Try MATE, ZorinOS and SolusOS
I had similar experiences. While Cinnamon is OK, I think MATE 1.4 is a better substitute for Gnome 2. XFCE is also OK. And if you don't mind loading a couple of other distros into VB, try ZorinOS.and SolusOS. ZorinOS is quite neat in you can select a Gnome 2-like desktop OR a Win. XP or Win 7 desktop. The XP and 7 DEs are still Linux, it just provides the "look and feel"- sortr of.