Embarkation and disembarcation. Due to the time I had to leave my hotel and other factors, I arrived at the pier in New York shortly after embarkation began. I waited in line 45 minutes to get to check-in. From there the process went quickly. The receptionist took an impression of my credit card, my photograph, and some other details and in almost no time I had my Oceania card and was on the Marina. The line was considerably shorter as I walked on the ship than when I started, emphasizing that to avoid lines one is often best advised to be at the pier no earlier than a couple of hours after embarkation is scheduled to begin. One piece of luggage was waiting when I arrived at the cabin, and there was the usual mysterious pause until the balance arrived.
Disembarkation was a breeze. My group was called on time. I walked off the ship, picked up my luggage, and was on my way to the airport in minutes.
The Ship. This was my second sailing on the Marina. She is a beautiful ship and has been well maintained. Unfortunately art auctions were a feature of the cruise, and some of the art work being sold was exhibited in the corridors, especially on the fifth deck. It would be charitable to say these paintings do not complement the dEcor of the Marina. It would be more accurate to say they detract from and cheapen the experience of being on a lovely ship. I don't know how much money the auctions make as a result of displaying the artwork in passenger areas, but I doubt it is worth the esthetic price.
On this cruise, and to me, it seemed as though the smoking regulations were adhered to strictly. I know other people have had other experiences on other cruises, but the only time I so much as sniffed a cigarette was once when I walked through the smoking area near the pool. Other times in and near smoking areas I smelled nothing, suggesting the cleaning personnel are doing a good job, which I appreciate.
Cabin. I have no objection to the size of the veranda cabin, but I wish there was more drawer space. The shower stalls are still a little cramped, but past that the bathrooms are fine.
Ports. I found some of the ports we visited in Canada to be uninteresting and wonder why they were on the itinerary. The best or worst example of this was Corner Brook where one participant in a ship's tour returned complaining about "a three-hour tour in a 15-minute town." I saw Corner Brook on my own and agree with that assessment. Halifax and Sydney were almost as unimpressive. In my view the cruise would have been better if an overnight or two in Quebec or Montreal had been substituted for the Nova Scotia and Newfoundland ports except for L'anse aux Meadows. Located at the tip of Newfoundland, L'anse aux Meadows was the site of a Viking settlement of about the year 1000 which has been recreated. Unfortunately, an iceberg at the port made it too risky to go there so I can say little about L'anse aux Meadows except the literature made it look promising. Passengers could not disembark at Falmouth due to rough seas. In both cases it was the captain who made the decisions, and as far as I was aware there was no grumbling from the passengers, although Lavenderrabbit1 who reviewed the Transatlantic on Cruise Critic said he did not think the seas were too rough to use the tenders in Falmouth. The captain may have been acting from an abundance of caution, but I think he did the right thing considering the criticism he and the line would have been subjected to had any passenger been injured by a misstep into a heaving tender.
I signed up for the cruse knowing that we would arrive in Amsterdam at 2:00 pm and Copenhagen at noon. We were at both ports until late in the evening, but a number of museums and other places close at 5:00 pm or 6:00 pm and for me afternoon arrivals resulted in rushed days. This was particularly true in Amsterdam where there was a further delay to have passports stamped after leaving the ship. I think it would have been better to have overnighted in Amsterdam and Copenhagen and left late the next afternoon. This would have made for a longer cruise but a better use of time.
Evenings in St. Petersburg were a delight, particularly because we were there during the white nights of mid-summer. I had a Russian visa and saw St. Petersburg largely on my own, which I highly recommend. In addition to giving one the freedom to make detours and follow interesting paths it affords some look at life in the city, everything from watching people sunning (and making out) to seeing what daily shopping is like. On several occasions I noticed Petersburger -often young people--who unasked helped the elderly in the metro with packages or luggage. The excursions offered by Oceania seemed to me to be even more overpriced than usual. Travel on one's own in St. Petersburg is much cheaper. The 158 bus runs from the cruise terminal past the Primorskaya metro station from which one can get to major attractions. Rubles in denominations the bus driver will accept are available at ATMs in the cruise passenger terminal.
Passengers. My fellow passengers were high points of the cruise. They were uniformly friendly and interesting. A good conversation could be started with any of them and at any place. Some of the best talks I had were in the laundry room, where life, history, and politics were among the topics. Most passengers seemed to be in their 60s, with those on the transatlantic tending a little older, but we had about half-dozen or ten teenagers on each cruise.
I normally suggest that parents not take their teens or younger children on Oceania where there are no regular programs for young people and the atmosphere is geared to adults. The teens I met or observed were polite and well-behaved. As far as I could see they made no trouble for the adults. There was no reason to object to their presence aboard ship or ashore. I could not vouch, however, for how good a time they had, although the ever-obliging cruise staff put together a few events for the youngsters on these cruises.
Food. Meals on the Marina matched or bettered those of highly-rated restaurants ashore. Many items are made on the Marina, including bread and ice cream (you wondered where those great flavors came from?) My favorite restaurant is Red Ginger, and my long-time favorites have been the sea bass and seafood grill. Based on the recommendation of a fellow-passenger I tried the crusted lamb, and I now have three favorites. The best single dish I had on the cruise, though, may be the veal Oscar in the Main Dining Room, and the best soup is possibly the onion soup in Jacques. And in good weather, nothing beats breakfast on the aft deck at the Terrace Cafe.
Each cruise had one lavish breakfast buffet. The food was good, but the displays were not as artistic as I recall from prior cruises that featured simulated waterfalls of food and flowers carved out of fruit. And what happened to the ice carving demonstrations when a member of the mess crew would show how blocks of ice become ice sculptures?
Service. As usual, service was impeccable. It even extended to crew members volunteering a few minutes from their own shore plans in St. Petersburg to make sure I could get from the public bus to the metro station. I did not need their help, but I appreciated the genuine concern for others that prompted the action. Our concierge, who was from Germany, was expert in getting us reservations at specialty restaurants and providing his own tips on the ports we visited. Our cabin steward, Ebner, quickly caught on to our rhythms and, for example, had ice delivered at the same time every afternoon.
Entertainment and Lectures. I am one of the many passengers who tour during the day and only want a good dinner and a good bed at night. On sea days, however, particularly on the transatlantic, I enjoyed afternoon Trivia with our cruise director, Roy Perez, whose light touch and clever commentary kept the action moving and funny. You had to be there to understand the humor in the entire audience claiming to be from Sri Lanka!
An oceanographer, Dr. Nolan or Knowland, gave consistently informative lectures on the sea including a series on the construction and launching of the Titanic. He also delivered what amounted to a short course on Russian history. I look forward to hearing from him on future cruises.