Helsingborg, Sweden, will be visited by Seabourn Quest on a 12-day “Northern European Highlights” itinerary in May 2017.
While the Mediterranean is certainly enticing for luxury cruisers, Europe’s Baltic region — including the Baltic Sea and the far eastern North Sea — has its own rewards. So what’s new and appealing? Here’s a snapshot look for luxury travelers.
At Helsingborg, Sweden, Sofiero, the famed castle and gardens, abloom with rhododendrons, celebrates its 150th anniversary this year. A special exhibition showcases royal artistry of Sweden’s Bernadotte dynasty, so we suggest cruisers check out Danish Queen Margrethe’s textile art, Swedish Prince Carl-Philip’s industrial design and the new Anniversary Garden. For shoppers, Helsingborg’s popular indoor Vala Centre is awash with new stores, among them Zara, Hugo Boss, Desigual, New Yorker, Filippa K, G-Star, Mango and J. Lindeberg.
One appealing option for independent travelers is to tour Helsingborg with a local “greeter,” a volunteer who’s a local resident eager to show visitors the city for a few hours; make a reservation at helsingborg.greeters.info/#. Then, when it’s time to take a break from the tour, head out for a good cup of coffee. We recommend Koppi, a roaster and coffee bar owned by Swedish barista champions Anne Lunell and Charles Nystrand, who adhere to sustainable coffee purchasing practices.
Seabourn Quest’s Wintergarden Suite has two bedrooms, each with a private bath, and offers modern amenities like a glass-enclosed solarium.
Calling at Helsingborg on its 12-day “Northern European Highlights” voyage is Seabourn Cruise Line’s Seabourn Quest. Sailing on May 1, 2017 from Dover, UK, the ship also calls at other UK and Norwegian ports; Amsterdam, Netherlands; Brussels (Antwerp); Gothenburg, Sweden; and Copenhagen (overnight) at the end of the voyage. Top-of-the-line accommodations? There are certainly many appealing suites onboard, but we like the Grand Wintergarden Suite (Category GR), which combines mid-ship suites 743 and 745 or 744 and 746 for a total inside space of 1,189 square feet with two verandas totaling 214 square feet.
It’s a good option for couples traveling together or parents sailing with adult children as it has two bedrooms, each with a private bath as well as a guest bath and a convertible sofa bed for one. Other perks include a glass-enclosed solarium with tub and day bed, two bars, a pantry with wet bar, three flat-screen TVs and more.
Aarhus, Denmark’s second largest city, has been tapped by the European Union as one of the two “European Capital of Culture” destinations for 2017; the other is Paphos, Greece. So, in 2017, visitors can go ashore and view special cultural and performing arts programs. One mega event is “The Red Serpent” from May 25 to July 1, 2017. Performed outdoors, this tale unfolds in and around the Moesgaard Museum’s grass-covered roof and weaves a story about Viking Age battles/raids, gods, friendship, myths and love.
Three Aarhus restaurants — Frederikshøj, Gastromé and Substans — proudly boast a Michelin star. We’d opt for Substans, a classical Scandic eatery with creative, contemporary cuisine and an organic bent. Guests may choose either the “Not So Big Tour” of snacks and four dishes or the “Big Tour,” a tasting menu of snacks and seven dishes. Highlights include codfish in juice of horseradish and asparagus; pork breast with carrots, buttermilk and malt; and rhubarb with malt and spices. Substans’ wine is organic and often unfiltered, reflecting the eatery’s natural approach.
Azamara Journey’s Club World Owner’s Suite has been refurbished with contemporary décor. The luxury accommodation offers a spacious living room with a separate master bedroom.
Silversea Cruises’ Silver Cloud sails into Aarhus on June 17, 2017, during a 10-day London to Oslo cruise, and during 2018, Azamara Club Cruises’ Azamara Journey sails an 11-night “Cities of Northern Europe” itinerary that includes an Aarhus call. On August 30, 2018, the recently updated Azamara Journey sails from Copenhagen to Amsterdam; Skagen, Denmark; Oostende, Belgium; Oslo, Norway; Bremerhaven, Germany; Honfleur, France; and ends at London. We’d opt for Azamara’s 560-square-foot Club World Owner’s Suites on Decks 6, 7 and 8; just ask and the English-trained butler will assist with restaurant and spa reservations, private parties and romantic dinners for two. Another good option? New Club Spa Suites include butler service, a “Nights in Private Places” experience and spa credit.
In northwest Poland, Szczecin is a centuries-old port where the Odra River meets the Baltic Sea. The area boasts of a vast forest and 900-plus lakes, so walking, hiking and birdwatching are popular activities. In 2017, Regent Seven Seas Cruises’ newly refurbished Seven Seas Navigator will operate several Baltic region cruises and new ports, including Szczecin; Hamburg, Germany; and Antwerp, Belgium. The ship visits Szczecin during its 13-night “Idyllic Fjords” sailing from Reykjavik to Stockholm on September 1, 2017. Starting from 2017, Regent Seven Seas will also provide guests sailing on European, Asian and South American voyages (that require intercontinental air arrangements) with complimentary business-class air roundtrip from 26 U.S. and Canadian gateways.
Szczecin will also be visited by luxury operator Ponant’s Le Soleal on a nine-day cruise from Portsmouth, UK, to Stockholm on May 8, 2017. This sleek, small ship offers just 132 staterooms and suites, including the spacious 484-square-foot Owner’s Suite with a 97-square-foot private balcony. On this cruise, all guests will have a chance to meet special guest Alain Duault, a musicologist, journalist, writer, television presenter and radio personality.
In Helsinki, Finland’s capital city, Helsinki Allas (sea pool) is a new seaside spa and wellness hub that opened earlier this year near Market Square. Cruisers can enjoy floating pools, a park and beach. Also new at Hernesaari is Löyly with seaview terraces, public and private saunas. It’s a cool spot for a swim in the sea on a hot day. Hernesaaren Ranta, a nice man-made pier, beach and promenade that’s open in summer, now has a new restaurant and bar complex, serving up everything from Thai food to Finnish game burgers and “live” summer concerts.
Cruisers can use the destination’s new “Day in Helsinki” map and head out bicycling or walking. Alternatively, those with a passion for design can grab the Design District Helsinki brochure or visit designdistrict.fi/en/ for an interactive map. Currently under restoration, the Arabia Center and Museum reopens later this year, displaying the history and products of the local Arabia ceramic factory. Newly renovated is the Helsinki City Museum, which reopened in the spring with five historic buildings, a new building that joins them and three inner courtyards.
Pictured: The Helsinki City Museum, which reopened in May, focuses on the history of the Finnish capital.
Near the Suomenlinna Sea Fortress, Vallisaari, a former military island, opened to the public in May as an eco-area with fortress foundations and historic structures (some awaiting renovation). One tasty spot for chocolate lovers is Helsinki’s new Fazer Visitor Centre, built to celebrate the 125th anniversary of Karl Fazer’s French-Russian café and confectionery heritage; it has exhibitions, chocolate tasting sessions and a Fazer store. Several new shopping complexes will open in 2018 or beyond, including the huge Mall of Tripla and Redi with residential, office and hotel towers atop a large shopping and lifestyle complex.
Ashore in Helsinki, we recommend the new Savoy’s rooftop garden lunch. One sample menu offers lettuce gazpacho with grilled white asparagus and cicely; char-grilled lavaret from Lake Inari with spring vegetables from Tammisaari and beurre blanc flavored with smoked fish; plus skyr panna cotta with a sherbert of spruce sprouts from Villinki and mango.
We particularly like Silversea Cruises’ 10-day “Copenhagen to Stockholm” sailing on July 29, 2017 as it overnights in Helsinki. Silver Cloud arrives at 6 p.m., just in time for guests to go ashore for evening activities and dinner. The ship remains in port until 4 p.m. the following day, allowing plenty of daytime sightseeing. Culinary enthusiasts can reserve the Silver Shore Collection tour that includes a Finnish culinary class in the Lake Tuusula area and then dine on a three-course lunch prepared by cruisers, and accompanied by a glass of wine. This itinerary features three days in St. Petersburg, Russia, plus calls in Tallinn, Estonia; Gdańsk, Poland; Klaipėda, Lithuania; and Riga, Latvia.
For families, Helsinki offers a “Helsinki for Kids” brochure with kid-friendly ideas on what to see and do ashore. Hapag-Lloyd Cruises’ Europa 2 sails with high-end, spacious accommodations, including family suites with a separate kids’ bedroom and bath, plus separate teen’s and children’s clubs. A 13-day cruise from Hamburg to Kiel on August 24 calls at Helsinki, Stockholm, Tallinn and St. Petersburg. A plus is that this voyage is designated as family-themed and golf-themed with play on multiple Baltic courses.
Oslo, Norway’s capital city, has a new bicycle rental system, a recently opened visitor center in Oslo Central Station, and an official city app with map that’s available in six languages. During 2018-2019 and beyond, several new attractions will open. The first is a new, larger Munch Museum, constructed in the former dockyards area with triple the space of the existing museum, while the second is a new National Museum, which will centralize design, crafts and visual arts collections currently housed in other city museums.
More urban/tourism development is expected at Havnepromenaden, the seaside promenade walkway that opened last year, and also within the Bjørvika and Sørenga areas. Fun stuff to do right now? Active cruisers can set up a guided kayak tour on the Oslo fjord. Beer lovers can visit Ølakademiet, the Beer Academy, in the city’s Grünerløkka area, a working class neighborhood turned fashion hub with cafés, bars and independent boutiques. The academy’s one-hour Norwegian beer tasting session is sprinkled with dark humor and tales of the Vikings’ relationship with ale and mead.
Crystal Cruises’ “Baltic Reflections” voyage operated by Crystal Symphony from Copenhagen to Oslo on July 4, 2017 overnights in the city prior to disembarkation. So, cruisers flying home on embarkation day still have a lot of time to explore Oslo. This Crystal itinerary also overnights in Copenhagen upon embarkation, and in Stockholm mid-voyage; it spends two nights in St. Petersburg. Among Crystal’s shore tours are an “Oslo for Art Lovers” excursion to the Vigeland Sculpture Park, the Munch Museum and City Hall, and a two-hour “Oslo by Segway” tour to Oslo Cathedral, the 19th-century Parliament Building and the striking Oslo Opera House.
Pictured: The Vigeland Sculpture Park in Oslo, Norway, displays more than 200 sculptures made by a single artist, Gustav Vigeland. Crystal’s “Oslo for Art Lovers” excursion will take guests to this park.
When cruisers are out and about in Oslo, they’ll find many new restaurants. Dining-wise, we’re partial to the strikingly bright, modern Maaemo, translated “Mother Earth” in Norwegian. Boasting a third Michelin star, it stands out for its multiple-course set menu, an unusual mezzanine-level kitchen, and some chef-presented dishes that are finished at the table. Reservations are a must.
In Stockholm, Sweden’s capital city, a major new museum attraction, The Life of Vikings or “Vikingaliv,” debuts in 2017. This exhibition and ride will dramatize Viking culture and heritage from the viewpoint of warriors, sailors, hunters, conquerors, traders, women and children. Also new for artistic cruisers is the new Mindepartementet Art & Photography gallery, which will be opened earlier this year in the city center.
First-time visitors who love maritime history shouldn’t miss the Vasa Museum, displaying the centuries-old Vasa, a wooden war ship that sank on its maiden voyage. Take out time to visit the museum’s gift shop, where you’ll find hand-blown Swedish glass gifts. You can see Vasa on “Stockholm’s Famous Ancient Ship” shore excursion offered by Viking Ocean Cruises. Its 29-day “Baltic Jewels & the Midnight Sun” itinerary covers 21 ports in 10 countries with overnight calls at Stockholm, St. Petersburg and Bergen, Norway. This itinerary will be operated next summer on several dates by Viking’s newest ship, Viking Sky, launching in early 2017, and sister ships Viking Star and Viking Sea.
For cruisers seeking a trendy, new contemporary restaurant ashore, Mother Stockholm offers breakfast, lunch, dinner, coffee, wine and late drinks. When it’s tea time, you can select from African nectar, chamomile citrus, ginger twist, herbal detox and mint mélange herbal teas, plus black and green teas. Mother Stockholm also creates unusual blends and smoothies, such as the “Love Some Body,” which is a blend of carrot, strawberry, pear, sweet potato and lemon. We’d suggest trying the “Wrapped Up” tofu and curry pickles or raw marinated salmon, or heartier dishes like crispy wok scampi with green curry or herb and garlic lamb.
Winter Palace will be a major attraction for cruisers visiting St. Petersburg.
Oceania Cruises offers a “Nordic Legends” voyage on Marina, departing from Stockholm to Southampton, UK, on July 9, 2017. It’s advantageous that the ship begins boarding at 1 p.m. but doesn’t sail until 4 p.m. the next day, so guests have the afternoon and evening plus much of the next day to explore Stockholm. Marina’s calls include Tallinn, Estonia; St. Petersburg (overnight); Helsinki; Klaipėda, Lithuania; Gdańsk; Berlin (Warnemünde), Germany; Copenhagen, Denmark; and Oslo, Norway. The line’s 14-day “Baltic Ballads” cruise on Nautica also sails from London to Stockholm with three full days in St. Petersburg.
Oceania’s guests can book a one-, two- or three-day, post-cruise Stockholm stay at the historic Scandic Grand Central Hotel. Centrally located, it has easy access to shops, restaurants and bars. In the hotel’s Teaterbrasseriet Restaurant, a bistro with a metropolitan vibe, you can order such savory fare as Swedish meatballs with cream sauce, lingonberries, pickled cucumber and potato puree.
Founded by the Dutch, Gothenburg, Sweden, lies along the Gota River, so it’s not surprising to see canals and gabled houses. Those going ashore can tour the citadel, stroll through Slottsskogen (a favorite park) and gaze at Edvard Munch and Picasso masterpieces at the Gothenburg Museum of Art. To people watch, head for Kungsportsavenyn, Gothenburg’s main street, brimming with cafés, boutiques and plazas.
Regent’s Seven Seas Explorer, in its inaugural season, calls at Gothenburg during a 12-night “Reykjavik to Copenhagen” voyage on August 9. Among the “included” shore excursions are two sporty options, “Sailing Gothenburg’s Archipelago by Racing Yacht” and “Mackerel Fishing” in the Kattegat Sea. We can’t wait to see the 3,875-square-foot Regent Suite with two bedrooms, a living room with sitting area, private Vista Garden, in-suite spa, two and one-half marble and stone-detailed bathrooms and a wraparound balcony with two separate balconies.
Elsewhere across the Baltic, much else is new for cruisers. A second, new cruise pavilion has opened in Tallinn, Estonia, at Piers 26-27 with a currency exchange and tourist information counter, post office and souvenirs. In addition, a new restaurant is opening in the cruise area next to the helium balloon attraction. The famed “Estonian Youth Song and Dance Celebration” is set for June 30 to July 2, 2017. In Malmö, Sweden, a new bicycle rental system has just been introduced; visitors can purchase a one-day pass and there is a bicycle station close to the cruise harbor. Malmö also has complimentary two-hour English speaking walking tours. Sign up in advance at www.Malmowalkingtours.com.
New for 2017, Seabourn Cruise Line will call at Hamburg (Bremerhaven), Germany. Departing June 10 on a roundtrip from Copenhagen, Seabourn Quest will visit the port during its new 14-day “Norway and Scottish Isles” itinerary. Other Baltic region calls include Gothenburg, Sweden; Oslo and Arendal, Norway. Plus, it will visit UK ports and transit the Kiel Canal.