We were organizing a three generation girl's tour, with my mother (87 and spry), daughter (35 and an experienced traveller) and myself (64, small mobility issue). Our plan was to stop over for 3 days in Iceland, and then visit family in Denmark, and we decided that this cruise would give us an opportunity to extend our trip and get a brief overview of other countries we had only experienced through the news and history books.
The planning went extremely well. We had a day in Stockholm before embarking, and used a HOHO bus to get a look at the city. The airport was quite a distance from the city and from the port, so allow time to get to your destination.
The ship, Serenade of the Seas, was huge! It is quite new, and has deservedly won an award for the best crew team at least twice. We were impressed with the crew who proudly represent 65 nationalities, and that there were 53 nationalities in the guest makeup. It was like a little world within the ship - only a friendly, accommodating world with people getting along. Also the efficiency of loading the equivalent a of small town onto a ship in 3 hours and getting them all happily established in their quarters was wonderful to see.
It was a real pleasure that the Captain of the vessel, Captain Tor, was Norwegian. His patter was excellent, and we loved seeing him appear at so many of the events, and interact with the passengers. His jokes were great, (I hope the Chief Engineer finds the keys to the ship) and he plays a mean guitar!
We booked the 6:00 pm dining hour, for dinner, although we don't normally eat that early. However, we wanted to be free to enjoy the other evening activities. The meals were lovely, and varied. A little bland, but that is to be expected when planning food for 2,500 people of 53 nationalities! One night, after talking to a crew member about his country, we asked if the kitchen could prepare a special Philippine dish, and the next night it was proudly presented to us! And it was delicious! Our servers were friendly and all of them were professional, efficient, and extremely helpful.
We enjoyed the variety of the Entertainment and activities on board, although with 5 days of shore excursions we didn't have a chance to climb walls or use the pools. But we did enjoy a couple of Spa experiences including excellent foot reflexology from the lovely Peruvian, Dio. The shows were entertaining, varied, child friendly. Everybody seemed to be happy with the shows. Topi, the Entertainment Director and Aysy, were approachable and charming. Aysy is Russian and gave a great presentation on Russian history and culture.
Regarding the Ports of Call and shore excursions, all were interesting and exactly what we came to see. It was a shame that 7 huge Cruiseships came into St Petersburgh for the same 2 day period. This was not the fault of the Serenade of the Seas, but it took over two hours to clear the customs to start our tour of St Petersburgh. We were 2.5 hours late starting on the itinerary, and already tired from standing in line. The crush of tours through the main attractions was very difficult - hot, crowded, and we had to keep following our guide and keeping an eye out for the other people in our group. The variety of things we saw was excellent. I used Alla Tours for the two day excursion, and also for a evening Ballet performance of Sleeping Beauty.
Tip: In Tallin, it is possible to walk independently around the old walled town, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and truly beautiful. We found a good map, and explored on our own, which was a good change from chasing tour guides in St Petersburgh. (But thank heavens for the tour guide in St. P!)
We did not travel with children, but we were impressed by the number of families on board. They all seemed to have a great time, and many of the families we talked to had children who love cruising, because of the activities.
I have only one point I would like to make concerning the level of "upselling" on the ship both before, during and after the cruise. It was incessant and confusing. Offers for extra restaurants, drink packages, spa packages, sales in the gift shop, casino packages, and book your next cruise really took away from the experience. I actually felt at one point that we might not get access to water unless I bought the water package!
However, outside of that small concern, which we soon learned to ignore, we had a great trip. And give me a trip with that many ports of call any time! (Especially in a comfortable climate - I don't like hot weather, or lying around any time).
Happy cruising, and thank you Serenade of the Sea!
We had a twin room with a porthole, 3rd level, and a single room without a porthole 4th level. I recommend getting a porthole for summer cruising in the Baltic, with all the daylight, and for checking the scenery first thing in the morning. The twin room had a tiny couch too, so it was more relaxing than the windowless single room. Both rooms were spotless with excellent room attendants.
Tip! Level 4 is the same level as the Centrum Bar and the Guest Services and the Reflections Dining Room. This was a very convenient level, especially for an older passenger.
We had a day in Stockholm before embarking. We thoroughly enjoyed it and used a HOHO bus to get an overview of the city before walking around the area near our hostel, the Stockholm Generator Hostel. (good price for a clean room)
We used the HOHO bus here to tour Helsinki and get a feel for the city. We visited a couple of really interesting places and poked around a little.
The crowds were huge since there were 7 large and two medium size cruise ships in port at the same time. Our tour group was only 12, so we were able to keep together and make our way through the Palace without losing anybody.View All 114 Amber Room Reviews
Impressive, beautiful and over the top consumerism in a different age. Crowded, and after a while the excessive consumerism of the time gave me a new appreciation of the Revolution in 1917.View All 226 Catherine Palace Reviews
Fabulous! First stop, so we were fresh and eager. And it wasn't too crowded. I gained an understanding of Russian Orthodox religion. And it is so exotically beautiful.View All 210 Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood Reviews
Crowded - not the tour organizer's fault but there is no way that so many people should be allowed in at once! An interesting museum, and an example of collecting and showing things from outside your own culture.View All 377 Hermitage Museum Reviews
Great trip and way to see the city from the water.View All 152 Neva River Cruise Reviews
The day was so packed, and there were so many traffic snarls and cruise ships in port that we were afraid we would not get back to the ship on time.View All 114 Peter & Paul Fortress Reviews
We saw Sleeping Beauty at the Mikhailvsky Theatre. The performance was sublime. Costumes, staging, orchestra, dancers, and our front row seats! Also the being left at a restaurant in St P for dinner before the performance gave us a tiny taste of being independent in the city. I know these performances are for tourists, but they keep dancers and musicians employed and allow for large, spectacular scenery sets that a short run would not allow. I visited my inner little girl, and my imagined perfection of ballet.View All 99 Russian Ballet Show Reviews
Really interesting.View All 113 St. Isaac's Cathedral Reviews
One of the highlights of the tours was this city. The UNESCO World Heritage Site status granted to the walled inner city is truly deserved. I am amazed it all survived the wars and destruction of the last century and this one too. Easy to walk around, and great maps to help you identify where you are.
This was confusing, and we did not get to use the canal cruise. There is competition between two companies using the hop on hop off wording, and they use similar buses. This should be straightened out. The city is nice but we didn't get to experience it as much as we would have liked. TIP: Visit the Market - it is huge and operates from 5 zepplin hangers from the first world war.View All undefined undefined Reviews