days later, we got a call in our room. She asked us to explain what happened, and wanted to know if we checked with the hotel (no, we did not, but it is not like two zippers were undone and it fell out). She then tried to shift blame from Princess to the baggage handlers, saying that they are contractors that do not work for Princess. It does not matter to us who signs the paychecks, our IPod was still stolen, and we blame Princess. Finally, she told us that we had to fill out a formal complaint, so the man at the desk on day one was misinformed or just wanted to get rid of us quicker, since there was a big line that day. So we had to go to the passenger services desk again, to fill out a report, and finally someone said I am sorry that your IPod was stolen. That was something at least. After filling out the report, we had to come back later, yet again, to sign the report after a supervisor did. We have not heard anything since.
First Sea day: It was rainy and windy pretty much the whole day and night. My wife did the Ceramics at Sea, and had a good time. She made a box, but they also have mugs, plates, bowls, etc. This was a formal night. We purposely skip those nights, something about wearing a tie on vacation, strikes me wrong. We ended up ordering a pizza, which was very good. They do a great job, and we got pizza several times on the cruise. They do charge you $3 for room service pizza. On the pool deck, they have a pizza and ice cream bar where they serve the same pizza, so you can go there to avoid the $3 charge. Later that night we had some sushi from Vines bar (which is free), along with a bottle of wine (which is not free), both were good. We also played some blackjack that night.
Stockholm: The weather was great, sunshine, light breezes and temperatures in the low 70's. The approach into Stockholm was so beautiful, with all the houses on the little islands, it is a cannot miss sight. There is a shuttle bus that takes you to the old town, but you could walk it fairly easily if you chose. However, I strongly recommend taking the Hop on, Hop off water taxi. That is what we did, and it is the best way to see the sights. The old town area is nice, and there are plenty of souvenir type shops if you want the touristy stuff. We then walked around the main shopping district and ended up eating lunch at the international market that they had going on. The Vasa museum was really cool, even my wife, who is not really into history, really liked it. That ship was huge! We could have used more time in Stockholm, what a great city.
Helsinki: The weather was overcast with a little bit of rain, temperatures in the mid to low 60's. We took the shuttle into town, but you could walk into town, it is a 30-minute walk. The best thing about Helsinki was the local market; the food there offered different kinds of fish and reindeer dishes. At the market, my wife bought two silver necklaces with some local stone in it for her sisters. After we walked away, we noticed that he only charged us for one. Our consciences got the best of us and we went back. The look on the guy's face was priceless, his mouth was open in astonishment. He kept saying thank-you. So we made a positive impact on the locals, and that made us feel good. The flea market however was a waste of time. The main train station was not worth visiting either. We did not make it to the Rock Church, but others said good things about it. I think that they could have shaved time off the visit to Helsinki and added it to Stockholm.
St. Petersburg: We were really looking forward to going to St P, and we were not disappointed. You could easily spend a couple of weeks there trying to see everything. History-wise, it is my second favorite place after Rome. After doing some research, we went with DenRus, and took the two-day tour. We went with DenRus over Princess because they got better reviews, and it was $104 cheaper per person. Heck, that amount of savings could replace our stolen IPod. We were not disappointed with the tour. Our tour guide Anna was very knowledgeable and at times very funny. We ran into some of the Princess tour groups during the two days. The Princess tour guides were young and attractive, and due to their youth, I do not think that they were as knowledgeable and experienced as Anna. I am not saying that the young tour guides did not know what they were talking about, but with Anna, you could listen to her talking about what life was like under Communist rule, and how the city and country has changed over the years based on her first hand experience. Anna has lived in the city for decades, and she could give you little nuggets of information that the young tour guides cannot provide. The two lunches we had were pretty cool, the food was good, and the ambience was lovely. We also really loved the Church of Spilled Blood, and the boat ride. What I did not like about the tour, was that it was kind of rushed. They try to pack so much in, in so little time, but they kind of have to rush it, two days is not enough. Some places we visited were crowded with long waits, but that's not DenRus' fault. Part of the problem was that the ship landed on Monday, and many places are closed on Mondays, so everyone was crammed into the places that were open that day, and then everyone went to the closed places on the other day. We stayed on the bus for the Metro ride, we live in Germany, and so public transportation is somewhat ho-hum for us.
What also left a bad taste in our mouth about Princess, in addition to the IPod incident, was their propaganda campaign about disembarking in Russia on day one. Starting three days out before we arrived, Princess put out in their daily newsletter that the Russian government required that people booked on Princess Tours must go first, then people booked on private tours, and then finally people with individual visas could go. Not true at all. I guess that this tactic is done to discourage people from booking tours with anyone else. What they should be doing is offering quality tours at a competitive price. How much money do they need to make anyway, they are making cash hand over fist in so many different ways, this strategy do not make any sense to me. So on the day of arrival, we looked out from our balcony and waited until we saw that they were letting people off. Once people started getting off, we walked over to the mid-ship elevators and took it down to the 4th floor. There was almost no one getting off. They were letting people off on the 4th and 5th floors, and from the front of the ship. We were docked at the new cruise terminal, and there were about 20 immigration lines open for us. We got through in about five minutes. No troubles what so ever. So I am really confused as to why Princess lays down that load of BS.
We were parked in the new passenger terminal. Once you clear customs, there are a few shops, ATMs, and a Taxi kiosk. You meet your tour guide inside the terminal.
The ship comes in at 6:30, but you also have to keep in mind that that you jump one time zone forward that night, so it is really 5:30 in the morning. I assume that we are there so early, so people can do a daylong tour, and then go to ballet or something else that night. We did not do a night excursion because the tours offered were not our thing. If they had a tour hitting some bars or something along those lines, we would be all in. Or if Russia would let us in without a visa, we would have hit the town.
Tallinn: Probably our second favorite stop after St P. It was such a beautiful city. The problem with this stop was that we got in at 7 am and had to be back on the ship at 12:30. At 7 in the morning, nothing is open except souvenir shops. That was very disappointing. It would have been nice to visit the city during the afternoon, and maybe had some time to have lunch. I thought that we could have left St P much later to make this happen. Definitely do not book a tour, the town is so small, and everyone could easily walk back and forth between the ship and the city. The bathroom situation is not good in Tallinn, there are three public toilets, and you need 3 Koon coins to use one. The McDonalds bathroom saved us.
Gdynia & Gdansk: The weather was great, with highs in the mid 70s, I wore shorts. The ship docks in Gdynia, but Gdansk is the real destination. We decided on taking the train there, which was a smart idea. We took a taxi to the train station, since we were not 100% on how to get to it. There is a ton of taxis waiting at the docks. Following one of the crewmember's advice, (Do not hesitate to ask crewmembers about the ports, they have firsthand experience) we knew that we should not pay more than $10 for a taxi to the station. The first taxi driver wanted to give us a tour along with ride to the station, but as soon as I turned him down, a second taxi driver took 30 Zlotys, which is $10 for the ride. At the train station there is a row a cashiers to buy tickets from when you first walk in, but they are the wrong ones. To the left of those, right around the corner, is the correct cashier. It costs 4.50 Zlotys one-way, so it was 18 Zlotys for two round-trip tickets, cheaper than the taxi ride. We met an older Vietnamese couple from Texas from our ship at the station and we helped them out getting tickets and getting to the train. Ironically enough, they walked from the ship to the station. You have to get your ticket validated on the platform, there are yellow machines on the platform that you stick your ticket into and it get time-stamped. We were on the train when we found out about the validation. We asked a local young and beautiful university student about the process, and not only did she tell us about the validation, since the train had already left, she offered to run off the train at the next stop and validate our tickets for us. What a nice girl to help out some tourists. Gdansk is a very beautiful city, with lots to see and do, they have a lot of amber shops there as well. We were going to stop at Sopot on the way back, Sopot is halfway between the two towns, and it is supposed to be a nice beach resort type community. However, we spent our whole day in Gdansk. When we got back to Gdynia, we decided to walk back to the ship. On the way, we found local market with lots of different booths, mostly selling clothes, but we were too tired to check it out.
Oslo: The weather was cool and overcast. The ship docks right in town. We have been to Oslo before, and here is a warning for you. This city is incredibly expensive, way more than the other stops. We left the ship late and only walked around for a couple of hours and then went back to the ship for lunch. On our previous trip, we took a water taxi to the Viking ship museum, which is interesting, but not as good as the Vasa museum in Stockholm.
About being on the Ship: The regular coffee in the restaurants is horrible. My wife could not stand it, and even though, I can usually handle bad coffee, it was pretty bad even by my low standards. The premium coffee at the international cafe was great. Buy a coffee card there; it is a good deal compared to single coffee price. If you need good coffee, buy the card.
Alcohol policy. Let me tell you that there are no cheap drinks on the ship. They automatically add a 15% service charge, and when you sign for the drinks, they have a tip line. We did not like this approach, they are automatically getting a 15% tip, and they seem to be trying to shame/trick you into tipping more. We drink a lot when we go out at night, so to minimize an even more massive bill at the end of the cruise; we snuck a liter of Bacardi in two Listerine bottles in our checked bags. I guess that they were too busy stealing our IPod to notice. On the two sea days, we ordered a bucket of cokes from room service and pre-drinked in our room before going out those nights.
Anytime dining. We liked this option. They will ask you if you want to share a table, if you do not want too they will give you a pager to let you know when your table for two is ready. We never waited more than 15 minutes for a table. The later in the evening you eat, the less you have to wait, and sometimes not at all.
Beer selection. Not good, unless you like American domestic beers. The only beer they have on tap is Stella, which is what we mostly drank.
Adagio bar. A great place to relax and have a drink either before after dinner. The Tiramisu martini is delicious! This bar is never crowded, has piano playing, and they serve these stuffed olives that I was addicted to. Try the ones with blue cheese.
Wheelhouse bar. On sea days, they serve a British lunch, which is free.
The room. We had a balcony room, and doing research is important. We were on the Baja deck 11. Starting out on the level below us, each balcony sticks out higher than the floor above it. So we can completely see anyone in the balconies below us. No privacy whatsoever and no shelter from the rain. So only book on decks 11 and up.
Princess vs. Royal Caribbean: Royal Caribbean had better food in both the dining room and in the buffet, hands down. We liked the service on Royal Caribbean better as well. Service is good on Princess, do not get me wrong, but it just was not as good. We will probably cruise with Princess again. However, before the cruise I wanted to book a western Caribbean cruise while on this cruise because I heard that that is the best way to get a deal. But after the IPod incident, and their disinformation campaign about disembarking at St P, it made me delay my decision. Read Less