Baltic Bliss

Seafaring with Crystal Cruises.

Daily Edit: Crystal Cruises

For a large portion of northern hemisphere travellers, a holiday often means following the sun south. To Hawaii, the South Pacific, the Caribbean, the Mediterranean. But, sooner or later, sun worshippers decide to try something different. Each point of the compass carries a set of preconceived notions about what we expect to find. The west promises newness and adventure. The east suggests destinations more exotic. The south is all about the beach. But the north is still a sort of mystery, hard to typecast.

A Baltic Sea cruise through northern Europe and Scandinavia is a kaleidoscopic adventure of cultures, languages, currencies, artistic traditions, and ancient histories. A cruise ship is not just a way to get from point A to point B—it’s a world unto itself and a voyage aboard Crystal Cruises is distinctive. A three-day stay in St. Petersburg, Russia’s cultural capital, crowns the seafaring journey through the Baltics. A quarter of the way through the fabulous Hermitage, the largest museum in Russia, and its seemingly endless collection of art and treasures, you realize that at least a week is needed to get the best out of Russia’s czarist imperial capital (which had three different names in last century: St. Petersburg, Petrograd, and Leningrad, before reverting in 1991). St. Petersburg, not unlike Peter the Great himself is bold and powerful and of magnificent stature.

The contemporary history of the Baltic States is a story of shrugging off 50 years of Soviet rule and re-establishing national cultures. Since independence was restored in the early 1990s, Estonia would be just as happy giving up being Balt and becoming the fourth Scandinavian country instead. Tallinn was a key trading city during the Middle Ages and the exceptionally well-preserved Old Town has earned the country’s capital a place on the UNESCO World Heritage list. Tallinn is a city of ancient walls, old churches, graceful steeples, twisty cobblestone streets, red-tiled roofs, and imposing towers reveal German, Swedish, and Russian architectural influences.

Cruising with Crystal, you’ll notice—as communicated by the ship’s design, based on the principles of feng shui, and the company’s “Your wish. Our command” motto—no detail is overlooked. What makes Crystal distinctive is their exceptional service, variety of dining options, luxurious accommodations, comprehensive shore excursions, and some of the highest ratios of space per passenger of any cruise ship.

The capitals of Helsinki, Stockholm, and Copenhagen are all ports of call on a Baltic discovery cruise with Crystal. The Finns love fish, all kinds of it, and a visit to Kauppatori Market Square in Helsinki is where you’ll find the morning’s seafood catch being sold from boats. Nearby is the impressive neo-classical Town Hall and further on is the Presidential Palace. Helsinki Cathedral in Senate Square is one of the city’s most popular attractions.

Scholars focus their attention on Stockholm during the annual awarding of the Nobel Prizes, which were conceived by Sweden’s Alfred Bernhard Nobel, but this is a country that has given us the Vikings, Swedish meatballs, Absolut Vodka, ABBA, IKEA, and H&M. The Old Town, or Gamla stan, reflects Stockholm’s glorious past and the Royal Palace stands as a tribute to those who brought culture to the city. When visiting Stockholm by ship, the magnificent Stockholm archipelago on view. This maritime landscape of more than 30,000 islands, islets, and skerries, is arrestingly scenic.

People the world over know and love the Danish author Hans Christian Andersen who captured the hearts of children and adults alike. Edvard Eriksen’s bronze statue, The Little Mermaid, based on the author’s fairy-tale character, is Copenhagen’s most famous resident seen brooding on a rock at Langelinie Pier. Copenhagen is the coolest kid on the Nordic block and the Danish capital is the standard-bearer for both design and New Nordic cuisine. Bike culture is tied to Copenhagen and very much a part of its identity.

This year marks 25 years since Crystal Cruises set its course in luxury cruising, and the cruise line is charting a new vast route. A new owner, Genting Hong Kong, will invest billions in Crystal Cruises over the next three years, pivoting the brand from a cruise-only company to a lifestyle fleet of ocean, river, and small ships, and even an airplane—a Boeing 787 Dreamliner aircraft—that will fly 60 guests, business class only, around the world in 28 days.