Cruise lines exploring the Baltic include Celebrity, Royal Caribbean, Norwegian Coastal Voyages and many more—some deluxe - or posh to use a seafaring term, others more focused on the travel experience. Comprehensive resources list at the end of text.
Then came the German merchants, setting up Hanseatic ports.
But long gone are the sleek longships and bulky medieval Hansa boats. Now the Baltic accommodates a new breed of explorers: modern day tourists who, in ever-increasing numbers, fill cruise ships of every description.
From relative obscurity, the Baltic has emerged as one of the world's leading cruise destinations, third in popularity after the Caribbean and the Mediterranean. In the last five years it has experienced an average annual growth of 15%, compared to 6% worldwide. With the opening of countries once part of the Soviet block more and more destinations have been added to the agenda. Right now, Riga in Latvia and Klaipeda in Lithuania are especially noteworthy, showing record growth rates with a 38% and 46% increase respectively.
By a good margin, the busiest cruise port in the Baltic is Copenhagen. This year, 290 cruise ships are expected to dock in the Danish capital. Number of passengers: 399,000. Along with Stockholm, Copenhagen is what is known as a transportation hub or primary turnaround port, meaning that this is where most cruises begin and end. As for other ports, Estonia's Tallin ranks as one of the most popular destinations, closely followed by St. Petersburg, where many ships will stay the longest - one to three nights. In all, the Baltic cruise region now includes 10 countries and 25 destinations.
Apart from over a dozen cruise lines - ranging from those highly focused on the travel experience, with informative lectures and many shore excursions, to those extremely deluxe, who make your personal comfort their highest priority - the Baltic also offers a number of very high quality ferry lines, such as Silja, Tallink, Stena, and Eckerö Line.
So what is it that makes this inland sea in the far north such a rage in the cruising community? Part of it may be that, as travelers get more and more sophisticated, they look for new places to explore. Not just any place, but one steeped in culture and with great natural beauty, preferably one that's peaceful, stable, safe and clean.
And they found it.
Voyager Vignettes We were still unpacking when, like Jeeves, an immaculately attired man sort of shimmered into the cabin and introduced himself as Arnel, our butler for the duration of the cruise. Though quite familiar with cruise amenities, we were duly impressed. Not bad. This was obviously a very high -end ship. In addition to a walk-in closet and a private balcony, we now had our very own butler.
The ship that had welcomed us in such a classy manner - we’d been upgraded - was the Regent Seven Sea Voyager. Ahead lay a weeklong cruise in the Baltic. Unlike some cruises, this one had no sea days. Every morning we’d go ashore, ready to explore an exciting city, rich in history. From Stockholm we sailed to Tallin, Estonia, then to Saint Petersburg for a three-day stay. Subsequently there would be stops in Helsinki and Visby, Gotland, before Copenhagen, our last port of call.
In recent years, the Baltic has become one of the world’s major cruise destinations, third in popularity after the Caribbean and the Mediterranean. From late May through August, when the region is at its most attractive, with long hours of daylight and magic white nights, over a dozen cruise liners navigate these waters, shuttling between its various ports. Stretching from the British Isles through Scandinavia, and all the way to Russia, the region is also referred to as Northern European or Scandinavian. Our itinerary was pretty typical, but other destinations, such as Turku, Rostock, Riga, and Warnemünde are also common. The Seven Sea Voyager proved quite delightful, if somewhat fattening. With plenty of good food - much of it Scandinavian - and free wine, one tends to overdo it a bit. Once I hesitated in my choice between Dover sole and filet mignon, and, as a result, was given both. The spaciousness of the ship was particularly appealing. Though fully booked, the Voyager never felt crowded, and, throughout the trip, only at the Captain’s party was there any serious waiting in line. The Captain, incidentally, was Norwegian, which didn’t come as a great surprise. No cruise ship, it seems, is complete without a Norwegian captain.
Though most of the passengers were Americans, we ended up socializing with a couple of Australians and Philip and Jackie from the UK. Then there was Ron, an Irish architect with a predilection for spouting Yeats.
At the end of the voyage the crew put on a show, based on Broadway hits. It was very entertaining. The enthusiasm, combined with not a little talent, was irrepressible, producing lengthy applause from a full house. We wanted more… to return to this floating hotel which offers its guests great entertainment, accommodations, and that enchanting light only a Nordic summer can provide.
Text & Photography: Bo Zaunders
Some cruise lines, such as Regent Seven Seas, Crystal, Seabourn, Cunard, and Silversea, are particularly deluxe - or posh, to use a seafaring term. Like floating luxury hotels, they make your personal comfort their highest priority. Others, such as Discovery and Orient, are more focused on the travel experience as such, with informative lectures on the various destinations and many shore excursions. Cruise lines exploring the Baltic also include Celebrity, Royal Caribbean, Norwegian Coastal Voyages, Princess, Holland America, P&O, Costa Atlantica, and Oceana - all of which will indulge you with swimming pools, spas, gyms, and, to make sure you don’t lose any weight, 24/7 food and drink service.