We had sailed twice before on the Riviera, which is almost identical to the Marina. We arrived in Copenhagen the day before to a rainy start for the trip. But by noon the weather had cleared and the next rain we saw was a few hours in Helsinki. You could not have asked for better weather in Northern Europe in September.
Upon arrival we were able to purchase wine for the cruise at the duty free shop next to the baggage claim. It was significantly less expensive here than on the ship or the ports of call. No hard alcohol at this location.
The embarkation went very well. There were no lines when we arrived at 1230 and the staff had us on the ship in a few minutes. Upon boarding the ship we were told our cabin was not ready and we were directed to the Terrace Grill but selected the Waves Grill, which based on our earlier experiences on Riviera a great place for a quick lunch.
The Penthouse cabin was great as it was on the earlier trips. With 2 in the cabin there was plenty of room for clothes. This was our third experience with having a butler on Oceania and the service was first class with the butler being the best one in the three trips. On the first day they (butler and cabin stewards, who were first class) provided the additional wine glasses, mixers, water, towels and anything else we requested.
The major reason for booking this ship and Oceania was the food. However the restaurants ranged from good to excellent. The main dining room was again a disappointment since the food seemed to be traditional MDR cruise food. Although it was better than our last cruise on the Riviera, we ate dinner only twice.
Therefore we again opted for the other restaurants. On the first cruise we really liked the Terrace Cafe versus the MDR. However the last two cruises the quality had gone down and thus we ate dinner there only one night. We booked our 4 maximum specialty restaurants before departing, but were able to eat in the cabin. This worked really well on the days we spent on all day tours in St. Petersburg. This worked well since each course was served in order and the salads were chilled and the main courses were hot.
Although I have liked three of the specialty restaurants Toscana, Jacques and Polo in the past the quality on this cruise went down substantially especially in the seafood. Either they were cutting down on the budget or the European supplier offered poorer quality versus the last cruise that started in Florida. Toscana offered a better selection. Having to choose among over a dozen different olive oils was a bit much but this time they were out of a few varieties. In the past there was a person that primarily handled the olive all selection but this time it was the waiter. In general we found the service to be less attentive at all restaurants than on previous cruises. I think there are fewer servers. It was the same issue in Polo but the lobster bisque was the best I ever tasted. The steaks are the choice in Polo. The lobsters were terrible as opposed to earlier cruises. On the last cruise we thought that Jacques was great but on this cruise it was significantly below the two previously mentioned restaurants. On this cruise we found food and service to be very poor.
As on our earlier cruises, the biggest disappointment was again the Red Ginger. Again they get carried away with offering too many choices of chop sticks and teas. That was ok but they never came to offer a second round of tea. In fact, the service in Red Ginger was again the worse one of all the restaurants on the ship. The real disappointment was the food. The sushi chef's selection appetizer was lower in quality than the sushi available in the Terrace Cafe. The dishes that were listed as spicy were bland. If we cruise again I think we will pass on making a reservation there.
We did not buy any Excursions since Oceania offers them at outlandish prices. They did scare a number of passengers to buy their package in St. Petersburg but we chose a local firm. Oceania was very good at providing you with general information on the port. However they really lacked providing information on availability of free internet at the ports. On this cruise it was available in Copenhagen, Tallin, Helsinki and Stockholm. We did buy a package for the time in St. Petersburg. We had a death in the family and thus had to get two phone calls from the US while in St. Petersburg. These short calls each cost $69.
We did buy a tour package in St. Petersburg from Alla and it was a great deal. For a about $60 more we also got tours in Gdansk and Tallinn. The Gdansk tour was not well organized but was significantly better than the ones provided by Oceania. As always the tour is dependent on the guide. In Gdansk we had a woman in her mid-fifties who really knew the town well but English was her fourth language after Polish, German and Russian. Also she was not capable of controlling some of the people on the tour even though we were only ten. The benefit of the small group was that we could see alter the tour to specific spots. It certainly was better than the bus loads of 40 on the Oceania tours. The one word of caution is that almost all WCs require payment. But they accepted euros in place of the Polish currency.
In Tallinn, we had about 15 in the group. The tour guide was in his twenties and spoke English like he grew up in the US. Again we saw the 30 person groups from the ship. The only issue was that we got the bus ride to town by the tour company but then had to find spot for cruise ship bus for the return. It took about 20 minutes of wandering around to find the bus.
The tours in St. Petersburg were three days of intensive tours starting at either 8 or 9 am and not returning until after 5 each day. The guide in her late 30s was very proficient in English and ran our small group of 16 perfectly. I do not know any major site that we did not see in those three days. Although there were sites we could have spent more time at, it was well organized. Each day we had lunch at a local restaurant. Cabbage in one form or another was present at each meal. Beef Stroganoff was absent a lot of beef, the meat patty was mystery meat but we were able to determine it was chicken on the last day. It made you want to get real food again on the ship.
There were only a few criticisms of the tours. Under the guise of getting free use of WCs we spent considerable time at tourist shops with the inducement to buy dolls, t-shirts, etc . or to sample the free vodka at 9 am in the morning. Although the prices were quoted in dollars you paid the “equivalent” in rubles. Alla set the exchange rate that turned out to be about 3% higher than the actual rate.
This was not a big deal since the comparable price for these $495 per person tours on Oceania was over $1600 per person. For the visits to Warnemunde, Helsinki, and Stockholm we did our own tours that worked out very well.
Entertainment on the ship was limited and with all of the ports we only went two shows. On our first cruise the best act was Mio, the magician. He was on this cruise and he was the highlight of the entertainment. The spa and exercise areas were first rate with all of the equipment operational. As on the last cruise the bar service is great in Martini's but remains terrible in Horizon.
We had one problem in Stockholm, the cab to the airport overcharged us at almost twice the quoted rate. We did not realize this until we got home since the driver claimed his receipt machine was broken. We were able to get our credit card company to reimburse the overpayment. This is a big problem in Stockholm and it is well documented on the web. BE CAREFULL
As noted earlier it seemed that the restaurant and bar staff was not as well trained as the two previous cruises. The cabin and pool personnel were first rate.
In summary a very good cruise but there was a downward trend in food and some service. Great weather and great ports made up for these shortcomings.