Going on a cruise has always been swirling around in my imaginary bucket and after talking to friends who’d just returned from an amazing trip to Europe this bucket list experience began floating to the top. Their experiences on their Oceania Cruise sounded incredible and just how I imagined cruising to be.
All I had to do now was convince Christine. That was not going to be an easy feat. Although she loved hearing about the cruise our friends took and was in awe of the destinations, Christine did not see herself as the cruising type. “What if I don’t like it?” she kept saying, “I can’t just get off.”
I finally managed to convince her that Europe should be our next destination and with Steve Lawson’s help, at House of Travel in Hastings, we got a ten-night cruise booked to sail from Barcelona to Venice. He advised Oceania’s mid-sized ships don’t feel crowded or overwhelming and are a good option for first time cruisers. I tried to get back-to-back cruises booked – to carry on from Venice to Greece and Turkey – but that was pushing it too far. A definite ‘NO!’ from Christine.
The departure day came, and it was with excitement, and a little trepidation, we left New Zealand. What if Christine really doesn’t like the cruise? After all it was my bucket list dream, not hers.
We started to relax and enjoy our adventure flying with Emirates to Barcelona. Business Class on the A380 is an experience in itself. Exceptional service and exceptional food – the way air travel should be. Every good thing we’d heard about Emirates was true, and then more.
Barcelona, our first stop in Europe, was amazing. The people, the architecture, the food, the sunshine, the history and the culture. We had two days here using the double-decker hop on/hop off tourist buses. There were three routes to explore with 44 stops covering all the major sights. So much to see and so little time. We loved everything about Barcelona – the markets, museums, cathedrals, cafes, street stalls and restaurants – just the whole atmosphere of the place.
The architect Antoni Gaudi’s work could be seen throughout the city in apartment blocks, offices, a park and the famous Sagrada Familia – the unfinished church started by Gaudi in 1882 that is still being worked on. He had a very unique style that would lookright at home in Disneyland.
Two days in Barcelona was not long enough for us. We could have spent another week exploring this exciting city. Upon boarding our Oceania ship – Riviera – we vowed to come back to Barcelona and explore it in more depth sometime in the future.
Wow! Our friends were not exaggerating when they said Riviera was beautiful. It was elegant with a relaxed feel. The public areas were sophisticated without pretence and our Veranda Stateroom stylish and comfortable. I started to relax when I saw Christine seemed to approve of everything she was seeing.
Riviera can accommodate 1250 guests – which may sound a lot – but the ship never seemed busy or crowded. A wide range of nationalities was on board, with Kiwis being the third most popular nationality on Oceania cruises. With 800 staff on board, all your needs are taken care of. The food was exceptional and the service second to none. We were treated like a king and queen for our whole stay without the need for a tuxedo or evening gown. It was a relaxed atmosphere with smart casual being the norm even for dinner – not a tie in sight!
And so much is included with Oceania– nightly entertainment, butler service, and even tipping is already taken care of. And the meals … where do I start with the meals? All meals are included, of course, but the selection and variety is incredible. From barista coffees, unlimited soft drinks, juices and water, afternoon teas and pastries, 24 hour room service, Toscanas Italian Restaurant, Polos Grill and Steakhouse, Continental cuisine in the Grand Dining Room, Asian masterpieces at Red Ginger, Jacques Pepin’s French Bistro and the Terrace Café for casual alfresco dining. All the food was divine – I can totally agree with Oceania’s claim they serve the finest cuisine at sea.
We decided after our first experience of dining on-board that we would not use the lifts and took the stairs throughout the ship to walk off our indulgences. We ordered a bottle of wine one evening, which we didn’t finish. This bottle of wine was brought to us at our next meal in a different restaurant … great service.
There was more on board to do than eat, though. There was a spa to pamper yourself, the library to lounge in, a casino for Monte Carlo style fun, a cooking school, lectures on a wide variety of subjects, play mini-golf or head to the driving range, an Artists Loft to try your hand at painting. Or you could relax and sip a cocktail beside the pool.
In the evening there was a variety of shows, music and dancing. Unfortunately we didn’t get to enjoy any of these as we were usually too tired after our exciting days on shore. Because Riviera is a smaller ship she can visit some of the smaller ports and seaside villages that larger ships can’t access. We cruised from Barcelona to Marseille and then Antibes, Florence, Rome, Sorrento, Sicily, Corfu, Dubrovnik and then finally to Venice.
All the shore excursions we went on ran smoothly – but you didn’t have to book an organised tour, you could take the free transfers from Riviera to the city and explore for yourself. We loved Sorrento in Italy – it had an ambience of its own that really appealed to us. Pompeii with its history and ruins was interesting, with Mt Vesuvius standing ominously in the background. Dubrovnik in Croatia was beautiful with its fascinating old town and thick stone city wall.
We had the most amazing time on board Riviera and when we got to Venice Christine didn’t want to leave! She’d become a cruise convert. She was kicking herself that we hadn’t booked a back-toback cruise on Riviera so we could carry on to Greece and Turkey.
Six days in Venice with its canals, gondoliers, markets, palaces and cathedrals was wonderful. But in hindsight we would rather have spent longer in Barcelona and less time in Venice. Maybe five to seven days in Barcelona and three in Venice.
On our return to New Zealand I couldn’t wait to tell Steve at House of Travel all about the amazing journey we’d had – and that Christine was now a convert and had become a cruise-lover! When I called in, I noticed the job title on Steve’s business card – it said ‘Bucket List Facilitator’. That was certainly true!
Everything from our morning coffee to the Belgian chocolates with our nightly turn down service was exemplary. We couldn’t fault the experience … we will definitely cruise with Oceania again. With so many destinations to choose from, the only question is where … Asia, Africa, South Pacific, Australia, Caribbean, South America or Europe? Hopefully soon I will be able to scoop another dream experience out of that bucket.