June 8, 2015

Guest Lecturer Post: Nothing Sweeter! Behind Sugarcane Processing at a Costa Rican Hacienda

1Guest lecturer Sandy Cares has been sharing her insightful and entertaining lectures aboard Oceania Cruises voyages throughout the Caribbean and Central America since January 2014. Below, she shares her unique experience at a century-old hacienda in Costa Rica.

I don’t know about you, but in my life, sugar constitutes a major food group. I can’t get enough of it, so when the opportunity arose to join a Regatta excursion to see how sugar is processed in Costa Rica, the proverbial wild horses couldn’t keep me away.

2The action started at Hacienda Tayutic after a pleasant narrated ride through Costa Rica’s lush countryside. Strolling around the idyllic grounds we got lost –and found – in an amazing old maze, met up with some mystical ancient spheres and found a little chapel with a breathtaking view.

But the pièce de résistance was the little open-air theater where a pair of oxen sharing a decorative wooden yoke awaited our arrival before strutting their stuff around the old-style animal mill the hacienda uses to crush the sugarcane.

4Unknown to many, sugarcane is actually a type of grass, and is not indigenous to the Caribbean. Sugarcane came as a guest aboard Columbus’s ship, reportedly from his mother-in-law’s garden in the Canary Islands. Of course that may be fuzzy history, part-truth and part-legend – but indigenous to India, sugar started its Caribbean presence in 1492. 

Directly on the heels of Columbus, Sephardic Jews escaping the Spanish Inquisition left Spain and Portugal to introduce the New World’s first large-scale sugar plantations in Brazil. In no time, this crop that found a welcome environment with the rich volcanic soil and frequent rains – and an insatiable demand in Europe – rolled through the Caribbean islands fueling the economy of the British Empire for centuries.

5In Costa Rica, the method for sugar processing today is not far removed from that used originally by the Sephardic Jews. Initially, sugar has to be harvested with a machete. It is tough and labor intensive, which gives pause to the unavoidable fact that without the free labor provided by African slaves, about four million in the Caribbean alone by the mid-19th Century, the Caribbean sugar enterprise would have failed. 

6As our small group watched the sugarcane process, a couple of volunteers fed stalks of sugarcane into crushers as the oxen lumbered around and around the mill. It was amazing how much juice gushed out of the cane stalks passing through the crushers.

7Our hosts boiled the syrup in a round-bottom “copper” kettle over an open fire.  “Coppers” were used universally in this process and I have seen old coppers strewn across the Caribbean from Antigua to Tortola, from neglected fields to museum exhibits…everywhere! 

Now the clear cane juice was turning dark brown and the distinctive smell of molasses permeated the air. Our host checked the concoction intermittently with his paddle to determine its readiness.  From a “soft ball” stage, it quickly graduated to the “hard ball” stage, when it’s ready for crystallization. 

8Sugar must be crystallized very quickly or it spoils; therefore, during the colonial era no one could leave the plantation during harvest season. For this reason, plantations were planned as self-contained communities including a greathouse, mill, boiling house, livestock barns, rum distillery, even a chapel, infirmary and jail. 

The boiler master had only a brief opportunity for crystallization or risked losing the entire batch. Our hosts proved this point by quickly pouring the dark and viscous liquid from the copper into a wooden vat. 

9While entertaining us with the hacienda’s history, they added some mineral lime while constantly paddling the sugar. Before our very eyes, the paddling transformed the thick mass into rich, beautiful crystal sugar, deep brown with the consistency of damp sand. 

10To some of the still-liquid sugar mass they added powdered milk and stirred in chopped macadamia nuts until it thickened into irresistible pralines. Meanwhile, they had poured liquid sugar into wooden molds and “thumped out” some beautiful sugar “loaves” they cleverly wrapped in banana leaves for an artful photo op.

11A couple of weeks later, I am writing this at home in my kitchen in Grand Rapids, Michigan at about 4:00 am. I am sipping my first morning cup of coffee delectably sweetened with pure brown sugar from that day in Costa Rica at Hacienda Tayutic. Besides the sweet memory, what souvenir could be sweeter than…sugar?

This December, Sandy will be a guest lecturer on Riviera’s Sands & Shores, Mayan Mystique and Celebrate the Sunshine voyages. Join her for the talks listed below and more.

  • “Confessions from a Sugar Plantation Greathouse”
  • “Breadfruit and Cou-Cou Sticks: New World Meets Old World For Dinner”
  • “Tropical Torahs: History of the Caribbean Jews”

June 5, 2015

At Artist Loft with Graham Denison: Acclaimed Palette Knife Artist & Former Walt Disney Artist

Artist LoftIf you walk into one of Graham Denison’s Artist Loft workshops, there’s a good chance you’ll find him immersed in demonstrating how to draw Winnie the Pooh or another beloved Disney character to a room full of guests. Long before he became a master of illustrating these characters, Graham was fascinated by them.

“I was always drawing Disney characters in school, and getting in trouble for it,” Graham said, laughing. “I was drawing in math and science and all those subjects you shouldn’t be, and I was taken to the principal’s office and told to stop drawing Disney characters.”

But Graham persisted. He shared that he went after Disney because he saw it as the pinnacle of art quality at the time. After high school, he sent drawing after drawing to the Disney studios until they finally gave him a chance. At age 17, Graham began working at the only Disney studio in England at the time.

Graham at work in Artist Loft during a recent voyage aboard Riviera
Graham at work in Artist Loft during a recent voyage aboard Riviera

“At first, I was just the tea boy, but at lunch they would let me loose on a few projects,” Graham explained. “After about three months, they gave me my first real job – which was a Flintstones video sleeve that I did.”

And so it began. After three years, Graham left the studio as Head Illustrator, and continued creating Disney work for licensees on a freelance basis. The Paris and London Disney studios noticed his work and eventually brought him in for more training, and then took him on as an in-house character artist where he worked for the next twenty years.

It was the onset of computer-generated art that eventually provoked Graham to turn toward fine art and explore oil painting on canvas.

“I didn’t want to create a painting on a keyboard that was never more than a file on a disk,” he said. “I’m a traditional artist, so I like to have something that’s tangible, something you can hold, you can see, something that will be around for hundreds of years.”

Then Graham discovered a tool that would become an important part of his technique. 

Graham and his wife with one of his vivid Venetian paintings
Graham and his wife with one of his vivid Venetian paintings

“I saw a gentleman using a palette knife whilst on holiday, and thought ‘wow, that looks like freedom,’” Graham said. “You can use it as an impressionism tool; it’s not for photographic reality.”

Graham loves the palette knife for the rich textures it allows him to create, and how he can sculpt and use broad strokes to create vibrant scenes. Even more, he’s completely self-taught. He’s never had any formal training, and after five paintings created with the palette knife, he had one he could sell. Graham now exhibits in galleries worldwide, receives numerous private commissions and sells to international art collectors all over the world.

“Today, really I paint what I feel,” Graham said. “I’m very fortunate that so many people love what I paint, and that they want to buy everything I do.”

One of Graham’s biggest influences is the renowned impressionist Claude Monet, and his signature water lily paintings.

With each original work of art, Graham includes a certificate of authenticity, a handwritten dedication, along with the palette that he used to create the work
With each original work of art, Graham includes a certificate of authenticity, a handwritten dedication, along with the palette that he used to create the work

"I do a lot of paintings that depict his garden in Giverny, especially with the lily pond, the famous Japanese bridge, his little row boat, but above all the water lilies floating on the surface,” Graham said. “And I do those with the palette knife which gives them added texture.”

Though Graham is inspired by every destination he visits during his extensive travels, one of his all-time favorite locations is Venice.

“I love to paint Venice,” he said. “Especially depicting the Carnival time during Lent with lots of different colorful Carnival characters with their masks.”

This autumn, we’re delighted to be featuring Graham in our artist-in-residence program aboard Riviera on a number voyages listed below. We invite you to admire Graham’s dramatic Venetian Carnival paintings, enchanting water lilies and more in Artist Loft. Plus, you can join one of his special workshops to learn first-hand from his incredible talent and artistic knowledge.

Aegean Adventures: September 7, 2015

Jewels of the Aegean: September 17, 2015

Greek Isles Getaway: September 27, 2015

Mediterranean Mosaic: October 5, 2015

European Hideaways: October 23, 2015

Isles & Empires: October 30, 2015

Artistic Discoveries: November 7, 2015

Visit Graham Denison's website at: http://denisonart.com/

June 2, 2015

Classical Provençal Tapenade

Provence1Provence is a celebrated culinary region with an abundance of fruits, herbs, vegetables and fish. The olives along the Cote d’Azur benefit from the sunny, dry, salty sea climate, so olive tapenade is a savory specialty of the region. Tapenade is typically served on toasted bread and should have a very strong flavor to wake up the palate. Garlic bread, air-dried sausages, red wine and tapenade make up one of the favorite appetizers in Provence.

MAKES 2 CUPS

1/3 cup capers

10 anchovy fillets, in oil

6 cloves garlic

1¾ cups pitted black olives

1 teaspoon herbes de Provence

Juice of 1 lemon

Freshly ground black pepper

Extra virgin olive oil

Classical Provençal TapenadeEnsure the capers and anchovies are well drained. Combine the garlic, capers and anchovies in a food processor. Pulse to combine. Add the olives and pulse again. Add the herbes de Provence and lemon juice. Pulse the mixture once more. Season to taste with pepper.

While pulsing, gradually add olive oil in a slow stream just until the tapenade is spreadable. Mixture should be well blended but not puréed. Spread on toasted baguette slices and serve.

May 29, 2015

Our Senior Officers’ Favorite Oceania Cruises Dishes

Miso Glazed Sea Bass at Red GingerThe succulent Miso Glazed Sea Bass at Red Ginger, the creamy Lobster Bisque at Polo Grill, the heavenly Crème Brûlée à la Lavande at Jacques – the dishes at our onboard restaurants are so delicious it seems everyone on our ships loves to share where they’ve dined, what they’ve tried and their top picks. But have you tried all of our senior officers’ favorites yet? Below are few of the dishes they always return for. Try them next time you’re on board…bon appétit!

Captain Luca ManziCaptain Luca Manzi
Red Snapper at Red Ginger

Served in a Banana Leaf with makrut lime, chili paste, green olive salt

“The way the chefs prepare the fish at Red Ginger is phenomenal.” 

 

Captain Luca ManziGeneral Manager Damien Lacroix
Bar en Croûte et Sauce Beurre Blanc at Jacques

Sea Bass Filet Baked in Puff Pastry Crust with Beurre Blanc and Mille Feuille at Jacques Crispy Baked Puff Pastry Layers with Light Vanilla Cream

“The Bar en Croûte is just super – you can take it for two or have it alone. And you have to try the Mille Feuille for dessert, it’s done quite well and is very traditional.”

 

Cruise Director Leslie Jon

Cruise Director Leslie Jon
Pennette San Gimignano at Toscana

Penne Pasta tossed with Roasted Porcini Mushrooms and enhanced with a Delicate Rosemary-Laced Meat Sauce

“This is a great favorite of mine that I go back to again and again.”

 

4Executive Concierge Leandro RoldanExecutive Concierge Leandro Roldan
Osso Buco alla Milanese at Toscana
Tender Veal Shank slow oven braised in a Porcini Enhanced Stock served with Saffron- Infused Risotto

“This is by far my favorite… the slow oven-braise concentrates the flavors and makes the meat extra tender, and it pairs well with the exquisite risotto. It’s a fantastic traditional Milanese recipe!” 

 

Oceania Club Ambassador Carol HarringtonOceania Club Ambassador Carol Harrington
Stir-Fried Vegetables & Tofu in Lemon Grass and Coconut Milk at the Grand Dining Room
Served with Steamed Jasmine Rice

“This is a dish I never get tired of – and it’s a delicious vegetarian option.”

 

 

Executive Chef Maarten SmeetsExecutive Chef Maarten Smeets
Tournedos Rossini with Sautéed Foie Gras at the Grand Dining Room
Served with Fried Lorette Potatoes and Périgourdine Sauce

“It’s difficult to choose – we have so many amazing dishes—but the Tournedos Rossini is a true treat. The perfectly grilled high quality marbled beef, the sautéed fois gras together with the Madeira sauce, fleur del sel and black truffle is mindblowing!”

May 27, 2015

Safari Q&A with our Resident Destinations Expert

IMG_1172Dreaming of going on an African safari? Discover tips and insider details from our very own destinations expert, Oceania Cruises’ Vice President of Destination Services Operations, Christine Manjencic. With over three decades of experience in the cruise industry, travel is simply in Christine’s blood. Since travel is essential to her role, she is always on the go, and recently had the chance to go on a range of safaris in several areas of Africa including at Shamwari Game Reserve and Pumba Game Reserve both outside of Port Elizabeth on the Eastern Cape, along with Phinda Game Reserve outside of Richards Bay and Chobe National Park in Botswana.

Whether you’re contemplating your very first safari, or are trying to decide where your next one should be, Christine shares fascinating details and helpful tips from her adventures below.   

IMG_1197What are the lodge accommodations like?

These lodges are beautiful, very luxurious – without exaggeration. For example, at Pumba Water Lodge, every lodge was slightly different. The one I was in had this massive round bathtub, and a deck outside with a plunge pool – you can wake up and an elephant is drinking out of your plunge pool. It’s amazing. These are places you can come back to completely relax and rest after long game drives, total comfort. And it’s so unbelievably quiet, every little crack, stepping on a bush – you hear everything. Even though it’s an actual lodge, you hear everything.

How long are the game drives, and what did you see?
Typically, two or three hours, though it depends on what you encounter, the time of day and your escorts. When you go out on the early morning drives, they’ll have the croissants and coffee waiting for you beforehand and when you return, they have a nice big breakfast ready.

IMG_1020I was able to see everything – the Big Five! It was remarkable, even during the off-season.

We saw elephants, leopards, giraffes. We saw a lot of hyenas – you just see the eyes at night. And they travel in huge packs. We also saw a ton of buffalo. Lions, and then there were gazelles and warthogs everywhere.

What animal encounter or safari experience was most memorable?

IMG_0985Learning about the lions as I saw them. On the very first night we saw a lion – a female lion at Pumba Water Lodge. These animals fascinated me. Learning the fact that the female goes out and gets the kill, the male lion eats, and then when he’s done, she can eat, this was so interesting. And we saw that happening – the male having his dinner and then the female having hers. He protects her and the babies, that’s his territory. He’s the protector, but she feeds everyone.

With the overall safari experience, it’s just remarkable being out there. It’s like being on a different planet. You are so far removed from everyday life, it’s like just being dropped in the middle of nowhere – the noises, the smells, everything around you. It’s just incredible.

IMG_0980What were the rangers like?
The rangers are wonderful, they absolutely love what they do. They’re so enthusiastic and passionate about the animals and the nature. It’s truly amazing – you learn so much.

Tell us about the experience of being at one of the lodges at night.
Many of the lodges bring in local entertainment which is quite nice. Dancing and great music – it’s very festive and a lot of fun. Plus, there’s typically a little seating area around the fire, and you all sit around the campfire and have hot chocolate with marshmallows at night. It’s really nice. And then later, you are usually escorted to your own lodge. At Shamwari for example, all the lodges are separate and a bit spread out, so especially at night time, you are escorted. It’s right out in the middle of the bush – there are no fences. The escorts have torches and they take you right to your door.

IMG_1183What were the differences you noticed among the different safaris you went on?
Phinda was bigger than Shamwari, but it was still a private game reserve. At Phinda we also had a lovely open air dinner beneath the stars one night.Chobe, in Botswana, was very different from the area of the Eastern Cape lodges which were very green, very bushy. Chobe is also a national park, so you are restricted on where you can drive and you have to keep to the roads. Here the landscape is much more desert-like and barren, but we did see plenty of game – a lot more giraffes and other animals. Since it’s more open, you can see the animals more clearly. In Chobe, we also took a sunset cruise along Chobe River which was a special experience. Literally, you look to your left and it’s Namibia, and you look to your right and it’s Botswana. Then, you see the elephants coming down into the water, playing in the water. You get the chance to see a lot of elephants there in their natural environment – during the sunset, it’s really memorable.

IMG_1118Meanwhile, in the bush in Shamwari and Phinda, because they are private game reserves, there aren’t any restrictions on when or where you can go on drives. We drove into hyena dens, we went everywhere. You’re driving off-road at night and everything, it’s brilliant. And it’s more up and down and through the trees and foliage – it feels more like discovery. I recommend going on safaris in both of these regions (in Chobe and in the Eastern Cape) if you can – they are very different experiences.

What are your tips for first-time safari-goers?
Dress in layers – it’s cold in the morning and you’ll be going out early in the morning on game drives. On the safari trucks, they do have blankets as well because it’s quite cold when you go out at 5 a.m.

IMG_1165Pack lightly for the safari – just what you need. And no need for adapters. The majority of these lodges have sockets for every plug possible. That surprised even me. Then they are also well-equipped with hairdryers and dressing gowns and things like that.  

What left the deepest impression on you?
One of the most remarkable things is that there’s no light pollution there, so when you look up at the sky you see the Milky Way like you’ve never seen it before. It is simply amazing. I have never seen it like that in my life – not up in the mountains, not even out on the middle of the Atlantic or the Pacific Ocean, not even in the Amazon. That was one thing that really stood out to me – it was as if the sky were the light, streaming down. Just brilliant. 

May 20, 2015

Frank Hyder Launches Exclusive Art Installation Aboard Nautica

4P1A1655Upon entering Frank Hyder’s airy Wynwood studio in Miami, you are immediately greeted by an explosion of color – the great splashes of his iconic koi fish, the gold leaf backgrounds and dense jungle foliage, the tribal stripes and glowing figures. Then you notice the giant inflatable sculptures – one, a massive human head with a painted face and steady gaze, and the other, a poised killer whale with curious transparent circle on its chest.

4P1A1674The creator behind these provoking works, Frank, stands off to the right in paint spattered black jeans modestly adjusting the massive striped inflatable head as if it were an old friend. And in fact, these inflatable works are the culmination of decades of tireless work as an artist, his experimentation and mastery of a variety of mediums, and many years of travel and immersion in other cultures. As an award-winning artist with a true passion to share his work and knowledge, Frank has been an artist-in-residence and lecturer aboard Oceania Cruises for several years. Many guests may know him for his enchanting koi fish artwork featured on board. Now it is with great excitement that Oceania Cruises welcomes Frank aboard Nautica today to launch a very special inflatable sculpture installation – which has never before been outside of the U.S.     

4P1A1628Just before Frank caught his flight to Istanbul to launch this exciting installation during Nautica’s Exotic Mediterranean sailing, we had the chance to catch up with him in his studio in Miami where he shared some fascinating insight behind his inflatable sculptures and what makes them so compelling to create.

Behind the Scenes: Frank’s Inflatable Sculptures
Frank has been experimenting with the inflatable form since 2008, and was later invited to join a group of artists that were doing a group exhibit of inflatable sculptures in Bayfront Park during Art Basel in Miami. The group exhibit was entitled “City of Giants” and featured towering inflatables of up to 30 feet.

4P1A1619“From the very first moment I started working with them, I felt that there was something there,” he said. “And I’ve been around awhile, and when I know something’s there – it’s there,” he added, laughing.

Distinct from other inflatable pieces being created in the art world, Frank’s inflatable sculptures can be placed indoors; “Janis” (the giant head) is about 10 feet tall. Plus, he paints them – something no one else is doing right now.

“What I’m doing is something between the painting and the sculpture,” he explained. “It’s meant to be a livable size; someone could literally have this in their home if they wanted,” he continued, gestured towards “Janis.”

One of the elements of the form that immediately appealed to Frank was that he could make monumental works that he could compress into a bag, and then he could hop onto a plane and go anywhere in the world with them.

“The idea that these things can actually travel and do something in different places is really, for me, kind of fun,” Frank said. “Not just fun, it puts art in a different context – you might encounter this in the street and suddenly you’re thinking about something very differently.”

Frank also sees the inflatables that he creates as connected to monumental works throughout the world – the mysterious Easter Island moai statues, the colossal heads of Olmec, Mexico and even Egyptian monuments.

“They’re a tribute to our ability to make something extraordinary, and at the same time, they create something that has a personal meaning,” Frank said.

4P1A1651The Janis:  Embodying the Past & Future
Based on the Roman god Janus, Frank’s piece, "Janis," aptly bears two distinct faces – each with different colors and types of tribal painting, unique earrings and different eyes. Since Janus was the Roman god of the New Year (and gives us the name of the first month of the year, January), he had two faces so that he could look forward and backwards.

“He could see the old year passing and see the future coming,” Frank explained, rotating the giant figure to reveal the different face on the reverse.

Frank chose to use a tribal paint style to finish the piece for a few reasons. He has spent a significant amount of time in South America, and has done a number of paintings utilizing the tribal striping for which he has become quite well-known. When he encountered the tribal face and body painting in South America, he remembers inquiring about the meaning behind it. He was struck by how much the response was rooted in the universal human instinct to “dress up” the face before facing the world.

4P1A1642

“The idea of self-painting comes from the fact that the people don’t see themselves as being beautiful. They wouldn’t go out without painting their faces.” Frank said. “And who among you would leave your house without doing a face painting job?” he continued, laughing. “Whether you are modern or ancient, it’s such a pervasive activity – it’s human impulse.”

Frank’s Journey Continues
After Nautica’s voyage from Istanbul to Lisbon, Frank is excited to continue his journey with Oceania Cruises. He will not only be sharing his unique art installation aboard several Marina and Riviera voyages this summer, but also his  knowledge and passion that shape his work and everything he creates.

4P1A1666“I am very fortunate – I am doing exactly what I wanted to do when I was 19 years old,” Frank said. “I have traveled all over the world, seen so many things, done so many things, met so many people -- all because of this thing that I like to do with my hands, and that’s very special to me.”

During all of the voyages below, Frank will also be hosting engaging lectures on wide ranging topics such as “Caves to Cathedrals: Europe’s Architecture of Faith” and “Hellenism: The Phalanx of Ideas.” Plus, Frank invites you to drop by the Artist Loft to say hello or attend one of his special workshops. Don’t miss the chance to meet Frank and experience his one-of-a-kind art installation on board with us this summer!

Riviera’s Ancient Empires voyage | June 1, 2015
Riviera’s Pearls of the Mediterranean voyage | June 16, 2015
Riviera’s Masterpiece Montage voyage | June 28, 2015
Riviera’s Iberian Inspiration voyage | July 7, 2015
Marina’s British Isles Medley voyage | July 21, 2015
Marina’s Nordic Pathways voyage | August 2, 2015
Marina’s Baltic Marvels voyage | August 14, 2015

Visit Frank Hyder’s website at: http://www.frankhyder.com/

May 18, 2015

An Art Walk in Riga

An Art Walk in RigaArt enthusiasts Vanessa and Robert C., spent a summer vacation cruising through majestic Northern Europe aboard Marina. Impressed with the architecture throughout the Baltic, the capital of Latvia quickly became one of their favorite ports of call.

An Art Walk in RigaRiga was such a wonderful surprise for my husband and I—it was one of the most strikingly beautiful destinations on our Baltic cruise. We admired the unique history and style introduced by each port as we sailed from Copenhagen to Stockholm aboard Marina in the summer — but the capital of Latvia left a big impression. 

An Art Walk in RigaAs a fan of art and architecture, I was impressed with the diversity of style in Riga. I had never seen Art Nouveau architecture in such abundance. I’ve always admired this style of painting and drawing (Mucha, Klimt, Toulouse-Lautrec) as well as the jewelry and glass works (Tiffany, Lalique). Yes, there are well-known structures in Paris, like the Metro entrances. Perhaps Antoni Gaudí’s work in Barcelona is the most well-known, but the rich style in Riga allows it to be considered one of the best hubs of the romantic style of Art Nouveau.

An Art Walk in RigaWe decided to explore Riga on our own. We strolled through the historic center and saw the famous House of the Blackheads. Then we walked through a lovely park along the Daugava river, which runs through the middle of Riga, but didn't see many buildings with the Art Nouveau style, so we headed toward an off-the-beaten-path neighborhood. We started walking north along the boulevards of Riga, where the architecture started to transform from Gothic into the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries' Art Nouveau.

An Art Walk in RigaIt was a quiet neighborhood with mostly locals, so it was nice to get a feel for the sights and sounds of daily life in Riga. The buildings were so striking we walked around the entire area to see each detail. Building after building had gorgeous faces decorating every window and some had statues that looked like they were holding up the building or terraces. The colors were bold and beautiful against the summer sun.

With so much beauty  and history to explore and admire, it’s no wonder Riga was once called the “Paris of the Baltics,” though for us, Riga is quite unique and impressive on its own. 

May 14, 2015

Modern Luxury Meets Old World Charm in Dubai

Modern Luxury Meets Old World Charm in DubaiIn just the past few decades, ultra-sleek architecture has sprung from the desert coastline of the Persian Gulf, giving rise to the gleaming metropolis of Dubai.

Notorious for lavish hotels, luxury shopping and futuristic high-rise steel and glass buildings, the most populous city in the United Arab Emirates mixes opulence with age-old Arabic culture including gold and textile souqs, fragrant spice markets and pearl diving from its pre-oil days. 

Below are five ways to experience the contrasting aspects of this multi-faceted destination.

Modern Luxury Meets Old World Charm in DubaiDesert Dune Safari

Enjoy breathtaking climbs up the face of soft sand dunes, followed by sheer descents as you experience what’s referred to as dune bashing. As your skilled driver negotiates a course through the desert in a 4x4, you'll be treated to spectacular panoramic views of this magnificent vast landscape of golden sands.

 Modern Dubai with Tea at Burj Al Arab Hotel

Modern Luxury Meets Old World Charm in DubaiTravel to the world-renowned seven-star Burj Al Arab, the city's most notable landmark and perhaps one of the most popular hotels in the world, for delicious high tea and a selection of freshly baked treats. Built on an artificial island and designed to resemble the sail of a traditional Arabic dhow, Burj Al Arab is considered both an engineering feat and architectural marvel.

Sharjah Heritage

Visit Dubai's neighboring emirate, Sharjah, referred to as the Pearl of the Gulf. Drive from Port Rashid to the northern coast and Sharjah, the third largest of the seven emirates. Recognized as the Cultural Capital of the Arab World by UNESCO, it boasts some of the most remarkable architecture in the country and the largest mosque in the UAE, the King Faisal Mosque.

Modern Luxury Meets Old World Charm in DubaiWalking Tour of Old Dubai

Spend time in Old Dubai, which stands in stark contrast to the gleaming high-rise buildings that define the city. Don’t miss Bastakia – as part of Old Dubai, it’s one of the most picturesque historical sites in the city and has been designated as a heritage area. Many of its vintage homes and wind towers have undergone renovations in the last few years and its narrow alleyways have been designated as pedestrian thoroughfares.

Discover Dubai

Explore all that Dubai has to offer on this half-day excursion. Begin with photo opportunities at the dazzling Burj Al Arab and the stunning Jumeirah Mosque, an impressive example of Islamic architecture. Visit the Dubai Museum, located in the 200-year-old Fort Fahidi, followed by a photo stop at the beautifully restored former residence of Sheikh Saeed al Maktoum, ruler of Dubai until 1958. End with a visit to the Gold and Spice Souqs.

What do you look forward to exploring the most on your visit to Dubai? 

May 13, 2015

Eggplant Involtini Alla Parmigiana Recipe

Recipe-eggplant-parmWho doesn’t love Italian cuisine, especially in the springtime? Eggplant is abundant in Italy, particularly in the south, and there are so many ways to utilize this purple (and sometimes white) plant.  Involtini is a favorite of our onboard restaurant, Toscana. I sometimes make it without the meat on my “meatless Mondays,” and I love the way the flavor of the smoky mozzarella comes through. I substitute sautéed or grilled portabella mushroom pieces for the meat. Mortadella is one of my favorite meats – it reminds me of the great bologna and mortadella sandwiches that my grandmother used to pack me for lunch with her homemade white bread and mayonnaise (never store bought). In the summer, we used to add tomatoes and toast the bread for the perfect sandwich!

{ makes 12 rolls, serves 4 to 6 }

EGGPLANT

2 large eggplants, each at least 7 inches long

Kosher or sea salt

Extra virgin olive oil

STUFFING

8 ounces ground veal

4 slices white bread, crusts removed, cut into ½-inch pieces

3 tablespoons whole milk

4 slices mortadella, each 1/8-inch thick, cut into 1/8-inch dice (about ½ cup)

4 slices mozzarella, each 1/8-inch thick, cut into 1/8-inch dice (about ½ cup)

2½ tablespoons finely chopped garlic

1 large egg

1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh rosemary

1 cup coarsely grated Parmesan cheese

2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh basil

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

Canola oil

2 cups tomato sauce

6 thin slices smoked mozzarella cheese

For the eggplant: Cut both eggplants lengthwise into 1/8-inch-thick slices. Choose the 12 largest slices that are closest in size to one another. Reserve the remaining eggplant for another use.

Line 2 sheet pans with parchment paper. Sprinkle about 1 teaspoon of salt on each pan. Arrange the eggplant slices on the salt and sprinkle about 1 teaspoon of salt over the eggplant on each pan. Let sit for 30 minutes.

For the stuffing: In a large bowl, combine all of the ingredients. Using your hands, mix well until all of the ingredients are evenly incorporated.

To assemble: Prepare a medium-hot fire in a charcoal or gas grill, or preheat a two-burner grill pan over medium-high heat. Oil the grill rack or grill pan with canola oil. Preheat the oven to 375°F.

Using paper towels, blot the excess moisture from the eggplant slices, then lightly brush the slices on both sides with olive oil. Place on the grill rack or grill pan. Grill, turning once, until well marked on both sides and the slices are more pliable for rolling. This should take 2 to 3 minutes total. Transfer the slices to a work surface.

Spread half of the tomato sauce in the bottom of a 9-inch-square flameproof baking dish or other flameproof baking dish that will snugly accommodate the 12 rolls in a single layer.

Lay 1 slice of eggplant running vertically in front of you. Place about ¼ cup of the stuffing on the slice about 2 inches from the short end nearest you, shaping the stuffing so it is about 1 inch wide. Bring the end up over the stuffing, then roll up the slice, enclosing the stuffing completely. Place in the baking dish, seam side down. Repeat with the remaining eggplant and stuffing. Top with the remaining tomato sauce.

Bake until the eggplant is tender and the filling is hot, about 30 minutes. Remove from the oven and let rest for about 15 minutes. Turn the oven to broil.

To finish and serve: Top the rolls with the smoked mozzarella, draping 1 slice over every 2 rolls. Place under the broiler until the cheese is bubbling and lightly toasted. Serve directly from the baking dish, or divide among individual serving plates.

May 6, 2015

Guest Lecturer Post: Strolling the Gems of Castries in an Hour

Guest lecturer Sandy Cares’ animated and entertaining talks about people and events reveal colorful and unexpected aspects of the destination’s history, culture and traditions. Sandy has been lecturing aboard Oceania Cruises throughout the Caribbean and Central America since January 2014. Below, she shares her experience in the quaint capital of St. Lucia.

There is nothing to see in Castries, St. Lucia…or is there?

The little capital of arguably the most picturesque island in the West Indies typically merits a mere passing glance from the flotilla of tour buses that whisk by en route to more scenic destinations. A devastating fire gutted the city in 1948, leaving just a handful of landmarks so it typically doesn’t take much more than an hour to check out Castries – though there are several gems worth discovering.

1Castries today is actually a hubbub of activity as tourists and locals interact in a kabuki dance wending and weaving their respective ways along crowded sidewalks amidst lively streams of human and vehicular traffic. Hawkers lining the curbs offer up tempting displays of tropical fruits, homemade sweets and ice creams, necklaces and eye-catching souvenirs, conch shells, fresh coconut water, and of course the island’s pride, fragrant ripe bananas. They even sell little glass bottles of banana ketchup, an island novelty, and other banana-based products including banana soaps and skin creams, along with banana liqueur.

2Soon I am in front of the open doors of an imposing stone church that survived the fire and seems more suited to a French provincial town than in this tropical setting. Inside the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception the neat rows of polished wooden pews can accommodate over 2,000 worshippers but only a scant couple dozen worshippers are scattered here and there in quiet contemplation.  As the spiritual center for Catholics (Catholicism is the major religion of this island), the cathedral stands as a reminder of the French cultural influence when the island changed hands 14 times between the French and British during colonial times.

4St. Lucia gained its status as an independent member of the British Commonwealth in 1979.

As my eyes adjust from the glaring sunshine outside, the interior walls of the Immaculate Conception explode in a riot of unexpected tropical colors.  Convinced this is one of Castries’s secret gems, I am already rewarded for my decision to explore the town.  In 1985 in anticipation of Pope John Paul II’s visit, local St. Lucian artist Dunstan St. Omer painted these walls using a vibrant West Indian palette to showcase black saints and black martyrs in homage to the island’s African slave legacy. It was Dunstan St. Omer that also designed St. Lucia’s blue, white, black and gold national flag.

5Directly across the street, a big and preposterously old Saman tree waves me into Derek Walcott Square.  Once called Columbus Square, this green space graced with a central fountain is a favorite gathering spot for locals.  It was renamed to honor Derek Walcott, hometown hero and recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature. 

Walcott’s epic poem, Omeros, is loosely patterned after Homer’s ancient Greek works, The Iliad and The Odyssey, and gives voice to the millions brought to the Caribbean region against their will who sought a distinctly Caribbean identity. 

6Throughout the poem, he celebrates the natural beauty of St. Lucia and compares her to Helen of Troy, also fought over for her beauty.  In fact, St. Lucia was at times referred to as “the Helen of the West Indies.” A statue in the park immortalizes Walcott, born in 1930. He built his career at Boston University, and nowadays, the occasional Walcott sighting assures locals that he is enjoying a well-earned retirement in his native land. 

But Walcott’s is not the only statue in Derek Walcott Square. Remarkably enough, this little island of some 170,000 produced not one, but two Nobel Laureates.  Derek Walcott won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1992. Sir Arthur Lewis brought home the Nobel Prize in Economics in 1979. 

In a coincidence that Charles Dickens would savor, both Nobel Laureates were born on the same day, January 23rd, fifteen years apart. Today, their statues appear to stand about fifteen feet apart.

7Nearby, a gracious red brick building with emphatic white trim dignifies the street corner.  This is the Central Library, a Victorian-era building that survived the fire of 1948. Castries boasts no city or national museum, but the famous Castries Market is a lively center of commercial and social activity that might well serve as the island’s contemporary museum of living art. 

Housed under conjoined red roofs, the stalls spilling into the sidewalks offer everything from bananas and bush medicines to carved wooden masks, coconut bird feeders and clay coal pots.  Vendors eager to bargain down to a sale typically post prices in U.S. dollars instead of the local Eastern Caribbean currency as a convenience for North American visitors. 

While it might not offer the majesty of the twin-peaked Pitons or the exotic appeal of the black sand beaches or the historic impact of Fort Rodney, the little island capital of Castries does offer a few memorable gems.  And they were all in a pleasant hour’s stroll with plenty of time to return to the awaiting Riviera.

May 4, 2015

Portofino Culinary Discovery Tour Spotlight: In the Land of Pesto By Chef Kelly

Portofino Culinary Discovery Tour Spotlight: In the Land of Pesto By Chef KellyGuests aboard Riviera recently learned why Liguria is considered one of the stars of Italian cuisine. Nestled between the Mediterranean coastline and the majestic Alps, Liguria is known for cuisine that equally celebrates the mountains and the sea.  Known as “the land of pesto,” Liguria is home to the fragrant Genovese basil, sumptuous pine nut and aromatic garlic – which when mixed together with their fragrant olive oil – yields the “green gold” of Liguria: pesto. 

2We began our Culinary Discovery Tour in the picturesque seaside town of Rapallo. Arriving here, we were greeted by Guido, a local culinary expert holding a basketful of fresh local basil – perfect for his pesto demonstration. Guests were treated to a behind-the-scenes look at a local pasta maker preparing the day’s fresh pasta and the added treat of the shop owner explaining each of the various pastas being made that morning. Then we strolled on to a gourmet shop, Parla Come Mangi, for tastings of balsamic vinegar and local olive oils.  We enjoyed taking in the sights and smells of this authentic Ligurian shop, which was overflowing with cured meats, artisanal cheeses and freshly made pastas.  Many of our guests took the occasion to select Ligurian extra virgin olive oils to reproduce the perfect Ligurian pesto (and memories) at home. 

          Portofino Culinary Discovery Tour Spotlight: In the Land of Pesto By Chef Kelly     Portofino Culinary Discovery Tour Spotlight: In the Land of Pesto By Chef Kelly    Portofino Culinary Discovery Tour Spotlight: In the Land of Pesto By Chef Kelly

Portofino Culinary Discovery Tour Spotlight: In the Land of Pesto By Chef KellyOn our way back to the bus, we had a lovely stroll through Rapallo and the local market there, which was brimming with seasonal favorites such as fragoline, tiny Italian strawberries, and perfect little eggplants. I purchased several vegetables such as fava beans, artichokes and fresh peas for the guests to admire.

We were then off to the delightful town of Recco, and Da Ö Vittoriö, a fourth-generation family restaurant where we actually met the owner and his grandson (fifth generation) at the front entrance. After their warm greeting, a master pasta chef did impressive demonstrations on preparing fresh pasta, along with one on the regional specialty for which Da Ö Vittoriö is famous: focaccia. This is not the typical focaccia bread – they cover a large pizza-like pan with a thin layer of dough, dot it with stracchino cheese and then cover it with another layer of thin dough.  Then, it’s baked in a wood-fired oven, and is served as a delicious appetizer, a true specialty of Liguria.     

8As we watched the demonstration, we all enjoyed fritters with a local sparkling wine.  Many guests tried their hand at making trofie – a local corkscrew-like pasta served with pesto.

After the demonstration, we were treated to a lunch of focaccia, fresh pasta with pesto and noci (walnut) sauce, along with sea bass, Branzino, which was cooked Ligurian-style with olive oil and served with cherry tomatoes, olives, pine nuts and potatoes. We finished our meal with a light dessert and coffee, and said a fond farewell to our friends at Da Ö Vittoriö.  

May 1, 2015

Oceania Insider: Air Travel Tips

AirplaneDid you know that during any given hour, an average of 61,000 people are airborne over the U.S.?

There’s no doubt some of those travelers are Oceania Cruises guests – and Oceania Cruises staff members too, since we share in your passion for exploring the world.

Below are 10 air travel tips from our team to help make your next flying experience a smooth one!

­

1. Sign up for mileage clubs to earn quick upgrades and perks on board the plane. 
James Rodriguez, Chief Marketing Officer

2. Get into the security line with the fewest children and mostly business people – it goes faster as they are well-traveled.
– Nikki Upshaw, Vice President of Sales

3. Remember to drink plenty of water before your flight to avoid dehydration during it.  
Antonio Suarez, Software Engineer III

4. Don’t leave home without noise cancelling headphones – very important! I use “Beats by Dre” and they work very well.
–Azucena Argudin, Administrative Assistant

5. Arrive at least a few hours early for your international flight so you can check-in early and have time to relax before your flight.
–Carla Villacreces, Digital Production Coordinator

6. For longer flights, make sure to walk around and keep the circulation flowing
–Heidi Soloway, Director of Marketing Communications

7. Enjoy a nice cocktail in the air to smooth the nerves and start enjoying your vacation. 
–Val Mahones, Supervisor of Facilities

8. Make sure you buy your plane ticket under the name exactly as it appears on your identification card. Also, keep all of your documents in one easily-accessible location. 
–Martha Amador, Manager of Creative Services  

9. Avoid putting valuables or critical items, like medicines or keys, in a checked bag; instead pack them in your carry-on.
–Yami Serrano, Human Resources Generalist

10. Be aware of all foreign document requirements before you make your flight reservation or you could get stuck at the airport. Double-check the ports on your cruise itinerary, as many of the ports we visit require visas for entry.
Giannina Poloney, Account Executive

What are some of the air travel tips you live by?  

April 27, 2015

Behind the Scenes at Artist Loft: The Best Job Ever

Behind the Scenes at Artist Loft: The Best Job EverAn artist-in-residence with Oceania Cruises since 2011, Pat Grillo is an award-winning artist who has exhibited and sold her work across the country and to private collectors throughout the world. While living in southern Florida, her work was exhibited in museums and galleries in Fort Lauderdale, West Palm Beach, Coral Springs and Boca Raton.

She now lives in the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, near Asheville, where she continues to teach and paint. As a contemporary realist, Pat aims to bring a sense of proportion and light to the canvas. Her work embodies a balance of realism and vibrant color that encourages the viewer to see everyday objects in new ways. Pat’s husband, Angelo, shares a behind-the-scenes look at what it’s like to be an artist-in-residence at Artist Loft on board.

Imagine the best job ever. Imagine spending three to four months a year sailing the world, as a guest, aboard a luxurious Oceania Cruises ship. The Mediterranean, the Greek Isles, the Caribbean, the Baltic Sea, Australia, New Zealand, China, Japan, Vietnam, Bora Bora and Tahiti – these are just some of the destinations to which these five-star ships sail.

Behind the Scenes at Artist Loft: The Best Job EverLake Lure artist Pat Grillo does just that. She is an artist-in-residence for Oceania Cruises – the only cruise line that offers complimentary art lessons, with all supplies included, by a professionally recognized artist. For the last five years, Pat has been traveling the world, painting and teaching art. Her works now hang in homes, businesses and galleries throughout the world.

Of course, the first questions she gets are “How did you get this gig?” and then, “Do you need someone to carry your bags?” Her husband has the bag handling assignment locked up, but to answer the first question, Oceania Cruises seeks out the best artists they can find, who can also teach and are ridiculously personable. Oceania Cruises discovered Pat through her website and the rest is history.

How does an artist-in-residence spend her time at sea? Well it’s actually quite hectic. Most days are spent at a storybook port such as Marseilles, Dubrovnik, Rio de Janeiro or Bora Bora. Pat is up by 7 am to escort a group of guests on a tour. Then, she heads back to the ship for a quick bite and to prepare for her 4 pm class. The complimentary class of 25 to 35 students lasts about 90 minutes and, in this timeframe, everyone completes a work of art that is framed and hung for the duration of the voyage. 

Behind the Scenes at Artist Loft: The Best Job EverAfter the class, there’s still time to catch the end of happy hour in one of the ship’s swinging lounges. By about 7:30 pm, everyone moves on to dinner in one of the specialty restaurants, the Grand Dining Room or the outdoor Terrace Café for a sumptuous buffet. 

Time for bed yet?  No way. 

At 9:30 pm, there’s always a show in the main theater featuring the ships wonderfully talented troupe or an invited entertainer. 

Is it time for bed now? 

Behind the Scenes at Artist Loft: The Best Job EverOnly if you choose. Otherwise there’s dancing, karaoke, musical trivia and, of course, the casino. All of which are open till the last guest calls it a night.  

Days at sea are a bit more leisurely. On a sea day, Pat will usually open Artist Loft to guests while she paints and coaches. The music is relaxing and the poolside bar is only a wave away.

When asked what is the best part of her job, she responds that she has received emails from former student guests who had never picked up a brush before attending her classes sharing that they are now painting in earnest. Many of her students so enjoy her classes that before they schedule another Oceania Cruises voyage, they check to see if Pat will be on board. It seems that a surprising number of the guests have previously cruised with Oceania Cruises. 

Pat will be the featured artist-in-residence this summer on Insignia’s Polynesian Treasures, Pacific Crossing and Summer Shores. She invites you to join her on the high seas soon!

April 24, 2015

Guest Lecturer Spotlight: The Travel Secrets of Eve & Ronald Jones

Guest lecturers Eve Jones and her husband, hotelier Ronald F. Jones OBE (Order of the British Empire) have spent the past 16 years travelling the world as lecturers.

1As a wine tutor and an award-winning writer specializing in hotels, restaurants and travel, she has written features for The Times, the New Orleans and Los Angeles Times, and served as the wine tutor at Marlborough College Summer School for ten years (where Kate Middleton and Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie were pupils). Meanwhile, Ronald is one of Britain’s best-known hoteliers. He got his start in the hotel industry when World War 2 was in full swing, and secured a job as an accounts clerk at the then ultra-luxury Adelphi Hotel in Liverpool. He ascended through the ranks, citing stimulus rather than ambition as the “hunger,” so beginning a 55-year love affair with hotels.

2Eve and Ronald’s backgrounds lend themselves well to joint ventures, and they’ve enjoyed working together so much that they have co-authored several books: Grand Hotelier:Inside the Best Hotels, Grand Hotelier: The World on a Plate, Gastromania! for lovers of food, wine – and trivia, and The Log of the Seafaring Bears for very young readers. With their fascinating backgrounds, the Joneses’ lecture topics range from royal banquets and jazz to wine and the rich social histories of the areas in which ship is traveling. Below, they share their travel secrets – how they enjoy their favorite destinations, their top picks for restaurants and more!

Destination Secrets of Hotel & Wine Connoisseurs
Cruising has enabled Eve and Ronald to experience a taste of life on every continent. The couple recommends the Norwegian Fjords for pristine beauty and St. Petersburg for its over-the-top architecture, and superb art, music and ballet scene. And after so many years of traveling where do they choose to visit again and again?  Venice is one that tops the list.

“Gliding along the Grand Canal and sticky-beaking into the salons of the palazzi, strolling in St. Mark’s Square in the early morning…it’s a travel experience you never forget,” Eve said.

Sometimes they stay at the Cipriani in Venice, but Eve noted that renting an apartment can be even more enjoyable because of the way it connects you to local life. “Shopping for fresh food in the market, trips to the laundromat with the locals, fresh seafood in the local trattoria – our idea of heaven,” she said.

3Eve recalled one year that they managed to stay in Venice for six weeks during the Christmas holiday season. “It was cold, crisp…the whole city perfectly gift-wrapped for Christmas and very few tourists. Bliss,” she said.

Eve and Ronald also appreciate the beauty of Sydney Harbour – and city’s fabulous food and wine, not to mention the affordable price of the opera tickets.

“It’s such a vibrant, laid-back city with a rich cultural life, filled with art galleries, museums, history, and above all, we’re able to go to the opera several times a week for the price of tickets for one performance at Covent Garden!” Eve remarked.

The World’s Most Memorable Restaurants
According to Eve and Ronald, dining at some of the most memorable restaurants sometimes doesn’t even involve a menu. Such is the case in Kusadasi, Turkey.

“There’s a little family restaurant on the quayside, a couple of tables practically on the water,” Eve recalled. “No menu, no choice – if you’re in the know. Just leave it to the owner and he’ll bring crisp salad, freshly baked bread, and then the morning’s catch, grilled with hot, crisp golden fries and bottle of chilled local white wine. Perfection.”

Meanwhile, their local London favorites include Brasserie Colbert in Sloane Square for breakfast, lunch at Pierre Koffmann at the Berkeley and dinner at Le Gavroche or Mosimann’s Club.  In Scotland, the Joneses love Tom Kitchin’s, near where our ships dock in Leith. 

“He’s a great chef, and the food is superb, all sourced within a few miles of Edinburgh,” Eve noted.  

In their treasured Venice, Eve and Ronald never tire of lunch at Da Fiori.

“It’s unfussy, relaxed…the seafood so fresh it’s still wriggling, the spumante crisp and dry, completed by the theatre of Venice’s business movers and shakers who appreciate the importance of a darn good lunch,” Eve said. “And then we stop for Negronis later at Harry’s Bar, of course!” 

4The couple is also fond of simply asking local business people where they like to eat, especially in Asia and the Middle East. “We don’t ask for the smartest or most expensive, just a family restaurant or a spot for a working-week lunch or dinner,” Eve explained. “That’s where we go and we have seldom been let down.”

The onboard restaurants are also a part of what Eve and Ronald enjoy so much about Oceania Cruises.

“If Michelin stars were awarded to ships, Oceania Cruises surely deserves them,” Eve said. “To have the choice of six restaurants, each serving fabulous food.”

Eve and Ronald invite you to trade travel secrets and favorites this fall -- join them aboard Marina’s Vineyards & Vistas voyage, departing September 2, 2015!

April 22, 2015

The Culinary Center Introduces Exciting Culinary Boot Camp at Sea

The Culinary Center Introduces Exciting Culinary Boot Camp at Sea Imagine you found yourself on a cruise in the middle of the great blue Atlantic with several leisurely days at sea stretching out before you. How would you spend your days? Would you brush up on your bridge and trivia skills? Would you curl up with that book you’ve been wanting to read? Or would you don a chef hat and apron, and learn how to cook like a pro?

During Riviera’s recent transatlantic crossing to Europe, about a dozen of our guests opted for a true culinary immersion – taking part in our first-ever Culinary Boot Camp at Sea program.

The Culinary Center Introduces Exciting Culinary Boot Camp at SeaOur Executive Chef and Director of Culinary Enrichment, Kathryn Kelly, crafted this new intensive program based on her experience teaching boot camps at the Culinary Institute of America, which were always one of her favorite courses. The goals of the new Culinary Boot Camp at Sea center on in-depth and personalized instruction in fundamental culinary areas such as knife skills, protein cookery, vegetable cookery, baking basics and mise en place (kitchen organization and food preparation).  

“I also wanted guests to have some fun, so we created a market basket exercise at the end of the boot camp where guests make a dish judged by the Executive Chef and General Manager,” Chef Kelly added.

The Culinary Center Introduces Exciting Culinary Boot Camp at SeaDuring the course of four cooking class sessions spread throughout two days, Chef Noelle Barille & Chef Kellie Evans provided hands-on classes on essentials within the  fundamental areas of cooking. They also drilled down on the techniques for a number of cooking methods such as sautéing, grilling, roasting, shallow poaching and deep poaching.

One of the participating guests, Barbara Fox, appreciated how effectively the boot camp tied techniques and methods together for her. “It is like an exam – the light bulb kept going off. It brought everything together from the other classes,” she said.

The Culinary Center Introduces Exciting Culinary Boot Camp at SeaThe culinary immersion culminated with a Pro Chef practical exam on the second day, evaluated by Senior Executive Chef Alexis Quaretti and General Manager Damien Lacroix. The afternoon of the second day was dedicated to the preparation, execution and evaluation which focused on two dishes. One dish was required to include a protein that the guests had selected out of a hat – to make things even more exciting!

Chef Quaretti shared that they sampled a variety of dishes prepared by the guests such as fresh spring rolls, chicken with grilled vegetables, poached salmon with rice, grilled prawns and many others.

“Damien and I judged the different flavors of the dishes, the presentation and the originality,” Chef Quaretti said. “Some guests receive the highest score – three stars for a master chef – we were quite impressed with some of the recipes!”

The Culinary Center Introduces Exciting Culinary Boot Camp at SeaDamien remarked on what a wonderful experience it was to see what guests were able to do with their market basket of ingredients after two days of intensive cooking classes – which isn’t to say he was easy judge.

“My first comment to the guests was: ‘Do not think that because you are my guests, I will be any more tolerant or any less critical of your work,’…with a big smile on my face, of course!” he said, laughing.

The Culinary Center Introduces Exciting Culinary Boot Camp at SeaThough the program was rigorous – a true cooking immersion program – the days certainly were filled with laughter and fun. One guest, Hank Semmelhack, remarked that he knew they would continue enjoying all that they had learned beyond the cruise. “My wife and I love it!!  We will take the lessons and skills home to have more fun and amaze our family and friends,” he said.

This fall, Riviera’s Atlantic Horizons, along with Marina’s Passage of the Explorers and Southern Seas voyages will all be featuring our new and exciting Culinary Boot Camp at Sea program. Chef Kelly and The Culinary Center faculty invite you to join them during one of these upcoming transoceanic voyages for an unforgettable culinary experience!

April 17, 2015

Guest Lecturer Post: How Do You Say Xunantunich?

Guest lecturer Sandy Cares’ animated and entertaining talks about people and events reveal colorful and unexpected aspects of the destination’s history, culture and traditions.

Sandy Cares with the infamous bronze Mark Twain statue in Hamilton, Bermuda
Sandy Cares with the infamous bronze Mark Twain statue in Hamilton, Bermuda

Whether you are heading out for an action-filled adventure or are just planning to “lime away” at the beach, she encourages you not to leave the ship without knowing the “story behind the story!” 

Drawing from stories by local authors as she weaves in anecdotes from travel and life, Sandy combines meticulous research with effervescent enthusiasm and humor for a fresh and fun twist to understanding and appreciating Bermuda and Caribbean destinations. Sandy has been lecturing aboard Oceania Cruises ships throughout the Caribbean and Central America since January 2014 and hopes to meet you soon.

Below, Sandy shares her fascinating experience of the Mayan ruins of Xunantunich in western Belize while recently lecturing aboard Riviera.

“How do you say Xunantunich?” our local guide asks, teasing us as we settle in for our ride across Belize to visit this exquisite Mayan ruin. 

“We just call it tuna sandwich,” she giggles. That works for us just fine.

Guest Lecturer Post: How Do You Say Xunantunich?Arriving at our first stop, the coach pulls off where our group will traverse the short distance across the Mopan River on an old hand-cranked ferry, a quick journey that adds lots of local color to our adventure.

Guest Lecturer Post: How Do You Say Xunantunich?Once on the other side, we ascend to the entrance of the Xunantunich ruins. The ancient Mayan world spanned the five modern nations of Southern Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras and Belize, and Mayan ruins abound throughout this realm. Belize’s Xunantunich, or “Stone Woman,” lies about 80 miles west of Belize City and flourished from about AD 600-750 when it was mysteriously abandoned. In its heyday, the population of Belize’s area may have reached 200,000 and Xunantunich served as an important ceremonial site for the region.

Guest Lecturer Post: How Do You Say Xunantunich?Xunantunich provides examples of some of the major Mayan accomplishments, particularly in architecture, astronomy and art. But before we arrive at the imposing El Castillo, our guide leads us past a small hill overgrown with grass and tells us about metaphorical daggers with which the notorious Thomas Gann explored this site in the mid-1800s. Thomas Gann was a physician by training but also a self-described archaeologist who used questionable methods to excavate archaeological sites. Specifically, dynamite!  We can only wonder what treasures may have been lost forever.

The first sight of the imposing El Castillo takes my breath away. The photos I have seen only serve to confirm that I am actually looking at the selfsame site, but photos do not compare to the visual display impacting me now. The stark white of the famous Xunantunich Frieze stands out like brightly flashing teeth.

The frieze, or long band of deeply sculpted limestone, spans the entire length of the monument with stunning glyphs and clearly executed images. One of these depicts the Mayan Tree of Life, central to the Mayan world vision and their creation beliefs.

Guest Lecturer Post: How Do You Say Xunantunich?Another repeated pattern looks like stylized owl-eyes and I ask the guide if that symbol stands for the planet Venus, which he confirms. The Maya kept a “weather eye” on Venus, which portended war and death and other bad things in stark contrast to our own perception of Venus as the Goddess of Love, and bringer of valentines and cupid.

Guest Lecturer Post: How Do You Say Xunantunich?I walk up a flight of stairs to scan other temples and palaces of this ancient city center with the jungle of Guatemala looming beyond. It isn’t hard to imagine what power an ancient Mayan ruler would have felt – and exuded – from this privileged vantage point. Behind me little cubbies with shelves carved into the rock once served as royal beds mere steps away from a sheer vertical drop – unforgiving for a sleepwalker!

I have no intention of climbing to the very top of this incredibly high monument whose height of 130 feet makes it Belize’s second-tallest Mayan structure.

Guest Lecturer Post: How Do You Say Xunantunich?But an inquiry to the guide about what’s at the top stops me cold. “A corbel vault,” she answers casually.  “A corbel vault?!” I echo excitedly. I am ignited. I did not come all this way to miss out on an up-close-and-personal encounter with an actual Mayan corbel vault, so up I go!

Guest Lecturer Post: How Do You Say Xunantunich?The corbel vault, also known as the Mayan Arch, is a narrow, peaked arch that was used to bear a great deal of weight over constricted interior spaces like tunnels and was created using nine stone layers to represent the nine levels of the ancient Mayan underworld. While the Romans made widespread use of the corbel arch, and it found its way into the European churches of the Middle Ages, the Maya came by this architectural “invention” in isolation of any knowledge from older European civilizations. The Mayan version of the corbel vault was as ceremonial as it was structurally useful.

Guest Lecturer Post: How Do You Say Xunantunich?After clicking my camera at every possible angle for that “perfect shot” of the corbel vault, I begin the inevitable descent and concede it will be trickier going down these steep steps than it was coming up. I approach the venture the safest way I know how in the absence of handrails: cheek-by-cheek and very slowly. The guide reassures me they do not permit visitors to ascend the monument on rainy days.

Crossing the Mopan River one last time on that quaint hand-cranked ferry, we stop to select a souvenir or two from the colorful vendor stalls conveniently situated on the riverbank. We board the coach for the ride back to the awaiting Riviera after spending a memorable January day at…how do you say? "Shoo-nan-too-nitch," yes, Xunantunich.

But first we will stop for some well-deserved lunch. Tuna sandwich, anyone?! 

April 15, 2015

The Culinary Center Welcomes Chef Kellie Evans

The Culinary Center recently welcomed one of our newest chef instructors, Kellie EvansThe Culinary Center recently welcomed one of our newest chef instructors, Kellie Evans, aboard Riviera. With a fascinatingly diverse culinary background, Chef Evans brings a wealth of knowledge to The Culinary Center and is very excited to join us. Most recently she created over 2,500 recipes for print, website and cookbooks as a food editor for Saveur magazine. Chef Evans is also the featured instructor in a series of technique videos for Saveur, which she produced. As Executive Chef for a catering enterprise in New York, Chef Evans headed a team that serviced the productions of “Boardwalk Empire,” “Nurse Jackie,” “Sesame Street,” “Blue Bloods” and “30 Rock.” She has also been a food stylist and is a graduate of the French Culinary Institute in New York. 

Chef Kellie Evans & Chef Noelle Barille roll sushi and prepare for classes in Riviera’s Culinary Center.
Chef Kellie Evans & Chef Noelle Barille roll sushi and prepare for classes in Riviera’s Culinary Center.

As Riviera arrives in Europe, Chef Evans, along with Chef Noelle Barille, have been busy teaching a number of new and fresh culinary classes, including Rock the Wok, in which you master high-heating cooking techniques along with some sushi-rolling tricks.

Below is one of Chef Evans’ favorite sushi recipes from The Culinary Center.

SPICY TUNA ROLL

(MAKES 2 ROLLS)

4 ounces sushi-grade tuna

1 teaspoon sriracha sauce

2 teaspoons green onions, thinly sliced on the diagonal

½ teaspoon toasted sesame oil

1 sheet nori

Tezu (handwater): ¼ cup water and 2 teaspoons rice wine vinegar

1¼ cups sushi rice

2 tablespoons sesame seeds         

Spicy mayo: ¼ cup mayonnaise and 1 tablespoon sriracha

Bamboo sushi mat covered in plastic wrap

Dice the tuna into ¼ inch cubes. In a glass bowl, add the sriracha sauce, 1 teaspoon of green onion and the sesame oil. Then add the tuna, and mix.

SushiLay a sheet of nori shiny side down on the prepared bamboo sushi mat. Wet your fingers with the Tezu and pat down ¾ cup of the sushi rice on nori. Sprinkle generously with sesame seeds. Turn the nori and rice over with the rice side down and align the edge of the nori with the bottom edge of the bamboo mat. Place half of the tuna mixture on the bottom edge of the nori.

Grab the bottom edge of the mat, and begin to roll the sushi while ensuring that the filling stays inside with your fingers. Gently lift the mat off the sushi as you continue to roll the sushi into a tight cylinder. Keep a gentle pressure on the mat so the sushi forms a nice, tight roll.

With the plastic wrap still on, cut the sushi into 6 pieces – beginning in the middle. Serve on a sushi plate and dollop with spicy mayonnaise and a green onion ring or two. 

Chef Evans looks forward to meeting you in The Culinary Center soon!

April 13, 2015

Guest Lecturer Post: The Birthplace of Clouds

Dr. Ken BeattieWith a horticultural career spanning four decades, Dr. Ken Beattie has become one of Canada’s most notable and approachable resources in the plant world. He has developed award-winning television programs including the documentary series, “The Earth’s Garden,” and also served as host of the live, Canadian television series, “Get Growing.” Even in his retirement, Ken continues to apply his vast and diverse experiences within initiatives of food security, education, urban habitat development and practical environmental projects as Canada’s Manager of Horticulture Education with the exceptionally distinguished Canadian Wildlife Federation.

Ken has been lecturing aboard cruise ships for more than twenty years and recently was on board Regatta as she explored the Amazon and South America. Ken shares his fascinating insights and experiences below.

Guest Lecturer Post: The Birthplace of CloudsThe Amazon Basin, or Amazonas, is often referred to as “the lungs of the planet.” I prefer “the birthplace of the clouds.” Huge pillars of candy floss-like vapor rise continuously over the murky waters of the Amazon. Early morning light paints the outer edges of long, island- like shaped clouds as if they were just dipped in gold. As the constant, almost oppressive, sun heightens in the sky, shapes, densities and colors change yet again. Clearly this must be the birthplace of all clouds. This evening, as I enjoy the endless ballet of color and the relentless sun decides to set, another show takes main stage. Soft, evening light drools over the edges of huge banks of clouds, highlighting in sharp contrast the horizon, the sea, and of course, the main body of clouds.

Guest Lecturer Post: The Birthplace of CloudsThis orchestration of color and texture takes place daily as we sail the mighty Amazon River aboard Regatta. It is the end of the rainy or wettest season; therefore, the river can be navigated by this smaller ship. The Amazon Basin is as large as the continental U.S., boasting more than 4,000 miles of navigable waters and thousands of tributaries. The Tapajos River is the fourth largest in the world and is only one of such tributaries. Spending several days “at sea,” as it were, on these massive rivers, is delightful. The water color changes from clear to café au lait and abounds with interesting creatures.

Guest Lecturer Post: The Birthplace of CloudsThe shoreline, often just a faint line in the distance, is predominantly submerged trees with only the very tops of these massive specimens peeking out until the dry season. Flooded homes and a battalion of boats of many shapes and descriptions dot this curious landscape. Tramping through the thick rainforest delighting at the huge selection of plants and insects may seem a tad too adventuresome for some with all the scary things that lurk in these parts. However, remember that once aboard Regatta, you are pampered like royalty and will get to sleep in your stateroom, not a tent in the jungle — not exactly the intrepid explorer!

The entire voyage was 21 days, starting in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and ending in Miami, Florida. Evidence of the upcoming World Cup was evident in construction and a general fervor of anticipation in Rio, Salvador, Fortaleza and the inland city of Manaus. Contrasts were everywhere, from architecture representing both old and new world, to subsistence agriculture, to full scale devastation of the rainforest to grow soya beans.

Guest Lecturer Post: The Birthplace of CloudsThe plants of the many regions on this expedition were the absolute highlight for me. Enormous trees festooned with entire ecosystems on their branches, insect homes and buttressed roots the size of a compact car. Curious sounds in the forest kept everyone alert and watchful, but as it turns out, the wildlife are very cunning and excellent at camouflage — with the exception of the ants. The largest biomass in this rainforest is ants, and it is not that hard to believe when you see them. One species is used by local indigenous peoples as insect repellant. The smallest ants ever basically “rain” out of a disturbed nest to be squashed and applied to the skin. Thankfully, these ants don’t bite like so many of their cousins.

6Brazil nut trees reign as the tallest trees, holding their lofty canopy well above 30 meters. These trees are protected by law, so are often seen standing in the middle of a newly created field which is sown to the pervasive soya bean. As regal and statuesque as they are, they appear to be sad to be the only species left after modern day agricultural devastation.

The rubber trees, which played a huge role in Brazil’s economic development, are still evident, easily recognizable from the wounds inflicted from endless tapping for their precious latex. Noble and sturdy, these “workhorses of the forest” play a crucial role in the ecosystem, particularly as a food source for certain fish. As the seed pods mature and fall into the river they make a sound that attracts a huge fish. This fish has teeth that resemble the molars of a sheep and massive jaw muscles. Once the buoyant seed pod is in the water, the fish snaps its jaws around the pod, cracking it open and creating an almost gunshot sound.

As we sail out of this enormous river towards the Caribbean, even more sunsets and luscious forests await — many rich in myth, folklore and swashbuckling.

Ken will be on board with us again this fall, and invites you to join him aboard Nautica’s Footsteps of Discovery voyage, departing October 4, 2015 and Marvels of Time voyage, departing October 25, 2015.

April 10, 2015

Guest Post: Unforgettable Horseback Journey to Salto del Limón

While Riviera recently visited Cayo Levantado, Dominican Republic, Joan and Bryan L., outdoor enthusiasts hailing from Minnesota, ventured into the tropical forest of Samaná Peninsula. 1Below, Joan shares their unforgettable experiences during the excursion to the dramatic Salto del Limón waterfall. 

We had read that the Salto del Limón waterfall was beautiful, with a sheer drop of about 120 feet, but we didn’t expect the journey there to become one of our favorite memories from our “Heart of Caribbean” cruise.

Guest Post: Unforgettable Horseback Journey to Salto del LimónMy husband, Bryan, and I had no idea the adventure we were in for when we decided to do the tour, but it was just wonderful. We were going by horseback, so upon arriving at the ranch, we each met our horses and a guide that would accompany us to ensure everything went smoothly. My horse’s name was Ferrari – and fortunately, he did not live up to his name! He was nice and slow, and remarkable steady on the uneven cobbled trails.

2The falls are fairly secluded so the 40-minute or so ride was incredibly picturesque. The trail became quite steep in some places offering beautiful vistas of the surrounding landscape. Our guides pointed out cacao and mango trees, and pineapple plants among all the leafy green plants and palm trees. As Ferrari took me up and down several steep hills, I took in the fresh mountain air and enjoyed the warm sunshine when we passed through clearings. It was a beautiful day and my husband and I appreciated the peacefulness of being in the tropical forest, with only the sounds of birds singing, palms rustling and our horses’ hooves on the cobblestones.

4As the waterfall came into sight, we tethered the horses nearby for a rest, so we could make the steep descent down to the base. As we climbed down, the sound of the crashing falls grew louder, and I felt a welcome, refreshing mist on my face. I understood why it had been described as dramatic – the roar of the rushing water, the visual of the cascades against a sheer drop and the gorgeous aqua pool at the base.

5The pretty blue-green water was all too inviting since the day had become quite humid. By the time we arrived at the foot of the falls, you could feel the mist completely surrounding you. My husband and I were laughing like little kids – so carefree. We both decided to wade in – what an experience, surrounded by such natural beauty after a lovely horseback ride. We splashed around a bit, took some photos and cooled off. Then we made our way back up to the horses, and rested in a tranquil, shaded area and enjoyed ice cold drinks.

The best part was that we still had the ride back to look forward to – in this case, it was both the destination of Salto del Limón and the journey that made it so memorable. 

April 8, 2015

Q & A with our Alaska Voyages Captain: Maksym Melnikov

1“I always had one dream and ambition: to become a sea captain,” Captain Maksym Melnikov recalls. As far back as he can remember, the ocean was a constant in his life. “We often moved from sea port to sea port because my father was a marine engineer.”

Captain Melnikov was born in Rostov-on-Don, in the southern part of Russia. When he was ten years old, his family moved to Zeleniy Mis (Green Point), a small town in northeast Siberia. At just fourteen years of age, Captain Melnikov graduated high school and joined Rostov Marine College in the main land. “It seems that a nomadic lifestyle was kind of my normal routine,” he says. Since then, Captain Melnikov has combined his passion for the ocean and traveling by sailing around the world aboard various types of ships.

Captain Melnikov joined Oceania Cruises in the fall of 2010. He spent most of his professional career sailing on cruise ships and tells us he quickly learned that nothing else could pique his interest.

2What do you love most about being a captain with Oceania Cruises?

It is not one single factor, but rather a combination of various things. Although I’ve been traveling for quite some time, I still love meeting people from different countries and visiting different places. From a professional standpoint, I like the open and friendly relationships among the various departments on board the ships. I must also praise the always approachable and supportive company management. I can proudly say the people, both on board and in the office, are the best. And of course our guests – they are very interesting and nice people.

5Can you share one of your most memorable experiences while traveling to and around Alaska?

It was a couple of years ago… in the early morning, while maneuvering to dock in Skagway, we had to stop everything and hold the ship just 50 meters off the pier for a big whale that suddenly emerged (exactly between the ship and the dock). The whale stayed there for a good half hour until it dived and made its famous tail-wagging exit. Guests did not mind the slight delay in arrival; after all, these unspoiled moments are what we love about Alaska.

7What are your favorite places to visit in Alaska?

All of Alaska is a must-see destination and should be on everybody’s travel wish list. One of my favorite places is Juneau, because I like to go across the bridge and see the entire city from the other side. I like hiking and this is a great place to do so. Another place I love is Skagway. Here you can see a huge rock in the harbor with the names of ships and captains who have visited the area, painted one above the other on the rock’s side. It pleases me to see familiar names of some of my older friends and colleagues.

You mentioned that you’re used to a nomadic lifestyle; where will the ocean take you next?

My next command will be on Insignia (on the World Cruise segment from Shanghai to Sidney from April 11 to May 16). I will then leave Insignia and fly to Vancouver to join Regatta for an Alaska voyage until July 7.

Captain Melnikov looks forward to welcoming you aboard soon!

April 6, 2015

Red Ginger Recipe: Chicken in Red Curry Sauce

Red-ginger-2Since it opened, Red Ginger has become one of the favorite restaurants on board Marina and Riviera. The fresh cuisines of Asia are a wonderful complement to the European menus we feature on board. While many of us are familiar with Asian cuisine, Red Ginger has given us a deeper appreciation for how much the cuisines of Thailand, China, Japan, Vietnam, and other Asian countries differ. The restaurant features innovative preparations of authentic recipes from these various traditions.

Some nights you just want something quick and easy – but don’t want to sacrifice flavor. This recipe, inspired by our entrée at Red Ginger, is great comfort food. 

SERVES 2 TO 3

Red-ginger-43 (13½-ounce) cans unsweetened coconut milk, unshaken (preferably Aroy-D or Mae Ploy)

3 to 4 tablespoons red curry paste

1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut in 1-inch cubes

1 red bell pepper, julienned

1 serrano or other medium-heat pepper, julienned

4 lime leaves

1 to 2 tablespoons Thai fish sauce

5 basil leaves

Open the cans of coconut milk and spoon the thicker layer of milk off the top. Place this thicker milk into a bowl and set aside. You should have approximately 4 cups of thin milk remaining in the cans and 1 cup of thick milk in the bowl.

Heat a wok over medium-high heat and add ½ cup of the thick milk. When the milk begins to bubble, add the red curry paste, adjusting the amount to your personal taste. Cook, stirring constantly, for 2 to 3 minutes. Add the remaining ½ cup of thick milk and cook, stirring constantly, for about 5 more minutes, until the coconut oil starts to separate.

Red-ginger-3Add the chicken pieces. Increase the heat to high and cook for 4 to 5 minutes, stirring constantly. Add the peppers and cook 2 to 3 minutes. Add the thin coconut milk and lime leaves and bring to a boil. Decrease the heat to medium and simmer for 7 minutes.

Add 1 tablespoon of the fish sauce and taste. Adjust the seasoning accordingly.

Stack the basil leaves, roll them into a cigar, and slice into a chiffonade. Add the basil just before serving.

TIP: Curry is often served over jasmine rice. For a quick and easy meal, use Seeds of Change organic rice packets that take only 90 seconds to cook in the microwave.

April 2, 2015

Q & A with our own Chief Marketing Officer, James Rodriguez

Chief Marketing Officer, James Rodriguez As one of the original team members for Oceania Cruises, James Rodriguez has always had a passion for travel and in particular for the cruise industry. In 1999 he started working at a travel agency, specifically in eCommerce; later he went on to work for Crystal Cruises in the Sales department.  And ever since the start of Oceania Cruises, in 2003, he has worked in Sales and Marketing.

James believes travel truly changes people’s lives for the better. “It opens minds and hearts, and if I can help facilitate that in any small way my work becomes more than just a job.”

As a Chief Marketing Officer for a cruise line, you must sail quite a bit. How many cruises have you been on?

I cannot even remember how many cruises I have been on. I’ve been cruising since 1997 and changed my career (he worked in Human Resources for a consulting business) to work in the cruise industry, because I loved it so much. The only area that I have not cruised in is Asia. That would be my next area of exploration.

What would you say is your favorite region to visit, and why?

My favorite region to cruise would have to be the Greek Isles and the Mediterranean. I was a Theology minor in college, and this area of the world is filled with rich history that really makes the areas I studied come to life.   

As someone who has been on so many cruises, and is so knowledgeable in the Travel Industry, which region would you recommend to someone going on a cruise for the first time?

You have to start in the Mediterranean. This area gives you a taste of Europe from Spain, France and Italy to the deep blue waters of the Mediterranean Sea. You really get to see several different cultures all on one cruise, making you fall in love with the whole idea of what a cruise is supposed to be.

Would your recommendation change for someone who is an experienced traveler, like yourself?  

Yes. Once you have been on several cruises and have gotten a taste of those “bucket list” ports, the experienced cruiser starts looking for more exotic locations that they may have never thought of visiting. For example, our British Isles cruises offer exotic stops in Greenland and Iceland. You also don’t want to miss the exotic locations we take you to on one of our Asia cruises, such as Myanmar or Mumbai. Unlike first timers, who want to see as many ports as possible in one cruise, the experienced cruiser knows the hidden secret of a cruise vacation - days at sea. If you have taken several cruises, you know just how peaceful a full day at sea can be. It nourishes your soul and rejuvenates your passion for travel.

In your opinion, what do you think are the benefits and/or highlights of cruising in the spring time?

Spring affords travelers the ability to visit certain ports before high travel season kicks in. This means less lines and the ability to experience everyday normal life in many ports. This gives you a deeper sense of culture and flavors of each region. 

So when is your next cruise, and where will you go?

I am taking my kids for the first time to the Mediterranean this summer. It will be a special trip for me, because, as I said before, I believe travel opens people’s heart and mind. I am excited to see how this experience expands my children’s view of the world they live in.  

March 24, 2015

Guest Lecturer Post: Songs of the Sea

Songssea1Terry Bishop, a frequent guest lecturer with Oceania Cruises and man of many worlds, has had a lifelong love affair with global history and discovery which has taken him on adventures around the world. He now lives with his wife Julie in Andalusia, Spain, and often serves as guide in the nearby Sierras de Tejeda. Also an accomplished folk musician and entertainer, Terry looks forward to sharing his many passions with you during his upcoming lectures and performances during our Polynesian Treasures voyage aboard Insignia this June. Below, he shares a sneak preview of his “Songs of the Sea” presentation: stories and songs about the great sailors – Nelson, Cook, Bligh and Franklin – at work, rest and war. As he says, it’s less of a lecture, and more of a show!

Anchors aweigh, anchors aweigh,

Away, away,

We’ll sail the ocean blue.

This could be the theme song of many a ‘cruiser’ as they set off on another, or maybe their first, trip with Oceania Cruises. But the sailors who sang this type of song were not going to enjoy the benefits of 21st-century travel – with its personalized service, luxury accommodations and little to worry about except what and how much to pack! That sailors in their very basic wooden-walled square riggers could find the enthusiasm to create songs and make music is in itself a wonder.  “Anchors Aweigh” heralds the departure of that great explorer Captain James Cook, heading for the South Sea:

We’ll sail Endeavour southwards and sniff the tropic air

We’ll sail her to Tahiti and coral islands fair

And he would take with him his trusty crew, the men who knew the hard life back home, a life centered on survival, alcohol and women! 

As I was a walking up London, from Wapping to the Ratcliffe Highway

I chanced to pop into a gin-shop, to spend a long night and a day

And invariably trouble would result and then turned into a song to sing during the rare periods of free time on a ship heading who-knows-where, with no promise of a happy return.

Songsea2

Meanwhile, Admiral Lord Nelson battled his way to public recognition through his brilliant victories at the Nile, Copenhagen and finally to his tragic triumph at Trafalgar:

But my love was slain with Nelson, all on that very day,

At the cost of life and limb to many a loyal sailor:

But now he’s got no legs at all, for he ran a race with a cannon ball

And then, John Franklin took two vessels to explore the Northwest Passage in 1845. He lost his ships, his crew and his life, rued by his loyal wife Jane: 

Ten thousand pounds would I freely give, to see my Lord Franklin again

Shanties, gigs and reels would keep the crews exercised through many a dark day and create stories that live to this day. One time pop idol, David Essex created the musical Mutiny that closes with the Bounty’s Fletcher Christian’s melancholic air:

 I’ll go no more a-roving.

Whaling, warfare, trade and exploration were all part of the musical world of seafarers, with an optimistic view of their final resting place. 

And I’ll see you one day in Fiddlers Green!

Join Terry this June aboard Insignia for what is certain to be an engaging and entertaining show! 

March 20, 2015

Top UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Asia

Home to a legacy of ancient civilizations, a rich cultural heritage and diverse landscapes, Asia features over 200 UNESCO World Heritage Sites. From architectural wonders to spectacular natural treasures, our voyages take you to some of the most legendary and impressive sights in this unique region. Discover some of our favorite UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Asia that you can visit in 2015!

The Great WallThe Great Wall (available from Shanghai):
Truly amazing in its scope, the Great Wall of China stretches over 5,500 miles east to west across northern China. A stunning engineering marvel and a feat of human ingenuity, it carves a massive serpentine path along the crests of craggy mountainous terrain. The wall once formed a remarkable defense system against invasions from the north, and today offers astonishing views of the surrounding landscape. Walk along a preserved section of the wall, and take in awe-inspiring mountain vistas.

Angkor Wat ExperienceAngkor Wat Experience (available from Bangkok):                              

The spectacular temples of Angkor are spread throughout the jungles around Cambodia’s Siem Reap. The crowning masterpiece is the enormous, pyramid-shaped Angkor Wat, which bears numerous beautifully executed bas-relief carvings. Obscured by dense vegetation for hundreds of years, it wasn’t until the early 20th century that scholars began to unravel some of Angkor’s mysteries. Explore the intriguing temples throughout Angkor and enjoy a memorable sunset in this magnificent setting.

Ha Long Bay: Mythical Dragon’s BayHa Long Bay: Mythical Dragon’s Bay (available from Hanoi):

Named for a mythical dragon that defended the Vietnamese against invasion, Ha Long Bay is a scenic marvel of nearly 2,000 picturesque islands and precipitous limestone karsts that rise from the sea. The region is also home to rare and endemic flora 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. In a traditional junk, cruise among the magnificent limestone pillars, sheer cliffs and tranquil coves.

Taj MahalTaj Mahal (available from Mumbai):
Considered to be the finest example of Mughal architecture, Agra’s fabled Taj Mahal is a glistening mass of white marble and semi-precious stones set amid impeccably landscaped grounds. 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. One of the most renowned structures in the world, Agra’s fabled Taj Mahal will awe your senses and leave you with unforgettable memories.


Ancient Temples of BaganAncient Temples of Bagan (available from Rangoon):  

While not on the official UNESCO World Heritage Site list yet, we’ve included the ancient temples of Bagan since they are on the tentative UNESCO list – and visiting Bagan makes for a truly unparalleled travel experience. It is one of the richest archaeological sites in Asia and an astounding architectural marvel. Home to more than 2,000 religious shrines, you will be awed by the details of each masterpiece. Visit the Ananda Temple, the Gubyaukgyi Temple and the Dhammayangyi Temple, the most massive in Bagan. A walk amongst the well-preserved temples and vast ruins is an experience of a lifetime.

March 11, 2015

Discover the History and Grandeur of Scandinavia & Russia

Baltic1The Baltic region has many faces, and you will find new joys and unexpected delights in each one. The romance of Copenhagen is found in not only its meandering canals but also its centuries-old palaces, including the setting for Shakespeare’s Hamlet, a grand castle just north of the city. Riga’s reputation may be intertwined with that of the former Soviet Union, but as a historic Latvian city, it has become one of Northern Europe’s crown jewels.

Baltic3Even the most passionate art lover is astonished to discover a collection that is truly transcendent. With millions of pieces spanning both millennia and continents, St. Petersburg’s Hermitage can be described no other way. The low afternoon light reflecting off the gilt outline of an ornate chandelier is just as mesmerizing as the brilliant works of Rembrandt, Renoir and Monet hanging on the walls. History buffs will be astounded at how Scandinavia seems to manipulate the passage of time.

Baltic2In venerable Stockholm, the changing of the guard at the Royal Palace in Gamla Stan takes place just as it has for generations. The dramatic orchestral crescendos during a Russian ballet bring time to a standstill. As your fingertips touch the hard concrete of a preserved section of the Berlin Wall, it might seem as if all the stories of the Cold War come to life.

Some of the most pleasant surprises in Scandinavia cannot be experienced with your eyes, such as caviar and vodka at a café on Senate Square in Helsinki. The sounds of folk music on the streets in Gdansk or the scent of blue cornflowers in the gardens of a Baroque palace in Tallinn are unexpected moments that seem as if they were created only for you. A voyage with Oceania Cruises lets you discover all of the Baltic’s hidden treasures, because Scandinavia is best explored by the sea as the Vikings once did.

March 9, 2015

On Top of Italy with a Glass of Red Wine

While Riviera was docked in Taormina (Sicily), Italy, Blair and Titus S., avid cruisers and wine connoisseurs from Georgia, discovered striking Mount Etna and the Vineyards of San Michele Estate.

On Top of Italy with a Glass of Red WineOne thing we love about cruising is taking an ordinary day and turning it into something perfectly extraordinary.

That’s what happened on our Enchanting Riviera voyage from Athens to Monte Carlo last fall. I remember it was a Sunday. We were sitting next to a window at the San Michele Estate, enjoying course after course of delicious traditional Sicilian cuisine paired with an exquisite bottle of Pinot Noir. The Sicilian coast was to our left, Mount Etna straight ahead and a vast sea of bountiful vineyards surrounded us; I couldn’t help but wish for this to be my lunch view every day.  

The Sunday began with exploring Crateri Silvestri on top of glorious Mount Etna on a cool fall morning. At more than 10,000 feet, Mount Etna is the tallest of Italy’s mountains south of the Alps. There were so many cones, craters and lava streams our tour guide showed us. Pictures just can’t do the excursion justice, though we took many. For us, it was exciting to just walk around a stratovolcano together—something extraordinary that we've never done before.

     On Top of Italy with a Glass of Red Wine  On Top of Italy with a Glass of Red Wine

     On Top of Italy with a Glass of Red Wine  On Top of Italy with a Glass of Red Wine

     On Top of Italy with a Glass of Red Wine  On Top of Italy with a Glass of Red Wine

After exploring, we drove to San Michele Estate for a wonderful tour of one of our favorite wineries. We learned how Mount Etna’s soil helps make it a great region for wine production because it’s rich in potassium and mineral salts. We watched wine bottle labels being produced, which was also interesting as I never realized the bottle labels were made at the winery. Of course the best part of touring any winery is the opportunity to sample different varietals produced in the vineyard. We tasted at least five different wines and were not disappointed— I loved the Cabernet Sauvignon Murgo   

     On Top of Italy with a Glass of Red Wine  On Top of Italy with a Glass of Red Wine

     On Top of Italy with a Glass of Red Wine  On Top of Italy with a Glass of Red Wine

     On Top of Italy with a Glass of Red Wine  On Top of Italy with a Glass of Red Wine

We took home two bottles of wine from San Michele on that Sunday, though I wish there was a way to also take that incomparable lunch view back to Georgia. One thing is for sure, we’re looking forward to turning ordinary days into extraordinary ones on our next voyage! 

March 6, 2015

Saxman Native Village: History through Totem Poles

Books tell a story, carvings on a wall tell a story, and in Saxman Native Village in Ketchikan, Alaska, totem poles tell a story documented by the early Native Americans.  

Saxman Native Village: History through Totem PolesThough totem poles  are  prevalent  throughout southwest Alaska, Saxman Native Village is known for having the largest collection of standing totem poles. These were first created by local Native Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian artists (the three main indigenous groups in the Ketchikan Indian Community), who brilliantly carved symbols into red cedar logs from the Tongass Rainforest. 

Those symbols illustrated on the totem poles included  animals and mythological creatures that were believed to have spiritual significance. They watch over the families, clans and tribes of those who observe the belief of Totemism.  The symbols  represent clans, with the two most prominent clans belonging to the eagle and raven.  While the raven is represented by a straight beak, the eagle has a curved one. 

Saxman Native Village: History through Totem PolesEagle and Raven Symbolism

Eagle: The eagle is seen as an intelligent and resourceful animal. Many believe the eagle to be the  ruler of the sky because it can  soar higher than other birds. Their feathers are even considered sacred among many tribes. The eagle is seen as a divine spirit, representing  sacrifice, intelligence, renewal, courage, illumination of spirit, healing, creation, freedom, and risk-taking. The eagle is a powerful symbol of prestige, and also denotes peace and friendship. Many ancient tribes also believed the bird could transform into a human. 

Raven: Despite being perceived as corrupt and hungry, the raven is one of the most commonly used symbols in Alaska, and is the subject of more than 90 stories carved on totem poles. One of which explains the origins of the sun and moon. The Tlingit tradition tells how, long ago, the world was covered in darkness:  

Saxman Native Village: History through Totem Poles“Raven grew tired of stumbling around and went in search of light. As he came near the house of an old chief, he overheard the chief talking with his daughter. Raven learned that the chief kept all the light of the world locked away in a box.” This is when Raven planned to steal that box.  He transformed himself into a hemlock needle and landed in the river. It was then when the chief’s daughter unknowingly drank him and became pregnant. She later gave birth to a son — Raven’s human form.

The chief loved his new grandson and would have done anything for him. One day, Raven saw the box and begged to play with it. The chief refused, but as any kid would do, he cried, screamed, and even threw tantrums.  Eventually, the chief gave him the box, even though it was the one thing he did not want to share.

Raven instantly changed back to his bird form, carried the box through the  smoke hole inside the house, and placed the light in the sky as the sun, the moon and the stars. 

Experience Ketchikan

Explore the rich living culture of southeast Alaska's Native Americans, where more than a sixth of the city’s population is Alaskan native or American Indian.

Discover all about Ketchikan’s fascinating totem pole history on Regatta’s Majesty of Alaska voyage, or one of our other exciting Alaska voyages this summer. 

Saxman Native Village: History through Totem Poles Alaska9 Saxman Native Village: History through Totem Poles Saxman Native Village: History through Totem Poles

March 3, 2015

Introducing Our 2016 Summer Collection: Exclusive Launch Offer, Exciting Itineraries & New Ports

We’re very excited to announce that reservations for our 2016 Summer Collection have officially opened today. This is one of our biggest launches ever with the addition of Sirena, our newest addition to the Oceania Cruises family, along with our most diverse array of itineraries yet. We have just unveiled 119 voyages, 88 unique new itineraries and the 20 fantastic new ports of call below – the most in our history.

Triestre, Italy
Triestre, Italy
Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts
Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts

Alcudia (Mallorca), Spain

La Paz, Mexico

Bandol, France

Manzanillo, Mexico

Catalina Island, California

Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts

Crotone (Calabria), Italy

Piombino (Tuscany), Italy

Ensenada, Mexico

Porto Santo Stefano, Italy

Gaeta, Italy

Punta Cana, Dominican Republic

Gaspé, Quebec

Skagen, Denmark

Golfito, Costa Rica

Trieste, Italy

Havre-Saint-Pierre, Quebec

Karlskrona, Sweden

Helsingborg, Sweden

Vlissingen, Netherlands

Gaspé, Quebec
Gaspé, Quebec
La Paz, Mexico
La Paz, Mexico

In addition to the finest cuisine at sea, extraordinary personalized service and all of the signatures of our voyages you have come to know and cherish, we are pleased to offer our most generous savings ever with a valuable EXCLUSIVE LAUNCH OFFER*. For 2016 summer bookings made by June 30, 2015, take advantage of limited-time, never-before-offered savings:

Helsingborg, Sweden
Helsingborg, Sweden

EXCLUSIVE LAUNCH OFFER*

  • Up to $1,000 Additional Savings Off the Early Booking Fare
  • Lowest Price Guarantee
  • 50% Off Deposits

All of this is in addition to our special 2 for 1 Cruise Fares, Free Airfare* and Early Booking Savings. 

Be one of the first to reserve the suite or stateroom of your choice – plan your dream vacation today! Reservations have already opened and with this limited-time offer, space on these fascinating voyages will fill quickly. Call Oceania Cruises at 855-OCEANIA (855-623-2642), visit OceaniaCruises.com or contact your Travel Agent to book your spectacular journey.

We look forward to welcoming you aboard soon!

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 *Offers expire 6/30/15. All fares are per person in U.S. dollars, valid for residents of United States and Canada, based on double occupancy (unless otherwise noted), for new bookings only and may be withdrawn at any time. 50% Off Deposits apply to voyages that are not within final payment. Launch Offer Savings up to $1,000 are per stateroom. Lowest price guarantee is limited to this launch offer in U.S. dollars. Free Internet is one per stateroom and applies to Concierge Level Staterooms and higher. Concierge Level Staterooms and Penthouse Suites receive between 200 and 500 minutes of usage, or equivalent data amount, depending on length of voyage. Owner’s, Vista and Oceania Suites receive unlimited usage. Visit OceaniaCruises.com/Internet for more details. Not all promotions are combinable. 2 for 1 and Early Booking Savings are based on published Full Brochure Fares; such fares may not have resulted in actual sales in all cabin categories and do not include optional charges as detailed in the Guest Ticket Contract, which may be viewed, along with additional terms, at OceaniaCruises.com. “Free Airfare” promotion does not include ground transfers and applies to coach, roundtrip flights only from the following airports: ATL, BOS, CLT, DCA, DEN, DFW, DTW, EWR, HNL, IAH, IAD, JFK, LAX, LGA, MCO, MDW, MIA, ORD, PHL, PHX, SAN, SAV, SEA, SFO, TPA, YOW, YUL, YVR, YYZ. Oceania Cruises reserves the right to assign gateways based on availability for JFK, LGA and MIA. Airfare is available from all other U.S. and Canadian gateways for an additional charge. Any advertised fares that include the “Free Airfare” promotion include all airline fees, surcharges and government taxes. Airline-imposed personal charges such as baggage fees may apply. For details visit exploreflightfees.com. Ships’ Registry: Marshall Islands.

February 25, 2015

Guest Lecturer Post: The Legacy of Art & History in Renaissance Florence

Florence1Italy is one of the most visited countries in the world, and it’s not hard to see why.  Where else can you find an overwhelming concentration of historical sites combined with perfect weather, dazzling beaches, dramatic geography, and spectacular cuisine all set in a chic cosmopolitan culture?  Yet for all of these advantages, Italy is endowed with something that sets the country apart from all others - the gift of renaissance art.  It changed the world and it might change you as well.  There is no better place on earth to experience this than in Florence. 

Florence5Viewing art in Florence can be so impressive, the effects have actually made history.  On a trip to Florence in 1817, a French author named Stendhal was seized with palpitations of the heart and dizziness while visiting the Basilica of Santa Croce.  The alleged cause was attributed to being utterly overwhelmed by Renaissance art.  This has been dubbed the Stendhal Syndrome, or ‘Tourist Disease’ and has reportedly afflicted hundreds of visitors to this magnificent city. 

I can’t say that I have ever fainted or hallucinated in Florence but the city’s intensely rich legacy of art and history has at the very least sent shivers down my spine.  When Florence was emerging as a 15th century commercial powerhouse, an upstart class of nouveau riche led by the House of Medici tried to outdo each other in decorating and glorifying the city with civic art.  The results have been spectacular as artists, sculptors and architects have turned the Centro Storica, or Historic Center into what might be the greatest open air museum on earth. 

Florence3The best way to introduce oneself to Florence is to visit Brunelleschi’s graceful Duomo which is the landmark architectural symbol of the city.  Built with no scaffolding in the 1420s, I am never sure whether it is the beauty, balance and symmetry of the dome or the 358 winding steps to the top that takes my breath away, but suffice to say the experience never fails to stimulate all my senses.  The panoramic view of the red-tiled roofs, the meandering Arno River and the Tuscan countryside is itself a work of art.

The thing that amazes me most about Florence is how the Western imagination has been ignited by the remarkable number of cultural pioneers who have lived here.  The list is staggering, from Dante the poet to artists like Giotto and Botticelli.  The cartographer Amerigo Vespucci who gave his name to America hailed from Florence along with the quintessential Renaissance man, Leonardo da Vinci.  If you are seeking the epicenter of the Florentine talent pool, look no further than the Basilica of Santa Croce, where Stendhal himself was afflicted with the ‘Tourist Disease’.  The sixteen chapels festooned with glorious renaissance frescos might be enough to make you feel faint, but it is the pantheon of giants whose tombs are housed in the nave that make me weak at the knees. Niccolo Machiavelli, the dark knight of political thought who coined the phrase ‘the ends justifies the means’ is entombed here. You will find Galileo, one of the greatest scientists and astronomers in history resting at peace.  However, it is the tomb of Michelangelo Buonarroti that inspires me like none other. 

Florence2One cannot help but be awestruck by Michelangelo’s genius when gazing upon the David, the Sistine Chapel or the Pieta.  Yet I found myself even more moved when standing in the shadow of his tomb attempting to absorb a small measure of his greatness. If I am ever to experience Stendhal Syndrome, it is here. 

Italy is a country that should be seen. More than that, it should be felt. Just be careful when viewing the art.

Brian Unger is a historian and educator who shares his passion for art, culture and history as a guest lecturer on Oceania Cruises. Brian will be aboard Riviera’s Artistic Discoveries voyage this July for a spectacular Mediterranean journey that will include a visit to fabulous Florence. You should be able to find him at the Basilica of Santa Croce.

February 23, 2015

A Taste of South African Wines

A Taste of South African WinesWith over 350 years of viticulture tradition, South Africa has recently been experiencing a true wine growing renaissance, attracting attention from international winemakers and experts, along with those who simply love great wine. Some of the most notable regions include Stellenbosch, Paarl, Constantia and Walker Bay. The country’s best wines tend to be distinguished by their fusion of old-world heritage and cutting edge techniques.

Below our Executive Cellar Master highlights two of our favorite South African wines served on board.

Southern Right, Walker Bay, South Africa

Southern Right is a second label started by winery owner Anthony Hamilton Russel in 1994. Russel, the longtime proprietor of Hamilton Russel Vineyards, searched for 10 years to find the right place to found his winery, and settled on what is now the most southerly vineyard site in South Africa.

A Taste of South African WinesWine Profile: 97 % Sauvignon Blanc and 3% Semillon 13% ABV

Wine Maker’s Tasting Notes: Mouthwatering with lots of lemon zest, chive, gooseberry and flint notes, backed by an extra twinge of fleur de sel. Focused, pure and delicious.

Served Best With: dill poached salmon, seafood

Hamilton Russell Pinot Noir, South Africa

Hamilton Russell was the first wine estate planted in Walker Bay, founded by Tim Hamilton Russell in 1975 and since that time has carved out a reputation for producing wines that straddle the old and new worlds. Only two varieties are grown: Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.

A Taste of South African WinesProduction: 10 months (1st fill 31%, 2nd fill 35%, 3rd fill 34%), Wooding: 100%, 228 litre French Oak Barrels

Wine Profile: 100% Pinot Noir 13.5% ABV

Wine Maker’s Tasting Notes: Not overtly fruity; soft and “sweet” and generally shows hints of that alluring savoury “primal” character along with a dark, spicy, complex fruit perfume.

Served Best With: smothered filet mignon, turkey, porcini mushroom soup

Cheers from Oceania Cruises!

February 18, 2015

Chinese New Year 2015: Year of the Goat

Chinese New Year 2015: Year of the GoatChinese New Year, celebrated with red paper lanterns, dancing dragons, fireworks and other colorful festivities, is widely considered the most important holiday in China and for Chinese people throughout the world. This year, Chinese New Year begins on February 19. It is one of the oldest festivals, a celebration with more than 4,000 years of history. The holiday is always linked to one of the 12 Chinese zodiac animals; this year is the Year of the Goat (also referred to as the Year of the Sheep or Ram).

Festive Celebrations & Lucky Traditions
Chinese New Year is a lively holiday marked by a wide range of traditions including family feasts, colorful parades and more in order to bring about wealth, good health and fortune in the New Year. In preparation, many thoroughly clean their homes– it’s considered bad luck to clean on the first two days of the year, for fear of “sweeping away” good luck. Homes and city streets are decked with red paper lanterns, paper-cut decorations, scrolls and New Year pictures. Red is the main color for the festival, and since it’s the Year of the Goat, images of goats are also popular.

Chinese New Year 2015: Year of the GoatChinese New Year is considered a time to reunite, so families gather together for big reunion dinners. Fish, a symbol of wealth in China, is a classic at Chinese New Year gatherings. (In fact, the Chinese word for fish, 鱼 yú /yoo/, even sounds like the Chinese word for surplus, 余 yú). Dumplings are also popular since their shape represents silver ingots—a type of ancient Chinese money. Another popular tradition is to give money enclosed  in red envelopes as gifts to children and those who are retired. Firework displays and vibrant parades featuring dancing dragon and lions fill the streets, and many go to temples to pray.

Chinese New Year 2015: Year of the GoatThough the biggest celebrations are in mainland China, other countries with a large Chinese population also hold widespread celebrations, such as Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines. Similar festivities take place in Chinatowns in cities throughout the world.

What Does the Year of the Goat Mean?
The goat is linked to peace, home and stability, so many say the Year of the Goat will bring about a calmer and more secure year ahead. The goat is also associated with art and artistic abilities, so this could mean greater success for those who are creative, contemplative and innovative. It seems the Chinese New Year will be all about the steady path, creativity and keeping the peace!

Happy Chinese New Year from Oceania Cruises!

February 16, 2015

Expert Photo Tips for Tours and Shore Excursions

Lisa, a tour guide with StepIntoFlorence
Lisa, a tour guide with StepIntoFlorence
(David Smith)

Who doesn’t wish they could better capture the colorful and unique moments of their travels?  David Smith, a world travel & fine art photographer from Vancouver, will join Insignia as a photo coach on several segments of the Around the World in 180 Days voyage. His recent publications include the Wall Street Journal, National Geographic Traveler, Geo Saison Magazine and USA Today Travel Online. Below, he and his wife, Anna, share simple and effective tips for taking better photos on shore excursions.

As frequent guest lecturers and invited escorts on shore excursions with Oceania Cruises, Anna and I have toured extensively throughout the Mediterranean, Baltic, Atlantic, Caribbean, South America, South East Asia, South Pacific, and Australia and New Zealand. Many guided tours and shore excursions provide excellent travel photography opportunities that are frequently missed. The travel photos in this post help illustrate some of the following suggestions for taking better travel images while on tour.

1. Research your tour itinerary by reading the detailed tour descriptions and attend shore excursion presentations on board to learn planned visit locations in advance to help prepare your photography strategy and a shot list. Local tour operators can move you around quickly so always have your camera ready for those one in a lifetime photo opportunities. Practice your camera techniques before touring to avoid fumbling with your camera on site.

Scenes and activities at St. Catherine Palace in Pushkin, Russia,near St. Petersburg
Scenes and activities at St. Catherine Palace in Pushkin, Russia,
near St. Petersburg (David Smith)

2. Locate yourself for uncluttered shots. If there is live entertainment or a cultural demonstration sit in the front or side of the audience to get unfettered action images. Consider walking about during the show to get different angles and distances from the action. All entertainers and presenters are willing to have their photographs taken. You paid for the tour and presenters are paid by the tour operator as well, so get your cameras out and ask. Be sure to capture locals in ethnic dress.

Tour guide Nina Kazarina in front of an Oceania Cruise tour bus in St. Petersburg, Russia
Tour guide Nina Kazarina in front of an Oceania Cruise tour bus in
St. Petersburg, Russia (David Smith)

3. Create a photo story of the tour to create more interest when you share your photography later. Capture your guide, the sign on the front of the bus, flags, icons and symbols as well as the typical shots. Get establishing shots (the most common type), medium range shots and close-ups to keep interest.

A shore excursion tour of the newly opened Titanic Belfast Museum
A shore excursion tour of the newly opened Titanic Belfast Museum 
(David Smith)

4. When you come across an excellent tour guide or fabulous entertainers a tip is always appreciated and use that opportunity to get portraits of your guide and hosts with and without your travelling companions and be sure to hand your camera to someone to get yourself included in the fun and excitement of your tour photo story. Exchange contact information, be Facebook friends and send your photos to your new friends. Revisiting those magical ports of call and having new friends waiting for you makes travelling with your camera a must while on shore excursions and tours.

David looks forward to meeting many of you aboard Insignia very soon! For more photo tips, visit David’s blog. Also explore more of his stunning photography on his World image archive, along with his fine art gallery.

February 13, 2015

A Romantic Evening in Privée

Abigail and Richard T., New York City natives, recently sailed aboard Marina to celebrate a major milestone in their marriage: 30 years of love!  Abigail writes about her private party in our most exclusive onboard dining venue:  Privée.

Privee1Of all the phenomenal dining experiences my husband and I had aboard Marina, the most romantic one was our evening in the very elegant Privée.

We sailed from Lisbon to Rome, Tapestry of Cultures, in the fall to celebrate 30 years of marital bliss— an anniversary gift from our three children who insisted we enjoy a two week getaway to the Mediterranean. I kept the bar high, as I expected the breathtaking destinations, exemplary staff and fine cuisine, but in Privée, we were treated like royalty.

Cosimo, our maitre’d for the evening, greeted us in front of Toscana. He welcomed Richard and I by our names and immediately congratulated us on our anniversary. As with every member of the staff, Cosimo provided a sense of familiarity and comfort as he led us to our special dinner. 

For those who don’t know, Privée is tucked away between Polo Grill and Toscana. As soon as you enter, you have to give yourself a second to catch your breath. Beautiful artwork hung on the wall, the red colors contrasting perfectly with the all-white room. Above the grandiose table (which I recently learned was designed by Dakota Jackson!) hung a stunning gold chandelier.  Spain’s illuminated twilight sky was visible through the floor-to-ceiling windows. I remember thinking, wow, this is where we are having dinner tonight? The feeling of intimacy was a far cry from the busy restaurants we were used to in Manhattan.

  Privee3  Privee2

Richard’s plate setting was adorned with a bowtie, while I received a “diamond” ring. Our sommelier started us off with glasses of champagne, and recommended a tasty Cabernet Sauvignon for my husband and a crisp Sauvignon Blanc for me. We ordered from both Polo Grill and Toscana and watched Spain disappear into the distance as we continued dinner. Cosimo was attentive, but left us to enjoy our private dinner with a gorgeous view.  As requested by my youngest daughter, we took pictures of our food to send the kids:

Privee5  Privee4

Privee6  Privee7

In the first 30 years of our marriage, we thought a romantic dinner was a candlelit meal in a crowded restaurant. In the next 30 years of our marriage, we’re looking forward to returning to Privée often, and enjoying an intimate dinner with a first-class view of the ocean under moonlight. Now that’s romantic! 

February 10, 2015

Island-Roasted Caribbean Nuts

Spiced-nuts{ MAKES 4 CUPS }

These nuts go exceptionally well with the cold, fruity drinks of the Caribbean. The spice blend can be used on fish and meat on the grill. Make a large batch and enjoy a taste of the Caribbean for the rest of the winter! 

1 cup pepitas

1 cup walnuts

1 cup almonds

1 cup pecans

1 egg white

1 clove garlic, minced

1½ tablespoons Spice Blend (see recipe below)

½  tablespoon sugar

¼  teaspoon cayenne pepper

½ teaspoon kosher salt

Preheat the oven to 425°F. Spread the nuts in a single layer on baking sheets and bake, stirring often, for about 5 minutes, or until lightly browned. Be careful not to over toast the nuts, or else they will turn bitter.

While the nuts are toasting, whisk together the remaining ingredients in a large bowl. Pour the hot nuts into the bowl and stir well to coat.

Decrease the oven temperature to 375°F. Return the nuts to the baking sheets and bake for 5 to 8 minutes, until golden, stirring often and scraping the bottom of the sheet pan. 

Allow the nuts to cool and then store in airtight containers.

Spice Blend

5 coriander seeds

2 star anise pods

1 tablespoon fennel seeds

1 teaspoon cumin seeds

1 stick cinnamon, broken into pieces

1 teaspoon white peppercorns

1 teaspoon red peppercorns

3 bay leaves

1 teaspoon red pepper flakes

6 whole cloves

In a medium sauté pan over medium heat, combine all ingredients and toast, stirring constantly, until the aromas are released. Working in batches if necessary, place the spices in a spice grinder and grind into a fine powder. Store in an airtight container.

February 9, 2015

Chef Kelly: Culinary Discoveries in the Caribbean, Part 1

Chef Noelle Barille, leading a Culinary Discovery Tour in St. Lucia
Chef Noelle Barille, leading a Culinary Discovery Tour in St. Lucia

While I am enjoying sitting by the fire and watching my one-week-old granddaughter sleep, my Culinary Institute of America colleague, Chef Noelle Barille, is teaching on The Culinary Center aboard Riviera.  

The Caribbean is a ‘bucket list’ destination for ‘foodies’ and one with a rich culinary heritage of influences from Africa, Spain, England, France and of course, the native islands themselves.  What intrigues me about the Caribbean is how the home cooks here have married spices, fish, meats and produce used to create this vibrant cuisine.  This is a ‘slow’ cuisine with a small global footprint, making it a paradise for those with a reverence for ‘unfussy’ food with personality!

This season, Chef Noelle is leading three culinary tours in St. Lucia, Tortola and Antigua.  I wanted to share them with you, along with some of our favorite Caribbean recipes for you to try at home (and as you cook be thinking of your next cruise with us!)

The Spices Cooking Studio
The Spices Cooking Studio

New for us in 2015 is a day at ‘The Spices Cooking Studio’ in St. Lucia. Limited to 10 guests, this tour is an intimate immersion into the spices that make these islands such a culinary treasure chest.  The group was greeted by our host, Jenni Killam who has travelled and studied Caribbean cooking for over 30 years.

Tour through an abundant herb garden

Guests toured an abundant herb garden, featuring unique herbs like chadon beni

Jenni and her team explained that today they would be ‘cooking lime’ which is a Caribbean term for hanging out with friends, preparing a meal and sharing it. The morning started with an overview of the day’s menu, followed by a tour through the abundant herb garden – local tarragon, parsley, cilantro, lemon grass and chadon beni (which is similar to cilantro but stronger with larger leaves) were begging to be harvested today!   Our sous chef provided insights about the vegetables and spices to be used in the cooking today, particularly chayote squash, green paw paw, peppers, coconut, fresh grated cocoa, bay leaves and chadon beni.  

Preparing a three course meal
Preparing a delicious
three course meal

After a tour of the garden, our guests – armed with recipes – were eager to start the preparation of their three course meal, while enjoying beverages of fresh coconut water, local spiced rum punch and “tea” made out of nutmeg, cinnamon, clove, star anise and bay leaf.  

Lucian Fish Stew
Lucian Fish Stew

On the menu today was a vibrant, refreshing Island Salad made with grated squashes, green paw paw (papaya), lime, garlic, seasoned peppers and honey, along with a colorful Lucian Fish Stew of fresh turmeric, calloloo, white yams, carrots, unripe green bananas and a brightly colored and flavorful stock.  Dessert was a Cocoa Tea Flan prepared with grated cocoa and spiced with star anise, cloves, cinnamon stick, vanilla bean and nutmeg.

Castries open air market featuring island specialties such as ground seasoning peppers and hot sauce
Castries open air market

After a relaxed meal outside overlooking the beautiful bay from the hillside, guests made a quick trip to the famous Castries open air market, many buying the local cinnamon, nutmeg and star anise, and island specialties such as ground seasoning peppers and hot sauce. Armed with their spices, recipes and hands-on cooking experience, guests are excited to recreate their cruise memories at home.  

I wanted to select a recipe that reminded me of my many trips to St. Lucia and the colorful market in Castries. I’ve picked one of the favorites from The Culinary Center – Island-Roasted Caribbean Nuts.  I use the spice mixture on nuts, rub on roasted chicken and use in my banana bread… so check back tomorrow and enjoy!

February 4, 2015

Artist Spotlight: The Globally-Inspired & Multilayered Work of Frank Hyder

Artist Spotlight: The Globally-Inspired & Multilayered Work of Frank Hyder

The colorful images of koi fish, an archetypal symbol of good fortune and natural harmony, can often be found in Frank Hyder’s award-winning paintings – many of which are on display aboard our ships. Hyder, an accomplished artist that has showcased his work throughout North, South and Central America, has become known for translating simple images, such as heads and fish, into intricate constructions that hint at the innate complexity found in nature.  

Hyder’s vibrant works can be found throughout our ships, such as his triptych, Variegated Float, near Terrace Café on Marina. These and many of Hyder’s other unique works have origins deep in Venezuela in a cloud forest, a fascinating ecosystem noted for its pervasive and consistent cloud cover which creates a misty, and often surreal, environment. When Hyder was awarded a Fulbright scholarship in 2001, he and his family moved to a cloud forest in Venezuela where they lived for 15 months – a life-changing experience, he noted.

Variegated Float, Marina’s Terrace Café corridor, courtesy of Frank Hyder
Variegated Float, Marina’s Terrace Café corridor, courtesy of Frank Hyder

“It was there that I became interested in layers, depth—and the illusion of depth and layers—and interproximal space,” Hyder recalled. “It was transformational for all of us.”

Two of Hyder’s paintings on the pool deck of Riviera, courtesy of Frank Hyder
Two of Hyder’s paintings on the pool deck of Riviera, courtesy of Frank Hyder

Hyder explained that this focus led him to develop a special process that enabled him to explore these concepts more deeply. The process involves gold, silver and other metal leaf materials, a clear epoxy resin, along with layers of transparent colors, usually embedded in additional coatings of resins. The pouring of several layers of resin provides the effect of floating – the colors appear to be perpetually suspended in liquid. The special process frequently requires months to complete a work, and is a culmination of nearly 30 years of painting experimentation. The end result creates a shimmering multi-dimensional realm that calls to mind water, but also perhaps that of the intangible – the illusory, ethereal and otherworldly.

Hyder leading a workshop in Artist Loft, courtesy of Frank Hyder
Hyder leading a workshop in Artist Loft, courtesy of Frank Hyder

Drawing on global sources for his personal inspiration, Hyder similarly enjoys focusing his workshops in Artist Loft – calling on the destinations for inspiration.

“I like to offer experiences that connect to the travel experience,” Hyder noted.

For example, during a South Pacific voyage with Oceania Cruises, Hyder collected sand from Papeete, Bora Bora and several other islands—gathering sand in a range of colors and textures.

Variegated Tide, near Marina’s Terrace Café, courtesy of Frank Hyder
Variegated Tide, near Marina’s Terrace Café, courtesy of Frank Hyder

Then during a workshop, Hyder led the guests in tracing transfers of location images with the sand.

“The guests were really excited about it—we created something meaningful, rooted in the place and the experience,” Hyder said.

With over 30 of Hyder’s paintings showcased among our five ships, we invite you to discover his enchanting and thought-provoking artwork during your next voyage. 

February 2, 2015

Red Ginger Recipe: Watermelon & Duck Confit Salad

Spicy-duck-watermelon

This salad has become one of the true favorites of Red Ginger on board Marina & Riviera. Duck confit is a traditional ingredient in French cassoulet, but we pair it here with watermelon for a fresh and savory salad that is a real crowd pleaser. The crisp texture and sweetness of watermelon perfectly balance the chewy richness of duck confit.  

{ serves 6 }

SWEET FISH SAUCE INGREDIENTS

¾ cup palm sugar, coarsely chopped

¼ cup water

½ large shallot, coarsely chopped

1 lemongrass stalk, bulb portion only, coarsely chopped

1 kaffir lime leaf

½-inch piece galangal, peeled and coarsely chopped

1 to 2 tablespoons fish sauce

1 to 2 tablespoons tamarind concentrate

DUCK AND WATERMELON SALAD INGREDIENTS

Canola oil, for frying

½ cup raw cashew nuts

Kosher salt

6 confit duck legs

2 to 4 tablespoons hoisin sauce

6 cups 1-inch-cube seedless watermelon

½ cup Thai basil or sweet basil leaves

½ cup mint leaves

½ cup cilantro leaves

1/3 cup thinly sliced shallot

FOR THE SAUCE: In a medium saucepan, combine the palm sugar and water, place over medium heat, and heat, stirring occasionally, until the sugar is melted – about 5 minutes. 

Remove from the heat. Stir in the shallot, lemongrass, lime leaf and galangal and let sit at room temperature to cool and to infuse the flavors for at least 1 hour, or preferably overnight. 

Strain the liquid through a fine-mesh strainer into a small bowl. Discard the solids. Add 1 tablespoon each of the fish sauce and tamarind, mixing well. Taste and adjust seasoning with additional fish sauce and tamarind if needed. Set the sauce aside at room temperature.

FOR THE SALAD: Pour 4 inches of canola oil into a large, deep saucepan and heat to 325°F on a deep-frying thermometer. Line a small plate with paper towels for draining the cashews and line a larger plate for draining the duck. Add the cashews to the hot oil and fry until crisp, about 1 minute. Using a slotted spoon, transfer to the towel-lined plate. Sprinkle with salt while hot.

Increase the temperature of the oil to 350°F. Add 2 duck legs to the hot oil and fry, turning to brown on all sides, until crisp, 4 to 5 minutes. Using tongs, transfer to the towel-lined plate to drain. Repeat with the remaining duck legs in two batches.

When the duck legs are cool enough to handle, peel off the skin from each leg in as large a piece as possible. Cut the skin into strips and set aside. Bone the legs and shred the meat into a bowl. Season to taste with the hoisin sauce. 

In a separate bowl, combine the watermelon, basil, mint, and cilantro. Add the duck meat, duck skin, cashews, and shallot. Toss with enough of the sweet fish sauce to coat lightly. You may not need all of the sauce. 

TO SERVE: Divide the salad among individual serving plates or martini glasses.

January 30, 2015

Renowned Teenage Musician Featured Aboard Riviera This March

Eb3Recognized by the Guinness World Records as “The World’s Youngest Solo Musician to Headline His Own Tour,” 14-year-old Ethan Bortnick has toured throughout the world, and has been sharing his musical genius with diverse audiences since he was a child. We are thrilled to have Ethan joining Riviera’s Mayan Mystique voyage for spectacular performances, Q&A sessions, DVD signings and more.

When he was just three years old, the Hollywood, Florida native begged his parents for piano lessons and discovered an uncanny ability to hear a song once and play it back note for note – the musical equivalent of a photographic memory. He soaked up the music of such diverse artists and composers as Beethoven, Mozart, jazz pianist Bill Evans, Little Richard, and Elton John, and began writing original compositions at age five. A few years later, Ethan began making television appearances and touring, connecting with audiences in countries such as South Africa, Japan, Brazil, Canada and Australia.

Eb1His deep musical knowledge, broad tastes and staggering talents make his performances engaging for everyone. Onstage, Ethan performs relaxing jazz, dazzling classical music, rock-n-roll and his own memorable originals. He knows hundreds of songs that he can instantly call up to memory. Sets can go from Beethoven to the Beatles to Bieber. It’s all a natural flow for Ethan, and he’s always relaxed before performances.

“I don’t get nervous before a concert,” Ethan said. “I usually play video games and as soon as they say, ‘Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome...’ I give the video game to my dad and run onstage.”

Ethan has not only moved audiences throughout the world as a captivating musician, he is also a driven humanitarian, dedicated to combining his musical pursuits with his charity work. When Ethan was five, his younger brother had three heart surgeries and that emotional time inspired him to use his musical talents to benefit charity.

“I remember going to Miami Children’s Hospital and seeing a lot of sick children. I learned that some of these kids could not afford surgery so the hospital raised money for them. It made me want to help these kids,” Ethan explained.

Eb2Since then, Ethan has helped raise over $30,000,000 for nonprofits around the world. At these charity events, he’s shared the stage with such legends as Elton John, Josh Groban, Andrea Bocelli, Beyoncé, and Reba McEntire, among many others. In 2010, he joined some of music’s biggest names – including Barbra Streisand, Celine Dion, the Black Eyed Peas, Justin Bieber, and Tony Bennett as the youngest of the all-star lineup that recorded We Are The World 25 For Haiti. During Ethan’s voyage aboard Riviera, the proceeds of his DVD signings will be donated to one of his charities.

Ethan has also been featured on many national television shows, including multiple appearances on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, Good Morning America and Oprah, where he was named one of Oprah’s All Time Smartest, Most Talented Kids! In 2010, Ethan made history as the youngest musician to create and host his own award-winning, nationally-televised concert special on PBS, which aired over 600 times on Public Television stations nationwide. 

Eb4

For Ethan, the most fulfilling aspect of success is bringing people joy. “As long as the audience is enjoying the music, having fun, smiling and dancing, I’m happy and I love it!” he said.

Join us and witness this award-winning teenage pianist, singer and composer as he amazes audiences with his rare talent and amazing musical knowledge this March aboard Riviera!

January 28, 2015

Chef Kelly's Shrimp Risotto with Preserved Lemon

Shrimp-risottoRisotto is a northern Italian rice dish made with polished short-grain rice, such as Arborio, Carnaroli, Maratelli, or Vialone Nano, which will absorb about three times its volume in liquid. I am a big fan of risotto, and the love and care that you can actually taste when it is made properly. With risotto, the rice is the star of the show – the proper timing of the release of the amylopectin starches in the short-grain rice gives risotto its creamy texture. Some chefs cheat and add cream to their risotto, which in my opinion ruins the flavor and eclipses the rice. 

With the technique below, you can make myriad variations of risotto. The rich flavor of risotto varies depending on the broth and garnishes cooked with the rice. Just remember, the rice is always the star. I have recently experimented with whole-grain rice as well, an exciting way to make risotto without using white rice.

{ Serves 10 }

2 tablespoons plus 3 tablespoons plus 2 tablespoons unsalted butter

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 pound shrimp, shelled and deveined

2 tablespoons diced preserved lemon rinds (see recipe below to make your own)

½ cup fresh peas

1 cup finely chopped shallots

2 cups Arborio or Carnaroli rice

¾ cup white wine

6 cups shellfish stock (see recipe below to make your own)

Freshly grated pecorino cheese (optional)

In a medium sauté pan over medium heat, melt 2 tablespoons of the butter and add the garlic. Heat the garlic for about 30 seconds, or until warm but not hot. Add the shrimp and cook until the shrimp turn opaque, about 2 to 3 minutes, depending on size. Do not overcook the shrimp. Remove the pan from the heat and toss in the lemon rinds. Let the shrimp absorb the lemon, butter, and garlic flavors in the sauté pan while you make the rice.

Bring a small pot of salted water to a boil. Add the peas and cook for 1 minute. Drain quickly and add the peas to the top of the shrimp in the sauté pan. Do not stir.

In a large saucepan over medium heat, melt 3 tablespoons of the butter. Add the shallots and sauté until soft and translucent, about 2 minutes. Add the rice. Parch the rice by cooking it for about 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Add the wine and continue cooking until the mixture reduces to nearly dry, or “sec.”

Add the stock to the rice mixture ¼ cup at a time, so the rice can slowly absorb the liquid. Stir continuously. This process takes about 17 to 20 minutes.

Taste the risotto to determine if it is ready. Traditional risotto is served al dente, but if you prefer softer risotto, cook it a bit longer. Add the shrimp and pea mixture let it warm for 1 to 2 minutes. When the risotto is ready to serve, add the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter to finish. The risotto should have a light, creamy consistency. Traditionally, cheese is not served with fish or seafood risotto, but if you like it, add it!

SHELLFISH STOCK

When making paella or risotto, I spend more time on the stock than anything else. This stock is well worth the time. You can double or triple this recipe and freeze the stock if you wish. When prepping shellfish for your paella or risotto, be sure to reserve the shells to use in this stock. If you do not have enough, you can ask your local fishmonger to reserve some shrimp shells for you.

{ MAKES 2 QUARTS }

2 to 3 pounds shrimp shells

1 pound lobster shells, broken into pieces

3 medium leeks, cleaned and sliced

1 medium onion, sliced

1 large carrot, chopped

1 small fennel bulb, sliced

3 quarts filtered water or spring water, cold

1 head garlic, halved horizontally

½ bunch of thyme

½ bunch parsley

4 bay leaves

1 tablespoon white peppercorns

Place all ingredients in a large stockpot and bring to a boil, uncovered. Decrease the heat and simmer, uncovered, for 1½ hours. Taste the stock, and if it is not flavorful enough, continue simmering for up to 1 more hour, tasting again after 30 minutes. Strain the stock through a fine mesh strainer lined with cheesecloth. If the stock is not clear, strain again. 

Preserved Lemon

{ MAKES 6 LEMONS }

6 lemons

5 ounces (about 2/3 cup) kosher or sea salt

10 ounces (about 1¼ cup) lemon juice

Wash the lemons very well, scrubbing thoroughly. Cut each lemon into 6 wedges or 1/3-inch-thick rounds. Remove the seeds. Place the lemons in a sterilized glass jar. Add the salt and lemon juice. The jar should be nearly full, and the juice must cover the lemons. Add more juice if necessary. Close a lid tightly on the jar. Store in the back of the refrigerator or any cool, dark place. Rotate the jar daily. Lemons will be ready to use after 4 to 6 weeks. They will keep for 3 to 4 weeks after opening and up to 1 year unopened.

Blog post submitted by Chef Kelly.

January 26, 2015

Skagway: Gateway to the Klondike Gold Rush

Alaska1When Skookum Jim Mason, Dawson Charlie and George Washington Carmack discovered gold deposits in tributary of the Klondike River in August 1896, they triggered one of the world’s greatest gold rushes in history. The following year, a stampede of gold diggers arrived from all over the country, arriving in droves to the small towns of Skagway and Dyea, which served as gateways for the arduous trek to the goldfields. During the first year of the gold rush, around 20,000 to 30,000 prospectors flocked to region in hopes of finding gold. Only a small percentage did, but enough to spark rumors of limitless gold in the area – and a migration totaling to around 100,000 to an extremely harsh and remote region. By 1899, claims of gold in Nome, Alaska all but ended the great Klondike Gold Rush.

To this day, Skagway remains one of the best locations in Alaska to relive the days of the Klondike Gold Rush and gain insight on this brief but grand event that has captured the imaginations of many ever since. Skagway offers a range of historic sites and excursions that provide insight into the town’s momentous history.

Alaska2Go on a walking tour: Skagway’s historical buildings with turn-of-the-century facades evoke the gold rush boom town era that transformed the town forever more than a century ago. Visit classic restored saloons, like the Red Onion Saloon, along with the Moore House which was built 1887 by the founder of Skagway, Captain William Moore and features many of the pioneer family’s original treasured possessions.

Discover the Gold Rush Cemetery: A short walk from picturesque Reid Falls, the cemetery is home to the graves of Frank Reid and Soapy Smith, two of the most storied figures from the Klondike Gold Rush, along with founders and many other notable individuals from the era.

Explore the Trail of ’98 Museum: Home to a fascinating range of gold rush memorabilia, the museum offers interesting historical perspective and insight into the struggles and harsh conditions endured by prospectors during the gold rush.

Alaska4Ride the White Pass and Yukon Route Railroad: Recognized as an International Historic Civil Engineering Landmark, this narrow-gauge railroad was built in 1898 during the height of the Klondike Gold Rush. Witness stunning panoramas that include the original Trail of ’98 and Dead Horse Gulch, along with gorgeous mountains, waterfalls and glaciers.

More than a century later, the pioneer spirit and freewheeling zeal of this gold rush boomtown lives on – both in the streets and saloons, and the curves in its legendary mountain passes.  

January 23, 2015

Transoceanic Voyages: A Classic Travel Tradition

141670435Truly embodying the Golden Age of ocean travel, a transoceanic voyage recalls the classic crossings made by the elegant and exclusive ocean liners of the early 1900s. Alluring the rich and famous with the most desirable way to travel, these grand ships hosted a stunning range of notable figures, including the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, Greta Garbo, Clark Gable, Fred Astaire and Sir Winston Churchill, just to name a few. The extravagant spaces of the ship were designed to be on par with the fashionable hotels, clubs and establishments of the era. Elaborate dining rooms evoked French châteaux and smoking rooms were reminiscent of late-Renaissance Italian palazzos. Everything was imbued with an air of grandeur, and the floating palaces enchanted all who could afford the luxury of traveling on one.

Bermuda FunchalWith such a rich heritage, a transoceanic voyage still offers one of the best and unique ways to explore the world. It offers an ideal blend of blissful days at sea and visits to exotic ports of call otherwise not easily accessible. During a single itinerary, you can leisurely explore both the gorgeous shores of Bermuda and the distinct flavors of Funchal, perhaps strolling the art deco-style market and tasting world-famous Madeira wine. Alternatively, you might explore Montreal’s romantic Old Town and later discover Northern Ireland’s most famous landmark, Giant’s Causeway, and some of Dublin’s most storied monuments.

SpaclubThe many exquisite pleasures of our beloved mid-size ships also encourage you to fully relax during your days at sea.  Attend engaging presentations by esteemed guest lecturers, indulge in relaxing spa treatments at the Canyon Ranch SpaClub® and enjoy sumptuous cuisine at our gourmet specialty restaurants.

La-reserveOn board Riviera & Marina, you can also partake in featured wine tastings with friends at La Reserve by Wine Spectator, and attend hands-on cooking classes at The Culinary Center and art workshops and programs at Artist Loft. With our one-of-a-kind transoceanic voyages, embrace the timeless enchantment of sea travel and the magic of arriving in Europe without ever boarding a single flight.

Embark on a classic transatlantic crossing & join us this spring:

Beaches, Blooms & Bluffs | Miami to Barcelona aboard Riviera, April 1, 2015

River Routes & Channel Crossings | Montreal to London aboard Marina, May 18, 2015

January 21, 2015

Extraordinary Experiences: My First Oceania Cruises Voyage

Iram Ali, a Miami native and new guest to Oceania Cruises, writes about her experience on board Riviera and traveling throughout the Mediterranean. This past fall, Iram and her best friend sailed from Athens to Barcelona with calls on Santorini, Florence, Monaco and Marseille, among others. She shares her favorite moments ashore as well as some of the top indulgences aboard Riviera. 

Is it possible to fall in love with an experience?

When I think back on my first Oceania Cruises voyage, I get goose bumps.  Staring into the eyes of Michelangelo’s magnificent David in Florence, strolling barefoot across the beautiful stony beach in Nice, taking in the breathtaking views of Santorini; to say it was perfect would be an understatement. 

Extraordinary Experiences: My First Oceania Cruises Voyage
Riviera in Santorini, Greece

My best friend and I researched for months before we found our ideal itinerary, Autumn Wonders:  we’d board Riviera in Athens and cruise through the Mediterranean for 10 days with stops in Ephesus, Santorini, Taormina, Amalfi, Rome, Florence, Monte Carlo, Marseille and end in Barcelona.  

Extraordinary Destinations

Extraordinary Experiences: My First Oceania Cruises VoyageWe flew into Athens one day before embarking Riviera. Excitement overpowered jet lag and after dropping off our luggage, we walked to the Plaka and had a wonderful lunch with a view of the Acropolis. Then we got on a train and toured many of the top sites in the area: the Acroplis, the Parthenon, Temple of Olympian Zeus and the Theater of Dionysis just to name a few. I couldn’t believe I was walking in the same area where Socrates and Plato once stood!

Extraordinary Experiences: My First Oceania Cruises VoyageIn the months leading up to the cruise, I spent a lot of time googling photos of Santorini. Would it be as amazing as the pictures made it seem? Well, I got my answer as soon as we anchored near the island: It was so much more spectacular than a ‘Google Images’ search could ever reveal. We selected a Food and Wine Trails shore excursion, so we toured a local Greek winery and enjoyed delicious bread and cheese for lunch. Then we got lost walking through the white-washed town of Oia, took pictures and selfies near the famous blue domes and bought beautiful jewelry to remember the island.

Extraordinary Experiences: My First Oceania Cruises VoyageFlorence was my favorite destination, and by far, the most fascinating one. As soon as we walked into the Palazzo Vecchio, we were greeted by a parade. I loved staring at the cathedrals with such detailed architecture and walls brimming with Renaissance and Romanesque style. When we walked into the Galleria dell’ Accademia, our jaws dropped at the sight of David. Here we were, circling around one of the most important pieces of art, completely mesmerized.

I love telling people that I’ve been to Monaco. If it weren’t for this amazing itinerary, when would I ever have had the chance to visit this luxurious principality? Our excursion first took us to Eze, a charming medieval village in the French Riviera overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. Then we drove to Nice, where we walked through a flower market, bought local artwork and spent time at the beach.  Extraordinary Experiences: My First Oceania Cruises VoyageBack in Monaco, we visited the Saint Nicholas Cathedral, the final resting place of Princess Grace and watched the changing of the guards at the Prince’s Palace of Monaco. In Monte Carlo, we brushed shoulders with the rich and famous as we visited the casino and shopped in the high-end boutiques. 

Finest Cuisine at Sea

Three words: Miso Glazed Seabass. I’m often daydreaming about the food (so much food!) we had on board Riviera. Perhaps you can’t claim to have the finest cuisine at sea without it being true. Jacques, Toscana, Grand Dining Room, Terrace Café, Polo Grill, Waves Grill – every single meal on any given day, at any given restaurant was divine. Even early morning and late night calls to room service delivered mouth-watering meals. My favorite dish was the Miso Glazed Seabass at Red Ginger but the Filetto di Manzo alla Fiorentina con Crosta al Gorgonzola at Toscana was a very close second. The Gratiné à l’Oignon soup at Jacques was also amazing, as was the Grilled Jumbo Shrimp Scampi over Roasted Vegetables at Polo Grill. On the second day of the cruise, we dined with two other guests at the exclusive Privée, which offered an indulgent, one-of-a-kind experience with beautiful views of the Mediterranean. 

Extraordinary Experiences: My First Oceania Cruises Voyage
Private Dining in Privée

Extraordinary Experiences: My First Oceania Cruises Voyage  Extraordinary Experiences: My First Oceania Cruises Voyage  Extraordinary Experiences: My First Oceania Cruises Voyage  Extraordinary Experiences: My First Oceania Cruises Voyage  Extraordinary Experiences: My First Oceania Cruises Voyage  Extraordinary Experiences: My First Oceania Cruises Voyage

We also enjoyed every party, trivia night and entertainment show on the ship. Captain Luca Manzi shook hands with every single guest who made it to the Captain’s Party on the first Saturday of the cruise. In the Riviera Lounge, we watched an intriguing magic show and learned how to do a few tricks of our own, and we couldn’t stop dancing to 70’s music during the Flower Power performance. We spent time in the gym and at the Canyon Ranch SpaClub – receiving a much-needed spa manicure and pedicure.  On our relaxing day at sea, we had delicious ice cream in waffle cones and napped by the pool. But out of every moment experienced on board and ashore, waking up with the sun upon a new skyline every morning was my favorite.

Extraordinary Experiences: My First Oceania Cruises Voyage
Sunrise in Monaco

So after almost two weeks of cruising throughout the Mediterranean, wouldn't you agree it's possible to fall in love with an experience? Before you answer, don't forget to try the Miso Glazed Seabass!

January 16, 2015

Guest Lecturer Post: Sunset Over The Temples of Bagan

© Dr. John Freedman

Pic1One of the greatest wonders of Asia is the visually striking landscape of thousands of ancient religious structures spread over the vast plain of Bagan in central Myanmar, a site known as the Temples of Bagan. This forest of “payas” (temples or pagodas) and stupas (holy shrines containing relics) was built along a wide bend of the Iriwaddy River between the 10th and 14th centuries when the ancient Kingdom of Bagan was thriving. The Kingdom covered much of present-day Myanmar, and Bagan was its political center and spiritual heart. Little has changed over the millennium to take away from the splendor that Marco Polo described as “one of the finest sights in the world.” Over two thousand temples remain today, from an estimated 10,000 that were built. The structures are of a seemingly infinite variety of shapes and of every size. Some are gigantic, majestic edifices while others are humble pillar-like tributes to the Buddha’s grace and wisdom. The sheer number is overwhelming, and even today the Bagan plain remains host to the greatest concentration of religious monuments ever built anywhere. Many consider it to be one of the “hidden” jewels of southeast Asia, as it receives just a small fraction of the tourists who visit other epic sites such as Angkor in Cambodia and Borobudur in Indonesia. 

Pic2You can spend days exploring the temples, and for every one you climb to take in the expansive 360-degree view, you will see hundreds more beckoning you. Like other religious sites in southeast Asia, there are early Hindu influences which gave way syncretically to Buddhist architectural elements and iconography.  Many of the temples were built during the reign of the legendary King Anawrahta (1044-1078AD), who was a devout Theravada Buddhist and is considered by many to be the father of the Burmese nation. The plains of Bagan remained an important pilgrimage site for Buddhists even after Bagan was overrun by the Mongols in 1289, and they remain so to this day.  

Small roads, mostly unpaved, snake their way throughout the expansive plain, and you can travel them by horse cart, bicycle or automobile. I recommend trying all three modes of transport as each has its allure and advantages. The myriad of structures of every shape and size, and the refraction of light by the mist and dust that sit over the endless plain, give the vistas of Bagan an ethereal and other-worldly quality. In Bagan as nowhere else on earth, I get the sense that I could be looking at the remains of an ancient civilization on a distant planet. 

Pic3Unquestionably my favorite activity in Bagan is viewing the sunset from the top of one of the innumerable temples which have giant open terraces that serve as grand viewing platforms. There are so many temples to be climbed and you can choose your angle, decide how remote you wish to be, and even determine how many temples you want to see dotting the landscape before you. One of my favorites for a sunset view is Pyathada Paya, a 13th-century structure which is a bit off the beaten path in the eastern section of the plain. As the sun sets over the western plain, Pyathada’s easterly location means you will see a huge number of temples silhouetted before you, as well as the mighty Irriwaddy River in the background. Pic4The sense of other-worldliness is accentuated at sunset when the sun reflects off the saffron-tinged land and the pagodas become scattered jewels in every shade of pink and gold. The sun first reflects brilliantly off the gilded portions of the tops of many of the pagodas. Then, as it sets, all the structures slowly become more and more distinctly silhouetted. The scene is made all the more striking by the orange- and then purple-streaked sky, the rose-colored mountains, and the silver ribbon of the Irriwaddy as a backdrop. There is an ineffable sense of mystery that pervades, as is always the case when one is given to ponder the almost incredible story of our species and its amazing accomplishments.  A wonderful added bonus is the cool air that wafts in at sunset, bringing with it a sense of comfort and respite. The sight is one to behold, and the feeling is one of tranquility, beauty and wonder.

Pic5As 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.

January 12, 2015

Chef Kelly Welcomes Talented New Culinary Faculty

Join me in welcoming two new members to our faculty!  Susie Heller has a longstanding affiliation with Oceania Cruises and Jacques Pépin - so we're delighted to have had her for Riviera’s recent Sunny Getaways and Mayan Mystique voyages.  She's just completed a new cookbook, The Pizza Bible, so I'm busy working on a new Master Class for mid-2015 based on this latest masterpiece from Susie and her collaborators!

Dave Cruz joins us from The French Laundry – without dispute, America's number one restaurant and the brainchild of Thomas Keller. Dave is using 2015 to prepare and launch a new Asian restaurant in Napa, so I'm delighted that he'll be joining us on several cruises this year!

Read more about these two talented chefs!

Chef Susie Heller

Chef Susie Heller
Chef Susie Heller

If the term ‘Renaissance Woman’ ever appeared in a culinary dictionary, the definition would be Chef Susie Heller. For 35 years, Chef Heller has been a teacher, caterer, restaurant owner, food critic and consultant  – and now a Chef Instructor for The Culinary Center aboard Riviera.  Her love of the sea came early in life, when her family took cruise vacations and her exposure to the cuisines of the world cemented her passion for travel, food and cooking.  

Chef Heller has long had a special relationship with Oceania Cruises, beginning in1985 when her career ‘took a turn’ after a trip to China with Chef Jacques Pépin. They became close friends and colleagues, and through Jacques, Chef Heller met Julia Child and became her culinary producer. Chef Heller, Jacques and Julia became an inseparable team whose partnership resulted in the many beloved public television cooking shows.  Chef Heller and Jacques remain close friends, and she produced our Taste the World cookbook in 2010.

Chef Heller is celebrated for her many television and cookbook productions, which have been honored by the James Beard Awards, International Association of Culinary Professionals, Emmys and the New York Times Best Sellers List. In addition to writing and producing, Chef Heller has developed products with Thomas Keller and Mourad Lahlou for Williams-Sonoma. She teaches private cooking classes, tends to her vineyard and olive grove at home, and is a passionate philanthropist and devoted grandmother.

Chef Dave Cruz

“When did you know you wanted to become a chef?” is a question guests often ask our faculty in The Culinary Center. For Chef Cruz, his mother would tell you that she knew he was destined to become a chef when as a 6th grader his class homework assignment was to ‘make something – anything – to share with everyone, and he chose to make food.

Chef Dave Cruz
Chef Dave Cruz

Chef Cruz discovered his true calling much later when studying for his engineering degree, working nights in dining rooms. One night, a chef didn’t show up so Chef Cruz stepped in and the rest – as they say – is history. After attending The Culinary Institute of America and gaining experience, America’s renowned Chef Thomas Keller discovered and hired him in 2004 as a Chef de Partie at Bouchon in Yountville, later promoting him to Executive Sous Chef. With the opening of Ad Hoc in 2006, he was promoted to Chef de Cuisine and was instrumental in the restaurant’s success. Under Cruz’s helm, Ad Hoc received a 3-star rating from the San Francisco Chronicle and was included in the publication’s annual list of “Top 100 Bay Area Restaurants” each year he was there.

Cruz has been featured in Food & Wine, The Oprah Magazine and Wine Spectator among many other publications.  His TV appearances include the Cooking Channel, Food Network, The Today Show, The Early Show and Martha Stewart. Chef Cruz is the Chef and Owner of soon-to-open Miles Restaurant.  While in the planning and development stages of his project, he continues as a consultant and private chef, and as a member of the faculty of The Culinary Center on Riviera.

We look forward to a great year with our talented new chefs!

January 9, 2015

Salmon Two Ways: Pan-Seared & Aquavit-Cured

Perfect for the winter, salmon makes for a delicious and healthy option that’s completely versatile and suitable to a variety of preparation methods. Chef Kelly provides two favorite recipes below. 

PAN-SEARED LACQUERED SALMON
{ SERVES 6 }

This is one of our favorite dishes from Oceania Cruises’ Taste the World cookbook. It takes salmon to a whole new level and pairs perfectly with Franck’s Mashed Potatoes or a simple and hearty green salad. 

Recipe1½ cup soy sauce

¼ cup dry sherry

3 tablespoons lightly packed light brown sugar

Canola oil

6 salmon fillets, 5 to 6 ounces each, boned and trimmed

In a small saucepan over medium heat, combine the soy sauce, sherry, and brown sugar. Heat, stirring continuously, until the sugar dissolves. Set aside in a warm spot.

Pour a generous film of canola oil into 2 large nonstick frying pans and heat over medium-high heat until the oil shimmers but is not yet smoking. Place 3 fillets, presentation side down, in each pan and cook until golden on the undersides, about 2 minutes. Turn the fillets and cook on the second sides for 2 minutes. Remove the pans from the heat and transfer the fillets to a large plate.

Pour off the oil in the pans. Off the heat, add half of the soy sauce glaze to each pan and top with the fillets, presentation side up. Return the pans to medium heat and spoon the glaze over the tops of the fillets for about 30 seconds. Plate the fillets and serve.

Aquavit-Cured Salmon with Cucumber Salad
{ SERVES 2 TO 4 }

The tradition of curing salmon is an art form in the Baltic. This particular recipe is simple and easy to do at home. Given the price of gravlax, it can save you enough money to buy a good bottle of vodka!

I am particularly fond of curing salmon, which I learned from a fishmonger in Helsinki. He cures his salmon with all kinds of herbs and liqueurs, so once you have mastered our recipe, I hope you will experiment as I have with the many ways to enjoy one of the world’s most comforting fishes.

Recipe2SALMON

½ cup sea salt

1 teaspoon crushed red peppercorns

½ cup brown sugar

1 bunch dill, finely chopped

1 pound salmon fillet, boned and trimmed

2 tablespoons aquavit  

SALAD

2 English cucumbers

1 tablespoon white wine vinegar

1 teaspoon sugar

1 teaspoon sea salt

3 tablespoons minced dill

2 tablespoons capers

3 tablespoons sour cream

Freshly ground black pepper

FOR THE SALMON: Mix together the salt, pepper, sugar, and dill. Sprinkle half of the mixture on a piece of plastic wrap three times the size of the salmon. Sprinkle the salmon with aquavit. Place the salmon, skin side down, on the curing mixture, and then cover the fish with the rest of the curing mixture. Wrap the fish tightly in the plastic wrap and place it on a plate. Cover with another plate, weighed down with 2 to 3 cans or bottles. Set the plate in the refrigerator.

Turn the fish every 12 hours, draining off any brine that forms. Depending on the thickness of the fish, it will be ready in 24 to 48 hours, although you can let it cure for up to 4 days. Unwrap the fish when you are ready to serve and gently rinse off the cure. Thinly slice.

FOR THE SALAD: Slice the cucumbers as thinly as possible. Mix all other ingredients in a bowl. Add the cucumber and adjust seasoning to taste. Serve as an accompaniment to the salmon.

Bon appétit! 

January 7, 2015

Baltic Lore: Alluring Throughout the Ages

Baltic1Brimming with traditions, mythology and plenty of enchanting forests and storybook landscapes, the Baltic region has long captivated travelers with its distinctive blend of bucolic beauty and cultural treasures.

Throughout the region, folklore often takes center stage in many of the countries’ cultures. With one of the most enduring traditions of folklore, the Baltics have given rise to a number of fanciful creatures, keepsakes and tales that have become embedded in contemporary culture over time. Below, discover the roots of some of the most popular relics of the Baltics’ folkloric culture.

Baltic2Dala Horses: A centuries-old tradition in Sweden, the hand-carved and hand-painted Dala horse was first made in the province of Dalarna and sold at markets in the 17th century. The inspired image of the horse goes back even farther – thousands of years, compelling people to recreate the image in cave and rock paintings as a symbol of strength and courage. Today, several types of Dala horses are made, though the bright red version with the saddle in white, green, yellow and blue is the most iconic. Dala horses are cherished throughout the Baltic and around the world for their folk art charm and ties to tradition.

Baltic3Elves: Popularized by J. R. R. Tolkien’s fantasy novels, elves originated centuries ago in Norse mythology, and have been said to live deep in the forest in a region called Alfheim. Freyr, one of the central gods in Norse mythology and god of fertility, has been recorded as the ruler of the elves. Typically portrayed as youthful and peaceful creatures in most myths and legends, elves are considered to be magical beings capable of either helping or hindering humans. They are even referred to as pagan gods in some Norse mythological texts.

Trolls: Also tracing their roots to Norse mythology, trolls have appeared everywhere from medieval maps to contemporary children’s tales. They are usually depicted as having a human-like appearance, but are characteristically ugly and large – and are often portrayed as stupid. According to legends and myths, trolls are considered to be either relatively harmless, or mischievous and a bit chaotic. According to some myths, trolls live high in the mountains in stone castles, and deep in the forests. Another myth, commonly portrayed in film and stories, holds that if trolls are exposed to sunlight, they instantly turn to stone.

Baltic4Fairy tales: Given the rich tradition of mythology and folklore, the Baltic region has also contributed a colorful legacy of fairy tales, with Danish author Hans Christian Andersen at the heart. Andersen penned a range of whimsical fairy tales which are now considered classics such as “The Princess & the Pea,”  “The Little Mermaid,” “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” and “Thumbelina.” Other countries with a strong heritage of oral history have also been sources of fairy tales cherished for decades, such as Norway’s beloved “Three Billy Goats Gruff.”

When considering its lasting legacy of folklore and fantasy, it’s no wonder the Baltics continue drawing travelers to its unique destinations – they enchant unlike anywhere else in the world. 

January 5, 2015

New Year’s Eve Celebrations: Ships Welcome 2015

Our ships heralded the new year in style with exciting festivities, ice carvings, champagne toasts, music, dancing and more. Discover the highlights in our photo post below!

Guests enjoyed a spectacular New Year’s Eve ice carving and festive celebrations on the deck.

New Year’s Eve Celebrations: Ships Welcome 2015  New Year’s Eve Celebrations: Ships Welcome 2015 New Year’s Eve Celebrations: Ships Welcome 2015  New Year’s Eve Celebrations: Ships Welcome 2015 New Year’s Eve Celebrations: Ships Welcome 2015  New Year’s Eve Celebrations: Ships Welcome 2015

Live music, dancing and champagne toasts filled the decks with excitement aboard our ships.

New Year’s Eve Celebrations: Ships Welcome 2015  New Year’s Eve Celebrations: Ships Welcome 2015 New Year’s Eve Celebrations: Ships Welcome 2015  New Year’s Eve Celebrations: Ships Welcome 2015 New Year’s Eve Celebrations: Ships Welcome 2015 New Year’s Eve Celebrations: Ships Welcome 2015

Happy New Year from Oceania Cruises!

December 26, 2014

New Year’s Eve Traditions From Around the World

Nye1What will you be doing when the clock strikes midnight on New Year’s Eve? It all depends on where you are in the world. One of the most rewarding elements of travel is the opportunity to immerse yourself in the local culture, especially in the midst of holidays – and with New Year’s Eve, there’s no shortage of fascinating traditions just around the corner. Here’s a glimpse at a few of the most interesting New Year’s Eve traditions from countries throughout the globe.

Brazil: Brazilians famously celebrate New Year’s Eve wearing white – it symbolizes peace and renewal, and brings good luck for the coming year. Another tradition involves jumping waves, which is why the beach is such a popular New Year’s Eve spot – jump seven waves to start the new year with luck!

Colombia: This one speaks to the travel bug in all of us – many Colombians take out their suitcases at midnight and walk around the block with the suitcases in tow in order to ensure a year rich in travel and adventure. 

Ecuador: One of the most common Ecuadorian traditions involves burning effigies that represent the past year’s misfortunes. Crafted from newspaper, old clothes and pieces of wood, the effigies are burnt at midnight on New Year’s Eve when everyone gathers in the streets to observe the symbolic ritual of renewal.

Nye2Germany: One fascinating German New Year’s Eve tradition seeks to predict what the coming year will hold. Molten lead or other metal is dropped into cold water, and according to the tradition, the resulting shape is linked to predictions for the year. For example, a heart or a ring-shaped piece of metal might represent a wedding, a bell could mean you’ll inherit some money and a ship or boat-like form might point to travel.

Japan: On December 31st, Buddhist temples throughout Japan ring their bells 108 times at midnight to welcome the New Year god. The 108 bell tolls represent the number of human desires that exist according to Buddhist beliefs, and the ringing symbolizes a fresh start, washing them away with each toll. Many also don the costume of next year’s zodiac animal (in 2015, it’s the Sheep).

Nye3Spain: Revelers throughout the country await the stroke of midnight with 12 grapes in their hands. When the clock strikes midnight, it’s tradition to eat one grape for each bell toll: las doce uvas de la suerte. And if you finish all 12 by the clock’s last toll? You have good luck for the rest of the year!

Philippines: Since round shapes are thought to symbolize prosperity (representing coins), many Filipino families put out large displays of round fruit on New Year’s Eve, or prepare 12 round fruits – one to represent each month of the year. Others scatter coins throughout the house, in drawers and on tabletops, and some even wear polka dots in order to ring in a prosperous year.

Happy New Year and best wishes for a year filled with travel from all of us at Oceania Cruises!

December 22, 2014

The Story of the Nutcracker Doll

Nutcracker2Ever wonder how these quintessential Christmas soldier-dolls came to be? Calling to mind sugarplum fairies, the magical ballet performance and the festive holiday season, nutcracker dolls trace their origins back to German mountain villages in the 17th century – they were made alongside wooden toys in German workshops in the Erzgebirge region. Initially, they weren’t linked to the holidays at all, though they were often given as gifts and were considered a symbol of protection and good luck.

But why the iconic solider-doll form? According to one popular German folktale, a rich but lonely farmer thought the process of cracking nuts took away from his productivity, so he offered a reward to the villager who could devise the best solution. Each one used his particular skill or expertise – a carpenter provided a way to saw the nuts open, a soldier came up with a way to shoot them, and so on. However, as the folktale goes, it was the clever puppetmaker who claimed the reward with his distinctive lever-mouthed wooden doll. Local toymakers began carving nutcrackers in this fashion and it became the classic form of nutcracker that all families had at home. Since German households typically did not have more than one nutcracker per family, toymakers eventually began selling them elsewhere, such as Russia, Poland and Norway. The popularity of the dolls skyrocketed, and by the 1870s, nutcracker dolls were being produced in factories.

Nutcracker1 Nutcracker5 Nutcracker3

Nutcracker4Nutcrackers received even more attention when Peter Tchaikovsky adapted E.T.A. Hoffman’s The Nutcracker and the Mouse King, which of course features an on-stage manifestation of the wooden doll. Though first performed in St. Petersburg in 1892, the ballet wasn’t widely performed until much later – the mid-20th century. The ballet, along with World War II, carried nutcracker dolls stateside. Many soldiers who were in Germany visited open markets and fairs, and discovered the whimsical little wooden dolls. Enjoying the tradition behind the dolls, and the protection and good luck they symbolized, many soldiers returned home with a nutcracker doll for their families. This, combined with the introduction of the beloved Nutcracker ballet to the U.S., inspired an enduring nutcracker tradition that families continue throughout the country.

Happy Holidays from Oceania Cruises!

December 19, 2014

Introducing Sirena: Arriving Summer 2016

SirenaOne of our most exciting new developments is the growth of our fleet with the addition of Sirena – sister ship to our award-winning trio: Regatta, Insignia & Nautica. Sirena embodies the most treasured elements of our celebrated mid-size ships, and she will join the Oceania Cruises fleet in the summer of 2016 for her inaugural voyage OceaniaCruises.com/Sirena. Sirena, which means mermaid in Spanish, will introduce a spectacular new array of destination-rich itineraries spanning the globe. Her highly-anticipated launch season will be released in late February 2015 with reservations opening on March 4, 2015.

Discover Sirena’s highlights below, visit the new Sirena page on our website OceaniaCruises.com/Sirena, and stay tuned for more details in the coming months!

ToscanaSirena Highlights

  • Joining the Oceania Cruises fleet in the summer of 2016
  • Mid-size, elegant ship catering to just 684 guests
  • Exciting destination-rich itineraries with new ports
  • Renowned specialty restaurants Toscana and Polo Grill
  • Baristas coffee bar featuring specialty coffee drinks and homemade biscotti
  • Alfresco dining and a cook-to-order grill at Terrace Café
  • Acclaimed Canyon Ranch SpaClub®