Year Started: 1965
Ships in Fleet: 17
Summary: Princess is one of the most consistently excellent cruise lines in the upper mainstream to premium group. All the diversity of larger ships but personalized service.
Regions:Canada, Caribbean, Europe
Good for: Families. Value for Money. Teens.
Regions:Alaska, California Coastal, Panama Canal
Good for: Teens. First-time Cruisers. Families.
Regions:Caribbean, Europe, South America
Good for: Teens. Children`s Programs. Families.
Regions:Asia & Africa, Australia, Europe
Good for: Group. First-time Cruisers. Families.
Regions:Alaska, Asia & Africa, Australia
Good for: Teens. Children`s Programs. Seniors.
Regions:Canada, Caribbean, Europe
Good for: Teens. Children`s Programs. Group.
Regions:Alaska, California, Hawaii
Good for: Teens. Children`s Programs. Group.
Regions:Alaska, California, Hawaii, Mexico
Good for: Families. Overall Service. Teens.
Regions:Alaska, California, Panama Canal
Good for: Seniors. Group. Singles.
Regions:Asia & Africa, Australia, Europe
Regions:Asia & Africa, Australia, Europe, Hawaii
Regions:Caribbean, Europe, Transatlantic
Good for: Seniors. Overall Service. Group.
Regions:Caribbean, Europe, Transatlantic
Good for: Overall Service. Teens. Children`s Programs.
Regions:Alaska, California, Hawaii, Mexico
Good for: Teens. Children`s Programs. Families.
Regions:Asia & Africa, Australia, Panama Canal
Good for: Seniors. Group. Families.
Regions:Alaska, California, Hawaii, South America
Good for: Families. Overall Service. Teens.
Regions:Asia & Africa, Australia, South Pacific, Tahiti
Good for: Seniors. Group. Families.
This was our 8th Cruise, 6th on Princess but we have also sailed with Carnival & RCCL. I am 59 and DH is 60. We really enjoy cruising and prefer it to land vacations since you unpack once, but get to see so many different places.
The Emerald Princess is a beautiful ship and I noticed it immediately after boarding how everything shined. The Piazza is really lovely, done in beautiful green hues, with mosaic tile floors & stunning staircase. The crew we encountered were all very friendly, the food was the best we ever had -- on any cruise -- and service was great.
Our cabin was aft (B749) and we thoroughly enjoyed it, had great views of the sea & our room steward took good care of us -- no complaints. We had a couple of nites of rough seas leaving FLL, after that they were pretty calm. However, we learned real quickly to put the hangers on the floor so they don't bang around in the closet!
We did anytime dining in the Di Angelo dining room with Marvin our waiter who knew the menu well and made greatsuggestions on what to select for our meals.
The Horizon seemed a little better organized on this ship. Not sure why but maybe the "Enter" & "Exit" at each end instead of everyone wandering all over helped.
We ate breakfast in the dining room 3 times and it was such a treat, especially on disembarkation day. The "Crown Grill" was delicious -- DH had the pork chop and I did the lobster tails and oh, don't miss the desert "Crown Dependence." It is a sampler of all of them!
Even though we are Platinum we do not use the Internet service. We are on vacation and I want to enjoy our time away from a computer. (I have enough of that at work!)
Princess Cay was rain on & off, but we always enjoy a few hours there. In St. Thomas we did a taxi on our own to Coki Beach and it is to date, my favorite beach. Great snorkeling too and don't forget the dog biscuits, the fish love them. Beach chairs, drinks & food are available as well.
Dominica is a beautiful rain forest island & we did an island tour with a private group that was fun, but with a lot of driving up & down hills. It lasted almost 5 hours and that was really too long of a tour for us. Grenada we just walked through the port terminal shops and went back to the ship for some R&R by the pool.Aruba -- What can I say -- this place is beautiful. You can walk from the terminal to all the wonderful shops. We heard that you can take a bus to the beaches for $2.30 round trip. DH wanted to take a taxi for $10.00, but I balked and found the bus terminal, hopped on bus No 10 and off we went. Since I had a map of the island we followed the stops along to "Eagle Beach" and got off. They had chair rentals ($5.00 each) and a tiki hut with snacks & drinks, right across from Amsterdam Manor, which is a resort, I think. Anyway, hadn't been on a bus in years but it was fun.
In Bonaire we did a Princess excursion on the Samur -- a Sail & Snorkel to Kline Bonaire. We had a great time on the beach, it's also a good snorkeling spot. I would recommend them.
As for the entertainment -- We enjoyed "Motor City" in the Princess Theater, and the magician. We also enjoyed the music in the "Wheelhouse."
On sea days we loved to relax by the pools, read, play the wooden horse races, go to bingo and even played "Elevator Roulette" -- not to be missed -- it was a riot! And -- the pool patrol was on their toes! We saw six chairs that had towels, no other personal items, that were left vacant for just over an hour and a staff member removed the towels!
What more can I say? We loved the ship and hope to sail her again soon!
My husband and I had anticipated a fantastic cruise for our 25th wedding anniversary. Instead, we were disappointed.
We booked a balcony mini-suite and discovered the lack of privacy as your balcony can be viewed by anyone above you since the balconies are arranged like stair steps.
Our king-sized bed was actually two twin beds pushed together and we felt the side support keenly in our backs any time we ventured to the center of the bed.
The food in the buffet was not great. The saving grace of the cruise was the dining plan we chose (freestyle dining). The food in the various dining rooms was fantastic and the attendants even more so.
We asked for the "anniversary package" expecting a nice bouquet of flowers, but were greeted by three mass produced "Happy Anniversary" balloons taped to our door. Not much hoopla for your "Silver Anniversary."
The locations we stopped at were very beautiful and the selection of excursions was nice.
My husband and I first thought about Hawaii for our 25th anniversary. Too bad we didn't stick with that original plan and save the cruise for later!!!
Overview – This was our ninth cruise with Princess in eight years, and our second Pacific Coastal Cruise, as we did a northern bound coastal cruise in 2002. I hate to have to say this, but we have found the over-all quality decreasing over the last five years, and we keep on booking our next cruise with Princess, in hopes that maybe the cruise we just were on was an anomaly, but in reality, the over-all quality has decreased, and it is unlikely that we will book with Princess for our next cruise, and will look at other cruise lines. I would like to note that the Senior and Executive Staff on board ship are extremely nice and professional, and the passengers were friendly and help make the cruise enjoyable. We met a young couple from Alberta, and it was nice to see familiar faces when out on excursions and to have other people to talk to.
Embarkation – Princess used to have "Priority Embarkation" services for Platinum Card Holders, but along with other "Premiums" for Platinum Card Holders that they have eliminated, this too appears to have been eliminated. The Embarkationwas about as smooth as your typical Airport Check In Process, with a lack of agents to assist you and the ones that were there, appeared to have little or no previous experience. Luckily, the lines were not extremely long, and after lugging our baggage (No Handlers Available) we made it through check in and onto the ship. Note: Princess used to send you a Blue Plastic Envelope with a Cruise Coupon Book, along with all your paperwork that took the guess work out of getting checked in. Now they have opted for "E Tickets" and the Internet for form processing which made the overall process confusing.
State Room – We had a Balcony on the Aloha Deck (Deck 12) as we always opt for a Balcony or Mini-Suite. The room was dirty and we spent the first few hours using the towels to wipe everything down, as it was obvious that it was not cleaned prior to our boarding. Getting a good Steward will make or break your experience aboard a cruise ship, and unfortunately, we got the absolute worst steward we have ever had. My Wife has a bad back due to a recent Auto Accident, and we had requested three months in advance, via Fax, E-Mail, Postal Mail and The Internet the need to have the Egg Crate Mattress Pad on our bed, along with extra "Down" Pillows and Robes in our State Room. Although all of this was clearly identified in our Pre-Cruise Check List Summary, the Steward and his Manager were oblivious to these requests, and promptly told us they had none available and there was nothing they were going to do to rectify the situation or honor our requests. In addition to our check in issues, our Steward failed daily to fill our Ice Bucket, failed to leave fresh towels, and failed to leave the cards used to request breakfast or fruit. So, we were constantly calling room service for these items which should have been provided as part of the daily service. Additionally, we had two days where the Steward just failed to clean our room at all; even though we used the Service Card when-ever we left our room. We never did receive towels for the pool, which should have been in our room from day one.
Cruise Staff – I have to say the Medical Staff were the best we have ever had. The Doctor was very friendly and professional, and even had a sense of humor. The rest of the Medical Staff were courteous and prompt, along with the Senior Staff that we encountered in the Boutiques and Shops, and at The Customer Service Desk (Purser Desk). The Staff in the restaurants and bars were a different story, and the quality of the talent that Princess hires now has declined dramatically from the first four or five cruises that we had sailed with them. Quite a few now do not even speak English, which made it a challenge to try to have a conversation with them, if you elect to try to do more than order something off of a menu.
The Food –
Dinner – After Eight years of cruising with Princess, they still have the same Menu, and have not changed anything with the exception of reducing down to one small lobster tail from the previous two they used to have, on the night they do server lobster. The Prime Rib was tough and dry, the King Crab was an oxymoron as the pieces were extremely small and you ended up with a plate full of knuckles and only one or two small legs and no claws.
The Horizon Court Buffet – The quality here has gone down quite a bit as well, and what is served here is the leftovers from the previous night, and the overall taste and texture are bland, tough and over-cooked. Breakfast was about the only thing edible, but seating was always a challenge as the place is always packed with no available tables.
Note: Princess only serves Coffee, Milk, Orange Juice, Iced Tea or Tap Water with their meals, as any Soda Fountain Product or other Juices come with a premium price. We had to pay $1.75 for a glass of Grapefruit Juice, and $3.00 for a bottle of water.
Entertainment – On board day time activities are extremely limited, and include such activities as Bingo, Shuffleboard, Afternoon Tea, Ceramics, and a daily movie. Princess really needs to work on getting better activities arranged, especially for the days spent at Sea, as there are just really no activities to keep close to three thousand people entertained. The Nightly activities include a Comedian, the Princess Stage shows presented by the Princess Dancers, and of course, Lounge Bands at the various bars on board ship. The quality of the Stage Shows was poor, as the cast are very amateurish, and the singers were better on earlier cruises that we have been on.
The Cruise Itself – The "First Stop" was changed from it's original destination to a small town on Victoria Island called, Nanaimo. We opted to not do a Cruise Tour here, and ended up staying on ship due to wet weather, and the need to Tender ashore. The "Second Stop" was to be at Victoria, and this was one of the reasons why we booked this cruise, so we could see Butchart Gardens. Unfortunately, although two other ships were docking at Victoria, our Captain opted to not dock there, due to potential bad weather that was to move in by that afternoon. Instead, we stayed anchored in the harbor for the morning and then departed "slowly" to our next destination of San Francisco. On our previous Coastal Cruise in 2002, we were unable to stop at Monterey due to choppy seas, so the Captain continued on and got us to San Francisco a day early in order for us to have two days there. On this cruise, this was not the case, and we just cruised slower to arrive in San Francisco on schedule.
After two days at sea, our "Third Stop" was in San Francisco, and what should have been one of the longest port days, was actually the day that we had to leave the earliest, as we had to set sail at four. There is just so much to do here that it did not do the city justice to have everyone back on board by three-thirty in the afternoon. The "Fourth Stop" was at Catalina Island, and here, the ship did not depart until Seven, which is just way too much time to spend on this Island, as it is limited to trinket shops and bars. The "Fifth Stop" was in San Diego, and luckily, we did have a full day here, as we did not set sail until six in the evening. Unfortunately, as this was also the last day before we had to disembark the following morning, the evening was spent packing and getting ready for the next morning.
Disembarking – We had a flight at 9:45 so we opted to carry our own luggage off and had a Gangway Pass that allowed us to leave the ship as soon as it docked at Los Angeles at 07:30. Unfortunately, although we were in line at 07:00, we stood in line until they finally allowed passengers off at 08:00. By this time, it was complete chaos and with no staff to help keep people in line, it was a mad exodus for the gangway as soon as they lifted the gate, with people who had been hanging out in the various lounges and bars streaming past the people who had been waiting patiently in line for the past hour.
Final Notes – Princess automatically adds on to your bill, $10.50 a day per person Gratuity Fee, that is in addition to an 18% gratuity that is already added on to any drinks or services that are purchased. This I feel should be something that is totally optional, and on their earlier cruises, they gave you envelopes to tip your Steward and / or your Waiter and Staff. Princess used to award repeat cruisers with a Status of Gold, Platinum and Elite, which gave you additional benefits, which included, Priority Embarkation, a Dedicated Lounge for Disembarkation with Breakfast, and Free Internet Service. These services appear to no longer exist, although they do offset your Internet Usage for the first $75, which helps, but due to slow internet service, it is really very easy to burn through $75 of Internet Service.
Photos – Princess prints every single photo taken, and throws away thousands of prints per sailing. Would it not make more sense to lower their price from $25 for an 8x10 to something more reasonable, and not print off all pictures?
First of all, the showers are Not That Small. Just wanted to say that right out there. I'm not a small woman, by any means (Plus size clothing section), and I had plenty of room in the shower. Even DH, who is 6 ft tall, felt comfortable in the shower.
Okay... my review of the Golden Princess. Wow. Great time, wonderful, fabulous, excellent food, service, amenities, venues, and activities. I got writer's cramp filling out all the "You made a difference" comment cards (you fill them out to highlight a crew member that really made your cruise memorable... I think they expect one or two. Yeah. Right.) on the last day. On the bright side, it made me run all over the ship to the various bars, dining rooms, and service counters getting names of people that had truly gone above and beyond to make our cruise PERFECT. Any chance for exercise is good!
Just in case you get to cruise the Golden soon, look for Maria in the Bernini dining room... tell her the Ninja Ducks sent you. Antonio was our waiter, with Cyril assisting... sort of a Portuguese Jackie Chan& Chris Tucker. Angela and Whinn at the Lobby Bar--they just went through barista training (went from damned good to truly excellent), and they make incredible soy mochas! Get a coffee card, trust me on this.
Our room steward, Jaime (a guy; pronounced "Hi - me") was amazing. We think he stayed in the hidden bunk bed in the ceiling of our room so he could pop out and clean up every time we stepped out. Always a smile, always greeted us happily, opened our door for us, found me a vase for the flowers I brought on board, always remembered the extra washcloths that I like to have handy, and found me a great fluffy pillow quickly!
Next, the FOOD. I'm a vegan, and my DH is a vegetarian, so after the first night, we tried the Bernini dining room, and asked for the head waiter. Maria was awesome. She made us a standing reservation for a table for two by the window, where the best waiters would spoil us rotten, and I think she beat the kitchen staff into submission, frequently. After a couple of meals, I just left it in her hands, and we were indulged with the most incredible meals, prepared artistically, with incredible flavors and textures... great variety! It's all her fault that we booked another cruise! Not once did I ever feel deprived of the "cruise experience" by my dietary choices... in fact, our waiter, Antonio, would pop into the kitchen to verify that something that sounded good to me would be okay "Madam, I think that dressing is too creamy... it has cream in it. No, we'll do a nice vinegarette for you, okay?" They made us laugh every night, too! Lovely people.
We also had breakfast and lunch in the dining room (Donatelli's), with only an occasional foray to the buffet. Afternoon Tea is certainly a wonderful experience! The buffet was okay, we did find the sushi buffet one day... WOW, FRESH WASABI!! consider this a warning! it was great. We did grab fresh fruit at the buffet a couple of times, as there was always a great selection of fruit.
Our stateroom: a balcony on the Baja deck, starboard side. Small room, yes, but so cleverly appointed, that we were able to misplace things regularily! Both of our HUGE suitcases fit under the bed easily... I think we could have put three of them under there. Plenty of closet room... more than I have at home, actually.
The safe uses a code only... no card required (we had taken along a card to use just for that purpose; a membership card that would not be a problem to lose/replace). Nice safe, just big enough. Lots of shelves, and a few drawers. The beds. Very firm. Also, as it was two twins shoved together to make a queen, and we did not use an eggcrate pad, the edges of the mattresses that were touching were a little raised, and rather firm. It wasn't a problem, but if I were on a longer cruise, I'd ask for a mattress pad, to facilitate cuddling a little better. The bedding was very nice, and comfortable.
Temperature control seemed very good... we kept our thermostat very low. It was warm everywhere on the ship, unless we were in port, and the gangways were out. Then, it was a bit cool and breezy near them.
I was impressed with the constant maintenance going on. Every day, we'd notice some crew members, somewhere, sprucing up something on the ship! One of the pools was closed one day, as it was drained, scrubbed, touched up, and then refilled. No matter, there was three other pools to choose from! All very nice, warm, and didn't seem over chlorinated to me. The hot tubs were great!! The ones outside were rarely in use, so we had no crowding issues.
We only did a couple of shows... first night welcome show, very nicely done. Later that week, we did a comedy juggler (Steve Patient), he was great! We also attended the champagne waterfall... I got to help pour! and danced afterwards. It was fun. (DH also poured some champagne!!)
The Wheelhouse Bar. Oh, yes... ask the bar tender, Ricardo, to show you his wine cork magic trick! Christian is another waiter that always was cheerful, prompt, accurate, and attentive. There was a latin band there, and we loved dancing there. Just sitting and people watching was good, too!
Let me mention... all the drinks that we enjoyed onboard, whether at the cocktail party (free ones) or bought in the bars/lounges, seemed pretty strong to us. Not at all "watered down"... DH had the "Iced tea" drinks... Long Island and Beverly Hills... and they were almost entirely alcohol. We did notice that the care taken in making drinks seemed a little bit more meticulous in the Wheelhouse, the Lobby bar, the Martini Bar, and the Vista Lounge (all inside bars), more than the bars at the pools, which seemed more crowded, and the bartenders a little more rushed. That may have made a difference. The price was the same, regardless of which bar one ordered at. Oh, and the bartenders did not seem to mind at all if you brought in your own drink, sat and drank it, and then left.
Water was always available. Every waiter and bartender was happy to bring me a glass of "tap" water (free, not bottled) at any time. I was asked ONCE if I wanted bottled water... they must have all told each other that I was happy with tap water, because I always got it after that, without question! It was great to sit in bars and not feel pressured to buy a drink! and, if I wanted a drink, I got a GREAT drink! (no cheap-ass booze, it was all quality stuff)
Unfortunately, none of the photos taken of us onboard were worth buying. There were a few of DH that were good, but none of me. I am not photogenic. DH wouldn't buy any if I didn't look good in them. We did buy the Reflections DVD, though... thought that might be fun.
There was a problem with Noro onboard, apparently. Seemed to us like it was only a few people, and the crew was great... no huge inconvenience, though they did have to cancel our tour of the bridge (shhh...don't tell anyone. We were asked to be discreet about it, but we were invited, yay!), which is a bit of a disappointment. Hopefully, next cruise, we can manage to be invited again.
Hated to leave. Disembarkation was okay, we were off the ship fairly promptly... it seemed longer, as I misread my watch and got us to the waiting area an hour early. Darn. We could have sat at the Lobby bar longer!
Okay, we booked another cruise (open booking)... Princess has spoiled us. Badly. I'm at home, looking around for a waiter to bring me some coffee...
We just had our first Alaskan Cruise with two other couples, our best friends on the Golden Princess. So excited to see what everyone is talking about the "Glaciers". We probably picked the wrong time of the year knowing the weather might not cooperate with us. And We were disappointed as the Ship decided not to go thru the Tracy Arm Glaciers due to Fog and Ice forming (small pieces). Our whole point of the trip was for that but other than that and getting so lost finding the right floor on this Huge ship for the different Dinning Rooms, and Bars, we had a great time.
Background: I decided to take my wife on a cruise to Alaska to celebrate our 10th anniversary. We had always discussed cruising before, and always decided against it. We just never thought it was our type of vacation. We like to be very active, outdoors, and go at our own schedule. We have about ½ a day maximum of sitting on a beach. We want to DO, that is how we relax. However, with kids and jobs straining the amount of time we can get away, and with a strong desire to see Alaska, I decided to take the plunge and try out a cruise. We elected for the 7 day Seattle-Alaska-Seattle cruise on the Golden Princess.
Overall Thoughts on Princess and the Golden: Dealing with Princess was easy. I booked directly with them, and they were good about sending documents, updates, etc. I booked my flights separately, which caused no problems. The website for Princess was easy to use, and allowed me to complete all of the required information online. I also pre-reserved two tours (Skagway and Ketchikan) online prior to our cruise, which worked out nicely. On board, the staffwas very responsive to our needs. A couple of examples: We need to change our Skagway tour from the AM to the PM. This took about 30 seconds; was really easy. One morning I went to the buffet and tried to get a pot of coffee to bring back to my wife in our room. When the person suggested I contact Room Service, I indicated I wasn't willing to wait the 30-45 minutes. She thought out of the box, and got me 2 large "to go" coffee cups that I could take back to my room. Was it the pot I asked for? No, but it solved my problem 100%. One afternoon while leaving my room, I noticed that the door was not locking correctly. Within 30 minutes, a crew of guys had taken the entire locking mechanism off the door, disassembled it, fixed it, put it back on the door and had me test it with my key to ensure it worked. The most impressive thing was that 5 minutes later the supervisor knocked on the door, checking in to make sure we were satisfied. The staff on board the Golden really do want to make sure everything is perfect for you. On the down side, there was a lot of trying to sell us stuff. Not so much the soda package (a few people asked us the first day, but after that nobody tried to get us to buy it), but everything. For example, many of the "activities" were actually trying to sell us stuff. The art "auctions?" Sales event. The "trunk shows?" Sales event. The port shopping lectures? Sales event. It got old after awhile. Is that just Princess, or the industry overall? My guess is that it is the industry overall (and based on other reviews I have seen, I think it is an industry thing, not a Princess thing).
Weather: The weather in Seattle was great; a bit foggy in the AM, but sunny and mid-60s the rest of the time. Really nice. The weather in Alaska was bad. 50's the whole time, and raining all the time (or cloudy and about to rain). However, the mist and clouds added an element of drama to the scenery, and rain doesn't make me melt; so I was happy! It is the second to last cruise of the season; I didn't expect perfect weather. In Victoria we had a beautiful evening; 60's to high 50's, and sunny.
Embarkation: All of the Princess materials say to arrive after 1 PM for faster boarding. We took Princess at their word, and have to say it was true. We got to the terminal at 1:45, and were on the ship 20 minutes later. I have waited in check in lines at airports for much longer. It was EASY to embark, we couldn't have been more pleased. We found our cabin, and set out to explore. Our bags arrived about 2 hours after we did, which was fine.
Cabin: We booked a mini-suite on the Dolphin Deck, starboard side. The room was fine, exactly as expected. The balcony was nice, with plenty of room for 4 chairs and a table. The carpet, curtains, bedding, décor, etc. were all fine. Not worn out and old, but not sparkling new either. There were no obvious signs of wear and tear, but it wasn't brand new either. There was plenty of space for all of our things. Three things to note: First, there is no iron in the room. We had some wrinkly clothes that we sent out to be pressed (about the same as we would pay in Chicago). Second, there are very few outlets in the room (total of 4, three in the room one in the bathroom). With two laptops, two cell phones, two ipods, a camera and other electronics; .keeping everything charged was a juggling act. Our cabin steward, Antonio Pereira, was good. Always there with a smile and energy, happy to do everything he could to make our cruise the best possible.
Public areas: The public areas are designed in the same fashion as the cabins. The look was fine. Not to my taste, and maybe a bit dated (it is 8 years old or so), but fine. No paint peeling, nothing hanging by a thread; .in general it was in good shape.
Dining/Food: We elected for anytime dining, and were happy we did. The food in the dining rooms was good, not great. The service in the dining rooms was good, not great (to be great, I would have expected napkins that match my pants so visible lint didn't get on them, crumbs swept off of the table between courses, a charger plate at my place setting when I arrived at the table, consistent clearing from the left, a never empty glass, etc. I have high standards for "great" service at a restaurant). I would equate it roughly with the quality of food and service level to be found at the hotel restaurants of the flagship hotels of the various national chains (Hilton, Sheraton, Marriott, etc.). Better than an Applebees or Friday's or those types of places, not as good as a fine dining restaurant of acclaim in any large city. The buffet was a buffet. Buffets are never that good, and this one is no exception. There is a lot of food, and a lot of people trying to eat it, and it was OK for a buffet. We have friends who have cruised on other lines and raved about the buffet, about fruit carvings, people taking pictures of the buffet before people started to eat from it, etc.. The Golden Princess had none of that; it was just a buffet. When we did eat in the buffet, finding a place to sit was not really tough at all (and our cruise was sold out, 2,800 passengers). We ate almost all of our meals in the dining rooms. Formal night wasn't very formal. Only 2 tuxedos in the restaurant we were in, which made me glad I had not brought mine. Lobster night was the 2nd Formal night, and was a disappointment. The lobster tail was small, probably 4-5 ounces. It was drowned in butter. The two king prawns served with it were so drowned in butter that you couldn't taste the prawn. Like I say; .disappointing. Overall, the service was good and the food was good in the dining rooms, and the buffet was a buffet.
Casino: The casino was surprisingly not crowded. They offered all of the standard table games, and lots of slots. We are not slot players, but they appeared to have most of the slots I remember seeing in land based casinos. It was always easy to get a seat at the table games, which was nice. We won a bit (mainly my wife) and lost a bit (mainly me) and enjoyed the entire time. The staff was great, made you feel at home either way.
Internet: The internet café is well stocked with computers, each with a port for all types of digital media (so you can upload your photos to a web service if you wish). Internet packages were a touch expensive compared to buying time on land, but hey; it's a ship based satellite connection. Between $.40 and $.75 per minute depending on how much you want to spend. Wifi was available in some of the public areas, not in the cabins. I had some work I needed to do, and was disappointed when the link was down for a large portion of Sunday, but hey; it's a satellite link. They go down. On the last day of the cruise, lots of people were in the café trying to print boarding passes, etc. The connection was slow, and some people were upset that they were getting charged by the minute for a slow connection. I say tough for them; .it's clear that the charge is by the minute, and there were big signs everywhere saying the connection was slow.
Naturalist: Michael Medz-Whateverhisnamewas is entirely miss-able. We attended his first lecture on our first sea day, and we excited to learn about Alaska, the culture, etc. Three major criticisms of Mikey: 1. His delivery was so pretentious, so arrogant, that I had to resist the urge to get up and leave. Not everyone in the audience did resist though; as several people got up and left mid-presentation. 2. His content was aimless. He had no theme for his talk, and basically told a bunch of random, unconnected stories. In searching for a theme, the only thing that we could come up with is that he did something (lived alone for 2 years) that he believes nobody else he has ever met could possibly do, and therefore he is far superior to everyone. 3. His delivery was awful. I know I already mentioned it, but I have to say it again. The man is hard to listen to. It's like he took speaking lessons from Shatner, and decided that Shatner's style needed to be emphasized and elongated. Painful to listen to. This guy should be fired. Keep in mind when you listen to him talk about how we should get away from material things, how we should live like the indigenous peoples; .that he's getting paid to tell you that, and that he has 3 homes (Alaska, Florida, and Tanzania). We make a lot of money, and don't have 3 homes. How far, exactly, did he get away from the material aspect of life? He speaks like he is arrogant and pompous, and his talks were self-serving. Which is all a shame, as the content could have been really good. During the tour of Tracy Arm Fjord, he was on the PA system with tidbits about the fjord and what we were seeing. He was slightly easier to listen to, as he was discussing something everyone was seeing rather than his own experiences. Except, of course, when he apparently felt that the grandeur of Alaska needed to be made more grand with his commentary, and launched into his "speakers" voice. Alaska is grand enough; Mikey only distracted from the reason we were there. The disappointing part was that the PA system could be heard on all balconies; you couldn't get away from the pompous jerk. I really didn't like him.
Juneau: Juneau was a cool little town. We got to port around midday, and walked around downtown Juneau for an hour and a half or so. Walked into most of the shops; found very little that we wanted to purchase. Most everything was tourist junk. We then went whale watching with Harv and Marv (not through Princess). This was outstanding. Thank you to this board for recommendations on Harv and Marv. We were picked up and driven for about 20 minutes out to Auke Bay, where the boats are docked. Along the way, Ted (Jay's Brother) gave us a running history lesson on Juneau. He was great. Jay Beedle was our captain (Harv that day), and he took the two of us and 4 others out on a 3 hour tour. The fog was thick, and we spent around an hour or so watching humpbacks in an area that the bigger boats were as well. Closest we got was about 400 yards or so. They we went to a place close to Shelter Island (where Jay lives) and got within 50-100 yards of a mother, a calf, and another adult. It was awesome. Then we went and checked out some sea lions, got some great scenery pics, and cruised back to Auke Bay. On the trip back to Juneau, Ted asked if we wanted to stop at the Mendenhall Glacier. Of course we said yes, so we took the short detour and had about 45 minutes at the glacier. The glacier is awesome, I am so pleased we were able to get there. Don't miss it. While there, we also saw a small black bear (Ted said it was probably 2-3 years old, on it's own but not full grown yet). Everything about our experience with Harv and Marv was top notch. Book a tour with them, it is so totally worth it you just can't believe. After the tour, we went to the Red Dog Saloon and had dinner (Reindeer sausage, yummy!) and listened to a singer, and drank some beer. It was actually a fun place, don't miss it.
Skagway: We got to Skagway bright and early. Permit me to set the scene: Skagway is a town of roughly 900 permanent residents. 4 "mega" cruise ships docked in Skagway at about the same time (including ours). That is somewhere around 10,500 tourists invading a town of about 900 people. And that happens a couple of times a week all season. You know exactly what to expect in Skagway, and the town doesn't disappoint. There are 30 jewelry stores in a town of 900 people. Before the cruise ships started coming, there was 1. It is ALL about separating you from your money. Having said that, it is also a cute little place and the shopping is MUCH better than in Juneau. We took a rainforest bike tour booked through Princess, and enjoyed ourselves. The guides were local (owned the local bike shop) and did a nice job of putting history and scenery together. The bike ride was really easy, not what I would consider exercise, and overall it was a fun time. Tons of people did the White Pass and Yukon Railroad, but sitting on a train for 7 hours wasn't what I was looking for.
Tracey Arm Fjord: We were so looking forward to the scenic cruising. We ordered room service, got our blankets and rain coats, and camped out on our balcony. We were psyched. Only problem was the fog. It was foggy. Foggy like you wouldn't believe. Fog combined with icebergs is a bad deal for ships. We cruised about a third of the way down the fjord (which was really cool), and then they decided to turn around and head out. While this was disappointing, I understand; .and frankly that is the chance you take when you take the second to last cruise of the season. I can't blame Princess for the weather, or deciding to turn around when faced with fog and ice. However, our itinerary stated that we would do the scenic cruise from 7:30 to 12:30. We turned around at 9:30. I thought that they should have waited another hour or so to see if the weather lifted.
Ketchikan: We liked Ketchikan. It was a nice place, seemed like an actual Alaska town like Juneau (unlike Skagway). We did not have much time in Ketchikan. We got up early, grabbed some food from the buffet, and got off the shp by about 7:25. We did a crash-shopping stop (we needed to buy some gifts, and this was going to be our last chance!) and then met our tour for the day at 7:50. We decided on the Eagle Island Kayak trip, booked through Princess but operated by locals.. We boarded a bus and took the roughly 30 minute drive up to the outfitters. Also on the bus were a bunch of people going on a zip line and ropes course at the same place we were kayaking from. There were only 2 other people that had signed up for kayaking that day, and we had one guide with us (really cool guy, turns out he was originally from Chicago). The tour said double kayaks, but we all got our own, which was nice. The tour also said a weight limit of 250 lbs, which I am close to (but under!), but nobody even thought twice about it. The kayak tour was great, the water was so flat and clear you could easily see 30-40 feet down, star fish, sea urchins, salmon, eagles, and seals were all spotted on the trip; .it was a great time. Then back on the bus and to the ship; no time to do anything but get back aboard the ship.
Victoria: Surprisingly, there was no queue to get off the ship in Victoria. Could be that everyone wanted to eat dinner on board before exploring the city, or that people were just going to stay onboard the whole time? Not us. We made bee-line for the gangway, and set off to explore Victoria. Now, the Gardens are the big attraction in Victoria, but we were there at night, and they stop lighting the gardens on September 15th, so seeing dark gardens wasn't on our hit list. Instead, we just walked to the downtown (about 20 minutes, very pleasant), saw the parliament building (very pretty), and then wandered over to the Empress Hotel. We had been told that the Bengal Room at the Empress was not only a really cool place, but also had a killer curry dinner. We were told correctly. The best meal of the cruise was found at the Bengal Room, the curry was great. The room itself is old world luxury, with the seating being in leather high-back club chairs and on sofas. It is a must do for a drink or dinner. Full of delicious curry, we walked back to the ship (about 30 minutes, we were walking slower!) and got back on board. There was no customs to speak of at all on this boarder crossing. Never saw a Canadian official or border person.
Disembarkation: The process was very easy. We elected to carry our own luggage off the ship, and were asked to meet others of the same persuasion in the Vista Lounge at 7:45 AM. The others who had elected to carry their own luggage off ran the gamut of ages and were both men and women. Good for all the older folks who still carry their own things. The ship was allowed to begin disembarking people at about 8 AM (this is controlled by customs, not by Princess) and the process was orderly. We were off of the ship and clear of customs (a Princess worker took our customs declaration, I literally never laid eyes on a US Government employee) by 8:25. Easy as easy could be!
This was a cruise/land tour combination. The cruise was really wonderful. The ship is very well done, great service, good food, lots of options. Shore excursions were super. Only problem...this ship was always the farthest away from town when it docked in all three cruise ports (Juneau, Skagway and Ketchican). That was a real big drawback for us.
The land tour was quite different. Princess Lodges are very nice and comfortable. However, the food is the same at all their lodges (with few exceptions), and it is just satisfactory. And it was extremely expensive! Like eating in the Hamptons (where I'm from). That was disappointing to say the least. Excursions from the lodges were quite varied, and most were really wonderful.
I'd recommend the cruise very highly and the land tour as quite good. However, find a grocery store and stock up for the land tour.
Princess Cruises Caribbean Princess by Scott Eastern Caribbean August 15, 2008
We just got off the Caribbean Princess today. We had both positive and negative experiences on this cruise. Unfortuntely, some of the experiences were just too major to ignore. This is our 5th cruise, and our first Princess cruise.
Let me just begin by saying that if you are looking for a ship with amazing tasting food, this is not the ship for you. We are not picky eaters, but it was very easy to tell that the food was "diner quality" and sometimes worse. In the dining rooms, the food lacked flavor. The service was inconsistent. In fact, one night, we got the first appetizer BEFORE we got our drinks.
The food and service at the buffets wasn't any better. Much of the food was cold! The food seemed warm because the plates were! Even the main comedian aboard joked about this! Once again, diner quality flavored food for the most part. For breakfast, the bacon and sausage had tons of grease! Also, my father is diabetic. The selection of sugar-free desserts was extremely limited. At least Norwegian had ten differentsugar-free desserts to choose from. This ship had only one choice, not to mention they did not put up a sign that said "Sugar Free" until we alerted the staff.
Now lets talk about the service. Why was it that everytime we sat down to eat at the buffet, they would close it? And, then they would tell us to go around to the other side to get more food (which was a big walk, especially with hot soup and hot drinks). This was a HUGE inconvience. Many passengers were sharing this complaint with us. Keep in mind, we went to the buffets at 8 different times, and each time it closed up for "a changing of the food."
"Find another table closer to the other buffet," said one of the buffet staff. Much easier said than done because of the crowds. Very hard to find a table! We have never experienced anything like this on any other cruise. It was highly frustrating. I had to walk a mile to get a piece of bread!
Now about the the entertainment -- The entertainment on the ship was great! Above average in our opinions! The only thing is the Princess Theatre is not big enough to accommodate a ship with over 3,000 passengers, even with two showtimes. Getting there a half hour before showtime was not enough to secure a seat. The comedian was outstanding and the hypnotist was very entertaining.
I also want to comment that our inside cabin was BIGGER than the outside cabins that we've been in on other cruises. The closet/drawer space was above average. The ship itself was a thing of beauty, but perhaps a bit too big and very crowded in many areas. Everything was clean and tidy. The steward was excellent and friendly. I cannot say the same for other staff members, especially the ones who sold the bingo cards. They looked like they didn't want to be there.
The casino was big, but extremely smokey with little ventilation! There is a sign that says NO CIGARS OR PIPES. That's okay because the cigarettes will get you. At least they had one NO SMOKING night and the casino was packed then. By the way, play the 2 cent machines, they are awesome and you can win a lot.
Don't expect to get a lounge chair anywhere near the pools if you come in the afternoon. Reserve yours early. You may have to skip breakfast to get one. We found nice private spots away from the pools.
We all loved Movies Under The Stars. It was a great alternative to the crowded Princess Theatre. They served flavorless popcorn, but at least it was a nice gesture.
Overall, we did have a good time, but I will have to take at least one other Princess Cruise before determining whether this is as good as they get. Many of our friends love Princess Cruises, so we are willing to give it another shot for comparison purposes.
Princess Cruises Caribbean Princess by Melissa Eastern Caribbean August 15, 2008
My parents have been cruising for years, and I had tagged along for a few when I was a teen. Now that I am in my late 20's and engaged, my fiance and I have taken to cruising as well.
This is the second ship that we have been on in the past year and we prefer Carnival, hands down. We are not big drinkers or partiers, either.
PROS Princess has embarkation down cold. They are excellent at moving a line and getting you on your ship very fast. You get your luggage within an hour or so of being on the ship, too. Very nice starting point, in my opinion.
The ship is pretty big in comparison to others that I have traveled on. Therefore, you are less likely to feel it moving, rocking, etc. Because it is so large, you can find a lounge chair in the sun (but if you want one by the movie screen, you need to get there before 10am).
The cabin steward was a doll. He worked hard and was always pleasant and helpful.
Entertainment wasabove average. The comedian was funny and the hypnotist was enjoyable. I looked forward to the nightly shows.
CONS The senior cruise staff was often rude and rushed. They would host a trivia game and want to get through it as quickly as possible. My fiance and I went to a Wii bowling tournament one afternoon and the guy in charge was so annoyed at the people who had never used the Wii. We ended up teaching people to play (we own one and had played before). The guy just kept saying he couldn't believe that they had never done it before (the people playing ranged in ages from 20s to 60s -- give them a break). The cruise director's staff did little to make me feel comfortable or even happy all week (I am not including cabin stewards -- they are sweet and helpful). I'm the easiest person to please, and they just didn't even try. This was very disappointing.
The casino staff weren't very nice, either. I play roulette and my fiance plays poker, blackjack and tried craps. I like to banter with the dealer when I play, try to establish a little relationship with the person taking my hard earned money, etc. There was only one dealer who would talk back and joke with me. The others were quick to roll the ball and call "no more bets." I lost enough over the span of the cruise, but I could have lost a lot, lot more if there was a decent dealer on deck.
Every activity listed in the Patter (the onboard itinerary) has a "nominal fee." On Carnival, my fiance got free golf swing lessons, played ping pong, golf, trivia, etc., etc. On Princess, he ventured up to the golf area and was told that he could sign up for a clinic at $40 per half hour. We would go to bingo and the card packages were in a range from $10 to $50, and you need to buy a bingo dauber to play. The Scholarship at Sea was offered each day for fees ranging from $25 and up. Temporary tattoos are $7 and up. It just never ended with the nickel and diming on this ship.
The food is, quite simply, bland and cold. The buffet was boring and inedible. The dining room was decent, but not what I have come to expect from a cruise ship. I CRAVED Carnival's warm chocolate melting cake every night. Princess had little selection and almost no taste. I was actually excited to get home and cook my own meals with some flavor (and seriously -- whoever says that after a cruise?)
Everything must go to your shipboard account. I like to pay a little cash here and there, but Princess makes you sign for everything. And, they charge a little more than other ships for their gratuity. It is $10.95 per person/per day. I was tempted to have it taken off of my account and just give cash to the room steward only (let's face it -- the maitre d' doesn't really deserve his dollar a day but the steward should get more than $3 of that $10.95). I didn't bother, in the end. I wish that there was a way you could adjust the gratuity to who you felt deserved it more.
And finally -- the ship's design is one of the worst ever! The dining rooms are at midship, but you have to walk past them and then go down a flight of stairs -- they are not accessible from all sides. It is strange. You can't just walk around and find things to do -- you need to know where things are. I like to take stairs (a little exercise, I figure), but it was annoying to navigate the levels. It is hard to explain, but those who have been on the ship will understand.
I heard throughout the vacation that the staff was ready to leave (our Carribean cruise was the last for the ship -- it is now doing tours of New England and a majority of the staff was getting their month off at the end of our cruise). I spent almost triple on the Carribean Princess than I did on the Miracle last year and was so disappointed that I came to Cruisemates to give a review. I don't mean to bash it, but seriously -- I'd need to be offered some AMAZING deal to travel with Princess again.
Summary Our extended family group of 5 adults and 4 teens cruised on Crown Princess August 8, 2008. Overall, I felt the Baltic cruise was excellent in terms of the ports of call, but only average for the shipboard experience, resulting in an overall rating of 4 out of 5 stars.
Weather was generally in the mid 60s with a chance of showers. Bring layers, a packable rain jacket with hood, and a folding umbrella. Pants and jeans, rather than shorts, were practical most days, although we did have a couple days that were sunny and in the 70s. The seas were relatively calm except for the night we sailed into Gydinia, when the boat was visibly rocking, making walking (not to mention dancing) a challenge. We heard that the prior sailing never made it to Gydnia because of the rough weather. Our itinerary was supposed to include a stop in Helsingor, but this stop was eliminated and instead we went right to Copenhagen arriving at 12 noon.
Shipboard Experience Overall I found the Crown Princess to be very similar to the Diamond Princess (which we had previously cruised on to Alaska), onlylarger. In terms of overall satisfaction, we liked the Diamond better than the Crown, mainly because it was less crowded and the service was better than the Crown.
Liked Salon, Spa & Fitness Center: We had good experience with both the salon and pampering services. The fitness center is large, although the free exercise classes did not live up to expectations.
International Café: Nice place to relax with a cup of real brewed coffee or tea. Note that coffee on the ship is otherwise terrible! The additional charge for coffee/tea in the International Café is worth it.
Entertainment: We enjoyed music by the band Amante, the comedy of Kevin Hughes, and a 70's night dance party. Most of the shows in the Princess Theater were not very good, although we liked the magician. The Troika show was AWFUL.
Port Lectures: The port lectures given by John Lawrence were excellent and informative. You can catch them live or watch a replay on your stateroom TV.
Teen Center: The four teens (ages 14 to 17) in our group made good use of the teen center Remix. On port days, games and activities were scheduled from 7pm to 1am. The teen dance party in Club Fusion was a highlight.
Currency Machine: Because the ship stops at so many different countries, only two of which (Finland and Germany) use the Euro, the shipboard currency-exchanging machine was a real convenience.
Did Not Like Swimming Pools: Temperature in the pools was 95 degrees, hardly refreshing. At the Calypso pool, "Movies Under the Stars" plays continuously on a huge screen; the loud volume makes relaxation impossible. The Neptune's reef pool was slightly better except during the loud (and bad) music sets by the band Endur. I did not get a chance to try the Lotus spa pool, but suspect it would be the best place to have peace and quiet.
Sanctuary: This is a special "quiet area" near the spa pool where you can sit on a deck chair and relax. However, the additional charge of $15 per half day is a rip-off and it did not appear that many people took advantage of this.
Anytime Dining: With Anytime Dining you can generally only make a reservation for 6:00, 6:30 or after 8:15 -- so if you think that you will be able to make a reservation "anytime" you will be disappointed. Instead, the in-between hours are "walk in." Since we were a group of 9, this meant that if we wanted to plan to eat together we had to choose to dine either at the early or the late time. Several nights we decided to split up (the five adults ate separately from the 4 teens) and we had no trouble walking into the dining room without reservations, although one night we had to share a table with another group, which was fine. Before you agree to share, know that you will not be served until the table is full. Therefore, it is better to share with a group that is already there, than to be the first group at a large table. A problem I see with Anytime Dining is you don't get to know your waiter and they have really nothing invested in serving you. On our prior cruise to Alaska, we chose the set dinner seating, had the same waiter each night, and the service at dinner was much better.
Food: Overall the food in the dining rooms was just average. Most of the appetizers and soups were very good, but the quality of the entrees was hit or miss.
Billing & Front Desk: On the last night of the cruise, people lined up for hours to get their bills to review. There were not enough people at the front desk to handle the inquiries. The situation was deplorable. Why Princess would not deliver a copy of the bill the day before the cruise ends is beyond me. Perhaps they want to discourage people from questioning their bills? You need to check your bill to make sure someone else's charges are not on it. One of the people in our group had an extra $2500 of shipboard charges on their account, which apparently had been charged to the wrong stateroom.
Princess Transfers: In Copenhagen, Princess transfers from the ship to the airport were about $60 per person. This would have been $540 for our group of nine. Instead, we pre-booked a 16-passenger van for about 980 DKK, which is a little under US $200. Our hotel concierge took care of this, however, you could do it directly through midibus.dk or another car service. If we had thought about it, we probably could have reduced our cost even more by taking on some additional passengers who were waiting in the very long taxi line at the port (I am guessing it was about an hour wait for a taxi). Therefore, my advice is NOT to waste your money on Princess transfers, but try to arrange a private taxi so you don't have to wait in the taxi line.
Ports of Call Overall: On the Baltic cruise you have to plan your port visits carefully. Consider whether you really want to cram a lot of sightseeing into a small period of time (which leaves you tired), or go at a more relaxed pace (but then you see less). Consider your energy level-- there is a lot of walking involved wherever you go. For us, the highlights of the trip were Copenhagen, Stockholm and St. Petersburg. We did not take the trip to Berlin.
Copenhagen: We arrived in CPH on Wednesday, giving us two days to look around the city before embarkation on Friday. Five of us took a taxi from the airport ($258 krone for a 10-15 minute ride) to our hotel (SAS Royal), the other four took the train. The taxi arrived first but train was pretty fast too! Of course it was too early to check in but the hotel took care of our bags and we walked to Town Hall Square, Stroget & Nyhavn where we had a nice lunch. Returned to the hotel for a nap and then spent the evening at Tivoli where the teens went on the rides, I enjoyed a pantomime show, and we had a great dinner at Groften restaurant. Entry was 85 krone pp and unlimited rides for the kids at 200 krone each. Thursday we did the hop-on hop-off bus tour from the Town Hall Square which we enjoyed tremendously. Hopped off at the statue of the Little Mermaid, and at the Danish Resistance Museum (WWII museum) then hopped back on to return to the vicinity of the hotel where we had a nice lunch at Axelborg Bodega on the Axeltorv. Dinner was fabulous Thai food at a place called Spicylicious, a lovely restaurant though we had to walk through the red light district to get there. Friday we enjoyed a great breakfast buffet at the hotel, took another walk down Stroget and had some of those great Danish hot dogs from a stand for 25 krone each. The hotel arranged a van to take our party to the cruise terminal. Embarkation was a bit hectic as it was pouring rain. Did I mention that it rains a lot in CPH? Make sure to always have a raincoat and umbrella handy! First order of business on board was to register the kids for the teen center. The next day was a relaxing day at sea.
Stockholm: The ship docked at 10am and we had to be back on board by 4:30pm, thus we had just over 6 hours to see something of Stockholm. There were several ways to get into town from the cruise berth, including a Princess shuttle bus ($13 round trip to Stromgaten Street near the Opera House) and a Hop on, Hop off (HOHO) open top tour bus. We opted for the HOHO sightseeing ferry, which was very enjoyable (100 Swedish Kroner or $15 US dollars per person). The ferry dock is just to the left of the cruise berth and departs at 15 minutes before and 15 minutes after the hour. The HOHO ferry route takes you to Old Town first, followed by the Royal Palace, Nybroplan and then Vasa. We decided to sightsee in Old Town then go to the Vasa. Unfortunately, by the time we got to Vasa in the afternoon, there was a line to get in. That is the problem with 3,000 cruise passengers all trying to see the same attraction on the same day! We could have used more time in Stockholm, and really would like to go back again.
Helsinki: Princess offered a shuttle bus to the Esplanade ($10 round trip), which is near the famous Stockmann's department store. From there it is a short walk to the Market Square, where you can enjoy local food specialties and shop for crafts. From the Market Square, you can take the ferry to Suomelinna Fortress (5.50 euro round trip), where there is a very interesting museum focusing on the history of the fort, which was originally built by the Swedes and later used by Russia. The film was a good introduction to the museum and was offered in an array of languages. It would have been interesting to walk around the island and explore the fort, but as it was raining, we returned by ferry and took a LONG walk to the Rock Church. Worth the trip but of course it was filled with the same 3,000 cruise passengers all wanting to see it. Took the 3T trolley back to the Market Square (2.20 euro).
St. Petersburg: We spent a great 2 days in St. Petersburg touring with our guide Albina from Alla Tours. If you are touring with an independent company like Alla, you do not need a visa (Princess tries to mislead you into thinking a visa is required, but this is not true when you are touring with a licensed guide). Also, contrary to Princess warnings, there was no trouble disembarking. Ignore any instructions that Princess gives you to assemble in a particular room on the ship to be assigned a gangway pass. No gangway passes are needed. Just walk right off the ship using the forward gangway on deck 4. There are then 3 lines to go through passport control. One of these lines is designated for independent tour passengers and the other two are designated for Princess tours. Princess will try to make you stand in the line for the independent tours; however, if there is no one in the other lines you can go through passport control there. The people in the passport booth don't care which line you go through. We disembarked at around 7:10 am to meet our guide at 7:30 am. We were through in 10 minutes. Note that the line for passport control does form outside so if it is raining you'll need an umbrella or raincoat.
A highlight of our 2 days in St. Petersburg was the canal cruise. The city is beautiful as seen from the canals. We happened to do the cruise on a sunny day and it was wonderful. Alla had arranged a private boat for our group of 8, so we did not have to share the boat with other passengers and our guide used the microphone on the boat to explain the buildings and bridges we were seeing.
Unless you really feel you need to see the Amber room, I would skip Catherine palace altogether, it was so crowded with tour groups going through it. The excursion to Peterhof gardens was wonderful. We toured through the Catherine Block of Monplaisir palace on the grounds of Peterhof, which was not crowded at all and was very enjoyable. The Church of the Savior on the Spilled Blood is not to be missed! But once again you will find crowds here. Beware of pickpockets; one of our party had her wallet stolen.
Tallinn: Our port stop in Tallinn was from 7 am to 1pm. After two exhausting days in St. Petersburg it was hard to be motivated to get off the boat at 7am. We slept in and did not see too much of Tallinn. Took the Princess shuttle bus ($5 each way), which takes you to the edge of "old town," a pedestrian only area with cobblestone streets. It is picturesque, but very touristy, and we were accosted several times by people selling souvenirs. We made it as far as the Town Hall Square. There is an interesting museum in the Town Hall (75 kroon family ticket, local currency only).
Gdansk: In Gdansk we signed up for a Princess tour as that seemed the easiest way to travel from the port in Gydinia to Gdansk (about a 45 minute trip). We happened to be there on Aug 15th and locals were celebrating the Catholic holiday Assumption of the Virgin Mary as well as the anniversary of Solidarity. The city was very festive and packed with people. Because of the holiday, St. Mary's church was only open to tourists limited hours, and as a result, it was super crowded. St. Mary's church is the largest brick church in Europe and worth a visit. We had a nice lunch of pierogies in a café in Gdansk. We tried several kinds and I recommend the mushroom pierogies!
Warnemunde: We arrived on a Saturday and it was sunny and in the mid-60's. We took advantage of the long port stop to sleep late while about 2,000 of our fellow passengers got up early to board trains and buses bound for Berlin.
We walked into Warnemunde (it was about a 10 minute walk from the ship) and were in luck because the fish market was open (it is just to your right before you cross the canal). Try the sandwich of herring, lettuce and onion on a roll, you won't be disappointed!
After crossing the bridge over the canal, we turned right and walked along the Am Strom, a pedestrian street that runs along the canal and is lined with cafes, ice cream parlors and souvenir shops. The atmosphere was very festive and the crowd was mostly German. We turned left near the lighthouse and walked out to the beach. The beach is very wide and clean. People were flying kites, playing beach volleyball, and sunbathing. It would be a good idea to wear your bathing suit under your clothes because there were not any places for changing, and bring towels from the ship. Or, if you fancy bathing in the buff, walk down to lifeguard station 5, which is the nudist beach. After sunbathing, we had an excellent lunch at the restaurant in the Kurhaus, an open-air cafe on the second level that overlooks the beach.
Overall, Warnemunde was one of our favorite port stops even though we did no sightseeing whatsoever.
Copenhagen: As noted above, there was no port stop in Helsingor. We arrived back in Copenhagen on a Sunday, which was unfortunate because most of the stores are closed Sunday. We took a taxi from the ship to the Town Hall Square and then walked to the Danish National Museum (Nationalmuseet). I highly recommend this museum, though we only did the ground floor, which takes you from Danish pre-history through the Vikings. There are some fascinating things on display. It was a warm day and the museum was not air conditioned so we had lunch at a nearby café. After lunch we took a look through the Dansk Design Center, which the teens especially enjoyed. We returned to the ship for our last night on board. What a great trip it was!