Baltic Cruise August 2018

Cunard Line MS Queen Victoria

Wednesday August 8, 2018

Departure

Off on our next cruise, this time it’s round trip from Southampton on the Cunard Line Queen Victoria stopping at:

Kristiansand, Norway - Copenhagen, Denmark - Stockholm, Sweden - Tallinn, Estonia - St. Petersburg, Russia - Helsinki, Finland - Wernemunde, Germany

















Today we flew on Virgin Atlantic from San Francisco to London. The business class lounge was small but very nicely set up; not the usual buffet but waitress service – a nice touch. The decor has a bit of a retro fell to it and the artwork featured musicians from the early days of Virgin Music. The usual business amenities; printing, faxes etc. were complimented by some nice showering facilities.

Many of the business class lounges at airports nowadays are on the gate side of the security checkpoint; making the transition from the lounge to the aircraft a short, smooth trip. However the Virgin lounge at SFO is located before the security checkpoint and so we were a bit concerned about how much time to allow to safely make through the security checks. However we need not have worried as the Virgin staff had everything very well organized; when it was time for our flight we were  personally escorted to the priority security line – which was very short. It took only 5 minutes and we boarded.

The plane was a Boeing 787 Dreamliner with fully reclining seats. The flight was very uneventful, which was great and dinner was set up so that Sandra and I could sit together; the food was very good. At bed time the reclining seat was set up as a bed by the attendant, including a bottom and top quilt. 

 

  


Thursday August 9, 2018

Southampton

We had arranged through Cunard for a driver to pick us up at Heathrow and drive us down to Southampton. We waited in the arrivals lounge for about 10 minutes and then spotted the driver holding the "Mr. Wylie" placard.

After a short walk to a very nice Mercedes we were off for the ~90-minute drive to Southampton. Lots of traffic on the M25 circular road as usual.

We checked in to the Mercure Southampton Centre Dolphin Hotel around 2:30PM. 

The hotel is an odd mix of old and new buildings located about 5-minute drive from the cruise terminal and about a 5-minute walk to the city center. We dragged bags over carpets, up and down 2 or 3 stairs several times to reach our ground floor room- old UK hotels are rarely level. The room was more than a bit grubby and unusually hot – we immediately opened all the windows. This hotel was not inexpensive (perhaps due to its location) and so we did not feel the experience was good value.

After a quick wash and change we walked up the street to the shopping mall; there is always last minute shopping to do before embarkation!

That night we met up with my brother Michael and his wife Glynis who are joining us on this cruise and we headed out for dinner to a local tapas restaurant, called Bacaro, selected by Michael based on a prior visit; the food and company was excellent.

  

Friday August 10, 2018

Southampton, Embarkation

Breakfast was included in the room rate at the hotel and it was the usual English breakfast buffet, including fried eggs that had been wilting under heat lamp for 8 hours – this could be a new method for the manufacture of artificial rubber. Overall the buffet was not very good, though I was able to get my usual cereal and fruit.

More really-last-minute shopping at the mall - really!!

Taxi to the cruise terminal to board the Queen Victoria was easy and quick, embarkation very smooth with no lines. Our bags were even waiting for us by the time we got to our cabin on the 6th floor (6117) – this is a first for us in all of our years of cruising.


Stateroom 6117 was a nicely appointed balcony room – pretty much the same as on all the Cunard ships (see other blogs on this website for a more detailed description). 

We headed for the onboard pub to grab a pint and a spot of lunch - this is somewhat of a ritual for us.

Sail away was very special as all three Cunard Queens were leaving Southampton on the same day. Around 3:30PM the Queen Elizabeth cast off, follow about 15 minutes later by the Queen Mary 2 and then around 4PM we set off in the Queen Victoria (our ship).


We walked the decks taking in the great views of the two beautiful ships ahead of us; a rain shower provided a spectacular rainbow.

 

By coincidence today was also the last day of the Cowes sailing regatta; Cowes is a town on the Isle of Wight - to cap the event the Red Arrows RAF flying display team were scheduled to perform. All three ships stopped just north of the town of Cowes and the entire passenger contingent crowded the decks to view the air display. 

Unfortunately, our view from the rear of the ship was right into the sun making for a squinty time - though the show was still brilliant. 

 

However, having finished their official show the team made several low-level passes over the three queens – what a treat!  

 

Before dinner we were introduced to the mid-ships Gin Bar on the Queen Victoria – where Sandra suddenly discovered that there were some gin cocktails that did not taste like gin.






Sunday August 12, 2018

Kristiansand, Norway

Kristiansand is a city in southern Norway. Its old town, Posebyen, features traditional wooden houses. In the center, neo-Gothic Kristiansand Cathedral is near the Sørlandets Museum, which displays Norwegian art from 1800 to today. The southeastern shoreline includes the Bystranda city beach, the 17th-century Christiansholm Fortress rotunda and Fiskebrygga quay, lined with fishmongers selling their catch.










Today we made our first port of call in the pretty little southern Norway town of Kristiansand – the old town was an easy walk from the ship dock. It was a beautiful bright day and we enjoyed the stroll through the boardwalk boat dock area with several shops, restaurants and the fish market.

  

We walked a route along the coastline past the circular fort which dominates the entrance to a small marina; Christiansholm Fortress was finished in 1672 and formed a part of King Christian IV's plan for defense of Kristiansand when the city was founded in 1641. 

    

Salmon were jumping in the river – very peaceful and quiet, it being a Sunday morning. The town had a new England feel to it, though when I think about it, isn’t it the New England towns that have a Norwegian feel to them? The small wooden clapboard houses that lined the streets were very picturesque; hanging baskets, cobbled roads and almost deserted - perhaps all the townsfolk were at church, or maybe they head for the hills when a cruise ship is in town?

A large church marked the center of town with a small pedestrianized square and a single market stall selling Norwegian tourist items; knitted jumpers, reindeer horn knives etc.

  

We found a excellent coffee shop called Drømmeplassen; really good baked goods and with free wi-fi.

  

Back ot the ship...


Walking back towards the ship we had a great lunch at a place called Pieder Ro located right on the dock. We sat in the outdoor area and were waited upon by a young chap who had spent time in the US, his English was excellent - in fact almost everyone we encountered today spoke really good English. The waiter made some recommendations, the menu was heavily dominated by seafood as you’d expect - he also advised us to try the “quintessential Norwegian beer”.

  

Despite numerous currency converter apps we managed to miss the fact that the beer cost $15 a glass; Michael and I had two each! In contrast the food was quite reasonably priced. Undoubtedly the most expensive beer I’ve ever had – the alcohol tax in Norway is very high.

Monday August 13, 2018

Copenhagen, Denmark

Copenhagen, Denmark’s capital, sits on the coastal islands of Zealand and Amager. It’s linked to Malmo in southern Sweden by the Öresund Bridge. Indre By, the city's historic center, contains Frederiksstaden, an 18th-century rococo district, home to the royal family’s Amalienborg Palace. Nearby is Christiansborg Palace and the Renaissance-era Rosenborg Castle, surrounded by gardens and home to the crown jewels.











Once again the ship docked close to the city center and we walked along the dock to the statue of the little mermaid from the famous story by Hans Christian Andersen. The area was packed with tourists jockeying for position to get the best photo, many with selfie sticks that they brandished like light sabres. The statue was surprisingly small and the rocks in front dangerously slippy.

  

Just across the river I spotted a beautiful old schooner; Her Danish Majesty's Yacht Dannebrog was launched by Queen Alexandrine at Copenhagen in 1931, and commissioned on 26 May 1932. The yacht now serves as the official and private residence for Queen Margrethe II of Denmark, and members of the Royal Family when they are on official visits overseas and on summer cruises in Danish waters. When at sea, the Royal Yacht also participates in surveillance and sea-rescue services.


There was a star shaped military fortress with ramparts in a park like setting and we took a gentle stroll through the grounds and on to the Gefion Fountain located adjacent to St. Albans Church.

The Gefion Fountain beside St Albans church was very impressive.

  

Wandering through the city we noticed wide cobble boulevards, many under repair, with quaint shops tucked into the old buildings.

 

We made our way to the Rosenborg Castle a renaissance castle located in central Copenhagen. The castle was originally built as a country summerhouse in 1606 and is an example of Christian IV's many architectural projects. It was built in the Dutch Renaissance style, typical of Danish buildings during this period, and has been expanded several times, finally evolving into its present condition by the year 1624. 

The queue to buy tickets was quite long, but we discovered a way to bypass the line by purchasing the tickets on line. It felt a bit strange to arrive and see a big long line, pull out the iPhone, buy tickets and bypass the line. Tickets have a timed entry but we only had to wait about 10 minutes. The highlight of the visit was the crown jewels in the basement.


 

  

The the palace guard were  mustering outside the castle, getting ready to march over to the current royal residence for the changing of the guard ceremony. 

 The castle is situated in Kongens Have ("The King's Garden"), also known as "Rosenborg Castle Garden". The Rosenborg Castle Garden is the country's oldest royal garden and was embellished in the Renaissance style by Christian IV shortly before the construction of the main castle. Today, the gardens are a popular retreat for the people of Copenhagen, and attract an estimated 2.5 million visitors every year. Next to the castle are barracks where the Royal Life Guards is garrisoned. The Life Guard guards the castle.














We wandered further in to the city and crossed the path of the marching guards on our way to a pastry shop; we could not visit Denmark with sampling a Danish Pastry!

 

The central area of Copenhagen is largely cobbled car-free squares and streets; we made our way to the Lego store - and hoped that since this was the birthplace of the famous building bricks we might find some unique Copenhagen lego sets for the grandkids. Alas we were disappointed and found that Lego truly is a global brand; the store contained only sets that we could also get back home - there were however some impressive displays.

  

We strolled through the government buildings, including the impressive City Hall to the new harbor area with its large canal lined with pretty colored houses and busy restaurants.

 

We sat at a canal-side restaurant for a quick lunch before getting a taxi back to the ship.


Tuesday August 14, 2018

At Sea

I don’t normally write about sea days but this afternoon we attended a gin tasting in the mid-ships bar. This was a limited seating paid event ($40 per person). We got to taste the 3 gins named for each of the 3 Cunard queens – not really to our liking. But the major trend over the past few years is the mixing of gin-based cocktails, and this session included several Cunard creations. 

As the afternoon wore on the event livened up.