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Zuiderdam Review

4.0 / 5.0
Editor Rating
1070 reviews
32 Awards

Baltic Cruises & Making the Most of St. Petersburg

Review for Zuiderdam to the Baltic Sea
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TheChicagoDude
6-10 Cruises • Age 50s

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Additional details

Sail Date: Jun 2018
Cabin: Neptune Deluxe Verandah Suite

Our fourth cruise with Holland America, we booked about a year ago after hearing about the Baltic experience from a relative. Unlike some cruises there is no particular reason to be on a specific side of the ship. We were on the Upper Promenade deck amidships, with a large balcony cabin. There are great parts of this cruise that the balcony is a wonderful place to watch the scenery, including especially entry and exit to Stockholm.

We had booked the "Signature Experience" in Copenhagen prior to start of the cruise. HAL representatives met us at the Copenhagen airport, and we were taken to the Scandic Hotel - a tired, barely serviceable hotel in central Copenhagen. We spent two nights in this hotel. We also went with several dozen other cruise passengers to visit a Kronberg Castle, and the suggested dinner never materialized - replaced by finger food and one glass of champagne. Hardly a "Signature Experience", but oh well. . .

Our luggage was left outside our room for collection and transport to the ship. Nice!

Cabin Review

Neptune Deluxe Verandah Suite

Cabin SB

These cabins were recently remodeled (we were on this same ship in mid-2017 on the Alaska run). The cabins are more up-to-date now. Charging ports for USB/phone devices, a much larger television, and new "soft-furnishings" were a welcome touch.

Internet service was mostly unusable. This despite our purchasing the most expensive package which says "suitable for streaming". You couldn't even stream an audio-only feed, and web pages routinely stalled.

If the airlines can do it with an aluminum tube traveling 500mph, it baffles me why the cruise ships still can't figure it out. Internet provider is a company, Speedcast, managed by PJ Beylier (pj@speedcast.com). Drop him a line with your bad experience, as HAL doesn't seem to care about this service at all.

Port Reviews

St. Petersburg

I am a long-time, experienced traveler and reviewer on TripAdvisor. My reviews often have insights that many find useful.

Most travelers interested in the Baltic Cruises are especially interested in the visit to St. Petersburg. Many (including us) know little about the Russian "royalty", the Romanov's, and the history of Russia and Eastern Europe prior to the 1917 Revolution. Visits to St. Petersburg are complicated, with the visa situation and the incessant warnings about issues facing western travelers to Russia and related countries.

There is a lot of interest to see in St. Petersburg, which makes the visits there especially important to plan properly. You can't just rock up and decide you're going to "do it yourself". Actually you CAN, but I can assure you you won't save any money and you won't cover the kind of territory that you need to cover in order to have had a proper experience here. We're fairly young (60ish) and very fit, and routinely plan our own excursions (electric bicycling in Athens, four-wheel-driving in Rhodes), for example. But St. Petersburg is NOT the place to do this.

The major attractions are all pretty far from each other, and much of your tour time can be eaten up by travel to these places.

Even more importantly, the size of these attractions mean that without an experienced guide you're going to spend too much time queuing, wandering aimlessly around these museums, and trying to make sense of what was the Romanovs.

After a fair amount of investigation, we decided on a tour company that, while not the biggest, was able to produce the kind of experience that guaranteed we saw the important parts and didn't waste time. We did it all in one LONG day - we were tired, but not disappointed. (Our Apple watches said almost 30K steps).

The tour company is http://tzar-travel.com/

We couldn't have been any more impressed with the tour guide we were given. You know you're doing well when the guide skirts the long line at the Hermitage, flashes a badge and a few quiet words at the entrance, and you are whisked into the museum BEFORE PUBLIC HOURS. This happened everywhere we went, and we could see long queues of Zuiderdam passengers waiting in the cold and drizzly weather, uncovered, wearing trash bags instead of proper rain gear.

More importantly, the guide knew the important works of art in the Hermitage, mixed in with all the pedestrian art that so intrigued the Romanovs. Instead of wandering around aimlessly like so many tour groups did, she took us on a comprehensive viewing of the important artworks from both a historical standpoint as well as to describe the life and times of Russian history. I'm telling you, it couldn't have been any better.

The same was true at Peterhof Grand Palace, Church of Spilled Blood, the Winter Palace, and several other important sites in St. Petersburg.

The opportunity to visit a place like this is for most a once-in-a-lifetime experience. We feel like we came away with a depth of understanding about this period of history that we don't think others even on two-day tours get from their time in this destination.

Kiel

Don't be fooled. KIEL ISN'T ANYWHERE NEAR HAMBURG! We wanted to visit the Miniatur Museum in Hamburg, and needed to rent a car to get there. We've driven often on German autobahns, so weren't intimidated by the drive. But billing Kiel as "Hamburg" is very incorrect.

So jammed up was the autobahn traffic there were several organized tour buses that were late to the ship by almost two hours!

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