We are seasoned cruisers with DH finally reaching the “laundry” level on Princess. We have originally booked Alaska on Royal, but switched to Regal in Baltic fairly last minute. We do love the Royal Class ships – better buffet, Alfredo’s, Princess Live, Enclave, etc. Below are my thoughts and observations from our 11 day Baltic adventure.
Ship. We have sailed on Regal last year before Medallion was fully operational and were excited to try the full power of the gadget. Overall, my experience with it was very positive: shipmates function worked very well, I was able to order drinks to the room and my DS enjoyed all the games, especially Ocean Trek Adventure.
What I absolutely disliked: 4 apps instead of one (why???) and to top it all off the most important and useful info was not even in the apps, but on ocean.com. Hopefully IT will figure out how to combine all these functions into one app. Also, last year internet on Regal was amazing. This year, it was sluggish.
Regardless, we love the Royal class ships and Regal didn’t disappoint again.
Room. For the first time we have tried the “deluxe balcony”. The room is slightly bigger than standard balcony and has a small couch. We were on emerald deck in one of the ”obstructed” balconies. Great room with very good room steward and no obstruction except for a deck below. It was a bit small for 3 people in terms of clothes storage, but would be perfect for 2 people longing for the “barrel” chair.
Fellow Passengers. So far we sailed mostly Caribbean cruises with Panama Canal, Tahiti and New England thrown in, ie mostly Canadian, American and Australian passengers. On this cruise the mix was decidedly different: A LOT of Asian (Chinese and Japanese) tourists, which did not mingle with others and largely didn’t speak English. Ordinarily this wouldn’t bother me at all, but this was my first Princess cruise where I have witnessed a fight between passengers. Asian lady was hoarding a table full of $10 sale items and when another lady came over and tried a scarf on (thinking it was another display table), Asian lady yanked the scarf off of the other lady and struck her in the head with a fist. Both DS and I were in complete shock.
Also, this was the first itinerary where passengers can board at any port of call. Personally, I found this to be distracting, especially when you cant even enjoy the Enclave because of spa tours in every port.
Entertainment. We have sailed on Regal quite recently, so we have seen most of the production shows. I personally really like both Fiera and Born to Dance, so we have seen them again. Missing from usual line up was a stand up comedian, instead they had two different “variety” acts and some “American Idol” finalist we didn’t bother to see. We have sailed before with Alexander Yepremian, who is an AMAZING cruise director and he personally didn’t disappoint again. However, his stuff I found quite lacking. Staff was fairly large (4 assistant cruise directors) and suitably enthusiastic. But where Alexander is naturally funny, witty and welcoming, their interactions felt very forced and frankly “I don’t get the reference” jokes are only somewhat funny the first two times (and this is coming from non-native English speaker). One of our favorite game shows (Marriage) was absolutely ruined by an inexperienced and just plainly bad at hosting game shows host.
I have to give another shout out to Alexander and Martin (entertainment director) for organizing Princess Rock Orchestra. It was quite an event! Showband and both resident bands played a set in the piazza with Rock hits. It was 4 people deep “standing room only” event that was absolutely AWESOME! I hope this event will get exported to other ships in the fleet.
Ports. We did a mixture of DIY and Princess tours. In order of appearance:
• Stockholm. Princess tour “Vikings to Vasa”. Would not recommend. Tour did not give enough time at the Viking museum, which is amazing. Our guide talked in one spot of the museum for 20 min out of whole 30 min allotted. Most of that speech could be summarized in the following “I have never seen series “Vikings”, but whatever you think you learned from that is wrong”. I haven’t seen the series either, but when museum itself uses scenes from the series as décor and promo items, they cant be that far off! In any case, Viking museum in Stockholm is very interactive with plenty of costumed staff to explain and show things (very welcoming, speak different languages) and is far superior to the Viking museum in Oslo (see below) in terms of what you can learn about Viking history. There is also a “ride” that is supposed to explain how Vikings became what they are, if you have time for it, do it, as it is quite humorous (probably not the intention though). My DS’s take on that was that the wife nagged her husband to go become a Viking. After not enough time in the Viking museum we walked over to Vasa museum. As usual with large groups, there will be some people whose time is vastly more important that the rest of us mere mortals, so naturally we ended up waiting for them while they were being located. I personally didn’t care for Vasa museum, but DH thought it was awesome, so to each its own. I just don’t understand why Swedes would feel so strongly about what is actually a complete failure (Vasa sank in Stockholm harbor mere minutes into its maiden voyage). Ship itself has very interesting art on it. I believe my disappointment with it is mostly due to our guide, who again blabbed on somewhat related topics for the most of the allotted time with mere 10 min to explore on our own.
Sailing in and out of Stockholm was spectacular. However, I have heard that this was one and only time Regal will be going all the way in instead of Nynashamn.
• Helsinki. We went to Suomenlinna fortress on our own. Very quick and easy ride there on public ferry. Explored the fortress and most of the museums (fair warning from 10 yo DS: Toy museum is not worth it and is complete rip off). Grounds are very pretty, you can go into the cavelike rooms inside fortress walls. Overall we had very good time and learned something new. I was not aware that Finland was Nazi ally in WWII.
• St. Petersburg. Private tour of all the city highlights. We used City Break Tours to make us a very custom itinerary of all the “must-sees”. We had a private guide, Masha, who spoke excellent English, and driver Yuri. Masha was extremely knowledgeable guide, I have learned quite a few things from her! They took as to the following places per our agreed upon itinerary (I have been to SPB twice as a kid, so my observations are somewhat tainted by that fact):
o Faberge Museum. DH loved it, both DS and I felt like it could have been easily skipped. Unless you really LOVE all things Faberge (DH), this could be easily forfeited for something else.
o Hermitage. We did standard 2 hour tour with all the highlights (and crowds), plus visited “special interest” rooms for DS – mummies and weapons (unfortunately knights room was not open). Additionally, we visited “treasure rooms”, these are separate $$$ fee entry with separate guide assigned to your party. There are 3 gold rooms with gold artefacts dating back 600 AD and 2 diamond rooms with tsar trinkets. Kremlin’s “treasure gallery” (I forget what is really called) is way better. Again, DH LOVED it (he loves shiny things), both DS and I were bored and could have easily passed on them, especially given the $ amount it costs to enter. We ate lunch at Hermitage café, crowded, but food is very tasty and pastries/cakes were divine! Word of warning, all Russian sandwiches come with mayo and/or mustard already inside. Could be a problem (DS).
o Last stop on day 1 (after picture stop in Palace Square) was Peterhoff fountain Park and the Grand Palace. All three famous palaces (Winter Palace/Hermitage, Peterhoff/Grand Palace and Pushkin/Catherine’s Palace) are very similar in architecture and décor (gold, gold and more gold) and frankly if it wasn’t for DH (again, he loves shiny things), I would have skipped Pushkin or Hermitage in favor of something else. Note, that you have to wear protective shoe covers in both summer residences, DS got a kick out of them at least. We did love the fountains in Peterhoff and that walk in the park was great after long day of looking at jewelry and gilded everything.
o We did evening boat cruise which was also very good. Gives you different perspective on all the buildings when you view them from water.
o Day 2 started with drive to Pushkin/Catherine’s Palace. Frankly to me this was the most underwhelming out of all of them. Yes, very pretty palace with gorgeous décor, but it was least authentic out of all of them, because it was completely levelled and looted during Siege of Leningrad. So whatever you see there is either a replica or has been completely redone. Amber room was also supremely underwhelming to me. Gardens were great – pretty and had a separate very small palace Catherine the Great built for herself to entertain her lovers. Very interesting story and spot made even more special for us because Masha (our guide) got married there and shared her amazing pictures.
o Monument to Defenders of Leningrad. This was a “must-see” on my list for DS, so he can experience WWII from USSR people standpoint. Small exhibition, but very moving.
o St. Isaac’s. I chose only one out of 3 cathedrals, because St. Isaac’s is my personal favorite. It didn’t disappoint any of us. Definitely must for anyone visiting SPB.
o Last stop for us was Peter & Paul Fortress. DS and I explored the fortress, including the prison, while DH went to see the mint (shiny things). This was possible because I am native Russian speaker and DS speaks limited Russian. Our guide stayed with DH while we explored on our own.
Other notes: our guide was very helpful in suggesting things DS would like and fitting them into itinerary; she was also really good at comparison shopping for souvenirs (saved us at least $150 on replica Faberge eggs alone!); we did not wait for more than 5 min in any line at any attraction and it was amazing to me how Masha pulled that one off; do not dismiss row of kiosks in port when shopping for souvenirs, they have some fairly unique items and we were able to bargain with them a bit.
Long story short, get a private tour for your group in SPB, you would not regret it! I wish we could have fit in more things, as there was a number of museum I wanted to visit, but couldn’t fit into itinerary. I guess we will have to come back.
Do not miss sailing out of SPB! You sail right past Kronshtadt (sp) fortress! Not to be missed!
• Tallinn. We took a cab to the top of Toompea Hill and walked our way down through the old city. Tallinn was my favorite city in terms of architecture and overall “medievalness” of it, but my least favorite city in terms of locals and tourist facilities (bathrooms). We visited museum inside the fortress tower, very interesting with multiple exhibits (history of Danish flag, military history of Estonia (DS’s fave), tunnels (they link pretty much entire old city, very spooky with great exhibits) and art exhibit we didn’t visit). Just walking the town is amazing with every shop almost a small museum on its own. A lot of fellow cruisers bought wool items there, but I didn’t find them such a bargain (bought almost identical items for way less in US before). Also, best deal on amber we actually got on a cruiseship (with 10% elite discount), so go figure. No need for any kind of tour here. If not satisfied with just walking and reading info, there is free tour (for tips) that I heard was quite good.
• Warnemunde. We did not go to Berlin, but went to the beach and strolled Warnemunde instead. Very lovely seaside resort town and welcome break from “intensive touring”. Best strawberries I have ever had in my life (bought from the small farm stand and consumed immediately) and amazing ice cream. I think my DS ate his own weight in ice cream from different vendors, flavors were so unique and very good!
• Oslo. Due to shortness of the stop we did Princess tour here. We visited Viking museum and Kon-Tiki and Fram museums. Unlike Stockholm, our guide on this tour was very good, knowledgeable and actually made sense when talking about her country. Viking museum here houses Viking ships found in clay as well as artifacts found on said ships. Not interactive and not very in depth in terms of Viking history, as I said Stockholm museum is superior. I was obsessed with Tour Heirdahl (sp) story and everything South Pacific as a kid, so to me Kon-Tiki museum was very interesting, but it is not for everyone. Fram museum is built to house the ship that was used for both Arctic and Antarctic expeditions (Fram) and is very well layed out and tells amazing story. As I said, our guide was great in talking about her country in addition to museum visits. She made me want to come back there.
I loved sailing out of Oslo almost as much (if not more) than sailing out of Stockholm.
• Copenhagen. We went on debark tour and it was a very good experience. We drove around the city with multiple picture stops and very knowledgeable guide.
Currencies: There has been a lot of discussion on these boards about whether or not to bring cash. We exchanged some Danish kroners, Euros and Rubles ahead of time. I should not have bothered with Kroners, but we did use Euros and Rubles, had to actually take out more Euro’s. Yes, you can get by with just credit card, but it might mean not going to the bathroom until you get back to the ship, missing out on souvenirs and local treats, or, as it was in our case, not having money to bribe parking attendant at SPB attraction to let you park closer without “permit”. My take on it is, if you are doing a DIY tour, take at least some cash with you and if you are on Princess tour, don’t bother. Also, if you are tipping your guide in SPB in dollars, please make sure they don’t have any markings on them and are at least $20 and above (hence might want to tip in rubles). Russian exchange places charge extra fees for small currency and markings on bills.
Food: Very subjective. This cruise all my meals were good, while DH complained twice about his meal being cold. We did enjoy a possibility to order from Crown Grill one night when nothing looked appetizing on the menu. Also, we have finally tried the sushi spot and it was very good! Interesting take on seafood and fresh and delicious.
Overall, this was great cruise and we were blessed with amazing weather (upper 60s, low seventies). It rained once for the entire 11 days (unheard of in the Baltic).