Bounty of the Baltic – Stockholm to Copenhagen
25th June – 5th July
Day 1 –
So after a three hour flight delay, we finally arrived at Stockholm Arlanda airport to be greeted by our transfer bus, ready to whisk us away to Crystal Serenity which was to be our home for the next 10 days.
Our transit through to the port, and check in onboard was efficient and we were relaxing in our balcony stateroom within 45 minutes of landing. We were met by our stateroom stewardess, Tatjana, quickly unpacked and freshened up before we made our way down to the atrium, and the Crystal Cove bar before going into dinner. The Crystal Cove was already very lively, with the Galaxy Orchestra supplying some accompaniment to our pre-dinner cocktails.
Embarkation night offered open seating in the Crystal Dining Room, and we were given a great window table, so we could watch the comings and goings of the port whist dining. Dinner was gorgeous, and having chosen a stuffed chicken with tomato risotto, I was not disappointed – absolutely delicious!
For the remainder of our cruise we had chosen a table for two on Late sitting dining at 8.30pm for the, (Dining by Reservation & Early dining at 6.15pm are also available) and were seated in the main raised centre of the restaurant served by our wonderful waiters Jiri & Luigi.
After a long day, we decided to retire to our stateroom after our main courses for cheese and biscuits on our balcony, watching the hot air balloons soaring overhead. We were settling into Crystal life very quickly…
Day 2 –
After a restful night, we were up nice and early for our day in Stockholm. We enjoyed a casual breakfast in the Lido Café of cereal and fresh fruit and then headed off into a dreary Stockholm, utilising the complimentary shuttle bus from the port to the centre of town. We had grabbed a map from front desk, so decided to take a look at to the Royal Palace, the official residence of the Swedish Monarch. The building is very impressive, flanked by very well dressed guards, and worth a look around.
After a nosey in the gift shop, we walked through to the ‘old town’ where we got a little lost amongst the winding lanes before walking over to the shopping district, based around Biblioteksgatan and Hamngatan. After a bit of window shopping in Ralph Lauren, Tommy Hilfiger and the like we headed over to the main department store in Stockholm, NK store, where we stopped for a coffee in the ground floor coffee shop, relaxing and people watching for a while. Quick note about the shops, most do not open until around 10-11am, so bear that in mind if you want a bit of retail therapy in Stockholm!
We were back onboard around lunch time, so decided to go to the Bistro where we enjoyed a light lunch and a coffee followed by a cake. Having decided to check out the onboard Hollywood Theatre cinema this afternoon, we headed in there around 2.30pm to enjoy a virtually private film screening, accompanied by popcorn!
The compulsory Muster drill was held late afternoon, and then we set off from Stockholm, sailing through a myriad of little islands that made an absolutely gorgeous sight.
The show tonight was pre-dinner, so we took our seats in the Galaxy Lounge just before 7pm to see the first of the famous Crystal production shows of our cruise. We were not disappointed with ‘Curtain Call’ which features some of the best know hits from Broadway, performed by the onboard ensemble of singers and dancers. They did a wonderful job and we were all tapping our feet and singing along, especially to the finale.
Day 3 –
Today we were arriving into Helsinki, Finland. We had had an hour time change overnight, but luckily we were arriving into port a little later than normal so we could have a little lay in. Unfortunately it was raining today, but that wasn’t going to deter us, so we grabbed the umbrella provided in our stateroom and jumped on the shuttle bus into town.
We started by heading over to Senate Square, flanked on one side by the impressive Tuomiokirkko (Helsinki Cathedral). After a little wander around we made our way to Uspensky Cathedral, a classical onion-domed Russian Church. The artwork inside was absolutely beautiful, but quite dirty. We finished our time in Helsinki over on Market Square. Right by the harbour, this market mingles a fresh food market with local handicrafts where we got some great little souvenirs to take home. Helsinki was a really lovely town, really easy to navigate on your own if you don’t wish to take an organised tour, and everyone was really friendly and helpful.
After our short shuttle ride back to the ship, we headed up to the Trident Grill for a burger before heading back to the cinema to enjoy another film. A quick stop in the Bistro for a coffee was in order after the film before heading back to the Hollywood Theatre for a lecture on Carl Faberge, ahead of our stops in St. Petersburg later in the cruise.
Our evening entertainment again began before dinner with world renowned organist Hector Olivera. Hector has a specially adapted keyboard that allows him to play all of the orchestra parts at once. Seeing his feet flying over the foot pedals was as impressive as the quickest Riverdance!
We had a little time before dinner to look at the Russian wear on display in the onboard shops, brought onboard by the dealer who had conducted the earlier Carl Faberge lecture. He personally meets with the artists that create the traditional Matryoshka dolls and painted lacquer boxes and also works with the Faberge Foundation that now create replicas of traditional Faberge work.
There were some beautiful art pieces available, unfortunately most were a little out of my budget, but I did manage to purchase some of the famous Faberge eggs in miniature form, as necklace pendants.
Day 4 –
Today we were docked in Tallinn, Estonia and we finally had some sunshine. Quite a pretty port, we could see some of the domes and spires of the old town from the ship and were eager to get ashore. Again we hopped on the complimentary shuttle which dropped just a 5 minute walk from the main square. Called Town House Square, it is very medieval in appearance with little lanes leading off from it housing all manner of handicraft, souvenir and boutique shops. The square itself houses a large handicraft market with endless choice of woollen wear, woodwork and Baltic Amber jewellery.
We decided to walk the cobbled streets up to Tompea Hill, which was the original home of the Danish Aristocracy. Now the home to the Government of Estonia it also boasts the gorgeous Alex Nevsky Cathedral. Tallinn is so easy to walk around, with beautiful little streets wherever you turn. Our return was again via Town House Square, where we stopped for a drink in one of the many restaurants lining the square, before taking a look around the market.
This afternoon was another lecture from our onboard Russian Expert, this time on Russian Iconography and Lacquer box art. It was fascinating to see what work goes into these traditional works of art, and now explains the high price warranted for the pieces which all take in excess of 2 years to make.
Tonight’s show was something brand new to Crystal, the iLuminate show. Previously seen on America’s Got Talent, the founders of this show work with Crystal’s own onboard ensemble to put together a new show called The Tourist. Mingling some modern dance styles and some great music, this show is definitely one not to miss and I could have watched it all night!
Between the show and dinner we had the first of two Captain’s Cocktail parties – this one was to welcome us onboard. It is always great to meet the man in charge, and Captain Birger Vorland was very welcoming and friendly and very charming.
Day 5 –
Today was the first of our three days in St. Petersburg and we had docked at the new Cruise Terminal about 20 minutes from the centre of the city. Not a very pretty port, in fact, it looks like a bit of a wasteland directly in front of the terminal, it does instead offer a continuing loop of music throughout the day (and most of the night) to enjoy…
We had the first of our organised tours today, so were promptly waiting in our meeting point, the Stardust Club, at 8am. We were given plenty of warning that there would be a long queue at immigration whilst the officers checked all of our landing cards and passports etc, so we were all prepared for the wait once we had disembarked. As it was, the surly officers got most people through within around 40 minutes, so not too dissimilar to Customs at Heathrow, and then we were on our bus heading into St. Petersburg.
Our guide for our ‘Exploration of St. Petersburg and Church on the Spilled Blood’ tour was Nina, a lovely lady who was really informative and friendly with so much knowledge on Russia’s interesting history. Working as a teacher for the winter months, she has just decided to learn Spanish so has taken time off from work to study in Spain and was practising with a few guests on our bus who could speak Spanish.
Our bus dropped us off next to Mars Field from where we walked a leisurely pace past Michaels Castle, built by Paul 1st, the castle is now an engineering college, fronted by a statue of Peter the 1st (Peter the Great), Paul’s grandfather. We carried on past the oldest department store in St. Petersburg, Passage, which was a glorious glass roofed arcade. We made a stop half way through the tour for a bit of souvenir shopping, so we bought a few mementoes and took a ‘comfort break’ before carrying on past the Russian Museum and statue of one of Russia’s greatest writers, Puskin. Before we reached our final destination, the Church on the Spilled Blood, we saw the Mikhailovski theatre, home of some world famous productions, and a section of the largest shopping street in the city, Nevsky Prospeckt. At the top of Nevsky Prospeckt stands the Church on the Spilled Blood. The church marks the spot where Alexander II was fatally wounded in an assassination attempt in 1881.
With the traditional domed roof, it is quite a contrast to the classical architecture of the rest of St. Petersburg. The cupolas are a stunning mix of enamelled designs, and inside is just as impressive with 7,000m² of mosaic panels depicting different biblical scenes and images of Christ including the supposed only interpretation of Jesus as a teenager. The church was really crowded so it was great that we had the ‘Whisper’ system of headset so we could hear Nina perfectly over the din of voices inside.
We were back to the ship in time for lunch as many guests also had an afternoon tour booked, so we decided to eat in the Crystal Dining Room for a delicious Greek salad, and then it was up to the pool deck to enjoy the scorching afternoon sun.
As we were ready a bit earlier than normal we decided to enjoy a few pre-dinner drinks in the Crystal Cove bar down on deck 5. A great place for people watching, especially on formal nights, the Crystal Cover is one of my favourite bars onboard, so relaxed and airy.
Tonight’s dinner was to be in one of the onboard Speciality restaurants, Prego. In conjunction with restaurateur Piero Selvaggio, Prego offers an array of Northern Italian dishes, all freshly prepared, ready to be enjoyed. As I have a severe aversion to mushrooms, I avoided the signature Mushroom Soup, served in its own bread bowl, and instead went for the Minestrone which was delicious. I followed this with the grilled fillet steak, served with Parmesan potatoes, rounded off with a gorgeous Tiramisu. Absolutely gorgeous, I love this restaurant!
Day 6 –
Today in St. Petersburg we were going to visit the Hermitage which included a visit to the Treasury, or Gold Room. It was another early start with us off of the ship by 8.30am. Immigration was much quicker on day two, so we were through and on the bus on our way by 9am. Today our tour guide was Alexander – another English Tutor – and he was fabulous. He had been a guide for around 15 years, and could answer any question we had, not just on the tour we were on, but on other aspects of Russia such as current living standards, what the city was like during the Soviet era and about the Revolution.
As the Hermitage is such a crowded museum, we were accompanied by another guide, Natalya, who would take half of the group around the museum whilst Alex took the other half. Natalya was younger than Alex so it was good to also hear her memories of growing up in Soviet Russia.
We were a little diverted on our way to the museum as the St. Petersburg marathon was taking place, with the finish line right in front of the Hermitage ‘Winter Palace’. I always love to see big events like this taking place, and as we were walking from the bus through to the museum we were all clapping those coming across the finish line – and what a place to finish, the huge ceremonial square in front of the museum was spectacular, even rivalling the London finish on The Mall.
The museum itself is made up of 5 buildings, originally created by Catherine the great to house her art collection. The Winter Palace that we were visiting was originally the main residence of the Russian Tsars and is resplendent with its bold green & white decoration. Inside some of the world’s greatest works of art are displayed and we were shown some highlights by Rembrandt, Goya, Di Vinci, Michelangelo and Titian before being taken to our tour of the Treasury room.
The treasury holds a large collection of Scythian and Greek gold as well as a collection of jewels from the Romanov archive. The jewels were spectacular, with 20 carat emeralds, horse blankets containing over 40,000 diamonds and elaborate pocket watches embedded with a myriad of jewels. I was like a kid in a candy shop!
Again, some guests had an afternoon tour, so we were all back onboard by around lunchtime. Our early starts had taken their toll so we had a little afternoon nap before getting ready for a casual dinner poolside, in Tastes.
Tastes is a casual restaurant up on the Lido deck which offers a small selection of traditional dishes such as fish, salad, chicken, pizza as well as a menu of Chinese comfort food including fried rice dishes, noodle soups, pot stickers and pork dumplings – delicious!
This evening’s entertainment was provided by a local classical musician who played a selection of piece on the piano. She was only young but had already played around the world and was an exquisite player, the evening was wonderful.
Day 7 –
Our last day in St. Petersburg was quite relaxing to start as we had an afternoon tour booked. It was unfortunately pouring with rain, so we decided to get a film form the library to watch in our stateroom before having lunch. Our afternoon tour was to the Yusupov Palace, residence of the Yusupov family who plotted to assassinate Rasputin.
The palace was bought by the Yusupov family in 1830 and a lot of the rooms inside still retain many of their original features. The design is beautiful with lavish fabrics and furnishings in every room, including a private theatre edged with gold leaf and velvet drapes.
After our tour of the main rooms, we were taken down into the ‘Gentleman’s rooms’ where they had some waxwork re-creations of the night the plot to assassinate Rasputin was carried out. The story was fascinating as we learned that Rasputin wasn’t going to go down easily!
Our excursion was finished with a canal cruise which gave another perspective on the gorgeous buildings and sights of St. Petersburg. Our guide Helen had been joined by our guide from the first day Nina, who conducted the commentary as we were going along. It was a real shame about the weather as we really had to stay down inside the boat where you didn’t get the best views, but it was still enjoyable.
Tonight we were invited up to the Captain’s Quarters for a cocktail party which was very exciting. We had a chat with Paul-Jean the onboard cruise consultant who we know quite well, and were introduced to one of Crystal’s long standing guests who was on her 40th cruise as well as the Captain’s brother in law. The Captain was on fine form, mingling with the guests and chatting about what we can expect on tomorrow sea day.
Dinner in the Crystal Dining Room this evening was Russian themed, so our waiters were all dressed up and our tables were decorated with velvet table cloths. The charger plates at our table settings were decorated with scenes from some of Pushkin’s most famous Fairy tales. I tried some Pirozkhi, little duck meat pastries followed by Chicken Kiev – as with everything else we have eaten – delicious!
The Avenue of the Stars shopping area onboard was tonight the host of a Russian Bazaar. Alongside some more reasonable souvenirs, there were some more of the exquisite lacquered boxes and Russian dolls for sale from around $150-$15,000 each.
Day 8 –
Today was our only day at sea of the cruise, and as our usual cruises in the Med are filled with sunbathing and ice-cream, what were we going to do on a ‘cold cruise’? As it is, we stared with a lay in, and then some laundry at the complimentary guest laundry – just to ease some of the work when we got home – before going to the Lido for a late breakfast of porridge, fruit and a toasted muffin. From there, we went straight down to the Bistro to read with a coffee.
We had decided to have afternoon tea today so skipped lunch and instead went to a lecture on Baltic Amber. It was really interesting, giving a little history of how amber is formed how it has been used over the years and what to look for when you are buying it. It culminated in a little bit of information about the famous Amber Room in Catherine’s palace in St. Petersburg which looked amazing – definitely something to add to the list for next time I come to Russia!
We went straight from the Amber lecture over to the fine jewellers Facets to learn about Emeralds and here they come from and how they are treated. The jeweller who supplies our onboard shop, Hubert, has some gorgeous pieces and we were shown some glorious gems with one that fitted me perfectly, unfortunately this particular ring cost $100,000, so I had to give it back – maybe next time…
Afternoon tea today was Mozart themed, so we had some wonderful Austrian sandwiches including roast chicken, smoked ham and roast beef with the most amazing selection of cakes including Berliner donuts filled with custard, Black Forest Gateaux and Sacher Tort all accompanied by the Astoria String Quartet. I almost had to be rolled out of the panoramic Palm Court!
Back to our stateroom for a post-cake nap before getting ready for the evening. Tonight was formal night, so the ship dressed in its finery – even though Black Tie is now optional. We were to be entertained before dinner by Jonathan Kane, one of the foremost Elton John impersonators in the world, endorsed by the man himself. His show ‘Rocket Man’ showcases some of Elton’s biggest hits, accompanied by the Crystal dancers. It was such a high energy show and Jonathan is really magnificent.
Between the show and dinner we squeezed in a visit to the Crystal Society and Captain’s farewell party up in Palm Court. Here we were welcomed by Crystal Society hostess Isabell Wagner and Captain Vorland again as they paid tribute to some of the guest reaching milestone voyages on this cruise including the lady we had previously met in the Captains Quarters.
Our Gala dinner tonight included Caviar and Lobster for those who wanted it, and was quite the occasion!
Day 9 –
Today I woke early and watched our sail into the German port of Warnemunde where the Captain executed an impressive three point turn to get us into the small harbour. Warnemunde is quite an industrial port where we were docked so I didn’t really know what to expect when we finally went ashore.
Being the port for Berlin, most guests were off early for their coaches into the Capital city of Germany. Having visited Berlin a couple of times before, we decided to forgo the 6 hour round trip and just explore locally. As the town is so close to the port no shuttle was necessary, and within 10 minutes we reached the canal that forms the heart of the town. Flanked on both sides by pretty houses and shops with over-flowing flower beds it was lovely to take a stroll down past the fishing boats and up to the lighthouse. From there were turned to walk along the beach promenade which followed a lovely wide beach with a Cote D’azur feel.
Returning to the banks of the canal, we stopped for a coffee in one of the many little cafes and saw the tourist boats and fisherman alike jostle for their place on the canal.
We decided on Tastes for lunch where I had a wonderful Grilled Shrimp Caesar Salad and then we had an afternoon of reading by the pool. It did come up a bit windy, so we returned to our stateroom to watch one of the films showing on the in-stateroom tv.
There was no show tonight, so we took our time getting ready for our dinner in the second of the speciality restaurants onboard, Silk Road & Sushi Bar. In association with chef Nobu Matsuhisa, Silk Road offers some of the greatest dishes from his world-renowned restaurants and all complimentary!
Not being a sushi eater, I started with some ‘Nobu’ tacos filled with seafood, Rock shrimp in a spicy sauce and vegetable tempura. The my main course I decided to go with the Nobu box with showcases some of Nobu’s best known dishes including Wagu Beef and Blackened cod. Served with brown or Japanese rice it was simply gorgeous. All finished off with a Chocolate soufflé cake and sesame ice-cream, I could have started again from the beginning!
We were back to our stateroom in time to watch the sail away from Warnemund, past the more picturesque part of the port.
Day 10 –
Today we arrived into Copenhagen. Again I was up early enough to watch our sail into the port, and watched these gorgeous spires and greenery emerge from the industrial entrance.
Having been advised by a friend that the famous ‘Little Mermaid’ is situated quite close to where we would be docked, we decided to walk into town rather than catch the shuttle. So we set off with the little bronze statue being our first port of call.
Within 10 minutes we were there – along with every other tourist in Copenhagen – and had to jostle a little to get a good picture of her in the morning light. From there, was walked through the city past Amalienborg Palace, home to the Danish Monarch, before reaching Nyhavn. Nyhavn is a quaint part of old Copenhagen, favoured by sailors that gave the area quite a bad reputation. Today it is almost an open air museum, housing some traditional fishing boats and lined with brightly coloured houses and restaurants.
From here we took a canal trip which took us on a hours tour of the highlights of Copenhagen with a very good guide translating in three languages!
Once off of the canal we walked down to the Tivoli Gardens. A famous pleasure park which was more amusement park than gardens. It costs around £10 to enter, and then all of the rides, if you wish to go on the, are an additional cost and are charged using a ticket system. There a plenty of cafes and restaurants from traditional Danish cuisine to places like the Hard Rock Café, and at night the park is lit up like a Christmas tree, staying open to 11pm most nights.
We were back to the ship late afternoon in time to see one of the Magic Castle at Sea close up magic shows onboard. Taking place in the intimate Pulse disco, Magic Castle magician Rich Bloch performed some fabulous sleight of hand card tricks, and with only 15 people in the audience it was great to be up close to try and catch how he did it.
We decided to pack before dinner, even though we hoped they wouldn’t make us get off, and we ready for our final show onboard.
The show tonight was aptly named ‘Time to Say Goodbye’, and showcased the professional dancers who up until now, as we hadn’t been to the complimentary dance lessons we hadn’t seen, and they were wonderful. Both professional dancers onboard the US show Dancing with the Stars and finalists in the US version of So You Think You Can Dance. We also had a piece from our Cruise Director, Gary Hunter, who is a professional ventriloquist and very funny. A great way to round off the superb entertainment we have enjoyed onboard.
The dining room was quite tonight as a lot of guests had early departures tomorrow morning. We had quite a quick meal before turning in early.
Day 11 –
Disembarkation today was really efficient. We had opted for the Crystal organised transfer to the airport, but as we were not departing until 4.30pm, we were taken to a hotel around a 5 minute walk from the Tivoli where we could have refreshments and relax, or we could walk into town. They were offering two transfers from the hotel to the airport, one a 1pm and one at 3pm, so we had a few hours to take a walk to the parts of town we missed yesterday. We had a wander around a couple of the large department stores in the city as well as the surrounding shopping streets.
We got back to the hotel in time for a quick sandwich before being taken to Copenhagen airport by the cheeriest coach driver I have ever met! Our luggage had already been taken from the ship to the airport so we just collected it and went straight through to bag drop.
This Baltic cruise has been absolutely wonderful. It was really interesting visiting ports I have never been too before and as always, Crystal delivered everything with panache and warmth. I would definitely recommend this itinerary