Many holiday goers look to cover several cities and countries too, in a single holiday. Europe is a great destination to quench such wanderlust, especially for the skimming travelers.
(I call them skimming travelers because such visitors expect to touch and go swiftly, have brief local encounters and experiences and then take off for the next new land. Furthermore ‘tourist’ sounds a bit low in the travel evolution, like those who prioritize snapping picture of themselves in odd poses in front of well recognized landmarks to really experiencing anything).
And for those of you who fancy such skimming travels with kids in Europe, here’s a delightful-yet-sometimes-daunting way to see 7 countries in a floating hotel in just 10 days. Yes, in a cruise ship!
The Baltic cruise offered by the German cruise liner AIDA is a great way to wake up to a new country each day without the hustle and bustle of catching trains, flights or sleeping overnight in upright bus seats. The Baltic cruise covers, Copenhagen, Stockholm, Gdansk, Tallin, St. Petersburg, Helsinki and of course Warnemünde – the German port of dis/embarkment.
Well, it was my first ever cruise holiday. Nothing about a cruise ship ever interested me. Just the thought of being rocked in the high seas with some onboard song and dance entertainment and ship-fresh food made me queasy endlessly.
Last summer we had a family situation. We had to plan a summer holiday for six adults and two kids in the age range of 64 to 7 years, barely a month before the holiday season started. After much debate, tossing coins and flipping everything else that was around, we voted for a cruise holiday in the Baltic Sea. The rationale behind our vote was simply thus: the 6 cities/countries that the cruise took us to, would delight the travel bug in us while the onboard facilities would relax us, if not treat the indulgent side of us adults ( while the kids enjoyed pre-scheduled activities in the kids and teens club).
But before you type AIDA in your browsers and pull out your credit cards, here are some things for you, as a non-German speaker, to consider,
1.AIDA is a German cruise liner and so the official language on board is German. That means that most announcements and entertainment on board will be in German only. How to cope with this: Most of the supporting staff members on the cruise ship in-charge of food, beverage, music, security etc are non Germans who are fluent in English. Also most of the German crew members will tell you that their English is really bad and then speak it fluently (a typical German habit of coveting perfection in everything they do). Moreover, the evening entertainment tends to be mostly music and dance and so passable without language. Many passengers and staff members are also happy to chit chat in English, since they would consider you a part of their international experience, although not exactly Baltic.
2. The two places/situations that your lack of German language will pinch you is the fire-safety mock drill before you set sailing and the guided tour of Russia (since Russia only grants cruise passengers an accompanied day tour visa). How to cope with this: Make a special request in advance, at the time of booking, for bilingual fire safety instructions and also an English speaking crew member to translate the German Führung of Russia – I assure you that the experience of skimming Russia through the eyes of a German tour guide is an experience worth in itself.
3. Two rules you want to absolutely abide under any situation when cruising with the Germans are (and it is good for you to know them in German first): Punktlichkeit and Kein Vordrängeln. The first as you would guess is punctuality and second means no jumping queue or cutting the line. How to cope: Cope? No you simply abide by them without an exception. ‘At 5 ‘o clock’ for Germans means 10 minutes before 5’ o clock, so that no one is kept waiting. This is absolutely scared when you are getting onboard and off board with thousands of other German co passengers. You could be having a minor heart attack in the Estonian capital city, but you better get to the ship on time. The rule relating to queues is true for all queues like, lining up for food at a buffet, lining up to get a pool towel, lining up to check your boarding pass, to check out, waiting for the elevator – basically everywhere where you have people in front of you or behind you waiting for their turn.
4. The Spa, Sauna and Bathing areas are Textilfrei, which means no clothes. If you want to use these facilities while cruising, there is only one thing to do – drop your clothes and your inhibitions. No exceptions for foreigners If you would like to know the finer details and ettiquette of a German sauna, you could always write to me. I have friends who have published chapters and books on this topic alone
5. While there are several restaurants and cuisines offered in the cruise ship, however owing to punctuality, all passengers onboard arrive before the restaurants open for food service, so if you are not on time, you simply won’t find a table to sit while the buffet lasts. The one and only a la carte restaurant is always booked in advance -so much in advance, that when our family requested a table reservation the staff joked that the only tables available were those of the 2015 summer cruise. How to cope: Punktlichkeit (you should know it by now!?) during breakfast, lunch and dinner service. Also another ground level tactic that works is to send different members of your family scouting for tables-with-a great-seaview in different directions of the vast the restaurants and then make the best selection based on visual comparison, a quick vote of approval by all family members and hand gesture animations to communicate the preferred table of choice.
Of the 2000 or so passengers who were onboard the AIDA Baltic cruise, about 10% of us were foreigners – a small number even for a minority and that explains the lack of onboard bilinguality at an official level.
It is important to know that this cruise is offered for the locals/Germans, by a German cruise line, to crusie the world, German style. As intimidating as it may seem in the beginning, I have to say (and therefore I recommend), it is an attractive cruise for those who want to skim northern Europe in an extremely well organized and efficient way! Ten days, 7 countries, 2000 passangers, 400 kids and we were never a single minute late. It was a holiday orchestered to perfection. Hats off…