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CruiseReportRoyal Caribbean Vision of the Seas4A cruise review of Royal Caribbean Vision of the Seas in Europe
by nursesusan1968
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  Vision of the Seas  
Baltic cruise on Vision/Seas
June 2017
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Vision of the Seas-Baltic Cruise June 15-27, 2017

This itinerary was the idea of Jan, my friend & travel partner . She was eager to go since 2015 when we did a Mediterranean cruise on this same ship and loved every minute. I agreed but I was not as enthusiastic about the ports, especially Russia. Joining our Roll Call on Cruise Critic, I found a group who had already booked their tours through Alla Tours. For 5 tours (Helsinki, St. Petersburg, Tallinn, Stockholm, Copenhagen) the cost was far below that of the cruise line so we climbed aboard and earned a further discount for booking early. After 14 cruises, i have learned the value of booking private excursions off the ship.

We booked this in September, 2016 and worked with the TA for air fare to Amsterdam. Lucky for us, United had a direct flight between Chicago and Amsterdam. Hurray, no long layover with jet lag! Searching the internet for reasonably priced hotels, we settled on the Ibis-Amsterdam Central. My daughter-in-law is a travel agent for Europe and she assured me that Ibis was a well-known chain there. The website showed a modern looking facility with elevators. Some of the places we had checked did not have this amenity. There was no way a couple of Senior ladies were going to haul suitcases up flights of stairs.

Jan had expressed an interest in taking a side trip to Bruges, Belgium. The website advised this was an eleven hour tour leaving at 7:30 AM. I put the kibosh on that idea, not wanting to spend all that time on a bus. Unfortunately, she found another travel company who would leave at 9:30AM and stated that the bus ride was 2 hours. The cost was $100/pp and I agreed and we booked this for our second day. Jan purchased tickets for the Anne Frank house for the day we arrived.

Our plan was to leave Chicago on Monday, September 12 and arrive the next morning in Amsterdam for a pre-cruise 2 day stay. Everything went as planned and we landed @ 9 AM without getting any real rest on the flight. Getting through Customs and finding our luggage became a chore as we had to walk a long distance. It was at this time Jan realized that her knees were not really up to the amount of required walking this trip would entail. This would really impact her experience.

Despite multiple options to get to the hotel, we agreed on a taxi which cost about 50 euros. Neither of us felt up to wrestling our large suitcases onto a train or tram. The trip into Amsterdam Central took about 40 minutes. The best news was that our hotel was able to give us our room! Later, we were to realize what a perfect location we had chosen. Checking into our small but clean room for a brief rest before venturing out for our 1:30 tickets to the Anne Frank house.

People in the Netherlands are very fit with all their walking and bike riding. They are also the tallest people in Europe. We learned the hard way not to place a lot of faith in their estimates of time/distance to certain attractions. What is a 15 minute walk for a young, tall and fit person translates to an hour for two short (5 ft) older ladies, one of whom has ambulation issues. We did stop at nice outside cafe for a late breakfast in the sunshine.

Arriving at Anne Frank house, we were actually early for our scheduled tour. The courtyard was packed with people and I couldn’t see how they could accommodate everyone in 15 minute increments. Well, they have it down to a science and we never felt rushed or too crowded as we went through the building up to the Annex, where they were hidden. It is not a tour for anyone with mobility problems. The stairs are steep and narrow and I was grateful for the hand rails. There is an audio tour which is part of your admission fee. Very sobering experience. You felt so sad and angry at their betrayal and that Anne and Margot didn’t survive the camps. I would say the tour took about an hour, depending how fast you could read the notes and move through the building.

Jan had hit her limit and there was no way she could walk back to the hotel so we took a cab for 10 euros. By now, the beds were calling our names and we were ready for a nap. The bathroom was very small and there were no washcloths or facial tissue offered. I took a shower and washed my hair, not realizing I had forgotten to purchase an electrical adapter and my curling iron was useless. Thank goodness I had brought my wig so the day was saved.

We totally crashed and I woke up about 3 hours later. By now we were craving dinner and asked at the desk for someplace close. She suggested the train station which was 1/2 block away, had several restaurants. This was our first instance in finding Starbucks and McDonalds in a foreign country. *hint* They are everywhere! Deciding on a place was easy enough and the young Dutch waitress took one look at us and brought us the English menu. Jan asked her if we looked like tourists and she said she knew we weren’t Dutch because we weren’t tall! Every meal we had in Amsterdam came with a salad, even our eggs. Everyone that dealt with the public spoke perfect English so we never had a problem.

Finishing up, we headed out with a map to find Damrak Street where we had to meet the group tomorrow for our trip to Bruges. After a few wrong turns, we did finally find Damrak and I was kicking myself for not following the map instead of asking people who didn’t speak English. The early evening weather was very pleasant and sunny and Damrak was the main drag for shopping and dining. Scouring the shops for bargains (hah!), we did manage to find a few items for our grandchildren. Finding the the tour office was a bonus so we knew where to come back to the next morning. Back at the hotel, we set a wake up time for 7 AM and had no trouble falling asleep.

Wednesday, September 14-Bruges.

Up at 7, we got ready in record time, thinking we were going to Central Station for breakfast. Jan was feeling the previous day’s exertions and did not want to venture out of the hotel. Ibis did offer a breakfast buffet for 17 euros ($20.40 US) a person. It wasn’t worth even 10 euros. Heavy on bread and lunchmeat and light on actual breakfast items, which is a typical European meal. I really felt ripped off, my only real complaint about this hotel. We began our slow progress back to Damrak Street and our tour to Bruges. I had to exchange the vouchers I printed at home for actual tickets. Our group of about 20 were gathered together and we had to walk a few blocks to our bus. After boarding, our guide greeted us and informed us to get comfortable for our THREE HOUR ride to Bruges! I looked at Jan and said if I had known, I would have never agreed to this trip. She said the website stated it was 2 hours. I’m thinking that if they were honest about the length of the bus ride, no one would sign up for this trip.

The guide pointed out the “interesting” sites and I’m pretty sure I dozed off. Arriving in modern Bruges, the bus made it’s way to the medieval site which is surrounded by a park-like setting. It is not a Disney re-creation, but an actual living town with people living and working there. The guide set off at a pretty good clip with most of us trailing behind with Jan bringing up the rear. He did not take into consideration there were several older people, besides us, who could not keep up. Pointing out the sights, with a little history behind them, was interesting.

By the time we reached the city center, it was 90 degrees and crowded. Jan had reached her limit and we were dying for something to eat and drink. We left the group and decided on an open air restaurant. Looking at the menu, nothing appealed to us so we left and went looking for another. Jan walked into the very next place that advertised waffles and determined that was exactly what she wanted. They also had sandwiches so I asked for an Italian “supreme” for 5 euros. Unfortunately for me, I didn’t read the menu carefully and the “supreme” featured salmon which I hate. One bite and I was spitting it out. Rather than make a scene, I told Jan to meet me at another place we had passed that looked cleaner, cooler and had a better menu. She was digging into her fruit and chocolate covered waffle while I went looking for something more substantive. I found the place and had a lovely pasta salad with bread and a Diet Coke. None of these places will give you complimentary water like they do here. You want water, you pay for it and forget the ice cubes. But, when in Rome…

Jan never did find me and I wandered the better part of an hour looking for her. We did not bring our phones as the roaming fees would have been astronomical. If we do this again, I think we will buy a couple of burners when we arrive in Europe and use those. Eventually I found her sitting on a bench by the bus parking lot. We rested our weary legs and waited for the guide to arrive with the rest of the group. There was a kiosk there making waffles and I indulged myself for a plain one. It was very good and I could say I had a Belgian waffle in Belgium. Back on the bus for our 3 hour return to Amsterdam.

We returned “home” about 9:30 PM and it was still daylight! Jan was starving and headed into Central station for something to eat. Our hotel had an area with healthy snacks like fruit, juice, water and granola. I bought some fruit and a bottle of water and headed up to bed. Jan came in shortly after with a bottle of iced tea and a bag of chips, the only thing she could find. A couple of showers and we crashed for the night. We kept the window open in our room for some cool air even though we overlooked the train tracks.

Thursday, September 15-Embarkation.

Never thinking of setting a wake up call, (no clocks in the room) I woke up noticing the window was pretty light around the black-out curtain. I asked Jan to check her watch for the time. She said it was 11:58 AM. Surprised, I asked if she was holding it upside down! Not wanting to believe it was almost noon and check-out time, I called the front desk for confirmation. “OMG! We just woke up!” The desk clerk was quite nice and said not to worry and take our time. We were walking out 40 minutes later and checked out.

The hotel was actually walking distance to the pier but we lined up for a short cab ride for 15 euros. I know the guy took the long way as he turned after I questioned the direction he was taking. But we arrived at the terminal building and were relieved of our luggage. Directed upstairs, my Platinum status earned us priority check-in. Pretty soon we were able to dump our carry-ons in our room on Deck 2 (2610) and headed up to the buffet for our brunch.

When we had last been on the Vision, I thought the food was mediocre at best. This time, I was pleasantly surprised by the quality and the variety in the Windjammer. In the center section where the pastries were, I discovered a big pan of warm bread pudding with vanilla sauce. I was instantly hooked and had it every day of the cruise. Since we were very well rested, we wandered the ship a bit and made our My Time dining reservation. A stop by the spa to make massage appointments for the next day. Still with time to kill, we found some loungers by the pool and relaxed in the warm weather. People were in the pool and hot tub and it was like a Caribbean cruise. I wondered if I had brought enough clothes for warm weather! Back to the room to find our luggage delivered so we spent the next hour unpacking and arranging our home for the next 12 days.

Time for the Lifeboat Drill and then up to the top deck for a Sail-away cocktail. The Captain announced that we had a journey of 1300 kilometers to reach Helsinki in 2 days so he was going to have to push the speed of the boat to make sure we arrived on time. Once we hit the Baltic sea, I stopped worrying about warm weather clothing. The sea was quite choppy and the wind was brisk.

Dinner was at 7:15 PM and we did notice a change in the menu and quality of the food. We try to sit with a large group so as to meet as many people as possible. There were a couple of women from South Africa who were a lot of fun and happened to have the cabin across from us. It happened that we had dinner with these gals several times during the cruise. I still don’t know why My Time dining requires a reservation. You can change your time every day but it doesn’t mean you will eat when you want to if they don’t have a spot for you.

We checked out the Cruise Compass for the evening entertainment and I mentioned to Jan that the featured performer was the same guy we saw on the last trip whose show was spinning plates. She didn’t believe me but I had remembered his name. Went to dinner and the casino after while she saved me a seat in the theater. Sure enough, it was the same guy and the show was exactly the same. I think I made it for about 15 minutes and then went back to the casino to chase my money. Bed around midnight and set a wake up call as we had our Meet and Mingle the next day at 11 AM.

Friday, September 16~Sea Day

This was the day for the Cruise Critic group to Meet and Mingle. RCI hosted it in the Crown Viking Lounge at 11:00 AM. We were looking forward to meet up with our tour companions. As usual RCI provided coffee, juice and pastries. The assistant Cruise Director was our host who greeted us warmly and welcomed us to the Vision. Everyone was given a raffle ticket and they called out numbers for RCI hats and a few bottles of wine. This completed, we were on our own to introduce ourselves and decide when and where we would meet for our first tour in Helsinki.

Jan and I had slept in but used a wake up call to ensure we made the meeting. We headed to the Aquarius dining room for a nice sit down lunch. The big activity of the day for us was Royal Suite Bingo. The Royal Suite had not sold for this trip and RCI was giving it to the Bingo winner. This drew a large number of participants so the prize money for the non-Suite games was higher than usual. I noticed that the usual 4 games they used to play is now 3 games for more money. A Platinum perk is an extra page for the last game. We did not win the Royal Suite but I did win the first game and won $350! This made me a happy cruiser.

Off to the spa for our scheduled appointments and 90 minutes of indulgence. Jan got the deep tissue massage and the pain in her hip area was relieved. Off to another convivial dinner with new friends and we are pleasantly surprised by the improvement in the dining room food. Our dining time presented a conflict with the Captain’s Welcome Aboard Reception in the Centrum.

The show that night was my favorite of the whole cruise, Tenors Unlimited, “the Rat Pack of Opera”. Some cruisers told me that they attended both performances. The casino received our usual attention. We crashed around midnight and this time there was no wake-up call made and I put the Do Not Disturb sign in the door.

Saturday, September 17~Sea Day

When we awoke, it was noon once again. We had a good laugh that maybe we had finally caught up on our sleep. After “brunch”, we checked out the sales and I picked up a couple of Russian-themed T-shirts. It was time for Bingo but we didn’t win this time. We didn’t really avail ourselves of any the activities around the ship. I liked the casino and Jan would sit in the Centrum and people watch or observe the activities.

After dinner the show was a production show “Broadway Rhythm and Rhyme” which featured the ship’s singers and dancers. It was usual cruise ship entertainment. Since we wouldn’t be arriving in Helsinki until 2:00 PM tomorrow, there was no urgency to get to sleep. Wandered the ship looking at various things enjoying the atmosphere and being amazed at how long daylight was lasting. When we planned this cruise, we actually changed the date twice to accommodate our family activities. It wasn’t until later we realized that we would be far in the North for the Summer Solstice.

Sunday, September 18~Helsinki, Father’s Day

Our group had agreed to meet @ 2:00 PM for our tour. The Captain got the ship in early so we were able to dis-embark promptly. Once out in the parking lot we waited for our Alla tour guide to find us. We were guided to a comfortable bus with plenty of seating. Our tour guide was very pleasant, if not very dynamic. The local sites by bus were the Olympic Stadium, a statue of the “Flying Finn”, an Olympic athlete from the 1920’s and the Opera House. Stopping in a park with a monument to the Finnish composer, Jean Sibelius which consisted of several long stainless tubes approximating a pipe organ. The we went to see the Church in the Rocks which was quite interesting.

Back on the bus to the Town Hall which was quite impressive looking and an open square with a multitude of painted statues of seals. They were quite striking and whimsical looking. There was an open air market a few blocks away where we all headed for some souvenirs. Jan was having trouble walking so we didn’t wander too far or long. A stop for ice cream was a nice respite before getting back on the bus. We were back at the ship around 5:30 PM and were glad for the rest before dinner.

The show that night was Rene Ludon, a ventriloquist. He was somewhat entertaining as I am not a big fan, but he suffered from comparison to the Tenors the night before. The entertainment was definitely not as good as our Mediterranean cruise 2 years ago. We had an early docking the next morning for our first day in Russia so we did not linger very late. It was going to be a very long day.

Monday, September 19~St. Petersburg

Our instructions for disembarking were to have our passports and our tour ticket handy. This was the only port where we had to come and go through Customs. The group meeting time was 7:30 and we were off the ship by 8 AM to a sunny, breezy day to await our pickup @ 8:30. There were 15 of us on this tour as some others had joined us just for this segment. For U.S. citizens, there was no easy or cheap way to “do” St. Petersburg independently. There was no guarantee to receive a visa even with your >$200 payment. The Customs officials were the most dour group I have ever seen. Not a smile or change of expression. It was like they were doing us a favor by letting us into their country to spend our money.

The bus arrived with Polina, a lovely and dynamic 20-something who spoke excellent English. She quickly explained the few changes to the schedule. We weren’t missing anything, just a rearrangement of events. Given a small receiver to hang around our necks, Polina passed out ear buds to plug into it. She wore a mic around her neck and we could hear her within quite a large radius. You didn’t have to “gather round” to try to hear the information.

While we headed to the Yusupov palace, Polina gave us a quick history of the city. This palace was mainly known for being the site of the assassination of Gregor Rasputin, personal priest to the Czarina Alexandra. Her history was a bit fanciful, but they have to deliver the script they are given.

Next stop was Peterhof, the Summer palace of Peter and Catherine. We toured the opulent rooms with our mouths hanging open over the amount of gold decoration. I remarked more than once, “no wonder the peasants revolted”. There was supposed to be a hydrofoil ride but it was replaced by a bus ride with a Russian box lunch and water. The lunch was a beef pasty, danish sweet roll, candy bar and cookie. I found it adequate but did not eat much of it. Being a diabetic, I skipped the sweet stuff.

A rather long drive to arrive at Tsars Village for a visit to Catherine Palace with it’s amazing Amber room. A succession of one fantastic room after another. At the end, we walked past photos taken during the German occupation during WW II and realized that this huge palace was all restored and re-created! The place had been a bombed-out shell. We certainly would have never known it.

We still weren’t finished! Off to yet another palace to see the Upper and Lower gardens and fountains (all gold, of course). Jan and I and a few others declined the walk around the lower gardens to give our aching bodies a respite. It was so beautiful and it was nice to see so many families enjoying gardens that were once reserved for royalty.

Back on the bus for our hourlong ride back to St. Petersburg. It was at this time that Polina collected our credit cards for payment for all 5 tours. The charge was in rubles, to which I had alerted my credit card company before I left. We had purchased euros and rubles from my bank prior to leaving. Having no idea what a ruble was worth, I asked for 100 rubles. Imagine my surprise when the charge showed as $3.58! It was about 55 rubles to the dollar. My husband suggested getting $100 worth, splitting it between me & Jan. It worked out to 2600 rubles each.

There had been an adjunct offer by Alla tours for a choice of evening entertainment since we were staying overnight. The three choices were: Swan Lake ballet, Russian Folkloric Dance performance, and a visit to the Faberge museum. Only one couple was going back to the ship.

Because we were staying in town, it necessitated a dinner on our own. Polina and the driver dropped 7 of us at a very nice restaurant advising us that another guide and bus would pick us up to take us to the theater. The menu was in Russian and English and we were all happy with our choices. I think my dinner was 1200 rubles. Although tipping is not expected in Europe, we all rounded up our bill so as not to have small bills or coins left.

Our second guide/driver picked us up and took us to a small, second story theater. There were several groups, with a few from RCI and Holland America cruise lines. The ballet was performed by young people who were possibly students but the music was so lovely as were the performers. After Intermission, we were all starting to droop. I struck up a conversation with a couple next to me who happened to be from my home town of Wheaton, Illinois! They were also on an Alla tour with a different group. We ran into them a few more times, including dinner one night and in Estonia.

The ballet is over and we walked out to bright twilight at 10:30 PM. Our bus was right there and it was a short ride to the pier where we had to officially “leave” Russia and get back on the ship. We were never so happy to see our cabin and our beds. It was right to bed as we had to be up @ 6 AM for the next day’s excursion.

Tuesday, June 20~St. Petersburg, Part 2. Sunrise-3:35 AM

It is the Summer Solstice and we are in St. Petersburg!

Again off the ship by 8:00 AM and through Customs once more to be “admitted” to Russia. Today’s itinerary starts with a subway ride on the most beautiful and clean subway with the fastest escalators in the world. Very deep and reminding me of Boston where the train has to travel under the Charles river. Except Boston could only wish to have trains of this caliber and cleanliness. There is a lady in a booth at the bottom whose job is to monitor the escalator and stop it if someone falls. Polina gathered us together warning us to get on quickly and watch our purses as pick-pockets were prevalent. We traveled one stop and got off (quickly) and then jumped back on the return so we could get back to our bus.

One thing that drew our attention as we traveled through the city was the fact that we saw McDonald’s, Subway and Starbucks and did see them in every city on the cruise. I tried to get a picture of a Russian Mickey D poster but the escalator was moving to fast. Jan and some of the others wanted to stop at Starbucks to get localized mugs. Polina actually went on her own time the day before to pick them up for everyone. Personalized service can’t be beat.

Our weather wasn’t as nice as the previous day with rain showers coming and going. Using a private tour allowed us to an early entry into the Hermitage museum which was also another former palace. The collections are so vast, that Polina said that it is always different when she goes there. Needless to say, we saw a bit of everything. Sculpture, assorted art, and the rooms themselves were were works of art. By noon, we were ready to leave and the crowds were overwhelming. We saw people from the ship’s tours waiting in the rain when we left.

I have to mention one incident which occurred right before we left. Several of the ladies had to use the restroom. Polina fought through the crowds to the closest convenience but the cleaning lady inside would not let her in and slammed the door in her face. Polina whipped that door open and chastised that poor lady in Russian who finally relented and let in just our 5 ladies and locked the door regardless of the growing line outside! When the group were finished, the door was locked again so the lady could do her cleaning job.

Since we missed the hydrofoil ride the day before, an excursion boat ride was substituted. It had stopped raining but was chilly. Everyone sat up top except Jan and I who went below and saw everything through the big windows. Pretty soon, others joined us as they were freezing up there. Off to the last 3 attractions, which were churches. I was surprised that the “godless communists” would invest in restoring churches! But tourists bring money and the soviets always needed hard cash.

First was the Church of Spilled Blood. Built and named for the place where Czar Alexander II was murdered. The exact spot is enclosed and gated. The altar very ornate and covered in gold. Second was Saints Peter and Paul Fortress with the Cathedral. This was quintessential Russian with 7 domes, some with gold and some ornately appointed with decorations. Inside were all mosaic icons with gold haloes. Polina said that it took so long for this restoration that there was a saying that by the time the church was finished that the Soviet Union would dissolve. Very prophetic as it was done in 1989 and the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991.

The threatening weather finally let go with some driving rain. Our last stop was St. Isaac Cathedral. At this point Jan and I were so tired, we declined to leave the bus. Some of the others took the tour and were back quickly. By now it was about 3 PM and time for our sit-down lunch in a Russian restaurant. It was 2 groups of Alla Tours and I ran into the Wheaton couple again. It also was my first time with a unisex bathroom. Men and Women using the same room! All the other public facilities were always segregated. Very unnerving.

Our lunch consisted of borscht, beef stroganoff with noodles, salad, dessert and a drink of coffee, tea or water. Everything was very good or we were very hungry. Back on the bus for a brief shopping experience at a very nice and rather expensive souvenir shop. Almost everyone found something to buy. I was looking for a Russian headress for my granddaughter which I found upstairs in addition to the matching dress and blouse.

I had 1400 rubles left and did not want to bring any home. No worries as the outfit for my granddaughter exceeded $100 (or 5900 rubles). She was thrilled to receive it and according to my daughter, she wanted to wear it to day care. They compromised on a photo of her wearing it. This was our last experience in Russia as we boarded the bus for our ride back to the pier.

We said our goodbyes to Polina and our driver and had our last contact with Russian Customs officers. Back on the ship about 5, Jan and I decided a nap was in order so I set a wake up call so we wouldn’t miss dinner. We were supposed to leave around 6 PM and as we were getting ready for dinner we kept hearing the thrusters working. (We were on Deck 2.) After dinner, we headed to the theater for a show by Inna Tolstove, a violinist. Less than impressed, I left to see what else was happening.

Surprised to see that we were still at the pier, I ventured out on the pier side to see that the ship was unable to move away from the dock using the thrusters. Protected by the ship, I didn’t realize how incredibly windy it had become since we returned. Another passenger told me the Captain had called for tug boats to get us out of there. You could see the bridge crew of the Princess ship parked next to us pacing on the bridge waiting for us to leave. Since the Princess ship was nose out, Russian port control let them finally leave. It was still quite daylight at 9:00 and everyone wanted to be out on deck. However, the wind was so strong, all the outside doors were locked.

Captain Marek made an announcement once we were underway that our arrival in Tallinn, Estonia would be late due to our 4 hour delay. He was very visible throughout the cruise, personable and engaging. Blessed with a fine singing voice, he used it to great effect during some assemblies to everyone’s delight.

The ventriloquist from yesterday was entertaining people in the Centrum. There was always some entertainment there and often gathered bigger crowds than the theater. We were meeting in the morning @ 7:30 so made sure we were asleep by midnight.

Wednesday, June 21~Tallinn,Estonia

Our tour was scheduled for 8:00-11:00 AM with free time until 2:30. It was a breezy, sunny day with temps in the 60’s. The bus ride through town with our guide pointing out the sites. Arriving at Toompea Hill, the site of the Church of St. Mary the Virgin our lovely young lady guide gave us a brief history of Estonia. The walking tour was fairly easy and slow. With all due consideration, there really wasn’t a whole lot to see. The tour was over when we were shown where to pick up the bus for the ride back to the ship. Jan and Cissy (who was using a walker) found places to sit during this down-hill 3 block walk. Neither one wanted to walk back uphill.

There was a large market in the town square with several restaurants. We walked the perimeter and checked out the menus. Elk steak and bear cheeks were not to our taste so Jan had eggs and I had a panini which were both very good. Best of all, it was the Special @ 8 euros ($9.60). Any place we saw for tourists anywhere had very high prices. We did find some nice quality knit items to bring home.

That night we had reservations at Giovanni’s @ 6 PM which was the first time for both of us. Jan had the Caesar salad and I had the Caprese salad, shared the gnocchi, each had the steak and don’t remember if we had dessert. Everything was delicious. The show that night was Jamie Allen, a magician who was terrific with his close up card tricks. Definitely enjoyed this show. We stayed after for the Love and Marriage show which was predictably hilarious.

Thursday, June 22~Stockholm. Sunrise-3:22 AM

This was the only port where I wished we had a balcony. The ride through the Swedish Archipelago was slow, smooth and beautiful with the numerous small islands, many with homes. We had to drag ourselves away from the view through our window. Our tour time was 9 AM so we didn’t feel rushed to exit the ship. Stockholm was a tender port even with our ship in the harbor. Very short boat ride to shore where we met Tobias, our tour guide. Tobias was quite tall but took baby steps as he walked us around the capital. First off was city highlights tour including two photo stops as well as crossing bridges to discover that Stockholm was built on three islands.

Next was a stop at the Vasa museum. I had never heard of this famous ship that had capsized on it’s maiden voyage. The Swedes had found the wreckage which had survived in the very cold water and reconstructed it. It was very dark inside and several of my photos didn’t come out even with the flash. They did have model reconstructions so you could see how it looked when new and decorated with numerous carvings and bright paint. I always like when I learn something new and this was quite interesting.

The last round of this excursion was a walking tour of the Old City. We saw the noon changing of the guard at the Royal Palace, the oldest church and some government buildings. As always, there were cobbles and paving stones to navigate as well as change of elevation as we navigated moving from the Upper city to the port area. Tobias took his time and stopped frequently to accommodate our various levels of mobility. He was quite proud of the fact that the land portion of Sweden is still rising from the sea. You could see evidence of this on some buildings where the windows were crooked.

We learned lots of history of the conflicts between Sweden and Denmark some of which was ironic considering the Royal families were always related, as they are now. Tobias talked a lot about the almost religious devotion Swedes have to “Fika”, their coffee break with pastry. Finishing in a downtown area with restaurants and souvenir shops, Jan and I wanted to get a Swedish Christmas ornament. She did not want to walk any distance so we found a place close by and I was ready to return to the ship. Jan was intrigued by the Fika concept and wanted to stop for one. I looked at the prices which were all geared to tourists and did not want to pay 15 euros for a cinnamon roll when the ship was in sight and walking distance. She relented and we worked our way back to the pier and our ride “home”.

After lunch at the buffet (and my bread pudding), it was so nice outside that we decided to hit the pool area. Jan soaked up the sun but I decided to try the hot tub. Met a lovely couple from South Africa who had traveled extensively in the U.S. They would fly into a certain area, rent a car and drive around. The husband was a big fan of our interstate highway system with the excellent signage for food and rest. They had been to 39 states! I don’t know if I’ve been to that many states. We appreciated the relaxation after the walking tour.

After dinner, we took in the second production show of “Broadway, Rhythm & Rhyme which was entertaining. The casino was not quite as entertaining but I spent enough time in there. The Centrum had a dance party which drew a large number of participants and observers as usual. I wasn’t sure I would like the idea of a Centrum for entertainment but it has won me over. Not everyone gambles and the evenings can be boring. Speaking of the casino, it was the emptiest I have ever seen on any of my cruises. The dealers were mostly standing around and couldn’t believe it. I was able to talk to them quite a bit and had a nice time getting to know them, especially Barbara from Poland.

Friday, June 23~Sea Day

We again slept till almost noon and were so late getting out of our room, the attendant never did make it up. It was formal night and I had an invitation to a “Signature” event for Platinum members and above @ 7:30. Since our dinner appointment was for 7:15, we thought we could just go later. I have noticed that Royal is no longer hosting Past Passenger events, at least on these 2 European cruises. Jan & I hit the spa for a massage. Later, we tried Bingo again but never did get another winner. I visited the casino for low limit Blackjack and started to win some money.

We had the special event to attend and headed to the Some Enchanted Evening lounge. All the officers were lined up and thanking you for coming back to Royal. The band was playing and the waiters circulating with your choice of 3 or 4 drinks. None appealed to me so I asked if I could have some Amaretto on the rocks. He was so sweet and said he would ask his supervisor. Sure enough, he came back with it. I made sure to profusely thank him. Captain Marek spoke about the ship and his history. Then he surprised everyone by singing a song in a most excellent voice. I think he has another career waiting for him if he decides to give up the cruise industry.

Off to dinner and was received with less than gracious behavior by the desk person. She was visibly irritated with us that we did not come at our appointed time. Placed in the back at a large table, we saw the ladies from South Africa again and had a pleasant dinner. The entertainer that evening was Brooks Aehorn, a pianist who gave an excellent performance. He was to come back the last sea day for an afternoon show.

Saturday, June 24~Aarhus, Denmark

We had no scheduled tour for this port, deciding to do it on our own. On the Ports of Call board on Cruise Critic, there was enthusiasm for an attraction called Den Gamle Bly. This was a village of reconstructed houses from the 1600’s up to the 1950’s. Someone who actually lived in Aarhus stated it would take us about 20-30 minutes to walk there from the pier. Aarhus is actually the second largest city in Denmark and had several areas of interest.

On the pier, locals were eager to point out the Royal Yacht which meant the Queen was in town. Sadly, we did not catch a glimpse of her. We asked about how far Den Gam Bly was and a young man said about a 15 minute walk. You think we would have learned our lesson about time/distance in Amsterdam. With Jan’s knees, it was a slow go with several stops and finally arriving an hour later. I think entry was 12 euros.

Every house was labeled and some had mannequins positioned to demonstrate different craftsman at work. When we reached the town square, Jan went in search of a restroom so I looked for place to park myself. There had been some rain so all surfaces were wet. A very nice lady was sitting on a bench with a plastic sheet and offered to share with me. A man in period dress was addressing a group of tourists (in Danish). The lady started translating for me that he was selling Golden Tickets to the Golden Land-America! Land was free and you could have as much as you wanted. Two more actors started an angry exchange with the woman calling the man a name and spitting the ground! The translation was that the man was a crook and thief and the woman was calling him on it.

I mentioned that it’s too bad it wasn’t in English so the tourists could enjoy the performance. She agreed with me and asked me where I from. Telling her we were off the ship and from the Chicago area, I asked where she made her home thinking she was also a tourist. Surprise for me when she said she lived in Copenhagen and was in Aarhus for the day. It was time for her to move on and I thanked her for sharing her plastic cover and the translation.

We finished walking the village and Jan said she absolutely could not walk back to the ship. I asked the ticket girl about a cab and she called one for us which was really above and beyond. The cab ride was about 22 euros which I put on my credit card since neither of us had any small bills with us. It was still a cool and cloudy day, not a good one to sit by the pool. We had lunch and after all the walking, Jan needed a lie-down. I honestly don’t remember if we did anything else before dinner.

The entertainment that night was one of the featured RCI singers in the ensemble group, Brandon Little. He was not headliner material and I left after awhile and went to chase my money in the casino. I was somewhat disappointed in the entertainment on this cruise after the terrific shows we enjoyed on our Mediterranean cruise. A few good shows but a lot of tired material and mediocre talent.

Sunday, June 25~Copenhagen

This was our last tour with Alla and our pick-up time was 8:30 @ the pier. The weather was threatening and chilly. I forgot my umbrella and of course it rained. First stop was Kronborg Castle which gained fame when Shakespeare chose it as a locale for Hamlet. We saw the grounds and the outside but never went inside. It poured rain and we all felt it was a wasted stop. Next was Fredriksborg Castle and museum. This was a very interesting tour and we learned a lot of history. The rooms were beautiful and sparked a lot of photos. We drove through the downtown and parked near the port. A small break for something to drink and souvenir shopping, then we were shown the location of the royal residences. By now, we were done with history so our last stop was the statue of the Little Mermaid which was in view of the ship. Back onboard around 3:30 and time for a nap.

We had dinner that night with a nice couple from Texas who were longtime RCI cruisers. When the lady ordered a shrimp cocktail that wasn’t on the menu, we were very impressed. A little late to find out this secret but one we exploited immediately and stored away for future reference. The show that night was “The Emperors of Soul”, a trio of talented guys who kept people in their seats for the entire show.

But the real show was in the Centrum. The Captain hosted and there was a March of Flags to demonstrate all the crew’s homelands. The Captain sang and then, with the Cruise Director and the cruise staff performed a wild medley of 70’s disco songs culminating with, what else, YMCA! The rails of the 9 decks were filled with passengers singing and moving with the music. It was the best show of the cruise.

Monday, June 26~Sea Day and Last day

As usual, the Cruise Compass was filled with activities from 7 AM-1AM, none of which we attended. We slept late and after we ate, we started gathering up our stuff and deciding how we were going to pack it all. The pianist, Brooks Aerhon presented a classical concert @ 2:30 PM in the theater. I was finally winning at Blackjack but too little, too late. There was a final Bingo game to which we donated. More packing and time for our last dinner where we made sure to special order a shrimp cocktail. Talked with a couple who were at the same table with us on the first night. She was a nurse instructor so we had a much to discuss comparing how nursing has changed the past 50 years as Jan & I are both retired R.N.’s.

The last and only show that night featured Eric Boo, a clown and mime. Since it started during our dinner hour, we agreed to skip it. We hit the casino long enough to say goodbye to the staff and our money. While at the Blackjack table, one of the players was talking about the show and how he walked out with his children. He felt the staff misrepresented this “entertainer” whose show was very adult-themed. Also mentioned bringing a 15 y/o girl up on stage and wanting her to act inappropriately with an adult man, also a passenger.

After we went back to our room, Jan turned on the TV to find that the show tape was running. Imagine our surprise when the girl he brought up on stage was one of our tour group who was taking the trip with her mother. We knew Meghan very well and could see and hear how uncomfortable she was at his suggestions. I was surprised her mother didn’t pull her off the stage. Meghan was a lovely girl who wore makeup that made her look a lot older, especially in the dim light of the theater. In broad daylight, you could see she was just a young girl. When I did the survey there was no place to rate individual entertainers or any way to make comments. I hope others expressed their displeasure over this so-called “performance”.

Tuesday, June 27~Disembarkation and Amsterdam

Jan had gotten 11 AM tickets for the Van Gogh museum so we were happy to disembark at 9 AM and grab a cab back to the Ibis hotel. Our room was not ready of course so we stored our luggage and headed for the HOHO bus/canal combo. The bus stopped at the Rjiks museum which was the gateway to to the Van Gogh. Some folks on the cruise had done this and raved about it so we were feeling pretty confident of our choice. I got in the line while Jan found a place to sit until it was time to enter. They did monitor the number of people inside and you were only allowed in when some others left.

Entering to the gift shop, of course and Jan looked while I found the restroom. Following a person I thought was a woman, I walked into a room with a wall full of urinals! Needless to say, I made a quick about-face and found the correct lavatory. The museum had several levels with stairs and I didn’t think Jan would make it. Thank goodness we found an elevator. As for the museum itself, there were many of his works detailing his career which was fascinating but none of his more famous paintings. We’ve seen those at the Art Institute in Chicago. An hour was enough for us and we started the trek back to the canal.

Found our boat stop and continued our ride to the stop for Anne Frank house. We were ready for something to eat and I wanted to stop at Moeder’s which came highly recommended. After a rather long walk which made Jan very unhappy, we arrived to find it wasn’t open for lunch. Back to the first place we passed for a couple of very dry grilled cheese sandwiches. We could have jumped back on the HOHO bus but figured the canal boat would take us back to our hotel. It was 4:00 before we got back to the hotel. Sent an email to family about our arrival time and crashed in our room.

On the canal tour we passed Chinese restaurant which was floating in the canal and decided to make it our last meal in Amsterdam. It was an easy walk from the hotel, at least for me. We each found something on the menu and asked for water. A waiter brought out a liter of water for our purchase. Jan asked for ice and he stated the water was cold already but she insisted. That bottle of water cost us 6.5 euros ($7.80)!

Wednesday, June 28~Home

Thinking our flight was at 1 PM, we set a 7 AM wake up call, planning to arrive early and eat a leisurely breakfast before our flight. Up a little early, we took our time packing up and getting ready to check out. Catching our cab at 8:30 AM, we hit rush hour and the ride was 60 euros and about 50 minutes. Printing our boarding passes, we saw that our flight was at 11:00 instead of 1:00. We had confused our departure time with our arrival time! The pass said that our flight would be would begin boarding in 1 hour and we hadn’t even dropped off our luggage yet.

Time never moves faster than when you are running late. Security was very serious and searched our carryons thoroughly. After a very long walk just to get to security, when we were cleared, we were directed down the stairs and our gate was close by. The gate agents were just boarding first class so we had some breathing space to relax a bit.

Needless to say, our 9 hour flight was uneventful and getting through Customs at O’Hare was a breeze using our Global Entry cards. Finally outside, our respective rides arrived and we headed home after our exciting trip.

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