First a little about my wife and me. We are both 33 years old and have no children. We were traveling with a group of 60 other individuals who mainly where in their 50's 60's and 70's. The trip was organized by a bank in a town I used to reside in and my parents had told me about the trip. Having traveled with this group approximately 5 years ago to Australia and New Zealand I knew they had a reputation for putting on an excellent package. This is my 6th time cruising and my wife's fourth primarily on Carnival and once on Holland America. This was our first trip on Norwegian Cruise Lines.
Saturday June 5, 2004 We began by flying out of Nashville, TN on Air Canada, after a pleasant flight from Nashville to Toronto; we then realized the maze which is Toronto Int'l Airport. Upon arriving, we immediately had to take a shuttle bus to another gate where we were processed through customs, after which we had to take another shuttle to the main terminal where we had to go through security once again and then proceed up and down several corridors until we got on another shuttle which took us to another terminal. After another set of escalators (our fifth just at this airport) we finally arrived at our gate.
When taking into account security, customs, etc. We had a 1 hour and 30 minute layover and by the time we arrived they were already boarding our outbound flight. A word of warning, don't cut it short if flying through Toronto from the states. We had no delays to speak of, but it still took a full 1 ½ hours to transfer all the way through. The flight from Toronto to London Heathrow was about 6 hours long during which we flew overnight, so we are already one day into our vacation and haven't gotten to the ship yet.
Sunday June 6, 2004 After arriving in London Heathrow and clearing customs we boarded private charters our travel company had arranged. We had been told it was a 2 ½ hour drive from Heathrow to the pier, however we surprised when we boarded the bus and our driver said it would be 1 ½ hours travel time. Obviously he had forgotten to take in traffic. When taking in traffic which on the M25 is fairly heavy, even on a Sunday, and one stop for the bathroom at a government rest stop, our total travel time was 2 ½ hours. We arrived at Dover Port at approximately 2:30 and immediately were whisked off the bus and into the terminal. No lines anywhere, in fact some of the people working there were actually going home. I did notice a large sign posted in the front and we came through that said "No Tipping" which I assumed meant for the baggage handlers.
Checking in and going through security was a fairly simple process. Total time through the Dover port was 25 minutes. We did proceed through security and oddly enough very little checking of our bags. I had been told NCL was notorious for checking for alcohol but no one in our group got stopped and I know of at least three people that brought a small amount of spirits on board with them. When passing through the port we were handed a letter from NCL stating there had been a change in ports (which we had already learned through the cruise critic boards) and we would not be stopping in Tallinn, Estonia and as an act of goodwill would be receiving a shipboard credit of $100 per stateroom to use on shore excursions or similar charges.
We were greeted on deck 7 by the staff and immediately escorted to our room, which was 7238 on the starboard side. Writing this we are three days into our journey and while we are happy with our room selection I would have made a different choice knowing what we know now. After inspecting a few other of our friend's rooms, I realized a wide majority of the rooms are exactly the same. We had an ocean view deluxe (more details about the room later) but deck seven is where the running and walking area is. Although the rooms on this deck have a reflective coating on the glass on the outside hindering but not totally stopping someone from seeing in, I realized we have not spent a lot of time with the shades open for I think fear of someone looking in. That being said I believe we would have been just as happy with a room on the sixth or 5th floor for less price and the same view. In fact on deck 5 you have a wonderful view of the passengers as they disembark and embark through Deck 4 in ports of call where a gangway is used. We could find no other reason for paying any additional price for this exact same stateroom.
In our room when we arrived were our NCL documents for excursions we had already booked along with a complimentary bottle of Merlot from NCL and our travel agent. I would recommend you check immediately your tickets as we found two of our packages for St. Petersburg we had pre-booked were at the same time. Later I found out since St. Petersburg was a 2 day stop one of our tours had been cancelled thus we were moved to the alternate day, so we were automatically moved which caused the conflict. We also received a notice our "Music at Sheremetyev Palace" was cancelled for that evening. This was due to the re-routing which had occurred only a few weeks earlier. Apparently some of the excursions cannot be done in Russia on Saturday's and due to our change in schedule in necessitated the cancellation. I would strongly suggest you consider booking your NCL tours in advance and as early as possible. I scheduled our tours three weeks prior to departure and we were unable to get 2 of our choices. Also, we found upon arrival at the excursion desk that 8 tours were already full before we set sail. We did notice there was a line beginning to form at the shore excursion desk when we were getting on the boat and it continued until the life boat drill.
A mandatory life boat drill at 3:30 was attended and went smoothly. A word to the wise, don't go immediately when they call for the drill. We waited for about 10 minutes before we made our way to our muster station which helped immensely. When you arrive, they are giving instructions and calling out room numbers. At the same time they are lining you up with the first arrivals going against the ship wall and then having people line up in front of each other extending out to the railing. By arriving just a little late my wife and I were at the front of line so we were not smothered with people and once the drill was over we were one of the first to be able to leave. In total the process took about 30 minutes. I do know of one other couple who did not go and as of yet they have not been contacted about making up the drill.
My wife is always interested in getting oriented to the boat early so we found copies of the shipboard map located on Deck 7 at the reception area. On several cruises before these were handed to you as you entered the ship, but it wasn't a problem to seek them out. A large stack was located on the desk and they are compact to keep in your pocket. There are also large signs depicting the entire ship and where you at each of the elevator banks. You will find yourself more often than not trying to read the maps for the first few days in order to find your way around.
On Deck 4, 5, 6 there are only staterooms with the exception of Deck 6 which also houses the medical center.
The traditional sail way party was held on deck 11 as we pulled out of port at approximately 4:25 p.m. The Dover port and harbor were beautiful as we exited, especially being able to see the great white cliffs of Dover. (For those that didn't know there is a song about the white cliffs of Dover, we didn't either, but several people were singing it as we left).
While at the sail away party I went ahead and purchased the unlimited soda program. Basically they give you a large insulated tumbler that you can use throughout the cruise and then they mark your sail away card with a coca-cola sticker to designate you have purchased the program. You can use the tumbler all you want or not at all. The primary thing you have to do is show the bartender or server your card and they will give you a soft drink for free. My wife and I have packed extra large tumblers which hold about 64 ounces for the flight and drinking in our room and I was hopeful the bar staff would fill those, but as of yet I have found no one that would. All have said they would fill the tumbler NCL gives you or a regular plastic cup, but not an outside glass. The tumbler holds a little over a can of soda depending on the amount of ice we receive. One thing we have learned was at the end of the evening, you ask for them to fill it without any ice, bring it back to your room and then use your room ice and glasses to have several drinks that evening or in the morning. A warning to early morning soda drinkers such as me, you cannot get bar service until after 8 a.m. so if you like sodas instead of coffee early, plan ahead and get some cola the night before.
Also while at the bar we learned of the "bucket" promotion for beer. Basically it is buy 5 get one free, which is not a bad deal. A regular beer is $3.25 plus 15% gratuity and a bucket is $16.25 plus gratuity for a total cost for the bucket being $18.69. This is for all domestic, etc. My wife and I enjoy Michelob Ultra and were worried they wouldn't have it, but they did. Although as a side note, the Ultras are in 10 ounce cans and they count the same as a regular beer. We've found this to be the case elsewhere or the Ultra was counted as an import and charged more. We figured this was a better deal than an increased cost. Be careful though not to mix two different kinds and order six beers, they will not give you the discount. On another note, and something we had not seen before, is you must pay a deposit for your "bucket" which basically looks like a yellow football helmet and has a handle. The cost is $5.00 for the deposit and is refunded anytime. On previous Carnival cruises, we would accumulate several of the buckets in our room and the steward would just carry them out each day, but apparently that is not the custom on NCL.
There was an excellent BBQ going on at the forward pool that included ribs, sausages, hamburgers, etc. It was a little cramped considering the number of people that were trying to stay out of the wind on the upper decks but manageable. The food was excellent and easy to obtain.
Our first bag arrived at approximately 5:30 and we began to unpack some of our items. Our second arrived sometime between 6 p.m. and 9 p.m. as we had already left for dinner.
After the BBQ we then made our way to the internet café and signed up for the 250 minute package for $100.00 so my wife and I could stay in contact with our office. A word of warning that we found as we listened to some of the other's signing up, go ahead and have, if you don't already, a secondary e-mail account set up such as hotmail, yahoo mail, or google mail. Several of the guests were setting up accounts while they were in the café' and thus spending 5 to 10 minutes of their valuable time when this could have been done at home for free. Also NCL in conjunction with Digital Seas offers a program where you can have wireless service. I had brought my laptop for two purposes, number one to possibly use the wireless service but most importantly to download photographs each day from our digital camera to store and name. I've found if I don't do it daily by the end of a trip I've forgotten what picture was what. What I realized after talking to the internet manager was they are separate packages, thus if you purchased a wireless package it did not coincide with the traditional internet café package. After discussing this a little bit we decided to forgo the wireless package, since my wife or I wanted to check at our convenience. The manager did note the wireless service was available anywhere between the two bars located on Deck 9 all along the pools on Deck 10 and on Deck 12. Which means you could literally be pool side and check your e-mail or talk with the office if you do desire.
The internet café is also the location where you can place orders for newspapers to be delivered to your room. On some ships we had been on, occasionally there would be a news brief slid under you door or they would have some form of news at the reception desk. On the dream, you can order "Ocean News" which is basically an 11 x 17 size copy of the newspaper you order. The selections are fairly broad with USA Today, Daily Mirror (UK) Wall Street Journal, The Times (England), Miami Herald and many others representing a variety of countries available. You can order just one day or every day the paper is published and will be delivered to your stateroom. The one catch is the cost is $3.95 per paper. That not $3.95 to have the paper delivered for the length of your cruise but for each paper and for each day. Thus if you wanted the Monday through Friday of the USA Today delivered during the course of you cruise it would cost $39.50 (10 total days X $3.95 per issue). For some though it is worth it and I have seen a few copies floating around. If you have several in you group are interested in the same topic you may want to designate each day a different person to buy a paper and then pass it throughout your group. Just a suggestion.
I then made my way to the shore excursion desk to trade out and make alternative arrangements for our doubled booked tour. The shore excursion desk was very pleasant and helpful in making alternative selections. I would strongly suggest pre-booking tours since even our second choices were already filling up.
We had originally decided on the Four Seasons for dinner this evening and after cocktails on Deck 11 made our way down at approximately 7:30 p.m. We were told the wait for a party of 6 would be 30 to 40 minutes. Not knowing the exactly layout we though we might try our luck at another location and went to the Terraces restaurant on the other side of the ship and were seated immediately. The food selection is the same in both restaurants and we had a pleasant experience overall. Looking at the Le Bistro (the restaurant with a cover charge and food costs) as we passed through, it looked like it was about half full as it has been each night we have passed by there.
Dinner at the Terraces was good, with the typical food selection and the service was on par with what we expected. The staff seems to be fairly happy and upbeat. This is our first time with Freestyle cruising so I didn't know what to expect.
After which we took a few minutes to explore the ship and ended up at the Monte Carlo Casino. For opening night it appeared to be a very small crowd. About 10 people were playing table games (approximately 10 p.m.) and it thinned out even further by the time we left at 11 p.m. The tables were very nice to my wife and I that evening both on blackjack and roulette. Three are about 2 blackjack tables, one three card poker, Caribbean stud, roulette and crabs tables along with over 100 slot machines. I tried about 20 minutes of three card poker but wasn't doing so well so we decided to head in for the evening.
Monday June 7th, 2004 We slept in considering the jet lag of flying overnight and the long transit to get to the ship. Although the Freestyle daily indicated we would be transiting the Kiel Canal at approximately 1:30 we started to see land at approximately 12 noon. At that time the land was on the starboard side (right) and many of the people were concentrating on getting seats and deck chairs there. However, if you want the best view of the Kiel Canal and transiting the first dock, make you way to the port side about mid-ship and stake out a small area with regular deck chairs, not the long lounge chairs. About an hour after first seeing land on the starboard side you will start to enter the first canal. While I had of others talking about the reception going through the Canal, I was truly awestruck at what occurred over the next 12 hours. Upon first approaching the Canal we started to see a large number of people picnicking, riding bicycles, etc. along with families in strollers, etc. All there to see the Dream transit the Canal.
This was a truly great experience to see them waving American and German flags, pulling handkerchiefs from their pockets and waving to the passing ship. As we approached and tied up to the first dock a German Brass band which was assembled on the port began to play and filled the entire area. Several people had booked the "Merchants and Millionaires" tour and they were schedule to disembark from the ship while we went through the canal. While we heard they enjoyed the time, one thing we did learn was they were thoroughly exhausted at the end, especially considering they did not reboard the ship until after 10:30 p.m. that evening.
After transiting the Canal we were able watch as the forward mast was then lowered to make it under the series of bridges we would transit and then as everyone was watching, the Dream Stack (where the engine exhaust's were) was then "flipped" over on its side. A truly marvelous display of hydraulics. It was not apparent how necessary this was until about 20 minutes later when we approached the first of several bridges we would transit under. I am still amazed we didn't hit one of the bridges as it appeared we barely had 5 feet or less of clearance as we went under. By staying on the Port side mid-ship you got to take in the entire scene, see the brass band playing and get the best view possible of the stack flipping as it is flipped to the port side. While were disembarking the passengers at the canal the German brass band that was playing on shore made their way onto the ship and played throughout the afternoon.
Still throughout the day and well into the evening as we passed the shoreline there would be sometimes groups of one or two and sometimes groups of 50 to 100 German residents on the shoreline watching the ship come past. Apparently they come out for each transit and many carry flags waving them proudly. As the evening went along my wife and I marveled at how at 10:30 or 11 p.m. there would be these little specks of light with people holding out flashlights waving at the ship as it went past. Many times we would pass homes located on the canal and they would apparently be having parties with many friends on the decks watching. On a few occasions they would have bullhorns or the type of horns you would have in a small pleasure craft and blow those toward the ships and many times the captain would sound his horn in response. Of the six cruises we have taken this entire scenario probably gave me the greatest satisfaction of any trip to date. To think of the warm reception and heartfelt admirations the locals felt for this ship and its transit just overwhelmed me. This is compounded further by the fact, they received nothing to gain, there weren't peddling souvenirs, weren't a port town or asking for handouts. They were truly thrilled to us come through as we felt the same to see them.
In retrospect during dinner the staff commented that he had talked with some locals and they felt this was a way for them to say thank you for the sacrifices American's had made for their country and they wanted to show their appreciation. I originally though this might be related to the fact the 60th anniversary of D-Day was occurring during roughly the same time we are traveling, but he commented these were discussions he had with residents 2 years ago and had nothing to do with the celebration.
Another item to note was during the transit we returned back to the internet café to send a few more messages that we had arrived safely however we learned even though it was a satellite link we had lost the internet signal and it would off and on during the transit of the canal. The café manager noted this was unusual for any time at sea but to do the tight confines of the canal he should wait until we were through to make sure we had a stable connection. He also noted, and was correct, they would lose the connection prior to arriving in most ports and as we were leaving most ports.
That evening we decided we would try our hand at the Four Seasons again for dinner. Arriving around 7:15 we had a very large party of 30 and were advised they would seat as they could in groups ranging from 4 to 10. Our first group was seated at approximately 7:45 and our last at 8:20. While the menu was the same at the Terraces as always, my wife and others in our party felt the service wasn't the same we had become accustomed to that we had experienced the previous in the Terrace.
This may have been due to the large lines seen at the Four Seasons or the staff itself. This food itself was excellent. As always the same menu is prepared in the Four Seasons as is prepared in the Terraces.
Tuesday June 8, 2004 Our next morning was started with an arrival in Warnemunde Germany. With the ship docking at approximately 7 a.m. a number of passengers were disembarked to travel to Berlin for their tours. By looking over the deck the train cars which took them to Berlin were located an easy 2 to 3 minutes from the ship ports and they were off on their way by 7:30 a.m. We took an easy morning having breakfast in the sports bar which is a decent buffet, but nothing spectacular for breakfast and had signed up for the Hansatic Rostock, which took us to Rostock a town located next to Warnemunde. After traveling by tour bus for approximately 25 minutes we were able to disembark the coach and travel through Rostock going through the city square, seeing the university and various sights along the way. We eventually toured a beautiful church and then reboarded the coach to the Rostock brewery where we sampled local German beer and went a very quick tour of the brewery itself. On the coach ride back the tour guide gave us each a complimentary stein from Rostocker brewery. The entire tour lasted approximately 3 hours and was booked through NCL. We had noticed in a few publications the typical tip for your guide is $1 to $3 per person per half day tour. There was also a suggested tip for our bus driver, however, on every trip we had taken, we didn't even see the bus driver as we exited the coach and thus just tipped the guide.
Upon arrival back to the ship we did not go back through customs but instead decided to see some of the port itself. The heart of the city is located about 5 minutes from the port we were docked at, however we were warned the boat sometimes docks at locations further down the pier and the walk could be much longer. Before we left, however, we were perplexed at the bathroom facilities. Apparently it is the norm to charge for bathroom facilities in Warnemunde and the port and other local establishments were no exception. Our typical exchange rate was $1.00 for 2 bathroom trips. Thus each couple paid $1.00 for the bathroom.
After going through the city for approximately 1 ½ hours we decided it was time to return. Warnemunde is a quaint town with cobble stone roads and beautiful portside restaurants that cater to al fresco dining. For approximately 1 mile down the port there were restaurant and shops all open and very very busy. Obviously this was not totally a cruise ship town. We later learned this was a local tourist attraction for others in Germany due it being a commercial fishing port and its beautiful scenery. We didn't see any especially great shopping deals and returned back to the ship by approximately 2 p.m.
We later realized we wanted to eat at least once at the Trattorria, the Italian restaurant located on the ship. We inquired and were not able to make reservations but the clerk mentioned it was always slow there on port days. Due to the beautiful views in the restaurant located aft on the ship we waited until 7 p.m. for dinner thinking we would send off at 7:30 and have a beautiful view during dinner. We were seating instantly with a party of 10 and had no problems. At approximately 7:45 we realized we were still moored and later learned the Berlin trip was late coming back to the ship, which allowed us another pleasure. Unbeknownst to us, the QE2, Queen Elizabeth 2 was moored also in Warnemunde at the same time and exited the port at 8 p.m. It was a beautiful sight and many of the locals turned out to wish her on her way. At 8:15 the Berlin tours returned and at 8:30 we were leaving port. I would strongly suggest if you are not taking a long tour on this day to consider Trattorria for dinner as it was a superb view and beautiful as we sailed out of the harbor. While the Dream has a number of excellent views from its dining facilities these were by far the best for an evening sit down meal. Also if you are going to Berlin be prepared for delays as several commented they were very hungry upon their arrival back. They were however, able to buy food and drinks on the rail trip back to the ship.
During dinner we also learned a person from our group had gotten ill and had gone to the medical center for attention. The charge for a doctor's visit, during normal office hours was $50.00 and is charged at the time of service. They do not file any insurance forms but do provide you with a detailed receipt. He also gave her a slip indicating her illness which would excuse her from having a cancellation fee on her upcoming tour she had already bought.
Wednesday, June 9, 2004 We slept late this morning as it was a sea day and nothing much as far as scenery goes. One thing we have noticed some far throughout the tour is the late sunsets and early sunrises. There are typically only 6 to 8 hours between each which is unusual for us. With sunset being around 8 pm and sunrise being around 4 a.m. this leave very few "dark" hours and gives you great views during most any time.
We had lunch again on the 10th deck where the BBQ was going on, while some of our group opted for the Pizzeria located in the same location. By far the BBQ is the best place for lunch if you like such items. The Terraces and Four Seasons were offering sit down lunches with a fixed menu. Later that day we explored more of the ship and found out why some who had cabins adjacent to the Four Seasons would be upset. Apparently when the ship was stretched the four seasons was put between some rooms and thus you must walk through the restaurant to transverse the same deck. We haven't found this to be a problem as of yet, but if you were on that floor I could see some frustration.
In the afternoon we had the shore and shopping presentation by the cruise and port consultant John. He was covering, Stockholm, Helsinki and St. Petersburg all on the same day since we would be in port for the next four days straight. NCL had the traditional maps of each city and then stressed their "guaranteed" shops at each port. Interestingly and even John commented on the fact the shopping on Helsinki is not as great as Stockholm as there were only about 5 shops in that port. He did however stress the fact we would not be able to go ashore without an appropriate Visa in St. Petersburg. One thing we had not considered during our stay in St. Petersburg is we would be unable to do any shopping in port unless it was specifically called for on the trip. He suggested the ships shopping excursion would take in the same highlights as the city panoramic tour and we would also be able to disembark at 3 or 4 different shops along the way. While this is still more confining than shopping on our own it was our only option and we changed out our schedule to do such. One an additional note I had read several people had already booked Red October tours and were sent their Visas so they could exit the ship. John, the port consultant commented everyone's Visa had to be on the correct dates. Since our port schedule had been changed only 2 weeks ago due to one of the engines being out I was hopeful those who had booked offshore had been able to secure the correct Visas. We also learned about the charges for taking still photographs or video recordings in certain locations. Apparently in Russia most museums, churches and cathedrals charge for you to bring your camera or video camera in. The charges ranged from 4 to 8 dollars for still cameras from 5 to 12 dollars for video cameras. John was very clear that if you didn't purchase the package and were caught taking pictures they would take your camera from you and you wouldn't get it back.
Our group had a cocktail party in one our rooms this evening and the cabin steward was kind enough to bring pitchers of ice and extra cups. For such a small room it was an amazement we could fit 17 people in there and still carry on a conversation. After cocktails we went on the Rendezvous lounge on Deck 9 between the Terraces and Four Seasons lounge which is an excellent place to meet due to a piano player playing each night, two bars in close proximity and both major restaurants on both ends. The captain's cocktail reception was on this evening between 6:30 and 7:30 and many of us decided against attending, however, we were insightful enough to attempt to get dinner seating at 7:15 that evening. Apparently dinner between 6:45 and 8 p.m. is a very tough time for this ship as we had a wait of approximately 30 minutes for the Terraces (one group of 8 and one group of six) Lines seemed to be moving fairly quickly, but I heard others in the back get told it could be 45 minutes when they were checking in at 7:30 after attending the Captains Reception. After being seated we had excellent service and a wonderful surf and turf "Captain's Gala" dinner.
During dinner we learned from some of our group that had scheduled Moscow tours that those were being cancelled since due to our change in schedule there was a Russian holiday going on and the government did not want tourists traveling through the city. I know this had to be a disappointment as many people had planned on spending the $600.00 + to travel and fly to Moscow and see the Kremlin, KGB or Red Square. We were also informed St. Petersburg would be very congested since it was a holiday weekend and could expect long lines.
After exiting dinner my wife and I decided to try the casino again, but our luck apparently wasn't with us on this evening as we gave back some of our earlier winnings. It was a little more populated tonight and we were able to speak to several people who exited the show, "Rock This Town" they thought it a was nice stereotypical cruise ship show which had song and dance from the production company. About 10 p.m. my wife retired to bed and myself at 10:30.
On this evening as well as last we were greeted back to a well cleaned and prepared stateroom which included a wonderful surprise. Towel art. For those that have not cruised before and seen such things it is a wonderful surprise. You cabin steward takes the time to take one of your towels and then creates some form of art. Last night we had a swan on the bed upon our arrival, tonight it was some form of dog. We had first been introduced to this when cruising on Carnival one year ago and thought it was their trademark until we came in last night. After talking to the room steward he said they didn't do it every night but on occasion his supervisor would put a note in their office saying they would be making them that night. After complementing him on his doing this and how much it excited my wife, I am hopeful we will see one every night. If we do I can see the automatic gratuity being increased for his performance.
Each night we have had the opportunity to order room service, a sort of tradition when we cruise and when I got back to the room this night was no different. My wife was eating some of the cookies and had ordered myself a ham sandwich. I must admit the 24 hour room service menu, is very lacking compared to other ships. Basically a vegetable tray, small pizza, roast beef or ham sandwich, salad or cookies. Plus you can order party trays for an additional cost if you know in advance. Also, this is the one place you can order soft drinks 24 hours a day. However remember your soda card does not work with room service and you will be charged the $1.50 plus gratuity.
Thursday June 10, 2004 We arrive into Stockholm Sweden. The captain made particular reference that we should attempt to watch the ship coming into port or exiting port this afternoon. It is about a 4 hour transit back out the Baltic Sea and many beautiful Swedish homes our built onto the path to get in Stockholm.
This morning as my wife went to the exercise facility to work out; I was going to attempt the Four Seasons buffet for breakfast. At 8 a.m. the line was about 40 people deep, which appeared to be a trend for that restaurant. Going upstairs four decks to the Sports Bar there was a breakfast buffet with no waiting and plenty of empty seats. It was a good buffet but not the kind you would think of on a cruise ship. With applicable cereals a bagel and croissant bar and usually two hot bars including one premade omelet it certainly fit my needs.
Weather this morning is expected to be a high of 62 and low of 48 with a decent wind and possible intermittent rain. Interestingly the crew has commented we brought with us excellent weather conditions up until today. We have had a couple of rainstorms blow through but one was overnight and the other was from 7 to 9 p.m while most were having dinner. With highs in the low 70's up until now I hope we haven't been spoiled and today's weather will be a sign to come.
We exited the ship at 9:45 from deck 4 where all gangway departures are and immediately were able to walk off the pier and onto our tour bus. Since we were traveling with a large group that had made available tours similar to those available on NCL but a little cheaper and with the group we were with. Essentially we had a city highlight tour going by parliament and then on past City Hall where the Nobel Prize reception is held each year. We then went past the opera house where the Nobel Prize awards are given each year. The architecture of Stockholm is beautiful in nature and very appealing. There are two distinct parts of the city one being call Old Town and the other being the downtown. After going through both we were then dropped off at the Vasa Museum. The Vasa is a warship which actually never went to war. It was originally developed to be the largest warship of its time and during construction it was decided to add another row of guns which made the ship top heavy. On its maiden voyage only 200 feet out to see it sank. It had sat on the floor of the ocean until this century when it was reclaimed and a museum literally built around it. The Vasa was a beautiful stock and we thoroughly enjoyed it. Interestingly, the lighting and temperature are kept at the best conditions possible so not to degrade the ship and thus photography is very hard with flash cameras or video cameras that do not have low light equipment.
As the rain began to pick up many of us then elected to be picked dropped off at the Parliament house and traveled down some of the small streets which were filled with merchants. The changing of the guard occurs at approximately 1 p.m. at Parliament and we were told this was a great show to see but do the rain we wanted to start making our way back to the ship. Coming from Parliament house to the ship should take approximately 20 minutes and is a fairly easy walk. Cab fare is about $20 U.S. to take the same route. The shops are very small merchant shops and have a variety of items, including many women's fashions, shoes, jewelry and crystal, etc. One thing we did find common throughout the shopping and the cabs, is the acceptance of Visa and MasterCard. That being said we did not have to worry with exchanging money or having to deal with change given. We were sure to be back on the ship by 4 p.m. since we sit sail at 4:30 on this day. Upon arrival back we found we had not eaten lunch and decided we would try the Pizzeria located on Deck 11 near the pool. The pizzeria offers an all day buffet style menu with traditional green salads and other types such as mushroom salad and crab salad along with sandwich meats and breads. Cruising on Carnival last year I remember the Pizzeria being a selection of freshly baked pizza's that could even be made to ordered, however on the dream there was typically three different kinds of what I would call school lunch pizzas. All of which sit into long serving trays. They were fresh however the selection was not great. Since there it was raining outside all of the covered tables in the pizzeria were taken (six total) so my wife and I went down one floor and ate at a small table near Dazzles one of the bars which offers live entertainment each evening after 6 p.m. We found several people who were reading books throughout the area. Apparently this was a very quiet place on the ship and many had taken the opportunity to catch up on their reading.
After showering and getting ready for dinner we again tried Trattorria's the Italian cuisine as the dinner menu which is posted at the front of each restaurant didn't look as appealing for the Terraces and Four Seasons. Once again, with little wait; we were seated with a group of ten. While we had to split into a group of four and six the entire staff was more than willing to try and accommodate our group and we had a very pleasant dining experience. This was the first night we also sampled the pizza for dinner. After talking with the waiter for a short amount of time, none of us decided we wanted pizza for dinner, but would like to sample it. No problem was the only expression we heard and before our main course we were each served a slice of pizza fresh baked from the ovens. I must say this was 10 steps above the pizzeria and made to order.
After dinner we checked over the selections of photographs in the photo gallery and purchased 2 we like very much. The 8 x 10's were $19.95 apiece and the 5 x 7's were $9.95 apiece. However the Freestyle had been offering a package for the first few days of unlimited photographs for $150.00 if you have a large family or think you will take several pictures, especially with the formal nights, etc. This may be the best package for you.
After looking through photographs we decided to check out the "Baltic Store" on Deck 10. Up until last evening, this store had not been opened, and unlike traditional cruise ship boutiques this shop stocked nothing but items historically from our ports of call. From lacquered boxes to Russian Christmas ornaments and Russian Faberge eggs there was quite an assortment of unique Baltic gifts. Interestingly, they noted they change the stock every day and bring out different items. The store clerk also mentioned they would be having a Russian Bizarre prior to our arrival in St. Petersburg tomorrow night.
From the boutiques we went on to the 8:30 bingo session. Apparently there are not a lot of bingo players on the ship as they had to not play for cash prizes yesterday and only played a few rounds for "ship prizes, key chains and the like". Tonight they only had about 15 players but decided to go ahead. For $29.00 you can play three cards over four different rounds. For $39.00 you can play six cards (on a handheld bingo computer) over four different rounds, each for an undisclosed amount of cash. When you purchased the $29.00 or $39.00 package you also got six or 12 free cruise raffle tickets respectively. The free cruise raffle tickets are sold or offered throughout the cruise and on the last evening they will draw out a number to receive a trip for two. The dance staff which was attending the bingo stands stated they on the prior Baltic trips this year and last they was not a lot of bingo players during the first part of the trip but they grew larger during the second part of the week.
Tonight as we are traveling toward Helsinki, the fog cover has come over dramatically and you can barely see more than 20 feet out of the window. With that has come the occasional rocking of the ship. While we in no way have experienced much turbulence of yet, the amount we are receiving tonight is actually a gentle pronounced swaying. Tomorrow we dock in Helsinki supposedly at 8 a.m.
Friday June 11, 2004 We arrived a little late in Helsinki as the fog from the night before had held up our transit through the Swedish Archipelagos, but none the less disembarkation started almost immediately as we arrived. We had signed up for the NCL City Highlight Tour and joined in with several hundred others as we met in the Stardust Lounge where most tours originate. Since there were four of us, we had to make sure and present all four tickets at the same time, thus we were insured we would all be on the same bus. They do the same for parties of 8, 10, 14, etc. Which is a good thing since you know will be traveling together.
Our first stop after touring by coach for about an hour was the National Lutheran Cathedral, opposite the house of congress in a beautiful square. One item to note, if you are planning on touring the Cathedral there are about 50 very steep steps to transverse up and down to get in and we couldn't see an alternative for going up. We were also advised we should take the opportunity to utilize the bathroom facilities at the church should we desire. After touring the Cathedral and spending a few minutes in the square we were then off for another at the Olympic Stadium where the games were held in 1952. Then on to a sculpture of some sort made in honor of a past Finnish composer, why we stopped there I still have no idea, but it seemed like a heavily traveled tourist stop, and it may have been just that, a tourist stop. Our last stop of the day was as the Rock Church. This was located about 10 minutes outside of town and was a church blasted into the side of a huge rock formation. Inside was very pretty and the lines moved fairly quickly inside and out. Back to the bathrooms, they were available at the Rock Church but for $1.00 apiece. Obviously no charge for the church, but the bathrooms were pay as you go. My wife and I both have found this very interesting and didn't mind paying; it was just entirely different than what we had experienced before.
Upon returning to the ship our tour operator gave us the opportunity to be dropped off downtown and then catch a shuttle bus back or be delivered directly back to the ship. Three of us decided to bear the weather which by now had grown a little worse with a decent rain sprinkle and temperatures in the high 50's at around 1 p.m. Walking through downtown Helsinki it was not a typical tourist setting but a very bustling city with normal commerce going on. After not finding much in the way of "souvenirs" we made our way down to the harbor area where a giant outdoor market occurs every day, don't be fooled by the produce as you first enter the market, going further in, we found some different Finish origin items and a lot of typical tourist items. We then walked back up the 6 or so blocks and caught the shuttle running to the ship. The shuttle cost was $5.00 but we were told if we had caught it at the ship and bought a round trip pass it would only be $7.00 which is the way to go if you don't have an excursion planned. Be careful though, there are shuttles for several different lines occurring and make sure you are on the right boat. Our tour operator indicated there were approximately 300 ships that come in typically during the summer months and we knew of 5 that were in port that day. Also the ports are not typical of being one long line, there are 2 different ports and one of them make almost a huge U making it longer if you enter on the wrong side.
My intention had been to check on a Russian tour we had been on the waiting list for but after looking through the Freestyle today we realized the tour desk was only going to be open this a.m. for an hour, so it looks like our chances of picking up an extra tour for St. Petersburg may be impossible.
We then met on Deck 9 at the Rendezvous bar which seems to be our official meeting place. This is the same area where they will call your name for the Four Seasons restaurant if you have a wait and it is very convenient to the Terraces restaurant should you decide to eat there. We waited until about 7:15 to put our name on the list for a party of 12 and right around 8 p.m. we were called. I must admit I could tell smaller parties were getting seated quicker than previously. It appeared the wait time for a group of four was approximately 20 to 25 minutes.
While the menu was the same in the Terraces as the Four Seasons we decided on the Four Seasons again since we had sub par service the previous time and wanted to give it a chance again. Once again we were remarkably disappointed with the entire service of the evening. It took approximately 10 minutes for our waiter to even appear at our table and only once were we offered drink service. All the while, a few in our group who drank beer had several cans lining up on the table. They stayed there the entire night. By the time three of them who were drinking were finished with dessert they remarked there were 12 cans lined up on the table and no one had decided to touch them. I'm not for sure this was the wait staff's concern but you would think they would have attended the problem. Instead they were more insistent on scraping off any bread crumbs from the bread plates. I believe this will be our last trip the Four Seasons. I must offer however we have talked to others in our group that have commented they thought the Four Seasons was on average with the rest of the ship.
After dinner we thought we would check with the concierge office about the possibility of shore excursions since the shore excursion desk was closed. We were a little taken aback when we were told the shore excursion desk would not be open again until Sunday night for one hour. Obviously the last time they were open was Friday morning for one hour, this seemed like a very long stretch and considering the problems which could occur, the young lady very quickly told me, "they've been doing tours today and they have to do them tomorrow and Sunday, what do you expect?" My wife stared in disbelief and I honestly couldn't gather a reply. We retreated to our room, realizing NCL had been doing fairly well up until this point, but attitudes like that shouldn't be tolerated on a cruise ship.
We returned to our room to find our room steward had gone above and beyond. Since we were taking a transatlantic flight and my wife being very cold natured, we had packed a small fleece blanket I had bought at a golf course, Kelly Plantation a few years ago. We had gotten it out when she read a book in the room and had put it over in the corner. Tonight when we had gotten into the room we found our steward had taken the time to make a very pretty overlay with the blanket with the golf course logo and name on the outside. Little things like this make a difference and it will also make a difference when we leave a final extra tip.
We also found another notice to move our clocks forward tonight. This was the third time we had such a notice and as of tomorrow we would be nine hours ahead of Central Standard Time at home. Apparently on Monday we start moving our clocks back as we may our way back to London, but its always hard keeping up with the time difference at home.
Saturday June 12, 2004. We arrived in St. Petersburg right on time at 8 a.m. It's amazing how busy this port is. Obviously cruise ship traffic is important but this is a very busy merchant marine port. With over 100 cranes spread throughout the facilities and things such as steel, aluminum and other materials being unloaded everywhere; you can tell why St. Petersburg is an important city for Russian. The weather was much better than the previous two days with a high of around 60 and slightly overcast.
One of our priorities while in St. Petersburg was to see the Hermitage museum. While there were several packages available we decided to take the stand alone tour with a guide. After going to the Stardust lounge at 8:45 we were off the boat in approximately 10 minutes and waiting to go through Russian customs. I did notice as we were leaving the ship was selling clear vinyl ponchos for $2.00 apiece. I had already purchased 2 similar styles for my wife and me before we left, and they had come in extremely good use during Helsinki as the rain had become more increasing. There was an excellent Russian band playing inside the customs area and they serenaded the entire group for tips as we went through the customs area. Going through customs took about 10 minutes as there were approximately 5 lanes open. Generally there was no questions from the officials, they would look at your passport, make sure you had shore excursion ticket, stamp your passport and then give you a red visa card which had a lot of Russian writing on it, with the exception of one English statement that said it was a Cruise Ship Visitor Visa. The Freestyle had commented we needed to hang onto these as if they were lost it was a $50.00 fine.
Our tour guide commented today would be a very busy day as it was a Russian holiday. Independence Day and thus a lot of people would come into town and there would be special church services etc. So we were prepared for long times. After a 15 minute drive through the city we arrived at the front entrance of the Hermitage. During the drive she explained there was a charge for taking still pictures or using a video camera. If you were to use both it was $15.00 U.S. which she collected on the bus and had us sign a form with our cabin number on it. She told us she would keep the list and if anyone checked with us she would provide the documentation. While yes there were a large number of people as we entered it appeared to be manageable. Our guide took us on a three hour tour of the 4 of the 5 buildings which make up the Hermitage and it was excellent. Unbeknownst to us we entered one of the rooms and suddenly she described us being in the Gold Room. While I had previously thought this was an extra that must be purchased on another tour or through a larger package we were certainly there. I a few others immediately starting taking pictures and videos. We then enter the boudoir and did the same. It was only after we were leaving that room did we see a small sign on the side which stated no video and pictures. We joked we might have our cameras repossessed, but nothing came of it.
The Hermitage is truly a site to see with over 3 million pieces and beautiful architecture we were not disappointed. My wife and I are not big Church and Museum lovers but we both felt it was very much worth the trip. To see Rembrandt's, Van Gohs etc. was well worth the trip, but the lavish architecture made for excellent photographs.
As we went through the rooms we could see through the outside windows there would be a parade and some sort of reviewing stand had been set up in the square surrounding the Hermitage. Seeing all the young officers assembling reminded you of the cold war pictures you saw of soldier marching in the streets.
There were several little kiosks for souvenirs located throughout and occasionally someone would come up with a large stack of books in their hands selling guides to the Hermitage and books on St. Petersburg. Realizing we wanted a souvenir we purchased the two books which were $15.00 U.S. for both. As we opened the packaging we realized there were maps included of both.
As we concluded the Hermitage tour and started to walk outside there were a number of young Russian men selling different type of souvenirs right outside the doors. They had fake Russian military hats with a number of Russian military type badges attached to them.
After looking through some of the items we bought 2 of the hats (1 for $10.00 or 2 for $18.00) and a stamp book we had an impressive number (around 100) stamps from all through the times of Russian. Many were commemorative stamps and while we aren't for certain if they were real or not they were impressive in their design and photographs. The stamp book was $20.00 or you could have bought a smaller book for $15.00. If you are looking for something inexpensive to give out to your friends when you return I would strongly suggest one of the stamp books as none are stuck to the packages thus you could give them out as you please. I personally know wished I would have bought 2 and if we run across another street vendor as before I'm certain we will pick up another.
Upon returning to the ship we were dropped off directly in front of the ship and there was a souvenir shop which looked to be extremely busy. Knowing we had 2 more tours we decided to forgo the gift ship and head directly back onto the boat. Passing through customs again for was very simple and we were back on board within 5 minutes.
Something I had noticed when we first entered the boat in Dover and now at every port when we returned were hand sanitizing stations. They dispersed a waterless hand cleaner while it was not optional when we got on board in Dover they were now just on display should you wish to clean your hands before re-entering the boat. This is also triggered a thought about every meal we had eaten in the alternative restaurants such as the Pizzeria, Sports Bar, BBQ etc. When we were handed our tray there was also a small handy-wipe, the kind of wipe you could use one time to clean your hands. As you enter the sit down restaurants they are not given to you, but they available at the front door. It's obvious through these techniques and the advisories we had seen in the Freestyle there was a concentrated effort to minimize any type of Norwalk virus. I was impressed by the diligence of the crew and staff in this end. It had been over a year since the last large outbreak of any Norwalk virus on other ships, but it was obvious the Dream staff didn't want to start the next outbreak.
A quick lunch at the pizzeria and we were back off the ship again this time for the City Highlights tour. Originally we had been told by the shore excursion staff if we were going to take a city highlights tour but also wanted to do some shopping, to ahead and do the shopping tour instead since you would be hitting a majority of the same sights. Since we couldn't get into the "Russian through the eyes of people" excursion as it was sold it, we decided to go ahead and do the city highlights and were very pleased. We got a wonderful tour of the city and had several stops for photo opportunities and to browse in local markets. We were able to purchase a set of figurines made out of wood and hand painted, each one fitting into the other. Also they had a wood hollowed out container in the shape of a Santa that held five different wooden Christmas ornaments inside. We bought the figurines for $15.00 and the Santa for $18.00. At a second stop my wife bought an amber ring for $15.00. We also bought a set of 5 hand painted Christmas decorations which looked like miniature wooden eggs. Since I also try to bring back my employees something, this was a better memento. There were five wooden eggs in each box and for buying 5 boxes the price was $8.00 per box for a total of $40.00.
When then went onto the church of the spilled blood and were able to take some extraordinary pictures from the outside and browse the market. We were warned on our tickets and before we exited our bus for this location to be very careful of our possessions and to guard our papers (passports) and currency as it was known to have pickpockets. Since it was such small spaces and the vendors stretched up and down the street I can see where this might be a possibility. The easiest thing I found was to put my passport pouch, the type with a strong, around my neck and under my outer shirt. Out of prying eyes and still very accessible. We had no problems and made it back on the bus and back for our 20 minute ride back to the boat with no problem. We did stop in at the souvenir market right at the pier and looked over the items. They were basically a lot of the items we had seen in the markets in town, lacquer markets, amber jewelry, Faberge eggs, etc. The prices seemed to be a little bit higher than what we had found and the price was clearly stated. In the market however the merchants were very willing to discuss price. On several of the occasions we looked at the item, asked the price, said it was a little high and then got a price reduction. In every one of those instances they accepted U.S. currency and gave U.S. currency in return.
We arrived back on the boat and after a quick shower joined our friends for cocktails on Deck 9. Tonight however they had a trio playing guitars instead of the usual piano person that had been there all week. They were a good ensemble and had a copy of a cd they had produced for sale as they played. Once again, the line was backed up for the Four Seasons so we opted tonight for the Terraces. With a party of 9 we were seated within 5 minutes which I considered very good. Our service was good as before and we have a wonderful meal. The menu stated it was dinner 14. After asking the waiter about this he commented, they typically do 7 day cruises so when they are doing longer such as ours, they are just numbered to make it easier on the staff. The meal was on par with what we expected, although I was concerned at one point when the bar staff brought back our bucket and charged us the full price for six beers, when I pointed out we had been doing this for several days straight and everyone had given us the same price buy 5 get one free, he stated, "not in the dining room" needless to say that would be the last time we ordered from him. When we needed another refill I promptly walked out the door and went about 15 feet to the first bar and had them fill the bucket. Obviously the bartender knew what was going on and he actually commented about the fact most people who service the bar give the discount, but apparently our server didn't and was trying to sell extra in order to get a better tip.
After dinner, we came back to the stateroom for a few minutes, decided to try the casino and then headed back out. Karaoke was going starting to begin on Deck 10 at Lucky's Bar and we sat in there until the casino opened at 10 p.m. The karaoke was loosely attended by a majority of people who were in the late teens, but everyone seemed to be having a good time. They then began setting up a small buffet in the casino which consisted of chicken wings, fruits and vegetables and assorted cheeses. This was not really tempting us so we headed downstairs where we heard there was an additional buffet set up for those who had late excursions. On Deck 9 between the Terraces and coffee bar they had set up a full buffet which included steaks, pastry puffs, chicken and sandwiches. The staff indicated they usually set this up for those who had gone to Moscow as they arrived later in the evening. There was also a vast array of desserts on display and we decided to take a few back to our room for a late night snack and then off to bed. Tonight we are still in port in St. Petersburg.
Sunday June 13, 2004. The weather today is beautiful. Just a little cloudy with high in the mid 60's many in our group decided to wear shorts. Our tour guide yesterday indicated they only received 40 days a year of sun and this is obviously one of them. Traffic in the streets of St. Petersburg and especially around the Hermitage as we drove by seemed to be much larger and more congested. We don't know if this is because of the holiday weekend or a typical Sunday or due to the beautiful weather. This afternoon we elected to take NCL's shopping excursion which took us to three different shops. We met at the Stardust Lounge as most tours do and were immediately given our boarding passes for the buses. As they do for most tour days someone is there selling bottled water. $2.00 for a small bottle and $3.00 for a larger bottle to take ashore. The only location we had been warned about drinking the local water to date was in St. Petersburg. Since we had brought a large bottle water from on the trip from us, we had already refilled it at the restaurant this morning and thus were able to forgo the expense. The water on the ship appears to be very drinkable and we never had a hard time refilling the same bottle and taking in onshore for any of our excursions.
After being at the market's yesterday we were a little worried items might be more expensive for the same quality and although there were a number of similar items we had seen yesterday the shops were very nice and had additional items and higher quality than we had seen before. Each of the three shops we stopped at had a vast array of hand painted boxes, crystal, wooden dolls that stacked inside of themselves, etc. My wife and I bought a crystal decanter set and six small shot glasses which were all beautifully etched for $78.00 u.s. She also bought a number of the wooden dolls for presents and I found at each of the stores the same types of stamp books I had bought yesterday, except today they were a little cheaper. They also had a number of soviet military hats (replicas not the real productions) and other type of badges, pins, etc. A number of people in our group wanted to take home rubles and our tour guide assisted in helping to change some of their American money out. The exchange rate was roughly 30 rubles for $1.00 American. At the first shop we came to I had bought a few items which cost $39.00 and asked for my change in rubles for which the clerk gladly did. I received 3 $10.00 rubles in exchange. In our last stop we also found a large selection of Russian Vodkas. While they had those we had seen in the states, Stolichnaya comes to mind they did have several other people crafted bottles which Russian writing and we purchased six different ones to take home. The price varied between $5.00 and $7.00 for each of the bottles.
When we arrived back at the ship we were greeted with the same Russian Port band that had greeted us the day before. They were dressed in some form of Russian military attire and a number of people were having their picture taken with the band leader. While the show was free they gladly accepted tips as people who re-entering the boat. I did note as we came through customs there was a gentleman we had not seen on our two previous entries and he was checking bags. I was carrying four rather large plastic bags (the crystal set and 6 bottles of small vodka) and he pulled me aside and merely felt the outside of the bags and said "Vodka" and waved me through. As I looked back you could tell he was looking for individuals who had rather large items. Our guide had told us previously you could take just about any item you would purchase at the local shops with the exception of any items that were 19th century or early 20th century art works. While I wouldn't have recognized these if I had seen them, I got the impression they could be purchased at some of the stores. She also indicated while the ship had said not bring back Russian currency it would be acceptable if in small denominations such as under a 100 rubles as merely a souvenir.
As we entered the ship and showed our sign and sail cards, I realized they might take my vodka for the trip and return it on the final night as I had read in the past. Must to my amazement, there was nothing of the sort and I saw no one leaving anything. I don't know if it was this particular cruise or the fact the clientele was typically older but I had put all my plastic bags on the x-ray machine and they came out on the other end. Without saying a word to the security guard standing there I collected my bags and walked on to my room. While I must admit, my wife and I don't plan on drinking the vodka on the ship, much less at home (we bought them as gifts and to have on display at home) it was appealing to know we could get them ready for traveling home at our leisure, instead of worrying about them being delivered on the last night of our cruise and then scrambling to having them packaged correctly)
The entire shopping tour was a total of 3 hours and 15 minutes and while we had worried we would see the same things over again it was definitely worth the trip. I will note however the Panoramic tour we had taken yesterday actually did stop at several interesting stops most importantly the Church of the Spilled Blood and in retrospect we are glad we did both, although the port consultant said the shopping tour would see the same things, sometimes stopping for such places is worth the cost.
Tonight there is a cast a way party on the pool deck with a BBQ. Many of us have had our fill of dining room set down meals and will appreciate something a bit more festive. With almost 2 full days of sea in front of us we will be getting plenty of the interior of the ship.
We decided to take in the BBQ on Deck 11 and were so happy we did, it was a great sail-a-way party accompanied with a beautiful view of the port of St. Petersburg. As we sailed out approximately 30 minutes later we were able to take in the "Ship Graveyard" on the Starboard side. This was essentially a port where ships were taken to be sunk or repaired and was an amazing sight from the water. If you have the opportunity to take it in you should. We then decided to explore a little and found the Sports Bar on deck 12 was having a British Fish and Chips dinner, but more importantly they had French fries which were the first time we had found them on the ship. My wife always holds herself from eating them during any other time and apparently many others's relished the fact as they had run out around 9 p.m. We sat in one of the lounges and watched as the ship moved on. It was now about 11 p.m and still totally daylight with the sun just starting to show a weakness toward descending. During this time of the year we are told it would be daylight for approximately 20 hours out of the day. It is still staggering to think about the time differences at home and the amount of time it would be daylight. As the night drew on, it became quite cooler and while I was still wearing shorts, my wife had already retreated to the room for long pants and a sweatshirt. We noted a significant number of people had also retreated from the upper decks and were enjoying the calm winds instead on the lower decks, or making their way inside for a more controlled temperature.
After enjoying some of the BBQ I ran downstairs to pick up a copy of our bill I had requested earlier. Many people do not know you can request a copy of your bill at any time by going to the reception desk and merely asking them to print a copy for you. I typically like to do this during day 3 or 4 of a 7 day cruise but had waited until today (seven days in) for our cruise. I checked off the items I knew of and for the most part it was correct, however I realized also they had not debited our account for one of the shore excursions we had replaced. I talked to the young lady at the reception desk and while she was very friendly and acknowledged a mistake had been made she said I would need to get the shore excursion desk to make the correction when they open. Tomorrow they are scheduled to be open from 10 a.m. and noon and 5 to 7 p.m. She also commented if I still had my receipt from canceling and I indicated I had. She smiled and said it shouldn't be any problem. A lesson learned would be to make sure you keep up with the copies of each cancelled ticket and make sure you get the name of the person you spoke with.
My wife and I then went up to the Russian Bazaar that was being held in the boutiques. Surprisingly the prices were very much in line with what we had seen in St. Petersburg, with the exception the quality was not as great. If you are looking for items above $50.00 you should highly consider making your purchases during the shopping excursions. If not and you are looking for souvenirs or things to give away you can look at each location and feel comfortable the pricing will be the same. The one exception we found was with watercolors and prints of the local scenery. While we had been looking for some print of the Hermitage and Cathedral of Spilled Blood through the excursions, we found nothing that really stood out to us and the prices were always a little more than we wanted to pay for reproductions. However, on the ship they had a decent selection of such reproductions and very affordably priced from $4.00 to $10.00. I believe we are going to take one of the reproductions and photograph of us standing before the Cathedral and have them both framed and mounted for a keepsake of our trip.
We have now realized throughout the cruise you must consider, especially during the month of June, to pack a variety of clothing. We have gone from most extremes, to cold, to hot, to rain and to sun, not knowing what the next day will bring. I have been lucky in that sweatpants, a typical t-shirt and a golf style pullover have been the exact amount of layering of clothing I have needed for the trip. I would strongly suggest anyone cruising during this time prepare for any type of weather which may arise.
As we returned to our room we had another notice of turning back out clocks one hour as we know knew we would have to regain the three hours we had picked up throughout the cruise. Tonight we would turn back along with tomorrow night according to the Freestyle.
Also, tonight we had a notice of a "Stuff the bag promotion" where you could take a normal laundry bag (a large paper bag supplied throughout the trip) where you could put as many laundry items you wished to into the bag and they would be washed and pressed for $25.00 for one bag and $40.00 for two bags. The items could be left on Monday (the next day) or Tuesday and all items would be returned on Wednesday.
Going into this trip I had not packed enough clothing for the extent of our trip, including the after stay in London and have known in advance the Dream did not have washer or dryer facilities so I had been hoping for such an opportunity. We spent about 15 minutes determining exactly what items we would want washed and then proceed to stuff the bag; of course after 2 ripped bags I realized how to make sure we got our moneys worth. Not to worry, if you split more than 2 bags you can look down into your closet area where there are dry cleaning slips and additional bags which were identical to those which were left for us.
Monday June 13, 2004 Today we are at sea all day and when we woke this morning we realized there had been rough seas the night before. Our love seat had moved about a foot during the night away from the wall. Everything else seemed to be undisturbed however. When we looked out our starboard window you could see some very large swells the boat had to maneuver through. There was also a considerable amount of fog rolling over and made visibility less than 200 feet. As the day went on the fog was starting to lift somewhat. During the early morning areas due to the fog and intermittent rain they had closed off some of the upper decks as a safety precaution. Deck 7 was still available for walking and running, but I didn't see any attempting to take their life into their own hands. I decided to have lunch on Deck 12 today in the sport bar café. Each day there is a different variety of hot and cold items along with 5 to 10 different desserts. This was accompanied by the standard pastas and salad bar.
Since today is a sea day and many of the activities don't start until later it is a good time to describe our room and a general overview of the Dream itself.
While we had been on other cruise lines before our current was adequate in size and accommodated us well. When you first enter the door you have 2 closets on the left hand side. They have a hanging bar for clothes on hangers and 4 shelves under each. They each have their own door and accommodated a majority of our clothing. There is also a small safe bolted inside the closet for valuables. Our particular model is one that you enter a numeric code and it stores it throughout the cruise although some of the others in our group indicated they have a safe but they can use their key card to open and close it. Also above the closet, you have a small space which the life jackets are stored. We however also put some of our luggage up there and fit well since it could be compressed and out of the way. The bathroom is on the right and occasionally you have to decide which door you want open as the room door, bathroom door and closet doors all open into each other. On the opposite side of the closet area you have a hook to hang bathrobes, etc. which we have used to put to hats and a dirty close bag and above the hook you had the temperature thermostat. My wife is very cold natured and I am very hot, but she is usually agreeable to letting the room stay cold and we have had the thermostat on the coldest setting since we have arrived. Almost the entire time the temperature has been comfortable. My alarm clock with has a thermometer built in has said it had varied between 65 degree and 70 throughout the trip. Obviously this is not a Caribbean trip and the temperatures have not been that hot outside so I have no idea if the system could keep up should it become significantly hotter, but for our needs it has worked well. There is a small framed print on the forward wall and then there is a television console with has a small bar on the top and four drawers down the middle with two open shelves on each sides of the pull out drawers. The t.v. is a 13 inch model with remote control and on a swivel base. Ours had been hooked up to an extension cord and the base of the extension is left out to the back of the t.v. This was important to us as we needed to be able to charge batteries, cell phone, camcorder, etc. and it was a convenient location. Had that extension cord not been available we would have used one of the extension cords we always carry with us. The top of this furniture also holds the ice bucket and 2 drinking glasses and the obligatory bottle of water you can purchase for $3.00.
This starts the area of what looks like the sitting room, although the entire room is probably not more than 25 feet long, the sitting area is probably 6 feet wide and 10 feet deep. It has a retractable curtain that can enclose the entire area and makes for an excellent place to read a book if someone else is sleeping in the bed. It also has a small glass table, a sitting chair and love seat opposite each other. There are two lamps which operate off their own switches on the wall facing the outside and of course a large bay window. The bay window also has a ledge which is perfect for us to sit a number of books, magazines, etc. and to keep our folder of all the Freestyles, shore excursion info, etc.
The love seat is actually a fold out bed. You should keep in mind however, the bed is only big enough for one person as it total about 4 feet wide. I would suspect having three in this room would be very cramped as you would have to move the glass topped table between the love seat and bed in order to expand it. There is also a footstool that conveniently slides out of the way between the bed and love seat when not in use. The bed is a standard double, but is actually two twins pushed together and has been comfortable. You have additional storage space under the bed for luggage, shoes, dirty clothes etc. On each side of the bed is small night stand that has two open shelves under it. Also there are two separate lights attached to the wall above each of the nightstands and operate off their own switch. Located next to the bed and attached to the wall of the bathroom is a small desk with a ½ length mirror and 2 large fluorescent lights on each side. There is also chair and small writing area with one pull out drawer in the middle. The total desk size is very small and many people have resorted to using some of the larger tables in the common areas to write postcards, correspondence etc. There are also two separate sets of outlets on each side of the mirror. One appears to be European style 220 plugs and the other side are typical American 110 volt plugs. These are the only 2 real plugs for appliances and my wife typically uses that one for drying her hair, etc. I would strongly suggest if you are going to need additional electrical items or multiple hook ups to make sure you carried a small extension cord that had a grounded plug end.
After a small step up you enter the bathroom, which is cruise ship typical and very cramped for space but meets our needs. There are 3 glass plated shelves on one corner to hold toiletries, and the like and there is a towel rack directly about the commode which is always stocked with 2 large wash towels, 2 hand towels and 2 wash clothes. There is a large mirror on the wall with an overhead fluorescent light and a small outlet that is marked "razor only" in the upper right hand corner. Also attached the wall there is a small built in hair dryer. After past experiences we learned to pack our own and the Dream was no exception. Plus my wife likes being able to be out of the sometimes steam filled bathroom to do her hair and the table outside next to the bed fit quite nicely. There is a small hand soap dispenser mounted to the glass and a small complimentary kit on the right hand side which has a hair cap, lotion and a shoe polish cloth. The shower is probably the most cramped item in the bathroom and me being 6 foot 3 and 240 pounds can fit, but can't maneuver very much. There is a shower gel dispenser and shampoo dispenser inside the shower itself which is handy if you run out of items or don't wish to carry them. The shower curtain is the thin fabric type and you have to be careful to keep it inside the shower as the ledge separated the shower and bathroom is very small maybe 2 inches and it has a tendency to want to pop out. One of our group has already flooded their bathroom with that mistake. The bathrooms themselves do have a drain, but don't seem to drain as quickly as the shower drain. A small retractable clothes line is present in the shower if you need to hang up some wet items, but it doesn't appear to be too sturdy for heavier items. There is also a small trashcan in the corner and toilet tissue and a Kleenex dispenser. All in all the room is fairly well decorated and we have found to be quite comfortable. Considering the length of our cruise I had worried about not having a balcony or a larger room, but this has not been a problem. I have seen some inside staterooms as we have walked by and they appeared to be laid out the same with the exception of the sitting area. I would suspect this would make for some very cramped quarters but is manageable.
There are no irons on board and no wash facilities however there are dry cleaning services available. Also they will do wash and press services for things like socks, pants, t shirts etc. The prices are quite expensive, but worth it if you don't have any other recourse. For example, socks washed are $1.25 the same for underwear, etc. The price list for the laundry service and bags are located in the bottom of the closet and the cabin steward will take of picking up and dropping off any items you need cleaned.
The dream itself is over 10 years old and had been "stretched" about 5 years ago to make it larger and handle more passengers. While there are not nearly as many balcony rooms as others which are on the seas today a vast majority do have a porthole or oversized window to look out of. I originally had a few concerns about the age of the ship and after hearing some of the stories about one of the engines not working properly. However when we boarded it was a pleasant surprise. Everything was very clean and appeared to be well kept. Throughout the entire cruise we have seen numerous cleaning crews working in all areas of the ships. If you were looking very closely and were trying to find the age of the ship you obviously could with some general areas being worn, but most of the public areas including the restaurants, shore excursion desk, etc. All looked to be very up to date and contemporary. I have noticed a faint engine sensation whenever we are at sea, but you have to stand completely still in order to notice it. To me it actually helps me go to sleep although I know it might be concerning to others. With the high seas we are experiencing today you would normally be accustomed to some creaking as the boat was rocked around but we haven't heard it as of this point which is comforting to know. One thing which has annoyed my wife and me on other trips would be the constant announcements over the intercom system. Art sales, spa specials, bingo, etc. would be blasted out about every 30 minutes and many times the sound would show up in our stateroom over the intercom. This is not the case on the Dream. The captain has typically made a noon announcement each day we are at sea or when we arrive or depart at port. Also, occasionally the cruise director will come on and talk about an interesting thing we are passing or when some of general interest was available, but otherwise it's a very calm and relaxing environment. The other thing we have found excellent is the announcements are not made in the cabin itself, except for the captain's comments. While this might be concerning to some, we have actually enjoyed it quite well. You can hear any of the announcements on the television channel 53 I believe and typically you would know an announcement is being made as it would echo a little from the hallway, many times we would stick our head out the door to find out if its something that would interest us and if so listen in, if not, we could return to our business.
There are you typical additional sales most cruise ships have including the bingo, art auctions, "kract its" which are a form of instant bingo, etc. but the staff does not seem to be over bearing with their attempts for you to attend or to buy. I don't know if this is the way NCL is as a whole but it's very comforting as passenger on the Dream.
As the day wears on the seas get a little better and my wife and I decided to make a tour throughout the ship to see everything going on. Dance Lessons on Deck 9 seemed to be well attended and some people were browsing the art auction items. The casino seemed to have several players even though it was 2 in the afternoon. Today at 3 p.m. they will have a chocolate buffet. Much like those midnight buffets held on prior ships but oddly enough this is at 3 p.m. I would suspect it has to do with the number of older cruisers on this ship and has some of the staff has commented before, everyone goes to bed by 10 p.m. While this is not totally true, the ship does calm done significantly around 10 p.m. much more than any other one we have been on. Instead of trying to fight the lines at 3 p.m. we decided to drop in on the trivia show in the Stardust Lounge for a few minutes and watch a little and then at 3:30 make our way over to Sports Bar to take in the sights. While we had noticed on Deck 9 where there was a buffet set up the line was about 20 or 30 deep we were able to walk right up in Deck 12 at the Sports Bar and the buffet was exactly the same. This was not your typical chocolate buffet with the elaborate creations and designs, but was more an array of different foods and what appears to be some pre-prepared cheesecakes, chocolate cakes, etc. If you are expecting a grand and lavish affair, you will be let down. The food itself was good and we spent a few moment looking out the ships windows and taking in a basketball game on one of the TV's The sports bar has had a connection to ESPN and a few European sports network every time we have been there and it doesn't seem to be a problem to find any major sporting even that is being broadcast. They also usually have a t.v. tuned to CNN each day to catch up on the news. The views though are quite excellent.
We retreat back to our room and get cleaned up a little before meeting again on Deck 9 which is now our ordained 6 p.m. meeting place. Tonight we have several in our group that want to attend the Not so Newlywed game at 8:45 so we decided to take in dinner a little to make sure we're done in time. At 6:30 we proceed up to Trattorria on Deck 11 and are immediately seated with a request for tables of 8 and 7. They seat us as you go into the restaurant to the left and back and when we were going there it concerned me a little but once we were seated it was one of the best views we've ever had. The restaurant has a little finger off the side and to the back which has about 5 tables for six and four more tables for 2. All of the six tops are located directly next to large picture windows on the starboard side and offer an excellent view. If you have a large group of people say 20 or 30 and would love the closest thing you could get to a private dining room go up and see the Maitre De' and inquire about that are. It's a little isolated from the rest of the restaurant but is well worth if you want to get a large group together and possibly celebrate or just fellowship together. Also you need to check the menu each night as tonight was a formal optional night and on those evenings Trattorria serves the same meal that is offered in the Terraces and Four Seasons, which I don't believe many people know. It's a great way to get the same menu from the same kitchen but you have wonderful views and little waits.
The meal tonight was the "Presidents Dinner" and included favorites as prepared from the former White House Executive Chef. They each indicated the President or Statesperson the meal was named after and a brief description of the item and why it was named so. The menu itself was interesting reading. I did notice a couple opposite us ask for a copy of the menu and the waiter immediately brought them a take home copy.
We proceed onto the Stardust lounge to take watch the Not So Newlywed game and are very surprised when my wife and I are called up on stage. It was fun event and based on the answers it was surprising one or two of the couples had even known each other prior to the cruise much less been married for 10 or 20 years. After about 30 minutes of this my wife and I were declared winners (not bad with seven out of ten answers correct) and were presented a champagne bottle and NCL tote bag filled with souvenirs items such as coffee mugs, key chains, etc. We had a wonderful time and decided to skip the evening entertainment that night. We did talk to a few in our group later who stayed on for the production that night "Sea Legs at Sea" and they thoroughly enjoyed the show, so it might be worth a try.
Tonight we are still at sea and heading to Copenhagen. We once again order our traditional room service and enjoying reading our books while nibbling on pizzas and cookies. One thing we have not done to date but are considering for the morning is a room service breakfast order. When you first arrive on board you have a folder in your room with a few pieces of stationary, typical welcome aboard information, etc. and a number of room service order hang tags which you can put on your door up until 4 a.m. and have your order delivered to your room between 6:30 and 9:00 a.m. The choices are fairly good and you enjoy coffee in bed in the morning this is an excellent way to have it delivered without calling each morning. I have been told by some who like this service and have forgotten to hang out their tag, the delivery take a little longer as the pre-order have priority.
The menu is fairly simple and you can order as many as you like of each. Rather than answer a lot of questions over e-mail I figure it would be easier to list everything as the list is short.
Orange, Tomato or Grapefruit Juice
Chilled melon, fruit compote, sliced fresh fruit, or sliced banana
Plain or assorted yogurt
Raisin Bran, Corn Flakes, Special K or Wheaties cereal
Fresh Danish pastry, muffins and rolls, dry toast, or buttered toast
Orange marmalade, grape or apply jelly, or strawberry jam
Coffee, decaffeinated coffee, tea, hot chocolate, milk or low fat milk
As always a full breakfast buffet or sit down breakfast is available in all of the other restaurants.
As we turn in the seas have calmed down quite a bit and we are enjoying a quiet peaceful ride to Copenhagen.
Tuesday June 15, 2004. As we awake this morning the seas have obviously picked up over night and while there is no noticeable sway in the boat, you can see some of the white caps from the waves at sea. There is also considerable fog coming in which I'm sure is attributable to the high seas. As my wife sleeps in I begin organizing some of our items from the last several days and read over the disembarkation information left in our stateroom last night. We were given a set of lime green luggage tags and a very detailed information slip about disembarking on Friday. We are scheduled for a post hotel stay at the Thistle Marble Arch Hotel with transfer through NCL. In reading through the information I also found where you could have bought a transfer to London for approximately $75.00 one way.
It appears the first group to leave will be those who are on a NCL Air/Sea Package or have purchased a transfer and their flight leaves between 10:30 a.m. and 12:55 p.m. from Heathrow. This group is supposed to disembark at 5:45 a.m. following anyone going to Gatwick with flight between 11:20 a.m. and 12:45 p.m. The Gatwick group leaves at 6:15. From there it appears there are a number of organized groups and tours such as ours as they are a number listed.
As I walk through the ship it appears there is a fairly good rain coming down, and the inside of the ship is fairly busy. About 11:00 o'clock it is fairly hard to find a single place to sit down but after looking for a few minutes I'm on Deck 11 outside the casino in a small nook enjoying the time pass away. As the lunch hour starts to come about us it's obvious the common areas are not as much congested and it would be easier to find a seat. I'm sure the bad weather coupled with everyone ready for a fun day in Copenhagen has everyone stirring a little more than usual. We dock at approximately 1 o'clock ahead of our scheduled arrival of 2 p.m. As we were coming into the port the captain came on and was describing why we had slowed down from the 10 plus knots we had been going to the 3 knots we were now moving forward. Apparently the channel we were entering only allowed for about 7 or 8 of depth between us and bottom of the channel and thus we were stirring up mud underneath and we might experience some vibration from this. He also talked about the upcoming windmill site which is located in the ocean and is a site to see. Approximately 10% of Copenhagen's power is generated through windmills and there is a field of them situated in the ocean. Quite an interesting site.
Each day there are a variety of specials and different offers printed in an insert that goes with the Freestyle that is left in your room every night. For today there is a photo special that lets you essentially buy one get one free. This would have been very useful information had we know it earlier thus we could have held off on buying multiple photographs. If you see a few pictures which you think you will need multiple copies of the same size of different prints, make sure you wait until a special is offered.
After a quick lunch we decided to out and see some of the shops located adjacent to the port before our city tour of Copenhagen later this afternoon. There are about 20 shops located directly on the pier when you come off the ship, depending upon where you dock at. They are in one line and appear to cater not only to the cruise industry but the surrounding business area and apartments which are located very close by. A majority of the shops focus solely on clothing but there are a few jewelry stores intermingled and 2 souvenir shops for things like postcards, magnets, etc. The prices seem to be fair and in line. If you go past the row of shops a little further down and past a bridge you come upon a wonderful outside bistro and a great view of the port, walking a little further you see a local sailing harbor that is very picturesque along with a walking path that you can explore and take in some of the city sights.
As we were exiting the boat there were 2 people outside selling sightseeing tours of Copenhagen. They had a big fairly newer double decker bus and would take your credit card on the spot depending on the type of tour you wanted. If you wanted to try a tour on your own, this may be something to explore as it appeared there were several people signing up.
We spent about an hour prior to returning to the boat to get changed. The rain had subsided by the wind had picked up dramatically with gusts around 20 to 25 miles per hour which made it feel a bit colder than we had anticipated when the captain said earlier the temperature was 64. We are beginning to learn through experience the weather in the Baltic during the month of June is very very unpredictable. On each stop we have made our tour operators have said this to be the case and indicated it was more stable during the months of July and especially August. However, I will still take into account rain is possible at any stop. Neither of us carried a small collapsible umbrella and in retrospect we should have packed them. Also, our ponchos have come in very handy as we bought gifts or packages and then were to wrap them up or put them on and stowed the items under the poncho.
This afternoon we are scheduled for a tour with our group. As we go to the gangplank at 4:10 for our meeting at 4:15 the wind is extremely fierce, now to up to gusts in the 30 to 35 mph range. We continue to wait for the bus until approximately 5:25 then give up and go back to in. To give a little further explanation we are traveling with a bank tour group. A local bank my family does business with does a series of trips each year at about the same cost as you could buy on your own with a few additional added benefits. One of the things they had offered on this trip would be the ability to book some shore excursions through them at a reduced or fairly close to those at NCL, but with your own group, thus insuring you knew the others and an easier trip. Our group had two tours scheduled on this day, the first being a canal boat tour and then a city tour of Copenhagen. My wife and I didn't feel the need for the river tour but of course wanted to see Copenhagen and booked the tour with the group. After waiting 1 hour and 15 minutes and realizing there would be no bus arriving we returned back to our rooms, had a quick meal and then waited to take our transfers to Tivoli Gardens, which had also been booked prior with this group.
After the original group returned from their canal and Copenhagen tour we realized what the problem had been. The tour guide indicated it would be better to combine the two tours and would save 35 minutes off the trip, if they didn't return to the pier. This upset a few people on the canal trip as they had not booked the city tour and wanted to return to the ship. Apparently a dispute erupted between one of the members of our group and the guide and the guide won out. Needless to say my wife and I and another passenger were left without a tour of Copenhagen and at least four on the canal tour were left to go through a tour they didn't want to take. Normally I am very forgiving on a vacation and realize sometimes weather, travel, etc. must be taken into account, but this was a mistake on the behalf of the travel and we will certainly make sure it is properly documented properly with respected licensing agency of the company in California. The bank was using SST tours of California for this particular trip and it appears we have had nothing but a continuous string of problems and false statements throughout the entire pre-departure. SST was using Scan Travel Partners as a local agent in Copenhagen and obviously they denied any knowledge there was 2 separate tours. When they were shown the e-mail from SST which indicated the bus would meet passengers at the pier for the city of Copenhagen tour they stated that was out of the question and it would take entirely too long.
At 7:30 we met our respective bus for the transfer to Tivoli. The purchase price had been $25.00 for the bank's package and we though it was good deal since NCL was charging $29.00 for the exact same package. Transfer and admittance to Tivoli. Once we boarded the bus the driver apparently knew nothing about the admittance to Tivoli and balked at the idea of letting us all in his account. Thankfully a bank representative was on the trip with us and quickly stated she would pay everyone's admission (approximately $12.00 per person from what we were told) and take it up with the tour company when we returned. At this point she was obviously not happy with the tour company based on their prior acts and there was no doubt we would never see another package come through with this company again.
Once we arrived at Tivoli the winds had calmed down a slight bit but it was still fairly cool and constant. Tivoli for those who haven't researched Copenhagen before was the inspiration for Walt Disney to form his parks. They were known and still are for their lush gardens and beautifully kept grounds, also being known as the community of lights as it is told the grounds are the most beautiful at night. Since Tivoli is only 20 acres we had the occasion to walk the entire park during the three hours we were there and while there were a few very pretty gardens, it reminded us a lot of an amusement park which was previously located in Nashville, TN. Opryland USA. There were several shows which included song and dance. Included were the obligatory small gift shops, restaurants, and amusement park rides. I will warn you in advance, the amusement park ride all cost tickets and you must pay in Euros on in Denmark currency. Credit cards are only accepted in the restaurants. We strolled through the entire park within 2 hours and found a comfortable lounge to enjoy our last hour.
For those who think Tivoli is a must see in Copenhagen you may be disappointed, but if you would like a nice nighttime diversion with a fairly good amusement park, Tivoli would be a good place to see. It is obvious to see while Walt Disney may have gotten his inspiration from Tivoli, he improved upon it dramatically when he brought the idea to the United States. We did enjoy the trip and feel it was worth the money, but quite possibly not worth the hype we had heard in some of NCL's brochures or other reading material.
On our way home the driver was kind enough to show us a few sites of the city and to make a quick stop the "Little Mermaid" statue made so famous by Hans Christian Anderson. Ironically the Hans Christian "Little Mermaid" statute is only five minutes from our ship and an easy walk from the pier. Apparently when my wife and I had walked out through the shops and toward the local sailing marina earlier in the day we were less than 2 minutes from the statute Copenhagen is so well know for.
We returned to the ship hunger and feeling good about the day, not withstanding the performance of the tour company and the mishaps of the day and decided to take in the late night canapés at Lucky's lounge on Deck 10. A group of about 14 of us have a small secluded area and recounted the day's events. Around 11:30 the canapés were brought around and while eloquently presented, they certainly weren't enough to fill this crowd. We had read in the Freestyle where there were also soup and sandwiches available on Deck 12 and 2 of us proceeded upstairs to try and secure a few for the group. When we arrived the Maitre' indicated the restaurant was closed, but after looking at us for just a few seconds, he said he could maybe have the kitchen whip something up for us. When surprisingly we indicated we were actually try to get food for 14, he was taken aback for a moment and then asked for us to take a seat and he would see what he could.
About 5 minutes later out comes a kitchen steward carrying no less than 40 freshly prepared miniature sandwiches in all types and kinds all on a silver platter. The maitre de instructs the kitchen steward to take it downstairs to us and he promptly leads the way. Of course we are revered by our group after returning within 10 minutes with a tray prepared especially for us. More than once we discuss the fact that sometimes service is king in today's world. I think to myself I have a little extra tip I will make sure I leave with the Maitre' De and also will write a glowing note tomorrow and place in the comment box. Service such as his should not go unnoticed either monetarily or with his superiors. We would not have been disappointed to be told the restaurant had closed and had actually expected as much, but it's amazing what sometimes good people with good intentions can do. I am impressed.
This morning we are leaving Copenhagen early. Yesterday the captain announce due to the weather we would be leaving Copenhagen at 9 a.m. instead of the 10 a.m. scheduled and thus everyone must be back on board by 8:30 a.m. This is significant if you thought you could schedule a tour for that morning or have something in particular you wanted to see on this morning. Even without the change, we truly felt this part of the day in Copenhagen was wasted. It was helpful to be here overnight for those who wanted to take in Tivoli Gardens.
Wednesday, June 16, 2004. Today the wind is once again very strong and the captain announces during his noon announcement the winds are up to 50 knots with sea swells from 5 to 10 feet. Obviously with this information we would expect a rocky ride for the next 2 days but he states it won't be as bad as we think since it is a tailwind and will help us make good time and keep us in the right direction of the waves.
After a quick lunch we take in the trivia quiz in the Stardust lounge. If this is something you enjoy doing you will need to sign up to hopefully be drawn on Deck 7 near the reception area. They put slips in your room and have 2 different days where 4 people compete and the top 2 of each round go on to the finals on the last sea day.
This afternoon we decide to take in some time at the Observatory lounge which is an excellent location to be at the front of the boat as the seas go by. It's located on Deck 12 forward directly across from the Spa. This would also be a good meeting point for those who wished to get together with groups of friends. You will not find a lot of quiet book time in this location however it appears there is constantly some form of activity, from live music to buffets to dancing going on in the Observatory, but it is still a beautiful view.
While I usually take in a massage on most cruises I have yet to do so on this trip primarily because we decided to spend more of our discretionary money on excursions. From looking it over though it appears to be well equipped to handle most needs. There is a nail and hair area that offers traditional services among others. Each day they conduct some form of seminar in the morning or afternoon about your hair, skin, etc. in Dazzles lounge on Deck 10. We've walked by a few times when this was going on and it appeared there were well attended with approximately 20 to 30 people. As always it looks like they are also selling some type of service or special crème or therapy as part of the process.
Picking up one of their brochures at the front of spa has a concise listing of services and prices. In order to provide a few examples for those interested I've listed a highlight of some of those services.
Mandara's Hot Stone Heaven. Full body 80 minute massage $169.00
Earth, Wind and Sky, neck scalp and face massage 50 minutes $89.00
Seven Seas Massage. All encompassing 50 minutes $89.00
Seven Seas Massage, All encompassing 80 minutes $129.00
Hydralift facial, 55 minutes $104.00
Aromapure facial 55 minutes $89.00
Shampoo and blow from From $27.00
Mens haircut $27.00
Braid only without shampoo $22.00
Traditional Manicure $22.00
French Manicure $27.00
This is only a sampling of the items offered but should you give you a chance to gauge the prices and services. I have seen a notation at the shore excursion desk during our time in St. Petersburg there was a discount for massage services during our days in port. I don't know if they do this every day but I know that I had seen these on 2 separate days. Basically you have to make the appointment for the day you are in port and show a shore excursion ticket for the same ticket. The discount was $30.00 when I saw it and would guess it wouldn't vary on each trip. If you decide you want some of the services and don't mind coupled it with a shore excursion day this would be a great discount.
I do know they offered a package of massages during the first of the trip for a discounted amount and you could schedule over the course of your cruise, but I don't know the number, type or cost of these packages.
While talking about other services it would be good to mention the sports afloat program. There are essentially a number of sporting activities offered each day and if you get 20 punch credits for attending different events you receive an NCL sport afloat t-shirt. The activities vary from mile walks to sit and stretches, ping pong, yoga, stair climbing and pilates. If you are interested in the entire cruises schedule you can pick up a copy on Deck 7 at the reception area and it will outline each activity on every day. One thing to note about some of the Yoga classes is they are limited to 20 participants and there is a $5.00 fee for each course. All of the others are free of charge and limited in the number of participants.
You can also use the fitness center which is located on Deck 12 forward. My wife has used the fitness facility almost everyday and while it small it usually is not full. You enter through the spa reception on Deck 12 forward and then can go to the right which is the Cardio area or 2 the left which is the free weight area. They are separate rooms but located very close to each other. There are obviously changing rooms and bathroom close by. The cardio area has 4 treadmills a few stair climbers and a few stationary bicycles. There is a TV located in one corner and there is a picture windows covering one entire side. The Free weight side is essentially laid out the same except in reverse and has a variety of weightlifting machines. The facility of open 24 hours a day so you shouldn't have a problem fitting in your work out schedule if you so desire.
The shuffleboard is located on Deck 13 forward and is open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Ping Pong is on Deck 12 aft and open 24 hours a day. There is a golf cage on board that allows you to practice your swing and they will occasionally have chipping or driving contest based upon hitting a pre determined target. The golf cage is open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. and is on Deck 12 aft.
Basketball is also located on Deck 13 forward and is open on sea days from noon to 2 p.m. and port days from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. There are basketballs available to check out from the spa center reception area.
Since we don't have children and aren't traveling with any I can't comment very much on the teen's program. However we have walked by the Kids Corner on Deck 11 where a majority of the activities are held and have seen some activities going on. By the looks of the people we have been around it looks like there was approximately 20 to 30 people below the age of 20 with only a handful of families with children or babies. A majority of those here during this cruise are over the age of 50. The Kids Corner brochure does list however a number of activities going on through every day, with a heavy concentration on sea days. On those days we are in port it looks like the activities are limited.
On the back of the program though it does note an interesting program which is the "Teen Passport Club" which is a non-alcoholic beverage program for guests between the ages of 13-17. The price is $30.00 plus tax and gratuity and each passport contains 20 coupons, each coupon being good for 1 non-alcoholic beverage at any of the ships restaurants and bars. The passport are not replaceable if lost and are available from the bar staff anytime throughout the voyage. I have not run across anyone having of these coupons but they seem like an excellent deal if you haven't invested in the soda program or possibly have a family and would like to split up the coupons.
We have seen through the cruise several of the teenagers enjoying the hot tubs (there are 2 hot tubs on Deck 11 near the ice cream stand and they are open from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. as have many of the other guests on board. I'm sure considering the weather they are a welcome departure. The dream also boats a swim up bar on Deck 11 mid ship, but during this entire time it has not been open and to be quite honest I don't think it would be very well utilized on this trip. I am sure on Caribbean and warmer weather trips this would be an excellent place to enjoy sea days and others.
For those who are not interested in the above listed programs there are always movies being shown, with the Stardust lounge hosting a late night movie most evenings and a constant selection being played in the rooms. Also the following stations are usually available, CNN, ESPN Domestic and International. This is accompanied by three separate movie channels and a variety of internal ship stations which include the port talk replays, bridge cam and NCL activities. The movie stations have a wide variety and play 24 hours a day.
As we are sitting in the observatory I notice another program we had not realized until just today which is the bar hopping card. You can get one of these cards at any of the listed bars and then have it stamped when you visit each one. After you made the circuit you receive an NCL Bar Hopper t-shirt. Had we know early on I believe it would have been a fairly simple task just from making sure we had seen all of the boat if not for any other reason. Make sure you pick up a card and early and you could get a free souvenir out of the deal.
Tonight is the Captain's farewell dinner, although I am a little surprised since we still have a full sea day tomorrow, but that's what the schedule shows. In looking back over the last 2 weeks I will give the Dream credit, the menus have been varied and consistently the food well prepared. I do think though overall they rate about on the same par as Carnival and a little under Holland American from my past experience. Regarding the service I am still not one hundred convinced about freestyle cruising. Had the Dream been built for this type of service it may make more sense and made me more of a believer. I also have always enjoyed the relationship you make with your serving team when you have assigned seating. By the second of third day it's almost like they can read your mind and genuinely want to help you. I don't know if this is because they know they are getting your tips directly and not being pooled or if it's just a matter of seeing the same people, but I can tell a difference. Obviously we have no been impressed with the service or wait times at the Four Seasons but on the opposite have been impressed at Trattorria and the Terraces each time we ate there.
I like to think of myself open minded enough to think I would consider freestyle and in actuality would consider the Dream again. We have had a great experience, but this trip was more about the ports of call than the ship itself. With that in mind I would strongly consider the Dream if the ports were what I was looking for. If I were merely wanting a vacation and the ports were not as critical, I don't think I would consider the Dream unless there was a significant price difference.
Tonight we enjoy the Captains Farewell Dinner in Trattoria which has become our favorite restaurant. We are seated at the tables closest to the windows and have the most amazing view throughout our dinner. This is truly a special place and deserves a chance if you have a special occasion. Tonight we are seated within five minutes with a party of 24 at a variety of tables from four to eight. On this evening as it has been on several others, the same menu is offered in Trattorria as in the Four Seasons and Terraces. So it's a matter of the best service and views and to us it's Trattorria.
We have an exceptional meal capped off by Baked Alaska as a dessert and enjoy the entire experience. When then retreat off to the Stardust lounge and take in the show which is Fame and very well represented. I must admit, the productions on this ship are very well done from what we've seen and heard and are worth attending.
Tonight the ship is starting to feel some of the shock waves from the gusts of winds we saw and heard earlier today. The captain had mentioned at his noontime address we would enjoy a tail wind for most of the day, but by around midnight it's obvious we starting to feel some of the waves as we are moving further along our course. Tonight as we return to our room we receive another freestyle and another notice to move our clocks back one hour. We have now set our clocks forward three hours and moved them backward three hours since our arrival. Once again we have another piece of towel art on display when get back to the room.
Thursday June 17, 2004.
We awake this morning and the seas a little bit calmer but the wind has picked up again so walking on any of the decks is not encouraged. The BBQ held poolside once again is cancelled during lunch due to the high winds, but everyone seems to be taking it in stride. This cruise is more about the ports than anything else. We take in the finals of the morning trivia contest and also take a walk past the food and beverage workshop. Throughout Deck 9 they have all of the food and beverage departments set up showing off a variety of different foods along with hands on displays such as how to fold napkins, carve vegetables, make towel animals, set formal place settings. The workshop is very well attended and considering the size of the ship, moving around all of the tables and exhibits is very cumbersome. Obviously Deck 9 is not somewhere you wanted to just mingle or relax with a book while this is going on.
As the winds have picked up so has the movement of the ship. For the first time I noticed small white bags hanging at each of the elevator banks. I had not seen them there during any other part of our cruise and after talking to a crew member I realized there were motion sickness bags. While I hadn't seen any one affected by it I knew it was something that had been contemplated by the staff and put out as a precaution.
This afternoon they are having the final art auction and while I have never attended one on any cruise we been on from what I can tell they have the best attendance I've ever seen. I don't know if their attendance is increased due to the clientele or the weather, but it's obvious the art auctioneers are enjoying the increased bidders.
Our Freestyle for today gives some interesting tidbits about the Dream itself all of which can be found in various locations, but for the sake of this review I thought I would reprint it verbatim.
"The Norwegian Dreams keel was laid on June 3, 1991 in St. Nazaire, France. It took two years to design and seventeen months to build at a cost of $240 million dollars. Worldwide superstar Diana Ross christened the brand new M/S Dreamward on December 6, 1992 as the ship set sail on her maiden voyage to the Western Caribbean.
The Dreamward was renamed the M/S Norwegian Dream in May, 1998 after a two month project to "stretch" the ship in Bremerhaven, Germany. The ship was lengthened 133 feet at a cost of $69 million dollars.
Here are some interesting facts about the Norwegian Dream:
Gross Tonnage: 50,764 Length: 230 meters/754 feet Width: 28 meters/93.5 feet Height: 50 meters/164 feet Draft: 6.8 meters/22 feet Average Speed: 19 knots Maximum Speed: 21 knots
Anchors: 2 forward weighing 8.7 tons each and one aft weighing 4.3 tons.
The Norwegian Dream's fuel consumption is an average of 1,100 gallons per hour. Our fuel capacity is 1,150 tons or 475,561 gallons.
During the stretching project, two major enhancements were made. Both the ships funnel and radar mast are now hydraulically equipped. A large portion of the mast can be lowered and the top third of the funnel can be "flipped" allowing us to pass under bridges such as those in the Kiel Canal"
Each day the Freestyle provides some sort of sidebar about different topics, such as the port we are visiting or why the sea water is blue. All interesting reading.
This afternoon we are spending our timing packing and getting things in order. Due to the items we have bought we had to purchased a tote bag in the gift shop (a medium size duffel bag for $15.00) I usually pack an extra one just in case, but for some reason did not this time around. Also since we had brought large mesh bags to put our dirty clothes into each day, it's a much easier task to get everything arranged.
Our bags are due outside at 11 a.m. but at 5 p.m. we are the first to set them outside on our hallway. We decide to have one more night at Trattorria, by far our most favorite restaurant throughout the cruise. Oddly enough some of our group decided they will try Terraces, which is usually not a problem to get into, however they are told at 7:30 there is a 45 minute wait and they immediately join us upstairs. There is no wait in Trattorria and we notice a few open seats even throughout the dinner. Tonight we are tired and make an early retreat back to the room.
As always the bed is turned down, the curtain is drawn, new towels are delivered. Our room steward has done an excellent job with twice a day service and make sure everything was just right.
As we order our traditional final night room service the steward advises us room service for dinner food will not be available past midnight, however they would serve anyone who had ordered breakfast and put out their request before 4 a.m.
Friday June 18, 2004 We are awake around 6:30 and are already in port in Dover. Disembarkation began a short time ago and they are calling different colored tags about every 15 minutes. We take in a quick breakfast on Deck 12 at the sports café and return to our room. There were several people who decided to wait in the public rooms but we especially like the idea of waiting in our room since we are on Deck, the disembarkation deck and very close to the middle of the ship. We were scheduled to be called at 8:15 a.m. and at 8:40 our lime green tags were called. Exiting the ship was fairly simple and we proceeded down the gang plank and entered the Dover Port. There was a porter captain who was stopping people along the way and holding them until the congestion in each started to clear. We were lucky to be at the front of the line, but we waited about 15 minutes until he started letting more people go out. As each couple or individual would leave from the gate they would assign a porter and the porter would go with you to handle your bags. Oddly enough we never had to pass through customs when we entered the port, which seemed rather strange but we certainly didn't disagree. After retrieving our bags we made our way to the line of coaches and NCL representative directed us to one of the Thistle Marble Arch buses. Apparently there were a large number of those going as they had approximately 8 buses slated to make the trip. We gave the porter a few dollars even though we had seen the no tipping sign earlier and were loaded. Each bus carried about 30 passengers even though their capacity was more like 40 to 45 but they couldn't transport that amount of luggage.
We arrived at the Thistle Marble Arch approximately 3 hours later and found the lobby and hotel to be a chaos. We proceeded from downstairs to up a very long escalator where an NCL representative was standing and directed up to the opposite side of the lobby, near the pub. We were given a small packet of information which included tour information and they kindly "requested" we make sure we book any of the tours through them. We were instructed to go into the pub to receive our room keys. No one seemed to know the entire process, but after entering the pub, there were 2 individuals who were scrambling to find a series of keys that had been set on the bar.
After one of the employees could not locate our keys he told us they were making our new keys and they would be up momentarily, of course he said this without checking with anyone else and we could tell by the number of people sitting in the lobby we weren't the only ones that had been informed of the same. We waited after 2 or 3 groups of keys were brought up and approximately 30 minutes later I finally found the lady bringing the keys, gave her our name and after a few minutes of searching located our keys. We then had to proceed to the ballroom to claim our luggage. We were told if we didn't claim, the hotel would deliver it to our room and they would check the luggage tags from NCL to determine the room. (We later learned this added an extra 3 to 6 hours to the delivery from those who do so).
We immediately found our way up to our room on the third floor and were pleasantly surprised y the accommodations. The room was very spacious, although there were twin beds, and very well appointed with a mini refrigerator, writing table, large bathroom and towel heater. While the hotel is not very discerning from the outside the rooms are quite large. Of course our perception may have been slightly skewed since we had just spent almost 2 weeks in a room almost the size of our current hotel bathroom.
We did make one mistake in prior planning. During the course of getting ready for the tour I had not contemplated our day and ½ stay in London and had planned nothing in regard to our travels. We scrambled in the afternoon to set up a tour for the next day and were successful in seeing Westminster Abbey and the changing of the guard. If I had thought far enough in advance I would have probably tried to secure theatre tickets for the Saturday night we were there, but considering it was a Saturday night, the five choices we checked into were sold out.
Sunday June 20th 2004 We are battling our way back home and once again have to transit through Canadian airport, however this time we have to go through three different shuttles just to get our terminal. We have a four layover in Canada and it gives us a little bit of time to reflect on our past 2 weeks.
In retrospect I believe I would sail on Norwegian Cruise Line dependant upon the destination and particularly the ship. The Dream was a good experience, but much of that experience had to do with the ports of call. Obviously stretching the ship has caused some congestion, but none which cannot be overcome, especially if you are expectations are that of someone who is going more for the itinerary rather than the ship itself. The staff was very friendly and usually had a kind word to say, with the exception of our experiences in the Four Season. And of course the ports were all excellent. We had been blessed with wonderful weather very early in the trip and that may have spoiled us to think of things to come, but even with the adverse weather we were still very content and happy about our travels.
Should you have any specific questions or need further information about the Dream or ports of call, please feel free to e-mail at email@example.com