A couple of years ago, I embarked on a family trip with my mother and stepdad, my sister with her husband and teenaged kids, and my aunt and uncle. The reasons for the trip were many but we more than anything wanted a grand trip all together to give my niece and nephew a great memory of their first trip to Europe and for the rest of us to get some R&R. We chose a cruise as it facilitated a group of 9 people traveling together since the cruise ship offers many options for at-sea days and there is no moving from place to place every few days carrying or rolling luggage around, something the older ones in the group would not have been able to easily do. We have done cruises before together and knew the cruise dynamic works well for us giving everyone things to do and space when needed. Much as I may have enjoyed driving around one or more European countries, it would not have made sense with a group like this one.
We decided on a Baltic route as it was new to most of us and because if we were ever to do it, this time of the year was perfect. I personally had a goal of getting to sample a few of the countries in the region to know where to focus future trips. The destinations involved were Copenhagen, Tallinn, Warnemunde (but really, Berlin was the target), St. Petersburg, and Stockholm. I had been to none of these cities though I have been to Germany a few times. I will write separately about my impressions about these places but St. Petersburg, in particular, was top of my list of places I have not seen in Europe.
Copenhagen is where the cruise departed from so we planned to spend a couple of days there before and after the trip. We wanted to arrive early in case there were issues with the flight over – so we would have a couple of days of “cushion” especially given the size of the group.
The cruise line (Costa) was supposed to be very decent and we got cabins with blocked views (by the lifeboats) which were cheaper -obviously- than the ones with a view. But we chose them as it allowed us to get some sunlight in the room for the little time we spent there and not feel like we were in a box. That was a good choice. My cabin was even better as it faced the space between two lifeboats so we could actually look out! The ship was no different in design and options as past cruise ships I have been in which was good and bad. Good because I had liked them but bad because there was nothing new to discover. It may have lacked a little in activities on at-sea days which was surprising.
The biggest shock of this cruise vs. all the other ones we had been on was the food. My past experiences have been that I look at the dinner menu and I want EVERYTHING on the menu. This time, I generally struggled to find a main entree that I REALLY wanted . I was surprised at that (others in the group felt the same way). I cannot quite put my finger on what was off with the menu but it proved true every night. However, the pasta served as first dish was outstanding every night and that was the most enjoyable part of my nightly dinner. Desserts were generally OK except that the first night’s creme brulee was almost egg soup. After hours or in between meals, the choices were extremely limited (mostly to pizza) and the ice cream machine was off!!! (Contrary to past cruise experiences.) So overall, the dining experience was not up to snuff for me. On the bright side, I only gained one pound!
The onboarding and disembarkation processes were very efficiently run though perhaps that assisted by the fact that there were 2 embarkation ports which meant the load was split. However, organization of the cruise tours was equally efficiently run so perhaps this is a strength for this line.
The drawback for me of taking a cruise is the limited time at port. I wish, for example, the visit to St. Petersburg has been split over two days as my Mom experienced on a past cruise there. Seeing these towns in two days even is not enough but I sure wish we could have spent one overnight in any of these towns. Given the limited time, we left the boat as early as we could which meant we had an early wake-up time every day. We had 3 days in a row visiting ports so by the 3rd day we were fairly exhausted as we also did a lot of walking in the cities visited. However, I do not regret it as there is no way I would have missed seeing as much as I could but so much for the “rest” part of R&R!
So even if it was not the perfect cruise experience, I can tell you that the memories still live on. Sadly, the rhythm of life moves on and the health of one of the group does not allow this type of long trip anymore. Believe me when I say I would gladly suffer a poor creme brulee (and more) for another opportunity to be with this group doing something like this… It sure puts it all in perspective…