September 2016 - Riviera to Europe - Eastern Mediterranean
My husband and I took this cruise for our 25th wedding anniversary. We love to travel and have previously rented cars or taken trains and stayed in B&B's or used AirBNB to find housing. However, we wanted a slightly easier way to travel this time so we chose to take a cruise. We were at the concierge level with a balcony suite. The Riviera was a stunning ship. It was elegant and never felt crowded. My husband and I are very active and in our early 50's. Needless to say, we were significantly younger than the average passenger on this ship. We are independent travelers and did not do any of Oceania's shore excursions so we cannot comment on the quality of the shore excursions except for things we heard from other people on the ship.
The cruise started in Athens. We opted to pay the extra $350 air deviation fee so that we could stay a few extra days and choose flights that worked best for us. We also did the $99 upgrade to Eurotraveler Plus. Our flights were comfortable and we had great seats. I would definitely recommend spending a little extra for the flexibility and comfort.
Our first stop was Santorini. Unfortunately, 4 other ships were there at the same time. We are early risers and were some of the first people off the ship, which was a brilliant choice. The streets of Fira were empty when we first got there. We wandered around for a little while and enjoyed the cool temperatures and quiet. We had read about an amazing hike from Fira to Oia and decided to do this. It was a 5-6 mile hike over the mountains which took us about 3 hours. It was a little challenging but the views were incredible and we got a feel for the island. This is definitely worth doing. Unfortunately, when we finally arrived in Oia, it was wall to wall tourists. We had lunch and grabbed an incredibly crowded bus back to Fira. The wait for the line for the gondola was over 1 1/2 hours so we decided to walk down the donkey trail. Be warned that Santorini can be EXTREMELY crowded. Try going in as early as possible to enjoy the quiet and serenity of the island.
The next stop was Katakalo (Olympia). Katakalo is charming and Olympia (where the olympics first started) was very interesting.
We stopped in Corfu next. We decided to rent a car and drive over to the other side of the island. The island is beautiful. Renting a car is a great way to get around UNTIL you get into Corfu Town, then it can be a little harrowing.
Montenegro was our next stop - and one of our favorite. We got up early and sat on our balcony as we floated through the 17 miles of beautiful mountainous scenes. The old city of Kotor is charming. We hiked the 1300+ steps up the mountainside to the old fortress. Again, we were some of the first people off the ship and hiked this in the cool morning. It is well worth doing and the views are spectacular.
I was most disappointed in Split, Croatia. This was my own fault because I had expected the most out of this stop and should have researched it further. The old city was charming but small. The city of Split is crowded and the area around the old city is crazy. There is a beautiful, large park/open space that overlooks the city and we should have gone for a hike there but we were tired and a little grumpy so we went back to the ship after wandering for a few hours in Split.
Venice was next. We fell in love with Venice. We were the first people off the ship and walked into town. We took a Vaparreto (public water transportation) up the Grand Canal to Piazza San Marco. Again, the streets were empty and we were some of the first people in the Piazza. We tracked our steps and ended up walking over 10 miles that day - needless to say - our feet were killing us! So we hung out in the hot tub after dinner. It was beautiful to sit in the water, under the stars.
The next stop was Ancona, Italy. It rained for most of the day but we got a few hours of light rain and some sun and were able to wander around. Unfortunately, it was Monday and everything was closed so we could only look but not enter any museums or churches.
Our final stop was Bari, Italy. I had the lowest expectations about this stop because I had read some negative comments but we ended up enjoying Bari immensely. It had a wonderful walled city that people actually lived normal lives in. Once again, we were some of the first people off the ship and as we wandered through the streets, we came upon people having breakfast in their kitchens and hanging out laundry. It was charming and was the least touristy of the stops.
We viewed the cruise as a way to comfortably get from one place to another. We did not really partake of any of the entertainment because we wanted to be rested and ready for the next day of touring, so I can't comment on the quality of the entertainment. On our day at sea, we had access to a quiet deck in the Canyon Ranch Spa and spent the day there. My husband had an excellent massage as well.
Oceania is most known for it's food and the food was fantastic. We loved dining al fresco and ate most of our meals on the back of the ship at the Terrace Cafe. We discovered that they serve the same food at the Terrace Cafe that they do in the Grand Dining Room. Although it is a buffet, it is elegant and the staff is very attentive. We loved sitting outside and watching the sunset every night and watching the moon rise over the horizon. We ended up canceling 2 of our 4 speciality restaurant reservations because we loved sitting out there so much. We did eat at the Red Ginger and the Polo Grill and the food was amazing. However, we still preferred the charm of sitting outside, on the back terrace more.
We are not heavy drinkers so we opted to use a little of our on-board credit for alcohol. The basic drinks were reasonable and the daily drink specials ran about $6.50 so we could have a few drinks daily and not break the bank. The cruise line also permitted us to bring wine on board. We bought local wine and beer at several ports. Although Oceania has a 3 bottle limit - this was not enforced. We did not abuse this benefit but it permitted us to try local wines and beers at our leisure.
The staff was lovely and very attentive without being intrusive. I would recommend the Concierge level because of the access to the Concierge Lounge, the free unlimited internet, the access to the Canyon Ranch deck amenities and the size of the room. We chose Level 4 but were upgraded to Level 3. We were on the 9th floor, towards the back. This was perfect for us. We used the laundry a few times. It is $2 for each token - you need 1 for the washer and 1 for the dryer.
We had $1100 of on-board credit and had to find things to spend money on because we didn't end up using most of it. My husband had a great massage. The cruise line automatically takes out $16/day per person for tips. We ended up purchasing some great gifts and I got an Italian purse that I would never had bought.
The embarkation and disembarkation process were flawless. We had no real issues or complaints about anything and thoroughly enjoyed our cruise and plan to take another Oceania cruise at some point in the future.