by Jo Anne Vaughn
July 5, 2003
We traveled on Celebrity's Constellation for a two-week Baltic cruise starting on July 5, 2003. The ship was great. We enjoyed the food and atmosphere. We didn't attend much of the entertainment, so I can't say much about it. The singing group Lighthouse was wonderful. The only shows we saw were the Broadway song and dance shows, which were fine. The service was very good. The room steward, Oliver, and the waiter, Marius, took very good care of us.
We explored most of the ports on our own and had a great time. If you want to do the ports on your own, you must do a lot of research and have good guidebooks. Don't count on the ship to provide any information to help you tour. Take a good guidebook and write ahead or check on the Internet for information on the ports. We used Rick Steve's Scandinavian book and website. We also used the CruiseMates website.
Celebrity provided a free shuttle in almost every port. When they didn't, it was because the sights were too far for a shuttle or they were within walking distance. Gdynia and Warnemunde were the only ports without shuttles. We did not do a lot of shopping anywhere. We used ATMs in every port except St. Petersburg, where the vendors all took dollars.
We purchased our air from the cruise line. We flew United and SAS over and British Airways back. SAS was much nicer than British Airways. We got into Stockholm a couple of days early and stayed over in London a couple of days after. We did not stay in the cruise line's hotels. English was spoken everywhere we went. We had no problem communicating.
We started from Stockholm. We boarded on Saturday but the ship didn't leave until Sunday. Unfortunately, the shuttles stopped at 5 p.m., so to go into town on Saturday evening you had to take a taxi; it was too far to walk. The tourist information center in Stockholm was in a temporary location, so we had a little trouble finding it. We ended up at the visitors' bureau at the train station. We bought the Stockholm Card and then took the hop-on bus tour. Both worked very well for us. We saw the Vasa Museum, the Nordic Museum, Skansen, the Royal Palace, and walked through Gamla Stan. I liked Skansen best. The cruise out of Stockholm through the archipelago is beautiful.
The first port was Riga, Latvia. It was the first time Celebrity had stopped there. The local bus company provided maps when we got off the bus. We chanced onto a wreath-laying ceremony at their Freedom Monument. (I believe it was the 10-year anniversary of their legislature.) We also walked around the town. We went to their market, which was amazing. It is in the old zeppelin hangers and there are stands that sell everything from fish, meat, vegetables and baked goods to canned goods. Not many tourists found it, but it was worth the walk. I bought some amber jewelry. (No, I haven't checked to make sure it's real, but it's pretty and I like it.) We really enjoyed Riga. It was clean and vibrant. There was lots of building and renovation going on.
Next stop was Helsinki, which was more touristy. It also has a market, but it is aimed at least partially at tourists. There were arts and crafts, food, and produce. We bought some wonderful strawberries. Some of the tourist items could be bought at Stockman's Department store for less. Stockman's has a nice souvenir section. We did a walking tour of some of the historical sights.
We spent the next two days in St. Petersburg, the one port where we took the ship's excursions. We did not have visas. We took a bus overview of the city, a tour of the gardens at Peterhof, a night cruise of the canals, and a tour of the outlying palaces. They were all fine, except the boat tour, which did not go well. St. Petersburg is a very interesting city. Some of the buildings have been renovated and are beautiful. Others are very dilapidated. There was not much building going on. Lots of street vendors at every stop sold the same souvenirs. The ship sold some of the same things after we left St. Petersburg. I would think about hiring a guide and car if I came again. It doesn't seem like a very easy city to do on your own.
We then went to Tallinn, Estonia, a medieval city. We did a walking tour around the historical sights. The market here is definitely touristy. It looks a lot like a Renaissance Festival; the vendors are even in costume. There are some interesting galleries, if you get off the main streets.
The next day was at sea. We needed the break. We went to the wine tasting for Captain's Club Members, which was fun, and to the formal tea.
We docked in Gdynia, Poland for tours into Gdansk. We were there on a weekend and the local people were out for their holidays. There is an amusement park and you can walk into town. We happened on a very moving memorial plaque for Sept. 11. The market here was touristy, but for Polish tourists. It looked a little like Panama City, FL. We walked into town, but we didn't have any information on what we were seeing. Try the waffles with cherries and cream! There's not a whole lot to see in Gdynia. I would make the effort to get into Gdansk.
We docked in Warnemunde for tours to Rostock. The ship docked right at the train station so there weren't any shuttles. We took the train into Rostock. It was very easy to do. Rostock is another medieval city. We walked around and saw the historical sights. The market here mostly sold food, and we had a great jelly donut (Berliner). We also had some very good food at a local restaurant. Warnemunde is a beach resort. The beach is right outside of town and was packed. There are lots of shops and restaurants.
We had two days in Copenhagen. The shuttle took us right into downtown, and we did Rick Steve's walking tour. The shuttle stopped at 5 p.m., so if you want to go into town in the evening you need to take a cab or buy the ship excursion to Tivoli, which is basically just a shuttle. We did walk back from town, but it was a long walk. The ship docked near the Little Mermaid. We had smorrebrod at Hviids Viinstube. The archaeological museum of the foundations of the castle was interesting. We also went to the National Museum. The next day we went to Christianshaven and Rosenborg Castle. We had some great pastry. After leaving port we saw a tall ship in full sail.
Our last port was Oslo, Norway. The fjords are beautiful. We took the ferry over to the Viking Ship Museum and the Norwegian Folk Museum, which were both very interesting. In the afternoon we did a walking tour through the historical parts of town. The ship docked right next to an old fort.
We had another day at sea and then docked in Dover. Disembarkation went very well. We used the ship transfer to Victoria bus station and walked to our B&B from there.
We had a great time. Let me know if I can answer any questions.