What taking a luxury cruise is really like

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What taking a luxury cruise is really like

If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to board a luxury cruise ship in Europe and spend a few days sampling the finest cuisine and wine while visiting exciting historic ports, we’re here to tell you all about it. It’s just as you imagined, and more!

In October last year, I got the invitation of a lifetime: the opportunity to travel aboard one of Oceania Cruises’ vessels, Riviera, on a trip around Spain, visiting Palma de Mallorca, Alicante, Melilla (a Spanish enclave in northern Morocco), Cartagena and Barcelona, plus Toulon in France. It’s not like these things happen often, so when the lucky stars align, you thank them and pack your bags! Here’s what to expect.

1. It’s easy to extend your trip beyond the cruise

Many cruises depart from a European port, which allows you to easily extend your trip before (or after) your cruise. In this case I joined the ship in Palma de Mallorca, the capital of the Baleriac Islands, and just a short one-hour flight from Barcelona. The island is the perfect first taste of Spain and the capital city, Palma, is small enough to navigate on foot, with many attractions you should put on your list.

For a glimpse of history and stunning Gothic architecture, head to the 14th-century Palma Cathedral, also known as La Seu (which means “headquarters” or “the seat of the bishop”). It has a fascinating history, being built on the site of the of the mosque that stood opposite the Royal Palaca of La Almudaina during the Moorish occupation of Mallorca. From there, head to the city centre for a wander and a bite to eat at Mercato Olivar in the Old Town, where you’ll be overwhelmed with the incredible selection of fresh produce, meat (the jamón!), seafood and cheese – almost anything you can think of! Look out for the ensaimada, a traditional sweet pastry in a coiled shape, sprinkled with icing sugar. You’ll see the flat, blue-and-white boxes everywhere.

2. The ship is big (but not too big)!

Even though Oceania’s biggest vessels are designed for intimate cruises of a maximum of just over 1200 guests (the smallest can take just 670) so you won’t feel crowded or wait in queues, when you stand next to it on the quay, it really does look like a building! But don’t be intimidated, you’ll soon be navigating the ship like you’ve been doing it all your life. The key is to remember which way forward (the front of the ship) and aft (the back) are, and you’ll be fine. If you do get a little lost, there are signs everywhere and there’s always someone nearby to help. After a couple of days, your stateroom (don’t call it a cabin!) will feel like your refuge after an exciting day in port. One of the biggest pluses of cruising is that although you visit many different ports in different countries, you only unpack once. There’s no living out of your suitcase and rushing from taxi, to train, to plane on this trip. It’s all done for you.

3. The crew is amazing.

The friendly crew will make you feel at home immediately (don’t be surprised if they already know your name!), and they’ll get to know the way you like your coffee in the morning and your favourite cocktail for sundowners in an impressively short time. Many have been with Oceania for years and take personal pride in providing exceptional service. They hail from all over the world (including South Africa) and are always happy to go the extra mile to make sure you have the best time. From booking excursions to helping you choose the best wine to pair with your meal, nothing is too much trouble.

4. The food is incredible.

Imagine cooking for over 1000 people three times (and more) every day? Can you? We didn’t think so! Not only do the kitchens on Riviera feed all the guests multiple times every day, they do so at multiple restaurants on board. Oceania’s motto is the finest cuisine at sea for a good reason. From the opulent Grand Dining Room (complete with crystal chandelier) to Italian-themed Toscana, the Polo Grill steakhouse, Asian-fusion Red Ginger (don’t miss the legendary spicy duck salad with watermelon and cashews), French fine-dining at Jacques (named for its patron, famous French chef Jacques Pepin), La Reserve for a seven-course, wine-pairing meal, and the casual Waves Grill and Terrace Café, you really are spoilt for choice.

Alexis Quaretti, the director of culinary programmes and development for Oceania and previously a senior executive chef for the group, personally oversees everything that leaves the kitchens, down to the croissants that are made onboard from scratch every day. Yes, you read correctly, no frozen pastries here! If you’ve ever tried to make a croissant, you’ll know how time-consuming it is. Add to this a selection of fine wines curated by master sommeliers, unique cocktails, and everything in between, and you definitely won’t be hungry – or thirsty.

5. There’s plenty to do.

If you’ve thought you might get bored on a cruise, think again. There’s as much, or as little, as you want to do. There are multiple excursions available in every port that can be prebooked to make sure you secure your spot, where everything is taken care of. Simply arrive at the designated point on the ship and your guide will take care of the rest. Alternatively, you can opt to go it alone and grab a map to create your own adventure. The ship provides transport to and from each port so you can easily find your way. There’s just one very important rule: do not be late returning to the ship!

Allow a little more time than you think you need to get back to take into consideration any local transport issues or unforeseen snack stops! The ship leaves each port promptly. If you prefer to stay onboard, head to the spa for a relaxing treatment, take an art class with the artist in residence, or simply lounge at the pool and work your way through the cocktail list. If you’re a keen foodie, join one of the Culinary Discovery Tours and enjoy an insider’s experience of authentic local cuisine, visit markets for ingredients, then hone your skills back at the culinary centre onboard under expert guidance from culinary instructors. In the evenings, take in a show or try your luck at the casino. It really is up to you.

6. The excursions are tailormade for each port.

Feel like a wine-tasting in Cartagena? Or a visit to the Gaudi-designed Sagrada Família cathedral or the Mercat de la Boqueria in Barcelona? No problem! Simply chat to the concierge staff onboard who will be able to tell you which is the best tour to take, or how to get there yourself. If you’re heading quite far out of port, it’s probably best to join the organised excursion to make sure you get there smoothly and don’t waste time.

But if the port is fairly small (like Melilla in Morocco), do as I did and see where the streets take you. There are advantages to both scenarios, like finding a hole-in-the-wall café that serves piping-hot churros and chocolate sauce and seeing a flamenco display in the town square, or having your knowledgeable guide explain the history of bio-dynamic wine farming while the host winemaker pulls the cork on his latest vintage.

7. The staterooms are really cool.

Your home onboard, your stateroom has everything you need: a super-comfy bed with high-quality linen, a compact bathroom and a balcony from where you can watch the world go by. Riviera has been recently refurbished and is even more luxurious than when I was on board. You’ll also have a dedicated crew member who looks after your section, and they’ll be more than happy to attend to any requests you might have. All you need to do is make yourself at home.

If this doesn’t convince you that a cruise holiday is worth a try, head to oceaniacruises.com to take a look in more detail. We’re sure you’ll be setting sail sooner than you think!

Lynda Ingham Brown Article by: Lynda Ingham Brown

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