November 2015 - 11 Night Artistic Discoveries (Venice To Barcelona) Cruise on Riviera
This was my second cruise with Oceania, and once again I think they did a great job with *almost* everything. Starting at the top, I must say that our room stewards were the best ever. Jayzil never forgot a name and was beyond helpful. When she saw me coming with a basket of laundry, she hurried to the door of my room to open it without my saying anything, all the while giving me her usual friendly greeting. Our room was always beautifully made up and so clean. That is a big plus when you are spending long days having fun and return late at night feeling worn out.
We did not take any Oceania excursions. I prefer small groups and am on a budget so was able to schedule tours on my own that suited me much better. However, I have heard stories of other cruise lines letting their own tour groups off first while the rest of the guests waited, and waited. Not so with O. Their groups met in another room, not the main lobby, and used the crew ramp to disembark, allowing the 'other' guests to use the main lobby and disembark on the guest stairs. We were never late, never the last ones to go ashore. Another plus is the smaller ship never had to use tenders to shuttle us to shore.
The floor shows on this boat are not as lavish as others might be; the smaller boat simply cannot accommodate a larger stage. Nevertheless, the musicians were all wonderful and the other performers mingled with guests at functions and were all so friendly and polite. It was a joy to meet them. We also had a wonderful guest lecturer in Dr. Wulf. She gave excellent lectures on the countries we were visiting and presented her material so clearly and concisely, it made learning fun.
Afternoon tea on the boat was a fun break in the late afternoon. There was an endless supply of little sandwiches and pastries. I had to give up going every day though; it was enough to spoil my appetite for dinner and that just wasn't working. Because the dinners on ship are excellent. The food is well prepared and fresh. It was a delight to the eye as well as the taste buds. We dined in all four specialty restaurants but it's difficult to say which one is the best. That probably depends on your personal preference for food. My filet mignon was cooked to perfection (Polo Grill); my curried chicken was the best (Red Ginger); the risotto with a hint of truffle was enough to drool over (Toscana's); and Jacques reminded me that French food is some of the best in the world. The Grand Dining Room had food as good, just a little less elaborately presented. The Terrace Café was always delicious and even the Waves Grill where my friend HAD to have hot dogs because she said they were the best she'd ever eaten. Ah, I am missing all that delicious food already.
Now, our ports.
Venice: We embarked here and although we showed up at 9:30 p.m. we received a friendly greeting with helpful staff taking our luggage, etc. and when we ordered room service, promptly received our delicious meal. We sailed the next day, earlier than planned as fog was expected and the captain explained we didn't want to be stuck in port. My friend and I did our own thing and had a lovely day.
Zadar, Croatia: This was an interesting town with the quaint narrow streets and old buildings of the old town where we spent our day. It was damaged in the war so some buildings are newer, but the people were friendly and we enjoyed our stroll. One note, although our euros were widely accepted, it is not the national currency. Many places would only accept euro bills and not change. This meant a 5 euro purchase minimum, so if you go here, be prepared to either obtain local currency or to avoid small purchases.
Kotor, Montenegro: This was the most delightful medieval village. I think the village walls are still fully intact; the newer town is all built outside the walls and everything inside the walls (that I saw) was old, old, old. Leading up the hill/cliff in the back of the town was a trail that led up to the old fortress. The hike is the equivalent of climbing the Empire state building and to go up and back took me three hours. It was so worth it. The view was incredible and it helped to burn off the calories I was consuming. This is a town where you do not need a tour unless you want to go outside of Kotor. In the afternoon we hired a taxi to take us to Perast. The driver was terrific, calling ahead to arrange a boat to take us out to view and explore the islands (5 euro each). Please note that if your driver waits for you, you are going to pay the meter for the entire time. A trip of about 2.5 hours cost us around 60-70 euros (sorry, don't recall the exact amount!) but was worth it to us. If you are dropped off to find your own way back (there are buses, or you could take another taxi), it's about 12-15 euro one way.
Palermo, Sicily, Italy: A charming town, that reminded me totally of Naples where I had been before. A little shabby and even the tourist rep that came on board admitted there were parts we would be better off to avoid. We did not have a tour arranged and were met off the boat by folks with poster boards of photos, offering 'tours' by taxi. We spoke to a terrific young woman with excellent English but wound up with a driver who only spoke about 20 words. Our three hour tour was whisked through in 2H 15min and the driver could not understand that we wanted another 45 minutes from him. When we gave up he couldn't understand that we wanted to be dropped off in town instead of taken back to the boat. My advice for this port, arrange a tour in advance. Others who did the same thing we did had better luck but if you wind up with a driver who can't speak English, you can't even argue with him!
Civitavecchia (Rome), Italy: We had arranged a tour and had another couple join us. Our driver was excellent, with good English and wonderful driving skills. If you've ever been to Rome you know that drivers have to have nerves of steel. haha. The only drawback to this trip is that Rome is some distance from the port so that driving takes up a lot of time. (You could go by train, but be prepared for strikes which might last half an hour or all day.) Add to this that rush hour traffic starts around 3:30 so that our driver had to leave ASAP after 3:00 p.m. He admitted that if he left later the traffic could be so bad that he couldn't guarantee we would make our boat departure which was scheduled for 7:00 p.m. However, we saw the Piazza Navona, Trevi Fountain, etc. and had time for a tour of the Vatican Museum/Sistine Chapel/St. Peter's. It was a rush job though (certainly no fault of our guides), and if you really want to see Rome, take a trip to spend several days there.
Livona (Florence/Pisa), Italy: We arranged a tour to Florence and stopped in Pisa on the way. Our guide was excellent and even did a detour through the country in Tuscany to let us take some pictures. Florence is smaller than Rome and we had time to stroll a bit more leisurely through the city.
Monaco: We originally were scheduled to anchor offshore and tender in, but that changed so we were docked. This tiny city has a lot to see and I thought it was a wonderful port. There are 4,000 police in this tiny city-state and I saw them everywhere. We did a half day tour than struck out on our own. I wandered all over and felt completely safe at all times, even when it began to get dark.
Marseille, France: Sadly, the Paris massacre happened just before our arrival here; nevertheless people were friendly and welcoming. We had a tour scheduled that took us to Aix en Provence then to Cassis on the coast. I highly recommend both places; in Cassis you simply must either do a boat tour or hike the trails in the national park there.
Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain: We stayed overnight on the boat here, which was great as there is so much to see and do here. As much as I enjoyed all our other ports this is the one I really want to go back to. I did three tours in two days and feel that I barely scratched the surface. Note that Catalonia has a strong separatist movement and in the wake of the Paris tragedy that somehow made me feel uneasy. But everyone was so friendly, even the taxi driver that picked us up at the boat to take us to our hotel for our post cruise stay warned us of pick pockets and advised us on where to eat (El Nacianol).
Criticisms: There isn't much to criticize on an Oceania cruise, but the only thing that bugged me repeatedly was the slow dinner service. It didn't matter what restaurant we ate in, dinner took forever. My traveling friend scheduled our specialty restaurants at 8pm which meant at 9:45 we were just getting our dessert. This meant we were late to the show (starts at 9:45) or went to bed with belly bomb stomachs. I don't want a rushed dinner meal, but I don't need two hours either. Even in the Grand Dining Room service for lunch took forever. Our last night we ate in the Grand Dining Room and it was slower than ever. There was no Maitre 'D (sp?) and we finally had to demand our dishes be brought to us. This slow process was a mystery to me as other diners seemed to be fed much more quickly than us. Unfortunately, it marred what should have been a relaxing last night aboard ship.
Bottom line though is that I recommend this cruise line, this ship and this tour. And if you are as lucky as we were, you will have sunny days and mild temperatures every day of your trip, too.