Overall a solid 11-day Baltic cruise where we made lots of good memories, with some minor quibbles. My main advice: DO NOT get a cabin on the Emerald Deck above the Princess Theater. You WILL hear bass rumbling through your cabin at midnight. Also, watch out for pickpockets, they struck twice during our trip!
Regal Princess is beautiful. It's more low-key compared to Royal Caribbean's Allure of the Seas (which I had sailed on last year)-- there's no waterslides, mini-golf ranges, rock climbing, surf simulator, etc.
But that's ok, because Royal Caribbean's activities bordered on the gimmicky, whereas Regal is more laidback. At first I was taken aback at how Regal seemed to be "missing" all these features, but I actually ended up liking it. On Royal Caribbean you get FOMO when there's an overwhelming # of activities/things to do. On Regal, I felt more relaxed without having to rush from event to event. It just depends on what style you like. I'm in my early 30s without kids, so I liked Princess' more low-key approach. But, if you have kids who easily get bored, another line might be better. A Scandinavia/Russia itinerary wouldn't be the best choice for kids anyway.
We were in a Deluxe Balcony E208 (near the bow), upgraded automatically by Princess from a regular Balcony. The room is beautiful, but we had 2 problems:
1) It's right above the Princess Theater. Shows end at 11PM, but every other night they screen movies there afterwards. It's maddening when it's after midnight and you're trying to sleep because the ship gets into port at 6AM and you can hear the rumbling from an action scene from Black Panther below. Even more maddening that hardly anyone goes to the movie (I saw ~10 people in the theater), but it inconveniences dozens of poor people on Emerald Deck above trying to fall asleep. Bring earplugs if you stay here.
2) We had the dreaded neighbors from hell. It was a big family that did not control their kids at all. Their kids would run up and down the hall at 1AM, slamming their cabin doors repeatedly, singing at the top of their lungs at 1:30AM with their cabin door open, watching TV at full volume at 12:30AM, and so on. On the 3rd night, we complained directly to them, which helped for just one night, then they got noisy again.
Eventually we complained to two different agents at Guest Services, the second agent was super helpful and moved us to E721, also a Deluxe Balcony in the stern of the ship. It was blissfully quiet there-- not a single sound from the Vista Lounge below, and our neighbors were quiet as mice.
Overall, I wish Princess and other cruise lines would work with shipbuilders to improve noise insulation in the cabins. For example, the cabin doors don't close properly and sometimes the only way to close them is to slam them, which sends a shudder through nearby cabins. It's not much of a vacation when you're getting less than 6 hrs of sleep. Plus, the ship's thrusters would wake us up at 6AM when docking.
Our steward (Dhon, from the Philippines) was great, we made sure to tip him generously.
COMPARED TO ROYAL CARIBBEAN
Princess is more low-key and relaxed. Royal Caribbean more adrenaline-heavy activities and gimmicky. I do think though Princess could introduce *a little* more innovation in their ships without being as gimmicky as RCCL.
I liked how Princess is less in your face with upselling. It's still there, but not as persistent.
Self-serve laundromats on every deck is a HUGE plus ($3 for wash, $3 for dry, $1.50 for soap; buy using your shipboard card). I respect how Princess isn't always trying to nickel-and-dime you whereas other cruise lines charge $30 to do your laundry.
Free room service is also a plus, and another example of Princess not always resorting to nickel-and-diming its customers.
*Main Dining Room*
I highly recommend Traditional Dining-- it seemed like Anytime Dining always had a wait for a table. We had 5:30PM traditional dining in the Concert Dining Room-- which is a bit early-- but we'd always just go for second dinner at the Horizon Court buffet later anyway.
Our waitstaff was solid.
Food quality in the main dining rooms was adequate, not great. It's about on par with Royal Caribbean... edible but definitely not restaurant quality. You can definitely tell that the cruise lines are cutting budgets here.
*Horizon Court Buffet*
Finally, a buffet that is actually spacious and large enough with plenty of selections! Although I'm a foodie, I'm also not too picky about food and the vast amount of choice here outweighs the fact that it's mass-produced quality. You'll definitely be able to find something that suits your taste here. We ate second dinner here every night, as well as breakfast. The best part is sometimes, at dinner, they have leftover shrimp cocktail and mussels for you to help yourself to. Also, the grilled jumbo shrimps were amazing!
I liked it, others in my group gave mixed reviews. The singers/dancers are pretty good, and we soon became fans of them and went to each of their shows (they perform 4 shows on the 11-night cruise). No Broadway-style musicals here, but I guess it's nice that the shows are short (~1 hr). Born to Dance was probably the best. Bravo was good too. Fiera was... kinda weird, especially the baby scene.
Port-heavy itinerary, but 3 sea days is a nice balance which provides some relaxation.
Here're my comments on each of the ports:
OSLO- Oslo's docking schedule (10AM-11PM) was perfect. Nice relaxing start instead of waking up at the crack of dawn, and we had a leisurely dinner in the city (enjoying delicious fresh shrimp on the docks at a restaurant called Lektern, highly recommended!) without the stress of running back to the ship.
Also, huge bonus that the ship docks within easy walking distance of the city center.
The Viking Ship Museum is a must, and the open air folk museum is great for anyone interested in history and who enjoys poking around old cabins. The old Stave Church is worth the trip alone.
The National Gallery was closed on Mondays- so no Scream for us-- but the Munch Museum was enjoyable, even if the Scream isn't on display there either.
BERLIN (WARNEMUNDE): We loved Berlin, and understand the difficult logistics of getting there. Still, we wished that the ship would dock longer (12 hrs is still too short given the 3 hr journey each way to Berlin). We did the Berlin-On-Your-Own train ride excursion through Princess, and the train journey was less than comfortable, with lots of random stops/delays, and the train cars were old and not air conditioned. The tour guide in our car Henning was great though. (Note: Other members of our group chose to do an SPB Tour instead and said it was good, though not quite as good as the SPB tour in St. Petersburg.)
TALLINN-- 15-20 min walk to the Old Town. Enjoyable walk through the maze of old town streets.
ST PETERSBURG-- We booked an SPB Tour here instead of a Princess excursion, and do not regret it. It's about 40% cheaper than Princess, with a smaller group size, and our guides were superb and spoke nearly native English. And we went to the same places as the Princess Tours.
There was hardly any wait at immigration, which was a pleasant surprise given all the horror stories we'd read online. We met at the Concerto Dining Room at 7AM to get our disembarkation ticket (your entire party must be there). At 7:20AM, they called our number. We disembarked, and there was MAYBE 5 people in line ahead of us at immigration. We were out the doors at 7:30AM, plenty of time in advance of our 8:30AM tour start. Luckily our SPB guide was already there waiting for us, so we got an early start to our tour.
HELSINKI-- too short time in port, but Helsinki is lighter on sights anyway. Regal docks in West Harbor at Lansiterminaali, so you need to take the cruise shuttle bus or public transportation into the city center. We chose to do the shuttle bus out of convenience. It's 10 euros round trip, drops you off next to the Stockmann department store, and they had lots of buses running so we didn't have to wait too long. Go to the stalls at Market Square, buy some fresh strawberries and some delicious grilled salmon.
STOCKHOLM (Nynashamn)- Stockholm was a favorite of ours. Too bad it's a 1 hour train journey from where Regal docks in Nynashman. My understanding is that it's too difficult (or too costly) for a big ship like Regal to navigate the archipelago all the way to Stockholm.
To take the train to Stockholm by yourself for $20, instead of paying Princess $66 for a bus:
1) Walk off the ship and there is a tourist information tent right there that will sell you 24 hour Stockholm public transport cards. It works for the train, subway, buses, and ferries, so it's seamless. There was a 5 min wait to buy the cards.
2) Walk 20 minutes to the train station, following the blue line on the sidewalk. So, this walk took longer than expected, esp. in the grueling sun. Make sure to leave plenty of time to catch your train. We almost missed it because the walk took a while.
3) Take Train 43 towards Stockholm City. The journey takes about an hour.
Check out this site beforehand which explains how to take the train. Note the train times there are wrong-- always double check on sl.se before you go. The guys working at the tent did give us an updated handout with accurate info though: (http://www.visitnynashamn.se/en/home/cruise/faq.4.2447cef013e3c1b82892878.html)
The Vasa Museum was a highlight but very crowded. Skansen had some interesting animals like reindeer and a wolf, but I wouldn't consider it a "must-see". I think the folk museum in Oslo and in Iceland were better.
COPENHAGEN--- we chose Do-It-Yourself disembarkation, as it allowed us to stay on the ship longer. We packed up at 8AM (they say you must vacate your stateroom then, though in practice we were able to stay until 8:30). We then took our bags up to the buffet and ate breakfast, then self-disembarked there. Super easy. We took bus #25 back into the city center and enjoyed a few more hours in Copenhagen before our flight.
WARNING ABOUT PICKPOCKETS-- they struck twice in our group of 16 people, once in Copenhagen and once in Helsinki. In Copenhagen, they stole $1000 cash and passports from a zipped-up purse from one of our group members somewhere at Tivoli Gardens. In Helsinki, a pickpocket tried to open the backpack of another one of us inside the Lutheran Cathedral but we caught them. Pretty brazen inside a church! Use a money belt or neck wallet, and never take unnecessary cash or credit cards off the ship; keep them in the ship's safe.
OVERALL PORTS: We liked the energy of Berlin, and the beauty/energy of Stockholm. Oslo was nice too. We definitely wouldn't mind planning another trip back to either of those cities. Helsinki is futuristic, feels kind of like the MIT campus, but with fewer things to do. St. Petersburg was very interesting, but also didn't feel like a "real" city (big military presence, not a lot of sidewalk cafes or people strolling around like you see in most European cities).
DO NOT get this cabin-- or any other cabins above the Princess Theater, unless you enjoy hearing pumping bass vibrating your cabin every night until 11PM or sometimes even until 12:30AM. I fall asleep easily anywhere but even here I had to wear earplugs to fall asleep.
We got switched to E721 (same category, near the stern) and it was MUCH better.
Otherwise the cabin was nicely furnished and larger than the average ship cabin.