Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Baltic Cruise, part 1: Copenhagen, Oslo, and at sea

August 10 - Copenhagen, Denmark

Lance and I got a very early start even though the Star Princess wasn't due to set sail until 9 PM. Our flight to Copenhagen from Dusseldorf was at 6:30 AM, and we took the train from Geilenkirchen, so we left at 3:16 AM on the train. This resulted in us not really going to bed that night at all. I took a long nap from about 7:30-11:30 PM or so...Lance slept for an hour around dinner time. So groggily, we got ourselves through, and Lance rewarded himself with a nice nap on the flight, which was less than an hour.

We got into Copenhagen airport around 8 AM (the flight left a bit late out of Dusseldorf) and very quickly got our luggage. There was a counter with the Princess Cruises logo, which was presumably where we were to meet up with the agent who was to assist us with the transfer to the ship. But nobody was to be found (although the Holland America agent was there at their respective counter), so we walked all over baggage claim until we found a person in a Princess Cruises uniform, who led us to another person outside customs, who led us to another person, etc. etc. Through this process, we dropped off our luggage and found our transfer bus.

Once the bus was full (this took awhile), we set out into Copenhagen toward the area where Star Princess was berthed. I was getting excited at the brief glimpse I got of the city. We got there so early...surely we would have time to do some sightseeing prior to setting off.

I thought wrong. The Star Princess berth was a million miles from anywhere, and once we got off the bus, we were herded into a holding tent, where they gave us some tea or coffee and made us take a number and sit. Lance and I were lucky...we were in the 3rd group for boarding, so once they actually started checking people in (which was between 11 and noon...we had been in the tent for at least two hours), we were one of the earliest groups. We were issued our cruise cards, and then we were allowed to board.

Our room was on deck 14 (Lido), which is (no bias here) the best deck on the ship. It's basically the main deck, with two pools, 4 jacuzzis, several bars, a pizzeria, an ice cream parlor, a hamburger/hotdog grill and...the best part...THE 24 HOUR BUFFET! We settled into our cabin, which didn't take long, because our luggage had yet to arrive. We grabbed some pizza for lunch, took a quick walk around the ship (we determined that everything else important was on deck 7 - Promenade, and deck 6, which is where the casino was located), and then took a nap. Our steward woke us up when our luggage arrived a few hours later.

So basically, we hung out on the ship all day, which was cool. Lance bought the $3.95/day "all you can drink" Coca-Cola offer because he drinks so much soda and the prices on the ship for it are ridiculous...and he got his little souvenir Coca-Cola cup for refills, so he was good to go. We had the boring Muster Drill, which is a requirement on every cruise, but also very important. We ate at the buffet in the evening (we somehow got scheduled for late seating in the formal dining room, and Lance hates all the pretentiousness of the main dining areas anyway) and spent some time in our cabin unpacking and hanging up clothes. We watched part of a movie in our room (we have no television at home currently, so having TV is quite decadent for us). We set sail at 9, so we made sure to be on deck for that. With very little fanfare, we were off, heading toward Oslo.

August 11 - Oslo, Norway

We slept in the next morning and woke up to a damp and chilly day. The hamburger joint had an omelet station set up for breakfast, so we ate there and had a leisurely morning. We weren't scheduled to arrive in Oslo until after lunch, but we were quietly slipping through the fjords for hours, which were just beautiful. We watched most of it from the Promenade Deck, and I had my camera with me.

When we arrived in Oslo, we pulled up right in the center of town, next to Akershus Castle, which is the only building in Oslo (I think) that still exists from medieval times. The city hall, which is quite unattractive, was only about 5 minutes away. We had a brief tour scheduled called EZ Oslo, which was just a 2 hour bus tour around the city, so we were excited to be so close to town, because we planned to do some exploring on our own. I liked this tour. Our guide was Anna and our bus driver, in typically Norwegian fashion, was named Thor.

While I didn't find Oslo to be beautiful - it's not full of old buildings - it is elegant. A Norwegian acquaintance of mine, who hails from Bergen, told me that Oslo has no soul, but I don't think I would agree with that. There is a definite spirit in the town...a certain atmosphere that I could just feel everywhere we went. That was most apparent at Holmenkollen, the huge ski jumping site where Olympic events were held in 1952. Oslo residents love and cherish this place because of their deep and abiding love for sports, and it's going to be torn down next year, so I feel fortunate that we had the chance to see it. It will be replaced by a new, more modern ski jump. The views from up there were astonishingly beautiful.

The tour stopped at Holmenkollen and one other good scenic point for pictures, but mostly we just drove around the town. The waterfront area is being totally reconstructed, so Oslo's skyline is punctuated by cranes. We passed the main shopping area, which is on Henrik Ibsen Street, an avenue that comes to an end at the Royal Palace, which Lance and I later visited on our own (not inside).

Anyway, after the drive around, we were dropped off at the ship and Lance and I began our own exploration of Oslo. At this point, a motorboat grand prix was taking place around our ship, so there were a lot of people at the harbor area. We walked into the shopping area and up to the Royal Palace and back. I was getting peckish, so we stopped in a 7-Eleven (they had tons of these all over Scandinavia...so odd, but they don't serve Slurpees) and I bought a delicious piece of toffee cake and a postcard.

We then walked around the grounds of Akershus Castle. There was a military wedding going on there, so we didn't have much access to it, but we did go into the Museum of Resistance, which documents the Norwegian Resistance Movement during WWII. Unfortunately, we got there 10 minutes before closing, so we couldn't spend a lot of time, but at least the admission was free.

Before getting back on the ship, we browsed the duty free shops right by the berth. We found an Oslo Christmas ornament (it is our tradition to buy an ornament at each place we visit together so we can reminisce as we decorate our tree), bought some chocolate bars (Norwegian milk chocolate is incredible...Lance brings some home for me whenever he goes TDY to Norway) and a Cola Light for me (because I don't drink very much soda and can get by with buying one at port).

We left Oslo early in the evening and set off toward Poland, which meant a full day at sea the following day. That night we saw a show in the Princess Theatre...it was with the Star Princess singers and dancers, and it was their homage to the movies. They had songs from classics from Singing in the Rain to Mary Poppins to Dirty Dancing and they also sang a number from Titanic without the slightest hint of irony. Overall, it was a very entertaining show. Afterwards, we went to some Big Band performance in one of the lounges and watched other people dance while we had a couple of drinks (Bellini for me, beer for Lance).

August 12 - at sea (bound for Gdynia, Poland)

The next day was a leisurely day at sea. I don't really remember us doing much, although we attended the cruise director's lecture on St. Petersburg late in the morning. Early in the afternoon, we passed under the Great Belt Bridge, which connects the Danish islands of Zealand and Funen. It used to be the longest bridge in the world. It almost looked like we wouldn't make it, but the Star Princess has passed this way many times. It caused quite a stir though...many people were out on the deck with their cameras (including me). It was a tight fit, but we made it. :)

I went to a seminar in the gym at 3:30, and since that evening was the first formal evening (we opted out), we had almost the entire Lido deck to ourselves. So we relaxed in the jacuzzi and I went to the gym too, since the gym was basically empty. That was our first day at sea...boring, but actually quite nice and peaceful.

Now, here are photos from those first 3 days...some of them were taken through rain-streaked bus windows, so excuse the raindrops in the photos. Coming up next: Gdansk and Tallinn.

~~ Pictures! ~~


GODCHICK said...

I love your picture. I can't wait to see more and hear more about your cruise. I know you were gone when I posted my Alaska pictures. Here's the link to it.


Karyn said...

Love your pictures! That looked like a beautiful ship too. I didn't take many pictures of our ship because there are so many on the Princess Cruises' site, but your ship is prettier than the one we were on. The decor seems more tasteful to me. Ours had a cheesy Vegas lounge feel in a lot of places.