We are a senior couple who have done quite a bit of traveling, both domestic and international, but have largely traveled independently and had never taken a cruise. However, we were interested in seeing a bit of the Baltic countries and in visiting St Petersburg, Russia. A cruise seemed like a good way to do it, so that we did not have to deal with language issues and making travel plans for each of the places we wanted to see.
Having never taken a cruise, we were totally unfamiliar with any cruise lines, but had received some information regarding Oceania and its Baltic cruise, so began our investigations with it. Since it was our first cruise and might be our only one, we thought we wanted to select a ship with fewer passengers and a reputation for quality service and accommodations. We wanted to have a good experience and were willing to pay a little extra for it.
Since we were unfamiliar with cruising and what types of things to ask, we elected to use a local travel agent, whom we had used a number of years before for a special situation. In retrospect, we will not do that again. Although she handled our initial booking efficiently, once she received her fee, we had very poor response to questions and issues that came up over the several months between booking and embarkation. After meeting other passengers on the cruise, we learned that they received much better service for no fees from other agents or online booking services.
The Oceania cruise included airfare, but required them to handle the booking. We wanted to travel on our preferred airlines to earn miles for all that we were spending on this trip and Oceania agreed to do that. That eventually became the source of most of our pre-trip difficulties as Oceania of course wanted to use the cheapest flights which weren't always the best connections. We accepted that until Delta changed times on one of their flights, which made it impossible to use because of the ship's arrival time in port. Oceania switched us around to partially use a non-preferred airline and then when those flight times changed switched us totally from Delta, even though they and one of their partners had flights that would match our connecting requirements. Eventually, we were put on those flights, although by the time it was over, the choice seats were gone and we ended up paying for an upgrade in order to sit together. In the future, I would handle my own booking and just take whatever flight credit the cruise line would provide.
Our departure date finally arrived and all went well. Our flights were on time and we arrived in Copenhagen at the expected time of 7:51 a.m. on July 21. Processing through immigration was a bit slow at first, but finally moved along pretty well and our bags were waiting when we finished. We were staying at the Copenhagen Marriott for the night and had considered taking the train from the airport as an economical transportation choice. However, we were tired from jet lag and just didn't feel like figuring out where and how to buy tickets, where to catch the train and how to recognize our stop. So, we just grabbed a cab, which took only about 15 minutes to reach the hotel and cost about $35, which we were able to charge to a credit card since we had no Danish kronor.
For anyone who feels up to taking the train, it seemed like it would have been relatively simple. The access to the train was right from the main terminal and the stop for the hotel was only about 2 blocks from the hotel and immediately across the street from Tivoli, so undoubtedly would have been well-marked.
We chose to use to arrive one day early to Copenhagen to make sure no travel difficulties would affect the start of our cruise. We also chose to use our Marriott points for a night at the Copenhagen Marriott. It is a large, very busy and expensive hotel. Our room was fine and we had access to the Executive lounge, which helped save a little, as they served a decent complimentary breakfast and appetizers at night. Their appetizers were not as extensive or as readily replenished as those at other Marriotts, but were still adequate. We had been told the hotel restaurant was not that great and very expensive. They did have free Internet, but you could only access it in the lobby. Supposedly it was available in the executive lounge, but it never worked for us.
The Marriott is within walking distance of some of the tourist attractions, especially Tivoli Gardens. We had seen some of the attractions on a previous trip, so did not repeat those. We did, however, walk to Ny Havn, which is not far for people who like to walk. Much of the walk was along the canal, which was pleasant, although construction eventually forced us away to a less scenic route. We did repeat our visit to Tivoli, since it was so close. We had tried to avoid obtaining any Danish currency, since our time here was so short, but we ended up using an ATM at Tivoli to get a little cash for a snack, a souvenir gift and for the next day's taxi to the ship.
The Marriott is also fairly close to the cruise ship port. Oceania had notified us that our embarkation time was 1:00 pm, so we caught a taxi at the hotel about 12:40 and reached the port in about 10 minutes. The cost was about $20.
At the Marina, we were greeted promptly and pleasantly by the shore gang, who took our bags and directed us to the boarding line. We received a bottle of water and took our place at the base of the gangway in what seemed like a long line. It moved quickly, however, and we were soon on board and, after passing through scanners, were directed to the Marina Lounge, where workers with computers were set up to check in guests. We waited only a few minutes for our turn and were quickly checked in and given small folding wallets with a deck map and our room keycard. As we left the area, another person scanned our cards and checked the photo that had been taken at check-in to make sure we matched our photos.
Since rooms were not expected to be ready until 3:00, we were invited to have lunch at a number of venues. We went to Deck 12 to the Terrace Cafe and enjoyed a delicious lunch from the buffet while sitting outdoors on the aft deck on a lovely sunny day. Afterwards, we wandered around, familiarizing ourselves with the features of the ship, until it was announced that all rooms were available (about 2:45 p.m.).
We were pleasantly surprised to find our accommodations quite roomy with a nice veranda. Our bags were delivered about 4:45 and we proceeded to find places for everything. It was not difficult and we had plenty of empty drawers left over. The bathroom was spacious enough, although we would agree with some reviews that we have read by other guests, that we would have been happy to sacrifice the large tub, which we never used, to have a slightly larger shower. I had also read reviews about a lack of electrical outlets for charging electronic devices, but we found plenty for our use.
The mandatory emergency drill was announced about 6:00 p.m. Instructions in our room told us to proceed to our mustering station, which A4 located in the Marina Lounge. It took about 20 minutes to assemble everyone. Then, we were given instructions for donning our life vests, which we had all been required to bring with us. After proving that we could do that and being checked that we had done so correctly, we were dismissed and allowed to return to our rooms or whatever.
We enjoyed another meal at the Terrace Cafe buffet for dinner. On subsequent evenings during the cruise, we ate one time each at the specialty restaurants: Polo Grill, Red Ginger, Toscana and Jacques. We never did eat at the Grand Dining Room, but all of the restaurants were very good. Of the specialty restaurants, we enjoyed the food at Red Ginger the best. We had a hard time passing on the Terrace Cafe, as the buffet had so many choices and they varied every day. All were prepared very well and not overcooked from sitting on a steam table.
Because of jet lag, we were in bed and asleep before the 10:00 p.m. ship departure and I never heard or felt the ship leaving port. Even when waking during the night, there was hardly any sensation of movement. Not knowing if I would experience any sea sickness, I came prepared for the cruise with various remedies, but never needed anything. The entire cruise was extremely smooth.
The two weeks prior to the cruise, the area we were visiting had experienced unseasonably cold and rainy weather every day. We had packed expecting more of the same, but it had become unseasonably warm. We had rain one night, but all the days were sunny with temps in the 80s and even 90 in St Petersburg.
We did not participate in any entertainment or shows, other than attending a lecture on St Petersburg, which was of an appropriate length and informative.
Some reviewers for other cruises have noted embarkation gatherings of Cruise Critic members, but if this cruise had one, we were not aware of it.
We found on board Internet access to be pricey, slow and not always dependable. We had thought we could use free internet on shore at some restaurants and other public areas, as is easy to do in the U.S. However, it is not readily available in Europe, although was available at a couple of McDonald's. To keep in touch via email, we found it necessary to purchase 100 minutes of time for $85. I think a lot of time was wasted with the poor transmission time.
Although we have no other cruises with which to compare, we were pleased with how orderly the arrivals and debarkations were at each port, with a smooth procedure in place for the tour groups to exit and board buses. The only exception was St Petersburg, which probably was more of a mad house because 1) more passengers were going ashore than may have been the case at other ports and 2)the lengthy time it took for Russian immigration to process each visitor. The newsletters delivered to the room each evening were very informative and helpful regarding the next day's port and shipboard activities.
If we were to cruise on this ship again, we would have no objection to the same room. It was quite comfortable and its location near the gangway made it interesting to just sit on the veranda and watch the goings-on. Watching the crew lower and raise the gangway was interesting, as was seeing other passengers coming and going and watching port activities. At Riga, as the ship pulled away from the dock, we observed several elderly Latvian ladies standing near the dock for a long time, waving to the departing ship passengers, until our ship was nearly out of sight.
Other comments continue in the port reviews, except for Ronne on the Danish island of Bornholm.
That was our second port of call and we chose to take an Oceania tour called "Taste of Bornholm". Although it did not include a brewery, as we had expected based on tour description, it still was interesting and by taking a bus around the island, we were able to get a better feel for the island than just going to the little town of Ronne. We gathered in the Marina Lounge on the ship at 8:45 and were soon dispatched to our waiting bus. Our local guide was Hans who did pretty well at speaking English although he stumbled occasionally on the pronunciation of a word. The first stop was a farm where the owner had a butcher shop. We had a close-up tour led by the owner and then had samples of various sausage products in the retail shop at the end of the tour. At the little harbor town of Svanake, we stopped at a hotel where tables were set up outside for us we were served a plate with grapes, a couple of slices of bell pepper, a few slices of the local, award winning blue cheese and some biscuits. Along with the snacks, we were given a sample two varieties of the local akavit. The last stop was Nexo where the first Danish vineyard was planted about 10 years ago. The owner and winemaker gave us a little tour and then let us sample a few varieties at tables in the winery. Will have to say that the wine was nothing to write home about. We returned to the ship about 1:00 and took a shuttle, arranged by Oceania, for a 5 minute ride to Ronne. There were some shops to visit, but would not have wanted to spend much time in town.