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trosebery

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  1. Thanks for bumping this thread: I'm trying to talk my sister into joining me on a Northern Europe trip in the future, and I think she will love Tallinn (possibly even more than St. Petersburg), so Tallinn photos are always welcome. And I will agree that a Tallinn guided tour is not necessary as it's very easy to DIY, although I did really enjoy the very reasonably priced private walking + bike tour with did with Traveller Tours (a local company) on our last visit, as I especially enjoyed contrasting our medieval city walk with our cycling tour of the more modern areas (such as Telliskivi Creative City, with its street art). (Adding that I didn't especially enjoy the walking tour we did with one of the big St. P. tour companies on our previous visit, as there were too many people in our group in too-crowded areas to hear our tour guide easily. The big St. P. company tours in other ports vary widely in tour group size and quality.)
  2. Thank you for sharing! You forget just how much gold there is everywhere until you see the photos again. Oh, those pictures made me long to go back. . . . I'm trying to talk my sister into joining me for a trip in the future, so I will email her the link as a lure. I would point out to first time visitors, though, the the port guide is not completely comprehensive in that it does not cover all sights and even omits some favourites like the Fabergé Museum. Do read tour descriptions carefully to make sure that you visit all the sights that *you* want to visit. And if setting up a private tour (as Tom suggests in the final pages), do talk with your tour company about what sites might interest you personally. (And yes, reiterating his final advice: do search a well-reviewed tour company for the best experience instead of relying on the cruise line tours. I recommend emailing several companies to find the best fit for you if planning a private tour -- this is how I wound up with Red Sun for a private tour on our 2nd visit after going on one a standard small-group tours on the first visit. Both tours were good, but our private tour, being customized to our interests and catering just to us throughout, was obviously better. There are many recommendations in the stickied thread at the top of this forum if you're looking for recommendations.)
  3. Wow, I'm just back to this forum (thinking of yet another Northern European cruise), and I'm noticing a lot of older threads are getting bumped! I'll post a link to this thread that's currently stickied to the top of this forum: https://boards.cruisecritic.com/topic/2696545-master-thread-of-st-petersburg-advice-and-recommendations-from-cruisers-whove-been/ that contains a lot of advice posted at the end of last season (and since). I've done both the 15-16 person tour (with SPB) and the personalized custom tour (with Red Sun Tours), and I'd obviously give the edge to the personalized custom tour if you can budget for it. But both were enjoyable and well-run.
  4. I just noticed that this old thread got bumped, so I'll add a link to this fairly current thread started at the end of last season (now stickied to the top of this forum): https://boards.cruisecritic.com/topic/2696545-master-thread-of-st-petersburg-advice-and-recommendations-from-cruisers-whove-been/ Especially if you're wanting a private tour, I recommend compiling a list of several companies that appeal to you, from recommendations here and on TripAdvisor, and emailing each of them to see which is the best fit for you. (This is how I wound up touring with Red Sun Tours on our last trip. They happened to be the best fit for us, but your preferences may vary.) Be cautious of selecting a company simply because they offer tours in other ports at a discount. This is how we toured the first time around, partly because I hadn't realized how easy it was to tour on your own in many of the ports, and we felt a little too constrained. The next time around, I planned for each port independently (public transit is with Google Maps is easy!). But it's difficult to make a bad choice in St. Petersburg. I haven't met anyone personally who didn't enjoy their visit!
  5. Yes, thank you so much for the photos! Not only did they bring back wonderful memories, but I've enjoyed our two trips to the Baltic -- most recently my trip with my daughter and teenage son on the Norwegian Spirit in 2019 -- that I'm considering joining my sister on another in 2021! (Hence I'm back scrolling through this board!) In addition to my thank you, I'll add my own port reviews for the benefit of anyone who might come across this thread (edited from some notes I was making for my sister's benefit): Stockholm: It depends where you are berthed. The first time we visited Stockholm, we berthed in Nynashamn and so we joined a group shore excursion (through the same company that we were using for St. P.), and the excursion was . . . underwhelming. I enjoyed the part in the Vasa Museum and the short walk in Gamla Stan, but the rest was photo stops (at City Hall and the like) and looking out bus windows and too short for our port time. If I knew then what I know now, we probably would have taken the train from Nynashamn. The second time visited, our cruise left from Stockholm, so we had more time to spend in the city, and I fell in love with it. If you have a choice, do choose a cruise that embarks or debarks in Stockholm to give yourself more time in the city. We caught the Arlanda Express from the airport (very easy) and stayed in a hotel near the train station (also near the Icebar, where we met some of the people from our Roll Call for drinks!). It was an easy walk to Gamla Stan, where we enjoyed a wander on our first evening. The first morning, we awoke early because of the jet lag and went on a subway art tour before breakfast! (Google "Stockholm subway art tour" for advice.) We then spent most of our day on Djurgården, not only visiting the Vasa Museum (we visited early before the crowds), the ABBA Museum (which gets crowded quickly!), and Skansen (which is spread out enough that we didn't have to worry about crowds). My favourite part was actually visiting the Nordic animals in the small zoo in Skansen. The next morning, we went back to Gamla Stan and visited the palace, and my favourite part was actually the (free!) Royal Armory Museum, which it's just weapons but clothes and carriages and etc. Helsinki: Helsinki feels somewhat underwhelming after visiting many other Baltic ports, especially if you stop here after St. P., because it's a much more modern city. The first time we visited, we joined a group shore excursion (through the same company that we were using for St. P.) and enjoyed it: we had time in Market Square, some photo stops (at Sibelius Momentum and the like) and looking out bus windows again, but we also had a guided tour in the folk museum on Seurasaari Island, which really redeemed the tour. It was a fascinating glimpse into traditional Finnish life, and the setting was so beautiful. In fact, I so fell in love with the landscape that the next time we visited, I organized our own excursion with Feel the Nature, who took us on a short hike in Nuuksio National Park. As it was the season for it, we got to pick wild berries (my favourites of which were the lingonberries and bogberries). We also got to visit the reindeer near the Haltia Nature Centre and feel them lichen! Some others on our cruise visited Porvoo, and enjoyed it. Those who stayed in Helsinki but went off on their own especially enjoyed Suomenlinna. And someday I would very much like to visit Löyly sauna. St. Petersburg: Obviously the highlight on any Baltic cruise. This is one port where you can't just wander off on your own -- not without a Russian visa -- and for a first-time (or even second-time!) visitor, it's not really worth the hassle and expense of obtaining one and organizing your own transportation and tickets when there are so many excellent companies devoted to doing so for you! The first time we visited, we went on a standard 16-person small group tour with SPB, and we highly enjoyed it (and I also heard wonderful things about Alla, TJ, et al), but if you can afford an even smaller private tour, I highly recommend it. The smaller your group, the easier it is to get around those fearsome lines, and the greater control you have of your own itinerary and schedule. The second time we visited, we went on a private tour with Red Sun Tours, and had so much fun: not only did I get to revisit my favourites (like the fountains of Peterhof, the Hermitage Museum, and the Church on the Spilled Blood) but we got to visit more quirky attractions like the Grand Maket (I love miniatures and model trains) and the Soviet arcade games museum (which gives you some vintage 15 kopek coins to play the games!). If it had been open when we visited, I'm sure my son would have loved the Artillery Museum. For food, we visited Stolle again, of course, but then we went to try some Georgian food (that we can't get at home), and next time I want to try some Uzbek food. We would definitely do a private tour again. There's so much to see in St. Petersburg, don't feel constrained by what other people consider must-sees. (For example, I found Catherine Palace hot and crowded and the Amber Room smaller and darker than it looked on all the photographs.) Tallinn: Oh, Tallinn is beautiful, but if you want to really appreciate the Old Town, try to avoid the crowds and start early or end late. The first time we visited, we joined a walking tour, and I was grateful our guide was so tall so that we could see her over the crowds, or we would have easily lost her. At the end of the tour, we got out of the Old Town and visited the Lennusadam Seaplane Harbour Museum, which we enjoyed. The second time, I organized a private walking+bike tour with Traveller Tours (which was not expensive) and we got started much earlier, and it was a better experience. The walk from the port into the city and even up the hill is not bad if you're able-bodied. And then, when the Old Town started to get crowded, we hopped on our bikes and rode out to the more modern outlying districts, along the harbour to where the Tallinn hipsters lived, through residential neighbourhoods (the Estonians like to put ping pong tables in their parks!) to Telliskivi Creative City and the market. We saw lots of interesting street art, and I do recommend venturing out of the Old Town to see the contrast. In the afternoon, we wandered into the Rotermann district to the Kalev chocolate shop (do eat some Estonian chocolate!) to attend a Chocolate Truffle Making workshop I'd set up with some others on our Roll Call, which was a fun social activity. If I head back to Tallinn again, I'd like to visit Kadriorg Park and the singing grounds. Riga: We didn't visit here on our first cruise, so it was all new to us. Still, I let my son talk me into visiting the medieval castles of Turaida and Sigulda (along with Gutman's cave) with only a short walking tour of Riga. I think he was afraid that if I got to pick, we'd spend the entire day admiring Art Nouveau architecture, and he's probably right. This way, he had to tolerate only about 20 minutes of Art Nouveau architecture. While I enjoyed the castles, especially climbing the tower at Turaida, I don't know that I would go again. They aren't in the best condition (especially Sigulda), and Riga is beautiful. I did enjoy our walking tour there, and I recommend the company, Nordic Experience, that I used to organize our day. They were able to issue invoices and collect credit card payment from everyone before we left so that we didn't have to worry about payment once we were there (or no-shows driving up the cost). Klaipeda: Another place we didn't visit on our first cruise. Klaipeda itself is small, so I chose to organize a tour (with Ulko Tours) to the Curonian Spit, my favourite place on which was the Hill of Witches. As we were a small group, we were lucky enough to arrive and be able to wander around the forest and see and photograph the sculptures before all the crowds arrived. They were swarming in as we left, and I'm sure it would have been a very different experience. (I did wish our guide had known more about the folktales the sculptures represented.) The cormorant colony was underwhelming, which was disappointing as we had some keen birders with us. We did see some bird colonies randomly later -- including more swans than I'd ever seen before -- so I'm glad we had a guide who was willing to help us find them. We did go all the way to Nida, and the amber "museum," although small, was a fun experience as we got a small presentation on Baltic amber. Word of advice: don't walk the dunes, especially on a hot day, unless you really want to feel what it might be like to be lost and struggling through the Sahara. When visiting Klaipeda town itself, make sure you search out and find the quirky sculptures, especially the very cute Golden Mouse. Gdansk: Yet another place we didn't visit on our first cruise. Here, transportation from the port of Gdynia is an issue as traffic is notoriously bad. I organized a tour through Nordic Experience again to the former concentration camp of Stutthof before visiting Gdansk. The tour itself was excellent, although it was a difficult and emotional visit. If you'd like to visit somewhere outside of Gdansk but don't feel up to visiting Stuffhof, our fellow cruisers who visited Malbork Castle enjoyed it. Gdansk itself is lovely, if a little crowded during peak tourist season. We did make time for a photo stop at the Solidarity shipyard gates. If we'd had more time, I would have loved to stop at Oliwa Cathedral or in Sopot to see the "Crazy House." As it was, our guide and driver had to be clever to get around the traffic to get us back at the port at the arranged time! Warnemunde/Rostock: The first time we visited, we knew that we didn't want to venture into Berlin as we were travelling with little kids, but we did venture as far as Schwerin, to see the "fairy tale" castle. It was okay. We'd joined a small-group tour (through the same company that we were using in St. P.) and travelled by train to Rostock and then on to Schwerin. My enthusiasm for the day was admittedly dampened given that it was a Sunday (so many places were closed and we were unable to visit the astronomical clock in St. Mary's church as it was closed for services) and it was drizzling rain. Warnemunde itself looked cute and I resolved to spend more time there if we returned. However, the next time we visited, our port was Rostock, which is not a passenger port, and it was Sunday, so transportation was difficult. The few taxi drivers who were there were looking for fares into Berlin, but we talked one into taking us to the Rostock Zoo, which is an excellent zoo and we spent the whole morning there. We then caught the train and bought a day pass, and went to Warnemunde . . . which was crowded. If there are enough ships that some have to port in Rostock instead of Warnemunde, Warnemunde is going to be crowded. We had lunch and wandered along the waterfront briefly before hopping the public ferry across to the Marine Science Center. The Center itself is not much to visit as it's really just some pontoons with the seals and sea lions who participate in their sensory research experiments swimming around. However, we participated in their Seal Experience, which allowed us to go out on the pontoons with one of the researchers and the seals for an hour while he explained the research that they did and how they trained the seals to participate. Yes, we got to pat the seals and even play fetch with them! (At the end of the day, we were able to take a train and a bus back to the port without difficulty. Google Maps is good with public transportation schedules.) Next time we visit, we might to the train to Bad Doberan, but I would like to visit the seals again! Copenhagen: The first time we visited, this was our embarkation point, so we had a few days to spend in the city. My favourite museum was the National Museum with its excellent history exhibits (especially the prehistory through the Vikings galleries), my husband's and son's was the Danish War Museum. The palaces are all so different: Rosenborg is small but noted for its Treasury, Christianborg has the grand state rooms, and Amalienborg is more intimate and lived-in. Note that although you can visit all on the Copenhagen card, there may be lines at Rosenborg and you can't bypass them with the card. (Go early.) Next time I'd like to visit Frederiksborg castle. Of course, you can't visit Copenhagen and not enjoy a canal cruise. The first time we visited, we got up early from the jet lag and were the first passengers on a mostly-empty boat, which was great. Although the second time, we went in the afternoon on a hot day and got to watch all the Danes jumping in the canals and having a swim (clothing optional near Christiania). Both were fun experiences. Be aware that if you are on a canal cruise, you will only see the Little Mermaid statue from the back, and she's small. If you want to really visit her, go on foot. And if you're walking that direction, do visit the Gefion fountain too. I do recommend, if you have a choice, choosing a cruise that starts or ends in Copenhagen. (There's an easy train connection between the airport and the main station, near Tivoli). There are other places that we visited on both visits, but if you only have one day, those were my favourites (Tivoli, although it was an interesting park to walk around, had long lines for all its rides). Note that it's easy to catch the buses (HoHo or public transit) from Oceankaj, but when catching the public bus, we had to have tickets or the Copenhagen card in advance. BTW, a note on cards like the Copenhagen card: there are now apps that allow you to purchase and activate these on your cellphone (as long as you have data or WiFi), and you can put more than one card on one phone (just swipe through the cards when necessary). Oslo: I really like Oslo for its museums, and although we had an excellent guide on our first visit, this is a very easy port to visit on your own. On our last visit, we got the Oslo card that covered museums and public transport, including the ferry across to the Bygdoy museums. The Viking Ship museum is probably the most popular (and very good, although small), but my favourite was the Fram museum and my kids like the Kon-Tiki museum best. The Folkemuseum (Cultural History) is also nearby. From there, we took public transit to the Vigeland Sculpture Park (and met some friends for dinner). Other places that we enjoyed on our previous visit were the City Hall and the Opera House (walking up the roof). Other places to visit that I know others enjoyed were the Resistance Museum in Akerhaus Fortress and the Holmenkollbakken ski jump hill. That's a lot of words, I know, but I hope that they help someone?
  6. These are unusual times. They may be running short-staffed. They may be trying to determine how they will deal with the current changing situation and the unknown future. Unless your questions are urgent, I would definitely give them more time.
  7. If you want something unusual, you'll probably have to set up a private tour? We did a standard small-group tour with SPB Tours on our first visit and then a private tour with Red Sun Tours on our second visit, and although both were very good and very well-run, a private tour obviously gives you so much more personal attention and control of your itinerary. Fortunately, most tour companies are very willing and able to organize private tours, and the private tours aren't as expensive as you'd think. I'd recommend searching the master thread (at the top of this forum) for some names of some well-reviewed companies and then emailing several to see which is the best fit for you (itinerary, price, quality of communication, etc.). If setting up a private tour, you don't have to feel constrained by what's on the companies' websites, so use those listings only as sample itineraries. If you do have an interesting and unique private tour experience, be sure to report back to share with others!
  8. As others have noted, it will depend on your interests. Some people like palaces and cathedrals, some people like slice-of-life visits (subways or grocery stores), and others like quirky things -- for example, two places that we visited on our last visit were the Soviet Arcade Game Museum (where you get 15 kopek coins to play the games, and our guide also found us an employee of the museum who was able to tell us about history of video gaming in Soviet Russia) and the Grand Maket (not market but maket -- it's a giant model train set with Russia in miniature). Finding the quirky sites can be tricky so it's good to ask here! Also, if you're on a private tour that you're setting up yourself, you can also think about what you'd like to do for meals! I recommend trying some Georgian food, and next time I'd like to try an Uzbek place. If you chat with your tour company, they may also have some suggestions for you. (One reason that we toured with Red Sun last visit is that they were great about listening to what we wanted instead of just offering the standard itinerary.)
  9. We went last two weeks of August last year and had beautiful weather. Sunny skies (we lucked out and got zero rain), temperatures mostly in the low 20s (70s in F) with only 2 genuinely hot days.
  10. On European cruises, I've often saved money by sailing in inside cabins as we were only ever in them for sleeping. Yes, the ports (in general) are very DIY friendly. Many are walkable and public transportation is very good. You can search this forum for more threads about particular ports or ask your own questions. Many people recommend picking up the Rick Steves guide to Northern European Cruise Ports, although do remember that this is only a starting point. (I don't always agree with his recommendations, and some information like public transport connections can go out of date and should be checked online.) Note that the destinations that require the most advance planning (or a tour) are those that are some distance from the actual port (like Gdansk) . . . and of course St. Petersburg. You'll have a stickied thread above on St. Petersburg. The general consensus is that you should book with one of the independent tour operators, and if possible, set up a private tour to control your own itinerary (the cost becomes more reasonable with larger groups). I've been once with one of the large companies (SPB) in a "small group" tour and once with a smaller company (Red Sun) on a private tour, and both were excellent experiences, although obviously I'd give the edge to the more personalized private tour. You don't have to decide what you're doing until next winter or even spring, though, and there's not much point to doing so as the coming season -- or rather, the lack of it -- may change the St. P. tour company landscape, as some companies may fold, merge, or restructure their offerings to survive.
  11. On our last cruise, I set up a private tour with Nordic Experience and then posted on our Roll Call and quickly filled our tour. I then forwarded the email addresses to Nordic Experience and they invoiced everyone individually so that we were all paid up by credit card before we left. We had no trouble finding our guide and driver, and they got us back on time -- although the traffic was indeed terrible! (Fortunately, minibuses can take some roads to get around the traffic that the big buses can't.) We picked the Stutthof Concentration Camp + Gdansk Highlights Tour, which we appreciated (although the concentration camp was an emotionally difficult visit for many). Others on our Roll Call went on the Malbork Castle + Gdansk Highlights Tour and also enjoyed it. Both are good options (as is just visiting Gdansk itself).
  12. It definitely depends on the ports and on the port hours -- the more hours in the ports, the better. (And the more days in St. Petersburg, the better.) Choosing between your two itineraries, I'd probably pick the 11-night because it visits Sweden and Poland. (Although starting and ending in Copenhagen is also a good pick as Copenhagen is a beautiful city.)
  13. How much is "so much?" What's your limit for staying on your feet at one time and total over the course of the day? Can you handle two strenuous days back-to-back (without wearing yourself out for other ports like Tallinn)? The tour operators themselves are your best resources. Email them and they can match you with a tour that best fits your needs. I recommend emailing several and choosing the best match for you. (I selected a private tour with Red Sun Tours as the best match for us on our last trip after emailing around. You might find a different best match.) And remember that one person's "must see" is another's "meh," so don't feel that you need to see some sight just because others are raving about it. Choose what you like.
  14. As schmerl pointed out, many companies will allow you to book without paying a deposit, and especially if you would like a private tour, I would suggest booking with plenty of lead time. Our tour with Red Sun Tours last summer didn't require payment until after the first day of the tour, and booking in advance gave us lots of time to ask all the questions we needed to tweak our itinerary just the way we liked it.
  15. The district with the highest concentration of Art Nouveau buildings is about a 20 minute walk north of the medieval Old Town, around Albert Street if you're checking a map. If you want to see both, make sure you give yourself enough time to do so. (There is also an Art Nouveau Museum if you're interested in interiors.) Note that if you want to do the tour at the KGB museum, they recommend booking tickets in advance.
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