While in port, should you go it alone?
If you are traveling on a cruise line that does not include organized tours as part of their all-inclusive pricing, then figuring out how to maximize your time and money while in port is a main concern. Just remember that if you do decide to “go it alone” the ship will leave without you in the unlikely event you do not get back in time. Be realistic and make sure to respect the cruise lines “all aboard” time and bring your port guide provided by the ship with you so you can have an emergency phone number of a port agent (just in case.)
DIYT (do it yourself tip) – Go to the port lectures to get valuable information and copies of city maps
Opting to stretch our money, my production assistant Jessica and I opted to do our own city tours whenever we could. We used the recommendations of John Lawrence, our port lecturer as a guide. Crown Princess provided adequate maps and general information about currency, customs, and local life. The only city that required a tour is St. Petersburg, Russia.
We arrived and went directly to the ship. This waterside city of Copenhagen is packed with old-world charm alongside some of the world’s most avante garde architecture. We found that Copenhagen is a vibrant, modern city with a long and fascinating history.
Getting into the city by foot was easy. But make sure that you know which pier the ship will dock if you plan on meeting friends.
The Swedish capital, Stockholm, is not only Scandinavia’s largest city but also its most enchanting, with its centuries-old alleyways and squares being spread across an archipelago of 14 islands. We visited the Nobel Museum, the Royal Palace and the Gamla Stan. We enjoyed the hop-on/hop-off boat. We used our credit cards and did not bother with getting local currency since we were there for only the day. The weather was perfect.
We took the bus from the port that was arranged by Princess for $10 rountrip. The 10 minute ride was nice and the bus dropped us off at a central location. We walked through the Espanade, visited some sites then took an hour boat ride around the a cluster of promontories and peninsulas. We learned a lot about the 450 years old city. The city was clean and offered wide avenues lined with buildings echoing centuries of architectural excellence from Gothic through to art deco and cutting-edge contemporary.
St. Petersburg, Russia
St. Petersburg shore excursions run from a two-day extravaganza to more doable smaller doses. Russia requires a tourist visa for US citizens. The ship can act as a sponsor for a Visa if needed. This needs to be done months in advance. A lot of people liked hiring the car option that is listed on the shore excursion offerings. The most popular tour, and a sold out tour, was the two day St. Petersburg option. If this is something that interests you, make sure to pre book.
Situated on the Gulf of Finland and spread over numerous islands in the Neva Delta, St Petersburg is a city of arched bridges, winding canals, wide boulevards, elegant palaces, impressive squares and ornate churches. We took a canal tour called, “Venice of the North” on the fist day and then a tour to The Winter Palace and the Hermitage Museum on day 2. It was glorious. We did not have to wait in long line to get off the ship. It was great. Make sure to have a photocopy of your passport.
Impressive sites include the golden spires of St Peter and Paul Cathedral, the magnificent gleaming dome and grand colonnaded façade of St Isaac’s, to the colorful multi-domed Church of the Resurrection.
We never could get over the fact that it never gets totally dark. Due to its northerly latitude the sun never dips far enough below the horizon to create total darkness.
The port is very close to Old Town: walking distance or a cab ride away. It is very easy to create your own tour. Follow the crowds into the Estonia’s ancient seacoast capital. The Old Town offers winding, cobbled streets and a historic city center. The walled old town is divided into two parts: Toompea Hill was the residential area of the aristocracy and gentry in the old days, while the Lower Town operated independently.
Poland is another city that passengers might want to pre-book a tour. We took the train from Gdynia into Gdansk (despite the warning that “it was not recommended for cruise passengers”). We found a change booth at the train station to convert some US dollars. Just make sure to pay attention to the names of the stations and plan on not very many people speaking English. The train ride was a destination in itself.
Gdañsk is an important port, situated at the mouth of the Vistula River on the Baltic Sea, and throughout its history has been a major trading centre. It is the best known of the Tri-City complex that it forms with the modern seaport of Gdynia and the fashionable beach resort town of Sopot.
We were only in Oslo for a very short period. The shops were mostly closed but the harbor was bustling with activity. This expensive city is remarkable. It is charming and legendary. The sail in and sail away are truly amazing. Oslo, situated at the end of a 70-mile (110km) long fjord, is Norway’s capital and its largest city, rich in culture and folklore with a fascinating Viking history.