Baltic Smorgasbord: Star Princess Cruise Review by pisces1948

Star Princess 5
Member Since 2010
58 Forum Posts

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Baltic Smorgasbord

Sail Date: May 2010
Destination: Baltic Sea
Embarkation: Copenhagen
This was a cruise of firsts in many ways. Bob, Gary and I shared a minisuite. This turned out to work out remarkably well. None of us had spent any significant time in the region so it would be a first exposure for all of us. The only other cool weather cruise that we had taken was Alaska so this was a first cool weather, first European cruise for all of us. Bob and I had cruised a lot on Princess, but this was Gary's first time aboard a Princess vessel.

Since I am retired, I took on the planning responsibility for the trip. This was my first real exposure to Cruise Critic. I knew of it from my brother-in-law, but hadn't really explored it until confronted with doing all the planning. THANK YOU, CC! You really came through. I read all previous reviews, joined the thread for the upcoming cruise and read a couple of guide books. I cannot stress how much better the experience was because I did my homework. Besides information on shore excursions, visas, transportation and More boarding logistics, I immersed myself in the history and culture of the region. It was fun recalling those forgotten memories of things like the Hanseatic league(dust off your high school world hsitory). Now I was to come face to face with where it all happened!

Cruise critic also put me in contact with a lot of knowledgeable folks and the information sharing was fast and furious. I think we enjoyed helping each other and looked forward to putting faces to the names once on board.

Our journey to get to the cruise almost didn't happen. Between an erupting Icelandic volcano and a British Airways slight attendants strike, our travel arrangements were in a constant state of flux. In fact, friends I had met on line at CC and had planned to meet on the cruise never made it. Our AA flight from San Francisco via Chicago dodged the volcano, but had to cancel direct BA flights from London to Copenhagen and fly Lufthansa/SAS combo via Dusseldorf going and Frankfurt on the return. They were great flights but cut into our Copenhagen and London time. The airport in Copenhagen is easy to navigate. We had no experience with checked bags as we travel light and do laundry (I highly recommend this but check out Rick Steves if the idea challenges you). A taxi was a fast economical way to reach our hotel. It is very easy to take the train into town especially if you are booked near the main station. With three of us, it wasn't too much more and we were tired after all the traveling, but look for the signs. We also found everyone in Denmark very pleasant and more than willing to help if asked so don't be shy. We stayed at the Hotel Strand which is right on the water. Bob and I have stayed there s we felt comfortable. I was able to use American Airline miles to pay for the room. Rooms are basic and comfortable and the breakfast is delicious. I can never get enough of those European breads and cheeses!

After settling in, we took Gary out for a walk through Copenhagen. Although it was getting late, it stays light later and so we were able to give him a good tour of the city. we had already eaten on the plane so dinner wasn't of any interest. Besides, we knew we would board the Star Princess the next day and there would be no shortage of food.

I'll cover each port but here are some overall impressions of the cruise:

a) there just wasn't sufficient time in almost every port

b) all the ports are very accessible and you can tour independently if you wish. I highly recommend Rick Steves' book on the area if you want to travel independently. We did for the first time and loved it. We took the Princess tour in Gdansk and I felt that it was a great value. We saw things we wouldn't have gotten to

c) there is no shortage of things to do while on board. The Maitre d' wine tasting was a lot of fun and they had some good wines.

d) we went to one of the shows and enjoyed it. There were mixed reviews on some of the other shows from fellow travelers, but I don't have first hand experience

e) food was classic Princess. After you have cruised with them a few times, you recognize the menus. Food was well prepared and our wait staff kept us all laughing and enjoying our meals if somewhat overfed. Although we had all chosen Anytime Dining, we did meet others and manage to get the same table every night at the same time. Only negative was the early morning feeding frenzy at the Horizons buffet.

f) movies on deck were fun, but chilly

g) spa services were wonderful and a great way to start the cruise by getting pampered and relaxed

h) gym was not as crowded on this cruise as on warm weather cruises. I think this correlates to the age group. I was told that there were only 24 children on board which is remarkably low so this cruise appeals to an older set.

i) The Vines wine bar and the specialty coffee service are a great addition.

j) Princess staff (especially in Skywalker's Lounge) were outstanding. Much better than a previous Princess cruise where they all seemed to be rotating off the ship at the end of the cruise.

Finally, both embarkation and disembarkation were a snap. On the way home, we did take the train which was easy, clean and efficient. we just didn't have enough time I guess the thing to ask is whether I would do this again. My answer is Yes and No. Having cruised, I would rather fly in and spend the time I wanted and then connect to the other cities using the well organized and comfortable Baltic Sea ferry system. I also know I can arrange land tours with Anastasia when I return to Russia. The cruise was a wonderful way to obtain an introduction to the area but a return trip would be more selective with overnight stays to get the feel of the cities. I would also recommend doing your homework and deciding if the various city cards are worthwhile for your individual style of travel. they do make things very convenient. Happy cruising! Less

Published 06/18/10

Cabin review: ACD215

Since we all packed light, our room was adequate for three adults. One of the best features was the tub/shower. Regular balcony rooms have a tiny shower. This one was great for a real adult. Balcony was quiet, comfortable place to enjoy being at sea or a private moment. Location on ship was great.

Port and Shore Excursions

Prepare to be pleasantly surprised here as well. Gdansk was also destroyed by the Nazis in WWII. The city is beautiful I was totally unprepared. It's also a great place to shop for amber. We took the ship's Roads to Freedom tour. It started by taking us to where WWII began. Our guide debunked a lot of tales we had learned in history (the Poles did NOT send cavalry against tanks!) and heard how they held the Nazis at bay despite overwhelming odds. We learned of life under communist rule and visited the Solidarity Museum. You could feel the passion in our guides voice as he communicated what felt like wounds still raw. Our time in Gdansk was too short. We did get a good tour of the city, it's buildings and St Mary's church but had too little time exploring on our own.

Read 59 Gdansk Reviews

Probably the only port where we felt we had sufficient time. We boarded the Hop On/Hop Off bus which was waiting at the dock. It provided an easy way into the city along with commentary. The HO/HO buses are a less expensive alternative to the ship's city tours but lack the interaction with a tour guide as the commentary is recorded. Compared to the other ports, Helsinki was not a 'WOW' port. We enjoyed a nice lunch at a local cafe, toured the harbor market, Uspenski cathedral and enjoyed walking around town but were back to the ship with time to spare.

Read 634 Helsinki Reviews

What a beautiful city!! We finally docked right in downtown after a beautiful sail up the fjord. Although this is a fjord, it's not the same as the steep walled wonders of the western coast of Norway, but rather a gentle sweep of land to either side of a deep water port. Oslo is the greenest of all the cities we visited both in terms of trees and parks as well as the ecological sense. Our main goals were to see Frogner park and the Vigeland sculptures as well as the Viking Ship Museum on the Bygdoy peninsula. I had thought about the Oslo card but the short time we had (7:30AM-1:30PM) was too short to make it worthwhile. I did learn that the ship used to dock from 7AM-5PM which would really have been much better. We did get to see what we wanted. I really enjoyed the viking ships as well as the Kon Tiki and Ra museums. The water taxi is really convenient. I wouldn't recommend the Hop On/Hop Off bus in Oslo. The commentary is minimal and you can do the same with teh well organized trams and buses and water taxi.

Read 280 Oslo Reviews

There aren't enough superlatives for St Petersburg. The city is amazing. besides Stockholm, this was the city I spent the most time studying before we left. The information that you receive infers that unless you book with a Princess shore excursion you won't be able to disembark unless you obtain a tourist visa. The reality is that you can book with any tour operator in St Petersburg and they have a group visa already. I spent a lot of time before we left talking with the couple who didn't make the tour deciding on which company to choose. We decided on Anastasia and I cannot say enough good things about them. We arranged a smaller group tour. We requested no more than 10 people and it turned out to be 5 of us. This allowed each of us ample time to ask questions of our guide. Svetlana was extremely knowledgeable and answered every questions we had. As near as I can tell, we were the only group whose canal tour included Russian champagne, caviar and blinis along with Russian chocolates-YUM! I can only recommend that you try to pack as much into your two days as possible and then there is still too much to see. We asked if we could see the subway system which wasn't on our tour and she accommodated us with a brief ride. Anastasia as used the hydrofoil from Peterhof to avoid traffic jams. we would have used it in both directions but there was a problem in the morning and they weren't running. Your amazement at the wealth and buildings only increases when you realize that these structures were all but totally destroyed by the Nazis in WWII and have been completely rebuilt. Our tour (2 day)included the Hermitage, Peterhof, Church on Spilled Blood, St Issac's, subway, all entry fees, lunch both days, canal tour, city tour and all for less than the Princess 2 day shore excursion. It pays to shop!

We were prepared for Stockholm. I had read and reread Rick Steves a dozen times. I had purchased Stockholm cards(I highly recommend these for the independent traveler and you can order them online). We were prepared for rainy weather; it turned out sunny and warm!. I had warned everyone to be up at 5AM to view the archipelago as we entered Stockholm. Thanks to John Lawrence's port talk, we decided we would watch the archipelago as we sailed OUT at 5PM. Then came the news that we couldn't enter Stockholm. John Lawrence gave another talk with details of how to get from Nynashamn to Stockholm which is about 1 hour by train. The bonus was that our Stockholm cards would get us on the train so we didn't have to wait to buy tickets! Off we went and the train was wonderful-a clean, quiet, comfortable, modern commuter train which deposited us in downtown Stockholm. We caught the bus(Stockholm card) to the Vasa Museum (Stockholm card). You cannot miss this amazing ship! When you walk in, the Museum is darkened but as your eyes adjust you are floored by the sight of this immense 17th century warship. Because we had an hour journey back to the ship and I tend to read everything, we agreed that we would allocate an hour. We caught the convenient hop on/hop off harbor taxi (Stockholm card again)and explored the old town, Gamla Stan. It's a beautiful and fascinating city. After lunch, we toured the palace apartments and then the treasury to see the crown jewels. We just scratched the surface and reluctantly returned to the ship but stopped to visit Nynashamn which is small but pretty and worth a brief stroll.

OK, it's not as spectacular as St Petersburg, but it's a medieval jewel. we docked within walking distance of the old city. Again, Rick Steves is your friend in your tour of Tallinn and Toompea. You really get a feeling of the town as you walk around. If you have trouble walking, take a taxi to the top of Toompea and walk down. Tallinn is also the place to shop. Prices here are a lot less than in Russia and the workmanship is wonderful so buy your souvenirs here. Only exception was for a small Russian box where I think I did better on the ship. Because we had so little time, we filled every minuted walking and I feared we wouldn't get back in time. By now, I had been appointed tour guide and didn't want us to miss the ship on my watch.

Read 724 Tallinn Reviews

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