Reviews of Oceania Cruises are typically very positive, and for a reason. Oceania, in a time of cutbacks everywhere, continues to do a great job. We took the Lands of the Midnight Sun cruise on Insignia, leaving Dover on July 23 and traveling up the west coast of Norway, into various fjords, and eventually to Murmansk and the polar ice cap. We disembarked in Copenhagen on August 10. The views, the experiences, and the memories will last the rest of our lives. Yes, there were some glitches and shortcomings, partly explained by the ambitious nature of this itinerary. Our experience wasn't perfect. But Oceania is a fine cruise line and we had a fine time.
We haven't sailed on this line in four years, and we wondered if we would see evidence of cutbacks, like those reported on other lines. We saw nothing of the sort. The food actually may have been better this trip than our trip of four years ago. Frequently it was very good, sometimes excellent, sometimes even superb. Oceania has no separate charge for any of their restaurants. Let's hope that continues. The service in the restaurants was, at times, a little disorganized. But overall, the staff throughout the ship was excellent. Always pleasant and helpful.
The ship itself looks like it just came from the shipyard. In fabulous shape. Traditional, but not old-fashioned. Hardly a scuff mark to be seen. Frequently we saw workers doing touch-up painting. Once I observed the manager of the buffet use her finger to test for dust on a ledge. We paid about $5,800 per person including tips for our stateroom, 4049, very well located just steps from the reception desk, central stairway and elevators. The room was pretty, in near-perfect condition, and quiet, about average size for a cruise ship, with dark woods, a large window, and a comfortable queen-size bed. The air conditioning worked. Storage space was adequate. The bathroom was on the small side, with adequate storage space but with a tiny uncomfortable shower. The hot water was always hot.
The entertainment, if anything, was better than four years ago. We had a string quartet, which really adds class, a piano player, and a band that was entertaining. We enjoyed recitals by a classical pianist and a classical clarinet player. The juggler/comedian should have been left at the dock. The ship threw several parties, complete with free snacks and drinks. The captain and other top officers attended, and if you wanted to talk to any of them, it was easy to do. The top chefs were frequently available, too. When we arrived in port, an official from the local tourist bureau was usually on the ship first thing. Very helpful. Shuttles into town centers were sometimes offered free, which was another benefit.
The problems we encountered related to communications, planning and shore excursions. First, the polar bear issue. Oceania inadvisedly left people with an impression we could see a polar bear. Cruise brochures featured polar bear pictures. We checked before we booked and found that seeing a polar bear on this cruise would be highly unlikely. So we weren't upset. Still, Oceania was guilty of a little false advertising. Another mistake was making two stops, in Oslo and Bergen, on Sundays. Most regular stores close in Norway on Sundays. We lost great shopping opportunities. We could have used a naturalist on board. We lacked good, moment-to-moment information about some of the wildlife and scenery we were seeing. The shore excursions were over-priced and lacked imagination. Many passengers scored better excursions by setting them up themselves. In Murmansk, however, visa regulations prevent that. We were stuck with the ship excursions and they came up way short. Granted, Russia is an extremely difficult country to deal with. Murmansk is a treasure trove of history, tragedy and courage in the face of travail.
Many passengers didn't grasp that, and came away saying this stop was a waste. It was one of the highlights for us, despite the inadequate shore excursion we took. Glitches and shortrcomings aside, this was an excellent cruise on a route not commonly traveled by ships. Insignia threw one party for passengers who have sailed before on Oceania, and it was a huge affair. Of the 680 passengers aboard, more than 400 had sailed at least once on Oceania. That's a tipoff to how good this cruise line is.