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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 3: Wednesday, Kiel Canal and Warnemunde
Kiel Canal and WarnemundeLike a Christmas gift that's labeled "Do Not Open 'Til December 25" -- or, in this case, an early birthday present -- I only got to stare longingly at my cabana this morning, and just for a few minutes, before the rain sent me scurrying back inside. I was checking to see if what Javier, the young concierge I contacted about using my cabana in the rain, had told me was, in fact, true. It does have a sliding roof enclosure, but Javier assured me that it was just for shade, that it would do nothing to eliminate the rainfall inside the cabana itself. He was right.

This day was our first (and only one of two) sea days; on this one we would traverse the Kiel Canal, getting to the Baltic Sea from the North Sea by going between Denmark and Germany.

When it's sunny out, it's a day of great fun on Regatta, of deck activities and camaraderie. But ... this is summer in Northern Europe, and rain is not particularly unusual. After all, this is why I came prepared with a poncho and umbrella!

On the other hand, the rain did provide the perfect opportunity for me (and of course my fellow guests) to get to know the ship. More than one of us also mentioned that it would be a perfect day to see if any of the fireplaces were real. (Alas, they aren't.)

If I were going to use one word to describe Regatta it would be "plush." Two words? "Elegantly plush" -- from the grand staircase in the entry to the deep armchairs throughout the ship, from the frescoed ceilings to the rich walnut wainscoting, and yes, even the faux fireplaces.

My favorite public room is The Library, not just because I love what it looks like, but also because it offers a large selection of reading material for a ship of this size. The shelves are open; you take what you want and return it when you're done on the honor system. The room sits at the top of the ship and resembles nothing less than a fine English drawing room. Several clubby chairs are scattered around, along with a couple of comfy settees. Tables and lamps are strewn about, and there's one of Regatta's great (fake) fireplaces under the coved ceiling, which -- oddly for a library -- has been painted with birds. Sitting in these cozy quarters while it's raining outside makes sense.

At the other (forward) end of the ship there's Horizons, the aptly-named club/bar/meeting/dance space with its sweeping views through panoramic floor-to-ceiling windows. This is a perfect venue for arriving and leaving port; you can see everything. It's also perfect for the early riser's breakfast, for those who get up to jog on Deck 10 in the dawn light, or those who just get up early. Coffee, tea, croissants and other breakfast rolls, along with butter and several types of jam are set up, buffet style, along the starboard side. It's a big space, so quiet privacy is almost assured at that hour of the day. Wonderful!

A quick look at the daily program in Currents, the ship's newsletter, gave me some idea of what I wanted to do during the day. I could skip the needlepoint and coffee chat with Sybil, the social hostess (although she's charming and great fun to visit with). I could also pass on the fitness seminar, Detox for Health. When I am on a cruise with cuisine as lauded as Oceania's, the last thing I want to think about is detoxing, unless it includes a prescription for creme brule. But ahhhh, here is a lecture on the Faberge Legacy. Check. And a Food and Wine Pairing with a most reasonable fee of only $9, and then a line dance class. Check and check. Plus, my room has a DVD player, the front desk has a total of 670 (yes!) DVD's to lend, and there are close to first-run movies on four television channels (so I have plenty of choices without borrowing a DVD).

Speaking of my room, it has quirks. I think they are generic quirks and are not limited to my room only. Quirk number one: Every time I lift the toilet seat the toilet flushes. You'll just have to keep reading for the rest....

Lunch today at the Terrace Cafe is Oriental. People line up with their cameras to take photos of the whole suckling pig; the counterman is carving only the side away from us, so the poor piglet looks whole and happy from our side. It's a Saturday and I hear some Jewish people making comments about the insensitivity of this choice, but on the whole, most of the guests enjoy the feast. It includes both beef and chicken sate sticks with peanut sauce, Chinese chicken salad and my favorite, the sushi and sashimi that I had at dinner the other night. I meet up with some folks from the Cruise Critic roll call and we have a wonderful lunch together, before separating to go take naps. That's our idea of detoxing; who needs a class?

We entered the Kiel Canal just before noontime, and could see commercial traffic in front of and behind us. The Kiel Canal is the world's busiest artificial waterway, built between the bottom part of Denmark and the top part of Germany so ships don't have to go up above the Danish peninsula and into Norway to get to the Baltic (saving an average of 250 nautical miles). Crowds often line the banks for a glimpse at passing cruise ships. We could also see gorgeous, bucolic countryside on each bank; there was no difference really, in either the architecture or the farming styles of the Danish side and the German side.

The sun finally came out just as we neared the end of the canal, at around 6:30 or 7 p.m., just before we passed the city of Kiel and entered into the Baltic Sea. I was enjoying supper in the Grand Dining Room at the time. A glint of sunlight pouring was a fitting accolade to what, in the end, had been a perfect -- if otherwise gray -- day onboard Regatta.



I had made the conscious decision not to go to Berlin from Warnemunde. I did not want to spend hours and hours sitting in buses (it's approximately 2.5 hours from our docking spot into Berlin), and I knew, from a previous trip, that most things would be closed on a Sunday anyway. In fact, for that reason I had debated even leaving the ship. But again, Cruise Critic's Northern Europe message board came through for me -- namely, one member named HeinBloed. Apparently, the state in which Warnemunde is located does not have the same rigid Sunday laws as the state near Berlin that I had visited a couple of years ago. Yes! HeinBloed assured me Warnemunde is a tourist town and that there would be boutiques and cafes open -- and that if I wanted to travel to neighboring Rostock I could even tour a brewery!

Note: If you are calling at Warnemunde for the first time, however, a visit to Berlin is simply not to be missed -- no matter how long the trip is from the dock. Since the wall was pulled down in 1989, the city has a new lease on life. Naturally, the wall itself is a draw; the longest standing section of it parallels the River Spree and showcases several murals. Cruise Critic's port profile offers a good overview of other things to see and do in a convenient walking tour format.

And so, armed with the excitement of seeing a new place that I had heard was charming, mixed with the fact that there was sun, I set out on foot to discover this adorable, sweet little town filled with boutiques, creperies, hot dog and sandwich stands, parks and beaches, with local families out walking, soaking up the same sun with the same smiles.

Warnemunde is a fishing village that is considered part of the Hanseatic city of Rostock. It has evolved into a seaside Mecca for tourists throughout northern Germany who crave beach time. The wide sandy beach is appealing, as are the many parks dotted throughout the small town. But even more compelling are the cobblestone streets with their outdoor cafes and shops. I spent hours and hours just walking and watching and considering purchasing everything from shoes and handbags to carved wooden lighthouses.

I got back to the ship in late afternoon; the sun was shining and it was glorious out. Guess what! Time to use my cabana.

It is funny how one teeny little comment can make or break one's day. I was frantically trying to find my "birthday card," the one that says "Capri." I was shuffling papers and sweaters and bags all over the desk, the bed, and the settee in my room, and although I did a fairly good job of clearing it all up, it still seemed pretty unkempt to me. I apologized to my room team of Anastasya and Chona for being messy; they looked at each other and both started laughing. "Oh no," they said, nearly in unison. "YOU are not messy! You should see what 'messy' looks like!" For some reason that really pleased me. I am not messy!

And finally, finally, I will use Capri, my personal cabana. I will take my books and magazines and enjoy the sun and the view and the privacy and the sheer decadence of it all. It will give me something to remember during the decade before my next birthday with a 0 in it.
Day 2: Brugge and Amsterdam red arrow Day 4: Copenhagen

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