Ask Dena Robbins, who travels all over the world, about her best trip ever.
"The place I just returned from is always my best trip ever," she quips.
That's not to say Robbins is easily impressed. It means she is willing to enjoy herself anywhere - and that is a quality much to be treasured in a fellow traveler. It's probably one of the reasons she and Jerry Robbins (yes, the Jewelers Row Robbins) have stayed happily married for 50 years.
To celebrate that golden anniversary, the couple explored the Baltic in July 2007 aboard the Sea Cloud II, the larger and more luxurious sister of the legendary yacht built for breakfast-cereal heiress Marjorie Merriweather Post (then married to E.F. Hutton).
Their 21/2-week journey, from St. Petersburg, Russia, to Helsinki, Finland; Stockholm, Sweden; Riga, Latvia; Vilnius, Lithuania; and Copenhagen, Denmark, was organized by Academic Arrangements Abroad, bringing together art lovers from across the country. Dena and Jerry discovered the opportunity through the Naples Museum of Art in Naples, Fla., where they regularly escape Philadelphia's gray winters.
But the yacht was the real draw for Dena and Jerry.
A classic hand-sailed, square-rigged tall ship, the 384-foot Sea Cloud II carried 62 passengers and 64 crew members on this journey. Dena and Jerry's cabin, on the promenade deck, had a marble fireplace and bath.
"We'd been many places and traveled nicely," she says. "What I was looking for in part was a location that was new to me, but most especially we wanted to be on that boat."
Still, Dena, who has worked closely with Sharon Pinkenson in the Greater Philadelphia Film Office for 17 years, in addition to working in the family business, says she and Jerry at first wondered whether the trip would have too much emphasis on the arts. There would be art experts aboard offering lectures, and the pre-sailing paperwork included a two-page list of suggested readings in art, architecture, and Russian literature.
The couple need not have worried.
The itinerary focused on the music, history, literature, and culture at each stop. And the experts, such as landscape architect Patrick Bowe, who guided the passengers through extraordinary palaces and gardens, enhanced the tour without making it feel too academic.
Dena and Jerry explored well-known sites, such as the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, where five palaces showcase nearly all schools of Western art, and lesser-known places, such as Tallinn in Estonia, a city with spires and turreted walls dating to the 13th century.
They took in the breathtaking mosaics in St. Petersburg's Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood, and the only remaining synagogue in Vilnius.
And, yes, Dena Robbins would recall nine months later, as she prepared for a trip to South Africa - the Baltic journey had been the best trip ever.
IF YOU GO:
Sea Cloud II
This year, the luxurious yacht is scheduled to sail in the Mediterranean and Northern Europe till Nov. 18, when it will cross the Atlantic to spend the winter and spring in the Caribbean.
For information, go to www.seacloud.com or call 1-888-732-2568.
Art and the Baltic
Academic Arrangements Abroad is offering two cruises similar to Dena and Jerry Robbins' trip, June 24-July 8 and July 13-27, starting at $8,995 per person. For information, go to www.arrangementsabroad.com or call 1-800-221-1944.