A few thoughts concerning the Emerald Princess itself. Although this was my first experience with a mega-ship with over three thousand passengers, I've taken several trips with Holland America. I was not looking forward to long lines and cattle call tours, but this itinerary fit my ports of choice, my price range, and my schedule.
Overall, my experience was extremely positive. The international crew is upbeat and well trained. The cruise director was informative without breaking in with the continual peppy intrusions I grew to despise on HA. Not once did I feel that I was part of a massive tourist package, though of course I was.
Food was excellent, tasty and beautifully presented. Did not attend any of the specialty restaurants. Didn't feel the need to. Lucked out with table mates, a diverse and congenial group.
Lots to see in Oslo, and much of it is accessible on foot. I bought an Oslo pass, but since I walked everywhere and visited only one museum, I really didn't get my money's worth.
The ship docked directly across the street from Akershus Castle so I crossed through the grounds on my way to the Opera House, a must see if you have any interest in contemporary architecture. The interior is as spectacular as the exterior, and it's free. From there I wandered through Central Station, walked through part of the Stroget and since the ship was only a few blocks away, decided to return for lunch. I passed both the Museum for Comtemporary art and the Architecture Museum. Should have made a quick stop at both but thought I'd have time on the way back to the ship. As it turned out, I had the time, but not the energy.
After lunch I took the opposite direction toward city hall, a quick look at the National Theatre and the Royal Palace and then the National Museum. Like most tourists my goal was to see "The Scream," but I found the collection of European Impressionists to be quite impressive as well.
Though I had a few more hours before sailing, I decided to head back to the ship and a well deserved soak in the hot tub. On the way I stopped at an classic Norwegian cafe for a rest and a cider. Eleven dollars! They're not kidding when they say that Oslow's an expensive city!
I'm a real fan of the Danish-Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson so I walked to the ARoS contemporary art museum to see his installation, "Rainbow Panorama. ". By the time I finished with the museum, my plan to spend a few hours at Den Gamle By was shot. So I took a different route back to the ship, along the Stroget with a detour to see the cathedral. Of all our ports, Aarhus was the one I would have chosen to skip, but having spent an afternoon there, I found the city most enjoyable.
Warnemunde is a beautiful little seaside resort town. A perfect way to spend your time if you don't want to spend most of your day on a non-air conditioned, non-narrated, crowded train ride to and from Berlin. Not much to see in a cultural sense, but pretty streets to wander, a beautiful beach with sand like powdered sugar, and a nude section, if that sort of thing appeals to you.
Tallinn Old Town is a delight. For $10, I opted to take a shuttle bus to and from the port., thus avoiding what appeared to be a time consuming and boring walk of over a mile in each direction. You really don't need to do much other than wander the cobbled streets, climb Toompea Hill for some spectacular photos of the medieval city below, stop at one of the many cafes and browse through shops full of typical tourist tchotchkes.
Just before returning to the ship, I visited the Occupation Museum, a short walk from Freedom Square. A powerful and sobering reminder that Estonians have paid a heavy price for the lives the have today. Its remarkable that these people who have suffered so much, maintain such a positive and optimistic outlook.
If you can get ahold of the documentary, "The Singing Revolution," before you leave, you will gain valuable insight into Estonia's painful history. Just before returning to the ship, I visited the Occupation Museum, a short walk from Freedom Square. A powerful and sobering reminder that Estonians have paid a heavy price for the lives they have today. Its remarkable that these people who have suffered so much, maintain such a positive and optimistic outlook.
The port of Helsinki looks like a massive construction project. Using public transit seemed complicated so I took a shuttle which dropped us off right at the edge of the Esplanade from there, it was easy to explore the city on foot.
Helsinki is a beautiful city and the weather was perfect, so I cut back on what I'd planned to see and instead spent a lot of time just wandering around the open air market or sitting on a park bench along the Esplanade enjoying the people and the scenery.
Then I picked up the 3T tram which travels a figure eight through the city. Got off near the Sibelius monument. From there, it was an easy walk to the Rock Church, then the contemporary art museum and back to the shuttle stop.
I'd done a considerable amount of research about Stockholm, and it soon became obvious that our short five hour visit would allow for only a few highlights. The idea of a ship's excursion began to look better and better. I didn't want to spend my day watching the clock or racing around to make sure I got back in time.
So I booked a tour which included my top priorities, the Vasa Museum and Gamla Stan I got to see what I'd come for and had no worries about quite literally missing the boat. As much as I prefer doing things on my own, there are times like this where there's no way I could have covered the ground that I did by myself.
Our tour guide got us to the Vasa within a half hour of its opening, provided excellent commentary throughout, and directed us to a special exhibition in the basement which I'm sure I would have missed otherwise. We were left with a little over an hour in Gamla Stan. Not enough shopping time for some, but I didn't see anything that I couldn't live without.