To cruise or not to cruise….that is the question! And it is one I will try to answer. Read on.
We have just returned from a cruise of the Baltic and boy did we have fun! Previously we did two in the Med on our own; this time we went with two other couples, all cruise virgins! We were still friends when we returned.
The one major advantage of a cruise is that you only have to unpack once and yet you can visit different countries, different cities without any effort on your part. The Baltic Cruise brings you to five different capital cities over ten days. While you are eating, drinking and sleeping your ship carries you to your next port. Yes, there are also one or two days at sea, but they are a welcome respite from sightseeing and there are plenty of activities to keep you amused.
You can experience fine dining in the more formal restaurants or if that is not your thing, you are spoilt for choice in the self-service restaurant, with food from every continent to satisfy even the pickiest eater! All this is included in your price.
Our previous cruises were with Royal Caribbean and this one was with its sister line Celebrity so as one would expect the service was exemplary. Being Irish and a group of six, the waiters got to know us pretty quickly and had their own nicknames for some of our party.
Our ship, Celebrity Silhouette, had about 2,800 passengers, but even on days at sea it never felt crowded. There is always something to do. You can laze by one of the pools (indoor and outdoor) or lounge in one of the jacuzzis. A fascinating insight into the history of Faberge from an expert, and a presentation from a former director of The Kennedy Space Centre on space travel were two that grabbed our attention, but there were plenty of less cerebral activities on offer also. We played table-tennis, boules and cards, and if you wanted to lose some money you could hit the slot machines or the Casino.
The entertainment is always top notch; many famous performers began their careers on cruise ships and we managed to fit in some excellent shows in the huge theatre at the bow of the ship. Our favourite haunt for our pre-dinner drinks was the Ensemble Lounge, where we often listened to Joe from Ireland and his partner Liv. We did hit The Sky Bar for some dancing one night, but decided it was best left to the honeymooners and ‘Strictly Come Dancing’ wannabees.
I refused to take the lifts during the day and only used the stairs, and also visited the fully-equipped gym on several occasions to try and manage the overload in calories! Some of the men managed fifty lengths of the swimming pool daily!
We all put on a few pounds, but have nearly returned to our pre-holiday weights since returning home.
The cruise was a huge success and our friends are converts now too.
Here are my top tips if you are thinking of a cruise:
1 Book well in advance to get discounts. We booked in September with Trailfinders (Ireland) on a pay for one and get the second person at half-price deal.
2 We got a similar offer on a drinks package. It included all bottled water, speciality coffees, some beers, lovely prosecco, numerous wines, spirits and even some cocktails. Let’s say we were not disappointed.
3 Even more important is to get your gratuities included. They can really add up by the end of the cruise and you can pay a small fortune if you don’t.
4 If you can afford it, pay extra for a balcony, particularly if you are in any way claustrophobic. Anyway, you don’t want to miss the spectacular sunrises and sunsets; GG and I particularly liked leaving the door ajar to listen to the sound of the waves as we drifted off to sleep, though maybe this might not be a good idea if you sleepwalk!
5 Don’t be worried about being stuck with the same people at dinner every night. You can avoid this by booking ‘any time dining’ in the main dining room, or you can choose to eat in the self-service restaurant. Or you can pay extra (not exorbitantly) for some top class dining in speciality restaurants. Murano (5-star French cuisine) was our out-and-out favourite.
6 Size does matter! In this case, it’s the reverse of what you imagine. Previously, we were on Navigator of the Seas and it was huge. I kept getting lost and not being a sailor, couldn’t tell my aft from my bow or my port from my starboard, so frequently I had to be brought back to my ‘stateroom’ (yes that’s what they are called). But Silhouette was just right. It was easy to find your way around.
7 If you want to avoid children, go before the school holidays. There were practically none on ours, at the beginning of June, though the itinerary was probably not suitable in any case.
8 We did not avail of any of the cruise excursions which are horrendously expensive; we chose to book our own guide in St Petersburg and in the other ports we explored ourselves. More on this in a future post.
9 There are beauty and hairdressing salons on board, as on most cruise ships, if you want to indulge, but they are expensive. So it is probably better to get your facials and manicures etc. before the holiday.
10. Celebrity rewards loyalty. The more you sail with them the more points you get and the more important you are. Our only gripe about the entire cruise was the fact that there was no free wi-fi ,At a dolllar a minute it was ridiculously expensive. Frequent cruisers had a much cheaper package.. It is worth joining The Captain’s Club for future benefits, if you intend to go cruising again!
More to come on this particular Baltic cruise in future posts. Thanks to fellow travellers Bill and Dave for their photograph contribution.