Baltic cruise review
9th - 23rd June 2018 Baltic Cruise on P & O Azura
This was our 3rd cruise with P&O and the second on Azura, first was in 2017 on the return re-positioning cruise in the Caribbean. We are a retired couple ... Read More
Baltic cruise review
9th - 23rd June 2018 Baltic Cruise on P & O Azura
This was our 3rd cruise with P&O and the second on Azura, first was in 2017 on the return re-positioning cruise in the Caribbean. We are a retired couple of 65 & 63 respectively. I am female. We live an hour from Southampton. This is a long review but I thought it is helpful to be thorough. June is the time of 'White Nights' which means that there is very little night time by the time St Petersburg is reached. Long, light evenings feel rather strange but make for lovely evenings sitting out if the weather is warm.
We arrived by taxi at 2.15 for a boarding time of 3.30 (the M3 can be difficult at weekends in the Summer hence the early arrival time). Boarding was busy but well organised and we were into our cabin at 3.00 pm, cases arrived after around an hour. We were given a card with our dining arrangements as we checked in and were given freedom dining in the Meridien Restaurant. We went straight to Venezia, the cafeteria area on deck 15, where lunch and hot drinks were available. We could have selected salad or a hot meal or various snacks so all were catered for.
When we returned to our cabin our cases were there and we unpacked. Cabin was C217 which is an inside cabin in the forward area of deck 10. A quiet area to be in but there was a small amount of noise from the Playhouse Theatre at night until the second show had ended. As always neat, beautifully clean and well equipped with plenty of hanging room in a dressing area outside the bathroom. There was soap, bath hat, shower wash, shampoo, conditioner and body lotion in the bathroom with plenty of good towels and face cloths. There is a tall shelved cupboard which also holds the safe, room for suitcases below the hanging (lots of wooden hangers but I usually take 15 wire hangers too) a long shelf above the hanging with the life jackets on part of it, then in the bed area two drawer bedside tables, a large dressing area with tea/coffee section and flat screen tv above. There are two cupboards under the dressing table, one is the fridge and the other has two shelves. Large mirrors make the cabin feel airy and we have always been happy to have inside cabins as it is a way of cruising without the very high costs. We had a queen bed and the bunks were folded away at each side, not too much of a problem but if you are happy to have twin beds then there would seem to be a lot more room in the cabin.
Azura is an easy ship to navigate once you get your bearings. Use the map given at check in to start with then you will know the lay out quite quickly. We try to always use the stairs as a way of burning the calories and avoiding the lifts that often go one floor at a time on endless short trips. The average age on this cruise would be nearer 80 than 60 although there were apparently 30 young children on board too. The clientele on this cruise were in the main delightful, polite and cheerful but many had limited mobility which could be frustrating for all during busy times in the food service areas and corridors or in disembarking for trips. There were some unpleasant characters who were rude and abrasive but this is true in all areas of life and these could easily be avoided or ignored. The staff everywhere were outstanding and lovely to deal with, attentive and quick to anticipate a need without being over familiar. John and Marvin in the dining room made our cruise very enjoyable and Josef our cabin steward was brilliant. We are early birds and Josef was pleased to see our 'Make-up' the cabin card in the door as we left for breakfast often just after 7.00am and again around 5.30 pm so our cabin was always finished on our return. Most people seemed to use the card in this way which really helps the stewards to get on with the job.
Two sea days provided endless opportunities to be lazy, eat whenever you wanted to, read quietly either on the outside areas, the Prom deck (7) or we liked the Planet Bar or Atrium so we could be people watching and settled to our books. We did attend some port talks but very little else although there was a huge selection of activities on offer. The weather was cool so sun bathing and swimming were out for the first few days.
Small, pretty sea side town with a good selection of shops. Free shuttle bus for all to the edge of the town. We wandered along the front street where cafes were plenty and we did pick up wifi there. We continued to the very end of the sea walk and left round the corner to the beach area. If the weather was good a day on the beach would be a good way to enjoy the town but it was not a sunny day so we looked then walked back. We picked up excellent free wifi at the pilots station not far from the beach end of the promenade and we sat in a shelter and checked email and sent replies. Returning on an inside road there were more shops and quite near to the pretty church, on the right, we found a €1 shop with lots of great bargains to give as presents. We were back on board by 11.00 am and enjoyed a lazy afternoon.
Weather was good and we left the ship early to walk into the city, an easy and flat trip of 45 minutes. Wifi is always our first hunt and we found it inside a small shopping mall so dealt quickly with any email and had several watsap exchanges with our sons. We wandered the smart and open city shops and streets spotting the sights along the way. We took a No3 tram that had been suggested on Tripadviser as a way of joining the locals assuming it was a round trip but after 15 minutes out into the suburbs it stopped and we were told to get off as it was the end of the line. Small panic but the driver pointed across the road and said 'Centrum' so we set off to find another No 3 back. About 100 yards down the road we found the tram stop. We are embarrassed to say we didn't pay for the rides as we didn't know how to and had assumed we would pay the driver but both times he didn't want to know so our tram ride was free. I have since found out that you get a ticket before boarding at €2.20 per journey. We enjoyed visiting Stocktons Department store and other shops then headed for the harbour where the market sold fruit and craft items. Boat trips left from here and seemed a good deal and were popular. From the harbour we set off on the coast edge path to go back to the ship which was a pretty and fairly flat pavement walk.
St Petersburg, Russia
Stunning city to visit with glorious architecture, wide roads and pretty vistas of the Neva river and canals. The World Cup didn't affect our visit. Queuing through immigration both out and back in dominated the first day and was frustrating. We had booked a half day tour of The Hermitage which was in the afternoon. This left a free morning when it was quiet on board so I took advantage and did some laundry. There is a laundrette on each deck which is free to use but you need to bring your own detergent. I always buy tablets with built in conditioner as they break up easily but won't leak. The machines are good and there are also tumble dryers and ironing boards with timed irons.
The Hermitage was wonderful although busy and the tour guide led us on a good selection of rooms. The floors and ceilings are often as beautiful as the exhibits. Photographs are allowed without flash, there are toilets available and the shops at the end sell a wide variety of souvenirs at reasonable prices for Russian Roubles.
The second day we had booked St Petersburg Explorer which is a 7 hour walking tour of the city. This takes you to three stops and you are dropped off by the bus and left to do your own thing for a few hours each time. There is a route suggested on your map and the guide on the bus gives you ideas of where to visit. This gives you a chance to go to shops, visit churches, enjoy the gardens (The Summer Garden is delightful) etc. The day was hot and sunny so it made a great trip and as long as you are comfortable walking for a good stretch this is an ideal trip to see lots of the city. Shops and stalls were happy to take Euros, Dollars or Roubles. Prices were reasonable and often cheaper than in the UK. Return through immigration the second day was very quick.
There is a souvenir shop on the dock beside the ship which you can use without going through immigration. Ideal for Russian Dolls and other gifts to take his home. A good selection of items and prices ranged from around £4.00 for a simple doll with 3 inside each other right up to £100 for large and beautiful individual items. Prices here compared well with stalls and shops in the city centre.
Food and drink on board
The only way to pay for anything on board (except the collection after the Sunday Service) is your cruise card and this is used rather like a credit card where you sign a slip confirming your purchase or drink order. Breakfast can be self service on deck 15 or in one of the restaurants each morning. Lunch can be self service, deck 15 or pizza/burger type food near one of the pools or in the dining rooms. The evening meal is served in whichever restaurant you have been assigned to. We ate breakfast in both places but found the food a better quality in the dining room. Dinner was wonderful and lots of choice. Lots of variety in the menu and good quality and presentation of the food. If you are so inclined you could eat all day as there is always food available and hot drinks on deck 15. Fruit juice is only available till around 11.45 after which there is water or teas & coffee. Earl Grey tea and slices of lemon are always there as well as sachets of decaf coffee. Afternoon tea is served on deck 15 and is always enjoyable although not always a sensible choice if you dine early as it will spoil your appetite! Trays and dishes are cleared constantly. All over the ship and beside the entrance to any eating area there are stands with hand sanitizer available and the vast majority of people use this, helpful in preventing any spread of bacteria.
We ate in Sindu one evening which has an extra charge and the food was excellent as was the ambience and service. Others we spoke to had eaten in Epucurian, The glass House and The Beach House and said all were very good and worth the extra charge.
Easy walk into the old town via 'Fat Margaret’s Gate'. We were into the town by 08.15 and were ahead of everyone so could get pictures without the irritation of the large man in an orange T shirt with a ‘selfie’ stick who always seems to be around! We walked uphill on cobbled roads to the top to the look-out points then down again into the town square where we had coffee and used the cafe internet. Such a delightful town, very quaint and pretty. Euros were used everywhere. We walked from the old town out to the newer town passed flower sellers and cafes. There was a small market at the end of the road, worth a look for knitwear. We didn't spend too long looking round the more modern area but found good free wifi inside the first shopping centre, near H&M. We found the walk back to the ship easy and flat and were back in time for lunch. The ship was very quiet and we enjoyed a swim and a sit out while watching a film on the sea screen.
We enjoyed a wander round the old then the new Stockholm. Weather was promised to be warm but we were very cold as the wind was whistling up and down the alleys and streets. Layers is definitely the right approach. We caught the shuttle into the city then walked around the old town area, Gamla Stan, then walked under an arch into the shopping area which was good with lots of variety of shops. Some lovely home style shops with interesting items. We got 200 Krone out of a hole in the wall so we could buy coffee and anything else we saw and that was plenty for us.
I used the Stockholm Public wifi on the dock whilst sitting on the Prom deck on the ship and it was very strong so I could browse the internet easily.
Where we were docked in Stockholm it would be easily possible to get onto a boat that would take you around the area for a tour or hop on hop off. I think walking into the centre is a long way but it would be more direct on foot than in the shuttle bus but still a fair stretch
The ship docked close enough to walk into the city. The walk along the sea edge took us past the statue of The Little Mermaid, about 10 minutes from the ship, then on into the city. Smart and clean everywhere with lovely architecture. We enjoyed wandering the sights then into the shopping area. We used McDonalds for wifi as there wasn't any near the ship, we paid for our coffee etc in McDonalds by credit card. Great boat tours on offer in the city for 50 Krone per adult for 1 hour canal tour. Another time we would definitely take one of these but do wrap up as it is windy on the water. We walked back to the ship in the early afternoon having felt we had seen all we wanted to.
Pronounced ‘Skane’ by the people who live there. Easy walk into town, about ten minutes. Delightful town with good variety of shopping and cafes and the town band played during the morning. About 45 minutes at a fair pace takes you from the centre of town to the car park and sand dune from where you can see the meeting of the seas in the distance. Area is flat and a smooth path is shared by bikes. Bikes for hire were available on the dock area and would have been a good option to get to Grennen and other areas. Shops would take Euros but with a poor exchange rate, or credit cards could be used. We found wifi at 'Jacob's Cafe' in the centre of town where we had coffee. A lovely last destination for a gentle stroll and final shop. Weather was good but with a strong breeze and if walking to the point it may be worth packing a light woolly hat and thin gloves.
Leaving Skagen and moving into the North Sea brought us into rough seas for the final sea day and spending time as low down in the ship as possible in the Atrium helped keep us feeling well. Travel tablets were available from the reception desk. Some activities were cancelled because of the poor weather but most continued.
Details of disembarkation were given out with the on board daily paper and we packed the main cases and put them outside the cabin door by 9.00pm so they could be taken away. We planned to enjoy a dining room breakfast on the last morning which was available from 6.30am. We had to be out of the cabin by 8.00am at the latest but we left around 6.45 and took our time in the dining room then went to our designated disembarkation area to wait for directions to leave. Self disembarkation was from 7.30 when you could take your own luggage and get off the ship under your own steam if you wanted to and there were lots of people took this option.
We left the ship about 45 minutes ahead of expected time and went to search for our luggage in the hall where they were set out by deck. We were one of the latest groups to disembark so there were very few cases left which made ours easy to find.
We thoroughly enjoyed this cruise and the itinerary worked well. We will continue to book cruises with P&O as they are well run and suit us. Read Less