Taking a Baltic cruise came into our heads after we’d been to some of the more traditional sailing areas of the Mediterranean.   Sweden, Finland, Russia, Estonia…there were so many places we wanted to see, but we had comparatively little time in which to get away.  This was an opportunity to make the most of the time available.  We agreed we could return to our favourites to explore them in more detail.

Baltic Cruise: The White Nights

We were fascinated at the thought of the White Nights.  Between late May and early July at northerly latitudes, the sun does not set far enough below the horizon for the sky to grow dark.  The main period for the White Nights is June 11th – July 2nd, and we would be in St Petersburg during that time to see its Beliye Nochi.

St Petersburg’s very northerly geographical location is roughly at the same latitude as Oslo, the southern tip of Greenland, and Seward, Alaska.  Night becomes indistinguishable from day in St Petersburg, so much so that there is no need for streetlights in the city.  We were excited to think of all the extra exploring potential this would give us.

Baltic Cruise - White Nights in Scandinavia - Time at Sea - Celebrity Eclipse

Cruising on Celebrity Eclipse

We were sailing on the Celebrity Eclipse, which is a big beast among cruise ships.  We’d been on the Eclipse before, and loved her clean lines, calming open spaces, and wonderful restaurants.  We’d elected to travel Aqua Class, which gives access to the spa, and dining in a separate small restaurant: Blu.  Our cabin was on what is known as a “hump”: two slightly protruding areas on each side of the ship.  Being at the front of the hump meant that we had a massive triangular balcony from which we could see forward to the bridge, aft and out to sea.  I was determined to enjoy the beautiful views during the White Nights.

Our First Call: Zeebrugge

You may have worked out that we’re keen Belgophiles.  The opportunity to take in one of our favourite countries as our first stop on the trip was a great beginning.  From Zeebrugge, we took a shuttle to Blankenberge.  You can take a train onwards to Bruges, Ghent or Brussels but as we’d visited before a number of times, we elected instead to explore Blankenberge.

It’s a pretty coastal town with a long shopping street leading to a promenade by the sea and a rather beautiful historic town hall.  Unusually, you have to go up a flight of steps to get to the sea front, so you’ll have to wait for those sea views.  We enjoyed ourselves wandering around, buying some obligatory chocolate, reminding ourselves of the beauty that is Belgian beer, and in my husband’s case, replacing some rather important elements of his attire that he’d left on the bed at home.

It was still light at half past ten.

Exploring Warnemunde

This was the absolute surprise of the trip.  We’d thought that this would just be a small stopping off point, which would enable us to get the train to Berlin.  However, it was so lovely that we ended up spending our day there and in Rostock instead.

Warnemunde is full of charm.  There are lots of shops and restaurants alongside the river inlet.  Boats moored alongside the river promenade were doing a brisk trade in fresh fish, while seagulls eyed them greedily.  One gull in particular was hatching a – successful – plot for a snatch and grab.  We walked for a long while, just enjoying the atmosphere and the sights.  There were plenty of ferries on the move, and it seemed that this would be a fascinating place to linger longer.

Baltic Cruise - White Nights in Scandinavia - Warnemunde & Rostock

Baltic Cruise: Rostock

We decided to stop here rather than Berlin, simply to have the opportunity to experience a new city.  My travel journal notes that it was not nearly as “east” as we’d been imagining.  There’s some beautiful post-war architecture, and some interesting public sculpture and fountains.  I may have bought rather too much marzipan.

Sailing through Stockholm’s Archipelago

Our first impression of Stockholm was fascinating.  Our ship berth saw us moored across from a giant sofa on the hillside.  On arriving at the beautiful parliament buildings, we were astounded to see a man, clad in thigh waders, fishing off the weir to the front.  We couldn’t quite imagine that happening on the Thames outside Parliament.

We walked into the city via a long and lovely park, complete with a fountain full of metal swans.  A group of small and cheeky birds were taking the opportunity to indulge in one of the biggest bird baths ever at the fountain, and to pose for the cameras at the same time.  I can’t say that we did anything other than what you would expect on a short visit: walked beautiful Gamla Stan and had fika.  But I remember a city full of happy people, and to be frank, it was a city so beautiful that it exuded happies to all its visitors too.

We’d heard that sailing into and out of Stockholm was simply beautiful as it takes hours to pass through the archipelago.  With that in mind, we’d booked ourselves in for dinner at the restaurant at the stern of the ship, envisaging that its big picture windows would allow us to enjoy the experience to the full.

Baltic Cruise - White Nights in Scandinavia - Stockholm Archipelago sailing

I cannot convey to you just how jaw-dropping sailing through the Stockholm archipelago is.  I’d started up on deck with an iced tea, watching us leave port and begin our slow and careful journey through the islands.  Two hours later, when we’d relocated for dinner to the restaurant, the islands were still sliding past us in glorious procession.  The food was delicious, but our eyes were on the little vignettes of life.

There were small ferries, a man in a boat with his dog and two bags of groceries, heading to an island cabin, groups of people enjoying the long summer evening on the islands, jet skiers playing in our wake.  In short, it was a lifestyle seemingly so perfectly crafted, it moved us to silent appreciation.  Maybe this is what prepares people for the long cold winters.  It was incredibly, indescribably beautiful, and I want to return.

Next Port of Call: Helsinki

We spent most of our time here at the seafront market and dockside.  We were a bit scared to note that all the fruit stalls took credit cards, and indeed everything seemed much more expensive than in Stockholm.  The day was memorable for getting into a long and deep conversation with a lovely guy whose son and daughter worked in London.  It was a timely reminder that sometimes places are special not for the things you see or experience, but for the people you meet.

There was still light at midnight.

Taking a Tour in St Petersburg

It would be impossible to do St Petersburg justice in a paragraph or two.  I’ve written about our experiences more fully here.  We had looked into organising our own visas and exploring independently, but it seemed clear that with two days in the city, we’d be better served booking a tour.

If you do take a tour, be aware that it is full throttle and your head and senses will be absolutely full of everything you have seen and experienced.  We arrived back each night exhilarated and exhausted, with just enough energy to shower, grab a quick dinner, and sleep.  Some people were on evening tours too, but I’d have struggled to keep my eyes open.

Baltic Cruise - White Nights in Scandinavia - St Petersburg

My highlights?  The gardens at Peterhof, reached by hydrofoil over the smooth and glassy Gulf of Finland.  Spectacular extravaganzas of fountains, a horn band in which each man played a single note, more fountains playing tricks on visitors and a riot of plant life.  Catherine’s Palace: royal life on a human scale, with stoves from Delft, walls of pictures and those glorious cerulean-blue striped columns at the gates.  And, of course, our boat trip on the River Neva, simultaneously an amazing experience and ridiculously funny.

White Nights in Scandinavia - Baltic Cruise - Celebrity Eclipse

Medieval Charms: Tallin

The one disadvantage of our itinerary was that we arrived in Tallin the day after our stay in St Petersburg.  You know how sometimes when you travel, your mind is blown by the intensity of the experience, and your body is weary?  That was us by the time we arrived in Tallin.  We couldn’t do justice to this stunning city and its glorious architecture.

There’s a marzipan museum to wander, atmospheric bars and cafes, and some rather beautiful shopping to be had (jewellery and clothes).  It’s another place that needs a longer stay.

Harbour Trips: Copenhagen

We berthed in Copenhagen on a scorching day of cloudless skies, all the better to explore Nyhavn.  Its beauty, captured in thousands of pictures, was indeed everything those pictures had promised.  We found it a bit too busy on such a fine day in summer.  Instead, we headed back to the docks and started exploring there.  We found a not-so-little mermaid, plenty of shipping to plan our fantasy voyages, and pleasure in just wandering, taking in life at the docks.

Baltic Cruise: Life At Sea

A cruise to the Baltics involves some sea days when sailing from Southampton, so you may wander what you can do with yourself for that much time.  I can honestly say that we were never bored.  The Celebrity Eclipse has plenty to offer.

For a start, there’s a gym, to work off the food.  There’s also a great pool.  You can walk the decks (and with many sets of stairs to climb, the ship is its own stair master).  There’s a programme of entertainment from lectures (chocolate tasting anyone?) to full scale production shows, a house band, a string quartet, a guitarist and other musicians.  There’s a lawn for games on the top deck.  You can go to the well-stocked library.  You can even visit the glass blowing studio on the top deck, where you can watch the team from the Corning Museum of Glass at work.

Baltic Cruise - White Nights in Scandinavia - Celebrity Eclipse Ship Life

Baltic Cruise: Celebrity Eclipse Ship

As cruise lines go, Celebrity is less ornate than a line like MSC, less traditional than Cunard, and less British in feel than P&O.  I like its greater simplicity.

Baltics Cruise Celebrity Eclipse Life Onboard

There are plenty of dining experiences to be had.  On our night out of Stockholm, we dined in Tuscan Grille, an Italian venue.  We also stopped off at Murano, which offers French cuisine.  Finally there’s Qsine, a fascinating take on tapas with some amusing delivery mechanisms alongside some great food.  Your spring rolls, for example, come on springs, and there are sneaky surprises all the way through, such as a wall of meze.

I’ve been asked for some more pictures of the ship itself, so here’s another collage of some of its features.

Baltics Cruise Celebrity Eclipse Life Onboard Cabins

Baltic Cruise: Our Best ship Moments

Imagine that you’re sitting in a coffee bar, caffeinating, and ruminating on what you’ve seen that day.  In the distance, a cello starts up, and suddenly you realise a string quartet is working its way into the Banshees’ Hong Kong Garden.  Then the band kicks in, and you see movement at various levels of the atrium.  It’s the theatre dancers, clad in wigs, frockcoats and buckled shoes, and they’re giving the masquerade ball a riotous start.  There are glass sided lifts lining the atrium, and your eye catches more movement at different heights.  Far above you, individual dancers are entering the lifts, and engaging unsuspecting passengers who were just heading to dinner or the gym.  Some are frankly bewildered, while others are entranced as they’re offered a white gloved hand and taken into the dance.

Now it’s late at night.  You’re up on deck, making the most of the novelty of daylight.  There’s a background rumble of the kilns, and the witty and engaging team from the Corning Museum of Glass are working on another glassblowing demonstration.  It seems slightly surreal, as you perch on a bench, and listen to the crew take you through the intricacies of their gorgeous work.  You look up every now and again from the swirling of molten glass, and catch the sun, still vibrant over the sea, although it’s close to midnight.

If you enjoyed our voyage, why not pin it for later…?

White Nights in Scandinavia - Baltic Cruise - Celebrity Eclipse

If you want to read more about taking a cruise, you can check out our guide to choosing a cabin, or find some unexpected things cruises have to offer.  For more life at sea, try our experiences on the Queen Mary 2, and on a mini-cruise.  I’d also recommend taking a look at Cruise Critic for chatty message boards full of information, and a lot of reviews.

White Nights in Scandinavia - Baltic Cruise - Celebrity Eclipse

 

 

Author: Bernie

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32 thoughts on “Baltic Cruise: Taking In The White Nights in Scandinavia

  1. Great post, and a good rundown of the different ports of call. This makes me really want to go to Scandinavia and St. Petersburg! I think I would most enjoy the Stockholm archipelago.

    Posted on February 5, 2018 at 8:29 am
    1. I know it stunned me into silence sailing out of Stockholm. It wasn’t just the beauty of the islands, but all those little stories of other people’s lives that you saw as the ship slipped slowly by. From ferries with just a dozen or so passengers to small groups on jet skis, it made me feel part of a life celebrated on the water.

      Posted on February 5, 2018 at 8:46 pm
  2. We still haven’t done a Baltic Cruise but it’d be such a dream! Traveling with access to the spa would be a treat we’d definitely get used to it! I’m saving this article for future use thank you for all the useful tips!

    Posted on February 5, 2018 at 8:33 pm
    1. It has to be said that the spa was a real treat. In addition to all the facilities, it has an extra lounging area at the front of the ship. We’d often pop up there to chill out and “drive the ship” a while. As we were so busy ashore, it was a definite bonus.

      Posted on February 5, 2018 at 8:44 pm
  3. Everything about this trip sounds like a dream to me! I visited Lithuania and Latvia last year and fell in love and have been trying to plan a summer roadtrip in the region and crossing over to Russia to experience the white nights. Loved the post, thanks!

    Posted on February 7, 2018 at 12:33 am
    1. I’d love to go back, plus adding Lithuania and Latvia. I was in pretty much a dreamlike state the whole time, although from St Petersburg onwards that was tempered a bit by sheer fatigue. There’s so much to see, we were in perpetual motion. No complaints though! I read my travel journal and it brings back just how fascinating and beautiful the whole experience was.

      Posted on February 7, 2018 at 8:32 am
  4. Going on a Baltic cruise seems pretty cool! I actually have never been on a cruise, period. It would be nice to sail the high seas and go expore!

    Posted on February 8, 2018 at 4:51 am
    1. I just loved how we got to see so many places in such a short period of time. It’s great to grow your list of places for longer stays, as well as being fascinating in its own right. There are lovely bonuses too, like watching the sea life and the shipping.

      Posted on February 8, 2018 at 8:54 am
  5. I’ve been thinking about a Scandinavian cruise lately, and this makes it sound so lovely! Wish there were more pictures, would’ve loved to see more of the ship, and even the fountain of metal swans in Stockholm. it sounds so unique!

    Posted on February 8, 2018 at 4:55 pm
    1. Ahhh, hold that thought! I’m pretty sure I don’t have any of the swan fountain as there were lots of children playing there, and it didn’t seem right to take a pic. But I have loads of the ship, so I can add some to the post. I’ll have a look and update with some extras over the weekend. Thanks for the idea. 🙂

      Posted on February 8, 2018 at 5:23 pm
  6. Sounds like a beautiful experience! I’m there with you, Finnish fruit stalls having credit card machines is just a bit weird, but i guess it’s the future! I’m dying to go to the Baltics, particular St Pberg and Helsinki but nearly every Baltic country is so expensive. Hopefully soon!

    Posted on February 8, 2018 at 11:12 pm
    1. We winced a bit at some of the prices. Stockholm was pretty reasonable though Helsinki certainly made our eyes water on what we call the “Diet Coke index”, our version of the Big Mac one. Those strawberry shacks with their credit card facilities could be the shape of the future, as you rightly say! I can wholeheartedly recommend it as a bucket list place though. I’m set on returning to Stockholm and exploring those islands more fully.

      Posted on February 9, 2018 at 10:39 am
  7. You had me at Baltic states! We desperately want to get here…..we get close but always end up diving off somewhere else. Tallinn, Copenhagen and Helsinki, in particular, are places we want to see. ST Petersburg sometimes feels like a place we “should” see but it doesn’t draw me in much I must admit. I can see you love it though – went and read your other article -so I will keep my mind open. I think doing a cruise up in these parts would be perfect.

    Posted on February 8, 2018 at 11:36 pm
    1. I was surprised to love St Petersburg. I’m so not a fan of tours, but it seemed the best way to see all we wanted to see. And its very full throttle pace was amusing in its own right, including wearing our earpieces so we couldn’t stray… I’m glad it came across how much I enjoyed the experience. I really wished I’d been less shattered by Tallin though; once we got inside the city it was incredibly beautiful and such gorgeous buildings. Likewise with Copenhagen and Helsinki, I’m not sure we scratched the surface, and we will definitely have to return.

      Posted on February 9, 2018 at 10:34 am
  8. I’ve never been sure where I wanted to go in Scandinavia, but looks like an amazing way to get some of the best bits of each country. I’ve also been wary of cruises, but I’d definitely give this one a go. Great, detailed writeup!

    Posted on February 9, 2018 at 1:22 am
    1. We were wary of cruises before we first went, but it’s definitely a great opportunity to see so many different places and sort out in your head where to go next. The facilities can be great too: spas, gyms, pools, different kinds of dining and entertainment. Every cruise line and ship is different, so it’s well worth reading up on what people have to say to find what you might enjoy best. The Queen Mary 2, for example, is a really traditional liner, all art deco and with a Planetarium for the unexpected extra. The Eclipse is more modern than trad, and not nearly as ornate as some other lines.

      Posted on February 9, 2018 at 10:29 am
  9. Wow, those are a lot of cities and I’m quite jealous. Haha. Scandinavia is the most mysterious and rather magnetic region for me. I could tell how much of a sensory overload it had been for you, but it was great that you shared this cruise with someone so you could process your experiences together.

    Posted on February 9, 2018 at 6:52 am
    1. I have a real urge to go back in winter, having seen the midnight sun. I’m imagining the same spaces quietened by snow, and the very different feeling of constant darkness. You make a brilliant point about sharing the experience; it does help to bring your thoughts into focus. And when we compared travel journals, the sum of our journey was much bigger than the individual component parts.

      Posted on February 9, 2018 at 10:25 am
  10. The hubby and I have yet to do a cruise. We’re not so much into time schedules and like doing our own thing more but this Baltic cruise does look interesting. And a nice way to get an overview of some of these cities so we can go back to them because out of this list, we’ve only been to Copenhagen! The start of that masquerade ball sounds fantastic!

    Posted on February 10, 2018 at 3:47 pm
    1. We love that it’s a way to get to places we’d otherwise struggle to see. The masquerade ball was incredible; you can tell how much I was enjoying the spectacle as I have no pictures whatsoever. 😉 The image of one guy in the lift looking in bewilderment at a dancer has imprinted on my brain.

      Posted on February 10, 2018 at 4:57 pm
  11. That sounds like such a fun cruise. You got to go to so many great ports. The big balcony that you got sounds wonderful too.

    Posted on February 10, 2018 at 10:44 pm
    1. The balcony was fabulous. I spent way too many hours watching ships, marine life and islands. In fact, I think the beauty of the places we sailed and the midnight sun meant that I hardly slept the whole time we were away. 🙂 Definitely a fine problem to have.

      Posted on February 10, 2018 at 11:36 pm
  12. This sounds like an amazing experience! I’ve always wanted to visit the Baltics, Finland and St Petersburg and this itinerary seems to have it all 🙂 The white nights sounds crazy though – I can imagine it’s quite hard to sleep?

    Posted on February 11, 2018 at 1:35 pm
    1. I think I was so keen to see everything that I gave up on sleep. 😉 But more seriously, the cabin curtains were lined, so it was quite easy to block everything out. I was just a bit too entranced to be walking the decks at midnight, still able to see everything we were passing.

      Posted on February 11, 2018 at 2:11 pm
  13. What a fun time! Seems like a great place to visit to. Glad stopped by 😁

    Posted on February 11, 2018 at 2:17 pm
    1. It was an absolutely brilliant trip, and packed with exploration. Glad you enjoyed it too. 🙂

      Posted on February 11, 2018 at 8:05 pm
  14. What an amazing cruise!
    I find the stops too short sometimes, leaving you without enough time to explore.
    Was that the case on this cruise? If so, which places would you have liked to spend a few more hours/days in?

    Posted on February 13, 2018 at 12:09 pm
    1. Those are interesting questions; thanks for asking. There were definitely places I would like to have lingered longer, but that was mostly offset at the excitement of the thought of the next adventure. For example, we loved Stockholm and could easily have stayed much longer. But we were excited to be sailing out through the archipelago, so leaving was a little bittersweet, but good too. I think with Tallin, we would have liked not just to have stayed for longer, but also to have been a bit less tired as it followed a very busy schedule in St Petersburg. I love to feel at the end of travels that I’ve been left wanting more, and that was certainly the case here. There’s no doubt we’ll be back to Stockholm and Tallin particularly. And I don’t doubt we could have a week in St Petersburg and barely scratch the surface.

      Posted on February 13, 2018 at 10:15 pm
  15. We are doing the Baltic this summer, with the cruise starting July 3. Wondering what to pack for the weather? Was it cool? Warm? Any info would be appreciated!

    Posted on March 25, 2018 at 3:20 pm
    1. The weather was a real mixture, as I guess is pretty much possible for Europe. We had rain – and a lot of it – in Zeebrugge and Warnemunde at the start, and by Stockholm and St Petersburg I was in linen dresses or t shirts and cotton trousers on massively warm days. I’d revert to that default option of layering, with a waterproof jacket just in case for the start. Also something warmer for on deck enjoying that midnight sun – evening wear was a bit too nippy for a top deck stroll. Have a fabulous time! (PS My default body thermostat is that I’m normally cold, so you might want to adjust accordingly!)

      Posted on March 25, 2018 at 3:30 pm
  16. Ah. This makes me want to go on a cruise trip now! Looks like an amazing experience!

    Posted on May 30, 2018 at 6:31 am
    1. It was absolutely incredible. So many contrasting places in so short a time – although the White Nights helped to make the most of our days and nights. I’d love to experience it all over again.

      Posted on May 30, 2018 at 10:58 am