This was my 4th total cruise, 2nd on Norwegian. I chose this cruise for the itinerary. I loved every minute of this trip!
Embarkation- we arrived at the port around 11 am and there were no lines at all. Filled out a health form and walked right up to a check in person. It took about 5 minutes to get our key cards and were then allowed to walk right on the ship. Plenty of friendly staff members greeting us and helping point the way. We went to O'Sheehan's for lunch and right to the box office for some final reservations. Rooms were all available around 1 and our luggage was delivered probably around 2.
Ship- the ship is recently out of dry dock where they replaced much of the flooring, some furniture, remodeled some areas, and generally fixed stuff. Everything was clean, looked new, and was in good working order. I saw staff all over wiping down railings and keeping everything as clean as possible. Public bathrooms were all clean and in good working order. We attended a "How to run a floating hotel" presentation where they gave information and had a question/answer period. One woman gave a suggestion to improve the comfort of seating in the atrium. The suggestion was implemented the very next day! I thought that was pretty impressive.
We had great weather so plenty of people were outside enjoying the pools, ropes course, and outdoor lounges/bars. Staff handed out blankets to people who stayed later when it started to get chilly. We even won $100 on slot machines in the casino! The Ice Bar was a fun experience, it is definitely very cold! You get a discount on the admission if you have the beverage package. We had one issue with a credit not appearing on our account, but that was cleared up easily with one quick trip to the On Board Credit desk.
Our cabin was an inside cabin. It was compact but was set up well and made good use of space. It felt quiet spacious after the tiny pre-cruise hotel room! Our luggage fit under the bed nicely. There was plenty of space for 2 people who both packed too much to completely unpack. Plenty of space in the bathroom for all our stuff. There were no drawers, which I miss, but everything fit in the closet and on shelves. Our room steward did a great job, it was always clean and tidy. They no longer do the towel animals and I sort of miss them! I am all for saving the environment, and can understand not using the extra towels every day....but maybe 1 or 2 little critters would be nice! Our days were so packed with activities, we spent very little time in the room.
The staff in general were very friendly and helpful. They were always smiling and greeted us as we passed by, or stopped to make conversation. Although the ship is big with lots of people, its amazing how quickly you find your way around and start recognizing people you met on excursions or at activities. I was surprised by how often you run into the same people around the ship given it's size.
Entertainment- we did have excursions at every port, so that took up a good deal of time.
In the entire trip there was only 45 minutes that we didn't see something of interest to do, and honestly we needed the rest! Of the main entertainment I have to say the Cirque Dream and Steam was my favorite, it was absolutely amazing and the dinner was fantastic also. We were seated at a table so close to the stage you could reach out and touch it. I have been to Cirque shows in large venues on land, and although this performance was limited in what they were able to do (smaller room, moving ship) it was way more impressive because you were so close to the action! The costumes were just as amazing as the performances. I was also very impressed with Million Dollar Quartet and the Syd Norman Pour House Band, both shows had talented performers and were high energy. Other entertainment (Burn the Floor, Howl at the Moon, etc.) were also good, but the first 3 I mentioned were amazing and I would definitely recommend to everyone.
Reservations are the key on this ship. Both for dining and entertainment. We decided a couple months before the cruise to log on to the website and make reservations for every show we could, and dinner every night. We figured if our plans changed we could cancel or ignore the reservation, but wanted to make them just in case. I am glad we did as much before hand as possible, saving us from having to take up time on board to sort it all out. We also loved the daily activities/presentations. We love trivia and attended as many as possible. Be sure to get an activity card and get it stamped after trivia. You can turn it in for a little prize at the end of the trip. The presentations were interesting and well worth the time. Lester, the assistant cruise director, was super funny and always entertained. There were over 4,000 people on this ship so popular activities (like bingo or the super funny staff movie skits), or places that don't take reservations (Howl at the Mood, Syd Normans) filled up quickly. I would suggest getting to events 20-30 minutes before hand if you want good seats. Get there early and enjoy a drink. If you don't mind hovering, get there whenever you want! We also did Escape the Big Top (escape room type activity). It was fun, free, and worth the time. That was the one thing I could not reserve ahead of time. I think they have 3 sessions throughout the cruise with limited availability. I went right to box office after getting on the ship and had my pick of sessions.
Dining- as I mentioned, we had reservations for dinner every night. We mostly ate in the complimentary restaurants with the exception of the meal that came with the Cirque show (which was exceptional!). Of the complimentary venues, Taste and Savor were our favorites. We preferred the quiet, smaller dining rooms. We mostly had no problem getting seated right away with reservations, and absolutely loved the tables by the windows! The only time there was some confusion was after Berlin. Many of the excursions got back right towards the end of dinner and all the venues were a bit overwhelmed with the numbers of people all looking to eat at the same time. That particular day we had to wait about 15 minutes to get our table, but it was understandable. We tried the buffet a couple times for breakfast just because our excursions were so early the dining rooms were not open yet. We preferred to eat breakfast at Taste/Savor when it was open and then later discovered O'Sheehan's was a great breakfast option on those early days. The food at Taste/Savor/Tropicana had sufficient options that I never had difficulty finding something I wanted to eat (I have a super long list of things I don't eat) and never ate the same thing twice. The food was not gourmet, but tasted good, was well prepared, served at the correct temperature, and served with appropriate timing. The desserts were fantastic! The buffet is gigantic. The selection repeats itself, so if one area is crowded you will find the same items if you keep walking. I only went there a couple times for breakfast, and it was busy but not super crowded. I had no problem getting my food or finding a seat. The area is so large it can be difficult to find your companions if you get separated and it definitely is busy and loud. The food was typical breakfast buffet food.
Phone App- the app for your phone has all your reservations as well as the schedule of events for the day. You can favorite events and then just see the list of things you were interested in. You can also check your room charges. It worked well and was very convenient for the first half of the trip then stopped working. Turned out to be a blessing in disguise, that app drains your battery very quickly even when just running in the background. It was much easier to keep my phone charged when I stopped using the app.
Ports/Excursions- we arrived at all ports on schedule. We booked excursions through NCL. Yes, I know they are more expensive. We booked the "Ultimate Explorer" package that included an excursion at each port 20% off so that helped a bit. I get nervous when traveling in unfamiliar places (which is the whole point of the cruise!) so the convenience and predictability of NCL excursions is typically worth the cost for me so I can be anxiety free. The shore excursion team were all friendly and amusing (Fernando was my favorite!). They were well organized and efficient in moving large groups of people around. They provided good information while waiting to depart the ship.
Berlin- the train ride to Berlin is long for sure but it's worth it if you have interest in the history of Berlin. They provided several snacks and water in both directions. We definitely could have stayed for days seeing all the sights, but I enjoyed the highlights and local lunch, and learned quite a bit along the way.
Tallinn- this was a surprise for me. I didn't know much about the city before going there and found the medieval old town super interesting! It was like walking in history.
St. Petersburg- I expected this to be the highlight and it did not disappoint. It wins for the stop that was most unique and different from my own life experiences. Clearing passport control takes longer the first day. There were lots of agents available and the lines were not terribly long. Each person took a few minutes though as they entered information into the computer. They did not ask any questions, just took your information and stamped your passport. The second day was much faster, they just wanted to see your excursion ticket and check to see your passport had already been stamped and you breezed right through. There were definitely lots of people at each stop so you had to be paying attention to stay with your group. I don't think any of the places we saw were climate controlled, and the Hermitage in particular was pretty warm inside. It just surprised me because it's a museum and those are usually pretty well regulated to preserve the art.
Helsinki- if a full excursion wasn't included in the package, I would say a Hop on Hop off bus would be sufficient to see all the sights. There was plenty to see, but I didn't feel like a guide was really needed.
Stockholm- absolutely beautiful. Ended up being a favorite stop of the trip. Our guide gave great information about the city and country during the bus trip from the port to the city so I felt it was time well spent. Be careful in the old town, the streets are compact and twist around. It's pretty easy to get turned around in there!
Disembarkation- we were planning to stay in Copenhagen so were not in any hurry to get off the ship. We had plenty of time for a last sit down breakfast before leaving. We signed up for a later 9:15 disembark time and our group was cleared to leave by 8:45. The luggage was well organized by color tag on shore. Even though we were a later leaving group there was a long line of taxis available with no wait at all.
Copenhagen- we were in Copenhagen a couple days before the cruise. We stayed in Scandic Webers Hotel because it was convenient to Tivoli Garden, the Hop on Hop off bus, and the Central train station. The hotel was clean and convenient but the room and bathroom were super tiny. It was crowded with 2 people and luggage. They had a really nice breakfast buffet included with the room. The 24 hour hop on hop off pass is good for 72 hours so covered our whole pre-cruise exploring needs. The boat trip that can be purchased with the hop on hop off was well worth the added price. There are 2 different companies that operate very similar looking buses so make sure you look careful before jumping on a bus. We used Red Bus (the other I think is called City Sightseeing) and they had a shuttle that dropped us right off at the ship, luggage and all, on embarkation day. We went to Tivoli Gardens in the evening after the HOHO bus ended. They have lockers that can be rented with a credit card at the entrance if you want to ride the rides without worrying about your purse/backpack. Everywhere we went in the city had English menus/signs available and took credit cards. We had no problem communicating with anyone or finding our way around. We even ran into a super nice local gentleman at the changing of the guard who gave us great history and narrative of the event! After the cruise we stayed at Copenhagen Island Hotel. It was a little further away but I did see a hop on hop off stop as we were walking around. We got there super early, maybe 9:30 in the morning. We had booked a standard room and were told the room wasn't ready (we were super early, not their fault), we could leave our luggage and come back later or upgrade to a room that was ready at a very minimal cost (maybe $25). We were tired so went with the upgrade, it had a beautiful view and was a large room and large bathroom! There was a mall with a full grocery store inside right next door. At the airport, if you are looking for the area to check the weight of your bags and shuffle stuff around, it's the floor above where you check in for your flight. Follow the signs for "all gates". I couldn't find it initially, then passed it after I had already checked my bag in with way too many souvenirs!
I genuinely enjoyed every minute of this trip. A little pre-planning helped the whole trip go smoothly and we definitely packed our days full! I would love to go again and definitely recommend it!