A typical cruise in the Baltic Sea will usually visit several Scandinavian cities, and maybe also stop in Tallinn, Estonia, or Gdansk, Poland. While the Old World-charm and cutting-edge design that define destinations like Copenhagen, Stockholm, and Helsinki are a big draw, the marquee attraction is often St. Petersburg, Russia—which is why cruise itineraries include up to three days in that city, with time to visit the extensive art collection at the Hermitage and the lavish palaces of the czars.
But that’s not happening this year.
“We stand for peace,” said Carnival Corporation, parent company of the cruise lines Carnival, Princess, Holland America Line, and Seabourn, among others, when it announced on February 26 that it was dropping all port calls in Russia in the wake of the country’s invasion of Ukraine.
The war has led numerous cruise companies to erase both Russia and the Ukraine from this year’s cruise calendar and get creative with replacement ports. As a result, Baltic Sea itineraries this year will put some interesting and less-visited places on the cruise map.
Teijo Niemelä, editor and publisher of the cruise industry magazine Cruise Business, says the changes are an opportunity for travelers to experience some lesser-known destinations in Scandinavia.
“You aren’t going to see anything like St. Petersburg, but you will visit ports that you may not have thought you’d visit in your life,” Niemelä says. “It’s something new.”
New port options range from Kotka (Finland) to Kuressaare (Estonia)
As they reconfigure itineraries, cruise lines are adding small ports where cruise passengers will find authentic experiences in places not overrun by tourist crowds, Niemelä notes.
Atlas Ocean Voyages, for instance, has rerouted its 196-passenger World Navigator to visit Mariehamn, Finland, on sailings in August and September from Hamburg and Kiel, Germany. Also new on the cruise line’s itineraries is Kotka, Finland (about two hours from Helsinki), and the Estonian island of Saaremaa, where World Navigator will dock next to the medieval castle in the city of Kuressaare.
“Atlas Ocean Voyages’ top priority is the safety and comfort of our guests and crew,” said the cruise line’s president Alberto Aliberti. “With unrest in Eastern Europe, we have adjusted our voyages and replaced our Russia calls with equally exciting and charming destinations in Finland and Estonia.”
Kotka has a seafaring history that passengers can learn about at the Merikeskus Vellamo museum. There’s also a decent aquarium and opportunity to go kayaking, rafting, and salmon fishing, according to Royal Caribbean, which was already scheduling visits to the city on some sailings from Stockholm prior to the invasion.
Mariehamn, population about 11,0000, in the Åland Islands archipelago, halfway between Finland and Sweden, is home to the world’s largest fleet of ocean sailing ships and also has a noteworthy maritime museum. The town was named in the 19th century for Russian Empress Marie Alexandrovna, wife of Alexander II, back when it was part of Russia. It’s a popular vacation destination for Swedes, Niemelä says.
Saaremaa, the Estonian island, has the aforementioned castle, with roots in the 14th century, along with beaches and spas.
Some cruise lines such as Holland America Line are subbing out St. Petersburg with additional overnights in Stockholm—providing more time to explore the history of the pop group ABBA at the ABBA museum; to visit Fotografiska, the city’s contemporary photography museum; and dive into the Swedish coffee tradition of fika.
Small-ship line Windstar Cruises canceled sailings and tours in the Black Sea region and moved one of its ships to Greece and Turkey instead.
Windstar’s Baltic itineraries were redesigned to visit the German resort town of Sassnitz and the city of Wismar, with its Hanseatic architecture (the historic center is a UNESCO World Heritage site) and spend additional time in Tallinn and Helsinki. A June 13 Baltic Delights sailing will overnight in Helsinki and call in Mariehamn, skipping a previously scheduled stop in St. Petersburg.
Luxury line Seabourn, which had planned cruises between Stockholm and Copenhagen with three days in St. Petersburg, completely reimagined its Baltics routes. As a result, two departures from Copenhagen in July will head to Gothenburg, Sweden’s second largest city, and then explore coastal Norway. Another sailing will stop by Arendal, a popular watersports destination on the southern coast of Norway, as well as Oslo, and Helsingborg, Sweden, the narrowest point between Sweden and Denmark.
Added to the Seabourn map this year are Wismar and Rønne, Denmark, a beach destination popular with Danes.
A couple of Seabourn itineraries in August and September will skip the Baltics altogether and sail from Copenhagen to Dover, with an overnight in Amsterdam and stops in Zeebrugge (just outside of Bruges), Belgium, and Cherbourg (as a jumping off point for visiting Normandy) in France.
If a growing number of cruise passengers decide against sailing the Baltic Sea region this year, it’s possible that we will see more lines move away from the Baltics altogether and reposition their vessels to other regions entirely.
Beyond the Baltic reroutings, a Holland America Line ship that had been scheduled to visit Vladivostok in the Russian Far East will instead stop by Busan, South Korea, some 573 miles away across the Sea of Japan.