Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Stockholm - First Port of Call

Even though Stockholm is a port city, it is located in from the Baltic Sea.  It is reached by traveling channels between many islands covered with trees and dotted with vacation homes.  The journey to the port was very relaxing and scenic as the Star Princess made its way to the city center.
One the ship was secured, we boarded our bus for the shore excursion.  The city of Stockholm does have some nice hills, one of which the bus took us to for a view of the city.  On one of the many islands was an amusement park, its rides visible over the tree tops.  Back on the bus and it was a tour of downtown Stockholm as we made out way to the Vasa Museum.
The Vasa was a warship, the flagship of the Swedish Navy.  While under construction, the king decided he wanted a larger ship, so decks were added against the designers protests.  When you are king, you get what you want.  The additional weight made for a very unstable ship, that combined with the low gun ports would prove to be a disaster.
On its maiden voyage the Vasa never left the harbor.  The cross wind caused her to heel over and water poured into the lower cannon ports causing her to  founder in the harbor in August of 1628.  It was found in the 1950s and raised in with an intact hull in 1961.  Since the water in the harbor is cold year round, many of the animals that would have consumed the wood, can not survive.  It was housed in a temporary museum after it was preserved until 1987 when it was moved to the Vasa Museum where it is currently displayed.
Once inside the museum, the ship looms in the semi darkness.  The lights are kept low to help preserve the ship.  It is surrounded by a walk way that circles the hull with a lower level.  Around the perimeter of the room are displays of life in 17th century Sweden.  The ship itself is in excellent condition, the detailing on the stern is still detailed, though the paint has vanished.
After a short stroll along the waterfront, we board the bus for the next stop....the home of the Nobel Prizes.  Alfred Nobel developed dynamite and bequeathed his fortune for the Nobel Prizes.  The building contains the hall where the awards dinner is held along with several other rooms.  It is a coveted invitation since the room is not very large.  There is also an elaborately decorated ball room for the reception/dance afterwards.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Copenhagen - Day 2

So after a nice night's sleep and breakfast we hit the streets of Copenhagen again.  The Star Princess will not be leaving until later in the afternoon, so more time for being a tourist.
First stop is the Royal Palace.  It is comprised of four buildings surrounding a courtyard, and were originally built for aristocrats that were part of the Royal Court.  The aristocrats were kicked out when the Royal Palace burned and the family needed a new residence. The king and queen reside in one and the newly married son is moving into another.  The third is being renovated into a museum.  The fourth is closed to the public.

The building for the newlyweds was open to the public during its renovation.  Inside there are impressive public rooms and also the private rooms for the couple.  Some of the renovations are period correct, and some are very contemporary in the private rooms.  As part of the process a hand built wooden staircase was installed to make the flow of the living space better.
Adjacent to the Royal Palace is the Marble Church.  It lives up to its name with intricate marble floors and decorations.  The main are of the church is topped with an impressive dome.
To make sure we miss nothing, our next stop is the original residence of the king in Copenhagen.  It is a tall narrow castle that is was also an armory and now houses the royal jewels.  Inside there is an original outhouse, not to be confused with the throne room on the top floor.  There are relics of the various occupants of the castle along with portraits.  Their is a pair of portraits of a king a queen, that are VERY similar, it looks more like the king dressed as the 'queen'.  In the basement is the armory and the royal jewels, not quite as impressive as the British, but spectacular none the less.
On our way to the last stop, we wander along the pedestrian street again.  There is always a need to shop.  While waiting for my roommate, a beer wagon pulled by two draft horses passes.  Hmmmmm, draft horses pulled a wagon full of beer, how apropos.  Just like other European cities, there are vendors offering fresh local and imported fruits and vegetables.
The last stop before the hotel is a museum.  It is known for the Roman artifacts in its collection.  The various statues and mosaics are quite impressive.  The building itself is also impressive with an enclosed courtyard topped with a glass dome. So back at the hotel, we collect out luggage and take a cab to the Star Princess.  This is my first Princess cruise, but being a 'Commodore', I do receive some benefits.  Once on board there is a mini-bar set up, upgraded bath items, the best is yet to come with free laundry service.  The ship itself is very nice with lots of open areas, and well laid out.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Copenhagen - Day 1

After the long flight, we collected out luggage and made our way through immigration and customs.  Out of the airport we take a cab to our hotel, the Marriott - Copenhagen, for our one night pre-cruise stay.  The hotel is located on the water not far from the main trains station and Tivoli Gardens.
Once at the hotel, there is a small crowd in the lobby.  It turns out that there are two cruises leaving in the afternoon and the Marriott was used by the cruise lines for their pre-night customers.  The result is the hotel was full the night before and there are no clean rooms for early check-in.  So bags are left and off we go on foot to look around.
Armed with a tourist map we head out looking for Nyhavn, the old section of Copenhagen.  The sidewalk vanishes as we start our walk, but it resumes on the other side of the overpass.  After a 15 minute walk, we find Nyhavn, a canal lined with quaint merchant houses which many have converted the first floor to a shop or restaurant.
Since it was almost time for lunch we selected a quaint outdoor cafe.  The menu was filled with local Danish cuisine.  I selected an assortment of open faced sandwiches and a local beer.  Both the food and beer hit the spot.
As we sat having lunch we noticed that the canal was lined with various vendors offering canal tours.  After lunch was completed we walked to the end of the canal and  boarded one of the tour boats.  It was long and low to fit under the arched bridges that crossed the canals.
The cruise headed out to the main water way to start the cruise.  We went past the Royal Palace, but they were not home, they were out on the royal yacht on holiday.  The Little Mermaid was on the itinerary, but she was in Shanghai at a trade exposition.  The new opera house is right on the waterfront and is very impressive.
On the side canals we did manage to see the old houses that belonged to merchants involved in the sea trade of centuries past.  There was also a tall church steeple with its staircase on the outside.  Back in the older section of the city we passed the old market place where items from around the world were traded and sent off in new directions.
Back on dry land we headed back to the Marriott.  Once there, we checked in and headed to our room.  It was on a higher floor with a view of the city and Tivoli Gardens.  Since the hotel is in a new building, the rooms were the same as in the United States, and a good size bathroom.  Nap time.
After a power nap, we left the hotel for dinner.  We had decided to go into Tivoli Gardens, the oldest amusement park.  It was just a short walk from the hotel, once inside we strolled around the grounds.  It was the middle of summer and there were lots of flowers in bloom.  Since Copenhagen is at a high latitude, prolonged sunlight produced spectacular floral displays.  We dined at one of the many open air cafes and watched the people pass.  It is a typical way for city residents to pass a summer's evening.  All of the rides were full as we made another pass of the grounds, browsing in the small shops, and trying to figure out the menu items on menus posted in Danish.
Back outside the park, we explored the area.  Copenhagen has a long shopping street that is close to vehicular traffic, which made for a pleasant stroll.  At the far end was a large square that had stage set up and a band playing.  After listening for a short time, it was back to the hotel to catch up on sleep.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Baltic Cruise - Getting there.......

The Baltic Sea, the northern coast of Europe for many.  Bordering Scandinavia to the north, Germany and Poland to the south, and Russia to the east, along with a few other countries.  Even though all border the same body of water, the cultures are very diverse.
Out of the ordinary, for this cruise we departed from Ft. Lauderdale's airport.  There were no good flight connections to Copenhagen from Miami in Europe, so why go the extra distance to fly to Atlanta to change planes.  While changing terminals in Atlanta, we passed a friend of mine that was heading to Ft. Lauderdale for a long weekend.
On the plane, my roommate an I were across from each other, almost to the rear of the plane.  I was in the center section and he was in the aisle seat and next to him in the window seat was a woman that had never been to Europe before and was a little on the 'hippy' side.  In front of him was a family of 6, dad/son, two daughters and across from them was mom and another daughter.  In front of me was a woman with a young baby, and at the other end of her row was a couple that appeared in their 60s.  Of course, one would expect the baby to be the most disruptive, it actually did not make a sounds during the whole flight.
As the front of the plane filled up the couple in the row in front of me, but the other end settled in for the flight.  The wife had one of those spring loaded hair clips, but it was stuck on the side of her head, I figured it was there since she will be resting her head during the flight.  Out of one of their carry on bags come red satin sleep masks.  Before the plane has left the gate the husband is snoring, it is going to be a LONG flight.  The flight crew conduct the pre-flight instructions, accompanied by snoring, and then the the plane leaves the gate.
Taking off is probably the part that scares me the most, but all went well and the plane heads to Denmark.  We climbed to cruising altitude and the pilot turns off the Fasten Seatbelt sign and people start to move around the cabin.  Most are retrieving items from the overhead bins.
The father seated in front of my roommate, gets up and heads to the rear of the plane.  The only things back there are the restrooms and the galley for coach.  The daughter turns around to speak to her father and sees and empty seat.  In a panicked voice she says 'dad's GONE, where could he be?'  With this mom turns around, then jumps out of her seat and both mother and daughter go looking for dad.  After a few minutes the return to their seats without dad, then mom goes looking again.  I wanted to tell her he might have gone down to the Lobby Bar, or maybe the pool, but decided to stay quiet.  Mom returned to her seat, then a few minutes later so does the father.
Dinner was served somewhere over the east coast, and the passengers settle in for the long flight.  The flight attendants pass through several times offering water to the passengers.  Sometime during the night, the woman of the snoring couple needs to get out of her seat.  Since her husband is in the aisle seat, it presents a slight dilemma.  My mother would have woke my father up and told him to let her out, but not this wife, she was very considerate.  I look up and there the woman is climbing over her husband.  I hit my roommate's arm and point.
The red satin sleep mask is on her forehead, the aforementioned hair clip is stuck on the side of her head, a plastic cup half full of water is clasp in her mouth.  She is straddling her husband, hands on the back of his seat above his head, and each foot is on an armrest.  Of course the commotion does wake her husband and he helps her to a perfect dismount of the airplane seat.
The rest of the flight went quietly until our approach to Copenhagen's airport.  As we descended, large wind turbines appeared in the shallow water just offshore, row after row of renewable energy.  Then the in flight entertainment began again.  The man in front of the mother had a bottle of duty free bourbon in the overhead bin, and the bottle broke.  Bourbon started dripping on the mother's head, the guy gets up to retrieve it, the flight attendant joins in to the group.  She takes the broken bottle in its bag and everyone returns to their seat.  As we left the plane the flight attendant hands the man the remains of his bourbon in a plastic water bottle.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Great Stirrup Cay

All of the major cruise lines that travel to the Bahamas have a 'private' island.  Basically a beach day for cruisers.  Norwegian started the trend with Great Stirrup Cay, and is in the process of upgraded the experience.
Since we live only 15 minutes from the beach by  bicycle, going to the beach while on the cruise is not necessarily a priority.  Sitting in the dining room having breakfast, we could view the island from our table, and the one for Royal Caribbean.  Both the Majesty and Monarch of the Seas were moored about a mile away for their guests to use their private island.
After the main rush of passengers had tendered to the beach, we get in line to head ashore.  The tender was almost empty as we headed for our fun day on the beach.  NCL had created a lagoon for the tenders to load and unload passengers, guess the Bahamas have different rules about disturbing marine habitat.
Since the island is part of the Bahamas it is basically an exposed coral reef.  So once on shore it was VERY white, from the exposed limestone.  The area is dotted with palm trees, but not much shade.  There is a large pavilion where the ship's crew provides lunch for the beach goers.  Other crew members are conducting a limbo contest and music is playing.  A few shops are set up with 'beachy' items and local crafts.  The beach itself is a nice crescent with clear water, of course with most of the ship working on a tan, it is VERY crowded.  Off to the side there is a large inflated slide that is an additional charge.  After a tour of the facilities, the decision is made to head back to the ship and have lunch on the mostly deserted ship.

Friday, February 10, 2012


The second port of call is Nassau.  From the ship it looks like most islands in the area.  The wharf is surrounded by low colorful buildings most of which catering to the cruise traveler.  Farther away are houses and then the rest of the island.
The one MAJOR difference is located off the stern of the ship.....Paradise Island and Atlantis.  The large coral colored resort with lots to offer.  Today's excursion is a tour of Atlantis.  There is a travel agent tour available for a fee, but when added to getting a cab, it is just easier to do it through the ship.
Again it is leave the ship and figure out where to wait for our excursion.  I'm not sure if this is how NCL does it at all ports or just in  the Bahamas.  After waiting at the end of the pier, we walk to the waiting bus, along with most of the ship it seems.  The bus is small to navigate the streets, and has these unusual seats that fold down and fill in the area that was the passageway.  Not sure if that feature would make it here.
A short ride later and we are dropped off at the Atlantis.  The original hotel building, the Beach Tower, was in the new many years ago when Donald Trump and Merv Griffin were bidding over it.  Since then man other structures have been added to the resort, the Coral and Royal Towers, the Reef, the Cove and much more.  Our tour starts in the lobby leading to the Royal Tower.
There is a shopping arcade that connects many of the buildings.  There are many upscale shops with designer merchandise and then stores offering souvenirs and Atlantis branded items.  Once through the arcade we enter the casino.  It is arraigned like most with slot machines and gaming tables.  The most stunning feature are three blown glass sculptures hanging from the ceiling by Dale Chiluly.  They are quite dramatic.
Once through the casino we enter the lobby of the Royal Tower.  It features soaring spaces and beautiful decor if a bit too much for my tastes.  We walk down a sweeping staircase under a soaring dome.  On the lower level is the main part of our tour....the Marine Habitat.  It is a large aquarium complex of tanks featuring various species of marine life.  The tanks are also decorated with the ruins of the lost city of Atlantis.  So the tour guide while pointing out the marine life is also telling the tale of the lost city, this made it very entertaining.
After the official tour is completed, the group is free to wander around the resort.  Use of some of the facilities is included, but not the waterpark.  We wandered back through the shopping area, then went out and waited for our shuttle.  On the way back to the ship we experienced a typical tropical shower, heavy downpour for 10 minutes, then sunshine.
The shuttle dropped us off at the pier and we decided to wander around before boarding the ship.  Most of the shops are the same as the rest of the Caribbean ports.  The only real difference is the Straw Market with small local vendors.  I did purchase a lapel pin of the Bahamian flag, and also a Christmas ornament made from a shell.  A nice walk back down the pier and aboard the ship for a late lunch.

Thursday, January 26, 2012


Okay, so this is my first Norwegian cruise and also my first to the Bahamas, and things are done a bit 'different'.  On all my past cruises, shore excursions met in a designated area on the ship and then were called individually to head to the bus.  Well this time it was leave the ship and wander around the pier area looking for your assigned waiting area.  STRANGE.
Our excursion was the Garden of the Groves, so we found our area, after asking, and waited.  Once on our bus the tour guide NEVER shut up.  A constant dialog about EVERYTHING we passed.  A few minutes pause would have been nice.  After what seemed at least 4 hours we arrived at our destination.
The Garden of the Groves was a private garden developed by the Groves and donated to the city.  Mr Grove was one of the leaders in developing Freeport in the 1940s.  The Bahamian government sold him LOTS of land VERY cheap, and he developed it into modern day Freeport.
The gardens were guided through featured many local plants and some imports.  They were laid out in a very nice way interspersed with water features,a maze and small chapel.  All of these items provide for a nice way to spend an afternoon, whether on a cruise or a local.  At the end of the tour were a few little shops with local products.
On the drive to our next stop, we had the opportunity to stop at a small beach.  It was a a great little stretch of sand and totally deserted.  There was a small parking area that was empty and only three houses across the street.  Most people on the bus did go down and walk on the sand, a few children did go in the water.
Once back on the bus, and the nonstop commentary, we headed to Lucaya Beach.  The Lucaya area is the resort area on Grand Bahama island.  It is lined with hotels, restaurants, shops, and the Casino.  We wandered around the shops, walked over to the Casino then re-boarded the bus.

Back on the bus it was a passenger by passenger questioning of where where you from, been here before , etc.  This session lasted about 15 minutes too long.  On the way back to the ship, the play by play continued, really need to know the facts on that gas station.  A quick wander around the little shops at the port and then back on the ship.
One of the main businesses at the Port of Freeport is a large dry dock.  Many ships based in South Florida will go to Freeport for renovations.  While having lunch after our Freeport experience, one of the Princess fleet was being renovated and updated.