The best of the Baltics
The best of the Baltics
As I enjoy my mature years, I find the best way to travel to new and exciting places is by cruise ship. How else could you experience seven countries in 10 days without the inconvenience of daily flights, airport bureaucracy and lugging heavy suitcases between hotels? One of my more recent cruise journeys took me to Denmark, Germany, Poland, Estonia, Russia, Finland and Sweden – and all in style. After a very quick and efficient check-in, I was on board the ship. I unpacked and was ready to settle into my new home with everything at my beck and call.
Launching in 2011, Marina was the first new-build ship for relative newcomer Oceania Cruises (the company began operations in 2003). I joined the ship in Copenhagen after spending three days exploring the lovely Danish capital.
Marina, with space for 1250 guests and 800 crew, could be described as a mid-size vessel, designed to cater for discerning clientele who appreciate the finer things in life – much like an exclusive country club. Smart-casual dress is the norm, however some passengers enjoy dressing up.
It’s an intimate, sophisticated and extremely comfortable affair. And apart from the occasional meal at the main buffet dining room, Terrace Cafe, there’s never any crowding.
All hands on deck
Most of Marina’s accommodation is spread over five decks, with suites on deck 12 at the bow of the ship. My well-appointed Veranda Stateroom was most comfortable and featured a marble-and-granite bathroom with a shower and separate tub, minibar with complimentary soft drinks and bottled water, vanity desk, breakfast table and private teak veranda. Other amenities include 24-hour room service, thick cotton robes and slippers, Bulgari toiletries and signature Belgian chocolates with the nightly turndown service.
The facilities will keep most passengers entertained for weeks. There’s a golf putting green and paddle tennis, while deck 15 at the bow features the Horizon Lounge, with its three-sided lookout to sea. It’s a great place to relax and each day from 4pm, afternoon tea is served. At the back of the ship on the same deck is a fitness track and areas for other types of sport such as croquet and bocce (an Italian game similar to lawn bowls).
The deck below is a mix of dining and pampering: a sun deck and the lavish Canyon Ranch SpaClub; steam rooms and a sauna; a fitness centre and salon; and two specialty-dining restaurants, Toscana and the Polo Grill.
If you wander down again you’ll find a saltwater pool, Balinese daybeds and the Bon Appetit Culinary Centre – the cooking school is hugely popular, so book ahead. There’s a small casino and a handful of shops, but one of my favourite places was the Lounge, where entertainers and guest lecturers take to the stage.
The ship’s many restaurants are overseen by Jacques Pepin, the line’s culinary director and noted French chef, and there’s something to suit every taste.
On entering the Grand Dining Room you can’t help but notice the crystal chandelier, which crowns the centre of the high ceiling, illuminating tables set with European bone china and sparkling Riedel glasses. Continental cuisine is served here, with plenty of tables for two as well as larger spaces where you can dine and meet new friends.
The Polo Grill, with its dark wooden furnishings and high-back burgundy leather chairs, sets the scene for sumptuous meals: classic shrimp cocktails, lobster bisque, caesar salads –prepared tableside – or whole Maine lobster gratinée.
The restaurant Jacques, named after Oceania’s French chef, resembles a Parisian bistro with heirloom antiques, pickled wood furnishings and art from chef Pepin’s personal collection. Classic French cuisine is available, from coq au vin to snails in butter sauce to onion soup and delightful duck. We finish off our meal with a cheese platter.
Red Ginger glows with ebony woods, hand-blown glass light fixtures and striking, modern Asian artwork. Asian favourites such as Malaysian beef rendang with coconut rice and pad Thai steal the show.
Many of the recipes for the dishes on offer at Toscana have been handed down from generations of the ship’s Italian culinary staff. The eight-course menu at the restaurant features Tuscan specialties, including hot and cold antipasti, soup, pasta, salad and risotto followed by mouth-watering desserts.
Over the course of the cruise I joined tours in all ports. In Berlin I visited Checkpoint Charlie, Brandenburg Gate, the Berlin Wall and the Allied Museum; in Gdansk I saw the beautiful Oliwa Cathedral and enjoyed a special organ recital; in St Petersburg I travelled to Peterhof Park and Gardens, with their gold statues and trimmings. As we had three days in the Russian city there was also time to visit the Hermitage Museum, with its mind-blowing collection of artwork.
In Helsinki, I made it to Sibelius Park and the Rock Church. And pre- and post-cruise there was the opportunity to visit Copenhagen to see the Little Mermaid statue, the Royal Palace (home to Australia’s Princess Mary of Denmark) and Nyhavn by the canal, where Hans Christian Andersen once lived.
The Oceania difference
One of the highlights of my time aboard Marina was visiting the Artist Loft, a space where I was encouraged to be inventive and create watercolour paintings and lacquered plates. The staff there, and indeed throughout the ship, were a pleasure to deal with and made every passenger feel special.
On the evening prior to disembarkation, the captain met guests in the lounge to wish us bon voyage. Many of his staff joined him in song, before clapping as passengers returned to their rooms. It was a touching gesture and one that I will remember long after returning home.
The Marina (oceaniacruises.com) sails the seas of Northern Europe and the Baltic region from June through August in 2014, with Concierge Veranda Staterooms starting from $5420pp on a 10-day cruise.
Before Marina returns to the northern hemisphere for the 2014 summer season she will visit the shores of the South Pacific, including returning to Australia and New Zealand, before making her way to the Americas and crossing the Atlantic