Age: 51 - 60
Number of Cruises: 25
Cruise Line: Holland America
Sailing Date: July 29th, 2001
Itinerary: The Baltic and Russia
The Amsterdam is new. It has an astrological clock in the Centrum, lots of artwork, and has dark wood like the old cruise liners. It was fully booked with 1379 passengers and over 700 were repeaters. There were passengers of all ages, including about 75 children, and all nationalities, though
Americans made up the majority. My cabin was a large inside with plenty of closet space, a programmable safe and large bathroom. I preferred the Volendam on which I'd sailed last year as I liked the light woods and floral theme better, but both are lovely ships. They both have Promenade Decks that are great for walking around the ship. That, and the movie theater, are two features I really like on Holland America ships.
The food and entertainment were good. Dining room food and service was very good. The food on the Lido Deck was good, and the grilled hamburgers, stir-fry and pizza were especially good. The Odyssey Dining Room should be tried at least once. It is the alternative restaurant and reservations for dinner are required. The entertainment was typical cruise ship, and there are fairly new movies shown frequently in the movie theater, usually in the afternoon and evening.
The cruise was 12 nights, and included two days at sea, one at the beginning and one at the end. This was not a trip to relax on as we were in port all the other days and there was so much to see and do that it was tiring. Plus that six hours are lost flying over to Europe and another two hours lost going into Russia so that sleep patterns are disrupted and one has a sense of jet lag. I would recommend flying into the departure city a day prior to the cruise to minimize this effect.
Our departure port was Copenhagen where we were given a mini-tour of the city on the way to the ship. Airport greeting, transportation to the ship, and check-in all went very well. We had a couple of hours before sailing, so I saw the Little Mermaid which was about a mile walk from where we were docked and also just walked around Copenhagen for an hour or so. I wasn't that impressed with what I saw of Copenhagen, but I'm a minority as most people really seemed to like it. We left Copenhagen at 5 p.m. and had a day at sea the next day.
The first port was Tallinn, Estonia where here, as well as Russia, passengers are required to carry their passports with them at all times. We were also warned about pickpockets as they are common in Estonia and the Baltic and are now in the Scandinavian ports as well. The best thing to see in Tallinn is the old town. One could easily do the old town on one's own as the ship has a free shuttle into a hotel in town and the lower old town is a couple of blocks away. The upper old town, which I saw as part of a morning tour, was jammed with tourists off the cruise ships. Prices are low in Estonia which makes it a good place to buy. American dollars were accepted everywhere except Germany.
The next two days were in St. Petersburg, Russia which was the highpoint of the trip for me as well as for many of the other passengers. There is so much to see and do in St. Petersburg that one could easily spend a week or more there. I signed up for two all-day tours just so that I could see as much as I could. St. Petersburg is the most northern major city in the world and is on the same parallel as Seward, Alaska. We heard that they have about 60 sunny days a year there, and we were lucky to have two of them. The first day I saw Peterhof, the summer home of Peter the Great, one of the most magnificent palaces I've ever seen with 140 gravity fountains and spectacular gardens. After a Russian box lunch, we saw Puskin, the summer palace of Catherine the Great in the afternoon. This is another magnificent palace full of gold leaf and also full of tourists. On day two, I spent the morning in the Hermitage Museum and the afternoon at St. Peter and Paul Fortress with a bit of a city tour thrown in. Again, we had another Russian box lunch, a duplicate of the one we had the prior day. The Hermitage opens at 10:30 a.m. to the general public, but opens for cruise ships at 9:00 a.m. We saw a lot of it, but that is walking and looking very fast. One could easily spend a week in the Hermitage, but we saw the highlights. St. Petersburg was much nicer than I expected and the shore excursions were just great.
Our next port was Helsinki, Finland where the ship docked about two miles from the city, but there was a complimentary shuttle bus. Helsinki is very modern with attractive architecture and many parks. Took the city tour in the afternoon which included a stop at the Sibelius monument and the Church in the Rock. All of the Carnival cruise ships are built in Helsinki, and we saw the new Carnival Pride which is under construction. Also shopped at the market near the harbor.
It was raining and overcast in Stockholm, Sweden the next day, but the tours I went on were indoors and included the Vasa ship museum (not to be missed) and the city hall where the Nobel Prize banquet is held every year. Stockholm also has a very attractive old city which we saw from the tour bus.
Our next port was also in Sweden, at Kalmar with the only shore excursion offered to the Orefors glass factory. We had to tender in at this port. I opted to tour the royal apartments of the castle (Kalmar Slott) which is a 16th century delight. They don't take U.S. dollars, but they took plastic. It cost about $7 to take the tour which was in English. Since it was Sunday, everything else in town except for McDonald's and a few souvenir shops were closed.
Next was Warnemunde, Germany which was the stop for Berlin tours. I had signed up for the museum tour to Berlin, but discovered that the museums are closed in Berlin on Mondays, so I went to Rostock instead which is a seaport and also a major German tourist area. This was once part of East Germany. We went by boat from where the ship was docked and were served delicious pastries and coffee. Then we took a walking tour of Rostock which included the cathedral with an astrological clock built in Pland in 1472. After dinner, I walked into Warnemunde that was about a ten-minute walk from the ship through an underground tunnel. This is a German resort area and many German tourists were out eating, drinking beer, walking their dogs, and enjoying the fine weather. We didn't sail until 10 p.m. when the Berlin shore excursions returned to the ship.
We were back in Denmark the next day. This time it was Arhus, their second largest city, where I took another half-day tour with a stop at Den Gamble By which is an outdoor museum of old houses taken from all parts of Denmark. After lunch, I took a 15-minute walk back into town. Lots of the locals were out enjoying the fine weather.
Our last port was Oslo, Norway where we docked next to a castle. I'd seen most of Norway when I took a 12-night cruise of the Norwegian fjords in 1996, but I had never been to Oslo. Took the tour that went to the Viking Ships Museum, the Kon Tiki Museum and also Vigeland Park, Oslo's biggest tourist attraction, where there are 201 statues done by Gustav Vigeland. The threatened rain held off until afternoon.
The last day of any cruise seems to be filled with the mundane, like listening to the disembarkation talk and packing. We had a little excitement our last day as we had a big storm move in about 6 a.m. Had to hang on to the grab bars in the bathroom and my fruit bowl sailed across the cabin and hit a wall! Went up to the Lido Deck and had some coffee and a roll and the captain announced we had near hurricane force winds with waves of 15-20 feet. They closed all the outside decks for safety reasons. By noon, things were calming down, but the captain still announced that we were in a "near gale." By evening the seas were calm and there was a beautiful sunset.
The ship was making announcements over the loudspeaker at 6:25 a.m. the next day. We were off the ship at 7:50 a.m. and to Gatwick airport by 10:15 a.m. Our baggage arrived an hour later, so we had to stand around in the baggage area waiting. Everyone seemed to enjoy the trip, though comments were made about how exhausting it was. After 12 nights at sea, most people were happy to be going back home.