August 2015 - Norwegian Star to Europe - Northern Europe
I had a fantastic time on this trip. This was my second time sailing with NCL (prior was a Mediterranean cruise on Jade) and I really enjoy the freestyle. I am the type of traveler that uses the cruise more as a vessel, banking on the excursions. Overall- if taking this tour, I would take it earlier in August or during the second week in August. I did the second week and at every one of the ports was told how lucky we were because typically it rains and gets cooler. The ship itself is okay; I think it's starting to show some wear and tear and needs some updating. For example, we had to call maintenance twice: 1) our room safe was broken on arrival, 2) the AC was not functioning. We had a knock on our door mistakenly, but it was maintenance asking about our shower head.
We also were lucky to have the ultimate dining package. That allowed us to really experience the various restaurants on ship. We dined a couple of times at the French and Italian places. We HATED the Brazilian; I was so disappointed. I am a meat lover and the quality of the meat was awful. I would take one bite and set it away. The steak restaurant has the same kitchen, so I was very hesitant (but already had the reservation and did not know they shared), but it was okay. For the cover charge (unless you get it free!), it's not worth it. The teppanyaki was sub-par. Fun for a little different atmosphere, but if you've been to other places, you'll be disappointed. You don't really get the same tricks and whistles. The main dining room was lovely and worked just as well, when you could find a good opening for a table (then the service varied).
For the ports:
Berlin- We did the Potsdam/Berlin tour. It is about a 2.5-3 hr train ride each way to get to Berlin. You do get to see the countryside and Berlin is a modern city. Much was damaged in WW2, so there isn't much to see. It's seeing various areas where remnants of the wall remain, 60-stylish buildings, Checkpoint Charlie, and the Holocaust memorial. Potsdam gave you a brief (very brief) 40 min-1 hr seeing the outside of a palace and lunch. If you read the descriptions of the visits, note that you only get brief moments outside before you're on the bus to the next stop. We didn't have opportunities to shop. A lot of people just took shorter tours and had a lot of shopping. (If that's what you're looking for).
Estonia- We did the Medieval/Best. I would honestly say that because the port is so close to the city, skip the excursion. We wasted time (2 hrs) seeing city sights (deteriorated Olympic 1980s buildings) before seeing the medieval city. I would have rather taken a taxi or walked to the city and spent more time there. The city itself was very quaint.
St Petersburg- our tour guide (Irene) was awful. We signed up for the Best (2-day and also the ballet night tour) and Bus #7 was AWFUL! I would hope that Irene is fired because she ruined the excursion. She was a drill sergeant and didn't care about her job. She liked art, but knew none of the history of the places. We actually hung back in our group to listen to other tour guides wherever we went to get a better tour. Many people book this tour, I would just see if you can go on another bus if you get Irene. By the way- if you want to see St Petersburg, you have to book an excursion- it's your visa and you go through customs each time you leave the ship.
Finland- Loved it! We did the Medieval/Best of tour. It took us northbound to a medieval city which was fantastic. I wish we had more time to walk around, but we did have some free time to do so. There's an excellent chocolate shop there and the guide was wonderful in directing us in what to try, what was unique. The countryside is beautiful and everyone was so incredibly friendly.
Sweden- My favorite! But definitely way too short of a trip. We only had 6 hours there. I was so sad about that. We did the Ice Bar, Old Town, Vasa excursion. The Ice Bar was fun for the experience, but it's Vasa that makes the trip. Vasa is an old 16th c ship preserved- it's incredible to see. Old Town is also really neat- as is the rest of the city. I only wish we had more time. The ship ports in the city, so an excursion isn't necessarily needed, but I really enjoyed mine. You also save on time.... I really wish we had more time there.
We also spent 3 days in Copenhagen before the cruise began. I would say that was enough time to really see the country. We spent one day going outside the city and visiting palaces (i.e. Hamlet, Fredricksborg), and the remaining 2 in the city walking around and seeing the many sights. I highly recommend. I LOVED Copenhagen. It's an easy walking city- much like Boston, where it has many different "parts" and all quaint in themselves.
Overall, I thought the cruise was very good. The service really varied. I would say that you saw some incredibly hard working people, then incredibly lazy. The hard workers tried to compensate; you didn't really have any in between. The service was actually worse than what I experienced on the Jade. So, since I was using this trip as a vessel, this wasn't my primary concern (but detracts from excellent level)- but if you're a regular cruiser, this might not bode well for you.