Tips for Baltic Cruising

VISAS:If you plan to do any independent sightseeing in St. Petersburg, even with a driver, you must obtain a visa before you leave home. Check with your travel agent or the cruise line for visa requirements in other Eastern European ports.

INOCULATIONS:A Tetanus-Diphtheria booster within the last 10 years is recommended; passengers on the Maasdam must provide proof of this before being allowed to disembark in St. Petersburg.

WEATHER:Highly variable. We had hail, blustery winds and warm sunny days. Bring a lightweight coat, dress in layers.

ST. PETERSBURG: Since St. Petersburg is the highlight of this cruise, look for ships that offer two full days in port here.

First-time visitors should take a general orientation tour, a tour of the Hermitage and perhaps a half-day trip to the beautiful outlying palaces, Petrodvorets or Catherine's Palace at Pushkin.

There has been considerable press coverage about street crime in St. Petersburg, but none of the passengers on our cruise had any problem. Take sensible precautions of tucking your passport, cash and credit cards into security pouches, leave the jewels, but not your common sense, onboard the ship.

Change only a few dollars into rubles, which you will need, if you're exploring on your own, for entrance fees. Twenty dollars was plenty for us for two days. Some shops don't accept credit cards or traveler's checks.

THE SCANDINAVIAN CAPITALS:City cards are both economical and convenient for independent sightseers. They cover entrance fees into the museums and major sights and fares on the local transportation system; some even include a free sightseeing tour. Twenty-four hour cards cost from $21 to $23 and are available at the local tourist information centers.

COPENHAGEN CRUISE LOUNGE: This lounge is available for passengers in port for the day and it also solves the dilemma of what to do in the period between hotel check-out and embarkation, or between debarkation, hotel check- in or late flights. Cruise passengers can relax with refreshments and international newspapers, stash purchases or belongings in a secure storage area and get dinner reservations and sightseeing information. The lounge is in the Royal Scandinavia Store at Amagertorv 6, in the middle of the Stroget, the pedestrian shopping street.

ONLINE GUIDES: Rough Guides has city profiles for Baltic ports.

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