Regatta - Courtesy Oceania Cruises
As much as it embarrasses me, I am going to make this admission. Close to 10 years ago I was asked to join friends who were going on a Baltic cruise and I declined. I declined because (and here is the embarrassing part) I didn't hear “Baltic,” I heard “Balkans.” Balkans? Slobodan Milosevic was being hunted by Interpol, Sarajevo was in ruins, Kosovo was still in the news as a location of terrible war crimes. Why on earth would I want to cruise to the Balkans? How would you cruise into Bosnia, anyway?
I mention this as a cautionary tale. It wasn't that I was geographically ignorant, really, but I wasn't paying attention. My friend had said “Baltics,” which is common usage but incorrect, and I just wasn't listening. If I had understood that he meant the sea upon which sits some of the most incredible cruise ports this great earth has to offer, if I had known he was referring to Stockholm, Copenhagen, Helsinki, St. Petersburg, Tallinn, Warnemunde (the gateway to Berlin), or Rostock, Gdansk, Riga and Oslo, I might not have waited nearly 10 years for the experience.
Dover's White Cliffs
My chance finally came when I cleared a waitlist on Oceania's Regatta for the ship's signature Scandinavian Splendors itinerary. I could not believe my luck since this was exactly the ship and the itinerary I was hoping for; because this voyage sells out years in advance, my chances had been slim. I wanted the Regatta cruise for several reasons, not the least of which is the ship itself. I had sailed it during its inaugural season five years earlier and was taken with its size, décor, and the Oceania brand. Apart from Regatta's small-ship ambiance and size (allowing it, for example, to berth right in the historic Polish city of Gdansk rather than in Gdynia, half an hour and lots of traffic away, or to creep further up the Neva River in St. Petersburg than its larger counterparts), the itinerary was incomparable and offered a full three days in Russia compared to most lines' two.
Regatta left from Dover, UK, and made two stops (Zeebrugge and Amsterdam) before transiting the Kiel Canal into the Baltic Sea. I'd been to both of those cities before and while I had a great time revisiting them from Regatta, my real excitement started with the entry from the North Sea into the canal that would bring us across the upper northwest “thumb” of Germany and into the Baltic. This was uncharted territory for me; one can read up and plan, plan, plan, but there is nothing like experiencing a new region with fresh eyes.
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