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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!

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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!

 

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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.

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COUNTDOWN TO RIVIERA: RIVIERA ARRIVES IN BARCELONA

The countdown to Riviera‘s Maiden Voyage continues as today Riviera arrived in Barcelona, the city where her godmother, Chef Cat Cora, will name the ship tomorrow in a gala ceremony.

Since we arrived in Valencia yesterday, the celebration of all things Spanish has officially begun. Oceania Cruises President Kunal Kamlani shared this photo of a delicious pan of paella he enjoyed in Valencia, the city where the dish originated.

Valencia Paella

The celebration continued last night with the World Latin Dance Party in Horizons. The bartenders were even decked in Spanish garb.

Spanish Garb

Meanwhile, Chef Franck Garanger carved the finest Spanish ham, Jamon Iberico Pata Negra, in La Reserve as the senior management team finalized plans for the christening.

Pata Negra

Today Chef Kelly gave me a sneak peek of one of the Culinary Discovery Tours that will launch with Riviera. First we shopped at the Santa Caterina Market. Then we visited a cooking school where we tasted olive oils, learned to make tapas, and enjoyed a wine tasting as well.

I will share photos of our adventures with you soon, but for now I have to run to the flamenco show. The renowned Spanish flamenco group Los Mulero is performing for us onboard. The Spanish celebration promises to continue through tomorrow and Riviera‘s Christening Ceremony. Check the blog to read about all the festivities!

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COUNTDOWN TO RIVIERA: 8 DAYS TO MAIDEN VOYAGE

New Riviera 15Greetings from the Blogger-at-Large! I’m here onboard Riviera helping count down the days to her Maiden Voyage, and we’re now only eight days away. Those of you joining us for the Maiden Voyage are in for a treat because Riviera is absolutely spectacular. It has been such a pleasure to explore the ship over the past few days. It seems like I discover some beautiful new detail around every corner.

New Riviera 16Many people have been inquiring on our blog and Facebook pages about the differences between Marina and Riviera. First, let me assure you that all the most important things have not changed. For instance, the staff is just as warm, friendly and enthusiastic as ever (as you can see in the photo above of our server, Newman, from last night in the Grand Dining Room). And it has been so wonderful to see so many familiar faces onboard.

Of course, the cuisine is as exquisite as ever. Take a look at the beautiful John Dory with tomato and cucumber we had in the Grand Dining Room last night. It was caught fresh that day in Marseille. Senior Executive Chef Christophe Belin and Fleet Corporate Chef Franck Garanger continue to ensure that nothing but the finest cuisine is served onboard Riviera.

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But while Riviera exhibits all the hallmarks you would expect of an Oceania Cruises ship, and while she is just as elegant and sophisticated as her sister ship, Marina, Riviera does have her own unique personality.  In fact, I’ve been told there are 727 differences between Marina and Riviera. I took myself on a scavenger hunt to find some of these differences, and although I didn’t have time to seek out all 727, I did find several.

We’ve already been touting the stunning new chandelier that hangs above the Grand Staircase. Professional and amateur photographers alike continue to try to capture the perfect picture of this beauty.

New Riviera02The furnishings in the Grand Bar have a different fabric, and the lamps are a similar style to those on Marina, but a different color.

New Riviera01The floor of the Grand Bar is laid with a beautifully patterned marble, rather than the carpet that adorns Marina.

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The furniture in Martinis lounge also differs in color and texture from that on Marina.

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The rich fabric of this deck chair is different from any I’ve seen onboard Marina.

New Riviera 14We’ve also talked a lot on the blog about the artwork onboard Riviera, and I’m sure you’re eager to see all the masterpieces we’ve been touting. Of course, a photograph simply cannot do justice to a painting, but I did catch some interesting close-ups of several pieces to give you a teaser of what you can find onboard.

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Everyone has their own personal taste in art, but whether you prefer the profound or the provocative, you will find at least one piece you love onboard Riviera and likely many more. The variety of works is astounding, from shockingly realistic to utterly abstract. If you enjoy exploring world-class museums ashore, you can do the same during a day at sea onboard Riviera! Below are some of the works of renowned artists you can see just by strolling along the decks.

New Riviera 13Arcadio Cancio

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Ismael Peralta

New Riviera07C. Lunace

New Riviera08Mirabel

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Sandro D. La Rosa

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A. F. Boyyell

More photos will be coming soon as we continue the countdown to Riviera’s Maiden Voyage!