On Oceania Regatta

Click for background music while reading.

 

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 the Final Tidbits from Eastern Europe

For the final post in this series, here’s a potpourri of images.

Look closely for the street performer.

 

Trdelniks are abundant in Prague. These hollow, toasted pastries can be lined with various creams, filled with fruits and whipped cream, and even stuffed with mac n cheese.

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Do you remember Fred and Ginger?

 

Nothing like a collection of torture devices to get one’s attention

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I recall many readers enjoyed the Ljubljana Dragon.

 

One never knows what one can see in the windows …

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…. or out a hotel window in Krakow …

 

…. even through the front window of the bus.

 

This is the last of the series about our travels to Eastern Europe with a Rick Steves tour. Not only was the tour company outstanding, this region of the world is definitely worth the visit. For more about this trip, click here for a collection of all the posts. Below the tour map is a beautiful song that is special to the Czech people.

 

On Tidbits from Stramberk

The over 5-hour drive from Prague to Krakow is through the rolling plains of the Czech Republic. For lunch, our guide took us off the main highway and into the Carpathian foothills of the Moravian-Silesia region bordering Poland and Slovakia.

Arriving in the quaint town square of Stramberk, I wondered about the availability of restaurants because I didn’t see any people. It turns out that our group of 28 ate in 3 or 4 different places.

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After lunch, my wife and I explored the small town by walking up to the castle above the town. One of the unexpected surprises we encountered were the beautiful old homes.

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Stramberk Castle (also called “Trúba”) sits above the town, and easily reachable by foot. The castle was closed, but the views of the town and the surrounding valley were beautiful.

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Stramberk Ears are an acclaimed snack of the town – and the comes from a 13th century attack by the Tatars that you can read about here and/or here. These soft gingerbread cones are exclusively produced in Stramberk – and are an EU registered trademark. Made from the right proportion of flour, honey, sugar, star anise, clove, cinnamon, and more, they are soft like bread (not hard as a cookies). https://www.radio.cz/en/section/curraffrs/the-bloody-story-of-the-stramberk-ears
http://www.discovermoravia.com/our_man_in_moravia/places-of-interest/places-of-interest-in-north-moravia/stramberk/

Some fill them with whipped cream, others add a variety of toppings to them, and others eat them plain. My packaged served as a snack on the bus over several days. Yum.

 

Stramberk was a pleasant surprise for a 2-3 hour respite. Lunch was good and we enjoyed walking around. The 2+ minute video below is from a drone. Enjoy!

On a Beach Walk: No. 40 (A Return)

foot stepson grey sands with waters nearing it

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

 

I like walking the beach. It’s good for the mind, body, and soul – and refreshing on my feet.

After arriving, unpacking, grocery shopping, and a supply trek to Costco, today is my first full day of our respite as snowbirds.

It’s good to return to life as my alter ego – the time without appointments – a time of minimal commitments – a time without the feeling that I have to do something – a time when I try to leave my daily burdens behind. I’ve carried some of life’s baggage with me to this place – that’s what life does – but it’s different than a year ago.

It’s good to see the fine, off-white sand from the balcony for the first time since a year ago.

It’s good to see a seemingly endless vast view of water that will help me discover metaphors for future walks.

It’s good to have the first struggle with the fine, soft sand on my way to the water’s edge.

It’s good to feel the packed sand at the water’s edge that will serve as my pavement for the weeks to come.

It’s good to begin my daily walking routine as I move eastward for the first walk. On most days I will get over 10,000 steps before noon. I hope for a day-long trek before leaving.

It’s good to see the string of shells marking high tide. Each year we’ve focused on different shells, but because we have enough, we will give preference only to the unique shells we encounter.

It’s good to feel the water moving across my feet. It’s a bit brisk at the moment, but I’m confident a truly refreshing temperature is approaching.

It’s good to see my first group of sanderlings – the small birds with the fast-moving legs in their ongoing hunt for food at the water’s edge. Their presence always makes me smile.

It’s good to hear the sounds of the beach – the water coming ashore – the whistling of the steady breeze – the squawking seagulls – and even the air traffic from the nearby naval air station.

It’s good to smell the freshness of the sea air – that hint of salt with a skosh of marine life – a different scent than the air of my inland home.

It’s good to see the pelicans effortlessly gliding just about the water’s surface, then redirect upward only to turn around to dive after unwilling prey below the surface.

It’s good to know that some days I will see a group of dolphins passing by on their hunt for food.

It’s good to know that the sea will probably show me many emotions on its face – those emotions varying from placid calm to raging anger.

It’s good to start the process of letting the sand jettison the old skin from the bottom of my feet. If the past is an indicator, by the end of the stay my feet will have a warm glow.

Let the exfoliating begin because I like walking the beach for it is good for the mind, body, and soul – and refreshing on my feet.

On a Return Home

Greetings from my home in Cincinnati. We recently returned from a 6-week stay as snowbirds on the Alabama coast, the place where I kept my little corner of the world in full swing. Travel time returning home (Friday and Saturday) is the reason for not having a weekend concert and for my absence – but Aretha is still schedule for this coming weekend … and the opening song is set!

That my walking beach to the west (and 2 miles/3.2 km to the rocks)

 

The weather during our stay wasn’t the best – but as I always say, no matter how cold it is in Alabama during our stay, it’s warmer than home! January had cold, but that was when Cincinnati (and many of you) were gripped by bitter cold. Plus, the only snow we saw was on news reports. Of the three years in Alabama, this year was probably the worst – and the first year without a good streak of sunshine – but hey – the overall weather was better than home.

Glad I captured the storm cloud

 

I always say these 6-weeks are for my alter ego – a time with minimal obligations – a time away from normal routines – a time when I can focus on walking the beach as much as possible. How much did I walk during the 43 full days? Here’s the tale of the tape:

  • 911,867 steps covering an estimated 405.3 miles (652.3 km)
  • 21,206 steps averaged per day
  • 17 of 43 days over 10,000 (but less than 20K); 24 of 43 days over 20,000 steps (but less than 30K), and 2 days of 43 over 30,000 steps

 

I was hoping to lose some weight during the 6-weeks south. Then again, I know we will go out 2-3 times per week. Good news is that we were able to limit the snacks that my wife’s father enjoys. Bottom line is 8 pounds lost and my waist feels smaller.

Walking also means composing more beach walks. I don’t have a final count on the number of drafts, but it may be the most ever. I think over 40.

I love sunrises, but given the weather, I didn’t see many achieving the wow factor.

 

On the worst weather days, we like to go to a theater. This year we saw Vice, The Upside, and The Wife.

TIP: When at the beach, if you see something interesting, take a picture and then send it to a marine biology department at a local university.

Outside cylinders of tube worms

 

My wife is a prolific reader – but I read two books this time: both by diplomat Madeleine Albright – The Mighty and the Almighty and Fascism: A Warning. Reviews in the future. I’ll post reviews in the future.

On one of the questionable weather days, we visited the Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola. It’s very well done – and free. Compared to the US Air Force Museum in Ohio, it’s much smaller.

For the record, we only dance a few dances one evening – so it will take some time to regain ballroom form.

Outside our front door looking to the north at the intercoastal waterway

 

We were pleased with the gas mileage of our Subaru Outback. Over the 2800+ miles (4510+ km) covering 6 weeks, the Outback’s gas mileage was 31.4 miles per gallon.

As after arriving at home Saturday afternoon, Sunday provided a small dose of snow, Monday deliver the first of a two-day punch of frigid, plus I ordered my first hearing aids, AND began prep for Tuesday’s colonoscopy. Such a great way to return home! Hooray – no polyps! Next colonoscopy in seven years!!! – but a busy return has slowed my blogging presence.

We enjoy the Flora-Bama – truly a regional institution with national acclaim. (past post) The bios of some of the musicians are impressive. For instance, the only way we know Neil Dover is that he proceeded our favorite duo – so we typically only heard 15-30 minutes each time. Interestingly, his degree is in opera! He’s written a great song about this quirky musical palace. The lyrics and the video are perfect. Enjoy Neil Dover with FloraBama Time.

On Lake Bled (Slovenia)

About 34 miles (55 km) northwest of Ljubljana, Lake Bled is a lake at the edge of the Julian Alps. Surrounded by mountains and forests with a medieval castle on a rocky face high above the lake and a small island within the lake, this setting is very picturesque. The large lake, 6,980 feet by 4,530 ft (2,120 m by 1,380 m) is without motor boats.

Water from multiple natural springs feed the lake. The bluish-green water is clear, tranquil, and smooth as glass. Lake Bled is large: 6,980 feet by 4,530 ft (2,120 m by 1,380 m), and without motor boats.

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Our morning ride to Bled Island was on a plenta – a flat-bottomed wooden boat seating 20 passengers propelled and navigated by an oarsman. In 1740, Empress Maria Theresa granted 22 families exclusive rights to transport people to the island, and that tradition remains today.

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Bled Island is small, large enough for a church and several buildings. The church is a popular wedding site and has several traditions. It is good luck for the marriage if the groom carries his bride up the 99 steps before ringing the bell inside the church and making a wish. The wish will come to true if the bell rings three times on one pull of the rope.

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After returning from the island, we walked the 3-mile (5 km) paved path circling the lake. The walk provides beautiful views of the island, the castle, the town, hotels, and relaxing views across the calm water. Along the way we passed the Slovenian Olympic Rowing Training Facility. Lake Bled has hosted the World Rowing Championship 4 times.

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High on a cliff above the lake sits Bled Castle – a medieval castle that protected the people since 1004. Today, the castle houses exhibits, a museum, restaurant, wine cellar, chapel, banquet hall, and a printing shop – but it also provides outstanding views of the lake, the island, the town of Bled, and the surrounding countryside.

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Enjoy this very short video (17 seconds) of Bled Castle at night.

 

We were told that Lake Bled is very busy in the summer months. We were fortunate because our visit was in early October – the crowds were down and the weather was excellent. The boat ride, the walk around the lake, the hike to the castle, lunch at the castle, and a group meal was a delightful way to end our Rick Steves’ Europe tour – but, for us, our vacation was not over! Meanwhile, enjoy the 2-minute video about Lake Bled by Rick Steves.

Next Stop: Trieste

Click here for past posts of this tour.