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Callummck

Baltic aboard Brilliance! Semi-Live 12 Nights

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Day Six - St. Petersburg  (1) 

 

Today was really the main reason we came on the cruise- to visit St. Petersburg! The reason we chose a cruise to see St. Petersburg is that there is a kind of visa exemption scheme for cruise ship passengers. There’s a lot of myth out there (some of this has come from cruise lines!) surrounding this, but this is what we found to be true. 

 

Russian tourist visas are bureaucratic and expensive. To encourage tourism, guests booked on a tour package are eligible for a “blanket visa”, provided they return to their ship overnight and they use a registered tour guide who can issue them with this visa in advance. Ships seem to perpetuate a story that only their tours or a full on tourist visa are the only viable options- indeed, our ticket brochure from Royal Caribbean said as much. This just isn’t true. There are lots of reputable companies out there- Alla and TJ Travel are the two that seem to come up the most- who offer a huge range of tours, often cheaper than the ship. 

 

We made contact with Alla at the end of last year, they didn’t have any private tours left, and under 5s can’t go on regular tours with them, so they recommended TJ Travel. The communication in advance was super, and they offered a family friendly 2 day group tour at $199pp (Henry goes free) with a max group size of 12. We took it! It included all of the main sites, at a slower pace than a one day tour, with some child friendly stops included too. This far rivalled anything the ship was offering. One of the slight peculiarities of the visa waiver thingy is that you have to stay with your Guide. This also means that if they don’t get you back to the ship in time they are responsible, by Russian law, to get you to the next stop...so you’re gonna get back on time! 

 

It was an early start today. The ship was due to be cleared at 7am, ships tour excursions to leave at 7.30 and private guests from 8. This is simply to ease congestion at immigration, and this was confirmed to us by our guide. We ordered room service breakfast to save time, and everything ran like clockwork. It took us about 20 minutes to clear immigration and, ironically, we walked into the customs hall at exactly the same time as the Outlaws, who’d been in the theatre since 7am, scrambling over hundreds of others for the ship’s tours. 

 

The signs for TJ Travel were very prominent. Upon meeting our guide Julia and our driver Alec, we were delighted to learn that we were the only people booked onto our tour, which meant it was essentially a private tour! After a brief tour of the city with photo stops We headed to the Hermitage. It was packed with large groups, but we were so fortunate to have Julia and just us- it meant we could navigate around with ease. Having a guide made this so much more informative than it otherwise might have been. 

 

We then took a delicious lunch in a local restaurant, before making our way to two Family Friendly activities for the afternoon. The first was the “Shaddow Museum” which told the history of St. Petersburg using Shaddow art and was very interactive. After this we took a trip to the “Grand Maket”- an 800 square meter scaled down model of Russia! It was incredible... the detail was terrific. What was interesting is that I’d say 90% of the visitors here were Russian and it really felt like we were away from the usual tourist trail. Julia was also able to accommodate our request to visit the Russian classic, “Starbucksikov” to pick up a mug for our collection. 

 

We returned to the ship at around 5pm. The immigration at the Port can be quite intimidating and the officers at passport control are very deadpan. They were, of course, no match for little Henry who had them eating out of the palm of his hand in no time...that Kid. Clearly, they need to work on their scary ness training if a two year old can have them cooing! 

 

After a scorcher of a day (High 20s) we hit the pool for a cool off before grabbing a quick dinner from the WindJammer. I’m sorry that I didn’t get any food related photos today...it felt like we were hardly on the ship! It was French themed night and the food was excellent. Today was the closest day so far to losing out on the drinks package but with a bottle of water (2$) two sodas (7) a Mocktail (6) and a coffee before bed (4) we just made it!

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Day Seven - St. Petersburg  (2) 

 

We could have a slightly later start for our second day in St. Petersburg and so I ran up to the Park Cafe to bring back breakfast to the room. It’s quite an impressive selection and made a change from the windjammer and MDR. See pictures! Immigration was much swifter this morning and we were through in about 5 minutes, giving us chance to look at the souvenirs etc. at the port and for Henry to have a little longer to charm the socks off of the scary immigration officials. 

 

Julia and Alec arrived and informed us that, due to the World Economic Forum taking place our schedule had to change order slightly. This event made the traffic super crazy in SPB but they did their best to mitigate it and we still got to complete the whole itinerary. We started off with a 60min drive out to Peterhof, the Summer Palace with magnificent gardens and fountains. The fountains are an engineering marvel, and the main cascade comes on at 11am to the sounds of the Russian national anthem. The real highlight, however, was the series of “trick fountains”, controlled by an operator in a booth, that children can play in. Given that today made it up to 32 degrees these were an absolute hit with an overheated toddler! We then took a Hydrofoil ride (I’d never heard of them before, they look like a boat which is kind of out of the future or the USSR) back along the river into the city and disembarked right by the hermitage. 

 

After some Russian fast-food for lunch we had a guided boat trip around the canals and rivers. It was wonderful to see the city from this viewpoint - St. Petersburg is really charming. We then had a tour inside the iconic Church on the Spilled Blood before having a tour of the Metro. This sounds like a bizzare tour...but it was really interesting. Not only was it a glimpse into life for ordinary residents if he city, but St. Petersburg contains the deepest metro station in the world and some of the other stations are decorated with beautiful mosaics. 

 

I’d heartily recommend this kind of private or small group tour. If you can splurge and go private (which happened accidentally to us, thankfully without the splurge!) I’d go for it. Being able to go at our own pace, and see things that interested us was really quite super and this was especially good with a toddler- who wouldn’t have coped with the large ship’s group tours. That said, the outlaws took two ships excursions and, the disembarkation chaos on the first day aside, were very impressed with the quality of the tour. Their second tour was also nearly an hour late back to the ship and the ship waited without question because it was a ship’s excursion. To be fair, it didn’t leave until 1:45 in the afternoon, which was certainly cutting it fine. 

 

Back aboard, We cooled off in the pool. I’d heard that the ship is pretty much full but the pool area, even in today’s scorching weather, has never had more than a dozen people around it, and we’ve never shared the pool with more than a couple of people at a time. I’m so glad Henry is potty trained in time, else it would have been really hard for him not to be able to go in the pool.

 

Dinner tonight was the MDR with the outlaws. We’ve had the same waiters all week and I think they are the biggest pro of the MDR. We went from start to finish in about an hour and 20 tonight. The food was “fine”. I think last night’s WindJammer was better on balance. I took a pepper soup and a crab cake for starters which were good, a lasagne for main which was pretty average at best and apple pie for dessert which was pretty good. The menu in the MDR is pretty big, but it doesn’t change so much each evening. I reckon there are usually about 4/5 starters that are different and 5/6 mains which is plenty of change I guess but dessert so far has been one hot dessert that changes and one sugar free dessert (and every time we’ve been the hot dessert has been chocolate brownie, cookie or cake...although that would be a hit for many!). Not so much a criticism, but an observation. 

 

In other stray news, today they brought out the 10 drinks for $75 cards. As we’ve a refreshment package it doesn’t effect us, but lots of people were getting excited about this and the pool bartenders were walking round trying to sell them. There was also a 10 Beers for I think $50ish package. A laundry offer of “stuff what you can except for trousers and shirts into this bag for $35” also appeared in the stateroom (I guess appeared makes it sound like magic... Franklin our stateroom attendant probably put it there in case you were worried the ship is haunted or something!). We keenly took up this offer because we’ve basically ran out of shorts and t-shirts...expecting the weather to be Baltic we only packed a couple of pairs and then mostly jumpers, trousers and arctic exploration gear! 

 

Most of the guests onboard seemed tired following two heavy days in St. Petersburg. I think this was reflected in the entertainment in the theatre tonight- movie night! We decided to skip it and go to bed early. I should also say that last night’s entertainment was a Russian Folkloric Show. We didn’t see it, as the only showing was 10pm but the outlaws did and said it was absolutely incredible- MiL said it was that good, that it was the highlight of the cruise thus far...and there was me thinking it would have been the dinner company and witty humour of her favourite (only) Son in Law. 

 

Tomorrow marks the fifth consecutive port day- Helsinki. I’m looking forward to Saturday’s Sea Day for a rest!

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Day 8- Helsinki 

 

The aches and pains of getting up this morning felt a bit like the day after running a marathon..not that I’ve ever ran one, but we had done over 40,000 steps the previous two days in 30 degree heat! Feeling a bit jaded we grabbed a quiet breakfast from the Park Cafe before setting out to enjoy beautiful Helsinki (I’d tried to go for an alliterative adjective but I couldn’t think of a positive word beginning with H...). 

 

It was another gloriously sunny day and we’d booked a ship’s excursion, another similar one to Stockholm- an unguided tour where the bus drops you off at three locations. Our main reasons for this were a) the price (£22 in a cruise planer sale, comparable with the shuttle bus!) b) the limited time in Helsinki (all aboard at 3pm) and c) The fact that the three things we wanted to see(main square, Sibelius monument and rock church) are so far apart that reaching them by foot or public transport would have been tricky. This tour was a bit smoother than the Stockholm one and we’re glad we took it. The only slight grumble is that here, as at Stockholm, we got significantly less time at the sites than advertised. I completely understand about traffic times and things, but the fact that it seems to be regular (and that the printed guide on the day was already displaying shorter times than the brochure) makes me think they’d be better advertising for a “typical case scenario” rather than “absolutely best case scenario”. Nonetheless, it was a good tour, of a beautiful city. 

 

We were back onboard by 1pm and enjoyed our first lunch in the Windjammer. This was followed by an afternoon in the glorious sun playing Shuffleboard (fast becoming a favourite) and swimming in the pool. 

 

For the evening, Mrs. M and I had a date night and used the third night of our 3 night dining package at Giovannis- her choice! I preferred Chops overall, but both were excellent and made a very nice change from the MDR and Windjammer. Theincluded food has been fine, but the Speciality restaurants are a bit like going to a nice restaurant on land. The beauty of being onboard is that you can order as much as you like, so for example we were able to sample octopus, which we probably wouldnt have wanted to risk paying out for! 

 

With Henry safely in the care of the outlaws (or rather, the outlaws safely in the care of Henry) we had some drinks, played some Shuffleboard and checked out the 9pm production showtime of Tango Buenos Airies. Dance shows aren’t really my thing, but one can’t help but be impressed by the quality of the music and dancers. 

 

Coming away from Helsinki today felt a little bit like we’re on the Home Stretch (probably because we literally are!) but we still have four more days to look forward to aboard the beautiful Brilliance of the Seas.

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On 6/10/2019 at 10:54 AM, Callummck said:

beautiful Helsinki (I’d tried to go for an alliterative adjective but I couldn’t think of a positive word beginning with H...)

 

23 hours ago, KristiZ said:

Heroic Helsinki? 😉 

Hirsute Helsinki! 😂

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20 hours ago, Skid said:

@Callummck said:

setting out to enjoy beautiful Helsinki (I’d tried to go for an alliterative adjective but I couldn’t think of a positive wordbeginning with H...). 

 

Heavenly Hospitable Helsinki

I’m not sure why I didn’t think of “Happy Helsinki!!!”

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Day 9- Sea Day

 

Today demonstrated that weather in the Baltic can be quite unpredictable. We started the day surrounded by thick fog- it was like we were sailing through a cloud (and meant the view from the outlaws balcony was as good as from our inside cabin!) Breakfast was in the main dining room. I had the French Toast with Bacon and it was really good- much thicker and fresher than from the WindJammer. Whilst we were eating breakfast the fog suddenly lifted, and glorious sunshine replaced the mist.

 

We had booked Henry in for two hours at nursery. We decided to make the most of the sunshine and sat outside to play some Rummikub. It was quite crowded, so we went to the outside seating of the Wimdjammer, right at the aft of the boat (which may have accidentally lead to a second breakfast...just to make sure I was right about the French toast!). This seating is often quiet, but the view is spectacular and it’s really a good place to eat and relax. We found ourselves getting sunburned and the fog turned into a distant memory. 

 

Things turned a bit gloomy however when Captain Ante came over the PA system to say that we had slowed down and changed direction (we hadn’t even noticed!) due to a passenger becoming critically ill and needing to be taken to shore by the Swedish navy. The rescue boat pulled alongside the ship and the passenger was transferred that along with one of the doctors from the ship. This meant we had to wait for the doctor to get back, but Captain Ante said this wouldn’t effect the itinerary as we still had plenty of time to make it to Skagen at full speed. It was quite sad that someone was so Ill, but also reassuring to know how quickly and efficiently the crew manage these situations. 

 

For lunch, we went back to the MDR. I think lunch is the meal that the MDR does particularly well- there’s always been a wide variety on the menu which changes a lot as well as the legendary salad bar. Today, I had the seafood and tomato risotto which was fantastic, and for dessert we shared Cherry Custard Crepes and Caramelised Banana Mille Feulle  - both of which are vying for the title of best desserts on board! 

 

With Henry enjoying a post-lunch nap we decided to try out the cinema for the first time as it was showing Aquaman. It’s tucked away between the Pub and the Theatre on deck 6 and it’s quite neat and quirky. We arrived as the film was starting and only just got a seat because it’s quite small but the same film seems to play back to back throughout the day. The projector is a bit dated but it’s a great way to spend some time. Whilst the film was on, Captain Ante came back over the address system to say that we’d been back on our way but, unfortunately, another guest had been taken critically ill and so we’d need to take them aboard also. I don’t think they were related or caused by the ship! This did turn out to be a delay that couldn’t be mitigated , and so the Captain said the best option available was to arrive in Skagen 3 hours later than planned tomorrow. I guess that’s a small inconvenience when health and life are at stake. 

 

By this point, the weather had literally become gloomy. Undeterred, we headed at Henry’s insistence, to the pool for our afternoon swim. I’ve never been able to figure out a pattern to the water temperature. In St. Petersburg, at 30 something degrees and pure sunshine, it felt freezing. Today, in grey and windy conditions it felt like a bath! 

 

We then headed back to get changed ready for the second formal night, which we’d eat in the dining room for. People seem pretty relaxed about the dress- I saw about five tuxedos (including one on Henry who became a hit with the ladies!), a few lounge suits, but most were just slacks, shirts and blazers. The food in the MDR was really good tonight- we had, between us, Asparagus Soup, Fried mushrooms, Hallibut, Beef Wellington, Chicken Schnitzel and Pecan Pie. It was rounded off with one of the celebration Birthday cakes which Henry refused to share! 

 

Entertainment this evening was “BowJangles”. I was on bedtime duty but Mrs. M went to see it and said it was very clever. It was a string quartet who did quite a bit of comedy. She said it was quite clever but that there were a lot of musical jokes “We’re out in the ocean...The High C” and that a few people walked out! She enjoyed it though.

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Thank you so much for sharing your cruise.  This time last year I was on a very similar cruise - Navigator from Southampton - it's great to hear of your experience.

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