Sailing Date May 17th, 2009
Occupation: Travel Consultant
Number of Cruises: 40+
Embarkation at Harwich Pier
Since Harwich pier is about 2 hours from Heathrow Airport,
we arranged for a private driver take us to the pier. Some
people may opt to take the train or metro but I must caution
not to have more than 2 pieces of luggage. Our private
driver, Matthew, arrived promptly and we had wonderful
conversation on the drive to the pier. It’s always nice to
talk with someone from the area who can explain how the
“real” people live.
RCL’s The Jewel of the Sea is a beautiful ship with a real
feeling of light and space. We had an interior cabin and
it was nice, but I must say that a Baltic cruise
necessitates a balcony cabin (or at the very least a
window). What better way to enjoy the wonderful scenery as
you sell into port than relaxing on your private balcony.
Just think a scenic Alaska cruise multiplied by 3.
The ship docked within walking distance of the Little
Mermaid statue. And yes it is little. Home of fairy tale
writer Hans Christian Andersen, Copenhagen is chock full of
attractions, including Strøget, Europe’s longest pedestrian
shopping street. Don’t miss the dazzling display of the
Danish crown jewels at Rosenborg Castle. I particularly
liked the bicycle clock in the town square. Tivoli is an
amusement park with a twist -- even the merry-go-rounds are
special, using a fleet of Viking ships instead of the usual
horses. The Danes love this place and frequent it often.
Copenhagen is considered the "fun" capital of Scandinavia
and is also the most affordable. We found the city full of
charm, with all its canals, narrow streets, and old houses;
very clean and easy to walk around without getting lost.
At about 6:30 am we cruised the magnificent archipelago,
which lines the coast and leads into the city of Stockholm,
Sweden. This is a sight to behold and worth waking up early
to witness. Sailing into Stockholm through the archipelago
was smooth as glass and reminded us of Alaska's inside
passage without the really tall mountains. Beautiful,
expensive homes all along the coast and with the early
sunrise we had great views
The ship docked away from the town. Rather than buy shuttle
tickets, the Hop On Hop Off bus people pull right up to the
ship. Shuttle bus was $12 per person round trip and the Hop
On bus was $25 per person for the day. If you want to plan
ahead, you can also pre-purchase a Stockholm card which
provides admission to the Vasa Museum, City Hall tour, Canal
Boat Tour and the Museums of the Royal Palace.
Most European countries have churches, but Stockholm has its
city hall, which is where the Nobel peace prize is awarded.
Don’t miss the Vasa Museum, which houses a royal flagship
raised from the harbor more than 300 years after she sank in
1628 on her maiden voyage. This ship was commissioned 300
plus years ago by the King and was to be the grandest war
ship of it time. Unfortunately, bad engineered coupled with
an arrogant king who refused to listen to the experts, the
ship sank on its maiden voyage. It was discovered INTACT
and brought to the surface 320 years later. It took 20
years just to prepare the ship for display after it was
raised. It is an amazing sight.
Families were out enjoying the day all over the city since
the day we arrived was a holiday. And there were bicycles
everywhere, as well as public bicycles you could use for
free. Just put in a coin, use the bike for as long as you
want, return it and you get your money back. Now that’s
what I call a good deal.
The Danes practice their own joie de vivre. According to
our guide, they are a bit unconventional but affable, have
big hearts, party to get drunk, love saunas, and are
tolerant of all lifestyles and persuasions. She also
admitted that that there is al rebellious streak of
independence in them. She mentioned that their cartoonists
even dare to depict Mohammed as a physical person, which
would get them into trouble in less tolerant societies. But
at the same time, they tell their King what to do and
consider him as nothing more than a figure head to be used
to promote Sweden to the rest of the work. Kind of a
contradiction to me. And the whole tolerance thing I could
not really understand. Some may think this is good, but I
could not help thinking. If they tolerate everything, does
this mean that they don’t stand for anything? Just my
The ship docked in a very industrial area. You might not
want to walk into town as it was rather far with no clear
path. We caught the HOHO bus right at the pier for 24
Euros. You can also pre-purchase a Helsinki card which
provides public transportation, admission to the museums,
and a bus tour. If you choose to see the city on your own,
do take the shuttle bus into town.
Our tour took us to the White Church, Olympic Stadium with
views of the city from the tower, Sibelius Monument and
again a traditional meal for lunch. We found Helsinki to be
a very cosmopolitan city.
St Petersburg, Russia
Our cruise included an overnight stay in St Petersburg and
was the highlight of our trip. Founded in 1703 by Peter the
Great, St. Petersburg is among the world’s most beautiful
Please note that even though you are on a cruise, you can
not get off the ship in Russia without a visa or you are not
part of a scheduled tour. I would like to pause a moment to
stress the benefit of having a private guide in this
country. For instance, at the Hermitage we went straight to
the front of the line. Although the museum was extremely
crowded, several times we would walk into a room and have it
to ourselves. We also in the room alone to hear a wonderful
men’s group sing and the acoustics were great. I felt bad
that I left my purse in the bus and was not able to give
them a tip.
St. Petersburg Day 1 -
It was not a problem getting off the ship for our private
tour. Outside, we found the SBP Tours (Demurs and Red
October guides were all there too) and our guide and
driver. Tim, our guide, is a professor of Russian
Literature at the St. Petersburg State University and very
intelligent with excellent English skills and a lot of
knowledge regarding the history of St. Petersburg and
details about the royal families, the architecture and the
buildings and interiors.
We wanted to experience “local life” so our tour included a
ride on the subway metro station, hydrofoil, and canal
ride. The escalator to the subway descended several hundred
feet and the station was beautiful. No pictures allowed. It
was rush hour and we had been asked to leave our belongings
and passport in the car with the driver. The people on the
subway didn't look very happy and didn't smile or make eye
contact with us or even with each other. This began to make
me a little uncomfortable so I made eye contact with a woman
on the subway and smiled. After a brief hesitation, she
smiled back and other smiled also. We rode two stops and
ascended to meet our driver. The stations are elaborate and
Once back in the van I asked Tim if there was prejudice or
racial inequality in Russia. He explained that although the
rest of the world thinks capitalism is a good thing, after
years of communist rule, it is very hard for many Russian
people to adapt. This helped me to understand the unhappy
faces and my perception of coldness on the part of the
people in the street.
From there we drove to Catherine's Palace. At all stops, our
tour operator pre-purchased our tickets and said the magic
words "SBP Tours" to get us past any lengthy lines. The
palace was under renovation in some areas, which is
understandable when you see the size of the palace. Next we
drove to Peterhof town, to visit Fountain Park. Don't miss
it. Thousands of tulips were in bloom and there were
fountains, ponds, statues and people everywhere. We had
lunch at a small restaurant that only locals visit. We had
pancakes, but not the ones we are used to. I thought they
would be like crepes but they were much heartier. Mine had
chicken and mushroom. Yummy. Next stop was Yusopov's
Palace and then return to the ship.
Day 2 – The next day we met SBP Tours on the pier at
9:00 am and took excursions to St. Peter and Paul Fortress,
the Hermitage, Church on the Blood and St. Isaac's
Cathedral. Each and every stop was breathtakingly beautiful
and ornate. We stopped at a local souvenir shop that had the
best deals of our trip. Just wish I had more money and more
Again we had lunch at a place where only the locals go. I
know this to be true because there was not a tourist in site
and I did not hear English spoken. This time I had hot
borscht (made with beet root as its main ingredient which
gives it a strong red color, and rabbit pie. It was
delicious and loved it.
Tim was knowledgeable about the history of the families (all
the Peters and Catherines and Alexanders began running
together that I wished we had a diagram of a family tree).
The Hermitage is so large we were told it would take 8 hours
a day for 8 years to see all the exhibits. Original
masterpieces by Gauguin, Picasso, Van Gogh, Monet, Renoir,
Matisse, and many, many others. Fabulous rooms with
magnificent chandeliers, painted ceilings, gold, mosaics,
malachite and lapis vases and tapestries everywhere!
The city is full of unbelievably beautiful buildings and
artifacts, and the history is complicated and sometimes
tragic with invasions by the Swedes and Germans, wars,
murders within royal families and other political
assassinations. We can't even imagine how much time and
money were spent to restore St. Petersburg after the Germans
occupied the palaces and bombed them on their way out.
Tallinn is a beautiful medieval city. We took the HoHo bus
for a tour of the city. After Bill went back to the ship, I
just wandered the cobble stone streets and took copious
pictures. No set itinerary, just wandered in and out of
churches etc; munching on roasted almonds distributed in the
city square by girls in authentic dress, enjoyed the parks
and old city walls. Finland is only 53 miles across the
Baltic so this is probably a great weekend getaway for
people in the surrounding countries.
We sailed into Oslo early, passing beautiful hillside and
coastal homes and the vegetation is beautiful and green. The
Jewel docked downtown across the street from Akershus
Castle, situated on a cliff just above us. It looks more
like a fortress than a castle, and has beautiful grounds and
cannons pointing to the harbor.
We purchased tickets for the local trolley at the local
currency exchange booth right on the pier. It was only a
short walk to the train stop and we were on our way to
Vigeland Sculpture Park.
The Vigeland Park is the largest sculpture park made by one
single artist in the world. The park is separated into 7
sections – The Main Gate, Bridge, Children’s Playground, The
Fountain, the Monolith Plateau, The Monolith, and the Wheel
of Life. The park houses more than 300 intricately carved
sculptures signifying human life on Earth. Very green and
graceful and the artwork was fascinating.
We saw lots of families out and about so decided to leave
the park and walk through the surrounding neighborhoods.
The first thing we saw was the Greek embassy and walked upon
a family preparing for a party in a church converted into a
restaurant. Lots of families pushing baby strollers. A word
of caution - Food is very expensive in Oslo. We saw Pepsi
for $5.00 and a simple salad for $30. Therefore we came
back to the ship and had lunch in the Windjammer.
We loved this itinerary and thought the ports were scenic,
clean and the people friendly. Biggest surprise of all was
Tallinn, which we'd expected to be a bit grim but was quite
pretty and interesting. The sail into Stockholm was well
worth getting up at 6am to see.
The weather in May was wonderful. We had light rain in St.
Petersburg and most of the dreary weather was during sea
days. We have found that late May or early June are great
times to visit that region. The weather is warm and the
water is calm. The number of tourists is high, but not
overwhelming. I would highly recommend this cruise.