Adventures by Disney Northern European Cruise (Part 3)

Picking up where we left off…

(Don’t miss Part One and Part Two)

Day 5 – Helsinki, Finland

Thankfully, this was a much later day after the previous day’s late night, and we didn’t meet until 11:00am.  This could have meant I had time to go to the gym.  Instead, we slept in and ate breakfast.

 

We started the day with a boat ride out to Suomenlinna Island.  The boat ride was gorgeous, and we passed through so many gorgeous areas of the city.  We also went past the ice breakers, which were so impressive.  They were all named after different bears. We passed so many saunas (pronounced SOW-na by our guide), and I think I need to check out this relaxing lifestyle.

Suomenlinna Island Fortress is one of the largest sea fortresses in the world and is a UNESCO World Heritage site.  It’s built on six islands, and isn’t just a tourist site.  People actually live there.  It was a gorgeous day and a fascinating place to walk around, and the perfect place to be after a day in Russia.

We had a quick lunch at a brewery on the island, and then got back on the boat for the ride back into Helsinki.

We stopped in Senate Square for photos and spent some time walking around the city, just exploring.

Finally we headed to Temppeliaukio Church, known as the Rock Church.  It was excavated out of solid rock and is light through a giant skylight in the ceiling.  The rock walls are all still exposed, and because of that, the acoustics are incredible.

This was a much shorter day – we were only in the city for about 6 hours, but that evening, we were back on the boat for the Frozen Deck Party.  And let me tell you, the weather certainly helped the atmosphere.  It was cold and windy!  But we certainly had fun!

Day 6 – Stockholm, Sweden

Our last port day.  I couldn’t believe it had gone so fast!  I wasn’t as excited to go to Stockholm, because I had been to some of our stops before, but it had been over a decade, so I didn’t remember quite as much.

Our first stop was at the Vasa Museum.  This museum houses the Vasa, an almost completely intact warship that sank in 1628.

Of course, it’s in such great shape because it sank on its maiden voyage due to some mistakes in construction, but their loss is our gain, I suppose.  Its sinking is also a good lesson – the construction was rushed because the King demanded it, and those who suspected the ship may not be seaworthy were too afraid of the King to raise their concerns.

The ship itself is phenomenal.  The decorations are gorgeous, and there is still a ton of research being done on the ship.  There are displays showing the various artifacts that were found on the ship and what paint colors they think were used on the carvings.  The story of how they found the ship, brought it up from the bottom of the harbor, and worked to preserve it and ensure it wouldn’t deteriorate in the air, was fascinating.  We started the trip with a video, which was thankfully subtitled in English, as the voiceover was in Spanish.  Yes, I said that right.  Spanish.  (I suspect that perhaps the voiceovers are done in different languages throughout the day, but we were all very confused to hear Spanish in Sweden.)

Next we went to Coronation Church, known as Storkyrkan.  This church was built in the 13th century, and is the location of coronations, royal weddings, and christenings.

The most famous part of this church is the statue of St. George and the Dragon, created in the 1400s.  This statue supposedly contains relics of St. George as well as six other saints.

According to the legend, there was a dragon who was prevented from attacking the city by sacrifices from the villagers.  These sacrifices started out as sheep, but then the people ran out of sheep, and then they had to begin sacrificing children to the dragon.  The children were chosen by lottery, and the king’s daughter was chosen.  She was sent to be sacrificed, but St. George arrived on horseback and captured the dragon.  He agreed to kill the dragon if the people became Christian. They agreed and the dragon was slain.

The statue is so popular that there is a larger reproduction of it out in the square.

Lunch was, of course, Swedish meatballs, and this whole dish was incredible.  I wanted to lick my plate.  I mean, IKEA meatballs are good, but this was phenomenal.  I need to learn how to cook this dish immediately.

Our last stop was at Stockholm City Hall, which is where the Nobel Prize banquet is held every year.

My first thought was “Okay, this is a nice building.”  Then we went upstairs to the Gold Hall.

This hall is covered with golden mosaics, made of over 18 million tiles, depicting representations of Sweden’s history.  It was overwhelming and a little bewildering.

And with that, our tour was coming to an end, so of course, we stopped for a group photo.  When the trip started, I wasn’t so sure how I would feel about spending time with all of these people, but I grew to really like the group dynamics.  While I didn’t want to be best friends with all of these people, I definitely enjoyed the company of many of them

 

Day 7 – Day at Sea

The last day of the trip was a day at sea, which we desperately needed.  We started the morning with brunch at Palo, which was so good and I want to go back immediately.  For the most part, we relaxed and enjoyed the day.

We had one final meeting with our group, where we all got together to have drinks and snacks and say goodbye.  The guides had put together a fun slideshow of some of the photos from the trip, which was such a fun wrap-up to the trip.  It was sad to be leaving.

Day 8 – Disembark in Copenhagen

Alas, it was time to get off the ship.  We had one last day in Copenhagen planned before leaving the next day.  So we headed to Tivoli Gardens.

Tivoli Gardens was absolutely adorable and definitely worth the trip.  We wandered the streets and the shops and rode a few rides.  There were no lines at the rides, so we figured it was worth it.  We didn’t do any of the crazy rides (except for one that dropped us from an insane height) but mostly stuck to the small charming rides.

I also ate some licorice ice cream, which completely disgusted the rest of the family, but it was delicious.

And as the sun began to set, it was time to go back to the hotel and crash and get ready for the flight home.   This trip was amazing and worth every single penny.  I don’t know that I will ever go back to any of these places again (though seeing as I had already been to Copenhagen and Sweden once, I will never say never).  I am a complete convert to Adventures by Disney trips and before this trip was even over, Caitlin and I were debating where we wanted to go next.

And if you’re wondering, I have something like 700 pictures.  I’m working on putting together some sort of a photo book to try to capture all of these memories in one place.  It’s still a little overwhelming to look back at everything we did and saw.

Adventures by Disney Northern European Cruise (Part 2)

If you missed part one, you might want to go back and read that first.  Or don’t.  This is your world, you do you.

Day 3 – Tallinn, Estonia

Our first day in port!  I have to admit, I knew NOTHING about Estonia, and though I should have done some research beforehand, I didn’t.  So this was definitely an educational stop.

We started out at Kadorig Palace, which was built for Russian Empress Catherine I.  The Estonians were very proud of this.  (We learned later she visited once, was unimpressed by the small palace, and never visited again.  I know I was impressed, but it was only the second palace of my trip.  I would soon understand her feelings.)  It has since been turned into a museum.

Then we met Old Thomas, the guardian of Tallinn.  I have to admit, I thought this would be corny, but it was really fun.  We got to meet some great characters, have some live entertainment, and play a bunch of games.  Honestly, I think it was even more fun without kids in the group, because it meant the adults got to play all the games.

We ate lunch at a local restaurant, and this was likely my least favorite meal.  We had a sausage dish, which was good, but this day was the last blast of the heat wave hitting the area, and the place was unairconditioned, so it was just warm and uncomfortable.  But it was nice to sit and chat with some of our other tour mates.

Finally, we were able to walk through Tallinn on a guided tour, then had time on our own.  It was really impressive to see the old blended with the new, which I know is the norm in Europe, but is still always impressive to someone who lives in a country as young as the U.S.

Day 4 – St. Petersburg, Russia

This was the day that so many of us were looking forward to.  Russia isn’t the easiest place to get to. Plus, if you didn’t have an official tour with Disney Cruise Line or a personally obtained tourist visa (which I heard aren’t the easiest to get, but I can’t personally verify that), you weren’t allowed off the ship.  Russian customs is serious business.

This was also going to be a long day, and I think we were all wondering how it would go.  We met at 7:45, got off the ship pretty much right away, and weren’t going to be back until 9:30 at night.

Our first adventure of the day was customs.  We had been warned and warned again about Russian customs officials.  Don’t smile.  Don’t chat.  Just hand them your paperwork and go through.  They warned us that previous groups had taken up to 90 minutes to get through customs, and there was nothing that could be done to speed it up.  We were basically told that this was the least “Disney” our trip would be.

Somehow, we lucked out. Our group made it through in 15 minutes.  It was amazing.  It was intense – the customs agent just stared at me for what was probably only 20 seconds but felt like forever.  She looked at my passport under various lighting and examined it with a magnifying glass.  Of course, I had nothing to hide (except a terrible passport photo), so it wasn’t too bad.

Our first stop was Peterhof Palace, which was built by Peter the Great.

The whole space was just incredibly ornate, but this was definitely a place where we felt the difference from being in Estonia and being in Russia.  The stares of the people working in the museum were intense.  Of course, we were trying to be as polite as possible, but it was still unnerving.

Peterhof is known for its crazy fountains that start up every day at 11 with a musical show.  The crowd was amazing – tour groups from all around the world.

Of course, we wedged in for some group photos.

Lunch was Beef Stroganoff, which in Russia, is served with potatoes, not noodles.  It was delicious.  We also had borscht, which I wasn’t sure about, but it was the lightest, tastiest vegetable soup.  It was perfect on a chilly, rainy day.  Of course, the meal also included vodka. When in Russia…

Next, we went to the Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood.  This was built by Tsar Alexander III and dedicated to his father, Alexander II, who was murdered on the site in 1881.  It is located right along a canal.  As the story goes, Alexander II was in a carriage along the canal when a grenade was thrown at him. He got out of the carriage and was attacked and collapsed up against the fence along the canal, and died a few hours later.

It seems weird to write that paragraph and then post a smiley photo, but here we are.

To create the church, the canal was narrowed so that the exact spot where Alexander II was attacked could be enclosed within the church.  You can see the old cobblestones and the fence still on the spot.  The church is filled with mosaics and is absolutely gorgeous and really has to be experienced rather than seen in photographs.

This was the only time on our entire trip where we had any rain.  It absolutely poured for a very short period of time.  Then it was done.  We really lucked out with this weather, because this could have been a long and cold day.

Next, it was time for a boat ride through St. Petersburg, where we were treated to some local musical entertainment.  I have to say, even though Russian customs was intense, the people we met in Russia were amazing.  Our tour guides were two lovely young women, and the three musicians on this boat ride were so friendly.  Apparently, the one singer started learning English when Adventures by Disney started hiring them for this tour, as she is so proud to be working with Disney and wants to be able to better talk with the people who are visiting.

We took another snack break that afternoon for blinis and tea.  We had both sweet and savory, and the only way I can describe the savory blinis is to say that one was filled with Bolognese sauce and one was like a crepe egg roll.  Both were delicious.  The sweet one was served with jam.  And I ate it all.

Finally, we were off to the Hermitage museum.  We had been told that we were getting a private tour of the Hermitage, but I didn’t believe it.  The Hermitage is one of those places where you’re usually shoulder to shoulder with people, shuffling your way through.  I figured that maybe the evening hours were just for tour groups and that it would still be crowded, but less crowded.

I was wrong.

When they said private, they meant private.  Only Disney tours were there.  And we only saw people from our ABD tour and the other ABD tour, so maybe a total of 90 people.  It was insane.  Of course, we were still guided through and watched like crazy, but it was insane to get to see so much.  The museum is huge and we only got to see a tiny part of it, but it was still amazing.

This is a peacock clock. That’s one way to wake up.

Because the setting itself was so amazing, it was easy to forget that the museum holds some amazing works of art, including this unfinished sculpture by Michelangelo entitled Crouching Boy. We also saw pieces by Van Gogh, Renoir, Rembrandt, Titian, and so many other renowned artists that you only read about in books.  It was honestly overwhelming to be surrounded by so many beautiful works.

The collection was all started by Catherine the Great in 1764.  She bought entire collections of work from other collectors, so she amassed a huge number of items.  According to one source, Catherine acquired 4,000 paintings from the old masters, 38,000 books, 10,000 engraved gems, 10,000 drawings, 16,000 coins and medals and a natural history collection during her lifetime.   And we got to see a tiny piece of it, which was completely overwhelming.

Finally, it was back to the ship for very late dinner and sleep.

In the next part, I sleep in, and then go to Finland!

 

 

Trip Report – Adventures by Disney Magic of Northern Europe Cruise (Part 1)

I am just back from the most amazing trip and it’s going to take me a few days to get out a trip report.  My cousins, my sister, and I went on a 7 night Magic of Northern Europe Disney Cruise with the Adventures By Disney add-on.  We departed from Copenhagen, traveled to Tallinn, St. Petersburg, Helsinki, and Stockholm before returning to Copenhagen.  It was worth every single penny spent.  I knew the trip would be amazing, because my Disney cruises have been incredible, but I am now officially an Adventures by Disney convert as well and can’t wait to plan my next trip.

I wanted to do a really detailed recap, not only to have somewhere to put all of my memories, but also because when I was looking for reviews of this trip, I struggled to find any.  If you found this site looking for reviews before booking, stop reading now, go book your trip, then come back. I’m that convinced you will love it.

We booked this cruise very early, then decided to add the Adventures by Disney package.  It wasn’t cheap, but after looking at the destinations and the excursion options, we realized that the best way to maximize our experience in these cities was to do ABD.  The day in St. Petersburg alone made it worth it.

I loved the personal touch to Adventures by Disney.  Our group had 43 people in it and two guides.  It was nice to spend the excursions with the same group and get to know some of the other people.  Our guides were phenomenal, and each day we were joined by local experts.  An extra perk was that the two guides carried around cameras and took all sorts of photos, posed family photos and group shots as well as candids.  There were literally hundreds of photos to go through when I got home, and lots of incredible shots of us in front of some phenomenal landmarks.  It wasn’t something I considered when booking but the added value is honestly priceless.

Plus with Adventures by Disney, you get a pin of the day.  Who doesn’t want that?

Getting to Copenhagen

I’m very lucky that I live in a major metropolitan area, so I could get a direct flight from DC to Copenhagen.  Not surprisingly, with four of us traveling from four different cities, there were some flight issues.  My cousin Liz and I made it on time.  My sister Caitlin was about half a day delayed, but her luggage went on an adventure and just barely made it to the ship (talk about stressful).  My cousin Annie’s flight was cancelled and she arrived a day late, but in plenty of time to get on the ship.

My flight left at 5pm.  It’s an 8 hour flight.  Copenhagen is 6 hours later than DC, so not an insignificant time difference.  Of course, that meant that I arrived at 7am Copenhagen time, and my brain thought it was 1am.  While an 8 hour flight should mean a decent amount of sleep, trying to fall asleep at 5pm just wasn’t going to happen.  I may have gotten 2-3 hours of interrupted sleep.  Nevermind that, I was on vacation!

Day in Copenhagen, Denmark

Liz arrived the day before me, so when I got to the hotel, she already had a room.  This was huge, as it meant I could just drop my bags with her, change and get cleaned up from the flight.  She and I then went on an excursion through the city.

Copenhagen had a lot of options for “hop on, hop off” bus tours, but since we knew we would be doing a lot of city tours, we decided to just explore.  We ended up walking to Christensborg Palace to explore.  Christensborg isn’t only a palace, it’s also the seat of Parliament, the Prime Minister’s Office and the Supreme Court.  Being used to US security, I was amazed at how easy it was to walk around.

Oh, you know, just some royal thrones.

I was super impressed by the ruins found below the castle.  They date back to the 1100’s!  It’s pretty impressive how many times this castle was destroyed (often by fire – this place seems cursed) and rebuilt.

This very old tile has cat footprints on it, proving that cats have been jerks for centuries

For dinner, we grabbed something near Tivoli Gardens and waited for Caitlin to arrive.  Which she did, sans luggage.  But all was not lost.

Day 1 – Welcome Onboard!

First thing Thursday morning, Caitlin went back to the airport and procured her suitcase, which had gone on a grand adventure without her.  This was a huge sense of relief for everyone.  My cousin Annie had made all of her connections and was taking a shuttle straight from the airport to the port, so Liz, Caitlin, and I boarded a bus to head to the Disney Magic.

Since we were doing Adventures by Disney, we had to do the normal cruiseline check-in, then check-in at the Adventures by Disney desk, where we met our guides for the trip, Pamm and James.  They double-checked any food allergies and for the days that we would be eating in the various countries, asked us our meal preferences.  Basically, in each country, we got the local option or a chicken dish.  While I went for the traditional dish in each place, it was nice to have the option.

We also got our first pin of the day for the trip!  This was a surprise to me and I was really excited to learn that Adventures By Disney trips include pins of the day.

Yes, I am that tired.

We boarded the ship, grabbed lunch, Annie arrived, and the fabulous foursome were off!

At dinner that night, we met our table mates, who were also on the Adventures by Disney tour.  We actually came to learn that we were surrounded by people on our tour.  In this instance, it was a good thing, because we came to know each other and enjoy each others’ company, but I can see where this might grate on people if they’re stuck with people they don’t like (though for dinners on the ship, the cruise line staff will move you if you’re unhappy with the people you’re sitting with).

Day 2 – Day at Sea

Struggling with jet lag, we dragged ourselves out of bed for a 10am meet and greet with our Adventure Guides and group.  We got to meet the other people on our tour and learned a bit about how the days would work.  There were two ABD groups on the ship – we were the “adult” group, ages 18-82.  The other group had the kids.  I’m not against a trip with kids, but I did like that they split things up for this trip.  It also meant that we adults got to do more of the fun kid things!

That afternoon, we went to see Christopher Robin (adorable) and spent some time exploring the ship (and the food) and went to see the evening show.

I also went to the gym, which was ambitious. But did help with the jet lag.

To be continued in the next post, where we arrive in Estonia!

Back to the real world

What an awesome trip.  I have decided that I really like cruising.  It was awesome to be totally disconnected from everything.  It was great to sit at the dinner table every night with friends and have actual conversations and not have everyone constantly looking at their phones.  I think we should all disconnect more often.

Will do a full recap later in the week when I finally have time to breathe.  For now, just some disjointed thoughts.

I’m still trying to catch up here.  I can’t believe it’s already October.  I’m still digging through personal emails and work emails are a disaster.  (And to answer a question I’ve gotten – I’m a federal employee but in a non-appropriated agency, so I’m still working and getting paid, thank goodness.)

I managed to get in a bit of running while on the cruise.  Two different runs on the deck of the ship – much nicer while the ship was moving because the breeze was awesome –  and then the Castaway Cay 5K.  That was more of a walk than a run, but it was hot!  I’ve got one more weekend to get into half marathon shape.  Pretty sure Baltimore won’t be pretty, but it’s nice to no longer be on the injured list!

Coming back from vacation is rough.  I didn’t want to get out of bed this morning.  Doesn’t help that the cats were plastered to my side all night so I didn’t sleep all that well.

I’m participating in Katy Widrick’s Octoblog Challenge, so I’m hoping to make some significant improvements to the blog this month.  Gonna be a busy one!

Ireland Recap – Part 3

I hope no one minds that I have dragged this recap out this long.  And if you do mind, well it’s my blog. 🙂  Come back tomorrow for more talk about running.

Day Seven – Travel to Kerry, Blarney Castle

Finally, it was time to leave Dublin.  Not to disparage the city, or anything.  It was a lovely city, just too crowded.  I would like to go back someday when there aren’t insane football fans on every corner.

On the way to Kerry, we stopped at Blarney Castle.

Bad news guys, I did not kiss the Blarney Stone.  I would have liked to climb up into the castle, but the line to get in was about 90 minutes long, and since we were limited in how much time we had there, I wanted to be sure to explore the grounds rather than just stand in a line.  Besides, that sounds very unsanitary.  And does anyone really think I need the gift of gab?

So instead, we wandered the castle grounds.  That was amazing.  It was gorgeous.  And it was another reminder that we were in a place very different from the United States.  No railings.  No protections.  And then there was this.

A poison garden!  With nothing keeping people from picking things!  But don’t worry, I didn’t pick anything.  I’m such a rule follower.

I did not attempt to pull it up to find out if it really screams.

It was definitely a place where you could imagine wizards and witches living though.  Very magical.

And finally, we made it to Tralee and checked in to our hotel.  We were all so tired that we just opted to eat in the hotel bar. Which was delicious.  I need to find the recipe for the brown bread we ate everywhere.

Day Eight – Ring of Kerry Tour

Yet another bus tour, but this one was amazing.  We had a wonderful tour guide who told us all about the history of Ireland and about her adventures as a tour guide.  She was the sort of person I want to be friends with. She does all sorts of tours on foot and bike around the Ring of Kerry, and I want to join her for one some day.

Also, she encouraged us to have an Irish Coffee (coffee, cream, sugar, and Jameson) early in the morning.  I had one and I cannot disagree with her.

My photos don’t do this trip justice.  It was gorgeous and I want to go back and bike the route.

The trip ended with a boat ride.

Followed by a horse drawn carriage ride.

All in all, a very cool trip, and a perfect way to end our visit to Ireland.

We were scheduled to go to another show that night, but we were so tired and the people going to the show wouldn’t get back til almost midnight, so we decided to skip it and just be lazy and enjoy our last night in the country.

Day Nine – Travel Home

Goodbye, Ireland.  This day was filled with stress, culminating in me getting scolded by an American Airlines agent for somehow violating federal law (note: she was wrong).  It definitely made me glad to be home, and glad that I’m not doing any big travel for a while.  But don’t worry, Ireland.  I will be back.