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May 15, 2012

COUNTDOWN TO RIVIERA: 1 DAY TO MAIDEN VOYAGE!

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It seemed as if the entire city knew the historic significance of Riviera’s arrival in Venice yesterday. The morning at sea was hazy and overcast, but as the ship approached Venice, the clouds parted and the sun shined brightly on the city in which Riviera’s Maiden Voyage would soon embark.

Riviera in Venice03Sailing into the port of Venice is one of the most stunning scenes you can witness from a cruise ship. You first see the city skyline from quite a distance away, and as the ship enters the canal, beautiful views and renowned landmarks await you at every turn. The ship literally sails right into the heart of the city, passing icons such as St. Mark’s Basilica, the Doge’s Palace and the famed Campanile.

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I found the view from Riviera’s decks to be a photographer’s dream and any traveler’s treasured memory, made all the more special by Cruise Director Leslie John’s narration of the historic sights – and the celebratory Bellini cocktails being served on deck! It was a welcome befitting the spectacular new Riviera.

 

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Perhaps no other city in the world conjures images of as many icons as Venice – St. Mark’s Square, gondoliers, Rialto Bridge, Venetian masks….  And nowhere else is it easier to get lost amidst the maze of streets and happily encounter every cultural treasure you ever hoped to see.

Riviera in Venice07As Blogger-at-Large for Oceania Cruises, I’d had the privilege of visiting Venice once before. On my previous trip, I took an excursion to the island of Murano...twice. I signed up for the excursion one day and was then invited by a friend to join a tour of the highlights of Venice the next day. Unfortunately, the friend hadn’t read the tour description very carefully, so we boarded the boat and found ourselves right back at Murano watching a glass blowing demonstration for the second day in a row.

Fortunately, this is an experience not to be missed. These artisans are absolutely astounding. They essentially transform sand into a spectacular work of art made of intricately detailed glass in a matter of minutes. The lace makers on the island of Burano are also impressive, and the brightly colored houses that line the canals are utterly charming, as Oceania Cruises’ President Kunal Kamlani can attest after visiting the island and sharing this photo.

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Riviera in Venice10But despite the amazing talents of these craftspeople, it was nevertheless a bit embarrassing to be asked how I spent my two days in Venice and have to respond that I visited Murano…both days. So during my current stay, I was determined to explore every curve of the meandering canals and absorb every bit of Venetian romance that I possibly could.

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As soon as the ship was docked, I set off with my traveling companions. From the moment we crossed the bridge over the first canal, we found classic Venetian vignettes everywhere we turned. Sidewalk cafes, couples enjoying gondola rides, laundry drying outside shuttered windows alongside blooming flower boxes. Local markets bursting with every size, shape and color of produce you could imagine. Shops selling everything from pasta to Venetian masks to haute couture. There were so many photo opportunities that I had to remind myself to put down the camera now and then and just take it all in.

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I grabbed that chance when we stopped into a streetside café. We of course chose to sit outside so we could bask in the sunshine and watch people stroll through the lovely square, but the inside was so charming I would’ve liked it just as well.

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After sipping a nice Chianti and people watching for a bit, we forged ahead. While one could easily fill a day just wandering the enchanting streets of Venice, there were a few historic sights that we wanted to be sure to see. Soon we arrived at the most famous of Venice's bridges.Riviera in Venice22The Rialto Bridge was bustling with people taking in the views of the canal and capturing images of the famed bridge itself.

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Riviera in Venice27Next we headed south to what is surely the most famous sight in Venice – St. Mark’s Square. It’s hard to say which was more impressive – the panoramic view from the ship as we arrived or the details we could now see up close. If you want to see inside St. Mark’s Basilica, I recommend booking a shore excursion. This will allow you to avoid the line, which is usually quite lengthy as it was today.

We hadn’t yet had a slice of pizza in Venice, so considering the line to get into the cathedral, the pizza won out and we continued our walk. Along the way, I caught a photo you don’t see every day in Venice – an America’s Cup ship sailing along the Grand Canal! This weekend was the opening of the nine-day America's Cup festival in Venice, which will culminate with Championship Racing in the America's Cup World Series a few days from now. Riviera was not the only spectacular sailing vessel that could be spotted throughout the canals of Venice this week.

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Next we crossed over the Accademia Bridge and discovered that, while it may not be as famous as the Rialto Bridge, the views from this bridge are just as impressive if not more so.

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Riviera in Venice11Just past the Accademia Bridge, we found another lovely square and sat down in a café to enjoy a slice (or four) of pizza. I checked my watch and realized that we had dinner reservations onboard Riviera in three hours, but I just couldn’t keep myself from trying each of the four kinds we ordered – margherita, prosciutto e funghi, diavolo, and a bruschetta-style pizza they prepared specially at my friend’s request. Luckily, we were walking back to the ship so I was able to burn off a bit of the pizza on the way. I wasn’t going to miss out on Polo Grill!

It’s no wonder the Oceania Cruises team planned an overnight stay in Venice at the beginning of Riviera’s Maiden Voyage. Guests will want to explore this remarkable city at length before sailing. Whether you visit the magnificent cathedrals, discover the islands of Murano and Burano, or simply meander the narrow lanes experiencing the romance, what a wonderful way to celebrate Riviera’s debut.

I hope you all enjoy discovering the wonders of Riviera and her fascinating ports of call as much as I have during her Christening Cruise. To those embarking on the Maiden Voyage tomorrow, I wish you Bon Voyage!

Comments

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We have sailed the previous incarnation of Oceania (Renaissance) Istanbul to Athens and really loved it. I would highly recommend it, small ships ~700 or so and very attentive and great food and ports/excursions plus before/after stays/excursions. We look forward to doing them again, either St. Petersberg or Israel/Egypt.

i wish we were there with you

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