We booked this particular cruise to celebrate our silver wedding anniversary. Admittedly the itinerary appealed more than the ship itself.
It was the first time we sailed from Southampton - previously choosing fly-cruises. Embarkation was efficient and straightforward and we were amazed how quickly we were on board. In fact - our luggage was already outside our room by the time we finished lunch and we were soon unpacked an able to enjoy our holiday.
The ship itself was lovely and on par with P&O's Ventura in terms of layout and facilities. There was an interesting mix of passengers - British guests, people travelling from the USA, Canada, Australia etc. This also reflected in the activities and entertainment - whihc felt very much "home from home".
We were allocated stateroom A204 on deck 12. Whilst the room itself was ok - well maintained, always cleaned to a high standard, decent facilities etc - it was right next to a service staircase and as such our sleep quality was compromised. We appreciate this was not deliberate on the part of the crew, but the constant "up and down" metal stairs meant we were woken up early each day. We initially offered this as feedback to guest services - who acknowledged our concern and suggested we return if the situation did not improve. It didn't... A second visit to a different advisor produced a worse outcome. She was unhelpful, unsympathetic and offered no solution. In fact she sent our newly appointed cabin steward to speak to us. It was only by using his initiative did he elect to put up a sign to remind the crew. He should be promoted (perhaps the guest service advisor should swop jobs with him!)
We mainly used the Botticelli Dining Room (second sitting) as we found the buffet restaurant to be noisy and chaotic. Meals were varied and of a good quality and the waiter staff were very helpful. We also used the International Cafe as a great alternative to breakfast or lunch. This is open 24 hours a day and continued to stock fresh sandwiches, breakfast muffins, cakes etc. It was possibly the busiest area of the ship - but not in an irritating way - ie. things were always going on around you.
Excellent! A tremendous variety of acts performed throughout the two weeks ranging from comedians, professional singers, tribute shows, etc. The main cast were wonderful and put on lavish productions covering all genres of music. It was lovely!
Day time activities offered something for everyone (although more limited on port days as you would expect). We were even treated to an audience with Hollywood actor James Cosmo.
Our only criticism is that several activities centred around "selling" - particularly the Effy jewellary shop who made a persistent and determined effort to offer their wares throughout the cruise. (Every Princess Patter included inserts selling something or another...) It reminded me a little of the Blanket Tours offered on the Spanish Costas. It's not the first time we have encountered this sort of tactic - but it seemed much more obvious on this cruise.
As mentioned - we encountered a problem with guest services - but other than that the remainder of the crew were courteous and helpful.
Three Happy Hours per day! This really attracted the crowds - offering a "Buy One Get One for 1$". A good selection of venues ranging from quiet areas such as the Adagio Bar - to more lively encounters at the Explorers Lounge or Wheelhouse Bar.
Easy to get a sunbed (not that it was that hot!) and we were able to sit out and enjoy the views. Useful addition of a sports deck - mini golf, bowls, croquet as well as a basket ball court and walking track.
We took a tour to Ypres, Flanders Fields Museum and Bruges. It was great... Visiting World War 1 & 2 sites - was very moving. The centre of Ypres was charming and peaceful providing an opportunity to walk at leisure before visiting the more busy city of Bruges. The expert guide took us on an interesting walking tour of the centre before allowing us some free time to enjoy a drink/snack.
The surprise port of the trip. A beautiful city... Our only criticism is that we docked closed to the centre than originally stated. This meant we felt obliged to book an excursion that we probably didn't need as the Hop On bus was close by! That said our excursion was excellent - again led by an expert guide who took us out of the city to Sigtuna (one of the earliest settlements). We returned to the centre to visit the awesome Vasa Viking Museum. Definitely recommend a visit.
Another great port and within walking distance of the Old Town. We would recommend walking (if you are able) or getting a taxi, as the Hop On bus did not offer a great deal in terms of sites. The market square was bustling with cafes, bars and shops. The medieval quarter was lively and interesting. Generally it was cheap to eat out and shop.
St Petersburg -
The highlight of the cruise! Yes, immigration is a pain in the neck - but it is worth the hassle! We took three tours here to avoid any confusion around navigation/language. All three were brilliant!
We marvelled at the Hermitage Museum - a ostentatious display of wealth and opulence. It seemed what Catherine the Great wanted - she got! Following this spectacle - we enjoyed free time in the main shopping area and were able to visit the magnificent Church of he Saviour of Spilled Blood.
Our second tour we visited the Ballet. Whilst the production itself was excellent we were somewhat disappointed by the venue. The theatre was on par with a school hall - with the orchestra and conductor on the same level as the audience. A little bit distracting...
Our final trip took us along the canals and river - a terrific way to see the city.
Unfortunately the weather was against us so we only did a quick sweep of the city on the Hop On tour. There were very few stops - so I'm not sure it would have been any better had we got off to explore further.
Another lovely port. We took a tour to the city centre, taking in the Basilica and main street. We also visited the Solidarity Movement Museum which was fantastic!
All in all, we had a great holiday. Unfortunately the noise issue in the room prevented it from being perfect.
I would not recommend this room due to noise issues coming from the service stairway along side.