I had seen this cruise advertised in July 2013 but it was advertised from Miami. I forwarded it to a friend and she told me it started in LA, so I checked again and sure enough it did. The itinerary was a very large portion of my Bucket List – the Panama Canal, St. Petersburg, Tallinn, Stockholm etc at the top of the remaining list. I had already been to a lot of other places on my list but this itinerary I had only been to LA. I called NCL and the next day it was all booked, so I was about to go on a trip of a lifetime – alone. I told my friend who had just returned from Europe and she called me back later that day to say she had the stateroom next to me. Then two more friends – a married couple also booked.
I like to find out as much as possible about places I am going to visit so started off checking the temperatures in each place we would visit and which cities had Hop on Hop off buses. Because we were laving LA at Easter time, this meant that the European cities on the Baltic could still be quite cool, so two completely different sets of clothes would be needed.
At last April 19th came around and we boarded the QANTAS flight at Sydney International Airport for the 13 hour fight to LA. We were staying in the Vagabond Inn, San Pedro and when we arrived – actually a few hours BEFORE we left Sydney, due to the International Date Line, we discovered several other guests were also joining the cruise. There are plenty of restaurants nearby, a drug store in the next block for last minute items, and also a sports stores if you need extra shoes!
There was a courtesy bus from the hotel to the cruise terminal, and after a very smooth check in we had only been there about 15 minutes when we were told we could board. Our cabins weren’t ready but we were able to put our carry on bag in a holding area whilst we had lunch and explored the ship. As soon as we hit the pool deck it was obvious this was going to be a happy ship. The entertainment crew were already there – Iain, Richard, Everton etc, making sure that we knew we would be having a good time. The ships “theme tune” is “Happy” by Pharell Williams and it certainly puts you in the right mood. We were soon leaving LA on our trip of a lifetime – 38 glorious nights and days at sea. Something we had only dreamed of for the past 8 months, but now we were on our way. My friend Carol and I had individual interior mid ship staterooms on the 9th deck – something that I really like and for us they were perfect. They were located near the internet café so very easy to find – something we had thought of when we chose them. Our cabin steward was Bernardo from the Phillipines – a lovely man who went out of his way to make our stay enjoyable.
Day 2 AT SEA
A good chance to explore and find your way around, walk the decks, and chill out etc before we reached Cabo San Lucas the next day. We had breakfast at the Blue Lagoon a small eating area above the Atrium on deck 8. The menu is limited but the food and service is good. We ended up having breakfast here quite frequently as our stateroom on deck 9 was very close. A BBQ lunch on the pool deck was really good – who can resist the aroma of BBQ, especially at sea? Dinner at Aqua was also very good.
Day 3 CABO SAN LUCAS
There is only a small harbor here so we went ashore by tender. It was very humid and quite hot and we only planned on looking around the harbor area then returning to the ship. There are plenty of tour operators at the quay who will take you to various beaches, glass bottomed boats etc. The harbour is lined with bars and restaurants where you can sit in the shade, but the actual promenade lacked shaded areas. To the left of the quay is a great craft market where guaranteed silver jewellery can be bought (stamped 925), Mexican tiles, clothing etc. You name it, it’s probably there and at good prices.
Day 4 PUERTA VALLERTA – a group of us caught a taxi mini bus into the Old Town for $3 each (about 3 miles away) and generally spent most of the day wandering around the town. There’s a lovely promenade along the beach where artisans sell their wares. Alongside the quay there is also an area selling clothing, leather sandals ( eally well priced), traditional Mexican souvenirs etc so it’s well worth a look at these shops. There’s also a small chemist in that area. I found a really good Mexican 50 factor sun block there.
Day 5 AT SEA
Day 6 HUATULCO, MEXICO
25th April was also ANZAC Day for the Australians and New Zealanders on board and quite a lot rose at dawn to remember soldiers who lost their lives at Gallipoli in 1915. Once again the day was hot and humid. Make sure you use sun block and carry water with you when you go ashore. The beach is lined with bars and restaurants, most of which seemed to have wifi available. It did take a long time to log on – ask someone who has logged on already to ensure you get the correct password.
4 of us caught a taxi ($3 each) near the inner harbor at Santa Cruz to La Crucecita the town about 10 minutes drive away. The town is unspoilt and not at all commercial. There’s a church on the far side of the central park that is worth a look - It’s interior is hand painted and beautiful. A swim at the beach was just the thing to end out stay in Huatulco.
Day 7 PUERTA CHIAPAS, MEXICO.
It was even more humid and hotter and our cameras fogged up immediately. Local men and women were dancing on the quay to marimba music being played by a group of musicians.
I had booked a ships tour to Tapachula and the Mayan Izapa ruins, both of which were quite interesting. A local bus is available that you can take into Tapachula where there is a good museum where there are a lot of Mayan artifacts. It’s probably a good idea to keep to the main streets in the town if you don’t take a tour. As usual there were quite a lot of local tour operators at the palapa where a lot of local people sell their wares. Near the palapa there is also a swimming pool if you just want to chill out for the day.
Day 8 AT SEA
Day 9 PUNTA ARENAS, COSTA RICA.
I had booked a full day tour from the ship which went to the highlands and an organic coffee plantation. En route we stopped at a very good souvenir shop that also had a lovely garden and endless views of the surrounding hills. Then onto Palmares for a stop to see the church. The good thing about this trip was a lack of the humidity on the coast – it was beautiful! We finally arrived at Doka Estate Coffee Plantation after an amazing trip through the countryside. The guided tour was most interesting and afterwards we had a typical Costa Rican lunch and time to wander through the grounds, and of course buy coffee – I wish I had bought more!. It was the start of the wet season and it started to rain whilst we were at Doka Estate and had the beautiful smell of rain on parched earth. On the way back to the ship we stopped at Botanic Gardens where our guide explained about different species of orchids and told us about the massive bamboo that grows there amongst other things. They also have macaws and other native birds in aviaries. We were advised to wear long trousers and shirts and also take mosquito spray – I found it too hot for trousers and long sleeves and was quite happy in shorts and a sleeveless shirt. Costa Rica is a country I would love to return to.
Day 10 AT SEA. A welcome change with cooler sea air afater several hot humid days.
Day 11 – TRANSITTING THE PANAMA CANAL – in it’s centenary year. The bow of the ship was to be opened for the duration of the transit (almost all day) and our stateroom attendant had advised us to be there by 6am. We had breakfast in the Market Café and made our way to the bow, complete with bottled water, cameras, sun block and a sun hat. There were already a lot of passengers there but we managed to secure a position near the rail on the port side. Just make sure you’re wearing comfortable shoes, as it’s a long day. Many passengers didn’t appear to leave the ships interior for the whole day, but this was a highlight of the cruise as far as I was concerned, so I was going to be on deck for the duration. We passed under the Bridge of the America’s near Panama City before 7am and headed for the first lock – Miraflores which is a twin, triple lock. Three trains each side pull the ship into the lock, holding it whilst the water level rises and the gates open, then continue to pull it through the remaining gates until it exits. There was less than a meter either side of the ship, and we bumped the lock walls a couple of times. San Pedro lock is close to the first and this is a double lock. From San Pedro you can see the Centenial Bridge that was opened in 2004 to ease the traffic on the Pan American Highway that crosses the Bridge of the America’s. Then into Gatun lake an elevation 26 meters higher than the Pacific Ocean – this is where the water is taken from to fill the locks. We had followed the Venetian Bridge freighter along the canal, and quite a lot of freighters were moored in the lake waiting to enter the locks. The final lock is Gatun lock and is a triple set. We exited around 4.30pm – a truly amazing day and one ticked off the Bucket List! At the port side of the canal a second set of parallel locks are being added so as larger ships can transit – it should open in 2015 and is ahead of schedule.
Day 12 CARTAGENA, COLUMBIA. I had booked a private tour with Dora du Zibiria of Cartagena Tours for my 3 friends and myself, prior to leaving Australia. We met them on the quayside and we were soon in an 8 seater van with our guide Dency and her driver. Once again a very hot, humid day. From Australia we were required to have yellow fever vaccinations to visit Columbia and the Panama Canal area, which would enable us to return home without any restrictions. Also make sure you carry a photo ID – a photo copy of your passport page or drivers license is fine. Our first stop was La Popa the highest hill in the city where you find the Santa Cruz monastery, which is now a museum. This is the only place where you can get a complete view of the city, so make sure you go there. We were there before the tour buses, which was great. From there to San Felipe de Barajas fort for photos – we didn’t have long enough to go inside. Then onto the Dungeons that now houses more than 20 shops where local artisans sell their wares. Next the walled Old Town with beautiful houses, palaces and plaza’s such as Plaza de Santa Teresa, Plaza de Bolivar, Plaza de la Aduana, Plaza de los Coches, full of history and legends and the amazing aroma of BBQ’d food. A good way to get around is by horse drawn carriage – we saw plenty of these but we were on a walking tour,that took us onto the wall itself. Finally to the newer area of the city and another chance to shop for anything from Columbia emeralds to coffee, and then back to the ship. At the quay you have another chance to buy souvenirs, or have a drink and there’s also wifi available.
Days 12 and 13 AT SEA
Day 14 KEY WEST, MIAMI. From the deck Key West looks pretty amazing – completely flat and not very large but full of life. A short walk from the ship and we were in Mallory Square where we caught the Hop on hop off Trolley Bus. We passed the Audubon House, Kelly’s Caribbean Bar and Brewery owned by Kelly McGillis of Top Gun fame, Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville Café on Duval Street, the Little White House where a lot of American Presidents have stayed and finally got off at Key West Lime Shoppe as it was time for coffee and Key Lime pie! Key West is all about food - the smell of seafood cooking permeates the air. A seafood plate at the Conch Shack in Mallory Square was all that was needed and the conch fritters were magnificent! The last stop before heading back to the ship was to find Kino Sandals in Fitzpatrick Street. It’s tucked away in the corner of a little square but there’s a big sign outside. They make the sandals there and they’re all leather and most are under $20. What a pity there was a long international flight at the end of the cruise – and an already full suitcase!
OVERALL REVIEW OF THE FIRST SECTION OF THE CRUISE
I was really pleased with the itinerary and most of the time, the time spent in port. Facilities on the Star were good, however for cruising in a hot climate there wasn’t really enough shaded areas on the upper decks - I do realize this ship was built for the northern European climate. Passengers are told not to reserve sun loungers and leave them, but this happened all the time. We took particular notice of passengers going onto the pool deck early in the morning (around 7am), placing their towels, books etc then taking off and returning whenever they felt like it. They would be there all day. Others weren’t able to get shaded areas even for short periods because of this. I did report this on several occasions to various crew members and also put it in writing to the hotel manager.
The Star is due for refurbishment but considering it’s age, it is still well maintained. During the cruise, repairs were carried out to the central atrium staircase where carpet was replaced. I had severe allergic reactions (along with someone else) to it and made an appointment to see the hotel manager. He assured me the products being used were not detrimental to health but they obviously were to some of us. I suggested the fire doors be kept shut and work be done at night so as fumes didn’t reach staterooms. This was indeed done and also we were sent to the medical centre and given medication free of charge.
My stateroom was ideal as a solo passenger – smaller than most ships I have been on, but the bed was comfortable and that’s enough for me. My steward Bernardo was great and always ready to assist.
The food was good – we ate in the Market Café quite often and took our meals onto the pool deck. Frequently the food served there was the same as the menu in Aqua. We also ate in Aqua and Versailles. Some times the service was quite slow but if you ate early (before 6) or after 8pm, the service was much quicker. We had no problems with understanding waiters as some reviews have commented.
The entertainment in the theatre was extraordinary – by far the best on any cruise I have taken. Iain Bagshaw is certainly brilliant at his job, and along with Richard, Everton and the girls made sure it ran smoothly. Most of the performers we spoke to regularly around the ship and they were very friendly. Daytime entertainment on the pool deck during pool days was always good for a laugh and I got roped into being a judge one day – didn’t want to do it, but must admit it was fun!
Shopping was quite good and some of the sales were good value. Maybe there could be a larger selection of essentials in case you run out.
Wifi is far too expensive – I was told it could take up to 12 hours to connect to an Australian website I needed to contact! Needless to say I waited until Dover!!
There was smooth sailing most of the way except between Cartagena and Key West where it was a bit windy, but the sea wasn’t rough at all.
MIAMI TO COPENHAGEN
DAY 1 MIAMI, FLORIDA – We arrived in Miami to a beautiful spring day and moored behind the Norwegian Sky. A lot of passengers disembarked and in the afternoon a lot more embarked so a very busy day for the ships crew.
I hadn’t been interested in visiting Miami, but have now changed my mind. It’s a vibrant city with plenty to see. A group of us caught the hop on hop off Big Bus on the quay and we were soon on our way into Downtown Miami that’s mainly high rises, stadiums, galleries etc. We headed toward Coconut Grove and little Havana where we got off to look around. We had been told to visit the Cuban ice cream shop where we tried their traditional selection – it made a decadent lunch! Local men were playing dominos in the park and this area had a different “flavor” to it than Downtown. Back on the bus we were heading towards South Beach. This was the only area of Miami I knew anything about as it has the largest collection of Art Deco Buildings in the world. I expected a few buildings but there are streets of them and all refurbished to the highest standard. We walked in this area for a while before heading back to the ship. At the quay there is the Bayside shopping mall to cater for cruise ships that includes restaurants and bars. The Big Bus provided transport back to the ship. As we left Miami there was an incredible sunset – a good start to the next leg of our cruise.
DAY’S 2 – 7 were spent at sea crossing the Atlantic. I was quite apprehensive about this as I’d seen many documentaries with ships traversing in very heavy seas. Every single day the ocean was like a pond, despite the wind being across the deck on several days. The captain announced he had never seen so many calm days crossing the Atlantic, so we were very lucky. We had to slow to almost stopping as we were making too much headway. It wasn’t at all boring – walks around the promenade deck and pool deck each day were good, plus laying in the sun for a while – unlike some passengers who appeared to be glued to sun loungers from dawn to dusk and looked like worn leather by the time they disembarked! Each day there was a movie in the theatre in the afternoon – the first time I went I fell asleep. Obviously very chilled out! Latin dance classes, bingo for those who like it, entertainment for children, ice carving displays, lunchtime BBQ’s – the list goes on.
Finally on day 7 late in the afternoon, dark clouds rolled in and the temperature dropped and I even put a sweater on.
DAY 8 PUNTA DELGADO, THE AZORES
The forecast was low cloud and possibly rain and this was certainly what awaited us on arrival there. I’d booked a ships tour to Sete Cidades and surrounds at the west of the island. I had tried to contact a local tour group prior to leaving Australia, but didn’t get confirmation in time. I didn’t really want to risk trying to find a local tour when we arrived there. By the time we disembarked to join the coach it was raining quite heavily – several passengers had no raincoats. Our first stop was the pineapple plantation and gift shop. Pineapples are grown in greenhouses in the Azores and are quite famous. By the time we reached the volcano crater and the view to the twin lakes we were in the clouds – very disappointing but you can’t change Mother Nature, although we did get the occasional glimpse of the lakes, but at least the rain had stopped. Next stop was Santiago lake which was a beautiful jade green surrounded by hills covered in azaleas and rhododendrons. Alongside the roads hydrangeas and agapanthus grew – they would be a magnificent sight when in full bloom. The countryside is certainly very beautiful and I’d love to spend at least a week there. It was then time to head back to the town, where we walked around the beautifully patterned black and white paved streets until it was time to head back to the ship. Along the port side we had a fantastic view of the coastline of the island.
DAY’S 9 AND 10 AT SEA. I’ve now become REALLY good at doing nothing very much!!
Day 11 DOVER, ENGLAND
Dover is the port where the majority of passengers headed to London for the day. Personally I can see no point in spending several hours on a bus, possibly stuck in traffic jams, so decided that Dover Castle was a good place to head to. A double decker bus took passengers directly to the castle where we arrived to find a long queue – we later found out it was prior to the castle being open! Maintained by English Heritage, the castle is well worth a visit. You can go to the top of the main tower and get a fantastic view over the town toward where we were moored. There is a café in the grounds along with various museums, so plenty to see for several hours.
DAY 12 – IN THE NORTH SEA
Once again as calm as a millpond and quite warm. The usual BBQ lunch by the pool, a walk, reading – whatever. Then another fantastic show in the evening. Around 10pm we heard a helicopter and as we approached the Market Café we could smell aviation fuel and a helicopter was on the helipad on the stern of deck 11. After a while it took off into the sunset and shortly afterwards returned. A crew member told us it had dropped a stretcher and they were preparing for an emergency evacuation of a passenger. Not a good end to a holiday for that poor person.
DAY 13 – HELSINGBORG, SWEDEN.
We were moored in the Øresund the narrow waterway between Sweden and Denmark, and went ashore by tender. It was decidedly cooler today but I still wore sandals and long shorts, with a jacket and scarf. On the quay were local people on traditional costume, many who were singing and playing instruments – a nice greeting. We picked up maps and headed towards Kärnan the medieval tower in the centre of the town and the symbol for Helsingborg. The gardens and flower beds en-route were beautiful – full of tulips and other spring flowers, and lilac – one of my favourite flowers and something we don’t see in Australia. One of the main attractions in the centre of Helsingborg was the free wifi. Lots of crew members sat around contacting family members alaong with a lot of passengers. Wifi on board is SO expensive and if you use your own device, often difficult to log out of, so you loose the time you have paid for. They use Swedish kroner not euros’ and being a Sunday very few exchanges were open. We managed to find one in the railway station, but the exchange rate was poor.
Even on a Sunday there were heaps of coffee shops available. We sat outside Falmans Konditorion the corner at Stortorget (just down from the stairs to Karnan). You can choose what you want to eat from their display cabinet and the girls all spoke good English. I had one of their traditional sandwiches and a cake and a divine black coffee with free top ups.
We walked back toward the quay along Norra Storgatan, the oldest medieval street in Helsingborg, with houses built in the 1600’s and 1700’s. The oldest is the Jacob Hansens Hus built in 1641.
Unfortuntely it started to rain so we decided to head back to the ship. Local children dressed in traditional costume were there handing roses to the ladies embarking on the tenders, which was a lovely end to a visit to a beautiful town. Helsingborg remains one of my favourite places of the cruise.
We are due to arrive in Copenhagen at 4.55am tomorrow.
OVERALL REVIEW OF THE SECOND CRUISE
I was initially concerned about the fact I would be bored with the 6 days at sea crossing the Atlantic, but this wasn’t the case. I also learnt to be content doing nothing very much, which was great as far as I was concerned. It’s what you make it anyway.
There was plenty of entertainment and BBQ lunches organized each day, plus movies, dance classes, etc so plenty to do for anyone who doesn’t want to just “chill out”.
I have read reviews that Hellsingborg should be removed from the itinerary but I found it a lovely town – very different from the others we had visited.
The food continued to be good along with the service, entertainment and activities.
BALTIC CAPITALS CRUISE MAY 19 – 28th 2014
DAY 1 – COPENHAGEN
Firstly, ensure you have Danish Kroner as we didn’t find too many places that took euros when we were told they would. For something as simple as using the restrooms at the central station, it took a long time to get money changed to use the facilities!
In my research I had discovered there was a bus that left from the quay to the railway station, but the information given us in the terminal we were advised to take a cab, as the bus didn’t come there. Bad decision! Even though there were 6 of us, it was an expensive option plus the traffic was terrible and took well over an hour to get into the centre of the city. I have since read that this always occurs on turnaround days at this terminal. We weren’t at the terminal near the Little Mermaid but I think at Oceankaj – this is in an industrial area and a long way from all of the other terminals. On the way into the city we saw a bus coming toward the terminal, so the information we were given was wrong! The delay into getting into the city meant we really didn’t have that long so we eventually got onto the Red hop on hop off bus and saw the city that way. The only place we had time to get off was at the Little Mermaid – and also where the shuttle would take you back to the ship.
DAY 2 – WARNEMUNDE, GERMANY
We arrived in Warnemunde just after 7am on a glorious day. The main purpose of this port is it’s proximity to fast trains to Berlin. I certainly didn’t want to spend hours sitting on a train (at great expense on an excursion from the ship), so decided to look around the town and then possibly catch the train to Rostock in the afternoon. Warnemunde is a delightful town with a beautiful church in the central square that is lined with cafes, boutiques and shoe shops. I’ve never seen such an amazing display of colourful shoes as in this small town.
The Alter Storm is the waterway lined with boutiques, restaurants, bars and hotels. In boats moored at the quay there are take away seafood bars – a great place to try the local foods for lunch. At the end of the Alter Storm is the great beach where you can hire small beach huts for the day or by the hour. There’s also a lighthouse that will give you a great view over the town.
The planned trip to Rostock didn’t happen as we were quite happy wandering around and spending time on the beach. At the quay there is also Karl’s Pier 7 where you can buy souvenirs and have a meal or drink in the gardens. There was a sand sculpture display there when we visited. It also includes a children’s playground at one side of the building.
Once again we were changing our clocks prior to going to bed.
DAY 3 – AT SEA
A glorious day with beautifully calm sea yet again. Tonight is a formal dinner for those who want to dress up – it’s optional though.
DAY 4 – TALLINN, ESTONIA
We arrived in Tallinn around 9am and we disembarked as soon as the gangplanks were in place. Once again we used the Official City Sightseeing Hop on Hop off bus as we wanted to see as much of the area as possible. There were 3 routes to use so really good value. If you keep your tickets from other cities and show them when you board, you’ll get a discount. There’s also a seniors discount. It’s also possible to easily walk into the city – it just depends how much of the city and countryside you also want to see.
Tallinn is the only city we visited that will literally take any currency, which was a huge surprise. The people are so friendly and not at all pushy as some are.
The main area we wanted to explore was the Old Walled Town so got off the bus at Toompea Hill where the Russian Orthodox Cathedral , St Olav’s Cathedral and Toompea Castle are and also the best view over the city. The wall is also here and if you take the path behind the cathedral it will lead through the city gate to another lookout.
Various small alleyways lead from the hill down to the Town Hall Square – it’s like being in another century in Tallinn as so many people were dressed in traditional costume and the buildings are just out of this world. So different to anywhere else I had ever been. We managed to find St. Catherine’s Passage that is lined with very old gravestones, a glassblower, galleries etc. At the end is a market selling hand knitted clothes. Tallinn is famous for it’s hand knitted clothing – great if you come from cold climate. We also found a good selection of unusual linen garments.
Just outside the market is a bus stop for the bus back to the ship – this time taking us farther into the countryside past the Russian Olympic village, the botanic gardens and the TV tower that you can visit for an amazing view over the city.
DAY 5 and 6 – ST. PETERSBURG, RUSSIA
The highlight of the whole 38 night cruise for me. 26 deg C was forecast – it actually reached 29 deg – 2 days later it was 11 deg! I had packed cold weather clothing but certainly wasn’t going to be using it! T-shirt and capri pants was the way to go – a lot of people were wearing shorts including the locals. We were docked at the new Marine Façade Terminal, about 3 miles out of the city. Prior to leaving Australia we had booked a 2 day tour with TJ Tours – no deposit was required and they organized our tourist visas. Whilst on the cruise 4 others had joined our group – all organized off the ship with Tatyana of TJ Tours. Customs took about half an hour – we were expecting to get immigration forms on the ship, but that had changed prior to our arrival, and it was all done via computer at the customs point. We just had to supply the paperwork emailed to us by TJ Tours. A representative met us outside the customs hall and took us to our mini bus where we met Ylena our guide. Our first stop was Peterhof and we were originally going by hydrofoil but the quay at Peterhof was being repaired, so we had to go by road. Words nor pictures can do Peterhof justice – it just has to be seen. We were there early so it wasn’t crowded and we had a good look at the gardens and the Grand Cascade fountains. We had lunch at a restaurant really close by – it was good to sample traditional Russian food instead of having a snack. In the afternoon we visited Catherine’s Palace, about an hours drive away which included driving on one of the freeways and along country roads. Catherine’s Palace was bombed during the war and has been re-built, anis exceptionally ornate. It got to a stage where it was difficult to take in as we passed from one incredible room to another. The Amber Room that was also re-created was opened in 2003. You are no longer able to take photos in the room and guides get very annoyed when people try and do so. In several rooms people were dressed in costume of the period where you can have photos taken with them.
We visited the Church on the Spilled Blood where Tsar Alexander 2 was assassinated. The exterior is beautiful and the interior is decorated with glass and gold mosaic tiles and stunning. Also St. Isaac’s cathedral that was to stage a huge concert the following day, so it was difficult to access. We were due to visit a metro station but the traffic was exceptionally bad as there was a summit meeting with heads of state in the city, so a lot of roads were closed. St. Petersburg Day was also due to be celebrated the next day.
Day 2 started with a river cruise on the River Neva, which allows you to see buildings in all their glory, from a distance. St Petersburg is known as the “Venice of the North” with a lot of canals winding their way through the city. Then to the Hermitage, the world’s largest gallery and the former Winter Palace. We spent 2 hours inside – it’s would take more than a month to see everything. I had seen an exhibition of “Treasures of the Hermitage” in Washington DC in the 1990’s so it was good to see them again where they belonged. Then on to the metro – an amazing experience. Marble walls, mosaics, paintings sculptures – this was certainly not a metro station! It’s also the deepest metro – you couldn’t see the bottom of the first escalator we got on! A good place to take group selfies. We also visited the Yusupov Palace – a privately owned palace, where Rasputin was poisoned and shot – he was eventually thrown into the river as he was still alive, and he then supposedly drowned. Our next stop was the Peter and Paul Fortress and Cathedral where the remains of the Romanov family and various tsars are interred. As with everything we have seen in St. Petersburg, the building is stunning.
The final stop was a gallery where we were to pay for our tour and do some shopping.
The sun set on an ice flat sea at 11pm, so a perfect end to or visit to St Petersburg, where I hope to return as it’s a totally amazing city.
At the cruise terminal there are souvenir shops – apparently not many tours stop in the city to allow you to purchase souvenirs.
DAY 7 – HELSINKI, FINLAND
We arrived at 7am and were officially above the Arctic Circle and on the Gulf of Finland. We were berthed at the Melkki West Terminal and used our discount Hop on Hop Off bus ticket and did a complete lap of the circuit before alighting at Senate Square near the harbor and Market Square. The markets were wonderful with artisans displaying their jewellery, hand made fur clothing, knitted garments etc. The take away food stalls mainly consisted of roasted salmon and other fish and seafood and roasted vegetables. The Russian Orthodox Cathedral is on the hill near the harbor as is the Presidential Palace. One place I wanted to visit was the Rock Church which is built into the bedrock. Visually stunning, I would imagine there is nowhere quite like this, anywhere else. There was also an organ recital whilst we were there – once again, VERY unusual and not regular church music, but a very modern composition. This is well worth a visit. We were due back on board at 3.30 so it was a fairly short visit to Helsinki.
DAY 8 STOCKHOLM, SWEDEN
The sun rose at 4am to another perfect day. The entry through the archipelago to Stockholm is beautiful and shouldn’t be missed. It’s amazing how close the ship gets to the islands, partially due to the fact glaciers formed the channels.
My main aim was to visit the Vasa Museum where the warship Vasa built in the 1600’s is on display. It sank on it’s maiden voyage and wasn’t salvaged until the 1950’s in a major shipping lane close to Stockholm.
Stockholm is comprised of numerous islands linked by bridges with the Old Town in the centre. This is also a lovely area to wander around and the Royal Palace and Nobel Museum are located there. After a lap on the Red Sightseeing bus we alighted at the Vasa Museum which is located on Djurgarden Island. It can also be reached by a ferry. There was quite a long queue but it didn’t take long to get our tickets. If you don’t have Swedish Kroner the best option is to pay your entrance fee by Visa or Mastercard. Visiting the Vasa museum is possibly the best thing to do in Stockholm as there is nothing like it anywhere else in the world.
DAY 9 AT SEA
The only day of this 38 night cruise that the sea was rough and the wind cold – the perfect day to pack our bags. The entertainment continued although mainly indoors.
DAY 10 ARRIVAL IN COPENHAGEN
Time to leave the ship that had been our home for almost 6 weeks. Our cases had been left outside our stateroom to be collected the night before and we were due to disembark at 9.30 for out 2.15 flight from Copenhagen. I was flying to London and my friends were returning to Australia after spending 2 days in Copenhagen. The wind was quite cold so at last we wore jackets we had brought with us. Our cases were delivered to the airport, which went smoothly – certainly very well organized.
OVERALL REVIEW OF BALATIC CAPITALS CRUISE
The itinerary as far as I was concerned was fantastic, with each port being completely different. The added bonus was an overnight in St. Petersburg.
Unfortunately Copenhagen city was the most difficult to access which apparently is due to the new road being built to the cruise terminal – I hope that they soon get this organized as it was very frustrating. Had we been berthed at one of the other terminals, we wouldn’t have had the problems we faced.
All cruise staff I had contact with were very helpful and couldn’t do enough to assist you and help you have an enjoyable cruise.
The entertainment staff were incredible – I don’t think they ever slept as they always seemed to be announcing something was about to happen.
The shows in the theatre were once again very good.
All in all, a great cruise.