Cruising the Baltic Capitals on the Norwegian Star
One of the best cruises in my 40+ cruise arsenal was the Baltic Capitals cruise that my friend Jo and I did to continue our quest for exploring Europe. The Norwegian Star’s Baltic Capitals itinerary was the selling point for us. It marked my first cruise vacation with Norwegian Cruise Lines. The prices were reasonable, and the ship was in mint condition. It was also super simple to book online.
Our Itinerary was:
- Embark in Copenhagen, Denmark
- Berlin, Germany
- At sea
- Tallinn, Estonia
- St. Petersburg, Russia (with an overnight)
- Helsinki, Finland
- Stockholm, Sweden
- At sea
- Copenhagen (disembark)
New Beginnings in the Amazing City of Copenhagen
Jo and I had previously been to Copenhagen but arrived a day early to ensure that we would make our cruise in the event of airline issues. We booked a room at the Hotel Bethel, highly recommended by TripAdvisor, for $109. Our room overlooked the canal, and included a European breakfast and free Wi-Fi.
Jo and I strolled around the Nyhavn Canal that evening and found a quaint Italian restaurant to dine at. We enjoyed tasty bread, superb pasta dishes, and each a glass of wine for around $30 per person. Nyhavn is expensive, so be prepared.
The next morning, we toured the waterfront area of Copenhagen and lucked into being there at noon, when the changing of the guard occurs at Amalienborg Castle. It was amazing watching the heavily uniformed guards march in precision. Afterward, we explored local shops and a cafe, then made our way to board the Norwegian Star.
Impressions of the Norwegian Star
For $1200 each, Jo and I landed an inside room on the Norwegian (NCL) Star for eight nights and nine days. Though we usually stay on a much higher deck when cruising, for this one, we chose deck four. Disembarkation was only steps from our stateroom door, but far away enough that we didn’t hear constant traffic. It was especially convenient on the days we were in port, as she and I walked off the boat with no crowds to deal with on the elevators or stairs.
The best thing about our cabin was the sliding shower door, as opposed to a shower curtain. Housekeeping made us feel welcome with nightly towel animals and chocolates on our pillows.
My first impressions of the Norwegian Star is that it was not as fancy as Celebrity and Princess cruise lines, which we had previously cruised with, and that the decor was dated. I liked the functionality of the pub being so close to the shopping arcade, which is where most people hung out on at-sea days.
Another perk was that NCL uses a smart screen to show the pay restaurant availability times and dining times. In the past, booking a pay restaurant has been a hassle and inconvenience, but this system was helpful for the planning our dining experience.
Norwegian Star’s Pay Restaurant
For dinner, we ate at Cagney’s Steakhouse, which was $20 per person. Though the specialty restaurants do require an additional payment, I recommend them for the devoted service and quality of food. I have never had one to disappoint in all of my sailings.
Both the Shrimp Cocktail with Jack Daniels Sauce and Iceberg Wedge Salad were excellent at Cagney’s. My steak was decent, but the side dishes, typically my favorite part of the meal, were just mediocre. The desserts weren’t anything special either, but still, we enjoyed our time and have no regrets about it.
Food Options on a Free-Style Cruise
NCL is known for its free-style cruising options, meaning that you can dine in the two main dining rooms anytime you like. The Versailles dining room seats 491 passengers, and the Aqua only 334, so be sure to check that smart screen to see which one has the shorter wait time. Another dining option is pizza, offered 24 hours-a-day. Or, a full-size pizza can be delivered to your stateroom for $5 or so. Room service has other free food choices, as well.
Besides the main dining rooms, you can also dine at Moderno on the Norwegian Star. Moderno is a Brazilian steakhouse with impeccable service and a killer salad bar, easily worth the additional $15 surcharge.
If you haven’t experienced a Brazilian steakhouse, the waiters bring grilled meats to your table via skewer and shave off pieces. The meats are accompanied by side dishes (for each table) and as many trips to the salad bar as needed. If you want more meat, you raise a small flag on the table to indicate for your water to bring seconds, or thirds. The delectable salad bar had chunks of Parmesan-Reggiano cheese, imported cured meats, hearts of palm, marinated vegetables, and ceviche, to name a few. Another place to visit on the Norwegian Star is the open-air Bier Garten, great for cocktails and beer.
Popular Events Onboard the Norwegian Star
The Norwegian Star’s piano bar was popular with the guests as well as the live music offerings in the ship’s atrium. Talented musicians, stage show actors and actresses, and dancers entertained us by night. Every show we attended was first-rate.
Do you enjoy trivia? The Star’s entertainment staff gets a massive thumbs-up for a job well done on that activity, which happens to be my favorite. The trivia hosts were full of energy and 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 ship.
The ship’s Galleria Shops were very touristy, but there was a significant sale on the last day that attracted hundreds of people.
Mandara, the full-service spa on the Star, used Elemis products, my favorite line of skincare products. I booked a deep-tissue massage, but the treatment was just average. The spa’s desk staff was very uppity.
While the spa itself had a lackluster relaxation room, it did afford beautiful ocean views. Most cruises that I have been on have an indoor pool, a solarium, or a thalassotherapy pool, but Norwegian Star had none of these things. Cruising on the Black Sea, there are many chilly days, and having no indoor option was a disappointment.
Our choices of excursions were plentiful, but for some cities, we chose other means than NCL 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 Alla Tours. Our tour explored a large part of Berlin, including the wall remains, Bradenburg Gate, Checkpoint Charlie, palaces, and museums. We had a delicious curry lunch from Mommseneck.
Jo and I booked a private food and wine tour in the medieval city of Tallinn, Estonia, which was our favorite port and activity. We hired a private guide in St. Petersburg for 12-hour days on two separate days. The $400 splurge per person included museum admissions, transportation, and lunch. It was well worth the money since St. Petersburg is so congested. You do need a guide with a small audience for the huge museums in order to hear a word they are saying or get the history behind the pieces.
A Visa was required for US citizens in Russia, unless you are on a ship-organized tour. If you opt to do a tour outside of NCL’s offerings, (which we did) your guide can help obtaining it. Our guide did it all. The two-day tour we took in Russia featured Catherine’s Palace, the Hermitage, Church on Spilled Blood, Peterhof, a Neva River cruise, a subway ride, and dozens more sights. To date, Catherine’s Palace is still the most opulent place I have visited.
Sightseeing in Helsinki and Stockholm
Jo and I chose the Porvoo Town and Country NCL excursion in Helsinki, Finland. It took us to a private home visit and horse farm that was just darling. We also stopped at a historic church and pipe organ. The shops in Porvoo were closed until noon on Sundays, so we did not get to visit them. Instead, we strolled along the hillside and cobblestone streets but were incredibly bored.
Back onboard the ship, we filed a complaint with NCL’s excursion desk due to half of the tour not being available during the hours we were there. They credited us back part of our money, which we appreciated.
We took a private cab to the ABBA museum in Stockholm, Sweden, where we had a tour booked of the afternoon, but wanted to see this fun attraction, as well. 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 our 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, the Ice Bar & Old Town. The interactive Abba exhibits were fun and we were so glad that we went.
You’ll thoroughly enjoy the IceBar by Icehotel Stockholm tour. The icy wonderland made for great photo ops, with us all clad in thick coats and gloves, provided by the hotel. Old Town Stockholm was full of lots of charming streets, shops, and restaurants; I highly recommend it.
The Best Cruise to Book
Our disembarkation process was seamless, and Jo walked off with her luggage early in the morning to catch her early flight. My flight was not until 2 PM, so I opted to do the bus airport transportation with NCL. My luggage was delivered to the airport for me. This option was $30 cheaper than taking a taxi, plus I could stay in my stateroom until around 10:30, at which time crowds were nonexistent.
I highly recommend anyone taking the Baltic Capitals cruise. This is a perfect cruise for the seasoned traveler who needs more entertainment and sights than the Caribbean or Alaska. It is a packed itinerary with an exciting way to sample all of those fantastic European cities.
Read more about our Ports of Call in these posts:
- Copenhagen: A Fairy Tale City
- St. Petersburg, My Dream Destination
- Catherine’s Palace and Peterhof