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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 4: Thursday, Copenhagen
CopenhagenThe television program "60 Minutes" did a story about the Danes, proclaiming them the "happiest people on earth," which I saw the first time it ran and again in reruns. Finally -- today in Copenhagen -- I was going to be able to see for myself if this was true. If I were really lucky, I would be meeting a lot of happy people who look like my daughter!

My adopted daughter's roots are in Malmo, a Swedish town just across a bridge from Copenhagen. Unlike squat and swarthy me, she is long-legged, blonde, fair-skinned and blue-eyed. She wasn't joining me on this trip, but I thought it would be great fun to go to a place where everyone looked like her. Nordic. Scandic. In fact, there is an Oceania shore excursion that includes a trip across that bridge from Copenhagen into Malmo. The city of Malmo has great significance to me, and so I seriously considered taking that excursion.

But in the end, I figured, well, if there is only a bridge separating Malmo from Copenhagen, I'm sure I'll get pretty much the same effect by staying in Copenhagen. So I chose the shore excursion instead that took us on a canal-boat ride around the city.

Several years ago I had connected at Copenhagen Airport en route to Oslo, Norway. I was quite taken at the time at how flat the landscape was, so as we sailed in, I wasn't too surprised by the lack of any significant landmarks. As we got closer I could see some spires and the typical red brick of the buildings. We moored alongside Langelinie Pier, right in the heart of the city.

Our excursion took us first to several spots around Copenhagen that are historically significant, and from which I learned a great deal. I learned, for example, that Denmark's monarchy is the oldest in the world and that a portion of every penny that you pay to drink a Carlsberg beer goes to support a major museum in Copenhagen or some sort of cultural event. I also learned that 95 percent of the Jews were successfully spirited out of Denmark and into Sweden during World War II, and that their houses and belongings, and even their pets, were cared for by neighbors. When the war was over they could return home to what they had left behind.

We stopped for a few minutes at The Black Diamond, a new, architecturally significant structure along one of the canals, that serves as city's library. It's made of materials that reflect the sun on the water beneath it, and in a shape that is just slightly concave. When it's sunny out, the building does look like a black diamond.

At the end of the tour, but before we were transferred back to the ship, I and several other Oceania passengers left the canal boat right near Nyhavn, a small but ancient harbor that houses many outdoor cafes and shops, street performers and restaurants. It's busy and crowded with both tourists and very happy Danes. Even though it was quite chilly out and tourists were dressed warmly, the Danes seemed to thrive in their short sleeved light cotton clothing. A little bit of cold would not change their behavior ... after all, it was a summer day! At the end of Nyhavn was exactly what I had been seeking: a "polser" cart selling hot dogs of sundry types. You can get one in a bun or one just plain, served with a piece of wax paper so you have something on which to put your ketchup and mustard. You can get long red ones or short spicy ones. Anyone familiar with New York or Chicago dogs will have great appreciation for the "polser" carts in Denmark; in fact, I would say that visiting a polser cart is as significant as visiting that other Danish icon, The Little Mermaid.

Of course my tour had stopped first at Copenhagen's own Little Mermaid statue, which will celebrate her 95th birthday this August. She has remained a welcoming presence in the city all this time despite vandalism that removed her head, her arms, painted her white and yellow and blue. She is always repaired and always stands ready to welcome visitors -- and she is huge to Danes despite her diminutive size.

There was a fellow selling copper reproduction Little Mermaid souvenirs next to the fence above the harbor. They were being sold for 10 euros or $15 U.S. dollars. They were kind of cute too; not very big, maybe five inches tall. Now, I know that 10 euros -- bank rate -- equals about $16.40 and that by the time I pay commission to change my dollars it comes to more like $17.20. $15 USD was a heck of a good deal, I figured, so I got one. I don't think I could convince my mother that it would go nicely with the Lalique figurines she has collected, and my daughter is trying to simplify her surroundings and get rid of things just like this mermaid, so I can't give it to her. It's mine! It will go on the shelf with my other travel tchotchkes, like the yerba mate cup and bombilla from Argentina, and the rubber troll from Norway. It will fit in quite nicely and remind me every day of the happy people of Denmark who so much resemble my daughter.



It was warming up and sunny out when I returned to Regatta; back to my cabana I went. It seems undignified to call Stanley (he says that's his last name) from Honduras, the gentleman who is there to assist guests, a "cabana boy" -- but that's what they're called.

Being in the cabana is what being royalty must feel like. It's beyond having a butler in your suite. It's positively decadent. One might feel like calling out: "Stanley! Come peel me a grape!" ... and he would! (I didn't, though.)

What truly makes the in-cabana experience more decadent than having a butler in your suite is, of course, the cabana itself. The area is fairly small, maybe 9 feet by 9 feet. There are white curtains along the sides and a canvas roof that pulls back to the open sun. There's a double Balinese bed with a thick pad clothed in a custom-made terrycloth cover, which allows each side of the headrest to be adjusted independently. The unit has a private phone, a mist-blowing fan, two little tables, full size terry towels, and both bar and lunch menus. In the mornings you are treated to frozen fruit skewers which come with the most scrumptious strawberry sauce imaginable.

Feet up and mind and body relaxed, I finally had the opportunity to look at and use what was in my cabana goodie bag, valued at $350. (You can buy a second one for $185, quite a steal.) There is, of course, the huge chenille bag with the Oceania Cruises logo. Inside are two enormous bath sheets, very elegant, also with the Oceania Cruises logo. Other logo gear includes one baseball-style cap in black and one sun visor in white. There are sunscreen wipes, a spray bottle of Evian mist, and a bag of pricey Clarins treatments for skin care in the sun.

I stayed there until sailaway, reading and relaxing. It wasn't hot, it wasn't cold. It was just right. After we cleared Copenhagen and were en route to Gdansk, Poland, to the south, I went off to dinner in the Grand Dining Room.



Carolyn Spencer Brown, Cruise Critic's Editor in Chief, is a happily married, busy professional. I am retired from the professional world and uncoupled. Both of us travel solo from time to time, and have often spoken about the difference between a solo traveler and a "single." To travel solo comfortably, one has to be content within his or her own skin, savor the joys of not having anyone make decisions for you and not having to be responsible for anyone else's pleasure. It isn't perfect all the time, but it's positively exhilarating to travel that way on occasion.

I was reflecting on a particular cruise that Spencer Brown took two years ago -- on another line -- with a similar itinerary to mine and which had her starting out as a "solo" (a friend was joining her partway through the cruise). Her experiences at the hands of the staff were excruciating to hear about. I, naturally, can't help remembering her experience and comparing it to mine.

I have a suspicion that Oceania's staff and crew have gone through some sort of “sensitivity training” sessions (and I'll ask before the cruise ends) -- or at least the staff on Regatta has, because as a frequent solo traveler I have never been treated with more respect and acknowledgement than I have on this trip.

Instead of being hidden and ignored, as many solo travelers are on cruise ships, I have been treated with dignity and consideration. Here's a perfect example: On my first night onboard I dined at Tapas on the Terrace. I wanted to sit outside in the pleasant Dover summer weather and I asked to be seated with others. Unfortunately, the crowded venue only had seating available for me in a tucked-away corner. I was disappointed and wondered if I would get the same treatment that Spencer Brown had received -- but no, not by a long shot.

"Don't worry, you won't be alone," a large gentleman assured me. Omar from Jamaica, his name pin said. "Big O and MoMo will take care of you." MoMo referred to Mohammed from Sri Lanka, who was also serving me. And you know, they did take care of me. They made sure that if I wanted anything they were within reach. They took time to chat with me when I wanted to chat, and they knew when to leave me alone. Not once have I felt diminished -- or even alone -- because I am traveling solo.

This has been consistent throughout my cruise. I've seen the entertainment staff -- including the social hostess, the assistant cruise director, the cruise director himself and even some of the entertainers -- make sure that the solos onboard had company and have not felt alone or lonely. I've watched the Maitre d's, Head Waiters and the Restaurant Manager keep an eye out for people who look like they might need company. I watch them and how they react. It's an issue for me, and I am happy and encouraged with what I've experienced so far.

And, by the way, I have met a couple of other solos, one of whom, my new buddy Michelle, chose this cruise to celebrate her birthday this year... one of those with an 0 in it.
Day 3: Kiel Canal and Warnemunde red arrow Day 5: Gdansk

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