Baltic Cruise and the Regal Princess

The grandparents wanted the kids for a couple of weeks, so we decided to go away. Instead of Gen Con, we decided to celebrate our wedding anniversary early – we did our first cruise together on our honeymoon, so it felt appropriate to celebrate a milestone anniversary with another one!

Where did you go?

Baltics, beginning and ending with Copenhagen, with a short layover in Iceland. Check out the next post for more about the destinations.

Why the Baltics?

We haven’t been to that part of the world before, it met our criteria between 9-12 days and it was within our budget. In fact, when I came across it, I thought it was a pricing error. And it might have been.

Air Canada Vacations advertised a mini-suite that was cheaper than an inside stateroom. That seemed odd, and it definitely felt like a pricing mistake because it wouldn’t let me get past the payment page. But, an agent was able to book it for me over the phone! Woo-hoo! I had wanted to try Princess anyway.

Then, when I was looking for flights, it seemed rather strange that if you booked airfare through Princess, it was cheaper than any other fares online (e.g. via brokers, Google Flights). Plus, not only was it refundable, we each had a check-in included in our ticket!

So you got a great deal!
Yes, but wait, there’s more. You see, a few weeks before the cruise, I received an email asking me to call a number if we were willing to downgrade to a balcony and get half the price of our cruise (base) fare back as a refundable on-board credit! It seemed scammy and it was my first time hearing about this, but Google (Cruise Critic more specifically) sure turned up similar stories of moveover or movedown offers, with a couple of people on our ship posting about it on the roll-call forums.

Here are a couple of cruise critic reviewer’s take on the difference:

“The mini-suite [i]s larger overall with two TVs, a curtain separating the sitting room, and bathtub in the bathroom [instead of a shower stall]….

The Deluxe had a small sofa with table. And that’s about it over a regular balcony cabin [which has only a chair and table in addition to the bed and storage areas]

[The Deluxe] is a larger cabin and the bathroom seemed larger, especially the shower area [compared to a regular Balcony cabin].

We had booked a mini-suite balcony in the Guaranteed class anyway, so we would get whatever they assigned us – could be on any floor, with any view, but when we downgraded, we were offered a specific room if we went either with an aft Deluxe Balcony (B732 to be exact) or a Balcony in the middle of the ship. I chose the Deluxe.

But wait, there’s more! A few days before the cruise, we got a moveover offer in exchange for our cabin:

Move to ANY Princess cruise worldwide up to 15-days and receive: *100% cruise fare refund (as Refundable Onboard Credit) *FREE stateroom upgrade (pending availability) *Princess EZ Air is protected 100% *Princess will cover air and hotel change fees up to $800 per person

That was an amazing almost-free cruise offer, especially since we had booked our flights through Princess anyway! But timing would’ve been tough with back-to-school and childcare, so we didn’t take it. 🤷‍♀️

Pro-tip: make sure to that you’re celebrating an occasion, whether a birthday or anniversary, because if you do, they give you freebies! We got $50 spa credit and $25 as onboard shopping credit. Someone with in a different tier got champagne and a paid dining restaurant meal (the steakhouse I heard was really good).

What was the best part of the cruise?

I didn’t have to clean up after cooking.

How was the cruise?

I enjoy cruises because I only need to pack and unpack once, have one single place to stay and be fed, while seeing a bunch of places within a short period of time. However, the darker side of cruising is the environmental and social impacts, including labour equality. Cruise lines are becoming more aware of how it affects their image, including Princess, which has vowed to remove all single-use plastic from their ships by 2020. Now, I’m uncertain if it’s a Princess initiative or Copenhagen’s but at that port, we watched workers go through all the trash and sort them, painstakingly open each water bottle, dump out excess water, and then throw out each lid, before throwing the bottle into the recycling.

Cruise traffic, against some military ruins. A great metaphor for the impacts of cruising.

The sheer number of people on the ship, and in the ports, felt especially overwhelming at first, but it got better once I got into a good routine and started seeing familiar faces. What Princess does, which is different than other itineraries we’ve been on, is that passengers embark and disembark at different ports; most got on at Copenhagen, but a few hundred got on/off at various ports throughout, which made it almost like a continuous trip. Perhaps that was why getting on and off the ship on embarkation / disembarkation day was such a breeze – best experience yet, with no lines or waiting around for luggage to be ready for pick up!

In lime green: my step count over the course of our vacation

Much of it was relaxing even though some days, my Fitbit tracked over 20k steps. The most stressful time for me was we almost missed the ship the day we ventured to Stockholm, and in Oslo when we tried to find our way back to the ship with Google Maps and realized that the ship was on the other side of the fortress wall that we were trapped in.

How was the Regal Princess?

Princess started using Bluetooth / NFC / Wi-Fi technology recently, which tracks everyone on the ship. This makes it convenient as entry to cabins are keyless as long as your medallion is close to your door, but also somewhat creepy as every crew member with their assigned Sony Xperia knows who you are when you walk close by and where other passengers are (if they want to deliver room service for example). The on-ship app also allows you to message and track the whereabouts of your cabin and ship mates (such as friends you’ve met or travel with), and provides on-board navigation to places around the ship.

Laundry! On almost all cruises, I bring some a line, with some pegs, and a small amount detergent with me so I can hand-wash some items, which reduces the amount of clothes I need to bring on board. This ship has a coin-operated laundromat, which was around $5 to wash and dry a load – which is a far more reasonable option than all the other cruise lines we’ve been on that charge something like $20 for a small bag.

The food…where do I start? The buffet! This has been the best buffet variety, quality, and service from all the ships I’ve been on so far. The food certainly caters to the ethnic diversity of the crew and of the passengers – each night featured a different type of cuisine — which is printed in your daily itinerary/patter (e.g. British, American, Indian) and we heard people speak in Chinese (Mandarin and Cantonese), Japanese, Korean, Spanish, Filipino (Tagalog), French, Spanish, and a slew of other European languages along with English. When you sit down, within a few minutes, at least one or more servers will ask if you’d like something to drink, and lemonade is an option if you ask! Then as soon as your plate looks empty, they take it away.

I was someone disappointed with the dining room as they offered similar options at the buffet. After a few times, I figured out to follow one of the waiter’s recommendations, otherwise the rest were mediocre at best. Coffee was surprisingly far better at the buffet than in the dining rooms – every single time. Cappuccino or lattes were included after every meal on other cruise lines we have been on, but now they come at a cost.

Included (free) food recommendations:

  • The Pastry Shop / section at the buffet offers a variety of baked goods (sweets and desserts) like cakes and danishes
  • Get the scallop+pork belly dish and escargot appetizer during on of the evenings in the dining rooms, and the Reuben sandwich at lunch. The main dining room menus are posted on the outside of the buffet and dining room walls the meal before (though it would be nice in app or on the TVs)
  • Pizza and the tiramisu at Alfredo’s (free) is solid. People have also told us that single serve pizza at the grill outside on aft is good too.
  • Check the patter (daily itinerary sheet) – at the back, it tells you what the buffet is featuring – we found this out far too late. I believe on International night, they offer a sweet and savoury crepe station – which happened twice on that we know of.
  • The Dining Room does offer Afternoon Tea, so you can save yourself the extra $10 for “Royal Afternoon Tea”
  • The International Cafe on Deck 5 offers donuts in the morning, and the best unique selection of sweets (not offered at the Pastry Shop) and salads (watermelon caprese with balsamic reduction was my favourite)
  • The dining rooms does offer unique ice cream and sorbet options, like passionfruit or cappucino. The gelato shop onboard charges $1.5 US a scoop which seemed more reasonable than Royal Caribbean’s if I remember correctly.
  • During one day at sea, the steakhouse transforms into a British pub and offers British style food like bangers and mash, fish and chips with mashed peas

The ship activities were fairly low key, but I’m okay with that. I don’t really need to have zip lines, rock climbing walls, surf simulators, water slides, carousels etc. to enjoy my days at sea. Most days were too windy or cool to my liking, so we didn’t even use all of their things – like the outdoor fitness circuit and track, shooting simulator, open mini-golf/golf practice cage. We did however play a game of pickle ball and pay $5 to try their escape room adventure, and we escaped with 15 minutes left on the 30 minute tracker (2nd fastest according to the Jr Assistant Cruise Director – the first being the ones who designed escaped rooms in Canada, and they got out in 5 minutes). Later, I found out that while another team made it out after us, another didn’t. The introduction and theme was good, but the room and puzzles itself didn’t quite match the high-tech ones we’ve done (we are at sea after all!).

Free activities recommendations:

  • Backstage tour – they show you a short documentary and answer audience questions before taking you backstage to see the dressing room and props
  • Cooking demo – while you can’t try anything they make, this was a staged production and surprisingly entertaining. You have the option to tour the kitchen / galley afterwards (where you just walk through the perimeter of it and see an assortment of potato-based dishes on display)
  • If you like crafts, go to the Sea Craft days early as they tend to run out of spots.
  • Princess didn’t sponsor drinks or food at the Cruise Critic meetup, and we didn’t have a cabin crawl this time either
A staged cooking demonstration

Speaking of Cruise Directors, we met an Asian-Canadian Cruise Director who is from my home town! As we were chatting, I thought she looked familiar, but figured it was an Asian thing. I had a fleeting thought that maybe she would know my cousin, but I forgot to ask her. Upon returning, I look on Facebook and see her in photos with my cousin – they’ve been friends since elementary years, and we all went to the same high school.

Lastly, if you want to get anything to bring back, look shop on board first for prices. The prices of Russian dolls and painted ornaments were much less than the prices we saw at the ports, even in the duty-free areas.

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