Seven days in Scandinavia and Russia
As a first-time cruiser, I was assured by regulars that with Seabourn’s six-star, all-inclusive summertime Seven Day Baltic and St Petersburg voyage starting in Denmark and sailing to ports in Estonia, Russia, Finland and ending in Sweden, my ship had come in.
Carrying 600 guests and 400 crew, our ship, Ovation, attracts many repeat travellers who swear by its inclusive atmosphere. On board everybody really does know your name, and with a wealth of activities at sea and organised excursions onshore, endless food options, swimming pool and sun spots, gym, beauty salon, all-day and evening entertainment, films, treatments, talks and music… there’s so much listed in the daily bulletin, you need a nap after reading it.
Then there’s the food, from fine dining to buffets, Italian to sushi, in The Restaurant, The Colonnade, three-Michelin-star chef Thomas Keller’s
The Grill, and poolside at Earth & Ocean. With menus spanning terrine of Hudson Valley duck foie gras, borscht with black bread croutons, sashimi and nigiri – you’ll need those jogs around the decks.
Add the convenience of regular berthing at exciting destinations and waterfronts reflecting the long maritime histories of Baltic cities, and I was soon on board with a holiday at sea.
We joined the ship in Copenhagen after flying from Edinburgh with Norwegian Air (we were to return with SAS from Stockholm), after spending the night at the Generator hostel (staygenerator.com/hostels/copenhagen), whose indoor and outdoor social spaces and top floor Ice Bar make it a popular hang-out. A walking tour from the hostel led us through the old town to Freetown Christiania, the squat district that’s been championing an alternative lifestyle since 1971. Also a must for fans of mid-20th century modernism and Scandi furniture is The Designmuseum Danmark, (wwwdesignmuseum.dk), with more iconic chairs than you can shake your bahookie at.
Setting sail in the evening we cruised through the Oresund Sound, past the eponymous bridge of Nordic noir crime series The Bridge, which links Copenhagen to Malmo in Sweden. When we woke in our spacious Veranda Suite with its own sitting area and roomy bathroom, we were docked in Tallinn, the picturesque gothic capital of Estonia.
Inside the walls of the Unesco-listed medieval Old Town we sheltered from the rain in the Museum of Medieval Torture Instruments (Viru 3, Tallinn), gruesome and graphic, then joined a more upbeat free walking tour along the winding cobbled streets, past churches and merchants’ houses, returning to the ship for more pampering and dinner as we set sail once more.
St Petersburg packed our three-day stay, and here the Seabourn-organised excursions were a boon, enabling us to avoid applying for our own visas. Cruising along the Neva River, past the visiting Russian navy fleet commemorating the 1917 revolution, we gazed at the stunning architecture: grand imperial, courtesy of the Greats, Peter and Catherine, as well as imposing Soviet edifices and ambitious newbuilds like the seven-storey spaceship-inspired Zenit Arena that landed for the 2018 World Cup.
We lost ourselves among the three million artworks in the 1,500-room State Hermitage Museum before being rescued by our guide and deposited on Nevsky Prospect to window shop stores full of fur. Drawn into the beautiful domed Kazan Cathedral, where the gilt glimmered through clouds of incense, we watched as long snaking lines of women in headscarves queued up to kiss the icons. Then for the ultimate selfie we posed in front of the spectacular Church of the Saviour on Spilled Blood (that of Tsar Alexander II, fatally wounded on the site in 1881), with its elaborate multicoloured enamelled onion domes, designed by Scottish-German architect Alfred Parland.
On to Helsinki, where the sun was hot and designer shops – from furniture to fashion – cool. A fun find was the Mumin Kaffe (at Liisankatu 21, www.moomin.com) devoted to Tove Jansson’s cuddly creatures and home to heartwarming Moomin-related graphics, gifts and grub.
Our final day started early, to enjoy the approach to Stockholm, the Ovation picking its way past inlets and islands topped with wooden houses. With a third of the city comprising water and a third greenery (there are 1,000 parks), Stockholm vies with St Petersburg for the title, Venice of the North, except it has a more European, laid-back vibe. It’s the ideal location for another Generator hostel (staygenerator.com/hostels/stockholm), where our stylish studio suite spoiled us with a private bathroom, kitchen and lounge area without breaking the budget. Catching a hop on/hop off Redbuses tour (£27 for two days) we did a city circuit through Greta Garbo’s childhood district, Sodermalm, and onto Djurgarden island. Once the royal family’s game park, it’s full of parkland, museums, galleries and the Grona Lund amusement park.
We raided the Viking Museum (www.thevikingmuseum.com) with its interactive displays, online guides, commitment to gender balance (seems those Vikings weren’t all men), artefacts and activities. Write your name in runes, and who doesn’t love those wagon rides along tracks? Here it’s an 11-minute adventure saga, plundering in the west and slave trading in the east, with sounds, light and atmospheric environments.
Emerging blinking into the sun we dug deep (none of the Baltic countries are cheap), bought a beer and lay on the grass, watching the giant rides spin and lunge and boats ply back and forth.
And was that the Seabourn Ovation we saw, gliding away on its return across the Baltic? I wished we were still on board, not only to loll around in luxury, but because the crew had told me its next voyage took it across the North Sea to Leith. If only we could have stowed away.
Janet Christie sailed on the Seabourn Ovation Baltic cruise. A similar seven-night itinerary departing 8 August, 2020 (Stockholm to Copenhagen) starts from £ 3,799pp in a veranda suite including Business Air from Edinburgh and Glasgow airports, accommodation and all meals and drinks (except premium wine and spirits) and gratuities. Book by 28 February to receive this special air offer. Optional shore excursions and spa treatments will be charged as booked. For reservations or more information on other destinations, please contact Seabourn on 0843 373 2000 or visit www.seabourn.com
Generator Copenhagen. Private rooms from £57 per room per night; shared rooms from £15 per bed. Generator Stockholm. Private rooms from £61 per room, per night; shared rooms from £15 per bed; studio (sleeps 1-2 and features kitchenette and living area) from £137 per room.