We are a family of four, with 2 children ages 10 and 14. Let me preface this report by saying that we have lived in Geneva for the last 4 years and have done extensive travel in Europe, seeing an unlimited amount of castles and cathedrals, quaint villages and spectacular scenery. We realize how fortunate we are to have had these experiences so please do not think that we are spoiled (although we are!!). I say this only because if you have not traveled extensively, your experience may be vastly different. And because we are spoiled...that is to say, the impact to us of another church or castle is definitely diminished from when we arrived in Europe. That is not to say that we no longer appreciate these, because we do and our enthusiasm for travel is still unlimited....we adore our trips. Just to say that seeing yet another spectacular church is not like seeing Notre Dame in Paris for the first time (which I still vividly recall) it does not hold the same wonder.
Overall, we loved our experience. We had never been on a cruise before and as I said, we have traveled extensively on our own so I was worried that I would feel restricted and/or rushed by the time tables. While we would have liked more time in certain cities (like Stockholm!) and less in others (like Gdansk), overall, we loved this trip and would definitely
do a cruise again. The Star Princess is a beautiful ship and the staff was just incredible…I cannot say enough about how well we were treated by virtually every staff member. Princess charges a $10/day per person for tips, which for us adds up to $400 for the entire trip in tips (plus they add 15% to all drinks). At first, I was a bit miffed by this charge, although it is discretionary and you can tell them you do not want to pay. However, by the end of the trip, I had no problem forking this over…the amount of work that goes into running such an operation is mind boggling and many of the people you never see. The food was very good and the menus in the Capri and Portofino had enough variety to keep us happy. We ate at the buffet at least one night in order to save time for swimming and hanging out with the kids…the buffet was good as well. We also ate in both Tequilas (best steak I ever had) and Sabatini's (see more below). My only complaint would be the level of family and children entertainment. While the Star Princess has both a child center (for 8-12) and a teen center (for 13-18), neither hit the mark for our kids. The child center was tiny and geared more to the 8 year old than our rambunctious, sports-oriented 11 year old so he spent all of 5 minutes there. Thankfully, they have a basketball court so he spent virtually all of his time there and met lots of friends. The teen center was impressive, but the activities were not…a hot tub party?? For this age group, would not be my first choice of activities. I would like to see more family entertainment as well…shows that we could attend with our children and also, why not allow kids into the nightclub at certain times/days so they could dance with their parents.
We flew to Copenhagen 2 nights early so we could spend some time there. We stayed at theAdmiral Hotel. The hotel had a beautiful lobby, but the rooms were small and rather tired looking. We went in search of some food so we walked to Nynhaven which was about 2 blocks from the hotel. Nynhaven is an atmospheric area of restaurants and pubs along a canal, bustling with activity even at 11PM. We were able to get drinks but no food at the restaurants. We did end up getting the kids 2 sausages from the sausage stands (these were everywhere….like ice cream stands in most cities.) Kids said they were great!
The next day, I woke up early and searched out breakfast…hoping for some Danish pastries. The hotel breakfast was 120Kroners per person which I was not willing to pay so I found a small bakery about a block away and while they had great coffee, the pastries were limited to croissants. The place was very busy but most customers were Danish and they buying rolls rather than pastries….appears they eat rolls and coffee for breakfast.
We walked first along the promenade to the Danish resistance museum. This was a very good and moving story of the resistance. We had a light but expensive lunch (yes, I know, all of Copenhagen is expensive!) in the restaurant attached to the museum…outdoor terrace with a nice relaxing atmosphere. After lunch, we continued along the promenade and on to see the Mermaid….this was as expected, not too impressive but still very enjoyable. We took a canal tour which was actually more of a harbor tour. We then headed downtown to Stroget but very quickly came upon the entrance to the Guinness Book of World records museum (there was another museum attached as well…cannot remember the name)…these were fun, if overpriced, museums and the kids especially enjoyed them. On the way back to the hotel to get ready for dinner, we stopped to look at menus. At one charming looking restaurant, called restaurante Zeleste on Store Strandstaede 6, a young lady from the staff came outside and invited us in to look at the interior courtyard…it was lovely…beautifully decorated, with tiny lights and candles and even a large brick fireplace. We made a reservation for a courtyard table and headed to the hotel to change. When we arrived at 7:30 for our reservation, the restaurant was packed. We were led to a table on the inside of the restaurant…when we protested, we were told that they never specifically reserve courtyard tables. We were, of course, not too happy about this "bait and switch" but decided to stay anyway. The interior was also very nice but not as atmospheric. We should have left! We did not leave the restaurant until after 9:30 and we did not have either appetizers or dessert….2 hours for one course, which was mediocre at best!!!! We waited unattended for approx 45 to be able to order dessert (only because I had spotted a delicious chocolate molten dessert on the menu) but when the waiter finally came, we were told it would take another 30 minutes to prepare it for us, so we finally left and searched out some ice cream on Stroget………needless to say, we were not exactly thrilled with this place. We noticed that in Denmark they seem to be more preoccupied with cleaning up than serving….in the restaurant, the staff were constantly moving but they rarely approached the tables…we could not figure out what was keeping them so busy, ie were they completely understaffed or just inefficient. This seemed to be the case everywhere we tried to eat or even get a cup of coffee. After dinner, we walked to Tivoli gardens…it was now approx 10:30 and Tivoli stays open until 12 only, but we decided to go in anyway and we were very glad we did. Tivoli is gorgeous and I wished we had eaten there instead. Rick Steves scared us off by saying it was amusement park food but the restaurants were gorgeous with tons of atmosphere. The food may not be great, but it wasn't anywhere else we tried either so why not at least be in Tivoli where you can kick back with a glass of wine, enjoy the view and let the kids run!! The kids rode several rides, including the highest swinging chairs I have ever seen and we saw a magnificent fountain show, with lasers, lighting and music. Love this park…definitely recommend.
The next day we slept in so by the time we got moving, we went to the see the changing of the guard at Amelianborg Palace, which was definitely unimpressive. We then got some pastries and ate them on the stairs of the Marble Church (we also went in this church which was very beautiful).
We boarded the Star Princess about 2 and wow, we were overwhelmed and excited. Our room was definitely a squeeze for the 4 of us and we were amused to see that the beds for the children come down from the ceiling so we are all basically in bunk beds. However, it works out fine, even for me who is a bit claustrophobic. The deck was spacious enough for 4 chairs and a table. We were on the Caribe deck which is on floor 10…this was a very convenient floor as it was a quick 3 floors up to deck 14 (there is no 13) where the pools, the buffet, pizza and burger bars are as well as the sports deck….the most commonly used deck for us. Also a quick jump down to the restaurants, shops, bars and lounges, which are on 5,6 and 7.
We immediately in search of some lunch so we headed for the pool area on deck 14 and got some food from the buffet. I got pizza from the pizza bar and my son got a burger and fries from the burger stand….everyone happy…this is great!!! We then went and searched out several areas of the ship and then went swimming. That evening, we ate in Capri restaurant. Service was great and the food fine.
Our first port was Oslo. We wanted to go to the Viking Ship Museum first and had planned to take a boat there, however, the harbor boats were not running due to a boat race We decided to take a hop-on, hop-off bus which was right outside the dock. We regretted this decision. It was raining in Oslo and the rain was leaking right into the bus…many of the seats could not be sat in. Also, the Viking Museum was the last stop…so, we decided to get off at Frogner Park. I loved this park, but my family was not as impressed as me…ok, it was raining and not so pleasant, but the sculptures were definitely original…lifelike and not just a bunch of Romans in towels!! Next stop was the Viking museum, which was good if not spectacular. We took the bus back to City Hall and stopped at a nice pub in the square (really more a circle than a square). Had one of the best bloody Mary's ever and some peanuts (which are pea notters in Norway!) and the family was refreshed. We then walked down Karl Johan's Gate, which was lively with lots of people, lots of entertainers, including people with signs saying free hugs!!!! We had wanted to go to the resistance museum here as well but it closed by 4…as we did not dock until 12:30, there was little time to see everything. A great street…we really enjoyed this part of Oslo. We then walked back to the ship. Overall, we really enjoyed Oslo….this was a very pleasant surprise and there was a lot more to do in Oslo than I would have thought. There were many museums which we did not get to as well as a few art museums I would have like to see…not to mention, exploring more of Frogner Park. Next time, I would do it by tram and/or bus instead to save both time and money.
The next day was a sea day and my son's birthday. Princess had placed balloons and a poster on the door to our cabin which was a nice touch. We ate a late breakfast and lounged by the pool for a few hours. Our son was hooked by the basketball court, where there was always a friend to be found. We ate a late lunch and lounged some more!!! Finally, my husband and I went for a run on the track on the sports deck. The evening was a formal night and we definitely felt underdressed. People were decked out in gorgeous black dresses and tuxedos….we simply had a dress and suit on. Ok, we did look a little better than the ZZ top look alike with his denim overalls!!! We ate that evening in Tequilas and it was definitely worth the surcharge as the steaks were some of the best we have ever tasted. We tried to find some family entertainment but Princess does not do a good job of disseminating evening entertainment options.
The next day was Gdansk. The ship docks in Gdynia, which is approx 30 minutes from Gdansk. We tried to get a taxi but all of the drivers insisted on a full day rather than a one-way drive into Gdansk, so we finally agreed to go with one of them for 100 Euros for the full day. He took us to see Oliwa Cathedral and then drove us into Gdansk. I have to say this city was a let down. I had read quite a bit about it but was unimpressed. I am sure a big part of the let down was due to the fact that it was a Monday and nearly everything is closed on Monday, including the Solidarity Museum, which was a major draw to me. But it is also due to the fact that the 30 minute drive from Gdynia to Gdansk is through a very depressed looking area of town. Gdansk is a fairy tale tourist town with no real substance, so we just strolled the few streets and had lunch (perogies, which were fine, but I have had better in Warsaw). Our driver then picked us back up and was driving us to Sopot to see the pier. Unfortunately, traffic was a nightmare and it took us over an hour to get to Sopot, so we had no time to get out and walk the promenade. We also drove through the main street and port of Gdynia on the way back to the ship. If you visit this port on a Monday, I would recommend just to stay in Gdynia and walk the promenade, which looked quite nice. Alternatively, you could take a train into Gdansk. Just leave enough time so you don't miss the ship!!!!
Next day was Tallinn. The town is a 15 minute walk from the ship and what a gorgeous little town. Very quaint, medieval town with a gorgeous main square and lots of great little streets to explore. We mostly wandered the streets but we did visit the Museum of Occupation, which has great promise but the visit is too short to fully enjoy. There are lots of objects on display with videos of all the differing time periods, culminating in Estonia's freedom phase. Unfortunately, each video is 30 minutes long, so not enough time to listen to them.
Next day was ST. Petersburg…..definitely expected this to be highlight of trip and we were not disappointed. However, we did have the tour guide from hell (or at least purgatory). We used Red October because we wanted to see as much as possible, but with the children, we wanted to have maximum flexibility. I stressed this greatly with Red October and they assured me that the tour was totally flexible. The first day we drove to Catherine Palace, which is approx 45 minute drive from the ship. My husband and I both took aspirin when we arrived. Our guide literally did not stop talking the entire way and we had little idea what she was talking about. She literally jumped from subject to subject and we simply couldn't keep up!!! Anyway, Catherine Palace was ok (again, just a reminder that we have seen all manners of castles, so we are hard to impress). We then drove back to the city, stopped at a few spots for pictures, including the Savior of Spilled Blood Church, which is just an unbelievable sight…..ok, yes, we have seen lots of churches, but this one definitely is breathtaking!!! And what is amazing is that they built this church in only 28 years….amazing what can be accomplished with slave labor!! We had lunch at a popular restaurant, of which we were the only patrons (yes, sarcasm intended) and then we went to Peter and Paul Fortress. The church here was beautiful, but once again, our guide overwhelmed us with information to the point of complete overload!!! We took a canal ride which was very enjoyable (and not just because our guide did not accompany us!!). We then asked to be taken back to the ship as it was approx 4:15 and the kids were exhausted and wanting to swim….remember the flexibility??? We made several more stops even though we repeatedly asked to return….finally, I said that I was sick and needed to return immediately….an hour later, we finally returned……
We ate that night in Sabatinis, which was excellent. Essentially, you order your main course and they bring you everything on their menu…yes, everything. Every appetizer, every soup, every pasta, pizza etc.…all in small portions, of course, but still…it's an amazing amount of food and all very delicious. There is a great piano bar which we frequented most often as the guy played very well and good music, with a great range of older (Sinatra) to old (Elton John and of course, Billy Joel) to new (Oasis, which my 14 year old daughter appreciated).
Next day, we were refreshed and ready to go again and determined not to let the guide ruin our great time. We went to Peterhof…..this is truly spectacular and not to be missed…absolutely beautiful castle. Again, this was built in something like 20 years, which is inconceivable…no wonder the peasants revolted! We spent the morning enjoying the castle and gardens and fountains and trying to block out the guides constant talking!!! We were supposed to take the hydrofoil back to St. Petersburg but were told it was too foggy for the hydrofoils to run. When we asked why there was a hydrofoil out on the bay approaching Peterhof, we were told it was a different company and they were not concerned with the health of their customers….very strange, no? Anyway, we had to drive back to the city, which was a disappointment to the kids as they were looking forward to the hydrofoil. We had lunch at another popular restaurant…at least we were not the only patrons…the place was filled with Red October clients!!! After lunch, we proceeded to the Hermitage…which was to be the highlight of the trip…I was most excited about this. We had already told our guide that we prefer to enjoy the art, without a lot of talking…subtle hint number 75!!!! We also said that we were interested in certain areas of the art collection, including Dutch and Italian painters and sculptures. Our guide began the tour showing us everything but what we wanted to see and talking our ears off again. We finally demanded to be taken to see what we wanted to see and went to view the Rembrandts. As we were enjoying a particularly beautiful Rembrandt, our guide decided we were not viewing in the correct chronological order and insisted on pulling my husband to the back of the room. This is where he lost it and a few angry words. I finally convinced our guide to wait outside of the room for us and let us enjoy in peace and we had to concentrate hard to focus on enjoying the art. I was determined that I would not let this exchange ruin my appreciation of this magnificent museum! The rest of the tour went ok, but the guide decided she would try to talk to the children and began to try to educate them on art (she really just couldn't help herself!!). I will say that we will really think hard before every using a private tour group again…not to say that Red October was a complete flop because we talked to a few other people on the ship who used Red October and had a fine experience. But it really does depend on the guide and if you are the only clients, you can't just block them out and wander off!!!! Also, we talked to plenty of people who took the ships tour and were delighted…for us, this may have been a better option and the kids may have had some company as well.
My husband sprained his ankle this evening playing basketball with my son and some other boys….40 year olds shouldn't try to keep up with teenagers!! We were so exhausted this evening that we ate in the buffet so we could relax and have a better timing.
The next day was Helinski…as we were exhausted from culture, etc, we let the kids sleep in and we did not disembark until approximately 11:30. Also, husband could not walk much because of his ankle. There was a shuttle waiting outside the gates which took us to town and back for $8 each, kids under 11 free. We wandered down Esplanade and through the colorful outdoor market, which was lovely, bought some souvenirs, saw the Senate and Lutheran Cathedral and then back up Esplanade to Café Kappeli, a wonderful gazebo type café made of beautiful wrought iron with ornately decorated ceilings. We sat outside and enjoyed coffees and cookies…the sun was shining and it was a beautiful day. We then made our way to Stockmann's department store, where we shopped briefly in the ladieswear…This is a gorgeous store and despite what has been written, inexpensive (at least compared to Geneva!)..my daughter bought a gorgeous pair of black jeans. We then got the last bus back to the ship. We ate dinner in the Capri dining room and shared a table with another couple from Philadelphia, where we are originally from!!
Day number 8, which is Stockholm and I am very excited to see this great city. I awoke at 5 and went out on the deck to see the fantastic archipelageo scenery….unbelievable!!! Went back to bed and awoke about 7 and again, looked outside…still spectacular. We were supposed to dock at 8 but it was approx 9:15 by the time we finally did…this was the only dock which we were late arriving or leaving so cannot really complain. Again, there were shuttle buses available to take into town for $10 roundtrip, which dropped us off at the Royal Theatre. We walked to the Vasa Museum, which is spectacularly done. The ship just hits you in the face when you walk in….awe inspiring. And all of the exhibits are very well done…the have recreated faces and stories from the bones they found and it is truly fascinating. We then took the ferry to Old Town…the ferry is a bit hidden and there are no signs so you must walk to the left of the museum and go towards the amusement park by the pier.
We were quite a motley crew…my husband was limping from his sprained ankle and my daughter broke her flip flop (I know, why was she wearing flip flops!!). Anyway, first order of business was to find new shoes for her that would not cost a fortune. Once we accomplished this and got a quick sandwich, we only had about an hour left. This is a fantastic city…probably the best on the route and I could have spent days here instead of the quick 4 hours we had. The old town is gorgeous with cobbled streets, tons of interesting shops and cafes…and the bakeries…..wow, everything looked amazing!!! Definitely need to go back to Stockholm. Kelsi and I got a bit lost and made it back to the last bus to the ship with only 3 minutes to spare….whew!!!! There was a wine tasting on the ship at 3, which we had signed up for and this was worthwhile, if a bit pricey. It was $25 person and they served 6 wines with canapés for each wine and even a small plate of penne arrabaiata, which was deliciously spicy!!! This evening was another formal night and again, we felt horribly underdressed, but we got over it very quickly!!! After dinner, they had a champagne waterfall and some music in the atrium…fun atmosphere, but absolutely horrible champagne!!!
The following day was the last day and spent at sea so we lazed by the pool (lovely day and the sun was shining), played some cards, ping pong, did some shopping, had a few drinks…what a great day. Had a last wonderful dinner in Capri, went to the piano bar (our usual haunt) and sadly went to bed.
Disembarking was a bit of a nightmare. I had signed up for express checkout so I did not have to go to the desk in the morning but there was a bit of a snafu and I when I tried to disembark, they would not let me as one of the purchases I had made the night before was not properly on my account before they finalized it and I had to go back upstairs, wait in a godawful line and pay it. By the time I got back outside, the line for taxis was about 200 people deep. It took us another 40 minutes before we were able to get a taxi…..
Fantastic trip….highly recommend…let me know if any questions. Read Less