Extended family vacations can be difficult. Trying to balance different personalities, interests, and expectations make for a complex planning process. The nice thing about a cruise vacation is that you can balance a good amount of quality time on board while breaking into smaller groups ashore. Being able to sit down to a nice dinner each evening to reflect on everyone’s unique on land experiences makes for engaging conversation and lifelong memories. The Royal Caribbean 7 night Scandinavia and Russia cruise provided the perfect setting for my family last summer. My in-laws, parents, husband and I navigated the Baltic Sea while stuffing our bellies with 5-course meals and experiencing new countries and cultures together. Read on to hear about our amazing Baltic Cruise.
Our Baltic Cruise Ship
As our first day aboard was a day at sea, we took our time to explore the ship. We kept active hitting up the gym, jogging track, pools, rock climbing wall, and a miniature golf course. I scouted out our entertainment for the week including formal nights, karaoke and battle of the sexes competitions. We visited the casino, bars, and lounges scattered around the ship. The Royal Caribbean Serenade of the Seas is an enormous ship! What we would become most grateful for throughout the week was the dining room. We would spend hours at dinner each night catching up, sharing stories about our days, and toasting to the next adventure.
The first stop on our 7-night, 5-country Baltic Cruise:
After a day at sea, we took the opportunity to stretch our legs with a self-guided walking tour of the city. Disembarking our Baltic Cruise ship, we enjoyed panoramic views from Old Town Stockholm to the Royal Djurgården Park. Iconic black and weathered, copper-green, rooftops contrast strikingly against clear blue skies. Wandering across the islands, over the bridges, and along the waterways of Stockholm, we got a great feel for this medieval city. We enjoyed experiencing the changing of the royal guard at the Royal Palace and shopping at the tiny shop lined alley-ways of the old town before having lunch with our Swedish cousins at a small French café. We sipped an afternoon beer overlooking the sea and sampled some chocolate before making our way back to the ship.
Next up, Baltic Cruise stop #2:
We started our tour of Tallinn with a “Best of Tallinn” bicycle tour. Straight from the port, we departed on a journey to the colorful Kadriorg Park, Palace, and Presidential Palace. We soaked in some history at the Song Festival Grounds and rode along the seaside. Our tour concluded with a ride through the cobblestone streets of the old town. Along the old town walls, connected by 13th-century towers, there are beautiful gardens and eclectic art.
After exploring the views from the heights of the old town, we grabbed a quick bite to eat on the square and met up to try some craft beer. We met our guide, Dmitry, at a local pub and headed into the cellar to learn about beer in the Baltic region and sampled some of the area’s finest brews.
For our third Baltic Cruise stop, we had a full day of exploring
St. Petersburg, Russia
To make the most of our day in St. Petersburg we did a formal cruise ship shore excursion.
Our tour began with a drive through the city. Very quickly we made our way to the legendary Hermitage. The monumental complex, founded by Catherine the Great, is a museum housing more than 3 million pieces of art. We spent a couple of hours fighting the crowds and marveling at the paintings and gold embossed architecture of the expansive property. Luckily our group arrived early, as we could see long lines of visitors circling the grounds, waiting for entry.
After visiting the Hermitage, we made our way to visit St. Isaac’s Cathedral. The impressive gold-domed cathedral is filled with amazing art and marble-work.
Our final stop was a photo-op outside the iconic Church of Resurrection on the Spilled Blood. The multicolored domed church is what I had always pictured of Russian architecture and it did not disappoint.
Finally, we made our last Baltic Cruise stop
Again, we did a formal cruise ship tour in Helsinki to squeeze as much sightseeing as possible into the relatively short stay in port. We chose to visit the quaint neighboring village of Porvoo as well as visiting some of the highlights of Helsinki.
Porvoo, a medieval hillside town, is filled with cafes and shops. We enjoyed sampling local cinnamon rolls and chocolates as we visited the jewelry shops and took in the charm of the second oldest city in Finland.
Our excursion included lunch at a charming countryside manor as well as some quick stops in the Helsinki square and at the unique rock church, Temppeliaukio.
Before boarding our ship for the return journey to Copenhagen, we got to meet the Finnish legend himself… Santa Claus!
No Baltic Cruise would be complete without a little exploration of the port city
Before a long trans-Atlantic flight home, we used our final day abroad to stretch our legs and work our glutes with an all-encompassing self-guided walking tour of Copenhagen.
We started our journey with a visit to Freetown, Christiania. This unique area, founded by squatters in the 1970’s is known for its open cannabis trade and hippie population. While pictures are not appreciated in Christiania, the memories will certainly be unique enough to stick with you!
Next up, the food halls of Reffen for lunch. This bustling waterfront foodie paradise offers something to please any palate.
Post lunch we crossed the bridge into Nyhavn. This 17th century, canal front, area offers a laid-back food and entertainment scene with brightly colored buildings, restaurants, and live music.
Finally, we reached the pedestrian walking street, “Strøget”. One of Europe’s longest pedestrian streets, the path is lined with everything from designer shops to trinket stores.
Baltic Cruise from Copenhagen – Where to Stay
Prior to our cruise, we spent one night at the Clarion Hotel Copenhagen Airport. The beautiful and friendly property is an easy walk from the airport and was the perfect place to stay after a late night arrival.
After our cruise, we spent one night at the Copenhagen Marriott Hotel. The waterfront location is ideal and the service was excellent. While it is a long walk to Nyhaven, it is very central to the main train station and is walkable to almost all of the city!
Baltic Cruise Tips
- As with all cruise bookings, make sure to do your due diligence to find the best offer and most perks. Book with a reputable credit card, so that if you find a better deal later, you can call and encourage them to match the price and or benefits. Expenses like tips, shore excursions, and alcohol can add up quickly, and many booking sites will include these in their prices as perks!
- Check your cruise itinerary for formal nights, and bring appropriate attire. You don’t have to dress up, but you’ll want the option.
- Make sure you’re back to the ship 30 minutes prior to departure. The ship will leave without you.
- Pack wine. Most cruise ships don’t allow you to carry on alcohol, but many will have a wine allowance.
- If you’re visiting Russia by cruise, make sure to book a shore excursion via your cruise line. Non-sanctioned tours may require a visa for you to leave the ship. This can be expensive and time-consuming.
Check out my tips on other European destinations!