We have previously cruised in AQ on Equinox in the Caribbean(see previous review)so I will just concentrate on differences!
Embarkation: Certainly travelling from Southampton (rather than flying) makes life a whole lot simpler - staff collect the luggage from your boot and then it's straight on to the car park. We had a 30 second wait to register and collect our sea pass and then perhaps 10 minutes in the lounge before our group was ushered on board. The staterooms were ready not long after 1pm and by then we'd checked out various elements of the ship for the subtle changes we expected.
Sailing from Southampton also changed the nationalities dynamic. Of the 2956 on-board the US were 816, the Canadians 425(including a party of doctors attending a conference on sea days) and about 1300 UK passport holders - the rest were from around the globe (inc. 32 Brazilians in one party)
1591 - midship between the humps. Good location for us but it didn't get much sun due to the overhang/height of the sun in the sky although we still sat out.The crew were scrupulous about cleaning the decks above which meant you did hear noises (items being pulled along the metal floor/power washing) at times.I never did manage to learn how to hear announcements in the cabin (when we wanted to that is)on either the phone or the TV presumably.They need to put an extra shelf in/back in to allow room for cushion storage after turn down - it reduces the space to sit (although you can't complain at the sofa size).
You can't walk out of Zeebrugge port so it is necessary to take the shuttle bus to nearby Blankenberg where you can either wander, catch the train to Bruges or catch the worlds longest tram (down the Belgian coast).
Early away is good - Bruges gets busy with tourists by midday. A good tip if going to Bruges by train is to take a 1st class day return (we were there on a Sunday so it is not much more than 2nd class) - you get more comfortable seats and the carriage isn't as busy.
It turned into a lovely sunny day so it was just lovely to wander round the port and along the seafront when we got back from Rostock by train. The station is unmanned and tickets are obtained via a machine from cash only (so you need Euros). Otherwise you can travel there and back aboard a river cruiseboat. We managed to be in the Rostock Marienkirke at 12 noon to see the 15th C astronomical clock in action (with the parading apostles).
We were in Stockholm just prior to the royal wedding so the palace and the Cathedral were all closed (along with some roads by the end of the day). However as a bonus we did see Crown Princess Victoria and Prince Daniel (as he now is) come out of the Cathedral after the wedding practice.
You can walk to town, catch the shuttle bus or just jump on the hop on hop off water taxi from the quay and beat the crowds to the Vasa museum.
The sailing into and out of Stockholm are beautiful (although watching outbound means you don't have to get up before dawn!)
Another one that is easy to walk from the port itself. There is a lot of building work going on in town currently and again the place gets busy as the day progresses. There were a lot of 'local' tourist groups as well as foreigners - especially up in the old town.
For those that didn't go far there were booths selling souvenirs and linen ware at the dockside.
The weather here was the worst of the whole trip with some rain and generally overcast which didn't help the greyness of the appearance.
We took a Cruise line afternoon trip on the Metro which was great fun and a much undersold outing. As well as the Metro ride (with a change of lines included and travel through the deepest part of the system)we were taken to the ????????? (Blacksmith) indoor market. From here we walked past the Dosteovsky museum to catch our bus to near the The Church of Our Saviour on the Spilled Blood where first we were given tea/orange juice/water and a pastry at the Russian Club. Finally we had 40 minutes free time to wander in the area and see the crowds (school graduates, marriage parties and tourists) and the souvenir market.
On the Saturday night with a lot of people out on tours the Inspiration Strings (a classical string quartet composed of 4 Ukrainians) were given the Theatre to give an hour long recital - it was well received (the group had a regular following on-board) and this allowed them to show some other pieces.
On the Sunday afternoon we took the Yusupuv Palace/Canal and River Tour. The former is where Rasputin was killed (a lot of the original contents now reside in the Hermitage. The canal/river boat tour allowed us to see most of the outside aspects of the vast majority of sights in town.
The radio mikes/receivers are a great innovation though and allow you to hear everything clearly - if you start missing out you've wandered too far!
Again a wet start, and again lots of roadworks/building work - most of the Baltic seemed to be in improvement mode - but eventually the sun did get out. Having done our emails at the Tourist Centre and had an early coffee at the Strindberg cafe on the Esplanade before walking round town (literally) admiring the architecture at the Town Hall, the Railway Station, The Finlandia Concert Hall, the Parliament and saving the Church in the Rock for last. This was quiet whilst we were there and allowed us peace to contemplate whilst listening to a pianist playing.
You could walk the 2.9k into town from the ship but the shuttle bus was more effective in the weather and with all the disruption around. You also have to watch carefully for all the cyclists on their special pathways - they don't take any prisoners!