In the summer of 2016 (Aug. 13 – 20), I took a Baltic cruise with my family on Royal Caribbean’s Serenade of the Seas. We departed Copenhagen, Denmark, on August 13th.
Day 1: Copenhagen, Denmark
The check-in and boarding process in Copenhagen was incredibly fast and smooth. As soon as we boarded, I felt like I’d already left Denmark even though it would be another few hours before the ship actually started moving. This was a day for unpacking and exploring the ship.
We had a balcony suite! If you can afford it, definitely get a balcony suite!
Serenade of the Seas is one of Royal Caribbean’s smaller ships, but it’s absolutely adorable and very cozy. Being on a small ship does have its advantages. For example, you’re never too far away from anything!
Here’s what I think you should do & see on Royal Caribbean’s 7-night Baltic Cruise:
Stockholm, Sweden Tallinn, Estonia
Due to bad weather and strong winds, our first port of call in Stockholm was cancelled! Instead, we arrived in Tallinn, Estonia. Tallinn’s Old Town is a beautiful area to walk around – and there’s lots to see. Wear comfortable shoes, as most streets are cobblestone and some are very steep.
Being from Denmark, I think the most interesting site to visit was the Courtyard of Danish King. On this site (according to one legend) the Danish flag (Dannebrog) fell from the sky in the Battle of Lyndanisse (the Battle of Valdemar) near Lyndanisse (Tallinn), Estonia in 1219.
Lunch at the incredible restaurant Balthasar, located on the square in front of city hall, is a must try. This is a garlic themed restaurant and every dish has garlic in it – even the desserts and coffee! I liked the salad with shrimp, tomatoes, strawberries…and garlic. You must save room for dessert and try the garlic ice cream! It was quite delicious.
In Tallinn you can visit the oldest (still functioning) pharmacy in Europe, which opened in 1422. There’s a small museum with some pretty weird stuff! And do go by Maiasmokk, the oldest cafe, which is still operational in Estonia, where you can see handmade and hand-painted marzipan.
Tallinn is a city where you can buy great pieces of arts and crafts. If you walk through Katariina Käik (St. Catherine’s Passage), you’ll see artists working and selling their paintings on the street. There are also plenty of markets where people sell woolen clothes and knitwear and an incredible not-to-miss flower market.
Day 4 & 5: St. Petersburg, Russia
Because our visit to Stockholm was cancelled, we had an extra day in St. Petersburg. If you visit on a cruise ship, you must go on a tour with an official tour guide. Apparently, that’s the law there. We had a private city tour of St. Petersburg for the day with a tour guide who was simply amazing! A private tour may be more expensive, but in the end it’s worth it!
The highlights on our first day included several churches: St. Isaac’s Cathedral, which took 40 years to build (1818 – 1858), St. Nicholas’ Cathedral and the incredible Church of the Savior on the Spilled Blood (a must visit!).
The Grand Maket Russia Interactive Museum was a surprisingly interesting visit. Here you can see the whole country in miniature size. The museum doesn’t look very appealing on the website, but it’s amazing. It’s great for both kids and adults.
My favorite visit was at Kupetz Eliseevs Food Hall – the most fantastic and magical delicatessen food store and café where you can buy coffee, tea, cakes, cheese, ham, caviar, marzipan and SO much more. We had coffee and tried 5 different cakes (for 4 people)…yum, yum, yum!
If you’re looking for a great (international) restaurant to have lunch, you might like Jamie Oliver’s Italian restaurant.
St. Petersburg Day 2:
Start out by visiting the Fabergé Museum and just focus on the famous Fabergé eggs! These date back to 1885 when the 1st egg was given to Empress Maria Fyodorovna (also known as Princess Dagmar of Denmark) by her husband Emperor Alexander 3rd and became a yearly gift the following 32 years. For a deposit of US$ 20, you can get the audio guide, which I recommend.
A visit to St. Petersburg isn’t complete without a visit to the Winter Palace, which is part of the State Hermitage Museum. The whole museum is much too big to see in a day, so decide what you want to see before you go! The museum is one of the largest and oldest in the world, built between 1754 – 1762. Catherine the Great founded the museum with a collection of 255 paintings and today there are millions of items inside. It is impressive – to say the least!
Check out the Russian Vodka Museum too. Russia is, of course, famous for vodka and this museum is a great place to visit. The museum’s guide gave us a fantastic tour of the history and origins of vodka in Russia, complete with a vodka tasting at the end – with the appropriate snacks. If you want to try traditional Russian meal, you can have it here, e.g. cucumber salad with dressing, borsch (beetroot soup with veal and cabbage), beef Stroganoff and pancakes for dessert.
Day 6: Helsinki, Finland
After 2 busy days in St. Petersburg with a complete overload of impressions, Helsinki was a day for taking it easy, doing some shopping…and getting lost.
My impression of Helsinki is that it’s a really cool city. It felt very artistic. And the Finnish people seemed incredibly friendly. The few people that we talked to (to ask for directions) spoke really good English and were very helpful.
Overall, I really enjoyed this cruise. I thought the itinerary was good and the ports of call were interesting, especially Tallinn and St. Petersburg.
Although the ship was one of the smaller Royal Caribbean ships, I thought it was excellent. I’ve been on Adventure of the Seas, which is also a small ship, and in my opinion, Serenade of the Seas is so much better.
Food was good, specially at Chops Grille. The food in the main dining hall was excellent. The menu changes every night according to the theme of the day. Some of the things on the menu (the classics) stay the same throughout the entire trip. In my opinion, there’s something for everyone.
If you’re eating in the main dining hall most nights or every night, make sure you ask to be seated at the same table so you get the same waiters. Then give the waiters a nice tip on the first night (and a little here and there during your trip), and you’ll make great friends and get the best service!
Entertainment was good, i.e. the shows at the theater. The headliner show with Peter Grant was THE BEST. The Center Bar had the best entertainment! There was a live band performing every night, and they were awesome. They had people dancing on the floor and on the balconies overlooking the area.
I would definitely recommend this 7-night Baltic Cruise, but just consider the weather! Even though this cruise is during the summer (August), the weather can still be rainy, windy and COLD. So you need to pack a broad range of clothes for all kinds of weather.