A family vacation with people across 3 generations traveling from 2 continents! We booked the 7 nights Royal Caribbean cruise (Serenade of the Seas) for a trip across Baltic Sea…
We decided to go a cruise vacation for the convenience of having to unpack just once but be able to cover more places including off-beat destinations. We dint have to bother about traveling between places or figure out a hotel every night. Whole suite of options on board so people can explore different things based on their interest. Apart from cost, choose a cruise ship based on Itinerary, Activities on-board and Food options!
- Day 1 – Arrive in Stockholm, Sweden
- Day 2 – Embark on Cruise
- Day 3 – Helsinki, Finland
- Day 4 and 5 – St Petersburg, Russia
- Day 6 – Tallinn, Estonia
- Day 7 – Riga, Latvia
- Day 8 – At Sea
- Day 9 – Disembark at Stockholm and flight back home
Click on cities for detailed day wise itineraries…
- Cruise Lines: There are various large companies offering cruise vacations. The liners can typically be classified into:
- Luxury type like Regent with smaller ships and luxurious suites
- Large cruises like Royal Caribbean which have mega ships with variety of rooms
- Other smaller, local and regional players (including river cruises)
- For your first trip, I would recommend a large reputed cruise line which offer the full package at a reasonable cost (c.US$ 2200 per room for 7 nights). Some of the popular cruise lines are Carnival, Princess, Royal Caribbean, Celebrity, Star, Norwegian Cruise Line, Costa and MSC amongst others. Similar to auto companies, some of these brands are owned by same parent company and offer loyalty package across their brands.
- Crowd: The average age on cruise ships used to be 50+. This is however changing with cruise lines targeting younger audience – with new features on the ship (adventure sports, crèche, and food options), shorter itineraries and multiple entertainment options. I could clearly see the difference in demographics between my previous cruise vacation in 2011 and recent one in 2017!
- Rooms: No matter which one you chose, the rooms are small compared to what you would get on ground. There is a double bed, couch, wardrobe, TV and dressing table fit into 100-200 sq feet room. Cruises offer multiple types of rooms – cheapest option is inside room which has no windows (some liners have come up with virtual windows!). Next set of options are Ocean view room or Balcony room. In addition, you have the option to book larger suites. Do note that costs are per person on twin sharing basis – so for party of 6, makes sense to book 3 rooms instead of having 2 rooms with 3 people each. SS Tip: As you will be spending time in the room for just sleeping or getting ready don’t fret too much on this point!
With free food (or effectively paid under all-in cost), you tend to really put on some weight on a cruise!
- Fine dining: You have the option to get dressed up and go down for a 3 course dinner. Menu changes every day and there are around 10 options each for appetizers, mains and desserts. Meals can last up to 2 hours and it is advisable to book a time slot in advance. If you are in no hurry, you can even have a relaxing breakfast here.
- Buffet: They have a large buffet spread with live counters for breakfast, lunch and dinner. These can get crowded but fortunately they have lots of tables.
- Cafes: They also have cafes spread across the cruise offering salads, sandwiches, cookies, brownies and other snacks. Sodas, hot chocolate and other drinks are available round the clock.
- Specialty: If you are bored with everything else, you can go to one of the paid specialty restaurants offering Steak, Asian or Mexican cuisines. While these cost extra, charges are quite reasonable
- Drinks: For those who need a drink, you can book unlimited drinks package upfront. You can grab a drink at any of the restaurants or bars at any time.
- Fitness: If you are not tired from all the walking on shore, there is enough to keep you fit on the cruise. There are multiple pools (some covered and heated) and jacuzzi. Apart from a full-scale gym, the cruise had basketball court, miniature golf course, rock climbing wall, table tennis and jogging track. Some offer more options like wave pools, roller-coasters, race tracks, etc!
- Shows: There is at least 1 special show every night at the auditorium. Shows vary with each ship and liner. We saw some song/dance routines by onboard crew (full orchestra), accapella show by a British band, gymnastic routine by Olympic gold medalist, balancing and juggling routine by Guinness record holder and a magic show by a renowned illusionist! The hour-long performances are usually entertaining and we made it a point to go every night.
- Others: There is a lot happening to keep you occupied during the day including quiz shows, art class, dance class, zumba, etc. You can also go to cinema (they had a theatre and open air screen), spa (paid), casino or shopping (duty free). At night, there are various bar and dance options available across the cruise. SS Tip: They leave booklets in your room every night with details of next day events and recommendations for what to see at next port. Plan your day one day at a time!
- Shore Excursions: Cruise lines offer day tour options which you can book in advance or online. These include travel, guide, and attraction tickets. But at few places, it’s much cheaper and easier to just do it on your own. Just disembark and set off to explore the new place. SS Tip: If cruise is docked in an industrial port or far away from main city, take the shuttle service offered by cruise line..
- Mobile: Even though you may have international roaming, please note satellite rates are applicable when you are away from coast. So don’t forget to keep you phone on airplane mode when out in sea!
- Wi-Fi: Cruise liners offer on-board wifi at decent speed and stay connected. Price varies based on number of days and number of devices (around US$ 10-15 USD per day). It turns out cheaper if you buy this in advance rather than on the ship
- Service: Service is exceptional on the cruise – be it dining, cleaning or any one you come across while roaming around the cruise
- Currency: Payment can be done by credit card / cash/ traveler cheques and is usually in USD. We had purchased EUR in advance and local currency (RUB & SEK) in respective countries.