A little background on me; I am 54 (Turned 54 on this cruise), DH is 58. This was our 23rd cruise, 2nd time on Holland America, 3rd cruise in Europe. Have mostly sailed with Princess & Carnival, but also on NCL, RCCL, and 2 river cruises.
We flew out of IAD (Washington Dulles) the day before on Brussels Airlines. We had a 2 hour layover in Brussels, and then about an hour flight to Copenhagen. We met the HAL representative at baggage claim as we had bought transfers to the ship. We had to wait about half and hour or so for the bus, and then the drive to the cruise terminal was about another half hour.
Embarking was fairly fast and easy. We were at the new (less than a year old) cruise terminal and I didn't notice the chaos others have reported. I don't remember exactly what time we boarded (Jet lag was already settling in), but we were able to go to our cabin as soon as we boarded. I know the Eurodam is a few years old, but she appeared to me to by in fairly good shape. After dropping off our luggage we made a quick trip to the spa to make sure about our thermal suite passes. I had paid $499 for a couples pass before sailing, but on board noticed that the price was actually only $299 per couple for the cruise duration. I did receive a $200 credit back to my on board account. That credit quickly evaporated when we went to the nearby lido deck, and the spa staff was giving neck & shoulder massage samples. My DH decided to join me for a couples massage for later that day (First time ever he had a spa treatment). Then it was on to the Dive In for a hamburger. We both ordered the Cannonball (Burger with gouda cheese, bacon, tomato, sauté onions, and a special sauce) and proclaimed it delicious. We would have several more burgers there before the end of the cruise. My DH also liked the Dog Paddle hot dog (Sauerkraut, bacon bits, German mustard, and melted cheese). We then took a quick tour of the ship, just to get the lay of the land, and then it was off to muster drill (3:30 local time). We did not have to take our life jackets, just show up to our assigned muster station and give our cabin number and names to the attendant and pay attention to announcements. It was over fairly quickly.
As far as our cabin, we had a Signature Suite. Normally we have interior cabins, but I was able to upgrade us for a very reasonable cost, and I am glad I did. While it was too cold most of the time to use the balcony, I did appreciate the extra space in the cabin, and having double sinks in the bathroom as well as a tub and a separate shower.
Kiel, Germany-We were here on a Sunday, and most shops were closed. We had signed up for a ship sponsored excursion; Lakes and Villages of Schleswig-Holstein. This area of Germany is known as "The Switzerland of the North", but don't expect to see the Alps. It gets that nickname, because like Switzerland it has rolling farm land that is dotted with lakes. We were blessed with a great guide who had interesting and informative commentary. Our first stop was the small town of Eutin, known as the City of Roses. After a quick restroom stop we walked a short distance to the local schloss, or castle. We were suppose to tour the gardens, but apparently they are closed for the year for restoration. We did walk across the bridge over the moat, and go into the courtyard. Then is was a short walking tour through the lovely town. There were a lot of roses, most in very small plots of land. The part of town we walked through was very quaint, and we were given a bit of free time. Then it was off to another schloss, this one in Ploen. This one is a bit more impressive, but as it is currently in use as a school, so no interior tours before 4 pm. However, it does afford a very nice view of a Grosser Ploener Lake from a terrace. From there is was another walking tour through a charming village on our way to a dock to begin our boat trip across a lake. After the boat ride it was off to a local restaurant for an excellent lunch, followed by a stop at a church called St. Nikolai. Part of this church is very old, dating back to the 1300's, but what I personally found most appealing was the cemetery. Not eerie or scary in any way, the individual plots are more like small gardens tended to by family members. It was beautiful and peaceful.
Sea Day-As this was my birthday, my DH as a surprise, had rented a Lido Cabana for the day ($50 sea day, $30 port day). We were waited on hand and foot. We had gone up at about 8:30 just to check it out before going to breakfast. It was already set up for use, and the attendant came over very quickly to explain our perks (Lunch served to us, water, fruit, champagne). When we said we were going to breakfast, but would soon return, he offered to go get our breakfast and told us to relax. Later, he would bring us lunch. We could have something from the Dive In, or the buffet (He brought us a menu) or both. When lunch was done I was surprised when our attendant brought me two cupcakes (So I could share with DH) that said Happy Birthday After lunch we drew the curtains closed and promptly took a nap, and slept most of the afternoon.
That night for dinner we ate at Tamarind, and had a wonderful meal. The service was top notched. Once again I was surprised by the singing of a birthday song, and a cake that had written in chocolate on the plate "Happy Birthday Ms. Laura" our waitress even gave me a little note that said Happy Birthday, we love you Ms. Laura and signed it. I felt that the crew I interacted with went out of their way to make my day special.
Tallinn, Estonia-When I got up I drew back the curtains and had a wonderful view of Tallinn. I could see Fat Margaret's Tower, and way in the distance, the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral. I knew there was no way we would be able to do a self guided walking tour, so we opted for the HOHO bus. It was 15 euro each, which was a special price. Our first stop was near the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral. After taking a few photos of the striking exterior we had our first misadventure. I believe we came very close to being robbed. We had started walking around, down some of the narrow streets when I felt we were being followed. I noticed a young man that appeared to be following us, he definitely was not a fellow tourist, I felt like he was casing us, trying to figure out how easy of a target we might be. When we turned into a small park that had an overlook of the city, and I realized we were alone in the park, I turned around, and sure enough the man had followed us. Fight or Flight kicked in so I turned around and faced him with a look, and body language that clearly said "I see you, and I am aware that you may be up to no good" after a few second stare down I am guessing he realized I wasn't the easy target he was looking for, and he turned and left. Later, I heard from several other passengers, that the police stopped the tours they were on and told their guides that there were a large number of pickpockets in town, working in small groups, and to warned their groups. Our next stop was to Kadriorg Palace. Built by the husband of Catherine the Great, while not as grand as the palaces we would see the following day in St. Petersburg, it was still very pretty and had a lovely little lake with fountains.
St. Petersburg, Russia-The night before we were to arrive in St. Petersburg we, along with every other passenger, had received a note telling us because of the early start to most tours the next day they were expecting a large demand for room service, and your order could arrive anywhere from 15 minutes before or after your requested time. I thought it a smart move to keep expectations in check. They also opened the buffet at 5:30 am for breakfast. The second day, as tours started even earlier the buffet opened at 5 am. We would receive the same note the day before we arrived in Warnemunde because of the large number of passengers taking the train/bus to Berlin.
For St. Petersburg I had selected Alla Tours. We signed up for their 2-Day Imperial Splendors & Faberge Museum group tour. I selected them because of their mostly excellent reviews on Trip Advisor. Our tour was to begin at 8:30, but we had been warned to give plenty of time to go through Russian Immigration. It didn't move as slowly as expected, but compared to every other port I had ever been to, it was slow. One must wait in a line to have your passport and tour ticket scrutinized, and do they ever! Several looks back and forth between you and your passport photo (Probably in shocked disbelief on just how bad your photograph is) and the name on your tour ticket. Your passport is then stamped, and some kind of ticket is placed inside. We have to go through the same steps when returning, and each time you leave and return. Once through immigration it was off to meet our tour guide. We had an excellent guide, by the name of Katherine, and our driver's name was Alexi. As promised our group was no more than 16 (We had 15) and rode around in a fairly comfortable 16 passenger van.
We had a driving tour of St. Petersburg, with a couple of photo stops; A pair of sphinx on a bridge, originally from Egypt, and a statue of Nicolas I, where we could take photos of the gold dome of St. Isaacs. Both places were mobbed with tourists. Then it was to the obligatory souvenir shop to use restrooms, and shop. However, this place did have an added attraction, free shots of vodka! Yup, 9:30 am and I was doing shots. Hey! When in Rome......
Then it was off to Peterhof, the summer estate of the Tsars. There we toured the stunning gardens, with the magnificent fountains. It is also where I thought I was on a one way trip to Siberia. We had walked down the steps to the bottom of the main fountains and were standing to the side, listening to our guide explain how the fountains worked (Readers Digest version-Gravity) when I noticed that I was hearing whistles being blown, a lot. I had no idea why or at whom. I thought maybe people were going into the water or something. Suddenly a man, blowing his whistle was before me, glaring at me. Who was he? Guard, police, KGB? And what had I done? He pointed to my feet, and there it was, the left heel of my shoe was not on the pavement, but on the grass! I quickly removed the offending foot, and after another glare the man went off to find more people to blow his whistle at. I need to add, that like nearly every stop we would make in St. Petersburg, there were crowds, no hordes of people. Even in the great open spaces of the Peterhof Gardens, the crowds were immense. After a rather forgettable lunch, it was off to the Catherine Palace. Mere words cannot begin to describe this place. It's huge, vast, enormous, and crowed. But worth the crowds. One only tours a portion of the rooms. It's one drop dead gorgeous room after another. Photo taking is allowed, except in the Amber Room, which was beautiful. That was it for day one of our 2-day tour, except for the ride back to the ship in the notoriously crazy St. Petersburg traffic-whew!
However, our day wasn't quite over, for I had bought tickets to see "Giselle" at the famed Mariinsky Theater. This was not the tourist ballet, but a performance by the Mariinsky troupe. We were about half an hour late getting back to the ship due to traffic. We were suppose to meet our car and driver (Also hired through Alla) at 6:15, but as we arrived back to port at 6:00 I knew we would never make it. It was one misstep after another. First Russian Immigration to get back on the ship, then we raced to the cabin to get dressed in what I thought was appropriate attire (shouldn't have bother, we were way over dressed, something I had thought you couldn't be in St. Petersburg). Then I grabbed the wrong tour tickets! Stood in line to go through immigration again, only to be turned away because my tour ticket had the wrong date. Frantic, and with the clock ticking away I raced back to the cabin, found the correct tickets and raced back. We met our car/driver (Who did not speak a word of English) at 7:00 pm, the ballet was to start at 7:30. I was very grateful that he had waited, but truth be told I almost threw in the towel at that moment. Naturally, traffic was horrific, and we got to the theater late. I was worried they wouldn't let us in, at the Washington Opera if you miss the curtain, you miss that act. We ran into an almost empty lobby, to be greeted by a woman that I assumed didn't speak English. I thrust my Russian language ticket receipt in her hands, she read it, direct me to the ticket booth where I picked up the tickets I had ordered online 6-weeks earlier (Needed order number and passport to retrieve), we raced up the stairs, and although the ballet had started, wonders of wonders they let us in! We had missed maybe the first 5-10 minutes, but I didn't care. We had wonderful seats. Dress circle, front row, 10 seats from the Imperial Box. I forgot all about Russian Immigration, St. Petersburg traffic, crowds, and language barriers and fell under the spell of a beautiful ballet. That was my highlight.
Day two started even earlier, as we were to meet our tour guide at 7:30. After such a grueling day, and late night it was a wonder we were on time, actually we were early. Our day started with a tour of a subway station. It was interesting, and the subway was beautifully decorated with mosaic murals and stain glass. Then it was off to a tour of the city by boat. we went by palace after palace, including the Hermitage and Winter Palace, as well as many more. After the boat ride, we toured the Hermitage, with early entry, which allowed us to escape some of the crowds. The art work was amazing; works by Leonardo Di Vinci, Rembrandt, Goya, and a statue by Michelangelo. Then it was off to lunch, this time to a Stolle pie shop, where we had choices of various meat pies (beef, chicken or fish) as well as sweet pies. This was very good, and we all enjoyed it. After lunch it was a quick visit to the Peter & Paul Fortress, just to the cathedral to see the burial places of the Tsars. There was a little chapel off to the side which held the remains of Nickolas II and his family. You couldn't enter as it was roped off, and the doorway was mobbed with people. You would think that would be enough, but our day wasn't over. It was off to the Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood, a breathtaking cathedral topped with colorful onion domes built on the site of Tsar Alexander II assassination. And then finally it was to the Faberge Museum, housed in yet another palace, to see a Russian billionaires collection of Faberge, including 11 eggs, 9 of which were Imperial Eggs. This was the one place where picture taking is forbidden. Finally, it was back to the ship, where our band of weary travelers took our leave. A much needed soak in the hydro-pool in the thermal suite, and time on the tile beds, followed by a quick bite to eat, and early to bed.
Helsinki, Finland-Quite frankly we were tired and sore when we got up on Midsummers Eve, a national holiday in Finland. We had a tour scheduled, also with Alla, and gamely went on it. I really thought Helsinki with it's large amount of green space, and more modern buildings was very pretty. True, no palaces, but we had palace overload after 2 days in St. Petersburg, so it was a nice change of pace. First we had a city driving tour passed a number of impressive buildings including their Art Deco Train Station, and modern Opera House. Our bus stopped by a square where we could either go the Helsinki Cathedral, or walk down to their famous market. We chose the Market. That is when we found the one negative of Helsinki. Because it was a national holiday, everything was closed (Except a few tourist sites), and I mean everything. No restaurants, no shops, no restrooms. The market was opened, and we spent an enjoyable 45-minutes looking at the various products offered. We bought a liter of cherries, and 2 pastries that were filled with sour milk (Think a sweet cream cheese). I wanted to try the reindeer meatballs, but didn't want to spend 9 euro for a plate. I later found out I could have bought just 2 meatballs for about 2 euro. Then our guide & bus driver decided to mix up the tour a bit, going to Temppeliaukion Church (Church in the Rock) next so we could use the restrooms there (1 euro ea.) I liked the church, built in the 1960's, it was very different then all the medieval, Baroque, and 19th century churches we had seen. Then it was off to the Sibelius monument. We were suppose to go on to Seurasaari Open Air Museum, but our legs just refused, so when the bus took back those that had signed up for the 3-hour tour, we got off as well.
Stockholm, Sweden-I awoke the morning we were to arrive in Stockholm, with sun streaming in my eyes. A quick look at the clock and it was only 4 am! However, I am grateful to Mr. Sun, because when I drew back the curtains I realized we were cruising through the beautiful Archipelago that leads to Stockholm. While my husband slept, I sat on the balcony, wrapped in blankets and watched manor houses, churches, and windmills go by. While eating breakfast the skies began to darken and it wasn't looking real good weather wise for Stockholm. In fact it began to rain, the first serious rain we had experienced the entire trip. By time we docked at 10, and met our tour at around 10:30 it was coming down in buckets. We had signed up for a combination driving/walking tour, also with Alla Tours that started at 11:00. We docked at Stadsgarden, which is the best place to dock in Stockholm. Close by are the HOHO buses, and even better, the HOHO boats. The boat alone runs about $30 pp for a 24-hour ticket. They stop running at about 6:30 PM. More on them later. We met our guide, and it was raining as we got on the bus, but by time we got to our first photo op, the rain had stopped-Yea! After a brief driving tour of the city we went to the Vasa Museum. Next door to the Vasa is the Nordic Museum, which is housed in a very impressive building, you don't even notice the Vasa until you are right on it. Inside the Vasa one is met with crowds and very dim lighting. This makes for a combination that is tempting to pickpockets. One must take care and watch out for pickpockets. While we were there a man from the ship, but not on our tour was robbed. I didn't see the pickpocktors, but our guide did. He couldn't run after them because of a leg injury, but he began screaming for security. Of course I was oblivious to what had just occurred and wondered "Now what did I do?" and looked down at my feet to make sure I wasn't stepping on the grass. After our guide took us around the museum, and after giving us a lecture on the tricks employed by those that would relive us of our wallets, he gave us some free time. Never one to pass up an opportunity to eat, we went to the café and shared a plate of real Swedish Meatballs. They were served with dill cucumbers and fingerling potatoes. Oh my, but it was good!
Next we were driven to the Old Town, Gamla Stan, just outside the Royal Palace, where we had a quick tour of the palace chapel, and where a royal wedding had occurred just the week before. When we came out the sun was shinning and the skies had cleared. We had a walking tour of Gamla Stan, including a walk down the narrowest street in the area. It's so narrow I don't think you could get a bike down it. After that we had a bit of free time before it was back to the ship.
I am so glad that we had an overnight in Stockholm. The next morning we bought tickets for the HOHO boats, and enjoyed Stockholm from the water. It is such a pretty city, and is best viewed from the water. We finally got off at stop # D for the ABBA museum, but at $25 pp I thought the price was too steep. Instead we walked up to Skansen, which is an open air museum that is filled with historical buildings collected from around Sweden, and for about $20 pp IMO, a better value. The weather was glorious BTW, and we really enjoyed Skansen. All too soon we had to walk back to the dock to meet the HOHO boat (They run about one every 15 minutes). We had planned to go back to Gamla Stan, but ran out of time.
Warnemunde, Germany-It seemed most of the ship had left at 6:30 AM to catch the train to Berlin, which may be why when we went to breakfast at around 7 AM the buffet was nearly empty. We had signed up for yet another tour with Alla, this one Hanseatic Rostock and Fairytale Schwerin. Mostly a walking tour, we did have to use a combination of trains and trams as well as our feet. After meeting our guide we walked a short distance to the train station for a the short train trip to Rostock. From there we changed trains and took a longer train, about an hour to Schwerin. Once in Schwerin we had a walking tour of the town, that included a history class on Henry the Lion, founder of Schwerin. Finally it was off to the castle. I had seen pictures, but I wasn't prepared for just how beautiful the castle is. Truly out of a fairytale, I personally find it as lovely, if not more so, than the famous Neuschwanstein in Bavaria (Germany). We had the opportunity to walk around the outside before going in. The castle is situated next to a pretty lake, so the setting is picturesque. This castle was home to the Dukes of Mecklenburg, and our guide told us some of the history of the family, and it's castle, including a tragic love story. After we toured the castle it was off to lunch at a restaurant housed in what use to be the castle laundry. I think we were all tired when our guide announced rather than walking back to the train station we would take a taxi. She had arranged while we were eating for 2 taxi vans and a regular taxi to drive us back for 2.5 euro each. Loved that guide. After an hour rest on the train back to Rostock we walked around and looked at buildings, and visited St. Marien's church, which had a really interesting clock inside. Then a tram ride, followed by short train ride back to Warnemunde (Pronounced War-da-moon-day). We were beat when we got back, but still managed to go up to the lido deck where a oopah band from Rostock was playing and a German buffet was laid out. The crew was dressed in German costumes, and the bratwurst, German potato salad, & beer were never ending.
A couple more notes about the ship before I write about Copenhagen. All breakfasts were eaten at the buffet. Lunch was eaten on shore if an all day tour, the buffet or the Dive In. Dinners were a mix between the dining room, and the buffet, which had most, but not all of the same items being served in the dining room. Besides the Tamarind on my birthday (Cost was $20 pp) we also ate one night at Canaletto ($10 pp). Service was good everywhere, as was the food. We didn't go to any shows, but on the second sea day did attend an interesting lecture about the Vikings that was very well attended.
Wonderful, wonderful Copenhagen-Our final stop was Copenhagen. Here we had our final tour booked through Alla Tours; Classic Copenhagen & Castles of North Zeeland. The plan was to tour the two castles, and during the city highlights tour that was suppose to end the day, be dropped off at Tivoli Gardens, and make our own way back to the ship. However, the best laid plans of mice and men....
Ship arrived in port at 11 AM. The ship was running shuttles at $10pp each way to Tivoli Gardens starting at 11:15, the last shuttle would leave Tivoli at 6:45. Our tour started at 1:00. There were a total of 10 of us, so a smaller van was used. The tour started with a stop at the Little Mermaid statue. As in most stops it was completely mobbed by tourists, but I did manage a good shot. Then it was to a souvenir shop for restrooms, and free time where we could walk to Amalienborg Palace, home of the Danish Royal family, who, according to our guide Louise, are very popular. The weather was not very good; dark, stormy clouds, and it was quite cool, only about 50 degrees or so and very windy. Finally we were off to Frederiksborg Castle. Wow! Really beautiful. My personal favorite rooms were the dining hall and chapel. Another highlight was in the ballroom there was an exhibit of dresses worn by the current queen, Queen Margaret, including her wedding dress. This castle is no longer used by the royal family, but a museum. Our tour guide, a young, personable lady, studied history in college and hopes to be a teacher some day, but unemployment is at 25% for young people in Denmark, but even as a part-time tour guide she still pays about 38% of her salary in taxes. If employed full-time and made more money she would pay up to 70%. I mention this because I loved her enthusiasm for Danish history, and her love for Christian IV, her favorite Danish king. She told us lots of interesting, gossipy details about this merry monarch that loved war, women, and wine, not necessarily in that order. He had 25 children that are known about by a number of women, including his three wife's (Wife #2 was divorced and locked up in a castle for straying. I guess what's sauce for the goose, was not for the gander in this case). He involved his country in number of wars, losing every one, and loved a good party. His coronation party is the biggest party in all of Danish history. See, I paid attention.
Then it was off to Kronborg Castle, the setting for Hamlet. Learned that Hamlet was based on a Danish prince that lived around 800 AD, who pretended to be mad in order to plot his revenge on his uncle, who yes, murdered his father. Then we drove back to Copenhagen along a pretty coastal road. Before starting our tour, our guide had told us, in an effort to stay on schedule, if we were one minute late we would have to sing a song, if two minutes late we would have to dance, and if three minutes late we could sing and dance as we watched the van drive away! However, if we stayed on schedule she would sing to us. Well, she was suppose to sing, but chicken out, so the driver took over and sang "Wonderful, Wonderful Copenhagen" (In Danish) as she drove up to the ship. It was a lovely way to end the tour.
So in wrapping up, did not make Tivoli Gardens due to weather (Good excuse to go again), but for the most part had good weather. met a number of lovely people on board the ship and in port. I thought every port had something to offer. There are crowds everywhere, just get use to it. Many of the major buildings we saw had some scaffolding in place as repairs/restoration seem to be an ongoing project. Experimenting with different angles should allow you to get a shot without scaffolding, and if that fails there are always postcards. Read Less