Number of Cruises: First Cruise
Cruise Line: Holland America
Sailing Date: August 21st, 2004
Itinerary: Baltic Capitals
I have just returned from our first cruise holiday with Holland America on MS Noordam. We had such a fantastic time we are already planning our next cruise!
We checked in a few minutes (it helps to do the immigration forms on the internet) minutes and less than five minutes later we had been welcomed on Board and were being taken to our cabin by our steward. The cabin was comfortable and my concern that we had an inside cabin was allayed when we realised we had a TV with a forward camera on the bridge. Hence we could se outside at any time.
The Noordam is an older ship and was middle sized. As it became our home for 10 days it proved friendly, extremely good service and just the ticket for this wonderful cruise to places that a few years ago would have been just impossible..
As we enjoyed the departure party on one of the decks we eased out of Copenhagen and out to sea towards Estonia. The first encounter with the dining room was excellent and we met our fellow travellers at Dinner and quickly found we got on well. The food is just sumptuous – I am already on my way to the gym!!! It is wall to wall lavish indulgence from the ice cream bar from heaven (?when else would I eat coconut ice cream with blackberries in brandy!!) to the late night jazz with coffee and chocolates.
We stopped at Estonia in Tallinn and what a delightful place it was. It is very old and has many narrow cobbled streets lined with pastel coloured gabled houses full of interesting little shops selling Baltic amber, beautiful linens and every kind of Matrushka doll (those nestling ones). Before each Port there was an excellent talk on the culture, highlights, shopping and eating/drinking (in case we were hungry!) and we were given an information sheet and map.
>From Tallinn we sailed to St Petersburg which was the highlight of the cruise. We sailed down the shallow channels with pilots guiding us. Russian immigration was courteous and efficient and those of us who had booked tours enjoyed ourselves. Yes the Hermitage was crowded and hot, and the tours were crammed with information and we were not able to wander at will unless we had paid quite a bit for a Russian Visa. However the Hermitage was wonderful, the buildings just magnificent and the history and culture – awesome. The Church of the Spilt Blood must be in every one of our photo albums as it was just beautiful.
The evening show we went to was the Folklore Spectacular and was well worth the trip – just stunning. Singing and dancing with the full Cossack display included.
We sailed onto Helsinki where is rained a great deal – so I went shopping (there is some serious shopping in this city) – Stockman’s and Mari Mekko are both great places to shop. There are also some great things to see such as the Sibelius tribute and the wonderful churches.
The next day we arrived in Stockholm which was just superb. The old Town (Gamla Stan) is worth a visit and the glassware was just stunning. Many of us shipped lots home! This was a lovely city where we saw the changing of the Royal Guard at the palace tried the local delicacies and watched the world go by (as advised in the Port Lecture). Sailing through the archipelago was just fantastic
We woke the next day to find it rather windy and the Captain decided we could not stop at Visby as it was not safe enough to tender us all ashore. While we got free champagne at dinner to compensate we in fact really enjoyed a day at sea – we needed the rest from the sightseeing. So it was just great raining the library, going to an Art auction, watching a movie with popcorn and generally doing nothing other than eat (did I mention the food on this trip?).
Our last stop was Warnemunde and for many the opportunity to visit Berlin was fabulous. We chose to take the tour “A taste of Rostock” and what a treat. After a walki around the old Hanseatic Town (in the former East Germany) we visited a farmers market (large wedges of fresh strawberry cake and strawberry schnapps). We then went to a charcoal burner lodge in the forest where we heard traditional hunting horns welcome us and we had a tour of the traditional woodburning lodge. We then dined on Bratwurst and salad and beer from the griddle. After this we had a stroll in the forest looking at the wood sculptures. After this we headed back to the ship but stopped on the way at a small family brewery where we had a brief tour and then tried the beautiful sweet beer. We were each presented with a beer glass with the coat-of-arms of the Brauhaus. When we got back to the ship we strolled through the seaside town of Warnemunde and had a terrific afternoon on the beach. There was a beerfest in full swing when we got back on board complete with an Oompah band!.
This was a fabulous trip that we enjoyed very much. Minor niggles were few but included:
- Tickets that did not have the correct point of departure – ship left from a different port/pier!
- We did not realise we would have to disembark before 9am and had a long and tedious wait at the airport of many hours (there were lots of passengers in the same situation
- It would have been great to have hairdryers provided in every cabin
- We hired tuxedo and evening dress but it was not really necessary as the majority of men wore lounge suits.
Apart from this we had a great time and would recommend this cruise as excellent value for the money we paid. Crew and entertainment were great – and of course did I mention the food…….