Cruise Planner by Cruise Diva
Discover the world of cruise travel

Norwegian Dream Cruise Review
Make the most of your cruise vacation with information from

Get ready to cruise with Cruise Wear, Accessories, Luggage & More from
The Cruise Shop

 Cruising by the Book ~ Top Picks in 
Cruise Guidebooks

The favorite of serious cruise travelers:

 Cruise Travel
Cruise Travel

Have a question or a review to submit?

Copyright © 1995-2002 
Linda Coffman

Norwegian Dream
Baltic Capitals
May-June 2001

by Bruce Baldwin

This was an absolutely great voyage!

The Norwegian Dream departed from Dover, England and returned there after 12 days of cruising through the Kiel Canal and visiting the ports of Warnemunde Germany, Tallinn Estonia, St. Petersburg Russia, Helsinki Finland, Stockholm Sweden, and Copenhagen Denmark. We cruised through the English Channel, the Baltic Sea, through the Swedish Archipelagos, the Straits of Denmark, and through the North Sea.

We had cruised on the Norwegian Dream for the Transatlantic crossing in fall, 1999 so embarking for this voyage was like returning to old friends. You may recall that the Norwegian Dream was formerly the NCL Dreamward. The ship was "stretched" 133 feet in 1998 so getting from fore to aft or deck-to-deck is sometimes a pleasant challenge.

We enjoy this ship because of its somewhat traditional décor. There are no fancy multilevel atriums, no glitzy lighting, no enormous statues or mobiles. The Norwegian Dream is nevertheless a very comfortable ship of medium size by today's standards. The Dream is 51,000 tons; she holds 1,750 passengers.  We knew several friends taking this cruise and met some nice and very interesting people.

NCL recently adopted "Free Style Cruising" where lunch and supper seating is no longer assigned or at a specified dining time. Instead, meals are offered in numerous locations around the ship and eating in the dining room is at the passengers' leisure. Menus in the various venues are varied and service except in the dining rooms [or Le Bistro for which there is a $10 per person surcharge with reservations required] is buffet style. There are still formal nights for those who want them but formal dress is not required.  "Resort Casual" is the recommended dress code for the entire voyage.

We enjoyed supper in one of the three "no charge" dining rooms several nights. We enjoyed Trattoria Italian Dinner two evenings in the Sun Terraces. One night we had the BBQ supper at poolside while we enjoyed the live music of the Melodic Quartet and watched the sunset. One afternoon we had great salads and pizza at the Pizzeria. There was always a light supper buffet in the Sports Bar. Room Service offered soups, sandwiches, pastries and pizza. Everything was good except for the pizza that tasted like rubber.

We found the food in the dining rooms to be tasty, prepared to our liking, and nicely presented. Maybe the chefs find it easier to prepare dishes during the course of the evening instead of having it all ready for the two seatings. The buffets offered lots of variety and the dishes were changed frequently to keep foods fresh. We always had breakfast in one of the buffets. We heard several complaints about the eggs and the pancakes in the dining room.

Many of the cruise lines have adopted the procedure of automatically adding a charge for "tips" to each passenger's shipboard account. We wondered whether this would adversely affect the quality of service since specific staff members weren't receiving tips based on their level of service. Our experience was that service on this ship, at least, continues to remain excellent. Some of the housekeeping staff are unhappy with this new system because the NCL distribution of tips has resulted in a pay cut for them.

The Cruise Director, Linda Minikin, did an excellent job both behind the scenes where she is responsible for managing all of the activities and in front of the passengers. The show cast put on three enthusiastic shows with lots of singing and dancing. The configuration of the stage and the show lounge do not lend themselves to some of the now popular multimedia shows with laser lights, sweetened stereo sound and other special effects. This limitation did not diminish our enjoyment of the shows that were performed by a talented cast.

The other entertainment was varied and enjoyable. There were 2 comedians, a magician, a talented banjo player, David McLaine who is an excellent British vocalist, and a Russian concert pianist. The groups that played in the lounges were enjoyable too. The entertainment lasted until the wee hours of the morning. The shows and other entertainment were well attended.

Passengers on this cruise seemed more congenial than we have experienced on many of our cruises. Maybe it is because the passenger mix is so cosmopolitan. We met folk from the United Kingdom [and love their accents], we met people from all over the U.S.; we met people from other parts of Europe and lots of Canadians too. There weren't many kids or young couples aboard because the cruise is 12 days and most of the kids are still in school.

The one thing that really made this cruise special for us, though, was the ports. We went to London a few days before the cruise and stayed a few days after the cruise so we could enjoy the City and attend some shows. In addition to London, we enjoyed all of the ports. We booked our own air and transfers. We used the trains to get to/from the airports and from/to Dover from London. We chose a hotel near Victoria Station. Trains run between the airports and Victoria Station every 10 minutes. It is a 30-minute ride. Trains run directly from Victoria Station to Dover every 30 minutes. The two-hour train ride gave us a chance to see some of rural England. There was a free shuttle bus to/from the station to the pier. We chose not to
wait so took a taxi ride for $4.50 and experienced a mini guided tour of
Dover by the delightful driver.

Before stopping at our first port of Warnemunde, we spent a day transiting the Kiel Canal. I had never heard of the Kiel Canal before booking this cruise. The canal connects the North Sea with the Baltic Sea. It was constructed in the early 1800s so that ships would not have to travel around the north coast of Denmark in seas that were many times treacherous. Kiel Canal is 60 miles long. It has just two locks, one at each end. There are 16 bridges and the Norwegian Dream is the tallest and largest ship to pass through the canal. In fact the ship was altered when it was stretched so it could pass through this canal. The upper portion of the stack flips over and the forward mast pivots down so the ship can pass under the bridges.

A delightful aspect of passing through the canal was seeing the many people along the way who came to see our large ship. There were families, school busloads of children, and lots of bicyclists who rode along beside us. A local brass band joined the ship at the beginning of the passage. They played lively tunes up at poolside until suppertime. Then they gave us a rousing send off as we left the last lock about 10 pm.

Our first port was Warnemunde, Germany. Many passengers opted for the all day tour to Berlin. This tour involves a 3-hour train ride each way and then a rigorous bus and walking tour. We felt that we couldn't get enough flavor of Berlin in the few hours we would have there while on this tour. Instead, we chose to visit the town of Warnemunde. This charming old small city has an interesting city square, lots of little cafes along the docks that feature the freshly caught fish, and a long white sand beach. Prior to reunification Wernemunde and the adjoining city of Rostok were East Germany's only access to the Baltic Sea and the rest of the world. We were there on a beautiful Saturday so the town was full of local tourists. The weather was absolutely perfect for spring. The sun was shining; there was a pleasant breeze; the temperature was in the high 60's. We walked out to the lighthouse and then along the beach. Oh my gosh, it is a nude beach with lots of people frolicking in the ice cold water and sunning themselves. Interesting and very natural for Europeans.

After a sea day, our next port of call was Tallinn, Estonia. This is an absolutely charming medieval city. It existed virtually unchanged from the 1940s-1980s under Communist rule. Since becoming an independent country, Estonia has slowly entered the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Fortunately most of the historic buildings remain in tact on the outside. Building interiors are being refurbished without detracting from the exterior charm. All of the streets in the Old Town are cobblestone. One of the Cathedrals dates back to the 1300s. Several others date from the 17th century. Town is about a 10-minute walk from the pier. The city is totally without litter; streets and sidewalks are spotless. The young people are happy and friendly. Many of the older generations still seem fearful of making eye contact with anyone, a legacy of the Communist repression. We found an Internet café in town and checked our email. We enjoyed some local cuisine at a little café and bought some souvenirs.

Money exchange was readily available at banks and an American Express office. Many of the tourist stores accept charge cards; some accept U.S. cash. We changed some money to buy "stuff" at a couple of small shops.

I was surprised at the vast amount of signage in English as well as Estonian. Many of the young folk speak English. I spoke with one pretty sales clerk who stated that English is a very popular school subject. She will be attending the local university in the fall on scholarship to study Business Administration. She lives at home with her parents who both have jobs to help her with her university expenses.

The pier where we docked is used mainly for freight. It was disappointing to see enormous stacks of huge white birch logs awaiting shipment. It appears the country is denuding their forests to sell the wood for hard currency.

Our next port was St. Petersburg, a fascinating city. There still is an unbelievable amount of unnecessary bureaucracy by Russian officials to gain admittance to the country. Our passports were scrutinized; our boarding passes were checked; we were given "special" tourist visas that we had to carry at all times. If we didn't turn it in when returning to the ship, there was a $50 U.S. fine. Passengers not on ship tours were required to have visas obtained before leaving the U.S.

The Norwegian Dream stayed in St. Petersburg for two days. The weather was bright and sunny but very brisk with highs in the low 60s. We went on three tours, one of them out to the country. We went on a city tour, a cathedrals tour, and a tour 25 miles into the countryside to see Peterhof, the summer palace of Peter the Great.

St. Petersburg is a fascinating city full of grand old structures built in the 17th and 18th centuries as well as many structures built after World War II by the Communists. The city was under siege by the Nazis for 900 days beginning in 1941. The Nazis bombed many buildings. Bedraggled residents cut down most of the trees for firewood. Many of the furnishings were burned to keep people from freezing. Over 600,000 citizens died as a result of the siege, many from starvation or as a result of the bitter cold weather. Another 500,000 soldiers died defending the city.

We were told that the city is dingier since the end of Communism. During that period everyone was employed, many to keep the city looking like the showplace of Russia. Buildings were frequently painted in bright colors; during the short summer flowers were planted; evergreens were trimmed. All of this was paid for by the all-powerful central government. Now, with privatization occurring, both in commerce and in residential dwellings, there is no money for the government to maintain the infrastructure.

Residential dwellings are not as we usually think of them. Many of the wealthy and middle class lived in spacious apartments before Communism. The Communist government abolished private ownership and turned these dwellings into communal apartments where an entire family was assigned one room in the former apartment. They, along with the families of the other rooms, shared the communal kitchen and bath. Many residents still live in this style today. How could we expect our family to live in one room let alone share a kitchen and bath? Wow.

We saw many structures built during the Communist era. There were Stalin type structures, Khrushchev type structures, and Yeltsin era structures. Most all of these structures are somewhat in a state of disrepair today. As the residential structures are privatized, each family is given clear title to their "apartment" to continue living there or to sell and move somewhere else with the proceeds. Mortgage money is not available in Russia so cash must be accumulated to purchase real estate. The banks are not considered safe so many hide their savings in ingenious places, or if possible, put it into hard currency and get it out of Russia. This, of course, is illegal but frequently done.

Religion was hardly tolerated during Communism. When the Communists took over, many churches and cathedrals were burned; some were turned into museums. Of the 700 or so St. Petersburg churches only about 100 remain today. Many are being slowly restored. The main religious body is Russian Orthodox. When we toured these grand old and restored cathedrals we noted that there are no pews or chairs. The Russian Orthodox stand for their services. The cathedrals were so designed that the acoustics are phenomenal. The priest can be heard from any location within the cathedral some of which hold 5,000 parishioners on special occasions.

Our most fascinating tour was of Peterhof, the summer residence of Peter the Great and his descendents. The site is about 25 miles from the center of St. Petersburg and is located on the shore of the Gulf of Finland. It is a group of magnificent edifices and fountains on a 300 acre site. The Palace is enormous. It is the most awesome structure I have ever seen anywhere. Another amazing facet of this Palace is that the Nazis occupied it during the siege. When the Nazis fled, they virtually destroyed the palace and pilfered many of the treasures that had not been hidden before their occupation. One of the main priorities of the Russian government at the conclusion of World War II was to reconstruct and restore the palace to its original grandeur as a symbol of national pride. The process continues to this day. Furnishings, works of art, and other treasures have been returned to the palace.

One has to see the Peterhof palace and grounds to appreciate its magnificence. It is mind boggling to think that there was so much money available to fritter away for constructing and furnishing such structures back in the 18th century. Other members of nobility constructed smaller palaces nearby. The Nazis occupied most of these and almost none have been restored. Some have been purchased from the government to be converted to hotels to accommodate the ever increasing tourist industry.

Our next stop was Helsinki, Finland. We toured this city independently with new friends we met on the train from London to Dover. The ship docked at the Hernesaari Quay, about 5 miles from the center of town. We took a cab to the train station in the center of town. Then we explored the sights by taking a tram, the T3, around the city and back to the train station. The tram cost about $1 for the entire hour plus trip. Then we saw the Green Domed Cathedral, the City Market, the Museum of Contemporary Art, the Museum of Finnish Fine Art, the Senate Office Square, McDonalds, a department store, a grocery store, an internet café, and lots of interesting people. We returned to the Norwegian Dream and on the way we saw the shipyard with the Carnival Pride under construction.

The weather sure cooperated during this entire voyage. Days were sunny and bright but colder than we are accustomed to. The high temperature in most of the ports was about 60 F. It would have been nasty if there were high winds or rain. The seas were like glass for the entire voyage. Stockholm was our next port. This was by far the most beautiful of all the ports and was especially memorable because the sun shone the whole day and the temperature of 65 F was perfect for walking around the city.

We walked the 1-1/2 miles from the pier to the Royal Palace in the center of
town. We decided to enjoy the River Boat ride - The Canals and Bridges of Stockholm - $14 each for the 2 hour ride under 59 bridges, through 2 lakes and 9 canals. The trip was excellently narrated and informative as well as beautiful.

We visited the Grand Hotel and City Hall where the Nobel Prize ceremonies are held each year. Then we walked through parts of Old Town with the ancient and excellently maintained buildings and cobblestone streets. We visited the German Church of Stockholm that dates back to the 1600's and we enjoyed a refreshment in one of the oldest bars in Stockholm, the Zum Franziskaner Grundades, which has been owned and operated by the Manhold family since 1906. Franz Manhold, the current owner, was kind enough to share his time with us proudly explaining some of the history of the picturesque establishment and he showed us some of his famous collection of steins dating back to the 1800s.

Sweden remained neutral during World Wars I and II. Their structures and their population did not suffer from the bombings and destruction wrought on some of their neighbors. This is very apparent when appreciating the magnificence of most of their old roads, buildings, parks, and waterways. If Stockholm weren't so far north, if the winters weren't so long, cold and dark [almost no daylight in December], I would consider it a great place to live. In spite of the long and depressing winters, we found the people to be cordial and helpful. Most of Stockholm's population speak some English. This helped in getting directions along the winding and sometimes narrow streets.

We arrived in Copenhagen at 7 pm the following day and stayed until noon the next day. Many passengers took the evening tour to Tivoli Gardens, an amusement park opened in 1843 and located in the middle of the city. There are also beautiful fountains, swan filled ponds and loads of flowers in the Gardens. Bright and early the next morning we took the bus from just outside the pier to the center of town and visited the Old City Hall, the Bourse [the Stock Exchange], Christiansborg Palace, and the Royal Family's Analienborg Palace. We walked through the Gammeltorv section, a charming marketplace in the oldest part of the city. We saw Hans Christian Anderson's Little Mermaid statue, the mimes and puppeteers in the square and bought a selection of Danish cheeses. We passed by McDonalds and headed back to the ship for the trip around the northern tip of Denmark and back to Dover.

As stated at the beginning of this narrative, this was a fantastic voyage. The weather was perfect. One little shower during our stay in Copenhagen didn't dampen the festive mood at all. We plan to cruise on the Norwegian Dream again and we plan on returning to several of these beautiful countries to stay longer in the near future. We will spend more time exploring the
countryside as well as the picturesque and friendly cities.

Our digital photos will provide pleasant and lasting memories.

Copyright © Bruce Baldwin

Photo Courtesy of Norwegian Cruise Line

More Norwegian Cruise Line Reviews