Overall Rating: Very Good
|# of Nights:||11-14 Nights|
|Overall Value:||Very Good|
|Overall Rating:||Very Good|
August 3, 2010
Baltic Capitals from Dover
About us. 57/62 year old semi-retired professionals. Our 36th cruises, 12th on NCL and 4th on the Sun. This was our second cruise to the Baltic, the first being on the NCL Dream in 2004. Not terribly fussy, pretty laid back. We were travelling with 10 friends, some of my review may reference their critique of events we missed.
Embarkation - Port of Dover
This was our second sailing from Dover and they have a new terminal since our 2004 sailing. The terminal is modern and well laid out. The staff was very friendly and efficient. From the time we entered the door to key card in hand was about 20 minutes. Boarding began at 11:40 although rooms were not ready. In the past a bag check area was available for dropping your carry ons but it was not available this time. Lunch was served in the buffet and the Seven Seas dining room opened at 12:30, which we chose and had a nice relaxing start to our cruise. About the time we were finishing up our coffee it was announced that rooms were ready.
The interior is done in NCL's typical understated style and is filled with bronze colored woods, brass and bronzy colored granite. In places the interior seemed somewhat stark but overall it is a sleek and elegant ship no glitz or neon. The atrium area is a bit on the small side and the panoramic elevators are oddly shaped (kind of keyhole shaped, narrow at the entrance, ballooning out toward the rear), which made for difficulty in loading and offloading.There are a lot of elevators on this ship and they seemed to run more quickly than on most. The central staircases are of the typical spiral type, making attractive places for photos. Several bars, the Internet cafe and customer service areas all rim the atrium. Hallways are nearly devoid of artwork; the artworks in the stairways were large florals, with a different flower for each floor (if it's poppies, I must be near the cabin!).
There are two main dining rooms, appointed primarily with two- and four-person tables. They are easily rearranged for larger groups. The Seven Seas dining room is on the stern, so it has windows on three sides allowing for many window tables. There were no booths, just tables (although some tables had unusual center legs, making it difficult to cross your legs). The Four Seasons dining room is also on deck 5 and more central. The menu is the same in each dining room.
The buffet was well laid out and only the beverage area was weird. The ice dispenser was in the center rather than at the beginning near the glassware. The omelet and waffle stations were in a separate location - Pacific Heights which is on the opposite side of the elevators from the buffet. Pacific Heights is a much less crowded area for breakfast but the only serve the above items, along with coffee, tea and o.j. If you want other items for breakfast you can walk over to the buffet and return with them. It is necessary to wear a shirt and shoes in the buffet. An outside buffet area serves nearly identical fare, plus hot dogs and hamburgers. Its seating area was on the stern - a very pleasant spot where you could dine in your bathing suit. You do need to pass through the indoor buffet to get there, but you didn't need to be fully dressed if you were just passing through. There is a complimentary ice cream bar off the pool area which was open most of the time. The ice cream bar, Sprinkles, has soft ice cream in vanilla and chocolate and scoop ice cream in vanilla, chocolate and strawberry as well as a sherbet which varies each day. They only serve cones, so if you want a dish of ice cream grab a cup from the nearby drink station and they will put it in that.
Several specialty restaurants were available such as a tapas bar, sushi bar, Japanese, Italian, and French restaurant and a steak house. All but the tapas bar and Pacific Heights required an additional fee. Pacific Heights is a lighter fare/health conscious restaurant and no additional cost applies. The "pay" restaurants require reservations and the cost is from $15-$30. There was no 50% reduction for early dining on this sailing. On the two final sea days there were specialty lunches. An Indian cuisine and a jazz brunch. Both were $15 and well worth it.
The spa, off the pool area, had a large assortment of exercise equipment. Several exercise classes were available for a fee. The spa is operated by the Mandara company, and thus operates much like those on other lines. The steam room and saunas were small but free, which is a pleasant return as they had been charging for the steam and sauna. The showers in the spa were much more spacious than the cabin showers and had liquid soap and shampoo available. The showers had transparent doors which might give bashful folks a problem. For those who find the cabin showers too confining, go to the spa.
The spa offers the usual spa treatments along with acupuncture and tooth whitening.
The theater seats were high-backed, which created a bit of a problem for short people like me who had to crane a bit to see above the back. Seating down front was much more comfortable. There were two levels to the theater, and several poles created partial obstructions.
I thought the music was lacking on this cruise. There was a pianist who played nightly in one of the lounges. In the Observation Lounge there was a rotation of a DJ, a Latin singing group and the Sun Orchestra for dancing at various times. The main band played a wide variety of musical styles but most of it was geared to a much younger crowd than us so we didn't hang around long for them. On previous cruises there was usually a couple who did nice mellow music for dancing or easy conversation and there was no such couple on this cruise.
There were several lounges, and the Observation Lounge on Deck 12 at the bow provides a beautiful, sweeping view. It is a nice place to hide away during the day and read, as it did not seem to be used much. It is nicely appointed with rattan furniture and a medium size dance floor. Dazzles is more centrally located and has a larger dance floor and many activities e.g. game shows, art auctions were held there. A champagne bar adjoins the atrium as does a coffee bar. The Sports Bar on Deck 12 had many TV screens and served 22 types of beer. It is a great place to view the world and serves complimentary chips and salsa and guacamole each evening. It is open from 5P to 5AM for pizza and pasta.
The pool area has two pools divided by a raised area of four Jacuzzis. The pool water is salt water. Walking decks are the promenade, with 3-1/2 laps per mile and festive murals all the way around; and the sports deck, which has a padded walking surface but requires something like 12 laps to the mile. The promenade deck is the boat deck so it is covered walking while the sports deck is sunny.
The casino is well laid out and has the usual variety of slots, video poker and table games. There are quite a few penny and nickel machines, a goodly number of quarter and the balance are 50 cents through $5. There are video poker machines ranging from penny to $1. Table games are craps, blackjack, roulette, Let it Ride, Caribbean Stud, Baccarat and Texas Hold-em. There is also a separate poker room for Texas Holdem. Service was prompt and courteous. The usual blackjack and slots tournaments were held throughout the cruise and I believe there was a poker tourney too but I'm not positive. The slots now use paper tickets so I found that to be a welcomed change.
Ours was an interior II cabin on Deck 9. Storage was more than ample. The desk area had one electrical outlet which was the only one in the cabin. A refrigerator, TV, were standard. The bathroom has a circular shower with a curtain held snugly in place by vertical rods in the curtain. Six storage shelves were provided. There is a real toilet paper holder (so the tissue does not fly off the holder with use), a wall mounted hair dryer, and an outlet for electric razors. The shower has normal single handle controls and an adjustable-height shower head. Liquid soap and shampoo dispensers were in the shower. The bedding is the typical NCL duvet and quality cotton. Robes and coffee makers have been removed from interior cabins but as we were gold members I had requested them prior to cruising and they were there on arrival.
Our cabin was 9311, an interior due to budget limitations on this sailing, plus the itinerary did not make it seem as though a balcony would be money well spent. The white nights also bother my husband a bit, so a nice dark inside cabin was perfect for those 10 PM sunsets and 5 AM sunrises. Our cabin was next to an A/C Room which meant we had no neighbors on one side and it was very quiet.
We did not take in any shows other than the Celtic flutist who was fabulous and one of the production shows, Cirque something, which was not to our liking and we left before it was over. We had seen a Cirque production on another ship but this one lacked any true acrobatics and the music and costuming seemed very thrown together. Our travelling companions went to quite a few of the shows and found them okay, but nothing to rave about. Being such a long cruise, many of the evenings were filled with cruiser participation shows such as talent, dancing with the stars and an employee talent show.
The usual game shows, bingo and poolside activities were offered. The ship also has a mesh enclosed basketball court, ping-pong area, and golf driving range and shuffleboard.
In the library the usual board games were available for checkout, and bridge gatherings were held. Friends of Bill and Friends of Dorothy had regurlarly posted meetings. A Veterans meeting was scheduled this time which my husband always enjoys.
The quality was a bit better than most other ships, but that is such a matter of personal taste that it is hard to judge. The menus seem to have been revamped along with the new "Whatever" advertising program. In the past I've thought menu descriptions a bit confusing and this time they were a bit abbreviated but the food quality had improved considerably since our trip last October on the Star. We had dinner at the buffet one evening when we were too pooped to read a menu. I always enjoy the chilled soups and only one disappointed me.
Aside from the jazz brunch we did not eat in any of the specialty restaurants that required additional costs. We enjoyed tapas in Las Ramblas, and the menu changed each night. Pacific Heights has the same menu each night and does require reservations even though it is free. An Indian meal was offered for lunch on one of the sea days for $15. One of our friends went and said it was very good.
Wine service was handled by the waiters and went smoothly. There was no wine program available unless you are a Latitudes member; then you could buy five and get one free.
Thankfully, there was no nightly entertainment by dancing waiters, and the dress code was enforced. The Sun now allows nice jeans in the dining room but I saw a few people turned away for shorts and no ball caps were visible either. Buffet food was the usual fare, of good quality and available from about 6 am to midnight. Food was also available at times in the casino. Room service is available 24 hours and is free but you should tip the waiter.
The ship was the cleanest I've ever been on. Hand sanitizing was strictly enforced at embarkations and at all buffet lines and restaurant entrances. They've even added one to the glass elevators, which seemed ridiculous, especially since the kids who "lived" in the elevators had a good time triggering the dispenser and making a puddle on the floor.
Although this ship is due for dry dock in January, it does not look as though it's been years since refurbishment. With very few exceptions the ship is in excellent shape.
One of the friendliest staff I've encountered. They all seemed particularly adept at remembering names throughout the week - a nice touch. I cannot say I encountered a single rude or indifferent staff member.
Disembarking NCL has an express system whereby if you carry all your luggage off yourself, you can be in the first group off the ship. Quite a few people seemed to opt for this. We were off the ship by 6:05 a.m. Unlike the US, there is no immigration or customs at the pier - just walk off and you're done. Those guests with luggage were assigned a color by their flight times. You could wait in your cabin until your color was called, although they did ask that you vacate your cabin by 9:00 a.m.
This and That
Tips are added to your account automatically unless you request otherwise.
Security was very good. They seem to have gotten absolutely rabid about liquor smuggling as well as irons, so attempt it at your own risk.
You can request an iron and ironing board from the reception desk. You are allowed to keep it 3 hours.
Almost invisible! The photography staff was available for formal photos and as always at the pier, but they were not in your face every time you turned around.
Announcements were kept to a minimum.
There was no captain's party for everyone. Just a Latitude's party which was at 1 pm on a sea day. There was a separate captain's party for silver, gold and platinum members. There were only 12 people in attendance so we had a senior officer per person! It was held in Las Ramblas and billed as wine and cheese but you could order whatever beverage you liked.
Drinks were of good quality and volume but the prices are that of a high end hotel/restaurant.
Passengers were a middle aged crowd with quite a few younger folks. There were 900 children on board, according to one of the officers, but it did not seem as though there were that many since they were pretty well behaved. I did notice that the TechStyles room (near the internet cafe) had a sign on it for families with children 2 and under. There was an assortment of toys for younger children in a nice indoor play area. It was hard to judge the ethnic mix of the cruisers but I'd say 50% of the cruisers were anglo. There were quite a few Spaniards and Romanians Announcements were made in English, German, Spanish and French. During the muster drill another language was used but I cannot remember what it was.
It is no longer necessary to bring your life vest to the muster drill.
Movies on the TV were available in multiple languages. Several entertainment and cultural programs were done in Spanish as well as English.
Money exchange is available but the rates are not good, so you are better off even at the airport! A local ATM is actually your bet bet. We found that Euros and US dollars worked everywhere.
As for Internet access, the ship has about 10 stations available.. Per-minute use was 75 cents and packages were available including wireless. Phone service is available from your cabin for $7.95/minute.
The jewelry shop onboard is a Columbian Emeralds shop.
There is no longer creamer on the tables in the dining rooms - it is milk. If you want cream, ask for it and they will bring you a pile of single serving creamer. This is a pet peeve of mine since I use a lot of cream and it looks so tacky, not to mention they were difficult to open.
You can buy a future cruise certificate which is a good deal if you plan to cruise in the next 4 years. You pay $250 for a certificate which will act as your deposit for the entire cabin (unless you are in suites or above)when you book a cruise within 4 years. As an incentive you are given an immediate $100 OBC.
Ports of Call
We arranged our own tours for all but one port, but I will provide what information I have based on others reports. Copenhagen - we docked in Free Port, which is the further port from downtown. It is about a 20 minute walk to the other pier. Both Hoho lines pick up at the pier. We used City Sightseeing and found that contrary to reports on CM, the buses do not accept credit cards, only euros. I have forgotten how much it was, but you can find that information on their website. We got off downtown, walked around and did a canal tour with Nette (?) tours for $3/person. He took US, euros, pounds - whatever you had. The tour was an hour and very informative. A great deal in our opinion. Be sure to have a few small denomination dollars or euros in case you need to use a public restroom. The attendant will give you change if you have small denominations.
To return to the ship you need to transfer to a line not shown on the internet map - the blue line. The main lines of the Hoho's drop you at the area near the mermaid statue (who is currently vacationing in China) and then the blue bus takes you back to the ship. The blue bus is not marked and does not look like the standard hoho, which picked you up at the pier so you will need to ask various bus drivers if they are the blue line driver. Two of our group did a segway tour and had a blast. They highly recommend it. You can find them on the internet.
We took the train to Rostock and had a fabulous day walking about. We lucked in to a choral presentation at the huge church with the astronomical clock and it was indeed a treat. We dined at the market on sausage and apple streudel and had a grand meal on the cheap. We took the ferry back to Rostock and since there was a huge boat festival that day we sailed amidst tall sailing ships, pirate ships, Chinese junks, and boats of all flavors. What a treat. Half our group did a tour to Berlin and found the 12 hour day long but enjoyed their trip. The 3 hour each way drive did not seem like fun to me.
There is no need to do a tour here. The walk from the ship to old town is about 15 minutes. The reception desk will give you maps of town if you need them (this was true of Rostock too). We used Rick Steve's book and walking guide, which has always served us well. The streets here are very rocky and steep so if you have mobility issues it could be a problem. Second to St. Petersburg, Tallin was everyone's favorite port.
St. Petersburg. We arranged for a private tour with Anastasia Tours and had a spectacular time. There was no comparison to our previous visit when we used ship excursions. An articulate, educated guide, nice quick dining, complete flexibility and topped off the first day with a canal tour, champagne and chocolate. The tour per person for both days total came to $5 less than one day on a ship's tour. I cannot recommend this option highly enough to you.
The weather was very warm, the news said it was the highest temps in 1,000 years, and since none of the buildings are air conditioned it got pretty warm. But even on our previous trip I would remind people about the a/c and advise you to leave your heavier clothes on the bus. The palaces and Hermitage get very warm with all those people in them. You are not allowed to bring back packs or water into the palaces or museums. You can take photos but in the Hermitage you cannot use a flash. Local merchants would take USDs except in gift shops in the churches. Our guide had rubles she would swap for our purchases there.
The only place we did a ship's tour to PourVoo (pronounced PourVoe) It was a nice ride in the countryside to a cute little town, with a cute little church and then to see a few of the more popular sites in town but not worth $160. Although, lunch was very, very nice.
We anchored at Nynsham and as we had been to Stockholm before and were tired we decided to stay onboard. A delightfully, relaxing day. They use the life boats for tenders and it takes 10 minutes to reach shore. The drive into Stockholm is one hour if you have an excursion. I got mixed answers on why NCL has chosen to dock this far out and finally got the bottom line from one of the officers who said, they really don't know. It is a corporate office decision and they do not tell them why - just where. Everyone I talked to enjoyed their visit to Stockholm but felt they were terribly rushed and quite frustrated with the experience since some of them had only 45 minutes at the Vasa and 30 minutes to shop or eat or whatever.
Next year NCL is doing this sailing out of Copenhagen rather than Dover and maybe it will allow more time in Stockholm.
We arrived three days early to tour London. One of our group is a Brit and gave us the insiders tour. Fortunately we were there on a Sunday which allowed us to go to the Chelsey Street Flower Market, which was absolutely fabulous. Then off to Curry Lane (I think it was called) - block after block of Indian food vendors and restaurants. We had a grand Indian meal. We got to take in choral evensong at Westminster, which was breath taking. On the way to Dover, our private bus stopped at Canterbury Cathedral so we could go to 8 am mass and tour the church. Spectacular.
We had arranged for First Choice Minibus to pick us up at LHR, take us to the Holiday Inn Express Victoria. On Tuesday he transferred us to the port via Canterbury then fetched us at disembarking at whisked us off to LHR. Very curteous and much cheaper than the NCL transfers. Not the cheapest way to travel, by far, but with a group it made it quite affordable. With 12 people all transportation came to $94/per person.
Overall: I would gladly recommend this cruise and ship to anyone.