While 2018 has been a banner year for travel here at TWA, it already looks as if 2019 is shaping up fair to be even more so. In fact, the bar on that one was raised considerably by some very welcome news I received yesterday morning about one particular, much anticipated trip.
It puts me back aboard an old favourite cruise ship of mine-Fred. Olsen’s spacious, graceful Balmoral- on a fourteen night run out of Newcastle’s Port of Tyne to the capital cities of Scandinavia and back again. Leaving in early May, it’s the perfect time to get up close and personal to some of the most stunning highlights of that beautiful cruising region.
The cruise showcases overnight stays in both Stockholm and St. Petersburg, both cities that cry out for more than simply a one day stay. There’s also vibrant, beguiling Copenhagen, still very much the fun, summertime capital of Scandinavia, plus a visit to cool, cosmopolitan Helsinki and fairy tale, Olde Worlde Tallinn, in Estonia.
Unusually for such an itinerary, there’s also a welcome call int at Oslo, Norway’s green, gracious capital, on the way back to the Tyne. Throw in no less than three full, idyllic sea days, and you’ve got an itinerary that ticks almost every box imaginable.
The visual highlights en route are almost effortlessly impressive. Imagine close quarter cruising among the scores of amazing, pine clad islands in the Stockholm archipelago in the long, lingering afterglow of the ‘white nights’, and the warm, whimsical fairground lights of Copenhagen’s Tivoli Gardens in the first, full bloom of the spring.
There’s the amazing waterside splay of splendid Italianate architecture that lines the still, silent canals of Saint Petersburg, where the enormous glut of gold and gilt at Petrodeverts serves as a timely reminder of past excess and corruption. The winding, cobbled streets of Tallinn are dominated by towering, tapered Gothic church spires and gaunt castle walls dating back to the Middle Ages. Here, in a city blighted by both communism and fascism, that darker past is never too far below the gingerbread veneer that exists today.
Helsinki flaunts green, open spaces, cutting edge architecture and timeless Art Nouveau elegance, along a waterfront where fleets of fishing boats sit at anchor, while scores of seabirds wheel and screech all around them. And, as a fabulous finale, the stately, sixty mile inland sail to Norway’s capital of Oslo is one of the scenic, sublime processions from open sea to city on offer anywhere in the world.
It’s a fabulous smorgasbord of a trip and, just like any great feast, there’s one key element and mindset at the heart of it all that sets the tone for everything else. In this case, it just happens to be the ship herself.
Balmoral is warm, welcoming and spacious. A ship that typifies style, rather than hype. the ‘gimmicks’ here are genuinely gracious service allied to fine food, served in a variety of venues, and a warm, welcoming sense of care and concern for the passengers on board. It’s as much serene as it is surreal.
With passenger numbers on board kept to just under 1400, Balmoral is majestic yet manageable in terms of on board space. She’s expansive, yet easy on the eye. For such a special itinerary as this, she’s the ideal ship; her size allows her ease of access to the prime berths in those historic city centres, while still allowing space enough for you to be as sociable or as secluded as you like.
Add to that the ease of a convenient local departure (Port of Tyne is literally a twenty five minute drive from my front door) and that special, sublime play of light on water that is one of the true highlights of the summertime Baltic, and you begin to understand why this trip has so much appeal to me.
There will always be those who assert that ‘familiarity breeds contempt’; in this case, I’d amend that to familiarity breeds contentment…..
Come aboard with me in May 2019, right here on TWA, and we’ll sail those epic Baltic idylls in fine, timeless style. Lovely stuff.