One of the best cruises in my arsenal was the Baltic Capitals cruise that my friend Jo and I did to continue our quest for exploring Europe. The NCL Star’s Baltic Capitals itinerary was the selling point for us. It marked my first cruise vacation with Norwegian. Prices were reasonable, the ship in mint condition, and the ease of booking was noteworthy.
- Embark in Copenhagen, Denmark
- At sea
- Tallinn, Estonia
- St. Petersburg, Russia (an overnight)
- Helsinki, Finland
- Stockholm, Sweden
- At sea
- Copenhagen (disembark)
Beginning in the Amazing City of Copenhagen
Jo and I had been to Copenhagen previously but flew there a day early to make sure we did not miss our cruise due to airline issues. We booked a $109 room recommended by TripAdvisor reviews at the Hotel Bethel overlooking the canal, which also included European breakfast and WIFI. Jo and I strolled around the canal of the evening and dined at a nice Italian dinner near the hotel. We enjoyed their complimentary bread, pasta dishes, and each a glass of wine for around $30 per person. Nyhavn is expensive so be prepared.
The next morning Jo and I toured the waterfront part of Copenhagen. We lucked out and saw the changing of the guard at Amalienborg Castle, which occurs daily at noon. Later, we left the downtown over to board our cruise ship.
Impressions of the Norwegian Star
Our inside cabin on the Norwegian Star costs us $1200 per person. For this cruise, we opted for deck four; a perfect location because the disembarkation was only steps from our door, but far away enough (room 4553) that we did not hear the constant traffic. It was especially easy on the days we were at port, as there were no stairs to walk or waiting for the elevators.
My first impressions were that the ship was not as fancy as Celebrity and Princess, and that the decor was dated. I did like the functionality of the pub/trivia bar being so close to the shopping arcade and NCL had a smart digital screen showing the pay restaurants daily availability. Booking a pay restaurant has been quite a hassle on past cruises so this was a clever and helpful tool.
The Star’s Food
We ate at Cagney’s Steakhouse for a $20 fee. I recommend the Shrimp Cocktail with Jack Daniels Sauce and the Iceberg Wedge Salad. Both were excellent. My steak was decent but the side dishes, normally my favorite, were just mediocre. Be sure to fill up on your meal because the desserts were lacking creativity and flavor. NCL is famous for their free-style cruising options.
You can dine any time on the Star and it has two main dining rooms to choose from. The Versailles dining room seats 491 people, while the Aqua seats only 334. We experienced significant wait times at the Versailles so you may want to check both before deciding which to dine at. A full size pizza can be delivered to your stateroom for $5. There are other room service choices that are free but we did not try any.
Popular Events Onboard the Norwegian Star
Norwegian Star’s piano bar was popular with the guests as well as the live music in the ship’s atrium. The stage show, musicians, and dancers onboard were all very talented. We enjoyed all of the shows we saw. Do you enjoy trivia? The Star’s entertainment staff gets a big thumbs up for a job well done on that activity. The trivia hosts were full of energy plus encouraged audience participation and friendly competition. Trivia was a standing room only event in the Red Lion Pub and had the biggest crowds I have ever seen on a cruise.
While the staff on NCL exceeded my expectations, the food was nothing to write home about. There are five dining options to choose from that are included in your cruise fee, and seven optional restaurants that charge a nominal fee. Our favorite was Moderno, a Brazilian steakhouse that had impeccable service and had a killer salad bar that in itself was worth the $15 fee. Think chunky Parmesan cheese, imported cured meats, hearts of palm, marinated vegetables, ceviche, and many other options. Need a break from the traditional cruise ship bars? Try the open-air Bier Garten on deck 14 for cocktails and beer. The ships Galleria Shops were very touristy, but there was a huge sale on the last day that attracted hundreds of people.
Spa and Pool Services
The NCL Star offers a full service spa, Mandara, and uses my favorite brand of skin care products, Elemis. I booked a deep-tissue massage but the treatment was just average. The spa’s desk staff was very uppity and the spa itself had a lackluster relaxation room, though a beautiful view of the ocean from it. Most cruises I have been on have an indoor pool, a solarium, or a thalossotherapy pool, but Norwegian Star had none of these things. Cruising on the Black Sea, there are many cool days and having no indoor option was a disappointment for me.
The Norwegian Star did have an outdoor pool, but for the climate and age of the travelers, I felt an indoor water sanctuary was a must. Let me add that there is an indoor lap pool with a 1980’s dirty looking hot tub, which you pass through en route to the locker rooms. One may not want to swim in the pool, due to its dilapidated appearance; but should you dare, the fee is $199 per week. You cannot purchase an individual day, nor does it come included the day of your spa treatment, as all other ships I have been on offer. The Star is going into dry dock for renovation in early spring 2015, so I hope this is an upgrade on the list.
Our stateroom was a typical indoor cabin. The best part of our cabin was that it had a sliding shower door, as opposed to a shower curtain. Housekeeping made us feel welcome with the towel animals nightly and chocolates on our pillows.
The Berlin, St. Petersburg, and Tallinn Excursions
Excursion choices were plentiful, but in some places we chose other means to sightsee. In Berlin, Germany, we did the same tour as offered by the ship, Berlin and Potsdam Palaces, but saved $100 each by using the smaller Alpha Tours rather than the cruise ship. Jo and I booked a private food and wine tour in the medieval city of Tallinn, Estonia. This was our favorite port!
We had a private guide in St. Petersburg for 12 hours a day, two days. The $400 per person cost included museum admissions and lunch. I splurged in St. Petersburg since it is so congested and loud in the museums. You really do need a guide with a small audience to hear what they are saying. A Visa is required in Russia for US citizens unless you are on a ship-organized tour. If you opt to do a tour outside of NCL’s offerings, your guide can take care of getting this Visa for you. Our Russian tour included Pushkin, the Hermitage, Church on Spilled Blood, Peterhof, a Neva River cruise, and more.
Sightseeing in Helsinki and Stockholm
Jo and I chose the Porvoo Town and Country NCL tour in Helsinki, Finland, which featured a private home visit that was just darling. The shops in Porvoo were closed during our Sunday visit as they do not open until noon, so other than strolling the hillside and cobblestone streets, it was quite boring. Back on board, we filed a complaint with NCL’s excursion desk and they credited us part of our money due to only giving us a tour we could partially enjoy.
In Stockholm, Sweden, we took a private cab to the ABBA museum. Unfortunately the taxi driver misunderstood us and dropped us at the Vasa Museum, the city’s famous Viking Ship Museum. After we paid our admission, we soon realized we were in the wrong location. The Vasa Museum was kind enough to refund out money. Jo and I hoofed it on foot the mile or so to the correct museum. Admission to the Abba Museum was $12 each and we had exactly one hour to quickly run through the exhibits before meeting our next excursion, Ice Bar & Old Town. The Abba exhibits were awesome and we were so glad we went. We enjoyed the Ice Bar and it made for great photos. Old Town was full of lots of charm and adorable streets, shops, and restaurants. I would recommend it.
Definitely the Best Cruise to Book
The process to disembark at the end of our cruise was seamless and Jo walked off with her luggage early in the morning since she had an flight before noon. My flight was not until 2 PM so I opted to do the bus airport transportation with the cruise line since they deliver your luggage directly to the airport for you. This option is $30 cheaper than taking a taxi plus I was also able to stay in my stateroom until around 10:30, at which time crowds were nonexistent.
I highly recommend taking the Baltic Capitals cruise. This was the best itinerary of my 25+ cruises plus the price was right. What an exciting way to get a sampler of all of these amazing European cities.
Baltic Capitals Photo Gallery:
Check out our cruise ship port posts about this cruise: