White Nights in the Baltic
Copenhagen is as picturesque as you can imagine. We arrived a few days before the cruise departure so we could tour the city. It is compact enough to visit on foot, but there also are convenient hop-on hop-off buses which stop at all the popular sites. We began with a lunch of smorrebrod, a traditional Danish open faced sandwich. Museums, palaces, shopping and dining filled the next few days, though we did manage to squeeze in a harbor cruise and a visit to Tivoli Gardens, probably the world's first amusement park. You definitely should plan on spending a few days in Copenhagen when booking this cruise. Copenhagen is particularly close to my heart, as my great grandfather was born in Denmark. We went to the National Library and spent an afternoon poring over the census records. We managed to trace my family history several generations back, and hope someday to contact some of my long-lost cousins. The Latitudes welcome party on the Star was the best one we've experienced on NCL. The hors d'oeuvres and specialty cocktails, the friendliness of the staff, and the inclusiveness of the guest list (everyone from Bronze on up) far outpaced anything we've encountered at a Latitudes party on any other NCL ship. It was also nice to win one of the door prizes. Bravo! At the German port town of Warnemunde, we chose to take a train to Hamburg instead of one of the shore excursions to Berlin. Hamburg is home to the Miniatur Wunderland, an absolutely huge (almost 100,000 square feet) model railway. I'm an admitted "train nut," but even the non rail fans in our group were gobsmacked by the artistic detail and intricate animation of the world's largest miniature railway. They wanted to stay longer, even after I was ready to go! There's a reason it is Hamburg's number one tourist attraction. Be sure to make your reservation early - the place was completely packed the day we were there. At Tallinn we caught a cab to the center of the old city and spent the day strolling. It probably is the best way to see the highlights. We also explored Helsinki and Stockholm the same way, but with the aid of hop-on hop-off buses which stop by the cruise dock. The cruise includes two days in St. Petersburg, and you will need every minute of that even to scratch the surface of this ancient Russian capital city. Since there were several in our group, we arranged a private two-day tour in a medium sized van. The Hermitage, Catherine's Palace, a canal cruise, and an evening of traditional Russian folk dancing filled our hours. One caution - the Russian passport office in St. Petersburg can be a bit slow at times. The NCL Star was not the only ship in port that day, and the Russians seemed to be overwhelmed by the crowds. From the time the Star opened the gangway, it was more than two hours before the last passenger was allowed off the ship and through the cruise terminal. The ship's elevator lobby near the gangway, Deck 4 as I recall, became uncomfortably crowded and resulted in many passengers feeling claustrophobic. The Star crew could have done a better job of managing the crowd once it became apparent that the customs officers were causing such a delay. If you travel this far north around the time of the summer solstice, you quickly will discover the meaning of the term "White Nights." We were there about a month before the longest day of the year, and we still got almost 20 hours of daylight. Travel in late June if you really want to see it all and can manage with little sleep. Overall, a great trip, beautiful scenery, delightful new friends, wonderful food, both on and off the ship, and memories that will last a lifetime.