Baltic Cruise on Azamara Quest - the itinerary
Helsinki: Being a small ship and a premium brand Azamara strives to obtain the best for its guests. Therefore we docked right in the centre of the city, next to the market and opposite the Uspensky Cathedral. I set off on foot with my trusty guide books, and ticked off everything I wanted to see. This included both cathedrals and the market, where the fresh fruit and veg looked so delicious it was a shame I’d eaten so much on-board! However, I did see a lot of the crew buying bags full of cherries and strawberries.
St Petersburg: This was the highlight of the trip for me. Because of visa regulations you have to purchase the shore excursions to be included on the ship's visa. The alternative is applying for one in advance but this can be a long and tedious process. So I had 2 full days of 4 guided tours. I was exhausted at the end and had the most beautifully swollen feet to show for it.
I visited some of the iconic parts of the city, e.g. Catherine's Palace, Peterhof Palace, St Isaac's Cathedral, Church on Spilled Blood, St Nicholas Church, Yusopov Palace and I also took a river cruise. I didn't visit the Hermitage as I had been many years ago, and having a bad back the thought of standing in queues wasn’t appealing! And again we docked right in the city centre at Lt Schmidt Embankment. This was beside a Russian submarine (now a museum), next to a beautiful church (that was used as an ice skating rink during some of St Petersburg darker times) and with a view of St Isaac's Cathedral. We couldn’t have been in a better spot.
The majority of cruise ships have to dock outside the city in the main port, and with congestion being a real problem, I was grateful not to have any of this to contend with. In the evening of the first day Azamara laid on their ‘AzAmazing Evening’ which was a complimentary excursion. It was, quite simply, out of this world - a night at the ballet. Seeing everyone disembark the ship in their finery was quite a sight. We all got onto coaches and were taken to the Mikailovsky Theatre for a private performance by professional dancers. On arrival there was a red carpet, long horn band and ballerinas greeted us with programmes for the evening. The ballet was spectacular and the whole evening was so well organised. The ship's band played jazz on the quayside on our return while we were waiting to clear security!
Tallinn: We arrived on my birthday. It was another full day of walking with my guide book and camera. Tallinn is such a picturesque, historic town, and it is definitely best to explore on foot. Today really showed the Azamara difference when it came to port shuttle buses as we had no problems with getting on the frequent buses put on by Azamara, in contrast to the Queen Elizabeth next to us whose guests were having to queue for ages! I returned to the ship to find my cabin beautifully decorated by my cabin stewards and a birthday card!
Kiel: Our itinerary was well-planned for being in Kiel for the end of Kiel Week - the biggest sailing regatta in Europe, and with many tall ships docked around us it looked magnificent. The highlight in the evening was the firework display off the bow of the ship, during which we were all fortified with hot chocolate and/or rum as well as blankets as the weather had taken a turn!
Warnemunde and Travemunde: These 2 ports of call in Germany allowed me to explore the area of Schleswig Holstein, with its lakes and castles as well as the historic cities of Lubeck and Schwerin. As part of the tour we had private access to Schwerin Castle, which was a bonus.
The whole itinerary was very well planned, and the tours were excellent. I would definitely recommend.