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Why not simply fly to one or two cities, e.g., St. Petersburg, camp out in a hotel, and visit art museums and other sights in depth? A Baltic Sea cruise enables you to understand each of the countries in context. Estonia is a wonderful place to visit. Its capital, Tallinn, is a UNESCO World Heritage site. But you'll have a deeper appreciation for how people there feel if you also see the countries that have ruled Estonia at various times over the past 1000 years, i.e., Denmark, Germany, Sweden, and Russia.
Unlike other cruise lines that we looked at, Royal Caribbean offered a full two-week tour of the Baltic with three days (two nights) in St. Petersburg and stops at each of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. Another good feature offered by Royal Caribbean, not shared by other cruise lines, is parking for one extra night at the departure and destination ends. This enables seeing the departure and destination cities without two additional hotel transfers.
This article is a review of a cruise that departed Stockholm on July 24, 2016 and arrived in Copenhagen on August 6, 2016. In between we stopped in Helsinki, St. Petersburg, Tallinn (Estonia), Riga (Latvia), Klaipeda (the port of Lithuania), Warnemunde (beach resort of former East Germany), and Fredericia (Denmark). I traveled with my 82-year-old mother.
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Every stateroom was booked for our cruise and the result was approximately 2,400 passengers from 52 countries and 850 crew from 64 countries on board.
We traveled in a basic oceanview room, which ended up being larger and much more usefully organized and equipped than our hotel room in Paris. That said, given that my mom could do only one activity per day and there aren't a lot of quiet indoor spaces on the ship (no library or reading room, for example), it would have made more sense to get a suite. We spent more time in the room than originally planned.
We paid about $4,000 for the cabin and then $894 in "taxes and port charges" and $25 as a "processing fee" through Orbitz. With gratuities, extras, shore excursions, etc., it worked out to about $6000 or $230 per person per day.
Nobody to whom I spoke complained of motion or motion sickness.
Fredericia, Denmark is not a place a typical tourist would go and Royal Caribbean uses it mostly as a launching point for shore excursions, e.g., to LEGOLAND. However, I enjoyed the fact that the folks in this small town were delighted by our visit and turned out as volunteers, to park their classic cars, to dance and play in bands, etc. It was a good reminder of what it would be like to visit on a ship in the 18th century.
Two nits on the itinerary:
In Helsinki it is a short walk to the nearest City Bike stand. Pre-register at https://www.hsl.fi/en/citybikes and then bike around on your own to all of the major sites. There are similar services in a lot of the other cities visited, though in some cases the port is pretty far away from the city center and therefore you'll need to take a shuttle or a hop-on, hop-off bus (in most cities, the hop-on, hop-off bus folks would show up to the dock).
The engineers have done a remarkably good job of covering the ship with wifi. While on Deck 11, I started a FaceTime call with Domestic Senior Management. I then walked up to the top of the ship and all the way down to the cabin my mom and I are sharing on Deck 3. There was a slight hitch in the service just once or twice. The call dropped only once, which was when our button-happy two-year-old on the other side pressed the hang-up circle. The verdict from the other side, a Verizon FiOS link, was "better than any of the calls from Paris." (one of those calls was from a $600/night Hyatt hotel where a friend was staying) As we got closer to the end of the cruise and more passengers signed up for the service it became subject to more hiccups, but it always worked.
As far as I know Royal Caribbean is far ahead of the other cruise lines. The result is that an extended stay on a cruise ship need not cut you off from videoconferences with family, work with Dropbox and Google Docs, etc. Based on the FaceTime calls, which are more demanding than typical business apps, it seems that the High Seas and the full possibilities of the Internet are now compatible.
[If you're planning to rely on public mobile networks in the various ports, note that my Verizon iPhone 6 Plus was unable to get LTE service in France and some of the other countries visited. Apparently the LTE frequencies used there are different and the phone may not have the radio capability to communicate on those frequencies. The result was being stuck on an ancient 3G network. Verizon's $10/day travel pass program does not work in Russia.]
The ship's staff will do laundry at a reasonable price ($30 per small bag plus individual items at standard hotel prices). You could do this cruise with a standard carry-on bag and, as long as you have Global Entry, save yourself potentially a two-hour wait for the bags upon returning to the U.S. (if only Royal Caribbean could take over management of the Department of Homeland Security; the passport line at Logan Airport was more than an hour long and then even those with Global Entry had to wait for bags because they weren't put on the carousel until the bulk of the passengers from our flight were expected to emerge).
The modestly priced specialty restaurants don't have better food, but they are smaller, quieter, and if you get there early you can get a table right next to floor-to-ceiling windows.
If you're trying to kick the bread habit, our trip on the Serenade of the Seas was the place to do it. They bake everything from scratch every morning and yet somehow the donuts and croissants didn't work out at all. We stopped eating bread after a few days and consequently didn't gain any weight.
Food safety is the #1 priority and we didn't get sick nor hear of anyone who got sick. According to the staff with whom we talked, this safety is achieved by purchasing food from a limited number of vendors. The majority of the food comes on at the departure port and is held for 1-2 weeks as necessary. They're not getting fresh strawberries, peaches, and lettuce every couple of days the way that you would at home. The price paid for perfect safety, unfortunately, is that the chefs can't deliver spectacular and unexpected tastes. Keep in mind also the number of people that have to be served. The result is like a competently catered wedding, not a Michelin-starred restaurant with 50 seats.
Alcohol? I didn't see anyone staggering around drunkenly. People did seem to be enjoying the bars. I refrained from buying the unlimited drinks package and limited myself to one or two glasses of wine per day ($8-14 for regular wine; only about $6 for a Graham's port with dessert, plus 18% gratuity). For any given wine, the prices were comparable to what we would pay at a hotel here in Boston.
I'm not a coffee snob, but the regular drip coffee was pretty weak. I guess it is comparable to what would happen if you bought Maxwell House at the supermarket and ran it through a Mr. Coffee. There were some on-board espresso bars (prices similar to a Starbucks) but there didn't seem to be a Dunkin' Donuts equivalent with slightly stronger drip coffee.
I signed up for this trip primarily because of my mother and her limited mobility. I never thought of myself as a "cruise person" but it seems that Royal Caribbean tapped into my "inner cruise person." I would do another cruise any time that I wanted to see a bunch of related places within a short time.