A few random notes about this cruise:
1. We did this cruise after spending three nights in Copenhagen to start, followed by a trip to NorwayBergen, Balestrand, and Oslo. We basically combined a Norway/Denmark trip and a Baltic cruise into ... Read More
A few random notes about this cruise:
1. We did this cruise after spending three nights in Copenhagen to start, followed by a trip to NorwayBergen, Balestrand, and Oslo. We basically combined a Norway/Denmark trip and a Baltic cruise into one three-week trip. From Oslo, we took the DFDS ferry back to Copenhagen, where we boarded the Emerald. Although not luxurious, the DFDS Commodore class stateroom was more than decent, the ship's food was quite good and reasonably priced, free Wi-Fi was available for my laptop, and the ship had a huge duty-free store where we bought bottles of wine to bring on the Emerald (which was no problem getting on the ship). The cost of passage was less than a 3 or 4 star hotel room in Oslo or Copenhagen and included an excellent buffet breakfast. I would highly recommend this overnight trip if it fits within your travel plans.
2. The DFDS ferry docks at 9:30 AM about a mile or so away from the Emerald. We walked from one ship to the other as we had a reasonable amount of luggage. Normal people would either take a bus from the ferry dock to within a couple of hundred yards of the Emerald, or a taxi right to the ship.
3. We were among the first to arrive at the Emerald waiting area. As are Platinum we waited in the "Preferred" area to board. By the luck of the draw, when the ship started boarding, we were the first ones on a little after 11:30 AM.
4. Upon boarding, we immediately got the primary essentials of any Princess tripï¿½soda and coffee cards. In addition, we made a beeline to Guest Services to sign up for the Ultimate Ship Tour and called in Chef's Table and Crown Grill reservations. More on those later.
5.You are allowed to get off the ship after boarding if you want. As stated above, the bus stop is not far away, the Nordhavn train station isn't much farther, and taxis are available. The small tourist information building by the ship provides excellent local maps and transport/sightseeing information. We took the bus to the ï¿½sterport stop, walked about 10 minutes to the Danish Resistance Museum (excellent), then walked back to the ship (about 30 minutes) past the Little Mermaid statue through a pleasant park. On a side street on the way back to the ship (about a 15 minute walk awayï¿½one block off the main harbor road closer to the docks through a residential/office building area) there is a small supermarket where we bought bottles of water to bring on the ship.
6. We had the coveted E-731 mini-suite with the extended covered balcony. This was our favorite stateroom ever on Princess. You could easily fit 6 people on the balcony. Due to the excellent weather we had on this trip, we used the balcony quite a bit. On the one sea day it was too cold for part of the time to sit there, but it was fine the rest of the time. This cabin makes it easy to get to the aft areasï¿½the dining rooms, Club Fusion (no noise could be heard from there directly below us), and everything on the Promenade Deck, but it's a long walk to other parts of the ship.
7.Princess has obviously upgraded the mini-suites since we last had one a few years agoï¿½much better mattresses, towels, and numerous other amenities.
8. Our stateroom steward did a good job and provided robes when requested. Nothing beyond the call of duty.
9. I'm trying to avoid 4 massive meals a day on a cruise for a change so I only ate breakfast and lunch once on the ship (I brought my diet cookies with me to eat for breakfast and lunch along with the stateroom fruit items) at the Horizon Court. Nothing new thereï¿½still decent food. The burgers and pizza (also succumbed to those one time each) are still above-average. There is now lemonade available at the Horizon Court along with the horrible coffee and iced tea, but you have to ask for it.
10. Thanks to the coffee card, I was finally able to avoid the swill passed off as coffee in the Horizon Court. The International Cafe is the best place by far on the ship for coffee and a small meal or quick snack. The brewed coffee served there is fine as is the latte and cappuccino.
11. The main dining room food was OK, but nothing special, although as always there were a few standouts. We didn't starve, but we have had tastier meals with the same menu items on other Princess ships. It's the same food as before with a few new items, but a lot of it was simply too bland for my taste. Exceptions included quite good roast duck, lamb, and snow crab legs. I tried one of the new "Home Style" entrees (the pork ribs) which were pretty good as well. One night (the first night in St. Petersburg, when many shore excursions were still running)nothing looked enticing on the menu, we asked our waiter what he recommended from the daily special entrees, and he said stick to the always available items! That was a new one for us. My wife and I ended up each eating an appetizer pasta dish (the signature Princess Fettucine Alfredo is still good, but Princess does seem to be cutting back on the cheese, cream and portion size) and then going to Cafe Caribe, where the Indian buffet items that night were more flavorful than anything that we ate all week in the MDR except for the Chef's Table described below. As for desserts, I usually stick to Princess' great ice cream, after it messed up the Love Boat Dream recipe a few years ago. Our waiter (an 11 year Princess veteran) and his assistant were efficient and after the first night our drink and coffee/tea preferences were always anticipated and quickly refilled. This is why we almost always choose traditional dining.
12. This was by far the emptiest I have ever seen the MDR at night after 14 cruises. I don't know if it was the food, the service, the strenuous port stops (my guess is that) or whatever, but on many evenings, the MDR was no more than half full. In contrast, the Horizon Court and Cafe Caribe were packed every night when we happened to walk through them.
13. We ate the Crown Grill twiceï¿½much better food overall than the MDR, and worth the $25 upcharge. The steaks were OK (the meat is not top steakhouse quality, but we didn't expect this), but everything else was delectable, especially the seafood dishes, superb onion soup and the other appetizers.
14. Being a port intensive cruise, we did very little on the ship. We've spent lots of time at art auctions, trivia contests, and the casino, but not on this cruise. As for the entertainment, the Boogie Shoes production show was pretty good (we've seen the others), Kevin Hughes was a good comedian, the Perry Phillips Trio was entertaining as always, but the juggler we saw was simply not very talented. We usually spend a lot of time in Crooners (big Bert Stratton fans). We stopped by Crooners to hear Sammy Goldstein the first night, but he spent most of his time chatting with a few audience members and very little time singing. Not our cup of tea, so we didn't go back. I enjoyed watching Wimbledon at MUTS along with lots of Brits.
15. We loved the Emerald in generalï¿½a beautiful ship. We liked the tweaking that Princess has done to its product with the new ship changes and additionsï¿½the International Cafe, Vines, a much more impressive central atrium, much better Internet Wi-Fi (it worked most of the time in our far aft cabinï¿½there are access points in the ship's hallways), etc. We didn't use the Sanctuary or the spa. The gym is quite nice and is almost always busyï¿½bring your headphones for the built-in TVs on the cardio equipment.
16. Our two best experiences on the ship were two splurgesï¿½the Chef's Table and the Ultimate Ship Tour. Chef's Table has been explained many times on CC so I won't do it againï¿½but the food was excellent and beyond plentiful, the wines were good, and the Executive Chef, his assistants and the Maitre D' could not have been more gracious or accommodating in answering questions, serving us hors d'oeuvres in the kitchen and showing us the galley and its workstations. We also had an excellent interesting dining group that accentuated the experience. It was certainly $75/PP well spent, and I wouldn't have known about it (or how to sign up for it) without the knowledge gained from the wonderful people here on CC.
17. The same superlatives apply to the Ultimate Ship Tour. We were shown completely different parts of the galley and provisions areas than at the Chef's Table dinner and met with different key personnel who would answer any question. Also part of the tour was a backstage look at the Princess Theatre, its chief technicians and performers, the engine control room, the photo and printing areas, the laundry (an amazing operation), the funnel pipes at the top of the ship, and last but not least, the bridge, where Commodore Romano was personable, funny and interesting. We were also supposed to see the medical facilities, but they were occupied by a sick passenger. The robe (the NICE one), chef's jacket and photos Princess gives you of your experience (you can't take your own pix) just sweeten the dealï¿½it ain't cheap at $150/PP, but it was also well worth it.
18. 3200+ on board notwithstanding (apparently, the last remaining unfilled cabins were taken by Royal Princess fire refugees), the ship never seemed crowded, except at the T-shirt extravaganza sale at the atrium shops.
19. As for the portsï¿½an absolute essential is listening to John Lawrence, both before and during the cruise. We bought his Baltic Treasures DVD before the cruise and found it very helpful in deciding what we wanted to do in each port (along with the Rick Steves and Fodor's Scandinavia books), and his port and other lectures were interesting and witty. We had incredible, lucky Baltic weatherï¿½warm and sunny everywhere except Germany, where it was hot and sunny.
Copenhagenï¿½there is quite a lot to see here. The city is very easy to get around by bus, train and Metro. If you don't have a lot of luggage, the Nordhavn train station is a 15-20 minute walk to the ship, and you can get from there from the airport by taking a train to the Copenhagen H central station and then changing trains. If you will be doing a lot of sightseeing and traveling in the area, get a Copenhagen Card. Our first nights in Copenhagen were spent at the Marriott which we got cheap on Priceline. It's a very nice hotel that's a 15 minute walk from the central train station and walking distance to Tivoli, the Black Diamond library, the Fisketorvet shopping mall, and many other things of interest. The only downside is that the Marriott's buffet breakfast is $40 (ouch) if you do Priceline, so hit a bakery at or near the train station instead or grab the free fruit and coffee offered at the hotel.
Stockholmï¿½we ordered Stockholm Cards online in advanceï¿½they saved us much time and money. We first took the 10 minute boat ride (leaves from a dock next to the ship) to the Vasa Museum (soon afterward, we were told that the line outside got ridiculously long, so many on the ship didn't bother with itï¿½too bad), the Nordic Museum, Skansen (where we easily could have spent the entire day), and then a walk around Gamla Stan. We walked back to the ship from there, but it took almost 30 minutes, and in retrospect we should have taken a bus. The Stockholm Card covered everything except the boat.
Helsinkiï¿½in the morning, we took the ship's "Helsinki at 40 Knots" shore excursion, which shows you the city's waterfront areas in small fast Zodiac-type boats with a nice sausage and beer lunch at a pleasant island settingï¿½a very nice trip, although expensive (a theme here?) Only about 15 spaces are availableï¿½sign up early. After this 2 ï¿½ hour tour, we took the Princess shuttle bus into town (really too far to walk), and just strolled around the bus stop Esplanade area and did some shopping at the enormous Stockmann's department store.
St. Petersburgï¿½to make a long story short, rumor had it that the reason no one could get off the ship for over an hour after the ship was originally cleared was that some flu-ridden buffoons insisted on trying to get off the ship. Following this delay, everyone got off the ship at the same time (Princess tour or otherwise) in a surprisingly orderly manner, but the Russian authorities took everyone's temperature when disembarking using a non-invasive thermal device (not the device you would expect Russians to use for this purpose) and stopped you if your temperature was too high. Once we got off the ship, going through the passport control process took five minutes. The Emerald stops at the new cruise port, which apparently greatly speeds up this process as many lines are open and available.
A Princess rep told us when leaving the ship that we would have serious problems with the local authorities if we tried to take any food off the ship except packaged granola bars, so we ditched everything before we got off. It turned out to be complete misinformation. No one got searched, there were no dogs sniffing backpacks, many people brought sandwiches, cookies and other food off the ship without any problems at all, and we did so ourselves the next day after our tour guide assured us for the umpteenth time that it was OK. We used Red October for our group of 7, and we were very happy.
Tallinnï¿½some people stayed on the ship after the grueling two days in St. Petersburg. Don't make that mistake. In our short time here, we greatly enjoyed walking around this well-preserved, compact medieval town (the shuttle bus takes longer than walking) which had the cheapest prices for shopping anywhere on our whole trip.
Gdyniaï¿½we had an excellent private tour (with the same 7 persons) of Gdansk, the Oliwa cathedral, and Sopot. Gdansk is surprisingly beautiful, as it was completely rebuilt after WW II.
Warnemundeï¿½thanks to HeinBloed on the Northern Europe and Baltics CC board, we rented a Hertz car (the well-hidden office is a 5 minute walk from the shipï¿½make a right turn when leaving the ship area and look for the Pier 7 complex) and had a easy, pleasant drive to Lubeck, Schwerin (where the BUGA flower festival is currently runningï¿½it was beautiful but it was too hot of a day to really enjoy it) and Wismar. If we had to do it over again, we would have spent most of the day in Lubeck, a quite delightful town with good shopping and great food. We didn't want to do the 6 hour round trip train tour to Berlin that most on the ship took. Positive/negative reactions that we heard thereafter about the Berlin trip ran about 50/50. One couple in our dinner group exited the ship early at Warnemunde and rented a car to eventually fly out of Berlinï¿½no problem once they told Princess about it. The MDR did stay open very late to accommodate the Berlin train travelers, but most of them instead apparently hit the buffets or room service.
Helsingborgï¿½in our continuing tradition of death-march type shore excursions, we bought "Around the Sound" 2 day train/ferry/attraction passes at the Helsingborg train station, then took the train to Malmï¿½, an attractive Swedish city across the ï¿½resund bridge from Copenhagen with good shopping. (If we had stayed off the ship until its arrival back in Copenhagen, which Princess told us was OK with advance notice, we also would have spent time in Lund and Copenhagen). We then took the train from Malmï¿½ to Helsingor to see the Kronborg castle complex, and took the 15 minute ferry ride back to Helsingborg to complete the circle trip.
20. After disembarking the ship carrying off our luggage (you could do this any time after 5:30 AM, so making an early flight was not out of the question), we walked to the Nordhavn train station and took trains to the airport station, from where the Hilton hotel (extremely nice, and relatively cheap on weekends) is a 5 minute walk. The Hilton is wonderfully convenient if you're paranoid like we are about getting to the airport on time through morning rush hour traffic to catch a flight. We flew back to the U.S. the following day.