12 NIGHT- Baltic Cruise Excursions
My excursions for the 12N Baltic adventure cruise, ports; Copenhagen, Stockholm, Helsinki,St. Petersburg, Tallinn and Gothenburg. My objectives are simple: try and visit as many interesting places/things as possible; try to do some unusual activities; stay thrifty; use public transportation; and lastly avoid the overpriced ship excursions.
Copenhagen: the ship docked at Langelinie pier. This is a very easy town to navigate on your own. I had arranged a “segway” excursion (http://segwaytourscph.com/). The segway office is located in an archway under the wall on Langelinie pier very close to where the ship moors. This excursion was simply MARVELOUS. There were four brave souls for this memorable experience, and the tour guide went overboard to please everyone. We got to see so much more of the city while saving our feet, and the segways are pure fun to ride and maneuver. We were provided helmets with a small speaker whereby the tour guide kept us posted as we segwayed through the city. We even got to see the changing of the guard and stopped for a drink in a park to boot. Once we finished our tour which lasted three hours, we went back on the ship for a very quick bite before heading out again. Still wanting to see our “Our Savior’s Church” but not enough time to do the “Blue” hull Netto boat canal tours, we took the city bus #26 directly at the pier and got off at Kongens Nytorv; then took the metro to Christianshaven Metro Station (using the same ticket which is good for unlimited travel for 1hr). The Church is very nice and has an amazing huge wooden organ that is a must see. The church visit cannot be complete unless you trek up the 400 + step spiral steeple (built in reverse clockwise direction) of the Baroque for an amazing (the highest observation point) city view. What more can be said – a terrific and fun day.
Stockholm: docked at STADSGÅRDEN. A beautiful and lovely city – getting off the ship, we bought the combo HOHO boat ticket (make sure you ask for the combo ticket which includes Vasa museum entrance fee + unlimited boat ride) and rode the HOHO boat to Gamla Stan (The Old Town). We walked away from old town and rode up the Katarinahissen (elevated observation) which gives you the highest vantage over the city. This was followed by a leisurely walk through Gamla Stan winding up at the Royal Palace in time to watch a very unusual and crowd friendly changing of the guard (perhaps the best I have seen – it is done with horses and a band on horses). Grabbed a quick snack from a vendor at the pier area and got back on the HOHO boat at the palace station; got off at “Vasa”. Words cannot describe this realistic and beautiful display (very unusual and interesting museum built around the Vasa ship). I wanted more time to ride the HOHO but needed to be back on board the ship. Another fun-filled day with little cost – be aware that Stockholm is expensive.
Helsinki: docked at Hernesaari pier (West Harbor). This pier is off the beaten path and not much around. We took the 14B bus (buy an all day ticket – price 6.80euro pp) to the Rock Church (stop: “kauppakorkeakoulut”). This contemporary modern, funky and unique Church is built in a Rock is a major tourist attraction. After seeing the Rock Church, we walked over and took the 3T tram (using the same ticket) to the Train Station (The train station is a medieval gothic building designed by a famous American-connected architect whose name I cannot recall). After walking around, we then took the 3T tram again, this time to Market Square. At Market Square there are numerous places to visit and there is an open air market where we grabbed some lunch (reindeer meatballs and moose sausage). Using the same ticket I caught the ferry to Suomenlinna Island. The boats from Helsinki Market Square usually leave every 20 min and the journey time to the island is 15 minutes. Following our island tour, we made our way back to the ship, this time taking Bus #16 at Market Square. We had limited port time but still got to see almost the entire city while spending very few Euros.
St Petersburg: There is a lot of talk about having to do ship excursions due to Russian visa requirements; that is NOT TRUE – through cruise critic, I had communicated with several other couples (16 total people) and we booked a two day tour with SBP Tours. SBP takes care of everything, and you are emailed a letter that you present at immigration. We got to see so much more than many others, and there is just too much to write about. Overall I will give very high marks to SBP Tours; they performed as promised and exceeded my expectations. Our small group was very well treated and we went to some out of the way places. The highlight was getting to go inside the “Church of Spilled Blood” which was magnificent (I have been to many churches to include the Vatican and St Mark’s in Venice, but this place topped them all). If you are planning a stop in St. Pete, make sure you get to see the inside of the church! (many other excursion groups got to only see the church from the outside.) Another special touch by SBP Tours, was a 45 minute canal tour/ride at the end of the first day – our group just cruised/toured the canals drinking Russian Vodka just like the locals and got to watch a few wedding gatherings. A great two day stop – perhaps one museum too many but what the heck!
Tallinn: There is only one pier, and it is a 15 minute walk from the pier to Old Town with many sights to be taken in along the way. Old Town is the place to discover with many interesting nooks and restaurants and it is very walk-able. For this port my wife and I had planned to do something totally different than sight-seeing and went to “Nõmme Adventure Park”. If you are athletic and want to try something challenging and a whole lot of fun, then I highly recommend you go for it. The park is about a 20 minute taxi ride from Old Town; inside the park there is a course called “rope challenge” with five levels that you climb, swing, zip, balance, ‘Tarzan’ from tree to tree and finish with a zipline, some into a net, at the end of each level. Everything is at your own pace without a guide (just instructions in the beginning & checking up on you after level 3), but you harness yourself to a cable throughout. The course is challenging and each level is more difficult than the one before. My wife and I were the only people in the park from the ship and we had a BLAST. Even the athletic staff on board the ship had not known about this place. Following the course, we went back to Old Town but once again simply ran out of time.
Gothenburg: The one port that you have no choice but to use the ship shuttle to get into town. Ships dock at a container pier which is about 20 minutes by car/shuttle from town.Initially I was very apprehensive about this port as I not able to get a lot of information and I thought it would be a waste of time. I WAS DEAD WRONG! This is a lovely and lively city, I took the Padden canal tour which is excellent; lasts about an hr and takes you around most of the canals in town and into the bay. You will pass under numerous bridges and at one bridge, you will actually have to get down on the bottom of the boat in order to go under without injury. There is an extensive tram system in town that I regretfully did not investigate. I did walk and visit the ‘Fish Church’. Do not waste your money on the “Stinsen Train” which is a make-shift tram that takes you on a very short ride around the town square. Be advised that bathrooms are hard to find and will cost you to use. This is a very nice city to do on your own but getting information is difficult and not well presented. You need to discover this lovely city on your own.
Final Note: A Baltic cruise is worth every penny! You can ‘museum, castles & church’ sight-see till you drop or try and mix things up like I did. Be advised that northern Europe is quite pricey. Finally, even though not an excursion, make certain you stay up and watch your ship cross under the “Oresund” Bridge that connects Sweden to Denmark (Europe’s longest bridge).