1 comment on “Extraordinary Experiences: My First Oceania Cruises Voyage”

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

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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!

2 comments on “AN UNEXPECTED ADVENTURE IN MONTE CARLO”

AN UNEXPECTED ADVENTURE IN MONTE CARLO

PB080041Regatta recently called on the glittering city of Monte Carlo in the tiny principality of Monaco. When I think of Monte Carlo, I think of James Bond and movie stars in tuxedos and gowns. Monaco is where the rich and famous convene to play high-stakes poker, or race fast cars, or simply lounge on lavish yachts. Monaco certainly lives up to its reputation as a playground for the wealthy, but what really impressed me was how charming it was and how much there is to do for people like me. (Unfortunately, my role as Blogger-at-Large has not yet catapulted me into international fame.)

Granted, when Regatta docked in the famed Monte Carlo harbor, the million-dollar yachts were hard to miss, and the view was spectacular. There are several cafés on the docks near these impressive vessels, and if you linger there a while, you may spot a celebrity or two.

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Also living up to its hype is the opulent Monte Carlo Grand Casino – there is a reason all those films were made here. Decorated with marble, onyx, frescoes and sculptures, this casino was clearly built for high rollers.

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For those who don’t fare so well at the tables, they can find a peaceful retreat in the stunning garden that leads up the hill to the casino.

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Oceanic MuseumWhile Monte Carlo was certainly everything I’d ever imagined, I soon realized there was far more to Monaco than glitz and glamour. Perched atop the sheer cliff face at a height of 279 feet is the Oceanographic Museum, which was founded in 1901 by Monaco’s Prince Albert I, and where Jacques Cousteau served as director for many years. The building itself took 11 years to build using over 100,000 tons of stone. There are several live exhibits as well as impressive skeletons of marine mammals.

PB080164 St Nich CathedralNear the Oceanographic Museum is St. Nicholas Cathedral, which contains the tombs of the Monaco royal family, including Princess Grace and Prince Rainier. It remains a pilgrimage site for fans of actress Grace Kelly, who became the princess of Monaco after her fairytale marriage to Rainier in 1956.

PB080053 St CharlesAlthough much smaller than the cathedral, the Church of St. Charles makes up for in beauty what it lacks in size. Its bell tower reaches a height of 108 feet above sea level and is purported to be the highest bell tower in the area.

 

PB080154 Armory PalaceThe Palace of the Prince is an impressive compound with wonderful views of Monaco and the surrounding seas. While much of the palace grounds are open to the public, the royal family does maintain a private residence here, as evidenced by the sentries standing guard. If you can get to the palace by 11:55 am, you can watch the changing of the guard, a popular attraction.

Monte Carlo is a wonderful place to just wander the streets and get a sense of the city’s personality. Beneath the resort façade is a culture of centuries-old traditions and deep spirituality. During my meanderings, I stumbled upon Sainte-Dévote Chapel, an adorable little church tucked into the cliff face overlooking the harbor. I soon learned that the church is quite literally adored, as it is one of the most venerated religious sites in Monaco. Dating from before 1070, the church is dedicated to Saint Dévote, the patron saint of Monaco. By tradition, the bride of the Sovereign Prince of Monaco leaves her bouquet here after the wedding ceremony.

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Venez-decouvrir-villa-paloma-monaco-L-1I was so charmed by the architecture, the city streets and the stunning views of the Mediterranean that the waning daylight took me by surprise. As I began to head back to the ship, I realized I had not visited the new modern art museum or the Jardin Exotique, a beautiful garden with one of the most extensive cactus collections in Europe. It quickly became clear that I would need to visit Monte Carlo again on another Oceania Cruises voyage! Until then, I would treasure the memory of my day here, which came to a perfect ending as I watched the moon rise over the sparkling lights of the city.

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