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Birthday in the Baltic on Oceania's Regatta
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Birthday in the Baltic on Oceania's Regatta It's one of those years. You know: the ones with a birthday with a 0 in it. The ones where you say "Yup, it's a big one!" The ones where well-meaning friends throw parties with black balloons....

It's one of those years for me; I had a birthday with a 0 in it. (Yup, it's a big one.) The day came and went with little fanfare except ... I made a decision. I was going to cruise the Baltic. I have never done it though I have wanted to for years, and it was high time I give myself a sweet "no holds barred" birthday gift.

My ship of choice? Oceania Regatta, which I sailed on almost five years ago, when Oceania was a brand-new company. I love Regatta. Originally built for Renaissance Cruises as R1, it accommodates only 684 passengers, has four dining venues, and features a design style that makes you think you're in an English country manor house (faux fireplaces and all).

In researching itineraries from either Dover in the U.K. or Stockholm, Regatta came out on top, too. Fourteen days chock full of ports. Ten countries. Three full days in St. Petersburg -- plus Brugge, Amsterdam and even Berlin if I choose to spend three hours in each direction traveling from Warnemund. Gdansk, Helsinki, Copenhagen and Tallinn round out the trip, with a daylight passage of the Kiel Canal.

So I am off to Dover to set sail on my Baltic adventure. I have reserved a private cabana for the entire voyage, purchased a cruise-long pass to the Thalassotherapy pool, and mapped out all of my shore excursions. I'm ready to go, and I couldn't be more excited for new experiences, lots of relaxation and unfamiliar locations to explore (hopefully new friends, too). I'm going to make the most of this trip.

After all, it will be a full decade before I have another birthday with a 0 in it!

Day 1: Dover
Day 2: Brugge and Amsterdam
Day 3: Kiel Canal and Warnemunde
Day 4: Copenhagen
Day 5: Gdansk
Day 6: Helsinki
Day 7: St. Petersburg
Day 8: St. Petersburg, Day 2
Day 9: St. Petersburg, Day 3 and Tallinn
Day 10: Stockholm
Related Links
Regatta ship review
Regatta Member reviews
Oceania Messages
Day 1: Monday, Dover
DoverAs determined as I was to celebrate my birthday on a Baltic cruise, there was a major problem with choosing Regatta. Because I didn't make my decision until wintertime, when I sat down to book my trip, everything -- and I mean every sailing -- was sold out. I could only put myself on Oceania's waiting list, which I did, agreeing to take any sailing, from either direction (Dover or Stockholm). I said I'd even take the originating repositioning sailing which started in Rome. Of course, there was one itty bitty request: "I'd prefer a verandah ... but I'll take anything!"

Cruise Critic members and friends warned me that the likelihood of my clearing the waitlist was almost nil, but hey, it's one of those "0" years, so I felt lucky. I waited ... and waited ... and waited. On the very day that I was going to book another ship on another line (yes, I hate to admit it, but I was about to give up), I got the call. I was going to the Baltic on Oceania's Regatta! I was given a "B-verandah" guarantee, which I knew meant Deck 6 -- on my last Regatta trip I stayed in starboard-side cabin 6057, which I loved because it was in a great location mid-ship, near the elevator.

The buzz only lasted until I realized I actually had to start packing, and quickly! I generally find last-minute travel to be an exhilarating prospect, but for someone who has never been to this region there is so much to learn about, so many options of things to see and do. St. Petersburg alone can take a year of study before determining how best to spend your time. A huge help to me was reading Stan Wu's St. Petersburg story here on Cruise Critic about making independent arrangements with a tour company. But in the end, because of the last-minute nature of the trip, I am opting for ship's tours. And going with Oceania means I'm exempt from having to secure a tourist visa.

Oceania also handled my air for me and booked me non-stop from Los Angeles International to London's Heathrow, a 10-hour flight arriving the same day the cruise departed Dover, which is about a three-hour drive from the airport. I was a little nervous, because this arrangement violated my very first tenet of cruise planning: Always fly in a day ahead of a cruise! But I just went with the flow -- and to the line's credit, and the travel powers-that-be, everything ended up being perfect.

Well ... as close to perfect as one can get in today's world. Upon early arrival to LAX I discovered that Virgin Atlantic now requires carry-on luggage to weigh 15 pounds or less. Mine didn't, so out came the laptop to travel with me (everything else got checked along with the big bag). My next discovery was that at LAX there is not a single post box, not a single means by which one can mail a letter. In the entire airport. In any terminal. This came as a shock to me, but I was told that it's a result of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Three stamped and ready-to-go bills and one greeting card have joined me on my Baltic cruise because of this.

If you are cruising overseas, I highly recommend Virgin Atlantic for your next flight. First class and business class look spectacular, with a stand-up bar and lay-down seats. If you are skinny with long legs, economy class should be comfortable as it offers great pitch (the distance between seat backs) despite poor seat width. The food is decent and the entertainment fabulous, with about 70 movies choices that play on a large-ish screen in the seatback in front of you, and the staff is engaging, helpful and fun.

Matthew, my friendly flight attendant, called me "dahling" throughout the journey, which I cherished. He also tipped me off to the fact that the entertainment system was interactive -- and said that if, perchance, I found someone I "fancied" during my walks back and forth to keep my ankles from swelling, he would send a message for me to my beloved's seatback TV screen. How sweet: Mid-air matchmaking for seniors! Instead, I watched a movie and then found the documentary section which offered a program on meditation, "guaranteed to make you feel relaxed and rested." I'm not 100 percent sure it worked, although the new-age music helped me fall soundly asleep.

After arriving at Heathrow and breezily clearing customs and immigration, I was met by Oceania representatives and presented with a yellow dot sticker to wear. Three other couples with yellow stickers sat on a bench near baggage claim, but one couple's were square -- turns out, they were going to Norwegian Jewel, also in Dover that day. Hmm, shouldn't their stickies have been blue or red or something other than yellow like the Regatta passengers? What if they got on the wrong ship? It could happen. While in the airport, I overheard a story about a lady who thought she was flying from Los Angeles to San Francisco and ended up in New York....

It was pretty easy to tell the two ships apart once in Dover, though, with Regatta, intimate at 30,277 tons and carrying just 684 passengers, dwarfed behind the much larger Norwegian Jewel. The bus trip to Dover was pleasant and check-in was almost unbelievably fast and easy; within mere minutes I was on the way to my stateroom.

Despite my initial excitement about the verandah guarantee, I had a few concerns about the stateroom I was ultimately assigned to: Unlike 6057, it was a forward-facing verandah cabin on the lower level of the bow and above the forward lounge. I knew that it would be noisy with bow-thrusters and entertainer's bass notes, and assumed that I would have to keep the curtains shut at night to avoid reflection in the bridge, and that because of a solid bulwark I'd have to stand to see out beyond the verandah. It was probably the last cabin I'd have booked for myself. On the other hand, I felt really lucky to have any verandah; there were several people on the Cruise Critic roll call that had also cleared the waitlist near the time that I had, and they were in porthole rooms or window rooms and -- like me -- were just ecstatic that they had made it onboard at all.

Bow-thruster worries were gone before long. Oddly enough, I had forgotten all about having booked my cabana package by the time I boarded, and so couldn't quite figure out the large chenille bag that was on my bed. Then I saw it. My birthday card (well, it was really just another plastic card like the room key/boarding card). "Capri," it said. That was the name of my cabana for two full weeks. The bag was filled with goodies -- thick towels, sunscreen and lotions -- to be explored more fully when I was ready to go up there.

After unpacking and freshening up, I indulged in the first of my treats: an exquisite solo dinner in Tapas on the Terrace, the alfresco dining area of Regatta's Terrace Cafe. I swooned over fresh sashimi of tuna and salmon, pepper-seared ahi and spicy rolls, then double-swooned over the absolutely perfect pot of creme brule -- and after the Cruise Critic meet and greet, which started just before and ended just after sail-away from Dover -- I made the best discovery of all.

Back in my cabin, I was ready to fall into my beautiful, welcoming Tranquility Bed, a signature of Oceania Cruises. First, though, I turned off the lights and stepped out onto my verandah for some air. Despite my apprehensions, it turns out these staterooms and the suites adjacent are actually coveted -- and now I knew why. The solid bulwark didn't matter. The noise of the bow thrusters didn't matter. The need to keep the drapes closed didn't matter. What I experienced, just sailing away from Dover in the post-dusk atmosphere, was a 180-degree view of lights across the channel, forward and on each side. Left to right. Right to left. It was exquisite, and I knew that if it was this good at night with lights in the distance, it would be spectacular going through the Kiel Canal, or the river to get to St. Petersburg, or through the archipelagos before Helsinki and Stockholm.

What a wonderful way to start my birthday bash cruise. And with that, I fell into bed and slept very soundly indeed.
  Day 2: Brugge and Amsterdam

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