Imagine feeling relaxed and enjoying rejuvenated skin after soaking in thermal waters while on a Mediterranean cruise. Add an ancient setting with legendary history and you’ve arrived at Thermal Baths of the Popes tour in Rome, Italy, the site of one of our new Wellness Tours Inspired by Canyon Ranch.
From ancient baths outside of Rome to a beekeeper’s farmhouse in the Andalusian countryside, our new exclusive wellness tour collection, Wellness Tours Inspired by Canyon Ranch, offers one of a kind well-being explorations ashore in inspiring, hand-picked Mediterranean locales. These, combined with our new expansive vegan menus and recently unveiled free fitness and wellness classes at the Canyon Ranch SpaClub®, invite you to discover a blissful, fully-integrated wellness retreat at sea as you transform your well-being.
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.
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.
We 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!
In 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.
Florence 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. Back 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.
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.
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!
Riviera has just sailed from Istanbul, the city described by a 14th-century poet as “surrounded by a garland of waters.” The Galata Bridge diminishes behind us as we cruise along the Golden Horn to where it meets the Bosphorus and the Sea of Marmara. This was the final port on our 15-day cruise, Lands of Time, during which we traveled from Barcelona to Istanbul, stopping in Alexandria, Haifa and many other ports along the way. I had the opportunity to experience cuisines from all across the Mediterranean, and so I will be sharing a three-part series here on the blog with the many highlights of this magical voyage.
We welcomed guests onboard in Barcelona, including my sister, Erin, who is traveling with me for a month. Our first stop was the Boqueria Market, a must-visit every time I am in Gaudi’s city by the sea, for breakfast at my favorite little stall. They always have a plate of fresh vegetables, such as artichokes and mushrooms, that they sauté with your eggs and of course, jamon. What would Barcelona be without jamon Iberico and fried eggs for breakfast? Yum!
We had two sea days on this cruise, which are always busy days in the Bon Appétit Culinary Center. The classes were full and, as always, a lot of fun. We welcomed several families who took classes together and many guests who were true “foodies.” Having just returned from the Baltic, we celebrated with some new recipes in the Crazy for Crepes class: Swedish pancakes with saffron (a spice brought to Sweden by the Vikings from Constantinople) and authentic buckwheat galettes from Brittany.
After stops in Ibiza and Malta, we arrived at the healthy cuisine capital of the planet, Crete. Escorting 24 of our guests, I led a Culinary Discovery Tour to the small Cretan village of Arolithos, one of our favorite culinary destinations this summer. We were greeted by the friendly faces of our hosts who shared their favorite Cretan dishes in a hands-on cooking demonstration. Guests learned to stuff tomato and grape leaves with a heavenly vegetable mixture. They also made agnopites – a phyllo-like dough made with the local raki liqueur and rolled with myzithra cheese into a treat resembling a cinnamon roll. It is fried and then served drenched in Cretan honey that has a delicate hint of thyme. After a few hours of cooking demonstrations, tasting and strolling through this historic village, we sat for a delightful lunch overlooking the ocean and the olive and grape vineyards below. As they nibbled at the wild herbs and olive tree leaves around us, flocks of sheep bleated as if encouraging us to come and visit anytime!
After an enchanting day in Crete, we were off on a four-day immersion into the cuisines and cultures of Cairo, Ashdod and Haifa. Since my favorite cuisines are those with lots of fresh produce, vegetables and grilled meats, I was looking forward to tasting the foods of these ancient cities.
In Cairo, we began with a visit to the pyramids where my sister made me ride a camel. His name was Humphrie, and the ride felt nothing like the riding I did for 20 years on my sporting horses in Middleburg, Virginia! But you couldn’t beat the scenery – three pyramids and a Sphinx!
As we drove through Cairo to rendezvous with the boat that would take us down the Nile, it became clear that mangoes were in season because they were being sold in little stands every few feet. Eating seasonal foods is still a way of life here, not a farm-to-market “movement,” as it is in other parts of the world.
We ate lunch on a beautifully decorated riverboat as it sailed down the Nile. The buffet was a delicious collection of mezze: hummus with black olives, grilled eggplant puree with yogurt and chilies, dolmas (fresh grape leaves stuffed with minced lamb, raisins and seasoned rice), minted yogurt and freshly sliced tomatoes and cucumbers. The keftas, or meatballs, made with ground lamb, beef and veal were delicious. Keftas are an integral part of Middle Eastern cuisine, and it is always fun to taste the various seasonings and meats that are used to make them.
After a wonderful day in Cairo, we were off to Israel. I had been studying Israeli cuisine and was eager to spend some more time in this amazing country. I look forward to sharing my stories from Israel with you in Part Two of this series on our adventures on Riviera’s Lands of Time cruise.