Sail from Harwich, England
St Petersburg, Russia (2 days)
The ship is beautiful...amazingly beautiful. There was wood and marble everywhere. Our rooms, 8000, 8002, were Family Staterooms (thanks to the upgrade fairy) and they were huge and bed bug free. We'll be forever spoiled. We even had doorbells! Our stateroom attendant was excellent and our TA had sent us a basket of flowers that brighten our room and lasted the entire trip. Our rooms were as far forward as you can go, we didn't notice a big difference in motion even in the couple of rough times in the North Sea. You do walk a lot more when your room is at the head of the ship but that was OK with us and it was also really quiet.
The Coral theater had great sight lines with only a few seats with obstructed views. The Safari Lounge was a beautiful room but we found that it wasn't as practical for crowds as the lounges on previous ships. It seemed like it was very crowded when there were large events there and sight lines weren't that great but for smaller events it was fine and when there wasn't an event there it was a comfortable place to relax.
Our dining room staff were all very good. We got a chance to talk with both our waiter and assistant waiter one afternoon in the Windjammer when things were slow and enjoyed finding out more about them. After that, they both seemed more comfortable and enjoyed our meals even more. We were on Deck 5 (upstairs) for dinner and were by the window (as requested) so we could enjoy sail away since we left port at dinner time almost every night. Our dinner partners...another group of five, were interesting and we enjoyed our evenings together. The food was all fine, some things better then others but certainly something to enjoy at each meal. We ate in the dining room for all our meals whenever possible...we just like enjoy it more then the buffet. That said, the Windjammer on the Jewel was leaps and bounds better then on the Vision class ships. Enjoyed the onion rings at the Sea View Cafe a couple of time. It was practically empty for the first week of the cruise but after that it was "discovered" and was busy all the time.
The shows decent. A couple of the guest "stars" were great and a couple not so much. The Singers and dancers were quite talented...the best we've experienced on RCL. The City of Dreams production show is not to be missed.
The people in Harwich really know how to do this. It probably has something to do with the fact that since Harwich is so far from London that the vast majority of people use the RCI transfers so they have more control over the numbers of people arriving at the port but we were on the ship within 10 minutes of arriving at the port. Rooms weren't open until 1 pm but we enjoyed lunch in the Windjammer and then to our rooms.
We had a 7:35 am meet time (in the Coral Theater) and we were off the ship by 7:45 am. They had the luggage in rows by color so when your group got off the ship your luggage tag color would be in the first row that you would come to. The buses were lined up and waiting and we were back at Heathrow in about 2 1/2 hours which included a delay on the freeway because of an accident.
We did all the ports except St Petersburg and Tallinn on our own. We did a lot of pre-cruise research and had a plan before hitting the ports. They were all easy to navigate and talking with our table mates we saw as much if not more then they did on their tours.
Oslo - We were there on a Sunday so stores (except for the ones at the dock) were closed. The ship docks just a short walk from town and this is an easy city to explore on your own. We took the city tram out to Viegland Sculpture Park and the public ferry to the Viking Ship Museum, we visited the City Hall building and Akershus Fortress (it's right across from the ship). For those who may have difficulty walking if you take the ferry to the Viking Museum, it is about a 3-4 block walk, uphill to get there. Akershus is also on a hillside. It was damp, misty and pretty cool in the morning but the sun had come out by early afternoon.
Copenhagen - It was another damp morning, stayed cloudy most of the day but the sun did peak out now and then and it warmed up comfortably in the afternoon. The ship docks outside of town but it was a rather easy walk, about 20-25 minutes as a leisurely pace. The Little Mermaid is very close...not even 10 minutes from the ship. We walked into town and ended up at Amaleinborg Palace square just in time for the Changing of the Guard. Hint: there is a clean bathroom in the entry of the museum at the Palace. We decided to pick up the Hop on/off bus here. We stayed on the bus for the full circuit to get a feel of the city and then did the hopping on the second circuit. City Hall Square and headed for a walk up the Stroget, Copenhagen’s pedestrian shopping street. We toured Rosenborg Castle and saw the crowned jewels. My aunt who was traveling with us had been to Copenhagen before so she did a canal boat ride and enjoyed that a lot...you can pick up a canal boat tour in Nyhaven. We decided again Tivoli because we wanted to see other things. We sailed in the early evening but if we had been there during the night time we would certainly have gone there.
Stockholm - We got up early and enjoyed a couple of hours of the sail-in approach to the city. The ship winds through many, many little islands and it's quite beautiful. We purchased the ship's transfers to the city ($4 per person, each way) because we docked quite a distance from the city. The bus dropped you off right near Gamla Stan, the old section of the city where most of the touristy things are. We started at the Royal Palace. A combo ticket there gets you into all 4 of the Palace museums (state apartments, the treasury, the Palace archeological museum and the art museum. We waited about 20 minutes and took the English guided tour (free with your ticket) of the staterooms. We caught part of the Changing of the Guards (we waited till the end purposely since the crowds disapated). The guys playing instruments on horse back were pretty impressive. We visited the Stockholm Cathedral, had lunch at a very intersting place, Cafe Sten Sture, a building from the 1300's that was used as a prison until the 1700's and then wandered the streets of the old city. We walked back to the shuttle pick up and noticed the the tide in the river had gone down and there was this funky sculpture with a nose and a finger sticking up out of the river.
Helsinki - The city of Helsinki offers a shuttle service ($5 one way or $8 round trip) to the city. Again we were docked quite distance from the city so the shuttle was good. We walked down the park toward Senate Square. It was a beautiful day and one of the big department stores was having a fair/fashion show in the park so it was filled with people. At the end of the park you run right into Market Square. It's an outdoor market with stall after stall of fruits and veggies and then stall after stall of souveniers. You can barter here and get some deals if you want. Our next stop was Uspenski Cathedral, the Russian Orthodox Church. It is perched on top of a hill and makes a pretty awesome sight. We made our way toward Senate Square and as we were passing the presidential House they were changing the guard so we watched that. The Senate Square is a large open square surrounded by the Lutheran Cathedral, the Government Palace, and the University and it’s Library. There are a lot of stairs that lead from the Square to the Cathedral. Hint: if you walk around to the side by the Library you'll cut down the number of stairs. It was interesting but not nearly has impressive as Uspenski. We did visit the library. You have to leave all your bags, coats, cameras in a locker in the entry way. Hint: there is a nice, clean rest room in the basement at the cafe in the Library.
St Petersburg: We booked a private tour for our group of 5 with DenRus. If there is one thing that you do...book a private tour and skip the ship excursions. Companies like DenRus and Red October have the same blanket visa program for their guests that the ship has so as long as your a with them you don't have to get an individual visa. You will need your passport, a copy of the picture page of your passport (that Russian Immigration will keep...the ship did provide free copies but you'll save yourself a wait in line if you bring your own) and your ticket from your tour company. The cruise ship will try to convince you that if you book privately you have to registar your tour with them and you can't get off the ship until 9:30 am. DenRus had warned us of this...it is not true. They sent us a letter in case we had any problems but no one even asked. We were allowed off the ship as soon as it was cleared with a "Have a nice day" from the staff. The major things we saw: St Nicholas Church, a quick city drive with photo stops, Catherine's Palace (inside & the park), Nevsky Prospect, visit to a Farmers Market, Peter/Paul Fortress (inside tour), St Issac Cathedral (inside visit), subway ride (the stations are beautiful), Peterhof (both inside and the amazing fountains and gardens), the Hermitage/Winter Palace, the Church of the Spilled Blood (both inside and out are not to be missed). There were plenty of small stops for lunches (we choose quick cafe lunches and kept touring), shopping and photo ops. You really have to experience St Petersburg...words just can't describe it. Our guide, Nadya was excellent and our driver, Alexander was great and driving there isn't easy. We didn't go out for a night tour although that was available. We were exhausted by the end of our day and enjoyed just relaxing. We were there for White Nights and it never got really dark at all but especially in Helsinki and St Petersburg. The sunny was still shining brightly at 11 pm. The funniest thing I heard was from someone who had booked a "White Nights Tour" and they were really disappointed because they were expecting to see the "lights of the city at night" UMMM...guess they didn't get White Nights.
Tallinn - This city is a real gem of the cruise. We booked a private tour with Ahti Arak. He was great and we learned so much about Estonia and Tallinn. We toured the new city, saw the Presidential Palace and the changing of the guard (seems like we hit that in every city without even trying), the Palace that Peter the Great built as a vacation home. We didn't go inside because we had seen plenty of the palaces in Russia. We went to the Estonia Outdoor Museum and their folklore show and then did a walking tour of the old city.
There was an Old City festival going on so there were lots of costumed people and parades and the old city was packed with people. Ahti kept us on some of the little known roads so we weren't fighting the crowds and could enjoy the tour.
1. We found that Russia was the best place to shop...not Estonia. It could have been because it was a festival there so prices were higher then normal or maybe just because it's becoming a real busy port (they will have 8 ships in on Sept 2nd) and prices are going up.
2. The weather can always be unpredictable. Be prepared with layers.
3. Felix of the cruise director staff was hilarious. He had so much energy. The trivia contest that he hosted (not his usual job) was the most fun of the cruise. I thought everyone should get prizes just for deciphering the questions through his accent but we all laughed so hard.
4. If you have AOL and are trying to check your e-mail don't click the check e-mail option...you'll never get through. Click surf the internet and log in to AOL from www.aol.com. It still can glitch but I got through to my account that way.
5. Be prepared to walk ALOT, especially if you are going out on your own. There are lots of cobblestones and not a lot of smooth surfaces too so wear good sturdy, comfortable shoes.
6. I have a much more extensive journal that I kept each day...complete with what we all ordered for dinner each night! If you are interested you can e-mail me directly.
Disclaimer: These are just my humble opinions and observations. I'm not making any sweeping judgments about anything. We had a fabulous time.
If you have questions feel free to ask.