Our Baltic cruise wasn’t the first one we’d taken, but it was the first with Princess Cruises. Our first cruise had been during the 2015 Easter Holidays; a two week trip to the Western Mediterranean. It was a bit of a snap decision and heavily influenced by the break in my ongoing cancer treatments. We wanted to do something special. Something memorable… Also, I had a colostomy bag at that time, which had to be taken into consideration and, although we wanted to go abroad, we needed to accept that I might develop complications requiring medical help.
In searching for holidays online, cruises kept popping up. We kept dismissing them because, you know; it was a cruise:
- impossibly expensive
- full of people a generation older than us
- not a place for kids
- always wearing tuxedos, etc
All the things you tend to assume about cruises.
On the other hand:
- built in swimming pools
- no lugging of suitcases around (with the associated risk of a hernia)
- takes you to the places you want to visit while you sleep
- medical facilities on board (not cheap medical facilities but there in case of an emergency)
- more food and drink than you can throw a stick at…
My previous travel post covered the ins and outs of deciding whether or not a cruise holiday is a good idea. If you want to read more about that, or about how cruises work in general, that’s a good place to start.
The reality of our Mediterranean cruise was actually somewhere in the middle of those two lists but we enjoyed the experience and wanted to go again. A return of cancer related issues meant that we couldn’t go in 2016. But a series of better results meant that we could take a proper summer holiday in 2017 and so it was cruise time again.
In deciding which cruise to take, we factored in a personal goal that I’d set myself a few years previously. I gave myself the goal of visiting a new country every year. You know, explore a bit. See the World. So, when looking for a cruise, it made sense to look for one that was going to places we’d never been before. Also, ideally, something that didn’t involve a flight, for colostomy bag reasons. None of us had been to Scandinavia. And there’s a sea that connects the Scandinavian countries: the Baltic. So we decided that a cruise of the Baltic Sea was what we wanted to do.
Our first cruise had been with P&O and, in 2017, they were offering the ideal Baltic cruise, so we tried to book with them. As with most cruise companies, P&O offered a variety of routes around the Baltic. Indeed, most cruise companies offer a variety of routes around the majority of their destinations. The Mediterranean trip we’d taken in 2015, was just one of the range on offer. And that was only for the Western Mediterranean, there was a whole other selection for the eastern Med. My point is, not all Baltic cruises are the same.
P&O ran two of these ideal Baltic cruises over the summer, one during the school summer holidays, the other just before. On inquiring, the cruise during the school summer holidays was adults only, meaning the girls, 14 and 15, couldn’t go. After failing to find an equivalent cruise with another company, for the school summer holidays, we thought, what the hell: we’ll take the girls out of school. The cruise date was after their exams and if, “It’s the only one of these cruises we can take in this gap between my cancer treatments”, didn’t qualify as a suitable reason to take your kids out of school, what did?!
So we tried to book the term-time P&O Baltic cruise, which was open to everyone, only to find that the limit on 14-15 year olds had already been reached. We didn’t understand how this was a thing. Particularly as the girls had no intention of joining the kids clubs. Regardless, the upshot was we couldn’t go on that cruise either. Damn!
In searching for alternatives, the closest we could find was one of the Baltic cruises operated by Princess Cruises. It wasn’t as good as the P&O version, as it didn’t stop in Oslo. It was also sailing during term time, which meant I’d get to try out my sob story with the school. Thankfully, though, it was also after their exams had finished. So we booked and were very pleasantly surprised, given that we were booking relatively late, that the price for the girls was heavily discounted.
This reduction was going to come in very useful because one of the ports of call, on the Princess Baltic cruise, was St Petersburg in Russia. And Russia has strict visa restrictions. We wouldn’t need a full visa, which was good because getting one involves a trip to the relevant Russian embassy. Any visit to Moscow or St Petersburg that is under 72 hours in length, is exempt from the full visa requirements.
However, in order to comply with said 72 hour visa, all trips into the city are supposed to be part of an organised tour. In theory, you can book these in advance with local travel companies. In practice, we didn’t have the bottle to try that. Which meant we’d have to go on the cruise organised tours… and they’re incredibly expensive. During our two days in St Petersburg, then, we’d be going on trips provided by Princess cruises, and the discount on the girls’ Baltic cruise tickets would help offset this expense. Happy days.
The itinerary of our Princess Baltic cruise was:
- Zeebruge (Belgium)
- Sea day
- Copenhagen (Denmark)
- Sea day
- Stockholm (Sweden)
- Tallin (Estonia)
- St Petersburg (Russia)
- St Petersburg
- Helsinki (Finland)
- Sea day
- Gdynia (Poland)
- Sea day
- Sea day
A total of eight Port Days in seven countries, including four countries that I’d never been to before. That’d work. I will not be covering the Port Days in this post. I’ll deal with each city we visited in a separate post over the coming months; follow the links, above.
The school, incidentally, was pretty good about us taking the girls out, within the limits that they can be. We were taking them out for two weeks but there was an inset day in that time, so we were asking for an absence of nine days. They authorised six of them!
I wrote to them asking for an explanation and found a message on my answer phone a couple of days later. Apparently, six days is the maximum they’re allowed to authorise under the county council rules. They wouldn’t be pursuing me for the remaining three days so, while it seemed like bureaucratic madness, all was going to be well. The girls were bound to learn more in two weeks during a Baltic cruise, Princess or otherwise, than they would messing around in classes that had already wound down for the summer holidays.
Soon the cruise-related emails started coming through and the excitement started to build. We were told where in Southampton docks we were to embark, and booked parking nearby. We got confirmation of the itinerary, including the number of formal days. Formal days are when you’re expected to dress formally for dinner, in tuxedos and evening gowns. Informing you of the number of formal days lets you know how much you have to pack, because Heaven forfend that you wear the same clothes twice…!
Not that Julie or the girls took any notice, judging by the number of dresses and pairs of shoes that I would spend the next two weeks tripping over. They took enough clothes to make every day a formal day. I took a suit, three shirts and four ties; worked a treat.
I filled in the on-line details they needed about us and printed off the luggage labels. There seems to be no limit to the number of these labels that you can print off. Certainly a couple of people we spoke to said that they’d brought on three suitcases each. Thankfully, we all managed to limit ourselves to one suitcase. The reason you can get away with so much luggage is that all you have to do is get it to the cruise ship. Once there, you leave it by the departure terminal and it’ll be taken up to your room for you. The same is true in reverse at the end of the trip. We, however, were sharing a single cabin, or stateroom, so there wasn’t room for three suitcases each.
Because we booked late, there was only a limited number of options for our accommodation. I suspect this is why many people book early. In fact, a surprising number of people book their next cruise during their current cruise. There’s actually a room on each cruise ship, dedicated to booking future cruises. In this room, you will hear a lot of talk about discounts and how much cheaper it is to book while on board. I tend to maintain a healthy skepticism about such claims but it certainly seems to work for a lot of people.
Anyway, limited stateroom choices… We asked about the price for two rooms, thinking of one small balcony room and one internal room. But it was cheaper to get a family balcony room. Most of the staterooms have balconies and most of what’s left are internal. Of the remainder, there are some external rooms with a window but without a balcony. These rooms often have a lifeboat hanging outside, which is why there isn’t room for a balcony.
You can also get a suite of rooms. The suites are largely at the back of the ship and while I imagine they’re nice and spacious, I know they’re very pricey. I can’t tell you much more because I’ve never seen the inside of one. Maybe if I win the lottery…
Maybe if I actually played the lottery…
So, this process of elimination left us with a family balcony room. When there’s four of you, a balcony is quite important as it gives you that little bit of extra space, which helps ensure that everyone survives the cruise. There are times, like when all the beds are down and you’re all trying to get dressed for a formal night, that space is very much at a premium. At times like this, you’ll be grateful to be able to step outside for some space and time.
It would turn out that our family room had the twin room format, which is to say; two single beds. We could just have likely ended up with the double bed format, you sometimes don’t find out until you open the stateroom door. In fact, when you click on the details of room B515 (our room) for the Crown Princess (the ship for our cruise), on the Princess Cruises site, this is the image:
The reality we were faced with, when all the beds were in place, was this:
This arrangement, though, was preferable to the one we had on the P&O cruise. On that cruise, both of the girls’ beds dropped down from the ceiling. We had expected the bed arrangements on the Princess Baltic cruise to be the same, but this was better. When there are two of these Pullman drop-down beds, it really closes off the room. The fold up cot, in the foreground, lived behind the curtains when not in use. When the bed was set up, though, it blocked off access to the desk, the desk chair and the desk drawers.
The room we chose was as close as we could get to the middle of the ship, while being as close to the water line as possible… and still having a balcony. The reason for these choices is that, in heavy seas this is where you feel the least amount of motion. Thus reducing the likelihood of seasickness. As it turned out, there were no heavy seas, which was a still a blessing, despite our planning.
But I’m getting ahead of myself; before we could get to our room, we had to embark. And embarkation is a process to behold…
Our parking was close enough to the berth that we were able to simply wheel our luggage to the terminal building. Our luggage already had their tags on, so we simply handed them over to the waiting porters, on our way to departures. The tags are emailed to you and are printed off, folded as per the instructions, and stapled in place.
And that’s it for the luggage, by the time you get on board, it’ll have been set against the corridor wall, outside your stateroom door. Or it’ll arrive very shortly after you do. Disembarkation is the same process in reverse.
Having ditched our bags, we went into the terminal building. There we were given our boarding card; a yellow 13. Just as well none of us are superstitious! We made a home in the waiting area and, well, waited. When our number was called we, along with about 20 other groups, joined the queue for the check-in desks. At check-in, we answered their questions, made sure an active debit card was linked to our names and were issued with out ID cards. As I’ve said previously; this card is essential. Do not lose your card. Without it, you cannot get into your room, buy anything on board, or get on and off the ship at the ports.
Many passengers keep their cards on lanyards, which isn’t a bad idea, because if a card so much as brushes a mobile phone, it stops working. Then you have to get them reactivated at the help desk, which gets embarrassing if you keep doing it. *ahem* Or so I assume…
Having been issued our ID cards, we went through customs, where everything was security checked like in an airport. Then we joined the, somewhat epic, queue to actually get on board the ship. As we embarked, the ID cards were scanned for the very first time, thus activating them. There was a feeling of, ‘Yay! We’re on our cruise’. A feeling that was only slightly spoiled by the photographer who immediately pounced on us to capture the moment.
Once we were through the ruck of boarding, we were faced with a choice:
- Go and check the room out, or;
- Go to the upper decks and watch the ship depart the harbour.
The upper decks offered free drinks, to celebrate departure. And more photographers, to capture that moment too…
We went to our room.
To be fair, this was mainly because there wasn’t much time before the statutory safety drill. And for that, you have to collect the life vests from your stateroom and take them down to your muster station. We figured that by the time we got up top, it’d be time to start fighting our way back to the room anyway. We did go up top after the safety drill. It was very cold…
Our cases were waiting for us outside the room, so we set about unpacking what we could. There was a reasonable amount of hanging space in the room, but not enough hangers for that many dresses. Fortunately, I’d brought my own hangers. This kept me out of the debate, that raged among the other three, about who deserved which hangers and why.
Above the hanging space was a shelf upon which the life vests were kept. The rest of that shelf was empty and, as I was the only one who could reach it, I unpacked all my stuff onto that space. I also took the highest shelf in the one cupboard, above the (free) safe, and one of the drawers in the bedside cabinet next to my bed. I’d used a canvas suitcase, which I was able to kick under my bed. Then I went and hid on the balcony while the clothing space negotiations dragged on.
To this day, I have no idea what arrangements Julie and the girls came to. I do know that, between the four of us and with only one suitcase each, we completely filled the available storage space. In fact, there were usually clothes and shoes all over the floor, too. This might be something that’s worth bearing in mind if you’re interested in a Princess Baltic cruise and wondering how many suitcases to take.
It’s also worth noting that there isn’t much room in the staterooms for a reason. The cruise line doesn’t want you to spend time in the stateroom, because you can’t spend money in there. There’s a whole ship, full of shops and activities to keep you occupied. The shops, unsurprisingly, aren’t cheap. What might be surprising, though, is how many ways there are during a Princess Baltic cruise to spend more money. I’ll come on to that in due course.
At the allotted time the alarm sounded and we took our life jackets down to our muster point on the Promenade deck.
Deck 7, the Promenade deck, was the focal point of the ship, so a good place to visit, even if it was for the safety drill. The drill took about half an hour and can’t be avoided, no matter how many cruises you’ve done. You’ve just got to grin and bear it. Or, if you happen to be close enough to a TV showing the advert for the latest GoPro, watch that. And then it was back to the room, to ditch the life jackets.
In fairness to the room, while it is undeniably small, it was pretty well equipped. In the corner of the external wall, opposite the desk, was a cupboard with a fridge. Atop this cupboard was where the glasses were kept and above that, just below the ceiling, was the TV. The TV actually had a pretty good selection of things to watch, including news channels, sports channels and channels showing series like Big Bang Theory and Modern Family. It also had a very good selection of films, including those that had been shown on the Movies Under the Stars screen on previous nights.
As I’ve mentioned it, Movies Under the Stars was a screen above one of the pools on the 15th deck (Lido Deck). The sun loungers around the pool were arranged to face towards the screen and a new film was screened each night at 7 and 9:30pm. Blankets were available, and necessary. Even in August, Baltic nights are not what you’d call warm. Popcorn was freely available from the Pizza and Ice Cream Bar (yes, you read that right). Films were also shown during the day on sea days, usually at 10am and 2pm, although, obviously, you had to fight sunbathers for the sunbeds on sunny days.
Back to the room and: mirrors. There was no shortage of mirrors, whole walls were covered with them, presumably in an effort to make the room look bigger. As it turned out, when you’re traveling with three ladies, you can never have too many mirrors.
Our stateroom was partitioned into two areas. There was the living area with the beds, chairs, desk, TV, etc. Then there was the functional area with storage, ablutions, the safe, etc. There wasn’t much room between the foot of the beds and the far wall, hence the need for mirrors. Ours was a twin room so, from the partition, it went: bed; bedside cabinet; bed; bedside cabinet; desk; external wall.
In terms of the ablutions, while the shower room was tiny, it was very well designed, ergonomically. The shower had an effective curtain, which stopped it being a wet-room and we never had any issues with the floor getting flooded. The toilet was set at an angle to allow for a more comfortable… experience. The sink was molded into the worktop and there was shelf space for toiletries. There was even a power point for razors, which was more of a source of irritation than anything.
The reason for the irritation was that, having the power point in the shower proved that Princes Cruises is aware that power points exist. Which, naturally, leads to the question, “Why is there only one other power point in the whole damn stateroom?!”
It also turned out that, as Princess is an American cruise line, and despite being in the Baltic, the socket was the US twin pin arrangement. We didn’t have an adapter for that. Fortunately, however, the right adapters were sold in one of the shops on board, so an adapter became the first thing we bought. Thankfully, I’d brought a 4 socket, 2 USB extension with me. I’d also brought a six way USB extension, for all my electronics, and that was enough to see us through. In retrospect, I did take an awful lot of electronics:
- Mobile phone
- Samsung tablet (to write this)
- Bluetooth Keyboard (which I bought in Copenhagen, to make writing this more manageable)
- Bluetooth speaker
- Garmin watch
- Chargeable battery
I used it all. I charged it all. Whether I needed it all, though, is open to question. The point is; if you’re carrying a lot of electronics, assume that there’s only one socket and be sure to bring what you need to charge it all on that basis.
Having dropped off our life jackets, we decided to explore. This meant that we needed to work out the best way to and from our room. And this is more tricky than you might think. Our room was in the middle of the Starboard corridor of deck 11, Baha deck. Above it was two identical corridors and below it, two more. This whole arrangement was then reflected on the Port side. This meant that there were an awful lot of corridors that looked remarkably similar.
Access to each of these corridors was via three banks of lifts and stairs. We were very close to the middle bank, which consisted of six lifts, on two systems, and two staircases. Forward were four lifts and two staircases. Aft also had four lifts and two staircases. Getting back to the room, then, depended on from where on the ship you were setting off. I’ve normally got a pretty good sense of direction but I hate to admit how many times I got turned around during the 14 days of our Princess Baltic cruise.
The other thing that took some getting used to was that each set of lifts had staff lifts on the reverse side, by the stairs. We couldn’t use the staff lifts, for obvious reasons. These staff lifts are how the stewards are able to do such an amazing job without you ever seeing anything. That said, when you find yourself faced with these lifts, having arrived from a new direction, it’s easy to confuse them with passenger lifts. Or, it is if you’re me!
Exploring the whole ship took a long time. It’s hard to describe how big these cruise ships are. To put it into context, there’s a handy sign on the Promenade, telling you, ‘2.8 times around this deck is equal to 1 mile’. The Promenade is the footpath that runs all the way around deck 7, except for the bit at the prow. Here, there are steps up to deck 8, to get you round the front of the ship, before dropping back to deck 7 on the other side. There is a practical reason for this deck space, the life boats. They’re all suspended on the outside of the ship from the deck above and, in an emergency, this is where you’d board the life boats.
Our tour started on deck 7, at the rear of the ship. From there we worked our way forward, passing a number of dining and drinking options, as well as the photo gallery.
At the middle stairwell, we checked out our dining rooms, which were down on decks 6 and 5. Below that, on deck 4, were the medical facilities along with one of the main ways off the ship on Port days. Other than that, you’re not allowed down there, as it’s crew quarters. If decks 1 through 3 existed, we never saw them as, these too, are crew quarters. The crew is something like 1,300 strong and they all exist in these decks, most of which are beneath the waves. I think they’ve earned their right to a bit of privacy.
Back up to deck 7 and the Piazza (atrium), which was on decks 7, 8 and 9. The Piazza included the various shops, the art gallery, a whole bunch more places to eat and drink, as well as the various forms of customer service desks. It was the retail hub of the ship.
From the Piazza, we caught the lift up to the 15th floor, which was the start of the entertainment. Deck 15 is where the general dining areas are, which are open from 6am until 11pm. If you wanted to eat outside these times, worry not; the International Cafe on deck 5 was open 24 hours a day. Deck 15 also has the two main pools and access to the upper decks where, along with lots of sunbeds, you could find:
- The gym
- The spa
- Other restaurants
- The basketball court
- The putting green/croquet lawn
- The running track (sort of, a 100m path leading around the putting green/basketball court
- The nightclub
To be honest, by the time we’d found everything, we were knackered. We were sticking to the stairs and the ship really does have quite an substantial footprint, on an impressive number of floors. Not the 13th floor though. There is no 13th floor. Well, there is, of course, it’s just that it’s called the 14th floor. I wonder if that makes any superstitious people who have their staterooms on that floor, less concerned!?
So we made our way back to the room to plough through the paperwork and consider our drinks options. The paperwork had already been put in the room, awaiting our arrival. Included in the paperwork was a bunch of advertising flyers for the shops on-board the ship. Or, junk-mail, as it’s better known. Yes, even on a Princess Baltic cruise, you can’t escape the junk mail! Far more interesting was the pile of tour order forms, one for each Port Day.
But the paperwork didn’t stop there, more of it arrived every day, It was delivered by way of a slot beside the door. Every day we received that day’s newsletter, called the Princess Patter, which listed all of the ships events by time and location.
The Princess Patter was four full sides of A4. Every day. The back page was dominated by the locations of all the ship’s facilities and their opening hours. The bottom of this page was put aside for promoting the upcoming shore excursions and how to book them. It was the best place to look to see what the shuttle bus options were, and what, if any, alternatives were available. It also told you whether you’d need your passport. The front page was for general information about the day, with a side panel on one side for announcements and a side panel on the other for crew information and showcasing.
The Princess Patter was actually a very useful and well put together document. It even included weather forecasts for the coming days as well as alerts about clock changes.
Each Port Day also came with a Port Guide. These, too, were very good… within limits. Each guide included:
- A small map showing you the port location
- A snapshot of the port
- Helpful local words
- The best of the local points of interest, cross referenced to the cruise’s tours
- A page of history
- A half page of interesting local facts
- A half page of practical information like what to wear, opening times, emergency addresses and numbers. All cross referenced to the shore excursions
- A full page map of your destination
And it was with the map that the limits of usefulness were set. The maps were never really good enough to be sufficient to get you around. Just as the information provided about local transport options erred very strongly on the side of caution. The distances to bus stops or the town center, by foot, were always on the long side of what we experienced. The cost of the taxis were always on the expensive side of what was available. If the guide or Patter said that it would cost 50 Euros by Taxi to somewhere, the taxis by the ship would charge 50 Euros. If we walked outside the port and asked about taxis there, they would be considerably less.
Don’t get me wrong, I understand; it’s a business. The cruise line wants to sell you its excursions. It is not in their interest to provide you with an accurate, usable map. It’s not in their interest to tell you that the local bus and the local train will charge you a fraction of the cost of their excursions. But that’s the truth of the matter, the excursions are wildly overpriced and that is indicative of the whole ethos of the industry. Certainly of this trip; of our Princess Baltic cruise.
The most obvious early reminder of the business element of this Princess Baltic cruise, was the drinks packages. There were a great many bars and restaurants on board, and most of them sending their waiters far and wide. If you’re sitting around the pool, for example, waiters will come over and offer you drinks, if you ask for anything other than water, there is a charge. In the restaurants, if you ask for anything other than water, there is a charge. The exception is the buffet, where there are free drinks available. Orange and Apple Juice at Breakfast. Lemonade and Iced Tea at Lunch. Something similar at Dinner. Tea and Coffee is available at all times in the buffet restaurant.
To drink whatever you want (up to a maximum limit of $10 for an individual drink), will cost you $52 a day. The soft drinks package that we took, cost $7 a day. Which is still $28 a day for the four of us, but did include milkshakes from the ice-cream bar, hot chocolate from the International Cafe and mocktails from all the bars. As well as unlimited cola, lemonade, juice, etc. The alternative is to use your card every time you buy a drink. There are other options available for things like coffee and wine. All the tariffs have a built in gratuity of 15%. All told, drinks cost us an extra £420 ($543/€485) on top of what we paid for our Princess Baltic cruise.
We could use our ID card to buy anything on board, at any time. In fact, we had to! Nowhere accepted any other form of payment. This included drinks from the bar, anything from any of the shops, excursions, art from the gallery, chips in the casino… It is quite a dangerous thought that, with just a flash of your card, you can spend a fortune. Oh, and the girls were issued a card each and, every day, there are jewellery stalls, glittering happily in the Piazza.
The one thing you don’t need your card for is tipping. Each day, a predetermined amount, the set rate for tipping, was allocated against our account. This was charged automatically against everyone, including the girls. The only way to stop this was to go to the customer service desk, look them in the eye and ask them to stop it. Most people we spoke to about this said that stopping the tips was about the first thing they do when they get on board.
Certainly the guy behind the desk didn’t bat an eyelid when, after five days, I stopped the automatic tipping. He even offered to clear the tips that had already been collected. I didn’t want that, though. I thought that, given how little we abused the facilities, five days of automatic tipping seemed fair. We also left some money in the stateroom for Jimmy, the steward who’d looked after our room. The money we left on the account would be shared between everyone on board.
Life on board took some getting used to. We’d signed up to Anytime Dining, meaning, across the two dining rooms, we could have our evening meal any time between 5:45 and 10pm. In the dining rooms there were two standards of dress; smart casual and formal, although the dress codes were not that strictly enforced. But, other than that, the days had no real structure, particularly the sea days. For us, this meant that the evening meals were less of an event. They were more; something you remember to do at some point.
This informality was fine for us but some people really seem to take it seriously, especially the formal nights. I chatted to an Australian lady in the launderette about this. She was part of a group who were on a three month tour of Europe so, clearly, the men in the group didn’t have tuxedos with them. One evening the group went to dinner and the men were wearing shirts and ties. Having been seated, one of the other couples on their table announced that they would be ignoring the Australian group for not dressing properly.
This is exactly the sort of attitude that, historically, put me off the idea of cruise holidays. To be fair, I’ve never experienced it myself, despite not never having worn a tuxedo to a formal event, across two cruises. Mind you, this has largely been for medical reasons… Of course, none of the other diners would have been aware that it was for medical reasons. Regardless, I’ve been in dark suits and ties, for formal meals, and no one has ever said anything negative. Which I’ve been quite relieved about.
Outside of meal times, the question then becomes how to fill your days. For our Princess Baltic cruise, the weather was very good, only one rainy day and a couple of overcast ones. That said, there were very few days where I felt the urge to sunbathe, despite it being July. Lots of other passengers, though, did spend a good deal of time sunbathing. The Patter, of course, was full to the brim of activities but very little that appealed to all four of us. On one evening, we went to Bingo and played four games but this cost $50, which we thought was a little steep, so once was enough.
There were evening trivia quizzes that were fun and we attended a couple of those but they were at 8pm, which is when we ate. They also disappeared for the second week. There are twice nightly shows, which were of no interest to me or the girls, although Julie was determined to go to at least one. Attending a show, though, takes careful planning because they’re always well attended. This means that you have to get there very early if you want any seat, let alone a good one. We did go to a couple of the Movies Under the Stars showings but didn’t know about the popcorn.
This was one of the problems of the Princess Baltic cruise; knowing what was included, when so many things are at an extra cost. In the Pizza and Ice Cream Bar, for example, the pizza and ice cream was inclusive but the milk shakes needed a drinks package. The popcorn was inclusive as were the strawberries and cream on offer during Wimbledon. But the Ice Cream in the International Cafe was extra, as was the range of exclusive coffees. The snacks and patisserie, though were inclusive.
One thing that definitely wasn’t inclusive was the photos. There were often photographers trying to capture our best side: at every disembarkation, at every formal event, and many times in between. The photos they took were displayed in the gallery on deck 7 and various packages were on offer. They all had one thing in common; the cost will take your breath away!
But filling our time on board ship was just a pleasant challenge. For us, the holiday was the Port Days; that’s what we made the most of. Which isn’t to say there isn’t a huge amount on offer each day, there really is. The Princess Patter listed literally 100s of available activities for every Sea Day. We never got bored, we just struggled to find activities that we all wanted to do at the same time. Lewis’, eh?!
So, while the Port Days were the focus of our Princess Baltic cruise, this wasn’t the case for everyone. Indeed, for a lot of people, the time on-board ship is the holiday. A lot of people are willing and prepared to spend plenty more money on-board, and fair play to them. They visit the Spa, take the gym classes, gamble at the casino, get the all inclusive beverage package. And, if they go on shore, they take the cruise line’s excursions because they’re well organised, reliable and easy. Additionally, and importantly on this point; if an organised excursion runs late, the ship will wait. If you’re late otherwise, you’re on your own…
This is probably why so many people we spoke to have done so many cruises. There is something addictive about them and you are rewarded for having done multiple cruises. The rewards aren’t huge but they’re useful. At a certain level, for example, they’ll do all your laundry for you. For free. Imagine that… getting home from a two week holiday with nothing but clean clothes. That was something that I had been hoping to do and is my main bugbear of the trip: there was a $3 charge to wash a load of clothes and a $3 charge to dry a load of clothes.
The last two days of the Princess Baltic cruise were seas days and, like the last cruise, I intended to spend some of that time getting the laundry done. But not at $6 a wash. I think that it was just a spiteful thing to charge to do your own laundry, and it left a bit of a sour taste in my mouth. I know that it’s a silly thing to worry about but it just seems so unnecessary. And, sure, they offer a paid laundry service on board, so the charge is mainly an attempt to drive you towards that. I just don’t like it!
Not that it really mattered, there was plenty of time to do the laundry when I got home. Which leads us to the process of disembarkation.
The disembarkation process, for most people, is like the embarkation process in reverse. You leave your bags outside your room and they simply disappear. You then wait until your allotted time to leave the ship and make your way to the disembarkation hall. There you’ll find all the bags laid out in a logical pattern. You gather yours and start your homeward journey. This method is used for everyone who is classed as having ‘Independent Arrangements’. This would apply to you if:
- You’re getting a taxi to, say, the train station
- There’s someone coming to pick you up
- You’ve parked your car within walking distance
- You live locally
There are, though, other options.
For some people, this isn’t the end of their cruise, it’s just another Port Day. So they’re getting off to go on an excursion. Others have transfers arranged with the Princess Line and are leaving the Baltic cruise to join another cruise on another ship. Others, still, have organised transfers to Airports.
We, however, took the final choice. We decided to carry our own luggage and take the ‘Walk Off’ option. After all, our car park was only about 100 meters away. And while we all like a lie-in, the last time we could possibly leave was 10:50am, which isn’t that much of a lie-in really. Besides, given that disembarkation was always a noisy process, a lie-in wasn’t a practical option anyway. Which turned out to be just as well, because ‘Walk Off’ was scheduled to leave first. Presumably to just get us out of the way.
We were assigned to ‘Walk Off 1’. We knew this because it was stamped on the Disembarkation Information Sheet that we’d been given the day before. Included on this sheet were all the timings for all the Disembarkation Groups. Walk Off 1 was assigned the 7:15 slot, from deck 5 midships. Our stateroom was on deck 10. If you’re interested in the Walk Off option, and are thinking of catching the lifts, you’re going to be disappointed. Only opt for a Walk Off option if everyone in your party can physically carry their luggage down the required number of stairs.
In theory, the Disembarkation Groups are staggered to avoid overcrowding the lifts. In practice, people from later groups always decide to jump their time slot and try to leave early. This clogs up the lifts for the people who are supposed to be using them, and causes the whole system to fail. These people then tut at you as you struggle to get past them, after your group has been called, complaining that you’re late. No, idiot, it’s because you couldn’t wait until your allotted time slot!
To make matters worse, during our disembarkation, there was a delay in getting the doors open, so no one went anywhere for more than half an hour. I imagine that this resulted in carnage for the rest of the disembarkation process. Thankfully we didn’t have to find out because we were still among the first to leave. Being able to wave around things stamped with ‘Walk Off 1’ helped with that…
And with that, our Princess Baltic cruise was over. And all that was left was the two hour car journey home. Oh, and the mounds of laundry.
I’ll describe what the Port Days were like, on our Princess Baltic Cruise, over the coming months. There were some lovely stops.