Last week Granny Anne and I returned from a two-week cruise to some of the cities around the Baltic Sea. We visited Copenhagen, Helsinki, St Petersburg, Tallinn, Stockholm and Warnemunde and (just in case you are as hazy about the Baltic region as I was a few weeks ago) these cities are in Denmark, Finland, Russia, Estonia, Sweden and Germany respectively.
Our ship was the lovely old “Ocean Majesty” and our travel company was Page and Moy.
Ocean Majesty is considered a small ship with a tonnage of 10.417 and accommodation for a maximum of 621 passengers (250 crew). Page and Moy have chartered her for some time but this arrangement will be coming to an end soon (when Ocean Majesty will be replaced by the Athena). She was built as a car ferry in 1966 and refitted as a cruise ship some years later, which might give the impression that the ship is some sort of compromise, neither one thing nor the other. Actually, this was certainly not the case in our experience. Although Ocean Majesty is quite old, we found our cabin perfectly comfortable and it provided ample space and storage space for two. Admittedly it would have felt a bit crowded had the two additional fold-down bunks been in use as well. The ship is kept immaculately clean and standards of hygiene on board were reassuringly high. This ship has a reputation for friendliness and personal attention and, in our experience, it seems likely that every single member of the crew contributes to this. Everywhere we went on board we were greeted with a smile, whether you met the junior staff polishing the handrails on the staircases, or the senior ranking crew or anyone in between. I couldn’t fault the service. It was excellent, whether from our lovely cabin stewardess, Nina from Romania, or from the tour team, or anyone else on board. The ship’s photographer did a great job for us at short notice and with very little time at the end of the cruise and, as for the restaurant staff, they were brilliant. At breakfast and lunch the waiters guided us to the next available table, which varied each day, as did the other passengers around us. At dinner we had the same table and waiters every day. Thus at breakfast and lunch we met new people – generally a pleasant experience but at the risk of exposure to one of the tiny minority of dedicated whingers who would find fault with any situation. These were the few who imagined that their health problems and dietary pickiness, or susceptibility to seasickness would make scintillating conversation for all within hearing. Fortunately they were indeed very few and soon found themselves ignored by the rest. Incidentally, though there was some seasickness on board during one particularly stormy night, I detected no evidence of it.
We were lucky enough to have great company at dinner (the same people every day) including the same outstanding waiters, led by Ronny from Bombay, who had developed waiting at table into an art form.
That we chose to eat lunch on board almost every day was partly a matter of convenience. It fitted in well with all but one of the shore excursions that we had booked in advance. It was also because the food on board was excellent, without exception. There were numerous alternative choices at every meal and the food was well cooked and presented and always arrived hot at the table. I ate far more than I would have considered necessary at home yet my weight didn’t increase at all.
A well staffed self-service buffet style restaurant offered everything from snacks to full meals on a partly open upper deck. This was popular as the weather was mainly quite good during our cruise.
On the days preceding our arrival at each port our very experienced Port Lecturer, Richard Jarmain, gave excellent and very well attended illustrated talks on our destinations and on the pre-arranged shore excursions. A daily newsletter, ‘Britain Today’, gave us a summary of each of the main news stories from the UK and another daily newsletter, ‘Ocean Wave’ gave all the details we needed of the daily excursions, times, assembly points etc., plus on-board meals and the day’s entertainment programme throughout the ship. We also received a daily weather forecast and notes reminding us when to put our watches forward or back as appropriate. A wall chart outside the Majestic Lounge showed our route and a marker on it was updated frequently to show our position – and this was in addition to broadcast reports from the bridge daily giving us our position, speed, weather conditions, etc.
There was ample entertainment on board ranging from live variety shows every evening in the Show Lounge to films shown in the small cinema and also in the Majestic Lounge, plus a pianist at the grand piano in the Observation Lounge on an upper deck and my own favourites, Kevin and Shona (calling themselves “2gether”) who sang in the Majestic Lounge while Kevin played the guitar and Shona the keyboard – while occasionally letting the keyboard play by itself so that she could play the saxophone. They were a very versatile and talented couple whose sessions ended all too soon for me. There were also various popular quizzes in the Majestic Lounge, plus games on the open decks.. There was no time to be bored on Ocean Majesty, which also has a useful shop, a library and a small gymnasium, a hairdresser/beauty parlour and an outdoor swimming pool on an upper deck.
On the whole the sailing was smooth though it was comparatively rough on the night of September 4th-5th. Even so it was hardly dramatic. According to the log published at the end of the cruise there were winds in the range of force 5-7 that night and the ship did a fair amount of pitching and rolling. This was becoming noticeable around 10.30-11.00pm in the Majestic Lounge, just as I was deciding to head for our cabin. Granny Anne had gone ahead of me and the whole experience had simply made her feel sleepy. So she went to sleep and awoke the following morning without any ill effects. Just to be really helpful, I had reminded her before this cruise that we don’t do seasickness – thus paraphrasing the words of her father many years ago, who had been in the Royal Navy on Atlantic convoys during World War Two and who had taken an opportunity to point out to her that no daughter of his was seasick!
I had my own solution when a slight touch of queasiness made itself felt while I was still in the lounge. This was to put on my warm anorak and head for an open deck where I could get plenty of fresh air and watch the sea. In other words, the solution for me was to get out and get into the spirit of the situation. I found a dry place, sheltered from wind and spray, on one of the open decks close to the windows of the lounge and from there I studied the movements of the sea and the ship for some time until I felt that I could relate one to the other, if only in a very approximate way. Equipped with this mental picture, and quite tired after a long day, I was able to go to our cabin and to sleep without feeling any further threat of sickness.
To avoid excessive duplication I refer you to Granny Anne’s blog for an account of the cruise itself (possibly a succession of posts will be needed). Her memory for detail is far better than mine and, in any case, she has “borrowed” some of my best pictures to supplement her own!
I will follow the example of The Jobbing Doctor, who returned from a similar cruise just days before ours started and who has since posted pictures. I will do likewise with brief notes from my daily diary.