The Ocean is a small intimate ship (670 or so passengers) whose size I love. It gives you a chance to get to know some people. With passengers decks on 6-7-8 and restaurants on 5 with the buffet on 9, you can always walk the stairs if you don’t want to wait for an elevator (there’s never a long wait). Unfortunately this ship is rather worn out and has been sold to Oceania. I’m sure they will bring her back to her original glory. I do love these smaller ships.
Having said that – the one area Princess should fix is their vegetarian options in the dining room – they are pretty awful. One night there was not one vegetarian option other than the everyday offering of fettucini alfredo which was good but you can’t eat it every night. One night the option was ‘lentil cakes with fried eggs’ – please!!! This is supposed to be a luxury cruise.
This is advice I give for every cruise review: bring your own laundry soap (a few of those tablet kinds) and softener sheets for the dryer – you’ll save a lot of money. Second, do your research ahead of time about the cruise tours – they are outrageously expensive, rushed, and often conducted by people who know very little about what you’re seeing. Whenever possible, use local tours. Third, avoid the on-ship internet (.79 a minute and it is slow as molasses) – another outrageous expense – you can find local places with free wi-fi. Overall I really enjoyed this cruise and would recommend it to anyone but perhaps not on Princess - see my comments about each port stop below.
We docked a fair distance from the city (although our last cruise we docked much closer) but there is a free shuttle bus to Stoledijk train station – then to Central Station and walk to the center or Dam Square. There is also a tram from the station which is much cheaper. There are lots of canal cruises etc. available in the square - same as the cruise tours but much cheaper. Here’s a tip if you go to the Van Gogh museum – you will see long, long lines of people waiting for tickets. Don’t get in line – walk over to the Rijk museum kiosk and buy a timed ticket – less than a five minute wait for us to get in. Beware of taxi’s – they are extraordinarily expensive – much cheaper to use the tram system. You could pay for a walking tour and get a lot more out of it but do your homework first and compare what you get from the ship vs what you get from a local tour.
A 30 minute walk from the dock. They use Krone but will take Euro’s (at a bad exchange rate). We took the tour believing we wouldn’t need to use money so didn’t change anything into Krone. City Hall was a beautiful building where the Nobel laureate dinner is held each year. We also visited the Vasa museum – a 226’ warship that sank on it’s maiden voyage – perfectly preserved. A smaller exhibit there should not be missed – it’s a ‘time line’ room showing in film a narrated description of what was going on in various parts of the world at the same time – fascinating history and we didn’t have enough time to spend there. The tour was very rushed – not time to eat or to shop. That’s why I hate those tours. They tease you.
We docked about a mile and half from the city center and took the tour of upper old town and a panoramic drive. The Alexander Nevsky cathedral was a beautiful stop. We also went to an outlook to view the old city. It was a Sunday so the Dome Church was not open to us. Some good shopping. Our guide was fabulous and funny (Anneli Kritsmann-Lekstedt with Hansatours - - email firstname.lastname@example.org). She explained the current situation there and their distrust and dislike of Russia. She said they have a ‘love-hate’ relationship: Putin would ‘love’ to get Estonia back and they would ‘hate’ that. Their freedom came at a high price but they value it. Almost 54% of their earnings go to taxes, some of which is to support their elders. When Russia pulled out, the older folks who had been working for the Russian system lost any retirement savings – so the younger folks have to pick up that deficit – but they are more than willing to do that in order to be free.
St Petersburg, Russia:
I was told that if you don’t use the cruise ship tours, you have to get a tourist visa at a cost of about $330 each. That made us book the ship tours and I’ll describe those below. However, I subsequently heard from other travelers that you can book tours through local tour agencies and not pay the visa – so do your homework first because these tours were about $200/person per day – ouch! And as always, they are ‘hurry up and wait’ and completely rushed. Day one we did the City Drive, Hermitage Museum and St. Isaac’s Cathedral. Lots of walking so be prepared. Breath-taking beautifully buildings – ornate – covered with gold and very much in excess – no wonder they had a revolution. Our guide was very knowledgeable but also very old-school- she kept referring to the ‘glorious soviet revolution’ to the point we were starting to giggle every time she said it. Day two: Catherine and Peterhof Palaces – more gold, more excess – more beauty, yes. Our guide that day was a young woman who was somewhat flippant and very funny. She commented on the older guide (who also was on this tour for half the group) and said “As Marina would say “the ‘glorious’ soviet…..etc.” she clearly did not agree with the word ‘glorious.’ Our younger guide also commented somewhat disparagingly on Putin but we didn’t pursue it. On the ride to Peterhof you will see some soviet era building that is pretty depressing. Also a lot of new residential construction – large towers of apartments. There will be a few single family homes on the way - notable for their rareness. St. Petersburg is undoubtedly a beautiful city – the architecture is amazing.
DO NOT MISS this city- if your planned cruise doesn’t stop here – take another cruise. This city is spectacular. Small but overwhelmingly beautiful. Their art nouveau architecture is not to be missed. I can’t even begin to explain the beauty of this city. We also toured the old city. You can walk off the ship and cross over the highway into the old town – it’s very close. I have photos of these buildings that no one can believe – they are that beautiful. When Russia took over they nationalized these buildings and five to six families shared each large apartment – that meant sharing one kitchen and bath – can’t even imagine that.
Docked about a 15 minute walk to the center. We took the tour “Klaipeda, Old Town, Amber Museum and Palanga.” Klaipeda is not the capital – it’s a small harbor town – not very interesting. Palanga was a five minute stop – very disappointing. Amber Museum was interesting but don’t buy their amber jewelry – it’s cheaper on the street for the exact same things (except for their expensive stuff which you can’t find on the street). Another very rushed tour.
One of my favorite cities. Docked about a 20 minute walk to the center. We had been here before touring so this time we just got ourselves on the hop-on hop-off bus (although it wasn’t even necessary unless you haven’t been there before). Small shops right at the dock if you forget something – but they are more expensive of course. Tivoli is just a big amusement park – the inspiration for DisneyWorld. Our favorite place is Nyhaven – just walk around and admire the canal, the boats, the people, the café’s = the ‘life.’ It is a wonderful way to spend a day.
Beginning and end point for this cruise. Spend a few days here if you can before or after the cruise. Dover Castle is a fabulous place to tour – especially if you admire Eleanor Aquitaine – you will learn about the Plantagenets - Eleanor and Henry II – and their brood of horrible kids. Sit for a photo in the reproduction of their thrones. During WWII there was a hospital built in the tunnels there under the White Cliffs – also military meetings rooms etc. Very interesting if you’re not claustrophobic (just the getting in part – once you’re inside you don’t notice it). Also don’t miss the Roman Painted House – “Britain’s Buried Pompeii” – ok it’s not that big or impressive but it is certainly interesting and worth seeing. Discovered during an excavation for building – it is the remains of a hotel almost 2000 years old. Open April through August except on Mondays – run by volunteers so call before going : 01304 203279. You’ll also learn about the many more discoveries in ancient Dover.
So overall, the ports of call were good to excellent.
remember this ship is old and has been sold - so it's not in great condition now. I have cruised Oceania before (they bought this ship) and expect them to upgrade it beautifully. I love the smaller ships.