Sailing to the main port cities of the Baltic Sea with Oceania
While sailing the Baltic Sea, there are plenty of fascinating – if not downright surprising – shore excursions to take across Scandinavia and Eastern Europe.
While some travelers postpone plans for a Baltic cruise, others book a shore excursion to a Soviet nuclear missile base.
On another tour, when an F-16 flies overhead, the guide says it “shows Russia we’re watching them,” and we continue to sample Danish wines. The next day, in a Swedish village, a man with a crossbow walks towards a crowd of people brandishing swords, and everyone cheers.
Oceania MarinaThe 10-night cruise from Copenhagen is full of surprises. For starters, the itinerary has changed since the St. Petersburg scrapyard, but the revised lineup is outstanding.
The ship calls at seven countries, so each morning offers a different culture, cuisine, language and landscape.
Ports of call include Kiel, Germany; the small island of Bornholm, Denmark; Klaipeda, a port city in Lithuania; Riga, the architectural and cultural capital of Latvia; the cobbled beauties of Tallinn, Estonia, and Visby, Sweden; Helsinki and Kotka, Finland; and one night in Stockholm.
Optional shore excursions are as diverse as the destinations. There are visits to farms, palaces, breweries, a former concentration camp, a Nordic sauna and an ice bar. Activities range from extreme rafting and forest hiking to a speedboat adventure around the Finnish archipelago. A selection of Oceania Exclusive tours are limited to 16 people by bus or in small groups on guided bike tours.
For travelers who don’t want to be tourists, on Go Local outings you’ll spend the day walking, taking public transport, grabbing snacks at cafes, and shopping at supermarkets.
Our trip to Plokstine Missile Base and Cold War Museum in northwestern Lithuania is fascinating but also entertaining, as we have a local guide with a great sense of humor and “the driver most sober in Lithuania”. The old launch site is a maze of tunnels, command rooms, exhibits of military items and propaganda posters, and the huge shaft where ballistic missiles were stored some 30 meters underground for nearly two decades (1962-1978).
The day we visit Visby happens to be medieval week, which explains the hundreds of people with guns. Dressed in costumes, they re-enact battle scenes, with jousts and music, or parade through the streets as knights, queens and peasants. Every other week of the year, the walled old town is an enchanting place to explore the ruins of the Gothic church, the impressive Cathedral of St. Mary and the rose-covered wooden cottages, enclosed in stone fortifications of the XIIIth century.
The Danish winery is one of the stops on the Taste of Bornholm tour. Peacocks roam the vines as eccentric owner Jasper introduces us to his 500-kilogram cola-guzzling pig before sampling strawberry wine and honey schnapps. Then we go to a sausage factory and a smoked fish cafe to taste the local specialties with a beer.
Food and wine tours are popular in Oceania, renowned for its fine cuisine, attracting epicureans from Australia, the US, the UK and Europe. A new Latvian cooking class is held in the ship’s Culinary Center, after guests have shopped for ingredients with the chef at a local market ashore. Another lunchtime excursion takes place at the zero-waste restaurant of a photography museum, Fotografiska, in Tallinn, recently awarded a green Michelin star.
Dinner on board is an absolute highlight. Dinner at all four specialty restaurants — Jacques (French), Toscana (Italian), Red Ginger (Asian), and Polo Grill (American steakhouse) — is included in the rates, so you can enjoy each twice. The buffet, poolside grill, and 24-hour room service are also free.
In the two years since the Australians sailed overseas, many improvements have been made as the management team have continued to work to fine tune the food and drink.
“We haven’t rested on our laurels,” said Howard Sherman, president and CEO of Oceania Cruises. “Throughout the pandemic, we have continued to innovate and challenge ourselves to raise the bar to delight our customers. We announced the second phase of culinary improvements rolling out across the fleet. With carefully crafted dining experiences, elevated menus and service levels, this next phase brings new wine tasting programs, expanded in-room dining offerings and a soufflé du jour in the Grand Dining Room.
The soufflés certainly deserve a special mention: green apple, chestnut and pear, pistachio and cherry, lime and limoncello, and Grand Marnier martini, to name a few.
When sitting four or five courses seems too much, Marina has many peaceful refuges. On select evenings, local wines, spirits and market-fresh tapas are served at Baristas, a quiet spot next to the library. The poolside grill is also handy for a gourmet burger or salad from an extensive menu.
Room service is the obvious alternative to restaurants. New items available for in-room dining include an Alaskan Salmon Burger, Hawaiian Poke Bowl, Thai Coconut Red Curry, Miso Ramen Soup, and Chocolate Mousse Cake. Hot breakfasts can also be delivered free of charge to cabins and suites.
Chef Alexis Quaretti, Director of Culinary Programs, has been busy developing new recipes for Oceania’s next ship, Seenscheduled for launch in April 2023.
“We are not a cruise line for molecular cuisine. What is very important to me is simplicity: the taste, the ingredients and the execution of the dishes,” he said. “By the time we open Vista, we’ll have over 400 new recipes, which will eventually align with the rest of the fleet.”
Seen will also introduce a fantastic new cocktail list at its Casino Mixology Bar and restaurants, which we spotted on our cruise on Marina. The crowd pleaser was anything made with a “flavor flavor” device, which produces a bubble that floats in the air before bursting into a puff of smoke when it lands on the drink. Other favorites include Picante (tequila, apricot liqueur, honey, chilli and coriander syrup), Monkey Business (whiskey, banana liqueur, egg white) and First Avenue (bourbon, Pimm’s, sweet vermouth, liqueur of St-Germain elderflower).
In partnership with Lyre’s, the non-alcoholic spirits company founded by two Australians, the alcohol-free cocktails have also been perfected. No-Groni (a non-alcoholic negroni) and Orchard Fizz (made with Lyra amaretti, fresh lemon juice, apple juice and maple syrup) are deliciously refreshing. Pierre Zéro, a non-alcoholic French wine, is also available.
Back on the Marina, I spend a lot of time in my Penthouse suite, relaxing on the private balcony and calling my fabulous butler. This category of accommodation includes its services, spa appointment assistance, shore excursion reservations, dinner reservations, collection of my laundry (three bags are free), and room service. One night I order from the main menu in the dining room and he serves all three courses to my table overlooking the ocean in the comfort of my room. Dressed in a bathrobe, I watch a movie while eating, then I walk a few steps towards the bathroom to take a bath, before slipping into bed with a book.
Sometimes it’s the simple, lonely things that seem the most luxurious.
The ship itself is beautiful and spacious. Contemporary decor exudes casual elegance, from sparkling chandeliers to owner’s suites furnished in Ralph Lauren Home. Marina is slated for a major renovation next year, which is expected to be unveiled in November 2023. Every surface in every suite and stateroom will be brand new, and bathrooms will be upgraded with oversized showers. Public spaces, such as the theatre, bars and restaurants, will see new bespoke furniture, subtle lighting and plush carpets. For alfresco dining enthusiasts, a new poolside trattoria will serve up wood-fired pizzas, salads and desserts, and a stand-alone milkshake bar will scoop up ice cream just steps from your sun deck.
Oceania Cruises’ four 656-passenger ships – Regatta, Badge, Nautical and Mermaid – have already been renovated, while MarinaThe 1,210-passenger sister ship, the Riviera, will unveil its new look in December 2022.
Although this Baltic route will not operate next year, the fleet offers several trips that visit many of the same locations, including some departing from London. According to Sherman, passengers appreciated alternate ports in beautiful locations.
“We have had positive feedback from our loyal past guests who enjoy exploring the beauty and wonders of Northern Europe in summer. From the stunning natural beauty of the UNESCO-protected Curonian Spit near Klaipeda , to the medieval charm of the old town of Tallinn, to the cosmopolitan capital of Latvia, Riga, the destinations we visit on this cruise are truly amazing,” Sherman said.
“At Oceania Cruises, we strive to provide our guests with a carefully selected blend of experiences designed for seasoned travelers seeking a slice of local culture.”
Book a cruise in Oceania
A similar 10-night cruise will be offered next year, departing from London on June 21, 2023. Ports of call include Kiel, Berlin (Warnemünde), Bornholm, Visby, Stockholm, Copenhagen and Oslo. Rates start at AUD$4,180 per person, based on a double room.
A 10-night cruise departing from London on July 16, 2024, with stops in Kiel, Berlin, Bornholm, Visby, Stockholm, Klaipeda, Gdansk (Poland) and Copenhagen. Rates start at AUD$4,780 per person in a double room.
No vaccine required
Oceania Cruises has dropped its requirements for COVID-19 vaccinations and testing. Vaccinated passengers no longer need to show negative test results before the cruise. From September 2022, unvaccinated passengers will also be able to sail, but they will have to take a test within 72 hours of boarding.
According to Howard Sherman, president and CEO of Oceania Cruises, the response to the relaxed rules has been overwhelmingly positive, with bookings surging the week following the announcement.
“We continue to navigate the pandemic as it evolves to keep people as safe as possible, and we believe we are striking the right balance,” he said. “Cruising was the only form of tourism that required vaccination, so there were people on the sidelines waiting for further relaxation of travel protocols, and now we can welcome them back on cruises.”