Iram Ali, a Miami native and new guest to Oceania Cruises, writes about her experience on board Riviera and traveling throughout the Mediterranean. This past fall, Iram and her best friend sailed from Athens to Barcelona with calls on Santorini, Florence, Monaco and Marseille, among others. She shares her favorite moments ashore as well as some of the top indulgences aboard Riviera.
Is it possible to fall in love with an experience?
When I think back on my first Oceania Cruises voyage, I get goose bumps. Staring into the eyes of Michelangelo’s magnificent David in Florence, strolling barefoot across the beautiful stony beach in Nice, taking in the breathtaking views of Santorini; to say it was perfect would be an understatement.
Riviera in Santorini, Greece
My best friend and I researched for months before we found our ideal itinerary, Autumn Wonders: we’d board Riviera in Athens and cruise through the Mediterranean for 10 days with stops in Ephesus, Santorini, Taormina, Amalfi, Rome, Florence, Monte Carlo, Marseille and end in Barcelona.
We flew into Athens one day before embarking Riviera. Excitement overpowered jet lag and after dropping off our luggage, we walked to the Plaka and had a wonderful lunch with a view of the Acropolis. Then we got on a train and toured many of the top sites in the area: the Acroplis, the Parthenon, Temple of Olympian Zeus and the Theater of Dionysis just to name a few. I couldn’t believe I was walking in the same area where Socrates and Plato once stood!
In the months leading up to the cruise, I spent a lot of time googling photos of Santorini. Would it be as amazing as the pictures made it seem? Well, I got my answer as soon as we anchored near the island: It was so much more spectacular than a ‘Google Images’ search could ever reveal. We selected a Food and Wine Trails shore excursion, so we toured a local Greek winery and enjoyed delicious bread and cheese for lunch. Then we got lost walking through the white-washed town of Oia, took pictures and selfies near the famous blue domes and bought beautiful jewelry to remember the island.
Florence was my favorite destination, and by far, the most fascinating one. As soon as we walked into the Palazzo Vecchio, we were greeted by a parade. I loved staring at the cathedrals with such detailed architecture and walls brimming with Renaissance and Romanesque style. When we walked into the Galleria dell’ Accademia, our jaws dropped at the sight of David. Here we were, circling around one of the most important pieces of art, completely mesmerized.
I love telling people that I’ve been to Monaco. If it weren’t for this amazing itinerary, when would I ever have had the chance to visit this luxurious principality? Our excursion first took us to Eze, a charming medieval village in the French Riviera overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. Then we drove to Nice, where we walked through a flower market, bought local artwork and spent time at the beach. Back in Monaco, we visited the Saint Nicholas Cathedral, the final resting place of Princess Grace and watched the changing of the guards at the Prince’s Palace of Monaco. In Monte Carlo, we brushed shoulders with the rich and famous as we visited the casino and shopped in the high-end boutiques.
Finest Cuisine at Sea
Three words: Miso Glazed Seabass. I’m often daydreaming about the food (so much food!) we had on board Riviera. Perhaps you can’t claim to have the finest cuisine at sea without it being true. Jacques, Toscana, Grand Dining Room, Terrace Café, Polo Grill, Waves Grill – every single meal on any given day, at any given restaurant was divine. Even early morning and late night calls to room service delivered mouth-watering meals. My favorite dish was the Miso Glazed Seabass at Red Ginger but the Filetto di Manzo alla Fiorentina con Crosta al Gorgonzola at Toscana was a very close second. The Gratiné à l’Oignon soup at Jacques was also amazing, as was the Grilled Jumbo Shrimp Scampi over Roasted Vegetables at Polo Grill. On the second day of the cruise, we dined with two other guests at the exclusive Privée, which offered an indulgent, one-of-a-kind experience with beautiful views of the Mediterranean.
Private Dining in Privée
We also enjoyed every party, trivia night and entertainment show on the ship. Captain Luca Manzi shook hands with every single guest who made it to the Captain’s Party on the first Saturday of the cruise. In the Riviera Lounge, we watched an intriguing magic show and learned how to do a few tricks of our own, and we couldn’t stop dancing to 70’s music during the Flower Power performance. We spent time in the gym and at the Canyon Ranch SpaClub – receiving a much-needed spa manicure and pedicure. On our relaxing day at sea, we had delicious ice cream in waffle cones and napped by the pool. But out of every moment experienced on board and ashore, waking up with the sun upon a new skyline every morning was my favorite.
Sunrise in Monaco
So after almost two weeks of cruising throughout the Mediterranean, wouldn't you agree it's possible to fall in love with an experience? Before you answer, don't forget to try the Miso Glazed Seabass!