June 12, 2007
Lets begin with a review of the ship, then the ports. First of all we chose to cab it from the airport in Copenhagen to pier one, where the Star was. Princess charges 40.00 pp or $120.00 for the three of us. The cab was about $55.00. So do the math. Easy choice.
The embarkation process was pretty easy really. We got to the ship by around 1300 and were in our cabin by 1325 at the latest. Our luggage arrived in a timely manner as well.
I must say my previous experience with Princess was on the gorgeous Sapphire Princess and the Tahatian. Both, especially the latter usually get higher marks. The Star is a very nice ship but it is a notch below the Sapphire and Tahatian to be sure, both in terms of service and food. Not to say its bad. It's not! But the other two are better.
The ship overall is very clean and well appointed. I give high marks for hygiene. Hand sanitizers are everywhere along with employees to dispense before you go into any restaurant. In many cases there are employees in the buffet area to actually dispense the food for you. Bravo!
The lounges and public areas are neat and clean. We in particular liked the Skywalker lounge on the 17th deck aft. There was a great view of the wake and at night, being in the land of the midnight sun you could almost see day ending and night beginning. Also it was never crowded when we were there so you had that view pratically all to yourself.
The service was very good though I must say the Tahitian was better. I had one encounter with an unbelievably rude person from the casino staff and reported her. Princess assured me the matter would be addressed and I believe them. They take this sort of issue very seriously.
Our cabin attendant Jirasak from Thailand was a sheer delight. He always smiled and our cabin was spotless. Overall the service was very good, not great.
The food was very good too. I must say yet again I was spoiled by the Tahatian last year, but that does not demean the Star in any way. Also I must give top praise to the Star for meeting our group's special requests. There were 5 in our group and three of them requested Indian food every night. The chef far exceeded our expectations. The food was expertly prepared and plentiful. In addition the Maitre'D Franco made sure to facilitate this request. However unlike the Sapphire there were no Anytime Dining restaurants. You could go to the Horizon for buffet. We did use Sabatinis once, and for those of you who are familiar with it, it's a treat to be sure; easily worth the $20.00 pp surcharge.
The shows overall were very good as well. There was some fellow, Mac Frampton, who played piano so well I could not believe it. Also they timed the shows very well. That is after the show finished, other shows were scheduled to begin in the lounges, so it was pretty easy to go from one to another.
We were invited to the Capt. Circle party and found out Princess is building a new ship, the Ruby, and it's a sister ship of the new Emerald. In addition, they purchased another ship from the defunct Renaissance line, ala the Tahatian, and are in the process of refitting her for service.
Disembarkation was a breeze, but for a good reason. we were the second group off the boat at 0530 (right on time as promised). We had an 0825 flight and I was a bit concerened about getting a cab that early, but there was one right there at the pier and we got to the airport with plenty of time to spare.
As for the ports, our first stop was Stockholm. Except for St. Petersburg we did the town on our own, so to speak. Prior to leaving we determined what we wanted to see in each port. In Stockholm it was the Vasa Museum, Gamla Stan and the famous ice bar. Well two out of three ain't bad, at least according to Meat Loaf. That is the ice bar, which is a bar set at around 30F and has glasses made of, what else but ice. It did not open till 1500. Too late for us.
We did go see the Vasa which is a ship built to be the pride of the Swedish Navy that sunk minutes into its maiden voyage in the harbor and stayed there until it was lifted up in the 1960's. Overall it was under water for 333 years! It capsized due to a poor design. It was top-heavy with too little ballast in the keel. It took about 2 years to actually raise her and though she is now on display it is not yet finished. They plan to repaint her to the original colors once research is completed to discover the paint scheme. The Vasa is truly a wonder to see not for its seaworthiness, but for its splendour and for the amazing engineering it took to lift her off the sea bottom, and the still in process restoration.
From the Vasa we strolled to a water ferry nearby and went to Gamla Stan, the old town. This is what I luv about Europe, i.e. old towns with winding cobblestone roads full of shops, sidewalk cafes and people. We meandered about and found an Indian fabric store. The saleslady was Indian and my wife and our Indian friends had a delightful time chatting with her. We also bought some souvenirs, had the best apple strudel in my life with good, rich European style coffee to accompany it. We then decided it was time to return to the ship. Cabs were easy to get, and they all take credit cards. In Stockholm English is readily spoken.
The next day we were in Helsinki. Unfortunately our time was limited due to the weather. It was quite chilly and rained all day. We did manage to see the church carved from granite, did some shopping at Stockmanns, the largest dept. store in Europe (prices are very high but it's just that way everywhere in Europe) and did some limited shopping at the market in Town Square. We did get some fruit, but the weather got the best of us so we headed back. Dollars are not accepted in the market so if you want to shop there you will have to exchange for Euros.
The next day was the highlight stop, St Petersburg, Russia. Oh my God! What a place! We decided to book the grand tour, two full days, with Princess. Day one began early, at 0715. Well there was a Russian band on the pier and they began playing, of all things New York, New York. Kinda weird but that's what makes traveling so interesting. Later that day we were in a park. There was a band there too and when they saw us getting off the bus you won't believe what they played. It was "Anchors Aweigh," the US Navy song. Go figure.
St. Petersburg is simply amazing. we saw in those two days spledour beyond belief. Our stops included Peterhoff palace, the Yusupov Palace, St. Isaacs Cathedral, the Church of the spilled blood, which was built around the spot where Czar Alexander was murdered, the unbelievable Hermitage Art Museum, a canal ride and the Peter and Paul Cathedral when Russian royality including the murdered last czar Nicholas II and his family, also murdered, are interred. It's a very moving place to say the least.
One thing you see in Russia and throughout the Baltic are nesting dolls. You know, those wooden carved dolls, usually of a girl in her native costume that has several others, about 6 in all just like it, inside but smaller of course. Well in St. Petes there were nesting dolls of Derek Jeter, Donovan McNabb and Rex Grossman just to name a few. Need I say more?
For the two days we had a superb tour guide, Anna, who was a virtual encyclopedia of Russian and St. Petes history. Amazing amount of knowledge to be sure.
Lunch was included each day. Day one was at the Academy, a Russian place, and day two was at the Radisson. The food was good but in both cases we felt the service was rushed. Also people there seem sort of serious, if not grim. Not too many smiles, but the sights are to be seen to be believed.
The next day we went to Tallinn. It was was a Sunday and we were in port from 0700 to 1300, so we had to be back by 1230. My criticism here is that this arrival is too early, especially for a Sunday. It was a bit rainy too, but not cold. If you get off here be aware that just beyond the gated area are cabs. They are not allowed in any further so you are set up to take the shuttle into town. The shuttle is $5.00 one way. That's $25.00 for 5. Cabbing it back was $10.00 for 5. Again, do the math. We found some local shops selling sweaters and linen goods and found them to be reasonably priced. Tallinn is a neat old town with lots of shops and restaurants. It's just a shame the time in port was inappropriate to seeing it all. 0900-1500 would be much better.
The next day we visited Gdansk. What a city! Amzingly beautiful, clean and green. We met a great cab driver, Stanley, who greeted us as soon as we got off the ship. For $200.00 we had him for the whole day. He not only took us places, but also got out with us and escorted our tour. We saw the resort town of Sopot, which is gorgeous and has the longest pier in Europe which seems to extend way out into the sea. Along the way are vendors, food stands and street performers. We stopped at a rather famous church, the Oliva, and saw the show. That is, at 1100 every day the huge organ comes to life and the ornately carved angels all around it become animated to the music. Amazing show. We had lunch and strolled in the old town, saw Lech Walesas' home and offices and saw the Solidarity Monuments which are truely moving. Gdansk was a surprise and a delight. It is very beautiful and by contrast to Russia the people seem to enjoy life more.
Our last stop was Oslo. This too is a beautuful city but the ship gets in at 0700 and we have to be back onboard by 1330. I don't think there is enough time to see this great city. There is a hop-on, hop-off bus right at the pier as well as a souvenir shop, so it's conveniently laid out and you can exchange money there as well. We did see the famous Viking Museum with three ships discovered and dated to circa 800AD. We did want to see the famous Vigeland sclupture park but found out too late that it's about a mile walk from the bus stop in the park to the actual sculptures, so we ran out of time for this. All in all Oslo is really neat, but I think you need timings of say 0900-1800 to better see it.
Any questions please ask. Thank for reading.