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Birthday in the Baltic on Oceania's Regatta
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
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Day 10: Friday, Stockholm
StockholmI did manage to rise at 4:30 a.m. to see the entry through the Swedish archipelago. It actually wasn't all that difficult considering the ship felt like it was swerving to miss the islands; it wasn't, of course, but it sure felt like it. I looked out my front-facing windows, appreciated what I saw (lushly forested islands) and fell back into bed until 6:30 a.m., at which time, yes, I brushed my teeth, ran a comb through my hair, donned my white robe and joined the rest of the "white robe crowd" in the Terrace Cafe.

The funny highlight of the morning: Seeing the faces of the people who had obviously not attended the show the night before, nor had they looked in their Currents where the White Robe Breakfast was mentioned. These people seemed almost concerned for their safety when they saw hundreds of us descend on the Terrace in our robes!

Stockholm. This big, beautiful city on islands would be our overnight home, and the city from which we would say our farewells. We could see its outline as we came in, as well as the other ships that were in port with us that day ... a Costa ship, a Royal Caribbean ship, an MSC ship and a couple of others that weren't immediately recognizable. Regatta was berthed at a pier that was unfamiliar to most of the staff and crew; although Stockholm had, earlier this season, opened a brand new passenger cruise terminal, Regatta was at some distance from it and some distance further from the city. Indeed, because the port was so packed, Oceania got shafted by nothing other than luck of the draw.

Still, it was a beautiful day, and I was looking forward to my walk in Stockholm, and my trips to the Vasa museum, Gamla Stan (the "old town") and the Ice Bar at the Nordic Sea Hotel. As usual, there was a representative from the tourism board in the ship's lobby, advising guests and handing out maps. Thanks to the Northern Europe forum, I knew that in order to take a bus in Stockholm, you need a token, which you can purchase (in Swedish kroner only) at a machine at the bus stop. You cannot buy your passage onboard. Regatta happily exchanged our money into Swedish kroner. The tourism lady told us where to walk from this particular dock, and which bus to get.

In my cruising life I am always aware of complaints and complainers, who isn't? On Regatta, though, complaints were so rare it was almost spooky. There was a lot of grumbling about the weather until we left Copenhagen, but of course that had nothing to do with either Oceania or Regatta. There were some complaints about specific shore excursions -- the shore excursion price of the canal cruise in Copenhagen was usurious compared to the local price, the Metro Ride and Shopping excursion in St. Petersburg was not at all as advertised -- but again, not exactly directed at Oceania.

The one complaint, however, which almost everyone had, and which I heartily agree has merit, is the lack of any shuttle service at Oceania's port stops. Almost everyone whom I heard discussing this issue was upset about it, and would have gladly paid for the service -- and there was never an adequate response from onboard staff as to why they don't have it. In Zeebrugge, passengers who wanted to take the train had to either shell out for a cab to the station or walk a great distance in dangerous conditions to get there. In Gdansk, taxis were expensive and few and far between, and even though the ship does dock in Gdansk and not in Gdynia, much further away, the city is still half an hour's drive from the dock. In Estonia, Regatta passengers were welcomed onto the free Costa shuttle into Old Town Tallinn and back, a fact which should actually embarrass Oceania. But Stockholm was the worst, and generated the most complaints -- and the most ire.

Because it was the first time that Regatta had docked at Vartahamnen 523, no one was 100 percent sure of the transportation option for independent travelers. That unfortunately included the tourism board representatives, who no doubt had driven to the port for their visit onboard Regatta that morning. Passengers were directed to different locations for buses, to different bus numbers, to locations that were half a mile away or farther which required walking through construction sites, or to bus stops that had no token machine, requiring a return walk to the ship to get some bearings. Vartahamnen didn't look that far from the Costa and Celebrity ships docked at Frihamnen, but in fact, the docks were worlds apart in terms of facilities available to cruise passengers. Fatigued and cranky, most of us returned from the phantom bus stops to end up sharing cab rides into town.

Stockholm is simply ... beautiful. Like Tallinn, its old and new sides co-exist; cobblestone streets merge into paved avenues and wind back again to cobbles. Pedestrian walkways and street traffic work together on the bridges that join the islands that make the center of the city. Cafes with outdoor seating dot the entire landscape when the weather is good. Boats and ferries crisscross the many waterways around Stockholm's core. Gamla Stan, the old medieval city, is tiring on feet and legs because it's hilly and has huge cobbles that are challenging for even the best walkers. It's perfect, though, because it's just lovely, and because there are plenty of places with a nice view to sit and rest or to have coffee or a beer, a salad or an open-faced sandwich. Hot dog carts are also strategically located around the city and are one of the few options that North Americans can feel are "cheap eats."

After walking for several hours, watching the Changing of the Guard at the palace and examining the sales along Drottninggatan -- the pedestrian shopping street that wends its way through town -- my fatigue caught up with me. I decided that I would go back to the ship, shower and nap for a couple of hours, and return for the Vasa museum and the Ice Bar. We were, after all, spending the night in Stockholm. I asked several people about getting a bus back to Vartahamnen, but no one seemed to know how, so I grabbed a cab. All I can say is thank heavens they take MasterCard because I certainly didn't have enough SEK (Swedish kroner) for the nearly $80 fare from downtown! It was only about six miles away but mid-day traffic and traffic lights made the fare soar. There went my Stockholm budget.

I loved Stockholm, at least the few hours that I spent exploring it, and look forward to returning to town for the two excursions I wanted to experience as a tourist -- I never did get back into the city and I will probably regret that until I finally get to visit again. Instead, I spent my evening packing up and visiting with new friends. Solo Michelle absorbed my cab tale with a look of woe; she, it turns out, had snagged one of the pedicabs in town and the young woman who pedaled her for a tour that cost $25 USD also returned her to the ship. When I return to Stockholm I will surely keep that in mind ... pedicab drivers are usually students who rent cycles that pull a small, bullet-shaped container that can accommodate two people. They end their summer a bit wealthier from the tourist trade and unbelievably fit; finding out how cost-effective they are in Stockholm cheered me immensely. I know I'll go back, now that I know how to return to the ship.


It was odd putting my bags out in the hallway while it was still daylight; I'd never experienced that before. I made my room service selections, set up my wake-up call, went out onto my verandah for what would be the last time and bid farewell to my Northern Europe journey. Tomorrow morning I would be in flight, winging my way from Stockholm to the U.S., then on to the West Coast, to my real life and my pets, yard work and home repairs. I wonder how long it will take me before I stop expecting Gavin or Winston to appear with my morning coffee and chocolate croissant?



At the beginning of my journey, I recounted my first sailing on this ship nearly five years ago, when Regatta (and Oceania) had been in existence for a very short time -- just a couple of months. I was impressed then because, while the product wasn't perfect, it was well on its way. The ship, and Oceania Cruises, had great promise.

Five years on and nothing much has changed, except that Regatta is even closer to perfection and, of course, it has two siblings and two bigger ones on order. I'm on another two-week cruise, and on an itinerary I'd always coveted: Regatta's Scandinavian Splendors. I am always a late booker, and generally can't book cruises in advance for many reasons. I have been on Scandinavian Splendors' waiting list several times; the difference this year is that I cleared it. (I'm sure that my birthday with a 0 in it had something to do with the fates falling my way.) Oceania's Scandinavian Splendors is about as perfect a Northern Europe route as can be devised; two weeks, 10 countries, two sea days -- and the three-day stay in St. Petersburg, brilliant compared to the whirlwind of other lines' two-day stays.

It's exhilarating, awe-inspiring, culturally and scenically incredible ... and thoroughly exhausting (in a good way).

Here are a few of the lessons I've learned and tips to take on your own Baltic adventure:

Book early. Get the stateroom or suite that you want. Then spend the rest of the time learning, reading, interacting on Cruise Critic's boards and your Roll Call, deciding on your shore excursions, walking trips and transportation.

Get to know the staff. Room stewards, wait staff, officers -- they are all around. They're visible. You never know what you can learn from them, and your voyage will be greatly enhanced because of it. For example, I learned from Executive Chef Pascal (often seen serving guests from behind the counter at the Terrace Cafe, in full chef regalia) that Oceania had recently hired a consultant chef with expertise in physics and chemistry. He helped figure out how bakers could still produce a perfect French baguette even with the humidity onboard. "To make a proper baguette," Pascal told me, "you need an aggregate temperature of the flour, the water and the air to be 70-degrees Fahrenheit. But the humidity was something else. We are now using a lighter flour for our baguettes, and a denser flour for our evening breads."

Get a cabana. If that kind of pampering is within your reach, I'd recommend it. When I booked my cabana for the entire cruise, I thought it was a fantastic deal. It came to a little over $50 per day for the two weeks. A single day, a shore day, would have been $99; a sea day would have been $150. Granted, most of the trip consists of shore days, but it's a quiet, peaceful place in which to cocoon. Even though I didn't use it every day, it was wonderful to have.

Plan your finances carefully. Unless there's a substantial economic upturn in North America where the dollar does better against the euro, Europe will continue to be very expensive for us. Scandinavia is even more expensive. Plan accordingly; if you don't go shopping or dine out a lot, you can really do well visiting Europe on a cruise vacation that you've prepaid in dollars.

Do your research. Get as much information as you can in advance, especially about transportation options, for each country you'll visit. Remember, too, that until the U.K., Denmark and Sweden make the choice to join the European Union and take on euros, you're dealing with pounds, crowns and kroners. In Poland it's zlotys, in Russia it's rubles and in Estonia it's kroons. The good thing about Regatta is that they will change your money for you (at a price, 5 percent) and change it back for you so you don't end up going home with hundreds of zlotys or kroons.

Stay before (or after). If you are sailing in July or August, try to plan a few nights in Stockholm before or after your Oceania voyage, depending which way you're traveling. Hotel costs actually plunge during those two months because Swedes go on vacation and there are fewer business conferences. Most of them (and Stockholm doesn't have many hotels for a city of its size) end up charging about a third of their normal rate. It's a bargain, one of the few we can realize in Scandinavia with our weak dollar. Almost all Stockholm hotels include breakfast, you can get a Stockholm Card to save on transportation and entry fees, and remember, there are hot dog carts for cheap eats!

I was encouraged when I saw curb cuts in almost all of the Northern European countries, but my delight at discovering enlightened societies for less mobile people was short-lived. Europeans walk a lot more than we do; they walk with their strollers and prams. The curb cuts are for them, not wheelchair-bound visitors to their fine cities.

Regatta, built 10 years ago, has precisely two configured staterooms, both insides on Deck 4. There were several wheelchair-bound guests on my voyage, but they all had some degree of mobility. As helpful and considerate as the staff is on Regatta, they won't be there to carry you up the stairs at Peterhof or to lift you and the chair into the tram in Amsterdam. I use a rollator, a mobility assistive device, and found a lot of help when I needed it, but if I were chair-bound, I could not have done this journey alone.



I've always maintained that the atmosphere on a ship, as in any business, is generated from the top. Captain Jahn Rye has been the Master of Regatta since it set sail for Oceania Cruises, and in fact, he just celebrated his 50th year at sea. He's a gentleman of quiet dignity with a beaming smile. There is no question that he's in charge, that he's the Master. His obvious love of the sea and his affinity for the passengers who enable him to continue in the work he loves filters down to the rest of the officers and crew who serve onboard. Whereas on most large ships there is a distance between the crew and passenger, Captain Rye and his General Manager of guest services, Thierry Tholon, encourage interaction. The staff members talk to you. Look you in the eye. Call you by name.

And finally, if you are lucky enough to experience Oceania's Scandinavian Splendors, enjoy every second of it. You don't need to have a birthday with a 0 in it to make this the cruise of a lifetime.
Day 9: St. Petersburg, Day 3 and Tallinn red arrow  

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