The Baltic- See You In 2009

September 30, 2008 -

John Heald

So, where are you going for your vacation next year? The Caribbean? Florida? Alaska?
The list of possibilities is seemingly endless. But it’s not as long as the list of places you don’t even consider. Chad, for instance, or Tripoli. I bet you never really thought about Sierra Leone either, or Iran. But topping the list of places I bet you’re not going to is Germany.

Don’t you think that’s a bit weird? I mean most of the places that don’t stack up as tourist resorts fail because you’re afraid you’ll be shot or you’ll come home with an interesting new disease. Neither is even a remote possibility, however, if you take the family to Germany.

And there’s more. What is it that Italy has that Bavaria lacks? There are mountains, lakes and the promise of many cloudless days sitting around a swimming pool. You can even find a bottle of local wine that will make you just as drowsy as the stuff you get in Italy.

And then there are the people. Proud though they may be, they are as friendly as Paris Hilton after a night on the vodka and, unlike my friends from Rome, they won’t be wearing blue suits with brown shoes and they won’t be looking at your bottom.

Yes, you might be thinking, the Germans do look like us but they are not like us because they have no sense of humor. Really? So when was the last time an Italian made you laugh? How many times have you left a French restaurant with your sides aching from laughter? And where’s the comedy in taking a donkey to the top of a bell tower and hurling it over the side like the Spanish?

The Germans, on the other hand, do have humor. It’s just tuned a little differently from ours. To prove this, I shall now tell you a German joke. A man is out shooting rabbits with his friend. He takes aim and misses, slightly to ze left. So he reloads, aims again and misses by the same margin to the right. He then puts his rifle away. “What are you doing?” says the friend. “Well,” says the man, “on average, ze rabbit is dead.” …..OK, it’s not funny to you but tell that to someone from Germany and they will be calling for the oxygen.

So why do they find it so hilarious when we don’t? Well, that’s simple. Our humor is based around cruelty whereas there it is based around math (and farting, obviously).

So, what has this got to do with your carefully chosen vacation next year? ………………

Simple……………… need to see just how visually stunning Germany is. You need to see how funny, friendly and personable the Germans are. You need to see their capital city Berlin…………..and you need to see it on the Carnival Liberty’s 2009 Baltic season.

You see, I was one of the millions of people who would have never added Germany to my bucket list of places to visit. And probably you and I could have said the same about Denmark, Finland and Estonia and others……………but having spent the last few months visiting these places on the Carnival Splendor, I am here to tell you………..they should have been on my list of places to see…………and they must be on yours.

For those of you who have not met me or visited my blog thingy before I want to tell you a bit about myself.

I look like Brad Pitt but more cuddly.

Good, now that’s out of the way let’s crack on with my guide thingy as to why you should join me on the Carnival Liberty’s 2009 Baltic season.

Now…………don’t go away…………don’t be tempted to log off and go back to eBay to find a pair of underwear signed by Elvis…………this won’t be your usual travelogue and it won’t just be loaded with facts and figures that you could easily get from one of those travel guide thingies. That’s because there are going to be 30-minute-plus videos from each port and no doubt I will pepper this thingy with my own rather basic brand of humour………spelt correctly.

So, back to Germany. The Carnival Liberty will dock in the former East German town of Warnemunde which since the fall of the Berlin Wall has re-invented itself and changed from a grey and faceless town into a colorful and warm place full of charm and …………. fish.

Warnemunde is a busy ferry port and a busy fishing port, as well, and watching the fishing vessels dock and unload their catch and sell it straight to the many waterside restaurants quite something.

There are many small shops selling….. ummm ……… fish…………and other souvenirs and with it’s long English-style promenade and beautiful beach……….yep………..beautiful beach……….yes……… Germany………….it is the perfect place to relax and the perfect place to forget…………that not so long ago, the fish would have been given straight to the government and that the beach was festooned with barb wire, guard towers and huge signs saying ACHTUNG!…………….

Germany has a history and one that it is keen to open its doors to and ask you in. And, of course, for the best view of this country’s history that affected most of the world………you have to go to Berlin.
The Carnival Liberty will have private trains to take you to Berlin and the comments from guests this season all had one reoccurring theme……………WOW.

I know professional travel writers would be able to use long and complicated words to describe Berlin but considering I am not a professional writer — and that I can’t spell any word with more than eight letters in it…………I am going to stick to WOW. ………….oh, and that’s what people said to me as they arrived back onboard………..WOW.

The whole city is packed with culture, history and attractions. WOW. The transparent dome of the Reichstag, WOW you should have seen the Platz der Republik, it’s architecture at its best, WOW the views are incredible……… every which way you look.

You can gaze down into the debating chamber of the German parliament; across the void to the ingenious double walkways that spiral to the summit; or out onto the Brandenburg Gate and across the vast Tiergarten Park to the Kurfürstendamm. WOW, I got to stand where the Berlin Wall stood and where parts still of this hated symbol of a divided Europe still stand. WOW…to see the Checkpoint Charlie museum, near the former East-West crossing point, which chronicles the many daring escape attempts and the blood spilled.

These WOWs were heard each time guests went to Berlin and it’s why you should go too. Berlin is impressive, enjoyable, challenging………… and never quite what you expect.

There is, of course, a place that we give you the chance to visit that will change your life…………… is what I wrote back in April.

However, now as I sit here on the bus for the three-hour ride to Warnemunde, I only have thoughts for the place I just came from………Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp. We walked as the prisoners did up to the huge foreboding iron gates that have the feared insignia of the SS on either side and in the middle the words “Arbeit Macht Frei,” which translates to ”work will give you freedom.”……..Nothing was further than the truth as this was the place where 50,000 Jews, Russian soldiers and anyone who did not fit Hitler’s “Kampf” died. We listened to the stories from our expert guide about the torture and we visited the cells and chambers where these acts were carried out. Then there were the stories about the children…oh, the children…I cannot even bring myself to write the words.

I asked yesterday if we should offer this tour and I see from your comments that you all agree we should. I admit to having misgivings but now I am positive we should.

I sit feeling heartbroken and pure unadulterated anger for what I have seen but I know that we must offer guests a chance to experience what I just did……..and do as I just did and pray for those whom we must never forget.

OK, as promised here is the first of the videos. Now before you click on the play thingy let me explain something. Myself and my wife Heidi and the shore excursion team went on location to film some Travel Channel-style video footage which we play on the guest televisions. When I say Travel Channel……well………it was a little different. They have huge teams of cameraman, sound engineers; make-up artists and beautiful women supplying the host with anything he needs. …….we had Theo…………who was cameraman, soundman and supplied me the host……….with bugger all.

As for make up……….well………I refused to wear any and would rather tie a piece of old cheese to my thingy and have someone put a starved rat down my trousers………. than wear mascara and foundation.

The videos were also shot in early March which is why it may look a bit grey and wet on occasion. Remember you will be with me from May – September and if the weather in 2009 will be the same as this year……….it will be beautiful with an average temperature of 70 degrees and the sun will be in the sky.

So, sit back, grab yourself a Beck’s Beer and some Bratwurst and enjoy a look at Warnemunde and Berlin and this will for sure ……….have you adding Berlin to your list of places you must see.

Oh, one more thing……………sorry about my red jacket……………my wife made me wear it.

Hope you enjoyed that after many visits to Germany’s capital ……..I would like to proclaim that from now on “Ich bin ein Berliner.”

Which means “I am a doughnut” ………..Das Bugger.

OK, let’s all have a bathroom break and when I come back we will chat about Finland.

Finland is beautiful and, yet, not of this earth. You are apparently in the normal world with your mobile phone and your pretty daughters but you spend all winter being frozen to death and all summer realizing that you live in one of the most jaw droppingly awesome places on earth…. Travel outside of Helsinki and you will have no reminders of the civilization you left behind… is not surprising that Neil Armstrong was sent here to train for his moonwalk.

The countryside is beautiful yet weird, the people are mad, the weather defies belief and some of their laws and customs leave you scratching your head.

You pay $80 for a bottle of house wine to accompany your plate of moose, reindeer or elk, which will be served to you by a lady who has completely see-through skin. However, you will not be bothered by any of this because you will be too baffled that unlike the rest of the world…………..night does not follow day.

In the world we live in, there are many uncertainties, but one thing we all relay on is that without fail the sun will set and day will become night. But here, from the end of April to the middle of September night is like turning your living room dimmer switch down a wee bit……………and in the month of June it doesn’t happen at all. It’s the most bizarre feeling to have it as bright at 4 am in the morning as it was at 4 pm that afternoon. Then, in the winter …well…….blink and you will miss daylight which lasts just two hours.

In the summer months, people from Finland rarely sleep and on Friday and Saturday nights…………..they do bugger all. They Finnish (pardon the pun) work, go home, have a few drinks, get showered, have a few drinks, change, have a few drinks, and then around 10 pm they all go out…………….I mean …………..they ALL go out.

This can be quite a shock if you are not from Finland but from Earth. When I was there on the familiarization trip and previously delivering the Carnival Legend I remember going out to dinner on a Friday night rather late…………it was 9 pm. I remember thinking “Bugger, I bet we are too late to get a table.”

But the streets and the restaurants were deserted and, as I sat with my plate of freshly murdered reindeer and potatoes, I noticed that as the night wore on the restaurant became busier and busier.

By 11:30 pm there were lines outside the restaurant I was in and outside every other one as well. So, I asked for the bill, which without the tip, came to the same price as Micky Arison was paying for the Carnival Legend……… and left.

When I did, I entered a world like nothing else. It was a huge street party ………. they were celebrating something special…….Friday night. I had seen nothing like it. If the Pope, The Queen Mary II and a naked Cameron Diaz and George Clooney all arrived at the same time, it would be nothing like Friday night in Helsinki.

To put it mildly…………..everyone was totally and utterly smashed, soused, hammered, blotto, out-of-their-white-faces drunk. There motto seemed to be that it was no use drinking the odd glass of beer now and then, it was too expensive and a waste of time …………..So why not wait until the weekend and drink 30 beers and two bottles of vodka?…………and that is exactly what they do.

It was the same with the shipyard workers who built the beautiful Spirit-class ships. Their work was faultless, the men and women who built the hull and welded the decks were the nicest most professional people in the world, and they built stunning vessels …… but come the weekend they turned into binge drinking nutters who would fill Coke bottles up with nine parts vodka and one part Coke…………and that was to drink on the bicycle ride home………….some were so pissed (that’s the British pissed) that they rode home on their bikes………….backwards.

The Friday night gathering in Helsinki lasts until late Sunday night where people go straight from the bar to work. It’s amazing…….the people of Finland seem to have developed the sleeping patterns of a turtle……….your awake for four months and then………………….you’re not.

If any country is thinking of invading Finland, I would suggest they do so between November and February because no bugger is awake…………….although you could also invade in June as well because everyone will be to drunk to care.

In fact last year Finland came second only to Iceland as the city with the least crime and the highest standard of living. The crime thing is easy to understand as it’s either too light to steal anything and in the winter its too cold……even now you can find men frozen to the spot with a stolen TV in their arms.

If I was to make a list of the most common complaints about the Baltic ports of call at the top of the list would be that guests want to spend more time in Helsinki. And I can understand why. Our most popular excursions took guests to Senate Square upon which stands the huge cathedral with its green domes and Herculean-sized pillars. Guests also loved the Rock Church and the harbor tours which featured a look at the huge fleet of icebreaker vessels ready to break open the ice which will, for sure, cover the harbour by the end of November.

Then, you must see Porvoo which is the second oldest town in Finland. It dates back older than some cruise director’s jokes……….1346. How often can you say you walked through a village that dates back to 1346 and that really has not changed since then? The houses built on stilts that are embedded in the river are still there and the many curiosity and handicraft shops that are full of real bargains. The most popular purchase from here is the hand made woolen sweaters. They are made in the same style no as they were hundreds of years ago and judging by the smiles on the Carnival guests’ faces …….the prices haven’t changed much either.

To get to Porvoo you travel through the Christmas tree forests and stop for some traditional food and drink…… which is anything with alcohol in it. There are tours to Finnish horse farms, people’s homes and the UNESCO World Heritage fortress that sits off the harbour.

It’s beautiful, barren, cold and hot with days of no daylight and nights with no night. At the weekends the people will fall over mid-sentence because they are so drunk and they welcome visitors from around the world with open and loving arms. The place is absolutely crazy and in my opinion………is one of God’s finest hours.

Let’s have a look at it with the second of our home videos. You can see just how cold it was in March and as you will see when we visit a typical Finnish country home (which was my favourite tour. by the way) that the ice had only just started to melt on the lake.

So, put down the Beck’s and the Bratwurst and pick up a glass of ….ummm…….anything alcoholic and a reindeer sandwich and enjoy a taste of Finland.

It was cold by that lake. Normally I can drink a lot without needing to visit the bathroom, but up there among the elk and the iced-over lake it was so damn cold that it kept me at the urinal for up to six hours at a time. And I don’t want to lower the tone, but it wasn’t only my bladder that shrank in the chill!

And now we arrive in Denmark’s capital, Copenhagen. This will be the first port of call on your Carnival Liberty adventure and it is the perfect start and really sets the tone for the adventures ahead.

So, what was my overall impression of Denmark? Well, they love fish; in fact they eat more fish than anyone in Europe….except the Swedish who are fish……

Denmark has built 5,000 wind turbines and it’s said that together they can produce enough electricity to meet 19 percent of the country’s needs.

But since they came on line, not a single one of Denmark’s normal power stations has been decommissioned. They are all running at full capacity because, while the wind turbines are theoretically capable of meeting nearly a fifth of the country’s demands, they produce nothing at all when the wind drops. So, unless the government decrees that the entire population of Denmark eats nothing but beans …..I am not sure why they are there.

Danish people also love gadgets and everyone seems to have an Eye pod or a wafer-thin mobile phone. The shopping district of Stroget is superb and is full of gadget shops. There are also lots of jewelry store and from what guests have told me the prices are brilliant…………….even with the exchange rate.

You can buy (and I am not joking) material that can store and display information from the Internet. This means that if, for some reason, you don’t want to read blog on the computer, you can – and I’m not joking – read it on your own underpants.

It’s the Bang & Olofsen way. Put some simple Japanese technology in a sleek black box and you can charge the earth. Which is why you are now being asked to pay $200 for an alarm clock, just because it’s Danish, and $25,500 for a TV….. just because it was designed by a man called Arne.

Of course, you have to see Little Mermaid. This statue sits by the harbor and is the most photographed object in Denmark ………….however it is almost permanently missing one of its extremities? How bored do you have to be before you think: “I know. Let’s wade out into the harbor and decapitate a statue?” Danes are though some of the happiest people in the world and you rarely see one in a bad mood.

Apparently the main reason why Danes claim to be so happy is that they always expect life to be worse than it really is. They expect to be cold. They expect to pay 90% tax. They expect to be decapitated by a gang of youths who’ve found the Little Mermaid has already had its head kicked off and are now looking for another target.

They are therefore delighted when they get home to find their family still has all their limbs, that the heating is working and that their tax bill’s been reduced to 89%.

Our most popular tours are those that see the Royal Palaces, the harbor cruise and anything with Tivoli Gardens in the title. Tivoli is in the heart of the city and is within walking distance from the vessel. It has a huge fun fair, great restaurants and stunning botanical gardens. Mostly though it’s a place just to hang out and watch the world go by.

Conveniently, Copenhagen it is divided into nice little parcels — when you want to chill out, there’s Christianshavn, with its free-living hippie community; when you want classic sightseeing, there’s Rosenborg, with its castles and museums.

However………me, personally………I love the Castles of Zealand tour. The visit to the birth place of Hamlet, the stunning beauty of the castles and the descriptions the guides give of the bloody battles was something I will never forget……….it’s Hans Christian Andersen meets Shakespeare with a little bit of Quentin Tarantino thrown in.

Oh, one last thing. When we leave Denmark we pass under the The Oresund Bridge which is a combined two-track rail and four-lane road bridge across the Oresund strait. The bridge-tunnel is the longest combined road and rail bridge in Europe and connects the two metropolitan areas of the Oresund Region: the Danish capital of Copenhagen and the Swedish city of Malmö……………… is a stunning sight to see and the clearance from the top of the smoke stack is not that much…………
I am sure therefore that someone much smarter than me and someone who probably has a beard will have realized that the Carnival Liberty is coming here next year and her smoke stack is much taller than ours…………..just in case Mr. Beard hasn’t realized this…..can one of you remind me next year please?

So, grab a Carlsberg and a herring and let’s have a look at our video of Copenhagen and Zeeland.

And onto Estonia we go. You know, as you walk around the old town of Tallinn past the boutique shops, the Internet cafes and into the town square to sit and enjoy some fine cuisine, it is easy to forget what Estonia has endured to get where it is today. It was occupied in WW2 and, after four years of Nazi rule, became part of the Russian Empire. It was only in 1991 that it became a fully independent country. While the economy of Estonia is thriving and they have been accepted into the European Union there are still many examples of the days of Soviet Rule, WWII and the old town’s 13th century medieval origins.

However, for the most part the capital, Tallinn, seems like any other big eastern European city, fast paced and constantly trying to show the West that it wants to sit at the table with the grown-ups.
The local currency here is called Krooni. Most shops in the old town will take euros and with the dollar getting stronger, I am sure the greenback will soon be the currency that they will. All major credit cards are accepted although American Express less so.

One of our tours goes to the castle of Rakvere. This 16th century fortress has seen many battles including it being used as a command center by the German forces during World War II. However, those dark times have been turned into times of fun as its medieval history is relived. Families will enjoy living in the past, learning the art of jousting, archery, sword play as well as lots of activities and fun for the kids. Lunch is served medieval style which means you get to wipe your mouth on your sleeve and treat the women as servants……………….just as it should be :))

Then there is the beautiful national park and manor house called Palmse, which featured a collection of Russian and German vintage motor cars and bikes. You know, it’s easy to forget that Estonia has been occupied and ruled by the Russians twice and the Germans and both these cultures have left a permanent impression on the country.

However, it is the old town that has the guests flocking there. It’s featured on most of our excursions and you can walk there, as well………it takes about 30 minutes. The shopping is great, the buildings historic and the architecture as medieval as you can imagine. It is also the home of marzipan and everywhere you go there are shops selling this delicacy and believe it or not……….there is even a marzipan museum.

So, what should you do there? Well, I would take the simple highlights tour. This gives you a comprehensive insight into the country’s varied history as your tour the old town and stop at a location high above the gates and walls for an unmissable photo experience. The tour will also give you lots of free time to go shopping where you can browse the antique shops, the marzipan factory and as you will have read on the blog thingy recently ……give you time to buy your AK47 and a dozen grenades. Yep, we had a guest who discovered that you could buy remembrances of World War II and more recent conflicts and were astonished to find we wouldn’t let him take a German Lugar pistol and a bayonet back to his cabin.

Tallinn is our shortest stop so get up early and take in as much as you can of a town that has changed so much but has never forgotten its roots. I love it.

Unfortunately we don’t have a video of this port as it was damaged ……….. However …………I can tell you that it’s a place that you will never forget.

And so…………….it’s time to write about the jewel in the Carnival Liberty’s Baltic itinerary ……………. St. Petersburg…………yep………… are going to Russia.

The excursion package we offer is simply the best and remember to pass through Russian immigration you must have booked a private excursion and have proof of this with you or, as most do……….book an excursion onboard. You will not be able to get past the men with frying pan hats on if you don’t.

Basically, St. Petersburg is the best port of call, by a long way. There is no city like it and the Carnival Splendor and, next year, Carnival Liberty, will be your time machine. We will take you back to the days of the tsars and tsarinas and WWII when, under its old name of Leningrad, the city was under siege for two years and over a million people died ………..mostly from starvation.

Then the remnants of the days of Lenin, Stalin and the one with the funny oil patch on his head will be up close and personal as the last throws of communism will be there for all to see.

This comes as you drive through the suburbs past the old cars and faceless grey buildings where some people still have to queue for a loaf of bread. You see, in Russia, there is no middle class………’s the haves and the have nots, although there seem to be a just as many haves these days. You can see them everywhere stepping out of their big Mercedes and Hummers under the watchful eyes of ex-KGB bodyguards who have tattoos of a bloody axe on their forehead.
Russians drive with a terrifyingly self-destructive ambition. All the cars are the same color, sprayed with a cement-grey, grimy antifreeze, and road filth. It’s as if the dirt were still staunchly communist — painting Mercedes, Ladas, Skodas and Range Rovers the same militant color-of-Mother-Russia muck.

It’s almost irresistible not to go back to the Russian doll thingy when describing the people …… know…….the dolls-within-dolls, the tourist’s gift. In fact there are now only two dolls, a fat rich doll and a poor thin doll. Perhaps a third one: the rich doll’s bodyguard. The amount of cash washing round Russia is astronomical, inconceivable even. It’s divvied out among a tiny sliver of the population whose eye for the massively expensive are turning the country into Dubaiski.

The restaurants we use in St. Petersburg are actually quite funny. There are gaudier, with more camp and flash than Richard Simmons’ underpants.

The ship organized tours of seven or more hours will feature lunch in restaurants oozing with gold ornaments and massive sterling silver cutlery. You will be welcomed with a glass of vodka which you should drink in one shot…..not do so is considered rude. Then and still before any food is served, you are given a glass of Russian champagne. Your guide will make a toast and again she will explain that Russian tradition states that you must drink this glass again….in one long gulp.

So you have had a shot of vodka and a huge glass of champagne all in five minutes. The reason they do this is because the food is crap. Of course, I am joking. The food is surprisingly excellent and will feature a local soup which is delicious and that’s followed by a big potato salad and either chicken or fish with lots of spice…….it’s superb and we have had nothing but excellent remarks on the tours food stops.

So, what tour should you take? What should you see?

Well, the Grand Tour is of course an option and one that 1,000 people take each and every time we come here. This is the best of everything and over the two days you will visit most of the major sites. This still allows time in the evening to take in an evening concert at Catherine Palace with dinner in Pushkin or our most popular tour ……… sitting in the national theatre watching the very thin women and men with pieces of fruit shoved down the front of their tights….or to give them their proper name……The St. Petersburg National Ballet Company perform……Swan Lake…it’s truly incomparable.

However you mix your tours you must see the top five which are:

THE HERMITAGE MUSEUM – The Hermitage used to be the palace of the Tsars and now it contains possibly the greatest collection of paintings, jewelry, statues and rare items from all over the world.

Everywhere you turn there are moments of “wow” and “Oh my goodness look at that!” and even stronger emotions when you enter the Throne Room from where the Tsars ruled Russia. There are paintings by Van Gogh, Rembrandt, Monet and in the Gold Room a collection of precious stone objects that are quite simply indescribable. They say that if you were to stop and look at every artifact in the Hermitage for just three minutes……….it would take you a year to see everything.

And, of course, you must see Catherine’s Palace, the fountains and palace at Peterhof, and the Peter and Paul Fortress. Then at night we have excursions to the folkloric shows, a private dinner and performance at Catherine Palace and, of course, a chance to see Swan Lake performed by the Russian Ballet Company………..amazing.

All of the above is what makes St. Petersburg a must on your bucket list. It’s another country, mostly living in another time, still struggling with itself to find its true identity. St. Petersburg is a living version of a Tom Clancy novel and I absolutely love it. The city is as intense as putting Ben-Gay on your private parts and the grayness is everywhere, even the stray dogs that nibble on the left over grey food……. are grey.

The air is sulfurous, thick and metallic. It pricks the eye and sours your throat. St. Petersburg though has power. Putin was born here and, as you walk around the buildings and palaces of yesterday, you can still feel the awesome power the country still has today. St. Petersburg is magnetic, mesmerizing and is a place anyone who visits …..will never forget.

You know what………I am going to stop typing and let Theo’s video photography tell the story of the most popular port of call of the cruise and one that is quite honestly …………… one of the most incredible cities ………… the world.

So, grab a glass of vodka and a bowl of borscht and enjoy this video.

And it’s nearly time to go but before we do there is one more port to have a look at……………..Amsterdam, Holland.

My wife Heidi who is Dutch and knows Amsterdam better than anyone has asked to write this portion of the Baltic Blog thingy.

Here she is.

Hello everyone. Before I start I have just sent John out of the room because he keeps looking over my shoulder and because he had eggs for breakfast.

Well, the Carnival Liberty will dock close to everything because Amsterdam is not a large city and if you plan your day correctly you can see almost everything.

Take a stroll along the canals. Amsterdam’s best sights are to be had for free. The Herengracht, Keizersgracht and Prinsengracht are lined with lovely mansions from the Golden Age, and the alleys that run through the area are a shopper’s treasure house and John’s worst nightmare. Quieter canals like the Brouwersgracht, the Leidsegracht and Reguliersgracht, have beautiful tress, and many have little hump-backed bridges. Cafés are everywhere and as you will see, as long as it not raining, us Dutch love to eat outside.

A boat tour along the Canal Ring (Grachtengordel). Having arrived in the “Venice of Northern Europe,” it would be silly not to take a tour on one of Amsterdam’s Canal boats. Carnival Liberty will offer many variations of these tours and I recommend the one that is combined with a city tour and shopping.

The world-famous Rijksmuseum is closed for renovation but will be ready for when you visit, but one wing remained open this season with a ‘best-of’ exhibition. ‘The Masterpieces’ shows old favorites like The Nightwatch alongside other paintings by Rembrandt, Jan Steen and Vermeer, as well as classics from the furniture collection, even John who hates museums couldn’t help but be impressed here.

I also hope you see some of the other areas of my beautiful country. The Carnival shore excursion team has a wonderful menu of tours that show of the countryside where I grew up. Edam is a sleepy, cobbled little place, built on a web of canals. There is, of course, a cheese shop or two, but the place I love is the museum, a 16th-century house with a strange floating cellar. Then there are the villages of Volendam and Marken and of course the windmills that so many people think of when talking about the Netherlands.

One of Amsterdam’s most famous tourist attractions is Anne Frank’s house in the heart of the city. This little girl’s story has been translated into virtually every language in the world and to visit the place where the story took place is a must. Our tours have VIP entrance and always are sold out before each voyage with guests booking online. If you are going on your own I do suggest you pre-book your tickets as there is usually at least an hour wait to enter. But enter you must and take a box of tissues.

Now, there is one more place we have to mention and for that I need to give the computer to John……….as it’s his specialist subject. I hope you enjoy your Carnival Liberty Baltic cruise and I know you will enjoy your time in Holland.

Thanks, Heidi. As she said, there is one other area I have to mention…………and that’s only because many of the guests do as well. I am of course talking about the Red Light District. The good news we have a walking tour to this area. The bad news is………it’s a walking tour………..not a stopping tour.
Of course, this area houses one of the oldest professions in the world but it also houses some of the most beautiful buildings and churches in the whole of Holland.

The Red Light district is set along a canal. There is a museum of eroticism, boasting an animatronics mannequin of a girl riding a bicycle with no saddle…………and has a line to get in longer than that at the Rijksmuseum……………it’s a mad, mad world.

This area also contains the famous Coffee Houses which do sell coffee and, of course, where it is illegal to smoke a Marlboro Light but legal to smoke an acre of cannabis. Now, I guess at the beginning of the season I took it for granted that all our passengers would know what these coffee houses are famous for…….I mean look at their names:
Mellow Yellow
Get the Munchies Here Cafe
The Joint
To name but a few. However………….a few weeks ago I did have a couple of ladies in their 60s who went into the coffee shop for a ummmm……..cup of coffee. Even though they did not partake in the local custom others there were …….and our ladies from Ohio came out of the coffee shop feeling very happy………and singing Bob Marley songs.

Amsterdam is a melting pot of fun, history and extravagances and is the perfect end to the Baltic voyage.

So, grab a Heineken and a lump of Edam and let’s have a look at our visit to Amsterdam and beyond.

And so our journey is almost over but there is one destination I have not mentioned……… The Carnival Liberty. I had the privilege of delivering this ship in 2005 and she has always been one of my favorites.

Imagine then having visited all the places I have written about. You get of your tour bus tired and fulfilled and there in front of you is not some faceless hotel and the prospect of packing before more security checks at the airport and yet another flight…………..but this gleaming ship…………your ship………..ready to pamper you with friendly service ………… ready to excite you with the evening’s entertainment…………..ready to refuel you with the finest cuisine………..and with no packing and no security checks and no flying……… can lay your head on the pillow as the captain takes you to the next exciting destination while you rejuvenate ready for the adventures tomorrow will bring.

I will be there next year………………and I hope you will be to.

Senior Cruise Director

Hi, I’m John, and this is my blog. So please don’t mistake my opinions — or those of my dear friends, fans or commenters — for those of Carnival Cruise Line or Carnival Corporation. My apologies in advance for anything I may say that upsets you, but this disclaimer covers Carnival and puts the blame directly on me………….. bugger.