I had always wanted to do a Baltic cruise, so when the opportunity arose to join Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines’ Braemar on a 2-week Baltic Festivals voyage I could not resist.
Having arrived at Dover in plenty of time, my first impressions of the Fred Olsen experience were good. The check-in was swift, while a quick stroll around Braemar showed that it was a well-maintained ship with a friendly, welcoming atmosphere. I could already begin to see why cruising the Baltic with Fred Olsen is such a firm favourite with many of my friends and colleagues.
Our first notable experience was the Kiel Canal. Having enjoyed a Panama Canal cruise I was excited to see what the difference would be. Although not quite as impressive as the Panama lock system, the Kiel Canal offers a transit of roughly 8-10 hours and what a scenic transit it is. We were lucky to experience it both day and night. Yes! We made the transit twice, which is quite uncommon. The locals were very friendly, some even let off several fireworks as we sailed past one of the small ferry stations and everyone onboard let out the obligatory ‘oooohs’. We passed under several bridges too, which was quite exciting. All these little experiences along the way really do mould your cruise together perfectly.
Our first German port would be Kiel, followed swiftly by Travemunde. As this was the ‘Baltic Festivals’ cruise there was quite a lot going on in both ports. Kiel gave us the world famous Kieler Woche (Kiel Week), which is not only an annual sailing event but it is also the largest sailing event in the world. I have to say the parade of vessels was incredibly impressive and we had a wonderful view from the deck of the ship. Once the procession had passed, I made my way ashore and enjoyed the smells of the International Food Market, I could have quite happily eaten everything, it was fantastic and countries included Cambodia, Portugal, Greece, Thailand and Pakistan. Kiel was a pleasant place to stroll and we were treated by the shore-side festivities long into the evening. The benefits of having such a wonderful berth.
Travemunde would turn out to be a beautiful little resort type port and again was alive with the Shanty Festival. The festival took place along the mouth of the Trave River and there were no less than 25 choirs offering a musical programme across several stages. The atmosphere was simply awesome. We were docked just outside of the town, so were offered a shuttle service to and from the ship. I spent hours soaking up Travemunde, even stopping to enjoy Bratwurst mit Pommes – sausage and chips to you and me – and it was delicious.
Our third call was to Stockholm, Sweden and I did very much enjoy the city, but it was the journey through the Stockholm Archipelago that really stood out. If you are yet to take a Baltic cruise, just remember this one piece of advice, PLEASE ensure you arise at whatever time necessary to see this breath-taking scenery. I was truly left gobsmacked by what I was seeing, some of the small islands almost looked like a movie set, I never expected to see what I did and some of the homes lining the shores were absolutely stunning, one of which belongs to Bjorn from the group ABBA.
The city of Stockholm is an explorer’s paradise, I simply took a map and off I went on my adventure. I took in quite a lot of the city – the old and the new – and must admit it was very pleasant. There was a big contrast between the new city centre and the old part of the town and personally, I preferred the old. There was a lot of history, beautiful architecture and lots of wonderful little boutique stores to investigate. I was also grateful for the narrow streets that were lined with cosy café’s when the rain came and washed us out.
We would leave Stockholm and head towards Russia next for two days in St Petersburg. Day one took me just outside of the city to Peterhof Palace and Park, absolutely incredible! I would recommend everyone visit here. The palace was stunning both inside and out and the gardens were impeccable! Of course, the fountains are the gardens main attraction and they certainly did not disappoint this keen traveller. What a real spectacle it was and it was definitely made far more special by the glorious weather we had.
In the evening I embarked on a city waterways tour. It was a lovely way to explore the city and see it from a different perspective, after all they say St Petersburg was built to be viewed best from the waterways. Again this is another experience I would recommend. The weather was perfect, you didn’t have to manoeuvre your way through the city on foot – you could just sit back, relax and enjoy the scenery.
On my second day in the city I visited the Church of Our Saviour on Spilled Blood. I was hypnotised by the outer beauty of this building, it was remarkable, but the inside blew my mind. Everywhere you look the walls and ceiling are decorated in the most beautiful religious mosaics, I didn’t know where to point my camera! There was so much to take in, they certainly don’t make them like that anymore.
Next up was Tallinn, Estonia, and what would ultimately become my favourite port! I simply took a map and went off on foot. I explored all of the Old Town, well nearly all of it, and I could have stayed there all day – it was absolutely beautiful. People had told me that walking through Tallinn Old Town was reminiscent of walking through a fairy tale and having been there myself, I would have to agree. So many wonderful little side streets that were bursting with character, at every turn you were met with something more visually impressive than the street before. It is a true gem in the Baltic.
The atmosphere was also enhanced because during our call the Estonian Song and Dance Festival was taking place. The festival happens every five years and I am very grateful I had the chance to experience some of it for myself. There were more than 30,000 singers that took to the streets to walk to the Tallinn Song Festival Grounds and everyone was happy, singing, playing music and just enjoying life. If you are due to visit Tallinn then my advice would be to just explore it on your own. It deserves your time and not the rush of an organised excursion and it is incredibly easy to navigate with a map.
I had one port left on my Baltic adventure, Copenhagen in Denmark and the day had been reserved for a visit to Tivoli Gardens. The weather was quite grim but it didn’t dampen my spirits and off I went to one of the world’s most famous gardens, and one home to one of the world’s oldest rollercoasters! Like Tallinn, Tivoli felt like you had stepped into another world, only this one felt make-believe. It was a small slice of fantasy nestled within the bustling city centre, yet it felt a world away from ours. Tivoli is for adults and kids, there were several more mature ladies and gentleman on my excursion and they were having just as much fun as the teenagers. The gardens were beautiful and we bumped into several inquisitive birds including a Peacock family and their little baby, geese, ducks and passing the lake we also spotted several huge Koi Carp! Sadly I didn’t get a chance to sample any of the rides, but that only means I now have an excuse to return.
Overall, the cruise was superb, our ship, Braemar, was somewhere I looked forward to returning to at the end of every busy day. The food onboard was delicious – especially the soups, her crew were very attentive and friendly and the accommodation was definitely spacious. I had a superior-twin outside, which offered a single bed, sofa and chair and a vanity area, double wardrobe with safe and then a good-sized bathroom with several storage areas. I also had a full length mirror on the back of the cabin door, every woman needs a full length mirror!
The itinerary had been planned and subsequently executed perfectly, we had incredibly long port calls, which was very nice indeed and the tours were well organised. In fact, I enjoyed my time with Fred. Olsen so much that I am already browsing 2015 itineraries.
For more information regarding exploring the Baltic with Fred Olsen, then please call one of our Cruise Experts on 0800 008 6677.