87 posts categorized " Excursions "

December 15, 2014

Guest Lecturer Post: Spectacular Angkor

Spectacular Angkor© Dr. John Freedman

Of all my experiences in Asia there is perhaps none more stunning and climactic than watching the sun rise over the incomparable Angkor Wat.

It is difficult to capture the essence of this singular experience with the written word, but let’s try. This architectural wonder served as the Khmer Empire’s great state temple (Angkor=Capital, Wat=Temple) in the early 12th century. It also was designed to serve as a magnificent mausoleum for its builder, the Sun God-King Suryavarman II. It has been described by observers throughout nine centuries with virtually every superlative available to writers in all languages. Intrepid French explorer Henri Mouhot, the temple’s 19th-century “discoverer” (of course, it had never truly been lost) wrote in his journal in 1862: “This grand temple, a rival to that of Solomon and erected by an ancient Michelangelo, is grander than anything left to us by Greece or Rome.” Its unparalleled enormity is not disputed – it is the largest religious structure ever built. Its artistic beauty, depth and unity, along with its engineering genius, complete the picture of a structure that represents the apogee of classical Khmer architecture and one of the greatest human achievements of all time. 

Spectacular AngkorTo watch the sunrise over the great temple one has to set out not long after 5:00AM and carefully walk down the long stone causeway over the temple complex’s 700-foot moat. The builders of Angkor were masters of hydrology and the entire city was one of moats, canals, and great reservoirs known as baray. Angkor Wat’s huge moat was designed not only for protection and irrigation purposes, but also to create an earthly incarnation of the celestial ocean which surrounded the mythological home of the ancient Hindu gods, Mt. Meru. Angor Wat’s five grand towers or prasats are each shaped like a lotus bud and taken together they represent the five peaks of Mt. Meru. They are arranged in a quincunx, which is an ancient Hindu pattern with four towers on the four corners of a rectangle and one majestic tower in the middle. We watched in awe as the saffron disk of the sun spread its soft bath of light over the entire “temple mount” scene.

Spectacular AngkorOf all the superlatives used to describe Angkor Wat, three seem most apt and encompassing: spectacular (the wow factor is certainly the first reaction), timeless (thus one stands in the Cambodian jungle today to watch the sun rise over the tomb and funerary temple of a ruler who left this earth in the year 1150AD), and captivating (the fascinating history and culture of this great Hindu temple city, which later became Mahayana Buddhist and then Theravada Buddhist, is endlessly absorbing and intriguing). In the full light of the pleasantly cool morning it is then a treat to follow the sunrise homage with a personal exploration of this amazing structure. Imagine three-quarters-of-a-mile of finely carved bas-reliefs depicting innumerable scenes from the Hindu epics as well as the pomp and ceremony of the Sun King’s court and gripping depictions of his epic battles. It is has been said without exaggeration that Angkor Wat is the most richly carved building in the world. As you ascend the temple mount, you will cross three progressive enclosures, rising higher and higher until you reach the upper level of the temple mount from where you can gaze down at the vast jungle in which this improbable jewel is ensconced. Imagine the expansive jungle as it was in Angkor’s glory days:  peopled with over 1 million inhabitants in long-gone wooden and thatch houses. Today, only stone survives. If you have very high expectations for your trip to Angkor Wat, prepare to have them exceeded by this indescribably beautiful and impressive monument to the great Khmer civilization that ruled the Indochinese Peninsula for more than 600 years.

Spectacular AngkorBut the great imperial city of Angkor had hundreds of magnificent temples besides Angkor Wat, and many stand today as testaments to this grand civilization. One should not miss the famed and exotic-looking Ta Prohm, with its armature of giant fig trees, or the enigmatic Bayon with its 256 giant Buddha-like faces (actually the God of Mercy, Lokeshvara – or perhaps the face of God-King Jayavarman VII who built the temple). A perfect complement to a morning taking in Angkor Wat’s grandeur is an afternoon visit to Banteay Srei, a small and exquisitely wrought temple constructed of a rare rose-hued sandstone. Banteay Srei is renowned for the refinement of its intricate carvings on every pediment (the triangular area above an entrance doorway) and lintel (a cross-beam over an entrance doorway or wall) as well as its innumerable walls, doors, and arches. Dramatic episodes from the mythopoeic Hindu epics are finely carved, as if by a jeweler’s hand, at every turn. The carving was so exquisite that when the temple was first “discovered” in the late 19th century it was felt to date from the early 14th century, about 200 years after the building of Angkor Wat. Decades later the consecration stele was unearthed and the temple was able to be precisely dated to 967 AD — a full 150 years before the building of Angkor Wat was even begun. One can only marvel at this artistic tour de force and it is made all the richer by the soft golden glow of the late afternoon sun.

Spectacular AngkorThe glories of ancient Angkor will never cease to amaze. Spectacular, timeless, captivating!

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.

December 10, 2014

Discovering Denali

Alaska7Alaska is one of my favorite cruise destinations because I can spend hours on deck, mouth agape, as I marvel at one spectacular landscape after another. And the experience is even more thrilling when you venture inland. I had the chance to do just that on an unforgettable five-day land tour with Oceania Cruises prior to an Alaskan voyage on Regatta.

Arriving in Anchorage, I had plenty of time to relax and explore the city before boarding a deluxe motorcoach the next day for a stunning drive north on the famous George Parks Highway. The unbelievably scenic road winds through the tundra, soaring mountain peaks, glaciers, forests and wild rivers that define the Alaskan interior.

Alaska5Upon reaching the town of Talkeetna, a National Historic Site, I enjoyed a lovely stroll along the charming streets before boarding a luxury dome railcar. From the upper-level dome, the scenery became more breathtaking by the mile and culminated with our arrival at Grande Denali Lodge, perched on the edge of a bluff less than a mile from the entrance to Denali National Park. Dinner that night was accompanied by an enlightening lecture that left me eager to discover the park’s many wonders.

Alaska4The next morning I experienced the staggering beauty of Denali National Park, which encompasses the tallest mountain in North America, Mount McKinley, soaring 20,237 feet into the heavens. Along with my fellow guests, I explored a subarctic wilderness that supports more than 650 species of plants, including blue forget-me-nots – Alaska’s state flower – that add dramatic splashes of color.

Alaska2Like most visitors, I’d come to Denali hoping to see the rich diversity of animals, and I was not disappointed. Watching a bear frolic near a salmon stream was a sight I won’t soon forget. I also saw a herd of sure-footed Dall sheep, known for their curling horns, happily munching on grass in a meadow. And soaring over it all as if to add an exclamation point to the day was a pair of majestic bald eagles.

The following day we awoke to a cloudless blue sky that allowed postcard-perfect views of Mount McKinley as we drove toward the Iditarod Sled Dog Kennel. Here we learned about the amazing dogs that cover 1,150 miles of Alaska’s rugged terrain on what is called the “Last Great Race on Earth.” Alaska6

Our journey continued along the scenic shoreline between the Chugach Mountains and the waters of Turnagain Arm until we arrived back in Anchorage for the evening. The next day we boarded Regatta for a cruise along Alaska’s fabled Inside Passage. Reminiscing about the past few days inland and looking forward to new discoveries by sea, I knew that with Oceania Cruises I would truly experience all the wonders of the Last Frontier.

September 30, 2014

The African Safari: Adventures of a Lifetime

Get a glimpse of lions in their majestic natural habit on a safari
Get a glimpse of lions in their majestic natural habitat on a safari

The African safari has long epitomized the kind of quintessential and exotic adventure many travelers only dream of — remarkable untamed wilderness, majestic landscapes and some of the most unforgettable wildlife encounters. A safari heightens the senses and enlivens the spirit, providing the extraordinary opportunity to witness the iconic Big Five (the lion, elephant, leopard, rhinoceros and Cape buffalo) along with other stunning animals such as giraffes, cheetahs, hippos and zebras in their pristine, natural environments. Whether you’re a seasoned traveler to Africa, or this is a dream you’ve long been waiting to realize, we invite you to immerse yourself in an authentic safari experience on one of Oceania Cruises’ thrilling tours. Highlighted below are just a few of our professionally-guided safari tours, available on a range of voyages aside from those listed.

 

Kapama Private Game Reserve
Covering approximately 30,000 acres of prime big game territory, Kapama Private Game Reserve combines exotic wilderness with the comforts of five-star hospitality. The Drakensberg mountain range provides a majestic backdrop for the largest private game lodge in the Greater Kruger National Park region. Nestled along the riverbed, Kapama River Lodge offers luxurious safari accommodations, while the natural environment and lush ecosystem create the perfect opportunity for a close encounter with some or all of the Big Five African animals, or any number of other unique animal species that roam the reserve.

Available as a pre-cruise tour on Nautica’s South African Holiday voyage, December 22, 2014
Available as a pre-cruise tour on Nautica’s Indian Ocean Odyssey voyage, January 6, 2015

 

Encounter herds of zebras during a game drive
Encounter herds of zebras during a game drive

Chobe and Victoria Falls
The Chobe Game Lodge in Botswana sits above the Chobe River, offering panoramic views across miles of islands and flood plains. Chobe National Park is famous for its abundant elephant herds and is home to many other animal species as well. Relax on your private veranda after a day on a safari, or enjoy a Chobe River sundowner cruise for spectacular sunset views. Then, enjoy the fabulous vista of Victoria Falls – in sheer scope, the largest waterfall in the world. Known to locals as the “smoke that thunders,” its roar deafens as the Zambezi River plunges into the chasm below.

 

 

Available as a post-cruise tour on Nautica’s Mystical Odyssey voyage, November 22, 2014
Available as a pre-cruise tour on Marina’s Southern Seas voyage, November 28, 2015

 

Legends of Kruger
Established in 1898 to protect the wildlife of the South African savannas, Kruger National Park offers the ultimate safari experience. Morning and afternoon game drives provide multiple opportunities to view the tremendous variety of wildlife that roams this vast reserve. You will likely see not only the Big Five, but also Africa’s unusual flora such as baobabs and fever trees, as well as an astounding array of exotic birds. During the evenings, enjoy the stunning views from the open decks of your luxurious lodge overlooking the Lwakahle River.

Available as an overland tour on Nautica’s Marvels of Time voyage, October 25, 2015
Available as an overland tour on Insignia’s Sultans & Safaris voyage, October 26, 2015

 

Witness the iconic Big Five on a memorable safari
Witness the iconic Big Five on a memorable safari

Winelands & Wildlife
Explore the bustling harbor city of Cape Town before taking a journey to the famous Cape Winelands, set below the dramatic mountain range Hottentots Holland. Tour the Winelands, home of some of the world’s finest wines and Stellenbosch, the second oldest town in South Africa. During your visit to an estate, have lunch and enjoy a wine tasting. The following day features an extraordinary wildlife experience on a hosted game drive through one of Africa’s pristine wildlife reserves, where you will see some of Africa’s most iconic animals, including the Big Five in their natural habitat.

 

Available as a post-cruise tour on Insignia’s Atlantic Ocean Odyssey voyage, January 20, 2015
Available as a pre-cruise tour on Insignia’s Indian Ocean Exploration voyage, February 15, 2015

 

For further details on our safari tours or additional voyages offering these safari tours, please call us at 855-OCEANIA (855-623-2642) or contact your Travel Agent.

 

 

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!

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

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 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 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.

Ha-long-bay1

 

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.

Cruise 029

DSC00418 - Version 2

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.

DSC00404

DSC00415 - Version 2

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!

 

 

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.

Wat Arun Temple-2

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 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.   

Image105B4D43-E1EE-483B-93E0-713422456B69

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.

IMG_5560

IMG_5550

 

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 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.”

Tai O Village-Hong Kong

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.

Ngong Ping Tian Tan Buddha-Hong Kong

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. 

Champagne Pool 2

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. 

Champagne Pool 3

Champagne Pool 1 Champagne Pool 5

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. 

Artist's Palette 1

Artist's Palette 2 Artist's Palette 5

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. 

Mud 1 Mud 4 Mud 8 

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.

Crater 1

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. 

Crater 2

Lime Green Pool Mud 10

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:

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.

Lunch at Thoi Son Island-Saigon

Thoi San Island-2

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.

Marina Bay Sands Casino View from Marina Sands Bay hotel, Singapore (6) (Medium)

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

Gardens by the Bay Cloud Forest 1 Gardens by the Bay Cloud Forest 2

Gardens by the Bay Flowers 3

Gardens by the Bay Flowers 4

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

Boatride Singapore (34) (Medium)

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.

ImageAEEE0F3F-F9A5-4F1A-A049-F1B5083A3295

Grand Turk Port 2

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.

Image2A623343-A292-4442-9B40-29EF8D26347D

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!

Image47B3C352-8EF0-4F1D-A618-CDCF94DEE2CA

Image034328F1-4DD4-406A-9C97-A26CD5E96273

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.

Image861B71B0-4EB6-4E50-BE67-DD3E3E3FEC25

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

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.  

9 11 6 9 11 3

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 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:

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.

August 22, 2013

REGATTA LEAVES HER HEART IN SAN FRANCISCO

Regatta is wrapping up another fantastic summer in Alaska with a final stop in San Francisco before following sunny skies to the Southern Hemisphere. Highlights of the summer included Oceania Cruises’ 10-year anniversary sailing with Chairman and Founder Frank Del Rio and his wife, Marcia – godmother of Regatta and stops in destinations as far west as Kodiak and Seward. As Regatta calls on San Francisco, this seems like the perfect time to share some of the amazing shoreside activities available from this charming city by the bay.

Alcatraz Island is a 25-acre island in the middle of the San Francisco Bay, a little over a mile from the city. Designated as a maximum security prison in 1933, Alcatraz housed many infamous criminals, including Al Capone, George “Machine Gun” Kelly and Robert Franklin Straud, known as the “Birdman.” The tour of the island includes a roundtrip ferry ride with scenic views of the bay, the Golden Gate Bridge and the city, an opportunity to explore the island with a tour guide, access to the prison and a fascinating 45-minute cellhouse audio tour featuring interviews with former inmates and prison guards.

Alcatraz-2

Considered one of the most beautiful bridges in the world and certainly the most photographed, the Golden Gate Bridge was the longest suspension bridge in the world from 1937 until 1964 when New York City’s Verrazano Narrows Bridge opened. Completed in four years, the tremendous 746-foot-tall towers, enormous main cables and signature orange color attract 10 million visitors annually. And the views are stunning from either side of the bridge!

Golden Gate Bridge-2

San Francisco boasts several highly regarded museums, and many of the museum sites are as famous as the collections themselves. The Legion of Honor is a three-quarter-scaled adaptation of the Palais de la Légion d’Honneur in Paris, perched high on the headlands above the Golden Gate, offering fantastic views of the bridge and the city as well as a wonderful collection. Reopened in 2005, the new de Yong Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco is an impressive modern building in the heart of San Francisco’s beautiful Golden Gate Park.

San Francisco is also renowned for its cuisine. The birthplace of California Cuisine, the city is also home to some of the best Asian, Italian, Mexican and fusion cuisine in the world. Wine lovers will not want to miss an opportunity to tour Napa Valley, which offers world-class wineries as well as exquisite restaurants by famed chefs such as Thomas Keller, Michael Chiarello and Masaharu Morimoto.

If you’re looking for the opportunity to visit this amazing city, Regatta returns to San Francisco several times in 2014. Because many cruises embark or disembark here, you can take advantage of Oceania Cruises’ pre- or post-cruise hotel programs and spend a few extra days exploring the city before or after your cruise. It will be an experience you will never forget!

Regatta in San Francisco:

August 14, 2013

A SECOND LOOK AT EPHESUS

DSCF0970 - Version 2There are certain places in the world that are worth revisiting because they are so rich in history and beauty. Ephesus is one of those places, and as Blogger-at-Large for Oceania Cruises, I had the great fortune of visiting this extraordinary archaeological site twice. Today guests onboard Riviera’s Sacred Sanctuaries voyage explored the ruins of this magnificent city.

Ephesus is 13 miles from the port city of Kusadasi and 10 miles from the Aegean coastline, so I was a little surprised to discover that this landlocked city was previously one of the most important ports in the world. As a result of the silting of the Meander River, what was once the bay had become marshland by the end of seventh century, and 60,000 people were killed by malaria from the mosquitoes. The town was rebuilt nearby, but because it was no longer a port city, it never regained its prior importance.

DSCF0961

During Roman times, the population of Ephesus was 250,000, making it one of the largest cities in the world. Most of the ruins that can be seen today were originally built between the first century BC and first century AD. Ephesus was uniquely positioned in both place and time to be at the center of perhaps the greatest evolution of religious philosophy in history. Sacred monuments in the city pay homage to the Greek goddess Artemis as well as the Apostle Saint John.

Ephesus is thought to be where Jesus sent Saint John and the Virgin Mary after his death. After being exiled to Patmos, where he wrote Revelations, John came back to Ephesus and died of natural causes at the age of 100. He was purportedly the only apostle who was not martyred. John was buried in Ephesus in the place where he died, and later the Basilica of St. John was built over his grave.

Meanwhile, the Temple of Artemis had been standing in Ephesus since centuries earlier. Even though only one column remains, you can still see the foundations of this magnificent construction from the Hellenistic period, which stand a few hundred meters from the primary archaeological site of Ephesus. While the ruins are sparse, it is nevertheless impressive to stand at the foundations of one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World and envision its past glory. The temple was four times larger than the Parthenon and had 127 columns, each standing nearly 60 feet high.

Ephesus was plundered by numerous invaders over the centuries, and marble from the Temple of Artemis was used to build the Basilica of St. John, which then later became a mosque. At any given point in history, Ephesus was under the control of the Greeks, Romans, Arabs, Ottomans and other empires.

Archaeologists have been excavating Ephesus since the 1890s. Among the many fascinating discoveries was the sophisticated water collection system that brought water from huge cisterns on the hill down into the city via clay pipes. This ancient city had running water!

DSCF0980 DSCF0981

I was astonished to find that original marble remains on the main road through the city, which leads down to the most famous edifice in Ephesus, the Library of Celsus. It took seven years to reconstruct the façade, 75 percent of which is original. First built in the first century AD in honor of the Roman senator Celsus, the library was destroyed by an earthquake in the third century and only the façade survived. It remained a monument until it, too, was destroyed by an earthquake.

DSCF0979 DSCF1006

The magnificent Great Theater is the largest Roman theater in Turkey and the best preserved in the world. 

DSCF1013-2

The acoustics in the theater are so advanced that it has hosted modern performers, such as Diana Ross, U2, Sting and Pavarotti, without the need for amplification. Overlooking what was once the harbor, it seats 25,000 and it is believed that Saint Paul preached here. Because most people were idol worshippers at the time, there were tradesmen, especially silversmiths, who made money selling idols. Paul’s preaching warned against idolatry and threatened the livelihood of these tradesmen, so he met with resistance and persecution during the three years he was in Ephesus.

DSCF1023

The center of Ephesus was relocated a few times during its long history, but remarkably, it stood at the location of this archaeological site for a millennium. Centuries of earthquakes and changing landscapes buried and protected these ruins so that today we can take an incredible journey back in time. Whether you visit once or many times, Ephesus always has more fascinating history to reveal, and I highly recommend any of the upcoming Oceania Cruises sailings that call on this amazing city.

The following voyages visit Ephesus in 2013:

 

 

August 2, 2013

THE AMAZING GEIRANGERFJORD

Guests onboard Nautica recently visited the incredible Geirangerfjord on Voyage of the Midnight Sun, and this weekend Marina’s guests will also have the opportunity to see this breathtaking destination on the Isles & Fjords voyage.

Just northeast of Bergen, Geirangerfjord is one of the world’s longest and deepest fjords and is considered an archetypal fjord landscape. Its exceptionally captivating beauty derives from its narrow canal flanked by steep-sided rock walls that rise over 4,500 feet above sea level and descend more than 1,500 feet below.

Geirangerfjord

The sheer walls of the fjord have numerous waterfalls, the most famous being the Seven Sisters. The falls are made up of seven separate streams, the tallest cascading from a height of 820 feet.

Water Falls in the Fjord
At the head of this nine-mile fjord is the little village of Geiranger, where Marina will stop on this journey so that guests can further explore this astounding fjord.

Highlights of a shore excursion in Geirangerfjord include Eagle's Bend, a viewpoint reached by a meandering road of switchbacks and hairpin turns that climbs to a fantastic vista of the scenic mountains and the fjord below. At Flydal Gorge, the view towards the fjord is also superb. The ship in the distance looks like a toy boat, giving you a perspective on the soaring height of the mountain cliffs that embrace the fjord.

Lupines overlooking fjord

Equally scenic is the lovely Djupvatn Lake. Usually covered by ice and snow until the end of June, the lake lies over 3,000 feet above sea level and is part of the Otta river system.

Lake Djupvatn fishing house Lake Djupvatn

Next year offers just a single opportunity to visit the magnificent Geirangerfjord, when Nautica sails there on Path of the Midnight Sun, which departs on August 2, 2014. Don’t miss the chance to see one of the most fantastic fjords in the world! 

 

Photos by Peter Pretty

July 22, 2013

NAUTICA GUESTS FOLLOW THE MIDNIGHT SUN

Guests onboard Nautica wrapped up a thrilling journey to the top of the world today on Voyage of the Midnight Sun, and to celebrate we are sharing photos provided by guests who have enjoyed this adventure in the past. Typically Oceania Cruises offers an itinerary that ventures this far north just once a year, and it is a special trip for guests who truly yearn to explore the far reaches of the world. Remote and indescribably beautiful, these northern ports offer a glimpse of untouched areas seldom seen by most travelers.

Kristiansand, the capital of Vest-Agder County in Southern Norway, is Norway’s fifth largest city, with approximately 90,000 residents. Founded in the 17th century by King Christian IV, the old section of the town is brimming with character, notably its strictly right-angled streets called kvadraturen in Norwegian. This photo of the shores of Kristiansand captures the quaint beauty of the city.

1 Kristiansand Shores

Equally as enchanting is Bergen, which has been one of Norway’s major port cities since the 9th century. On the Troldhaugen & Fantoft Stave Church Tour, guests enjoyed a fascinating tour of Bergen and the suburbs including a stop at Troldhaugen, the home Edvard Grieg, one of Norway’s most famous composers. The excursion also visited the stunning Fantoft Stave Church, originally built in 1150. After a fire in 1992, the church was reconstructed exactly like the original, using timber from the Sognefjord forests north of Bergen.

2 Bergen 2 Bergen Grieg's House

In North Cape many guests participated in a crab fishing expedition on a deep-sea raft in the waters near Sarnesfjord. King crabs can live up to 30 years, measure up to 6.5 feet between their claws and weigh as much as 22 pounds. The king crabs caught on this excursion weighed in the neighborhood of 10 pounds, and guests enjoyed a fantastic meal at the end of the day.

3 Cape North Giant Alaska King Crab 3 Cape North Giant Alsaka King Crab 2

3 North Cape Crab Excusion 3 Cape North Preparing crab for lunch 3 Cape North Preparig Crab 2

One of the northernmost towns in the world, Hammerfest is situated on Kvaløya Island. The modern town was completely reconstructed after it was destroyed in World War II. The Hammerfest and Sami Camp Walking Tour explores the streets of this beautiful town and also visits Mikkelgammen Sami camp, where guests learn about the history and culture of the Sami people. On this excursion guests were treated to a reindeer spotting along the way.

4 Hammerfest Sami Camp Excursion 4 Wild Reindeer

4 Sami Elder 4 Sami Herders

Surrounded by mountain peaks and glaciers that rise majestically from the Arctic Ocean, Magdalena Bay is embraced by absolute wilderness and is covered with ice most of the year. One of the most remote and exotic places in the world, the bay is renowned for its pristine beauty. Very few travelers ever make it this far north, which is why this cruise was especially exciting for Oceania Cruises guests.

5 Magdalene Bay

The journey ended in Copenhagen, the capital of Denmark since the 13th century. Far from being spoiled by modern developments, the city has done a remarkable job blending 20th century additions with the old world charm.

Copenhagen Canals

This unique cruise that makes its way to some of the northernmost destinations in the world is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and usually this type of itinerary is offered only once a year. Next year Nautica will journey north on the Path of the Midnight Sun, departing August 2, 2014. Don’t miss the chance to see some of the most remote and beautiful places on earth!

 

Photos by Peter Pretty

July 17, 2013

OCEANIA CRUISES ANNOUNCES ITS FIRST-EVER AROUND THE WORLD CRUISE

The year 2013 marks Oceania Cruises’ 10th anniversary, and we have been celebrating with a number of signature sailings and special events. Today we look forward to our next decade at sea with a new milestone: Around the World in 180 Days. The first-ever around the world cruise in Oceania Cruises history, this unprecedented, port-intensive voyage onboard the elegant Insignia sets sail from Miami on January 10, 2015, and circumnavigates the globe.

Insignia’s 180-day journey begins by visiting boutique ports in the Caribbean and then steers south to South America and east to Africa before heading to Asia, Australia, New Zealand, the South Pacific and Hawaii. Via the Panama Canal, Insignia returns to Miami on July 8, 2015. This extraordinary once-in-a-lifetime voyage will visit five continents, 44 countries and 89 ports of call and will feature 11 overnight stays plus 4 two-night calls in Cape Town, South Africa; Yangon, Myanmar (Burma); Singapore, Singapore; and Shanghai, China.

 

“As the leading specialist in destination cruising, we wanted to create a unique port-intensive voyage that reflects the dreams of the true explorer, rather than speed across the seas racing to the next convenient port as is the norm in a typical 100- to 110-day world cruise,” says Oceania Cruises President Kunal S. Kamlani. “By eliminating the 100-day time constraint, we freed ourselves to conceive a remarkable dream voyage designed to visit the world’s most fascinating destinations.” 

In addition to crossing the equator four times and sailing through all 24 time zones, the Around the World in 180 Days cruise will traverse three oceans and 10 seas, call on 45 islands and offer the chance to visit 47 UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Of the 89 ports visited on this extraordinary cruise, 13 are new to Oceania Cruises, including Corinto, Nicaragua; El Guamache (Isla Margarita), Venezuela; Langkawi, Malaysia; Santa Marta, Colombia; and Xiamen, China.

Bookings for the Around the World in 180 Days cruise open today and feature two-for-one cruise fares, free FIRST CLASS round-trip airfare and free pre-paid gratuities. Additionally, guests will receive free visa packages including visas for 16 countries, unlimited Internet and laundry service, luggage delivery, round-trip transfers and free onboard medical service, a first for the industry. Guests will also enjoy a one-night pre-cruise luxury hotel stay in Miami and free exclusive shoreside events in Walvis Bay, Namibia; Myanmar; Bangkok; Beijing and Honolulu. 

Early Booking Savings of up to 70 percent will be available through September 17, 2013. We hope you will join us on this journey of a lifetime!

July 7, 2013

ANNIVERSARY SAILING CELEBRATES 10 YEARS OF SPECTACULAR DESTINATIONS AND FINE CUISINE

Riviera Sorrento
Greetings from the Italian Escapade sailing onboard Riviera and the ongoing celebration of Oceania Cruises’ 10th anniversary. It has been a wonderful cruise so far, and I’ve enjoyed the opportunity to meet many of our past and first time guests. I couldn’t be more proud of the officers and crew who continue to make everyone onboard a part of the Oceania Cruises family.

DSCN1004-2Oceania Cruises was founded on the vision of a group of people with a passion for spectacular destinations and fine cuisine, and we are enjoying both as part of this anniversary sailing. In celebration of 10 years of culinary delights, Senior Executive Chef Alexis Quaretti and Bon Appétit Culinary Center Executive Chef Kathryn Kelly hosted a culinary demonstration. I welcomed guests to the event and shared a bit about the culinary history of Oceania Cruises before turning it over to the experts to share some of the secrets behind our exquisite cuisine.

DSCN1002

As we were celebrating 10 years at sea, it seemed appropriate that the chefs would prepare dishes from the sea. They demonstrated three guest favorites: Salmon Gravlax with Cucumber Salad, Poached Halibut with Lemon Cream Cuisson on a Quinoa Cake, and the ever-popular Red Ginger specialty – Miso-Glazed Chilean Sea Bass. It was both educational and heartwarming to see Chef Quaretti and Chef Kelly, two special members of the Oceania Cruises family, working together to share their knowledge with our guests and illustrating one of the reasons that our guests have continued to return to us for the past 10 years: the finest cuisine at sea prepared by some of the most talented – and entertaining – chefs in the culinary world.

DSCN1003 DSCN1006

Soon after the demonstration, Riviera dropped anchor in Sorrento with the impressive Mount Vesuvius looming in the background. Situated on a terrace overlooking the splendid Amalfi coastline, Sorrento is imbued with charm and echoes of the ancient past.

Sorrento
There are a number of appealing ways to spend a day in Sorrento, from going to see the ruins of ancient Pompeii to visiting the Blue Grotto in Capri to simply walking around the rustic, sun-drenched town of Sorrento. The Blue Grotto was on the bucket list of many guests, so a group of us boarded a ferry and headed to Capri for the afternoon.

The grotto is a uniquely beautiful sea cave on the coast of the island of Capri. A small opening in the cave at the surface of the water and a larger opening beneath the surface provide the only light sources. We entered the grotto through the small opening, just large enough for a rowboat to pass through. Inside the cavern itself was dark, but the water was illuminated with a brilliant blue glow. The effect was absolutely dazzling. It’s difficult to fully capture the beauty of the experience in a photograph, so if you haven’t visited the Blue Grotto, I highly recommend you add it to your own bucket list.

Image-1 Image

After a spectacular day in Sorrento, we returned to the ship and enjoyed an excellent dinner at Jacques. Then everyone gathered on the pool deck for a sail away party.

DSCN1024
Cruise Director Leslie Jon was emcee of the event, and General Manager Thierry Tholon led the entire crew in a parade around the decks. This was truly an emotional evening as the officers and crew of Riviera celebrated Oceania Cruises' 10th anniversary with our cherished guests.

  Leslie Jon Thierry Tholon  DSCN1038
I look forward to more celebrations with our guests, officers and crew, and I’ll share further stories here on the blog as our Italian Escapade continues.

June 6, 2013

ICONS OF THE ETERNAL CITY

Today both Nautica and Riviera are in Civitavecchia – the gateway to Rome. Traveling just an hour or so inland takes you to the Eternal City and all of its legends and wonders. Western society is rife with images that give us a notion of the grandeur of Rome, but until you visit, it’s difficult to truly conceive the immensity of the city.

Amidst the classical architecture and ancient relics sprout the trappings of modern man, from high-end fashion boutiques to souvenir shops selling aprons that make you resemble a gladiator. This mélange draws criticism from some visitors, but I actually feel a relative sense of harmony in the city considering its vastness. I enjoy grabbing a gelato and then rounding the corner onto a 17th century piazza that transports me back in time – or a forum more than two thousand years old that takes me back much further.

Image93D2A9CD-6AF2-4CA2-A871-79C668B3600F

I recently returned to Rome as Blogger-at-Large, and because I had already seen many of the historic monuments, I had a simpler plan this time: espresso, pasta, vino, gelato. But despite my intent to focus on culinary culture, and despite the rain that assured me this was a wise decision, I found myself drawn back to the city’s landmarks for another look. It just didn’t seem right to go to Rome without strolling by the Colosseum and tossing a coin in Trevi Fountain. This trip confirmed that, no matter how many times I visit Rome, I will always be awed by its icons, learn more of its history and discover new wonders.

On this trip I joined the Oceania Cruises excursion Rome on Your Own, which was great for those who have visited before. It provided transportation from the ship to the city and back, with the added benefit of an informative guide along the way who shared historical facts, helpful tips and a well-marked city map.

We were dropped off at the Piazza del Popolo, a large, impressive square that was a great starting point because from here Via del Corso led right into the heart of the city. Several of Rome’s most famous monuments are within blocks of this main street.

Image1397755C-13F6-43C3-9193-0D203DEC6BAE

Image0942CD07-0337-40E3-9700-559BCDE30939 Image5C2F5FF3-D209-4537-B513-22C1DEF67501

The fact that I wanted to visit some landmarks did not deter me from my original plan, and I began the day with a delicious cappuccino. Buoyed with espresso, I set off for Trevi Fountain, passing by the famed Spanish Steps during the first of several rain showers that day. Like the horses pulling the carriages, I donned my rain gear and forged ahead. The famed Trevi Fountain had to be my first stop so that I didn’t miss the chance to toss in a coin to ensure that I would return to Rome again.

LPS Espresso Trevi Fountain Trevi fountain 2

Trevi Fountaoin and LPF Spanish Steps

After tossing the requisite coin and taking a few minutes to gaze at the majestic fountain, I headed for the Pantheon. Once a temple to the Roman gods and now a church dedicated to St. Mary and the Martyrs, it is the best preserved ancient building in Rome. While hardly visible from the front of the Pantheon, its dome is one of the most impressive features. To this day it is the largest unreinforced concrete dome in the world. Its oculus is completely open, acting as the only source of natural light and also allowing in rain. It was remarkable to see the sunlight and showers falling from the heavens into the center of the church.

Pantheon panorama

Image23BE14EF-ECB1-4CC2-BD1A-2C764B1A7C20 Pantheon Outside

Pantheon Alter

Pantheon Inside

As I left the Pantheon, I was pleased to see it was time for lunch. On to the pasta and vino part of my plan! The Piazza della Rotunda in front of the Pantheon is surrounded by cafés, which one might assume are tourist traps because of their location. But while the prices may be a bit higher than a restaurant off the beaten path, the food I had there was delicious. And I was happy to pay a little extra for the view!

The Piazza della Rotunda 2

The Piazza della Rotunda 3

I’ve eaten twice at the café on the southwest corner of the square, and I confess I had the lasagna both times. If you like your lasagna with béchamel sauce, then the lasagna in Toscana onboard the ship can compete with just about anything shoreside. But while I love a good béchamel, I sometimes prefer to forgo the milk and butter in favor of a hearty tomato sauce in its purest form, and in that case, the best I’ve ever had was at the café on Piazza della Rotunda. If you’re in the mood for a white sauce, try the gnocchi with arugula and prosciutto, which is divine!

Lunch 2 Lunch

Having checked the pasta and vino off my list, I wandered for a bit and stumbled upon the lovely Piazza Navona with the Sant’Agnese in Agone church and the Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi by Bernini, arguably Rome’s greatest achievement in the fountain genre.

Piazza Navona Sant'agnese in Agone church

Piazza Navona 2

I continued south again and arrived at a work that is modern architecture by Roman standards, the Monumento Nazionale a Vittorio Emanuele II. This monument has met with some controversy since its inauguration in 1911 because an area of Capitoline Hill was destroyed to create it.

Monumento Nazionale a Vittorio Emanuele II

The Cordonata, a grand staircase designed by Michelangelo, led to the Piazza del Campidoglio atop Capitoline Hill, the smallest but most famous of the seven hills of Rome and the origin of the English word, “capitol.” Once the site of Rome’s holiest temples, the hill fell into ruin in the Middle Ages. Michelangelo was asked to redesign this ancient square in the 16th century, including the Palazzo Senatorio, which is now the city hall and is flanked by the impressive Capitoline museums.

Piazza del Campidoglio

At the base of the hill, I could see the Roman Forum, once the economic, political and religious center of Rome and home to some of the most ancient and renowned excavations in the city. Just beyond the Forum stood the Colosseum, the largest amphitheater in the world and the most recognized landmark in Rome. Coming from a country just a couple centuries old, I could hardly conceive of a structure that had been standing for a couple millennia, surviving both natural disasters and human plundering.

Forum Forum 2

Colosseum close

This iconic monument seemed an appropriate place to conclude my day and head back to meet the coach. I grabbed a gelato on the way and completed my culinary tour along with my historic one. I only hope that the legend of Trevi Fountain is indeed true, and that my coin will ensure that I return to this great city again!

April 26, 2013

50 DAYS AT SEA FOR 50 YEARS OF MARRIAGE

A few days ago I received an email from Peter and Pauline Pretty, loyal Oceania Cruises guests from Oakville, Ontario, sharing several photos from their 50-day Grand Voyage to celebrate 50 years of marriage. You may remember the Prettys from a previous blog post I wrote on their South Pacific cruise or from the article in the January 2013 Your World Your Way brochure. I couldn’t resist the opportunity to share their wonderful photos as well as congratulate them on this amazing milestone.

DSC07229

The Prettys feel at home on the ships of Oceania Cruises, one of the many reasons they return year after year, and celebrating such an important anniversary did not go unnoticed on this momentous sailing. Nautica General Manager Jason Gelineau arranged a special celebration at the Polo Grill, Pauline’s favorite restaurant, and the social director, Emmanuelle, serenaded the couple.

Of course, the best part of the Grand Voyage for these adventurers was the nearly two months spent exploring Africa and Asia onboard Nautica. As Nautica prepares to sail for Europe for the summer, the Prettys’ stories provide a lovely recap of some of the highlights of a wonderful winter season.

The Prettys got a feel for the history and culture of Mozambique during a tour of its capital on the Discover Maputo shore excursion. Stops included the Central Train Station designed by Gustav Eiffel, famous for conceiving the Eiffel Tower in Paris, and also the Museum of Natural History, Independence Square and City Hall. Highlights for the Prettys were the opportunity to observe semi-wild lemurs and a visit to a local market where they shared a moment with these adorable kids.

DSC07487 (1) DSC07495 (2)

In Colombo, Sri Lanka, the Prettys took the Ingiriya Tea Plantation shore excursion, where they got an insider’s look at how Sri Lanka’s most important cash crop is cultivated. They watched harvesters pick the fresh tea leaves – 65 to 75 pounds a day are collected – and saw how the leaves are processed. Afterward they enjoyed a freshly brewed cup of tea and were able to purchase some to bring home.

DSC07605 (1) DSC07618 (1)

The Prettys frequently enjoyed tea onboard the ship as well because afternoon tea is one of Pauline’s favorite activities. Longer voyages provide the chefs the time to really flex their creative muscles and create an extraordinary event even more splendid than the traditional teatime – the Grand Gala Tea Party. The pastries and cakes were not only beautiful to look at but scrumptious too. Jason and Emmanuelle were among the crew members who were in attendance to celebrate the special occasion.

DSC07653 DSC07635 (1)

DSC07638 (1)

Back ashore on the Scenic Phuket & Elephant Camp excursion, the Prettys had the chance to ride an elephant after enjoying an impressive show put on by the elephants and their handlers. In this photo the elephant is hoping that the Prettys will tip with bananas.

DSC07672

As a contrast to their adventures in the countryside, the Prettys also visited some of Asia’s grandest cities. Known as the “Garden City,” Kuala Lumpur is a modern urban environment with an abundance of greenery and beautifully landscaped parks. The Petronas Twin Towers, the tallest twin towers in the world, are an indelible feature of the city’s skyline.

DSC07746 (1) DSC07748 (1)

The Prettys also enjoyed a day exploring Singapore and the truly unique modern landscape.

  DSC07758

We’re so pleased the Prettys shared their photos and these wonderful highlights of Nautica’s season in Africa and Asia. If their adventures have inspired you, now is the perfect time to reserve a voyage for next season. Nautica will be back in Africa starting in December with Lands of Grandeur, and then in Asia starting in February with Pagodas & Palaces.

A special thanks to Peter and Pauline for sharing this special occasion with us, and congratulations on 50 years of marriage!

 

April 16, 2013

NUKU HIVA – VISIT TO TAIPIVAI VALLEY

Ancient legend has it that the god of creation promised his wife he would build a house in one day, so he gathered together land and created what is now known as the Marquesas Islands. All of the islands are named after parts of the house; Nuku Hiva is the roof.

Nuku Hiva - Visit to Taipivai Valley (32)

Guests onboard Marina recently enjoyed an overnight stay in Nuku Hiva, the roof of the gods, and got to see first hand why the ancient inhabitants of these islands would have come to believe that these islands were the home of deities. 

Nuku Hiva - Visit to Taipivai Valley (26) Nuku Hiva - Visit to Taipivai Valley (33)

Nuku Hiva - Visit to Taipivai Valley (40) Nuku Hiva - Visit to Taipivai Valley (47)

On the shore excursion Nuku Hiva – Visit to Taipivai Valley, Nuka Hiva’s spectacular beauty unfolded on an off-road adventure in the Taipivai Valley. One of the richest archaeological sites in the Marquesas Islands, Taipivai Valley was made famous by Herman Melville. After deserting his ship, Melville spent several weeks living with the Taipi people, and his experience became the inspiration for his novel Typee.

Nuku Hiva - Visit to Taipivai Valley (19) Nuku Hiva - Visit to Taipivai Valley (21)

One of the first stops was the island's main town, Taiohae. Located on the southern coast in the shadow of Mt. Muake, the town is situated in an ancient volcanic crater. Here guests visited the Cathedral of Notre-Dame of Marquesas, built with rocks from the six islands of the Marquesas. The woodcarvings inside are a blend of Marquesan art with iconic Christian symbolism, including a beautiful wooden pulpit.

Nuku Hiva - Visit to Taipivai Valley (4) Nuku Hiva - Visit to Taipivai Valley (8)

Nuku Hiva - Visit to Taipivai Valley (13) Nuku Hiva - Visit to Taipivai Valley (12)

Exploring Taipivai Valley, guests were treated to a beautiful drive on a steep trail, lined with lush vegetation, that took them through the island’s interior. Along the way, several stops were made to take in spectacular views of the coastline, bays and valleys.

Nuku Hiva - Visit to Taipivai Valley (22) Nuku Hiva - Visit to Taipivai Valley (34) Nuku Hiva - Visit to Taipivai Valley (30)

Amidst the stunning scenery, a light lunch was served with fresh local delights.

Nuku Hiva - Visit to Taipivai Valley (28) Nuku Hiva - Visit to Taipivai Valley (27)

A drive through Taipivai’s small agricultural villages ended at the picturesque shore village of Hatiheu with a curving black sand beach.

Nuku Hiva - Visit to Taipivai Valley (36)

If you have a yen to visit the house that the gods built, 2014 offers several options: South Pacific Isles, January 15, January 25 and March 26, 2014; Tahitian Pearls, April 5, 2014.

April 12, 2013

OFF-ROAD ADVENTURES IN BEAUTIFUL BORA BORA

The challenge of writing about the islands of the South Pacific is coming up with enough different ways to say “paradise.” Bora Bora is a lush, green paradise surrounded by unfathomably blue waters, and it’s little wonder why so many people dream of visiting this spectacular destination. Marina’s guests are currently enjoying their second day on the island following an overnight stay.

Bora Bora Off Road Adventure from Jessica - DTP (105)

Marina staff member Jessica Domm shared some photographs from a recent shore excursion, Bora Bora Off-Road Adventure, during which she accompanied guests on a thrilling journey to explore places only accessible via vehicles equipped for off-road travel.

Bora Bora Off Road Adventure from Jessica - DTP (112) Bora Bora Off Road Adventure from Jessica - DTP (128)

Guests enjoyed a drive through the small town of Vaitape on the shore of Pofai Bay with stops along the way to learn about the local flora of Bora Bora.

Bora Bora Off Road Adventure from Jessica - DTP (85) Bora Bora Off Road Adventure from Jessica - DTP (86)

Bora Bora Off Road Adventure from Jessica - DTP (88) Bora Bora Off Road Adventure from Jessica - DTP (89)

Bora Bora Off Road Adventure from Jessica - DTP (90) Bora Bora Off Road Adventure from Jessica - DTP (94)

The tour then ascended Pahonu Hill, offering spectacular views of Bora Bora’s natural harbor and Matira Beach. As Blogger-at-Large for Oceania Cruises, I’ve made fairly liberal use of the word “breathtaking,” but in this case the vibrant colors of the Bora Bora lagoon literally take your breath away. Because of the pristine clarity of the water and the varying depths of the lagoon, nearly every shade of blue you can imagine is represented here in its utter perfection. Some blues compete with the cerulean sky; others seem to be the fluid incarnation of a lapis lazuli or a turquoise gemstone. It’s difficult to stop snapping photos in a desperate attempt to capture the splendor, but if you visit Bora Bora, be sure to allow yourself some time to simply gaze at the spectacular scenery and savor the opportunity to be embraced by such wondrous natural beauty.

Bora Bora Off Road Adventure from Jessica - DTP (100) Bora Bora Off Road Adventure from Jessica - DTP (106)

Bora Bora Off Road Adventure from Jessica - DTP (99) Bora Bora Off Road Adventure from Jessica - DTP (110)

Some of the evidence of human history on Bora Bora stands in stark contrast to the island’s natural wonders. During World War II, Bora Bora was a US military supply base with 7,000 military personnel, and seven massive cannons were set up around the island to protect it from potential military attack. Guests on the excursion visited several of the cannons that are still standing in their original locations.

Guests also enjoyed a visit to a local pearl farm. Here they learned about the art of pearl farming and why the world’s best black pearls come from the atolls and lagoons of French Polynesia.

Bora Bora Off Road Adventure from Jessica - DTP (137)

One of the last stops was Antena viewpoint, which offered more stunning views of the sparkling waters, the outer reef that protects the island, and the smaller coral islands known as motus that dot the lagoon.

Bora Bora Off Road Adventure from Jessica - DTP (143) Bora Bora Off Road Adventure from Jessica - DTP (148) Bora Bora Off Road Adventure from Jessica - DTP (157)

If you haven’t taken a trip to paradise yet, 2013 and 2014 offer several opportunities to sail the South Pacific with Oceania Cruises: Pacific Paradise, December 28, 2013; South Pacific Isles, January 15, January 25 and March 26, 2014; Pacific Isles & Coral Seas, February 4, 2013; Marvels Of The South Pacific, March 11, 2014; Tahitian Pearls, April 5, 2014; Islands & Incas, April 19, 2014. While you probably won’t want to miss the opportunity to swim in the crystalline waters of Bora Bora, you also might consider a trip into the hills to take in some uniquely scenic views of the seascape, while also experiencing some of the culture and history of this gorgeous island.

Bora Bora Off Road Adventure from Jessica - DTP (151)

 

April 1, 2013

ANTIGUA: A BEACH FOR EVERY DAY OF THE YEAR

Named by Christopher Columbus after Santa Maria la Antigua, the island of Antigua was first colonized by Christopher Codrington in 1632. Long before the English arrived, the island is believed to have been settled around 3100 BC.

Antigua is one of two main islands in the Caribbean island nation of Antigua and Barbuda, which is said to have 365 beaches, one for every day of the year. After the sugar trade began to diminish, these beautiful beaches became the country’s new commodity, and visitors flock from all over the world to thaw out on one of the many pristine beaches on these gorgeous islands. During my last visit to Antigua as Blogger-at-Large, I was only able to visit a couple of these beaches, but I wish I had an entire year to explore them all!

DSC_0091

When visiting Antigua, the ships of Oceania Cruises call on St. John’s, the nation’s capital. One of the first recognizable sights on the city’s skyline is the beautiful white towers of St. John’s Cathedral. After being destroyed in earthquakes in 1683 and 1745, the current incarnation was built in 1845.

DSCF1772

DSCF1775

One of the most popular shore excursions from St. John’s is the Champagne & Lobster Catamaran Cruise. This excursion is a wonderful way to visit some of the most idyllic beaches of Antigua – and enjoy a fantastic lunch as well!

DSC_0284

DSC_0066

The crew of the catamaran greet guests just a short walk from where the ship is docked. The boat then cruises along the beautiful coastline of Antigua, making a couple of stops at secluded beaches along the way. There are ample opportunities to swim, snorkel, explore or just relax and take in paradise.

DSC_0010

DSC_0081

Antigua-2 Antigua-5

Of course, the highlight of the cruise is lobster fresh off the grill, prepared by the captain and his crew and complemented by a glass of champagne.

DSC_0218

DSC_0260

There are several other fabulous shore excursions offered on Antigua as well, including an opportunity to swim with stingrays, a tour of galleries dedicated to local artists and kayaking through the mangroves.

5

Nothing cures the winter blues like the blue waters of the Caribbean, and there are several sailings that visit St. John’s in 2013 and 2014. We look forward to seeing you onboard!

March 27, 2013

EXPERIENCING THE MAYAN MYSTIQUE

As snow continues to fall in many places around the world, Oceania Cruises’ Riviera is cruising in the warm waters of the Caribbean on the popular Mayan Mystique voyage. Guests are enjoying not only the beautiful weather but also the opportunity to explore some of the fascinating remnants of the ancient Mayan civilization, renowned for its fully conceived written language as well as remarkable advancements in architecture, math and astronomy.

Yesterday in Costa Maya, guests were treated to a wonderful day exploring Kohunlich, the magnificent, multileveled Mayan ruin best known for its Temple of the Masks. Kohunlich was settled in 200 BC, but most of the structures date from 250 to 600 AD.

1 2

Named after the Cohune Ridge where Cohune palm trees grow, the ruins include a sunken palace, acropolis, ball court and several courtyards. Kohunlich’s broad range of architecture, natural beauty and seclusion set it apart from the more widely toured sites in the area.

3 4 5

The main attractions are the large humanized stucco masks that flank the central stairway of the Temple of Masks. Built around 500 AD, it is one of the oldest structures at Kohunlich. In the 700s, the temple was covered with another structure, which protected the masks and left them remarkably well preserved.

6 9

Guests climbed the pyramid-like temple and got an up-close look at the 10-foot sculpted masks of the Sun God Kinich Ahau, while also enjoying stunning views of the forest surrounding the ruins.

7

After a remarkable day exploring Kohunlich, guests enjoyed a tasty lunch of regional favorites at the Lagoon Club.

8 10

A few days prior during Riviera’s call on Santo Tomas, several guests had the chance to explore the famed Mayan ruins of Tikal. One of the greatest Mayan cities known and studied to date, the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Tikal is nestled in the rainforests of Northern Guatemala. The journey to get to the ruins began on a chartered one-hour flight to the northern region of El Peten, followed by a scenic one-hour drive along forest-lined roadways.

10

After a one-mile hike through the rainforests surrounding Tikal, the Great Plaza comes into view. The magnificent architecture is still intact after thousands of years. Inhabited since the 6th century BC, the city reached its zenith from 200 to 900 AD. During this time Tikal was one of the most powerful kingdoms of the ancient Maya.

3 2

It took the University of Pennsylvania 13 years to uncover 10 square miles of the city, and much of it is still buried in the jungle. The city’s 3,000 structures are largely built with limestone, including temples that are more than 230 feet high, huge royal palaces, smaller pyramids, palaces and homes, as well as administrative buildings and inscribed monuments.

4 5

6 7

Following a fascinating day at Tikal, guests enjoyed lunch and beautiful views of Lake Peten Itza and the Island of Flores at the Maya International Hotel in Santa Elena.

8 9

Because of its immense popularity, the Mayan Mystique cruise will be offered several times in 2014 as well, with departures on January 3, February 2 and March 18. Don’t miss the chance to explore the magnificently preserved ruins of one of the greatest ancient civilizations.

March 18, 2013

THOROUGHLY MODERN SHANGHAI

Guests on the Pearls of the Far East voyage onboard Nautica had the opportunity to experience one of the most modern forms of transportation during an overnight stay in Shanghai. The Maglev Train & Pudong shore excursion includes a thrilling ride on the Maglev Train and visits the spectacular skyscrapers of the Lujiazui area in the new Pudong District.

Maglev Train & Pudong in Shanghai09 Maglev Train & Pudong in Shanghai08

Using groundbreaking German technology, the Maglev Train, short for Magnetic Levitation Train, is Shanghai’s newest, state-of-the-art high-speed train and what many believe to be the 21st century’s revolutionary mode of transportation. With no wheels, the train floats on an electromagnetic cushion and is propelled along a guide way using electromagnetic fields.

Maglev Train & Pudong in Shanghai04 Maglev Train & Pudong in Shanghai05

The Maglev runs 20.5 miles from Long Yang Lu Station to the Pudong International Airport and can reach speeds of up to 310 miles per hour. It regularly travels 268 miles per hour during daily service, making it one of the fastest commercial train services in the world. On an eight-minute ride to the Pudong Airport, passengers experienced the sensation of flying as the train instantly accelerated to maximum speed.

Maglev Train & Pudong in Shanghai02 Maglev Train & Pudong in Shanghai03 Maglev Train & Pudong in Shanghai01

Maglev Train & Pudong in Shanghai13At Pudong, guests disembarked for a fascinating tour of China’s financial center, which was developed from farmland only in the last two decades. Built in 1999 and towering over 1,300 feet above Shanghai, the Jin Mao building is the seventh tallest building in the world. From the 88th floor, guests had the opportunity to see the city from one of its highest vantage points, observing the iconic Oriental Pearl Tower and many others. 

Maglev Train & Pudong in Shanghai16

 

Maglev Train & Pudong in Shanghai17

Maglev Train & Pudong in Shanghai18

After enjoying breathtaking views of this thoroughly modern city, there was time to do more sightseeing in the area.

Maglev Train & Pudong in Shanghai12 Maglev Train & Pudong in Shanghai11

If you haven’t had the chance to explore some of Asia’s most exciting ports, including Shanghai, there are several opportunities to do so on Oceania Cruises sailings, including Pearls of the Orient on February 22, 2014, and Ode to the Emperors on March 10, 2014. We’ll look forward to seeing you on the high seas or perhaps high above Shanghai!

Maglev Train & Pudong in Shanghai19

March 14, 2013

PUNTA DEL ESTE, CHEF’S PATIO DINNER AND A CAVIAR BRUNCH ONBOARD THE REUNION CRUISE

Greetings from Brazil and the 9th Oceania Club Reunion Cruise. It’s hard to believe there are only 6 days left, and we still get to visit Porto Belo, São Paulo, Parati, Ilha Grande, Buzios and Rio de Janeiro.

The past few days have been extraordinary and full of wonderful experiences. On Saturday we visited the delightful city of Punta del Este, or the “Peninsula of the East,” where several of our Reunion Cruise guests took the exclusive shore excursion The Iconic Art & Flavor of Punta del Este. This lovely city on a scenic peninsula is known for its beautiful beaches. We started the day at Brava Beach where there is an open-air collection of sculptures, including the famous Mano de Desierto, or “Hand of the Desert,” by Mario Irarrázabal.

Brava Beach
Oceania Club Manager Nick DeSantis at Mano de Desierto

Our next stop was the Ralli Museum, which has several galleries all over the world. The first was established here in Punta del Este in 1988; the second in Santiago, Chile, in 1992; the third (Ralli 1) in Caesarea, Israel, in 1993; the fourth in Marbella, Spain, in 2000; and the fifth (Ralli 2) in Caesarea, Israel, in 2007. The Ralli Museums house one of the most important collections of contemporary Latin American art in the world.

Ralli Museum

Then we moved on to the Pablo Atchugarry Foundation, a nonprofit organization founded by renowned artist Pablo Atchugarry in 2007 to promote visual arts, literature, music and other creative pursuits. Atchugarry, a prolific artist, began sculpting when he was only eight years old and had his first show at age 11.

Before the end of the tour, we stopped for lunch at Finca Narbona, where we ate wonderful locally made cheeses and fresh cold cuts and enjoyed some delicious wines. Punta del Este is one of my favorite stops so far!

The following evening, we had a special Reunion Cruise Chef's Patio Dinner for a few of our guests who have sailed with us the most. It was hosted by Senior Vice President of Sales Michael Hirsch, Oceania Club Ambassador Cary Arias, Chief Purser Gurdep Besla, Human Resources Manager Maria Cormane and myself. The six-course meal was selected by Executive Chef Lisa Anne Jones and prepared by Sous Chef Thorsten Czap. We started with a crispy polenta with olive tapenade and cherry tomato confit, followed by a main course of either Chilean sea bass with palmito salad or roast veal rack with rosemary and glazed vegetables.

DSC00504

DSC00506 DSC00509 DSC00512

DSC00513

DSC00516

The dessert, chosen especially to celebrate Oceania Cruises’ 10th anniversary, was a Manjari chocolate bar with milky yuzu-flavored gianduja chocolate and hazelnut croquant. Everything was incredible. It was an evening to remember!

The next day we had another very special event – a caviar brunch in the Grand Dining Room. Everyone onboard had an opportunity to enjoy this delicious feast. There was a full brunch menu, including caviar, as well as complimentary mimosas and Bloody Marys. If you are on a Reunion Cruise in the future, I highly recommend attending this event. Everyone had a wonderful time!

DSC00517

DSC00521 DSC00525

Later that morning there was a one-hour Town Hall Meeting for guests that was hosted by Michael Hirsch, General Manager Carlo Gunetti and yours truly. The turn-out was great, with more than 100 guests in attendance. Cruise Director Leslie Jon moderated the Town Hall and asked our panel a variety of questions based on past guest feedback.

DSC00532 2 DSC00526 2

One request was that I talk about some of the exciting new features in our enhanced Oceania Club loyalty program. The new program started at the beginning of this year with the introduction of a new “Blue” level of membership, plus additional benefits for all existing levels. This information can found in the Oceania Club section of Oceania Cruises’ website, as well as in many of our brochures.

We still have a lot of planned activities for the remainder of the cruise, including an evening pool deck party and an Oceania Club cocktail party. We will also be honoring our 14 Silver level Oceania Club members and 56 Bronze members, 26 of whom will be receiving their Bronze pins! There are still more exciting days to come on the 9th Oceania Club Reunion Cruise!

March 10, 2013

NICK DESANTIS SHARES STORIES FROM THE OCEANIA CLUB REUNION CRUISE IN SOUTH AMERICA

Greetings from the 9th Oceania Club Reunion Cruise, sailing from Buenos Aires to Rio de Janeiro on the lovely Regatta! As manager of the Oceania Club, I am always so pleased to see past guests onboard with whom I have sailed before, and many have become dear friends. I also love meeting other Oceania Club members for the first time and having the opportunity to thank them for their loyalty.

In short, everyone is having a wonderful time and it has only just begun! Though a lot of work went into the planning of the cruise, one thing my team cannot control is the weather, but this has not been a problem because the weather in Buenos Aires was better than we ever could have planned. Of course, there are a lot of things we can control, so the day I arrived, Oceania Cruises Senior Vice President of Sales Michael Hirsch and I met with the senior staff to go over the itinerary, make sure we were all on the same page and see if there were any final details that needed to be ironed out. We all want this voyage to be unforgettable!

I was happy to find that there are a few members of the Regatta team with whom I've had the pleasure of sailing on previous Reunion Cruises: Captain Jurica Brajcic, Oceania Club Ambassador Cary Arias, Cruise Director Leslie Jon and Restaurant Manager Vladimir Cavic. Everyone understands what an important and fantastic event this Reunion Cruise is, especially in the year of our 10th anniversary, a milestone we attribute to the unprecedented loyalty of Oceania Cruises’ guests.

On our second day in Buenos Aires, we hosted one of the first Reunion Cruise tours, Discover Historic Buenos Aries. It was a half-day tour and included a stop at the Plaza de Mayo, the site of the salmon-colored presidential palace known as Casa Rosada with its famed balcony where Eva Peron once addressed adoring crowds.

Across from Eva buliding Eva Peron-Presidental buliding

We had the chance to sip coffee at the oldest café in Argentina where notables from Jorge Luis Borges to Albert Einstein once gathered. Before heading back to the pier, we explored El Zanjón de Granados, believed to be the site of Buenos Aires’ first settlement.

El Zanjon entrance El Zanjon 2 El Zanjon

To kick off our first night at sea, we gathered for an exclusive dinner at Toscana with most of our 70 Oceania Club guests who have reached the Bronze level or above. I had the pleasure of hosting three couples, all of whom have traveled extensively throughout the world (even beyond the 30-plus countries I’ve visited, which I once thought was an impressive total!). These three couples will be staying onboard for several subsequent cruises. In fact, there are about 95 guests staying onboard Regatta until the ship arrives in Miami in April.

Photo (18)

Starting from the left: Mrs. Dunn (Bronze), Mr and Mrs. Hopkins (Silver), Nick DeSantis, Mr. and Mrs. Lindley (Bronze) and Mr. Dunn (Bronze)


It was a truly wonderful evening, followed by a beautiful sunrise that greeted us in Montevideo the next day. I can’t wait to share more of our exciting exploration of the east coast of South America.

Sunrise 2 Sunrise in Montevideo

February 25, 2013

OCEANIA CRUISES LAUNCHES FIRST-EVER TV ADVERTISING CAMPAIGN

Today Oceania Cruises reaches another milestone in the company’s history. We are launching our first ever television advertising campaign. Airing on national networks in cities on the East and West coasts, the new 30-second spot begins running today and showcases the brand’s pillars of destinations, cuisine, onboard experience and value. 

The first scene opens on an Oceania Cruises ship at sea and highlights the experiences guests can “wake up” to every day, like visiting the Taj Mahal in India or the Meteora monasteries in Greece, whale watching in Alaska or a gondola ride in Venice. The ad transitions to the onboard experience and Oceania Cruises’ extraordinary cuisine, focusing on the freedom guests have to decide when, where and with whom they will dine.

 

The ad campaign is timed to coincide with the launch the 2014 Summer Collection, the largest offering in Oceania Cruises’ history. Unveiled on February 13th, the collection encompasses 90 voyages, an almost entirely new line-up of European itineraries and the highly anticipated return of Insignia. The five ships in the fleet – Marina, RivieraRegatta, Insignia and Nautica – will sail to more than 330 destinations throughout the world.

The Oceania Cruises family is always growing, and with this television campaign, we hope more people than ever will hear about the fascinating destinations, luxurious ships, exquisite cuisine and extraordinary value of the Oceania Cruises experience.

February 12, 2013

USHUAIA: A TRIP TO THE END OF THE WORLD

According to ancient human fossils found in Tierra del Fuego dating back 8,500 to 11,500 years ago, humans lived in this remote region long before it became known as the “Land of Fire.” The name “Tierra del Fuego” was coined by Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan in 1520 when his ships arrived at this southernmost tip of South America. It is thought that, in the mists of dawn, the dispersed fires and columns of smoke from the native populations seemed to float on the water, thus giving this archipelago its name.

Beagle channel (2)

Regatta recently called on Ushuaia, the capital city of the Tierra del Fuego province. Ushuaia is the southernmost urban center in the world and the closest city to the South Pole. In December and January, the region enjoys 17 hours of daylight. Despite its isolation and harsh conditions during the colder months of the year, or perhaps because of these things, there is a lot to see and do in and around Ushuaia. During Regatta’s recent visit, guests took an unforgettable trip on the Southern Fuegian Railway, also known as the End of the World Train, through Tierra del Fuego National Park to Lapataia Bay.

End of the World Train (14) End of the World Train (15)

End of the World Train (2) End of the World Train (9)

Completely cut off from the rest of South America, Tierra del Fuego was developed in the 19th century as a penal colony where Argentina sent its worst criminal offenders because escape was virtually impossible. The prisoners were expected to take care of themselves, and a railway was built to transport wood from the forests for heating and building.

End of the World Train (4)

Now a tourist attraction through this remote national forest, the unique train transports guests across rivers and peat bogs, the beautiful formations of peat moss for which this region is known. There was a brief stop at the Macarena Waterfall Station, where guests saw the lovely falls and also heard about Tierra del Fuego’s indigenous people, the Yamana.

End of the World Train (6) End of the World Train (11)

End of the World Train (10)

Arriving at Lapataia Bay, the group was met by a catamaran and treated to a cruise through Beagle Channel. These waters are among the best in the world for trout fishing, but on this day the cormorants, sea lions and seals were the stars of the show.

Beagle channel (14) Beagle channel (17) Beagle channel (15)

The cruise visited Les Eclaireurs Lighthouse, which is also known as the Lighthouse at the End of the World. Put into service in 1920, it guards the entrance to Ushuaia and is now controlled remotely.

Beagle channel (4)

Quite comfortable with tourists, the seals and sea lions on Seal Island and Isla de los Lobos went about their business of napping and playing, unaffected by the arrival of spectators.

Beagle channel (18)

Beagle channel (19)

Island of the Birds is home to cormorants and other sea birds and a few seals and sea lions as well.

Beagle channel (8)

Beagle channel (7)

Beagle channel (9)

There are numerous other thrilling adventures to be had at the end of the world for those looking to explore the majestic wilderness of South America. Marina will stop in Ushuaia on South American Holiday, which departs on December 8, 2013, as will Regatta on the February 3, 2014 sailing, Mystical Andes & Majestic Fjords.

DSC03081

 

January 7, 2013

TAKING IT ALL IN ON THE ISLAND OF TORTOLA

Image3279A7A5-625E-412A-9985-BEB60F531DA2We are having a bit of a cold snap here in Missouri, so when I saw that Riviera was in the British Virgin Islands on January 6, I pulled out the photos I took on my visit to Tortola for a little reminiscing. This particular photo was my favorite because I barely recognized my feet, as they have been bundled up in wooly socks and heavy boots for the last several weeks!

ImageEB788168-9CEB-4D34-8530-6BA1E0A3EC5EAs Blogger-at-Large, I have contributed several posts about the amazing places I have visited in the Caribbean on my travels with Oceania Cruises. Today I want to tell you about one of the most beautiful and peaceful beach days I have ever enjoyed.

But first, a little about the plethora of options guests have to explore from the port in Tortola. For those looking for adventures beyond Tortola, there are several island-hopping shore excursions that let you experience more of the British Virgin Islands. I have taken the Virgin Gorda & the Baths shore excursion and I highly recommend it. There are also several snorkeling or diving adventures available in the crystal blue waters that surround the island of Tortola, as well as excursions to its many gorgeous beaches.

ImageF17E0E09-0713-42C1-BF9F-42B7D84B55E0

For guests looking for something a bit more cerebral, there is a Historical Sites of Tortola excursion that will give you a sense of the history of this island and its people with visits to museums and important historic sites. Or if you’re traveling onboard Marina or Riviera, there is a Culinary Discovery Tour that visits an organic farm, where you select fresh produce that is used to cook a traditional meal in a yabba pot as you enjoy a beautiful day on the beach.

As wonderful as all of these options sounded to me, I decided to set off on my own adventure when I arrived in Tortola. I had heard that Cane Garden Bay had one of the loveliest beaches on the island, so that was my chosen destination. When we docked, there were taxis and vans available just outside the pier. I found a van to Cane Garden Bay for $8 per person each way, and once the van had enough passengers, it took a group of us to the beach.

Image58A2F544-BDB1-4E11-A423-4C214206F28A

It’s a bit of a wild ride over the mountains of Tortola to the other side of the island where Cane Garden Bay is located. It was incredibly scenic and by no means unpleasant, but you may prefer to take an Oceania Cruises excursion if you want to make sure you’re in a newer vehicle and that your travels are being monitored by the ship’s staff. It can also be difficult to find a taxi back to the ship, so if you venture out on your own, be sure to establish a time for your driver to pick you up and return you to the ship. If you want to ensure a carefree day at the beach, an Oceania Cruises shore excursion may be your best option.

ImageC9C97399-8F0F-45C2-800E-301E81FCF55E ImageC43CD5F1-F6C2-48DD-96D9-5BD40DC6C5F2

Because Tortola’s beaches are exceptionally gorgeous, the island is a popular place to visit. When we arrived, there were two ships docked, and I was told it might be crowded. I was pleasantly surprised when I found that Cane Garden Bay wasn’t crowded at all. In fact, the area where our van dropped us off was practically deserted. This is the most popular beach on the island, so for those looking for complete solitude, I have no doubt a secluded cove or deserted paradise is waiting to be discovered.

ImageA620BD7D-ABDD-4842-8078-99AA97A346C9 ImageBF2E1D7E-3605-4745-87F7-B93400F54D3B

For me, Cane Garden Bay was exactly what I was hoping for. The beach had several restaurants and bars just steps from the water and plenty of chairs to rent for $5. The bay was beautiful and the beach was exquisite – gentle waves, perfectly refreshing water and pure, soft sand from the beach all the way into the sea.

Image3C685BAB-93A0-4B53-956F-4796A4BF9CE6Image3CA89BCD-C54E-4346-815C-F52088FC118B

My day at Cane Garden Bay was the most peaceful beach day I’ve ever experienced. I was so thoroughly enchanted by the gorgeous beach, the beautiful scenery in every direction and the island life that I did absolutely nothing except enjoy it – I didn’t even take a nap or read a book! I relaxed on the chair and took it all in, occasionally taking a break to wade into the water for a refreshing swim and then return to my chair to dry off in the warm Caribbean sun.

Image9DC7E0D3-44FB-4AC1-A48E-80D01B9D6DD7 Image7BD68C95-FE64-4914-A260-38C9446F9ED8

After a truly perfect day relaxing on the beach, I met the van at the appointed time and returned to the ship. To all of you travelers out there escaping the winter cold in the warm blue waters of the Caribbean, I wish you as warm and as wonderful days as I had. To all of you who haven’t yet treated yourself to this experience, I hope you find the opportunity to visit this island paradise on a voyage with Oceania Cruises very soon.

December 31, 2012

A HAPPY NEW YEAR IN SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO

Riviera will be in San Juan for New Year’s Eve, and what a beautiful place to be on this day. As Blogger-at-Large, I recently had a wonderful time exploring San Juan and highly recommend taking advantage of one of the many cruises that stop in San Juan during the winter months.

DSCF1983

My first stop was the Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico. Housed in a stately building built in the 1920s, it was once the San Juan Municipal Hospital. It is one of the biggest museums in the Caribbean and holds a permanent collection of the most significant Puerto Rican art from the 16th century to the present. In addition, the museum offers numerous temporary exhibitions designed to support the visual arts heritage of Puerto Rico. If you visit, check out the museum’s website to find out what special exhibitions will be featured while you are there.

DSCF1939 DSCF1940

The museum has added several wings over the years, including a beautiful garden with sculptures by local artists that is naturally framed by trees and plants native to Puerto Rico, as well as water falls, koi ponds and native birds.

DSCF1935 DSCF1933

After a lovely visit to the museum, I headed to Castillo San Cristóbal, built by the Spanish from 1634 to 1790 to protect against attacks on San Juan. Designed specifically to guard against enemy approaches by land, the fort is on the eastern side of Old San Juan.

DSCF1943 DSCF1941

DSCF1944 DSCF1942

The largest fort built by the Spanish in the New World, it covers 27 acres and the views up and down the coast are truly breathtaking. In one direction was the white domed capital building of San Juan, in another, dramatic views of Castillo San Felipe de Morro, built 100 years prior to San Cristóbal to protect from sea attacks. Also along the banks stands the Santa Maria Magdalena de Pazzis Cemetery, the final resting place of many of Puerto Rico’s prominent residents.

DSCF1946 DSCF1950 DSCF1951

DSCF1948 DSCF1956 DSCF1966

The fort has an intricate system of tunnels that allowed Spanish troops to move around the fort unseen. The tunnels were also devised as a defense system and could be secretly loaded with explosives and set off if invading troops attempted to overrun the fort. Because this clever tactic was never used, the tunnels stand in good condition today and are safe for guided exploration.

DSCF1945 DSCF1962 DSCF1963

I spent the last part of my day wandering the streets of Old San Juan and taking in the sights and sounds of this beautiful city. Plaza Colón is a lovely memorial to Christopher Columbus, who landed in Puerto Rico in 1493. (In Spanish, “Christopher Columbus” is “Cristobal Colón.”)

DSCF1971 DSCF1972 DSCF1974

DSCF1982San Juan is an incredibly colorful city, and I was particularly charmed by its blue-tiled streets. The blue cobblestones, called “adoquines,” were used in San Juan in the 16th and 17th centuries. Cast in Spain DSCF1976 from the slag of iron furnaces, the bricks were used as ballast in the empty galleons of Spanish ships. When they arrived in Puerto Rico, they would dump the bricks and load the ships with plundered gold and silver for the trip back home. Time and moisture has given the bricks their bluish hue.

My adventures led me to my final stop at Old San Juan’s main square, Plaza de Armas. In the middle of the square, surrounding a fountain, there are four statues, all over 100 years old, that represent the four seasons. I guess they need some representation of the seasons here since it’s 85 degrees year-round in San Juan! The square was beautiful and bustling with daily life.

DSCF1978 DSCF1980

I bid a fond farewell to this delightful city as we sailed away, and the sail away itself was as lovely a part of the San Juan experience as being on shore. Judging by the number of fellow guests who joined me to watch the island fade into the distance, I would say that this is an occasion not to be missed.

DSCF1990 - Version 2

DSCF1991 DSCF1992 DSCF1993

DSCF1994 DSCF1995

DSCF1998 DSCF1997

DSCF1999

DSCF2002

To everyone celebrating onboard Oceania Cruises ships, and to all of you following the blog and dreaming of your next Oceania Cruises vacation, I wish you a Happy New Year! I hope to run into you on the high seas in 2013!

December 18, 2012

‘TIS THE SEASON TO EXPLORE THE MALDIVES

As winter sets in, Oceania Cruises ships are making their way to warmer climates, and Riviera isn’t the only ship visiting breathtaking beaches. Today Nautica is in Malé, Maldives, en route to Cape Town on one of the more diverse itineraries offered, Lands of Grandeur. The voyage takes a full month to explore from Dubai to Cape Town and everywhere in between.

Maldives (8) (Large)

The first and most obvious thing to mention about the Maldives is the beaches. A renowned vacation paradise, the Maldives is a chain of coral islands located on top of a vast mountain range in the Indian Ocean. The weather is almost always perfect, the water is as pristine as any in the world and the beaches are stunning. There are a couple of “beach escape” shore excursions that will take you to nearby island paradises. These are perfect for anyone interested in snorkeling and swimming in perfectly crystal clear blue waters or lounging in a beach chair amidst the beautiful scenery.

Dhonveli, Maldives (1) Dhonveli, Maldives (2)

Dhonveli, Maldives (3) Dhonveli, Maldives

The Maldives is mostly underwater so if you want to get a good look at the spectacular atolls, you’ll want to spend some time under the surface. You can do so without even getting wet if you explore in the comfort of the state-of-the-art submarine offered on the shore excursion Explore the Underwater World of the Maldives. You will descend 120 feet below sea level where you will enjoy thrilling, panoramic, up-close views of the colorful coral and exotic marine life.

Oceania - Maldives Submarine Experience (3) Oceania - Maldives Submarine Experience (1)

If you are interested in a deeper look at the culture and the history of this island chain, there is a City of Malé Walking Tour that explores the capital and some of its cultural and historic landmarks, including the Grand Friday Mosque built by the Sultan Ibrahim Iskandhar in 1656.

Maldives (Large)

Whatever your yen, there are plenty of options at this fabulous port. 

November 13, 2012

HAVING IT ALL ON THE ISLAND OF RHODES

As Blogger-at-Large for Oceania Cruises, I often encounter some particularly pleasant “dilemmas” when traveling at sea. A perfect example is when I recently awakened to find myself at the island of Rhodes on a beautiful warm sunny day. My dilemma was this: should I spend my day on the gorgeous beach frolicking in the indescribably blue waters of the Mediterranean, or should I explore the beautifully preserved ancient city of Rhodes, once home to Colossus of Rhodes, one of the Seven Wonders of the World?

I know this is quite an enviable challenge to face. Rest assured that I found a solution – I did both!

Walking distance from the pier where the ship docks, I found Elli Beach, a welcoming beach with everything a traveler would need to enjoy an afternoon in the sun and the warm Mediterranean waters. There are hundreds of colorful umbrellas for the fair skinned or sun shy, rented sun decks, beachfront taverns and plenty of delightful little restaurants.

P5260198 P5260181

If you haven’t fallen blissfully asleep in the warm sun or aren’t hypnotized by the gorgeous blue waters lapping gently at the shore, you can entertain yourself with the many other more adventurous activities like water sports, diving or beach volley ball.

P5260187.JPG P5260181

If you never make it off the beach, I seriously doubt you will live with any regret. That being said, I did not regret exploring the Grand Masters Palace in the old town of Rhodes.

P5260195.JPG P5260186

But first, let me address the Colossus of Rhodes, because if you are anything like me, you may be wondering, if it is so colossal, where is it?! A towering monument to the Golden Age of this island, the colossus was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Only one of these wonders, the Great Pyramid of Giza, remains relatively intact today. It took 12 years to build the Colossus of Rhodes, which is thought to have been completed somewhere around 290 BC. In 226 BC the statue crumbled in an earthquake, and for centuries pieces of the statue laid in the harbor. In the 7th century, Arabs captured the island and took all of the pieces of the colossus to Syria and sold it as scrap metal.

As the colossus now exists only in legend, I took a peaceful walk through the beautiful gardens just outside the Grand Masters Palace and enjoyed some lovely views of this historic site that still stands today.

P5260210.JPG - Version 2

P5260204

P5260207

P5260211 P5260213.JPG - Version 2 P5260214

The Knights of Rhodes built the Grand Masters Palace in the 14the century. Heavily fortifying the city, the Knights were able to successfully fight off invaders for over two centuries until the Ottoman Empire captured Rhodes in 1522. Under the Ottomans the palace was used as a fortress.

P5260236.JPG P5260243

P5260244

In 1856 the castle was destroyed by an enormous ammunition explosion and laid in ruins until the Italian Occupation of Rhodes in 1912. Rebuilt in a medieval style, the palace became a holiday residence for King Victor Emmanuel III and later for Benito Mussolini.

P5260221.JPG P5260222.JPG - Version 2

In 1948, after World War II, Rhodes was transferred to the Kingdom of Greece, and the Greeks converted the palace to a museum. It is now part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Medieval City of Rhodes.

P5260223.JPG P5260224.JPG P5260234.JPG - Version 2

What a lovely place for Nautica to visit on her final European port of call before sailing for Asia and Africa for the winter season. I can promise Nautica guests had no shortage of fascinating historic sites to explore and pleasant activities to enjoy during their stay. If the approach of winter has you eagerly planning a vacation for the summer of 2013, you should certainly consider an Oceania Cruises voyage that includes this lovely Greek island on the itinerary.

P5260247 P5260249.JPG


October 29, 2012

A TRANQUIL AFTERNOON IN CHARMING PROVENCE

Haystacks-in-provence-1888.jpg!Large
Haystacks in Provence by Van Gogh
If you have ever had the great fortune to find yourself in the countryside of Provence, you may have felt, as I did even upon my first visit, that there is something very familiar about it. This is undoubtedly because history’s greatest artists have painted these landscapes for centuries, and I have admired their work in countless books and museums. Traveling the winding roads
Mont-sainte-victoire-3.jpg!Large
Mont Sainte-Victoire by Cézanne
through the hills of Provence, it is immediately apparent why masters such as Cézanne, Van Gogh, Renoir and Matisse found such inspiration here.

As Blogger-at-Large, I recently had the opportunity to visit Provence, a popular stop for the ships of Oceania Cruises thanks to the charms of the port of Marseille and numerous other towns throughout the region. On this trip, I decided to join the shore excursion called Charming Castellet. I will try to minimize my use of the word “charming” here, but let’s just say the excursion was aptly named.

It was about an hour and a half by motorcoach from the port of Marseille to Castellet, and the drive through Provence was gorgeous. Along the way we passed vineyards, olive groves and quaint towns and farms.

Download

When we arrived at the base of the town, the views were stunning. As we began our walk up the road into the village, I knew I had picked the right excursion to try out my new camera. In the French countryside, I’m not sure it’s even possible to take a bad picture.

DSCF2142 DSCF2147

DSCF2150

According to records, Castellet has been in existence since at least 1030. Originally a walled town, some ancient ramparts remain, leading through old gateways to narrow cobblestone streets.

IMG_6034

Beautifully restored, brightly colored old houses line the streets and are accented with gorgeous flowers, vines and bright green foliage. It was everything that I had imagined a French country village would look like.

IMG_6028 IMG_6030 IMG_6047 - Version 2

IMG_6071 IMG_6018

DSCF2152

IMG_6070

Castellet is a popular tourist town, and delightful little shops can be found around every turn. Art galleries showcase local artists, and artisan workshops sell local pottery, ceramics, candles and leather crafts. Gift shops offer all the icons of Provence – lavender, herbes de Provence, olive oil, pastries – so I purchased all of my gifts for family and friends here! There are also plenty of adorable cafés and restaurants in which to relax and enjoy a cup of coffee or a glass of wine.


IMG_6062IMG_6075IMG_6076

As we meandered the streets, every corner unveiled another spectacular view of Provence. 

IMG_6023 IMG_6067 IMG_6026

IMG_6035As we approached the top of the hill on which Castellet is perched, we came upon the one church in Castellet and took a look inside. 

IMG_6036Near the church stood the Castellet castle built 2,500 years ago. The views from its position atop the hill made this castle ideally suited to keep a close watch on transportation routes thousands of years ago. Today the castle houses government offices, and in an era in which invasion is no longer a constant threat, the location now provides the perfect opportunity to simply relax and enjoy the scenery. 

IMG_6038 IMG_6043

I have seen sprawling ancient cities, grand historic churches and renowned museums on my European travels, and these are certainly experiences not to be missed. But there is another European experience that is equally enjoyable – leisurely exploring the charms of the little towns that dot the countryside, chatting with the locals, sampling their wares and savoring the extraordinary views under the warm summer sun.  

IMG_6050 IMG_6045 IMG_6072

Life tends to move at a hectic pace, and even when on vacation, we sometimes forget to slow down. So if your travels with Oceania Cruises offer the chance to meander the streets of one of the many quaint villages to be found along the shores and throughout the hillsides of Europe, I would encourage you to take that opportunity. I imagine you will be smitten as I was with the charms of Castellet. 

View-of-la-sayne.jpg!Large
View of La Sayne by Renoire


 

October 15, 2012

A DAY IN SEVILLE: THE AMAZING ALCÁZAR AND THE PATRON SAINT OF SAILORS

HotelNautica guests called on the beautiful city of Seville last week. As Blogger-at-Large for Oceania Cruises, I wanted to share some experiences from my recent shore excursion, Heritage of Seville.  

We docked in Cádiz on a bright, sunny morning, and the trip through the scenic Spanish countryside to Seville was a treat on its own. We drove through vineyards, olive and orange groves and farms where Spain’s bulls and horses are bred.

As we arrived in the city, we were greeted by altogether different but equally impressive scenery. Lavish mansions, ornate churches and elaborate government buildings lined the streets. Lush green palms and flowering bushes seemed to sprout from the sidewalks. I was instantly charmed.

Our first stop was the stunning Palace of San Telmo, currently the seat of the presidency of the Andalusian Autonomous Government. Constructed in 1682 as a school for orphaned children of sailors, it is a gorgeous example of Sevillian Baroque architecture.

One of the more captivating aspects of the building is the Churrigueresque entrance, which was completed in 1754. This Spanish Baroque architectural style features extremely elaborate sculptural ornamentation. The 12 sculptures on each side of the balcony represent the nautical arts and sciences, and the figure at the top is Saint Telmo, patron saint of sailors – an appropriate saint to pay homage to while on a cruise!

Palacio de Sa Telmo 3 Palacio de San Telmo 4

As we continued through the city, we had the chance to see the lovely Hotel Alfonso XIII. It was completed in 1928 for the Ibero-American Exposition of 1929, a world’s fair held in Seville.

Hotel 4 Hotel 5

Finally we reached the destination I had been most eagerly anticipating: the Alcázar. The oldest royal palace still in use in Europe, the Alcázar of Seville is an ornate Moorish citadel that has been the residence of Spanish royalty since the Middle Ages. The outer walls and portions of the interior are part of the original Moorish fortress.

Lion's Gate 

The stunning Hall of the Ambassadors, one of the main rooms used for public events and affairs of state, is one of the areas remaining from the original palace, so the walls date from the 11th century. This is the room where Ferdinand and Isabella welcomed Columbus upon his return from his first voyage to the New World.

Ambassador's Hall

I was mesmerized by the intricately detailed mosaics and the interesting mix of Moorish and European styles throughout the palace.

Ornate detail 2 Ornate detail 1

Ornate detail 3

The Courtyard of the Dolls is the focal point of the private section of the palace, and the patio leads to bedrooms and private halls. The hall is surrounded by a gallery with marble columns and Arab-influenced lobed arches.

Courtyard of Dolls 3 Courtyard of Dolls 4

The gardens surrounding the Alcázar are just as enthralling as the palace buildings. Our guide clearly recognized that this was the perfect place to enjoy a beautiful day, and she gave us some free time to stroll through the gardens at our leisure.

Garden of El Estanque 2 Gardens 4 Gardens 5

Garden of El Estanque 3 Garden of El Estanque3 Gardens 2

From the Courtyard of Flags at the Alcázar, there is a perfect view of the Giralda, a minaret that was converted into a bell tower for Seville Cathedral, the next stop on our itinerary. Completed in 1198, the tower is over 300 feet high and was one of the most important symbols of the medieval city.

DSC04568   DSC04575

The largest Gothic cathedral and third largest church in the world, Seville Cathedral was completed in the early 16th century. Along with the Alcázar, the cathedral is a registered UNESCO World Heritage Site, and it is the burial site of Christopher Columbus. The astonishingly large building was constructed on the former site of a grand mosque, parts of which were preserved, including the Giralda and the Moorish entrance. Both the size and the stonework are truly breathtaking.

Cathedral DSC04576

DSC04578 DSC04580 DSC04586

At the end of the excursion, we were given time to explore on our own, and after all the walking around, I was ready for some jamón Ibérico! I found a delightful little café and enjoyed the afternoon sun and a taste of Spain. As I sat completely sated after an incredible day of sightseeing and a delicious meal, I couldn’t help but think that Seville is my newest favorite place in the world.

DSC04589

September 27, 2012

A VISIT TO MYSTICAL MONT SAINT-MICHEL

Archangel-michaelAccording to legend, Archangel Michael appeared to St. Aubert in 708 A.D. and asked him to build a monastery atop the rocky islet of what is now called Mont Saint-Michel. When Aubert repeatedly ignored his instructions, a frustrated Michael finally burned a hole in Aubert’s skull with his finger. And thus the phrase, “You don’t have to ask me twice,” was born.

As Blogger-at-Large for Oceania Cruises, I took a fantastic shore excursion, Mystical Mont Saint-Michel, to this beautiful monastery built in the 8th century on an island just off the shore of France. Many guests onboard Marina enjoyed this excursion last week, and many more onboard Nautica will have the opportunity when she calls on Saint-Malo next week.

Saint-Malo is a lovely walled town with a fascinating history. I hope to be able to return and spend more time in Saint-Malo itself, especially because I heard rumors of restaurants famous for fresh seafood, crepes and other French specialties!

P1010203 - Version 3

But as a first time visitor to this area, I knew I would be making the short trip to Mont Saint-Michel, “a sublime thing, a marvelous pyramid,” as it was aptly described by Victor Hugo. I had dreamed of visiting this mystical place since I first learned of it in French class in high school. Like so many others, I was moved by the spectacular silhouette of this monastery perched in solitude on a rocky mount.

P1010133

Because the entire area is surrounded by vast, low-lying marshland, the iconic view of Mont Saint-Michel rising dramatically from the mist is visible from miles away. My first glimpse of the monastery was as impressive as I had imagined it would be. As we approached, the haze enveloping the abbey lifted, and the edifice grew even more imposing and inspiring as it sparkled in the bright summer sun. 

P1010139 - Version 2

Mont Saint-Michel is almost as famous for its tides as its monastery. The tides here are the highest in Europe. They vary greatly – roughly 46 feet between high and low tide – and can change very quickly. 

P1010162 - Version 2

As this has always been an important pilgrimage site, a causeway was built to allow pilgrims easier access to the island. This dramatically altered the flow of water in the area and led to the silting of the bay. As a result, Mont Saint-Michel is no longer surrounded by water.

P1010134A dam project, scheduled to be completed in 2015, will clear out the accumulated silt and allow tidal waters to once again flow freely around this tiny island. Visitors will no longer park at the foot of the island, so the hoards of cars and buses will not sully the view of the revered mount. Instead a separate parking lot will be built, and visitors will be shuttled to the island over a bridge.

The salt meadows surrounding the area create the ideal environment for grazing sheep – 30,000 to be exact! Salt meadow lamb is a prized delicacy served in the local restaurants, as the lambs’ high salt intake creates an especially tender and flavorful meat. 

P1010137

After navigating the sheep, we arrived at the base of Mont Saint-Michel, following in the footsteps of the millions that have flocked to this place of pilgrimage over the centuries. The site is so revered that many of the faithful settled at the foot of the mountain. Half-timbered houses were constructed, and eventually a village grew up below the abbey. Today the village is home to adorable little cafés, restaurants and souvenir shops. 

P1010147 P1010150 - Version 2

A narrow cobblestone street winds through the village and up the incline to the abbey. Our guide for the day was Gil, an expert host with an encyclopedic knowledge of the region, and as we climbed, he did a wonderful job of bringing the abbey to life with stories of its fascinating history.

P1010170 - Version 2

Its location along the English Channel meant that Mont Saint-Michel held not only religious significance but also strategic significance to the various powers that ruled the region over the centuries. After the Norman conquest in the 11th century, the larger Romanesque church of the abbey was constructed. Following a devastating fire in the 13th century, the abbey underwent repairs, and a Gothic-style refectory and cloisters were added.

P1010160 - Version 2 P1010178
P1010143

The diverse architectural styles along with the natural rock are what make the abbey so extraordinary, both visually and historically. Here Gil points out one of the original walls of the monastery.

Attachment-505741281

During the French Revolution, monasticism was abolished. The abbey was closed and converted into a prison to hold clerical opponents and other high-profile political prisoners. At this time a giant wheel was constructed, and prisoners were forced to turn the wheel to operate an enormous pulley that lifted loads of stone and supplies up the mountain.

P1010184 P1010185

P1010187 - Version 2

Gargoyles adorn most of the walls and were added to divert water from the building, which seems like a far more visually interesting solution than the current gutters that frame the eaves of my house.

P1010181 P1010182

Even with the throngs of tourists that visit Mont Saint-Michel each day, the abbey inspires a sense of peace. Every aspect of the architecture – the vaults, the arches, the famous spire – was deliberately designed to turn your gaze upward toward the heavens. And when you reach the abbey’s highest point and direct your gaze downward to the sprawling countryside below, the views are equally breathtaking.

P1010180 P1010186

After visiting this remarkable place, I found myself incredibly grateful that St. Aubert finally got the hint! As reluctant as I was to leave, the tide was coming in, as if to say that my home on the sea was beckoning. I returned to the ship with memories of Mont Saint-Michel that I will cherish forever.

 

September 7, 2012

A THOROUGHLY MODERN EXPERIENCE IN VALENCIA

As Blogger-at-Large for Oceania Cruises, I recently had the pleasure of sailing to Valencia onboard Riviera. Here I spent a wonderful day exploring the Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias, or City of Arts and Sciences, one of the most famous modern tourist destinations in Spain. The structures here, designed by Santiago Calatrava and Félix Candela, were as fascinating as the events happening inside of them. Built as an entertainment-based cultural and architectural hub of the city, the complex offered a blogger with a camera the chance to completely lose herself. It truly was photogenic from every angle.

IMG_6455 Complex IMG_6459Complex

DSCF2163 ComplexDSCF2158 Complex

IMG_6336 DSCF2164 Complex

The Hemisfèric is an IMAX theater designed to resemble an eye. The centerpiece of the complex, it was the first building to be completed in 1998. The exterior of the building, or the eyelid, actually opens to access the water and reveal the dome, or the pupil of the eye, which is the theater. Surrounded by water, the bottom of the pool is glass, creating a reflective illusion that the eye is whole. 

Valencia City of Arts and Sciences

DSCF2160Hemisferic

El Museu de les Ciències Príncipe Felipe was built to resemble the skeleton of whale. This interactive museum aims to entertain visitors while educating them about science, the environment and technology. It opened in 2000 and quickly became one of the most visited attractions in Spain, in large part because it is perfect for kids of all ages.

IMG_6458 IMG_6296

Looking like something out of a Star Trek battle, Palau de les Arts Reina Sofia is the tallest opera house in the world. The company attracts major names from the world of opera, including Plácido Domingo, who performs there regularly. There are four separate performance halls, and performances are usually held on Saturdays and Sundays.

DSCF2167

DSCF2161 Opera House

L’Agora is a striking multi-purpose event space that can seat as many as 6,000 people. Officially inaugurated in 2009, it was opened to host the Valencia Open 500 Tennis Tournament. When completed, the fixed roof will be covered with glass panels, and the lower section will be covered with opaque panels of Valencian mosaics. 

IMG_6340

En route to the oceanographic museum, I meandered through L’Umbracle, a gorgeous landscaped walk with native and tropical flora that change according to the seasons. The garden is surrounded by 99 palm trees, 78 small palm trees, 62 bitter orange trees, 42 varieties of shrubs native to Valencia, 16 beauty of the night plants, 450 climbing plants, including honeysuckle and hanging bougainvillea, 5,500 carpet plants and 100 aromatic plants, such as rosemary and lavender. And I thought weeding my flowerbed was backbreaking work!

IMG_6297 IMG_6303

IMG_6302

Built on 17,500 square meters, L’Umbracle allows visitors to admire the views of all the buildings, lakes, walkways, and landscaped areas of the whole complex. Much of the garden is canopied by the 55 fixed arches and 54 floating arches that stand a little over 59 feet high. In contrast to the natural surroundings is an exhibition of contemporary sculptures by internationally known artists including Yoko Ono. 

IMG_6300 IMG_6299

After L’Umbracle, the rest of my day was spent at the truly impressive L'Oceanogràfic, Europe’s largest aquarium. Containing re-creations of all of the world’s primary marine habitats, each building is identified by its ecosystem: the Mediterranean, Wetlands, Temperate and Tropical Seas, Oceans, the Antarctic, the Arctic, Islands, and the Red Sea, plus the added bonus of the Dolphinarium. 

IMG_6310 IMG_6311

IMG_6315 IMG_6316

The aquarium is enormous, and after a leisurely trip through all of the ecosystems, I had experienced over 45,000 examples of 500 different species of marine life. But what was even more impressive was how the aquarium was designed to give visitors a truly unique understanding of the different species through the architecture and layout of the buildings, the lack of visual barriers, the superb educational components, the huge aquarium tanks and the amazing underground tunnels, the longest of which spanned more than 70 yards. I felt as if I had somehow explored the oceans and seas of the entire world in a single afternoon. 

IMG_6361
Walking with sharks.
IMG_6352
Walking underneath sharks.

 

IMG_6354
Mola mola: A face only a mother could love.
IMG_6349
Weird scary shark (scientific name: angel shark)

 

IMG_6367
Seals at play.
IMG_6371
Seal being cute.

 

IMG_6383
For some reason I started humming The Little Mermaid soundtrack...
IMG_6382
The starfish section is waiting for its cue.

 

 

IMG_6435
The rhythm section.
IMG_6400
Jellyfish the way I like them... behind glass.

 

IMG_6428
I took a dozen photos of this beautiful bird. Not everyone can pull off red and black.
IMG_6408
    I am pretty sure this eel was flirting with me.

 

“Aquarium” seems a woefully inadequate word to describe this amazing museum, and I was so engrossed I failed to realize that the time for Riviera’s departure was imminent. Luckily, the berth was immediately adjacent to the city, so I needed little time to return to the ship and was able to savor every last moment in this fascinating port of call.

IMG_6456 Agora

Riveria will return to Valencia just a few days from now, and I wish I were returning with her! On this trip, I was so intrigued by the City of Arts and Sciences that I did not get to visit the famous Central Market and the Plaza de la Reina with its renowned cathedral. Hopefully I’ll have the chance to return and explore the other side of Valencia, the historic city center that will offer the perfect contrast to my thoroughly modern and thoroughly enjoyable experience at Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias.

Valencia Cathedral Valencia Mercado Central

August 30, 2012

A TRIP BACK IN TIME IN TALLINN

IMG_4412 Armor w Oceania SignvcOn Marina’s recent stop in Estonia, guests visiting the Old Town at the heart of Tallinn were greeted appropriately by this knight in (not so) shining armor. On the UNESCO World Heritage list, Tallinn is considered one of the best-preserved medieval town centers in Europe. With cobblestone streets and beautifully preserved buildings dating from the 11th century and earlier, it is easy to be transported to a different time.

Many of the state buildings, churches and original residences date from the medieval period and have been preserved in their basic original form. The cobbled square has been at the heart of Tallinn life since the 11th century and is dominated by one of the most famous symbols of Tallinn, the Gothic town hall, dating from the early 14th century. The town hall has been meticulously preserved down to the ornate dragon rainspouts. 

IMG_4548

IMG_4569 Dragon Water Spouts

A particularly delightful aspect of the Old Town is the little shops and open-air markets where visitors can buy local handmade crafts like these hand-knitted sweaters and pullovers with traditional Estonian folk patterns and these souvenir bells with hand-painted scenes of Tallinn.

IMG_4630 IMG_4409 Souvenirs

One of the more popular attractions in Old Town is the 19th century Russian Orthodox cathedral, Alexander Nevsky Cathedral. Slightly out of place in this medieval city, it has been viewed by locals as a symbol of Estonia’s history of oppression and was nearly torn down in 1924 during a brief period of independence. After neglect during Soviet rule, the Cathedral was restored to its former beauty and now this classic onion-domed cathedral serves as one of Tallinn’s more famous tourist icons.

IMG_4399vcA Nevsky Cathedral

To get above the scene, guests visited Toompea Castle atop Toompea Hill. The original wood structure was built in the 9th century, and the stone structure was added in the Middle Ages. Substantially reconstructed over the years, it still retains its original shape and currently is home to the Estonian Parliament. Near the castle, there were archery pits set up for visitors to take target practice, offering insight into the peaceful and relaxed atmosphere of this region, for how often does one find weapons available for public use in close proximity to a government building?

IMG_4393 Toompea Castlevc IMG_4506vc Archery Pits Toompea Castle

The views from Toompea Hill of the Old Town and its beautiful colorful buildings with red roofs were gorgeous on an equally gorgeous day.

IMG_4477vc IMG_4489vc

Guests also visited the oldest church in Tallinn and mainland Estonia, Toomkirk, also called St. Mary’s Cathedral. Originally a Catholic cathedral, it became Lutheran in the 1500s and now belongs to the Estonian Evangelical Lutheran Church. Established in the 13th century by the Danes, the Baroque dome was not added until the 18th century. Over a hundred medieval coats of arms line the interior walls of the church.

IMG_4424St Mary's Toomkirk Churchvc IMG_4451 Church Interior

No trip back to medieval times would be complete without fire breathing and a meal inspired by ancient history. At Old Hansa Restaurant, guests are treated to a medieval-themed experience with servers in medieval dress and music and entertainment from centuries ago. The food was simple and delicious: fresh baked bread, Hansa House smoked herring, juniper cheese spread and dark honey beer in a big ceramic tankard (what Old Hansa calls women’s size!).

IMG_4601 Fire Breather IMG_4611 Food

Tallinn was a lovely escape into the past, made all the more wonderful when Marina guests returned to their thoroughly modern, immensely comfortable home on the sea.

 

Photos by Vanessa Cordo

August 22, 2012

AN EVENING FIT FOR ROYALTY AT THE WINTER PALACE

During a recent stop in St. Petersburg, guests onboard Marina were treated to a unique experience on an excursion called Musical Evening at the Hermitage. One of the oldest and largest museums in the world, the State Hermitage Museum sees approximately 2.5 million visitors a year. That is an average of about 8,000 visitors a day! So you can imagine how decadent it must have felt to be the only visitors in the building on this exclusive shore excursion.

The spectacular Winter Palace that houses the Hermitage was made all the more grand by the absence of the usual crowds. Constructed on a monumental scale, it was intended to embody the power of Imperial Russia, which encompassed almost one-sixth of the earth’s landmass and over 125 million subjects at the time the palace was built in the early 18th century. The clock tower bells that chime on the hour and half hour greeted the group for what was to be an extraordinary evening.

IMG_5560 IMG_5323

The private tour began at The Main Staircase of the Winter Palace (also known as the Jordan Staircase) where the world’s dignitaries were greeted for state receptions and functions over a century ago. Restored according to the original designs after a devastating fire in 1837, the staircase is one of the only areas of the palace that has retained the original 18th-century style. The painted ceiling depicts the Gods of Olympus, and alabaster statues welcomed the evening’s visitors.

IMG_5336

IMG_5340 IMG_5345

After passing through The Memorial Hall of Peter the Great, the tour made its way to The Armorial Hall, once used for official ceremonies. With huge gilded columns, bronze chandeliers and stucco coats of armor framing the cavernous room, the effect was breathtaking.

IMG_5350

IMG_5351 IMG_5352

Emperor Alexander I created The War Gallery of 1812 to honor the generals who defeated Napoleon in the Patriotic War of 1812. When these portraits were hung, every citizen in Russia knew the names of these generals, 17th-century celebrities who fought valiantly in the war.

IMG_5353

IMG_5357The St. George Hall, or the Large Throne Room, is one of the largest rooms in the Winter Palace and home to the throne of the Emperor. Regarded as the throne of Russia, the velvet throne is emblazoned with the imperial coat of arms and the crowned double-headed eagle. The scene of  many of the most  IMG_5360
formal ceremonies of the imperial court, it was most notably the location of the meeting of the First State Duma, which marked the first time ordinary citizens were allowed into the palace in substantial numbers.

After a quick peek at the Hanging Garden through the windows, guests entered The Pavilion Hall with its 28 exquisite crystal and gold chandeliers and the visitor favorite, Peacock Clock.

IMG_5371

IMG_5372 IMG_5380

IMG_5381

Next stop was The Rembrandt Room with 23 works by the famous Dutch master, including some of his more famous masterpieces: The Return of the Prodigal SonPortrait of an Old Jew and Danaë.

IMG_5391
Portrait of an Old Jew
IMG_5390
Return of the Prodigal Son
 
IMG_5392
Danaë

 

A particularly exciting moment of the tour was The Leonardo Room where guests were able to view two highlights of the museum’s collection. Of the few oil paintings by Leonardo da Vinci in the world, two can be seen at the Hermitage: Benois Madonna and The Litta Madonna.

IMG_5402 Benois
Benois Madonna
IMG_5409 Litta
The Litta Madonna

The group was then momentarily transported to Rome upon entering The Raphael Loggias, a meticulous reproduction of the famous 16th-entury gallery in the Vatican Palace. Under his supervision, Raphael’s pupils painted the walls and vaults according to his sketches.

IMG_5418 IMG_5415

IMG_5431One of the museum’s masterpieces and the only work by Michelangelo in the Hermitage is the sculpture Crouching Boy in The Italian Cabinet. Unfinished, it is thought to have originally been designed for a chapel in Florence.

IMG_5449After taking in the art of many of the great Flemish and Dutch masters, guests entered The Small Italian Skylight Hall, one of three top-lit halls, to enjoy Italian art of the 16th and 17th centuries, including The Lute Player by Caravaggio and works by Tintoretto.

After the private tour of some of the highlights of this remarkable museum, everyone was able to take a seat and soak in the atmosphere of the evening with a concert performed by the State Symphony Orchestra of St. Petersburg in the largest of the three skylight halls, The Large Italian Skylight Hall. Surrounded by magnificent works of art by 17th- and 18th-century Italian artists, the orchestra brought the museum alive with works by Mozart, Faure and Tchaikovsky.

 

IMG_5450 IMG_5451

IMG_5455

IMG_5457

As if that weren’t enough for one evening, the tour ended in The Gallery of the History of Ancient Painting where guests sipped champagne and witnessed Cupid bringing his love back to life with a kiss in Canova’s sculpture Cupid and Psyche.

IMG_5511

Three Graces by Finelli bid the group a fond farewell as they left the museum. Although it was 10 p.m., it was barely dark outside. Guests were able to snap some final photos of the empty Palace Square and The Alexander Column, named after Emperor Alexander I and erected as a monument to Russia’s victory in the war with Napoleon’s France.

IMG_5532 IMG_5536

IMG_5540 IMG_5551IMG_5546

IMG_5550

The private event at the Hermitage was remarkable, and everyone left with treasured memories of a truly one-of-a-kind experience.

A special thank you goes out to Vanessa Cordo of Oceania Cruises for sharing these photos and video of the Musical Evening at the Hermitage.

July 20, 2012

68 AND SUNNY IN ST. PETERSBURG TODAY!

As the unrelenting heat continues across the United States, it seems like the perfect time to get away with Oceania Cruises in search of a summer adventure and relief from triple-digit temperatures. 

As Blogger-at-Large, I pay close attention to Oceania Cruises' Facebook and Twitter posts on #WhereintheWorld are our ships today?. I couldn't help but get a little nostalgic when I saw that Marina made a recent stop in St. Petersburg, Russia, one of my favorite cities. 

After founding St. Petersburg in 1703, Peter the Great helped build this city of grandeur. It served as Russia's imperial capital almost continuously from 1713 until 1918. Nearly five million people call St.

Kevin 2 004Petersburg home today, and the city is a mere six degrees latitude from the Arctic Circle, making it the largest city in the world in such a northerly location.

The day I visited, our Oceania Cruises shore excursion began at Saint Isaac's Cathedral, the largest Russian Orthodox Cathedral in the city. It's hard to believe that the design of this building was originally criticized by some as dry and boring. During World War II, the dome was painted gray to avoid the attention of enemy aircraft. Fortunately, it worked, and even more fortunately, today all traces of gray are gone!

Our next stop was the Peter and Paul Fortress, the final resting place of Russia's tsars. From Peter the Great to Tsar Nicholas II, emperors and empresses were entombed in this cathedral, elaborately decorated in gold and marble. You would never know by looking at it that this was once a prison for high-ranking political prisoners. Famous inmates include Fyodor Dostoevsky and Leon Trotsky.

Kevin 2 014

Kevin 2 021 Kevin 2 022 Kevin 2 023

 

We also visited the Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood, which is dedicated to the memory of Tsar Alexander II and was built on the spot where he was assassinated. It contains over 7,500 meters of mosaics, second only to the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louise in Missouri!

Next to the church is one of many waterways cutting through St. Petersburg, giving it a feel similar to Amsterdam and Venice. The city has 42 islands, which mark the northernmost point of the ancient north-south trading route called the Amber Road. Interestingly, the southern endpoint is Venice.

DSC00597

Kevin 2 028

Later we ventured into the countryside outside of St. Petersburg to see the tsars' summer home, Catherine Palace. Before entering the palace, we were lead through an exhibit featuring the different modes of transportation used to shuttle royalty back and forth to the city. 

Kevin 2 041

Exiting this exhibit, the compound opens up to reveal the magnificent palace and grounds that practically took my breath away. The bright blue of the palace is a striking contrast to the surrounding lush green forest and is the perfect backdrop for a spontaneous ballet in the courtyard.

Kevin 2 055

Kevin 2 056 Kevin 2 046

Kevin 2 057

After being treated as visiting dignitaries at the palace, our excursion led us to a feast that was designed to give us all a taste of Russian folk culture. The food, dance and camaraderie made my visit to the Catherine Palace truly unforgettable.

Kevin 2 063

Oceania Cruises itineraries often include two days in St. Petersburg so that guests have a chance to explore this amazing city at length. Before heading onto our next port of call, I took advantage of the extra day and enjoyed a shore excursion to the Hermitage Museum.

One of the oldest museums in the world, it was established in 1764 by Catherine the Great. Only four of the six buildings are open to the public, the most famous being the Winter Palace. But with over three million artifacts in the collection, including the largest collection of paintings in the world, there was plenty to see. We had to find the perfect balance between moving fast enough to see as much as possible but still taking the time to soak in the amazing architecture, artifacts and artworks. Thank goodness our Oceania Cruises guide enabled us to bypass the line to get in!

DSC00643DSC00648Kevin 2 067DSC00640

DSC00609

DSC00652

DSC00646

I am thrilled for Marina's guests who visited St. Petersburg this week. It is truly an extraordinary city, and I have no doubt that they enjoyed a once in a lifetime experience. Not to mention, it has been 68 degrees and sunny in St Petersburg all week. Perfect cruising weather!