Age: Baby Boomer
Number of Cruises: 35+
Cruise Line: Celebrity
Sailing Date: May 21st, 2005
14-Night Baltic and Russia Cruise
I had been anticipating this cruise for months. Having never been to this part of the world, a Baltic cruise was on the top of my list of “must-do’s” and it was finally coming to fruition. When my travel professional group offered a seminar at sea on this itinerary, I immediately jumped at the chance. Scandinavian countries I had only dreamed about, with St. Petersburg, Russia thrown in as a bonus – who wouldn’t be excited! Originally, I had planned to travel with a friend, but she was unable to make suitable travel arrangements. Although I was hoping to meet others from the group in Amsterdam, the first part of my journey was done solo. I flew from Cleveland to Newark, and then had a lengthy lay-over before boarding my overnight flight on Continental from New Jersey to Amsterdam.
Pre-Cruise (A Day in Amsterdam):
I arrived in Amsterdam at 6:50 AM, a bit ahead of schedule, easily located my luggage and then negotiated myself to the train terminal. I actually had 3 options for getting to the city from the airport: the train (3.70 Euro), the hotel connection bus (11 Euro) or taxi. But, since I knew that my hotel was situated very near Central Station, I chose that route. Although the train is the fastest and least expensive mode of transportation, I would like to caution those of you who choose that method. There is a very nice ramp that allows easy access to the trains located on the lower level of the terminal; BUT, there is a very large step to get up into the train that is not easy if you are one person with large, heavy luggage. Then, when you get off the train, you have that same step to negotiate and must then drag your luggage down a flight of stairs to get to the street. There is an elevator, but it is not large enough to be of much use. A young Norwegian gentleman was kind enough to assist me, both in getting my luggage on and off the train and for that I am quite grateful. Anyway, back to phase one of my journey. Once I was actually on the street, a very easy 5 minute walk had me checking into the Golden Tulip Inn at 8:00 AM.
My room was not ready, so I stored my luggage and began my first walking tour of the city. Armed with a map and some rudimentary directions from the hotel concierge, I found my way to the Anne Frank House. Since I had limited time, I chose not to tour the house as it was not yet open and there was already a long line. I wandered down Damrak (the main street) towards Central Station and decided for 8 Euros I would take a one hour canal cruise to get an overview of the city. It was an excellent decision and something I would suggest everyone do on their first visit to Amsterdam. The Old Canal, the 6 arch bridges, 17th century merchant houses, mansions, churches and bell towers are just some of the sights along the way. Notice the furniture hooks at the top of the facades. Since the doors and stairwells of the houses are so narrow, it is used to hoist furniture in through the window.
Amsterdam's Dam Square
After my cruise, I continued my exploration of the city on foot to Dam Square to the Royal Palace and surrounding area stopping at an outdoor café for a great cup of coffee and breakfast pastry. What a wonderful city to explore on foot.
By now I was getting weary, so I returned to my hotel, in hopes that my room would be ready. It was not! But kudos to the manager of the Golden Tulip! Taking pity on this poor tired American, he upgraded me to a corner suite, so that I could check-in immediately. Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! I will be eternally grateful for the hotel hospitality and would certainly recommend anyone planning a trip to Amsterdam stay here. Rooms were spacious, staff friendly and accommodating, complimentary internet café in the lobby, in an excellent location AND priced right! I was able to take a shower and relax before meeting one of my cruise friends later that afternoon to continue my exploration of the city on foot.
Amsterdam's Royal Palace
I met my friend at Dam Square and we proceeded to wander the city in search of
the Flower Market. We had a great time checking out the local scenery, but never
did find the Flower Market. Jet lag, limited sleep and a full day of walking
wore me out and I was looking forward to retiring early in preparation for my
highly anticipated cruise. Before I returned to my hotel, however, we did manage
to venture through the Red Light District (another aspect of Amsterdam that is
definitely a unique experience).
I had a wonderful nights sleep and checked out of the hotel just before 11 AM. The concierge hailed a taxi and I was on my way for what should have been a very short ride to the passenger terminal not far from Central Station. Unfortunately, my driver did not know where the cruise ship terminal was located, and a trip that should have taken 5 minutes took 20. When I arrived at the terminal they had not yet begun boarding so I was instructed to wait in the lobby. While waiting, Tom (our seminar leader and my Cruise Reviews colleague) arrived but had forgotten something at his hotel and had to go back and retrieve it. I offered to wait with his luggage while he made the return trek. As luck would have it, boarding began about 5 minutes after he left. But, no good deed goes unrewarded. One of the Century greeters felt bad that people who arrived after me were boarding. So as soon as my associate returned, she expedited our boarding process by having us escorted to the head of line. Once there, we utilized the priority boarding service provided to us as elite members of the Captain’s Club. Greeted with a complimentary glass of champagne and cabin escort, I was settled into my stateroom by 1 PM.
The Century is forerunner to the Millennium Class ships and sister ship to the Mercury, which I had sailed on previously. Although the design is quite similar, there are differences in style and configuration of public rooms that give the Century an entirely different character than her counterpart. Not flashy or bold, the décor is clean and crisp with accents of color, reminiscent of the modern-minimalist style. If you look closely, you will notice subtle signs of age (she is after all 10 years old), but overall she still appears polished and has a classic, understated appeal.
I was assigned cabin #4055 (ocean-view, midship deck 4, port side). Since I was traveling solo, the 175 square foot cabin provided more than ample space. The clean, simple lines and functional furnishings were pleasant and the wood paneling appeared as if it had been recently refurbished. Upon entering the cabin, there were 2 full length closets and shelving unit offering 4 very deep open shelves and 4 drawers on the right side of the narrow entranceway. The closet cabinetry ended in corner diagonal shelving that housed a 20 inch interactive TV, with an open shelf and mini bar below. A chair and round glass end table sat in front of the bar.
Opposite the closets, on the left side of the entranceway, the bathroom was flanked by 2 full length mirrors. Adjacent to the bathroom, was a diagonal desk/dressing table with 3 drawers on each side and a large mirrored cabinet. Behind the mirror, there were more shelves and a room safe. Lighting was sufficient, but there was only one electrical outlet. (Bring an extension cord.) My room had two twin beds, which I requested to have reconfigured as a queen. Set against a nice size picture window with a deep windowsill, the bed was quite comfortable and there was enough clearance under the bed to store my suitcases. Two nightstands with attached lights and 2 drawers flanked the bed(s). The telephone resides on one of the nightstands, and although it was supposed to have voice mail, it was not functioning. Actually, a situation that was a minor nuisance to me, as I often desired the ability to leave messages to members of the group.
The bathroom was standard size, with a small, glass corner shelf above the sink and 2 closed shelving areas under the sink. With good water pressure, easily adjusted faucet controls and flexible, removable shower hose the small shower was satisfactory. It did, however, have a very lightweight cloth shower curtain, that had a tendency to cling to a wet body; so, I would suggest you use a few clothespins to alleviate the problem. Although I had no problem with the water temperature during the entire cruise, some from our group that were on the starboard side of the ship complained about the lack of hot water. Shampoo and hand lotion are the only amenities that are provided. The shampoo was not great, but acceptable. However, the hand lotion had a very medicinal scent that I found quite unappealing. There was a wall mounted hair dryer that in my opinion was completely useless. Not only was it not very powerful and had a hose that became extremely hot, BUT it was mounted on the left side bathroom wall. Now, that may not seem like a big deal to many of you, but being left-handed, without turning into a contortionist styling my hair was impossible. Unfortunately, I had forgotten to pack my own hair dryer and had to subject myself to hairdo horrors everyday. (I promise, I will not let that happen again.)
The Since my stateroom was on deck 4, I chose to begin my tour there and proceed upward.
Deck 4 (Continental Deck):
Entrance to the Fun Factory
The only other facilities on this deck are the Medical Center and the Ship Mates Fun Factory.
The Fun Factory Interior
This attractive children’s area is not very large, but was quite sufficient to handle the 38 children that were onboard.
The Grand Restaurant
Deck 5 (Plaza Deck):
Taking the aft stairs next to the children’s playroom leads to the main level of the bi-level Grand Restaurant. The deck dead-ends at this point, however, and it is impossible to get to the forward section of Deck 5 without either going back down or up one level. So, let’s retrace our steps and return to deck 4 and move forward to the midship stairwell.
The Grand Foyer and Guest Relations
This set of stairs takes us to the Grand
Foyer. Shops, offices, guest relations, the excursion desk, bank and hotel
director’s office encircle the Grand Foyer. The remaining forward section of
Deck 5 is occupied by standard inside and ocean-view staterooms.
Deck 6 (Promenade):
Occupying the forward portion of deck 6 is the main level of the Celebrity Theater. This bi-level theater was attractive, comfortable and had excellent sight lines and acoustics. There was never a huge crowd, so it was not difficult to secure a seat at the last minute.
The Outdoor Promenade
Moving aft, there was a covered outdoor promenade on both the starboard and port sides. These are excellent spots if you are looking for a quiet and peaceful place to read or nap, but still enjoy the outdoor elements.
The Card Room
The adjacent interior area was the location of the Cinema and Conference Center and the Card Room (both of which were used quite heavily on this cruise).
Additional Computers with Internet Access
Computer terminals lined the exterior walls of the hallway
Looking Towards the Conference Center and Library
outside the Conference Center. Continuing to move aft along this hallway leads us to the library and Celebrity@Sea (the Internet Café).
Celebrity @ Sea Internet Cafe
Unfortunately, the internet service on this cruise left something to be desired. There were major problems with the satellite service and connection speed (when available) was painstakingly slow. Next to the Internet Café was a new addition to the Celebrity fleet, Acupuncture at Sea.
Acupuncture at Sea
I was quite amazed at the number of passengers who utilized the acupuncture services during our cruise.
The Cova Cafe
From there we move to the Cova Café Milano and the Boulevard. We found the Cova Café to be an excellent meeting place for our group as it was centrally located in the foyer/atrium area. (Besides it was a great place to get a café latte while waiting on various group members).
The Flower Shop
The Boulevard housed a wonderful little Flower Shop that provided guests the opportunity to purchase a bouquet or corsage for a special occasion or as a treat to someone.
Proceeding aft, two hallways which were both utilized as the display area for the Photo Shop, led to Rendez-Vous Square. This was one of the Wi-Fi “hot spots” on the Century, but I never had any luck at securing a connection. This was a popular meeting place and many activities took place here daily. A duo performed here in the evening for our dancing pleasure, but this was not a venue or entertainment preference that was particularly to my liking.
Upper Level of the Grand Reestaurant
The remaining portion of this deck was the
location of the upper level of the Grand Restaurant. The Grand Restaurant is a
befitting name for this elegant and majestic dining room. I was quite pleased
with every aspect of this restaurant. Food, service, décor and ambiance were all
Deck 7 (Entertainment Deck):
The Crystal Room
Directly above the restaurant in the aft portion of the ship was the Crystal Room. This was a very attractive lounge with a nice size dance floor and an excellent bar staff. I spent much time here, as I really enjoyed the ambiance, staff and entertainment at this venue.
The Martini Bar
Tugged into a corner of this lounge was the very small Martini Bar. It was staffed by an outstanding bartender that was so friendly and personable that my friends and I often shared a nightcap there – just so we could stop by and chat. Moving forward on deck 7 required a jaunt through Fortunes, the onboard casino.
The casino offered all the requisite gaming tables and quite a few slot machines. I am not a gambler, but apparently a number of the other guests were as it appeared to be heavily utilized during this cruise.
The Boulevard Shops
From here we move into the upper level of the Grand Foyer, or the main section of the Boulevard. This shopping area of the Century was not very large compared to many other ships I have been on, but was certainly sufficient.
The Grand Foyer Shops
The requisite duty-free liquor store, a boutique, jewelry and perfume store, logo shop and sundries section offered the usual onboard shopping fare.
Continuing forward led to Images, the sports bar that doubled as an internet annex. Our group met here the first few nights, but there were a number of smokers that frequented this bar, so we relocated our pre-dinner gatherings to the Crystal Room.
Right next to Images was Michael’s Club. This piano bar was
one of my favorite public rooms. Decorated in rich wood paneling, with deep
chairs and couches arranged in small conversational areas, the room exudes a
comfortable and old world character that is not evident in other parts of the
ship. Moving forward, the upper level of the Celebrity Theater utilizes the
remaining portion of this deck.
Decks 8, 9 and 10 (Panorama, Vista and Penthouse):
These decks are totally devoted to staterooms. The two 1100 sq. ft. penthouse suites are on deck 10.
Deck 11 (Resort Deck):
Ah! Here was my afternoon haven. The forward section of deck 11 is the location of the Spa and Fitness Center. As an Elite Member of the Captain’s Club, unlimited access to the AquaSpa is complimentary.
The Thallasotherapy Pool
So, I spent a number of hours relaxing in the mineral rich thallasotherapy pool. The pool is set at body temperature (or is supposed to be, however, on this cruise there were a few occasions that it was less than that) and the various jets, massagers and rivers are set on an automatic timer that is set to run for 20 minutes. I also enjoyed the sauna and steam rooms.
The Aerobics Room
The fitness center, which I must admit I did NOT utilize this cruise, had a fairly large aerobics room, a small free weight area and the standard cardio-vascular equipment.
The Fitness Center
The remaining portion of the Spa was devoted to private massage and treatment rooms and a beauty salon.
The Jacuzzis and Pools on the Century
Exiting the Spa and moving aft led outdoors to 2 pools and 4 hot tubs. Although I did enjoy a couple sessions in the hot tubs, due to the weather conditions and port intensive sailing, this was an area that did not see a lot of activity. On days when the weather permitted entertainment was a provided on the outdoor stage.
Port and starboard grill stations marked the entrance to the Islands Café. Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, there were 3 complete buffet lines that served both hot and cold items. For breakfast there was only one omelet and one waffle station which was an issue for many (see my comments under the “Food & Service” section of this review). A 4th buffet area served continental breakfast in the morning and sandwiches for lunch. There was also a grill serving hot dogs, hamburgers and fries. Although I cannot eat salad, I was informed by others that the salad bar at lunch was adequate but not very exciting. Two drink stations were open 24 hours a day that offered coffee, juice, fruit punch and lemonade.
Al Fresco Dining
The aft fantail of deck 11 served as the al fresco dining area of the Islands
Café. Well protected from the elements, this was a popular spot to dine.
Deck 12 (Sports Deck):
The Sky Bar
Taking the stairs from the rear of the Islands Café we come to the Sky Bar dining area. This casual dining venue served fresh pizza and made to order pastas and Caesar salads daily from noon to 1:00 AM. Although it could get quite crowded at lunch time, it was virtually empty at breakfast. So, if you are looking for a quiet place to enjoy your morning meal while being treated to an awesome view, this is the place.
The Video Arcade
As you exit the Sky Bar and travel forward, there are 2 video arcades, one on each side of the ship. Continuing down the hall, past the row of suites, we arrive at the upper level balcony of the pool area.
The Mast and Pool Bars
Lounge chairs line both sides of the ship as we wind our way forward to the Mast Bar (another open air bar) and finally to the Hemisphere Lounge.
The Hemisphere Lounge
During the day, the views from this observation lounge are unsurpassed. It is also a great place to read, relax or just take in the scenery from the floor to ceiling windows.
The Hemisphere Lounge Disco
In the evening, the lounge doubles as the disco. We ventured there a
couple times during the cruise, but with the ports being the ultimate draw of
this cruise, it was seldom busy.
Deck 14 (Sunrise Deck):
The Golf Driving Range
The jogging track and simulated golf are located on this deck, as well as a
Dining & Service:
I must give the Century a mixed review in this area. First, the quality of food, variety and service in the Grand Restaurant was outstanding! I never had a bad meal. The dining room staff from waiter to maitre’d and assistant waiter to wine steward were all accommodating, friendly and attentive without being “gushy”. Service was prompt and efficient. However, I did not find the Islands Café buffet area to be of the same caliber. I felt the variety and quality of food was mediocre and not extremely imaginative. The coffee in the buffet was often burnt and bitter. Service was also less than stellar. This was, however, a logistics problem rather than a staff problem. In the morning, there was only one, one-manned omelet station and only one omelet was made at a time. The same held true for the waffle station. Obviously, even at off-peak times the lines were quite long and many people resolved not to even bother. Homemade pizza and pasta were served most of the day at the Sky Bar. The daily pastas and made-to-order Caesar salads were exceptional and received high marks on the taste meter. But, once again, lines at lunch became quite long as only one person was preparing the pasta dishes, one at a time (same for the salads). I am at a loss for why this occurred as this unpleasant aspect of the dining experience could have easily been avoided. The Cova Café served excellent coffee, but at a premium price. There was no specialty restaurant on the Century, but the Island Café did provide a sushi bar most evenings and transformed one section of the buffet area into a casual dining restaurant. Although I did not have an opportunity to try the casual dining, those that did seemed to be pleased with both the service and the food. Late night snacks and gourmet bites were served in the public lounges most evenings. There was one Grand Buffet that was held the third formal night of the cruise.
Actually, I was pleasantly surprised by the entertainment on board. In the past, I have not found that the entertainment on Celebrity ships was one of their strong points. On this cruise, however, I enjoyed most of what was offered. The Celebrity Singers and Dancers were a youthful and energetic group of performers that had a wide range of vocal talent. I enjoyed both “Touch of Broadway” and “Shout” performances, as did most of the audience. The diversity of guest talent was a particular strength of the program. While I did not get a chance to hear all of the performers on this cruise, I was captivated by Lindsay Hamilton, West End star of Evita and Les Miserables. I found recording artist Antonio Salci’s repertoire to be exceptional and was well-received, while Mark Preston, of Lettermen fame, still had a fantastic voice. (I just wish he would do more singing and less talking.) I cannot personally comment on the other featured performers, but many from our group found them to be quite entertaining. Julio Urbana, an excellent pianist, performed nightly in Michaels and the dance band, Phoenix, kept me on my feet many a night. The disco was relatively quiet most evenings, but based on passenger load and itinerary, that was to be expected.
The Cruise (My Travelogue):
Day 1, Sat. (Amsterdam, Netherlands):
Upon being escorted to my cabin, I unpacked my carry-on quickly and proceeded directly to the Islands Café where I enjoyed a very nice luncheon buffet. My original plan was to arrive at the ship early and then return to Amsterdam for some final sightseeing. By the time I had gotten onboard and settled, I revised my plan and decided to just stay onboard. It had been a long morning and I was glad for the opportunity to finally relax and begin to adjust my mind and body into cruise mode. I spent some time exploring the ship and by the time I returned to my cabin, my luggage had already arrived. I was able to complete most of my unpacking before the requisite lifeboat drill at 4:15. Since I had bailed on exploring Amsterdam today, I was to meet my friend Sherry at the Cova Café after the drill. When she did not show up, I decided to treat myself to my first hydrotherapy pool session of the cruise. As an “elite member” of the Captain’s Circle, I had complimentary access to the spa facilities and chose to take advantage of the perk. After enjoying a very relaxing thallasotherapy pool session, I returned to my cabin to dress for the group’s 7 PM pre-dinner cocktail party. It was wonderful to see so many familiar faces and meet new members of the organization. The group proceeded to dinner, where I was treated to an excellent cut of prime rib, prepared perfectly. A number of us made our way to Hemispheres to dance off some of the excess calories we had already consumed. By now I was exhausted and needed to retire as the first of our seminars was scheduled for 9 AM the next morning.
Day 2, Sun. (At Sea):
Although I went to bed at a relatively reasonable hour, I had great difficulty sleeping, but I think my body was still adjusting to the time change (6 hours ahead). The first of our 3 seminars was held at 9 AM in Michael’s Club. This small lounge was much more comfortable as a meeting location than the conference center and I was glad that our group had been assigned that venue for our seminars. After the seminar, I made my way to the Islands Café for another buffet lunch. It was a bit cool, but still a nice, pleasant, sunny day so I chose to wile away the early afternoon in the Jacuzzi on the pool deck. From there, I made my way to the AquaSpa for a short hydrotherapy session. It was marvelously relaxing and provided just what my body required to allow me to take a much needed afternoon nap in preparation for the first formal night of the cruise. I awoke refreshed and eager to meet some of the members of our group before dinner for pre-dinner cocktails. Since we had pre-paid our gratuities, our group was able to move amongst the 6 tables assigned to us. This movement allowed us to mix and mingle with different folks each night, allowing for some great networking. This evening’s meal was superb! Good food, good wine, good service, good people and good conversation made for a perfect dining experience. By the time dinner was over, many of us had formed fast friendships and made our way to the Celebrity Theatre for the Captain’s toast and a wonderful performance by the Celebrity Singers and Dancers. “A Touch of Broadway” was the first of the production shows presented by this talented troupe, much to my liking. (Of course, I am a Broadway buff and this is usually one of my favorite performances of the cruise.) After the show, a few of us meandered into Michael’s Club for a final nightcap and then retreated to our respective cabins in preparation for our arrival in Oslo at 7:00 AM.
The Century Docked in Oslo, Norway
Day 3, Mon. (Oslo, Norway):
I woke well rested, enjoyed breakfast in the Islands Café and met others from our group at 9:15 in the Cova Café to disembark the ship. The port of Oslo is attractive and conveniently located in the center of town. The ship docks right across from the Fort, but we opted to forego a visit and walked the short distance to the ferry terminal for the brief ferry crossing to visit the Viking Ship Museum. For 20 NOK (round trip) we caught the 10 AM ferry (scheduled every half hour). We walked to the Viking Ship Museum through a beautiful residential area. While I highly recommend taking the ferry just to see the attractive residences that line hilly, winding streets, I do not think that the Viking Ship Museum is worth the 40 NOK entrance fee.
The FRAM Museum
After our 5 minute tour of the museum, we walked to the Kon-Tiki Museum and Fram Museum (both much more worthwhile than the Viking Ship Museum).
The Ferry Dock by the FRAM Museum
We grabbed a ferry right from the base of the Fram Museum for the return trip to the center of town. From there we caught the #12 westbound tram to Vigeland Sculpture Park. It is a part of the 80 acre Frogner Park approximately 4 miles from the port, and the tram makes a stop at the entrance to the sculpture park. Well after the disappointment of visiting the Viking Ship Museum, Vigeland Sculpture Park was an intriguing surprise.
Vigeland Sculpture Park
The park contains phenomenal sculptures depicting the whole cycle of human life from birth to death, created by Gustav Vigeland. . (Access to this public park is free, and a definite MUST DO for anyone visiting Oslo).
We spent quite a bit of
time wandering the impressive grounds, and stopped for a beverage at one of the
small outdoor cafes at the entrance to the park before returning to Aker Brygge
via an eastbound tram. From there our group stumbled upon Vin Og, a great little
restaurant right on the waterfront. We chose to dine in the second level covered
patio and were treated to not only a great view but also some good food. If you
are looking for a good place to dine while in Oslo, this would be my
recommendation. Unfortunately, our stay in Oslo was not long so about 2:30 PM I
made my way back to the ship for our afternoon departure. I had fallen into a
routine, and before a much needed nap I enjoyed a short session in the thallasotherapy pool. After my nap, I spent some time completing e-mail
correspondence and met others from our group at Images for a pre-dinner
cocktail. Dinner was once again a dining and social pleasure with good food and
even better conversation. After dinner I met a few members of the group at the
Martini Bar for a nightcap and to enjoy the music of Phoenix, the dance band.
Day 4, Tue. (At Sea):
This was a very rough morning as I had slept very poorly. There was a major problem with some steam pipes near my cabin and about every 4 hours unbelievably loud banging and clanging, culminating in piercing and ear-splitting whistling. After being so brutally awakened at 3:30 AM, it took quite some time for me to relax enough to get back to sleep. Of course just as I had managed to do so, I was harshly awakened just before 7:00 AM for a repeat performance. Needless to say, I was exhausted when it was time to get up to get ready for our second seminar scheduled for 9:00 AM and a major migraine was brewing. In an attempt to fend off the headache, I made the decision to remain prone and arrived late to the seminar. It was a wise decision on my part as the hour of sleep that I managed to sneak in was successful at warding off the migraine. By the time I arrived at the seminar things were in full swing, but I quickly got caught up and managed to make the most of the time that remained of this valuable learning and networking session. Still being extremely sleep-deprived, I was glad that this was a day at sea so that I could continue to lay low and spend the day resting. I grabbed some made to order pasta at the Sky Bar and made my way back to my stateroom for an afternoon nap. Not, however, before I stopped at the Purser’s Desk to complain about the nighttime noise. (Actually, I was not alone as there were other members of our group that had suffered through the same disturbances since we had been assigned cabins next to each other.) I was assured that the situation was being dealt with and I should not worry (more about that later). I did, in fact, rest quite comfortably for a good part of the afternoon and awoke with renewed energy for the evening ahead. I dressed and met some of our group for pre-dinner cocktails, followed by another fabulous dinner and conversation. I finished my coffee and dessert just in time to see Miss Lindsay Hamilton, star of “Evita” and “Les Miserables” perform in the Celebrity Theater. Accompanied by the Celebrity Orchestra she put on quite a commanding performance. I retired that evening with the melodies still dancing in my head. I fell asleep quite soundly and was quite pleased that the noises of the previous evening had abated.
Day 5, Wed. (Stockholm, Sweden):
Arriving in Stockholm, Sweden
Having slept soundly I awoke eager to explore Stockholm. We arrived on schedule at 9:00 AM and as the ship was docking I grabbed breakfast as usual at the buffet and prepared to leave the ship as soon as we were able. We had docked a bit outside of town and the Century was providing a complimentary shuttle service into the heart of the city, but as my traveling companions and I disembarked the ship we discovered the shuttle service had not yet begun and the line was horrendous. At that point, we made the decision to secure a taxi for $150 SEK.
The Royal Palace in Stockholm
The taxi dropped us at the base of the back stairs to the entrance of the Royal Palace and we made the rest of the way on foot.
Wow! Gamla Stan, or Old Town, was a real treat! As I wandered the winding streets, I loved the whole experience. We spent some time just wandering aimlessly along the cobblestone streets, taking photographs and stopping at quaint locations along the way as we bided out time waiting for the changing of the guards at the Royal Palace. It was definitely worth the wait! I witnessed all of the pomp and circumstance one imagines at such events and was totally enraptured by the entire scene.
The Changing of the Guards
I know that the whole program is choreographed for the benefit of tourists rather than serving any significant official purpose, but I was still captivated. This particular experience will definitely stand out as a highlight of my cruising adventures. We had hoped to reconnect with one of the members of our traveling band of explorers at the ceremony and were quite fortunate to do so in the midst of the crowd. Once the group was reunited, we discovered an absolutely perfect spot for lunch. A very small, quaint establishment in one of the many alleyways beckoned us and we were not disappointed.
The Grey Goose Restaurant
The Grey Goose was a unique restaurant that served a traditional Swedish lunch on the above ground level (which consisted of about 6 tables) and served dinner in an awesome candlelit dining room under ground. Apparently the street level was at one time where the underground dining room is now located, but years of garbage being thrown into the streets during the middle ages caused the street levels to be raised. We spent a short time checking out other spots in the area as we made our way back to the shuttle bus for the return trip to the ship. By the way, make sure to take the time to check out the ceilings of many of the small shops, they are works of art in themselves.
The Appointed Shuttle Stop Back to the Ship
Once again, our time in port was much too short to
really experience all that this fabulous port had to offer. Just one more reason
I would definitely be taking another Baltic cruise in the future. A brief stint
at the thallasotherapy pool and then it was time to get ready to meet the rest
of the group for pre-dinner cocktails. Dinner was fabulous, as usual, but having
missed my routine afternoon nap (am I getting old or what??) I could not stay
awake for any after dinner activity. Some of the group went to the evening show
with Gary Arbuthnot and some proceeded to the various dance venues, but I opted
to retire for the evening (particularly since we would be losing another hour
tonight due to the time change). After all, I wanted to be well-rested for my
fist glimpse of Helsinki. However, so much for being well-rested! The noise
gremlins were back with a vengeance, and once again I spent the better part of
the night awake.
Day 6, Thurs. (Helsinki, Finland):
We arrived in port as scheduled at approximately 9:15, but since we staying in port a bit longer today our group of independent tourists agreed to meet at the Cova Café at 10:30 to disembark. This turned out quite fortuitous for me as it allowed me a couple extra hours of shut eye in the morning to make up for the lack of sleep during the night. Okay, so I hadn’t slept well, but after my morning “nap” and a double café latte, I was ready to tackle Helsinki. Our ship had docked at the commercial port about 2 miles from the center of town.
This time we chose to take one of the shuttles that the ship provided for our transit into town.
We began our walking tour of Helsinki by walking the Esplanade towards Market Square. Along the way we window shopped, stopped to admire the flowers in the parks and gardens that line the street and visited Senate Square.
Lutheran Cathedral dominated the square and was quite impressive.
From there we made our way past the Presidential Palace to Uspenski Cathedral. Sitting high on a hill overlooking the city, it was hard to miss the brilliant gold onion dome of this Russian Orthodox cathedral as it sparkled in the sunlight.
Once we hit Market Square, the troops scattered as we all went our separate ways inspecting the various flowers, souvenirs, handicrafts and other treasures that were on display in this outdoor market. I had great fun selecting the perfect souvenirs for my daughter and mother, before making my way to a sidewalk restaurant to rejoin our group for a light lunch and glass of wine.
One of the Esplanade's Outdoor Cafes
We walked back along the
Esplanade to catch the shuttle for our return to the ship having enjoyed a very
Upon our return, I chose to rest a bit in my cabin before preparing for the evening. It happened to be the second of three formal nights on the cruise, so our group photo was scheduled for tonight at 7:30. Following that, those of us who were members of the Captain’s Club proceeded to the Crystal Lounge for the Captain’s Club Cocktail Party and then on to dinner. My meal was exceptionally good tonight and, as usual, conversation was lively as we shared our day’s experiences. After dinner, I chose to retire. Not only was or ship arriving in port at 7:00 AM, but once again we had to advance our clocks ahead another hour. GROAN!!!
Day 7, Friday (St. Petersburg):
Fortunately, there were no late night rumblings in the outer walls of my cabin and I was able to get a good night’s sleep. I definitely needed it, since this was to be a long day and I didn’t want to miss a moment. Of all the destinations on this itinerary, this was the port that I had fantasized about the most. Perhaps it had something to do with the elaborate planning that went into our visit. We had learned that it is possible to bypass purchasing one of the ship’s shore excursions, or purchase a Russian visa and still visit St. Petersburg. Cruise passengers that book private excursions through an authorized Russian tour operator are exempt from the visa requirement and are able to customize a personal tour that is much less expensive than those offered through the cruise lines.
Our Trusty Guide in St. Petersburg, Russia
My colleague on Port Reviews and CruiseReviews.com and I had arranged
tours through DenRus for the two days that we would be in St. Petersburg. With
our tour vouchers in hand, we passed though security and immigration quite
easily and met our driver and guide as planned at the port at 8:30 AM. Our guide
spoke fluent English and offered us a warm welcome.
Our plan for the day was to explore as much of the city as possible and we were quite successful at packing in an amazing amount of touring in one day. I was not prepared for the truly awesome beauty and pure magnificence of St. Petersburg. Peter the Great is credited with the start of building St. Petersburg and his imprint is still visible at every turn. Add to that the architectural and artistic influences of Catherine the Great, and the city is a European showplace resplendent with palaces, cathedrals, monuments and residences for the nobility.
Peter Paul Fortress
Without devoting too much time to detail, the highlights of our day included Peter and Paul Fortress and Cathedral (a monument of military and engineering excellence);
St. Isaac's Catherdral
St. Isaac’s Cathedral with its dome of pure gold;
Church of the Spilled Blood
the Church of the Spilled Blood (ornately spectacular church built on the spot where Emperor Alexander II was assassinated);
The Bronzed Horseman
Palace Square and the Bronze Horseman (Peter the Great statue that historically has been a symbol of tyranny commissioned to pay tribute to enlightened absolutism); the Cathedral of Our Lady of Kazan (modeled after St. Peter’s in Rome);
a walking and shopping tour of Nevsky Prospekt;
The Hermitage Museum
and of course, The Hermitage. Ah! The Hermitage, where to begin? With over 3 million works on exhibit, enormous does not even begin to describe this museum.
The Interior of the Hermitage Museum
However, the fine architectural detail and opulent beauty of the museum is enough to marvel at alone. All this and we had only scratched the surface of the many facets of this phenomenal city before returning to the ship for a short respite. We were scheduled to rejoin our guide and driver for a nightclubbing tour at 9:00 PM.
The Opening of the White Nights Festival (and Palace Bridge)
Another member of our group joined us for the nighttime festivities and what an
adventure we had! First stop: the Palace Bridge. We were most fortunate to be in
St. Petersburg for the opening night of the “White Nights Festival”. Our driver
managed to secure a parking space not far from the bridge and our group, along
with thousands of local residents, walked to the river’s edge for the opening
ceremonies. We were fortunate to find a bar on a barge that offered a
spectacular view of the Palace Bridge. As if on cue, the clock struck 11:00 PM,
the bridge was raised, fireworks lit the sky and a 3-masted ship passed through
the draw-bridge firing off its cannons. The crowd erupted in cheers and song. I
could not believe the luck of being at this very spot, at this perfect moment,
participating in a “once-in-a-lifetime” opportunity! This one event was enough
to guarantee this day in St. Petersburg as one I will treasure forever.
We made our way back to the car and proceeded to conclude our evening with our planned nightclubbing tour. This was perhaps the only glitch in my otherwise perfect visit to St. Petersburg. This was obviously not our guide’s forte. Add to that the crowds celebrating the opening night festivities and we spent a couple hours driving around looking for a spot that was not totally reserved or offered a parking possibility. We finally ended up at Magrib, a nightclub on Nevsky Prospekt that actually turned out quite interesting. Caviar, perfectly chilled vodka and an interesting array of locals made for an entertaining night. Before leaving, we spent some time exploring the many rooms of the club and found the disco area to be unbelievable. Ladies, all I can say is if you are not a perfect 10, or above, you will be totally out of your element. I have NEVER seen a conglomeration of more beautiful women in my life!! Can you say “demoralized”! I know I am no longer 20 something, but I couldn’t help returning to the ship at 3:00 AM a bit dispirited. It didn’t take long for my spirits to be lifted, however, by the absolutely awesome magnificence of the Church of the Spilled Blood lit against the night sky. This was to be another image that will remain an enduring memory.
Day 8, Saturday (St. Petersburg):
The Entrance to Peterhof
Knowing that we had planned for a late night in St. Petersburg, I had scheduled our second day of touring to begin at 11:00 AM. Boy, was I glad I did! Our guide and driver met us again as scheduled and our group proceeded out of the city to visit Peterhof. It was a pleasant drive and it was interesting to see the outskirts of town for a view of how the regular citizens live. Due to special festivities, we were unable to actually visit the main palace of Peterhof.
Katherine's Palace at Peterhof
But, we did have a private tour of Katherine’s Palace and the Bath house. However, this was the official opening (another perfect timed event) of the spectacular fountains.
The Peterhof Fountains
I was awestruck! We were treated to the beauty of the palatial grounds in their full regalia and marveled at this amazing engineering feat. This would definitely be a place that I would plan to make a return trip as I have it on good authority that the palace itself is spectacular. I returned to the ship with mixed emotions. I was euphoric over the two unforgettable days of exploring, but sad that I did not have longer to discover more of the riches this city has to offer.
The Century in St. Petersburg, Russia
Dinner was quite lively as everyone from our group shared their experiences over
the last two days. While a couple of us made our way to the Hemisphere Lounge to
dance a bit to the 50’s/60’s tunes at the disco, others from our group went to
the Celebrity Theater to enjoy recording artist Antonio Salci. It didn’t take me
long to realize that if I were to explore Tallinn in the morning I would need to
call it a night. (At least we were going to regain one of our lost hours and the
clock was shifted back one hour tonight.)
Day 9, Sunday (Tallinn, Estonia):
The Century Docked in Tallinn, Estonia (Seen From the Center of the Old City)
We arrived at 8:00 AM, as scheduled, and I awoke eager to begin another day of exploring. I was skeptical that anything could top the last 2 days, but I was gladly going to give it a try! Once again a complimentary shuttle service was being provided for our trip into the center of town. The shuttle dropped us of just around the corner from the entrance to the Old Walled City.
The Viru Gates, Entrance to Tallinn
As I rounded the bend and caught my first glimpse of Old Town and the Viru Gates that mark the entrance, I knew that this day was going to be another spectacular day! We strolled through the beautiful flower market and passed through the gates and into another time period. Had it not been for the glaring and totally out of place McDonalds on one corner, I would have sworn I had been transported to the 13th century.