Norwegian Star: Cruising the Baltic Capitals
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.
- Embark in Copenhagen, Denmark
- 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, included a European breakfast, and offered free Wi-Fi.
Jo and I strolled around the Nyhavn canal by evening and found a quaint Italian restaurant to have dinner at. We enjoyed their 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, Jo and I toured the waterfront area of Copenhagen. We lucked into being there at noon, which is when the changing of the guard occurs at Amalienborg Castle. It was cool watching the heavily uniformed guards march in precision. We explored stores and cafes, then later made our way to board our cruise ship, the Norwegian Star.
For $1200 per person, we landed an inside room on the Norwegian (better known as NCL) Star for 8 nights and 9 days. Though we normally stay much higher, we chose deck four on this cruise. Disembarkation was only steps from our door, but far away enough (room 4553) that we did not hear the constant traffic. It was convenient on the days we were at port, as we simply walked off the boat; no crowds on elevators or stairs to deal with. 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 nightly towel animals and chocolates on our pillows.
My first impressions were that the ship was not as fancy as Celebrity and Princess cruise lines 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 during at sea times. Another perk was that NCL used a smart digital screen to show the availability times in all of the restaurants. In the past, booking a pay restaurant has been a hassle and inconvenience. The smart screen was clever and helpful for the guests.
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Chowing Down on the Norwegian Star’s Pay Restaurant
For dinner, Jo and I ate at Cagney’s Steakhouse, which had a $20 nominal fee. Though it does require an additional payment, I recommend the pay restaurants for the exquisite service and quality of food that you receive. I have never had one to disappoint in all of my sailings.
At Cagneys, both the Shrimp Cocktail with Jack Daniels Sauce and the Iceberg Wedge Salad were excellent. My steak was decent, but the side dishes, normally my favorite part of the meal, were just mediocre. Be sure to fill up on your meal because the desserts were lacking creativity and flavor.
Food Options on a Free-Style Cruise
NCL is famous for their free-style cruising options, which means you can dine in the two main dining rooms any time you would like. The Versailles dining room seats 491, and the Aqua only 334, so be sure to check that smart screen to see which one has the shorted wait time. Another dining option is pizza. A full size pizza can be delivered to your stateroom for $5, as well as other food choices that are free.
Other restaurants included Moderno, a Brazilian steakhouse that had impeccable service and had a killer salad bar that in itself was worth the $15 additional charge. 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.
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 huge 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.
Spa and Pool Services
Mandara, the full service spa on the Star, used Elemis products, which happen to be my favorite line of skin care products. I booked a deep-tissue massage, my usual during a cruise, 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 a beautiful ocean view. Most cruises that 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 went into dry dock for renovation in early spring 2015, so I hope this gets upgraded.
Our Incredible 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 choice. Jo and I booked a private food and wine tour in the medieval city of Tallinn, Estonia, which was our favorite port and activity! In Berlin, we did a tour with the cruise ship that explored a large part of Berlin including the wall remains, Bradenburg Gate, palaces, and museums.
We hired a private guide in St. Petersburg for 12 hours a day on two separate days. The $400 splurge per person included museum admissions and lunch. It was well worth the money since St. Petersburg is so congested. You really do need a guide with a small audience in the huge museums to hear what they are saying.
A Visa was 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, the guide took care of getting the Visa for you. Our Russian tour included Catherine’s Palace, the Hermitage, Church on Spilled Blood, Peterhof, a Neva River cruise, and more. To date, Catherine’s Palace is still the most opulent place I have ever visited.
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 on Sundays until noon, so we did not get to visit them. Instead, we strolled along the hillside and cobblestone streets, but were bored. Back on board 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 I appreciated.
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 fun and interactive. We were so glad we went. We thoroughly enjoyed the IceBar by Icehotel Stockholm tour, too. The icy wonderland made for great photo ops, with us all clad in thick coats and gloves. Old Town Stockholm was full of lots of charm and adorable streets, shops, and restaurants. I would recommend it.
Definitely 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 the cruise line. 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 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 amazing European cities.