Since NCL is discontinuing this itinerary after this year this review will be of little use but maybe passengers on the Marco Polo (in one of NCL's sister companies) will benefit.
This was our 19th cruise, our 4th on NCL and second on the Dream.
Pre-trip information. Transfer from Gatwick to the hotel was well done and took about 1 hour and 15 minutes. The Marble Arch Hotel was a bit of a disappointment. They had given away our room (even though it was prepaid) and did not have another available. The NCL rep. on hand took care of it and we were in a room within the hour, however we were weary from travel and realy wanted to crash. The Big Brown hop-on/hop-off bus was a good deal and about all we were up to considering jet lag. We caught it about 3 blocks from the hotel and the cost was 56 pounds for 2 of us. It included a boat ride on the Thames if you cared to do that. There was a live commentator on board, some better than others but all quite good. We did and it was very pleasant.
Transfer to Dover. Fairly well done although the departure time was 9:00 NOT the 11:30 that was printed on the ticket so one couple we met missed the bus because they followed the directions! To NCLs credit they told them to take a cab and they were reimbursed. The buses were comfortable touring vehicles with a restroom on board. Trip took about an hour and a half.
Embarkation Kinda crazy since the Latitudes area was much further down the regular line which caused people to think they had missed it, stop, scratch their heads, and create a log jam. It was also necessary to make each person a photocopy of their passport for Russia and the two lines (regular and Latitudes) did not merge in any sensible kind of way so Latitude people had to just break in somewhere. You can imagine how well that went. Also some people did not know what they were in line for so passports were not ready when they got to the head. Again, kinda crazy but not a really big deal.
The Passengers This is not a young bunch. We are in our early 50s and were the youngsters of the group. There was a failry international mix, a large number of Italians and Chinese. Both Vantage and Grand Circle had groups onboard as well as one other tour company I was not familiar with. Because of the age of the passengers many things did not move as quickly as on other cruises, but I'll gladly swap that for the manners of my parents' generation.
The ship This was our second time aboard the Dream, having sailed her out of New Orleans in February, so we were prepared for her peculiar deck plan. Because of the stretching some floors connect in odd ways. ie - it is necessary to pass through the Four Seasons dining room to get from one end of the ship to the other on deck 9 or through the theater on deck 10, which can't be done during performances or rehersals. But many of the older ships we've sailed have the same peculiarities too. My biggest complaint is probably the layout in the Sports Bar, which is really not a bar at all (although there is a bar in the corner) it's actually the buffet. It is crowded and although it is divided into two serving areas, one is often times not open and the young lady giving out trays often didn't know if the other end was open, meaning you'd go down there to find it closed and return to get in the back of the line, which moved quite slowly. Parts of the ship are showing their age but none that I found to be offensive. It is small as ships nowadays go but comfortable. Our cabin was a category D and quite spacious. We peeked in on other cabins and spoke with people in "belly of the whale" rooms who said the same and were quite pleased with their accomodations.
The staff International with a large number of eastern Europeans and Philipinos. Courteous and efficient with the exception of the internet manager who was unbelievable rude to numerous passengers and the spa manager who is just an embarrassment to NCL.
The food Good but nothing to rave about.
The ports of call Traversing the Keil Canal was a real treat. We spent the day in the Observation Louge (get there early for a good seat) and delighted at the people along the way who had come out to watch our passage. Many were waving American flags which was touching. As we were under a bridge about 10 pm it was lined with flag wavers who also had sparklers. What a wonderful sight! Wandermunde Germany is a nice little town (with a nude beach) where we took the train to Rostock for about $3. There we took the tram to the downtown area and walked about and had a grand time. Estonia was such a surprise. Like stepping back in time. Beautifully preserved. We took only 2 excursions which were the ones in Russia as it is not recommended that you do otherwise, although we met 3 couples who had booked online with a group to do a custom tour, which was about $30 less (full day) and allowed them to move through the palaces and museums more quickly. They also got shopping stops only when they wanted them! Anyway, St. Petersburg was very crowded and one did feel a big bovine as we made our way through the day. The tours were very rushed, because there was much to see in little time and because lunch stops inevitably took much longer than anticipated and the guides stopped frequently for shopping!! Really, how many matruska dolls can you buy? We did finally revolt and refused to get off the bus at one stop. One of our trips was advertised as a 9 hour but was only 8, which it turned out was always the plan, hmmm. The guides spoke pretty good English and were very knowledgeable. The sites are magnificent and I would love to return again to take them in a bit more. We spoke to people who made the side trips to Moscow who enjoyed the trip although the plane ride is pretty hair raising. The 2 planes that crashed recently happened the day after we left so I do not know what plans for future excursions to Moscow may be. Helsinki was the cleanest place I've ever been. The flowers were beautiful. We had gotten a guide book with a walking tour outlined for each of the cities we'd be visiting so we did a walking tour on our own and had a delightful time. We discovered the Scandanavian hop-on buses and learned that if you will receive a 10% discount in the next county if you show your receipt from a previous day. It was about $25 per person which varied a little from country to country but not much. Some countries took credit cards, others did not. Some have only one route, some countries have several routes (defined by colors) so make sure you know what you're buying and which bus route you're getting on. Not complicated, just pay attention, even though you are on vacation. Most have multi-lingual headphones for a running tour guide. Irregardless of the country they never worked very well but when they did it was minimal information. Stockholm Much the same comments as above, but there is an outdoor museum that is really great. Several acres of life typified in different parts of the country with employees in costume of the day who are very knowledgable and who speak perfect English. We watched some wonderful demonstrations of glass blowing, wood working and old time printing. Very nice place. Admission $7.50, they take credit cards. Get a seat early in the Observation Lounge for sailaway, it's a beautiful view. Copenhagen A great view sailing in on the longest bridge in the world. It connects Sweden and Denmark. Also lots of windmills (the modern kind) to see. 20% of their electricity is generated by wind. This is a faily compact town. We arrived at 7 pm and bought a $29 transfer on board to Tivoli which included admission. I was a bit disappointed after all the hype on board but it was a very pleasant evening. We saw 2 great shows, listened to some wonderful big band music and a strings quartet. Beautiful flowers, lots of fountains. By daylight, everyone was aghast at the bicycles - they're everywhere! Again the hop/on bus was a good deal since all aboard was 11:00 a.m Headed home Leaving Denmark made for rough waters that night so lots of folks were sick but we fared well and kind of enjoyed the bouncing seas - but we're peculiar that way.
Disembakation Handled as well as I've ever seen. From our tag color being called to pulling away from the pier in our nice tour bus was about 25 minutes. We had a chatty driver who told us nice things abuot Dover and the countryside along the way
I am sorry NCL is not doing this itinerary again for I would surely do it again. Maybe they'll bring it back in a few years.