Our 3-generation family group of 6 enjoyed our weeklong Baltic cruise. We chose this sailing primarily for the combination of itinerary and cost and were not disappointed. We usually travel independently and found embarkation in Warnemunde easy with the local train station a short walk from the modern Port facility. With the exception of St. Petersburg, where a visa is required, we found the ports (Stockholm, Helsinki, Copenhagen) easy to navigate on our own. In St. Petersburg, we booked a small group day tour with TJ Travel and were very pleased by how much we were able to see in a single day. We had no difficulty getting through Passport control with the provided tickets or finding the tour guide once in the port facility.
Since only 2 of our group had cruise once 20 years ago, there were not many expectations and no one was disappointed. The balcony cabins were as large as the European hotel room we stayed in before the cruise, was always clean, and the kids found the double trundle sofa comfortable. After spending the day in some of the highest cost cities in Europe we loved coming back to the all you could eat buffet. We saved precious sightseeing time and dollars by only stopping for quick bites while in port. We really enjoyed our main dining room waitstaff (Juan Pablo and John) and looked forward to an enjoyable dinner each evening. We do not have recent comparison with other cruise lines, but everyone including the kids found something they enjoyed every night.
After dinner, we attended at least the beginning of the nightly show, and some were better received by our family than others. The special acts (acrobats, contortionists) were big hits but the general dance numbers not as much of an interest. The lack of dialogue was not a concern for us, and we did not mind the variety of languages or being in a minority of Americans. MSC hosted a complimentary Independence Day reception for all American passengers on the evening of July 4th, and it was a nice gesture with free cocktails and entertainment.
Our son who is 7 enjoyed the kids club, while our daughter who is 11 fell at the top of the same age group range and usually enjoyed staying with us instead. In general, staff members we encountered spoke English sufficiently to at least communicate basics and many were fluent. Some of the staff were amazing with their ability to switch between 6 languages seamlessly. We were able to feel like we were fully in Europe for the week but had no difficulty communicating. We would not hesitate to cruise with MSC again.
We found our side-by-side aft-facing balcony cabins comfortable and thoughtfully appointed with a fair amount of storage, European and American outlets, and a double trundle bed sofa that could be separated for two kids. The balcony seemed about twice as deep as side facing staterooms. We also enjoyed a panoramic view of everything the ship had passed so we did not worry if we had missed something memorable out of view on the other side. Along with the bow camera broadcast on the television, we could see everything. This was a trade-off with noise from being over one of the main lounges and mechanical vibration from below. The vibration seemed mostly noticeable when the sea was rough or there was significant maneuvering. Noise and vibration was usually not significant enough to wake most of us up once asleep. Unpacking once for a visit to 4 countries was great.
A pleasant place to embark. At the end of the week we spent a few hours exploring the quaint seaside town before catching our train. Lockers at the station were easy to find and the town was very walkable.
The weather was rainy and cool, but we enjoyed a day in Djurgarden at the Vasa museum and Skansen open air folk museum. The public bus was easy to catch across the street from the port. There was a ticket machine that some had trouble with or you could download an app. We walked to the TI at the far end of the pier (closer to the RCCL ship when were there) to buy day passes.
The Hernesaari port seemed industrial but after we reach the road were right on the bay with the city in sight. Busses along the route were full with multiple cruise ships docking so we took a short pleasant walk into the edge of town where we were able to buy day transit passes at a convenient store. We visited the Market Square, Uspenski Orthodox Cathedral, Lutheran Cathedral, Esplanadi, and Temppeliaukio Church.
We booked the standard one day small group excursion with TJ Travel and could not have been happier. In a small group of 10 with a wonderful English speaking guide, Helen, and driver in modern van we were able to enjoy: ride around town, souvenir shopping stop, Hermitage, Church of the Spilt Blood, lunch in a Russian restaurant, hydrofoil ride to Peterhof where we toured the gardens, and ride between to two opulent metro stations. We so enjoyed being in a small group, and it almost felt like a private tour.
We did end up taking the MSC arranged hop on off bus from the port when we were advised that we could not walk from where we were docked in port to local transit. We seemed to be at the back of the port and had to go through industrial areas so all piers may not be the same. This was a surprise and added expense but it did turn out to be farther away than expected so was probably good in the end. We used the bus as transit to reach Rosenborg Castle, Church of our Lady with free afternoon organ recital, Tivoli, and a quick stop at the Little Mermaid Statue where we caught the shuttle back to the port. The kids thoroughly enjoyed Tivoli and we could have easily spent an entire day here.