Saint Petersburg

    Saint Petersburg

    Looking to destress? Don’t rule out a cruise

    21 February 2018

    ‘You want a relaxing honeymoon? Just go on a cruise.’ It was a friend’s suggestion and frankly I thought it was bonkers. Hawaiian shirts, cocktails with paper umbrellas and doddery retirees sprang to mind. My husband Matt and I are both in our mid-twenties. This didn’t seem like the romantic, once-in-a-lifetime adventure we were looking for.

    But the friend was insistent. ‘Trust me. There is no more laid-back way to travel,’ she said. Other experienced cruisers we know backed her up. And over the months that followed, I was slowly won over. We’re American and had spent months planning our wedding in Ireland, which involved a week’s worth of entertainment for 220 travelling guests. I’m no Bridezilla, but it consisted of crazy levels of organisation and a fair bit of stress. I badly needed to unwind.

    However we did our honeymoon, I knew we wanted to explore and see lots. There was no way one hotel in one place would be enough. So there was a risk we would end up packing and unpacking our bags non-stop and spending ages travelling between different destinations. We might end up fretting about the itinerary more than enjoying what we were there to see. This was not my idea of fun, especially as a chronic overpacker.

    So a cruise made sense. It offered the chance to visit a variety of places, and stress-free travel between them. After lots of research, we chose Celebrity Cruises — an all-inclusive two-week Baltic Sea cruise that departed from Southampton and sailed to Denmark, Estonia, Russia, Finland, Sweden and Germany. It began superbly. On boarding, we were made to feel like old-timers rather than complete newbies. The staff were impeccably polite and Dom Pérignon was waiting for us in our room.

    I only had one small worry: what on earth had we done with our bags? But there was no need to be concerned — seamlessly, they were delivered to our room by a friendly porter. After that, we enjoyed the champagne and quietly watched the shoreline fade into the distance. In a few days, with absolutely no effort on our part, we’d be waking up in Denmark.

    Downton Abbey fantasies: (TOP) Saint Petersburg, (LEFT) dog-sledding in Finland (RIGHT) the ship’s impressive pool
    Dog-sledding in Finland and the ship’s impressive pool

    The suite was luxurious: large, with a living room and balcony. It also came with a butler, fulfilling my Downton Abbey fantasies (you’ll have to forgive an American girl for that). Nicola, a charming Neapolitan, was wonderful. From the get-go he greeted our every request with ‘Of course, of course!’ and made me feel as though having breakfast in bed and champagne every evening before dinner was the only way to live.

    The more I explored the ship, the more I realised it was a kind of floating palace. It had shops, a casino, a theatre, multiple pools, a gelateria (my favourite), tons of restaurants, bars and cafés. ‘Why yes, I will have another Mimosa,’ is a phrase I was happy to wear out. And an all-inclusive deal meant it was mostly guilt-free.

    Our fellow-travellers were mainly British, with a handful of Americans thrown in, making me feel at times as if I were on a 21st-century Titanic or in an Agatha Christie novel. It didn’t take long for us to become friends with a couple from Santa Fe, New Mexico. Gary was sensible and good-natured, and saw it as his duty to teach my newly wedded husband that ‘Yes, darling’ are the two most important words in a marriage. His wife Gail was winsome and smiling and together they have cruised 67 times, which takes some beating.

    As for our days on shore, it was hard to fault them. True, we could have spent weeks in each of the cities we visited, but we had just about long enough to see the highlights and get a real sense of each place. Some of them we felt eager to revisit the minute we’d left; others we were perfectly content to bid farewell to.

    Estonia’s capital, Tallinn, has one of the best preserved medieval town centres in northern Europe and a fairytale quality to it. Stockholm’s cafés, museums and general breezy air were so refreshing. The romantic palaces of Saint Petersburg were a visual feast — and dog-sledding in Finland was an exhilarating experience that I will remember for the rest of my life.

    On board, there was something for everyone, from wine tasting to line dancing (more fun that you might think). So did our honeymoon change my opinion of cruising? You bet. Matt and I decided that there’s a simple reason cruises attract an older crowd: with the wisdom of age, they have worked out how to travel with zero stress. I’m a convert.

    From £1,320 per person for 14 nights, excluding flights;