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Any independent travelers done a Baltic Cruise (or any cruise)?

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Oct 17th, 2016, 01:45 PM
  #1
jgg
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Any independent travelers done a Baltic Cruise (or any cruise)?

Specifically posting this here and not on the Cruise Forum because I am trying to find out if anybody who is generally an independent traveler (as we are) has done the Baltic Cruise and if so what they thought about it, which cruise line, etc.

We have always been independent travelers but are considering doing a Baltic Cruise in Aug/Sept 2017. We thought this might be a good way to see St Petersburg and several other places however, now we are both concerned that we may just not like the entire cruise experience. Looking at smaller ships (Silversea and Regent Seven Seas, etc). Interested in hearing from usual independent travelers who have done a cruise.
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Oct 17th, 2016, 01:57 PM
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No, but are scheduled for one next June. So will be looking for responses as well. Our tour includes places that we probably would NEVER visit on our own: Oslo, Stockholm, Helsinki, Tallinn, St. Petersburg, Copenhagen, and a stop that would include a short stop in Berlin.

Certainly a full itinerary, but 3 sea days to relax, do laundry, etc.
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Oct 17th, 2016, 02:09 PM
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Yep - I did one with Royal Caribbean this July. It was my first cruise ever, so I don't have any comparison as far as that goes.

With the perspective of a "snapshot/highlights" tour, vs a "see the real _____" trip, I really enjoyed it. Our trip began and ended in Stockholm, and we had half a day on each end to explore there; we stopped in Helsinki, SPB, Tallinn, and Riga as well.

We never took a cruise excursion, unless you count the shuttle bus to and from the Riga port (if you go with a smaller ship, you may be able to dock within walking distance of the city center; our big ship had to dock quite a ways out). We did do a bike tour in Helsinki (happyguidehelsinki.com) and a DenRus tour in SPB (denrus.ru); Tallinn, Riga and Stockholm were on our own. You'll see people here who have done St Petersburg on their own, and certainly it's possible if you're not on a cruise; personally, I was very glad that we took a tour (which means you don't need to get a visa) and had someone else making the arrangements. And with just two days, there's no way we could have seen a quarter of what we did on our own.

The cruise experience was really fun as well. I don't think I'd do a cruise where the main goal was to have fun on the ship, but if another itinerary of interest presented itself, I'd do another cruise of the very active sort.

Basically: I really enjoyed it. I probably wouldn't do a cruise of places that I feel like are very easy to do on my own, but for this trip it was a good choice for us, and gave me some great ideas of where I'd like to go back to on my own.
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Oct 17th, 2016, 02:16 PM
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Yes, I have and my greatest concern is your comment:
" now we are both concerned that we may just not like the entire cruise experience."

Your cruise line choice is going to make a HUGE difference so perhaps you'd be willing to tell us why you are looking at the two you've chosen.

I am going to assume because they are "smaller ships" have some sort of "upscale" reputation
be perhaps more likely to have fewer of a certain sort of passenger aboard.

Am I close?

Let's face it: those Baltic ports and what is in them are NOT going to change regardless of the boat you pick.
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Oct 17th, 2016, 02:19 PM
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I've taken only one cruise, to Greece and Turkey, with a few other stops. I normally wouldn't take a cruise, but, as others have said, these were places I probably wouldn't have got to on my own. We skipped many of the tours and struck off on our own. Unfortunately, the time in port was usually less than I would have wanted for the destinations. I've never been tempted, so far, to take another cruise.

I've thought, though, that a Baltic cruise might be something we'd enjoy, I saw one that had three nights in St. Petersburg, which would let us see a bit more of the city. When we're getting old and decrepit, cruises might be the way to travel.
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Oct 17th, 2016, 02:44 PM
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Yes, we took a Celebrity Baltic cruise several years ago. We are also independent travelers and had been to several of the countries on our own, but I have to say that, dollar for dollar, the Baltic cruise was a fantastic deal. You sail at night and wake up each day at a new port, so you're not spending any time trying to find trains, hotels, restaurants, etc. The only cruise excursions we went on were in St.Petersburg where you can go independently but it's a lot more hassle (visa, etc.).

I bought the Stockholm card which gave us admission to several museums and also bus transportation. I planned out what we were going to do in the other cities (Copenhagen, Helsinki, Tellin), using online maps and recommendations. The cities are very easy to navigate on your own.
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Oct 17th, 2016, 02:54 PM
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Yes, we are independent travellers and we are Europeans, so the Baltic Sea is in easy reach for us.

However, we did a Baltic cruise (with Celebrity Century) and thoroughly enjoyed it. The route was Amsterdam - Oslo - Stockholm - Helsinki -Sankt Petersburg - Talinn - Klaipeda - Copenhagen - Amsterdam.

So, why did we enjoy this cruise?

Firstly, these ports are somewhat difficult to visit as an independent traveller. You cannot rent a car or board a train to visit these cities. And flying from one city to the next is extremely time-consuming. So, a cruise is simply the most efficient way to travel around the Baltic Sea. You spend the days in the port cities and during the nights the ship moves to the next destination. No packing and unpacking, checking in and out at airports and hotels etc. Very convenient.

Secondly, the Baltic cities are easy to explore on your own. We NEVER booked one the grossly overpriced ship's excursions. In many ports of call, the ship docks right in the city center and you just walk into the city. Or there is a short ride with a shuttle bus or taxi into the city center. And then you are on your own and you can follow your own path. The only thing that you need is a good guidebook.

Thirdly, Sankt Petersburg is a story of its own. We had been to Sankt Petersburg before on a business trip (which included some sightseeing), so we were eager to come back. However, when you arrive with a cruise, you cannot simply take a taxi into the city. You MUST have an excursion. However, we did not book the ship's excursion but we opted for a private tour.

There are several companies offering such tours and I read that they are all great. We booked Anastasia Travel and it turned out an excellent choice. We had some email communication with them and we got a personalized itinerary which included a show at the Marinsky Theatre. It went like this:

On the first day in port we left the vessel, passed the immigration both with the help of the papers that Anastasia Travel had mailed to us and there waited a luxurious Mercedes minivan for us with a driver and a guide. We entered and were on the road a full hour before the first tour buses left the parking lot.

Our guide was extremely knowledgable and helpful. Often, she took her phone and asked about queues. She made the itinerary so that we never had to wait in lines. At the Hermitage, she lifted the chains and led us into a secret entrance. She even showed us a secret restroom for the ladies to avoid waiting in line.

As requested, the bus dropped us off at the vessel in the afternoon. We took a shower, changed our clothes, had buffet dinner on the ship and left the vessel again. The minivan drove us to the Theatre were we watched the performance and then back to the ship.

The second day was as excellent as the first day.

Also, these private tours are much cheaper than the ship excursions, especially if you find some companions to share a minivan. Use the CruiseCritic Roll Call to form a small party to share a private excursion!
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Oct 17th, 2016, 03:00 PM
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We took a Baltic cruise on a very small ship (100 people) and loved it. This was in June 2001 ... unfortunately the company (Intrav) is no longer in business. -

Friends have done a more recent trip with Seabourn and were very happy with the experience.

Both we and our friends are very independent travelers.
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Oct 17th, 2016, 03:10 PM
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Fiercely adventurous, independent travelers for most of 85 countries. Twice in many decades, we cruised..once for Alaska to visit my 50th state....and once on Royal Carib to Mexico where I had a freebie for wife and me, as a guest lecturer.

BUT, after visiting the old USSR and the "New" Russia several times, "faux" war covertly once, we opted to take a Viking River Cruise on a 2 for 1 sale(Moscow to St.Petersburg back in 2008. It was just what we wanted it to be..enjoyed it immensely. It was the last of the season (cold but comfortable)...I gave a few lectures and demos on Russian folk music (but it was gratis).

I will post pics below.
If I had to do any of them over, it would be the river cruise by far!
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Oct 17th, 2016, 03:27 PM
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jgg...for you
https://goo.gl/photos/T8Uk2X2ggYRQ2Le68
you'll notice two wives in my pics..one 1980's and other in 2008. I lost both and overseas travel at nearing 88 holds nothing else for me without them. I was truly blessed.

Have fun no matter what you decide. Russia is intriguing. We went on to Ukraine and Belarus on our own after the cruise for some rewarding genealogical research.
stu
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Oct 17th, 2016, 03:34 PM
  #11
jgg
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Wow!! Thank you guys so much!! I was not expecting to get so many responses so quickly! All of your comments have been so helpful! Yes, we are considering this as so many places we would be interested in seeing but we know hard to get to with independent travel. Glad to see so many of you enjoyed your cruise experience!

Dukey1 - the reason I mentioned the two listed is because my friend who is a travel agent suggested I might be interested in those. She helped me book our safari and helped me a bit with our trip to Israel/Jordan. She is a Virtuoso agent so I usually plan everything myself but if I'm interested in booking a Virtuoso hotel I have her do it so I can get all the virtuoso perks/amenities. She has done this for me many times so she knows how we like to travel. And yes, we are looking for a smaller ship and a bit more upscale. Now that are kids are grown and we don't always travel with them we are willing to treat ourselves! I would say food on the ship is also VERY important. I realize the ports are the same no matter which ship but for us accommodations and food are also important for having a great trip! In addition, these ships stop in SPB for 3 days which is also something we definitely want.

jent103 - we love bike tours so thanks for the recommendation on the Helsinki one

traveller1959 - thanks for all the info! Because you did a private tour with Anastasia Travel did you have to get a Visa?

tower - thanks for comments on river cruise. Kind of considering that too, but does seem like some packing/unpacking as the ones I was looking at you stay in hotels in Moscow and St Petersburg and just do the boat in between. Also, would really like to see Riga and Tallinn so that's why leaning towards the Baltic cruise but am still considering river cruise
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Oct 17th, 2016, 03:37 PM
  #12
jgg
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tower - wrote my response before I saw your second one. Thank you so much for the link to the pictures. I look forward to looking through them. Sorry to hear about your losses, but so appreciate you imparting your wisdom here from so many years of travel!!
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Oct 17th, 2016, 03:46 PM
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A few things to remember: the longer the cruise the higher the average age of the passengers. I would say this also holds true with the cost; the higher the costs the older the passengers.

Upscale is great; a bunch of people sitting around and feeling great about being with a bunch of other stuffy "rich" people, not so much.

My main advice for St. Petersburg: CRAM as much as you possibly can into the time you are there. This is not the time to do the leisurely bit and you can sleep later in the voyage.

The city has so much to see and I would be going from morning well INTO the night if necessary. A guide and organized tour of some sort, and if you can spring for a private one even better, can be very helpful.

Our one disappointment: the Hermitage. No, not for the museum with its estimated many MILLION works, and a lot of them are stored in the basement, or for the rooms themselves which are decorated in and of themselves and wonderfully so. The dig "D" was the mob scene of other visitors and the fact that our little group did not have those headphones linked to what the guide was saying.

Go EVERYWHERE you can.
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Oct 17th, 2016, 04:04 PM
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jgg....thank you for your kind words...the river cruise does not require packing and unpacking. You're on board for the full 8 days///with many picturesque and interesting stops along the way. Rooms are excellent, food very good and varied. If you use slide-show the captions do not show...suggest you do pic by pic and captions will show.
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Oct 17th, 2016, 04:10 PM
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We have not been on that cruise (yet) but seriously considered the Seabourn Baltic cruise combined with the Norwegian Fjords which would total 21 days. We are independent travelers and have done one cruise on a river in Northern Burma on a small teak ship with just 5 staterooms. We loved that experience, but like you, wonder how we would feel on a larger vessel.
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Oct 17th, 2016, 05:17 PM
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I haven't taken a cruise, and so perhaps shouldn't respond, but FWIW, the time any of these cruises give for major cities like St. Petersburg is very short. I visited St. Petersburg solo and independently back in 1984 (so yes, visiting it independently is quite do-able) and seriously wish I'd had more than the 6 days I was able to give it. Just something to consider!
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Oct 17th, 2016, 06:28 PM
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Hello jgg,

Yes, I've done the Baltic cruise, on Regent as a matter of fact, and done many, many cruises through the years ( ergo my handle in Fodors). I loved, loved Stockholm, Estonia , Finland, but wasnt that enamored of St Petersburg. For sure its a very historic city, great museum, churches, palaces but it wasnt my cup of tea. It just hasnt been my preferred itinerary on a cruise. However, as far as cruising is concerned, I love it, even though I also love traveling on land. Its a very different experience. I say, go for it and stay with the smaller ships like Seabourn or Regent.
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Oct 17th, 2016, 06:37 PM
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Dukey1, had to laugh at this from your post "Upscale is great; a bunch of people sitting around and feeling great about being with a bunch of other stuffy "rich" people, not so much."
LOL, have you personally had that experience? Because I cruise this ships frequently and nothing can be further from the truth. Most passengers are well traveled, but for the most part, down to earth and fun.And you'll find that most of them also travel a lot independently by land. A cruise is a different experience.

Nothing wrong with "upscale" in cruising. I've done the gamut, from small (and yes, upscale) ships like Regent, Regent and Silversea, to the mega ships like Royal Caribbean and Princess. There was a time and an itinerary for all of them. At this time, and for an itinerary like the one the OP is contemplating, I would never recommend a mega ship.
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Oct 17th, 2016, 07:00 PM
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This will be kind of long to give you some perspective.
We've been independent traveler's for most of our lives and still are, especially in countries where we enjoy evenings, are traveling within a whole country, on islands we want to explore, etc.
We took students on a few tours, but realized we hate being on a schedule or being "guided'" so no tours for us. You can see where I am coming from.

Several years ago, honestly, expecting to dislike it, but willing to try it, on a whim took a winter cruise to the Southern Caribbean so we could see particular islands. It was a new, large (not mega) Princess ship. The ship, the weather, other lovely passengers and the Caribbean Islands, all combined, made us love it. We did our own thing, no tours or ship's excursions. We have taken a number of cruises since then for different experiences.

Many people discount cruises out of hand, but different cruises, itineraries and ships provide many different things: a relaxing time with kids and family on ships with lots of activities, pools and fun shore excursions, a luxury vacation for adults with a emphasis on great food and service, or a sight seeing itinerary to places that might be difficult otherwise.

IMHO, a Baltic cruise to St Petersburg and other places you really want to see, would be great. The ship would not matter to me as much because I would be off the ship most of the time. The most important thing would be the exact itinerary, and the number of hours off the ship in each port. We did a cruise to Athens, Rhodes, Ephesus and Israel which focused on archeological sites (also some religious and historic sights) I had long wanted to see. A cruise was an easy, economical way of doing that, and we made sure there were long hours in port with plenty of time for exploration, extremely important.

A luxury ship that didn't give enough time or go to the ports I wanted would just be an expensive AI vacation. Doesn't mean you shouldn't do it if it is within your budget, but how much do you want to spend for basically dinner and a place to sleep? Finer food and nicer cabin, of course, but at the end of the day, will you be too tired to enjoy it or will it be a highlight of your day. Choose carefully what fits your comfort level and sightseeing, and you will enjoy it.
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Oct 17th, 2016, 11:41 PM
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Re: private tours in Sankt Petersburg.

If you book a private tour you do not need a visa. They mail you a kind of invitation letter which you print and show the immigration officer together with you passports. And then you are through within seconds.

I do not want to advertise for one special tour company. We took Anastasia and it was great. You can also check Alla Tours, Red October and maybe other ones.

These tours are less expensive than the ship's tours but still they are not cheap. But, as others have said, see as much as you can within the two days in port. And for this, you need a local guide with driver.

A few words on the ship. During a Baltic cruise, you use the ship for sleeping, breakfast, dinner and maybe a little nightly entertainment. During the day, you are exploring the ports. Usually, the ships arrive quite early in the morning in the port and leave in the evening, so you have a full day in port.

Saying this, the kind of ship does not matter too much. You simply spend not much time on the ship. Select your ship mainly because of the itinerary.
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