Royal Princess Baltic Cruise

Royal Princess at Sea

Princess Cruises

A cruise to northern Europe and the Baltic Sea is justifiably on most cruise traveler's bucket list. Because of the northern location, cruise lines only schedule these voyages between May and September. It may be cold weather in northern Europe for much of the year, but the summer months are marvelous--filled with long sunny days and "white nights" where the sun lingers at the horizon before barely sinking out of sight.

The countries lining the Baltic and North Seas are expensive to visit independently, which makes a cruise even more attractive since the price of food and lodging is paid in dollars.

The ports of call on a Baltic cruise include stopovers at many capital cities, giving travelers the opportunity to see ports they've only dreamed about in just one cruise. In addition, some cruises like those on Princess Cruises include small ports that provide a look at a different side of a country.

The following were ports of call on a Royal Princess Baltic cruise in June 2014. I boarded in Copenhagen, but Princess also allows boarding in Warnemunde and St. Petersburg.

01 of 09

Copenhagen, Denmark

Nyhavn is the old harbor in Copenhagen
Copenhagen © Linda Garrison

Like most cities, Copenhagen has a variety of things to see and do, even if you only have a day in port. Cruise ships dock in one of two terminals in Copenhagen--the Langeline Pier and the Ocean Quay Terminal. If embarking on a cruise in Copenhagen, be sure to check your cruise documents before heading to the ship. The Langeline Pier is nearer the city center and within walking distance of the famous Little Mermaid statue. Ocean Quay is further away from downtown, about four miles from the city center. The Royal Princess docked at Ocean Quay, and we took a taxi from our hotel near the city center out to the ship. It was a flat fee of 230 Danish krone in 2014.

With a day in Copenhagen, visitors often visit: Tivoli Gardens, one of the world's oldest  amusement parks; Stroget, a busy pedestrian street that links the Old City Hall Square with Tivoli Gardens; one or more of the palaces in the city; or Nyhavn, the old harbor that is lined with open air cafes, shops and historic buildings.

Those who are embarking or disembarking in Copenhagen will have more time to explore the city and surrounding area. One interesting place to visit outside the city is a drive along the Danish Riviera scenic coastal road with stops at three castles along the way -- Frederiksborg Slot, Fredensborg Slot, and Kronborg Slot. Each of these has its own charm, but Kronborg was particularly interesting since Shakespeare is said to have modeled Elsinore Castle after it.

Princess offers shore excursions for in-transit passenger and for those debarking in Copenhagen with late afternoon flights. These mostly half-day shore excursions include bus or walking tours of the city highlights, canal cruises, a visit to a fishing village near Copenhagen, tours of the castles, and a full-day tour to Kronborg and Frederiksborg castles.

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02 of 09

Oslo, Norway

Angry Boy Statue in Oslo's Vigeland Sculpture Park
Oslo © Linda Garrison

Oslo is about 270 nautical miles from Copenhagen, so a large ship like the Royal Princess can sail this distance overnight. The city of Oslo sits at the end of the Oslofjord, and it takes cruise ships about four hours to sail the 60 miles from the entrance of the fjord into the city. Quiet, rolling hills flank both sides of the Oslofjord, so it's scenic, but not as dramatic as the fjords on the western coast of Norway near Bergen and Alesund.

Oslo is Scandinavia's oldest capital city and ships dock very near the city center right in front of Akerhus Fortress. It's only about a 10-minute walk along the harbor to the City Hall. Those who walk around the peninsula where Akerhus sits will reach another harbor. In the middle of this eastern harbor sits Oslo's Opera House, which looks like a giant iceberg.

Oslo is a favorite of many travelers because there is so much to see and do. Princess offered tours to many of the highlights, but some of these sites can be independently visited using public transportation. I love the outdoor sculptures in Vigeland Park, but seeing the Viking ships at the Viking Museum and the ships of the Norwegian explorers at the Fram and Kon Tiki museums are also memorable. The wood carvings outside the land side entrance of the Town Hall and its lobby are worth at least a quick look. World War II history buffs might want to check out the Norwegian Resistance Museum in Akerhus. And then there's the Royal Palace, the Holmenkollen Ski Jump, and the National Art Gallery. How's that for diversity?

This list of the top 10 things to see in Oslo should help those planning a visit.

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03 of 09

Aarhus, Denmark

The Aarhus Cathedral sits at the end of a busy pedestrian street
Aarhus © Linda Garrison

Aarhus is about 283 miles south of Oslo, and the Royal Princess arrived there just after lunch after being at sea in the morning. A half-day was adequate to see the city center, cathedral, or the botanical garden north of town.

Ships dock at an industrial pier in Aarhus, and a shuttle bus provides transportation into town for those not taking a tour. The downtown area of this historic city can be explored on foot, which is what we chose to do.

Aarhus is the second largest city in Denmark. It has a population of 243,000. We did a walking tour of the city. It is a nice town, with an interesting church, theater, and old town Latin Quarter all near a large square. We also sought out the free Viking museum, which is in the basement of a bank. This ancient site dates back to the 11th century and the original Viking settlement. It was discovered in 1960 while workers were excavating for the bank building. The museum had some interesting artifacts, all left in the ground where they were found. It's a nice little spot and well worth going down a flight of stairs into the basement. And, it was free.

Aarhus has canals lined with cafes and shops, so it's a nice place to sit and have a drink if you get tired of exploring. Princess had two guided walking tours of Aarhus and a bus tour to an excavated Viking fortress and reconstructed farmhouse near the Danish town of Hobro.

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04 of 09

Warnemunde, Germany

Warnemunde, Germany is a seaside town with access to Berlin via train
Warnemunde © Linda Garrison

Warnemunde is Germany's beach town, and it sits at the mouth of the Warnow River near Rostock, which is a major site of shipbuilding in Europe. Although Copenhagen was the port where most guests began their cruise, the Royal Princess also allowed passengers to embark or debark in Warnmunde. So, a few hundred people who either lived in Germany or who had been traveling there joined the ship or disembarked and boarded the train to go home or continue their travels.

Ships dock within easy walking distance of downtown and the beautiful sandy beach. The train station is between the pier and downtown, and many cruise passengers take a ship's tour into Berlin. The Royal Princess had six different Berlin tours, and all included six hours on the train (three hours each way between Warnemunde and Berlin). Since these tours last about 12 hours, they allow 6 hours in the city.

Those who had visited Berlin before or didn't want to spend six hours on a train took ship tours to Schwerin Castle and Rostock, the Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp, or Rostock and the Trotzenburg Micro-Brewery.

Since I had never been to Warnemunde, I spent a couple of hours exploring the small seaside town. The beach was surprisingly nice, with gorgeous sand, but the water was too cold in June for swimming. There's a lighthouse, sidewalk cafes and bars, and many cute cottages with lots of flowers outside.

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05 of 09

Tallinn, Estonia

Old town Tallinn from Kohtuotsa viewpoint overlooking the city
Tallinn © Linda Garrison

Warnemunde to Tallinn is 544 nautical miles, so we had a welcome day at sea on the Royal Princess before arriving in Tallinn.

Tallinn is another port where ships dock within walking distance of the old town. Many visitors don't know much about this capital city of Estonia, and they are pleasantly surprised at its cleanliness, shops, and interesting historical sites. When I query people about Baltic cruises, many say Tallinn is their favorite port.

Princess Cruises had several shore excursions that included detailed tours of different sections of old town Tallinn. Other tours took participants on a drive to Rakevere Castle or Kadriorg Palace.

Many passengers chose to walk into town and tour on their own like we did. The narrow winding streets of Tallinn have fascinating shops, the museums are diverse, and the spacious town square is lined with cafes and bars. Those walking around the city should make a point to see both the Upper Town and Lower Town. The views of the old town from some of the viewpoints at the Upper Town are excellent. Some of the churches in Tallinn are topped with picturesque onion domes that are typical of the Russian Orthodox style. 

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06 of 09

St. Petersburg, Russia

The Catherine Palace is one of many must-sees in St. Petersburg, Russia
St. Petersburg © Linda Garrison

The opportunity to visit St. Petersburg is often a primary reason for booking a Baltic cruise. Since this historic Russian city has so many things to see, cruise ships usually stay overnight either one or two nights. The Royal Princess stayed two full days in St. Petersburg, and most  guests did organized shore excursions. Since guests could embark and debark in St. Petersburg, a few hundred Russians used this port for the start and end of their cruise.

Many USA and Canadian citizens are confused about whether or not they need a Visa to visit Russia. To buy most Visas, travelers must either go in person to the Embassy or Consulate for the country they plan to visit or send their passport along with the appropriate application and fees to a passport service. Currently (July 2014), USA and Canadian citizens do not need a Visa to go ashore from a cruise ship if they have proof that they are doing either a ship-sponsored shore excursion or an organized tour with a local company. Adequate proof is either a shore excursion ticket for a ship-sponsored shore excursion or a letter from the tour operator for an organized tour not purchased from the ship. USA and Canadian citizens cannot go ashore and explore on their own without a Visa, and the same applies to many other countries. It is imperative that those booking any cruise check to see if a separate Visa is required since policies sometimes change.

Large cruise ships like the Royal Princess dock outside the city and groups use buses to go on the tours. Because of the Visa restrictions, relatively few passengers go ashore on their own, so taxis are not readily available.

Like most of the guests on the Royal Princess, we filled our two days with one or more of the 16 tours offered by the ship. Many of the top sites to visit in St. Petersburg are widely spread either around the city or in the surrounding countryside. In addition, this may be a once-in-a-lifetime visit to a great city. Therefore, I recommend taking a tour to enable you to see as much as possible in the two or three days your ship is in port. For travelers like us who were maximizing their time ashore, the Royal Princess had two-day tours which were less expensive than buying multiple shorter tours. We left the ship not long after docking, returned for an hour in the late afternoon, left again for an evening tour, returning after midnight to sleep on the ship. We left the ship again early the next morning, returning not long before she sailed late that afternoon. It was an exhausting two days, but we saw most of St. Petersburg's top sites.

What are those top sites? Princess had 16 different tours--some half-day, some a full day, and some two-day. We couldn't decide which sites to omit, so we did the tour that saw all the top highlights on everyone's list. It was an expensive tour (over $500 per person), but was really five half-day tours and three meals. If we had booked those tours separately, it would have been more. Here's a summary of our two site-filled days in St. Petersburg.

Day 1 in St. Petersburg

Although our bus left the ship before 7 am, we soon got into bad traffic, so it took us almost 2 hours to reach our first site--Peterhof Palace on the Gulf of Finland west of St. Petersburg . This palace, like many St. Petersburg sites, opens early for tour groups with tickets, so we had less than 15 minutes before our 9 am entry to wait and used the time to walk around the expansive gardens.

Peterhof Palace was built by Peter the Great (who ruled Russia from 1682 to 1725) and is often called the "Russian Versailles" since it features gorgeous gardens and fountains like Versailles. He loved all things French and Peterhof, so the great ruler incorporated French design into St. Petersburg and this summer palace outside the city. It also has amazing rooms on the inside, but we were not allowed to take photos. I especially liked seeing Peter's study and desk, which was very simple--much unlike the rest of the palace.

We had a 45 minute tour of the inside and then were on our own to explore the expansive gardens and many fountains.  It was sprinkling rain, but we all had our raincoats, so it didn't bother us. At 11 am, the Grand Cascade began. This giant fountain on the front of the palace is quite impressive, and like all the fountains at the palace, is completely operated by gravity and water pressure, with no pumps or electricity.

We left Peterhof about 11:30 am and returned to St. Petersburg for lunch in a large touristy restaurant with about 200+ Princess passengers on other full-day tours that included lunch. We had sparkling wine, red wine, a shot of vodka, a bottle of water, caviar on a bliny, salad, potato soup, chicken, potatoes, pickled shredded carrots, and ice cream for dessert. All were accompanied by Russian folk music. Claire and I did the proper thing and downed our vodka shots in one gulp. We two "little old ladies" surprised our table mates. We later discussed that we both thought it was either watered-down vodka or extremely smooth since it went down easier than expected.

After lunch we visited Yusopov Palace. He was a Prince who lived in the early 20th century, and his home was where he and some compatriots killed the famous monk Rasputin. This palace is on one of the many canals in downtown St. Petersburg, and it was fun to see how the royals lived 100 years ago. The Palace had a huge grand staircase, a lovely old theater, and narrow stairs leading to the basement where Rasputin was first poisoned and then shot four times before being wrapped up and then dumped in a canal far away from the house. What's weird is that he drowned-the poison and shots didn't kill him!

Our last stop of the afternoon was at the Peter and Paul Cathedral. This huge church and fortress is on an island in the middle of the Neva River and was where Peter the Great founded St. Petersburg in 1703. Its tall golden tower can be seen from most of St. Petersburg, and it's topped by an angel.  This steeple is the tallest structure in St. Petersburg, which doesn't have any skyscrapers.
We didn't tour the fortress, and the cathedral was packed with people. Our guide Kschenija had a rough time showing us around the inside of the church because of all the people. The main unique features inside are the tombs of all the Russian emperors/empresses/royalty.

Leaving Peter and Paul, we returned to the Royal Princess just long enough to change clothes and put our feet up for 15 minutes. (less than an hour) We left again at 6:30 for the long ride (about 15-20 miles) in Friday afternoon rush hour traffic to the small town of Pushkin to visit Tsarskoye Selo or the Catherine Palace.

We arrived about 8 pm and were greeted at the front door with water or juice. The afternoon sunlight (the sun had come out in the afternoon and didn't set until after 11 pm) was gorgeous on the blue/white/gold palace, which is similar in style, but much grander than the yellow/white/gold Peterhof.

I had visited the Catherine Palace three times before, but this was the first time at night. Like most places, it was so much more enjoyable sharing it with just a hundred or so people rather than thousands. The rooms looked even more marvelous than I remembered, especially the restored Amber Room and the Grand Ballroom, where we enjoyed a short concert of classical music and dancing while sipping champagne.  After the tour and concert, we went to a room in the other end of the palace (we rode the short distance on the bus) for dinner. This dinner was not as good as the lunch, although it had similarities (vodka, wine, champagne, and chicken). Since we didn't start dinner until about 10 pm, it was 12:30 am before we got back to the ship. They were having a Red Sails celebration for students graduating and/or ending the school year and a White Nights celebration for the longest day of the year. People were out on the streets and canals, despite the late hour. As we got off the bus, fireworks boomed over the Neva River. What a great way to end the day.

The only bad thing was we didn't get into bed until after 1 am and had to be on the bus the next morning at 7 am. Like the day before, we had to pass through passport control both leaving and boarding the ship, which took time, so we needed to be up at 5-a short night and another long day to follow, but (as someone said on the bus) we all did this to ourselves.

Day 2 in St. Petersburg

The sun was already shining on the other cruise ships we could see from our balcony when the alarm went off (for the second day in a row) at 5 am. We both took quick showers, dressed and headed off for a quick breakfast before meeting our bus outside on the pier for the third time at 7 am. Thankfully, although we had to go through passport control again and see the dour face of yet another Russian government worker, they didn't stamp our passports again or re-enter our information into whatever spy system they use to track visitors. So, the process went faster.

By the time we got on the bus, the sun had gone behind the clouds and the wind had picked up. We would be in the city all day (not venturing out west and then south like we did yesterday), so we wouldn't be walking around much in the rain. As it turned out, like Friday, we had a mixture of light rain, clouds, and sunshine, with temps in the 50's, so it was easily tolerable the short time we were outside.
After stopping for a photo stop at the two large, red Rostral columns, where we could look back over the Neva River at the Hermitage, we had about 45 minutes to shop at a "bazaar", an indoor shop with prices ranging from $1 souvenirs to amber pieces and lacquer boxes costing thousands.  We wandered around, but didn't buy anything since we had done our shopping in Tallinn.

At these tour-included shopping places around the world, they always take dollars, euros, and local currencies, and the cruise line guarantees quality and genuineness of the goods. Some think the prices are a little higher since the ship gets some type of cut for taking its tour passengers there and recommending the shop.

Finally it was time to head to the Hermitage. We got off the bus and walked the short distance to the entrance. This huge museum opens to the public at 10:30 am, but those on tours enter earlier, so we were in at our scheduled 9 am start.  (Of course, those on tours have to exit by a certain time also-we had to be out by about 11:15 or thereabouts).

The Hermitage was as magnificent as I remembered. This time the temperature was just about right. When I had visited before, the mostly un-airconditioned building was stuffy at best, but mostly stifling. Can't believe this was my fourth visit to the Hermitage on a tour and saw even different pieces than before.

This building was originally the Winter Palace inside the city for the Tsars and their families. It's mostly done in green/white/gold, and was expanded several times after the first section was built by Empress Elizabeth. Catherine the Great, who loved to spend money, bought masterpieces in bulk, so she did most of the additions. The building has millions of pieces, and it would take over seven years just to see each one for a minute, according to our guide. (I think I've heard other numbers quoted, but let's just say you can't see much in two hours.) Claire said we were on a speed walking museum tour, but by the time we left at 11:15, the place was packed and it would have taken lots of pushing and standing on tiptoes to see the more famous pieces. Whole rooms (or galleries) are dedicated to masters like Rembrandt, Matisse, Da Vinci, and Picasso. There are also historical rooms with paintings of Russian field marshalls and a memorial room to Peter the Great. It's just humongous and always packed with tourists. Like the Catherine Palace, it is open to organized tours at night, which is much quieter and impressive, but also more expensive.

This visit we went to the Gold Room, which costs more to enter, but was included in our tour price. The Gold Room is buried deep inside this amazing museum, and Kcsenija kept warning us to stay with her since we would never find it on our own. If we got lost, we were to meet the group at 11:15 at the lobby/bathroom/sitting area near the entrance. We all stuck like glue, following the tiny guide quickly through the exhibits and finally reaching the Gold Room, which is actually a series of rooms with gold and jewels either dug up at archaeological sites in Russia or confiscated during the revolution. (I can't help but wonder how many pieces of jewelry and other treasures were kept by revolutionaries rather than putting them on exhibition.)  We didn't see any jeweled Fabrege eggs like those we saw in Moscow. Our guide said there were about a dozen in a private (not government) museum in St. Petersburg, but none in the Hermitage.

Although we could take non-flash photos in the main part of the Hermitage, none were allowed in the Gold Room. Unlike the Crown Jewels of London, this series of rooms didn't have crowns or other pieces, but did have some spectacular necklaces, snuff boxes, vanity sets, etc., along with many gifts presented to the royals by foreign governments like jewel-encrusted swords, etc. Very impressive, but when the stuff is so over the top, it's difficult to remember that it's real and not just costume jewelry or just plain gaudy.

Leaving the Hermitage, we re-boarded the bus for the short drive to the Church on Spilled Blood, St. Petersburg's onion-domed church that looks like the one in Red Square in Moscow.  This Russian Orthodox Church is spectacular on the inside and outside, and is another "must see". It was built on the very spot where Czar (or Tsar) Alexander II was killed by a terrorist suicide bomber in 1881, so it sits a little oddly between two main streets.

Like other Russian churches, this one was used for storage from 1917 (or after the revolution) until the 1990's. Kcsenija said it was covered in scaffolding and locked up during most of this time, although it was used to store potatoes and other government stores. There were plans to even destroy it, but the Peristroika and breakup of the Soviet Union in the early 1990's stopped that. The church is now a museum and not used for services. I love mosaics (must be because I also like jigsaw puzzles), and most of the interior is covered with them. A large cupola covers the spot where Alexander II was mortally wounded.

Next, it was time for our third chicken meal in 2 days, but what else can you feed 250 diverse people in a short time? This meal was in a lovely palace in the downtown area, and we had  wine, water, champagne, and a shot of vodka along with Russian potato salad (has peas, carrots and other veggies along with the carrots), chicken stroganoff, and yellow rice. Dessert was cake with lingonberries. Nothing to write home about (although I know I just did), but edible. Claire and I both agreed that they are making good use of some of these grand old buildings by using them to entertain tourists, who love to eat in grand surroundings, even if the food is only filling but not memorable (and certainly not as good as on the Royal Princess).

After lunch, we had a ride along the canals of St. Petersburg. The tide was very high, so we didn't get to see as much as when I've done other canal tours since we could barely squeeze under some of the very low bridges. We only passed under a couple of bridges and those of us sitting outside on the top deck had to duck to keep our heads from getting hit. I was a little surprised they let us sit outside.

The weather was dry and the ride was fun and relaxing. After the ride, we went to our last stop, St. Isaac's Cathedral. This massive church looks nothing like the Church on Spilled Blood, but its inside is impressive. We saw many bridal parties all over St. Petersburg, as I've seen on other visits. Most couples have a short civil wedding ceremony, followed by a ride around the city, taking photos at all the iconic sites. We saw a white stretch limo at St. Isaac's as long as a bus! (It was parked next to one, so we could easily measure) It was decorated for a bridal party.

Got back to the ship around 5:00 and we sailed around 6:00 pm. It was a busy two days in St. Petersburg, but we saw much more than if we had tried to tour on our own or had booked multiple half-day tours. Although eating on the ship would have been better, it would have taken time away from this magnificent city to have gone back and forth to the ship.

My friend Claire had never been to St. Petersburg and may never visit again. She loved everything and couldn't decide which thing she would have omitted from our tour. We both agreed we had chosen well.

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07 of 09

Helsinki, Finland

The Royal Princess docked at the commercial dock in Helsinki. The ship had some interesting shore excursions, but after 29 hours of touring in St. Petersburg, we decided to go ashore and explore on our own. The $12 roundtrip (or 10 euro) Princess shuttle bus dropped us in the center of town near the Stockman's department store, which is Helsinki's equivalent of Macy's.

Probably the first thing most visitors to Helsinki notice is the difficult language and very long words. Whereas Norwegian, Danish, and Swedish have Germanic roots, Finnish is closer to Hungarian and very unlike these other Scandinavian languages.
We used a guide book and a map of the city to do a walking tour. It was cold and a little rainy, but we dressed appropriately in layers and wore our raincoats. We walked to our furthest point from the shuttle stop and then worked our way back, so our first stop was the famous "Rock Church", whose real name is Temppeliaukio.

What is the Rock Church? It's not old since it was completed in 1969. It is unique. This contemporary church was built into the granite bedrock. The site was blasted out and the church sits in a giant hole. As seen in the photo above, its roof is a space-ship like dome surrounded by skylights. Since it sits in a hole, the Rock Church looks very odd when approaching. Its inside has the rock walls, but it's the dramatic ceiling that is eye catching. The inside of the round cupola dome is covered with 13 miles of concentric circles of copper wire. The ceiling and rock walls give the church a peaceful feel, despite the many visitors sitting in the pews and milling around. We agreed that the copper wire ceiling style would never work in Georgia since someone would immediately steal the copper wire!

Leaving the church, we walked by some of the museums before heading back downtown. Most of Helsinki has a more modern look than some of the cities we have visited. In the downtown area, we checked out another church, the big Lutheran St. Nicholas Cathedral that sits on Senate Square overlooking the harbor. It is surrounded by 19th century neo-classical buildings. Quite dramatic with its green dome and imposing site.

Our final destination was the Market Square that sits directly on the waterfront. Despite the rain, vendors were selling all sorts of food stuffs-berries, fried fish, meatballs, etc.

We got back to the ship about 2:30, an hour or so before we sailed for Stockholm. Three hours wasn't long to spend in Helsinki, but was enough to explore most everything within walking distance. It was the end of the summer solstice government holiday weekend, so many shops were closed. They had some nice local shopping in an enclosed building next to the ship, so did a little browsing there.

Some day I'd like to visit on a sunny day and take a guided tour of Helsinki. Other passengers told us how much they enjoyed visiting other sites in Helsinki that were not within walking distance. In addition, tours went to the nearby Porvoo, a Savijarvl horse breeding farm, or Suomenlinna Island Fortress, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

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08 of 09

Stockholm, Sweden

Stockholm, Sweden
Stockholm © Linda Garrison

Large cruise ships like the Royal Princess cannot dock in Stockholm, so they dock in Nynashamn, which is about 45 miles south of the capital city. Nynashamn was the only tender port we had on the ship, and the tender ride was longer than most--about 1.2 miles or 2 kilometers, which took about 30 minutes each way.

Like many on the ship, we did a tour of Stockholm that covered many of the city's highlights. Those doing ship tours always have priority for the tenders, which is a good reason to do a tour if you like to be one of the first off the ship. If not doing a tour, wait a couple of hours for the crowds to disperse.

After disembarking the tender 8 am, we rode on a bus for about an hour. We had a quick photo stop to take panoramic shots of the city before heading to Stockholm's most visited attraction--the unique Vasa Museum. This museum is huge because it houses the Vasa, a 17th century warship that sank less than 20 minutes after it was launched. The ship was brought out of its watery grave in 1961 and this museum was built around it. This is a great attraction for all ages, and our tour group stayed at the Vasa Museum over an hour. Our guide did a short tour, and then we had free time to explore.

Next, we rode across the bridge to Gamla Stan, Stockholm's old town. Here, we toured the Royal Palace, which is one of Europe's largest with over 600 rooms. (No, the tour didn't take us to all of them.)  After the tour, we walked some of the old cobblestone streets, taking time to hear about the architecture and visit the town square before lunch in a local restaurant. Following lunch, we had free time before meeting the bus back at the Royal Palace.

Our last stop was at the beautiful City Hall. Like the one in Oslo, this local government building is spectacular on the inside, especially its large upstairs reception room covered in golden mosaics. The City Hall is the site of the annual Nobel Prize awards, so it has been visited by many great scientists, mathematicians, and writers.

All too soon, it was time to leave Stockholm and head back to the ship. I wish I could have taken my friend to Stockholm's famous Ice Bar, which was the world's first permanent ice bar. However, that's a good excuse for her to return.

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09 of 09

Royal Princess Sea Days

Sunset over the Baltic Sea from the Royal Princess cruise ship
Baltic Sunset © Linda Garrison

As noted on the first nine pages of this travel journal, this 11-day Royal Princess cruise was very port intensive. People who travel to the Baltic and northern Europe want to see and experience as much of this fascinating part of the world as they can. However, we did have two full days at sea--one between Warnemunde and Tallinn, and the second between Stockholm and Copenhagen.

I'm glad we had some free time on this gorgeous ship, and the cruise director and his team filled our time at sea with many activities. Those who weren't resting between time in port were playing games, relaxing in the spa, listening to music, discussing the cruise with their new friends, or enjoying one of the many activities planned and available to do at sea.

The ship was full, and less than half of the guests were from North America. The ship had large groups from Japan, Russia, and other parts of the world, so I'm sure the international staff stayed busy. This diversity adds to the cruise experience since people come from all sorts of cultures, but they share an interest in travel and meeting others.

The weather on our June cruise was not as warm as it might be later in the summer, but many did sit outside and soak up the sea air and/or the sun. We spent some time in the hot tubs to relax, and met two young women from Namibia who were on their first cruise. Like everyone else I spoke with, they were loving the cruise experience, the ports of call, the food, and the friendliness and efficiency of the Royal Princess crew. They were going to return home, work hard, save money, and start to plan their next Princess cruise. Always nice to meet converts.

As is common in the travel industry, the writer was provided with complimentary cruise accommodation for the purpose of review. While it has not influenced this review, believes in full disclosure of all potential conflicts of interest. For more information, see our Ethics Policy.

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