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Extraordinary Experiences: My First Oceania Cruises Voyage

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

Is it possible to fall in love with an experience?

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

Extraordinary Experiences: My First Oceania Cruises Voyage

Riviera in Santorini, Greece

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

Extraordinary Destinations

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

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

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

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

Finest Cuisine at Sea

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

Extraordinary Experiences: My First Oceania Cruises Voyage

Private Dining in Privée

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

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

Extraordinary Experiences: My First Oceania Cruises Voyage

Sunrise in Monaco

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



As Blogger-at-Large for Oceania Cruises, I recently jumped
at the opportunity to spend a night in Athens before a fabulous Eastern
Mediterranean cruise
. From my hotel balcony, the Parthenon seemed to beckon to
me, and I couldn’t wait to explore the Acropolis in the morning.


An ancient citadel perched high on a rocky hill above
Athens, the Acropolis is the ultimate symbol of Greek heritage and one of the
most recognized monuments of Western culture. It is a bit of a hike to the top of
this rocky hill, but the panoramic views of Athens along the way are truly
stunning, and of course the final destination is well worth the effort.


There is evidence that this hilltop was inhabited as far
back as 4000 BC, but it was not until the 5th century BC that construction
began on the Acropolis. Masterpieces of ancient architecture, these ruins are
an amazing testament to the power and wealth of Athens at the peak of the
golden age of Perikles, a prominent and influential Greek statesman and general
of the time.


The Acropolis is composed of several historic structures, the
most famous being the Parthenon. Work on the Parthenon began at the apex of the
Athenian Empire’s power in 447 BC. Initially dedicated to the city’s patron goddess
Athena, the Parthenon was converted to a Christian church dedicated to the
Virgin Mary in the 5th century AD and later to a mosque after the conquest of
the Ottoman Empire.


Just as impressive is the Erechtheion, an intricate temple
built to host religious rituals. The most sacred site of the Acropolis, the
Erechtheion replaced the “Old Temple,” the foundations of which can be seen
between it and the Parthenon. Construction began in 420 BC, and shortly after
it was completed in 406, the Athenian Empire fell to the Spartans. Like the
other monuments of the Acropolis, the temple suffered the ravages of many
foreign powers throughout the centuries. Miraculously, the original maiden statues
of the famous Caryatid Porch have survived and are on display in the Acropolis
Museum, with the exception of one Caryatid that was famously removed by British
ambassador Lord Elgin in the 19th century and is now in the British Museum.


On the southwest slope of the Acropolis stands the Odeon of Herodes
Atticus, once a magnificent amphitheater with a three-story stone front wall
and a wooden roof made of expensive cedar wood. The construction was sponsored
by Tiberius Claudius Herod Atticus in remembrance of his wife, who died in 160
AD. Destroyed in 267, the monument was not restored until 1953 and is now the
sight of festivals, concerts and theater performances.


Sometimes mistaken for the Odeon of Herodes Atticus, the
Theatre of Dionysus Eleuthereus is one of the earliest preserved open-air
theatres in Athens. Dedicated to Dionysus, the god of wine and drama, it was the
site of the City Dionysia, a festival held in ancient Athens to honor Dionysus.


From the Acropolis you can view the entire city of Athens
sprawling below, including other famous landmarks of ancient Greece. In this
photo you can see both the Temple of the Olympian Zeus, which was the largest
temple in Greece when it was completed in the 2nd century AD, and Hadrian’s arch,
also built in the 2nd century as part of a wall that separated the old and new
cities of Athens.


Officially opened to the public in 2009, the new Acropolis
in the heart of the city was built to replace the inadequate museum that
stood on the Acropolis itself. Designed to house every artifact found on the
site of the Acropolis, it is an enormous facility of 250,000 square feet with
150,000 square feet of exhibition space. There are nearly 4,000 objects
exhibited as part of the permanent collection, and a stop here is the perfect
complement to a visit to the Acropolis.

On all of its sailings, Oceania Cruises offers a Hotel Program, which
allows guests the opportunity to extend their stay on either end of their
cruise. If you embark or disembark in Athens, I highly recommend taking at
least one extra day to visit this amazing historical site. I truly felt like I
had stepped back in time to the birthplace of democracy.