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Jim Shannon

Age: 52

Occupation:disribution manager

Number of Cruises: 1

Cruise Line: Norwegian

Ship: Norwegian Dream

Sailing Date: April 28th, 2003

Itinerary: Baltic capitals


This was our first experience of cruising and we were looking forward to the trip round the baltic states. we stayed overnight in Dover in a bed and breakfast we got from the Dover guest house association website and made our way to the pier at 10:30am.

The ship was at the pier and our luggage was taken straight away and the next time we saw it was in our stateroom

We waited until about 11:00 when they opened the desks and were brought through to latitudes check in by an NCL team member .She did say that we were only to check in and then go back to the main lounge to await boarding. Check in was pretty quick and we were listening to a trio from the ship playing tunes to keep everyone amused while the boarding colours were being sorted.

There was a significant amount of discussion and complaining going on because we had been handed a sheet of paper by NCL at check in informing us that the itinerary had changed and that we could not go to St.Petersburg or Tallin or Helsinki due to ice in the gulf of Finland.

Substitution ports were Bergen and the fjords and Amsterdam on the way back to Dover. Naturally all the NCL American air guests were hugely disappointed as the ports that were cut were highlights of the cruise and for many ,the reason they had booked.

As this was our first cruise and we had not been to any of the destinations with typical british forebearance we “took it on the chin” and settled down to enjoy our first cruising experience. Boarding commenced about 11:30.

The ship was bigger than I had imagined and I now know that it is considered compact in comparison to some of the mega ships. It was clean and our stateroom on biscayne deck was excellent with a picture window looking over the harbour. I took a tour round the ship as we were early and took photos of the highlights on the ship.I was immediately impressed with the cleanliness and presentation of the ship and there were any number of personnel cleaning and sorting the ship out.

The freestyle daily was informative about what was going on during the cruise and invaluable to us new cruisers in telling us where and when to be places.

We found the freestyle dining excellent and can honestly say that the food and service was excellent throughout, whether in the main dining room or the sports bar. We preferred the terraces restaurant to the Four Seasons and had most of our meals there . we looked at the speciality restaurant but did not go there as the menu in the main dining rooms was excellent. There were only a couple of occasions in the week when we had to wait for a table and we went for a drink in the bar and were called shortly after when the table was ready. We found that the change of dinner companions enabled us to meet people from all over the states in particular and some other European guests from the continent. The ship was probably 80%+ American guests on this trip.

The Harbour into the English Channel Dover is the main port for cross channel traffic to France and the channel is one of the busiest waterways in the world. I remember reading somewhere that the Dream had collided with a tanker in the channel some years earlier and it kept me on my toes !!

Day two saw us transiting the Kiel canal through the german countryside and at the first stop a group got off for the Hamburg excursion. We had chosen to stay on for the canal transit and it proved to be a gem of a decision. The canal transit takes about 9 hrs overall as the ship goes very slowly through the canal .The Dream is the biggest cruise ship to go through the canal and can only do so by tilting the funnel (stack) over on itself and has had a $1m re-fit to enable it to do so. At the first stop the stack is ceremoniously tipped over and the forward mast is tilted back to enable us to get under the motorway bridges en route.A german band came on board and set up on the bandstand to play for us during the day. This was the first transit of the year and the local villages and towns en route were out to wave us by and there was much blowing of horns (car and ship)the norwegian dream fan club were hanging banners off bridges and canal banks throughout the transit and the capt. gave them a blast whenever they showed up. Altogether it was a very enjoyable experience and started the cruise well with the scenery we passed through and the warm welcome from the locals ,especially Rensenburg at about 19:30.

Day three: was Warnemunde in east germany. There was a train station next to the pier and the Berlin trip went from there for the day on a chartered train. The guests just walked off the ship onto the train for the journey .we had already decided to try to do most things on our own and we went to the station to enquire how we got to Rostock. the train tickets were about 6 euros return for both of us and we got on the train and after about 20-30 mins we arrived in Rostock,don’t get off at the first rostock stop as this is not the centre,get a map from the station before boarding and the station you want is marked. It is about a 5-7 min walk from the station in to the centre which is a mix of old hanseatic buildings and modern shops and even a mall. Shoes are a good buy here and my wife bought a good pair of sandals for about half of the price at home.

There is a very old baroque church off the town centre called marienkirken and the inside has to be seen to be believed. Look for yourself.The town hall and market square complete with small market is further on up the main street.

We went back to the ship for lunch (again, Warnemunde is the last stop so you can’t go wrong ). Then we walked around the harbourside and shops in Warnemunde and had a coffee in one of the cafes there. There is a beach further on from the harbour and again it is an easy walk from the ship.

Day four: at sea

Day five: Stockholm, we took the courtesy bus from the ship for $10 each and it stopped at three different places in the city.  Most of the ships tours did the same places in the city and we preferred to sightsee on our own. The Vasa museum seemed to be the best of the ships tours from what we heard later. We got off at the first stop and did some shopping and went in to see a local dept.store. The prices on the continent are steep compared to at home so you have to look for bargains. We had obtained some local currency for all of the ports so did not have any issues ,most places took the dollar anyway.

I had wanted to see the changing of the guard at the Palace so we got back on the next bus and went to stop two. NCL had someone at each of the stops to advise you what to see in the vicinity and the pleasant local guide told us where to go to see the guard change.Stop 2 is right outside the palace.

The guard was a mounted guard with blue continental tunics and gold helmets and had a mounted band preceding the main body.At one stage they all dismount and the horses are led away and they form up with rifles to change the guard.It was most unusual and if you get the chance go to see this.It takes place at 12:00 noon each day

We then spent the rest of the afternoon exploring Gamla Stan the old town and shopping for souveniers again, then caught the shuttle back to the ship (good $10 worth all round ).
Another highlight of the trip was to follow with a cruise out through the swedish archipelago,a group of a couple of hundred islands, This is a very scenic cruise and reminds me of the english lake district in many ways and I’m sure that there is comparable scenery in America but an evening cruise here is magical.

Day six: at sea daytime, arrived copenhagen at 19:00 for overnight stay .Caught an early dinner in the sports bar and took the shuttle to Tivoli gardens for $25 inc entrance to the gardens.We watched a catchy tuned mime act on the main stage about ghosts and listened to a couple of live bands at bandstands throughout the gardens it was very cold that night and I needed a woolly hat to keep warm.The gardens are lit up at night with thousands of lanterns and bulbs and are a very picturesque sight.Take your camera and a high speed film.There are any number of restaurants in the gardens and even one on an old frigate from the 17th century.Look at the tivoli website for info and a map.Well worth the visit I will be going again this year.

Day seven: Copenhagen.Walked off the ship at langelinie pier and turned left onto the river walk and the little mermaid is about 5 mins down the walk on the other side of the small yacht harbour.Got there before the coaches and had a good photo opportunity as it gets busy later and you get other people in the photo with you !!.

Further on along the waterline we came to churchill park and a resistance museum and oddly enough an english church run by expatriate londoners called St Albans.

Not too far down ,past the ferry port,was the Amelienborg palace the Queens residence,as it was still early we carried on to Nyhaven which is further down and caught a canal tour ,get the open topped ones, this lasts for about 30-40 mins and cost about $10 each and goes through the canal system and across the river and you stop at the little mermaid for another photo opportunity from the canal boat,hence the open topped recommendation, the ships tour goes on closed boats and shots through the window are not quite the same!!
We walked back to the palace for the 12:00 noon changing of the guard and it was similar but downscale to our guard change but the soldiers are in blue crossbelt uniforms and look like they are off the top of a chocolate box. The business end of their rifles still looks effective though!! we actually caught the Queen exiting one of the four identical palaces around the square during the change as everyone was looking at the guard she drove behind us!!

We then had a leisurely stroll back along the promenade and did some shopping in the range of shops at langelinie pier and went back on to the ship for afternoon tea and cakes.Excellent days sightseeing and you can do it yourself quite easily.

Day eight: Oslo Norway. The ship docks at Akerhus castle ,a medieval castle that was german H.Q. in the war and saw many resistance fighters executed in the grounds.There is a small resistance museum there which largely tells the story in pictures and writing. Admission is free to the castle and the museum and there are Norwegian troops in ceremonial dress on guard with a traditional hat with high feathers, very different again to Sweden and Denmark.

We chose to walk in to the city and to be honest made a mistake as it is a very modern city and much like any capital city in the world.

We are doing the trip again this year and will go to see the Royal Palace,yes there is a theme there, and catch the ferry from city hall to Bygdoy peninsula and the viking museum.this is a short walk from the ship to the ferry.the town centre is alongside the harbour.Ships tours went to the museums and the Vigeland sculpture park was very popular. you need local currency for the ferry and the museums take cards.

Day nine: Cruising Hardanger fjord and glacier,very scenic and we got off at Ullensvang hotel by tender(for the only time in the trip)and saw the small hut on the edge of the fjord where edvard grieg composed most of his music.The small village shop was overwhelmed when we came off the ship and had probably not seen quite as many customers in quite some time.the owner (when he had recovered from the smelling salts) had a grin like a cheshire cat and probably thought he had won the lottery!!

Day ten: Bergen Norway. I thought Bergen won hands down over Oslo as it presents itself much better and was very much more interesting than we had found Oslo to be.Norways second city it has wooden shops on the harbour front and an open market in the square ,we trolled around and went on the funicular railway to the top and had a marvellous scenic view of the harbour and town and sea approaches.Again this was quite reasonable and was about $10 each return. The local shops were cheaper than Oslo and had a good range of souveniers.U.S. guests can claim the local tax back by filling in a form(this applies all over europe by the way)

Day eleven : At sea ,plenty to do aboard ship ,I even won the bingo!!
never played before but got hooked early in the cruise(won twice and more than covered the stake)

Day twelve: Amsterdam: took the ships shuttle ($10) to the centre and walked through the city over the canals to the Reichsmuseum(closed for renovation) and went in to the Van Gogh museum for a couple of hours to see the paintings.Very good headphone tour and was very busy ,ran in to a number of the ships tours there.

Caught a tram back to the station where there is an incredible multi storey bicycle park with thousands of bicycles in it ,I could not believe how many bikes were there!!
Went on a canal tour round the canals in the afternoon and caught the sights.
caught the shuttle back to the ship in good time for sailaway through the north sea canal and had some tea in the sports bar.

Overall impressions: As I mentioned at the beginning of this tome It was our first cruise and I am now convinced that this is the way to travel.I could nitpick on some things that NCL could do better ,but what the heck, this was a great cruise and I would travel on this ship and with this company again. I apologise for the length of the review but I have found the more detailed ones helpful myself when deciding what to or what not to do!

We were so impressed with the baltic that we are going again this year I have chosen to go on constellation because I got a good balcony deal from celebrity and it’s 14 days compared to the Dream’s 12.I will really miss the kiel canal transit as that left a lasting first impression of cruising with me and my wife.

Whatever you decide,do what suits you best and if you’re comfortable go with the ships tours,we prefer to explore and do our own thing and we saw some things that the ships tours did not. Whatever your choice the baltics are a port intensive cruise destination and your bed beckons at night (after the show and the bar of course) but this is a unique opportunity to visit so many different countries on the one trip and not to be missed.I would go again in a heartbeat (and actually I am)

Happy cruising and I hope this has been useful

Jim and Margaret

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