When the travel bug hit again, we decided to head to Europe for a Baltic Cruise on the Disney Magic. Our adventures took us to Denmark, Estonia, Russia, Finland, Sweden, and back to Denmark. Because we were already “close” and had heard great things about it, we added in a trip to Iceland as well.
Day 1: Copenhagen, Denmark
We arrived in Denmark a little blurry-eyed, but gathered our luggage and were on our way.
Leaving every 15 minutes, trains connect the airport with downtown Copenhagen in about 12 minutes. Tickets are about 36kr and can be bought from the ground-level ticket booth. Just look for “DSB: Tickets for Trains” signs before riding the escalator down to the tracks. Track 2 has trains going into the city, stopping at the Kobenhaven H (main train station).
We chose a hotel close to the train station – The First Hotel Mayfair. After about a five minute walk, we arrived at the hotel, which was situated across from a “Gentlemen’s” Club. Other than seeing the signs for the place, the club was pretty quiet.
We checked in and took a nap (which goes against ALL of the rules to combat jetlag, but we were exhausted). After a much longer nap than we anticipated, our stomachs were empty, so we headed out to forage for food. We ended up finding a place close to the hotel, ate quickly, and went back to bed. Luckily the blackout curtains in our hotel room worked REALLY well. It was daylight for 20 hours of the day while we were there, but inside our rooms was pitch-black; we slept like babies!
Day 2: Copenhagen, Denmark
Feeling refreshed from our long night’s sleep, we hit the breakfast buffet early and started exploring the city.
We followed Rick Steve’s self-guided walking tour of Copenhagen, which took us by City Hall, Tivoli Gardens, Nyhavn (the harbor), and the Little Mermaid. It was a long walk through the city, but definitely worth it.
We decided not to take a boat tour and we didn’t go into Tivoli Gardens, but I hear both are excellent.
We ended our day at Hereford Beefstouw, next to Tivoli Gardens, where we both enjoyed delicious steaks. It’s not something I’d normally consider in Denmark, but a coworker recommended it and it didn’t disappoint.
After our long day of walking and a full stomach, we packed it in and went to bed early.
Day 3: Billund, Denmark (Legoland)
Bright and early the next morning, we picked up our rental car (also within walking distance of our hotel) and armed with our trusty pre-printed google map directions, we drove about 3 hours to Billund, Denmark – home of LEGOLAND! We probably should have figured out things like what the various speed limit signs meant. The drive through the countryside was nice and we had a great time acting like little kids at LegoLand!
Day 4: Disney Magic
We had a bit of time before we had to be on the ship, so we decided to walk around downtown again. When it started to rain, we ducked into City Hall for shelter. The building was much more elaborate than I expected and we took our time walking around. Then the crowds started to gather. At first, we thought a lot of others had the same idea we did, but then we noticed that a lot of them were dressed up – in wedding-like attire. We watched as couple after couple was called back into a room, then would emerge with their families to celebrate with champagne and take pictures.
We continued walking around until we were too excited to wait any longer and grabbed a cab to take us to the ship. Our taxi driver was incredibly friendly; he’d lived in the US for a bit and was eager to hear about our hometown and where we’d been, but was just as eager to answer our questions as well. He explained the speed limit signs (the ‘do not enter’ part means that the previous speed limit is no longer in effect and you can go back to the default speed limit – whatever that is) and also explained that the crowds in City Hall were indeed weddings. Once a month, they open City Hall for anyone to get married.
We arrived at the dock, breezed through check-in, and boarded the ship. The rest of the day was spent exploring the ship and reveling in all the Disney magic.
Day 5: Disney Magic
I won’t bore you with the details of our day at sea except to say that Disney cruises are magical.
Day 6: Tallin, Estonia
We disembarked the ship and caught a Disney shuttle into town. It was only a 15 minute walk into town, but we weren’t positive we knew the way and since the shuttle was free, we figured ‘why not?’.
Armed with our Rick Steves guide book, we spent all of our time in the Old Town following his self-guided tour, walking to Fat Margaret Tower, various churches, Russian Orthodox Cathedrals, and visiting an old monastery. We climbed the Town Hall Tower for a breathtaking view of the city before enjoying some local beer.
Day 7: St. Petersburg, Russia
A visa is necessary to enter Russia, so you either have to take a ship-sponsored tour or get your own visa before arriving on board. We opted to take the ship-sponsored tour, which didn’t leave until 1pm. We took our time eating breakfast and caught the Disney classic “Cinderella” on the big screen while we waited for our tour to begin.
Entering Russia was a slightly unnerving experience. Unlike US or European customs where families stay together through the process, you have to go single file in Russia. Additionally, the customs officials were anything but welcoming (although understandably… it’s not really their job to be welcoming; it’s their job to check out anyone entering their country.). It took each of us several minutes to get through, and I can honestly say that I breathed a sigh of relief when I passed through.
We’d opted for the “Majestic Spilled Blood Cathedral Tour and Boat Ride” tour, so after clearing customs, we boarded the bus and started on our guided tour of St. Petersburg. Our tour guide incredibly informative during our hour-long ride through the city.
We boarded a small boat, had a glass of champagne, and started on our tour of the canals. St. Petersburg claims that the city has more canals than Venice, so I’m sure we didn’t come close to seeing even a third of them. After the boat ride, they let us loose at a shopping center filled with Matryoshka dolls, Faberge eggs, and other Russian collectibles.
After our shopping stop, we headed to the Cathedral of the Spilled Blood. The outside is gorgeous, but the inside is truly breathtaking – full of intricate “paintings” which are actually made of tiny tiles. It’s difficult to describe how opulent and beautiful this cathedral is – even the pictures don’t do it justice.
Day 8: Helsinki, Finland
Helsinki turned out to be kind of a bust for us, but purely because we chose our excursion poorly. What we thought was a walking tour turned out to be a bus tour – with an incredibly monotonous woman. We drove around for a long time on the bus, stopping at a sculpture in the middle of the woods, again at a cathedral, and finally stopped for a two hour boat tour. Practically everyone fell asleep at some point.
We left Helsinki feeling a little let down, but that just means we’ll have to come back again some day to see it the right way.
Day 9: Stockholm, Sweden
Instead of taking a ship tour, we decided to take the hop-on-hop-off bus to explore most of the city. We walked around Gammla Stan (the old city), enjoyed some delicious Swedish meatballs for lunch, and finally toured the Vasa Museum. The ship sunk on her maiden voyage in 1628 and was lost for centuries before being raised in 1961. A large percentage (90ish percent) of the ship is original. The museum is a must-see in Stockholm.
Day 10-11: Back to Copenhagen, Denmark
We ended our cruise back in Copenhagen and had plenty of time to make it to the airport before heading to Iceland.
I have mixed opinions about seeing the Baltic like this. On one hand, I don’t feel like we stayed anywhere long enough to get a good idea of what the city is like – and in Finland, where we chose a bad excursion, we really didn’t get to experience the city at all. On the other hand, the cruise gave us a taste of cities we probably wouldn’t have gone to otherwise – Tallin and St. Petersburg. All-in-all, I think cruise was a good way for us to figure out which cities we’d want to visit again.