Baltic Cruise on the original Crown Princess
7/25/01 to 8/4/01
Ports of Call: Copenhagen, Denmark; Stockholm, Sweden; Helsinki, Finland; St. Petersburg, Russia; Tallinn, Estonia; Gdansk, Poland; and Oslo, Norway
Note: This cruise was on the original Crown Princess. We left Miami on 7/22/01 for a two night pre-cruise in Copenhagen, Denmark. We flew British Airways to London on a 747, which is a double-decked plane. We sat upstairs where there were only 33 passengers, so we did have a little room to move about. The food was only okay and rather tasteless. From London to Copenhagen, we were crammed into a very tight seat on a smaller plane. Very uncomfortable.
We stayed at the Radisson SAS Scandinavia hotel in Copenhagen. We were not disappointed in Copenhagen. It is a wonderful town, and the people were all very friendly and polite. Almost everyone spoke English, and it was easy to get around on your own.
We went to Tivoli Gardens the first night. I wanted to see the lights, but the sun sets so late (about 10:00 P.M.) that they didn’t turn them on until after we had already left. Tivoli Gardens was not what I expected. It is more of an amusement park than anything else. There are rides and booths to play games, etc. It wasn’t bad, just not what I had pictured.
We went to the square by City Hall and purchased $12 tickets on the Red open top bus. This allowed us to ride on any of the red top buses for two days, getting off and on as often as we wished. There are many tour type buses there, so you have to look for the red hop on hop off bus. To begin that morning we rode the complete circuit to see where the buses went, and we picked out sites that we wanted to return to and explore. It is a narrated tour, passes all of the major tour sites, and is half the price of the Tour Buses. (Bus link)
The Mermaid Hans Christian Andersen
The Stroget is a shopping area that is blocked off from traffic, and I really enjoyed walking along looking at everything. While we were on the Stroget, we saw a parade. It seems that the International Convention of Santa Clauses was being held, and the assortment of Santas was a sight to behold.
That afternoon, we went down to Nyhavn. During his times, Hans Christian Andersen lived at three different addresses along the canal. We had lunch in a lovely little restaurant by the canal then took a boat tour. It was a nice break after all of the walking we had done on the shopping Stroget.
On Tuesday night we walked to a lovely little restaurant that was called Ravelinen. ( www.ravelinen.dk/index.php?id=431&L=1) The girl at the hotel desk had recommended it. It was built in 1728 and was once a tollhouse and military guardroom where people entering into Christianshavn (Copenhagen) had to pay a toll. At 7:00 P.M. every night, the tollgate keeper would lock the gate into the town and take the key to the king, who would keep it until the morning.
Unfortunately, the way Princess Cruises set up the boarding pre-registration schedule, it was impractical for us to try to go see anything in town on Wednesday. We ended up sitting at the hotel for several hours just waiting.
On the other hand, their method of pre-registering everyone at the hotel is a good idea and makes the actual boarding procedure very efficient and easy. Only the time element was inconvenient. Registration started about 8:00 A.M., but was packed with people going on the 9:00 ship’s tour of the city. So, we waited until 9:00 to go down to sign in. We stood in line about 25 to 30 minutes. Then, we just went to the lobby and waited for the shuttle to take us to the boat. It was 11:30 before we were actually on our way to the boat. After we arrived at the dock, I could understand why Princess used the hotel for registering, as there was really nowhere at the dock to do it.
After we boarded the Crown, Mike got back off and caught the red open top bus and went to see Amalienborg Palace and Frederiks Kirken. The bus stops right there at pier side. I just browsed the dockside shops. I got a Royal Copenhagen snowman Christmas ornament and a tiny souvenir plate.
I purchased a Coke sticker for the trip. This allowed me to get a soft drink from any of the bars as often as I wished for $29 (?).
The cabin on the Crown was quite large for a ship. The bedroom had 16 drawers and a large desk area! There was a hairdryer and an electrical outlet that would take the regular U.S. 110 volt plugs. The closet area had another 9 drawers, ample hanging area, and a combination safe. There was also a cabinet and two shelves to use. The room had a small refrigerator. The bathroom had a large shower, but it was very slippery. I had to put a towel down to stand on while showering. There were two medicine cabinets, but only one basin.
We were on the Dolphin Deck 8, so we only had to go down one level to reach the dining room. We were at a table for eleven. At our table, Arnold was the waiter and Edmundo was the bus boy. The food was okay, but nothing to rave about. They offered a sirloin steak that was delicious and could be ordered any night, if you didn’t find anything on the menu to your liking. We tried the pizza restaurant for lunch one time, but it didn’t have enough sauce on it for my taste. We were both disappointed that there was no soft serve ice cream machine on board as there had been on the Mercury. Oh well, less calories to gain.
Cabin D 154
Thurs. was our day at sea. During the day we went to the lecture on Russian lacquer boxes and Matryoshka dolls. It was unfortunate that the presenter was totally void of any public speaking skills. He was extremely knowledgeable and had very valuable information to give. However, his lack of basic Speech 101 skills really distracted the listener. He never looked at the audience, much less maintained eye contact with anyone. He totally read his presentation.
Friday, July 27
Nynasham, Sweden – The ride into Stockholm took about 55 minutes, but the ride was through beautiful, green countryside. We took the “Stockholm Sampler” tour, which was very interesting. Our guide was named Adi, and he was very enthusiastic about his job. One of the places we stopped was at the Vasa museum. It houses the man-of-war ship that was launched in 1628, but sank in the harbor on its maiden voyage. It was much more interesting than I had expected, and I’m glad we went.
As for the city itself, we were both pleasantly surprised. All of the pictures, and even the videos we had seen before of Stockholm don’t do it justice. We expected it to be on the blah side with rather dull, dark buildings. It wasn’t. It’s a beautiful, very clean city. Whereas, Copenhagen’s buildings had been covered with soot and grime, Stockholm’s buildings were sparkling clean – even the old ones. The artwork on the exteriors showed quite well. We couldn’t help but wish that Copenhagen would clean their buildings like Stockholm has done.
One thing that did seem different to us was that the whole city is paved. There were no yards or strips of grass even. They have some nice parks that have been man-made. Any trees along the street have been planted in man-made holes. I didn’t see any free growing vegetation within the city.
After our tour, we walked from the drop off point about 20 minutes to the City Hall. Because of the time allotted to us, we had to choose between going into the old town or seeing the City Hall. Our guide advised taking the tour through the City Hall, which was given in different languages at different times throughout the day. Since the English tour started at noon, that fit our schedule perfectly; so off we went. We were well rewarded. City Hall was an impressive place, and I would advise doing it. However, ladies be aware that the restrooms at City Hall are closed for cleaning from 12:30 until 1:30 every day, so be sure to use the facility before the tour, as they will be closed at the end of your tour.
City Hall courtyard Interior of Main Hall
Gold Hall in Stockholm City Hall
Mosaics in the Gold Hall
Inside City Hall Ceiling in Hallway
After returning to the ship, we set sail for Finland. Mike attended the talk on Helsinki, and I took a nap!
The show that night was a comedian named Mickey Manners. He was rather funny. They also had a singer named Glen Leon. He was a shock. He was a nice looking young man, about 25 years old. I expected a nice, high tenor voice. He just didn’t look like he “fit” the sound he produced! He sounded like a booming cross between Tom Jones and Engleburt Humperdink. He opened his mouth, and the whole audience was absolutely struck dumb! I heard several female comments that aren’t repeatable. He received more applause than any performer so far. He was really good.
Saturday, July 28
Helsinki, Finland – We had to set our clocks back 1 hour for Helsinki. To us, the town was a huge disappointment. From what we had seen before our visit, and from the onboard talk, we hadn’t expected much of interest here. It was worse than we expected.
We took the “City Tour” and were bored for three hours. To begin with, we had a tour guide who sighed after every few words she spoke. She sounded like she had been running and was out of breath. It was very distracting, and several people noticed it. After a while, some of the tourists imitated her and we all giggled.
Also, she was one of those guides who feels they have to talk constantly for the entire tour, for fear someone might ask a question. We now know where the post office is, and the bank, and the elementary school. In her defense though, there really aren’t but three buildings of any interest anyway. There’s just not much to see in Helsinki.
Cathedral at Senate Square The Rock Church
We went to the Sibelius monument, which we had read about previously. The guide missed her chance to tell about the only interesting fact on the whole tour. She didn’t say anything at all about why there is a monument of Sibelius’ head next to the pipes! Trust me, the whole thing looks exactly like the picture, and there’s nothing else there to see. So, save yourself the trouble and skip the tour.
I had heard that the Market contained wonderful shopping. Of course we weren’t interested in any of the fresh fruit or food offered there, especially since the ship had issued an additional warning about eating the local produce. Some ladies bought leather purses for $50 (U.S.), but I can get that in the States. I guess that if you live in a cold area, you could find a sweater or a fur hat to interest you. But, since I live in south Florida, that wasn’t for me.
The most interesting thing we saw in Helsinki was the shipyard. We didn’t stop there, but from the road we could see the ships in various stages of development. They make all kinds including cruise ships. We saw the future Carnival “Pride” under construction.
In fairness to Helsinki, we did hear several people on the ship say that they loved it. I guess it all depends upon your individual interest. However, should we ever take another cruise that stops there, we’ll stay on board.
We attended a lecture on Russia given by John Lawrence, the cruise director. He is the perfect one to have on this trip because he is considered an expert on the Romanovs. We purchased his book, and found both the lecture and the book to be most interesting.
St. Petersburg, Russia – We had to set the clocks back another hour for St. Petersburg. Last night at dinner we were presented with a Happy Anniversary dessert, arranged by our tablemates. This morning we had balloons on our doorway, compliments of the ship, for our 12th wedding anniversary.
We had learned from the Cruise Critic boards that you should pre-book your St. Petersburg tours before you leave the States. Russia will only let passengers off of the ship in one of two ways. If you are on a ship tour, all you need is your passport. If you use a private tour guide, you must have secured a visa before you left the U.S. Some people didn’t realize this, although Princess had warned about it in the pre-cruise papers they sent out. Many people waited until after they got on board ship to try to book one of the ship’s tours, and they were shut out. They fill up very, very quickly. Unfortunately, those who got shut out and didn’t have a visa, had to stay on board the two days we were there. They were mad; but frankly, it was their own stupidity and lack of advanced planning. When we docked at St. Petersburg, we were greeted by a local brass band.
We had booked the “St. Petersburg Highlights” tour, which took us to several points of major interest. We were given photo ops and 15 to 30 minute shopping stops. That doesn’t sound like enough time, but it actually is sufficient provided you don’t dally around.
The city is amazing. Our guide was named Nadya, and she was very knowledgeable. Her English was excellent, so we had no trouble understanding her. She welcomed questions, which was nice. She told us that during WW II, Hitler tried to take St. Petersburg, but couldn’t. It was under siege for three years. Since he couldn’t take it, he ordered it leveled to the ground; so it was heavily bombed. Over a million people in the city died, and 25% of the homes were destroyed.
During the Communist times, Lenin realized the importance of the Hermitage, and he was responsible for its not being destroyed. He had it declared a national treasure and preserved as the people’s heritage. When Stalin took over, he hated St. Petersburg, which was called Leningrad; and he resented Lenin’s protection of it. He never visited the city. Stalin didn’t destroy St. Petersburg, but he did neglect it. He would not rebuild many of the war-damaged buildings.
Today the city is full of magnificent buildings that have wonderful exteriors, but are in terrible disrepair. Since the fall of Communism, major restoration projects have been taking place. There are scaffolds everywhere. Although the construction intrudes upon one’s picture taking, you don’t mind because it is so important that the restoration of this beautiful city be completed.
As we drove around, I couldn’t help but notice the stark difference between the buildings of the Tsars and those of the Communist. The Communist apartment buildings weren’t just totally devoid of any decoration, they emitted a feeling of absolute despair.
Nadya told us a little of how it was to live in constant fear. It wasn’t just that the people were not allowed to voice any criticism of the government. They could not even say anything in a joking way. A man might leave the house in the morning to go to work, and just never be seen or even heard of again. His family would never be told what happened or why or even if he were dead or alive.
But back to the tour. The biggest shopping stop is by the Church on the Spilled Blood. You’ll find anything you want there. However, a couple of stops later, over by the river opposite the Hermitage complex, there was a small shopping area set up. It had much better deals on mostly the same items. We had seen a large glass egg with a laser image of the Church on the Spilled Blood inside for $135, but got it a good deal cheaper. The vendors will bargain with you, and go even lower if you start to walk away. They will accept MasterCard / Visa, but will charge several dollars more to use the credit card. American dollars are gladly accepted. If you use cash, find out first if the vendor will give you change in dollars, not rubles. The boat tells you to just take small bills, which is good if you’re only going to buy inexpensive souvenirs. However, it’s best to also stick in some twenties if you want the matryoshka dolls, lacquer boxes, and glass or enameled eggs.
Church on the Spilled Blood Smolny Cathedral Convent
The “Highlights” tour took one half day. Since my walking is limited, I spent the rest of the day on board while Mike went on the afternoon tour of the Hermitage. He was fascinated, and took some wonderful pictures. The museum actually consists of several buildings, and one could spend months in it without seeing everything. The Hermitage has 12 miles of art galleries, 3 million plus exhibits, and 1,000 rooms. Impossible to see in a single visit.
Since 7/29 was our 12th wedding anniversary, we booked the “Imperial Night” tour to Catherine’s Palace. It was a very enjoyable tour. Since July is the season of Russia’s white nights, the sun did not set until after 11:00 P.M. Therefore, we toured the palace in daylight and were able to take a multitude of photos. Surprisingly, cameras with flash were permitted inside the palace, so I easily used up three rolls of 36 exposure film. Thankfully, I had brought plenty. Overall, Mike took over 1,000 pictures with his new Olympus 3000, which he purchased for this cruise.
One room in particular which impressed us was the Amber Room. The walls are made of amber and trimmed in gold. The panels of amber were a gift from Frederick William I to Peter the Great. It was given in 1716 to celebrate the peace between Russia and Prussia. During World War II, the panels were stolen; and the ones we see today are a replica of the original ones.
After the tour of the palace itself, we were served a glass of very good champagne as we watched a costumed couple dance to a string orchestra. Then we were escorted outside where we watched another dance. We then toured the carriage house, where we saw among other things, a special carriage that Catherine had built. It was a porta-potty!
Table made of Lapis Catherine enters
Daylight at nighttime Dancing to a brass band
An original porta potty
After leaving the palace, our tour took us to a rural restaurant where we were to have a traditional Russian meal. The construction of the building was very unique, so it was a good photo op. Since it was still daylight outside, taking pictures of the building and the rose garden was easy. Inside, we took our picture with a big stuffed bear.
I had never had any genuine Russian cuisine, so it was an experience for me. We began with a red caviar canapé, pickled vegetables, and stuffed tomatoes. I do not personally care for any type of caviar, but the tomatoes stuffed with cheese were good. Next came a dish of chicken with walnut sauce. It was not what I expected, but was edible. This was followed by “Julienne of Mushrooms”. In other words, cream of mushroom soup. It was very good! The next course was borsch. This was served a little differently from what one might be used to. It was more like a soup. It was served hot with a dollop of sour cream. It was delicious! After the borsch, we had cabbage and grape leaves stuffed with a mixture of vegetables and rice. I didn’t particularly care for the bland taste, but a lot of salt helped some. The dessert was a little pancake (not a crape) rolled up and stuffed with a berry mixture and drizzled with honey. Alongside was a small scoop of ice cream. It was delicious, but not enough.
After our meal, the tour continued to a little church for a concert. This turned out to be the highlight of the tour for me. The choir consisted of eight people singing acappella. On a side note, I was embarrassed by the way some of the people on the tour continued to talk during the program. They didn’t even bother to whisper. More than one actually got up and left the room through a door that creaked. No wonder we have an “Ugly American” reputation.
St. Petersburg – Today we took a tour of Peterhof Palace. The line was long, but moved fairly quickly.
I had expected to like Catherine’s Palace the most, but not so! No matter if you’ve seen a thousand pictures and videos of the fountains at Peterhof, it just doesn’t prepare you for the real thing. The Grand Cascade is breathtakingly beautiful on it’s own; but when you learn that each fountain is different and has a story behind what is depicted, you begin to appreciate the grand scale. Add to that the fact that the whole thing operates by gravity. Awesome.
Tuesday, 7/31/01 – Tallinn, Estonia – This little medieval town was such a pleasure after Russia. Although we thought that the palaces and tourist areas in Russia were impressive, the country was unkempt, overgrown with weeds, and generally dirty. Tallinn was just the opposite. As countries go, Russia may be poor; but Estonia is poorer. Yet, the Estonians exhibited a pride that we did not see in Russia. The Russians didn’t even seem to do the things that didn’t cost money to fix up their surroundings, for example cutting down the weeds and picking up the litter. On the other hand, in Estonia, we saw a lady come out of her apartment building, sweep her front doorstep, then sweep the sidewalk in front of her place, then sweep the street! The whole town was spotless.
Aleksander Nevski Cathedral
Tallinn is easily navigable on your own. The only real reason to book the walking tour is that the bus will take you up to the Upper Old Town; whereas, on your own, the shuttle delivers you to the Lower Old Town. This is important because of a very, very steep hill that has to be climbed if you start from the shuttle stop and walk to the Upper Town. Honestly, the walk is so steep that even starting at the top and walking downhill is difficult in many places. You are not only dealing with true cobblestones, but also the incline. In a couple of places they even have railings on the walls of the buildings. I would not advise the walking tour for anyone with any degree of walking difficulty. Even people who do not normally require a cane, had difficulty. It is also not a good idea for a baby stroller.
The view from the Upper Town is lovely however, and it is worth the effort if you are not handicapped.
One thing to note about Tallinn, you have to use their currency. It is actually against the law for them to trade in foreign money. There are exchange booths all along the streets, so converting your money is not a problem.
Gdynia, Sopot, and Gdansk, Poland – The ship docked in the port of Gdynia. We took the tour “Gdansk with Lunch on Your Own”. After loading on buses, we drove about 24 miles into Gdansk. The area is known as the Tri Cities because one town leads right into the next. Sopot is a resort area and the homes there reflect the rich and famous.
We saw Lech Walesa’s home. After the Solidarity Movement took hold, he was elected as president. Since completing his term, he has been making millions of dollars from speaking engagements and appearances all over the world.
Unlike the other countries we visited, this area of Poland had many single family homes. The cities seemed fairly clean as far as the streets and sidewalks go, but the grass was not cut, nor the bushes trimmed. It was not as bad as in St. Petersburg, but it is the type of thing that would improve the general appearance so much. The other thing I noticed was a huge amount of graffiti, not just on bridges or walls, but on the lower floors of shops and even homes.
When we finally got into the old town in Gdansk, Mike and I were absolutely astonished. The main street is called Long Street. It is a pedestrians only street, and there were vendors everywhere. Gdansk was the only place we visited where the street vendors didn’t seem to know the value of the U.S. dollar.
During WW II, 90% of Gdansk was flattened. Afterwards, the people gathered up any of the brick that could still be used. They rebuilt the town just the way it was during the 17th century. Each house on Long Street is connected to the next, but each is different from any other. Most are four or five stories high. At that time, people were taxed by how many windows were in the house. Therefore, the people made the houses very narrow, using only two or three windows per floor on the front of the house; but making them tall windows.
These homes belonged to the wealthy burghers who wanted their homes to reflect their success. The houses adjoined, so to distinguish them from one another, they decorated the fronts with different designs and colors. The result is a street where each house is more elaborate than the last. Some have scenes painted on their fronts, others have fancy frescoes or statues on them. They are quite stunning, and you find yourself walking down the street looking up.
This was a much needed day at sea to relax and get recharged. An interesting sight during the day was passing under the Oresund Bridge. It connects Denmark and Sweden. This bridge cost $2 Billion and stretches 10 miles when combined with the tunnels that also had to be constructed. Although the Captain said that we had plenty of clearance, it sure looked like we were mighty close to hitting it.
Oslo, Norway – We booked the “Viking Museum and Oslo Highlights” tour. First we went to the museum to see the three Viking long ships that are housed there. They dated from around 800 A.D. Two of them were not much more than the ribs of the original ships, and were much smaller than I would have thought.
Oslo City Hall Inside the City Hall
Next we went to the Vigeland Sculpture Park. This was the most unusual, even kind of startling, thing that we saw on the whole cruise. Gustav Vigeland spent his entire life creating a world of human figures and animals in stone, iron and bronze. The grounds were beautifully landscaped.
The park contains 192 sculptures, with more than 600 life-sized figures. Each statue is a depiction of a stage in the human life cycle, from birth, through the struggles of life, to death. For example, one statue was of a young girl skipping along playing with her braids.
Another showed a baby pitching a temper tantrum. A life-sized grandfather walked along with his young grandson.
A father was beating his son. Although the sculptures were very good, the difference was that everything was done in the nude, and in minute detail. It was rather startling to say the least.
After Vigeland, we went to Holmenkollen, the site of the ski jumping for the 1952 winter Olympics.
Then when we got back to downtown Oslo, we got off the tour in the downtown area so we could shop; and we walked the short distance back to the ship.
Copenhagen, Denmark – We arrived back in Copenhagen before breakfast. We had an early flight, so we didn’t get to do any more sightseeing in that beautiful city.
Pictures of the Crown Princess
Below is a link to the Shutterfly albums with other photos from the vacations:
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