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jbinbi

Looking for a comparison of Baltic Cruises

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Am considering a Baltic cruise. Lots of options. Looking to find a thread that might have someone's research on what they found the differences between the lines. A primer on Baltic cruising. For instance, difference between Celebrity/Viking/etc./etc./etc cruises. Who is good for what. Who has better excursions. Is it better to go in Jun, July, or Aug? More interested in best things to see and how to do that, vs. great food or cabins. I think of this cruise more like a river cruise. You get on the boat to use a moving hotel, what you see during the day is what makes the cruise. 

 

I am sure this info is on here, I just can't find it. Lots of info once I choose a cruise, great info on tours etc. But I need first to choose a line, and a time frame Any help is greatly appreciated.

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Posted (edited)

I don't recall ever having seen a comprehensive primer on Baltic cruising -- maybe you could write one after you finish your research! -- but I have seen a number of threads making the same point that you make here, that it's the itinerary that makes the cruise more than the ship itself. People prefer the sailings that maximum their time in ports, particularly St. Petersburg.

 

A summary of the itinerary-search advice I've seen:

Look for the cruises that feature few, if any, sea days (I'm on a 15-day cruise in August that has only 1 sea day!). It's not like you're taking the cruise so you can lounge by the pool.

Look for the cruises that spend the most hours in port (e.g. usually not MSC), preferably at convenient hours (e.g. a 9-5 port stay is better than a 7-3 port stay).

Look for the cruises that dock nearer the city centres (e.g. people prefer a ship that docks in Stockholm over one that docks in Nynashamn, particularly for the scenic sail in/out).

Look for the cruises that embark from cities you want to visit for a few days (esp. since you'll need that long to get over jetlag). Even better if you can find cruises that embark from one city and debark in another (e.g. Amsterdam to Stockholm).

You need at least 2 full days in St. Petersburg.

Shoulder-season (e.g. May) will have fewer crowds but cooler temperatures. Otherwise, June, July, and August (all of which seem to be very similar, with June being slightly cooler) will have the best weather but also the most crowds.

 

As far as excursions, most people here would recommend skipping the ship's excursions anyway, so the cruise line wouldn't make much difference there. The Baltic ports are typically very easy to DIY, and if you want a tour, there are usually well-reviewed tour operators (e.g. Alla Tours) running group tours. (You will have to book with a tour operator in St. Petersburg if you don't want to go through the hassle and expense of getting a Russian visa.)

 

As far as the ports go, I don't think there are any duds on the itineraries, although you will have to do your research ahead of time and plan on a *variety* of activities if you don't want to have what we dubbed Old Town Overload at the end of our last Baltic Cruise. My favourite ports on our last cruise, not including St. Petersburg, were probably Oslo and Tallinn. My son (who's travelling with me this time again) says that his favourite was Copenhagen.

 

Someone who's travelled with multiple lines may want to chime in about the differences between them. (I've only sailed with Princess and Celebrity in Europe and found the experiences on both lines very similar. This time we're on NCL.) Some people may prefer a small-ship experience, but I don't know that it would make much difference on a Baltic cruise as the ships and the cities handle crowds well. (For example, even though we were on the very large Regal Princess last time we were in St. Petersburg, we were only in line with Russian immigration for a little over 30 minutes.)

Edited by trosebery

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Did you have experience with any cruise lines? If so, their product in the Baltic will be the same as their product elsewhere. Cruise lines strive for consistency worldwide, to please their customers. If you were happy with, for example, Celebrity in the Caribbean or Alaska, you will probably be happy with them in the Baltic.

 

There is no one "best" cruise line for every one, or for any given location. Yes, troseberry has given you some good ideas, but generally, there are only X number of ports, and most of the cruise lines "do them" the same general way, the special sights aren't different for different cruise lines. St Petersburg is a rare exception  to that concept, as some cruise lines do St Petersburg in one day, some in two days, and a small number spend 3 days, adding in the possibility of visiting Moscow.

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thanks for this info. great stuff. what about the big boats vs. smaller ones. For instance , viking has 1k people, Holland has 3k. Does this make a difference for getting on and off, amount of people going into the city, etc.

 

Also, you say to book tours on our own outside of the cruise line. I am assuming there are lots of infomative posts in the thread on ports under the baltic topic?

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2 minutes ago, jbinbi said:

thanks for this info. great stuff. what about the big boats vs. smaller ones. For instance , viking has 1k people, Holland has 3k. Does this make a difference for getting on and off, amount of people going into the city, etc.

 

Also, you say to book tours on our own outside of the cruise line. I am assuming there are lots of infomative posts in the thread on ports under the baltic topic?

 

Most of the large ships are very good about moving people on and off the ship efficiently. The ships aren't tendering, and except for St. Petersburg, there's no immigration: you just walk off and you're in the city. As for the city being able to handle the crowds, whether or not you're on a small ship won't make any difference as even if you are on a small ship, there are likely to be 2-3 large ships docked right beside you. The Baltic season is short, so all the lines are cramming in the same ports in the same couple of months! Fortunately, the cities have infrastructure -- such as public transport -- to handle the few extra thousand people. As CruiserBruce advises, if you generally like small ships, you may be happiest sticking with what you like, but don't feel compelled to choose a small ship if the itinerary or the price doesn't suit you.

 

And yes, you'll find lots of advice about DIY and tour providers on threads here. One difference in the Baltic as opposed to many other places is that the Baltic has a number of companies, mostly based in St. Petersburg, who offer tours in multiple ports. If you go to the website for the Alla Tours that I mentioned before, you'll see what I mean, although Alla certainly isn't the only company with such offerings. (Last time we were in the Baltic, we toured a number of the ports with SPB Tours and all our experiences were positive.) Nor are all the multiple-port companies St. Petersburg-based (e.g. Nordic Experience is based in Tallinn).

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First of all, they are ships, not boats. Second, no Holland America ship has 3000 pax...the biggest is 2666. And, as troseberry says, they are very good about moving people very quickly, particularly if docking, as opposed to tendering. Everything is scaled to reflect the number of people present.

 

Every port is covered in detail here, with ways to tour on your own, and with recommended private tour vendors. Note, St Petersburg requires visas for anyone who doesn't use a ship tour, or a tour vendor with blanket visas. If you wish to go out on your own there, you need to go through an expensive, intensive and intrusive visa process. Easier just to do a private tour. Many recommended vendors here for St Petersburg.

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Excellent advice from Trosebery on what to look for when booking a Baltic cruise.  (FWIW, those were almost the identical criteria that I came up with when I was trying to decide who to go with and we chose Holland America, which was perfect for us.) 

 

Rick Steves' "Northern European Cruise Ports" was an INVALUABLE resource in planning what to do in each port.  As already mentioned, these ports (with the exception of St. Petersburg) easily lend themselves to DIY sightseeing and the Rick Steves' book will tell you how to self-guide or will recommend excellent tour guides in each port.  On this forum, you will get excellent information from Danish Viking about Copenhagen and if you do a search for posts by Travelanni (who no longer posts), you can learn a lot about sightseeing in some of the German towns near the ports.  (That's probably where I first read about Luebeck which we visited on our own from our stop in Kiel.)  

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First I would look at the lines that have 3 days in Russia rather than 2....then I would look at size of ship, then the price.....Look at Viking, Crystal and the smaller lines..Seabourn, Regent...They are pricier but most are all inclusive.

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Thanks. I was doing research last evening, and it seems Viking is the only line that has 3 days in St. Pete. I did not look at Crystal/etc. as they are out of my price range.

 

The real question is, is viking worth the extra 2k over Holland/Celebrity/Princess. They are about 5-5.5k for the cruise vs. the others being about 3.5k (for veranda style room). They do include 1 tour a day, but it seems from the above posts, that might not be worth it as I can select my own tours or self guide for many of them?

 

Is 3 days in St. Pete really worth it vs. 2 days in St. Pete?

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jbinbi.......I would have thought Viking and Crystal would have been somewhat comparable.....I frankly think 3 days is great, but budget wise that is a huge leap.....I would choose Celebrity over the other two...also check Azamara, that is RCCL smaller boutique line....Whichever you choose, the Baltic is a great trip....Planning is part of the fun!!

11 minutes ago, jbinbi said:

Thanks. I was doing research last evening, and it seems Viking is the only line that has 3 days in St. Pete. I did not look at Crystal/etc. as they are out of my price range.

 

The real question is, is viking worth the extra 2k over Holland/Celebrity/Princess. They are about 5-5.5k for the cruise vs. the others being about 3.5k (for veranda style room). They do include 1 tour a day, but it seems from the above posts, that might not be worth it as I can select my own tours or self guide for many of them?

 

Is 3 days in St. Pete really worth it vs. 2 days in St. Pete?

 

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Oceania offers Baltic itineraries with 3 days in St. Petersburg.

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2 hours ago, jbinbi said:

Thanks. I was doing research last evening, and it seems Viking is the only line that has 3 days in St. Pete. I did not look at Crystal/etc. as they are out of my price range.

 

The real question is, is viking worth the extra 2k over Holland/Celebrity/Princess. They are about 5-5.5k for the cruise vs. the others being about 3.5k (for veranda style room). They do include 1 tour a day, but it seems from the above posts, that might not be worth it as I can select my own tours or self guide for many of them?

 

Is 3 days in St. Pete really worth it vs. 2 days in St. Pete?

 

As CruiserBruce noted, one of the main advantages of 3 days vs. 2 days in St. Petersburg is that with 3 days, you can work into a visit to Moscow. However, visiting Moscow does require a long train ride or a plane flight, and is not cheap. 3 days also allows you the opportunity to tour at a more relaxed pace or work in a few more sights. For example, the typical intensive 2-day tour will include:

St Peter and Paul Fortress
Peterhof Lower Fountain Park

Catherine Palace incl. Amber room
Hermitage Museum
Church on the Spilled Blood
Yusupov’s Palace
St Isaac Cathedral

Subway ride and/or canal tour

The Faberge Museum may be substituted for one of the above or visited as part of an evening tour.

 

A 3-day tour allows for a little more time at some sights and may also include some time for shopping on Nevsky Prospect, some time in the Impressionist collection at the Hermitage, etc.

 

Myself, I wouldn't pay an extra $2K just for an extra day in St. Petersburg (I can spend that money on another cruise that'll take me back again!), but you may have other priorities. (Do also look at the rest of the itinerary to make sure that you are not missing out on another port by spending an extra day in St. Petersburg.)

 

Two things to remember as far as pricing:

- The current cost of the cruise may not be the final cost of the cruise. I've seen a lot of sales on Baltic cruises. The NCL cruise I'm on this summer (15 days, starting in Stockholm and ending in Southampton) was originally about US$4K for a balcony when I booked it but it hit a low of about $2.5K right before final payment. If you're booking for 2020, you might check 2019 pricing now to see what's on sale.

- Consider carefully how much various perks may be worth to you, given that you'll be spending the majority of your time off the ship. You can get better coffee and beer and etc. off the ship, usually accompanied by free wifi! In the Baltic, I don't even bother with a balcony room -- insides are just fine with me, especially in the summer months when the sunrises are really early! (And as you note, included tours are not such a perk when you can easily DIY in most of the ports instead of being herded.)

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Again, thanks for this info. 

 

I just did a spreadsheet with 10-12 day cruises. One thing Viking has is that they don't start/end at the same place, which saves some travel. Holland/Celeb/Princess all are RT start/end place. They just vary that place, e.g. Princess you can start in Berlin/St. Pete/Copenhagen. Was actually thinking of doing the start end in St. Pete, and then I can spend as much time pre or post there.

 

Viking has less ports, but more than 1 day in each one, so I guess the question is , do I want to hit more places or get into more depth in a single place. Viking multiple days in Stockholm, Copenhagen and St. Pete, but doesn't hit Oslo or Berlin.

 

I have not looked at Oceania as I believe it would be out of my price range, but I will look before I formally conclude that. I will also look up NCL.

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5 minutes ago, jbinbi said:

Again, thanks for this info. 

 

I just did a spreadsheet with 10-12 day cruises. One thing Viking has is that they don't start/end at the same place, which saves some travel. Holland/Celeb/Princess all are RT start/end place. They just vary that place, e.g. Princess you can start in Berlin/St. Pete/Copenhagen. Was actually thinking of doing the start end in St. Pete, and then I can spend as much time pre or post there.

 

Viking has less ports, but more than 1 day in each one, so I guess the question is , do I want to hit more places or get into more depth in a single place. Viking multiple days in Stockholm, Copenhagen and St. Pete, but doesn't hit Oslo or Berlin.

 

I have not looked at Oceania as I believe it would be out of my price range, but I will look before I formally conclude that. I will also look up NCL.

 

Careful: if you start or end in St. Petersburg, you'll need a Russian visa.

 

And yes, I agree completely that going one direction vs. having to loop is great because you won't have so many sea days *and* you get to spend your pre- and post-cruise days in different cities. (That's why I picked the NCL cruise that we're on this summer. If you're curious, it's this one. And there's one the two weeks before that that starts in Southampton and ends in Stockholm. I actually have not sailed NCL before, but I love the itinerary for the price!)

 

I really liked Oslo, but I could skip "Berlin" for multiple days in other ports because "Berlin" is actually several hours from the port. (Copenhagen and Stockholm are both fantastic!)

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On 5/14/2019 at 8:47 PM, CruiserBruce said:

 

Every port is covered in detail here, with ways to tour on your own, and with recommended private tour vendors. 

Thanks for this, I have found this thread with some generalities

https://www.cruisecritic.com/articles.cfm?ID=1292

but maybe there is something more you are referring to. This thread is not that detailed in my mind.

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1 hour ago, jbinbi said:

Thanks for this, I have found this thread with some generalities

https://www.cruisecritic.com/articles.cfm?ID=1292

but maybe there is something more you are referring to. This thread is not that detailed in my mind.

 

This is a useful port reference that includes many of the Baltic ports:

https://www.whatsinport.com/

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