Number of Cruises: 1
Cruise Line: Holland America
Sailing Date: July 31st, 2003
Itinerary: Baltic Sea
I am a seasoned traveler who has been to two dozen countries throughout the world. I travel on business and pleasure and have been to Europe about 25 times. On this trip I took my oldest son who is 14. The Baltic cruise on the MS Noordam was my first cruise. This was a 10 day cruise. I picked Holland America Lines (HAL) because my parents took an Alaskan cruise with them in the mid-80s and only had good things to say. Overall, for my cruise, I would have to say that I am very satisfied with all aspects of the cruise. I give it an A-. This assessment is affected by the modest sum that I paid (about $100 per day, per person). Had I paid two or three times that amount (as I am sure others did), I am not sure I would rate the cruise that highly.
I booked online with HAL which was quite easy. Because I guaranteed my booking, I was upgraded 5 categories by the time I boarded the ship. The upgrades took me from the last passenger deck, Deck C, to Deck A. I do not believe that the room size was different between these decks but being on Deck A was more convenient to the main decks. We had an inside room which was perfectly fine. The room size was better the four star hotel that I stayed in the night before I boarded the ship. We were very pleased with the room (Room 437). Our favorite place on the ship was the Lido deck, off of the back of the ship. It was large, with nice views, and was very comfortable while at sea.
Day 1: Copenhagen, Denmark
We showed up at the port at 2pm for boarding and there was no ship. This was somewhat distressing. The ship was delayed due to engine problems. HAL arranged for a shuttle to take us back to town for the 3 hours that the ship was delayed. This was fine with us since it gave us additional time in Copenhagen. When it came time to board there were long lines and we were standing in the sun for most of that time. HAL should have had some drinks available at the dock for the people in line. The worst service that we received on the trip occurred here. I asked a HAL employee, twice, if he could get a pen for me to fill out some of the forms. Both times he told me to borrow one from the other passengers.
Day 2: At sea - sailing for Tallin, Estonia
The day was very foggy so the ship’s fog horn was used quite a bit. This added to the day for me however as it made it a little more adventurous. With the wide Upper Promenade Deck and the easy access to a deck chair, it was a great day to read a book from the Library or to talk to shipmates.
Day 3: Tallin, Estonia
What a great little city. The communists did not invest in a lot Tallin so the city center is much as it was 100 to 500 years ago. Our guide was a college kid learning how to guide as he went so he was a little disappointing when it came to facts and figures but gave us good insights into what the youth of Estonia thought about the recent past and of their own future. We had a wonderful sail-away party on the back deck with great music and wine. Throughout the cruise, the ship always seemed to have live music playing which was a nice touch.
Day 4: St. Petersburg, Russia
In Russia we found the best guides on the trip. They were very knowledgeable and engaging. We attended a folk dancing performance that night and it was spectacular. Being that this year is the 300th anniversary of the founding of the city, a lot of money has been put into restoring the main attractions and tourist sites. It was a big difference from my visit in 1984. There was also a trip to Moscow made available ($600 per person) but you would only have about 6 hours in the city. I have been to both cities and St. Petersburg is more interesting to me. The “been there done that” bragging rights on Red Square is really the only factor I would give Moscow over St. Petersburg.
Day 5: St Petersburg, Russia
On day 5, which was a Monday, the Hermitage Museum was supposed to be closed. I don’t know how, and I am not sure I want to know, but our Shore Excursion office managed to have it opened just for tours from the Noordam. The Hermitage, which after my first visit has been my favorite museum in the world, has up to 20,000 visitors a day during the summer. To have a private tour, which was joined by the curator, was a special highlight of the trip for me.
Day 6: Helsinki, Finland
More engine troubles so we arrived in Helsinki late. This was fine with me because I found that Helsinki is a clean and nice city but very boring. The shuttle into the city was $5 each person each way. Since we arrived very late to the city I, and others, expected HAL to waive the fee but they did not.
Day 7: Stockholm, Sweden
This city has a wonderful “Old City”. Tallin’s old city was older but was in the process of being restored so there was still a lot of decay. Sweden’s Old City was pristine. The alley-ways and streets are a photographers dream. Sailing through the archipelago which surrounds Stockholm took three hours and I wish it took more as it was delightful.
Day 8: Visby, Sweden
Visby is on a large island, called Gotland, in the middle of the Baltic Sea. By this time we were “toured out” and wanted to explore on our own. The ship was anchored in the harbor and we took Tenders into the dock which was fun. Visby was an unexpected highlight for me as the city was even more interesting than Stockholm’s old city and the views from the shoreline were memorable.
Day 9: Warnemunde, Germany
We started the day off by taking the train to Rostock which was okay. Arriving back in Warnemunde we found that it was ship-week, and all the tall ships were in port. Had it not been for the tall ships, this stop would have been almost as boring as Helsinki. The sail away that night was attended by thousands of people who were at the docks for the tall ships. With all of the people cheering and all of the ships trying to out-do each other with their fog horns, it was quite a send-off.
Day 10: Arhus, Denmark
We went to two museums while in Arhus and found it a pleasant last stop.
The next day we landed in Copenhagen and left the ship at 8:30am. I have read reports on the Noordam which speak of vibration on the ship. The vibration is there, and is often noticeable, but it was really not a bother for us in the least. The passengers are generally older and many are retired. Some of the passengers would often advance themselves in line at the expense of others. They did not cut in line but were very aggressive in moving forward. This was very noticeable throughout the trip, especially when disembarking for excursions. The ironic part was that we were all going on the same set of buses.
I did hear one lady complain that there was a heavy odor from cleaning fluids in her room. They offered her a fan but refused to upgrade or move her as far as I know. The biggest surprise for me was that soft drinks were extra ($1.95 each). There was plenty of free iced tea and we did buy a 14 pack of soft drink tickets for $20. Since this was the biggest “surprise”, I am quite happy.