202 posts categorized " Destinations "

October 8, 2014

Exotic South Pacific: Rare Flora & Fauna

Island ExplorationTiny dots in the middle of the vast Pacific Ocean, the South Pacific islands protect some of the most isolated habitats in the world. The island groups are also home to a number of endemic species, typically occurring in lesser numbers as you travel east since most species occurring in the region originated in Southeast Asia. Since these island groups encompass everything from low-lying coral atolls like Rangiroa to high volcanic islands like Fiji, the environments support a wide range of ecosystems – and make for exciting island explorations, both at sea and ashore.



Exotic Avian SpeciesFiji
With a colorful range of exotic avian species, Fiji is a birdwatcher’s paradise. About 27 endemic land and sea bird species inhabit Fiji, including the red-throated lorikeet, a critically endangered parrot, along with the Fiji goshawk, a raptor. Many of Fiji's iconic birds, such as the Kadavu parrot, Fiji petrel and pink-billed parrot finch are also threatened species. A sailing trip or a nature walk offers plenty of opportunities to witness the island’s unique population of birds. Also keep an eye out for the archipelago’s two native iguanas: the Fiji banded iguana and Fiji crested iguana.



Coral ReefWith one of the largest coral reef systems in the South Pacific, Fiji’s surrounding waters support a rich variety of sea creatures. The island offers the opportunity to witness everything from blue whales and bottlenose dolphins to humphead parrot fish and the endangered humphead wrasse, identified by its thick lips and prominent hump on the forehead. Fiji also serves as a refuge for several endangered turtles: the green turtle, the hawksbill turtle, leatherback turtke and loggerhead turtle, which nest in Fiji from November through March. Snorkeling or cruising in a glass-bottom boat makes a great way to discover Fiji’s rare and colorful marine life.

Explore Fiji’s unique flora & fauna on one of these memorable voyages:

Marina’s South Pacific Pearls, January 24, 2015
Marina’s South Pacific Marvels, February, 28, 2015
Marina’s Paradise in the Pacific, January 25, 2016



Flowering PlantsThe Samoan Islands
Though lesser known than its iconic neighbors like Tahiti and Bora, both American Samoa and Samoa offer seascapes and mountains rivaling the best in the South Pacific. The islands offer ideal snorkeling with the surrounding sea hosting over 250 species of coral, including the unique boulder coral, which can grow to be over 15 feet high. The island group is also home to two native species of giant clams, growing to 12 – 15 inches in shell length. Endangered humpback whales are regularly spotted off the coast of the Samoa Islands during their migration to and from rich feeding areas around Antarctica.

This abundant diversity is found ashore too. The archipelago supports five distinct rainforest communities (lowland, montane, coast, ridge and cloud) which are home to over 500 kinds of flowering plants, 65 of which are colorful orchids. An unusual plant form, liana, a type of woody vine which attaches to trees and clings by tendrils, is quite common throughout the tropical rainforests of Samoa. You might also catch a glimpse of the endangered flying fox – a unique fruit bat with the wing span of a barn owl. Though tropical forests and mangroves on these islands are seriously threatened due to rapid population growth, conservation efforts are on the rise – about 15% of the 3 main islands are protected under the National Park of American Samoa.

Get a taste of the Samoan Islands’ rich biodiversity on one of these special voyages:

Marina’s Passage Down Under, January 24, 2015
Marina’s Pacific Splendors, February 12, 2015
Marina’s South Pacific Serenity, February 4, 2016

October 6, 2014

The Grandeur of the Great Wall of China

Dr. Freedman with his daughter, Jessica, at the Great Wall
Dr. Freedman with his daughter, Jessica, at the Great Wall

As one of Oceania Cruises’ passionate guest lecturers, Dr. John Freedman thrives on sharing his in-depth knowledge of international cultures while sailing around the globe with our guests. Combining his well-established career in medicine with a fascination with faraway lands, Dr. Freedman has led a number of medical volunteer programs and relief efforts throughout the world. He has spent over 30 years exploring Asia in particular, and delights in sharing his insight on the rich complexity of history and culture shaping this vast continent. Below, Dr. Freedman sheds light on the mystique of the Great Wall of China.

For me there is simply no other experience on the planet like walking on the Great Wall of China. It is astounding on so many levels.

Its history and its great antiquity grip the imagination:  from its origins in the 7th century BC, to its famous consolidation by China’s very first Emperor in 221 BC, to its remarkable enhancement into its current state of architectural grandeur by the great Ming emperors of the 14th and 15th centuries. The sheer scope boggles the mind. Can it really extend over 5,500 miles east to west across the vast expanse of northern China? Indeed it does. It stands without peer as both the largest and longest building project in human history. As a technological feat, it inspires awe. Looking around from any vantage point, it is an engineering marvel that seems to border on the impossible, carving a massive serpentine path along the crests of steep and craggy mountains. The natural beauty of its setting is breathtaking. The wall offers undulating mountain vistas, and its thousands of towers are never-ending, changing magnificently with the seasons.

Badaling, a section of the Great Wall about 50 miles northwest of Beijing
Badaling, a section of the Great Wall about 50 miles northwest of Beijing

From a functional standpoint, the wall is intriguing — and full of irony. Its principal function was always to serve as a defensive military barrier to protect the realm against invasion from the north by barbarian tribes. Secondarily, it served as an east-west transportation corridor for merchants and messengers, through otherwise impenetrable terrain. It also served important social functions, controlling migration and dividing civilized society from the hinterlands. Yet despite its grand extent and great utility, the wall ultimately failed in its principal military function: China twice succumbed to foreign invasion by northern intruders, first by the Mongol hordes of Kublai Khan in 1279 and then by fierce Manchu armies in 1644. The Mongols stayed as overlords in China for 97 years, and the Manchus stayed as rulers for well over two centuries.

Mutianyu, a section of the Great Wall about 40 miles northeast of Beijing
Mutianyu, a section of the Great Wall about 40 miles northeast of Beijing

Today, the changcheng (“long wall”, as the Chinese very aptly refer to it) is China’s premier tourist attraction and undeniably qualifies as one of the world’s greatest wonders. Whatever part of the wall you visit, you will be impressed. The Badaling and Mutianyu sections of the wall are nearest to Beijing, while the Huangyaguan Pass section is nearest to the port of Tianjin. All are striking and awe-inspiring as they carve their sure and mighty path over miles of rugged mountain terrain, enduring as a powerful symbol of the country.

 

 

 

This winter, discover the Great Wall of China first-hand and join Dr. Freedman’s compelling lectures:

Nautica’s Asian Interlude voyage, February 21, 2015
Nautica’s Emperors & Empires voyage, March 10, 2015

Dr. Freedman will also be sharing insightful knowledge on a range of fascinating Asian & African destinations as he joins us on the following voyages:

Nautica’s Pagodas & Palaces voyage, February 5, 2015  
Nautica’s Mythical Asia voyage, March 26, 2015
Insignia’s Pagodas & Palaces voyage, October 10, 2015
Insignia’s Sultans & Safaris voyage, October 26, 2015

We look forward to welcoming you aboard soon!
 

September 24, 2014

Panama Canal Celebrates 100th Anniversary

PcIn 1914, the iconic waterway that connects the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans across the Isthmus of Panama opened to ships and revolutionized international trade forever. The 48-mile-long passageway created a landmark shortcut for ships and vessels, saving nearly 8,000 miles—which is what’s required when traveling around the tip of South America. During the past 100 years in operation, the Panama Canal has continually boosted trade between continents, serving as the passageway for between 13,000 and 14,000 ships every year—about 40 each day.

In honor of the Panama Canal’s 100th anniversary, here are some fascinating facts about this iconic engineering feat. 

  1. Nicaragua was actually the original target site for the canal. During the 1800s, the U.S. considered Nicaragua a more feasible location than Panama. A French engineer shifted the focus to Panama, drawing attention to a number of volcanoes in Nicaragua.
  2. More than 60 million pounds of dynamite were used to excavate the site of the canal.
  3. In 1963, the Panama Canal transit began operating 24 hours a day, thanks to the introduction of fluorescent lighting.
  4. Every vessel that makes the transit must pay a toll based on its size and cargo. Tolls for the largest vessels can be as much as $450,000. The smallest toll ever paid was 36 cents, paid in 1928 by Richard Halliburton, who swam the canal.
  5. In 2010, the 1 millionth vessel crossed the canal since its opening in 1914.
  6. When passing through the canal, ship captains do not transit the canal on their own. Instead, a specially-trained canal pilot commands the navigational control of each ship. The transit takes ships between 6 to 8 hours.
  7. To this day, the gates that control the transit are the original gates installed 100 years ago. The most significant change made since construction in 1914 has been replacing the mechanical gears of the locks with hydraulics.
  8. Though the canal’s engineers had enough forethought to build the passageway significantly larger than what was necessary for ships at the time of construction, today’s megaships have finally spurred an expansion. The expansion project began in 2007, and is set to finish in late 2015.


Celebrate the magnificence and history of the Panama Canal with one of Oceania Cruises’ memorable voyages that make this time-honored transit:

We look forward to welcoming you aboard soon!

August 12, 2014

DARINA ALLEN'S BLACKBERRY VODKA RECIPE

In yesterday’s blog I told of my wonderful outing with Jacques Pépin to the Ballymaloe estate in County Cork, Ireland, the site of one of our newest Culinary Discovery Tours. Our host was Darina Allen, founder of the Ballymaloe Cookery School, and I thought you might enjoy this recipe from her latest book (which I highly recommend!), celebrating the 30-year anniversary of the school. It’s an infused vodka, and Darina notes that she uses orange rind, wild garlic, rhubarb, peaches and apricots as seasonal substitutions for the blackberries shown below.

 

DSC_6616
Ballymaloe matriarch Myrtle Allen, Jacques Pépin and Darina Allen

DARINA ALLEN'S BLACKBERRY VODKA

{makes one pint}

 

  • 1 ¼ pounds (600 grams) fresh, organic blackberries
  • 1 ½ pounds (600 grams) fine sugar
  • 1 pint vodka
  • 3 sweet geranium leaves

 

Put all the ingredients into a sterilized jar and set aside in a cool, dark place to mature for two months, shaking the contents every few days to dissolve the sugar.

After two to three months, strain, reserving the “booze-sodden” blackberries, which can be served with yogurt, panna cotta or a fruit salad. Return the strained vodka (or gin, if you prefer) to the bottle and store in a cool, dark place. Ideally the mix will be drunk within three to four months, but it can keep for up to a year.

August 11, 2014

CHEF KELLY HOSTS JACQUES PÉPIN AT BALLYMALOE IN IRELAND

We thoroughly enjoyed this year’s Signature Sailing with Jacques Pépin – his cooking demonstrations, book signings and informal visits to the Bon Appétit Culinary Center. He is always eager to meet our students and see what’s cooking in our onboard culinary studio.

We especially enjoyed our call on Cobh, Ireland, where I hosted Jacques for a day at Ballymaloe Cookery School, the location of one of our newest Culinary Discovery ToursTM. Founded in 1983 by Darina Allen and Rory O’Connell, the Ballymaloe Cookery School is a bucket list destination for food enthusiasts. Allen is one of the leaders of the famed Slow Food movement in Ireland, dedicated to preserving biodiversity and artisan food production. Located on 100 acres, the school utilizes the vegetables, fruits and herbs from their organic gardens and greenhouses. They also maintain their own pigs, ducks, chickens and a small herd of Jersey cattle from which they make the most delicious buttermilk (perfect for Irish breads), yogurt, butter and cheeses.

Ballymaloe Cookery School

Ballymaloe Cookery School 2

Ballymaloe is a family affair, and Darina’s son-in-law manages a Slow Food consortium of farmers’ markets in County Cork. We began with a stroll through the lively morning market where Jacques and I checked out the local fishmonger and explored this week’s last harvest of berries and an impressive array of root vegetables. 

Market 3 Market 1

Market 2

 

Then we were off to Ballymaloe, where the teaching kitchens were bustling with students and their cooking assignments. The school offers everything from a 12-week certificate program to 3-hour demonstration classes.

We were greeted by Darina’s son, Toby, our host for a tour of the cookery school gardens. Our tour began at the culinary herb garden (complete with a lady scarecrow) and Lydia’s Garden, a miniature Versailles. Jacques stopped to smell the herbs and noticed some snails in the hedgerow – so we had an impromptu lecture on snails. (What doesn’t Jacques Pépin know about food?!)

Garden 1

Garden 3

Garden 2

The bountiful greenhouses were brimming with tomatoes, squash, fruits, herbs and lettuces – all lovingly maintained. Behind the greenhouse are the perennial gardens, herbaceous borders, and the Shell House. In the Shell House, the entire surface – walls and ceiling – is decorated with shells in patterns that resemble the intricate and delicate mosaics of Turkey and the Middle East. It’s overwhelmingly beautiful and difficult to capture in a photograph – so you’ll have to come on a cruise with us to see it!

Greenhouse 1

Greenhouse 2  Greenhouse 3


Back Garden 2

Back Garden 1

Shell House 1

Shell House 2

JP and ChickensTo conclude our walking tour, we took the farm path that passes the chicken house, where happy chickens strolled around the yard and munched on the kitchen scraps from the morning’s cooking class. We also stopped into the dairy and were able to observe the mis en place for an upcoming demonstration on the making of yogurt, buttermilk, butter and cheese. 

For lunch, we traveled to Ballymaloe House, an elegant restaurant and hotel owned and lovingly operated by the Allen family. There we met Myrtle Allen, the family matriarch who, with her husband, founded the culinary empire that is now Ballymaloe. We were also joined at lunch by Darina, who regaled us with stories of how her family developed this 100-acre farm into the celebrated establishment it is today.

DSC_6616Jacques had brought a few of his books to share with Darina, and she asked him to sign several of his books that she had in her personal library. It was so special to see these two teaching icons together in one place and enjoying each other’s company. I was often pinching myself because it was so amazing to be in the company of two of my idols and mentors, surrounded by the dreamlike setting of Ballymaloe.

The Signature Sailing with Jacques Pépin is always one of my favorites, and our visit to Ballymaloe will always be a cherished memory. Check the blog tomorrow for Darina's recipe for blackberry vodka and in the coming weeks for the announcement of next year’s Jacques Pépin cruise! If you've ever sailed with us on a Jacques Pépin cruise, what was your fondest memory?

July 30, 2014

A WORLD OF HIDDEN TREASURES OPENS TODAY

It’s an exciting day for the Oceania Cruises family and for anyone who has ever dreamed of sailing around the world. Reservations open today at 8:30 a.m. EST for the Around the World in 180 Days 2016 voyage, sailing roundtrip from Miami on January 4, 2016, to five continents, 45 countries and 92 ports of call.

Over the course of 180 days, guests will have the opportunity to visit an incredible 57 UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Included are some of the world’s most famous destinations, along with a few relatively obscure, but fascinating sites. Sure, everyone knows of UNESCO sites such as the Great Wall of China and the Sydney Opera House – both are featured on this voyage – but you can imagine how spectacular and intriguing the lesser-known sites must be. Here are five that really capture my imagination:

Royal Palaces of Abomey (from Cotonou, Benin): These palaces in Benin were built for Dahomean kings and utilized from 1625 to 1900. King Houegbadja began the construction process, which carried on for centuries through 12 consecutive kings, honoring what locals believed was a royal family directly descended from the union of a princess and a panther.

Peking Man Site at Zhoukoudian (from Beijing, China): Seven UNESCO World Heritage Sites in and around Beijing are featured on this voyage, and by far the most ancient is the cave system where the remains of Homo erectus, one of our earliest ancestors, were discovered in the 1920s. Dubbed the Peking Man, the excavation not only revealed a predecessor to Homo sapiens but also uncovered ancient fossils that showed early use of fire and tools.

Komodo DragonKomodo National Park (from Komodo, Indonesia): The island of Komodo is one of the few UNESCO World Heritage Sites designated solely to protect a single species – in this case the Komodo dragon. Reminiscent of a creature from the age of the dinosaurs, this massive monitor lizard can grow up to 10 feet in length.

Sacred Mijikenda Kaya Forests (from Mombasa, Kenya): In the forests of Kenya, fortified villages known as kayas were inhabited from the 16th to the mid-20th centuries and are now revered as sacred spiritual abodes of Mijikenda ancestors. Efforts to protect these villages not only preserve the cultural traditions of the Mijikenda people but also conserve rare groves of the lowland forest that once blanketed the coast.

Buddhist Monuments in the Hōryū-ji Area (from Kyoto, Japan): Dating to the seventh century, the 48 monuments that comprise this temple complex are among the oldest wooden structures of any kind still standing in the world. The pagodas are a blend of Chinese and Korean influences and a majestic example of beauty in architecture dedicated to spiritual pursuits.

Horyu-ji
Around the World in 180 Days 2016
opens up a world of hidden treasures. Which UNESCO World Heritage Site would you most like to visit?

July 23, 2014

GO BEYOND YOUR WILDEST DREAMS: AROUND THE WORLD IN 180 DAYS 2016

Just about everyone has experienced that moment when you’re watching a travel show or reading a magazine and you see your dream destination — the place that instantly makes you feel, “I want to go there.” One dream destination grows to two, then three, and soon you find yourself with a lengthy list of intriguing locales around the world that you want to visit. The challenge becomes determining which ones you’ll cross off your list first.

A year ago, Oceania Cruises conceived a dream-come-true cruise that lets you do it all — a 180-day journey that circumnavigates the globe. It spurred such excitement that a second 180-day cruise was released soon after. Now Oceania Cruises is announcing the newest voyage in this series of world exploration cruises, Around the World in 180 Days 2016.

Setting sail on January 4, 2016, this once-in-a-lifetime voyage will visit five continents, 45 countries and 57 UNESCO World Heritage Sites while traversing over 47,068 nautical miles. You’ll set foot on 45 different islands, pass the equator six times, marvel at 19 national capitals and cross all 24 time zones and the International Date Line.

Departing Miami, sail for the Caribbean and South America where you visit ports in Trinidad and Tobago, French Guiana and Brazil. Then head to Africa and the spectacular scenery of countries such as Angola, Namibia, South Africa and Mozambique. After traveling around the African continent, you sail for Asia to enjoy two-night stays in Rangoon, Burma (Yangon, Myanmar), and Shanghai, China, as well as visits to countless exotic and alluring locales. Insignia then makes a number of stops in the South Pacific, including Oceania Cruises’ first call on the Australian port of Cooktown, serving as a gateway for the Great Barrier Reef and the Aboriginal community of Hopevale. Sail on to the lush islands of Hawaii and continue to Los Angeles before heading down the west coast of the Americas through the Panama Canal and returning to Miami on July 1, 2016.

For seasoned travelers and novice explorers alike, perhaps the greatest appeal of this globe-circling adventure is that it offers the most cherished luxury of all: time. One of the reasons for the immense success of Insignia’s 180-day journeys is that the destination specialists of Oceania Cruises recognize the value of time to explore, time to experience, and time to relax and savor the moment. This is what inspired the 180-day itinerary that visits 92 ports of call and includes 14 overnight stays, ranging from Beijing to Bali and from Singapore to Sydney.

Of course, when you’re eagerly anticipating the moment at which you can reserve your dream voyage, you wish time would pass more quickly. Bookings for Around the World in 180 Days 2016 will open at 8:30 a.m. EST on July 30, 2014. In this case you’ll be rewarded for acting fast, because guests reserving their suite or stateroom by October 31, 2014, will receive 2 for 1 cruise fares, free First Class roundtrip airfare from major U.S. and Canadian gateways, and early booking savings of up to 71 percent. In addition, guests will receive the Exclusive Prestige Package, which includes perks ranging from free pre-paid gratuities — a value up to $8,300 — to free exclusive shoreside events, free unlimited Internet, a free visa package, free onboard medical services and more.

What ports of call would you most like to visit on the voyage of your dreams?

July 14, 2014

AROUND THE WORLD IN 12 BOOKS

For every traveler, an around-the-world journey embodies the ultimate travel experience. The longevity and vastness of an around-the-world trip open the door to more meaningful explorations, unparalleled cultural discoveries, pursuing your passions — in essence, life-changing experiences — just not feasible on shorter trips. With Oceania Cruises' inaugural Around the World in 180 Days voyage, you can experience just that: Your World. Your Way.®

Around the WOrld in 80 DaysWhile everyone takes the plunge for different reasons, the same bubbling anticipation takes place the weeks and months before your trip. What better way to feed your travel anticipation than to dive into books that transport you to places all around the globe you’ll soon see?

Here are a few of our favorites:

Around the World in Eighty Days, Jules Verne: This timeless travel adventure follows Phileas Fogg and Jean Passepartout around the world by rail and by steamer after Fogg accepts a ₤20,000 bet that he can tour the world in 80 days.

Where you’ll go: London, Bombay, Hong Kong and Yokohama, among others

Full Circle: One Man’s Journey by Air, Train, Boat and Occasionally Very Sore Feet Around the 50,000 Miles of the Pacific Rim, Michael Palin: Serving as the written counterpart to the 10-part PBS series, this day-by-day recount of Palin’s fascinating journey visits 17 countries around the world’s largest ocean.

Round About the EarthWhere you’ll go: Russia; throughout Vietnam, Japan and China; Australia; New Zealand; and Tierra del Fuego, just to name a few

Round About the Earth: Circumnavigation from Magellan to Orbit, Joyce E. Chaplin: History buffs will especially love this immersion into the history of around-the-world travel, a tradition nearly 500 years old.

Where you’ll go: Historical global circuits of every kind, even the first via bicycle, balloon and submarine

Time Among the Maya, Ronald Wright: Wright explores the ancient roots of Mayan culture, encompassing history, anthropology, politics and religion to provide a thorough study on the enduring civilization.

Where you’ll go: Guatemala, Belize and Mexico

Brazilian AdventureBrazilian Adventure, Peter Fleming: Fleming goes on a loosely planned 1932 expedition into once-unexplored areas of Brazil on a quest for missing English explorer Colonel P.H. Fawcett.  

Where you’ll go: 3,000 miles of wilderness and rivers in central Brazil

The Tree Where Man Was Born, Peter Matthiessen: During trips over the course of a dozen years, Matthiessen captures vivid scenes and firsthand accounts that create a timeless portraiture of East Africa.

Where you’ll go: Maasailand,Tanzania, the Kenyan Highlands and Mt. Kilimanjaro, among others

Long Walk to Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela, Nelson Mandela: Written in large part during Mandela’s imprisonment, this powerful autobiography traces Mandela’s path to becoming president of the African National Congress and head of South Africa’s anti-apartheid movement, offering deep insight into the political and social forces that contributed to the oppression of black people in South Africa.

Where you’ll go: South Africa

An Area of Darkness, V.S. Naipaul: A classic modern travelogue, this stunningly perceptive account of Naipaul’s first travels to India tells of how he grapples with profound ancestral questions and disillusionment. 

The Quiet AmericanWhere you’ll go: Bombay, Kashmir, Himalayan caves and Madras, among others

The Quiet American, Graham Greene: A celebrated anti-war novel written in 1955, the lyrical narrative masterfully weaves together a romantic encounter with a political parable in a charged portrayal of the conflict between the Communists and French colonial powers in Vietnam.

Where you’ll go: Saigon

Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China, Jung Chang: In this story of three generations in 20th century China, Chang blends history and memoir to portray Chinese social history during the decades preceding the Communist revolution.

Where you’ll go: Yibin and throughout the province of Sichuan, and later London 

The Fatal Shore: The Epic of Australia’s Founding, Robert Hughes: In a sweeping historical account of Australia, Hughes sites diaries, letters and other original sources to meticulously explore the historical, political and sociological reasons that led to England’s infamous convict transportation system.

Where you’ll go: Norfolk Island, Moreton Bay and Tasmania; Sydney, Port Macquarie and throughout New South Wales

In the South Seas, Robert Louis Stevenson: Published in 1896, this South Pacific classic fuses the culture, traditions and history of Polynesia and Micronesia with Stevenson’s personal impressions.

Where you’ll go: Tahiti, Samoan Islands and Kiribati, to name a few

Stay tuned for part two, when we’ll take you around the world in movies. Happy reading!

July 9, 2014

ALASKA AND REGATTA: THE PERFECT COMBINATION

By Jason Lasecki, Senior Director of Public Relations

The hottest thing on cable television these days seems to be America’s 49th state. With shows ranging from Alaska State Troopers and Deadliest Catch to Buying Alaska and Wild Alaska, there is a never-ending fascination with America’s last frontier, and with good reason. Alaska offers some of the most picturesque and pristine natural settings in the world, and there’s no better way to experience the wonderment of Alaska than on board the newly refurbished Regatta.

Having recently sailed on the 10-night Majesty of Alaska voyage, it’s clear to me that the beauty and splendor of Alaska coupled with the elegance and style of Regatta create a magical and memorable combination.

Regatta

The ship itself was immaculate, and the additions made during the refurbishment, such as Baristas coffee bar and the cook-to-order grill at Terrace Café, were a huge hit with guests sailing on Regatta. Many guests congregated at the redesigned Horizons bar to soak in some musical entertainment and incredible Alaskan vistas, while others enjoyed sipping a cocktail at the restyled Martinis.   

Baristas(New)

Horizons(New)

Oceania Cruises is well known for having the finest cuisine at sea, and when it’s paired with one of Alaska’s stunning late evening sunsets, you’re assured an amazing dining experience. While enjoying an exquisite dinner one particular evening at Toscana, we were treated to a painted sky sunset as the ship sailed a scenic fjord, passing by glimmering waterfalls and soaring bald eagles.

Sunset

The intimate nature of Oceania Cruises’ mid-size ships allows the staff to provide attentive personalized service to each guest, and the ideally sized ships offer an additional advantage when cruising Alaska because the captain can provide closer and more breathtaking views of one of Alaska’s premier attractions—the glaciers! During our visit to Hubbard Glacier, we were so close we could hear popping sounds as sheets of ice calved into the ocean.

Hubbard Glacier

Hubbard Glacier 2

One of the highlights of any Alaska cruise is the wildlife. Whales, bears, eagles, otters and seals are abundant, and Oceania Cruises offers a wide array of shore excursions that provide you the best opportunities to see these majestic animals. Definitely a sight to remember was a pod of orcas that paid our boat a visit during a whale-watching tour in Juneau. Wildlife is everywhere and it’s common to spot whales, eagles, seals and sea lions from the comfort of Regatta.

Orca Pod 2

Orca Pod

Speaking of wildlife, we came across this guy while on a nature hike in Hoonah. Readers, any clue on what species of bird this is?

Bird

July 4, 2014

GLOBAL ECHOES OF FREEDOM

On this day in 1776, a document was signed in Philadelphia that set a group of British colonies on a path that would lead to the United States of America. Fourth of July parades, fireworks and picnics celebrate the independence that America won and continues to cherish. As Blogger-at-Large, sailing with Oceania Cruises inspires me to both appreciate freedom at home and marvel at the sparks of freedom around the globe. An Oceania Cruises voyage offers the opportunity to visit sites where history was made, walk in the footsteps of those who changed its course, and gain new perspective on the world as we know it today.

For example, join Oceania Cruises for a cruise to Canada and New England and you will most likely have a call in Boston. Years before the Declaration of Independence was signed in Philadelphia, the rumblings of freedom began in Boston Harbor on a cold winter day in December 1773, when a protest against colonial taxation without representation saw a band of patriots toss crates of British tea into the dark waters. From such a small act of defiance, a great nation would eventually grow.

Boston Harbor

Several Oceania Cruises voyages offer shore excursions to Berlin, where monuments pay tribute to struggles for freedom in more recent history. The Brandenburg Gate was constructed centuries before but now stands as a symbol of the modern reunification of Germany, as does the preserved section of the Berlin Wall where more than 100 international artists created an open-air gallery as an inspiring tribute to freedom.

Brandenburg Gate

All eyes have been on Brazil during the World Cup, and on an Oceania Cruises voyage, you can explore host cities from Recife to Rio to São Paulo while also learning the history of this nation that gained independence from Portugal in 1822. Visit the Monument to the Independence of Brazil on the banks of the Ipiranga Brook in São Paulo, where Dom Pedro I proclaimed the country’s independence.

World travels give us greater perspective on the rewards of freedom as well as the immense struggles by which it is earned. As I watch fireworks on the Fourth of July, I celebrate the freedom dreamed of not only by America’s founders, but also by the citizens of nations around the world. 

June 27, 2014

FIVE ARCHITECTURAL WONDERS THAT TELL TALES OF BUCHAREST

Athenaeum Bucharest
Romanian Athenaeum

The colorful history of Bucharest, Romania’s capital and largest city, can be read in the architectural lines of its most famous buildings. Prior to World War II, the city's elegant architecture and sophisticated culture earned it the nickname “Paris of the East.” Today the cityscape is far more eclectic with remains of medieval churches, French palaces, Soviet Era buildings and 21st century construction. Join Riviera’s Black Sea Legends cruise, featuring an overnight in Constanta, and you can travel to nearby Bucharest to see these five architectural landmarks that capture a bit of this city’s storied past:

Radu Vodă Monastery: Founded by the reigning prince in 1568, this church has a fascinating history of occupation by the Turks, destruction by fire, reconstruction in the 17th century and extensive rebuilding in the 19th century.  The monastery is notable not only for its architectural beauty but also because it stands on the site of the oldest known settlement in Romania, dating back well over 10,000 years.

St. Nicholas Bucharest
St. Nicholas Russian Church

Romanian Athenaeum: A symbol of national pride, this elegant concert hall has been an important cultural landmark since it was built in 1888. Financed almost entirely by money raised from the general public, the "Give a penny for the Athenaeum" campaign saved the project after the original patrons ran out of funds. The gorgeous dome of the lobby ceiling sparkles with gold leaf, and the inside of the concert hall is decorated with a monumental fresco depicting some of the most important events in Romanian history.

CEC Palace: Once the site of a 16th century monastery and church, the CEC Palace was built in 1900 as the headquarters for the savings bank CEC. One of the most beautiful buildings in Bucharest, it is now open to the public as a museum. A particularly striking feature, the enormous glass and metal dome allows natural light to flood the ornate main hall.

St. Nicholas Russian Church: A rare site in Romania, classic Russian onion-shaped domes define the silhouette of this church, originally a gift to Bucharest’s Russian community from the Russian emperor Nicholas II. Authority over the church transferred repeatedly between Russia and Romania before it finally became a Romanian Orthodox Church serving students and professors at the University of Bucharest. The gilded iconostasis is said to be a copy of the altar in the Cathedral of the Archangel in Moscow's Kremlin.

Palace of Parliament Bucharest
Palace of the Parliament

Palace of the Parliament of Romania: Bucharest's immense Palace of the Parliament was meant to be the pièce de résistance of Communist leader Nicolae Ceausescu's ambitious urban development plan. Construction began in 1984 after demolishing most of Bucharest's historic districts, including 28 churches and synagogues and more than 30,000 residences. The world's second largest building by surface area, it stands 12 stories tall and has over 1,000 rooms, 480 chandeliers and over two million square feet of woven carpets.

June 17, 2014

SUMMER BREWS ON A CULINARY DISCOVERY TOUR IN OSLO

My friend and colleague Chef Annie B. Copps led guests on a fabulous Culinary Discovery Tour in Oslo to kick off the Baltic season. Check out her blog below:

The Scandinavian port of Oslo, Norway, was the perfect place to kick off a series of Culinary Discovery Tours as Marina makes the Baltic Sea home for the summer months. After a long and cold winter, Norwegians have been bursting with anticipation for the arrival of summer, and we were warmly welcomed to Oslo by enthusiastic locals enjoying a bright and sunny day. We explored the historic streets of the city and toasted the wonderful weather with the region’s favorite summer beverage – beer!

We were greeted by beer aficionado Bjerte at his beer academy, a downtown spot dedicated to the study of beer. Fortunately for us, this study involved tasting. We learned about the history of beer in the Norwegian culture and the growing popularity of artisanal and home brewing. After tasting both a commercial pilsner and artisanal Belgian ale, we were off to the Mathallen Food Hall.

Beer Academy

Commercial and Artisanal beer

The short walk through Oslo to the Food Hall was particularly beautiful with all the trees and flowers in bloom. We crossed the Aker River and arrived at Mathallen, located in a former rail works building along the riverbank. We strolled among the neatly arranged food stalls, and guests sampled cheese, smoked fish, cured meats, pastries and chocolate.

Aker River

Mathallen Food Hall

Bjerte led us to his eatery, Oltorget, where we sampled more beer – this time paired with cheese. Pouring our beer was Kim Daniel, who is a master bartender and champion beer pourer. He won top honors at the annual championship in the Czech Republic, which requires knowledge of pouring techniques and the brew’s history. The two masters served a tart beer paired with fresh, tangy goat cheese, followed by a rich porter matched with an aged blue cheese. Perfection!

Oltorget at Mathallen-Kim and Bjerte

Oltorget Beer List Porter beer

Next we enjoyed lunch at a restaurant called Smalhans, a word of German origin that loosely translates as "frugal." The restaurant is so named because it sources seasonal local produce and ingredients to create an ever-changing menu of simple yet delectable dishes offered at a remarkable value. A light, warm potato salad laced with artichokes, roasted red peppers and capers in a light vinaigrette was served alongside fresh asparagus and a red fish called uer fisk. (Search the internet for an image of this fish and you’ll see it looks like something out of Dr. Seuss!) A light Weissen, or wheat beer, was served with our main course. For dessert, ruby red strawberries over panna cotta were paired with a hearty stout that mimics many of the flavors of coffee. It was an excellent end to a delightful summer day of perfect pairings in beautiful Oslo.

Smallhans meal

June 13, 2014

FARM-TO-TABLE CUISINE ON A NEW CULINARY DISCOVERY TOUR IN COUNTY CORK

As I continue the Culinary Discovery ToursTM with our guests on Riviera, the delightful and talented Chef Annie B. Copps is hosting guests on board Marina. Below is a blog from Chef Annie about our exciting new tour in County Cork, Ireland:

Local. Seasonal. Sustainable. It is wonderful that these words are part of our culinary vocabulary—and even more wonderful that this is not a passing trend, but an age-old model that so many chefs and farmers strive to embrace. On Oceania Cruises' newest Culinary Discovery Tour, Marina guests visited the Ballymaloe Cookery School, where they practice this philosophy today and have been for decades, even before it was “cool.”

Ballymaloe Cookery School

The Ballymaloe estate is a short drive through the spectacular County Cork countryside of rolling hills covered with verdant crops, ancient castles, small villages and herds of cows and sheep. Ballymaloe consists of a hotel, market shop, professional cooking school and a certified organic working farm with both crops and livestock. Our tour began with a history of the Allen family, who have worked the land for three generations, and then a walking tour of the beautiful grounds. Each of the many gardens we visited seemed like a secret spot that we luckily happened upon, because each is separated by intricate topiaries, canopies and trellises—it all felt a bit like the work of fairies. There were also large open fields filled with sculptures. One garden was entirely herbs and artichokes. Another was cutting flowers, and a third grew potatoes and carrots. One had chickens running about. The family also maintains a large greenhouse, which was filled with tomatoes of all sorts ready to be picked.

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After our jaunt we settled in for a cooking lesson taught by Chef Pamela Black, whose bright red hair, soft giggle and twinkle in her eye belied her serious cooking talent. For all the good food we saw growing, the proof was indeed in the pudding. Chef Pam demonstrated traditional Irish soda bread, butterflied chicken breast and potatoes boiled with a touch of fresh mint. I can’t remember a potato tasting better than these, which were pulled from the ground that morning.

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We also enjoyed a salad of freshly picked greens and a lovely soft meringue filled with fresh strawberries—the first of the season. It was a simple meal, but an honest one made with ingredients almost entirely from the property. The exceptions were the wheat, olive oil and the chickens, which came from another local farm. At Ballymaloe they use their chickens for their eggs and get whole chickens from others to support their neighbors—also part of sustainability.

With full bellies and happy hearts, we made our way back home to Marina for a stunning sail away from the harbor of Cobh. I can’t wait to return and share this wonderful experience with more Oceania Cruises guests!

June 4, 2014

TOP UNESCO WORLD HERITAGE SITES IN SOUTH AMERICA

IguazuSouth America is a fount of stunning landscapes, diverse ecosystems, historic cities and architectural masterpieces. Numerous UNESCO World Heritage Sites await your discovery on this great continent, and below are some of our top choices for must-see destinations you can visit with Oceania Cruises. Be sure to add these to your bucket list!

Iguazu National Park (Buenos Aires): Over 250 feet high and nearly 9,000 feet wide, the magnificent waterfalls at the heart of Iguazu National Park, situated on the border between Argentina and Brazil, emit a thunderous roar as their spectacular cascades crash into the massive river below.

Carioca Landscapes between the Mountain and the Sea (Rio de Janeiro): From the highest peaks in Tijuca National Park to the shores of the sea, this site includes lush botanical gardens, Corcovado Mountain with its iconic Christ the Redeemer statue, and the scenic hills around Guanabara Bay.

Cristo RedentorHistoric Center of the Town of Olinda (Recife): Dating mostly from the 18th century, the historic center of Olinda is celebrated for its harmonious balance between public and private buildings, accented by beautiful gardens, charming Baroque churches, convents and numerous small chapels.

Peninsula Valdés (Puerto Madryn): The nearly 250-mile shoreline of Peninsula Valdés supports a diverse ecosystem that is home to a variety of rare and endemic species and is a breeding ground for the endangered southern right whale as well as southern elephant seals and southern sea lions.

Historic Quarter of the Seaport City of Valparaiso (Valparaiso): One of the first and most important ports on the sea routes along the Pacific Coast of South America, Valparaiso’s historic quarter presents a beautifully preserved example of late 19th century urban architectural design in Latin America.

 

 

May 27, 2014

CULINARY ADVENTURES WITH CHEF KELLY IN ISTANBUL

The city of Istanbul is as remarkable for its breathtaking skyline as it is for its exquisite food found in the labyrinth of winding streets and neighborhoods below. The Turks love food and are proud of their culinary heritage, so hosting a Culinary Discovery Tour here is as much about meeting the people as it is about tasting the delicious cuisine.

Our first destination was Istanbul’s famous spice market. As we approached the market, the tantalizing smells of roasting eggplant, searing kabobs, and pide baking in wood-fired ovens emanated from the restaurants and market stalls lining the streets. As we entered, the bright lights and vibrant colors invited us to explore.

Spice Market

In the first spice shop we visited, we were treated to a lesson on how to tell real saffron from the many imposters one can find all around the Mediterranean. When you put the stamen of saffron in warm water, real saffron will turn the water an amber-gold color, while fake saffron will leave the water a pale yellow. Considering this exquisite spice is one of the most expensive in the world, you certainly want to ensure you’re getting the real deal!

Market-Saffron

Our next stop was a cheese shop where we compared fresh goat’s milk cheese to a more aged variety. We then visited a shop with cured meats and other delicacies. Finally, we were off to the fish market to check out the fresh catch of the day and savor the fish roasting on open grills. I had brought with me a chart listing the fish of the Mediterranean, so we were able to expertly identify sea bass, sea bream, snails, blue fish, flounder and much more. I took this opportunity to go over the things I look for when buying fresh fish: bright eyes, hearty flesh, scales and fins intact, no belly-burn from being packed in ice, maroon-colored gill flesh and a fresh sea smell.

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We then toured the Grand Bazaar, one of the oldest and largest covered markets in the world, before heading to the Turkish Cultural Center for lunch at NAR, a restaurant that offers authentic Ottoman Turkish cuisine in a modern setting. Here we were served a tasty selection of dozens of dishes, each meant to be enjoyed in one to three bites as part of a degustation that formed a mosaic of tastes, flavors, textures and sensations. What an absolutely exquisite and delightful culinary experience!

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NAR Food

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After lunch we were treated to a mouthwatering demonstration of traditional candy making. The candy, caramel rolled in mastic sugar, had a hint of mild pine that was both unique and delicious! Everyone was very impressed by the master candy maker and his apprentice.

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Our day in Istanbul was a wonderful start to a fantastic voyage through some of my favorite culinary destinations in the Mediterranean!

May 22, 2014

ASIA’S TOP UNESCO WORLD HERITAGE SITES

From feats of humankind to wonders of nature, a voyage with Oceania Cruises offers you the opportunity to see some of the most iconic and impressive sights in the world. Below are some of our favorite UNESCO World Heritage Sites you can experience on our upcoming Asian cruises.

China-beijingThe Great Wall (Beijing): Astounding in its scope, the Great Wall of China is over 12,000 miles long and represents the largest military structure in the world. A stunning feat of human ingenuity over 1,400 years in the making, the wall formed a remarkable defense system against invasions from the north and today offers astonishing views of the surrounding landscape.

Classical Gardens of Suzhou (Shanghai): A tranquil escape from the bustling urban life of Shanghai, the beautiful Gardens of Suzhou date back to the sixth century BC.  Masterpieces of ancient Chinese art, these nine gardens recreate entire natural landscapes in miniature, harmonizing the aesthetics of nature with cultural influences from the urban environment.  

Taj-MahalTaj Mahal (Mumbai): A monument of love built by the Mughal emperor in memory of his favorite wife, the glistening white marble Taj Mahal is a stunning masterpiece of Muslim art of truly massive proportions. Construction began in 1632 and took 22 years to complete, using over 1,000 elephants to transport building materials sourced from all over India and Asia.

Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto (Kyoto): A collection of 17 magnificent sites, including temples, shrines and castles, these celebrated monuments embody the fascinating evolution of Japanese wooden architecture and Japanese landscaping over nearly two millennia.

Ha Long Bay (Hanoi): An unforgettable cruise amidst the 1,600 islands and islets in Ha Long Bay reveals a spectacular seascape of scenic limestone pillars, home to rare and endemic floral and fauna species. According to legend, a family of dragons created this spectacle by spitting out jewels that turned into the islands dotting the bay, so as to protect against seafaring invaders.

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May 19, 2014

THE CHARMS OF COPENHAGEN

My very first voyage with Oceania Cruises was a journey through Scandinavia and the Baltic. I had never visited this region of the world before and wasn't sure what to expect. Today, eight years later, the fascinating destinations found along the Baltic Sea remain some of my favorites.

Our cruise began in Copenhagen, a fantastic city that is quintessentially Scandinavian and thus offers a perfect welcome to the region. Colorful 17th century homes line meandering canals; elegant parks embrace grand palaces; and a low skyline is broken only by the soaring spires of churches and castles. Copenhagen is also the perfect place to relax and refresh after a transatlantic flight to Europe, because this city demands nothing more than a leisurely stroll to enjoy its many charms.

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Amble along the colorful Nyhavn waterfront and stop for some refreshment in one of the many inviting cafés. Or meander along lovely Langelinie Promenade to see the iconic Little Mermaid statue – with a view of your ship as a backdrop! There are also any number of parks and gardens and several impressive royal palaces to explore within a mile or two of the cruise pier, including Amalienborg Palace, Rosenborg Palace and Christianborg Palace. A relaxing canal cruise is another a great way to take in the sights of this scenic city.

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If you haven’t yet explored this region of the world, I encourage you to add it to your bucket list. And if you’ve visited before, I'm guessing you’re like me and eager to return. Meet us in Copenhagen this summer and explore the many charms of Scandinavia with Oceania Cruises!

 

 

May 2, 2014

CHEF KELLY LAUNCHES NEW CULINARY DISCOVERY TOUR IN RAVELLO

Perched high above the Amalfi Coast, Ravello is a festive and enchanting village that I have been visiting for decades. I’ve been eager to share this town’s charms with Oceania Cruises’ guests for some time, so I am very excited to be launching the new Culinary Discovery Tour: Ravello Lunch & Amalfi Chocolate Demo

As with all of our Culinary Discovery Tours, I seek out markets, restaurants and culinary venues that capture the essence of the people and uniqueness of the cuisine of each destination. Last year, with the help of my friends Margarita and Salvatore, I set out to design an authentic Ravello experience Ravello Duomo
for our guests. This brother and sister team is so excited to share their love of Ravello. Margarita runs a ceramics shop with her father. Cosmolena, whom we all affectionately call “Papa,” is a master painter whose ceramic artwork has been exported all over the world, including my home in Florida. Margarita’s brother, Salvatore, operates a restaurant that serves fresh, local Mediterranean seafood as well as sumptuous pastas and sinful desserts. You can bet that I tried as many dishes as possible before settling on the menu for this Culinary Discovery Tour!

Riviera’s recent stop in Amalfi marked the first time I led guests on this new tour. After a brief but beautiful drive up to Ravello from the port, we had some free time to explore the small piazza or simply sit in the shadow of the Duomo and people watch over a cup of coffee. 

Then we gathered for a short walk to our luncheon spot, where Salvatore greeted us with a glass of chilled limoncello. Next door at the ceramics shop, Ceramiche Cosmolena, there was a bowl of Amalfi lemons with a “Welcome Chef Kelly” sign (made by Papa), and guests were invited to select one of the famous lemons and take home a bit of Ravello. Papa told me he how pleased he was with the success of his children’s businesses and that, even though he is now retired, he comes to the shop and restaurant every day. He is such a dear man, and I am thrilled that Margarita is carrying on the tradition of beautiful ceramics and warm hospitality.

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Melon slices

We then took our seats for lunch overlooking the Amalfi Coast, starting with fresh mozzarella, thinly sliced ham and freshly cut melon, sliced minutes before serving. The wine was flowing and the conversation was lively and relaxed.

Because this tour offers an insider’s look at an Italian family restaurant, guests were invited to watch the chefs as they prepared and plated the dishes.  Guests learned some of the secrets behind the next course, a delicious pasta in an exquisite shrimp sauce, served with a big smile by Salvatore. Next was a local branzino, or sea bass, in a light broth with local cherry tomatoes and a side salad of crisp greens. The combination of the fish and the greens was unforgettable! 

 

 

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After a dessert of lemon tiramisu and a strong espresso, we said our goodbyes and headed down the winding road back to Amalfi. (Thank goodness for our local bus driver!)

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In Amalfi we toured another multigenerational business – Pasticceria Pansa – where we tasted candied lemon peels from the family garden, chocolates with hazelnuts, and a lemon sorbet. It was a marvelous day filled with delicious treats and the chance to learn about traditions passed down for generations in local family-owned businesses.

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April 28, 2014

CULINARY DISCOVERIES IN NICE AND ÈZE

I cannot imagine a more glorious reception than the one we had in Monte Carlo. Everyone on board Riviera awoke to a beautiful spring morning, and I opened my drapes to a blue sky that took my breath away. Soon we were all happily preparing for the day’s adventures in another magical port of call.

Several guests joined me for a Culinary Discovery Tour to two of my favorite destinations, Nice and Èze. We started the morning in the Bon Appétit Culinary Center, using my trusty map as a guide to review the various influences on the cuisine of Nice. We discussed the ancient spice trade that brought flavors from lands as distant as Asia and Africa, and we also looked at culinary trends from the regions of Savoy and northern France that migrated into Provence, all influencing the cuisine of Nice in subtle yet distinctive ways.

Traveling to the market in Nice, we discovered the usual eye-popping rainbow of colors, made even more spectacular by the fresh flowers available this time of year. Lilacs were in bloom and paired with white roses in elegant bouquets, and my personal favorite, peonies, were overflowing in all shades of pink, including a tangerine color I had never seen before.

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Nice Lilacs Nice Peonies

After stopping to smell the flowers, we were on to the produce, where we found an abundance of asparagus, peas, fava beans and artichokes. We also shopped for olive oils before making a requisite stop at my favorite chocolate shop, Maison Auer, to see the last of their exquisite Easter eggs. 

Nice Market Guest

Nice Market guests

Nice Aspargus

Nice Veggies Nice Chocolate

We then savored a bite of peppery socca, the Nice specialty made with chickpea flour and olive oil, fried like a pancake and served in paper cones with lots of salt and pepper. We were disappointed to learn that our favorite socca vendor had retired, but happy to discover that her replacement was making a creamy socca that was equally delicious.

After a refreshing snack, we headed to Èze, a medieval town perched at the top of a mountain overlooking the Côte d’Azur. This is our third year offering a Culinary Discovery Tour to Èze in which we visit the grand Château Eza. Today the chef of Château Eza prepared seasonal favorites: a salad of baby lettuces atop a mousse of garden greens, a cream of asparagus soup, and an entrée of sea bass with braised fennel and artichoke purée. The dessert was a mille-feuille of chocolate mousse with a hint of citrus. As always, it was an impeccable meal served with local wines and enhanced by unparalleled views. Everyone always loves coming here, and I love sharing this unforgettable experience with our foodie guests.

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CE Dessert CE View

We returned to port with time to spare, so we all headed in different directions to explore Monte Carlo. I stopped by the gardens of Princess Margaret, where I called my mom and relived a few memories from our 2008 trip on Insignia to celebrate her 80th birthday. Oceania Cruises has been such an important part of so many people's lives and travel memories, and my family is no exception. As I strolled through the gardens, I saw many familiar flowers of spring and one that I had never seen, the black petunia, majestic and sensuous! I love discovering new things when I travel!

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PM Garden 2 PM Black Petunia

What an amazing day of culinary discoveries in Nice and Èze, topped off by a lovely jaunt through Monte Carlo! Next we head to the Pitti winery and the market in Livorno for a day of pizza, focaccia and biscotti in the Tuscan countryside. It doesn't get any better than this!

April 25, 2014

SPRINGTIME IN PROVENCE WITH CHEF KELLY

It's spring in Provence! And what better way to kick off Riviera's 2014 season in the Mediterranean than a Culinary Discovery Tour in Marseille.

We began in the Bon Appétit Culinary Center on board, gathered around my map of the Mediterranean for a review of the day’s itinerary and a discussion of the cuisines of France. Several guests were new to Oceania Cruises and the culinary center, so it was a thrill to introduce them to the culinary culture that is part of Oceania Cruises’ DNA.

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Eager to experience Provence firsthand, we went ashore for a stroll through the market of Sanary-sur-Mer, a quaint village where the fish is unbelievably fresh and the seasonal produce is of the highest quality imaginable. On this beautiful spring day, we found baby artichokes, white asparagus, green fava beans and piquant radishes. 

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Asparagus

Beans Artichokes

Baby Artichokes

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MiravalWe also came across a shop that was carrying the new Miraval Rosé from the historic Provençal winery that was resurrected by Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt. The wine has received rave reviews, so I snagged two bottles to try this summer. It will be the perfect complement to a Niçoise salad and an afternoon spent relaxing by the swimming pool. 

MacaroonsAfter shopping for herbes de Provence and other local treasures, I bought some macaroons bursting with coconut flavor to share with guests during our bus ride to the Domaine de Souviou winery. It was the perfect sweet treat!

When we arrived at the winery, we stretched our legs a bit on a lovely tour of the groves of thousand-year-old olive trees. Then we were treated to a luncheon prepared by our friend and host, Chef Gui Gedda, who is known as the godfather of Provençal cuisine. Chef Gedda serves something different every time we visit, and today we were treated to market-fresh vegetable soup with chickpeas and fresh marjoram, as well as the classic Provençal dish of tomate farcie, a slow-roasted, veal-stuffed tomato. We also enjoyed a delicious Cannes-style poule au pot, a chicken mousse wrapped in chicken thigh and served over rice with a light cream sauce. We ended the meal with crème au pain d’épices, a magical dessert resembling bread pudding that perfectly complimented the day, the wine and the company.

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Tomate Farcie

Poule au Pot Creme au Pain

After saying goodbye to our friends at Domaine de Souviou, we returned to the ship for a cooking lesson on preparing fish in the Provence style. Guests made a delightful shrimp Provençal as well as a Provençal version of the Italian acqua pazza, a dish of seared fish with tomatoes, Niçoise olives and wine.

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All in all, it was a spectacular day, and this season of Culinary Discovery ToursTM promises many more to come. Next stop is Monte Carlo and a meal at Château Eza. Yum!

April 24, 2014

BUDDHAS AND BARGES IN BANGKOK

For many people, the changing of the seasons is heralded by the chill in the air or the blooms on the trees. As Blogger-at-Large for Oceania Cruises, I track the seasons by following our ships’ itineraries. This month Nautica sailed from Bangkok en route to the shores of the Mediterranean, a sure sign that spring has sprung. As Nautica bids a fond farewell to Asia for the season, I wanted to share some of my highlights of the bustling city of Bangkok.

Temple on river-BangkokIf Bangkok is in your future travel plans, the city’s canals offer a wonderful way to see the sights, and the best way to navigate is with our Canals & Royal Barges shore excursion. Traditionally Thailand’s cities were protected by moats, and it was for this reason that the first klongs, or canals, were built around the Grand Palace in the late 18th century. As more were constructed, the klongs became arteries along which trade and travel unfolded. In the 20th century, modernization shifted traffic to paved roads, but a few thriving canal systems remain, where visitors can get a taste of what life was once like on the waterways.

On the Canals & Royal Barges excursion, you will be treated to a boat ride along the Chao Phraya River and through the complex network of klongs in the Thonburi district, where you’ll see floating grocery stores, speeding water taxis, teakwood houses built on stilts, and hidden temples. 

Imperial Barge Museum-BangkokKlongs were the site of magnificent royal processions filled with elaborately decorated barges designed for the royal family.  Today the royal fleet comprises a much more modest fleet, but eight of these ornate vessels can be viewed at the Royal Barges Museum across the river from the Grand Palace.

Along the Chao Phraya River across from the Grand Palace is one of the most impressive and distinct temples in Bangkok, Wat Arun. While it is believed that a Buddhist temple sat on this site at least as far back as the mid-17th century, the current structure was built in the early 19th century. 

The temple enshrined the Emerald Buddha and was part of the royal palace grounds until King Rama I moved the palace across the river, taking the treasured Buddha statue with him. Even without the statue, the temple was still revered, and later kings restored and enhanced the compound, including its most prominent feature, the Khmer-style tower that soars more than 200 feet in the air. Although the temple derives its name from the Hindu god Aruna, who is the personification of the rising sun, you’ll discover that some of the most spectacular views of this temple will come when the sun sets.

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Wat Arun Temple-3 Wat Arun Temple-4 Wat Arun Temple-Bangkok

Don’t miss your opportunity to watch the sun set on this shimmering city during an overnight stay in Bangkok on an Oceania Cruises voyage in 2015:

Photos by Peter Pretty

April 23, 2014

COOKING UP NEW CLASSES AND TOURS IN THE BON APPETIT CULINARY CENTER

The excitement continues on board Marina and Riviera as we introduce a new season of Bon Appétit Culinary Center classes and Culinary Discovery ToursTM. We’re launching a total of 21 new classes in the culinary center this year, and four of those will debut during this season in Europe. We're also IMG_6518 - Version 2unveiling two brand new Culinary Discovery Tours this summer, and we’ve added some wonderful new experiences to favorite tours of years past. All in all, it promises to be the most fun season yet!

Our new classes this season feature a diverse array of regional cuisines from every corner of the European continent. Our classes on Greek cuisine have always been some of my favorites, and the new Healthy Greek class is no exception. In this class you can learn flavorful recipes inspired by the famously healthy dietary lifestyle of Crete, and you’ll also learn to make the prized tomato fritters from Selene Restaurant on Santorini. The Modern Nordic class features treats such as salted caramel ice cream and other fresh, inventive dishes reflecting the latest trends of edgy Nordic restaurants such as Noma and Geranium. If, like me, you find Turkish culture intriguing, you can discover the secrets of the country’s cuisine in our new Turkish Arabesque class. Focusing on the renowned cuisine of Provence, Beyond Ratatouille offers the chance to make the favorite dishes of our own Jacques Pépin as well as Gui Gedda, considered the godfather of Provençal cuisine.

I'm especially excited about the launch of our brand new Culinary Discovery Tours in Cork and Palma de Mallorca. The beauty of the Ballymaloe country estate in Cork is reason enough to visit, but when you add in a private tour of the gardens and a cooking demonstration and tasting at the world-renowned cooking school located there, it becomes an experience not to be missed. Palma de Mallorca is also sure to be a hit, as we’ll shop the local market, sample different varieties of olive oil and dine at El Faro, a restaurant perched above the harbor where the view is only rivaled by the fabulous Mediterranean menu. We’ve also enhanced our Culinary Discovery Tours in Amalfi and Sicily with new restaurants such as the renowned Osteria Nero d’Avola in Taormina.

Photo1-2Of course, we'll continue offering Culinary Discovery Tours in the many destinations that have become guest favorites, as each season promises new trends and dishes to discover in the ever-evolving regional culinary scenes. This week we enjoyed fascinating tours in both Madeira and Morocco. On the island of Madeira, we explored the town of Funchal, always a treasure trove of passion fruit, exotic orchids and fresh fish. We tasted Madeira wines at Blandy’s, shopped the local market, and enjoyed an authentic Madeiran lunch.  

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In Tangier, Morocco, we strolled through the medina and the fish market, stopping to select some preserved doqq lemons and midway olives from one of our favorite vendors. We shared a luncheon of chicken tagine, pastilla, and couscous with a fantastic onion and beef confit, topped off with an exotic tea-pouring ceremony.

This is only the beginning of a great new season of exploring food and wine while making new friends both on the ship and amongst those who host us so generously in their wineries, restaurants and markets ashore. I hope you'll join us for the fun!

April 1, 2014

A GREAT DEAL IN ST. PETERSBURG

Of all the amazing places I have traveled over the years, St. Petersburg truly captured my heart. So you can imagine my delight when I heard that Oceania Cruises is now offering a dozen St. Petersburg shore excursions FREE on five Marina sailings in 2014. And with two or three full days in St. Petersburg on each sailing, you can explore at will because the number of free shore excursions you can enjoy is UNLIMITED.

On the shore excursion St. Isaac’s Cathedral, Kazan Cathedral and Spilled Blood Cathedral (a great deal at $195 and an even better deal for free), you will visit three magnificent centers of spiritual life. St. Isaac’s Cathedral is a breathtaking monument to 19th century Russian architecture with its shimmering gold-plated dome that is a dominant feature of the city’s skyline.   

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Image0908C8AC-58E6-4DFE-9DDD-F014EE657AF5Strikingly different but no less captivating is the Church of Our Savior on Spilled Blood, so named because it was constructed as a memorial on the site where Tsar Alexander II was assassinated. From early childhood I have been impressed by images of this style of Russian Orthodox temple so different from Western cathedrals. The colorful exterior and five copper-plated and enameled domes positively sparkle in the radiant summer sun. The interior is adorned with an incredible collection of mosaics, the largest in Russia and one of the largest in the world.

If you are an art lover, a visit to St. Petersburg may well inspire you to relocate permanently and spend the rest of your days wandering the Hermitage. If that seems impractical, the next best thing is the Hermitage, A Wealth of Art and History shore excursion (normally $195). Because of the convenience, comfort and a host of other reasons, an Oceania Cruises shore excursion is always the best way to experience a destination, but I especially recommend an excursion when visiting the Hermitage. The expert guides allow you to circumvent the lengthy lines and ensure that you see some of the most renowned works in the collection.

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One of the oldest and largest museums in the world, the Hermitage boasts a collection of more than three million works of art and artifacts, only part of which can be displayed in the complex of historic buildings that includes the Winter Palace, the former state residence of the Russian emperors. Some of my favorites include the 23 works by the Dutch master Rembrandt, Michelangelo’s sculpture Crouching Boy, and two of Leonardo da Vinci’s oil paintings, an extremely rare medium for this Italian Renaissance polymath. The environment in which these masterpieces are housed is as impressive as the works themselves.

Hermitage Rembrandt Portrait of an Old Jew

Hermitage Michelangelo Crouching Boy

Hermitage da Vinci Benois Madonna

These are just a few highlights of the 12 free shore excursions. There is obviously a great deal to see in St. Petersburg and no better way to see it than by taking advantage of this great deal from Oceania Cruises! And for a limited time, Oceania Cruises is also offering free pre-paid gratuities, unlimited Internet, and a shipboard credit up to $300 per stateroom on the sailings below, as well as the option to purchase a $99 premium economy air upgrade on select sailings. There has never been a better time to explore this magical city:

March 25, 2014

SPECTACULAR HA LONG BAY PHOTOS FROM CRUISE DIRECTOR WILLIE AAMES

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Scenic Ha Long Bay offers endless inspiration for photographers, and the Oceania Cruises family has no shortage of shutterbugs eager to capture its beauty. In yesterday's blog we shared some fabulous photos from guest Peter Pretty, and today we're posting some spectacular shots from Cruise Director Willie Aames. Our heartfelt thanks to each of you for sharing these beautiful images!

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March 24, 2014

NATURAL WONDERS AND SCENIC CITYSCAPES OF VIETNAM

Springtime has arrived, and the ships of Oceania Cruises are gearing up for another amazing summer season. Excitement is in the air as we prepare to welcome Insignia back to the fleet, fresh from her multimillion-dollar renovations. In the meantime, guests on board Nautica aren’t quite ready to say goodbye to a wonderful winter spent exploring the coasts of Asia. This week Nautica makes her final calls on Vietnam for the season.

Today Nautica sails into Ha Long Bay, just a three-hour drive from the capital city of Hanoi. Whether guests choose to explore the natural wonders of Ha Long Bay or the city sights of Hanoi, there is no shortage of fantastic adventures in store.

The 1,600 islands and islets in Ha Long Bay form a spectacular seascape of limestone pillars, most of which are largely untouched by humans due to the precipitous nature of the rocky islands. Because of its outstanding scenic beauty as well as its geological importance, Ha Long Bay has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The arches, caves and lakes that compose the limestone karsts are the result of a unique combination of geography and climate that sculpted this distinctive landscape over millions of years.

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A beautiful drive through the Vietnamese countryside from Ha Long Bay, Hanoi is an enchanting blend of traditional Vietnamese traditions with a French flair. The capital of Vietnam for over 1,000 years, Hanoi has long been the cultural center of the country. From the local artisans and merchants that have historically lined the streets of the Old Quarter to the French colonial architecture to the many picturesque lakes, the city has much to offer visitors.

One of its more famous landmarks tells darker tales of the city’s history. Hoa Lo Prison, also known as the “Hanoi Hilton,” was originally used by French colonialists to house political prisoners and, due to the terrible conditions, became a symbol of colonialist exploitation. During the Vietnam War, it was once again turned into an infamous prison, where the North Vietnamese Army housed and interrogated American POWs, including its most famous inmate, Senator John McCain. Though the prison was demolished in the 1990s, the gatehouse remains as a museum.

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Another highlight of the city is the Presidential Palace, designed in the Beaux-Arts style favored by French architects of its time. Built between 1900 and 1906, the palace was home to French governors until the end of French occupation. When Ho Chi Minh moved into the palace estate, it is said that he eschewed the lavish setting and lived in the servants’ quarters until he built a traditional Vietnamese stilt house with a carp pond on the grounds. While the interior of the palace is closed to the public, visitors can wander the expansive gardens and compare the distinctive styles of the two residences.

Hanoi Presidential Palace

Both Nautica and Insignia will visit Ha Long Bay in 2015, and now is the perfect time to reserve your Asian cruise for next season. Each of these itineraries features an overnight stay in Ha Long Bay, so you will have plenty of time to experience the natural beauty of the bay as well as the fascinating sights of nearby Hanoi.

Photos by Peter Pretty

March 21, 2014

HONG KONG BEYOND THE SKYSCRAPERS

Hong Kong-2A world financial power of over seven million people, Hong Kong is a city that reaches for the sky with soaring high-rises that bustle by day and glitter by night. But don’t let the dazzling skyline distract you from the deeper and more contemplative side of this historic region. For underneath the hustle and bustle of this dynamic city, there is a spiritual heritage that is the center of its beating heart. Today Nautica is in Hong Kong for a two-day call, and many guests were able to get a glimpse of the spiritual culture of this region on the Lantau Island & Po Lin Monastery shore excursion.

Lantau Island is the largest island in Hong Kong and until recently was largely unpopulated except for a few fishing villages. Though recent years have seen increasing activity on the island, guests were treated to a look at what life was like just a few decades ago on a walking tour of Thai O Village on the western side of the island. The traditional stilt houses built over the water have given this scenic village the nickname “the Venice of Hong Kong.”

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Thai O Village-Hong Kong

The main attraction of Lantau Island is Po Lin Monastery, situated on Ngong Ping plateau. From its humble beginnings as a “Big Thatched Hut” in 1906, Po Lin Monastery has become one of Hong Kong’s most important Buddhist sanctums, with several prominent architectural structures, rich with colorful Buddhist iconography. Home to many devout monks, the monastery has been called “the Buddhist World in the South.”

Ngong Ping Base of Buddha

Po Lin Monastery-Hong Kong

Sitting opposite the Po Lin Monastery is the world’s largest Buddha, a bronze statue built in 1993 that stands over 110 feet tall and weighs more than 275 tons. Drawing visitors from all over the world, Tian Tan Buddha (known as the “Big Buddha”) faces north to look over the people of China, with a right hand raised to deliver blessings to all.

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Ngong Ping-Tian Tan Bronze Buddha

Visitors enjoy breathtaking views of the mountains and water from the monastery complex as well as peaceful moments in the serene gardens. There is also a vegetarian restaurant that serves excellent food prepared by the monks.

Nautica will spend today and tomorrow in Hong Kong, so guests will have the opportunity to experience the thrilling energy of the city as well as the tranquil outposts that surround the metropolis. All of Oceania Cruises’ 2015 voyages offer two days in Hong Kong for this very reason:

Photos by Peter Pretty

March 10, 2014

WAIOTAPU THERMAL WONDERLAND

WAIOTAPU THERMAL WONDERLAND - TAURANGA (159)Rotorua sits in the middle of the Taupo Volcanic Zone, a highly active volcanic area in northern New Zealand that attracts visitors from all over the world. Marina has been sailing the coast of New Zealand this week, and yesterday guests got an up-close look at the remarkable effects of this geothermal hot spot at Waiotapu Thermal Wonderland, about 15 miles south of Rotorua.

Originally settled by Maori in the 13th century, Waiotapu is the Maori word for “sacred waters.” Protected since 1931, the Waiotapu Thermal Reserve has the largest area of surface thermal activity of any system in the Taupo Volcanic Zone, with colorful hot springs, craters, geysers and boiling mud pools. 

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At over 200 feet in diameter and approximately 200 feet deep, the Champagne Pool is Waiotapu’s largest hot spring. It was formed more than 700 years ago and is named for the abundant flow of carbon dioxide that gives it the appearance of bubbling champagne. The pool temperature averages 165 degrees Fahrenheit, and the oversaturation of metalloid compounds are what create the distinctive orange deposits that frame the pool. 

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The Champagne Pool is tilted due to seismic activity, causing mineral-laden water to flow over the surrounding sinter-encrusted flats. Minerals in the water, micro-organisms and wind patterns combine to create an ever-changing array of colors on what has become known as the Artist’s Palette. 

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One of the more active areas of the thermal reserve is the Mud Pool, where visitors can see – and hear – bubbling explosions of mud. Mud pools form in high-temperature geothermal areas where there is little water, and the boiling mud can sometimes reach heights of three to five feet. 

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Craters, formed when the ground collapses, can be found throughout the thermal reserve. They range from 15 to over 150 feet in diameter and reach up to 65 feet deep. The most recent crater, Thunder Crater, was formed in 1968.

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Many types of geothermal activities can be observed within the craters, including steam vents, known as fumaroles, as well as sulfur vents and bubbling pools. 

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This thermal reserve is just one of many fascinating places to explore in this region. Other excursion opportunities include a Culinary Discovery Tour, in which guests learn how the Maori used geothermal activity to prepare food, and a tour of the verdant New Zealand countryside where the Lord of the Rings trilogy was filmed.

A call on Rotorua holds great appeal not only for aspiring arm-chair geologists intrigued by the geological hot spot of Waiotapu, but also for anyone who wants to witness some of nature’s most beautiful wonders. Oceania Cruises calls on Rotorua three times next year:

March 5, 2014

2015 SUMMER SEASON OPENS FOR BOOKINGS

A recent study suggests that the planning stages can be one of the most pleasurable parts of a vacation. When it comes to a voyage with Oceania Cruises, nothing can possibly beat the vacation itself, but I do love all the steps leading up to the vacation. Perhaps the most exciting is the initial planning as I dream of what part of the world I might explore next. That is why this is one of my favorite times of year, because today Oceania Cruises unveils its new 2015 Summer Collection, a whole new array of itineraries that will inspire all of us to begin planning our next Oceania Cruises adventure.

Summer is always an exciting season for Oceania Cruises as the ships explore all corners of the globe, from Alaska to Scandinavia and from New England to the Mediterranean. And 2015 is no exception with 24 new ports, 40 new itineraries in Europe, five new itineraries in Alaska and autumn cruises up and down the Eastern Seaboard during the height of the beautiful fall foliage. The season’s itineraries sail from April through November, and I was thrilled to discover that a few itineraries for the 2015-2016 winter season are being unveiled early and will also be available for bookings today!

The first thing I like to do when new itineraries are released is research the new ports to find out what fascinating places have been added to an already enormous list of destinations that Oceania Cruises visits. It would be impossible to pick a favorite from the array of new destinations, but I did find myself particularly excited about Liverpool. Here in the hometown of one of history’s greatest rock bands, The Beatles Story exhibition offers a walking tour narrated by John Lennon’s sister. More distant history is revealed at the Liverpool Cathedral, which looks positively stunning in the photos I’ve seen, and I’ve read that the views from the bell tower are unbeatable.

Liverpool Cathedral
Liverpool Cathedral

If you read my recent blog on Barcelona, highlighting several works by Gaudí, you can probably guess that I’m a big fan of art nouveau architecture. So I was also happy to see that Glasgow, birthplace of Charles Rennie Mackintosh, will be a new port of call in the British Isles. His buildings can be found throughout the city, the most famous and perhaps the most beautiful being the Glasgow School of Art.

Another new port that caught my eye was the Solovetsky Islands, located in the White Sea off the coast of Northern Russia. After learning about Russian history on my amazing visit to St. Petersburg, I feel drawn to this isolated archipelago just a hundred miles south of the Arctic Circle, as it is home to one of the most powerful monasteries of the Russian Empire. If the history isn’t enough to intrigue you, the islands’ natural beauty alone will make this an unforgettable call.

Solovetsky Islands Monastery
Solovetsky Monastery

Of course, while I may be Oceania Cruises’ Blogger-at-Large, I have not yet lived enough years to visit all of the marvelous destinations to which the ships sail. So beyond the new ports, there are also several other places the ships visit regularly that remain on my bucket list. I’ve already mentioned my fascination with Russia, and the recent Winter Olympics have showcased the beauty of Sochi, framed dramatically by the Caucasus Mountains. Departing September 7, 2014, Riviera’s Black Sea Sojourn offers the opportunity to explore this picturesque city as well as other enchanting ports along the coasts of Romania, Bulgaria and Turkey.

The voyages to Iceland and Greenland have always called to me as well, and I can only hope that 2015 may be the year I make the trip. I like to venture off the beaten path, and the pristine wilderness of these northern treasures is sure to offer an experience like no other on board the luxurious – and newly renovatedNautica. If the raw beauty of nature appeals to you as well, you’ll have a tough time choosing between the icy grandeur of the Arctic and the untamed majesty of Alaska. There is no better way to experience Mother Nature at her best than to explore Alaska on board Regatta, also newly renovated.

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Glacier Lake near Wrangell, Alaska

One of the most exciting things about the new 2015 summer season is that Oceania Cruises will be offering Grand Voyages in Europe. These extended voyages have been very popular in Africa, Asia and the South Pacific during recent winter seasons, and now guests will have the opportunity to linger in Europe and beyond on voyages of up to 39 days. One of the most irresistible aspects of these longer voyages is that they offer additional savings and Exclusive Prestige Package amenities, such as a one-night pre-cruise hotel stay, free laundry service and other great offers.

On the heels of the overwhelmingly positive response to Oceania Cruises’ first-ever world expedition unveiled last summer, Insignia’s 180-Day World Odyssey was announced in November, and individual cruises within the 180-Day World Odyssey are now open for bookings with the launch of the 2015 summer season. Also available are another series of Grand Voyages featuring combinations of these itineraries ranging from 35 to 70 days.

With all of these extraordinary voyages being released, your biggest challenge (and greatest pleasure!) will be choosing which one you wish to sail on. You may find your choice influenced by the Culinary Discovery ToursTM offered on select sailings on board Marina and Riviera. These unique excursions offer an in-depth look at the culinary culture of destinations worldwide, with the opportunity to dine in local restaurants, take cooking classes with renowned chefs, and visit local markets, farms and wineries. We’re thrilled to be offering several new Culinary Discovery Tours in the 2015 summer season, so be sure to check out which ones are available.

Reservations are now open, so you can begin the ever so pleasant process of selecting your cruise right away. I’ve found it’s always a good idea to book early for the best fares and availability. Following are links to some cruises that include the ports I mentioned here, and you can view the entire 2015 Summer Collection by clicking the Promotions link at the very top of this page.

 

February 17, 2014

HO CHI MINH CITY AND THE VIETNAMESE COUNTRYSIDE

SaigonAlthough Ho Chi Minh City made the news last week for the grand opening of Vietnam’s first McDonald’s, guests on board Nautica got nothing but a quintessentially Vietnamese experience over the weekend while exploring this city of more than nine million and its surrounding countryside.

Known as Saigon prior to the end of the Vietnam War and still referred to as such by many, the city’s name was officially changed to Ho Chi Minh City in 1976, in honor of the revolutionary leader who served as prime minister and president of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam from 1945 until his death in 1969. Oceania Cruises offers several shore excursions that explore this bustling metropolis, from its wartime relics and colonial architecture to its folkloric traditions and spiritual heritage, and excursions into the Vietnamese countryside are available as well.

Because Nautica frequently stays overnight in Ho Chi Minh City, guests have ample time to explore and take advantage of the opportunity to experience the contrast of city and country life. For me, there is nothing as energizing as immersing myself in the culture of a thriving urban center, but just as appealing is the serene countryside, where often I find a more authentic expression of cultural traditions that have been passed down through the centuries.

Guests on board Nautica enjoyed warm temperatures and bright sunshine while exploring the Vietnamese countryside on the Mekong River Cruise shore excursion. At the mouth of the seventh longest river in Asia, the Mekong Delta is one of the “rice baskets” of Vietnam, contributing about 50 percent of country’s rice production. Life in the Mekong Delta is centered on the river, and many of the locals spend their time paddling its canals and tributaries, whether farming, fishing, trading or escorting visitors on tours.

Mekong River Dusk

Vietnam Canal Cruise Paddler

The shore excursion began in My Tho. Considered the gateway to the Mekong Delta, the city was founded by Chinese refugees fleeing Taiwan in the 1680s. Here guests toured the Vinh Trang Pagoda, an ornate sanctuary near the city center set amidst beautiful gardens and decorated with carved and gilded wood. The laughing Buddha statue, an image believed to have originated in Chinese folklore, towers over the peaceful retreat where monks provide a home for orphaned, needy and disabled children.

Vinh Trang Buddha

Guests then boarded a motorboat and began to get a feel for daily life on the Mekong Delta as they passed fruit orchards, stilt houses, fish and shrimp farms and a vast variety of boats.

Far from the lines at the new McDonald’s in Ho Chi Minh City, guests stopped to explore the picturesque Thoi Son Island and enjoy a lunch of authentic Vietnamese food before continuing on to visit a family-run coconut candy factory. They then traded their motorboat for smaller, more traditional sampans and concluded the day with a scenic cruise through the narrow, tree-line canals of the lush delta.

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Oceania Cruises offers several opportunities to visit Vietnam in 2015. Enjoy a tranquil afternoon in the countryside, a thrilling day in Vietnam’s largest city, or both, because all the 2015 cruises feature overnight stays in Ho Chi Minh City!

 Photos by Peter Pretty

February 12, 2014

HIGHLIGHTS OF SIHANOUKVILLE

Nautica is spending the winter months exploring the great cities of Asia and today calls on Sihanoukville, Cambodia. This provincial capital on the western shores of the Gulf of Thailand enjoys relatively dry weather this time of year and typically hovers between 75 and 85 degrees. By all accounts, it sounds like the perfect place to be in February!

Guests can enjoy any number of adventures during their stay in Sihanoukville. The Amazing Ream National Park shore excursion explores the beautiful national park that protects over 50,000 acres of mangrove forests, beaches, tropical jungles, a thriving monkey population and more than 150 species of birds. For a more urban experience, Oceania Cruises also offers a day trip to Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s capital, where guests tour lavish palaces and gardens on the Mekong River, famous pagodas and infamous relics left from the tumultuous civil war.

There is also plenty to see and do within Sihanoukville itself, as revealed on the Highlights of Sihanoukville shore excursion that spends the day exploring this recently revived city. In the 1960s, Sihanoukville was a brand new, thriving port city with golden beaches that attracted Cambodia’s elite. But war in the region led the city to fall on hard times, and the beaches and resorts lay empty for decades.

With the end of the civil war and the opening of markets in Cambodia, Sihanoukville has been one of the main areas of economic growth in the nation. It is once again a bustling resort town and has been called, “Asia’s next trendsetting beach.”

As the name suggests, the Highlights of Sihanoukville shore excursion lets guests experience all the best this port city has to offer, from its sacred sites to its delicious cuisine to its lovely beaches. Guests begin with a visit to Wat Krom, one of the most important pagodas in Sihanoukville. Built on a hill with beautiful views of the ocean, the temple offers the opportunity to see Buddhist monks chanting or young monks learning Pali, the sacred language of the Buddhist scriptures.

On the way through town, the tour passes the popular Golden Lion roundabout, named for the giant golden statues that crouch in the center of the traffic circle. The lion has become a symbol of Sihanoukville and is depicted throughout the city.

Golden Lions Sihanoukville

Guests get a taste of the local culture on a walk through the lively local market, where one can buy the extraordinary seafood for which the area is famous as well as fresh fruits and vegetables and other local goods.

The tour really gets your blood pumping with a stop at the Snake House, known for its exotic snakes and freshwater crocodiles as well as an impressive collection of tropical fish and exotic birds.

Crocs and Snake Farm-Sihanoukville

After some close encounters with the snakes and crocs, guests can recuperate from the excitement by relaxing at the luxurious Sokha Beach Resort, an idyllic, garden-like setting on the south side of Sihanoukville. Take a refreshing dip in the pool, stroll along the pristine beaches or simply sip a cool drink while musing about all of the impressive sights of Sihanoukville.

Today is Oceania Cruises’ only call in Sihanoukville for 2014, but there are two opportunities to visit in 2015. Now is the perfect time to begin planning your Asian journey with Oceania Cruises!

Photos by Peter Pretty

February 7, 2014

A MEMORABLE DAY IN SINGAPORE

SingaporeNautica has completed the Safaris, Temples & Jewels cruise, sailing from Africa across the Indian Ocean to Asia, where she will finish the winter season exploring the ancient temples and modern metropolises of this vast continent. The voyage ended with an overnight stay in cosmopolitan Singapore, and guests on the next sailing, Pagodas & Palaces, kicked off their journey with an overnight stay here as well. It’s no wonder that Nautica lingers in Singapore on several of her Asian cruises because there is so much to see and do in this bustling and beautiful city.

Known as the “Garden City,” Singapore continues to fulfill its green vision that was instituted decades ago by Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, the first head of the independent Republic of Singapore. Despite staggering economic growth over the past 50 years, Singapore is less a concrete jungle than a literal jungle. Its soaring skyscrapers are embraced by verdant parks and tree-lined streets.

Most recently developed were the Gardens by the Bay. Covering 177 football fields and housing 80 percent of the world’s plant species, the gardens were designed to create a continuous ring of greenery enveloping the Marina Bay area. Nautica guests on the Singapore By Boat/Trishaw–Raffles Visit shore excursion viewed these spectacular gardens from the skypark of the Marina Bay Sands Hotel. The vantage point offered beautiful vistas of the Supertree Grove, a cluster of enormous structures designed to provide shade and shelter while also acting as hanging gardens and rainwater catches. The Supertrees even harvest solar energy! Singapore’s commitment to “green” goes well beyond lush vegetation; the city has a master plan for environmental sustainability.

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Some guests took the opportunity to further explore the expansive gardens, including the ethereal Cloud Forest, an indoor mountain showcasing an astounding diversity of plant life as well as the world’s tallest indoor waterfall. The vibrant colors and sweet scents of the Flower Dome are also a highlight of these magnificent gardens.

Gardens by the Bay Tribal Masks

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There is an actual city to be found in this “city within a garden,” and a cruise down the Singapore River allowed guests to enjoy views of modern skyscrapers and other important landmarks. The cruise began at Clarke Quay, which is named for the second governor of Singapore. Once the center of commerce, Clark Quay is now a bustling array of restaurants, wine bars, entertainment spots and retail stores.

Clarke Quay

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The cruise sailed by landmarks such as the Cavenagh Bridge, one of Singapore’s oldest bridges, and the Merlion statue in Merlion Park. With the head of a lion and the body of a fish, the Merlion is the mascot of Singapore, paying homage to the city’s heritage as a fishing village as well as its original name, Singapura, which means “lion city.”

Merlion

Clarke Quay

Maybank Tower

Shutterstock_91915742Guest also had the chance to experience an invigorating ride on a trishaw, Singapore’s ubiquitous bike taxis.  They rode along the streets of the Colonial District, passing St. Andrew's Cathedral before ending up at the Raffles Hotel, a must on many travelers’ lists of Singapore sights. The iconic hotel is renowned for its elegant High Tea and is also said to be the place where the Singapore Sling cocktail was invented. It was the perfect spot to stop for a bit of liquid refreshment!

For those who love the invigorating energy of a bustling city but are drawn to the lush greenery and fresh air of the pastoral countryside, Singapore has it all. If an Asian voyage with Oceania Cruises is in your plans, consider these fabulous itineraries that call on the amazing city of Singapore.

 

 

January 14, 2014

SNORKELING ON THE ISLAND PARADISE OF GRAND TURK

In my recent Christmas Eve post, I mentioned that guests on board Riviera were celebrating in beautiful Grand Turk, and today it is Regatta’s turn to call on this lovely island paradise.

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When I think of Grand Turk, I think of one word: blue. As Blogger-at-Large for Oceania Cruises, I’ve seen a lot of water in my day, but I’ve never seen water in such vivid, myriad shades of blue as I saw when I visited Grand Turk. Perhaps the light was just right, or perhaps I was so happy to escape the gray of my hometown winter that I was bedazzled by the bright colors, but Grand Turk had me in its spell from the moment the ship approached. It was as if the essence of every blue mineral and gemstone had been captured and splashed across the sea. I even took a close-up shot of the pure blue surface in a futile attempt to capture its brilliance.

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The island itself is as enchanting as the surrounding waters, and it is very guest friendly. There are several shops just off the pier offering everything from beachwear and jewelry to souvenirs and sundries. Abundant lounge chairs are available for sunning yourself on the beach, and the entire area is beautifully landscaped with swaying palms and fuchsia flora. And if lounging on the tranquil beach and gazing at the serene water somehow isn’t enough to relax you, perhaps a beachside massage will do the trick!

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Despite the allure of a relaxing beach chair, I chose on this visit to partake in one of Oceania Cruises’ more active excursions, the Ultimate Snorkeling Adventure. Our group was welcomed aboard our vessel by three enthusiastic and informative guides, who provided everyone with the requisite snorkeling equipment and explained how to use it for the novices in the group. Then we set off for our first destination, Horseshoe Reef, where I finally got to take a dip in the beautiful blue water. The colors underneath the surface were just as vivid, with various species of shimmering tropical fish too numerous to count. The guides provided us with cards to help identify several of the fish, which made the experience all the more interesting.

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Sail Boat

We then continued on to a second snorkeling site, a reef off of Round Cay. Here we saw another array of colorful fish, and our guide also introduced us to the friendly neighborhood nurse shark. The mellow nurse shark is nocturnal, sluggish during the day and generally harmless, and this nurse shark seemed accustomed to relaxing in this particular spot that the snorkelers frequent and content to be the center of attention.

After a wonderful snorkeling adventure, I stopped into Margaritaville, just a short walk from the pier, to enjoy a tropical cocktail under the warmth of the Grand Turk sun. The restaurant has a large pool with a swim-up bar for those who wish to enjoy their cocktails and the water at the same time. I decided to forego dining here because I knew their burgers couldn’t possibly be as good as those in Waves Grill on the ship. So after finishing my drink, I returned to the ship for a Kobe burger with black truffle sauce and baby cress – a delicious ending to a wonderful day on Grand Turk!

Image068EBADC-2C93-46DE-95CF-AB5DC060C6A9 Grand Turk Port

January 6, 2014

GUESTS SAVOR ARGENTINE CUISINE ON A CULINARY DISCOVERY TOUR IN BUENOS AIRES

Marina finished the year 2013 exploring the exotic coasts of Brazil, and during a recent call on Buenos Aires, guests enjoyed a fabulous Culinary Discovery Tour led by Bon Appétit Culinary Center Chef Noelle Barille.

Guests took a brief tour through the city on their way to the bustling, bohemian neighborhood of San Telmo, in which the cobblestone streets are lined with antique shops, galleries and tango halls. San Telmo is home to one of the busiest and most famous local markets, where guests were able to explore and sample some of the local treats. They tasted local liqueurs as well as dulce de leche pastry handmade by Margareite, an Italian immigrant. Many immigrants from Genoa settled in San Telmo in the past, and the Italian influence is still evident in the area.

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After the market visit, the group continued up the street to the Havanna Café, to try its robust coffee and famous alfajores. Said to be the best in Argentina, these delicious confections are filled with dulce de leche and coated in chocolate.

After this sweet nibble to whet their appetites, guests traveled to the Palermo neighborhood for the hands-on part of the tour. The Argentine Experience is not only a restaurant but also an interactive culinary experience that teaches people about the local cuisine. Everyone was greeted with the refreshing national drink of Argentina, mate infused with fruit juice. Then they moved on to the cooking class, which taught the entire process of making traditional Argentine empanadas, from the puffy dough to a variety of stuffings. Guests could fill their empanadas with caramelized onions, mozzarella, ratatouille, malbec-glazed beef and other savory treats. They even held a contest for the most creative empanada.

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A wonderful lunch of empanadas was complemented by roasted carrots and onions, whipped potatoes and three different Argentinian wines: a sauvignon blanc, a malbec, and a malbec blend. While historically known as one of the six grapes that can be used in a red Bordeaux wine, malbec has surged to prominence in Argentina and is now one of the most notable Argentinian wines.

After lunch everyone learned how to make mate and to assemble alfajores, so the secrets to several Argentinian specialties were now revealed. Before returning to the ship, the group stopped at an artisan ice cream shop called Volta. Considering the warm temperatures of the Argentine summer, this was the perfect place for the tour’s finale. Guests enjoyed one final incarnation of the ubiquitous dulce de leche, this time in ice cream. It was delightful conclusion to a day spent experiencing the vibrant Argentine culture through the local cuisine.

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January 1, 2014

A HAPPY NEW YEAR: THE PANAMA CANAL CELEBRATES ITS 100TH YEAR

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Panama Canal Sunset

No matter how lofty your goals for the New Year, they will seem easily attainable compared to the remarkable effort that went into constructing the Panama Canal. Guests on board Regatta are getting a firsthand look at this incredible feat of mankind today as they ring in the New Year with Oceania Cruises.

One of the wonders of the modern world, the Panama Canal was completed in 1914 and changed maritime travel in the Western Hemisphere. Before the 50-mile canal was built, ships sailing from eastern coasts of the Americas to the west coasts had to sail around the southernmost tip of South America.

As simple and ingenious as the system might seem today, this canal was an extraordinary project in the making. As far back as the 16th century, when explorers first discovered the Isthmus of Panama, they began imagining a canal that would shave thousands of miles off their journeys. The French began the project in the late 1800s but found building a sea-level canal in the mountainous terrain of Panama beyond the engineering know-how of that time. In 1903, when the United States stepped in, it became clear the only way to get ships across the continental divide was to devise a system of locks that would raise ships above sea level.

Panama Canal 1 Panama Canal 2

To give you an idea of the Herculean effort required to complete this task, here are some astounding facts and figures about the project:

  • Over 56,000 people were employed to complete the project between 1904 and 1913
  • Total construction cost was $375,000,000
  • The French and the US cleared over 70,000,000 tons of material
  • More than 14,000 tons of explosives were used

Once the project was completed (two years ahead of schedule, I might add), a ship could travel from coast to coast in 8 to 10 hours. Entering from the Pacific side, the Miraflores Locks progressively lift ships 54 feet to Miraflores Lake. The Pedro Miguel Lock then lifts ships another 31 feet. After sailing nearly 8 miles through Gaillard Cut and 15 miles crossing Gatun Lake, the Gatun Locks drop ships in three stages down to the level of the Atlantic.

Today Regatta makes her transit through the Panama Canal in the daylight hours, so guests will have the opportunity to see the machinations of this ingenious system up close. They can also observe the progress on the massive multibillion-dollar expansion project that is underway, which is expected to double the capacity of the canal when the project is completed in 2015. The transit provides great views of the surrounding countryside as well, and the evening hours promise a beautiful sunset along the way.

Regatta Deck Night - Panama Panama Canal Sunset 1

As the Panama Canal enters its 100th year with an eye towards future expansion, Oceania Cruises winds down a momentous 2013 celebrating 10 years at sea and likewise looks forward to many new milestones in 2014. If you are like me, more travel is one of your New Year’s resolutions, so I hope to cross paths with you on one of the ships of Oceania Cruises. In the meantime, we wish you a happy New Year filled with joy and journeys to wondrous destinations!

December 24, 2013

OCEANIA CRUISES CELEBRATES THE HOLIDAYS IN FESTIVE SHADES OF BLUE

A holiday sailing is a wonderful way to celebrate this season, as the ships are decked out in their holiday finery, the atmosphere is warm and jubilant, and the spirit of the season is evident in the smiles of every guest, officer and crew member on board.

The holidays are ultimately about embracing peace, harmony and love for those with whom we share this planet, and what better way to celebrate this spirit than by traveling the world, experiencing diverse cultures and learning of our shared history.

Guests on board Riviera celebrate Christmas Eve today on the Caribbean island of Grand Turk. And while there isn’t any snow, there is no shortage of holiday glitter, for the sun shimmering on Grand Turk’s azure waters shines as brightly as any sparkling Christmas tree. In fact, while some might not associate a beach destination with the holidays, I find Grand Turk to be an excellent representation of the spirit of the season. Light is certainly one of the most powerful symbols of the holidays, from the Christmas tree lights to the Hanukkah menorah, inspiring reflection on the joys of the past year and hope for a bright future. And Grand Turk is nothing if not a testament to the beauty and power of light, as reflected in the brilliant blue waters that embrace the island.

Grand Turk Dock

Grand Turk

Grand Turk Sunset

As Blogger-at-Large for Oceania Cruises, I’ve sailed many seas in my day, and the waters always bring me a sense of peace, calm and awe. Perhaps that is why blue is one of my favorite holiday colors, and perhaps that is why the ships of Oceania Cruises often spend their holidays on some of the most spectacular seas in the world. Today Marina cruises the remarkable Chilean fjords, with their own shades of blue in the majestic glaciers rising from the sea. Nautica crosses the vast Indian Ocean, and Regatta sails from the Sea of Cortez, one of the most diverse seas on the planet and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Veranda Sunset Chile

From their verandas, guests will watch the sunset transform the turquoise blues of the bays into the midnight blue of the evening sea and reflect on a holiday of awe, joy and gratitude. While Elvis may have crooned melancholy lyrics about a blue Christmas, I’ll take a blue Christmas with Oceania Cruises any year!

If you’d like to spend the holidays with Oceania Cruises in 2014, take a look at the festive sailings below:

 

December 12, 2013

RIVIERA'S WINTER SAILINGS OFFER THE CHANCE TO EXPLORE VIBRANT MIAMI

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As Blogger-at-Large for Oceania Cruises, I’m always paying close attention to where the fleet is sailing, and I’m constantly amazed at the multitude of worldwide destinations to which these intimate mid-size ships can take you. In fact, sometimes I’m so intrigued by the exotic ports of call that I forget the treasures that are closer to home. Riviera’s arrival in Miami today as she concludes her first cruise of the winter season was a reminder that cosmopolitan Miami is blessed with wonderful diversity in architecture, culture and cuisine, and the city is constantly evolving as well.

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Few cities on earth are experiencing a renaissance as notable as that which is taking place in Miami. In just under a decade, the city has quickly become one of the world’s fastest growing metropolises, and the skyline now stretches across the horizon. If you haven’t sailed from Miami in the past few years, you might not recognize it at all. New hotels, fine restaurants, Cuban cafés, charming boutiques and stylish shops have opened their doors just steps from Riviera’s renovated Miami pier. And from Riviera’s decks, guests can see the stunning new Pérez Art Museum Miami (PAMM), which just opened last week. The museum was designed by architects Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron, winners of the Pritzker Architecture Prize, often referred to as “architecture’s Nobel.”

Art DecoThe beauty of a city like Miami is that it has found a way to celebrate the future while still preserving its past. Even as shining glass towers reach skyward in downtown, the extraordinary Art Deco District on South Beach lures visitors with its sleek architecture, period neon signs and cool preservationist vibe. Nearly 1,000 buildings are protected by law, and the entire district is on the National Register of Historic Places. Many of our guests admit they could spend the day doing nothing but walking along chic Ocean Drive.

Also on the National Register of Historic Places is the Freedom Tower on Biscayne Boulevard. Once the headquarters of The Miami News, the Freedom Tower was used by the US government to provide services for refugees fleeing Castro’s regime in the 1960s. Reminiscent of the Giralda in Seville, Spain, the Mediterranean Revival–style building now stands as a monument to Cuban American heritage. You can get a taste of the Cuban culture that thrives in Miami today with a stroll along Calle Ocho in Little Havana, a landmark street lined with coffee shops, salons, galleries, parks, markets and boutiques. Be sure to stop in to Café Versailles for a cup of Cuban coffee and grab a Cuban sandwich or some roast pork with mojo for lunch. Known as “The World’s Most Famous Cuban Restaurant,” Versailles is the unofficial town square for the Cuban community.

IMG_5948 vistacrop-2It’s becoming obvious that a single day spent exploring Miami is never enough. Fortunately, since several itineraries embark and disembark in Miami, there are many options for extending your visit with a pre- or post-cruise stay. Oceania Cruises offers a variety of one-, two- and three-night hotel packages at two of the city’s most distinguished hotels. After a recent redesign and $31 million in extensive renovations, the Marriott Biscayne Bay boasts gorgeous waterfront views and a location just across from the hip Miami Art and Design Districts. At the JW Marriott Marquis, guests can choose from a number of delightful pursuits, ranging from dining at James Beard award winner Chef Daniel Boulud’s DB Bistro Moderne to attending the world-renowned Jim McLean Golf School with instruction, golf simulators, putting greens and a Pro Shop.

You can rub shoulders with Miami society’s glitterati at the Canyon Ranch Hotel & Spa on Miami Beach, a resort with boundless facilities that inspire healthy living and promote wellness. Oceania Cruises offers a two-night package with full access to Canyon Ranch's state-of-the-art, 70,000-square-foot Wellness Spa, the largest in Florida. Lose yourself in the Aquavana® thermal suite, a collection of European-style healing aquatic environments including the Finnish sauna and rooftop HydroSpa. You also receive a $150 spa credit, so indulge in a Thai massage and restorative touch therapy or enjoy a facial enhancement that leaves your skin looking more vibrant and youthful.

Take advantage of the opportunity to explore vibrant Miami when you reserve a voyage with Oceania Cruises in 2014. Our special Canyon Ranch Hotel & Spa package is offered as a pre-cruise option on the following sailings:

The package is also offered as a post-cruise option on the following voyages:

November 29, 2013

A MESSAGE FROM KUNAL S. KAMLANI: THE STORY BEHIND THE ODYSSEY

SELECT_Kunal1 tan copyOn behalf of everyone at Oceania Cruises, we hope you enjoyed your Thanksgiving yesterday and continue to enjoy spending time with friends and family. 

In this season of giving thanks, I reflect on many things for which I am grateful and one of them is being a member of the Oceania Cruises family.  I not only get to work with the most talented and professional individuals both on land and at sea, but I also exchange ideas on a daily basis with guests and travel partners, many of whom have become close friends. The 180-Day World Odyssey cruise is a classic example of an idea that comes to life when guests and travel agents keep pushing us to create something new. We check the world map all the time and we haven’t found a new city or island. But, trust me, this wasn’t going to stop us. 

As Destination Specialists, if anyone was going to find out if there was a group of people who truly wanted to explore the world without constraints, it was going to be us. We began by sitting around a table with the objective of creating a fantasy voyage that will excite and inspire. We ignored all the conventional wisdom that typically constrains itinerary development; in particular we ignored the element of time.  The final product was a collection of destinations that encourage exploration and discovery – Around the World in 180 Days.  Even with the ultimate itinerary in hand, we were nervous. In our 10-year history, Oceania Cruises had never offered a world cruise and did not know what to expect. But within the first hour of opening the sailing for reservations, it became apparent that our passion for travel had come through loud and clear in the itinerary. And eight hours later, we sold out the entire sailing.

As you can imagine, this unprecedented response gave us a great deal to be excited about. But at the same time it left many guests and travel partners asking for another epic journey.

A few weeks later, we found ourselves sitting around the conference room table once again. This time, with a different task: Create another unique journey that will break the mold we just set.

During the brainstorming for the Around the World in 180 Days cruise, we focused on sailing to the most exciting ports while circumnavigating the globe. Now that we had accomplished this feat, we focused on just the destinations without requiring the “around the world” component. To further break from industry tradition as it relates to world cruises, we considered the possibility of scheduling our new fantasy voyage in the summer season, and suddenly we realized that we had found the formula to create another truly differentiated itinerary. Immediately, we focused on how the warmer weather opened the door to new destinations – most notably two of them in Greenland, Nuuk and Paamiut. Then, we shifted our attention to the number of iconic places that we collectively had traveled to or remain on our bucket lists. As our itinerary came together, we noticed that made it possible for our guests to visit more than 100 UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

With all of the logistics in place, the only thing left was to give it a proper name - a name fitting of a new grand adventure.

And that’s how the 180-Day World Odyssey cruise was born.

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This extraordinary voyage aboard Insignia will visit five continents, 52 countries and 100 ports of call and will feature 14 overnight stays plus 2 two-night calls in Yangon, Myanmar (Burma) and Mahé, Seychelles. I hope you take a moment to visit OceaniaCruises.com/180day for the complete itinerary and details. We are very proud of this voyage and hope that we have piqued your interest in exploring the world.

Although the 180-Day World Odyssey cruise will be difficult to outdo, we never stop dreaming of exciting new voyages because your desire to experience the world’s wonders never wanes.

And for that we are grateful.

November 25, 2013

MEMORIES OF BARCELONA

Marina and Riviera have said goodbye to Europe for 2013 and set sail for warmer waters for the winter. Both ships ended their final European cruise of the season in Barcelona, an amazing city that I’ve so enjoyed exploring as Blogger-at-Large for Oceania Cruises.

One of the things that makes Barcelona distinctive is its blend of traditional architecture interspersed with the modernist buildings of Gaudí. The renowned architect’s inimitable style is found throughout the city, as he designed everything from private homes to public parks and churches. One of Barcelona’s most famous façades, Casa Batlló is the most unique and striking building I’ve ever seen. Now a museum and event space, Casa Batlló was built from 1904 to 1906 as a private home for textile industrialist Josep Batlló.

Casa Batllo

Casa Batllo 2

Next door is another modernist building, Casa Amatller. While it was designed by Gaudí contemporary Josep Puig i Cadafalch, the style is drastically different. The contrasting styles of these buildings, along with two more nearby homes by two other modernist architects, have earned this block the moniker of Illa de la Discòrdia, or Block of Discord.

Casa Batllo and Casa Amatller

Wine and TapasAfter visiting Casa Batlló, I stopped for some tapas and wine on the patio of a restaurant just down the street on Passeig de Gràcia, one of the most fashionable and expensive streets in Barcelona. Every time I visit Spain I’m truly amazed at what the Spanish can do with just bread, tomato and a touch of garlic. Pan con tomate (literally “bread with tomato”) is one of my favorite tapas. Add a little manchego cheese and I am in heaven! I also enjoyed a glass of El Perro Verde (The Green Dog), a lovely and very reasonably priced Spanish verdejo.

It was a good thing I fortified myself with tapas, because my next stop, Park Güell, is perched on the top of a very steep hill overlooking the city. Esuebi Güell, a well-known Catalan industrialist, commissioned Gaudí to create a residential garden village. Although the residential project failed, the city of Barcelona acquired the property and opened it to the public as a park.

The entrance, unmistakably designed by Gaudí, is composed of four flights of ornately decorated stairs, including a beautifully tiled dragon-like lizard, one of the best-known images of the park.

Park Guell

Among the completed buildings were two pavilions for visitors and park keepers, also distinctly Gaudí. The number of beautiful, detailed mosaics, sculptures and structures is astounding. The park is essentially a spectacular outdoor museum with free entrance!

Park Guell 7

Park Guell 8

Park Guell 3

Park Guell 4

Park Guell 5 Park Guell 6

I’ve shared a few blogs about Barcelona, but there is so much to see and do in this city that I’ve only scratched the surface. I look forward to sharing more when Oceania Cruises’ ships return to Europe next season, and I hope I’ve inspired you to plan your European cruise for 2014! Oceania Cruises makes frequent stops in Barcelona in the summer season, so hopefully you will have a chance to visit on one of these cruises or the many others offered:

November 18, 2013

A DAY IN FLORENCE

Last week Nautica, Marina and Riviera all called on the port of Livorno, the gateway to Tuscany. From this port, you can explore the beautiful Tuscan countryside and so many charming towns, from Pisa to Cinque Terre to San Gimignano. Of course, one of the most popular places to visit is the grand city of Florence.

View of Florence

I recently took the Florence On Your Own shore excursion, which is perfect if you want the freedom to wander the streets of this amazing city at your own pace without worrying about getting back to the ship on time. A comfortable, air-conditioned bus picked me up at the ship for the two-hour trip to Florence, during which a guide shared info and maps that helped me navigate the city. Once we arrived, I had six lovely hours to enjoy Florence before the bus picked me up and returned me to the ship.

The bus dropped me off at the Piazza di Santa Croce, just off the Arno River and near the Basilica di Santa Croce, where I began my day. Construction began on the basilica, the principal Franciscan church in Florence, in 1294. With 16 chapels, it is the largest Franciscan church in the world and the burial place of some of history’s most famous Italians, including Michelangelo, Galileo, Machiavelli and Rossini.

Basilica di Santa Croce Basilica di Santa Croce Door

At the steps of the Basilica di Santa Croce stands a statue dedicated to the great Italian poet, Dante. Donated in 1865 to celebrate the sixth century since Dante’s birth, the statue was moved to the steps of the basilica in 1968. Born in Florence, Dante was eventually condemned to exile for political reasons, and it wasn’t until 2008 that Dante’s sentence was rescinded. Thus, while the city of Florence built a tomb for Dante in the Basilica di Santa Croce in the 19th century, his remains are still in a tomb in Ravenna, the city where he died. At each corner of the base of the Dante statue sits a rather stern-looking heraldic lion with one paw on the city’s coat of arms, said to represent the power of the people of the Republic of Florence.

Basilica di Santa Croce Dante Statue Basilica di Santa Croce Lions Dante Statue

With only one basilica down, I was already starving. I stopped at a restaurant on the piazza and enjoyed one of the best Caprese salads I’ve ever had, accompanied by some delicious prosciutto, a rich lasagna and a glass of red wine. Suffice it to say, I was sated and ready to continue exploring.

Lunch Caprese Salad

My next stop was Ponte Vecchio, Florence’s most famous bridge. Originally built during Roman times, it is the oldest bridge in Florence. The current structure was built in 1345, and the workshops along the bridge were mainly used by butchers and tanners. Today the shops offer a wide array of jewelry and souvenirs to the many tourists that visit.

Ponte Vecchio

Plaza VecchioAfter Ponte Vecchio I moved on to the nearby Palazzo Vecchio, the town hall. At the end of the 13th century, Florentines decided to build a palace that provided greater security to the magistrates. The massive Romanesque fortress is one of the most impressive in Tuscany and overlooks the Piazza della Signoria.

The Fountain of Neptune stands on the piazza, as well as a replica of Michelangelo’s David, marking the place where the original statue once stood. The original is now housed in the Accademia Gallery, about a 15-minute walk north of the Palazzo Vecchio, and I consider it to be one of Florence’s must-see sights. While you’ve probably seen any number of the images and replicas of the statue that seem to pervade Western culture, the original is truly astounding in its scale, detail and beauty.

Palazzo Vecchio Neptune

Plaza Vecchio David

Uffizi Gallery CourtyardNear the Palazzo Vecchio and also well worth a visit is the amazing Uffizi Gallery, one of the oldest and most famous museums in the world. The gallery houses some of Italy’s greatest works of art, including works by da Vinci, Michelangelo and Raphael. One of my favorite works in this museum is Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus, although it’s almost ludicrous to name any favorite amidst the incredible collection of masterworks. There is usually a long line to get into the Uffizi, so I highly recommend advance reservations, which can be made online for a fee. Oceania Cruises also offers excursions to both the Uffizi and the Accademia Gallery, so you can avoid the lines at both.

There are so many wonderful things to see in Florence, and I haven’t even mentioned the Duomo yet, one of the most famous and impressive cathedrals in Europe! I’ll save that for a future blog, and if you want to see this wonderful city for yourself, here are just a few of the ample opportunities to visit with Oceania Cruises in 2014:

November 12, 2013

POMPEII: IN THE SHADOW OF VESUVIUS

Vesuvius and Temple of Jupiter

One of my favorite moments of any vacation is when I get a true sense of the tiny place I occupy within the world and its history. On a recent trip as Blogger-at-Large for Oceania Cruises, that moment came as I walked through the incredible ruins of Pompeii, an ancient Roman city that was destroyed when Mount Vesuvius erupted in 79 AD.

I will try to limit my use of superlatives, although many come to mind when describing what an amazing experience it is to walk through an ancient Roman city relatively untouched by time. Preserved in volcanic ash for more than 1,500 years, the city appears very much like it was on the day it was destroyed, allowing for a unique look at life at the beginning of a new millennium. Of course, as I gazed in awe at the ruins, with Mount Vesuvius looming in the background, I was acutely aware that we can only experience this piece of history today because of the tragic disaster that struck this once thriving city of 20,000.

While I had previously seen photos of Pompeii, I didn’t realize how expansive the city was until I visited. It currently covers about five square miles. You could spend hours exploring the wide streets and narrow alleyways lined with homes and shops, and much of the city is still being excavated. Beautifully preserved mosaics adorn the ceilings and floors of homes, and political propaganda can still be found on the city streets.

Home with Mosaics

Ceiling Detail 2

Ceiling Detail

Political Propaganda

One of the oldest parts of the city, the forum served as one of the main centers of public life in Pompeii. In addition to being a marketplace, the forum was a place where townspeople conducted business, took part in religious and political events and socialized, among many other things. 

Columns Along the Forum

Columns along the Forum 2

Forum

Arch:Forum

After Pompeii became part of the Roman territory, the city was endowed with several public buildings, including a large amphitheater. A period of modernization brought an aqueduct, streets designed to divert water and waste, and high sidewalks and stepping stones for pedestrian crossings. The Romans were incredibly advanced in their engineering of water management.

Theater

Street

Dedicated to the god Apollo, the Temple of Apollo is one of the town’s most important religious sites. The temple underwent several renovations throughout the years due to modernization and earthquake damage. As the temple was largely destroyed in the volcanic eruption, what remains today is the original foundation. 

Temple of Apollo

The Temple of Vespasian is thought to honor the Roman emperor from 69 to 79 AD, and it is believed that construction was not complete on the temple prior to the eruption. A marble altar, decorated with reliefs on all four sides, stands at the center of the courtyard. 

Temple of Vespasian

Temple of Vespasian Close

Jupiter was one of the most important gods of ancient Rome, and the Temple of Jupiter was built at a time when Roman influence over Pompeii was increasing. Built in 150 BC, it would become one of the city’s main temples after the Roman conquest. An earthquake in 62 AD destroyed much of the temple, and it was awaiting restoration when Vesuvius erupted 17 years later.

Arch near Temple of Jupiter

Oceania Cruises offers excursions to Pompeii from both Naples and Sorrento, as Pompeii is situated more or less right between the two cities. I took the Pompeii & Herculaneum excursion from Sorrento. Herculaneum sits even closer to the crater of Vesuvius, and while the city may not be as famous as Pompeii, it is equally impressive. More on that in a future post, but in the meantime, I hope you have the chance to visit Pompeii and other fascinating Mediterranean cities on a voyage with Oceania Cruises in 2014:

November 4, 2013

MORE OF THE BIG APPLE

This week Regatta made her final stop in New York for 2013 before sailing south to warmer waters for the winter season, so I am taking this opportunity to share the remainder of my photos from my most recent trip to this fabulous city as Blogger-at-Large for Oceania Cruises.

On this trip I was very much looking forward to visiting to the 9/11 Memorial. Tickets to visit the memorial are free, but you do need to get them in advance if you are not on a prearranged tour. I highly recommend the Oceania Cruises shore excursion Downtown Manhattan and the 9/11 Memorial, which includes a harbor cruise past the Statue of Liberty and a walking tour of Lower Manhattan followed by a visit to the memorial.

Honoring the lives of those who were lost in the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, and February 26, 1993, the memorial occupies 8 of the 16 acres of the former World Trade Center complex. Names of all the lives lost are inscribed in bronze plaques that surround the two waterfalls and reflecting pools set in the footprints of the twin towers. Like a beacon of hope, the new One World Trade Center being built to replace the twin towers rises over the memorial plaza. 

9 11 7 9 11 1

There is no way to describe the feeling of arriving on this solemn scene. The roaring water of the fountains blocks out the ambient noises, so I was left with what felt like a very solitary experience of the monument despite being surrounded by visitors. I knew it would be a powerful tribute, but there is no way to really know how moving the experience will be until you are there. It is a poignant testament to the impact of the tragedy and the incredible strength and resilience of the American people, particularly New Yorkers, in the wake of the devastation.  

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After visiting the memorial, I spent some time walking the streets of Manhattan and just taking in all the sights, sounds and smells of this wonderful city. The skyscrapers soaring over historic churches nestled in their shadows. The car engines and taxi horns blending somehow harmoniously with the din of voices, within which I could discern any number of accents and languages as I strolled through the multitude of faces. Ultimately, the tempting aromas from the street vendors and local restaurants drew me to my final quintessential New York experience of the day – pizza!

When an Italian immigrant reinvented a Neapolitan staple food in 1897, New York–style pizza was born. In 1905 Lombardi’s was licensed by the city of New York, becoming America’s first pizzeria. There are now pizzerias on just about every street corner in New York (Ray’s and Original Ray’s being the most ubiquitous), but what makes Lombardi’s special, along with a handful of other pizzerias in the city, is the brick oven. In an authentic New York pizzeria, the ingredients are fresh and the pizza is baked to order in a brick oven.

Lombardis 1 Lombardis 2

I “accidentally” ordered a large pizza and for a few minutes was concerned that I wouldn’t be able to finish, even with the help of my friend who had happily agreed to join me. But walking the streets of New York and the smell of Lombardi’s pizza have a way of making a girl hungry, and I am proud to say, there was not much left when we were finished.

Lombardis 4

One of the greatest things about New York is that, no matter how many times you visit, there is always more to see and do. If you’ve never been, you simply must add this city to your bucket list. And there are some distinct advantages to seeing the city on an Oceania Cruises voyage. New York is a city in which it’s easy to drop several hundred dollars on food and lodging in just a day or two, but with your Oceania Cruises home away from home awaiting you in port, you can sample the local fare, see the sights and then return to the luxurious accommodations and fine cuisine on board and take full advantage of Oceania Cruises’ incredible value. Plus, on these 2014 voyages, you can also visit a number of other wonderful cities along the American and Canadian coasts – and even the Caribbean!

 

October 29, 2013

NEW YORK STATE OF MIND

Regatta arrived in New York City today, and guests will enjoy an overnight stay in the city that never sleeps. Overnight stays are one of the hallmarks of Oceania Cruises itineraries, and if any city merits two full days of exploration, New York City certainly does.

As Blogger-at-Large for Oceania Cruises, I’ve had the privilege of traveling to cities all over the world, and each one holds a special place in my heart. But when I visit New York, it’s a different experience than disembarking in a city on distant shores. I know the language; I know the culture; I know the traffic laws. But no matter how familiar it may feel, each visit fills me with new excitement at the prospect of further exploring this wonderful city.

As I’ve previously visited New York’s most famous sights, on my most recent visit I decided to dig deeper into the quintessential New York experience. I began by heading uptown to 112th Street and Amsterdam to get a glimpse at the spectacular Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine. One of the largest Christian churches in the world, construction began on the cathedral in 1892. The original design was Byzantine-Romanesque, traces of which can be seen in the dome, but was changed to a Gothic style in the early 1900s. A fire in 2001 badly damaged the inside and it was closed to the public until 2008. Although yet unfinished, the cathedral is just as breathtaking on the inside as it is on the outside.

St John the Divine 1 St John the Divine 2

St John the Divine 4 St john the Divine 3

As a foodie, I was especially looking forward to my next stop. From 112th street, I made my way down to 80th Street and Broadway to Zabar’s grocery store. In 1934, Louis and Lillian Zabar opened a small counter in the Daitch Market with the idea of selling the highest quality smoked fish at a fair price (a philosophy that Oceania Cruises can appreciate, as the company was founded on offering a luxurious cruising experience at an exceptional value). Almost 80 years later this market is a celebration of everything good about food: barrels of olives, walls of cheeses (some hanging from the ceiling), fresh bread, and I lost count after 15 different kinds of butter from all over the world.

Zebars

Zebars Cheese Zebars Bread

Zebars Butter

Zebars Olives

I might still be standing in the chocolate section, but after being surrounded by so much amazing food, it was time to eat. So I headed south to Carnegie Deli, across the street from Carnegie Hall. There is usually a line out front, but if your party is small, it moves fast. And if you are as hungry as I was, fear not, because right away you can enjoy a generous serving of an assortment of real New York pickles.

Carnegie Deli 3 Carnegie Pickles

Family owned and operated since 1937, the restaurant has several rooms, the walls of which are covered with hundreds of photos of famous people who have eaten here. There is nothing romantic about it, but if what you want is great New York deli food, you can’t go wrong here. The menu is enormous but I came for the basics: matzo ball soup and a pastrami sandwich on rye. The portions are generous to say the least, so I recommend sharing! The soup was heavenly and the pastrami was perfect. They just don’t make pastrami like that where I come from!

Carnegie Soup Carnegie Sandwich

These highlights of my day are just the beginning of my New York experience, and I look forward to sharing more with you soon. If you are hoping to explore this amazing city for the first time or return for more, there are several opportunities to sail there with Oceania Cruises in 2014:

October 23, 2013

A DAY AT THE ACHILLEION PALACE ON CORFU

Marina and Riviera both call on Corfu this week, and guests have the opportunity to explore this lovely island on the Corfu Town and Achilleion shore excursion. As Blogger-at-Large for Oceania Cruises, I recently enjoyed this wonderful excursion on a perfect summer day.

Achillion Palace

Gate at Achillion Palace

When reading about the Achilleion Palace, you will always find mention of the great views from the palace grounds, and many have attempted to capture these impressive vistas in photographs. But it is not until you are actually standing there, looking out across the beautiful island with the Ionian Sea glistening in the distance, that you truly understand what all the fuss is about. Having said that, this palace is more than just a pretty face. It also has a quite fascinating history behind it.

View from Achillion Palace

Empress Sisi StatueUpon arriving at the palace, I was greeted by a marble statue of Empress Elisabeth of Austria, affectionately known as Sisi, who built the palace in 1890 as an expression of her passion for Greek culture. In fact, she spoke Greek better than most Greek queens of her time. The central theme of the palace is Achilles, Chapel a mythical figure whom the empress admired for his strength and beauty, two characteristics she herself possessed. Achilles and Sisi also shared a tragic fate. At the time when the empress built the palace, she was desperate to escape her grief over the loss of her only son to suicide the previous year. And the empress would herself be killed by an anarchist in 1898.

One of the most moving and impressive rooms in the palace is Sisi’s Catholic chapel with its domed ceiling depicting the trial of Christ and a painting of Madonna and child hanging above the altar. I found this particularly poignant given the devastating loss of the empress’s son.

As you would imagine, there are several depictions of Achilles inside the palace. One of the most imposing is an enormous painting, The Triumph of Achilles by Franz von Matsch, in the hall above the main staircase. It dramatically portrays Achilles dragging Hector’s body behind a chariot in front of the gates of Troy.

Achilles Painting Over Staircase

Achilles is also well represented on the palace grounds, which I found even more impressive than the palace itself. High on a pedestal stands the centerpiece of the gardens, a marble statue of Achilles at the moment of his demise as he tries to pull the fatal arrow from his heel. Elsewhere in the gardens, a huge bronze statue of Achilles was added by Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany, who purchased the palace after Sisi’s untimely death. The antithesis of the beloved Sisi, he too would only enjoy the palace for a short time because he soon launched Germany into World War I and was later exiled with Germany’s defeat.

Achilles Statue (renown) Achilles Bronze

Achilles Statue (renown) close

Many other monuments to ancient Greek mythology also adorn the grounds, including several statues that line the courtyard. Some of my favorites were the nine muses, especially the one pictured here, whom I like to think of as the musing muse. 

Statue of Muses Musing Muse

The Achilleion Palace is only one of many fascinating things to do on lovely Corfu, and I am resolved to return and further explore the other palaces, forts and quaint villages and learn more about the history of this beautiful island. There are several opportunities to visit Corfu with Oceania Cruises in 2014:

October 14, 2013

ENCHANTED BY CINQUE TERRE

Today Marina calls on La Spezia, Italy, and guests have the chance to visit delightful Cinque Terre. As Blogger-at-Large for Oceania Cruises, I had the opportunity to visit the villages of Cinque Terre last year, and they are the most enchanting I’ve seen.

Intro

Cinque Terre is composed of five fishing villages along the stunning Ligurian coast of Italy. Soaring cliffs rise straight out of the sea, and this rugged landscape kept these towns inaccessible by land and completely isolated for centuries. As a result, the traditional Ligurian culture has been remarkably well preserved, and Cinque Terre is both a national park and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Even today it is very difficult to reach the villages by car, and no traffic is allowed in the historical centers. The best way to reach the villages is by boat or train, both of which are available from La Spezia. There are also hiking trails that lead between each of the villages, although some require steep ascents or descents, often via stairs. The easiest, shortest and most famous path is the Via dell’Amore, or “Lovers’ Lane,” that runs between Manarola and Riomaggiore and offers spectacular views. But then, in Cinque Terre almost any vantage point offers spectacular views.

My visit began in the village of Manarola. At first I was simply mesmerized by the uniquely scenic beauty of the town, embodying all the romance of the Italian Riviera. But I was even more astounded to imagine what perseverance had been required to create these isolated villages and ensure their survival. In addition to fishing, the locals have made their living through the centuries by constructing thousands of miles of terraces along the cliffs on which grapes and olives are grown. Because of the challenging topography, most of the cultivation of the vineyards is done manually. Today Cinque Terre offers a picturesque and peaceful retreat only because of centuries of hard work and determination.

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Manarola 2 Manarola Terraces

My next stop was Vernazza. Both Vernazza and Monterosso were devastated during a freakishly severe rainstorm that caused destructive floods and mudslides in October 2011. But both towns rallied impressively afterward and made a remarkable recovery. Now the cafés, restaurants and shops are all bustling again as tourists and locals alike enjoy Vernazza’s charming waterfront, one of the most photographed spots along a coastline that inspires infinite photographs.

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My final stop for the day was Monterosso al Mare, where the Torre Aurora stands on a promontory overlooking the sea. The medieval tower was one of several constructed in the 16th century to protect the town from pirates. A lovely walk along the coast took me from the train station past the Torre Aurora to the Old Town.

Monterossa Monterosso with Torre Aurora

Monterosso has some lovely churches, such as the 14th century Church of Saint John the Baptist with its striking striped façade and rose window.

Church of St

Next door is the Church of the Brotherhood of Death and Prayer. This charitable brotherhood for the poor, farmers, fishermen and sailors was committed to providing burials for those who could not afford it. As I was admiring the Baroque details of the church, I suddenly found myself taking a much closer look. The interior was adorned with skeletons, a reminder of the inevitability of death. It is said that pirates donated their treasure to the church in an attempt to save their souls.

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Church of the Brotherhood of Death and Prayer Skeleton decor Church of the Brotherhood of Death and Prayer Skeleton decor 2

After a day of touring, I stopped into one of the lovely restaurants that lined the narrow streets. I felt obligated to reward the local fishermen and vintners for their efforts, so my choice for lunch was an easy one: seafood pasta and a local wine. Both were absolutely delicious, and the crisp white wine beautifully complemented the flavors of the pasta. Liguria is also known for its pesto, so as an appetizer, I tried some trofie al pesto. The hand-rolled pasta was the perfect marriage for the best pesto I’ve ever tasted.

Cafe Cafe Pasta

Cafe wine

I was content to conclude my visit without seeing the other two villages, Riomaggiore and Corniglia, because that gave me an excuse to return! Oceania Cruises offers excursions to Cinque Terre not only from La Spezia but from Livorno as well. I hope you have the chance to visit these captivating villages on an upcoming Oceania Cruises voyage. 

 

 

October 9, 2013

CHEF KELLY LEADS CULINARY DISCOVERY TOUR IN SAN SEBASTIAN

Fall is in the air in the markets of Spain, and I led a wonderful Culinary Discovery Tour in San Sebastian last week, where guests enjoyed a hands-on workshop at the exclusive restaurant Ni Neu.

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We were traveling onboard Riviera from Southampton to Barcelona, and along the way we enjoyed fresh oysters in Brittany, Calvados in Le Havre and pintxos in San Sebastian. For those who may not be familiar with pinxtos, they are similar to tapas and are especially popular in the Basque region of Spain. Many say that San Sebastian has the best pinxtos in Basque country.

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In Bilbao we boarded a bus for San Sebastian, a city known for Michelin-starred restaurants and fabulous food. Our first stop was a market in the old town with a wide selection of fresh fish. The city’s finest chefs shop here for anchovies, sole, squid, swordfish, hake, snapper and various shellfish. The bacalau vendor offered an array of salted cod varieties – always spectacular in Spain. 

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After purchasing jamón, local cheese and wine, we walked across the bridge for our pintxos workshop and lunch at Ni Neu. The chef and his interpreter greeted us warmly, and everything was set up for our workshop.

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The circulator was at the perfect 145°F temperature for the eggs, which we would eat on a mash of potatoes and garlic – with Spanish olive oil and salt of course. I shared with the class the method known as “sous vide, a hot trend in the culinary world today. Oceania Cruises chefs have used this method to prepare one of the courses on the tasting menu in La Reserve. They’re expanding the technique to dishes in other venues as well and are excited to continue showcasing one of the latest culinary trends onboard the ships.

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We worked in tables of five and made four different pintxos, all very tasty. Many of our guests were inspired to host a pintxos party at home. We also sipped Spanish wines and learned about the emerging wine regions in central Spain. 

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After a 60 minute workshop, we enjoyed two signature dishes from Ni Neu. The first was roasted lamb IMG_3768on a bed of Parmentier cheese purée and a wild mushroom dust. “Parmentier” refers to dishes made with potatoes and honors the 18th-century Frenchman who devoted his life to promoting the attributes of the potato. For dessert we had the restaurant’s famous French toast soaked in egg yolk and fresh cream, caramelized and served with homemade ice cream.

Waddling back to the bus for the scenic ride home, we all had a full appreciation of why San Sebastian is heralded as the culinary capital of northern Spain.

October 7, 2013

MORE ADVENTURES IN LISBON

LisbonGuests onboard Marina enjoyed a call in Lisbon yesterday. Whether you enjoy parks or palaces, churches or theaters, Lisbon has lovely examples of each. As Blogger-at-Large for Oceania Cruises, I recently shared some photos and stories of this wonderful city, and as there are so many interesting sights, I’d like to share a few more today.

The Square of Commerce, located on the Tagus River, was once the location of the Royal Ribeira Palace, the main residence of the king of Portugal. The palace, along with much of Lisbon and the surrounding areas, was destroyed in the Great Lisbon Earthquake of 1755 and the subsequent tsunami and fires. After the earthquake, as part of the massive reconstruction effort, the entire square was redesigned and renamed to reflect its new function as the government bureau that regulated customs and port activities. In this photo you can see a trolley, an excellent way to explore the streets of Lisbon, as well as the statue of King Joseph I, the king of Portugal during the rebuilding of Lisbon after the earthquake.

The Square of Commerce

In the 12th century, shortly after Lisbon was liberated from the Moors, construction began on a monastery dedicated to St. Vincent, the patron saint of Lisbon. Called the Monastery of St. Vincent Outside the Walls, it has held St. Vincent’s remains since they were transported here from his original burial place in Cape Vincent. From the 16th to the 18th century, the monastery and church were completely rebuilt. Here you see the statue of St. Vincent in the foreground and the monastery in the distance.

Statue of Saint Vincent

Built in the 1890s, the Campo Pequeno Bullring was inspired by a famous bullring in Madrid. A rich tradition shared with the Spanish, bullfighting in Portugal differs in one crucial way: the bull is not killed in the end, thanks to a decree by King Miguel of Portugal, who considered it inhumane. After undergoing considerable renovations, the building was reopened in 2006 as a multi-event venue.

Campo Pequeno Bullring

The Eden Teatro is a magnificent art deco theater constructed in the 1930s as an entertainment center with an arcade and shops on the ground floor and a theater on the first floor with an orchestra and two balconies. It lay unused for many years after it closed in the late 80s, until it was converted into a 134-room apartment hotel in 2001.

Eden Teatro

From Edward VII Park, you can enjoy beautiful views of the Tagus River. Occupying over 50 acres, the park was named for Edward VII of the United Kingdom for his efforts to strengthen relations between the two countries in the early 1900s. Between the park and Liberty Avenue is the Marquess of Pombal Square, a roundabout with a bronze statue atop a large column dedicated to the marquess, a prime minister who ruled Portugal from 1750 to 1777. The statue is shown looking towards the Baixa Pombalina, which is the area that was rebuilt under his direction after the 1755 earthquake.

Marques De Pombal Square Edward VII Park

I cannot get enough of this delightful city, and I look forward to more exploration soon! If you haven’t had a chance to visit or are eager for a second look, there are several opportunities in 2014:

September 25, 2013

MORE ADVENTURES WITH JACQUES PÉPIN ONBOARD RIVIERA

AnniversaryThe Jacques Pépin Signature Sailing onboard Riviera continues, and it has been a festive and eventful cruise. Jacques and his wife, Gloria, were surprised with a special celebration in Privée for their 47th wedding anniversary, complete with confetti and a beautiful cake created for the occasion by Oceania Cruises’ talented chefs.

When Riviera called on Ibiza, Pépin enjoyed a trip to the Sa Cova winery in the green hills of San Mateo. Grapes have been grown in this region since the time of the Phoenicians, including varietals such as monastrell, malvasia, cabernet sauvignon and tempranillo. Covering more than 22 acres, Sa Cova produces wines with grapes grown on the estate, using modern production techniques and high ecological standards combined with traditional methods and aging processes.

Pépin and his guests had a wonderful time with the winery’s friendly staff, who explained the production process and also offered a tasting of several different wines paired with local bread, aioli, sausage, cheese and ham. Any food and wine lovers on an Oceania Cruises voyage to Ibiza will not want to miss this shore excursion, Wine Tasting at Sa Cova!

Ibiza
While everyone on the cruise has greatly enjoyed exploring ashore, there have been several special events onboard as well. Chef Kelly of the Bon Appétit Culinary Center hosted “An Informal Chat with Chef Pépin” in which he shared several personal stories with guests, from his childhood as the son of restaurateurs to his position as the personal chef to three French heads of state, including Charles de Gaulle. Pépin also shared several fond and funny memories of his work with Julia Child, with whom he collaborated on the award-winning television series Jacques and Julia Cooking at Home.

There have also been book signings and other opportunities for guests to interact with the renowned chef who is the inspiration behind Oceania Cruises’ exquisite cuisine. While the culinary experience on any Oceania Cruises voyage is exceptional, having legendary Chef Pépin onboard has truly made this cruise extraordinary.

September 23, 2013

JACQUES PÉPIN HOSTS SIGNATURE SAILING ONBOARD RIVIERA

Sagrada FamiliaRiviera set sail from Barcelona on Thursday on the Mosaic Masterpiece cruise, hosted by celebrated master chef and Oceania Cruises’ executive culinary director, Jacques Pépin. Chef Pépin is hosting several special onboard events during this cruise, including culinary demonstrations and guest appearances in the Bon Appétit Culinary Center.

Chef Pépin has also been enjoying the opportunity to explore the wonderful destinations on this itinerary. In Barcelona, he visited Antoni Gaudí’s masterpiece, La Sagrada Família. Begun in 1882, the magnificent church was unfinished at the time of Gaudí’s death in 1926 and remains unfinished to this day, although successive architects have continued the work according to Gaudí’s original designs. 

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Of course, Chef Pépin also wanted to explore the local markets in Barcelona, so he stopped into the Santa Caterina Market to check out the expansive selection of fresh produce, fish, meats, cheeses and more. It was the perfect spot to enjoy a bite of lunch as well!

While Pépin is renowned as a brilliant master chef, you may not be aware that he is also a talented artist. Some of his own works as well as several works by other artists in his personal collection are displayed in Jacques restaurant onboard the ship. Thus, it’s no surprise that Pépin greatly enjoyed the chance to visit the Miró museum when Riviera called on Palma de Mallorca.

 
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Pépin with friend and fellow chef, Jean-Claude Szurdak

While Joan Miró was born in Barcelona, his mother’s family was from Mallorca, and he began visiting there at a young age. In 1929 he married a Mallorcan woman, Pilar Juncosa, and settled in Mallorca permanently in 1954. He built studios here that he and his wife later donated to the city of Palma, and now visitors can contemplate the artist’s work amidst his own creative surroundings. Pépin and his friends enjoyed a lovely afternoon discussing the works of this legendary artist in such an intimate and personal setting.

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It’s no wonder that Oceania Cruises and Chef Pépin make such a perfect team, as our ships are known for two of Pépin’s favorite things: exquisite cuisine and an exceptional art collection. Upon returning to Riviera, Pépin could observe works from an astounding array of artists, from Pablo Picasso to Wifredo Lam. And guests onboard Marina can see some of Joan Miró’s finest works without even disembarking the ship!

The Mosaic Masterpiece cruise continues with calls on Málaga, Gibraltar, Casablanca and Cádiz. More culinary and artistic delights are sure to come!

September 3, 2013

HIGHLIGHTS OF LISBON

25 April Bridge and OCToday Nautica called on Lisbon, Portugal, a beautiful city with a rich blend of historic neighborhoods and modern architecture. As Blogger-at-Large for Oceania Cruises, this is one of my favorite places to visit, so I wanted to share some highlights of this captivating city.

25 April BridgeSailing into port, one of the first sights is the 25th of April Bridge, a suspension bridge that connects Lisbon to Almada on the south bank of the Tagus River. This bridge might prompt you to double check your itinerary, as it strongly resembles the Golden Gate Bridge. Considering its beauty and elegance, it’s no wonder that bridges around the world have incorporated elements of its design.

Monument of the Discoveries leftAfter enjoying the scenic sail in, a good place to begin exploring Lisbon is the impressive Monument of Discoveries on the north bank of the Tagus River. Completed in 1960, the monument celebrates the Portuguese Age of Discovery in the 15th and 16th centuries. The main statue at the front is Henry the Navigator, an important explorer in the early days of the Age of Discovery. Flanking each side of the monument are 33 historic figures from this dynamic time in Portuguese world exploration.

Culrtural Center of BelemNearby is the Cultural Center of Belém, built to accommodate the administration of Portugal’s European Union Presidency in 1992. After the administration’s term expired, the space was adapted for conferences, exhibitions and live performances. Lisbon offers a fascinating array of architectural styles, as can be seen by contrasting this modern structure with the 18th century National Palace of Belém that stands nearby.

Just across the street can be found another architectural contrast in the remarkable Hieronymites Monastery, designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1983 along with the Tower of Belém. Completed in 1601 after 100 years of construction, it has been described as Portuguese art at its best. While I have a limited familiarity with Portuguese art, it is difficult to imagine a more impressive example. A prominent monument to the Portuguese Age of Discovery, the magnificent church represents the most elaborate expression of the unique Manueline style that distinguishes Portuguese architecture of the period. The final resting place of Vasco de Gama, the monastery also houses the Maritime Museum and the National Archaeology Museum.

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Hieronymites Monastery 3

You can visit all of these wonderful places in the parish of Belém, and that is only one of several fascinating neighborhoods in Lisbon. For remarkable views of the entire city, head east to the historic Alfama district and St. George’s Castle, or Castelo de São Jorge in Portuguese. Perched at the top of one of the highest hills in Lisbon, the imposing castle overlooks the historic city center. While the oldest remains found on this site date back to the sixth century BC, the existence of the castle dates back to the 11th century. In this historic edifice, King Manuel I welcomed Vasco de Gama home from his voyage to India, and the castle was also the site of the first Portuguese theatrical performance.

Castelo de Jorge Castelo de Sao Jorge 2

Lisbon has many other charming neighborhoods to explore as well, each with its own unique appeal, and I look forward to sharing more highlights soon. If you wish to experience this enchanting city for yourself, there are several opportunities to travel to Lisbon with Oceania Cruises: 

August 26, 2013

A FOODIE IN DUBLIN

Image77B6349E-AA12-4BBE-BCD4-060BA4A91A5ENautica spent the weekend on the lush coasts of Ireland, calling on the nation’s capital of Dublin. As Blogger-at-Large for Oceania Cruises, I recently shared some of the fun I had taking in the famous sights from Trinity College to Dublin Castle to St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Today I’d like to share another great way to experience Dublin: eating and drinking your way through the city.

One can’t discuss Irish cuisine without mentioning the potato. And I certainly enjoyed my fair share in Dublin, from mashed to roasted to boiled to fried. But the delights of Irish cuisine extend far beyond this staple and even well beyond the traditional Irish stew or bacon and cabbage.

Of course, being in Dublin, I had to pop into a pub and try some of these classics, and I was not disappointed. I began the morning with a traditional Irish breakfast of fried eggs, rashers, Irish bangers, boxty, and black and white pudding. For those not familiar with Irish culinary terms, that translates as fried eggs, bacon, sausage links, potato cakes and more sausage. “Pudding” refers to many dishes in the British Isles, several of which do not resemble the American notion of pudding. Black and white puddings are types of sausage, and Yorkshire pudding is a puffed, golden batter often baked in the drippings of the roast beef with which it is served.

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Breakfast

An Irish breakfast is not only immensely satisfying but also properly prepares you for a day of sampling traditional Irish beverages. I began with a tour of the Guinness Storehouse, which, thanks to a 9,000-year lease signed by Arthur Guinness in 1759, remains at its original site at St. James’s Gate. The site was chosen for its access to pure water, one of beer’s four essential ingredients, that flows from the Wicklow Mountains above Dublin. Also essential are the highest quality barley, hops and yeast. The yeast used in Guinness is so precious that a reserve supply is kept locked in a safe.

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Guiness Storehouse

I concluded my visit by learning how to pour the perfect Guinness. There are several secrets to this technique, including the tulip-shaped glass, the 45-degree angle of the first pour, the patience for it to settle, and the reverse angle of the tap that allows the second, direct pour to create the perfect foam head. But to truly appreciate why it takes so long for the bartender to pour your Guinness, you’ll have to visit the storehouse yourself and get certified on pouring the perfect pint!

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I fortified myself with some fish and chips before proceeding to the second historic establishment on my Irish foodie tour – the Old Jameson Distillery. Located on the site of the original distillery established by John Jameson in 1780, the tour revealed the history of the famous whiskey and the secret to its smooth, triple-distilled taste. At the end of the tour, a taste test pits Jameson against two other popular whiskeys. It was a highly effective marketing technique, as the competitors left me a bit sour-faced, but the Jameson went down smooth as silk. It was especially good paired with ginger ale in Jameson’s signature cocktail!

Lunch

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Having learned the secrets to two of Dublin’s signature drinks, it was time for some more delicious Irish food. For dinner I took the recommendation of fellow blogger Chef Kelly of the Bon Appétit Culinary Center, and she did not steer me wrong.

Marco Pierre White is an infamous British celebrity chef turned restaurateur. Talented Dublin chefs purvey his vision of simple, back-to-basics, perfectly executed cuisine in the warm, comfortable and romantic environment of Marco Pierre White Steakhouse & Grill. Irish steaks, chops and seafood are complemented by a few international specialties, such as shaved ham from Bayonne, France, served with a celeriac rémoulade. Most dishes feature the finest ingredients from throughout Ireland, from the beetroot salad with Ryefield goat cheese to the double Dreenan pork chop, the Ballycotton smoked salmon and the fish and chips with mushy peas. Each dish was perfectly prepared, and the flavors were exquisite.

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I was certainly satiated by my foodie’s tour of Dublin. If you have the opportunity to visit, be sure to enjoy some fabulous Irish cuisine while exploring all of the historic sights. Oceania Cruises offers several sailings that call on Dublin in 2014: