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Baltic Cruise Great Success. Short time in ports of Copenhagen, Stockholm, Helsinki, St. Petersburg, Tallinn, Oslo, Brussels, Amsterdam. Thank you Fodorites!

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I tried to make this short, but…I know this is not the cruise board, but I just wanted to thank you and perhaps leave some tips for others who may have only a short time in one of these ports of call. Would be glad to answer any specific questions.

For a lot of reasons I won’t go into, we decided early this year to cruise the Scandinavian capitals, plus St Petersburg and Tallinn, instead of going independent, as we would usually do. We were a little conflicted; having never been on a large ship cruise before. Trapped with all those people, not nearly enough time in each city, the madding crowd, no chance for major spontaneous changes in plans, etc. On the plus side, no pack and repack, new hotels, narrow stairs, no lift, etc. And for sure, didn’t have to worry about going hungry.
We booked the Celebrity Century, 12 days out of Amsterdam and return. Frequent flyer miles got us to Brussels from US west coast. Train to Amsterdam where we pre-extended for 3 great days. All in all, we are happy with the result of the trip. However, we are not converted cruisers. Back to the old way for our next trips.
In addition to Amsterdam (our second visit), on which I recently posted here some restaurant recommendations and other thoughts, we did the following.
We relied heavily on Michelin Green Guides and the DK Eyewitness Guide to St Petersburg, this board and others, and the local tourist information centers. Ship’s historical/cultural information was frustratingly limited, except for where to shop, which helped in that regard. Except for St Petersburg, we took no organized tour, instead relying on our own abilities learned over the years to see things on our own. We stayed away from the crowds as much as possible, never felt rushed or herded.

Copenhagen: 0700-1600. Ship shuttle to Kongens – Nytorv. HOHO bus not yet running (8am) Walked to Amalienborg, church, then to Rosenborg Slot. Took the self guided tour (65kr each). We really liked the Slot and the extensive gardens. Numerous nannies and parent out strolling and playing with small children. Enchanting. Walked Ostengade, big sweater purchase. Lunch was a dream, suggested here by a Fodorite, and am I glad. Open faced sandwich in Nyhavn. What a treat enjoyed by no one on the ship’s excursions. Shrimp, plaice, caviar, Tuborg, all accompanied by a street jazz band. (Thank you, “Grandma.”)

Stockholm: 0900-1700 Ships shuttle to Gustav Adolfs Torg. Walked to Nybroviken for ferry to Vasa. Ferry does not run til ten. No problem; Bus 47 from Nybroplan. Vasa was highlight of Stockholm. Hand out in English was our guide. Short movie. Highly recommended to all. Very good lunch in museum café. Not enough time for Skansen, regrettably. Ferry to Gamla Stan; walked and shopped. Bought Pipi Longstocking doll and book for granddaughter.

Helsinki: 0900-1800 Pleasantly surprised. More to enjoy than expected. Shuttle to town, got on red double deck bus 22Euro. Running commentary around town by spry 80 year old lady was a hoot. Senate Square to very active flea market. Amazing open faced sandwich on Pohjois Esplanadi at Hotel Kamp’s outdoor café. Beer was Lapin Kulta, or Lappland Gold. Waitress said is “only thing that’s gold in Lappland.” Loved walking the Esplanadi. Sun out, 78 degrees, everybody is happy, happy, happy. It’s Saturday. I liked my brief introduction to Finland. Must go back.

St Petersburg: Two days 0800-1700: Highlight of our vacation. Used the services of Alla Tours, arranged by internet prior to the cruise. I put together a group of 11 for a small van. Saw lots more than any of the ships excursions, at a fraction of the cost. Saw all the usual sites, too numerous to list here, including canal and river tour. Fantastic lunch at Podvorie Pavlovsk after Catherine’s Palace. Did use the ship’s excursion for the evening ballet, as Mariinsky was not showing ballet. Our day guide from Alla Tours, Elena, was outstanding, we all loved her. Hermitage impossibly crowded-was not enjoyable. July 4th in Russia!

Tallinn: 0700-1400 Definitely the surprise jewel. Shuttle to town; walked back. Love medieval towns like this and Bruges. Tourist info center gave us map and walking tour guide. We walked the whole place. Fantastic lunch on the main square, Raekoja Plats, at Troika Restoran. Waitresses were cute, friendly and fun.

Oslo: 1330-2100 Viking Museum via ferry from near where ship docked. Walked to Frammuseet. Bus 31 to town. Shopped at large kiosk adjacent to ship and walked medieval castle next to ship.

Brussels: Train from Amsterdam after 8am debarkation, arrived 1400. Stashed luggage at Gare Midi, 3,30 Euro/bag. Walked to nearby Gran Plac, enjoyed mussels in white wine sauce, and pancakes, of course. Bought the requisite chocolate. Train to Sheraton Airport Hotel for good night’s sleep before 10am flight home.
Total transit hours to west coast 25 hours, and we were beat

One may rightly conclude that we did not do each city/country justice. But I give us an A- or so. Thanks to a lot of homework, and frequent references to this board, we got to see a lot, and certainly more than those who took the ship’s land excursions. And we did it a lot cheaper, too.

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