My wife and me are due to sail to the Baltic for the first time on 23rd August '05 from Dover on the Norwegian Jewel and we would welcome some advice on how we can obtain shore excursions that provide value for money. We have taken two other cruise during the past 4 years and have been pretty unhappy at the extremely high cost of excursions offered by the cruise lines.
We would also appreciate any guidance that can be given on the currencies we should take with us for shore side purchases.The cruise visits Oslo, Helsinki, St Petersburg, Tallin,Warmemunde and Copenhagen and I had in mind just taking Euros and US dollars.
In Estonia all you need is a $10 cab ride to the walls of the city where you can easily explore the city on your own by foot. This is the best day for shopping and the prices are great. It is a magnificent city and was the unexpected highlight of our trip. Have lunch at The St. Petersburg Hotel while you're in Talinn. We had the most incredible shrimp sandwiches on Russian Village Bread. Yum!
In Russia take as many tours as you can fit in because the palaces and the Hernitage are so wonderfully incredible. Shopping in Russia was limited as was time for shopping on the tours.
We enjoyed the double decker bus tour in Helsinki. There was a nice flea market right by the dock. You don't need a ship's tour here either. You can catch the bus just as you get off the ship. Helsinki was our least favorite port however.
We rented a car in Rostock, Germany (A short train ride from the dock) and drove many places on the Autobahn. We saw Berlin, Hamburg, and Weismar and enjoyed our day for a fraction of the cost of the very slow train to Berlin. The countryside was beautiful. We got a BMW for about $60 for the day. Nice car and t'was fun to drive it fast there.
In Copenhagen we did Tivoli Gardens and took a boat canal ride the next morning. Both were well worth the time and the money.
We did not visit Oslo. We went in 2001 which was pre-Euro but U.S. small bills worked well and credit cards gave you a slightly better exchange rate.
Thanks for the very helpful advice. What I did'nt mention in my original message, however, is that I suffer from a chronic lung disease that makes it difficult for me to walk for more than a few hundred yards on the flat before becoming breathless.
How far is the taxi rank from where the ship is likely to dock in Tallin and is the walk you suggested from the city walls downhill rather than uphill? ( A slow stroll downhill is fine for me but if a climb is involved then an oxygen tank has to be strapped to my back!!)
I also like the sound of the trip that you mentioned in Helsinki as our ship only calls there for about 6-8 hours so a quick, easy and inexpensive bus ride is very appealing. How near to the docks is the bus stop and where do you buy the bus tickets?
I also like the sound of the canal boat trip in Copenhagen and would welcome any further information you can supply on its accessability for someone like me.
If I were you, I would be sure to have use of a wheelchair. Even in the best of ports, security concerns often keep cabs at some distance from the ship. The cruise line will loan you a wheelchair for the duration of the cruise if you make arrangements. Do you have a partner to help you with a wheelchair? Usually cabs will be 100 to 200 yards away from the gangway.
Can you rent or do you own a scooter? That would be a very good way to get around. The grounds at some of the castles and palaces are quite extensive and would be wonderful for you to see.
In Helsinki the bus stop was about two city blocks, maybe less, from the cruise terminal.
I think you would have no problem on the boat tour in Copenhagen. They were very helpful. You would definately need a wheelchair for Tivoli Gardens, if you choose to go there.
Tallin is hard to see without walking. You might be okay in a wheelchair but I'm not sure about the cobblestones and how much bumpiness you can tolerate in a wheel chair. Maybe it would be smart to ask this question on the thread for handicapped cruisers. David and I were both fleet of foot on that trip and we weren't thinking about that aspect.
There are some slight hills but the city is fairly flat.
St. Petersburg is not terribly friendly to handicapped travelers because the buildings are so old. Most of the palaces and the Hermitage are largely not air conditioned and many have no elevators.. Be sure to wear light clothing because it gets very warm in most of the buildings. You might do better to hire private tour guides while visiting this city. You may be able to pair up with others for private tours if that is your preference.
I hope this helps somewhat. Feel free to e-mail me if you have specific questions I haven't answered very well.
While my breathing is pretty poor whenever I am called upon to exert myself physically, it has yet to reach the stage where a wheelchair is required apart from in extreme circumstances. Call it vanity or stupidity if you will but I am resisting the use of mechanical aides for the time being and instead am relying on forward planning coupled with medication, stopping frequently to get my breath and wheezing!!!
My inclination at present is to give most of your suggested trips a "whirl" in the hope that they will entail only a short walk to the nearest taxi rank, bus stop or canal boat jetty. I will also persue your idea of seeking guidance from other disabled cruisers.
My partner, David, had to use a wheelchair on one of our cruises after a severe knee injury. He is only 43 years old. The wheelchair was a godsend and allowed us to see everything we wanted to see. This injury could have ruined our Alaska cruise.
My advice is not to let vanity get in the way. You are spending a good deal of money to go on this fabulous cruise so don't miss out on the best parts.
I noticed that someone just posted an article today on wheelchair cruising. You should at least read the article and think a bit. It might be wise to get a wheelchair remembering you don't have to use it except when you really need it.
Did the Baltic in May. Didn't catch your ship, but Celebrity had bus transportation at the ports, to the heart of the cities. In Oslo, we had an excursion, but docked right down town. Copenhagen has an on/off narrated (headphones) tourist bus which stops at the pier. I didn't realize this until we picked it up in the heart of the city and looped back to the pier. This would be a better choice than the ship's bus, as you will be taken to the mermaid first, and then around to the other sites, like the palace, instead of just to the town square and dropped. The bus picks up about a half block from the ship -- opposite end of the entrance/exit -- just ask -- there's a bus stop sign there.
I really liked Helsinki -- loved the market by the water (did the majority of my shopping there, beautiful wooden bowls, fur items) and you can pick up an excursion water craft at the site. The ship's bus drops you at the mouth of the lovely esplanade that leads you to the market, about 2 -3 blocks. The beautiful Russian Orthodox church is up a steep hill, however, and the huge, gorgeous, Luthern Church has many, many steps up to it; a slight street incline to it's courtyard from the market for outside viewing, and another incline on a side street up to the side entrance, which only has a few steps.
Stockholm's Gamla Stran is pretty flat, do not miss the changing of the guard ceremony at the palace -- the best I have ever seen with horses and bugles and kettle drums, very impressive, about an hour long.
Oslo has an on/off bus which takes you to the Viking ship, and the sculpture park, I believe -- we did the ship excursion, which included the ski jump, Vigeland sculpture park (the best sight, imo), the Viking ship, and a replicated Nordic village. I did not feel we could cover that much ground on our own, and did not regret taking the excursion. Not sure where you catch the on/off and there are inclines up to town.
St. Petersburg -- we did a 2 day custom tour with DenRus which I highly recommend, if it's not too late for you to book it. Forget doing it on your own (ship excursion is ok, too) -- too much corruption, big time language problems, etc. The Palaces might be difficult for you as I do not think they are handicapped accessible, but an experienced guide may be knowledgeable of a ramped entrance. There are big entrance stair cases inside, but once maneuvered, you should be ok. The beautiful churches like the must-see Church of the Spilled Blood should be no problem. Again, I say if you can do a private tour with DenRus, you would be more comfortable as the guide can adjust to your needs. (Celebrity had a Balkan Mkt. on board -- devoted one of the lounges to it and the prices were very fair -- so I did much of my Russian souvenir purchases on ship. The dockside shop was the only place I saw post cards, so stock up there)
Tallin has slight inclines to the old city -- STEEP incline up to the Orthodox Church -- with the cobblestones, I don't think even a wheelchair could be pushed without great difficulty. Just enjoy the wonderful square -- the Sunday we were there they had a concert -- 2nd oldest balalyka (sp?) orchestra and it was just lovely to sit with a cup of coffee at the outdoor restaurant and enjoy. Again, ship had a bus to old town, free of charge.
The ship had an excursion to Tivoli Gradens the evening we docked, and we took it because the cost of the bus plus the entrance fee was very reasonable. The gardens were beatutiful, but not much was happenening and I was disappointed UNTIL the main event started -- the tribute to Hans Christian Anderson. It was INCREDIBLE!!! I hope it is still going on when you are there. It was Disney with class -- these huge puppets carried on long poles of his characters, music, narration in Danish, of course, and not intelligible, fire works -- just gorgeous!
Money -- dollars are pretty much accepted everywhere -- even in Russia where they are not supposed to be accepted, but, krona can be gotten from the ship purser, and exchanged, as can everything but rubles, and I think the Estonia currency. Only one of the countries uses euro's, as I recall.
It is a FANTASTIC cruise/destination. Have a wonderful time.