Number of Cruises: Lot
Cruise Line: Oceania
Sailing Date: n/a
Regatta Cruise Review
Joanie and I were the group escorts for a small group of select agents aboard Oceania Cruise's Regatta on a 14-day Western Europe/Western Mediterranean cruise. There was also a media group on board that I had been invited to join. Joanie was going to board the ship in Bordeaux, France, while I started with the group in Dover, England. I flew from San Diego to London’s Gatwick airport, spent the night in London at the Thistle Victoria Hotel right at London’s Victoria Station. (HINT: This is the best hotel to stay at if you are going to take the train to Dover. You can take the Gatwick Express directly from London’s Gatwick Airport to Victoria Station. The hotel entrance is right there. The train to Dover leaves just a couple hundred yards from the entrance to the hotel in the train station and the hotel is well located for a visit of London’s major attractions.) I was up early and made the first train to Dover that departed at 8:30 AM and arrived in Dover promptly at 11 AM. I grabbed a cab to the ship (5 pounds), checked my luggage and then hailed a taxi to take me to the Dover Castle. After exploring the castle, wandering around Dover and having a traditional fish and chip luncheon, I made my way back to the ship to board. Check in was a breeze and I was in my cabin and unpacked in less than 30 minutes.
The Changes; Oceania and Renaissance
The Regatta is one of the Renaissance ships (formerly the R-2) that has been completely refurbished (not that it needed it) and reintroduced to the marketplace under the Oceania Cruises brand. The CEO of Oceania cruises, Mr. Frank Del Rio was the ex co-CEO of Renaissance Cruises and the Chairman, Joe Waters, was the President Crystal Cruises and before that, the President of Royal Viking Line. I know the first question is going to be “What is the difference between Oceania and Renaissance? So here is the answer. Understand that I loved the Renaissance Cruise product and overall concept and was looking forward to this cruise to see what had evolved. Here are the major differences.
Food: The food on the Regatta is probably the most impressive improvement. It is gourmet and served in a professional and sophisticated environment that reminds me of years gone by in the cruise industry. The menus are creative and the preparation magnificent. The quality of the ingredients making up the meals was the highest I have seen on cruise ships in years (including luxury lines) Even the buffets went the extra mile offering an almost, if not, luxury experience. As an example, every morning saw the usual melons and pineapple cut fruit, but the Regatta also offered papaya, mango, star fruit and kiwi fruit. The service on the tables at the buffet reminded me of Silversea and was more like a blend of full table service with self-serving areas.
Bedding: Joanie and I have been spoiled having been on lots of cruises. We have spent a bundle finding the best bedding in the world to enjoy in our home. The bedding (all aspects) on the Regatta is better than ours at home, and certainly better than any I have ever experienced on any cruise ship. It is absolutely perfect. We took the name and website of the company that made the pillows and intend to buy some for our home.
The Pool Area: All of the Renaissance ships had installed rubber matting around the entire pool area and also used rubberized paint on the pool surface. Even though the ships were still new when Renaissance went bankrupt, the pool area was showing wear and was simply not the same quality as the rest of the ship. Oceania has corrected the problem by completely reconstructing the pool area. Now the pool decks are teak, the fittings all stainless steel and the surface of the pool is tile. The pool area is now one of the most attractive parts of the ship.
Dinnerware and Glassware: Oh boy! Oceania has tossed all of the Renaissance china, crystal and silverware and replaced it with high quality pieces designed especially for the cruise line. Sitting down to dinner in any of the restaurants is simply a wonderful experience. Drinking wine from the wine glasses is a real treat.
The Service: Most notable is the increase in passenger service Regatta offers its passengers. Many of the crew came from Silversea, Crystal and other luxury lines and bring a level of passenger service that Renaissance simply did not have. The staff is motivated and capable and offers an exceptional environment for passenger comfort and satisfaction.
Summary in Advance: At a time when almost all of the cruise lines are cutting back on the overall quality of their products and service as a result of the low yields generated by aggressive pricing actions to keep their ships full, along comes Oceania with a winning concept that combines good old fashioned superb dining, excellent service and engaging itineraries at reasonable prices. Look, if you are a luxury cruiser, or have been cruising the premium lines (or even top category cabins on the mass market lines) you owe it to yourself to try Oceania Cruises. It is what premium/luxury cruising should be like.
The Oceania Regatta
The smaller ship at 30,000 tons and only accommodates a total of 684 guests at one time. She offers a crew of 400, which promises excellent personal service to her guests. With a space ratio of 44, she is comfortable and never crowded. Since I like smaller ships, I find this size ship perfect, as it is large enough to offer diverse dining and entertainment opportunities, yet small enough to get into interesting ports and to promote a feeling of intimacy amongst its passengers. She handles well in rougher seas, yet can get up the various rivers to call on inland ports most large ships cannot get to.
The Cabin: We were located in cabin 6067, an ocean view cabin with a balcony. The cabin was of nice size (however, smaller than one would expect on a luxury line) and the balcony quite functional. The biggest improvement in the cabin was in the bedding itself. High quality (thread count) sheets, a wonderful duvet and to-die-for down pillows make for one of the most comfortable sleeping experiences at sea. There is a large desk with 2 110-volt outlets and lots of storage in the sitting area as well as a small table and sofa. Each cabin offers a safe that can be programmed for the passenger’s use and a television with several channels going 24 hours per day. Oceania was installing a more sophisticated television service that would allow for pay-for-view current features in addition to the programming done on the ship. We enjoyed terrycloth bathrobes in our cabin and I understand that later this year they will be available for passengers to use in every cabin on the ship.
Cabin with Balcony
The bathroom is smaller than those on luxury lines but still quite comfortable. Full bathroom amenities are offered such as shampoo, conditioner, bath and shower gel and body lotion. There is a hair dryer in every bathroom but it is not the highest quality. I would suggest bringing your own hair dryer if you use one extensively. Hot and cold water controls are excellent and there is ample storage for all toiletries and cosmetics between storage in the bathroom and at the desk in the sitting area. Closet space is ample for two people on a longer cruise and most luggage will fit under the bed making for additional storage if it is needed. All in all, the cabins are very enjoyable.
The Restaurants: The Regatta offers several dining venues that really set it apart from other cruise lines. I would rate the dining experiences as lower luxury rather than upper premium. If a sophisticated menu, excellent presentation and wonderful service are important to you, then you should definitely explore Oceania’s itineraries and pricing. Here is a breakdown of the various dining venues.
Grand Restaurant Bar and Entrance
The Grand Dining Room: This is the main dining room on the Regatta that does not require any reservations. It is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner and offers fine dining from a complete menu for all meals. We ate dinner in the Grand Dining Room on several occasions and consistently had fabulous meals. There is always a quartet playing soft dinner music in the restaurant giving one a feeling of relaxation and sophistication. One could take a Regatta cruise, never dine at any of the other restaurants and come home completely satisfied with their dining experience. I believe a copy of a menu is worth a thousand words, so here is a sample menu we enjoyed in the Grand Dining room. While the menus speak for themselves, rest assured that the presentation, service and overall dining experience matched the menus.
Toscana: Toscana always exceeded our expectations. We dined in Toscana a number of times and thoroughly enjoyed each meal. Again, Toscana’s menu speaks for itself, so here is a copy of it. There were always two additional “nightly specials” that were offered in addition to the menu items that were excellent. The filet mignon basically melted in your mouth and could be cut with a butter knife and all of the meat and fish entrees were of the highest quality. Toscana required a reservation, but there was no service charge of any kind associated with dining in Toscana.
Polo Grill: Joanie and I felt the Polo Grill was our favorite restaurant on the Regatta. Dining commitments were such that we could only enjoy it once; otherwise we would have gone no further than the Polo Grill. Take a look at the Polo Grill’s menu and I believe you will see why. Again, at least two “nightly specials” were offered in addition to the menu items, but there would be no reason to go beyond the main menu for anyone. Only the highest quality meats, fish and poultry were used and the presentation, service and ambiance were superb (Joanie and I even had the worse table in the restaurant and loved it). Reservations are required for the Polo Grill, but no service charge was in effect.
Table Setting in Toscana and Polo Grill
Tapas Restaurant: Here was another one of our favorites. We only got to dine at the Tapas Restaurant once, but would have come back often. The evening brings a complete transformation to the Terrace Café with china, silverware, exotic glassware and linen table coverings creating a wonderful upscale restaurant on the terrace (and in the Terrace Restaurant as well). The chairs are adorned with specially fitted covers that convert them from nice outdoor seating into lavish dining chairs. Tapas, of course are bite sized treats normally served in Spanish tapas bars throughout Spain. While this may have been the original idea behind the restaurant, you will find culinary treats here that will bring you back time and time again. On our cruise, the Tapas Restaurant gained in popularity every night to the point where staff on the ship had to be converted from other restaurants to maintain the excellent service. Since there was no published menu, you will find seafood (such as shrimp, fish, clams, mussels, lobster, scallops, possibly a seafood paella and more) salads, meats, vegetarian dishes, vegetables, it just goes on and on. There is a huge dessert section that was very well attended. The Tapas Restaurant is set up buffet style, no reservations are required and there is no service charge.
The Terraces Restaurant: This is the ship’s buffet for breakfast and lunch and was very popular with everyone. Breakfast saw a great assortment of fruit, hot foods (eggs, pre cooked omelets, bacon, sausage, ham and such) cold cuts, cheeses, various bread choices (to-die-for croissants) and a cooked-to-order egg and omelet station. There was always fresh juice available and coffee/tea was served at your table.
Lunch saw another buffet with excellent choices and quality. There was also a pizza station open for lunch as well. One of the nicest features of the Terraces Restaurant was the use of fine china, silverware and excellent glassware on the linen tablemats. There were no trays and there were plenty of waiters if you needed help with your dishes finding a table. We dined every morning outside on the terrace and loved it, as did everyone else that did so.
The Waves Grill (at the pool): This came to replace lunch on the terrace for Joanie and I, as it went one step beyond even the luxury lines menu. I tried to get a copy of the menu to publish with this review, but was unable to. Suffice it to say that the poolside grill offered the usual hamburgers and hot dogs with fries, but it set itself in a whole new category with its great salad bar and offerings of healthier choices such as grilled panini, halibut and mahi mahi and other superb offerings. One day Joanie had a sandwich that was a grilled and pressed panini with ham, turkey, several cheeses and a unique sauce that she fell in love with. One could sit at tables located by the grill and enjoy the same china, silverware, glassware and linen as the rest of the ship, or you could be served in your lounge by the pool if you chose. The absence of trays, paper products and napkins just made dining at the Waves Grill a wonderful experience.
The Pool Area: I found the new pool area to be a major improvement over Renaissance. First, the sun lounges are extremely comfortable and are long enough for a larger person to relax without being penalized for their size. The towels are also large and of high quality. The pool service was always available but never intrusive. I think I was only solicited to purchase a drink once during the entire cruise, but every time I wanted to order something there was someone nearby to help me. The teak wood and improvements to the pool has added a new quality that Renaissance simply did not have.
The Bars and Lounges: Once again, Oceania has done an excellent job in structuring their cocktail and wine prices vs. selection. The wine list is extensive, but not overpriced with numerous bottles available at prices below the mass-market lines. Cocktail prices are comparable to mass-market lines, but the quality is far superior. As an example, most mass-market cruise lines offer an inexpensive chardonnay for around $5 to $6 a glass, but the glass is small and the wine yucky (is that a wine connoisseur’s term?) Oceania offers a large glass of quality chardonnay for around $8 per glass. It sounds like more money, but in truth, the serving is much larger and the wine is far superior. Here are the lounges in the order that we enjoyed them.
Martinis: Joanie and I loved this bar. Set living room style, it is where our group met almost every evening for pre dinner cocktails. Will Ham, the pianist that played in the Martinis bar every evening, served just the right combination of music for easy listening and yet still enjoying conversation with others. The bartenders were outstanding. Known for its numerous offerings of martinis, they poured excellent drinks and were efficient and friendly and got to know us almost immediately. It was kind of like going to your neighborhood bar “where everyone knows your name”.
The Grand Bar: Located right outside the Grand Restaurant, the Grand Bar offers a comfortable environment for meeting dinner mates prior to dinner in the Grand Restaurant. While it didn’t measure up to Martinis on any level, it was still an enjoyable place to meet and converse.
The Horizons Bar: I never really got to experience this venue when it was performing. We met here on a couple of evenings during cocktail hour as a group get-together, but found the music from the Glenn Jacobi Orchestra was simply to loud for conversation and also to loud to really enjoy. I would have preferred more soothing music at a level where folks could either relax and enjoy it or converse if they chose.
After dinner and the evening’s entertainment, this was the place to go. Joanie and I made it on a couple of occasions and were surprised at how many folks were enjoying them selves. The orchestra seemed more in their element in this environment.
The Polo Bar, the Toscana Bar, the Regatta Lounge Bar and the Waves Bar: While these bars existed, we didn’t really avail ourselves of them, so I couldn’t comment on their level of competence. Since all of the bars worked from the same drink menu (with the exception of Martinis) I suspect the overall satisfaction level was quite high.
The Regatta Lounge
The Entrance to the Regatta Lounge
The Regatta Lounge: The Regatta Lounge was the place for all the events on the ship. The evening's entertainment took place here, as did the Captains Welcome and farewell parties. It is an intimate venue and those sitting near the front almost feel a part of the show. There are great sightlines in the lounge and excellent acoustics as well. There was never a need to go early to reserve a seat as there was always plenty of tables and chairs to go around.
The Entertainment: Oceania has made quite a statement regarding the kind of entertainment they wanted to provide their passengers. The daily newsletter, Oceania Currents does an excellent job of keeping everyone abreast of the evening's entertainment and activities. Feeling that the production shows have “been there, done that” for the type of clients that would enjoy Oceania Cruises cruise experience, there are no stage shows or productions whatsoever. I really liked the entertainment that was offered. Here were the highlights for me in the order I liked them.
Waldemar Maliki: Waldemar is a pianist/comedian. His commentary is hilarious, but when he starts playing, the audience is mesmerized. If you get a chance to see him perform, do not miss it.
Ms. Shani Reay: Shani is the hostess on the Regatta, but she could headline anywhere. Her sultry voice and classic presentation reminded me of what entertainment used to be like when stars performed for small groups decades ago. She melted the men and made all of the women feel sexy. She is a top performer and Regatta is lucky to have her. Shani is just as down-to-Earth as she is talented and you will enjoy her presence on the ship just as much as you will enjoy her show.
Mr. Leslie Jon: Leslie is the Regatta’s Cruise Director and I thought his show was fantastic. Leslie has been entertaining sine he was 5 years old and he loves to perform. You will enjoy Leslie’s performance and Leslie personally as you get to know him during the cruise.
Ms. Arel Wente: Ms. Wente (of Wente Vineyards) gave several lectures on wine during the cruise and was generally available for everyone to get to know. Her lectures were aimed at wine novices and were very good. While she was not an entertainer, I enjoyed watching her speak when her lectures were featured onn the ship's television channel.
Other Entertainment: Our dinners tended to last a long time simply because we were usually deep in conversations. Because of this we missed a good number of shows that were offered. Magicians, local entertainment, illusionists and other acts were well received by the passengers.
Mr. Leslie Jon, the Cruise Director: I had the good fortune to dine with Leslie Jon one evening before Joanie arrived at the ship. What a great guy! I noticed that Leslie was always available to all passengers and made it a point to be available to dance with the passengers when dancing was offered in Horizons. Many times on most cruise ships, one sees the CD dancing with the best looking women leaving others that may want to dance sitting on the sidelines. Leslie made an obvious attempt to make sure everyone had a great time and asked every woman that wanted to dance. When Joanie arrived on the Regatta, she immediately recognized Leslie from Silversea’s Silver Cloud (she had a group of agents on the Silver Cloud last year) and shared that he did an excellent job on that ship as well. Congratulations Regatta!
Oceania@Sea Internet Cafe
Oceania @ Sea, The
This was really the only negative I experienced on the Regatta. First, access was expensive compared with other cruise lines. I am a heavy Internet user (surprised?) Yet, I was penalized financially if I signed up for in-cabin access, so I purchased the maximum package offered, which was a 500 minutes for $300 and $.60 per minute over my contracted amount of time (the normal rate was $.95 per minute).
I felt that this was expensive to begin with, as most cruise lines offer programs in the $.25 to $.40 per minute range for bulk purchases. After I signed up for the package, I learned that the Internet Café was only open limited hours and worse, offered general computer classes when it was open. Worse yet, when I finally did get a chance to go online, the room was noisy and interruptive. I am sure that Oceania will have corrected the situation by the time you take your cruise, as this is the only real negative on the ship that I have experienced and I would give it a 1 on a scale of 1 to 10.
Since, I have found a negative, I will take the responsibility to offer how I would correct the situation if it were my ship. There are two computers in the library where one can log on 24/7. The issue in using them is availability. Once Joanie waited over 30 minutes to get on one of them, as the Internet Café was full of folks learning how to use a photo-editing program. There was a young lady using one for solitaire and someone looking at their digital photographs was using the other. Why not make the computers in the library for Internet use only and then add 6 more at the same time? This would allow Internet users the opportunity to go online in an environment of tranquility where one could read and write e-mail without interruption. When giving classes in the Internet Café, why not leave 4 computers free for users that just want to play around in the back row closest to the door?
I think these changes would go a long way to resolving the only negative I could find on the ship.
The Fitness Center: Unfortunately, I had broken a couple of my toes shortly before boarding the Regatta and was only able to do limited workouts. The fitness center is well equipped with just the right equipment and promises everyone an excellent workout. Adjoining the Fitness Center is the Spa and their is a door from the Fitness Center into the men's and women's locker rooms where one can find a steam room and shower complex. The showers offer several different types of shower heads that will massage your sore muscles. There is no charge to access this area and it is a great way to end a work out.
The Library: Simply the most beautiful library on any ship anywhere! This is where two 24/7 computers that one an access the Internet from are located, there needs to be more. As this is a non-revenue productive area of the ship, why not add terminals and create some meaningful revenue?
The Casino: While Joanie and I are not gamblers, we did witness several people that seemed to be winning in the casino on the tables. The slots have been replaced from those on Renaissance and they are not as interactive as the old ones. I did hear a few comments from former Renaissance passengers that they missed the old slots.
(Please Note: Detailed information about the ports of call visited on this cruise can be found at www.PortReviews.com)
Saturday, September 13th,
2003; Dover, England
The ship started boarding at 3 PM and I was one of the first ones to check in. and board the ship. My first impressions were one of boarding a Renaissance ship. Those that sailed on Renaissance will know what I mean. The ship is absolutely beautiful and welcoming, much like a small and intimate luxury boutique hotel one would find in London or Paris. I was escorted to cabin 6067 and was surprised to find my luggage already in the hallway. It was brought into my cabin and I was unpacked and settled by 3:30 PM. There was also a media group onboard that I had been invited to join and there was an arrival cocktail party in the Horizon a Bar shortly after the lifeboat drill and sail away party, so I got ready for the evening’s events and then proceeded to the party. After an hour of socializing and seeing some old friends and making some new, three of us made our way to dinner in the Grand Dining Room. This was the first of many meals on Regatta and I must say that all of us were impressed. The menu featured 3 cold appetizers, 2 hot appetizers, 2 salads, 2 soups, a pasta dish and 5 different entrees, as well as a diverse selection of cheeses and desserts.
The level of service and overall preparation of the meal reminded me of meals that I have had on luxury ships. Professional and friendly waiters served the creative presentations with great attention to detail. This was a huge improvement over Renaissance’s quality of dining experience. Raoul Fiebig was one of the gentlemen at dinner and the three of us sat and talked almost until the restaurant closed deciding that it would be better to collapse from exhaustion in our respective cabins rather than at the dinner table, we called it a night and turned in.
Sunday, September 14th,
2003; Guernsey, Channel Islands, U.K.
I was up early from a great night’s sleep and made my way up to the fitness center for a work out before going to breakfast. The fitness center had the same equipment that was on Renaissance and was everything needed for a great upper body workout. I had remembered how much I enjoyed the steam room and showers, so after my work out enjoyed them once again. I then chose to have a small breakfast in the Terrace Café. Once again, Oceania has done it to the next level. The buffet was equivalent to one you would expect to find on a luxury line. Better than the food is the experience of selecting and being served (while it is a buffet, there are still waiters behind the various areas serving your selections.) The experience is enhanced by the use of china with no trays. Once you have made your selections and find a table, you are treated to linen tablemats, linen napkins and a full set of silverware. I chose to eat outside on the terrace and the experience reminded me of dining at the buffet on Silversea’s Silver Shadow. About the only difference was that Silversea offered a selection of fresh berries while Oceania’s offers more tropical fruit. The breakfast was that great!
We were anchored outside of St. Peter Port, Guernsey, and the tender ride was a short ten minutes to the quay in the harbor. Since it was Sunday, just about all of the stores were closed for the day, but Guernsey was a very quaint village to explore. Its main shopping street offered shops and boutiques of every description and there seemed to be an old church on every block. The economy of Guernsey was obviously doing quite well, as there were luxury sedans and sports cars everywhere. I walked and walked several miles and enjoyed the village wishing that we had visited on another day to see it in full bloom.
Back on the ship, I enjoyed my first lunch choosing the buffet as my dining venue. The selection of salads, appetizers, side dishes and entrees was wonderful. While I do not participate in desserts, the dessert table was strictly gourmet. The china and silverware on linen were also a treat at lunch bringing with it a feeling of luxury, making the meal that much more enjoyable. I dined on the fantail of the ship and it again reminded me of lunches I have enjoyed on Silversea’s dining deck behind her buffet.
I had been invited to dine with the Cruise Director, Mr. Leslie Jon, and made my way to the Grand Bar at our appointed meeting time. Dinner was a wonderful experience of excellent wine, food and conversation. Mr. Jon’s history and commitment to Oceania’s success was very evident during the meal and Oceania is lucky to have developed this wonderful gentleman as their first Cruise Director. Following dinner, Clive, the other guest to share our table and I went to the evening’s show to watch our dinner’s host in action and to enjoy the entertainment for the evening. Mr. Wildemar Malicki, a pianist absolutely dazzled everyone in the audience (including me!) His command of the piano was amazing as he could play anything from classical to modern without hesitation or error. Understand that Joanie plays by ear and I am used to hearing wonderful piano music. Mr. Malicki was world class! He received a standing ovation from most of the audience.
Monday, September 15th,
2003; Day at Sea
We lost an hour during the night, so I slept in quite late. I rose for a breakfast and was treated to the same level of dining experience as the first day, lunch treated me to the same encounter with excellence and I now was understanding the changes Oceania had implemented to define itself in the market place. The day was warm, but not warm enough to enjoy the lounge chairs by the pool.
The Regatta offers 24-hour room service and I was keen to try it, as some of the best meals I have ever had on luxury lines were served in my cabin. I had arranged to meet with our group for cocktails in the Grand Bar following the Captain’s Welcome Reception in the Regatta Lounge. One of the things I was most impressed with regarding the Captain’s Welcome Reception was the absence of the introduction of the Oceania corporate executives that were on board. This had to reaffirm the rolls of the staff on the ship, as I am sure they all knew that folks from corporate headquarters were on the ship. We met in the bar for a quick drink and then everyone went in his or her own direction leaving me with the opportunity to experience the Regatta’s cabin service. After working for a bit, I called room service and found that I was actually paging my cabin stewardess, Blaise Alexander, (one of the most capable and pleasant room stewardesses I have ever had.) Within 20 minutes she appeared at my door with shrimp cocktail, salad and freshly cooked salmon. Just to put room service through their paces, I ordered a bottle of Kendall Jackson Chardonnay (I didn’t even know if they offered it) and Blaire had found a bottle, had it opened, signed for it and brought it with my dinner. In 30 minutes or so, Blaise called back to come and collect the tray and various plates…she did so with a smile. I purposely didn’t tip her just to see if the next experience was as wonderful.
Tuesday, September 16th,
2003; Bordeaux, France
Joanie was flying into Bordeaux to join the ship so after docking and clearing immigration, I disembarked and walked into Bordeaux to find a taxi to take me to the Bordeaux airport to meet her. I walked Bordeaux’s many shopping streets looking for a taxi stand and finally found one near the Cathedrale St. Andre and negotiated a ride. While Joanie made her tight connection from Delta Airlines to Air France, her luggage didn’t, so we were treated to lunch on Air France while we waited the three hours for the next flight. We were given a voucher and after finding the right restaurant, were treated to a wonderful lunch and a bottle of wine making the imposition insignificant. We finally arrived at the ship around 4 PM, boarded, checked Joanie in and then went to relax in our cabin. We selected a casual dinner at Tapas on the Terrace. Wow! What a great experience.
The quality and selection of food on the Regatta resembles culinary experiences you would expect to find on luxury lines. The dining experiences are quickly defining Regatta’s unique roll as an upper premium, if not luxury experience. Joanie and I were tired from the day and watched the evening’s show for about 30 minutes before calling it a night.
Wednesday, September 17th,
2003; Bordeaux, France
I had signed up for an optional tour to Saint Emilion and was up for an early breakfast and then off to meet the small group taking the tour. The motor coach crossed over the La Garonne on the Pont de Pierre Bridge and quickly made its way into the countryside. Winding its way through vineyards and cornfields the motor coach eventually entered the area of Saint-Emilion. We stopped at the Pomerol Vineyards of St. Emilion where we inspected the process of wine production from picking to tasting. The wine was excellent, however a tad pricey. From the winery we continued into the town of St. Emilion and to the underground living quarters of St. Emilion himself. A visit to the chapel where he presided as well as the underground catacombs and the massive underground church (the largest in the world) completed the tour part of Saint Emilion and we were free to explore the small village that was quaint and engaging. St. Emilion offers a maze of twisting pedestrian streets lined with shops, boutiques wine outlets for the various chateaus in the St. Emilion region and many stores selling items of interest to tourists. After a wonderful time shopping, we boarded the motor coach for the 45-minute trip back to the ship.
I returned to find Joanie up and about and so after a quick lunch we took off to explore Bordeaux’s fabulous shopping. We entered Bordeaux and made our way into the shopping area where we walked and walked enjoying the various stores that lined the pedestrian streets. After quite a while, we stopped to enjoy a bottle of Bordeaux wine and settled into one of the sidewalk cafes for a wonderful afternoon of just quiet conversation and people watching. It was truly one of the most enjoyable afternoons we had had in quite a while.
Back on the ship, we had been invited to join the media group for dinner. We got ready and then made our way to the Tuscany Restaurant for a wonderful dining experience with table conversation going well into the evening. We ended up being the last table to vacate the restaurant and Joanie and I simply turned in for the evening after a full day’s events.
Thursday, September 18th,
2003; Day at Sea
We slept in quite late and barely made it in time to enjoy another wonderful breakfast on the Terrace. The day was quite warm and promised to be a stellar pool day. We spent the day by the pool relaxing and enjoying the subtle breezes as they cooled us from the burning sun. I admit to logging a few hours in the Jacuzzis as well.
We had invited the members of the NACTA group to our cabin to try some of the Bordeaux wines that I had purchased in St. Emilion and they arrived right on time. We socialized for about an hour and then made our way down to the Grand Dining Room requesting a table for ten. We were accommodated after a short wait and were treated to another excellent dinner. I must say here that the dining experience is what defines Oceania. The majority of agents in our group felt that the food, service, presentation and overall experience rivals that of Silversea, Crystal, Radisson and Seabourn. It is so far beyond Celebrity and Holland America (especially since 9/11) that one would always choose Oceania with its current pricing positioning in the premium market. Oceania is priced far below the luxury market and would be a great choice for anyone wanting to either experience what a luxury cruise would be like, or that would like to upgrade their cruise experience from the premium market without paying a premium.
Our table was located right next to the quartet that played in the Grand Dining Room and our dinner experience could not have been more enjoyable. Following dinner we chose to attend the evening’s entertainment, the same pianist that played earlier in the cruise. Once again, he was fabulous and received a standing ovation from the majority of the audience at the end of his performance. A few of us continued to the Horizon Bar and it was 50s and 60s night. The band wore 50s and 60s garb and were playing rock and roll songs that had many people up dancing. We stayed a while and turned in exhausted from the day’s full events.
Friday, September 19th,
2003; Oporto, Portugal
We arrived right on time in Oporto (however, Joanie and I could not testify to that fact as we had slept in quite late) and by the time Joanie and I were ready to get off the ship to go exploring; it was just after 11 AM. The actual town of Oporto was some miles away as ships can only go so far up the Douro River before docking next to a draw bridge that I do not believe is wide enough to allow cruise ships through. Joanie and I debarked the ship and at the advice of the port authority guard that was guarding the main gate to the port, we boarded a local bus (#44) for the ride to Oporto. The bus took us through many industrial areas, by car dealerships, small strip centers and hospitals before depositing us in the downtown bus station in Oporto. Now for those that do not know, Oporto is quite a large city and the bus station is nowhere near the old town area that tourists like for shopping and general visiting. We did have a map though, but it was in Portuguese.
I guess that is when we started laughing. We had the time of our lives wondering around the residential and local shopping areas of Oporto where tourist probably haven’t been for decades. We walked and walked and kept getting more and more lost as we followed the twisting and turning streets that climbed up and down the various hills that made up Oporto. Each little community store reminded us of movies we had seen and the character of the people we experienced was truly unique. It was so much fun. Later in the day we found a community wine store, so we thought that we should buy some wine and see if we could figure out where we were, to start making plans to head back to the ship. While neither Joanie nor I speak Portuguese, I do speak some Spanish and Portuguese people take great pride in the fact that they can speak Spanish, while very few Spaniards can speak Portuguese. It is kind of a source for regional pride. I asked about the tourist area and the lady looked at me like I was crazy, took me outside and pointed across the bridge to the many motor coaches parked there. Somehow, Joanie and I had stumbled onto it. Of course, I told Joanie that I knew where I was at all times and it was just fun to pretend to be lost, and of course, she didn’t believe me. After looking at the general area, we decided we might as well take the local bus back to the ship, this time boarding bus number 76. It took about an hour, but this bus went through all of the residential districts on its way back to the ship. We made it back with almost 30 minutes to spare before the ship left, but a memory that will last a lifetime. HINT: If you really want to see the tourist part of Oporto, take a taxi! It only cost about 12 euro (the bus was 2 euro) but you will get there with plenty of time to explore this fascinating city.
Joanie and I had decided to enjoy a dinner with just the two of us, so after getting ready, we went to the Grand Dining Room Bar for a cocktail and then into the dining room at a table for two. Oceania had added a good number of tables for two in the Grand Dining Room and obtaining one was quite easy. We enjoyed another fabulous dinner and then decided to turn in for the night, exhausted after traipsing miles throughout Oporto’s back streets and residential areas.
Saturday, September 20th,
2003; Lisbon, Portugal
We arrived right on schedule into Lisbon and we were up early, enjoyed our breakfast on the Terrace and were ready to explore Lisbon (Lisboa). This was Joanie’s first visit to Lisbon and I was anxious to show her the wonderful shopping district in Lisbon’s old town. The port provides a shuttle to Arco Triunfal de rue Augusta; the gated entrance to the old section of Lisbon. Walking under the massive monument leads you to a wonderful pedestrian shopping street right in the heart of Lisbon. Lisbon is a large city and the historic district is quite large itself. There are numerous shopping streets and side streets throughout the historic district and wonderful little restaurants, sidewalk cafes and bars to choose from. Just south of the historic district and visible from many points in downtown, is a castle (Castelo de Sau Jorge) that resides on top of the mountain. Lisbon’s many European squares feature buildings from different periods in Lisbon’s past and are wonderful to explore. We took the trolley to the top of the steep hill on the north side of the old section to walk among the narrow residential streets that date back centuries.
We found a unique wine store that had a cellar with wines for sale dating back as far as 1830 and spent well over an hour inspecting the various offerings finally purchasing a few bottles of local wine to bring home with us. After hours of exploring Lisbon, we grabbed a taxi to return us to the ship in plenty of time for the Regatta’s departure. Sailing from Lisbon is a treat not to be missed. As progress is made down the inlet the ship passes under a bridge that rivals the Golden Gate, which frames the entire city as you move further out of the inlet. The ship then passes the impressive Navigators’ monument constructed to celebrate Portuguese explorers from Portugal’s famed period of world exploration. Finally, the castle that marks the entrance to the inlet from the Atlantic Ocean makes an incredible departure statement about Lisbon’s past and her diverse community.
We had made dinner reservations in the Toscana Restaurant, so after attending a cocktail party for our group, we spent some time playing chess in the Martinis Lounge before heading up to Toscana and our table for two. Dinner was simply fantastic and was the best of the cruise so far. After dinner we attended the evening’s entertainment, Ms. Shani Reay, who also the Regatta’s social hostess. Shani’s performance was excellent, as her sultry voice is well suited to the cabaret style in which she performs. If you get a chance to see Shani on one of the Oceania cruises, don’t miss her performance.
Sunday, September 21st,
2003; Cadiz (Seville), Spain
We attended a short meeting in the morning and then prepared for arrival in Cadiz. Cadiz is often overlooked in favor of Seville some 60 miles inland from Cadiz, but Cadiz is a world-class destination in itself and shouldn’t be missed. As it was Sunday, most of the shops were closed in town so Joanie and I walked along the ocean front boardwalk that encircles the peninsula that Cadiz resides upon. About half way around the peninsula, we entered Cadiz’s pedestrian streets enjoying the fabulous architecture. Cobbled streets with three and four story whitewashed stucco buildings with wonderful wrought iron balconies displaying a dizzying array of colorful flowers. One could easily spend the entire two-day port call in Cadiz and have a wonderful time.
We met our group for cocktails and enjoyed a wonderful dinner in the Grand Dining Room and ended up closing the restaurant.
Monday, September 22nd,
2003; Cadiz (Seville), Spain
Joanie and I had opted to take the ship’s transfer to Seville to explore Seville’s beauty. We departed the ship at 8:45, made our way out of Cadiz, across the huge bay and into the countryside. Seville is about an hour and one half’s drive from the ship and is quite a scenic drove through vineyards, cotton fields and fruit orchards. Upon arrival in Seville we drive past various plazas and make our first stop at the Plaza de America, a huge plaza with its twin towers and vast stonework. Boarding the motor coach again, the next stop was the entrance to the Barrio de Santa Cruz, a medieval residential area consisting of a labyrinth of twisting and turning pedestrian lanes wandering throughout the entire barrio. There are quaint shops, restaurants and boutiques throughout the area, which is very much fun to explore. Directly outside of the barrio is the Seville’s Cathedral. It is indeed a wonderful and interesting cathedral and certainly worth visiting.
Seville offers just about everything one could want in a city to visit. Fabulous architecture, superb shopping, culture everywhere and a sophisticated population that is wonderful to be immersed in. Seville is easily navigated on foot from the central tourist area and there is an on-and-off again double-decker bus that offers an excellent overview of Seville so that one can take the tour and then decide where they would love to spend the balance of the time they have in Seville. We chose to enjoy a long lunch with a bottle of wine and some shopping in Seville’s designer district.
Back on the ship we enjoyed an excellent dinner in the Po