Our family of four sailed last summer on the Grandeur for 12 nights out of Harwich on their Baltic cruise. We flew into London the morning of the cruise, and there was little difficulty meeting up with the RCCL folks at the airport and getting our bus to the cruise. We were among the first passengers to arrive, and we were able to board even before noon.
Our cabins (inside for the two teenagers and small suite for mom and dad) were just as advertised. We've sailed before on the Rhapsody, a sister ship of the Grandeur, so everything had a vague familiarity. Our only complaint about our outside cabin was that we smelled far too much smoke from our immediate neighbors. There must be a shared ventilation system, or something. It's a joke that cabins are "non-smoking," as I think that's all that our neighbors did the entire cruise. Likewise, it was sometimes hard to enjoy our wonderful little balcony, since one or both of them were always out there!
Dinner (late seating) was at a table for 10 with some of the nicest people we have ever had the pleasure of cruising with. Our waitress and assistant waiter were the best we have ever had --- her name was Katrina, and she would make recommendations every night on what was and was not "good." If you didn't take her advice, she would bring extra of what she recommended and give it to you instead!
I remarked more than once that the Grandeur staff seemed happier in general than any other cruise we have sailed on. Everyone aboard greeted you with a cheery hello, and I just felt like they were happy. I asked Katrina, and she said that it was because they all really liked the captain.
Ports of call on this cruise included Oslo, Stockholm, Helsinki, Copenhagen, Tallinn, and St. Petersburg. We are not real fond of ship shore excursions, preferring instead to do our own research and venture forth! It makes the anticipation of going on the cruise all the greater when you read about the places you are going in advance.
In Oslo (our first port), we bought a travel pass at the Tourist Office, allowing us all-day access to transportation. We rode the bus, the subway, and a water taxi, so we got our money's-worth! It was a busy day with stops at Vigaland (sp?), the Munch Museum, the Viking Museum, and the WWII Resistance Museum. Not much time for shopping here, but everything was very expensive, so that didn't matter. We were lucky to hook up with two or three other families, with whom we shared most of our shore expeditions. It was fun, and we are still great friends with some of them.
Helsinki was a bit more grim-appearing than the pretty Oslo, but we still managed to hoof it all over that town. It looks like the Cold War era Russia we see depicted in films - in fact, many are filmed there for that reason. We did some department-store shopping here, and we ate Italian food for lunch. There is a smallish flea market near the port that had some nice jewelry items, and it was a cheaper city than Oslo.
Copenhagen is such a pretty stop! We took a boat ride the evening we arrived, getting a view of the city from the canals. Following that, we went to Tivoli, where the kids enjoyed some of the rides. I would not recommend arriving there after dark, since there clearly were some lovely planted areas, but we couldn't much see them. The next day, we took the double-decker tour bus around town, getting on and off at will. In Stockholm and in Copenhagen, our teenaged daughter loved getting to go to the H&M stores. There are several really high quality shops right on the pier where we were docked, and they sold the finest quality amber that we saw on the whole cruise. I wear Dansko clogs, and there was a shop that was full of them there right on the pier! In Stockholm, my husband's favorite place was the Vasa Museum. It is a sailing ship that sank on its maiden voyage right there in the harbor. After hundreds of years, it was salvaged and placed in this museum. We also toured a nearby museum and did lots of shopping and walking around the old town area here. It's a very pretty city.
Tallinn was the surprise of the cruise. It's a great little stop, and we all enjoyed a walking tour that we put together with all of our individual guidebooks. Tallinn is a good place to buy amber as well as handmade linens, although I thought the amber in Copenhagen was perhaps a bit nicer.
The highlight of the trip was St. Petersburg, where we spent two full days. We went the route of getting our Russian visas before we left which was pretty daunting - you have to send your passport to the Russian Consulate in New York. It all went as they say it does, and we had them back in the prescribed amount of time. We hired a private guide, driver and van, and we were able to see far far more than we would have seen had we done ship shore excursions. There were some on our cruise who went the ship-tour route, and when their museum was closed unexpectedly for the day, they had no alternative but to sit on the ship all day, since you cannot get off the boat unless you have a Russian visa. We saw Peterhof, Pushkin, Catherine's Palace, the Hermitage, and far far more. Our guide was very knowledgeable, and she even kept our teenagers interested. We also were able to take a ride on a Russian subway down the steepest escalator I have ever been on. We went to a Russian fast-food restaurant for lunch, visited a Russian market, a candy store and a pharmacy. It was all very interesting!
There were three at-sea days on this cruise, although there were a couple of days where we did not arrive at a port until late afternoon and left the next afternoon. In every port, we docked at a pier, unlike in the Caribbean, where we were "tendered ashore."
Email me with any questions!
Kathy M Galveston, TX