My husband and I just returned from a 10-day cruise to Russia and Scandinavia with Oslo aboard the Crown Princess. What an adventure! We departed from Los Angeles on July 7th for Seattle, where we met our connecting flight to Copenhagen. Our United flight out of LA was delayed two hours and we barely made our connection. After arriving in Copenhagen via SAS airline (which was very nice, especially as we went first class), we discovered that my husband's luggage made it and mine did not. We suspect that it didn't make the connection in Seattle. Of course, I packed all the wrong things in our carry-on. Luckily I had the little packet of toiletries and extra socks that the airline provided as well as an extra pair of underwear in my purse! We arrived in Copenhagen on a rainy day on July 8th (they are 9 hours ahead of LA) and stayed at the SAS Royal Copenhagen, a very nice five star hotel with super modern Danish furnishings and a good breakfast buffet. The hotel was right across the street from the famed Tivoli Gardens, which we wanted to explore, but it was too rainy. We enjoyed walking through the shopping areas down the street, and ate an early dinner at the Hard Rock Cafe nearby, where I was able to buy a clean shirt to wear the next day. The US dollar is weak. Be prepared to spend $10.00 for a beer and $25.00 for a cheeseburger, but it was very good and the people friendly. The next day, July 9th, my luggage still hadn't arrived and we boarded the ship at about 1:00. Even though the ship holds over 3,000 passengers, embarkation was fast and smooth. We inquired about my luggage at the purser's desk. A lot of people had missing luggage, and Princess was very accommodating, providing me with free express laundry service and a toiletry bag. They contacted the airport right away.
Day 1- The first full day was at sea, and I had to buy some sweats and a tee so my clothes could be laundered. We missed the formal night that night, as I had no clothes. Day 2- Stockholm. My luggage finally arrived Hooray! It was off to the Absolute Ice bar and walking tour of old Stockholm. The Ice Bar is definitely touristy, but worth doing once in your life. It was located in a hotel (can't remember which), and looked like it was converted out of a small conference room, holding only about 35 people. The room is kept at 28 degrees Fahrenheit. The walls are lined with blocks of ice, the bar is carved ice, the tables are ice blocks, and there are even ice sofas covered in animal hides to sit on. The glasses are made of ice, and we all got a cocktail of Absolute vodka and pear juice. The cute Swedish blonde behind the bar assured us that the glasses are only used once, and that we got to keep them as souvenirs, which got a laugh! We were all provided with thermal capes and gloves to wear. Fun! Day 3- Helsinki Finland. We took the tour of Old Porvoo and the countryside. Porvoo is one of the oldest cities in Finland, and we spent a couple of hours touring the old section of town and stopped at a good little deli for lunch. The highlight of the excursion was a visit to a working horse ranch on a beautiful grassy, flowery, tree-filled ranch, where we were shown gorgeous horses and fed tea and cake. The weather was sunny with big puffy clouds, and the setting couldn't have been prettier, and our hosts more gracious. Our tour guide was very knowledgeable. Day 4 and 5- St. Petersburg. We bravely opted for the two-day,nine hour each, grand tour. We weren't fond of getting up at five o'clock AM while on vacation, to be on a bus by 7:15, but to see the beautiful sights of Russia was worth it. We had a wonderful Russian guide named Tatiana, who was probably in her twenties, and just knew everything possible about St. Petersburg. I can't possibly go into all the details of our two-day trip, but we saw the most breath-taking palaces, cathedrals, countryside, and, or course, the Hermitage. This tour required a lot of walking, and as there are few places in the Hermitage to sit; people were getting really tired. If walking is an issue for anyone, think twice before participating. If you are in fairly good shape, it it worth it to see so much. My only complaint during the St. Petersburg tour was the lunches. The first day we were herded into what appeared to be a decorated warehouse with about 800 other tourists where we were fed a lunch of salad, blinis with caviar, soup, and chicken with rice. A lot of people complained about the crowds and food, and said they felt like cattle. Lunch the second day was in a smaller restaurant with a similar menu (very good fish instead of chicken) and those we spoke to liked it much better. Let me just say that Russia is crawling with tourists at this time of year. How else this country can accommodate all of them any better I'm not sure. I hate to be too critical. Day 6- Tallin, Estonia. We took a short walking tour of old Tallin, about a 7-minute bus ride from the dock. Our tour guide had English that was halting at best, and he was pretty boring, sometimes having us stand in one spot while he rambled on and on for way too long. At one point, people were so bored that they discreetly wandered in to the gift shops! Finally were we released to wander about on our own for a while! Since it would only be a 15-20 minute walk into town, I'd recommend walking to town on your own. It's a great place to shop for souvenirs or have a bite, very charming. Day 7- Gdansk, Poland. We took a walking tour of Gdansk with a very sweet and knowledgeable guide named Yola, where we stopped to shop for amber. From there we drove about an hour to Malbourk Castle. If you really dig all things medieval, this is the tour for you. Lunch was not until almost 3:00, something I would have like to have known in advance, as I would have eaten a bigger breakfast, but was worth the wait. We ate at a traditional Polish restaurant near the Castle, and it was very good. Day 8, at sea. By now my husband and I were exhausted and fighting head colds, so we spent this relaxing day napping and just hanging out. The pace of trying to see everything can be grueling. Day 9- Oslo. We took a tour of the Olympic ski jumping site, the Viking museum, and the Vigeland Sculpture Park, all are must-sees. Day 10- Disembarkation in Copenhagen.
About the ship- We loved the Crown Princess, probably the nicest in the fleet of the ones we've sailed on. We especially liked the International Cafe for a light snack, the coffee bar next to it for gourmet coffee that's much better than can be had at the buffet, and Crooner's, a martini bar with the world's nicest waiters that shake and pour your martini with style and flair. We quickly became regulars there and got to know the waiters well. Over all, the service can't be beat on Princess. The crew are friendly and attentive. We witnessed quite a few gripey and loud-mouthed passengers and I think when you go out of your way to be nice to the crew members, your effort is returned twicefold. We will be sailing on the Crown to the British Isles in July of '09 and look forward to the ship and the crew very much.