July 2016 - Regal Princess to Europe - Northern Europe
The Regal Princess is a stunning ship, truly impressive and immaculately maintained with wonderful amenities. It is also massive and holds 4,000 people and 1,300 staff. It is a floating city and because of it's size, it can only dock at large ports. This means that the cities visited tend to be larger and more crowded than what you would find on a river cruise. Every port we visited had multiple massive cruise ships docked (we went in early July) and every shore excursion was an exercise in navigating around massive crowds. Some people enjoy this level of activity. We really didn't, but that is more a personal preference thing than a reflection on the cruise itself.
The cruise was very reasonably priced. We got a balcony with an unobstructed view and were very glad we did. We spent a fair amt of time on the balcony as an alternative to the public areas of the ship, which were crowded and very noisy pretty much all the time. The reasonable price was offset by 'nickel and diming' for many of the activities on the ship. For instance, there was a quiet 'adults only' area at the front of the ship called the Sanctuary. It provided a wonderful view, but could only be accessed if you paid for entry--roughly $20-$25 per person, per visit. The visits included food and champagne, so the price was not bad, but the only way to truly see the view from an upper floor vantage point at the front of the ship was pay for it. There was a charge for using open air cabanas in the adults-only area. Apparently, very few people felt these glassed-in cubes were worth the charge, as they mostly sat empty. Lots of upselling, too. It sometimes felt like we were a captive audience at a QVC boot camp or had signed up for one of those dreaded time share vacation things. Even 'educational' activities to inform passengers about port cities often turned into sales pitches. We booked and paid for spa treatments and despite having already paid (top dollar) for a service, were still pushed to buy additional products.
Being the Baltic, inclement weather is expected. We had rain every day, but also had sunshine every day. It was chilly, but not bad if you dressed appropriately. Because the cruise season is short, they really pack the ships in to these ports and there seems to be little or no coordinating of tour times. Every city was uncomfortably packed and it was challenging to see things. We did two Princess tours and three independent tours (7 ports). With the exception of St. Petersburg, which really requires a formal tour, we decided we would do 'hop on/hop off' tours from now on. We missed a lot of sights on planned tours simply because there were too many people to actually get into the venues and the tour guides had no flexibility to adjust the itinerary to work around crowds. Of course, when you pack this many people into an area, it is fertile ground for criminals and we were warned about pickpockets in Helsinki, St. Petersburg and Stockholm. St. Petersburg is notorious for very skilled and bold pickpockets and my phone was taken despite holding my bag in front of me. Thankfully, it was just a phone. Other tourists at the same location (the Church on Spilled Blood, which we were warned was the worst location for pickpockets) lost their wallets, including their identification. Overall, we would not do this particular cruise again or go to this area during the high season. Too many people and all the port areas were very tourist-y. The ship was beautiful, the food was fantastic and the staff were extraordinary, but the number of people on board and the constant upselling ended up being big turn-offs for this particular cruise. We heard this feedback from many others on the ship, as well.