On Oceania Regatta

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In April 2019, we cruised from San Diego, California to Miami, Florida through the Panama Canal. The purpose of this post is not to report on the stops, but to review the cruise line and the ship.

This was our first time on Oceania Cruises. We primarily selected it because of the itinerary; plus, several friends raved about Oceania – so we decided to “step up” on this cruise.

 

Oceania is not a luxury, all-inclusive cruise line as Regency, Crystal, Silversea, Seaborne and others – but it is a higher standard/level and more expensive than our previous experiences on Celebrity, Royal Caribbean, and Princess. Then again, every cruise line has their niche and identity – that’s good business!

Oceania uses smaller ships. Our ship, Regatta, is about 600 ft (180 m) long with a customer capacity of nearly 700. The capacity of their larger ships is only 1200, where as the majority of Celebrity, Royal Caribbean, and Princess ships are 2000-3000, plus Royal has several mega ships capable of carrying over 5000 vacationers. It is important to remember ports with smaller harbors are more accessible to cruise lines with smaller ships (like Oceania).

 

Oceania markets itself as a cruise with a casual country club atmosphere. Although no formal nights, they want customers to dress casually nice in certain areas. The overall quality of food was better than previous cruises. Regatta also offers two specialty restaurants, and the price includes a meal in each. The larger Oceania ships have additional specialty restaurants.

Not only did we enjoy Oceania’s policy of no set time for dining or assigned seating, we were always willing to share our table with others. This also allowed us to meet many interesting and nice people.

This dessert looked like a hamburger with relish – but moose with fruit and more. Tasty! Here’s the menu description: “Chocolate Mousse Burger on Almond Bun Topped with a Layer of Apricot Jelly”

 

Entertainment was on-par with the other cruise lines, but with less lavish productions. Instead of a larger theater, entertainment was in a large lounge that provided an intimate, cabernet atmosphere. For cruise days (which this itinerary had many), Oceania offered very good enrichment lectures. Between the two of us, we attended most of them.

Staff is predictably friendly, and there wasn’t a push to buy drinks, services, and merchandise as on the other cruise lines. We didn’t even see a ship photographer! Coffee, tea, soft drinks, and bottled water are inclusive, which is a nice touch that isn’t always the case. Servers would graciously serve passengers those drinks. Plus, soft drinks and water are also in the cabin.

Complimentary wireless is a nice feature, but with the following twist: only one person per cabin at a time. My wife and I made it work, although Oceania offers a streaming upgrade.

On the downside, although cruise ships are not known for spacious cabins, Regatta’s cabins seemed smaller than normal. News about the ship’s upcoming renovation mentioned an additional shower door, which caused me to wonder “where’s the space” in an already small shower. However, Oceania cabins are known for having a plush mattress – oh yes!

The majority of the passengers are retired – including many in the upper 70s and into their 80s. Therefore, others must exercise an extra level of patience in dealing with slowness, standing, and waiting.

Atypical for us, we took our share of cruise excursions/tours, which are very much “hurry up and wait” operations in the cruise industry. We relied on the ship excursions because of our safety concerns in a region known for safety concerns. On the plus side, Oceania gives a 25% discount when booking 4 or more tours. Then again, we encountered several avoidable issues and heard of several others.

The Bottom Line

Would I consider Oceania in the future? Yes. Would they will be my first choice? No. Destinations and itinerary are the prime factors in our cruise selection – not the cruise line. Relative price would also be a factor. However, in my opinion, what we got did not justifies the extra price.

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On Our Spring 2019 Cruise Itinerary

 

Especially for my wife, travelling through the Panama Canal is the key reason we took this cruise. Especially since taking the cruise, there is no question – the Panama Canal is an engineering marvel.

A few months before the trip, my wife read Path Between the Seas (David McCullough) – a book that many feel is the most comprehensive and accurate about the canal’s construction. I know she highly recommends this book and would encourage others to read it before cruising the canal.

The second reason for our selection of this cruise was Cuba – that land Americans were forbidden to visit for many years – a land that Europeans, Asians, and Canadians would visit. Cuba – a land serving as another issue dividing Americans based on their political party. Because Havana was my favorite stop, I will definitely have a post featuring Old Havana. (Note: Visiting Cuba requires a ($75) visa.

Besides the Panama Canal and Cuba, I have never visited Mexico or any other country in Central America. (My wife had been to Mexico.) An added bonus was that friends of ours in Cincinnati also have a home in Guatemala, and this was a chance to visit them there (which we did not know at the time we booked the trip).

Because our travel history has focused on North America and Europe, we knew Central America would provide a different experience – which it did! Several quick notes:

  • People are very friendly and appreciative of our visits
  • Poverty is obvious
  • People are very proud of their culture
  • Pursuing tourists for sales can be relentless

For those wanting to cruise the Panama Canal in the future, your itinerary will most likely include ports you hadn’t imagined – which is OK! Besides, cruising the Panama Canal is very interesting. Keep in mind that some cruises advertise the Panama Canal, but don’t actually sail through it. They may actually port on one side, then provide excursions into the canal zone. We discovered that the rainy season is May through November. Amazingly for us, the first half of April only provide a few specs that would be cleared from a windshield with one swipe.

Bottom Line: If you want to cruise the Panama Canal, go!

On Edinburgh

Although Edinburgh’s human roots date back to 8000 BC, the city along the Firth of Forth became chartered in 1125. Today, it is Scotland’s political, cultural, and commercial hub. We journeyed into Edinburgh twice – first on a bus trip from Greenock (on the west coast) for the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo (previous post) – then several days later after our ship set anchor in nearby South Queensferry for encountering more of this Scottish jewel.

To me, Edinburgh was the most captivating of the cities we visited on this trip. The grand old stone buildings, the charm of Old Town, the Georgian and Victorian architecture of New Town, and being a city bustling with activity; – let alone the highly visible Edinburgh Castle sitting high on a hill above it all.

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With 5 major festivals in progress during August, the streets were not quiet – plus two cruise ships in town. I wonder how many of the people we saw were Edinburghers? But cheers to the many street performers!

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The Royal Mile (High Street) is Old Town’s main street. It’s loaded not only physical charm, it’s a vibrant area filled with shops, eateries, and establishments featuring adult beverages. Taking the long walk up the hill from our bus to the castle was a great introduction into Edinburgh. The feast continues by wondering nearby streets.

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As usual, our fee touched Edinburgh’s pavement many times on this day. This city is a visual feast – let alone filled with history. Greyfriars Bobby is an interesting story – a dog who faithfully stayed at his master’s grave for 14 years. Various people took care of Bobby during this time, and yes – he is buried a short distance from his master.

We loved Edinburgh and would like to return during a less-crazy time. We missed going into Edinburgh Castle because we chose to forego the long lines. Atop Calton Hill provides outstanding 360-views of the city, but I’ve shown enough pictures in this post. Besides the video shows it. Enjoy this 2-minute drone video tour giving you a taste of this fabulous city.

For those wanting to see more of Edinburgh, click here for a longer tour.

Next stop: Normandy France

For other posts about our time in the British Isles, click here.

On the Scottish Highlands

Beautiful mountains, valleys, and rolling hills of the Scottish Highlands sets the stage for this post. After a day in Greenock, Scotland (on the west coast), we had a cruise day – and oh what beauty Scotland provided as we cruised.

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The following day we docked in Invergordon. Months before going we discovered that Invergordon itself doesn’t provide much, so we booked a tour with Gavin at Invergordon Tours –  and he provided a wonderful day that included quite a variety. He’s also quite the personality – and a very tall bald guy wearing a kilt.

Millionaire’s View provided our first scenic view of the area.

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The Falls of Shin was a scenic stop, but we didn’t see any Atlantic Salmon leaking the falls on their spawning journey. The water does drop again below where we took this picture.

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Dunrobin Castle is a 189-room castle overlooking Dornoch Firth with beautiful gardens below the castle on the way to the water.

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The castle tour was OK, but we loved the falconry demonstration.

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We spent lunch time in Dornoch, a quaint town. Dornoch Cathedral (Church of Scotland but originally Roman Catholic) is part of the town square.

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Scots are serious about their whiskey – so the tour included a stop at Glenmorangie distillery – famous for their single-malt whiskey, which stays barreled for 10 years. They also produce long-aged whiskies, plus other varieties that included 2 years in a different type of barrel – such as sherry, port, and sauterne. Good stuff!

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A video of images from the land to the strains of Scotland the Brave done by pipes and drums is a fitting way to end this post.

We recommend Invergordon Tours – so a shout-out to Gavin for a wonderful day.

Next Stop: An evening in Edinburgh

For other posts about our time in the British Isles, click here.

On a Box Now Checked

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Some people call it a bucket list – others prefer to say wish list, dream destination, or whatever. On 23 August 2015 I posted about a place that was on both mine and my wife’s list. After monitoring the website at various points before our journey, on Wednesday, the 9th of August 2017, we checked the box.

About a month earlier at the golf club where I work, I met an English couple who were new members. I told him about our upcoming trip, including our plans for this location – to which he replied, Why? Once I mentioned the reason, his inquisitive frowning face changed to a smile.

We planned the day in advance. We knew when the ship docked in Liverpool, the location and distance to the train station, the train schedule, return times, and the essential information about our destination. We were on a mission for our time of dancing on one of the most famous ballroom floors in the world – the Blackpool Tower Ballroom in Blackpool, England.

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Blackpool is on England’s west coast, about a 90-minute train ride to the north from Liverpool. It’s a seaside resort that is very popular with commoners. Madame Tussauds, water parks, a carnival atmosphere, and more aren’t on my favorite things list, but the famed ballroom was our attraction.

Given the floor, the historic significance, and the ornate surrounding – absolutely Bucket List for us. Our ticket included a 90-minute tea with sandwiches, fruit, and tarts.

Image from Blackpool Tower website

Architectural elegance and charm from a time that has past define the Tower Ballroom (which dates back to 1894).

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Surrounding the large floor were the organists on a stage at one end; tables to sit at the opposite end; and settings for tea along one side.

Dancing to an organist (instead of recorded music) was a new experience. Two organists shared the duties, so music was continuous. One organ, the mighty Wurlitzer, makes a grand entrance being lifted to the stage from below … then lowers out of sight when the player’s shift concludes.

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We already knew to expect a different style of ballroom dance at Blackpool (American vs. International). Amazingly, for at least the first three dances we simply sat at our table thinking, We can’t do that! We never get a chance to dance because everyone on the floor is doing the same thing … the same steps/pattern.

I approached a couple near our table about what we were observing. They explained that the English and many Europeans dance sequences, which are set patterns that every does. The clue would be to listen to the organist because he would announce the name of the sequence and dance, so we should listen for the terms traditional or ballroom that will signal an non-sequence dance.

Sequences are fun to watch, but not if you are there to dance and you don’t know the sequence! We were surprised by the number of sequences … and dancers sat down if they didn’t know the sequence.

This is the Engagement Waltz.

We finally made it on the floor … and the first thing that we noticed was the amount spring in the floor – especially in the center. Our tea-table was almost in the center, and the movement made photography difficult – and of course I started wondering about potential motion sickness. Yes – the movement was that noticeable!

We stayed for almost 4 hours, and we were glad to check the box on our Bucket List. With the ship departing at 8 pm, we were fortunate to have a few hours in Liverpool (the previous post).

Here’s a short (90-second) promotional video showing the Blackpool Tower Ballroom. Enjoy … and you notice sequence dancing.

Next stop: Belfast, Northern Ireland

For other posts about our time in the British Isles, click here.

My past post about Blackpool’s Tower Ballroom

On Back in Cobh

Cohb is along Ireland’s southern coast. Given its large natural harbor, it serves the entire area, including Cork. After a day in Guernsey in the English Channel, the Caribbean Princess docks in Cobh to give passengers access to Cork, Blarney Castle, and the rest of southern Ireland. After time in Cork, we spent our remaining time wandering Cobh.

Although the area’s history goes back to 1000 BC, Cobh was first called Cove, but from 1849-1920 it was known as Queenstown, then the name change to Cobh (which is Gaelic for cove).

The first striking figure that is more than obvious is St. Coleman’s Cathedral (Roman Catholic) – a neo-Gothic structure towering over the waterfront.

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A statue of Annie Moore and her brothers greeted us at the dock. Annie Moore was the first person admitted into the US through the new emigration center at Ellis Island on January 1, 1892. Besides the Moores, between 1848-1959 over 2.5 million emigrated from Cobh in their search for new lives in new lands.

The town square is a short walk from dock – and an ominous statue greets visitors – the Lusitania Memorial Monument. On 7 May 1915 a German u-boat sunk the RMS Lusitania as it was en route to Liverpool – 1198 died and 700 survived. Because Cobh (then called Queenstown) was a base for British and American naval forces, rescuers brought survivors and recovered dead bodies to Cobh – therefore 167 are buried in Cobh.

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Three years before the Lusitania disaster, Cobh was the final port-of-call for the RMS Titanic (123 passengers boarded). The Titanic Experience is an attraction located in original White Star ticket office. When we arrived, tickets were sold out, but we heard good comments about it.

Up the hill we went to see the cathedral. The barricades are for a balls-racing-down-the-hill event, a fundraising effort we unfortunately missed.

It took 47 years to build (1868-1915) St. Coleman. An outstanding structure with a grand organ having 2,468 pipes and a tower including a 49-bell carillon.

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The plaza around St. Coleman provides excellent views of Cobh and the harbor region.

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Because of its maritime heritage, here’s a song by the Clancy Brothers & Tommy Maken about Cobh meeting the needs of sailors. Next stop: Dublin, Ireland

On Time in Cork

After a relaxing day in Guernsey, we arrived in Cobh, Ireland – the port for Cork – the main city in southern Ireland. We initially planned to visit Blarney Castle, but those plans changed (the night before) after discovering the day was a holiday. (A good decision because we eventually learned that Blarney Castle was packed with people!)

Cobh, Ireland is one of the main ports in southern Ireland. We initially planned to travel to Cork (by train) to catch a bus for Blarney Castle. However, we heard that the day as an Irish bank holiday, so we scratched Blarney because we thought it would be extra crowded. (We heard that was true).

Cobh’s train station is beside the dock, so a 20-minute inexpensive train ride took us to Cork.

Given the holiday, it seemed many of the 125,000 inhabitants we either elsewhere or inside. Many businesses were closed and the city wasn’t bustling with people. Although a quiet day, we still had a good day walking in the city founded by the Vikings in the 6th century A.D. along the River Lee.

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Because we suddenly changed our plans for this day, we stumbled across this gem early in our day. A church on a hill caught our attention, so we migrated that way – and oh what a treasure would await us.

Built in 1722, Church of St. Anne (Anglican, Church of Ireland) with its towers provides a striking landmark above the city. We walked the 132 steps to the top for a beautiful 360-degree view of the city and surrounding region.

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The Firken Crane is directly below – a name that caught my attention. 🙂 It’s history is tied to the butter industry, but today it the the Institute of Choreography and Dance.

St. Anne’s tower is well-known for it’s bells. Given its location within Cork’s Shandon district, the bells are also known as The Bells of Shandon. Famous enough to have a song written about them.

For us, the trip to the tower’s top provided an added bonus. The first stop along the narrow corridor was the bell ringing station – actually known as change ringing. They provided a songbook for visitors to ring. After ringing, we continued our journey to the top, which included passing very close to the bells – as they were ringing! – so visitors are required to wear devices to protect their hearing.

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Saint Fin Barre’s Cathedral (Anglican, Church of Ireland) is one of Cork’s must-visit locations. This gothic-styled cathedral built in 1879 is impressive.

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Elizabeth Fort sits on a hill south of the medieval town near St. Fin Barre. Built in 1601, its history includes time as a fort, military barracks, prison, police station, and tourist attraction. Actually unimpressive, but it has a historical role in the region.

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St. Patrick’s Street is a downtown shopping district that now includes pedestrian friendly streets. Unfortunately for us, many businesses were closed due to the holiday. That gave us time to return to Cobh to examines the quaint setting near the dock, which will be the next stop on this tour. Meanwhile, enjoy this 4-minute walking tour of Cork.