Sporting Ports of Baltic Sea
Baltic Sea cruises for 2018 and 2019 beckon luxury travelers who love sporting activities or outdoor adventure. They can stroll along the Old Course of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews, Scotland, gaze at the Holmenkollen Ski Jump outside Oslo, Norway or watch a World Cup match unfold in St. Petersburg, Russia. Alternatively, cruisers can create their own adventures via cycling, hiking, sea kayaking and golfing.
Summer golf play at top Baltic courses is planned during a new Perry Golf voyage on Azamara Club Cruises’ 690-passenger Azamara Journey, sailing from Stockholm, Sweden to Oslo, Norway on June 22, 2019. This nine-night “Baltic Capitals and Russia” voyage features port calls at Tallinn, Estonia; Helsinki, Finland; Copenhagen and Aalborg, Denmark; and we love the three full days in St. Petersburg, Russia. Golfers can tee off on Gorki Golf Club in northwest Russia; Hirsala Golf Club in Helsinki and “The Scandinavian” course just outside Copenhagen. While Azamara has had a partner-ship with Perry Golf for some time, this is the first Baltic voyage that combines these destinations and golf offerings.
If golf isn’t a travelers passion, but World Cup soccer is, Azamara Journey operates two enticing 12-night “Baltic & World Cup” voyages that depart June 17, 2018 and June 29, 2018. Azamara will transport guests to the newly opened St. Petersburg Stadium (also known as Zenit Arena) to watch the best soccer players in the world in World Cup match play. Designed by Japanese architect Kisho Kurokawa, the stadiums design has led to its nickname, “The Spaceship.”
With a boutique hotel feel, Azamara Journey serves 690 passengers. To spread out in style, we’d opt for the 603-square- foot Club World Owner’s Suite with a 233-square-foot balcony. Refurbished with elegant contemporary decor in early 2016, this suite has a spacious living area with 55-inch flat-screen TV; a separate master bedroom with king-sized bed and 40-inch flat-screen TV; a marble master bath with tub and shower; and much more.
In summer 2018, Regent Seven Seas will position the 750-passenger Seven Seas Explorer and 490-passenger Seven Seas Navigator in the Baltic. Seven Seas Explorer will cruise the Baltic combined with Scandinavia for nine voyages starting with a 12-night, London to Copenhagen voyage on June 12, and concluding with a 12-night voyage from Copenhagen to London on September 3. A new maiden call is Lysekil on Sweden’s west coast; top soft adventure activities include kayaking, biking, hiking and rock climbing. Next year, Regent also has maiden calls at Bodo and Haugesund, Norway.
Of all Regents 2018 Baltic offerings, we’re most intrigued by Seven Seas Navigators new 89-night “Grand Arctic Splendors” voyage. At press time, accommodation categories were waidisted, but it’s early, so it’s possible some space will open via cancellations as the final payment date approaches. It’s worth mentioning for “been there, done that” travelers seeking something truly different. Departing June 21, 2018, this voyage sails round trip from New York City to New England/ Canada, Greenland, Iceland, the United Kingdom and Ireland, Scandinavia including the North Cape, Russia’s Far North, plus the Baltic region, including St. Petersburg, and then the European Adantic coast and the western Mediterranean.
Our choice for this voyage’s top feature? The ship sails eastward into the remote White Sea atop Russia, going as far as Archangel (Arkhangelsk). Certainly, travelers will have bragging rights when talking to friends and relatives as few cruisers ever visit here. At Archangel, the top tourism hot spots are the Natural History Museum, Gallery of Arts and the Northern Dvina’s embankments with monuments to the region’s history — from Peter the Great to the Soviet era.
In addition, during the Edinburgh port call, cruisers who are golf aficionados can opt for Regent Seven Seas’ “St. Andrews — Home of Golf” shore excursion. Guests will travel along country roads and then arrive in St. Andrews to see the destination’s cathedral ruins, other sites around town, and most notably, an exterior view of the famous Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews. Those who so desire will be led on a short guided stroll around areas of the Old Course.
If travelers are more limited in time and seek a week-long Baltic cruise, Silversea Cruises’ Silver Spirit sails a seven-day itinerary from Copenhagen to Stockholm, departing June 30, 2018. Guests can explore those two capital cities plus Tallinn, St. Petersburg and Helsinki. At press time, an Owner’s Suite on Deck 8 as well as other accommodations were available. Resembling a stylish apartment, the 1,292-square- foot, one-bedroom Owner’s Suite can expand to 1,668 square feet and a two-bedroom configuration by adding the adjacent Veranda Suite.
Going ashore in Helsinki, an invigorating option is Silversea’s “Kayak Adventure” excursion, which includes a short coastal drive, kayaking and safety instruction, use of kayaking gear and a guided kayak journey. In Stockholm, Silversea offers golf buffs an opportunity to play at one of Europe’s top-ranked golf courses, the exclusive Stadium Course at Bro Hof Slott Golf Club. Designed by Robert Trent Jones, Jr., it’s a long and challenging lakeside course that’s frequently hosted the Scandinavian Masters tournament.
Upon arrival, guests can rent golf clubs directly from the course, get a bucket of practice balls for warm-up and then play on Europe’s longest course with views of Lake Malaren, a white hilltop castle and gorgeous countryside. Water comes into play on most holes but the general open layout of the course is still friendly for the average golfer. Yellow tees set up nicely for most golfers, but teeing off from white or black tees presents a new set of challenges. Roundtrip transfers, green fees to Stadium Course, a shared cart and the practice balls are included with the excursion.
Whether travelers wish active play ashore or to exercise onboard, Oceania Cruises offers many options. In addition to complimentary use of Canyon Ranch SpaClub’s gym and fitness facilities, Oceania Cruises recently introduced more than two dozen complimentary fitness and wellness classes, all with professional instruction. How about a sunrise stretch or indoor cycling? Or, Baltic cruisers can choose more extensive, “boot camp,” full-body strength training or core conditioning classes, among other options.
One appealing itinerary is Oceania’s 10-day “Baltic Bliss” voyage on Marina that sails from Southampton, U.K to Stockholm, departing June 2, 2018. Going ashore on this voyage, guests will explore Oslo, Copenhagen, Berlin (Warnemunde) and Helsinki plus Visby, Sweden, Tallinn, Estonia and St. Petersburg (two days). If cruisers opt to stay post-cruise in Stockholm for a few days, we’d suggest combining shopping and dining. Head for Bobergs in the NK Department Store for a lunch reflecting good cooking, fresh ingredients and a mix of French and Swedish cuisine.
Oceania’s O Life Choice fares offer bonus savings, included airfare and unlimited Internet plus a choice of six complimentary shore trips, a free beverage package or a $600 shipboard credit. Why not sail in style in a 2,000-square-foot Owner’s Suite? While it has all the hardware bells and whistles, its special perks are 24-hour butler service; priority online specialty restaurant reservations; unlimited access to the Canyon Ranch SpaClub private terrace; and card-only access to a private Executive Lounge staffed by a dedicated concierge.
Travelers likely aren’t skilled at ski jumping, but this Olympic sport is easily “imagined” by cruisers who simply gaze at the Holmenkollen Ski Jump, located outside Oslo. It’s a popular inclusion on many Oslo city tours. Cunard Line’s 2,081-passenger Queen Elizabeth sails a “St. Petersburg and Baltic Explorer” voyage, departing June 10, 2018 roundtrip from Southampton, U.K. Top digs are the Queens Grill Suites of 506 to 2,249 square feet with a large sitting area, walk-in wardrobe, private balcony and butler services, among other amenities. Most highly valued, though, is the exclusive access to the intimate Queens Grill restaurant.
On the June 10 sailing, Queen Elizabeth’s port calls include Oslo, along with Visby (getting a new cruise pier in 2018), Helsinki, St. Petersburg, Riga in Latvia, Klaipeda in Lithuania and Gdynia in Poland.
Its half-day “Oslo Highlights” tour includes a visit to the Holmenkollen Hills, home to the ski jump. While not part of that tour, travelers can “jump” themselves (or almost) via a new, improved, 12-person ski simulator. Using new technology and videos, the five-minute “virtual” ski jump experience features a soaring take-off and safe landing at the bottom of the hill.
Also arriving in Oslo next year is Sea bourn’s new 600-passenger Seabourn Ovation, launching in spring 2018 and operating summer Baltic and Northern Europe cruises. For example, a 21-day “Capitals of Northern Europe” sails from Stockholm to Copenhagen on July 28, 2018. During the Oslo call, guests can check out the ski lift with “The Very Best of Oslo,” a full-day tour that includes city sightseeing and a journey to the ski lift for views of Oslo below. Seabourn Ovation is a sister ship to the new Seabourn Encore.
Both are much like Seabourn’s three Odyssey-class vessels, but they’re larger and have one additional deck for more accommodations and new venues.
Travelers can dine in style at The Grill by Thomas Keller; relax at The Retreat, the ultimate serenity area; enjoy treatments at the full-service spa and check out a new holistic spa and wellness program just introduced by Dr. Andrew Weil. Accommodations-wise, we’d reserve Seabourn Ovations pampering Wintergarden Suite. Fine finishes, fabrics and decorative touches reflect the design vision of Adam D. Tihany. This suite is also blessed with large windows that deliver great ocean views, along with dining for six, two flat-screen TVs, a bathroom with whirlpool bathtub, a guest bath and more. Our favorite perk is the glass-enclosed solarium with tub and day bed.
For its full 2018 line-up, Seabourn offers many Baltic and Scandinavian maiden calls or ports less frequency visited by the ultra-luxury line. These include Bronnoysund, Hammerfest, Harstad, Kristiansand, Rosendal and Ulvik, Norway; Vlissingen (Flushing), Zeeland and Ijmuiden (Amsterdam), Netherlands; Wismar, Germany; Aarhus and Nekso, Bornholm in Denmark; Turku, Finland; and Saaremaa in Estonia.
In Kristiansand — welcoming four times as many visitors as it did just eight years ago — there’s a new cruise pier and guests and crew members can access complimentary Wi-Fi. While many of Wismar’s historic buildings were destroyed in World War II, the core Medieval town, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, remains with gabled facades and cobblestoned streets. Seabourn Ovation will call at Wismar, along with Saaremaa on a 28-day “Hanseatic Heritage” voyage from Lisbon, Portugal to Copenhagen, departing May 26, 2018. Top suites are sold out on this sailing, but 300-square-foot Veranda Suites were still in good supply at press time.
New in Aarhus this year, a red double-decker “Hop On,
Hop Off” bus will take cruisers from the cruise pier to Old Town, the ARoS Art Museum, cathedral, Tivoli Friheden and Marselisborg Casde, plus other tourism hot spots. Separately, the destination’s Aarhus CARD offers access to more than 20 attractions and can be purchased at the harbor’s tourist information center. Holland America Line’s new Koningsdam calls at Aarhus during a 15-day “Jewels of the Baltic” cruise, departing May 20, 2018 roundtrip from Amsterdam. Among other ports visited are Rostock, Germany and St. Petersburg.