I went on a weekend cruise to Riga, Latvia, a few weeks ago and I had a jolly good time I must admit.
And before I show you how beautiful the city of Riga is, I'll describe my time onboard of the ship first and give you some advice on Baltic Sea Cruises.
I wanted to go on a mini-cruise whilst staying in Stockholm just because it's so easy to explore the Baltics and Finland from there. Every day there is one, if not several, departure from Stockholm to Helsinki, Tallin, Riga and the Åland islands. The mini-cruises all depart on for example Friday evening, arrive at the destination around 10am the following morning and depart again in the evening so that you arrive again in Stockholm on for example Sunday by 10 or 11am.
You usually have about 6 hours time to explore your chosen city which may sound like nothing but really it is more than enough to get a good impression of the city and country and to experience some must-see sights.
However when Swedes go on a weekend-cruise they don't want to get to know Finland or the Baltics - they want to party hard and buy as much duty-free beer and snaps as they can carry. And the ships are built to fulfill this purpose, meaning that not all of them are 5 star liners.
I was onboard of M/S Isabelle, which is owned by the Tallink/Silja line. The cabins on this ship are simple and this is probably one of the reasons why the trip only cost me 50€. But not all of the cruise liners are built that way. The bigger cruise ships that go to Helsinki offer bigger and better cabins (even the simple ones have a TV), even more entertainment and restaurants and even more shops. Pricewise they are of course even more expensive with a simple cabin costing around 200€ if you book only 4 weeks in advance (which I did).
But I'm sure you can get a cheaper cabin if you book 2 or 3 months in advance and make sure to check out the offers of the VikingLine too as I have no idea if they are cheaper or even more expensive than the Tallink/Silja company. The M/S Isabelle "only" had one duty-free shop, a cafeteria, a disco and 1 or 2 restaurants. I didn't book meals in advance just because I can never eat so much food that a 50€ dinner would be justifiable.
The cafeteria offered cakes, sandwiches, salads, yoghurts and warm Latvian meals (which I didn't tried as Latvian food isn't vegetarian most of the time). However I think the cafeteria offers enough choices to not be hungry during your cruise and compared with Sweden, the meals were relatively cheap.
As I wasn't keen on getting drunk and/or buying more alcohol that I can carry, I can't tell you how the disco is nor how cheap alcohol in the duty-free shop really is. It must be VERY cheap because I must have been the only one buying absolutely nothing in the shop...
You can either stay in your cabin or visit the cafeteria/restaurant where you are unfortunately somehow obliged to buy something if you just want to sit and look out of the window somewhere. But again, the ship wasn't built for sober and boring people like me ;) Anyway I went to my cabin early which probably was the best idea considering that I was a solo female traveller, slightly dizzy after taking my usual preventive anti-sea-sickness-plaster on a ship full of drunk Swedes and Latvians/Russians......
To get this out of the way: I survived the trip without feeling sick once, hell yeah!! The Baltic Sea is way more enjoyable than the Barents Sea in Northern Norway that made me sick both times I was onboard of the Hurtigruten. Even though there was a storm in the first night, it felt ridiculous compared to what it was like in Norway and the second night we had no wind at all and I really felt like being in a hotel instead of a ship :)
We arrived in Riga at 10am Swedish time and had 6 hours to explore the city. I booked a sightseeing tour in advance and the reception staff ensured me that the bus would wait for me in front of the port terminal. So far so good. When I left the ship I expected one of those double-deckers where you have acces to an audio guide in several languages as this was what I booked. However there was no bus and no bus stop. There only was a mini-bus that had a paper with "Sightseeing" written on it in the window.
I knocked and asked the guide whether or not this was my bus. The lady declined but as it turned out it was a Swedish tour, 45min in the bus and 45min on foot, and they had a few free seats left. After a little chat the lady found out that I speak Swedish and I found out that the lady speaks German and so she offered me to participate in the tour even though I hadn't paid for it. She was really really nice and the tour was absolutely great - I even understood almost everything she said in Swedish (yay!). The double-decker tour couldn't have been as great as this one, especially as this one consisted of a guided walk around the old town of Riga. How great is that? I tell you, it was the best!
I'm absolutely grateful that they allowed me to participate in their tour as I would have walked to the city centre of Riga on my own (which would have lead to me getting lost) only to have to wait for an hour there as the double-decker tours only depart twice a day. I'm not sure how much the Swedish tour had cost and whether or not I saved or lost money this way but I didn't care. It was a nice tour and I had a lovely chat with the tour guide about Sweden and Germany.
It was a nice and sunny early spring day and I had a lovely time exploring the old town of Riga, enjoying a stunning view on the city on top of a church and sitting and reading by the Daugava river in the sunshine.
The evening was exactly like the first one: me heading to my cabin early to avoid the drunk Russians/Latvians/Swedes.
Anyway I got up early on Sunday morning because I wanted to experience the archipelago of Stockholm which was absolutely amazing and a great way to end the trip with aaaaand you can read all about it here.
I would definitely go on another Baltic cruise to explore Tallin and Helsinki if I can find the time and money. Cruises are just my favourite way of travelling (regardless of me getting sea-sick every now and then) just because I find them so relaxing. There is nothing better than reading a book and looking out on the ocean. I don't need fancy restaurants, discos and a shopping centre onboard.
If I can find a cosy spot at the window where I can read the whole evening, I'm happy!! So if you happen to be in Stockholm, Helsinki or the Baltics, consider a cruise. I promise, you'll have a fantastic time either way, partying or relaxing! ;)