Well! A mere ten months after completing our Baltic Sea cruise aboard the Princess Cruises ship Crown Princess I’ve finally finished posting all the various ship and excursion photos and can get around to a brief (I am such a liar) overview and review of this particular holiday at sea.

Approaching Estonia

Cruise Overview

This was described as a Baltic Heritage cruise lasting 14 nights from June 3rd, 2017 until June 17th, 2017. The itinerary was as follows:

  • Southampton, UK
  • Zeebrugge, Belgium
  • At Sea
  • Copenhagen, Denmark
  • At Sea
  • Stockholm, Sweden
  • Tallinn, Estonia
  • St Petersburg, Russia
  • St Petersburg, Russia
  • Helsinki, Finland
  • At Sea
  • Gdynia, Poland
  • At Sea
  • At Sea
  • Southampton, UK

We booked this cruise in September of the previous year and chose an aft-facing, balcony cabin for the first time: state room D735. The cost of the cruise was £1899 per person and we each had $100 of onboard credit to spend as we used a future cruise deposit from a previous cruise to cover the down payment. The cost of the balcony cabin in this case fit well within what we consider to be a reasonable price to pay for that type of room; we tend to only go balconies if we can and we set an approximate limit of £150 per person per night for that. For the size of balcony we got on this cruise this was a great price – you can see video footage of our balcony from our post as we were in Southampton on the first evening here: Crown Princess, Aft Balcony, Departing Southampton – but we’ll probably stick to our preferred location of foreward, starboard-side from now on as we found we missed the waves going past the room in the morning or evening. Admittedly, the Baltic Sea was almost flat as a pancake for most of the cruise so this possibly wouldn’t have made that much of a difference.

Cruise Preparation

Other than what you’re going to pack for a couple of weeks on a cruise which is really up to you the only things to absolutely remember, of course, are:

  • making sure your passport has over six months left on it from the end of the cruise
  • possibly arranging a visa to visit Russia
  • travel insurance
  • getting to/from the cruise terminal

Our passports were fine.

You only need a Russian visa when visiting St Petersburg on a cruise where you’re in port for just a couple of days if you’re planning to do your own thing when you get there. If you arrange excursions either with the cruise line itself or with a reputable organiser (there are many available but as I’ve had good social media interaction with one I’ll give them a plug here: St Petersburg Best Guides) then the visa requirements will be taken care of for you.

Passport Stamp

Travel insurance is a must and it’s well worth checking to make sure that your particular insurer covers you for where you’ll be travelling and that you’ll be on a cruise. For us, where we’ve found ourselves more and more often booking last-minute cruises these days we’ve started using annual, worldwide cruise cover from Cover For You. This works out the most economical and flexible method for us and the cruise cover means that if our ship can’t get into a port we can claim back compensation (if this happens to you make sure you get a letter from the reception on your ship that explains the port was missed and the reason for it as your insurers will want that information).

Getting to the cruise terminal for us meant driving as Southampton’s not that far away (and why we cruise a lot) and it’s the simplest means to get there. Southampton port has very nearby parking for people cruising with some of the other lines but if you’re travelling with Princess then your options are a little more limited. We’ve found ourselves using Penguin Cruise Parking over the last few years and they’ve been great. A simple drive to their lot in Marchwood, just across the water from the cruise terminals, then you and your luggage are whisked across to where you need to be by minibus with a similar trip when you return.

Baltic Cruise Itinerary And Excursions

Other than Belgium every single port of this cruise on Crown Princess would take us to somewhere new and with the exception of Estonia where we had some specific desires that weren’t covered by any existing excursions we booked trips for every port through Princess Cruises. Our general approach when it comes to cruising and excursions is that the first time in any port we will almost always book a trip with the cruise company in order to get a feel for the place and an idea about the distances that’s not often that easy on maps or in reviews, all with the safeguard of knowing that we can’t miss getting back on the ship at the end. We also like planning excursions so that we’re not doing the same sort of thing more than once. On a previous cruise around South America we encountered passengers who’d booked to go and see penguins in three different place. I guess they really liked penguins but we like to mix it up a bit; some history, some architecture, some landscapes, boat trips if possible, unusual trips, etc.

A summary of the ports follows with links to the more in-depth reviews and plenty of photos that I’ve written up about each stop on the itinerary:

This was our second time in Belgium but on our first trip we’d been to Ghent; this time we took a walking tour followed by boat trip down the canals of Bruges. We had lovely weather and the city itself was steeped in history and resplendent with wonderful-looking architecture. The excursion was well-organised so that we didn’t have to queue anywhere and we never felt rushed. My minor criticism of the tour as a whole was that the canal portion more-or-less went over the same area of the medieval city we’d already covered with the same information imparted but we like being close to the water so we enjoyed it nonetheless.

Bruges Canal Boat Ride

We did want to see the Little Mermaid statue when we were in Copenhagen because, although it’s a cliché and it’s great to see something very few people see, there’s something to be said for seeing the main tourist sights too, especially on your first visit somewhere. However, with nothing else in the Danish capital catching our eye on the excursions list we were drawn instead to a full-day visiting a couple of famous castles with a meal between them, hoping that we’d have time at the end to hunt down the statue as we’d heard it wasn’t too far from where the ship docked. In fact, our excursion finished with a photo opportunity at the statue so this didn’t matter but for reference I’d say it was about 15-20 minutes away on foot but easy to get to. The castles were both excellent for different reasons and the meal was… interesting. We got to drink local beer that wasn’t Carlsberg, though, so that was good.

Frederiksborg Castle

We live in a naval port, home to HMS Victory, HMS Warrior, and the Mary Rose amongst others so when we saw there was a place called the Vasa Museum in Stockholm housing a near intact historical ship too we felt almost compelled to check it out. Neither the museum nor the city hall that we also visited disappointed at all although the tour itself wasn’t the greatest use of time, we felt. I’d definitely recommend both places, though. From what we saw of Sweden’s capital city we’d have no qualms about returning for an extended stay as the number of interesting-looking museums in close proximity was constantly catching our eye during our time here and we wondered afterwards if it might have been possible to explore more of interest to ourselves on our own. The Stockholm Archipelago was beautiful on the cruise out from Sweden as the general overcast weather of the day gave way to sunshine.

Golden Hall

Everything we’d read about Tallinn indicated that getting from the port to the old part of the city was both quick, easy to do on foot, and impossible to get lost doing so and all that turned out to be true. Having checked out excursions on offer there was nothing we saw that we thought we couldn’t do on our own and there were a few places I liked the look of that weren’t on the tourist trail. As it turned out the places I wanted to go were all closed even though everything online indicated that they shouldn’t be so Estonia’s attractive capital ended up being more of a general photowalk with occasional stops for local beers. Our trip to the city coincided with the visit of the Belgian national football team for a game so the city was flooded with fans, all of whom were in good spirits I’m happy to say. Tallinn was an incredibly photography-friendly place, so simple to get around, and it’s arguable as to whether you’d get more from an organised tour than just a general map and some information from online.

Tallinn Town Square

Russia was obviously the big appeal of this Baltic Sea cruise on Crown Princess because it had the possibility of being the most strange location. As it turned out St Petersburg was very European in its feel and general outlook so other than a little more effort to get on and off the ship while passports were checked and stamped this stop fit right in with everywhere else on the cruise and wasn’t as culturally disparate as we were hoping. Two days was an awfully short amount of time to try to fit in as much as possible and, realistically, you can’t do it all. With the two days here appearing in the middle of five days of non-stop ports it can also prove to be very tiring. Obviously, if you’re only going to come the once then make the most of it but once you see how much there is to see and how very friendly and appealing the city is you might want to consider further trips or longer ones to not have everything crammed in as much as possible. We opted for one very long day followed by a half-day trip so as not to be too fatigued; our full day incorporated two excursions with one visiting various places in the city and the other being a ballet show, something we wanted to do as soon as we decided we were visiting. I don’t think I can find fault with anything we saw or did and I would not hesitate to return to St Petersburg again and would very much like to see more of Russia some day too.

My one piece of advice for any cruise visitors – that I also mention in a couple of the photo posts – is to pay attention to the prices of souvenirs at the port and consider buying them there rather than in St Petersburg itself; we found most things far cheaper at the port although you may find more outlandish gifts in the city.

River Boat Ride, Saint Petersburg

Helsinki was another stop where we almost decided to not take an excursion. From where we knew the cruise ship would dock it looked like with the time in port we should have there would be plenty available to make our way to where most of the things of interest were. The only two issues we could see were that the Sibelius Monument was an outlier location-wise in terms of attractions and there was always a risk that if the ship were delayed for any reason this would cut down options considerably. In the end we opted for a fairly short excursion to see the monument and the rock church and we thought we’d ask if we could make our own way back to the Crown Princess if there was time; as it turned out we were offered this choice anyway and took it. You can read more about the monument and the church at the links below but I would say that Helsinki was the port we liked least on the cruise and that’s possibly a result of the incessant rain that accompanied us but also I think because the things we did see were not terribly grand; they lacked a wow factor. I’d love to return to Finland and give it another chance to excite me, though, but perhaps with better weather.

Senate Square Art, Helsinki

We picked an excursion with a short tour into Gdańsk and some free time as our assumption for this final stop on the Baltic cruise was that Gdynia – where we were docked – was little more than a port city. That’ll teach us not to research properly. It actually looks like there’s plenty to see there and along with the nearby city of Sopot would be a great reason to return to this area of Poland in the future. However, it was to Gdańsk that we went and although the tour was a little stiff in terms of presentation it was packed full of information. The city itself was lovely too; incredibly picturesque. Our only gripe was that the one thing my wife wanted to buy – cherry amber – eluded her. The people were friendly and there was so much to see and do. This is a country we’d never really considered before for travelling purposes but it should be up there on everyone’s list.

Gdańsk Long Market

Crown Princess Cruise Ship Experience

Another faultless Princess Cruises experience overall on a ship we’d cruised on once before. Food was generally excellent (with one exception; see links below) and drinks were what we’ve become used to. We’d still like Princess to come up with an affordable drinks package especially as they’ve now stopped the BOGO offerings that we enjoyed so much on the Crown Princess.

Service was superb and a special mention must be made of Carlos in the Adagio bar who was the friendliest and most helpful individual member of staff we’ve ever cruised with.

Entertainment is one of those areas that we shy away from in general so we can’t really comment on that aspect of this trip. The actor James Cosmo was a guest speaker on our cruise although we somehow missed that announcement in the Princess Patter and only realised after his talk when we bumped into him at a bar. Guest speakers on cruises out of the UK are becoming more common on Princess now which is good to see.

The ship’s condition was perfectly fine. I’ve seen some people complain before about rust spots or slightly worn carpets but these things never bother us; it’s a metal ship at sea; thousands of people are aboard; get over it. The ship has now had a refurbishment to refresh bedding and some other areas.

While our balcony was impossible to distinguish from any other balcony room we’ve had on a Grand-class ship the balcony was immense. A fabulous location for privacy and we liked the white noise of the wake too (but check some of the videos in the links below to see how you feel about the wake noise if you’re not sure). However, if you want a private place to sun yourself on then pay attention to which way the cruise ship is heading. The huge depth of the balcony means much of it is nearly permanently in shade; we liked it but you might not. We’ve got nothing against the aft location and if the price was right we might take one again but we prefer something foreward that gives more of a sense of travelling.

A few more posts from our time on the cruise ship:

Sabatini's Meal

Cruise Review Summary

One irritation with specialty dining aside there were no negative aspects of the cruise itself that come to mind and in terms of itinerary the only thing I would say is that when compared to most of our other cruises this one featured the least cultural difference as it was northern European. For that reason we probably wouldn’t rate it as highly as heading back to Asia or South America or seeing what the Middle East or Africa has to offer but if you have a desire to see a sizeable chunk of Europe and you’re done with the Mediterranean then this is something not to be missed.

Highlights of the cruise were mainly all Russian as we’d wanted to visit the Hermitage, drink vodka, eat caviar, and see a ballet performance there and we managed all of them (in one day as it turned out).

An excellent cruise that I’d not hesitate to recommend. There’s not a port I wouldn’t go back to although, to be fair, that’s true of everywhere in the world, and Princess Cruises are a fantastic choice for visiting those places.

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