PEORIA, IL -- I'm back and mostly recovered from jet lag from a two week vacation cruise to the Baltic nations and St. Petersburg, Russia, on the Oceania ship the Nautica.
Western Illinois University in Macomb was one of many US universities recommending this cruise line and its cruises, and we signed up with the broker GoNext.
The ship was terrific -- like an upscale hotel. A string quartet, a jazz pianist, a show band with singers and dancers, a lively guest host, it was all good. There were four restaurants, gourmet food, a library, a TV that showed MSNBC (sans ads!), and a friendly and competent staff.
The shore trips to Stockholm, St. Petersburg, Russia, Berlin, Copenhagen, Helsinki, and other ports were fine. But -- there were a few big downsides.
- Lack of transparency. There were some crucial aspects of the voyage that were not revealed until after the fees were paid.
- Not until we had signed up and paid the fees did we learn that we could not wander alone in St. Petersburg, but could only go into town on a tour purchased through the boat, or a private vendor (an uncertain idea). That's because US citizens have to purchase a $200 visa to set foot on Russian soil alone.
- Back in 1987 when we visited Moscow that wasn't required under the former Soviet Union, and we wandered about freely. This time the trips ashore at night were very expensive, so we skipped those, as we saw the ballet in 1987. But there likely were many musical events taking place that we would have enjoyed.
- The Internet issues. The GoNext travelers got free internet on the ship but others not with that group had to pay megabucks per day, leading to a complicated software nightmare of trying to log on. Some GoNext people never were able to connect, though I finally figured it out. This is a huge cruise mistake, as all internet should be free, with users kicked off line after 30 minutes of no use, or some such small regulation.
- Everyone was required to submit a credit card number so no money changed hands on ship. A good idea. But included were mandatory tips for the stewards and wait staff, which were never mentioned before we paid the fees. This should be included in the upfront fees, so no one gets a $500 shock on their credit card bill.
- The airline were were assigned, Scandinavian Air, proved problematic. I was unable to find out how many bags we could check free, as GoNext never provided an answer and I couldn't find it on the website. So I assumed two bags each, which United offers on international flights. Wrong, it was one bag each, and the agent in Chicago refused to waive it and intimidated us into paying over $100 for a 3rd bag. Outrageous.
- On the way back we got smart and included my handbag into one of the carry ons and avoided the fee. But the Copenhagen agent made us check a roll bag that we planned to use as one of the two hand carried bags each person is allowed. So we had to lug heavy bags without benefit of rollers, only to see others in the waiting area using roll bags as their carry-ons. What? And some people had huge bags and more than two and got away with it.
- Bottom line: avoid SAS. GoNext should probably offer a sum toward air travel so travelers can seek good deals of their own. And I would avoid Oceania until they fix the Internet issues.
-- Elaine Hopkins