Day 6 – Saint-Petersburg
We hadn’t booked any excursions for our last day in Russia and so we had the day to enjoy the ship almost all to ourselves while our fellow travellers enjoyed their last few hours ashore. We had breakfast in the Lido buffet which had a great variety of cereals, fresh fruit, pancakes and freshly made smoothies. Unfortunately, as our guide earlier in the week has warned us, the weather in Saint-Petersburg is very similar to that in the UK i.e. you can experience all 4 seasons in one day, and today the weather wasn’t on our side; so rather than sit by the pool and read our books we made our way to the Bistro for a coffee. As a self-confessed ship geek I took the chance to look out the window and make note of all the cruise lines that were in port, much to Rachel’s dismay!
We decided to skip lunch today… not to save our waistlines I must confess! But today we were heading to afternoon tea! Served daily in Palm Court, afternoon tea was something I was really looking forward to, and it didn’t disappoint. The waiters were all dressed in their penguin suit jackets which immediately made it feel like a special occasion and, as we had now become to expect, they were so attentive. We were offered a selection of finger sandwiches, fruit tarts, éclairs and scones all washed down with individual pots of tea. As a Brit I really appreciated being offered authentic Rodda’s clotted cream for my scone too! The staff kept coming round and tempting us with more and I’m not ashamed to admit that we were weak and gratefully accepted… multiple times! The highlight was hands down the ham sandwiches, trust me I never thought I’d be raving over a plain ham sandwich and maybe it was the sea air but I’ve never had a sandwich like it.
After our tea, we wrapped ourselves in blankets on deck, and got ready for the sail away as our Captain Lars Thomas Larsen kept us entertained, he affectionately referred to Crystal Symphony as “The White Swan of the Sea’s” as we waited our turn to leave port and hear the iconic Louis Armstrong once more.
Today (as much of the whole cruise did really!) revolved around food and we had our second speciality reservation in the Italian restaurant Prego. We started the meal with some traditional bread, olive oil and balsamic vinegar which was the sweetest vinegar I have ever tasted. For starter I had a Caesar salad and followed it up with what I was subsequently informed was the best dish on the menu, a classic beef lasagne. We were reserved (for once in the trip) at pudding and enjoyed some soft scoop ice-cream and sorbet.
Day 7 – Tallinn
We arrived into Tallinn early in the morning and ahead of our busy day we went to the Crystal Dining Room for breakfast where they offer great selection of pastries, pancakes, waffles and eggs. I enjoyed eggs benedict which was a real treat and a great way to set me up for the busy day ahead. We disembarked the ship and made our way to the complimentary shuttle which took us to the walls of the Old Town in just a few minutes. Once off the bus we only had a short walk until we were in the middle of one of northern Europe’s best preserved medieval cities and enjoyed a leisurely stroll around the historic walls and cobbled streets. We found Hellemann Tower which was built in 1410 and over the years was used as a prison and ammunition room. For just €3 we climbed up 200m and were treated to some beautiful views of the city, both old and new in the glorious sunshine.
Today was a busy day, and after our morning exploring Tallinn and getting some gift shopping in we were back on-board for our Magic Castle@Sea performance. Crystal has an exclusive arrangement with magicians from Hollywood’s renowned private magicians’ club, the Magic Castle. The show was very intimate with only about 15 people in the audience which meant that our magician, Bob Riordan was able to get everyone involved. The theme around his 30 minute show was all about mind reading and my only criticism was that the show could have been longer! Guests need to pre-book these shows (free of charge!) and they are obviously popular as many of the performances were already full when we came to book ours.
Following the magic show we had a quick lunch in the Trident Grill before heading to the Crystal Dining Room for a tour of the galley. This was a great opportunity that was highlighted in the daily schedule – Reflections, where we were able to meet the head chef and see first-hand where all that fabulous food was prepared. We learnt that all the food was cooked from scratch on-board, including the bakery section that has to be open 24hours a day constantly producing dough and bread for the next meal service! It was fascinating to see and I also learnt the secret as to why the steak was so tender and tasty; their ovens use both heat and steam to keep the meat moist and I can vouch that it makes a big difference!
Some fun facts from our galley tour, Crystal Symphony gets through daily:
- 2,500 Bread Rolls
- 2,300 eggs
- 2,000lbs of fruit
- 500lbs of beef
- 180 litres of Ice Cream
- 5lbs of Caviar
As we were nearing the end of our cruise, tonight was formal night and we were invited to the Captains cocktail reception in the Starlight Club. It was lovely to see everyone dressed to the nines as we sipped champagne. Captain Thomas again had us all laughing as he did a small speech and addressed, tongue in cheek, why ships are referred to as female and answered some humorous questions that he often comes across. After a few nights off we were back in the Crystal Dining Room for dinner and it didn’t disappoint. Following the galley tour we were even more impressed with how quickly the food made it from the kitchen to the table and I had to have steak, which as usual did not disappoint!
After dinner we made our way to our now firm favourite Avenue Saloon and instead of hearing professional Charlie James, we were told it was Karaoke night… which was met with a mixed response, but get enough Crystal cocktails in you (they are not shy with the measures!) and everyone was up and having a great time. As the token Brits in the bar we were encouraged (forced) to sing a very bad representation of the Spice Girls. Much to everyone’s surprise it was a brilliant evening, everyone in the room had taken their turn and the support fellow guests gave each other was so lovely to see! We all left with very hoarse voices after belting out Neil Diamond’s Sweet Caroline as our group finale.
Day 8 – Stockholm
We arrived into Stockholm in the early hours and I am told by those who got up early enough the sail in was stunning… I however sadly missed it due to the comforts of my bed but I’ll use that as my excuse that I must go back! As it was our last day we decided not to go ashore today but to stay aboard and make the most of our last day. As it was midsummers eve, a celebration that is taken as seriously as Christmas in Sweden most of the locals had finished work early and already made their way out of the city in preparation for their parties and so a lot of the shops etc. were already closed for both today and tomorrow.
On the ship we enjoyed a very lazy day by the pool reading our books and occasionally when the wind picked up we jumped in the Jacuzzi to warm up. Our motto for today (I’m saying it like it wasn’t the whole trip…) if we wanted something we were going to have it! We headed into the Lido for an early lunch and as it was sunny we sat at the back of the ship and made the most of the good weather. On the buffet there was a great selection of food that I would have happily had for dinner including a large strip of steak that they were carving to order! We overindulged and then had to go for a lie down to help us digest the 3 course lunch we’d just enjoyed.
So as it clouded over that afternoon we headed into Palm Court to repeat our afternoon tea experience, this time with an added glass of champagne – it would have been rude not to. Sadly as it was our last full day we needed to head back to our stateroom and pack ready to leave our suitcases outside before dinner.
True to the motto at dinner we went all out. Our waiter Shiv, who had got to know us well over the course of the trip, let us all order our courses and then proceeded to also order any specials that we may have missed in taster sizes so that we could try a little bit of everything. It was so thoughtful and a great way to taste practically the whole menu, however it did mean our little group of 4 indulged in 7 starters, 6 main courses and 7 desserts…. It was such a fantastic way to end what had been such a great trip!
Day 9 – Disembarkation
Sadly the day had come that we had to get off the ship L As we had an afternoon flight Crystal had laid on a transfer to a day room in a local hotel and so we made our way to the Radisson Blu after identifying our luggage on the pier. We were reassured we would be reunited with it at the airport which went against all our natural instincts, but after the week we’d had on-board we trusted Crystal to get it right. On the coach we had a local guide who pointed out different landmarks on our way through the city including the old Olympic Stadium and City Hall where the annual Nobel Banquet takes place.
As the hotel was still in the city centre we were given maps and were free to explore before our transfer at around 1pm. We were within walking distance to the Royal Palace which is still the official residence for the Swedish monarchy and has areas open to the public to visit and is very beautiful. We had a wander around the grounds and the royal chapel. After a few hours exploring Stockholm we headed back to the hotel for a bite to eat and then it was time to head to the airport and the moment of truth as to whether our suitcases would be there! The transfer out to the airport only took about 30 minutes and we first dropped off guests departing from terminal 5 and then proceeding to terminal 2 for our flight back to London. As promised (I don’t know why I ever doubted them!) our suitcases were there waiting for us, but not only waiting for us they had split them up based on who was travelling together and put them on trolleys for us. This was just a final reminder of the good service you can expect to receive with Crystal Cruises and topped off what was an unforgettable trip!
Now back home in London I’m definitely suffering with a serious case of the cruise blues, but I will never forget my first Crystal experience. The staff that became more like friends and family, the wonderful food that we overindulged in and the sun that never set over the Baltic Sea will all stay with me for a very long time I’m sure.
If you enjoyed Megan’s blog and have any questions for her – please let us know in the comments down below!