Embarkation. Smooth, fast and efficient. As our Copenhagen taxi rolled up to the narrow quay around 3:30 PM, the driver popped the trunk, and while we still were paying our fare, two men in clean white overalls pulled our bags out the car and directed us to a manned table under the covered awning in front of the ship; we stated our names, and then were directed up the gangway to be escorted to a waiting area. We were intercepted in the central lobby and taken directly to the Marina Lounge to check-in, while I gasped at my first glimpses of the stunning Lalique staircase. We had our photos taken, were presented with our Oceania cards and went off to our cabin, Oceanview C Cabin 7069, where we left our carry-on bags and went aft and up for our late lunch before the 4 PM closing of the Terrace Cafe. First impression: beautiful cabin hallways, nice classy wood and brass touches outside each cabin entrance. Our luggage was waiting for us by the door after we finished lunch, and I just had time to unpack before our 5:45 muster drill (postponed for some reason from the announced 5:15 PM).
Cabin. Location: Great location, front mid-ships (always chosen due to my squeamish stomach), close to the staircases: one floor down to Martinis and the Grand Dining Room on deck 6, and two floors down to the Reception Desk, Marina Lounge, Jacques and Red Ginger on deck 5. Also for all of our ports, the exit gangway always was on Deck 5 across from Reception and near the local destination experts desks for us to grab local maps on our way out for the day.
Furnishings and DEcor: Restful colors, fantastically comfortable beds, a lot of lighting options, small bed lamps you can beam to read in bed, nice lighting all around the mirror hanging above the desk for make-up help, extra desk lamp, stable and comfortable desk chair, closets mysteriously placed about 15 inches from my side of the bed and only 2/3 of the size on the "R" ships (double rather than triple doors) requiring a bit of jockeying when we both were using them around the same time, safe placed ridiculously too high for many to reach within its depths, desk drawer space too shallow for useful clothing storage, and magnificent bathroom. That bathtub (yes, we also never used it) really used up a lot of cabin space that I would have preferred space.
We travel with only one 25" suitcase each, and barely unloaded their contents both in the drawer and closet space available, so I cannot imagine where those who bring more placed their clothes. On the other hand, I adored everything else about the new larger bathroom with granite countertops, quite a lovely upgrade from "R" ships. The rainhead shower was a wonderful luxury - I had no problem ducking my head to apply shampoo and conditioner while keeping the water on - and combined with the spray from the wand, all my showers were heavenly decadence. It was a big step down to return to our regular showerhead at home. And last but not least, the floor to ceiling room windows were lovely, although I stupidly was surprised that there was a large metal bar running down the middle of this grand window. A cabin on the starboard always works well for us in ports, and it did so again on this trip. The many layers of curtains did an excellent job of blocking the almost continuous daylight on our Baltic cruise, and due to the cool temperatures, I did not miss having a balcony for even one minute.
Public Spaces. Two words: simply stunning. Also supplying a very spacious and elegant feel. The best part was that although the ship is so much bigger than the "R" ships, I never felt that way onboard because the design spread people out beautifully. We never felt crowded anywhere. I thought the Marina Lounge was comfortable, with a lot of nice legroom (although I would have liked more depth to the seat cushions) and the sightlines were fine; IMO a big improvement over the "R" ships. I never missed a chance to descend the Lalique staircase when going from my cabin on deck 7 to deck 5, even though I had to detour from the regular staircase when I got to 6. I thought the dEcor and layout of the Grand Dining Room was lovely, with much more privacy for the tables. I loved the lobster-style chandeliers in the Terrace Cafe. I enjoyed the quiet Sanctuary to the side of the pool deck on the day that became our sea day when we missed Visby due to rough seas. The pool is much bigger, enough to swim laps in it, as one gentleman did daily, but unfortunately I never even dipped my toe in because of the cool Baltic breezes and temperatures. The artwork was very contemporary, and some need better lighting, but I did discover some Miro's in the short hall leading to the Casino bar. I also love blown glass so got to enjoy it in many of the public venues. The furniture both in Horizons and Martinis is too low to the ground; Martinis chairs were too deep for comfort as well, strange choices for these two popular spots which makes one wonder who tried these furnishings out!
Food. Food remains a superior product on Marina, and I enjoyed trying many of the new Marina offerings, including many recommended to me by Jim: lobster thermidor at Jacques, calamari and the duck and watermelon salad at Red Ginger. Because my spouse does not eat seafood, we never dined at the Terrace Cafe in the evening, but I stopped once for the grilled lobster tails and grilled shrimp before our GDR meal, and can attest that these foods are a wonderful addition. I also tried the amazing lobster and filet "sandwich" with truffles on the fries in the late afternoon at Waves twice, and it was a delight. The new system of someone taking your order and then bringing it over to you is an excellent improvement, particularly because we only ate there immediately after a full day of sightseeing when spouse did not want to stop for a lunch break. We also went twice to afternoon tea on this trip, and the scones with jam and clotted cream are even better than ever. We drink a lot of iced tea, which always tastes freshly brewed.
Specialty Restaurants: Jacques, which we booked for my "significant" birthday dinner, is a stand-out in terms of the complete package of excellent food (great sauces and flavors) and excellent service, a perfectly-paced and presented meal, the best meal I ever have had on a ship, rivaling the top NYC restaurants I have enjoyed. Red Ginger also has excellent service and the dEcor is stunning. The chopsticks and tea offerings were a delight. We thought the appetizers, salad and desserts were top-notch and very creative but that the main dishes were a bit bland for those of us who favor a bit of pizzazz in our Asian food. A quick shout-out to charming Bodi from Bali, the perfect server for this restaurant; I will never forget this gracious caring man. Polo Grill retains its excellent food billing, with me still loving the prime rib and Gerry inhaling the superb Porterhouse but IMO the service needs a tad of improvement, probably due to a lot of new young staff. Toscana: the special pasta with mushrooms and truffles is a dish worthy of mentioning over and over but our meal was spoiled by our server from South America who apparently believes that women are to be seen and not heard. Fortunately, my husband dealt with the situation calmly and completely, and we left as soon as possible, having our dessert in the GDR. I have written about this event elsewhere on the Oceania board and now have put it behind me.
Grand Dining Room: Our dinners in the Grand Dining Room were enhanced by the beauty of this room; the first time I entered, I actually stopped in awe to ogle as we were escorted to our table. One of the captains recognized us from a prior cruise, and it was nice to revive the connection, one of the things harder to do on this larger ship with a lot of new staff. The portion sizes are great for those of us ordering several courses, the food was very good, the appetizers offered often interesting, and the service more than adequate for the most part. The ethnic offerings, particularly the Asian ones, are appreciated. We enjoyed dining there so much that this year, for the first time in my four Oceania cruises, I never tried to return to any of the specialty dining venues, letting our one meal at each stand out alone in my memory.
Terrace Cafe: Breakfasts in the Terrace Cafe were excellent as usual, with three omelette makers every day, so short lines and little waiting. On Marina, the fabulous sticky buns were available every day, so tasty that I had to switch my allegiance and carbs to them from my usual daily chocolate croissant! The staff did a great job handling the rush for our Berlin and St. Petersburg days. Kudos to friendly Anique from Brazil, who always had a smile and a special spirit when we encountered her serving here and in the GDR in the evenings.
Serving Staff: We encountered a lot of staff still needing training, particularly in the Grand Dining Room. Many of the sommeliers working in various venues are too inexperienced to be working alone, and other staff needs to work on their English skills or summon someone whose English is more advanced to help. We had several incidents where there was a clear language barrier in the GDR. Also, any bottle of wine not finished is stored with your room number to be retrieved at another meal, a plus for us because I drink little wine (preferring to eat rather than drink my calories!), but my husband enjoys a nice bottle. Unfortunately, on this trip, the wine staff lost a very expensive bottle ordered in Polo and only half-finished. The GDR sommelier made a hash of this incident by insisting for more than an hour that it would be found; she finally conceded it was lost and gone forever when Gerry almost was finished with his steak, too late for us to order another. How dumb was that? (Gerry kept joking how come they never lost a cheap bottle all these years, but only the three-figure one I urged him to enjoy in Polo!) Regardless of these service issues, we never had to wait for a table, which was a problem on our Regatta cruise last year, a clear improvement in our opinion. Also, when eating with others in the GDR, the meals still were served promptly; on prior cruises, the larger the party, the longer it took to dine, and we did not find this to occur on this cruise, so kudos to Oceania to cleaning up this annoying problem.
Shipboard Daytime Activities. We are intense sightseers so we did not participate in many daytime activities on board. But Enrichment Lecturer Terry Bishop, a British expat now living in Andalucia, was a wonderful speaker, imparting a lot of information with a large dose of humor, an engaging combination. I attended and enjoyed all five of his lectures on the Vikings, Napoleon's General Bernadotte (who became King of Sweden), Waterloo, Songs of the Sea, and the Last Tsar of Russia. With humor, song and lovely, fun Power Point presentations, it was a delight and truly enhanced our cruise.
Gerry and I enjoy team trivia and played a couple of times in the afternoon and the evening but frankly found it not as fun as on past cruises because everyone from the entertainment staff leading it to the other participants simply were too intense for us. Especially at the Martinis trivia in the evening, I feel it should be a bit of fun. Absolutely none of the trivia on this cruise included any music. We both know a lot of trivia and won a lot of points playing, but we want to have fun and joke around a bit during these events (without revealing any answers), but could not do so with this lot. I guess that brings me to my opinion of the entertainment staff. David Shermet does a great morning show, with a lot of useful information, and seems like a very nice guy, but he and all of his staff simply seemed too forced, not very engaging. I missed Leslie, Ian and others from our prior cruises who exude true joie d'vive.
Entertainment. I am delighted to report that the entertainment at the evening show in the Marina Lounge exhibited a vast improvement over our prior cruise. Clearly, Oceania has put some thought and money into what many considered its biggest weakness, and that has paid off. The group of four singers and four dancers who performed for us three times was enthusiastic with a nice stage presence, with one of the men exhibiting an absolutely fabulous voice. We also enjoyed the talented Polish classical pianist, whose comments and program were very engaging, as well as the Polish gypsy violinist, who entertained us on a prior cruise. A nice addition was British magician and his dancer wife, Dez and Cherry, who were so charming, amusing and just plain fun in both their shows. We also enjoyed the string quartet who played at tea and around mealtimes.
Destination Services. We did not take any of the ship's excursions because we prefer to tour independently and not be bused around on the schedule of the slowest of 35 people. However, at every port, Oceania had a local tourism person on board for the first few hours after arrival, and that person provided excellent maps, which I always obtained and were very useful (I am a happy map enthusiast, the more detailed the better!), and also sightseeing advice and directions to local transportation for those who needed it . I organized a group of 16 from our roll call to go to Berlin from Warnemunde with SPB-Tours and used them for a tour for four for our two days in St. Petersburg and highly recommend their excellent services to you all. For the rest of the ports, Rick Steves' Scandinavia (and Eastern Europe for Gdansk) guidebook, plus the excellent advice provided by you on these boards, worked great for us.
We really appreciated the shuttles provided by either Oceania or the port authorities in Ronne, Gdynia (for Gdansk), Tallinn, and Helsinki, all of which we used. The one-page Port Guides on a separate sheet provided in your Currents daily newsletter by Destination Services needs to be reviewed because serious misinformation is included, such as that Riga is located 2-1/2 miles from the cruise pier (really only an easy 10-minute walk) and that Estonia has its own currency (it switched to the Euro on January 1).
Reception. A super bunch of people, very friendly and helpful, particularly Thomas from Germany. He was very patient with me when I was angered by the broken hairdryer in our cabin which I discovered when my hair was soaking wet at 11:15 PM the first night, and when I had to call several times to get the closet door fixed so that the stupid automatic light did not shine in my eyes when the electric contact was not engaging on nights 1 and 2 onboard. Shout out to Marlon from The Philippines who fixed this annoyance.
Fellow Passengers. Perhaps because there were many alumni groups on board, or perhaps because we were cruising the Baltics, the average passenger age on this cruise was much older than on our Mediterranean cruises. They also dressed up a lot more, with about 1/3 of the men wearing jackets and ties to dinner. (Gerry no longer brings even a jacket on these cruises.) I just celebrated a significant birthday, but we certainly were at the younger end of the demographic onboard! About 1/3 of the passengers were previous Oceania cruisers. Although an older crowd, people were having fun and very active.
I was able to meet many of the people from our roll call early in the cruise. Yorkiemom (Judy) organized a Meet and Greet cocktail hour right after our Muster Drill in Horizons, which was a lovely way to put faces to many of the names, and Oceania served some nice munchies to the group gratis, a very nice touch. Sixteen from our roll call traveled to Berlin the next day for an excellent SPB-Tour that I organized, so with five+ hours on the bus to and from, friendships were forged. What an educated, friendly and good group with which to enjoy this amazing city and the rest of the cruise. We dined with several couples we met through our roll call and would be happy to cruise with them again.
Disembarkation. We had pre-ordered a taxi for 9:15 AM for our arrival in Stockholm and left our cabin before 8 AM to enjoy our final breakfast in the Terrace Cafe. We disembarked around 8:45 AM, and joined the large crowd in the terminal seeking their luggage. The taxi arrived right on time, just a few short minutes after picked up some maps from the tourist information people in the terminal, retrieved our luggage and went outside, where there was a huge line of passengers waiting for taxis. Thanks to Al Fresco and others on the Baltic board, I knew that few taxis come out to Frihamnen port, so I was very glad to cut through this tremendous line and set out for our four wonderful days in lovely Stockholm at the Sheraton. BTW, thanks to Paulchili for this excellent hotel recommendation.