by Bob Hoelscher
Published November 01, 2017
In Copenhagen, Denmark, during late September, my traveling companion, “Di” Varnell, and I boarded Norwegian Cruise Line’s Norwegian Getaway for a late-season, nine-night Baltic sailing that featured an attractive itinerary the ship had repeated throughout the late spring and summer months. Along our route were several of Northern Europe’s storied capital cities, as well as two days in St. Petersburg, Russia.
It’s important to note that the Getaway, one of the company’s newest vessels, is big — very big — which allows guests to choose from an astounding variety of top-notch onboard activities, entertainment and dining venues that were designed to suit virtually every taste. We cruised with about 4,000 other guests aboard this mammoth, 1,068-foot long, 145,655-ton, immaculately maintained vessel.
As is typical for the line, food and service were uniformly excellent, and the extra-cost “specialty dining” restaurants — we enjoyed Cagney’s Steakhouse and the Moderno Churrascaria — offer fantastic settings for celebrating a special occasion. All together, there are some two dozen ways and places to get something to eat. However, my best reason for recommending Norwegian Getaway is that I’ve never encountered a staff on a vessel in any price category that was more friendly, welcoming, professional and helpful than I found here. The people made a huge difference. Even mass morning shore excursion departures, sheer bedlam on some ships, were extremely well handled.
After Copenhagen, where a pre-cruise overnight stay afforded ample time for exploring on our own, we visited modern Berlin, which we reached by chartered train from the port at Rostock/Warneműnde. Berlin has been totally rebuilt since World War II and the subsequent days of the notorious Berlin Wall. In the beautiful old cities of Tallinn, Estonia, and Stockholm, hop-on/hop-off bus tours were an affordable way to help us get our bearings before we headed off on foot to see the many fascinating sights, both historic and contemporary.
In St. Petersburg, cruise guests without formal Russian visas can take only organized shore excursions sold aboard ship; we chose excursions to the magnificent Peterhof summer palace, the world-famous Hermitage Museum and other splendid area attractions. Unfortunately, late in our stay here, high winds and waves delayed Norwegian Getaway from safely exiting the rather narrow and shallow harbor channel, so we were forced to spend a second night at the city’s cruise ship facility and forgo our scheduled stop in Helsinki. Nevertheless, it was 1999 when I last visited all these Baltic ports, so it was most interesting to see what changes had been made in the past 18 years, especially in Berlin and St. Petersburg.
Many people think the life of a cruise and travel writer is pretty much ideal and are surprised when I tell them that like most other jobs, there are good days and bad days. For some reason, several of the latter cropped up on this trip, but they had nothing whatsoever to do with Norwegian Getaway. First, the airlines lost my luggage, leaving me in Europe with only the bare essentials. Next, my wallet was stolen by a pair of pickpockets in St. Petersburg. After that, I was without clothes, money or credit cards to deal with a full month of travel on the continent. Happily, most of my arrangements were prepaid, and with some welcome assistance from Di, my bank and both the cruise lines involved, as well as a few emergency purchases, I was able to cope pretty well.