August 3, 2010
Baltic Capitals from Dover
About us. 57/62 year old semi-retired professionals. Our 36th cruises, 12th on NCL and 4th on the Sun. This was our second cruise to the Baltic, the first being on the NCL Dream in 2004. Not terribly fussy, pretty laid back. We were travelling with 10 friends, some of my review may reference their critique of events we missed.
Embarkation - Port of Dover
The buffet was well laid out and only the beverage area was weird. The ice dispenser was in the center rather than at the beginning near the glassware. The omelet and waffle stations were in a separate location - Pacific Heights which is on the opposite side of the elevators from the buffet. Pacific Heights is a much less crowded area for breakfast but the only serve the above items, along with coffee, tea and o.j. If you want other items for breakfast you can walk over to the buffet and return with them. It is necessary to wear a shirt and shoes in the buffet. An outside buffet area serves nearly identical fare, plus hot dogs and hamburgers. Its seating area was on the stern - a very pleasant spot where you could dine in your bathing suit. You do need to pass through the indoor buffet to get there, but you didn't need to be fully dressed if you were just passing through. There is a complimentary ice cream bar off the pool area which was open most of the time. The ice cream bar, Sprinkles, has soft ice cream in vanilla and chocolate and scoop ice cream in vanilla, chocolate and strawberry as well as a sherbet which varies each day. They only serve cones, so if you want a dish of ice cream grab a cup from the nearby drink station and they will put it in that.
Several specialty restaurants were available such as a tapas bar, sushi bar, Japanese, Italian, and French restaurant and a steak house. All but the tapas bar and Pacific Heights required an additional fee. Pacific Heights is a lighter fare/health conscious restaurant and no additional cost applies. The "pay" restaurants require reservations and the cost is from $15-$30. There was no 50% reduction for early dining on this sailing. On the two final sea days there were specialty lunches. An Indian cuisine and a jazz brunch. Both were $15 and well worth it.
The spa offers the usual spa treatments along with acupuncture and tooth whitening.
I thought the music was lacking on this cruise. There was a pianist who played nightly in one of the lounges. In the Observation Lounge there was a rotation of a DJ, a Latin singing group and the Sun Orchestra for dancing at various times. The main band played a wide variety of musical styles but most of it was geared to a much younger crowd than us so we didn't hang around long for them. On previous cruises there was usually a couple who did nice mellow music for dancing or easy conversation and there was no such couple on this cruise.
The pool area has two pools divided by a raised area of four Jacuzzis. The pool water is salt water. Walking decks are the promenade, with 3-1/2 laps per mile and festive murals all the way around; and the sports deck, which has a padded walking surface but requires something like 12 laps to the mile. The promenade deck is the boat deck so it is covered walking while the sports deck is sunny.
Our cabin was 9311, an interior due to budget limitations on this sailing, plus the itinerary did not make it seem as though a balcony would be money well spent. The white nights also bother my husband a bit, so a nice dark inside cabin was perfect for those 10 PM sunsets and 5 AM sunrises. Our cabin was next to an A/C Room which meant we had no neighbors on one side and it was very quiet.
The usual game shows, bingo and poolside activities were offered. The ship also has a mesh enclosed basketball court, ping-pong area, and golf driving range and shuffleboard.
In the library the usual board games were available for checkout, and bridge gatherings were held. Friends of Bill and Friends of Dorothy had regurlarly posted meetings. A Veterans meeting was scheduled this time which my husband always enjoys.
Aside from the jazz brunch we did not eat in any of the specialty restaurants that required additional costs. We enjoyed tapas in Las Ramblas, and the menu changed each night. Pacific Heights has the same menu each night and does require reservations even though it is free. An Indian meal was offered for lunch on one of the sea days for $15. One of our friends went and said it was very good.
Wine service was handled by the waiters and went smoothly. There was no wine program available unless you are a Latitudes member; then you could buy five and get one free.
Thankfully, there was no nightly entertainment by dancing waiters, and the dress code was enforced. The Sun now allows nice jeans in the dining room but I saw a few people turned away for shorts and no ball caps were visible either. Buffet food was the usual fare, of good quality and available from about 6 am to midnight. Food was also available at times in the casino. Room service is available 24 hours and is free but you should tip the waiter.
Although this ship is due for dry dock in January, it does not look as though it's been years since refurbishment. With very few exceptions the ship is in excellent shape.
Disembarking NCL has an express system whereby if you carry all your luggage off yourself, you can be in the first group off the ship. Quite a few people seemed to opt for this. We were off the ship by 6:05 a.m. Unlike the US, there is no immigration or customs at the pier - just walk off and you're done. Those guests with luggage were assigned a color by their flight times. You could wait in your cabin until your color was called, although they did ask that you vacate your cabin by 9:00 a.m.
This and That
Security was very good. They seem to have gotten absolutely rabid about liquor smuggling as well as irons, so attempt it at your own risk.
You can request an iron and ironing board from the reception desk. You are allowed to keep it 3 hours.
Announcements were kept to a minimum.
There was no captain's party for everyone. Just a Latitude's party which was at 1 pm on a sea day. There was a separate captain's party for silver, gold and platinum members. There were only 12 people in attendance so we had a senior officer per person! It was held in Las Ramblas and billed as wine and cheese but you could order whatever beverage you liked.
Drinks were of good quality and volume but the prices are that of a high end hotel/restaurant.
Passengers were a middle aged crowd with quite a few younger folks. There were 900 children on board, according to one of the officers, but it did not seem as though there were that many since they were pretty well behaved. I did notice that the TechStyles room (near the internet cafe) had a sign on it for families with children 2 and under. There was an assortment of toys for younger children in a nice indoor play area. It was hard to judge the ethnic mix of the cruisers but I'd say 50% of the cruisers were anglo. There were quite a few Spaniards and Romanians Announcements were made in English, German, Spanish and French. During the muster drill another language was used but I cannot remember what it was.
It is no longer necessary to bring your life vest to the muster drill.
Movies on the TV were available in multiple languages. Several entertainment and cultural programs were done in Spanish as well as English.
Money exchange is available but the rates are not good, so you are better off even at the airport! A local ATM is actually your bet bet. We found that Euros and US dollars worked everywhere.
As for Internet access, the ship has about 10 stations available.. Per-minute use was 75 cents and packages were available including wireless. Phone service is available from your cabin for $7.95/minute.
The jewelry shop onboard is a Columbian Emeralds shop.
There is no longer creamer on the tables in the dining rooms - it is milk. If you want cream, ask for it and they will bring you a pile of single serving creamer. This is a pet peeve of mine since I use a lot of cream and it looks so tacky, not to mention they were difficult to open.
You can buy a future cruise certificate which is a good deal if you plan to cruise in the next 4 years. You pay $250 for a certificate which will act as your deposit for the entire cabin (unless you are in suites or above)when you book a cruise within 4 years. As an incentive you are given an immediate $100 OBC.
Ports of Call
To return to the ship you need to transfer to a line not shown on the internet map - the blue line. The main lines of the Hoho's drop you at the area near the mermaid statue (who is currently vacationing in China) and then the blue bus takes you back to the ship. The blue bus is not marked and does not look like the standard hoho, which picked you up at the pier so you will need to ask various bus drivers if they are the blue line driver. Two of our group did a segway tour and had a blast. They highly recommend it. You can find them on the internet.
The weather was very warm, the news said it was the highest temps in 1,000 years, and since none of the buildings are air conditioned it got pretty warm. But even on our previous trip I would remind people about the a/c and advise you to leave your heavier clothes on the bus. The palaces and Hermitage get very warm with all those people in them. You are not allowed to bring back packs or water into the palaces or museums. You can take photos but in the Hermitage you cannot use a flash. Local merchants would take USDs except in gift shops in the churches. Our guide had rubles she would swap for our purchases there.
Next year NCL is doing this sailing out of Copenhagen rather than Dover and maybe it will allow more time in Stockholm.
We had arranged for First Choice Minibus to pick us up at LHR, take us to the Holiday Inn Express Victoria. On Tuesday he transferred us to the port via Canterbury then fetched us at disembarking at whisked us off to LHR. Very curteous and much cheaper than the NCL transfers. Not the cheapest way to travel, by far, but with a group it made it quite affordable. With 12 people all transportation came to $94/per person.
Overall: I would gladly recommend this cruise and ship to anyone.