Subject: Re: Baltic Cruise
Hi Bob and Pat,

You have an exciting trip ahead of you. In June 2005, I took a similar cruise with Holland America, beginning and ending in Copenhagen. Each evening, cruise lines provide passengers with information on the next port of call, including maps, and there are also ship board lectures. Though there is sometimes a focus on shopping in these lectures, you can gain useful information from the experts. Here are some general comments. As you refine your planning, you may have specific questions.

I can't advise on Copenhagen, because we simply stayed overnight before boarding the ship.

Stockholm is a walkable city and there are also river tours, which I took because my travelling companion couldn't walk any distance. Fellow passengers who took the ship's tours of the city generally agreed that it would have been just as easy to walk off the ship into town and tour on their own.

We took a bus tour in Helsinki, which I think was a good option because we were taken outside of the city (Sibelius Park, into the countryside, etc.) in addition to three or four stops in the city itself.

Talinn is very easy to tour on your own. The old town is compact and with good guide information you should be able to visit most spots. Our ship had a shuttle bus to take us the five minute ride from the dock to the entrance to the old city. I walked around for a few hours on my own, got lost a few times and found that everyone I asked for directions spoke English and all were helpful.

St. Petersburg is the highlight of Baltic Cruises. We hired Red October Tours which provided us with a car, driver and tour guide for two days. The company arranged for our visas, which was a bonus because, in talking to fellow passengers I realized that we saved a bundle of money with this arrangement. The ship tours are not cheap. You are on and off buses with hundreds of other tourists and there is always waiting time for the slowest passengers. Red October takes clients to the front of the lines at every stop (important for the Hermitage, Peterhof - where we were led into Monplaisir when other tourists were being turned away - and Catherine's Palace at Tsarskoye Selo). In addition to a few hours in the Hermitage, we stopped at the Yusupov Palace, the Peter and Paul Fortress, and the Church on the Spilled Blood. We drove out of the city each morning to visit palaces, churches, gardens etc. Our guide was knowledgeable, fluent in English, funny and extremely flexible. I highly recommend the company. Lunch was taken at two different restaurants where we had very good food. There was no hard sell when we stopped at the office/tourist store to pay our bill. We simply picked up some post cards and books and were on our way.

If you would like more detailed information, particularly on Red October Tours, ask away.

By the way, I recently saw "the Catherine exhibit" at the Art Gallery of Ontario which brought over treasures from Tsaarina Catherine's collection. While it was pleasant to "revisit" these treasures, it was miniscule compared to what you will see in and around St. Petersburg. Be prepared to be awestruck.

Lucy, Toronto