With fairy tale palaces, intriguing history and a rich mix of art and culture, the Baltic offers cruises with a difference, says Nick Dalton
Baltic cruises open up a world of sailing opportunities. Read this guide to discover where to go, what itineraries to take and the cruise lines that can get you there.
The Baltic is a sea of change. It’s where the Europe that we know gradually gives way to the mysteries of the east, finally lapping up against the coast of Russia and the pièce de résistance, St Petersburg.
Yet it’s not such a far-flung ocean, first making waves between Germany, Denmark and Sweden before rolling onward, to Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and, across the Gulf of Finland, Finland itself. It’s a world where Vikings once sailed and can be as much about the infinite wonders of Scandinavia as the more distant spots.
As such it is the setting for any number of cruises, voyages that almost all make St Petersburg their goal (with up to three days there). Some sail from the UK, many dive straight in from Copenhagen or Stockholm. Most are in the summer months when, while we might not actually be in the Land of the Midnight Sun, days are long – delightful for both evening excursions and on-deck sailaway drinks.
Baltic cruises: hot spots
Copenhagen is often chosen for an overnight stay, its Tivoli Gardens, dating from 1843, at their most special after the sun goes down, with everything from walks to theatres, lakes to a 1914 wooden rollercoaster, all illuminated by thousands of fairy lights.
Some itineraries focus on the big names, hopping from one capital to another – Copenhagen, Stockholm, Helsinki, Tallinn in Estonia, and there’s plenty of beauty here, not least the archipelago of 24,000 islands that surround Stockholm – some cruises call at the 17th-century naval city of Karlskrona with historic dockyards and museums of the sort found in extravagant TV costume dramas.
And St Petersburg is a jewel in the cruise crown, a city of waterways and magnificent architecture, including Catherine Palace, Peterhof Palace, the Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood and the Hermitage Museum with an extensive collection of more than three million works of art. There’s generally a ballet on offer, too.
Baltic cruises: the hidden spots
Yet there’s also a hidden Baltic. Warnemünde, for instance, a German port that is always flagged as the gateway for day trips to Berlin, a good three hours away, but which is a delightful breeze-blown seaside town with a 19th-century lighthouse, beach, dunes and the waterfront former home of Norwegian artist Edvard Munch, who spent 18 months here.
And gorgeous Klaipėda in Lithuania, a medieval city with striking architecture as well as walks along the 100km Unesco-protected Curonian Spit, with dunes millions of years old protecting the harbour.
Gdańsk, too, the famed Polish shipbuilding centre. Ships dock in Gdynia just along the bay and Gdańsk is anything but an industrial city, with its 16th-century brick Basilica of St. Mary of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, contemporary Museum of Second World War and other striking architecture.
Some cruises follow the coast of Denmark but on others there’s the bonus of a trip through the Kiel Canal, which cuts a line 100km straight across Germany, ships seemingly floating across a flat, rural landscape from the North Sea to the Baltic.
Baltic cruises: Celebrity Cruises
For the big names try Celebrity Cruises’ 14-night Scandinavia & St Petersburg voyage, a return trip from Southampton, featuring an overnight visit in Copenhagen and days in Stockholm and Helsinki plus two days in St Petersburg. There’s also Warnemünde in Germany and Aarhus in Denmark. Celebrity Silhouette is a cool and sophisticated ship for the sailing. From £2,699, departing 18 July 2020 (0800 441 4054; celebritycruises.co.uk).
Baltic cruises: Viking
Viking’s 11-day Russia & the Baltic Sea cruise includes a lavish three days in St Petersburg but has a big focus on Scandinavia. There are two nights and a day in Stockholm before you set sail (and then a day flitting amongst the 30,000 islands of the Stockholm archipelago) and a day and night in Copenhagen at the end. There are island calls, too – and the cool Scandi design of Viking’s ships only add to the immersive feeling.
Viking is unusual for an ocean cruise line in that it also includes a shore excursion in each port – in St Petersburg that’s a coach tour around the city but you’ll still need to pay for the Hermitage Museum, ballet and other joys. Fly-cruise from £3,990, departing 6 June 2021 (0800 298 9700; vikingcruises.co.uk).
Baltic cruises: Saga Cruises
A Baltic Fable from Saga Cruises manages to combine the must-see spots with lesser-known ports. The 16-night trip from Dover has one night (but the best part of two days) in St Petersburg and much the same in Copenhagen. There’s Warnemünde and Helsinki plus Klaipėda in Lithuania and the Swedish isle of Karlskrona.
The cruise, on Saga’s new boutique ship Spirit of Discovery, is alive with music, from the region’s classical and folk music to Jools Holland boogie-woogieing in his own club and steakhouse. From £3,647, all-inclusive, with return chauffeur service between home and port. Departs 7 August 2020 (0808 163 3976; saga.co.uk).
Baltic Cruises: Silversea Cruises
A particularly luxurious way to flit around the Baltic is on Silversea’s boutique, 296-passenger Silver Wind. The 14-day London to Stockholm itinerary takes you on a direct path from Tower Bridge to St Petersburg before doubling back.
There’s a pre-dawn departure through the bridge (enjoy it as you make the most of the free 24-hour dining), a day and night in Amsterdam – and a whole day gliding through the Kiel Canal. Other calls include Helsinki, Tallinn and Copenhagen plus three days in St Petersburg. From £4,950, all-inclusive, with return flights, departing 25 May 2020 (0844 251 0837; silversea.com).
“Silversea has an extensive range of Baltic itineraries, the most popular being a seven-night cruise between Copenhagen and Stockholm,” says Peter Shanks, managing director, UK, Ireland, Middle East and Africa. “Our smaller luxury ships have two distinct advantages. Firstly,
St Petersburg is the hero destination and our ships dock on the River Neva right in its heart, such a better experience than those on huge ships in the busy port with lengthy transfers. Secondly, our excursion groups are also smaller so guests get to see the wonders of the Baltic in more comfort.”
Baltic Cruises: Marella Cruises
Marella Cruises, best known for Spanish and Med sunshine getaways, also has various 2020 Baltic cruises. The 14-night sailings start in Newcastle which means more time to explore – each one visits eight ports, with a night in St Petersburg.
Baltic Discovery takes in the best of Scandinavia – Oslo, Helsinki, Stockholm, Gothenburg, as well as Kalundborg, a Danish market town and beach resort – plus Tallinn and St Petersburg. The voyages are on Marella Explorer, all delicate seaside décor and with a Champneys spa. From £1,647, all-inclusive, departing 16 May and 15 August 2020 (0871 230 2800; tui.co.uk).
Baltic Cruises: Princess Cruises
Princess Cruises has its cover-all-the-bases Baltic Heritage voyage, a 14-day round-trip from Southampton on sophisticated Crown Princess. It starts with only one day of sea before popping into Kristiansand, the lovely southern Norwegian town with its beach, neo-Gothic cathedral and wooden homes.
There’s all three Scandinavian capitals and two days in St Petersburg plus the bonus of Gdańsk and the Unesco-protected medieval town of Visby on the Swedish isle of Gotland. From £1,499, departing 30 May, 11 July and 5 September (0344 338 8663; princess.com).
Baltic Cruises: Norwegian Cruise Line
Fancy a late summer getaway? Norwegian Cruise Line’s nine-day Scandinavia, Russia and Baltic voyage this year has its final departure on 23 September. The round trip from Copenhagen has only two sea days as it calls at Warnemünde, Helsinki, Tallinn and the Swedish seafaring town of Nynäshamn along with two days in St Petersburg. Norwegian Getaway, one of the world’s largest cruise ships, offers lofty viewpoints from which to see the sights and has a wealth of dining and entertainment experiences. Fly-cruise from £1,292 (0333 2412319; ncl.com).
Baltic Cruises: Seabourn
Of course, if you’re heading in that direction it seems a shame to miss out on other attractions. The 21-day Norway & Baltic Gems adventure, from Amsterdam to Stockholm, from boutique company Seabourn makes sure you don’t. It combines two cruises, heading north, via Hamburg, to take in Norway’s fjords for almost two weeks before diving into the Baltic destinations of Copenhagen, Tallinn, Helsinki and spending three days in St Petersburg. Seabourn Ovation, for 600 guests, is a masterpiece of understated style. Departs 6 June 2020 from £10,999, all-inclusive but without flights (0344 338 8615; seabourn.com).
“Seabourn’s intimate ships effortlessly glide into marquee cities and out-of-the-way ports,” says senior marketing manager Carly Perkins. “Guests may seamlessly combine a seven-night Baltic cruise – which includes two nights for immersive exploration of St Petersburg, with some of Norway’s hidden ports and spectacular scenery, such as cruising long, narrow Geirangerfjord between high, snow-capped ranges. The all ocean-front Veranda suite all-inclusivity of Seabourn Ovation makes this one of the most luxurious ways to see these sights.”
Baltic Cruises: Holland America Line
Sister company Holland America Line, which has bigger ships that reflect the early days of cruising with a modern touch, does something similar. The 21-day Baltic Jewels & Norwegian Fjords cruise, a round trip from Amsterdam, ticks off the capitals to St Petersburg (a two-day visit) and back. It then visits Amsterdam as somewhere to visit before six days of fjords. Nieuw Statendam has everything from stately dinners to live music in the Rolling Stone Rock Room. Departs 10 May 2020, from £3,339 including flights (0843 374 2300; hollandamerica.com).
Lynn Narraway, UK managing director of both Holland America Line and Seabourn, says “Getting to the Baltic cities can be expensive and challenging, however a cruise with Holland America Line offers a way to combine these incredible destinations into one relaxing holiday, travelling between scintillating cities on an elegant hotel at sea. You’ll enjoy full days in ports as well, discover regional cuisine and get in-depth destination tips from onboard experts.”
Baltic cruises: Oceania Cruises
The 10-day Renaissance of Culture cruise from Oceania Cruises is rare for the Baltics in that, except for two days in St Petersburg, there’s a different call each morning. The voyage, from Stockholm to Oslo, takes in the usual suspects (Helsinki, Tallinn, Copenhagen) along with Baltic gems (Gdańsk, Klaipėda and Latvia’s capital, Riga, with its Art Nouveau architecture) and the Swedish maritime city of Gothenburg on the Göta River.
Marina is a ship of rare elegance, whether its the Ralph Lauren country club style or the excellent cuisine, not least that served in the Polo Grill steakhouse. Departs 6 July 2020, from £4,119 including flights and choice of six excursions, drinks package or $600 onboard credit (0345 505 1920; oceaniacruises.com).
“With a plethora of historic cities and diverse and beautiful scenery along the coastline, a cruise is the perfect way to explore this enchanting region,” says Bernard Carter, senior vice-president and managing director Europe, Middle East and Africa.
“In such a distinct part of Europe, Oceania Cruises, the world’s leading culinary and destination-focused cruise line, hones in on the best excursions suiting a variety of interests. On Renaissance of Culture there’s the opportunity to see a performance by the Mariinsky Ballet Company in St Petersburg, explore Riga, the ‘Paris of the Baltics’, and head to the pristine waters lapping at the broad sands of Lithuania’s Smiltyne Beach.”
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