So You Want To Take A Baltic Cruise

Many of you have expressed interest in taking a Baltic Cruise and several have asked about costs. For you, here’s a breakdown on what we paid. Beware: prices escalate rapidly!____________________________________________________________

We had been reluctantly looking for a Baltic Cruise. I say reluctantly because every time we seriously considered it, either pricing was prohibitive or the ship visited too few ports and not necessarily the one’s we wanted to see. A Baltic Cruise was on our bucket list and even though we like to think we can handle lots of walking and humping luggage from place to place, it’s not as easy as it was when we were 20 and we wanted to do this while we were both still reasonably healthy.

Visby, Sweden
Visby, Sweden

In late April as we were scanning cruise sales, we saw something called, ‘The Ultimate Scandinavia and Russia Cruise’. It was an 11 night cruise with only one day at sea. It called in ports in seven different countries, of those; six countries would be new territory for us. The highlight of this cruise was to spend three, full days in St. Petersburg, Russia.  This is unheard of in the cruising world as most ships spend just a day or two in the city. Other stops included Copenhagen, Denmark; Tallinn, Estonia; Visby, Sweden; Helsinki, Finland; Rostock, Germany; Stockholm, Sweden and Klapeda, Lithuania – A first time call for Royal Caribbean.

We were intrigued, so we picked up the phone and called Royal Caribbean. We just

Nyhaven - Copenhagen's Old Town.
Nyhaven – Copenhagen’s Old Town.

returned from a long anniversary road trip and leaving again in two months was not something we looked forward to doing. But if we were ever going to take the leap, the time was now. We wanted a balcony, even though we didn’t know if we would use it on a cruise where the temperatures are cool. But the price was unbeatable and a balcony was only a few hundred dollars more. With all the time in ports, the Serenade of the Seas would be mainly used for transportation and accommodations, with the added bonus of having someone cook and pick up after us. The price, close to $2,000 each, included our taxes and gratuities and a bonus of $200 for onboard spending. Before you gasp, in Baltic cruise terms, this is a very good price. However, once we committed to the cruise, the costs really began to add up.

The quaint streets of Rostock, Germany
The quaint streets of Rostock, Germany

Having made the decision to sail, there was not much time to coordinate everything else that needed to be done. First, there was the air. We were flying into Copenhagen and out of Stockholm. Few airlines fly to both places and prices bordered on the outrageous. Coach seats from Orlando started at about $2,500 each – more than what we were paying for the cruise. Flying has become a misery and we were really hoping to not fly in economy class. So I decided to use some accumulated American Express Membership Miles and I picked up two, Business Class tickets on Air France from New York. I was thrilled that I saved about $8,000 on the tickets, but everything has its price. I had to pay taxes of $1,100. and I had to purchase two, roundtrip tickets on Jet Blue to New York for an additional $700.

We stayed at a hotel in Orlando and bookended our trip to park our car free in their lot instead of paying $20 a day to park at the airport. That added another $200 for the hotel, but saved $300 in parking fees for 15 days. We live 70 miles from the airport and with an early flight, it’s essential we stay near the airport. Getting the free parking was gravy.

FlowerLady
Selling flowers in Klapeda, Lithuania

Then there were the tours. I did some advance research and happily discovered that in just about every case, we could walk to see the highlights of the area, but that did not apply in St. Petersburg. There you have few choices: you can apply in advance for a visa and go through the arduous process of trying to get one, or you can take tours with the ship and your visa is included as part of the ticket price. You cannot get off the ship in Russia without a visa. So we booked three tours for the three days. We would be gone 12 hours the first two days seeing the highlights of the city and a fun painting class and tea party on the last day. The cost: nearly $1,000.

Everything I read about Copenhagen advised to beware of sticker shock and they weren’t kidding. I was leery about booking a Scandinavian brand hotel, so I went for my first choice: a Hilton. I thought I was seeing things. The price was $800 a night and it didn’t include breakfast – something everything I read said to look for – and wifi  was extra.

I was willing to beg, so I sent an email and asked if they could possibly lower the rate to $250 a night. I’m sure they are still laughing. They said no.

Catherine's Palace, St. Petersburg
Catherine’s Palace, St. Petersburg

So I booked a Best Western that included breakfast and free wifi for a mere $250 a night for two nights. Believe it or not, that was the best priced hotel in the city. I read great reviews on the property and it was located in the center of everything. It was really nice and having breakfast at the hotel saved us about $60 a day.

Finally, I was afraid we might miss our flight, so we stayed an extra night in Stockholm after our cruise ended. We stayed at a Courtyard by Marriott for a mere $110 a night.

Taxis, meals and miscellaneous costs came to around $500.

If you’re keeping track, the total cost was a whopping $8,110. Now I was able to save money on the cruise and on the air and honestly, if we had to pay full price for either of those, we would not have gone.

For the record, our vacations are financed through sales of my artwork and Marshall’s books. Our rule is not to deplete savings to travel. If we don’t make sales; we don’t travel.

For us, this was excessive; the most we ever spent traveling, but was it worth it?

Absolutely!

How Cruising With Wrinkles Came To Be

YEARS AGO – Let’s say, too many to mention – I was the Cruise Editor of a travel trade publication. Back then, cruising was magical! I  hopped from cruise ship to cruise ship, sampling every line and experiencing every itinerary. Cruising was fun! As time passed, the publication closed its doors and I went on to lead a productive life in the travel industry.

FIVE YEARS AGO – I’m still cruising, but it’s definitely lost its luster.  My husband and I take a cruise or two annually, usually 3-5 days in duration. We don’t go to the shows. (Boring….been there; seen it; done that.) We have never jumped into an onboard pool or hot tub. (The former crowded with kids; the latter crowded with drunks.) Using the onboard fitness center was out of the question. (Quite honestly, it’s very intimidating being the oldest  –  and most out of shape person – on the treadmill. Days at sea were spent sleeping –  and sleeping – and sleeping.

We dressed for formal nights and dined with people we probably wouldn’t talk to on land.  We nixed breakfast in the dining room because there is nothing worse than being at a table with ten people you don’t know and don’t care about yakking incessantly about where they came from and how many cruises they’ve been on. Our habit was to grab some food on deck and take it to the cabin.  Ports were blah. I mean, how many times can you visit Nassau?

FAST FORWARD TO THE PRESENT – So on our bucket list was a cruise through the Panama Canal. This was to be 15 nights – our longest cruise to date. While we looked forward to the itinerary, we dreaded the time we would spend onboard.

So we boarded the NCL Jewel at the Port of Los Angeles and were directed to wait on deck while our cabin was being readied. As we entered the Garden Café, I recall saying to my husband, “Oh my goodness! These people are so OLD!”  As the words came out of my mouth, I glanced at a mirror and added, “…And I’m one of them!”

I found the secret to great cruising experiences – cruise with your own kind. These were my peeps.

Sleep was in short supply on this cruise. (No time!) We visited the fitness center twice a day. (No one looked any better or worse than we looked.) We used the pool, the hot tub and even the slide.  (Yes…we wore swimsuits)!  We dined at a table for two in the main dining room for dinner and yes…even for breakfast ending the communal dining experience. I don’t think we ever missed an evening show, all geared to our age group with the music of our generation.

Cruising was magical again!

So I gave this a lot of thought. Here are my conclusions: I have definitely been taking the wrong cruises. On a longer voyage, folks are older so cruising is geared to their interests and tastes. To get the gray haired cruise experience, I believe a cruise has to be at least seven days in duration.

So Cruising With Wrinkles was born. With this blog, I hope to share information that you can use to plan and enjoy your cruise more than you ever thought possible.  If you are over 50 and thinking about cruising this is for you. If you don’t have wrinkles, well, you are luckier than most of us or you have a good cosmetic surgeon. My most recent cruise offered Botox, so if you have them, you can be temporarily relieved of them and still enjoy your time onboard.

I hope you will join me on this journey. Check back often, ask questions and enjoy the ride, ‘er …cruise.  And please, pass this link to your friends. They will thank you for it!

The Island Princess
The Island Princess

 

 

A Guide To Traveling For Those Over 50