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Monday, July 14, 2014

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Cruise ship sails the Baltic Sea

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Sweden’s stunning capital, Stockholm, is built on 14 islands. It is one of several stops on the 10-day cruise of Europe’s northern cities. [Kathryn Kates photo]

During spring and summer months cruise lovers often partake in voyages to Alaska or New England.   Now more than ever, cruise companies including Holland America Line are offering an alternative opportunity, to explore the Baltics and northern Europe. 

Your 10-day sea adventure aboard the Eurodam is full of sights and cultural activities at every port.  It begins and ends in picturesque Copenhagen, with stops in Tallinn, St. Petersburg, Helsinki, Stockholm, and the German port of Warnemunde, which is a three-hour train ride from Berlin and Kiel, and 1 1/2 hours from Hamburg.

This Signature Class vessel is one of the largest from a company known for its outstanding mid-size ships.  The 2,104 guests are attended to by an international crew of 915.  There are 1,052 staterooms ranging from inside cabins to penthouse verandah suites.

On sea days, activities onboard range from diving into the world of technology at the Microsoft Digital Workshop, catching up with emails at the Explorations Café, gambling at the casino, or indulging in some serious pampering at the Greenhouse Spa & Salon. There is onboard shopping, movies, swimming, live stage shows and lectures, or you can pose for an artsy black-and-white photography session from Black Label.

There are so many ways to explore these exotic ports.  Be it on your own, with a private guide or selecting from a host of well-organized tours and activities available through the Eurodam’s shore excursions.  Popular Eurodam excursions include Highlights of Tallinn, An Evening of Russian Ballet, A Stroll through Helsinki, Stockholm by Bicycle, Berlin Highlights and River Cruise, and the Best of Hamburg.

Many cruisers partake in a pre- or post-holiday in Copenhagen. For those planning a post stay, a welcome crew from Cruise Copenhagen greets you with complimentary maps at the pier.  This city is magical, starting with the world-famous Tivoli Gardens filled with rides, lush gardens, restaurants, and open air-musical concerts, including a Danish Elvis backed by a big band.

A great way to see the city is by a canal boat tour.  Sights to see are Amalienborg Palace, home of Queen Margrethe II, the Amalienborg Museum, the National Museum and the Designmuseum Denmark.

Tallinn, Estonia is a city with two distinct faces. Old Town is charmingly medieval while the city centre is ultra-modern and high-tech.  This is where Skype was invented. Sights include Nevsky Cathedral, the Dome Church, Rocca al Mare, an open-air museum, the Song Festival Grounds and great shopping along Catherine’s Passage.

Arguably one of the most beautiful cities of the world, St. Petersburg houses some of the greatest artistic treasures at The Hermitage Museum in the former Winter Palace.  You need a visa to enter Russia, but Holland America’s tours include a general visa so there’s no red tape.

Other places are Catherine’s Palace in Pushkin, the ornate abode of Catherine the Great, and the Church of the Spilled Blood.  The Eurodam offers evening excursions for the overnight in St. Petersburg, where besides the Russian ballet, there is a folkloric spectacular and an evening at The Hermitage.

Helsinki has pristine landscapes, interesting architecture, both old and new, and an easy-to-use transportation system, although the city beckons you to walk.  A great way to spend part of your day is strolling along Esplanade Park with its trendy shops filled with wonderfully designed Finnish products.  Other family-friendly stops are Sibelius Monument named for their most internationally known classical composer, the Helsinki Zoo, the Natural History Museum and Sea Life Helsinki.

Sweden’s stunning capital of Stockholm is a trend-conscious yet historical city built on 14 islands. The archipelago is breathtaking and has over 30,000 islands and islets. There is plenty to see, including Old Town, City Hall where the Nobel festivities happen and The Nobel Museum.   Take in The Vasa Museum where you’ll witness the 17th- century battleship that sunk just outside the city centre on its maiden voyage, the newly opened ABBA Museum and Swedish Music Hall of Fame.   

The first stop in Germany is the Port of Warnemunde, in what was the former East Germany. On offer are full-day train tours to the German capital, Berlin.  Berlin is a work in progress. Restoration and new construction heavily dot this cosmopolitan reunified city.  Places to visit include Museum Island—a UNESCO cultural heritage sight, the government district, Brandenburg Gate, the Allied Museum and the Holocaust Memorial.

The Eurodam’s final German port is in Kiel.  Panoramic coach tours to Hamburg are offered from the Eurodam. This quaint city has seen its fair share of destruction due to war, so as far as European cities go, this one is fairly modern. Some tourist attractions are the Harbour Museum, Hamburg Dungeon and the Museum of Hamburg.

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