Monday, August 20 was the sixth day of our vacation, and the third day of our nine-day Baltic Sea cruise. It was one of our two “sea days” — days without a port call — and we spent it transiting the eastern Baltic Sea, having left Rostock, Germany around midnight the night before and not arriving in Tallinn, Estonia until the morning of Tuesday, August 21.
Sea days are kind of nice when you’re in a sunny tropical latitude: you can laze by the pool, hang out at a bar, wiggle your toes, whatever catches your fancy. It’s a little different when you’re at, say, 57 degrees north latitude in mid-to-late August; even if it’s not actively chilly it’s not necessarily balmy swimming weather either. That didn’t stop us from having a good time, though. We just didn’t spend much of it on the water slides and so on!
We started the day with a nice breakfast and then had a couple’s massage in the “Mandara Spa”. I assume you know what a “couple’s massage” consists of — two side by side tables, two masseuses, and at the end they always have you join hands before slipping out to let you get dressed again. It was the same massage you’d get at a Massage Envy or someplace similiar, only it cost a lot more because cruise lines know common sense and thriftiness go out the window when tourists have made up their minds to indulge themselves.
Our two masseuses were Russian and Ukrainian, both female, and were contract employees who were on board to do massage after massage after massage, week after week after week. (Life as a cruise ship massage employee isn’t all that glamorous — you’re not allowed to circulate in the public areas, so you’re either working or you’re all the way down on one of the below-water decks in a tiny cabin in the “crew area”.) Taking photos in the “Mandara Spa” area is frowned upon for obvious reasons, but you can see photos from CruiseCritic here. Our massage room looked a lot like this, only with two tables.
Then we went up on the top deck (deck 17) and played around on the “Ocean’s Edge Ropes Course” (CruiseCritic photos here). Carole and I have done ropes courses in various places; there’s one up north of Stowe, Vermont that we like that we’ve done a couple of times, for example. A ropes course is made up of various obstacles — swinging bridges, ziplines, tightropes, and so on — that you navigate while securely strapped to a safety line. Our ship, the Norwegian Breakaway, had one up on top, and it probably sees a lot of use when the ship is cruising to and from Bermuda or in the Caribbean. Since we were in the Baltic, the crew only opened it a few times, on our two sea days and for short stretches on in-port days. It was kinda fun, all except the bit at the very end. To get off the course, the final obstacle was a not-very-well engineered short zipline that tended to leave riders halfway between stops, dangling in the air. (If you rocked a bit and/or reached up and pulled yourself along, you could get to the end.)
Then we had lunch at one of the onboard restaurants, “Wasabi“. They had sake, sushi, miso soup, and so on. It wasn’t one of the included-in-the-fare restaurants, but it was worth it. For the amount we paid, we had a nice meal, well presented and tasty.
The Breakaway (and other NCL ships of its size) has three kinds of restaurants: dining rooms that are included in your fare that include full table service and so on, a buffet area up on top that tends to resemble a cattle stampede at certain times of the day, and “speciality restaurants” that you can go to for an extra price. We did specialty restaurants every night for dinner except for the night we were stuck on a train from Berlin and the night that we had a special Cirque-du-Soleil-style dinner show in the “Spiegel Tent” performance theater. Most of the specialty restaurants were good; only one was kinda disappointing. Unfortunately, it was that one that we went to on Monday evening at the end of our “sea day” — “Ocean Blue” (photos here). Ocean Blue is a new offering that NCL is rolling out on their cruise ships — a “super premium” seafood restaurant that costs more than the other “specialty restaurants”. Despite the extra fee, we found it very, very blah. Carole’s fish was so overseasoned and “fishy” tasting, for example, that she actually sent it back. Her comment was “If they’re going to charge a lot extra for the speciality seafood restaurant, the least they could do is have people who know how to cook seafood working there.”
But that said, “Wasabi” — our lunch stop — actually was pretty good.
We spent the afternoon doing not much of anything — wandering around the ship, having a drink at a couple of the bars (for some reason, the cruise line had thrown “unlimited drinks” in with our fare, but we didn’t exactly go on any major bar crawls), and just looking at the water going by. I had wondered if we’d be close enough to the Polish, Lithuanian, or Latvian coasts to see anything during the day, but we never really were. We saw plenty of other ships going by, both cruise ships and big cargo vessels and tankers, but very little in the way of land. We must have been too far out in the Baltic to see anything. We found the ship’s decor kind of amusing, parenthetically — during our explorations we discovered a bar called “Spice H20” that was decorated with lots and lots of New York-themed art — maps of Fire Island, signs pointing to Rockaway Beach, and so on — a reminder that the ship normally cruises out of the port of New York.
“Spice H20” was a nice bar; it was designated Adults Only so people wouldn’t bring their kids there and it was never very crowded. (To be fair, there really were very few children on the cruise; that may be because our cruise coincided with the start of the school year back in the USA, and it may be because a nine-day Baltic tour isn’t really the kind of thing you spend thousands of dollars to drag an 11-year-old along on.) Had we been on a Caribbean cruise, we’d probably have gone there more than once, but given that our trip wound being “get up early, spend all day on a tourbus seein’ stuff, go back to ship, eat, crash from sheer exhaustion” our first stop was our only stop.
After our stop at the bar, we had dinner at Ocean Blue. The less said about that, the better. But then after dinner we had a really awesome experience: the ICE BAR!
There’re “ice bars” in various northern European cities (and elsewhere too) where the bar, the chairs, everything is made from ice. The Norwegian Breakaway had recently added one of its own, built into a giant freezer like one would use to store sides of beef in and so on. You had to sign up in advance to go in because it wasn’t very big, but when we went by after dinner there wasn’t anyone signed up for the next couple of slots and so they able to slot us right in. They had us pick out some warm overcoat/cape thingies from a rack (we went with boring silver capes, but they had some truly God-awful day-glo leopard patterned options for the visually challenged), charged our room card $20 each (to cover our drinks), and shooed us on inside. The bar was sponsored by Svedka vodka and all the drinks were made with either Svedka or Inniskilling ice wine. The glasses themselves were cones of ice inside clear plastic cups. The room was decorated with New York-inspired art and furniture (the Statue of Liberty, the Brooklyn Bridge, and so on). The bar was staffed by one friendly cruise employee who found our glee at the whole experience infectious. He even gave us extra drinks, plus one for our stuffed animal penguin, Adelie, who’d come along on the trip on news that the cruise ship would have a special penguin-friendly area. She loved it. (Her drink was non-alcoholic, of course.) The Ice Bar was kept at something like 15 degrees Fahrenheit, so when we came out Jay’s eyeglasses promptly froze over in the humid air.
We finished our day with a show called “Burn the Floor” — dancing and singing and so on by the ship’s crew of entertainers — where photography was strictly discouraged. We got a picture of the ship’s senior officers, though, before they had us put our phones away. Our captain was Swedish, but almost everyone else in the ship’s daily operations crew was Filipino or Eastern European. “Burn the Floor” was a typical high-energy, well-choreographed cruise ship singing-and-dancing show, with multiple costume changes and various performers getting star turns. Those crewmembers were mostly American and clearly had years of experience in entertaining half-drunk cruise ship passengers. The audience (us included) loved it.
And then, kinda tired from all the running-around we’d done all day, we went back to the room and crashed, and found that the ship’s steward assigned to our room had, predictably, set up a towel animal along with the next day’s newsletter. Our stuffed animals (Theo the moose, Adelie the penguin, and Sheldon the seal) were kinda confused about the strange visitor.
Then we went to bed. Next stop: Tallinn, Estonia!