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kochleffel

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  1. At breakfast, I usually arrive alone and ask to share a table. Most often, I've been seated at a table for four or six and within a few minutes others have been added to the table. On some ships, including the Gem, the dining room used for breakfast is configured with quite a few large tables and hostesses may ask parties of one, two, or three to share a table for six. I have never asked to share at dinner, because I usually join the group of solo passengers sharing a large table in the MDR. In contrast, recently on RCI, I was seated alone at a two-top every night. I had requested fixed seating at a large table, but was reassigned to MTD. On NCL you can ask to share and often it will work out, but not always.
  2. You can if the show is boring.
  3. General comments: As I said, I thought that the food in the MDR was better overall than on NCL - the best dishes on both were equal but RCI was more consistent, and the service was more consistent. Portions were also larger, which was not entirely a good thing: I had just lost 20 pounds and didn't want to regain any. One bad thing was the excessively loud music, primarily in the Centrum - it was objectionable in my cabin, which was halfway between the Centrum and the forward elevators, on the first night, but after that the stewards closed the fire doors. What really got to me was the interlude of extremely loud music in the Reflections dining rooms on three nights . When I complained, a dining manager told me that nothing could be done about it ("preset" or "controlled by the singers"). All he could suggest was coming to dinner a little later, after it would have ended. I thought that entertainment was better on NCL, and I didn't go to all of the theater shows. The best entertainment, or at least the most to my taste, were two jazz performances in the Centrum by an ensemble drawn from the theater orchestra. It helped that the Centrum, even though it is right in the middle of everything, is somewhat secluded, and doesn't have the masses of people milling around shouting (because those pesky musicians are making so much noise!) that the Atrium on NCL ships usually has. I needed help once from Guest Services, to print an email message, and they took care of it for me. There were never any incorrect charges on my account, which I checked in the Royal app almost every day. My next cruise is on Holland America, the one after that on the Radiance of the Seas.
  4. Day 8 - Disembarkation. At Frihamnen I carried my luggage off and walked to the bus stop to get the #76 back to Gamla Stan, where I was staying another night at the Victory Hotel. I was glad, by the way, of that, because I had left my bifocals in my room a week before. I emailed the hotel as soon as I noticed this, and they replied that they had them and would keep them at the front desk. I can read with no glasses at all and would usually wear distance lenses for sightseeing (I can't cross a street without glasses), but it was uncomfortable to have no backup. In a previous cruise, I broke the distance glasses on shore on Mallorca and didn't have the other pair with me; if you ever need to know what Superglue is called in Spanish, it's labeled Superglue. There was some agitation at the bus stop because many people coming from the cruise needed to buy bus tickets from a machine there. (Not all bus stops have the machines, so it is really better to plan for this. I used the SL phone app, but if you will use public transit more than twice in Stockholm, it is really better to buy an SL Access (stored-value) card at a T-bana station or a Pressbyran convenience store.) One couple needed a very long time to figure out the machine, and those behind them in line barely managed to buy their tickets before the bus came. It's permissible to board a bus through the middle doors, which is easier with luggage, and then walk to the front to pay, but not all drivers consent to it and the driver of this bus didn't. Considering how much trouble people had buying tickets, this was probably prudent. After leaving my luggage at the hotel and reclaiming my glasses, I went out for coffee before the Judiska Museet (Jewish Museum) opened at 11:00. There is not a tremendously long history of Jewish settlement in Stockholm and the collection is small, but the interpretation is brilliant, and surprisingly honest about Sweden's ambivalence toward Jews until 1943, when almost the entire Jewish population of Denmark escaped to Sweden. Stacks of letters from the 1930s pleading with the Swedish government to admit Jewish refugees -- all answered no. After that I went to the Vasa Museet, which is the #1 tourist site in Stockholm. The Vasa is a 17th-century ship that sank immediately after launching and was raised and restored in the 1960s. A person could spent hours in the museum, because there are also extensive other displays. The next morning I checked out of the hotel around 8:45 a.m. and headed to the airport for a 12:25 p.m. flight. This time I took the T-bana from Gamla Stan and transferred to commuter rail at Odenplan; I think it is probably easier to transfer there than at T-Centralen, but my reason was that it was what the SL app said to do, possibly because of better connecting time. On a Sunday the commuter train is quiet and uncrowded, but slower than the Arlanda Express because of stops. At the airport I learned that the flight was delayed until 2:00, eventually 2:30. SAS was open about the reason: the inbound plane had trouble with some of the toilets. I was glad of lounge access and had a drink, snacks, and coffee while waiting, since a 2:30 departure would mean lunch on the plane around 4:00 p.m. The lounge at Arlanda is large and was less crowded than at Newark even thought Arlanda is a hub. A minor warning: allow plenty of time to get to the gate for a flight to a non-Schengen destination, because passport control for those gates can have long lines. Again, be sure not to get in a citizen line unless you have an eligible passport. The flight, when it eventually took off, was uneventful. At EWR I was glad of having Global Entry, although it takes some ingenuity after you have your luggage to get to the GE line to hand in your customs ticket, because the regular lines block access to it. It was hard to call the parking lot for a pickup, because my phone took a very long time to find any signal, even outdoors. Once I had my car I drove about 25 miles and stayed in a motel, because while there was time for driving all the way home, it was about midnight by Stockholm time.
  5. Day 7 - Helsinki. I had booked a historic highlights tour through RCI because it included the Seurasaari open-air museum. There are also open-air museums in or near Stockholm and St. Petersburg, but this was the only one that I visited. We started with a few sites in Helsinki and happened to see the antique tram that runs only on summer weekends, as this was a Saturday. It's not totally a tourist thing, as it operates on regular routes. No picture, because a bus passed before I had the camera ready. Then the Rock Church. This is a modern church carved out of a rock outcropping and is very popular with tours, but it functions as a regular church. Seurasaari was the main element of the tour. It's essentially a museum of Finnish rural life, with buildings moved from all over the country and placed in a naturalistic setting that is a lovely park on its own. We started with coffee and cinnamon rolls in a pavilion; every Nordic country claims to make the best cinnamon rolls and to drink the most coffee. The rolls were, indeed, very good. I don't have many pictures, because the guide moved us along so quickly. Seurasaari is very large. The windmill would have been for grinding grain, not pumping water. There's also a water mill near it, but we were galloping too fast for a picture. A church moved to the park: And a wedding party waiting for the bride: We were back at the ship at 2:00 p.m. and I headed to the Windjammer for lunch, as usual choosing a seat and leaving my jacket and bag there. Then I went to the art auction, which had its preview at 2:00 and was just beginning when I got there at 2:30. A word about shipboard art auctions. In general I don't think they're good values, but it varies a bit. One of my friends on another cruise has bought three or four pictures from the Park West galleries on board, although not in the auctions, and I think that she paid a fair price for the ones that I saw. On the other hand, I think that many of the pictures are wildly overpriced. I have never bid in one, but I like to see what others bid on, and there's free champagne. Once, on another ship, we were invited to tag any pictures we were interested in with a Post-It. I did tag two and neither was brought up for auction. I have no love for Park West, but I think they were treated badly on this cruise. One art auction was cancelled because of a conflict with another event scheduled into the same venue (oops!), and this one, the last, was scheduled for a time before the all-aboard time for the day, so many passengers were still ashore, just returning, or having lunch. Small audience and nothing sold, but considering what they brought out, nothing deserved to sell. Park West is still pushing Peter Max heavily in spite of the recent scandal.
  6. I was on the Epic in February, and while another passenger told me that Cagney's required long pants, the Freestyle Daily did not say that - only Manhattan and Le Bistro. However, the other passenger was my host, on a platinum certificate, so I dressed as he wanted. The dress code is not completely uniform across all NCL ships and it may even vary from one sailing to another, so it is always prudent to check the Freestyle Daily for your sailing.
  7. I experienced this a few times when I was younger, but mostly at land crossings between the U.S. and Canada.
  8. I was on the Serenade of the Seas at the beginning of this month. We happened to call at Visby during Almedalen Week, when the town is overrun with politicians. That has some entertainment value in itself, but it also made ordinary sightseeing a bit difficult.
  9. When I was on the Epic in 2018 the show was "Cirque Dreams" and it was in the Spiegel Tent, although I'm not sure that it's accurate to call a multi-story indoor space a tent.
  10. If this was for me: 7 days, Royal Caribbean, Serenade of the Seas.
  11. NCL provides the most services for solo travelers and offers them even on ships that don't have any single cabins, although there will be more solos on the ships that do. In particular, a designated solo host will bring solo passengers (only those who want to) together for dinner each night after the first. This is nice if you would like company for dinner, because NCL is all "freestyle" dining with no assigned seating. Why they don't do it on the first night is a question that I can't answer. I recently returned from a cruise on RCI, on a ship that has only three single cabins (and I didn't have one of them). There was a singles party late at night that I didn't attend, and there were singles trivia games with themes that I wasn't interested in. Nevertheless, I felt well taken care of and wouldn't hesitate to cruise on RCI again - which is a good thing because I have a booking on RCI for next year. I would avoid MSC, which won't even accept solo bookings on some itineraries.
  12. I'm just back from a cruise on the Baltic Sea from Stockholm. I agree completely that the number of days in St. Petersburg and where the ship docks in Stockholm should be given the most weight. There is an inherent trade-off in avoiding ships that dock at Nynashamn in Sweden. If you prefer the activities and amenities of a very large ship, you may want to choose one that can't dock at Frihamnen or Stadsgärden. I don't care much about those things, and a Baltic cruise has so many port days that you don't really get a lot of time aboard the ship anyway. I chose an itinerary from Stockholm rather than Copenhagen partly because of availability on the dates that worked best for me, but also because it happened not to include a call at what the cruise lines misleadingly call "Berlin." Berlin is inland and is a long trip from Warnemünde or Rostock where the ship can dock. I speak German and would want more time in Berlin than a cruise call allows, so I was willing to leave it for a future visit, but it meant missing Copenhagen this time since I didn't have enough vacations days for a stop there before or after the cruise. The Baltic ports were still cool at the beginning of July. I appreciated that, because on the day I arrived in Stockholm, where it was 75° F. (the warmest temperature I experienced during this trip), it was 113° in Paris.
  13. Day 6 - St. Petersburg. The only excursion I had booked for our second day at St. Petersburg wasn't until the afternoon. This worked out well, because I was tired -- not so much from the long day just before, but because of the many hours of walking in Tallinn the day before that. As it was a port day, there was no MDR lunch and I lunched a little early in the Windjammer. The tour I chose, booked through RCI, was one that combined a visit to the Yusupov palace with a canal cruise. I had read Prince Yusupov's account of the assassination of Rasputin when I was about ten years old and had wanted to see the place ever since, even after learning that there is doubt about his version of the story.* The group from our ship was enough for two buses, and at the palace the guides divided us further into four groups, two from each bus, because although the palace is very large (the Yusupovs were probably wealthier than the Romanovs!), the rooms having to do with the assassination are small. Each group visited those rooms at a different point in the tour, with the large public rooms before, after, or both. The rooms that are the alleged site of the assassination have wax figures depicting the conspirators and Rasputin himself. Here is a photo of Rasputin after his body was pulled out of the canal. There was water in his lungs, and it's possible that, even though he was first poisoned and then shot, he died of drowning. The canal cruise was less of a success, because it had started to rain hard. St. Petersburg may be the "Venice of Russia" but it has only about 55 sunny days a year. The rain eventually stopped and many people went up on deck for a better view and better ventilation, but if you do that, you have to stay seated because of the many bridges. In that connection, people staying in St. Petersburg late the evening before had been warned that almost all the bridges are raised overnight to allow access farther into the city for cargo ships. We were slightly late getting back to the ship, and our guide said that her headquarters had been in touch with the ship about our arrival time. We were by no means the only tour group returning at the last minute. * So this was a bucket-list item for me. I achieved another such item in a cruise last year, seeing the Chapelle du Rosaire (Matisse Chapel) at Vence in France, during a port call at Cannes.
  14. I am starting to think that I should take my funeral suit on every cruise. And, to fit in with other passengers, look censoriously at everyone else. After all, this is The Holland America Line and there are standards to maintain.
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