Oceania Port Tours
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On our recent Chairman's Cruise through the Black Sea, we tried to book the Stalin's Dacha shore excursion in Sochi, Russia, as soon as we arrived on board. Destination Services told us that the tour was already "sold out" via the internet, and that the waiting list was already 45 passengers long! Nobody warned us that this tour would have limited capacity ahead of time.
Despite having enough expressed passenger interest to add another bus to the caravan, Destination Services failed to do so in the days leading up to our arrival, hiding behind the excuse that Sochi was an "emerging former Soviet state" and unequipped to accommodate any additional tourism demand! Destination Services instead tried to push us into booking one of their less-desirable and undersubscribed tours, but in protest, we and several others decided to stay on the ship instead. That turned out to be to our advantage, as none of our returning shipmates had anything complimentary to say about Oceania's shore excursions that day.
On the other hand, the so-called "exclusive" Chairman's Tour to Bucharest was hardly that. The tour's exclusivity was heavily promoted in our pre-cruise materials and we were advised to book that tour online as the Chairman would be accompanying us and capacity would be "extremely limited." Once onboard, however, we were surprised to see Destination Services promoting this "limited capacity" tour every day in our ship's newsletter (one day it received a full-page ad!), so by the time the tour day came, SIX huge tour buses lined up to take over 300 passengers on this supposedly exclusive tour. The "exclusive" luncheon site was so crowded that we were unable to see any of the folk dancers until they finally made their way through the crowd at the end of their performance, soliciting tips from the audience.
I received a brochure about a month ago saying that if I booked online before the cruise, I would receive a 20% discount on the price of each cruise - did anyone else get that? Is the discount still good?They might be referring to the shore excursions. If you book a package of five or six excursions, you'll get a discount which approximates 20% off the price if you had purchased each excursion separately. Renaissance (oops - there's the dreaded comparison!) used to offer a similar discount if you booked one of their shore excursions packages. Your pre-cruise brochure should contain the various packages you can sign up for.
On the other hand, the so-called "exclusive" Chairman's Tour to Bucharest was hardly that. The tour's exclusivity was heavily promoted in our pre-cruise materials and we were advised to book that tour online as the Chairman would be accompanying us and capacity would be "extremely limited." Once onboard, however, we were surprised to see Destination Services promoting this "limited capacity" tour every day in our ship's newsletter (one day it received a full-page ad!), so by the time the tour day came, SIX huge tour buses lined up to take over 300 passengers on this supposedly exclusive tour. The "exclusive" luncheon site was so crowded that we were unable to see any of the folk dancers until they finally made their way through the crowd at the end of their performance, soliciting tips from the audience.Other than the above concerns, how long was the bus trip to Bucharest and was it otherwise a good tour? Also, did you need to purchase Turkish currency?
Other than the above concerns, how long was the bus trip to Bucharest and was it otherwise a good tour? Also, did you need to purchase Turkish currency?The trip was three hours up, and four hours back (the extra hour was due to road construction). Given the amount of time we spent on the road, the "tour" of Bucharest was a very brief drive-through, akin to the Berlin option on Oceania's Baltic cruises.
We made two stops, not including lunch. One stop was at an old church, and the second was at a folk village re-creation (a waste of time in my opinion - I would have rather spent the time photographing the sites in downtown Bucharest that we flew past - the Triumph Arch, Kretzulescu Church, Snagov Monastery - the burial site of Vlad the Impaler, and the fountains lining the avenue to the Parliament Building).
Speaking of the Parliament Building, We made the driver stop in front of Ceaucescu's monument to his megalomania for a quick photo op (too many of our shots were through tinted glass). We also made the driver stop at Revolution Square for a quick photo op - I think ours was the only bus to have made those stops (and one of the last buses to return to the ship, although the driver made up the lost time on the highway, weaving in and out of traffic!).
There was also stop to and from Bucharest at a two-restroom gas station and convenience store that wasn't equipped to accept dollars OR euros (and with three busloads of passengers waiting to use two restrooms, I think that was the longest stop of the day!). The store did accept credit cards, although you had to enter your PIN whether you were using a credit or debit card.
All in all, it was a long bus ride for an all-too brief driving tour of "the Paris of Eastern Europe." Next time, we'll probably take the train or share a van and see Bucharest at our own pace.
Also, be prepared to pick up your passports from the front desk the day before, and to return them the same night - there was much confusion whether we would have to carry our passports ashore, as we did in the Russian ports.
In Turkey, most of the traders, restaurants, and merchants catering to tourists welcomed dollars and euros, although some gave exchange rates that were far worse than the official LIBOR interbank rate. Supermarkets and small local cafes, however, only accepted the New Turkish Lira (YLT).
I plan on publishing a detailed trip report when time permits! (besides, it's still a year away!)
But it's only several weeks for us!
We took the Black Sea Cruise last summer starting in Athens and ending in Athens. I know that they changed some of the ports this year. If you will email me at scorpiosheila at yahoo dot com, I would be happy to answer any questions you might have. Make sure you put "Black Sea Cruise" in the subject line so I open the email. We were lucky last year as we had a lot of people from the Cruise Critic and Yahoo boards on the cruise so we set up private tours.
By the way, there's an excellent detailed Black Sea Cruise review on the YahooGroup - after reading through that, you might not have any questions remaining!
I did read the review on Yahoo before we went on our cruise and also did lots of "search mode" searches on CC. We went with two other couples and I was so lucky to find great info on the ports. I wish I had known that you were going on this tour. I would have filled you in.
I read your review after you returned and was sorry to hear about your fiasco in Sochi. We DID take Oceania's tour there since my DH wanted to see Stalin's Dacha and we didn't want to waste money on a visa if we could see the Dacha with Oceania. One of the TA's aboard arranged for Oceania's van for eight people to tour Sochi. You could do that without having a visa. The downside was that we had to walk around a park in 90 plus temps for over an hour before being taken to a Spa. After that we then went to Stalin's Dacha for a tour and wine and fresh fruit. In order to see the Dacha, we had to take Oceania's tour. The tours were timed to allow everyone a chance to see the Dacha. I believe it was $100 per person for four hours. We don't usually take ANY ship's tours since we dislike being with 30 other people on a coach or bus. The cruiseline probably couldn't arrange for any other coaches or buses. Our guide was hired just to take us around. She was the best part of the tour -- she told us that she makes more money than her parents who are physicians in Sochi. She was delightful and we tipped her well.
I couldn't believe your post about going on the tour to Bucharest! What a joke -- driving that distance to see so little.
Thank you for your kind offer of help. We will probably have a few specific questions for you before we leave. We read the excellent Black Sea Cruise review a while back. For some reason, however, it is not pulling up at the moment.