75 posts categorized " Riviera "

November 17, 2014

Oceania Cruises Voyages Give New Meaning to "Holiday Travel"

Have you ever wanted to escape the hustle and bustle of the holidays and celebrate the season with a relaxing getaway? On these Oceania Cruises voyages, you can enjoy a festive holiday celebration while lounging on pristine beaches and exploring cultural wonders.

PACIFIC SERENADE, Valparaiso to Papeete, December 17, 2014

18 days on board Marina

Easter IslandWhether you celebrate on board Marina with the Hanukkah menorah lighting ceremonies or the Christmas Eve carolers, this voyage promises a special holiday treat with a call on a UNESCO World Heritage Site that has intrigued travelers for centuries. One of the most remote inhabited islands in the world, mystical Easter Island is famous for its hundreds of monolithic statues created between the 10th and 16th centuries. These moai were carved in the volcanic crater of Rano Raraku and then moved to sacred ceremonial platforms, the most colossal being Ahu Tongariki. Much mystery surrounds the methods used to construct and transport these impressive monuments, which reach up to 33 feet high and weigh up to 82 tons. Mull over this conundrum later in the voyage as you celebrate the New Year on the pristine beaches of Tahiti and Bora Bora.

SOUTH AFRICAN HOLIDAY, Cape Town to Cape Town, December 22, 2014

15 days on board Nautica

Holiday TravelSpend the holidays exploring the wonderful sights of South Africa, including a stop in the bustling city of Port Elizabeth on Christmas Eve. The city’s parks and museums offer great appeal, but many visitors are drawn to the game reserves just outside Port Elizabeth. About 45 miles north of the city, Addo Elephant National Park stands as living proof of the success of South Africa’s conservation efforts. When it was proclaimed a park in 1931, a mere 11 elephants lived in the area. Today the sanctuary is home to more than 350 elephants, as well as lions, rhinos, zebras and other indigenous wildlife. Enjoy a game drive through the park to observe these magnificent creatures. Then marvel at other natural wonders as you cruise along the Cape of Good Hope and ring in the New Year with a celebratory gala on the decks of Nautica.

HOLIDAYS IN THE TROPICS, Miami to Miami, December 23, 2014

12 days on board Riviera

CaribbeanNothing relieves holiday stress like a serene cruise along sapphire blue waters embraced by the elegant comforts of Riviera, beautifully decked in her most festive finery. Watch the warm sunshine sparkle like holiday lights on the sea as you cruise toward the idyllic islands of the Caribbean. Without you even lifting a finger, a splendid holiday feast with all of your traditional favorites will appear, created by Riviera’s master chefs. Who needs snow to enjoy a white Christmas when you can celebrate the season on the white sands of St. Barts and Antigua? As you greet the New Year on the spectacular beaches of the British Virgin Islands, you just might create a new holiday tradition.

November 12, 2014

Celebrating Jacques in 2015: How the “Finest Cuisine at Sea” Came to Be

Celebrating Jacques in 2015Executive Culinary Director and Master Chef Jacques Pépin will be hosting his much-anticipated annual Signature Sailing aboard Riviera’s Iberian Inspiration voyage departing Lisbon July 7, 2015. Sailing with Chef Pépin is always memorable, but the 2015 voyage is certain to be extra special—Chef Pépin will be celebrating his 80th birthday on board. He will be joined by his daughter Claudine, co-host of Chef Pépin’s award-winning “Cooking with Claudine” television series, his granddaughter, as well as his wife, Gloria.

The legendary Chef Pépin has been working closely with our chefs for over ten years to continually offer inspired cuisine that rivals that of the finest shoreside restaurants. Bob Binder, Vice Chairman of Oceania Cruises, shares how Chef Pépin and Oceania Cruises first came together years ago, noting that the company vision was always rooted in creating the best dining at sea.

Celebrating Jacques in 2015   Celebrating Jacques in 2015

After some correspondence, Chef Pépin, personal chef to three French heads of state, invited Binder to his home to discuss the concept.“We made our fantasy list, and Jacques was at the top,” Binder said. “And quite honestly, we didn’t think we’d get him.”

 “We played boules, drank a few glasses of red wine and suddenly Jacques was on board,” Binder recalls. “He had never been interested in working with a cruise line before, but he thought it was a very unique concept – we wanted to use the best ingredients, and really be true to the regional cuisines in the areas we were sailing.”

Celebrating Jacques in 2015    Celebrating Jacques in 2015

That was just before the launch of Oceania Cruises.  Now, more than ten years later, Chef Pépin’s upcoming Signature Sailing honors the story of how the “finest cuisine at sea” began. It will feature exclusive cooking demonstrations, specially designed signature menus, celebratory events, book signings and more.

Celebrating Jacques in 2015Guests will even have a chance to take part in Chef Pépin's 80th birthday celebration. Binder notes that it’s sure to be a lively celebration, and any guests who have sailed with him in the past can attest – Chef Pépin loves a good fête and doesn’t shy away from karaoke!

We invite you to join Chef Pépin on Riviera’s 10-day Iberian Inspiration voyage next summer for exciting festivities, enriching discoveries in the best Mediterranean ports – and of course, unforgettable culinary experiences and the finest cuisine at sea.

September 9, 2014

OCEANIA CRUISES UNVEILS NEW 2015-2016 WINTER COLLECTION

Today Oceania Cruises is thrilled to unveil our new collection of itineraries for the 2015-2016 winter season. Of these 42 destination-rich sailings, 27 are unique new itineraries never before offered, featuring 12 exciting new ports of call:

Reservations open on September 17, at 8:30 am EST, so now is the perfect time to begin planning your dream voyage to whichever corner of the globe intrigues you most. Here are the regions where each ship will sail and highlights of some of the fascinating new itineraries.

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Tierra del Fuego, South America

REGATTA: The Americas

In addition to Caribbean sailings and four voyages traversing the Panama Canal, Regatta explores South America at length, including two new Amazon River cruises and the new Alluring Andes & Majestic Fjords itinerary, departing Lima on February 7, 2016, and sailing around the southernmost tip of the continent. Marvel at Machu Picchu perched high in the Andes, cruise the magnificent Chilean Fjords and Tierra del Fuego, and explore vibrant cities from Valparaiso to Buenos Aires.

INSIGNIA: Around the World

For the most adventurous explorers seeking the journey of a lifetime, Around the World in 180 Days sails roundtrip from Miami and circumnavigates the globe. If your time is more limited, shorter segments of this journey also traverse oceans and continents. Departing from Barbados on January 14, 2016, Atlantic Ocean Exploration calls on Caribbean and South American destinations such as Belém, the gateway to the Amazon, before crossing the Atlantic to Africa. Explore the new port of Luderitz, Namibia, the vast sand dunes of Walvis Bay, and the exotic island of São Tomé.

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Walvis Bay, Namibia


NAUTICA: Africa & Asia

Nautica calls South Africa and Asia home for a series of eight unique itineraries, six of which are new routes. The new Dynasties & Empires, departing March 4, 2016, sails from Beijing to Hong Kong and features six overnight stays to allow ample time to explore fascinating cities such as Shanghai and Tokyo. Beautiful new ports on this voyage include Shimizu, Japan, nestled in the shadow of Mount Fuji, and Jeju, South Korea, known as the “Island of the Gods” for its beautiful beaches and dramatic landscapes.

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Bora Bora, French Polynesia

 

MARINA: South Pacific

Opening the season with two South American voyages, Marina then sails for the South Pacific to explore lush Polynesian islands and the treasures of Australia and New Zealand. Embark in Tahiti on February 4, 2016, for the new South Pacific Serenity sailing, and you can experience the pristine beaches and sapphire lagoons of Bora Bora, Fiji and Norfolk Island, a new port of call in Australia, as well as the architectural icons of cosmopolitan Sydney.

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Sydney, Australia

 

Caribbean
Castries, St. Lucia

RIVIERA: Caribbean

Riviera explores the sunny Caribbean from the ancient Mayan ruins along the western shores to the idyllic islands of the east. What better way to spend the holiday season than on the new cruise Celebrate the Sunshine, which sails roundtrip from Miami on December 22, 2015, and spends 12 glorious days in gorgeous locales such as St. Barts, Martinique, St. Lucia and Antigua.

August 8, 2014

CELEBRATE DEBUT OF PBS DOCUMENTARY SERIES THE ITALIAN AMERICANS ABOARD EXCLUSIVE VOYAGE

Italian-americans-cruiseWe’re pleased to announce an exciting collaboration with Artful Travelers to host the world premiere for the highly anticipated new PBS documentary series, The Italian Americans aboard Riviera this fall. Narrated by Academy Award–nominated actor Stanley Tucci, The Italian Americans consists of four, one-hour documentary films that chronicle the history of Italian Americans from the mid-19th century to present day. Examining the struggles and powerful ideals shared by many Italian immigrants, it ultimately explores how this community has left a distinct mark on America’s political, social and cultural landscape.

During this special voyage, filmmakers will host complimentary screenings for each individual one-hour episode in the Riviera Lounge, offering compelling insight into the film prior to the screening, and inviting you to participate in a Q&A session afterwards. Scheduled to appear during the voyage include:

Jeff Bieber – Executive producer for The Italian Americans and veteran executive producer for public television documentaries, specials, news and cultural programs at WETA, the public broadcasting station for the Washington, D.C. area. 

John Maggio – Writer, producer and director for The Italian Americans and acclaimed producer and director for PBS series Finding Your Roots, American Experience and FRONTLINE.

Maria Laurino – Creative nonfiction professor at New York University and the celebrated author of the national bestseller Were You Always an Italian?, an exploration into ethnic identity.

You’ll have the chance to attend a special book signing event featuring Maria Laurino, who penned a companion book for the series, entitled The Italian Americans: A History. In addition, we invite you to celebrate The Italian Americans premiere with special wine tastings highlighting some of Italy’s finest vintages and Italian-inspired cooking adventures at the Bon Appétit Culinary Center, each for a nominal fee. You can even extend the enriching celebration to your explorations ashore by booking exclusive shore excursions that tie directly into The Italian Americans theme.

The Italian Americans package is available to you at no additional cost when booking the Oct. 29, 2014 Enchanting Riviera voyage. At the time of booking, you or your travel agent should request the promotional code "ARTFUL" to be added to your reservation. Special experiences with limited capacity, such as private dinners and intimate cocktail functions with guest speakers, will only be available if you specifically book The Italian Americans package. Learn more on the Signature Sailings page of our website, OceaniaCruises.com.

May 5, 2014

SIGNATURE SAILINGS: YOUR WORLD AND BEYOND

As if visiting the world’s most fascinating destinations weren’t enticing enough, Oceania Cruises also offers several Signature Sailings with guest celebrities and special events to enhance your remarkable vacation.

In a recent blog, I wrote about the Viking Passage Signature Sailing, featuring hall of fame broadcaster Verne Lundquist. But he won’t be the only special guest on board this transoceanic voyage. Barbara Seagram, an American Contract Bridge League accredited master instructor, will be on board to conduct classes and tournaments.

If bridge is your passion, there are eight other opportunities to see the world and improve your bridge game with American Contract Bridge League instructors on board between May and December. 

Jaques PepinWorld-renowned master chef Jacques Pépin, who is the executive culinary director for Oceania Cruises, will be on board the Explore the Isles sailing, which departs July 23 and sails roundtrip from London. Guests will enjoy special signature menus, engaging lectures, culinary demonstrations and much more.

Departing June 10, Historic Holy Lands will be an especially noteworthy Signature Sailing as it celebrates the return of Insignia to the Oceania Cruises INSIGNIA_008fleet. Founding Chairman Joe Watters will host this gala voyage aboard the newly refurbished Insignia with his wife, Virginia, who is Insignia’s godmother. Guests will be treated to a number of exclusive events and festivities, including a momentous rechristening ceremony in Istanbul.

 

OceaniaClubCrestLargeAlways a special occasion for Oceania Cruises’ valued past guests, the 11th Oceania Club Reunion Cruise promises a memorable Signature Sailing when Riviera departs on the Gems of Antiquity voyage on July 29. Reunion cruises honor our cherished Oceania Club members, and this year’s cruise will feature a private cocktail reception hosted by the Captain as well as exclusive shore excursions in Istanbul, Santorini and Kusadasi, among other celebratory events.

From Europe to Africa and South America to the South Pacific, don’t miss your opportunity to explore your world and beyond on one of Oceania Cruises' special Signature Sailings.

April 2, 2014

BROADWAY STAR DEBUTS IN NEW Life in the Theater SERIES ON BOARD RIVIERA

Andrea McArdle Photo (by Grace Rainer Long)Theater fans will be thrilled to learn that today Oceania Cruises announced a new onboard entertainment series called Life in the Theater. Offered on select sailings, this fantastic new series gives guests the chance to not only see stellar performances by Broadway stars but also get up close and personal during special private events. The first stage legend welcomed on board will be none other than Andrea McArdle, who created the original role of “Annie” on Broadway.

After making history as the youngest performer ever nominated for the Tony Award® for Best Actress in a Musical, Ms. McArdle went on to star in such iconic roles as Fantine in Les Misérables and Belle in Beauty and the Beast. She’s received wide acclaim for performances in venues from Carnegie Hall to the Metropolitan Opera House to the White House. Now this Broadway legend will take center stage on the Enchanting Riviera sailing, departing Athens on October 29, 2014, and exploring the Greek Isles, Italy and France before arriving in Monte Carlo.

There are a limited number of tickets available for the exclusive Life in the Theater package, which features eight special events where Ms. McArdle will share her talents in stage performances as well as her personal stories in more intimate events. All guests on this unique voyage will be treated to a superstar performance that is open to everyone, with guests purchasing the Life in the Theater package receiving preferred seating at this performance. Life in the Theater guests will also have exclusive access to all other events with Ms. McArdle, including a cocktail party, a private performance and several gatherings in which she shares tales of her life as a Broadway star, songs that are personal favorites and other details about the highs and lows, both dramatic and humorous, of her extraordinary personal journey.

If you wish to experience the secrets, struggles and successes of a Broadway star as well as fabulous performances (not to mention an extraordinary cruise on board Riviera!), I can imagine no better way than embarking on the Enchanting Riviera sailing with Andrea McArdle. And be sure to check back on the blog to see what Broadway superstars will be featured in future Life in the Theater sailings!

March 5, 2014

2015 SUMMER SEASON OPENS FOR BOOKINGS

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

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

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

Liverpool Cathedral
Liverpool Cathedral

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

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

Solovetsky Islands Monastery
Solovetsky Monastery

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

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

Glazier Lake - Fire and Ice - Wrangell
Glacier Lake near Wrangell, Alaska

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

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

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

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

 

January 31, 2014

REGATTA, INSIGNIA AND NAUTICA: IMPROVING ON PERFECTION

As Blogger-at-Large for Oceania Cruises, I have had the great fortune to sail on Regatta, Insignia and Nautica several times over the past few years. With only 684 guests on board, these ships feel as warm, welcoming and intimate as smaller vessels while also offering the conveniences and amenities of the larger ships. In other words, they are perfect. So it was hard for me to imagine how Oceania Cruises could improve on perfection.

But the folks at Oceania Cruises never stop striving to improve and innovate, and they will soon further enhance the already beloved Regatta, Insignia and Nautica by implementing the largest refurbishment program in the company’s history. The award-winning ships will undergo a $50 million transformation during the second quarter of 2014.

For those who, like me, feel the ships are perfect as they are, no need to worry. They will retain all the warmth, intimacy and charm that guests have come to cherish, but they will shine even brighter thanks to elegant new decor throughout the ships. And having received an overwhelmingly positive response to the innovations featured on board Marina and Riviera, Oceania Cruises will add many of those best-loved amenities and design elements to Regatta, Insignia and Nautica during the refits.

When the updates are complete, all guests will be welcomed with rich new decor in their suite or stateroom, imbuing their home away from home with a new sense of style, elegance and flair. Specific changes include new bathrooms with a lavish oversized shower and new onyx and granite vanities in the Owner's and Vista Suites. The Penthouse Suites will be transformed into virtual replicas of those on Marina and Riviera. All staterooms will feature luxurious new fabrics and furnishings.

Swatches

Penthouse Suite

Veranda Stateroom

Inside Stateroom

One of my favorite haunts on board is Horizons, the perfect place for socializing, relaxing or simply taking in the stunning views, and this lounge will also undergo a transformation with a new color palate and new furnishings. The Main Lounges will be completely refurbished with new carpeting, chairs and elegant new fabrics and upholstery. Martinis and the Pool Deck will both receive new furnishings, and the Canyon Ranch Spa Club® will have new steam rooms and changing rooms decorated with dramatic new mosaics and intricate custom tile work.

The Terrace Café will feature all new decor as well as a new state-of-the-art grill similar to the one on Marina and Riviera, so guests can dine on made-to-order specialties like juicy steaks, succulent lobster tails and mouthwatering chops any night they wish. As a coffee drinker, I was especially thrilled to hear that Baristas will be added in the Grand Bar area. This coffee bar is a guest favorite on Marina and Riviera and will certainly be a welcome addition to the other ships. Here master baristas prepare complimentary illy® espressos, cappuccinos and lattes and also serve fresh pastries and finger sandwiches throughout the day.

Baristas

The upper decks of the ships offer some of the greatest views of the sea, sky and coastlines, so what better place to enjoy an array of new deck games? Guests can take in the lovely vistas during a rousing game of shuffleboard or while playing a round of miniature golf on the 9-hole putting green, a feature unique to ships in this class.

Miniature golf

Fortunately we won’t have to wait long to experience these fabulous changes. Insignia will debut on May 8, 2014, in Barcelona for her 7-day Jewels of Europe cruise, and we’ll be especially excited not only to see her splendid new refurbishments but also to welcome her back to the fleet after her two-year charter. Nautica will be unveiled on May 16, 2014, in Civitavecchia for the 10-day Cliffs & Coves cruise, and Regatta will debut on June 7, 2014, in Vancouver for the 10-day Majesty of Alaska cruise. We hope to welcome you on board these refreshed, rejuvenated and resplendent ships very soon!

December 24, 2013

OCEANIA CRUISES CELEBRATES THE HOLIDAYS IN FESTIVE SHADES OF BLUE

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

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

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

Grand Turk Dock

Grand Turk

Grand Turk Sunset

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

Veranda Sunset Chile

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

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

 

December 12, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

November 25, 2013

MEMORIES OF BARCELONA

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

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

Casa Batllo

Casa Batllo 2

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

Casa Batllo and Casa Amatller

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

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

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

Park Guell

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

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

November 18, 2013

A DAY IN FLORENCE

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

View of Florence

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

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

Basilica di Santa Croce Basilica di Santa Croce Door

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

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

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

Lunch Caprese Salad

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

Ponte Vecchio

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

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

Palazzo Vecchio Neptune

Plaza Vecchio David

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

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

October 31, 2013

PUMPKIN CARVING ON BOARD RIVIERA

Carving competition1 The holidays are always a festive time on board the ships of Oceania Cruises – and Halloween is no exception! The chefs embraced the spooky spirit of the season in a pumpkin-carving contest onboard Riviera. Everyone put their knife skills to the test to concoct the creepiest, craziest, most creative jack o’lantern in the galley. Podium

We’ve always known our chefs were gifted, but they really showed off their artistic talents in carving these fearsome faces. The grand prize went to Assistant Cook Emmanuel Paygane. Cook I Komang Pamatha took second place, and Assistant Chef de Partie Vishant Raut took third.

Winners
Congratulations to each of them!

Of course, amidst the Halloween fun, our chefs continue to create the exquisite cuisine that our guests enjoy on board each day. In fact, Fleet Corporate Chef Franck Garanger was putting the finishing touches on a new salmon en croute to be served at lunch. Is your mouth watering yet?

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Happy Halloween from your Oceania Cruises family!

October 23, 2013

A DAY AT THE ACHILLEION PALACE ON CORFU

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

Achillion Palace

Gate at Achillion Palace

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

View from Achillion Palace

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

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

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

Achilles Painting Over Staircase

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

Achilles Statue (renown) Achilles Bronze

Achilles Statue (renown) close

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

Statue of Muses Musing Muse

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

September 25, 2013

MORE ADVENTURES WITH JACQUES PÉPIN ONBOARD RIVIERA

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

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

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

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

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

September 23, 2013

JACQUES PÉPIN HOSTS SIGNATURE SAILING ONBOARD RIVIERA

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

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

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

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

 
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Pépin with friend and fellow chef, Jean-Claude Szurdak

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

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

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

September 18, 2013

OCEANIA CRUISES UNVEILS THE 2014-2015 WINTER COLLECTION

Today, Oceania Cruises announced its 2014-2015 Winter Collection, the largest winter launch in the company’s history. As Blogger-at-Large for Oceania Cruises, this is one of my favorite times of year as the future becomes full of new opportunities to see the world! And on Insignia’s Around the World in 180 Days voyage, you can, quite literally, sail around the entire world.

With new ports in Asia, Africa and the Americas, Oceania Cruises’ five ships—Riviera, Marina, Nautica, Insignia and Regatta—will visit five continents. The launch features a record-breaking 86 voyages, 44 of which are new itineraries, plus 19 all-new Grand Voyages ranging from 24 to 71 days and 15 Around the World itinerary combinations as part of Insignia’s epic Around the World in 180 Days cruise.

As always, luxury meets value with Oceania Cruises, and all 2014-2015 Winter Collection voyages feature two-for-one cruise fares and free airfare. Guests who book a veranda or higher category by December 31, 2013, will enjoy the added value of free pre-paid gratuities, free unlimited Internet and early booking savings of up to $5,000.

Riviera in the Caribbean 

Riviera offers 12 itineraries exploring the lovely islands of the Caribbean. Relax on one of my favorite beaches, Cane Garden Bay on Tortola, or take a shore excursion from Tortola to Virgin Gorda and the famous Baths during the new 10-day cruise, Heart of the Caribbean.

Cane Garden Bay Tortola The Baths Virgina Gorda
 

Marina in Paradise

Marina begins the season in Rio de Janeiro with two South American voyages before heading to the South Pacific and Australia. Quickly making it onto my wish list for 2015 is the new 10-day cruise Picturesque Polynesia, which leisurely explores the Polynesian islands, including an overnight in Papeete, two overnights in Bora Bora and calls on other idyllic isles such as Moorea and Huahine.

Moorea
 

Nautica from Africa to Asia

Nautica returns to Africa and Asia with eight itineraries ranging from 15 to 35 days, stopping in ports from Cape Town to Beijing and Dubai to Tokyo and featuring two new ports in South Africa: Mossel Bay and Port Elizabeth. One of the best things about visiting Africa and Asia onboard Nautica is the abundance of overnight stays. You’ll especially appreciate the extra time when exploring the grand metropolises of Asia and savoring spectacular views like the Hong Kong skyline at night.

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The Panama Canal & South America on Regatta

Regatta spends the season exploring the Caribbean and South America with several cruises through the Panama Canal. If you have never sailed across the engineering marvel that is the Panama Canal, this is the perfect opportunity to check this astounding experience off your bucket list.

Around the World with Insignia

INSIGNIA_008After a Caribbean and an Amazon cruise, Insignia departs on Oceania Cruises’ first-ever Around the World in 180 Days cruise. This extraordinary, once-in-a-lifetime voyage sails round-trip from Miami and circumnavigates the globe, visiting five continents, 44 countries and 89 ports of call.

Around the World itinerary combinations, ranging from 34 to 128 days, will open for bookings with the 2014-2015 Winter Collection launch, offering a unique array of exotic ports in the Americas, Africa, Asia, Australia and the South Pacific.

Guests booking these combinations will receive complimentary amenities from the Exclusive Prestige Package. Depending on the length of the voyage reserved, amenities include a one-night pre-cruise luxury hotel stay, access to exclusive shoreside events, a comprehensive visa package, laundry service, luggage delivery, round-trip transfers, Internet service and pre-paid gratuities.

All New Grand Voyages

Included in the unveiling of the 2014-2015 Winter Collection are 19 new Grand Voyages that blend multiple itineraries for in-depth exploration. These voyages feature two-for-one cruise fares and free airfare as well as Exclusive Prestige Package amenities, depending on the length of the voyage reserved. For bookings made by December 31, 2013, these voyages also offer free pre-paid gratuities and free unlimited Internet for all suite and stateroom categories.

For more information on the 2014-2015 Winter Collection, visit OceaniaCruises.com or call 800-531-5658. We look forward to welcoming you onboard one of these fantastic sailings!

August 14, 2013

A SECOND LOOK AT EPHESUS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The following voyages visit Ephesus in 2013:

 

 

July 9, 2013

A MEMORABLE 10TH ANNIVERSARY CELEBRATION IN TOSCANA

Toscana PhotoOn a sailing that has already created so many fond memories for me, last night was the most memorable yet. As Riviera set sail from Taormina, Sicily, I headed to Toscana with my wife, Daniela, to host some of our most loyal guests for a dinner in celebration of Oceania Cruises’ 10th anniversary. Through the windows of Toscana, we could see the beautiful sunset behind Mount Etna, a perfect backdrop for a very special evening.

Riviera’s string quartet played as our guests arrived. Daniela and I welcomed each guest, as did Captain Gunnar Romtveit and General Manager Thierry Tholon. We were also joined by several of the senior officers, each of whom hosted a table for the evening. Our guests were more than 50 of our most loyal Oceania Club members, from Bronze level through Platinum, and we were honored to be celebrating 10 years at sea with some of the guests who had made it all possible.

Senior Executive Chef Alexis Quaretti prepared a six-course dinner befitting the exclusive event. The menu was printed for each guest as a keepsake to remember not only the exquisite meal but also the wonderful company we all enjoyed as we celebrated this special occasion together. It was such a pleasure to be able to talk with our guests in this intimate setting and to hear their delightful stories and fond memories of their voyages with Oceania Cruises. I was pleased to hear that, while the ships are beautiful and the cuisine exceeds their highest expectations, it is our officers, staff and crew Toscana Photo-2that truly differentiate the Oceania Cruises experience from any other. As one guest put it, “It’s like coming back to see family every time.”

We are so grateful to have these cherished guests as part of our Oceania Cruises family, and I offered a toast to their health and happiness. I was glad to have the opportunity to personally thank them for choosing to explore the world with us and for making it possible for us to expand our fleet and deliver even more dream vacation experiences. We raised our glasses to the wonderful journeys we’ve enjoyed over the past 10 years and to creating more treasured memories onboard Oceania Cruises in the years to come.

Everyone in Toscana last night said they are looking forward to the next decade with great excitement, and in fact, we made a commitment to each other that we would reunite the group and celebrate Oceania Cruises’ 20th anniversary together as well. In the meantime, we will always cherish our memories of this special evening, and I hope our paths cross again many times.

July 7, 2013

ANNIVERSARY SAILING CELEBRATES 10 YEARS OF SPECTACULAR DESTINATIONS AND FINE CUISINE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

July 5, 2013

FOUNDER FRANK DEL RIO BOARDS HISTORIC 10TH ANNIVERSARY SAILING

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The year 2013 marks a major milestone in the history of Oceania Cruises as we celebrate our 10th anniversary. Last week Vice Chairman Bob Binder shared stories of the special events onboard the first of four sailings in honor of this momentous occasion. This week two more Oceania Cruises’ executives board sailings to celebrate 10 years at sea with the loyal guests who have made it all possible.

Mr and Mrs Del Rio Regatta2 - Version 2Today, July 5th, marks the most historic of these sailings because the man who founded Oceania Cruises, Chairman and CEO Frank Del Rio, embarked Regatta on the very same date that she sailed her first voyage 10 years ago. On July 5, 2003, after being christened in Barcelona, Regatta set sail to explore Europe on the first voyage in Oceania Cruises’ history. Now 10 years later, Regatta sails from Seattle to discover the majestic wilderness of Alaska. Frank will host this very special anniversary sailing with his wife, Marcia, who is the godmother of Regatta and was warmly welcomed home today by General Manager Jason Gelineau and the other officers and crew.

When the anniversary sailings were being planned, Frank Del Rio had his choice of which ship he would like to sail on. For Frank, there was no question of which ship he would choose. “Regatta will always be my special ship,” he says. “If it wasn’t for her, nothing else would’ve been possible.”

L1070088Meanwhile, President Kunal S. Kamlani is celebrating the anniversary onboard Oceania Cruises’ newest ship, Riviera. He boarded the ship in Civitavecchia on Wednesday to host the Italian Escapade sailing. Several special events are planned in honor of the guests as well as the officers and crew that have been so loyal to Oceania Cruises over the years. Yesterday Kunal joined several guests, along with Chef Kelly and sous chefs Asif and Raj from the Bon Appétit Culinary Center, on a Culinary Discovery Tour. Check the blog tomorrow to read about their wonderful experience in Livorno, and watch for more stories of exciting anniversary sailing events in the coming days!

June 6, 2013

ICONS OF THE ETERNAL CITY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Trevi Fountaoin and LPF Spanish Steps

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

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

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

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

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

Monumento Nazionale a Vittorio Emanuele II

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

Piazza del Campidoglio

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

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

May 9, 2013

THE VIEW FROM KOTOR

Riviera has arrived in Europe for the summer, and today she calls on lovely Kotor, Montenegro. As Blogger-at-Large for Oceania Cruises, I recently had the pleasure of visiting this charming town and have many fond memories and fantastic photos from my time spent there.

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As with many costal towns, the views are among the most memorable aspects of a visit to this beautiful little city, nestled in a secluded area of the Gulf of Kotor just off the Adriatic Sea. The inlet on which the town lies has been called the southernmost fjord in Europe, but technically it is not a fjord. It is actually a ria, a coastal inlet formed by a submerged river valley. Regardless of the scientific name, the result of nature’s work is spectacular scenery. When calling on Kotor, you most definitely want to be on deck as the ship sails into port.

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Flanking the ship, forested mountains rise out of the tranquil sea as you sail the meandering route toward Kotor. As you approach, you can see two diminutive islands off the coast from the town of Perast, each island just large enough to support a religious edifice. The manmade island is home to the Church of Our Lady of the Rocks, and a Benedictine monastery stands on the natural island, known as St. George Island (pictured below).

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Continuing on to the far end of the cove, you are greeted by the charming coral-tiled roofs of the Old Town of Kotor. The town was settled in ancient Roman times and became an important center of trade in this region in the Middle Ages. Four centuries of Venetian rule gave Kotor its Venetian look and feel, including the fortifications that still surround the Old Town. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, it is one of the best-preserved medieval towns in the Adriatic. Several monuments, including the Cathedral of Saint Tryphon and the town walls, were seriously damaged by an earthquake in 1979, but the town has since been meticulously restored.

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Just a short walk from the cruise pier, the Old Town is primarily pedestrian and thus best appreciated on foot. I had a wonderful time exploring the narrow, winding lanes with photo opportunities around every corner.

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The inscription above the entrance to the walled Old Town reads, “What belongs to others we don't want; what is ours we will never surrender.” The 10th century Cathedral of Saint Tryphon certainly embodies the “never surrender” spirit. Badly damaged in two earthquakes, it stands beautifully preserved today. After the first quake in the 15th century, it took years to raise the funds and complete the reconstruction, which accounts for the different styles of the two towers. One of only two Catholic churches in Montenegro, it was built in honor of Kotor’s patron saint and protector.

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Behind the Old Town, an ancient stone pathway consisting of more than 1,300 stairs leads to the old fortress perched on the mountain. Along the way you pass the lovely 15th century Church of Our Lady of Health, which offers another fantastic photo opportunity, not to mention an excuse to rest a bit from climbing. If you have the stamina to reach the Castle of St. John, you will be rewarded with amazing views of the town, the bay and your ship. The climb is a challenging one, but it is definitely worth the effort!

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As my day in Kotor drew to a close, the wind picked up and the rain clouds began to roll in. But not even gray skies could diminish the beauty of the view as we sailed out of the bay.

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I am grateful to Oceania Cruises team member Vanessa Cordo and Oceania Cruises guest Peter Pretty, who also contributed some fabulous photos from their visits to Kotor. Guests onboard Riviera today are the first of the season to call on this gorgeous destination. I have no doubt they are enjoying a truly memorable day and capturing many photos of their own!

April 30, 2013

BARCELONA AND ITS UNFINISHED MASTERPIECE: THE SAGRADA FAMILIA

Of the many signs that spring has sprung, one of my favorites is the arrival of Oceania Cruises’ ships in Europe. This year Riviera was the first to arrive, and she began her European season in the spectacular city of Barcelona.

Cruises often commence or conclude in Barcelona, and on my previous voyages as Blogger-at-Large, my schedule had forced me to arrive just in time to embark or to fly home immediately after disembarking. If you begin or end a voyage in Barcelona, I highly recommend taking advantage of Oceania Cruises’ pre- or post-cruise hotel packages to allow yourself a few extra days in this wonderful city. From the architecture to the museums to the markets to the promenades, this is a city worth lingering in.

The sights of Barcelona are far too expansive to describe in a single blog, so I’m dedicating this one solely to the Sagrada Família, the magnum opus of famed architect Antoni Gaudí and the most recognizable icon in the city. After visiting the Vatican, my husband said he would never need to visit another church now that he’d seen St. Peter’s Basilica. When he saw the Sagrada Família, he retracted that statement.

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The Basílica de la Sagrada Família is Gaudí’s crowning achievement, despite the fact that it remains unfinished to this day. Gaudí worked on the church from 1883 until his death in 1926, and since then different architects have continued the work based on Gaudí’s original design. Because it is an expiatory church, the entire construction has been funded solely by donations, and Gaudí always considered it a church made by and for the people. He knew the project would only be completed long after his death, and he carried out the planning and construction in such a way that each succeeding generation could be responsible for a particular part.

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The Nativity façade was one of Gaudí’s first undertakings. It celebrates the birth of Jesus and the Holy Family, to whom the church is dedicated. Three entrances symbolize faith, hope and charity. Above the façade rise towers dedicated to apostles. The bell towers of this façade were completed in 1933, after Gaudí’s death.

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Despite severe damage done to the church during the Spanish Civil War in the late 1930s, construction resumed afterward. Most of Gaudí’s original plans were lost, but many pieces of plaster models were recovered. There were also published plans and photographs of the original models available, and many of Gaudí’s followers had created volumes of notes based on information he shared with them. Using these resources, construction was able to continue according to Gaudí’s original vision.

The foundations of the Passion façade were laid in 1954, based on the many studies that Gaudí had done. In contrast to the joyful tone of the Nativity façade, the simple figures on the Passion façade are darkly dramatic and intense, as this section tells the story of Jesus’ pain, sacrifice and death. The sun’s descent casts shadows on the figures that further emphasize their desolation.

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The Glory façade is currently under construction and will be the main entrance to the church when it is finished. When the church is complete, it will have 18 towers: 12 dedicated to the apostles, four to the evangelists, one to Jesus and one to Mary.

The interior of the Sagrada Família is just as impressive as the exterior. The system of columns supporting the five naves is unique in the history of architecture. The soaring branches of the columns give the impression of a forest, as the structure and mechanics of trees inspired Gaudí’s design. The cloister is also unique in that it runs all around the church, only interrupted by the doors and the apse. Throughout the interior are stunning works of stained glass; since 1999 many have been designed by artist Joan Vila-Grau.

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The Sagrada Família is an astounding achievement. If you travel to Barcelona, be certain to visit this amazing church and witness for yourself the brilliance of Gaudí and the talent and dedication of the people of this city.

March 27, 2013

EXPERIENCING THE MAYAN MYSTIQUE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

March 6, 2013

YOUR WORLD ON SALE

The worldwide celebration of our 10th Anniversary continues! Today, we announced that we have earmarked 10 sailings across four continents with special savings as part of our 10th Anniversary Your World on Sale promotion. The new promotion includes a $500 shipboard credit, free pre-paid gratuities, a free unlimited Internet Package, 50 percent off deposits and Business Class air upgrades from $799 per person, one-way, on select sailings.  

As always, guests will receive two-for-one cruise fares and free airfare, delivering additional value. The new Your World on Sale promotion is available for new cruise reservations booked now through May 31, 2013.

The Your World on Sale promotion is applicable on the following 2013 sailings:

Riviera

August 16: Treasures & Monuments | Istanbul to Rome | 12 days

September 29: Romance & Rivieras | Lisbon to Monte Carlo | 12 days

October 25: Paths of the Byzantines | Venice to Istanbul | 12 days

November 6: Continental Quest | Istanbul to Barcelona | 12 days

Regatta

August 22: Ultimate Panama Canal | San Francisco to New York | 21 days

Marina

October 29: Glorious Shores | Venice to Barcelona | 12 days

November 10: Treasures of the Ancients | Roundtrip Barcelona | 10 days

December 8: South American Holiday | Rio de Janeiro to Valparaiso | 20 days

December 28: Pacific Paradise | Valparaiso to Papeete | 18 days

Nautica

November 4: Classic Mediterranean | Roundtrip Barcelona | 10 days

We hope you will be able to join us on one of these fantastic voyages. To make reservations or for more information, visit www.OceaniaCruises.com, call Oceania Cruises at 800-531-5658 or contact your travel agent. Please refer to promotion code YW02013.

 

February 25, 2013

OCEANIA CRUISES LAUNCHES FIRST-EVER TV ADVERTISING CAMPAIGN

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

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

 

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

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

February 6, 2013

THE SECRETS BEHIND THE FINEST CUISINE AT SEA

For the past eight months, Fleet Corporate Chef Franck Garanger and the rest of the Oceania Cruises culinary team have been designing and testing new menus for the fleet’s flagship restaurant, the Grand Dining Room. The menus in the Grand Dining Room change daily, and in total, Garanger has created 85 new recipes for 14 different menus.

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One of Garanger’s latest creations: Zucchini-Wrapped Jumbo Shrimp with Parmesan Cheese and Angel Hair Pasta al Limone

“If you just copied other recipes or used a cookbook, you could do this rollout in two months,” Garanger says. “But we try to be unique in every single recipe we create, and that is a lengthy process requiring the dedicated efforts of the entire team.”

Photo 21So what is Garanger’s creative process for conceiving all of these unique recipes? “I start to think about the recipe and then I start to make notes. Then I prepare it once. If I’m lucky, I only have to prepare the dish three or four times before it’s finalized. But often I have to try it eight or ten times before it’s perfect. And sometimes I give up!” Garanger chuckles. “Sometimes I say, okay, this one is never going to work – and then maybe it works a few years later. It happens sometimes.”

Garanger’s conception of the recipes is only the first step in a launch of this scale. Once the recipes are designed, a great deal of product research must be done to secure all of the new ingredients. This is one of the challenges facing restaurants operating onboard a ship versus restaurants ashore.

“Fresh products are purchased in every port, and the availability changes depending on whether you’re in South America or Europe or Asia, so the executive chefs have to plan ahead and make adjustments,” Garanger explains. “Meanwhile, dry goods and frozen items are delivered via shipping containers, which can take a long time to reach the ship. If a container is traveling from Miami to Europe, it may take three weeks. To ensure we have all the necessary ingredients for these new recipes, we had to begin scheduling these shipments months in advance.”

Onboard restaurants are open seven days a week, 365 days a year, another aspect of shipboard operations requiring ingenuity in management. Galleys operate around the clock, and shifts must be staffed accordingly. Training and oversight must be constant and diligent.

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As an example of the team’s commitment to the ingredients, design and process of recipes from start to finish, consider the dinner baguette in the Grand Dining Room. Only the finest (and most expensive) French flour is used – Viron flour harvested in the Beauce region – because it has a lower gluten content and thus more flavor. The flour is shipped direct from France, and each batch of dough goes through a two-stage proofing process to release the full aromas of the flour. The dough is refrigerated to proof overnight and then worked, formed into baguettes and proofed again before baking. And this is just to create the dinner baguette, one of thousands of items prepared onboard each day.

Here Garanger and Senior Executive Chef Alexis Quaretti discuss the finer points of the baguette wafer that will accompany the new Grand Dining Room dish: Cauliflower Panna Cotta with Artichoke Salpicon, Tomato Coulis and Poblano Chili Aioli.

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Considering the complex methods required to make an exceptional baguette, you can imagine how involved the process is when launching entirely new menus for the Grand Dining Room. The rollout will take nearly four months to complete across the entire fleet, with each ship requiring a full cruise for initial implementation and another full cruise for follow-up training.

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The new dishes are a feast for the senses. The flavor profiles are rich and diverse, and the presentation is spectacular.

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Beef Carpaccio with Fried Shallots, Parmesan and Lemon Vinaigrette

 
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Baby Shrimp and Avocado Cocktail with Marie-Louise Sauce
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Warm Duck Pâté in Puff Pastry with Port Wine Sauce

 

The new menus also include an assortment of Canyon Ranch® Healthy Living Choices that meet the Canyon Ranch standards for balanced nutrition from a wide variety of fresh fruits and vegetables, healthy fats, whole grains and lean proteins. The calories, fat grams and fiber grams for each Canyon Ranch selection are included on the menu. If healthy living means eating dishes like this, then I’m becoming a health nut!

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Canyon Ranch Vegetable Caponata on Roasted Red Pepper Dressing with Crispy Sardinian Bread
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Canyon Ranch Wild Salmon Tartare with Sushi Rice and Avocado

 

Having created so many exquisite dishes, does Garanger have a personal favorite?

“My signature dish is my mashed potatoes,” Garanger says. With the new rollout, Franck’s Mashed Potatoes will always be available as a side in the Grand Dining Room, and you really must try them. Absolute heaven!

“The pâté en croute on the new menu is also very close to my heart,” Garanger continues. “This is a recipe from my childhood for the classic dish that the French enjoy around the family table.” Here Franck prepares his Childhood Paté en Croute: French Family-Style Encrusted Paté with Smoked Ham and Pheasant.

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Until you’ve visited the Grand Dining Room, you can only imagine the amazing selection of delectable new dishes to be tasted. And the Grand Dining Room is only one of four gourmet restaurants on Regatta and Nautica and six restaurants on Marina and Riviera! When you reserve your next voyage with Oceania Cruises, I suggest you make it a lengthy one, so you have plenty of time to sample all of the spectacular cuisine!

February 5, 2013

BEHIND THE SCENES WITH OCEANIA CRUISES’ FLEET CORPORATE CHEF FRANCK GARANGER

Photo 11Any fan of Oceania Cruises knows that esteemed master chef Jacques Pépin is our executive culinary director and the inspiration behind our extraordinary cuisine. But even Chef Pépin knows that it takes more than one person to create a culinary program for a cruise line that can successfully rival the cuisine of even the best restaurants ashore. As Blogger-at-Large for Oceania Cruises, I recently had the privilege of interviewing one of the other culinary team members responsible for creating the finest cuisine at sea.

Fleet Corporate Chef Franck Garanger might modestly resist the label of “creative genius.” But after tasting the exquisite dishes he has conceived for Oceania Cruises’ ships, I can’t think of a more appropriate moniker.

While many cruise lines employ a single corporate chef, Oceania Cruises has an entire team of culinary directors and executive chefs committed to realizing its culinary vision. Thus Garanger is free to focus his creative genius – there, I said it – on designing recipes that uphold Oceania Cruises’ reputation for the finest cuisine at sea. 

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An example of the finest cuisine at sea: Tamarind-Braised Black Cod with Sweet Ginger Sauce and Vegetable Ragout

While Garanger was born in the Normandy region of France, his family moved to Angers in the Loire Valley when he was two years old. His father owned a bakery, and after being exposed to the culinary world at a very young age, Garanger began working with his father and learning the pastry trade at age 16. One year later he began studies in hospitality and hotel management. French universities are very specialized, and the training involved one week of classes alternating with two weeks of hands-on restaurant experience, at which time Garanger worked with a French master chef at a Michelin-starred restaurant in Angers.

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Fleet Corporate Chef Franck Garanger
After passing his first exams, Garanger worked at one of the world’s most famous hotels, the Hotel de Paris in Monaco, followed by the equally renowned Hotel de Cap Eden Roc, a palace on the French Riviera in Antibes. He then returned to school for two years to complete his degrees and after exams, at the age of 24, began officially working as a chef.

His first position on a cruise ship was with Silversea Cruises in 1995. When he was asked to join Oceania Cruises in 2003, he did not hesitate to accept. “I liked the vision they had for the line,” Garanger says. “And I really liked the passion of all the people involved. They were so into food that, in everything we were creating, they were not only behind me but also tasting the food with me. When you have the CEO and the president coming onboard just to taste the food to see if we can put it on the menu, it applies a little pressure, but it is also very rewarding because you can really see how important the food is to the company.”

Much like the passionate commitment of the executives, many aspects of Garanger’s tenure with Oceania Cruises have been both challenging and rewarding. “Regatta was a challenge because we had to start from scratch, and we were working with a ship we didn't build, so we had to make adjustments. We built Marina ourselves, but it was also challenging because we opened eight different restaurants – each a completely different concept – and had 160 cooks onboard to manage. In both cases, there were very high expectations, and we had to deliver in a short period of time. Both debuts were a huge success, and so of course, we’re very happy.”

So what is the secret to continuing to deliver the finest cuisine at sea? For one thing, most members of the culinary team, such as Executive Culinary Director Jacques Pépin, Senior Vice President of Hotel Operations Franco Semeraro, Culinary Director Eric Barale and Assistant Culinary Director Pascal Lesueur, have been with Oceania Cruises since its very beginnings. And the line’s commitment to cuisine has ensured that the team is provided every tool they need to succeed.

“I’ve always been asked what I needed, and whatever I asked for, I got,” Garanger says. “Of course, then you have to make sure you deliver, and so far, I’ve succeeded. That’s why I’m still here!”

Each restaurant onboard provides its own unique challenges. Jacques is perhaps the most challenging because of the technical precision required to execute true, authentic French recipes using traditional, time-honored methods on a daily basis. Toscana is also technically challenging because of the à la minute preparation of all the fresh pasta and risotto.

Red Ginger is one of Garanger’s favorite concepts because it is truly “his baby.” Garanger traveled in Asia for two years and then spent time in both London and San Francisco researching ideas before developing the restaurant concept and recipes.

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One of Red Ginger’s signature dishes: Miso-Glazed Sea Bass in Hoba Leaf

While Jacques and Red Ginger are featured on Oceania Cruises’ newest ships, Marina and Riviera, guests will be excited to know that they can soon get a taste of these restaurants onboard Regatta and Nautica as well. These ships will soon feature an entrée from both Jacques and Red Ginger each night in the Grand Dining Room. The new features are just one small part of Garanger’s latest large scale project, the rollout of new menus for the Grand Dining Rooms on the entire fleet.

In my next blog post, I’ll share Garanger’s insights into the creative process, training and implementation involved in this extensive menu rollout. Check the blog again soon for more behind-the-scenes stories.

February 1, 2013

MEET THE TEAM BEHIND THE FINEST CUISINE AT SEA

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Executive Culinary Director Jacques Pépin
While most cruise lines employ a single corporate chef that oversees the creation, organization and implementation of menus, Oceania Cruises has an entire team at the helm of its culinary program. Of course, renowned master chef Jacques Pépin has been the inspiration for the program since he became executive culinary director when the line was founded 10 years ago. But consistently delivering the finest cuisine at sea requires a large group of dedicated chefs committed to this vision.

“No one person can be in charge of all the food and beverage for a cruise line and do it well,” says Senior Vice President of Hotel Operations Franco Semeraro. “It’s  creativity, it’s administration, it’s logistics and human resources; it’s sourcing and tracking and training and quality control. And then there’s bread and pastry. From a culinary point of view, that’s like another planet! How could one person do all that?”

As Blogger-at-Large for Oceania Cruises, I’ve enjoyed the privilege of meeting several members of the culinary team, including Semeraro, who led the team in one of its most ambitious projects to date: the launch of entirely new menus for the Grand Dining Room. Semeraro has been a key player in the creation of Oceania Cruises’ renowned cuisine since the line’s founding in 2003. In fact, most of the culinary team has been onboard since the company began with a handful of employees a decade ago, which accounts for the family atmosphere amongst the entire team and translates to a warm camaraderie amidst the crew and guests onboard the ships. It truly is a family affair, as several of the original recipes served in the Italian restaurants have come from Semeraro and his wife, Packy, and their mothers.

Fleet Corporate Chef Franck Garanger has certainly found his niche within the team. His sole responsibility is creating innovative new menus that keep Oceania Cruises at the forefront of culinary excellence. Meanwhile, Culinary Director Eric Barale handles the logistics of implementing Garanger’s creations, from purchasing fresh ingredients and acquiring new equipment to assembling the necessary staff and designing menus. Interestingly, Barale used to be Garanger’s teacher at culinary school, and when Garanger was invited to come onboard with Oceania Cruises when the line was founded in 2003, Barale was the first person he called to join him.

“Eric does all the work I don’t like to do,” Garanger says, chuckling. “I am the right brain and he is the left, so it makes a great partnership. When you don’t have to take care of all the logistics and you’re free to just create the recipes, it’s fantastic. It allows me to keep a clear head and to simply create. Otherwise, there wouldn’t be enough hours in the day.”

Of course, the right brain and left brain wouldn’t function without a lot of neurons flashing in synchronicity. Several other team members help execute this culinary vision, not to mention the hundreds of chefs and sous chefs working onboard the ships. Assistant Culinary Director Pascal Lesueur and Senior Executive Chef Alexis Quaretti were both heavily involved in the new menu rollout in the Grand Dining Room. Senior Executive Chef Christophe Belin oversaw implementation on Riviera, while Senior Executive Chef Laurent Trias will oversee Marina, and Executive Chef Renald Macouin will oversee Regatta and Nautica

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Senior Executive Chef Christophe Belin, Blogger-at-Large Lisa Pancake Fossland and Fleet Corporate Chef Franck Garanger
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Senior Executive Chef Alexis Quaretti

 

If you saw yesterday’s blog, your mouth is probably still watering over the photos I shared that revealed the fruits of the team’s labors. There are so many delicious dishes on the new Grand Dining Room menus that I wanted to share a few more with you today. 

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Grilled Vegetable Terrine with Creamy Pesto and Crispy Focaccia Bread
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Prosciutto-Wrapped Monkfish Fillet with Saffron Mussel Sauce

 
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Herb-Crusted Cornish Hen alla Diavolo with Bacon and Shoestring Potatoes
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Dorado and Tuna Ceviche with Cilantro and Heirloom Tomatoes

In my next blog post, read my behind-the-scenes interview with Fleet Corporate Chef Franck Garanger and learn where he gets his inspiration to create the finest cuisine at sea.

January 31, 2013

OCEANIA CRUISES DEBUTS EXCITING NEW MENUS IN THE GRAND DINING ROOM

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Fresh Sea Bass on Ratatouille Sauce with Chickpea Croutons and Tomato Petals

Oceania Cruises has long held a reputation for cuisine that is not only the finest at sea but also rivals that of the best restaurants ashore. If you’ve dined onboard an Oceania Cruises ship, then you know we take fine dining to an entirely new level. Creating truly exquisite cuisine requires more than just the freshest and highest-quality ingredients. It requires passion, creativity, à la minute preparation and careful attention to detail. 

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Pancetta-Wrapped Jumbo Shrimp with Kalamata Olive Sauce and Vegetable Julienne
Oceania Cruises has further solidified its reputation as the cruise line for foodies by successfully rolling out entirely new menus, including 85 new recipes, for its Grand Dining Room onboard Riviera. The remainder of the fleet will receive the new menus over the course of the next three months.

As Blogger-at-Large for Oceania Cruises, my job has a lot of perks, but in this case I have to say, it involved a bit of torment. For the last few weeks, I’ve been receiving mouthwatering photos of all the fabulous dishes that the chefs have been creating, testing and, most importantly, tasting. I can’t wait to sail again to try all of the new dishes. Your taste buds are about to sit up and take notice.

The new menus for the Grand Dining Room are an ode to classic European-inspired cuisine, while also giving a whole new meaning to dishes such as steak au poivre and moules marinières. The team has taken the execution of classic dishes to a higher level, and the vision of Fleet Corporate Chef Franck Garanger has revealed interpretations such as Palermo-Style Grilled Swordfish over Crushed Red Bliss Potatoes with Eggplant Caviar, Traditional French Beef Tartare with Toasted Baguette Wafer, and Grilled Veal Chop with Rustic Tomatoes and Lemon Confit. 

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Moules Marinières: Fresh Black Mussels with Shallots, White Wine and Parsley

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Palermo-Style Grilled Swordfish over Crushed Red Bliss Potatoes with Eggplant Caviar

 

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Traditional French Beef Tartare with Toasted Baguette Wafer
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Grilled Veal Chop with Rustic Tomatoes and Lemon Confit

Menus also include three exquisite new lobster dishes, such as the Lobster and Spring Vegetable Crepe with Langoustine Bisque. If, like me, your craving for Italian food is never satiated, you will love the 10 new pastas and risottos that are featured. How about Fettuccine with Wild Sea Bass in Rustic Tomato and Peperoncino Sauce? Or perhaps Rigatoni alle Melanzane e Ricotta Affumicata, a delicious dish of rigatoni pasta served with sautéed eggplant in a tomato basil sauce and topped with smoked ricotta?

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Lobster and Spring Vegetable Crepe with Langoustine Bisque
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Rigatoni alle Melanzane e Ricotta Affumicata

 

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Fettuccine with Wild Sea Bass in Rustic Tomato and Peperoncino Sauce

If you prefer a light garlic and wine sauce, you must try the Pasta with Fresh Littleneck Clams and Pinot Grigio Sauce. Risotto lovers shouldn’t miss the Risotto Venere con Gamberoni All’Arrabbiata, a black risotto with a spicy shrimp ragout.

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Pasta with Fresh Littleneck Clams and Pinot Grigio Sauce
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Risotto Venere con Gamberoni All’Arrabbiata

 

Beyond the traditional dishes from countries such as France, Spain and Italy, you will also find European-inspired versions of other classics, such as the American barbecued pork chop and the Japanese crab tempura.

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Sweet Barbecued Pork Chop with Applewood-Smoked Bacon, Stuffed Potatoes and Brussels Sprouts
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Soft Shell Crab Tempura with Roasted Cherry Tomato Aioli

Jacques Pépin has always said that the finest cuisine must start with the freshest, highest-quality ingredients, and Oceania Cruises’ unwavering commitment to this philosophy is evident in all of the new dishes. A new lobster and rice dish is made with saffron from the Castilla–La Mancha region of Spain, known for producing the finest of this priciest of all herbs. Fans of “the other white meat” will find some of the most renowned pork in the world, from roast Segovian suckling pig to jamón Ibérico de bellota, the famous Iberian ham that comes from pigs fed on acorns. 

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Steamed Maine Lobster on Castilla-La Mancha Saffron Rice
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Roast Segovian Suckling Pig with Rosemary Fingerling Potatoes

Unique international ingredients are also featured, such as the kadaif pasta in the Crispy Kadaif-Wrapped Tiger Prawns with Mango-Chili Salsa.

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Crispy Kadaif-Wrapped Tiger Prawns with Mango-Chili Salsa

There are also delectable new appetizers, such as the Molten Cheese Soufflé with Chive Velouté and the Quinoa and Vegetable Tartare with Salmon Gravlax and Sherry Vinegar Cream.

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Molten Cheese Soufflé with Chive Velouté
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Quinoa and Vegetable Tartare with Salmon Gravlax and Sherry Vinegar Cream

The salads are exquisite as well. Check out the colorful Roasted Butternut Squash with Arugula, Mango, Black Radish, Hearts of Palm and Pumpkin Seed Vinaigrette and the work of art known as Heirloom Tomato Carpaccio and Sicilian Tomato-Basil Press with Cream of Buffalo Mozzarella. 

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Roasted Butternut Squash with Arugula, Mango, Black Radish, Hearts of Palm and Pumpkin Seed Vinaigrette
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Heirloom Tomato Carpaccio and Sicilian Tomato-Basil Press with Cream of Buffalo Mozzarella

 

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Zen
Lest you think I’ve forgotten to mention the desserts, I’ve saved the best for last. The year 2013 marks Oceania Cruises’ 10th anniversary, and to celebrate this momentous occasion, Chef Garanger has created a dessert as extraordinary as this special milestone. Named “Zen”, the dessert begins with a Valrhona 64% cacao Manjari chocolate bar, made from the finest Madagascan cacao beans. That is combined with milky gianduja hazelnut chocolate and citrus yuzu fruit and accompanied by a hazelnut croquant. Now that’s a dessert befitting a celebration of a decade at sea!

If you haven’t already left the blog site to reserve your next Oceania Cruises voyage so you can indulge in these wonderful new dishes, now is the time! But do check back throughout the week for behind-the-scenes stories revealing the secrets to creating such extraordinary cuisine, including an interview with Fleet Corporate Chef Franck Garanger. I’ll also share more mouthwatering photos that will have you wishing you could dine onboard every day of the year!

January 7, 2013

TAKING IT ALL IN ON THE ISLAND OF TORTOLA

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

December 31, 2012

A HAPPY NEW YEAR IN SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

December 24, 2012

THE UNIQUE BEAUTY OF VIRGIN GORDA

While I am Blogger-at-Large for Oceania Cruises, I am not currently “at large,” but rather home for the holidays. This is one of my favorite times to blog about my Oceania Cruises adventures because, as the winter chill sets in here in Missouri, I can fondly recall the warm sun shining over lovely Virgin Gorda during my recent visit there. One of the best things about a vacation with Oceania Cruises is that you take away memories that will last a lifetime – and will sustain you during the winter doldrums as you dream of your next Oceania Cruises voyage! As I write this, guests onboard Riviera are making memories of their own, for they will call on Virgin Gorda later this week during their idyllic Island Holiday in the Caribbean.

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What draws most visitors to this uniquely beautiful island (aside from the fact that it is in the Caribbean, of course) is a beach area known as “The Baths,” located at the southern end of the island. At The Baths, volcanic activity deposited large amounts of granite that eroded into gigantic boulders, creating picturesque tunnels, arches, tidal pools and grottoes.

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A short bus or taxi ride from the ship takes you to the trailhead that leads to The Baths. From there you can walk down a rocky path to the beach. The path is a bit steep but easily navigable for the fairly nimble.

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Arriving at this beach is unlike arriving at any other beach I’ve visited. After following the winding path enshrouded in exotic vegetation, I emerged onto a sprawling white beach inexplicably adorned with enormous boulders. Of course, the volcanic activity is the explanation, but the first impression is almost mystical, as if some ancient god had deposited the stones on the beach as monuments to his power.

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I was captivated by the unique beauty of the giant stones and swirling tidal pools and couldn’t help but feel a little humbled by the thousands of years of history represented in their formation. Several others admired the view from their yachts in the tranquil harbor.

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After spending some time enjoying the beauty of The Baths, I decided to navigate the path to Devil’s Bay where another idyllic beach awaited. The path was quite an adventure, and I was glad I’d worn my water shoes. I climbed over and through boulders and waded through tidal pools. Platforms and stairs have been constructed along the way to help visitors navigate safely.

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Arrows mark the route to Devil’s Bay, although I was so busy enjoying the beautiful scenery I ended up taking a few unintended detours. Not to worry, though, it only meant more exploring amongst the enormous boulders and sheltered pools.

I had read that these beaches get quite crowded. I was there during high season, and while they weren’t deserted hideaways, the beaches weren’t uncomfortably crowded either. There was plenty of space to relax on the warm sand, and I had a wonderful time snorkeling and exploring the tidal pools. The shade at Devil’s Bay beach was limited, so come prepared with sunscreen, a hat and any other sun protection you may need.

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Also, gentlemen, be aware of where you keep your wallet. A man snorkeling near me surfaced with a wallet in his hand. It had an ID so, after calling out the owner’s name several times, the man was able to return it. Moments later the same snorkeler began surfacing with $20 bills that he also kindly returned!

Speaking of the water, it was absolutely perfect. Having lived in L.A. for several years and experienced some strong ocean currents, I was amazed at the tranquil coves I discovered on this island. The water was the ideal temperature and indescribably blue, and while I usually spend most of my time at beaches literally on the beach, here I found that I didn’t want to leave the heavenly waters.

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After a truly wonderful day exploring these unique beaches, I hiked a more leisurely trail to catch a ride back to the ship, enjoying the scenic landscape of the island along the way.

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As winter descends here at home, I’ll be thinking about Oceania Cruises’ guests celebrating their holiday with the sunny skies, golden sands and azure waters of the Caribbean. We hope you will share stories of your adventures here in the comments section, and we’d love to see your photos on our Facebook page.

On behalf of the entire Oceania Cruises family, warmest wishes for a joyous holiday season and many wonderful journeys in 2013!

December 18, 2012

‘TIS THE SEASON TO EXPLORE THE MALDIVES

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

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

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

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

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

December 10, 2012

OCEANIA CRUISES WINS CRUISE CRITIC AWARDS FOR BEST CUISINE AND BEST SUITES

The 2012 Cruise Critic Editors’ Picks were recently announced, and if you’ve ever been onboard an Oceania Cruises ship, you won’t be surprised to learn that Oceania Cruises was chosen for Best Cuisine and Best Suites.

Upon hearing this exciting news, I took a moment to go through the many photos I have taken over the years as Blogger-at-Large for Oceania Cruises and select a few of my favorites of the beautiful suites and incredible meals I’ve enjoyed during my adventures onboard the ships. If you’re wondering what inspired the Cruise Critic editors to select Oceania Cruises, here are just a few of the reasons why these awards are so richly deserved.

BEST CUISINE 

Blogger and Chefs
The men behind the menus: Senior Executive Chef Christophe Belin and Fleet Corporate Chef Franck Garanger (pictured with Pancake, Blogger-at-Large)

GRAND DINING ROOM

One of the sure signs that Oceania Cruises is perfect for foodies is that the Grand Dining Room is just as wonderful as the specialty restaurants. In fact, I’ve spoken with several guests who say it’s their favorite restaurant onboard. The menus change daily, but you will always find European-inspired continental cuisine as well as delicious Canyon Ranch SpaClub® dishes. Here are some photos of a few of my favorite dishes.

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Grilled Turbot with Zucchini and Tomato
GD SHrimp Asp Risotto
Shrimp and Asparagus Risotto
 
GD Lobster
Lobster Thermidor 

TOSCANA

As exquisite as The Grand Dining Room is, I highly recommend pulling yourself away for a taste of Tuscan-inspired Italian cuisine at the wonderful Toscana. The simple but elegant ambiance elicits the romance of the Italian countryside, and quite a few of the recipes are inspired by mothers and grandmothers of Oceania Cruises culinary staff. Also, many of the sommeliers are from long lines of wine-producing families, further enhancing the Italian experience.

Italian food is comfort food for me, and Toscana is definitely one of my favorite restaurants – onboard or ashore. I’ve had the privilege of celebrating two birthdays in Toscana, and if I had my choice, I’d celebrate all of them here! Just look at some of the incredible dishes I have enjoyed at Toscana.

 

TOS Octopus
Carpaccio di Polpo con Patate al Vapore e Vinaigrette allo Champagne (Octopus Carpaccio with Champagne Vinaigrette and Warm Potato Salad)
TOS Eggpland
Involtini di Melanzane alla Ghiotta (Sliced Eggplant rolled and sautéed with Roasted Minced Veal Stuffing and Basil, baked in Fresh Tomato Sauce)


TOS Artichoke
Sformatino di Carciofi in Salsa Tartufata e Olio Aromatizzato all’Arugula (Artichoke and Parmesan Cheese Timbale with Black Truffle Sauce and Arugula Infused Oil)
TOSLinguini Cioppino
Linguine Cioppino (Linguini Pasta with Little Neck Clams, Black Mussels, Calamari, Shrimp, and Monk Fish sautéed in a Light Pinot Grigio and Cherry Tomato Sauce)

POLO GRILL

I admit, when writing about my dining experiences, it is almost impossible not to claim that each restaurant is my favorite. If you have dined with Oceania Cruises, I think you know what I mean, and you’ll understand when I say Polo Grill is another one of my favorites. Polo Grill offers the classic steak house experience with time-honored favorites done the way only Oceania Cruises can, perfectly. The steaks are USDA Prime and dry-aged for at least 28 days.

On a recent cruise, we had reservations at Polo Grill for the last night of the voyage, and my friend spent the entire trip in anticipation of devouring the signature 32-ounce prime rib. Some people claim that a steak this size couldn’t possibly be eaten in one sitting, but I have found the person for whom this cut of beef was designed. He savored every bite, and he was the first one to finish his entrée!

For those of us with daintier appetites, there are plenty of options as well. I find the 7-ounce filet mignon is more my size. And if you prefer seafood, Polo Grill has plenty of excellent options. How does Maine lobster with drawn butter, grilled mahi mahi or jumbo shrimp cocktail sound?

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Colossal Chilled Shrimp Trio with Spicy Cocktail Sauce
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King’s Cut 32 oz Prime Rib – Bone-in, Seasoned to Perfection, Slow Roasted and Served Medium Rare

TERRACE CAFÉ

If you’re looking for something slightly more casual, or if you just can’t decide what type of cuisine you’re in the mood for, Terrace Café offers a whole array of international selections in a buffet-style setting. The food is just as spectacular, and you can try a little bit of everything! You will find things like Marinated Fennel Salad, Cold Poached Salmon with Herbed Mayonnaise, Breaded Pork Parmigiana and Creamy Carrot and Pumpkin Soup. Onboard Marina and Riviera, there is even a sushi bar, which I try to visit daily. And good luck trying to decide on just one dessert! Whether you choose to dine indoors or alfresco on deck, the views are stunning in every direction.

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Dessert Selection
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Outside Seating

JACQUES

If you haven’t had a chance to take a voyage onboard Marina or Riviera, I highly recommend you do so. In addition to all of the amazing offerings onboard Regatta and Nautica, you will find two new restaurants, including Master Chef Jacques Pépin’s namesake restaurant. I recently had the pleasure of dining here and can’t say enough about the whole experience. Everything was just perfect, from the classic French cuisine to the charming French bistro ambiance.

Here are some photos of the amazing dishes my husband and I enjoyed on a recent trip:

JA Mussels
Moules Marinières (Fresh Mussels with Shallots, White Wine and Parsley)
JA Onion Soup
Gratiné à l’Oignon (Baked Onion Soup with Gruyère Cheese Crust)
JA Chicken
Poulet Fermier Rôti aux Herbes (Herb-crusted Black Foot Free Range Chicken au Jus with Gratin Dauphinois and Haricots Verts)

RED GINGER

The other new restaurant onboard Marina and Riviera is the Asian-inspired Red Ginger. The restaurant itself is beautifully decorated, the centerpiece being three gorgeous busts of Buddha, each carved from a single piece of glass and lit from within.

Complimenting the stunning décor is an equally creative menu with contemporary interpretations of Asian classics. Rich, bold flavors are perfectly balanced with delicate subtleties. This is one of the most distinctive and delicious restaurants I have ever experienced, and the moment I finish a meal here I am already hoping for the opportunity to return as soon as possible.

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Tuna Tataki (Seared Tuna Filet, Shiso Sesame Crust, Wasabi Cream)
RG Lobster
Lobster Pad Thai (Rice Noodles, Bean Sprouts, Lime, Tamarind, Peanuts)
Seafood Stir-fried
Seafood Stir-fried (Scallops, Squid, Tiger Prawns, Mussels, Spring Onions, Ginger)

LA RESERVE

One of my favorite indulgences is dining at La Reserve by Wine Spectator. The restaurant seats only 24 and has an elite spot high atop deck 12. Each course is meticulously created, often before your very eyes, and great care has gone into pairing each dish with the perfect premium wine.

Dining at La Reserve is much more than a meal; it is a special event. When you finish an evening here, you feel like one of the most important and well cared for people on the planet.

LR Short Rib
72-Hour Slow Braised Short Rib with Gnocchi au Jus
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Paired with Gordon Brothers Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, Columbia Valley, Washington, USA
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Chef making the Raspberry Caramelized Mille Feuille with Madagascan Vanilla Cream
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Paired with Château la Varière, Les Melleresses Bonnezeaux, Loire Valley, France 

BEST SUITES

After a fabulous dinner onboard – and maybe a little dancing at Horizons lounge – there is nothing more perfect than retiring to what Cruise Critic editors called “the most sumptuous suites at sea.”

OWNER’S SUITE

The Owners’ Suites were designed by Susan Bednar Long of New York-based, award-winning Tocar Interior Design and are completely furnished with Ralph Lauren Home Collection. Feeling almost as big as my house, the closets are one of my favorite parts!

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VISTA SUITES

When Marina first debuted, I had the great privilege of spending time in the suites with a few honored guests, including Dakota Jackson, the renowned American designer who created the Vista Suites.

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Dakota Jackson pictured with Pancake, Blogger-at-Large

If you like to know where the ship is heading, you may prefer the view from these suites, which overlook the bow of the ship.

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OCEANIA SUITES

Oceania Suites, also designed by Dakota Jackson, are so large you can comfortably host a cocktail party – and they even have the bar for it! Or, if you prefer, make it a quiet night and relax in the whirlpool tub on the veranda.

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PENTHOUSE SUITES

Penthouse Suites are the smallest of the suites, but small is a relative term! Walk-in closets, marble and granite bathrooms, spacious and comfortable living quarters – one guest told me these suites were her favorite place onboard Marina.

One of the things I enjoy most onboard Oceania Cruises ships is lounging in the beautiful bathtubs. This is just one of many amenities that distinguishes Oceania Cruises suites, and on Marina and Riviera, bathtubs are also featured in most staterooms. There is a shower wand in the bath tub as well as a completely separate rainfall shower.

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With the perfect accommodations and the ultimate cuisine, Oceania Cruises offers an unrivaled cruising experience at an extraordinary value. Some may say that I’m biased, but the editors at Cruise Critic have confirmed what I’ve known for some time: Oceania Cruises truly stands head and shoulders above the rest!

November 29, 2012

RELAXING IN BEAUTIFUL GUSTAVIA, ST. BARTS

After bidding adieu to Europe, Riviera crossed the Atlantic and arrived in Miami today, where she will begin her winter season exploring the idyllic beaches and swaying palms of the Caribbean. 

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As Blogger-at-Large for Oceania Cruises, I find that when I travel to the Caribbean, I have to take it down a few notches. Shore excursions tend to be about relaxing on a beach or a sailboat, snorkeling or gazing at the beautiful scenery and less about touring ancient ruins and visiting world-class museums as DSCF1583I enjoy doing in Europe. Not that I am complaining! This is one of the great things about seeing the world with Oceania Cruises: every region of the world has new, different and equally wonderful experiences to offer.

A day in Gustavia, St. Barts, is the perfect example of the nice relaxed pace I enjoy when sailing the Caribbean. Though Gustavia is very popular for duty-free shopping and high-end designer fashion boutiques, mostly it is geared toward enjoying the weather, the beautiful scenery and the iridescent blue waters.

St. Barts was discovered by Columbus in 1493 and named after his brother Bartolomeo. However, it was not until 1763 that the French successfully settled on the island. Ultimately, St. Barts fell into the hands of the Swedes, and as a free port, it became important for trade and supply during the colonial wars in the 18th century. Unlike many of the surrounding islands, St. Barts is inhospitable to sugar farming, so it has served primarily as a center for trade.

Today it is an idyllic island resort, serving tourists from all over the world in search of warm weather and beautiful beaches.

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Just a short walk from the harbor where the ship docked, I found Shell Beach, a remarkably uncrowded, tranquil cove with a wonderful little Brazilian café where I sat and enjoyed the views and the gorgeous day.

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Like most Caribbean islands, the deep blue waters and the lush green foliage are stunning, but what I find especially captivating about Gustavia are the coral-colored roofs and multi-hued flowers. It is truly a colorful town and has one of the most picturesque harbors in the Caribbean.

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On my leisurely stroll through town, I came across a couple of lovely little churches. The Church of Our Lady of the Assumption is a Catholic Church surrounded by a lovely courtyard. St. Bartholomew’s Anglican Church sits right off the harbor.

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There are shore excursions that take visitors on tours of the island or on fabulous snorkeling adventures. I’ve also read about wonderful hiking in the area. But on this day, I chose to relax and enjoy this little town at a slow Caribbean pace. Regardless of what you choose to do when you visit Gustavia, I can promise that you’ll have no regrets!

September 7, 2012

A THOROUGHLY MODERN EXPERIENCE IN VALENCIA

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

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

Valencia City of Arts and Sciences

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Walking with sharks.
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Walking underneath sharks.

 

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

 

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Seals at play.
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Seal being cute.

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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June 26, 2012

TOWN HALLS AND TOASTS ON THE OCEANIA CLUB REUNION CRUISE

Posted by Oceania Club Manager Nick DeSantis

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The fun continues onboard the 8th Oceania Club Reunion Cruise. Riviera spent the past two days in Monte Carlo, so guests had plenty of time to explore the city at length. However, in my case, I was hosting so many events and parties that I hardly had time to get off the ship! Of course, this was perfectly fine with me because Riviera is an absolute beauty, and I’m having such a wonderful time with all of our guests onboard.

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Our guests especially enjoyed the town hall with Oceania Cruises President Kunal S. Kamlani yesterday afternoon. We all gathered in Horizons, and Kunal answered questions and listened to ideas that guests had to share. We got some great insight from our most loyal guests on how to continue enhancing the Oceania Cruises experience. As Kunal said, “There is no substitute for direct and in-person dialogue where we can exchange ideas.”

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Kunal S. Kamlani & Mr. and Mrs. Henry Doble

Last night we took advantage of the beautiful views of Monte Carlo from the ship and hosted a cocktail party on the Spa Terrace behind Canyon Ranch SpaClub. Glasses were raised several times because we have so many things to toast – our loyal guests, the new Riviera, and all the great friends we’ve made on the Reunion Cruise. A wonderful time was had by all.

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Oceania Club Ambassador Cary Arias & Mrs. Youkers
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Mr. and Mrs. Maleche & Oceania Club Manager Nick DeSantis
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Mrs. Moseley & Executive Concierge Randall Abrahams

Afterward we enjoyed a five-course tasting menu created by Fleet Corporate Chef Franck Garanger. While it’s difficult to choose a favorite dish, the Kobe beef in a Valrhona chocolate glaze was outstanding!

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Tomorrow is the last day of the cruise, and it will be difficult to say goodbye to all of the lovely people with whom I’ve spent the last ten days – guests and staff alike. But I don’t have to think about that quite yet. Italy awaits!

June 22, 2012

POST FROM THE PRESIDENT: Riviera Returns to Barcelona

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This morning Riviera arrived in Barcelona. It was a nostalgic moment for many of us as it was just over a month ago that we christened Riviera in this beautiful city. As we sailed into the port, I confess I got a bit emotional thinking back on all the memories from the christening ceremony.

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While we didn’t have much time to explore on our last visit to Barcelona, this time Daniela and I joined a Reunion Cruise shore excursion to visit some of the architectural masterpieces of Antoni Gaudí. First we visited Park Güell, a garden complex filled with Gaudí’s striking designs. Then we saw Gaudí’s most famous creation, the Sagrada Familia. Gaudí died in 1926 before it could be completed, and work continues on the church to this day.

Besides learning about the history of Catalonia, we also made some new friends. Peter and Elle Hecht from New Jersey are on their second Oceania Cruises sailing. They are having a great time and have already booked their third sailing, a Baltic cruise onboard Marina.

After the excursion we stopped for lunch at Marina Moncho’s, which sits right along the sea. The food was spectacular.

 

The pictures say it all. We had gazpacho, baby octopus and paella de mariscos.

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Tomorrow we call on Marseille, and Daniela and I are looking forward to experiencing our first Culinary Discovery Tour: The Exquisite Flavors of Provence. There will be more stories from the Reunion Cruise coming soon.

June 21, 2012

OCEANIA CLUB MANAGER NICK DESANTIS SHARES STORIES OF THE REUNION CRUISE

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Captain Luca Manzi and Oceania Club Manager Nick DeSantis

Greetings from the Oceania Club Reunion Cruise!

My team has spent the last several months planning special events for this cruise to show our appreciation for our loyal past guests. Over the past few days we have hosted dinners, sail-away parties, a Captain’s reception, shore excursions, cocktail parties – and this is just day five of the cruise! It has been such a pleasure to see past guests with whom I’ve sailed before. So many of them have become dear friends. It’s been equally nice to meet some of our Oceania Club members for the first time and to have the opportunity to thank them for their loyalty.

In short, everyone is having a wonderful time!

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From left: Mr. and Mrs. Doble, Kunal Kamlani, Sheila Brohman, Ken Reycraft, Mr. and Mrs. Grimwood, Daniela Kamlani, Mr. and Mrs. Addleson

On Monday evening, Oceania Cruises President Kunal S. Kamlani and his wife, Daniela, hosted a dinner in Privée for our most loyal Oceania Club members on this sailing. This elegant and intimate setting accommodates just ten guests for private dinners, so Kunal and Daniela invited some of our most frequent guests to join them for a truly memorable evening. These guests have sailed with us as many as 15 or 20 times! Sheila Brohman and Ken Reycraft become Platinum Oceania Club members on this voyage because it is their 20th cruise, which is free as part of the Oceania Club program.

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The next evening Kunal, Daniela, Captain Luca Manzi and General Manager Thierry Tholon greeted guests as they arrived for the Captain’s Welcome Reception, always a favorite event of our Oceania Club members.

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Kunal, Captain Manzi and the Senior Officers expressed their deep appreciation for all of our loyal guests, and Captain Manzi offered a toast in their honor. Following the reception, many of our guests enjoyed dinner in Toscana, and it was my great pleasure to join them!

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Nick DeSantis with Mr. and Mrs. Addleson

Toscana is one of my favorite restaurants, and here is one reason why: Sautéed Jumbo Shrimp wrapped in Prosciutto di Parma Ham with Candied Cherry Tomato. Delicious!

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Kunal and Daniela also enjoyed dining with several Oceania Club members in Toscana that evening.

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Captain Luca Manzi hosted guests in Toscana as well. They enjoyed their evening so much that they asked Toscana Chef Raffaele Saia and Senior Executive Chef Christophe Belin to sign their menus.

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What a wonderful cruise it has been so far, and this is only the beginning. I’ll be sure to share more stories and photos here on the blog very soon!

June 19, 2012

OCEANIA CLUB REUNION CRUISE VISITS CASABLANCA

 

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Today Riviera arrived in Casablanca, a unique complement to the European ports of call on this Oceania Club Reunion Cruise. Oceania Cruises President Kunal S. Kamlani, Oceania Club Manager Nick DeSantis (pictured left) and many other guests enjoyed excursions to the enormous Hassan II Mosque, one of Casablanca’s most splendid landmarks.

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Standing on a promontory overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, the imposing mosque is the largest in Morocco and by some measurements the third largest in the world. It can accommodate up to 105,000 worshippers, including 25,000 at prayer inside and an additional 80,000 outside on the grounds. The minaret is the tallest in the world, soaring to a height of over 210 meters. At night a beam from the minaret shines toward Mecca.

The interior is as impressive as the façade. All of the building materials are from local sources, with the exception of the chandeliers, which are made with Murano glass from Venice. The ceiling of the mosque is made from cedar, all of it elaborately carved by hand.

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After the mosque, Riviera guests stopped at the olive market in the Habous Quarter. The variety of olives was astounding with every color, shape and size imaginable. The vendors were very friendly, and guests were able to sample many different kinds of olives. What a treat!

IMG-20120619-00330 IMG-20120619-00332Interestingly, this unique Reunion Cruise itinerary transits the Strait of Gibraltar not once, but twice. Last night Riviera sailed from Gibraltar to Casablanca, and tomorrow she sails for Motril, Spain, where guests will have the opportunity to travel to Grenada and visit the amazing Alhambra. Keep following the blog to read about more adventures on the Oceania Club Reunion Cruise!

June 18, 2012

REUNION CRUISE VISITS GIBRALTAR

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The Oceania Club Reunion Cruise sailed from Lisbon yesterday, and today Riviera called on the British overseas territory of Gibraltar, which is actually a peninsula of mainland Spain. Approximately three miles wide, this small strip of land is dominated by the Rock of Gibraltar, which reaches a height of 1,400 feet. A group from the Reunion Cruise took a shore excursion to go explore the Rock. While you might expect this to be a fairly "tame" tour, think again. Most people had heard of the Barbary Apes that live on the Rock, but no one expected them to jump right onto the bus!

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Bud and Stephana Dean from Bossier City, Louisiana, are on their first voyage with Oceania Cruises, and it has been an exciting one so far. They both were surprisingly calm when one of the apes decided to hop onto Bud’s shoulders for a photo op.

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They were not the only brave souls that got up close and personal with the apes.

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This excursion was certainly a memorable one!

June 16, 2012

REUNION CRUISE GUESTS ARRIVE IN LISBON

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Anticipation is growing by the hour as guests arrive in Lisbon for the 8th Oceania Club Reunion Cruise aboard Riviera. Many guests flew in today, one day prior to sailing, so they could enjoy some extra time exploring Lisbon before boarding the ship. As they checked in to the hotel, they were warmly greeted by the Oceania Cruises Hospitality Desk.

Guests have already been sharing so many terrific stories of their adventures in Lisbon. While we can't share them all, there is one in particular that we wanted to pass along. You guessed it – a food story.

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One of our guests came across a pastry shop named Pastéis de Belém and was raving about the delicious tarts. Evidently these delights have quite a storied past. The Pastel de Belém is a crispy puff pastry loaded with a warm custard filling and dusted with cinnamon and powdered sugar on top. Legend has it that a group of monks sold the secret recipe in 1837 to the family that now owns this famous pastry shop. As of today, only three people know the recipe, and we are told that they don't travel together. Next time you’re in Lisbon for an Oceania Cruise, you might want to check this spot out!

June 14, 2012

PRESIDENT TO JOIN REUNION CRUISE ONBOARD RIVIERA

In just three days, we will host the 8th Oceania Club Reunion Cruise onboard our newest ship, Riviera.  As some of you may know, we offer Reunion Cruises once or twice a year as a way to express our appreciation to our loyal guests. Whether you’ve sailed with us two times or 20 times, we are always thrilled to welcome back past guests to Oceania Cruises. And on this Reunion Cruise, I’m excited to be doing so personally.

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My wife, Daniela, and I look forward to meeting as many of you as possible when we sail from Lisbon on June 17. For some of you who will be sailing on the Reunion Cruise, this will be your first time experiencing the beautiful new Riviera, and I think you will be as impressed as we were when we first stepped onboard for her inaugural cruise in May.

Those of you who have been on previous Reunion Cruises may have met Nick DeSantis, manager of the Oceania Club. He has put together several special shore excursions for this cruise, including an intriguing one in Barcelona known as Gaudí’s Hidden Treasures. Guests will travel to Colònia Güell, a village constructed by textile magnate Eusebio Güell, who was one of Antoni Gaudí’s primary patrons. The unfinished church here, known as “The Crypt,” is one of Gaudí’s greatest masterpieces.

Photo-36Of course, there will be many special events onboard as well. I am especially looking forward to the caviar brunch in the Grand Dining Room, which promises to be a feast for the eyes as well as the appetite. During the evening, we’re planning an exclusive cocktail party for our Oceania Club members, hosted by the senior officers and myself, and we’ll host several dinners for those guests who have traveled with us most frequently. We’ll have Gold and Platinum Oceania Club members onboard who have sailed with us as many as 15 or 20 times.

One afternoon we will feature a “town hall” where I look forward to your feedback on how we can continue to enhance the Oceania Cruises experience. While we read every guest comment card, there is simply no substitute for an interactive dialogue.

For many, the Reunion Cruise has become an annual event where they reunite with friends they have made on previous cruises. And guests are always telling me how much they look forward to seeing crew members again. It seems that so many people who sail on Oceania Cruises ships make friends who become like family. You might say this cruise is our version of a “family reunion.” That said, it’s certainly on a much grander scale than my family reunions have ever been!

I have a lot of work (and packing!) to do before departure, so for now I’d better get back to it. If you’ll be joining us on the Reunion Cruise, please feel free to introduce yourself in the comments here on the blog. And check back next week as I’ll be posting photos and stories from the ship.

Happy Cruising!

May 22, 2012

RIVIERA IN GREECE: Great Local Restaurants & Cooking Tips from Chef Cat Cora

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Continuing on her historic Maiden Voyage, Riviera now explores the storied coasts of Greece. Today Riviera arrived in Santorini, one of several island gems on this aptly entitled Pearls of the Aegean itinerary. Guests were treated to stunning cliffside views of whitewashed villages, iconic blue domes, charming churches and colorful bell towers.

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As Blogger-at-Large, I’ve had the privilege of visiting Santorini on three previous occasions, and I never tire of meandering the cobblestone streets lined with shops, cafés and restaurants. Even a completely inept photographer can’t help but capture beautiful shots here. The villages of Fira and Oia seem to burst with charm, color and contrast.

Greece17Anyone who loves Greece knows that the only thing that can compete with the stunning scenery and historic icons is the delicious cuisine. One of my favorite pastimes in Santorini is to sip a local wine and enjoy lunch at one of the delightful cafés perched on the cliffs of Fira, where you can admire the view of Riviera in the bay set against the backdrop of the caldera. Some friends and I dined at a restaurant called Archipelagos where the food was as fantastic as the view. We started with a beautiful Greek salad with Kalamata olives, feta cheese, red onion, cucumber, and fresh tomatoes bursting with flavor.  Greece08

Next were the mezes, which are essentially the Greek counterpart of Spanish tapas. (Or tapas are the Spanish counterpart of Greek mezes, depending on your perspective I suppose.) I have to say that
Europe as a whole has a far greater appreciation for the appetizer than we Americans do. Greece, Turkey, Greece15Spain and other Mediterranean countries often make meals of an assortment of delicious small plates. I’m especially fond of this tradition because it gives me a chance to try everything put in front of me.

There was pita bread with tzatziki made of cucumber, yogurt, garlic and mint, plus stuffed grape leaves, lamb meatballs and one of my favorites – saganaki. While saganaki sounds very exotic, it is actually just fried cheese. But really, what could be better than fried cheese? Besides, this ain’t your average mozzarella stick. Saganaki is made with Kefalotyri, or one of a few other cheeses unique to Greece, all of which have a rich, delicious flavor. The dish is named for the small frying pan in which it is prepared.

Tomorrow Riviera continues her exploration of the Greek Isles with a call in Aghios Nikolaos, Crete – another port where I’ve enjoyed a lovely lunch at a local café with a view of the sea. If you get off the ship and walk along the beach, you’ll find several little restaurants on the opposite side of the bay, one of which is Ofou To Lo. Talk about fresh fish! We chose our own fish from several presented to us right off the boat. After disappearing into the kitchen, Greece12the owner returned with the prepared fish, which strongly resembled the fish in its original form. It was deliciously seasoned and seared, but we soon realized that we’d have to do all of the deboning ourselves.

Luckily, we were up to the task. The fish was so good we picked it clean, and one of my friends even threatened to devour the bones!

We also enjoyed some scrumptious moussaka, a dish not to be missed in Greece. It is popular in Turkey as well, but the Greek version somewhat resembles a lasagna and is made with layers of eggplant, meat and béchamel sauce. Opa!!

Needless to say, guests onboard Riviera are in for a cultural and culinary treat as they continue exploring Greece on the Maiden Voyage. And they even have an expert on Greek cuisine onboard with them. Followers of the blog know that Chef Kelly of the Bon Appétit Culinary Center spends a great deal of time exploring European markets and tasting local cuisine, and she has enjoyed several forays to the markets and restaurants of Greece, including Corfu, Zakynthos and Athens. She teaches guests onboard how to make these fabulous Greek recipes (and many others) in the culinary center. I especially enjoyed her class on Mediterranean fare in which we made grilled lamb and feta cheeseburgers with a Greek salad, plus gazpacho for a touch of Spain. My final dish didn’t turn out nearly as pretty as Chef Kelly’s did, but it sure tasted delicious!

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It is perfectly apropos that Riviera is exploring Greece on her Maiden Voyage, because Chef Kelly and I aren’t the only fans of Greek food that have been onboard. Riviera’s godmother, Chef Cat Cora, is also an aficionado of Greek cuisine, as her grandmother came to the U.S. from the Greek island of Skopelos. Many of Chef Cora’s delicious recipes put a Greek spin on traditional favorites, such as her Greek-style nachos in her latest cookbook, Cat Cora’s Classics with a Twist.

Greece A1Chef Cora recently shared some of her culinary history and secrets with guests onboard Riviera during a “Chat with Cat” that was hosted by Cruise Director Leslie Jon. She said that her greatest personal mentors have been her family members, such as her grandmother, godfather, mother and father. “My father was incredible. He could smoke meats and marinate meats and grill meats like nobody else. He taught me all of that growing up, which was wonderful.”

At a very young age, Chef Cora learned Greek cooking techniques from her mother, who taught her how to roll grape leaves and work phyllo dough. The best advice she ever got from her mom? “The only piece that needs to be perfect with phyllo dough is the top piece!”

Another good tip on working with phyllo dough is that you don’t have to clarify the butter. “In fact, if you clarify the butter, you’re taking out the milk fat which adds flavor,” said Cora. “It also helps with the browning and the caramelization of your pastry…so don’t worry about clarifying.”

Chef Cora’s professional mentor, Julia Child, was famous for saying, “You can never have too much butter.” Leslie Jon asked Chef Cora what Greek ingredient she cannot get enough of.

In Cora’s opinion, “You can never have too much garlic. I mean, you probably can…I can think of situations where it’s probably too much, but…as long as the other person also has too much, you’re okay!”

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Chef Cora’s sense of humor and down-to-earth nature were evident as she described the challenges she faced coming up as a young chef in a profession that was largely dominated by men, especially in the French restaurants where she first interned as a sous chef. She credits her success to perseverance and passion. “I always remember hearing Oprah Winfrey say, ‘If you can stay passionate about what you do, the rest will come.’" 

Leslie Jon responded with his own apt quote from George Bernard Shaw, “There is no love sincerer than the love of food.”

“Yes,” Chef Cora smiled, “I think we can all agree with that.”

May 16, 2012

RIVIERA WELCOMES FIRST GUESTS ONBOARD FOR MAIDEN VOYAGE!

K_Kamlani_Riviera-003aPhoto by David Smith

The day we've all been waiting for has finally arrived! The officers, staff and crew were all smiles today as we welcomed our first guests onboard Riviera in Venice. It was my great pleasure to welcome Mr. and Mrs. Kohel as the very first guests for Riviera's Maiden Voyage. The Kohels are our first ever Diamond Oceania Club members and have sailed with us on more than 40 voyages.

K_Kamlani_Riviera-001aPhoto by David Smith

We have done a lot of celebrating over the past two weeks, but nothing gave me greater pleasure than welcoming all of our first guests onboard Riviera. Our guests are the reason we built Riviera, and I am so excited for them to experience this beautiful ship. It was a wonderful day that I will always treasure in my fondest of memories.

May 15, 2012

COUNTDOWN TO RIVIERA: 1 DAY TO MAIDEN VOYAGE!

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May 13, 2012

COUNTDOWN TO RIVIERA: 3 DAYS TO MAIDEN VOYAGE

Tuna

Look what I caught!

Sport fishing is one of my favorite hobbies, and it’s always been a dream of mine to catch a fish this size off the back of the ship. This line-caught yellow fin tuna weighs 80 kilos and was the centerpiece of the Mother’s Day brunch onboard Riviera today.

Gala Brunch09Okay, I confess, it wasn’t my catch, but a guy can dream. And the tuna wasn’t the only catch of the day featured at this gala brunch. There were langoustines, crab legs, linguini with clams, salmon, the finest caviar, and bouillabaisse with shrimp, scallops and mussels. If it lives in the sea, we dined on it today at a celebration in honor of mothers everywhere. We even had World Champion Oyster Shucker Xavier Caille onboard to shuck these beauties.

The culinary team never ceases to amaze me, and today was no exception, especially considering this is the second gala brunch they have prepared in three days. On the day of the christening, we dined on jamon Iberico pata negra and roast suckling pig.

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It just doesn’t get any better than this, and I can't wait for all of our guests to experience Riviera on her Maiden Voyage, which sails just three days from today!

 

May 12, 2012

COUNTDOWN TO RIVIERA: RIVIERA IS CHRISTENED IN BARCELONA

May 10 2012 Cat_Cora-006It’s official! Oceania Cruises’ newest ship has been christened Riviera by Godmother Cat Cora. Chef Cora arrived onboard two days ago and was welcomed by Vice Chairman Bob Binder, President Kunal Kamlani, and Chairman Frank Del Rio with a reception in La Reserve. Frank presented Cat with the gift of a stunning diamond necklace and earrings.

The morning of the christening soon arrived, and we began the day with a gala brunch in the Grand Dining Room. As Riviera would be named in the great city of Barcelona, the menu included paella, jamon iberico, seafood of every variety, and tapas that were as beautiful as they were delicious.

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As we enjoyed our fantastic brunch onboard, the final details were being attended to ashore in preparation for the momentous ceremony that would soon take place.

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In keeping with the Spanish theme, the port was decked in the vibrant reds and yellows of Catalonia. Flamenco dancers and Spanish guitarists created a jubilant atmosphere of celebration.

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Soon it was time for guests to disembark, and the festivities were underway.

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Cruise Director Leslie Jon would be Master of Ceremony for the event.

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Godmother Cat Cora was seated at the front of the stage with President Kunal Kamlani and Vice Chairman Bob Binder at her side.

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The celebration began with a brilliant performance of Barcelona by Soprano Alina Furman and Tenor Giorgio Olmo, followed by a flamenco dance by Rafael Amargo & Company. The charismatic leader of the troupe even convinced Cat Cora to join him for a dance. It was soon apparent that she is not only a talented chef, but an excellent dancer as well. 

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Riviera Christening59President Kunal S. Kamlani opened the remarks, pointing out that beautiful Barcelona – a center of arts and culture – was the perfect setting for the christening of Riviera, as she herself is a work of art. But he was also quick to point out, “Despite our excitement at Riviera’s debut, there is an even larger story here. This is much more than a celebration of a ship. This is a celebration of people. For Riviera has only come into existence thanks to all of you here today and to every guest that sails with Oceania Cruises.”

Kunal then introduced the founder of Oceania Cruises, Frank Del Rio.

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After sharing how proud he was of the accomplishment of the Oceania Cruises family in creating Riviera, he introduced the honorary commodore of the ship, Andrea Area. Area was the first general manager of Oceania Cruises’ first vessel, Regatta. He made an immeasurable contribution to the early successes of Oceania Cruises, and then tragedy struck. Area suffered a debilitating stroke from which it was doubtful he would recover. But after seven years of rehabilitation, Area was now able to walk to the stage to accept the honor from Frank, after an emotional embrace that touched everyone present.

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It was a fitting time for Captain Luca Manzi to take the podium and introduce the officers and crew that are the heart and soul of Riviera. The senior officers came to the stage while the hundreds of other crew members emerged onto Riviera’s verandas to a an exuberant round of applause.

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Deacon Ricardo Rodriguez-Martos took the stage for the blessing of the ship, then Frank returned to introduce Riviera’s godmother, Chef Cat Cora. “When Bob, Kunal and I were debating who would be the godmother of Riviera,” he said, “we wanted someone whose life achievements, whose passions and whose values were aligned with those of the Oceania Cruises brand. Being the cruise line for foodies, we quickly zeroed in on this remarkable woman, who since making television history in 2005 as the first and still only female Iron Chef on Food Network’s Iron Chef America, has become one of the largest names in the culinary world. As an accomplished author, restaurateur, contributing editor, avid philanthropist and proud mother of four, her talent extends deeply within and far beyond the kitchen.”

Chef Cora was beaming as she approached the stage. “I want to say as the mother of four boys – finally I have a girl! And isn’t she a beauty!”

She went on to say how honored she was to be joining the Oceania Cruises family. “I couldn’t be more thrilled. With the Oceania family I feel like I share so many of their values: loyalty, friendship, and excellence as well as the best of travel, food and wine. I want to thank Frank, Bob and Kunal as well as…all of the hundreds of crew members that are the soul of this ship and that will be making me proud as it sails around the world.”

And now it was time for the grand finale. As Chef Cora reached for the jewel-studded lever that would release the custom-made Nebuchadnezzar of Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin champagne, she declared, “I name this ship Riviera. May God bless her and all who sail with her.”

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Right on cue, the bottle swung from its perch and crashed spectacularly into Riviera’s hull, exploding into a million pieces as confetti and music erupted in celebration.

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Photo by David Ramos Vidal

I took nearly 700 photos of this momentous occasion, and the one that best captures the true spirit and overwhelming joy of the day may be this picture of President Kunal Kamlani embracing his children.
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I have many more wonderful moments from the christening to share, so continue to follow the blog for more stories as Riviera sails for Venice where the first guests will embark on her Maiden Voyage.