It was the first night of Celebrity Silhouette’s Baltic capitals cruise and the upcoming ports of call were the hot topic of dinner conversation. Unsurprisingly, St Petersburg was the most keenly anticipated port of call, and many around the table were using a cruise to visit Russia’s second city without having to go to the hassle of acquiring a visa.
But there’s more to cruising the Baltic Sea than a visa-free visit to St Petersburg. It’s also a fantastic way to visit some beautiful and diverse Baltic capitals, over a short space of time, in comfort and with ease.
I sailed from Southampton, England with Celebrity Cruises on their Solstice-class ship, Silhouette. Celebrity operates in the premium market and their cruises are priced accordingly. This is not budget travel by any means, but a touch of luxury. Launched in 2011, Celebrity Silhouette is one of the fleet’s large ships, accommodating 2,886 passengers.
But how should you go about planning a cruise on the Baltic Sea? And what can you expect from a cruise to St Petersburg on Celebrity Silhouette?
To help you plan your own Baltic capitals cruise, here are some general tips and a comprehensive review of my experience as a solo traveller on Celebrity Silhouette in May 2019. As you will be in each port for a limited time, I have also included mini-port guides to allow you to make the most of your time on-shore. Where it will be useful to you, click on the relevant links to access in-depth guides for each port.
Baltic capitals cruise: Top tips
What is the best time for cruising the Baltic Sea?
The Baltic Sea cruising season is limited, running from late April to September. June is considered to be one of the best times to visit Russia, with St Petersburg celebrating its ‘White Nights” in celebration of the near 24-hour daylight. However, the downside of this is that if you want to see St Petersburg at night, you will need to be out at silly o’clock.
Travelling in the shoulder season (late April / May and late September) can mean lower fares and fewer people. I travelled in late May which was a good balance between price and optimal cruising season. However, all of the ports we visited were busy.
What weather can you expect on a Baltic capitals cruise?
It is impossible to predict the weather in the Baltic capitals. Therefore, this should not determine which month you travel.
Summer temperatures typically hover in the 60s and 70s, but it can also be cold and damp. St. Petersburg is famous for having four seasons in one day, which I experienced.
Which cruise lines go to St. Petersburg?
All of the big players – Celebrity, Costa, Cunard, Disney, Fred Olsen, Holland America, MSC, Norwegian, P&O, Princess, Royal Caribbean – offer Baltic Sea cruises. Smaller, high-end lines, such as Crystal and Regent Seven Seas, also sail there.
I chose Celebrity for the following reasons:
- Prior experience – I was impressed with them on a previous cruise to the Western Caribbean
- Sailing out of Southampton – no flights required
- Itinerary – included cities I wanted to visit and two nights in port in St Petersburg
Baltic capitals cruise itineraries
Most Baltic capitals cruises are for nine – 14 nights and will include many of the following ports: Copenhagen, Tallinn, Oslo, Stockholm, Helsinki, Warnemunde (for Berlin) and St Petersburg. Increasingly, places like Riga, Hamburg, Bruges and Gdansk may appear on longer itineraries.
Embarkation port may also be a deciding factor. Common embarkation ports are Southampton, Stockholm, Copenhagen and Hamburg.
Shorter, seven /eight-night cruises are also available. However, these may be one-way journeys, stopping at a limited number of ports and spending just one day in St Petersburg. Mini-cruises from Stockholm are also available.
It is well worth spending time checking out the itineraries offered by the cruise companies to decide which is the best fit for you.
What should you pack for a cruise on the Baltic Sea?
Clothing to pack
Bearing in mind the unpredictability of the weather, pack for all seasons by bringing layers. Pack for the worst weather but hope for the best.
For exploring the ports of call, t-shirts, jeans, jumpers, and a waterproof jacket. And ditch the stilettos for sensible walking shoes or trainers. In the spirit of optimism, also pack a few summer dresses and a pair of shorts.
And don’t forget your glad rags for the more formal nights on board.
Other items to bring
Camera – First and foremost, do pack the best camera that you have. The Baltic capitals scream out for the finest camera lens that money will buy.
Binoculars – A small pair of binoculars will also come in handy. The views as you sail into Copenhagen are sensational, and a set of bins will allow you to pick out details on land from afar.
What type of cabin should you book?
The type of cabin that you book will depend largely on your budget and preferences.
I always book a balcony cabin. This is because I like to have fresh air wafting into my cabin and my own outside space.
Unlike some cruises – for example, a cruise along the fjords of Norway – the main attractions of a Baltic Sea cruise are the destinations, not the scenery as you sail by. But, having said that, some of the approaches into port were spectacular.
However, if you like a 100% dark room to sleep in you may wish to reconsider. One of the advantages of cruising Scandinavia and the Baltic Sea in summer is the long days. But the flip side is that the sun may be streaming through your window in the wee small hours.
That said, early morning light does wake me up but this was not a problem in my balcony cabin on this cruise. I guess that the cabins on Celebrity Silhouette have excellent blackout curtains.
Should you book a shore excursion on a Baltic capitals cruise?
With the exception of St Petersburg, I did not book any shore excursions. Exploring the ports of call on this Baltic capitals cruise was straightforward. Where the ship did not berth near the centre of town, easy public transport options were available.
However, if you want to explore further afield and there is a risk that you may not able to do this under your own steam, take a look at the shore excursions on offer. If you have your heart set on a particular trip, book to avoid disappointment.
Cut costs by eating on board
Make no mistake. The Scandinavian ports of call – Copenhagen, Stockholm and Helsinki – are very expensive. For this reason alone, visiting them on a Baltic Sea cruise makes perfect sense as this insulates you from these high costs.
Therefore, fill your face with the food onboard, which you have already paid for. Set yourself up for the day with a big breakfast and bring a few snacks to keep you going.
This was less important in the other ports of call that I visited. Tallinn and Warnemude were relatively inexpensive and lunch was provided on the St Petersburg excursions.
Baltic capitals cruise on Celebrity Silhouette: Itinerary review.
This is a destination-rich cruise with six ports of call. Let’s take a look at it day by day.
DAY ONE: LEAVING SOUTHAMPTON
At 4 pm on a mild Sunday afternoon, Celebrity Sillhouette let go of her mooring lines and we were underway. Passing Fawley oil refinery, the ship continued along the Solent following the eastern coastline of the Isle of Wight. It then took a sharp turn at Portsmouth to enter the Dover Strait.
DAY TWO: AT SEA
Oil rig-dodging day. The Silhouette continued along the North Sea, edging towards Denmark and Norway
DAY THREE: COPENHAGEN, DENMARK
Boasting cobbled streets, gabled townhouses splashed with more colour than a box of crayons, a cutting-edge design scene and effortlessly cool shops, Copenhagen was the first port of call on this Baltic capitals cruise.
Where does the ship berth?
Celebrity Silhouette docked at Ocean Quay (Oceankaj) Cruise Terminal which is 6 km north of Copenhagen city centre. This is where most large ships park up but, if you are lucky, you may disembark at Langelinie Quay just north of the Little Mermaid.
What can I do in Copenhagen?
- Take a Copenhagen Harbour Tour
- Pay your respects to The Little Mermaid (Den Lille Havfrue)
- Visit The Design Museum (Design Museum Danmark)
- Explore Nyhavn, the poster child of Copenhagen
- Visit Christianshavn and Freetown Christiana
- Visit the Tivoli Gardens
How can I get around Copenhagen?
As most of the main sights are grouped close together, your best bet is to get around on foot.
DAY FOUR: COPENHAGEN
DAY FIVE: AT SEA
DAY SIX: TALLINN, ESTONIA
Visitors justifiably swoon over Tallinn for its UNESCO-listed Old Town. But cross its railway tracks to discover Telliskivi Creative City with its street art, craft beer and designer studios, and the iconic wooden buildings of Kalamaja.
Where does the ship berth?
Cruise ships berth at Tallinn’s Old City Harbour, less than 1 km from the edge of the Old Town.
What can I do in Tallinn?
- Take a walking tour of Tallinn’s Old Town
- Visit Alexander Nevsky Cathedral
- Buy a love potion at Europe’s oldest operational pharmacy
- Treat yourself to lunch at one of Tallinn’s great restaurants, washed down with a craft beer
- Cross the railway tracks to visit Kalamaja and Telliskivi
How can I get around Tallinn?
As its main sights are close to each other, Tallinn is very walkable. Wear sturdy shoes for those cobblestones though.
DAY SEVEN: ST. PETERSBURG, RUSSIA
Closely associated with the lives and fate of the Romanovs, Russia’s Imperial Family, Petersburg is a city that makes you think in exclamation marks. Built on the network of islands, crisscrossed by 65 rivers and canals, its beauty is equalled only by its rich history.
Where does the ship berth?
Like most ships, Celebrity Silhouette berthed at the Marine Façade Complex, 5 km northwest of the city centre.
What can I do in St. Petersburg?
St. Petersburg’s attractions are too numerous to mention but two days there will allow you to take in some of these city’s highlights:
- The Hermitage
- Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood
- St Peter & St Paul Fortress
- St Isaac’s Cathedral
- St Petersburg canal cruise
- Riding St Petersburg’s metro
- Catherine Palace
- Peterhof Palace & Gardens
How do I visit St Petersburg without a visa?
If you have booked a shore excursion with an operator approved by the Russian authorities, you will not need a visa to visit St Petersburg on a cruise. However, if you choose to visit St Petersburg independently from a cruise, most visitors will need to apply for a visa before leaving on their cruise.
How can I get around St. Petersburg?
As most visitors to St Petersburg on a cruise will be taking an organised tour, you will not need to find your way around the city.
DAY EIGHT: ST. PETERSBURG, RUSSIA
DAY NINE: HELSINKI, FINLAND
Also called “Daughter of the Baltic”, Helsinki occupies a peninsula and a fringe of several small islands. It is known for not only its stunning natural environment but also its architecture, sauna culture, design scene and its unique gastronomy.
Where does the ship berth?
Most larger cruise ships berth at Hernesaari cruise terminal, which is around 3 km from the centre of Helsinki. If you are lucky, your ship may berth at South Harbour, which is within easy walking distance of the market square.
What can I do in Helsinki?
- Go souvenir shopping in Kuappatori (market square)
- Visit Uspenskin Katedraali (Russian Orthodox Cathedral)
- Visit the neoclassical Tuomiokirkko (Lutheran Cathedral)
- Visit one of the world’s most beautiful railway stations
- Explore an extraordinary church hewn out of rock (Temppeliaukio)
- Take a boat to Suomenlinna fortress
How can I get around Helsinki?
Most of Helsinki’s main attractions are scattered over a relatively compact, and therefore walkable, area.
DAY TEN: STOCKHOLM, SWEDEN
I defy any visitor to Stockholm to not be seduced by its setting and its medieval old town. With its Baltic Sea archipelago, Sweden’s capital boasts the most spectacular approach of any port that I have visited on a cruise.
Where does the ship berth?
Stockholm has two major cruise terminals: Frihamnen and the more central Stadsgården. However, if you are unlucky, your ship may park up at Nynashamn, 36 miles south of Stockholm.
What can I do in Stockholm?
- Visit the temple to Abba (Abba Museum)
- Walk around Gamla Stan (Stockholm Old Town)
- Visit the Royal palace (Kungliga Slottet)
- Explore Sweden’s past at the Vasa Museum
- Admire Stockholm’s metro stations
How can I get around Stockholm?
Many of the main tourist sights are clustered around Gamla Stan and therefore easily walkable. For sights further out, use Stockholm’s excellent integrated public transport system
DAY ELEVEN: AT SEA
DAY TWELVE: WARNEMÜNDE, GERMANY
Although Warnemünde is marketed as Berlin, I say skip the long day-trip to the German capital. Instead, spend your time on-shore here and in neighbouring Rostock. Warnemünde has a spectacular beach and laid-back vibe, and Rostock has an almost palpable historic charm.
Where does the ship berth?
Warnemünde’s town centre of town and its train station are an easy 10 – 15 minutes’ walk from the cruise terminal. Neighbouring Rostock is a 20-minute train journey away.
What can I do in Warnemünde?
- Take a day trip to Berlin
Like many cruise operators, Celebrity markets Warnemünde as Berlin (Warnemünde). However, with a six-hour return journey, visiting Berlin from Warnemünde is a very long and expensive day trip.
- Explore Rostock’s Hanseatic past
- Stroll along Warnemündes spectacular sandy beach
- Pick up a portion of delicious and cheap fresh seafood from Warnemünde’s vendors
DAY 13 & DAY 14: AT SEA
Waving goodbye to Germany, Celebrity Silhouette retraced her tracks through the gas and oil fields of the North Sea into the busy Dover Strait, reaching the Solent waters in the early hours of Sunday morning. During the cruise, the Silhouette had travelled a total distance of 3398 nautical miles.
What is the experience on-board Celebrity Silhouette?
A Baltic Sea cruise on Celebrity Silhouette is a premium, large ship traditional cruising experience with a contemporary twist. Although the ship felt a little tired in places – the old girl is due for a rest and spruce up in dry dock in January 2020 – the Sillhouette is still a gorgeous, modern cruise ship.
Celebrity Silhouette Review
Celebrity Silhouette is a beautifully designed vessel. From its thoughtfully-curated modern art collection – check out the video installation of caged birds next to the World Class Bar – to its sleekly styled public areas, it is a pleasure to stroll her decks.
The ship boasts some tasteful indoor areas for those days at sea. Curl up with a good book on one of the library’s chairs. Or chill out with a coffee in a wicker cocoon in the Hideaway on deck 7.
CABINS ON CELEBRITY SILHOUETTE
Celebrity Silhouette has 25 different classes of cabins (staterooms), 85% of which have balconies. These range from interior and ocean-view cabins for the budget-conscious, through to veranda (balcony) cabins and suites. Size-wise, these start at 177 sq feet and go all the way up to whopping 1,291 square feet.
I had a balcony cabin, which was spacious at 194 sq feet, excluding the balcony, and was decorated in tasteful neutral tones. The queen-sized bed was comfortable, the pillows plump and the linen of good quality. The cabin also featured a fixed desk with a chair, sofa bed, a small coffee table and a wardrobe.
As a solo traveller, I found that storage space was adequate. There were three deep drawers in the desk and two cubbies above the bed. Weirdly, there were no drawers in the wardrobe. Those travelling as a couple reported that they struggled with the cabins’ storage capacity.
The large wall-mounted TV had a limited choice of channels. Nine of these were Celebrity’s own channels – shopping channels, future cruises, view from the bridge, dining. The remaining 15 channels are the usual suspects; news channels, sports channels. There were also nine free on-demand movies, and a further extensive selection available for just under 15 USD per view.
There was a decent-sized fridge, a kettle and tea and coffee supplies, which were replenished each day. Note that tea and coffee facilities are available only on cruises departing the UK. We Brits love our cuppa in the morning!
There were just two US flat-pin sockets and one European round-pin socket. There were no three-pin (British) sockets. All of these sockets were by the desk, none at the bedside.
The small bathroom was modern-looking and well-designed, with ample storage options. No nasty nylon shower curtains here. Instead, you get a shower stall with pleasingly curved sliding doors.
The ‘Replenish’ brand of shampoo, conditioner and body lotion were provided. These were not worthy of adding to the contents of your suitcase on disembarkation at Southampton. Oddly, shower gel is provided only to those travelling in Concierge Class or above.
Many of the towels had seen better days. A small 1200-watt hairdryer was also provided, but if you want something with more oomph I recommend that you bring your own. A waffle bathrobe was provided but no slippers.
At 54 sq feet, the balcony was roomy and accommodated two reclining chairs and a small table.
The room was serviced twice a day.
FOOD AND DRINK
This is where Celebrity excels; it is considered to lead the pack when it comes to dining afloat. Its strength lies in its innovative approach and its focus on freshly cooked food. Unlike some other ships, food will not have been hanging around waiting to be claimed.
Food in the Grand Cuvée, the Silhouette’s main dining room (MDR), was consistently excellent with service to match. This double-height dining room is a stunning space, featuring a central room-filling chandelier and a wine tower occupied by 2,500 bottles.
The Oceanview Café on deck 14 is Sillhouetts’s buffet restaurant. Breakfast here was great with a broad selection of food, including freshly cooked eggs served with a smile. There was a similarly extensive selection at lunch and at many of the stations, you could ask for food cooked fresh to order.
However, the Oceanview Café was blighted by insufficient capacity for a fully occupied cruise. At peak times, it was a challenge to find a seat. The often inclement weather didn’t help as this meant that outdoor seating was out of bounds.
Celebrity Silhouette’s six speciality dining venues, which incur an additional cover charge, are an alternative to the buffet and MDR. These range from Murano (fancy French food) to Tuscan Grille (fine Italian fare) to Sushi on Five.
As the food in the MDR was so good, I didn’t feel the need to try out these venues. However, they have an excellent reputation.
There are bars-a-plenty on Celebrity Silhouette with 11 to choose from, each with its selling point. Sadly, many of the bars had a disappointing lack of atmosphere and the Ensemble Bar and Cellar Masters were downright gloomy. My favourite bars were Celebrity’s signature ice-topped Martini Bar and the Sky Lounge at the front of the ship on deck 14.
POOLS & RECREATION
As it wasn’t exactly sun lounger weather, it was a challenge to bag a sheltered outdoors spot on sea days. Adjacent to the main pool, the adults-only Solarium is a peaceful, covered area featuring a pool, hot tubs, fountain and comfortable loungers. Pool towels are available.
Two decks up, there is a jogging track and on deck 14 you will find the Solstice class’s signature Lawn Club. This grass-topped recreational area is a lovely spot. Sadly, the gusts of wind from the Baltic Sea did not favour its use.
The Silhouette’s spacious gym is well-equipped, although the air-con could have been a bit more vigorous.
ENTERTAINMENT & ACTIVITIES
Daytime activities are structured around the Celebrity Life programme. These include culinary activities, enrichment events, trivia & games and wellness.
The main entertainment space is the two-level Silhouette Theatre which has ample seating and good sightlines. The programme was underwhelming and was largely a modern take traditional song & dance revue-style shows with the ship’s own company & guest artists. Don’t expect the Broadway-style or Cirque du Soleil shows you may find on other cruise lines.
At night, the Sky Lounge hosts music and dance parties.
Movies were shown each day in Celebrity Central, a smaller theatre space.
LAUNDRY FACILITIES ON CELEBRITY SILHOUETTE
There is no self-service laundry onboard Celebrity Silhouette. A bag of laundry will cost you just under 50 USD. Wait for the special offer mid-way into the cruise. Otherwise, you will be paying a hefty per item charge.
Note that if you are an Elite Member of Celebrity’s Captain’s Club, you will get a complimentary bag of laundry.
CELEBRITY’S CUSTOMER SERVICE
This is where Celebrity truly excels and the main reason why I would book another cruise with them. Service was consistently excellent and you get the impression that the Silhouette is a happy ship.
What is the dress code on Celebrity Silhouette?
In the MDR, the evening dress code on Celebrity Silhouette was either Smart Casual or Evening Chic. With the exception of swimwear, baseball caps, flip flops and bare feet, anything goes in the buffet restaurant.
The cruise line describes Smart Casual, which is the dress code for most of your nights on-board, as:
- Women – Skirt, pants or jeans with a casual top
- Men – pants or jeans with a short-sleeve sport shirt
Celebrity has given the Formal Night a modern reboot. Replaced by Evening Chic, tuxedos and evening gowns are no longer necessary. Although dressier than Smart Casual, in the words of the cruise line:
Women should feel comfortable wearing:
- A cocktail dress
- Skirt, pants or designer jeans with an elegant top
Men should feel comfortable wearing:
- Pants or designer jeans with a dress shirt, button-down shirt or sweater
- Optional sport coat or blazer
We had three Evening Chic nights on this 14-night cruise.
Who can I expect my fellow passengers to be?
Celebrity is an American company, but the guests on board were an international mix. Unsurprisingly, as we were sailing from Southampton, there was a generous proportion of Brits but my fellow passengers included those from the US, Canada, Australia and other European countries.
The age range was broad – cruising is no longer the preserve of older people – and passengers seemed to be a mixture of couples and groups of friends. I did not come across any other solo travellers.
As one week of this two-week cruise would have been in term-time, children were few. However, Celebrity is not as kiddie-friendly as some of the other cruise lines. Having said that, there are kids’ clubs and activities on board.
What is it like to cruise like as a solo traveller?
This was an excellent solo traveller experience. Cruises are very social environments and I met great people with whom I dined, drank, talked and danced with. Loneliness never had an opportunity to bite.
All of the ports of call felt safe, and where public transport was needed this was good
However, cruises for solo travellers are often not budget-friendly. Solo cabins are hard to come by and are often smaller spaces in less desirable locations. The premium for solo occupancy can be hefty.
The tide is slowly changing. For example, Celebrity’s newest ship – Edge – is the first in the fleet to introduce single staterooms. It is reported that this trend will continue with the company’s new ships in the pipeline.
Baltic Sea cruise on Celebrity Silhouette: The verdict
Cruising the Baltic Sea to St Petersburg on Celebrity Silhouette is a premium traditional cruising experience with a modern, upbeat twist. It is a beautifully designed ship with consistently high standards of dining and customer service.
This is a fantastic, destination-rich itinerary. The ports of call represent a rich spectrum of cultures, history and traditions, and cruising is a time-efficient way of visiting these cities.
A minor downside is that for most of the ports of call visited, the ship does not berth near the centre of town. This means that, unless you wish to purchase an excursion, you need to do a little homework to identify your transport options. However, once you do this, getting to and from the ports is straightforward.
Including gratuities, I paid just over £4,400 for sole occupation of a balcony cabin on this 14-day Baltic capitals cruise with Celebrity Silhouette. This included a complimentary alcoholic drinks package, wi-fi and onboard credit.
Although this is not cheap, other than the shore excursion in St Petersburg, I had minimal additional travel expenses. It is also worth noting that Denmark, Finland and Sweden would be expensive countries to visit in their own right, and Russian visas do not come cheap.