Someone once said ‘flying business class is the best holiday anyone can have’, referring to the bottomless bubbly, comfortable beds and total lack of pressure to do anything or be anywhere. They had clearly never experienced the wall-to-wall joy that is a luxury cruise.
When a smiling steward pressed a glass of French Champagne into my icy hand, I knew everything was going to be just fine. We had just stepped aboard the Crystal Symphony, hurrying from a freezing slate-grey Warnemünde rain into a warm, luxurious, thickly carpeted haven, tinkling with piano music and sparkling with bubbly. It was pretty much exactly how I hope arriving in heaven will be: all light and warmth and people looking surprisingly pleased to see me. It turns out what everyone says about cruising is absolutely true: it’s travel without the boring bits.
Luxury Cruise Travel To St Petersburg Photo Gallery
There is nothing to do except exactly what you want to: you’re home, no matter what country you’re in. And it’s probably the most luxurious home you’ve ever been in, complete with sweeping flights of stairs, vast flower arrangements, the most comfortable bed in the world and a couple of grand pianos. Even better – there are no queues, no delays, no lugging heavy bags, no fretting over details. When you dock in a new port, you just saunter down that gangway, handbag over your arm, sunnies in place, just like Beyoncé on her summer hols. And that is the best feeling of all. W Never having been on a cruise ship before, I couldn’t wait to have a look around.
So after checking into my stateroom – complete with private verandah! – I headed straight for the spa to steam away the last 24 hours of travel and to ferret out any ship gossip (always the best place). Plus, I needed to primp myself into prime condition for the trip ahead: a slow cruise on the Baltic Sea, stopping off at three of the most magical cities ever: St Petersburg in Russia, Tallinn in Estonia and, finally, Stockholm in Sweden. Don’t know about you, but I think those are possibly the most glamorous eight days I can imagine, right there. Crystal Cruises is the most awarded luxury cruise line in the world, and I know exactly why – the Symphony is 12 storeys of everything you could possibly wish for, all under one roof and on the move: the spa and salon, complete with steam room, sauna and medi-spa with resident doctor (South African, I heard from my lovely Macedonian beauty therapist, and ‘the absolute best at botox anywhere in the world’); shops, two gyms, six different entertainment venues and bars, a cinema, casino, library and business lounge, four different in-house dining options and eateries with another three speciality restaurants – one of which is Nobu (Crystal not only has the only Nobu restaurant at sea, but the great man himself often pops in to see how things are going); world-class lectures on topics such as global warming, the escapades of the Russian royals, the latest anti-ageing science, dance, astrology and making your own iPad movies; two swimming pools, a hot tub, paddle tennis court, golf putting green and driving nets, early-morning yoga, Pilates, jogging and Alpine walking (on a ship?!)
Boredom is clearly not something you need to fear on a cruise. At the end of my explorations on that first day I hadn’t yet seen half of what the Crystal Symphony has to offer, but it was time to meet my fellow journalists for a cocktail on the Palm Deck before dinner. Terrible job, journalism. mall, sleepy and picturesque, Warnemünde is a seaside town that does a fine line in stripy canvas deckchairs lined up on a windswept beach, and some rather interesting street artists who somehow seemed able to withstand the force of gravity. After a great night’s sleep (something to do with that bed and the sea breeze wafting in from my verandah) we had time for a brisk walk before setting sail for St Petersburg. It is totally thrilling when the ship’s engines start up: you take up a spot with good visuals in one of the lounges or salons, or on deck, preferably with a glass of bubbly.
The captain announces the departure, the klaxon sounds and, as the ship pulls away from its berth, Louis Armstrong’s ‘What a Wonderful World’ is piped through the speakers. I completely understand why people fall in love with cruising – it’s because the possibilities seem endless. I loved the rhythm of being at sea: the Crystal Symphony is so big and stable that, even in a storm, you are hardly aware of any movement at all. But to watch the open sea stream past those huge picture windows is an absolute rush. The Baltic Legends Cruise travels the Gulf of Finland, fondly referred to as ‘The Pool’ by the locals, not only because the water is relatively unsalty, but also because in some places it’s only eight to 10 metres deep. We were at sea for one full day en route to St Petersburg, and it was deeply relaxing, because there is absolutely nothing you need to do: everything is sorted for you, which is an unusual experience. So we were very well rested and ready to explore when we arrived – an excellent thing, because there’s so much to see.
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