The land of Vikings, medieval streetscapes, Scandinavian design and the historic city of Peter the Great. The idea of taking all of this in by visiting seven countries along the Baltic Sea seemed like something out of a movie. The Baltic Delights cruise includes places that I have always wanted to visit but previously thought were out of reach due to the expense. As I recently learned, a cruise of the Baltic Sea with Windstar is not only doable, it’s extraordinary.
Imagine walking through palaces in the steps of Catherine the Great of Russia, or browsing through treasures in her majestic museum, the Hermitage. For me, a two-day stop in St. Petersburg, Russia was a bucket list item come true. Peter the Great’s imperial city is every bit as grand as I had imagined it to be.
I wasn’t sure what to expect in another destination, the Baltic Sea port of Gdansk. I had thought of it as a gritty ship building town. Instead, during our one-day stop, I found Gdansk to be a lively and colorful city, with architecture reminiscent of Amsterdam, just one of many surprises along the way.
A Scandinavian Start and Finish
The Baltic Sea cruise gave me the opportunity to spend a few days in Stockholm, Sweden, and Copenhagen, Denmark before and after the voyage. I immediately fell for Stockholm, with its storybook old town, narrow cobblestone streets, and the scent of cardamom buns wafting through the air. Let’s just say I had a few of those, and then topped it off with cinnamon swirl pastries, known as snegls, in Copenhagen. It’s one of the reasons that Denmark consistently ranks as one of the world’s happiest countries.
Feeling the sand between my toes
Did you know that there’s a desert in Lithuania? Neither did I. When I saw a Windstar excursion to go hiking in coastal sand dunes, I had to sign up. The dunes, which shift in the wind over time, lie along a peninsula called the Curonian Spit, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site. At the top of the dunes, the ocean view was spectacular. After the hike, we lunched on fried bread sandwiches and smoked cheese at a local family restaurant. I never would have found these places, or even known about them, if it had not been for the Windstar excursion.
I looked forward to a relaxing dinner each evening after a day of active touring. There are several restaurants on board to choose from, and you don’t have to sit with other people unless you want to. Dinner is made fresh on order and was delicious every time. A highlight for me was the on-deck barbeque. All you can eat grilled lobster? These people are speaking my language.
The Ship Where Everybody Knows Your Name
When it comes to service, it’s the little things that really elevate an experience. There were rain clouds on the horizon when we arrived in Tallinn, Estonia. As we disembarked to wander in the old town, crew members handed out plastic raincoats to everyone, just in case. It came in handy. On cool evenings, fleece blankets were draped over the backs of chairs on deck so you could sit outside comfortably and enjoy the sea air.
Of all of the service extras, I had two favorites. Room service breakfast delivered fresh, and piping hot was a real treat, especially for a non-morning person like me. It was always served with a large carafe of hot tea or coffee, as opposed to those drippy little pots you get in other places. It felt very special, and a little decadent, to be enjoying breakfast wearing my luxurious Windstar robe.
Every day during the cruise, I was asked, “Miss Cindy, is there something else we can do for you today.” Not only is it nice to be asked, but I was surprised that the staff remembers everyone’s name and their preferences. The fact that staff members learn the names of up to 300 different passengers for every cruise says something about the extra mile they go to provide extraordinary personal service.
Getting spoiled at the spa
As if I wasn’t spoiled enough already, I popped into the spa during one of the at-sea days for a manicure and pedicure, just the antidote to hours of walking. My hands and feet were smoothed and massaged and all-round pampered. I emerged sporting bright red nails, all the better for sipping champagne!
After my Baltic cruise with Windstar, I’m convinced that the small ship experience is for me. There are no crowds and no scouting about to find a deck chair. There’s also no need to pack a suit or an evening gown, or a costume for a crazy theme night.
I like to focus on the outstanding destinations on the Baltic Sea itinerary and do my own thing to relax on board the ship. One of the things that bloggers don’t typically talk about is that, as wonderful as it is to travel, there is usually some hassle involved in getting from one place to the next. With Windstar, the hassle factor was removed, leaving me free to enjoy pure travel bliss.
About Cindy Baker
Cindy Baker is a Canadian writer and traveler who is on a ‘get-happy’ search for blissful travel experiences. Whether it’s in dynamic cities, on a cruise ship, or in chocolate shops, she seeks to lose herself in the moment and to inspire readers to follow their bliss. Follow Cindy on her travel blog.