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After several years bringing up young children, working busy jobs, generally getting older, more tired and fatter, this was a much anticipated 1st real holiday for us and the children. We got our first taste of cruising on Serenade of the Seas in Alaska in 2005 and loved the experience of seeing some pretty inhospitable but interesting places from the comfort of a floating hotel. The Baltic Cruise seemed like a fantastic option for us- leaving from Harwich, visiting countries that possess intrigue and rich history without a searing hot sun to exhaust us and render our fair complexions charred. We also felt, correctly as it turned out, that this sort of destination might 'self-select' the other travellers better than a sun and booze seeking crowd usually attracted to the Mediterranean at this time of year. It was great being on board with so many nationalities- the Hispanics brought some much needed colour, the Americans the usual positivity and energy, a spattering of Germans, Dutch and French to balance and our fellow Brits to generally complain about everything and feel hard done by. Check in was seamless and whilst hectic and busy, from pulling into the car park to sinking our first beer it took less than 1 hour. Had this been Heathrow, I'd have probably only have got to the stage of re-packing my hand luggage and retrieving my children from lost property within a similar timeframe, assuming, of course, that the M25 had got me there at all. The ship, to the uninitiated is well laid out, easy to get around and provides ample space for the number of people on board. The bars are great- spacious, comfortable, good range of drinks available and regular entertainment. The cabins are cleverly designed and smart. There are signs of wear, as other people have commented. I'd be very interested to see how their houses fare with 2000 guests traipsing through every 2 weeks as overall our stateroom felt appropriate for the price paid and any bumps and scrapes were minimum at best. I was particularly impressed by how quiet the rooms are. I didn't even realise we had a next door neighbour until the last night. The service was, at all times amazing. I spent a few minutes watching the waiting staff during dinner one evening- they do not stop working and smiling whilst they do it. I can barely cope with 2 hours at my work without wanting to cause bodily harm to someone with a biro so how they achieve such standards of positivity is worthy of close scientific study. On at least 2 or three occasions I heard other guest whinging about waiting for a table, or food not quite being right. Feeding 2000 demanding people in a confined, constantly moving, hot, uncomfortable space every night for months on end is a task of epic proportions and the RCI staff are real pros. It was really apparent to me that you get out of a cruise what you put into it, the families who took the time to engage with their waiters / cabin staff / bar staff, work with them and learn a bit about them get so much more out of the experience. We found Rama and Simon to be excellent, consistently. Rana brought us the wrong food twice. He also brought us extra food because he knew we liked certain dishes, made the kids special deserts, ensured we got tables we liked and helped us get the best out of the menus. Was the food perfect? No, but compared to an all you can eat cattle trough at a '4 star' hotel in Palma Nova, it was excellent each and every night. The entertainment was generally very impressive. OK, Donimo the mime / slapstick / clown act wouldn't be on my top 5 list, but the Argentinian Tango night was surprisingly good, String Fever excellent, Siobhan Phillips hilarious and Pete Matthews had the entire room in stitches. The acts were diverse, polished and a welcome end to a day's touring or sitting around drinking beer and taking in the views. Certainly a positive experience for all of the family on this cruise. The kids clubs seemed to be well run and fun- both of our children (4 and 6) can be shy yet came bounding out with stories of fun games they'd played or proudly showing off things they had made. Other activities were good time-wasters. The crazy golf provided plenty of fun, the basketball court was both a social hub and good source of exercise, climbing wall challenging and well run and plenty of music, quizzes, competitions and classes throughout the ship all the time. People seemed to be complaining about on-board 'hidden extra's. There is a simple solution to this. Don't: Eat in the speciality dining restaurants Drink lots of cocktails Go to the Spa Buy art / amber / inches of gold Use RCI to book excursions Have your picture taken We found this pretty easy. We had a picture taken on the formal night and the £40 we spent on the pictures was worth it compared to hiring a professional photographer at home. The excursions were really enjoyable but you need plenty of stamina to do 5 consecutive days. St. Petersburg is a big, beautiful, crazy and overwhelming place and will take it out of even the most hardy of guests. Copenhagen was fabulous, Tallinn quaint, interesting and attractive, Helsinki a surprising and interesting stop and Stockholm warrants a further trip. It would be beneficial if geography allows to amend the itinerary to give a sea day between Helsinki and Stockholm. It is a fantastic, beautiful city and we struggled to take it all in with grumpy, tired children. Still, the tours with SPB were well worth the money- George in Helsinki particularly deserves a mention for his wit, engaging story telling and ability to bring Finland to life for us. Skagen was OK- too small to comfortably cope with a cruise ship in port on a wet day but the shopping is good and the food was excellent. In summary, I would recommend this cruise to anyone who demands a bit more from the actual destinations of their holidays. This is not a good trip for sun worshippers or purveyors of reality TV and gossip magazines. St. Petersburg, in particular requires a bit more historical and cultural awareness than your average Spanish Coastal town- it helps to read up on Russian History (1700 to 1960). Think carefully before taking younger children or sulky teens. Ours loved the shorter more active excursions but struggled with the size of the Hermitage / walking in Stockholm. You can't expect good weather in the Baltics also, so expect a congested solarium and Spanish families filling the hot whirlpools (I'd recommend getting in with them. They can be hilarious). Get up a bit early for breakfast to get a decent seat and try to get dinner in between 6pm and 7.45pm or after 9.30pm to avoid a bit of sitting around. On the whole, this is an informal, fun cruise company who seen to get the basics right for the most part. It's not a 5 star, high-end experience and they do want to empty your wallets, but if you go into it with the right attitude you will love it. We will certainly be booking again with RCI and will seriously consider a return to the Baltics.

Wonderful memories of amazing places

Brilliance of the Seas Cruise Review by matthewbaty

3 people found this helpful
Trip Details
After several years bringing up young children, working busy jobs, generally getting older, more tired and fatter, this was a much anticipated 1st real holiday for us and the children.

We got our first taste of cruising on Serenade of the Seas in Alaska in 2005 and loved the experience of seeing some pretty inhospitable but interesting places from the comfort of a floating hotel. The Baltic Cruise seemed like a fantastic option for us- leaving from Harwich, visiting countries that possess intrigue and rich history without a searing hot sun to exhaust us and render our fair complexions charred. We also felt, correctly as it turned out, that this sort of destination might 'self-select' the other travellers better than a sun and booze seeking crowd usually attracted to the Mediterranean at this time of year. It was great being on board with so many nationalities- the Hispanics brought some much needed colour, the Americans the usual positivity and energy, a spattering of Germans, Dutch and French to balance and our fellow Brits to generally complain about everything and feel hard done by.

Check in was seamless and whilst hectic and busy, from pulling into the car park to sinking our first beer it took less than 1 hour. Had this been Heathrow, I'd have probably only have got to the stage of re-packing my hand luggage and retrieving my children from lost property within a similar timeframe, assuming, of course, that the M25 had got me there at all.

The ship, to the uninitiated is well laid out, easy to get around and provides ample space for the number of people on board. The bars are great- spacious, comfortable, good range of drinks available and regular entertainment. The cabins are cleverly designed and smart. There are signs of wear, as other people have commented. I'd be very interested to see how their houses fare with 2000 guests traipsing through every 2 weeks as overall our stateroom felt appropriate for the price paid and any bumps and scrapes were minimum at best. I was particularly impressed by how quiet the rooms are. I didn't even realise we had a next door neighbour until the last night.

The service was, at all times amazing. I spent a few minutes watching the waiting staff during dinner one evening- they do not stop working and smiling whilst they do it. I can barely cope with 2 hours at my work without wanting to cause bodily harm to someone with a biro so how they achieve such standards of positivity is worthy of close scientific study. On at least 2 or three occasions I heard other guest whinging about waiting for a table, or food not quite being right. Feeding 2000 demanding people in a confined, constantly moving, hot, uncomfortable space every night for months on end is a task of epic proportions and the RCI staff are real pros. It was really apparent to me that you get out of a cruise what you put into it, the families who took the time to engage with their waiters / cabin staff / bar staff, work with them and learn a bit about them get so much more out of the experience. We found Rama and Simon to be excellent, consistently. Rana brought us the wrong food twice. He also brought us extra food because he knew we liked certain dishes, made the kids special deserts, ensured we got tables we liked and helped us get the best out of the menus. Was the food perfect? No, but compared to an all you can eat cattle trough at a '4 star' hotel in Palma Nova, it was excellent each and every night.

The entertainment was generally very impressive. OK, Donimo the mime / slapstick / clown act wouldn't be on my top 5 list, but the Argentinian Tango night was surprisingly good, String Fever excellent, Siobhan Phillips hilarious and Pete Matthews had the entire room in stitches. The acts were diverse, polished and a welcome end to a day's touring or sitting around drinking beer and taking in the views. Certainly a positive experience for all of the family on this cruise.

The kids clubs seemed to be well run and fun- both of our children (4 and 6) can be shy yet came bounding out with stories of fun games they'd played or proudly showing off things they had made. Other activities were good time-wasters. The crazy golf provided plenty of fun, the basketball court was both a social hub and good source of exercise, climbing wall challenging and well run and plenty of music, quizzes, competitions and classes throughout the ship all the time.

People seemed to be complaining about on-board 'hidden extra's. There is a simple solution to this. Don't:

Eat in the speciality dining restaurants

Drink lots of cocktails

Go to the Spa

Buy art / amber / inches of gold

Use RCI to book excursions

Have your picture taken

We found this pretty easy. We had a picture taken on the formal night and the £40 we spent on the pictures was worth it compared to hiring a professional photographer at home.

The excursions were really enjoyable but you need plenty of stamina to do 5 consecutive days. St. Petersburg is a big, beautiful, crazy and overwhelming place and will take it out of even the most hardy of guests. Copenhagen was fabulous, Tallinn quaint, interesting and attractive, Helsinki a surprising and interesting stop and Stockholm warrants a further trip. It would be beneficial if geography allows to amend the itinerary to give a sea day between Helsinki and Stockholm. It is a fantastic, beautiful city and we struggled to take it all in with grumpy, tired children. Still, the tours with SPB were well worth the money- George in Helsinki particularly deserves a mention for his wit, engaging story telling and ability to bring Finland to life for us.

Skagen was OK- too small to comfortably cope with a cruise ship in port on a wet day but the shopping is good and the food was excellent.

In summary, I would recommend this cruise to anyone who demands a bit more from the actual destinations of their holidays. This is not a good trip for sun worshippers or purveyors of reality TV and gossip magazines. St. Petersburg, in particular requires a bit more historical and cultural awareness than your average Spanish Coastal town- it helps to read up on Russian History (1700 to 1960). Think carefully before taking younger children or sulky teens. Ours loved the shorter more active excursions but struggled with the size of the Hermitage / walking in Stockholm. You can't expect good weather in the Baltics also, so expect a congested solarium and Spanish families filling the hot whirlpools (I'd recommend getting in with them. They can be hilarious). Get up a bit early for breakfast to get a decent seat and try to get dinner in between 6pm and 7.45pm or after 9.30pm to avoid a bit of sitting around. On the whole, this is an informal, fun cruise company who seen to get the basics right for the most part. It's not a 5 star, high-end experience and they do want to empty your wallets, but if you go into it with the right attitude you will love it. We will certainly be booking again with RCI and will seriously consider a return to the Baltics.
matthewbaty’s Full Rating Summary
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Cabin Review

Cabin 7014
Comfortable. Well laid out. Great storage. 'Snug' for 4 people. Balcony was great- fantastic retreat to watch the world go by.
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