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Copyright © 1995-2003 
Linda Coffman

Scandinavian Capitals
Baltic Season 2003

By Jim Nordstrom

This was our third cruise and the second time aboard the Dream. We cruised on her for our 25th Wedding anniversary 10 years ago before she was "stretched." I was very happy with the ship, the service, "free style" dining, and the overall atmosphere on the ship. Since we were previous NCL guests our membership in Latitudes allowed us a very speedy embarkation. Friends who traveled with us spent at least 45 minutes longer in line. While they said the service was good and no hassle, the ship was full (1826 guests) and it just took time. 

As mentioned before, the ship was "stretched" in 1998 with a section added amidships. Also the stack and mast were redesigned so that they could be tilted to allow the ship to pass under the bridges of the Kiel Canal. This permits the Dream to depart from Dover and cut off two days at sea prior to entering the Baltic. 

Free style dining, which allows you to eat when and where you want, was very user friendly. The ship has two large dining rooms, amidships and aft that served sit down elegant dinners and lunches. They both served breakfast, but the Four Seasons was a buffet. Very good I must say. In addition to the large dining rooms, there were the Sports Bar Buffet, and an Italian themed Bistro that were smaller, but efficient. There was also a French restaurant that required a $13.50 cover charge. Lunch was served in each restaurant with the addition of a poolside barbecue, and a pizza parlor. We never waited more than 20 minutes, and that was only once, for a table at dinner and we ate at the prime 7:30 hour. Most of the times we were seated within five minutes. 

The other amenities of the ship were typical such as a fitness room, spa, two pools, casino, evening shows, lectures, bingo, Internet cafe, etc. Two formal nights were held and if you chose to dress, one dining room was designated as the formal one. The rest of the time the required dress for dinner was resort casual.

Our ports of call were the reason we chose this cruise. We visited Tallinn, Estonia; St. Petersburg, Russia; Helsinki, Finland; Stockholm, Sweden; Copenhagen, Denmark; and Oslo, Norway. In our travels, we spent a day transiting the Kiel Canal. During our transit the shoreline was filled with people waving, holding up banners, and generally enjoying watching this huge cruise ship pass by their little villages. It was a memorable experience. Some advice on touring: I am a follower of Rick Steves and his Europe Through the Back Door books. We used his  Scandinavia book and found it very helpful. 

Take a cab into town square $10.00. Find the tourist information and arrange for a walking tour of the old town, or just follow Rick Steves' suggested walk. After the tour (1.5 hours), just walk around and experience the fact that you are in Estonia. 

Unless you get a visa in advance you must take the ship tours. They are expensive, but necessary. My recommendations would be the full day tour of St. Petersburg that includes a visit to the Hermitage on your first day. That night, unless you are a ballet or opera buff, attend the Russian Folklore Extravaganza. This show was outstanding. Full of energy, color, singing and dancing. The performers received a standing ovation upon the conclusion. Don't miss it. Next day take the AM tour to Peterhof, the Russian Versailles, gorgeous. Note: the fountains are not turned on until late May. In the PM pick what you like although many people stayed on the ship to rest up. 

We still had four more ports to go. No need to use ship tours for the rest of the cruise. Follow Rick Steves' advice for each city, and you will do better. Each of the next ports had a shuttle you could use to get into town, taxis, and the ubiquitous Hop-on/Hop-Off Bus Tours. As a matter of fact, you could even walk. 

Helsinki. Not much to see, just a pretty Scandinavian city. Around the Esplanade shopping area are the Market Square, Green Domed Lutheran Church, the Russian Orthodox Upenski Cathedral, and the Temppeliankio Church or Church in the Rock (interesting). Have lunch in a sidewalk cafe, browse the Market Square, and soak up Finnish culture. 

Voted by our friends and us as the prettiest of the cities we visited. Do the following. Shuttle to town and then walk along the waterfront to the Vasa Museum. A museum dedicated to a Swedish vessel that sank on its maiden voyage 300+ years ago and was raised to become an icon. After your visit take the ferry back to the town center, have lunch and then visit the Royal Palace armory and crown jewel display. After this, explore the area around the palace known as Old Town. Again, use Rick Steves' suggestions. Unfortunately time is short in Stockholm, although the departure through the Stockholm Archipelago is very scenic. 

Ship  gets in around 6 PM and we took the ships shuttle to Tivoli Gardens $25.00 includes admission. Tivoli is the inspiration Walt Disney got for Disneyland. Lots of fun. Don't eat on the ship that night. Try one of the restaurants in Tivoli. Next day, get a taxi to Rosenborg Castle, home of the Danish Crown jewels and an interesting place. From there walk into town and stroll down the "Stroget," a pedestrian only shopping and eating area that runs the width of Copenhagen from Tivoli to the ship piers. Have lunch on the Nyhaven Canal, and walk back to the ship with a stop at the Little Mermaid. Plenty of shops on the pier where the ship is if you missed shopping on the Stroget.

Voted number two on "prettiness." Easy walk to town from where the ship docked. Take the subway (T-Bane) to Vigland Sculpture Park and view these remarkable sculptures. Then T-Bane back to town and stroll Karl Johans Gate, another pedestrian only shopping and dining street. Following lunch head back toward the ship, and stop at the Norwegian Resistance Museum for a look at how the German Occupation during the Second World War affected Norway. Then if you have time tour Asherhaus Fortress. Not a whole lot, but some interesting rooms and crypt. The ship is docked right next to the Fortress so it is an easy walk "home."

The next day was spent at sea making our way through the North Sea and English Channel to Dover and departure which was painless. Great trip if you want the flavor of Scandinavia.

Quick Notes: 

Money... In Russia the street vendors took US dollars. Most of the shops on the piers took US dollars. The only ATM I saw in Tallinn was near the tourist information store. In all the other countries ATM's were your best source of local currency. Take small amount ($30.00) you’re not there long enough to spend more. For large expenses use a credit card. Credit cards were also accepted at museums and dining establishments. The ship currency exchange charged anywhere from $3.50 to $5.00 to exchange money. Again avoid the ships tours if possible. They are expensive and, you can travel independently. 

Most of the people in Scandinavia speak English and are willing to do so. Be adventurous. Besides, do you really want to follow somebody around that is holding an NCL Tour sign?

To wrap up, we enjoyed this cruise very much. The ship provided what we wanted. A floating hotel, with good meals when WE wanted them. Entertainment was what you made it. Some people enjoyed the shows, others preferred to sit in the lounges and listen to the singers or performers there. Cruising is what you make it. 

Enjoy the Scandinavian Capitals.

Photo courtesy of Norwegian Cruise Line

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