Oceania Marina, Cultural Connoisseur, September 27, 2013 – A Review
About Us: My husband and I, both in our very early 50’s, booked this cruise aboard the Marina to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary. We have both cruised extensively on many different lines in the past, but this was our first “O” experience.
We have usually cruised with our daughters and extended family. This was the first time in a very long time that we cruised with just each other. We initially had some reservations as to how we would fit in with the passenger demographics on the ship. I can now honestly report that, although we were probably among the youngest 10% or 15% of the passengers on the cruise, we never felt out of place and we met the most wonderful people onboard ... some of the most interesting people that we’ve had the pleasure of meeting in a long time. There was always a good conversation to be had, and we left the ship with many new friends who we hope to be able to travel with again in the future.
We participated in the Roll Call for our cruise here on Cruise Critic (again, something we had never done before), and arranged, and/or took part in, private excursions in every port. We had incredible private guides in every port. It would be very hard to pick a favorite. I’ll go into more detail below. I recommend getting involved in your Roll Call thread. I can’t even begin to explain how much better of an experience it is to take part in small, private tours of 6-8 people, as opposed to the big bus tours that the cruise line sells. Not to mention that the private tours end up being less money.
Pre-Cruise: We booked our air through Oceania, taking advantage of their air-included offer. We also paid the $150 per person deviation charge, in order to fly in a day early and fly home two days after disembarkation. We got to choose the exact flights we wanted, with no issues whatsoever. We arrived at Gatwick on Thursday, September 26 and took the train to Winchester, where we spent a leisurely day getting over the jet lag. We stayed at a great bed & breakfast, the Old Vine, and had a private transfer on Friday morning for our 30-minute ride to Southampton.
Weather: We were blessed with beautiful weather throughout our vacation, with very little rain along the way. It ended up being warmer than we had anticipated, so most of our sweaters and such ended up being unused.
The Ship: The 2 year-old Marina is impeccable. It is the most elegant and one of the most beautiful ships I have ever seen. And, I’ve seen A LOT of cruise ships. Day and night, you would find the crew hard at work, polishing and scrubbing, to make sure that Marina was always at her best. The ship’s crew is happy and friendly. They are genuinely happy to be there to help you have the most amazing cruise experience possible. Their friendly conversation never seems forced or fake. They seem to truly care about each passenger and remember you from day to day and from venue to venue. On our last morning aboard, when we were having breakfast at The Terrace, many of the servers who we had had the pleasure of meeting during the course of the cruise stopped by our table to wish us safe travels home and to ask how our cruise had gone. I was amazed that they remembered and touched by the gesture.
Our Stateroom: This was our cruise to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary, and so we splurged on a Penthouse Suite. It’s a perfect stateroom and was extremely comfortable for us. The closet is a walk-in and provides ample storage. There are also plenty of drawers in the dressers in the stateroom. The bathroom is beautiful, although the shower could stand to be just a tad larger. We loved the Bulgari amenities.
The bed!!! It’s the most comfortable bed we’ve ever slept in. Period. End of Story. All the linens in the bedroom and bathroom are awesome.
Our stateroom attendants did a fabulous job of keeping our room very clean. There was never an occasion when we had to call them back in for something that was overlooked or forgotten.
With the Penthouse comes a butler. I can’t say enough good things about Churchill, our butler. Friendly and full of information, he was able to give us the inside scoop on all the best dishes to sample at the restaurants. He also graciously and with a smile served us a full, hot breakfast in our stateroom on almost every morning of the cruise. And we had some pretty early starts because of all of our private tours. One night, we had dinner brought in to the stateroom from Toscana. He served it course by course. Wonderful! There are so many things that he did to make our cruise better. There’s no way to go into it all here. Suffice it to say that he spoiled us. And we loved it!
Dining: The food quality and the dining experience onboard Marina are so far and above anything we’ve experienced on any other ship! A comparison to previous experiences is almost impossible. The only thing that is in the same league is our dinner at Remy aboard the Disney Fantasy. And that’s a $75 per person surcharge, without wine. Each and every venue aboard the Marina was outstanding, from Waves to The Terrace to the Grand Dining Room to the specialty restaurants.
We also had the pleasure of dining one night at La Reserve. We had the Exploration Menu, which was wonderful! It’s the only surcharge restaurant aboard (not counting Privee, which is more of a dining room where food is brought in from other restaurants) and was well worth the additional fee. Course after course, each paired perfectly with wine. It was a three and a half hour experience that I would love to repeat again!
Entertainment: We did not attend any of the shows on Marina. Our very enjoyable entertainment consisted of the wonderful dinner conversation we had with new friends in the varied restaurants onboard.
Ports: This cruise was very port intensive and visited places that, for the most part, neither of us had been to before.
Bruges: We joined the private taxi transfer arranged by another person on our Roll Call. I believe the company was Taxi Snel. We were picked up at the gate to the port at 9 AM and returned to the ship at 5 PM. Once in Bruges, we followed a walking tour that was posted online by Brentjes. It was a great tour, very detailed, with lots of information of what you are seeing and easy to follow. The tour as printed begins at the train station. We started it at Markt Square and followed it around backward. It was pretty much the exact tour being followed by the ship’s expensive walking tour of the city. Great day in a beautiful city. I’d love to return someday.
Le Havre: I arranged for a private tour for 8 through Overlord Tours. Our guide was Oliver, and he was fantastic!!! We went to Omaha Beach, the American Cemetery, Point du Hoc, Saint Mere Eglise, Utah Beach, Angoville au Plain and to some secluded places that we would have never been able to find, or enter, had we ventured out on our own. Oliver made the landing beaches come alive for us. I can’t recommend Overlord or Oliver enough!!
St. Malo: We joined a private tour arranged by another person on our Roll Call. The tour was with Westcapades and our tour guide was Marc. We went to Mont St. Michel, Dinan and had a very brief visit to St. Malo. There were six of us on the tour. Marc was very good. Mont St. Michel is fascinating! It’s a place that everyone should visit at least once. Dinan was beautiful! I enjoyed our time there and the local pastry, Kouign Amann, that we got to sample. I would definitely recommend Marc for a great day out of St. Malo.
L’Orient: I had arranged a private tour with Marie-Laure at Brittany Visits. The plan was for us to visit Quimper, Pont Aven and Concarneau. The night before we arrived in L’Orient, I received a message from the Purser that Marie-Laure’s husband had been hospitalized and that she would not be coming the next day. I was sorry to hear that her husband was ill, and I truly hope that he has recovered. The timing of the cancellation really did not work well for us to be able to arrange anything else. We decided to take the free shuttle into town and explore. L’Orient is pretty much a regular mid-sized modern French city with not a whole lot to see and do. There is a U-Boat yard that was used by the Germans during WWII. After a little while in town, my husband and I chose to go back to the ship for lunch and a relaxing afternoon.
Le Verdon: I arranged a private tour with Maryse at Bordeaux Excursions. She is fanastic!!! We visited 3 Chateaux (Gruaud-LaRose, Pichon-Longueville, and Lynch-Bages) with a brief stop at Chateau Mouton-Rothschild and a beautiful lunch at Chateau Pomys. The harvest was just getting underway in Le Medoc. It was a spectacular day, planned to perfection. I recommend Maryse wholeheartedly. I hope to visit the Bordeaux region again and will definitely book with Maryse to show me the other areas of the region.
Bilbao: We took the free shuttle that Oceania provided into town. We visited the outside of the Guggenheim, and its gift shop and then walked along the riverfront to the “Casco Viejo”, or old town. It was very picturesque and it was nice to just wander the streets here. We enjoyed a very inexpensive lunch of pintxos (what tapas are called here) and the local wine, Txacoli. We took a taxi back to the ship from the old town.
La Coruna: We booked a private tour to Santiago de Compostela and La Coruna for 6 through Luca Renzini of Best Private Tours. Our guide was Anton. He was excellent! Anton showed us all the sights in Santiago de Compostela. The star of the show, of course, is the cathedral. Unfortunately, we did not get to see the Butafumeiro swing in the church. We had a lovely lunch in the old town here. We then went on to La Coruna, which was a very nice place, too. The weather had cleared up and we had magnificent views from Hercules’ Tower. I was a bit nervous about our arrangements in this port, since there were no posted reviews of Best Private Tours or Luca. I would recommend booking with him in the future. He is able to arrange tours out of most European cruise ports. Had I had a few more hours of notice, I would have contacted him about booking something after our Lorient guide cancelled on us.
Oporto: We joined a tour booked by one of the others in our Roll Call through Tours by Locals to the Douro Valley. Our guide was Orquidea. She was very good and very nice. This tour is beautiful, with jaw dropping sights at every turn. There is a lot of driving involved in getting down to the valley floor from Oporto. It took us over three hours to reach Pinhao. We had beautiful, clear weather. Had it been raining, it would have been a really scary ride. There are many, many curving narrow roads with sharp, hairpin turns. That being said, I loved this day! We had a spectacular lunch at Quinta do Portal. The setting for this lunch was beautiful! The food delicious, and the company of our guide and the others in our tour was lovely. We then went to the winery for a port tasting. Who knew that port wine came in three colors! They were all delicious, too! As long as you’re aware of all the driving, this is a very worthwhile tour.
Lisbon: I arranged for a private tour with Alex at Top Ten Tours. Alex is a wonderful guide! Another best guide for this trip! We went to Sintra, Caiscais, and Lisbon. The van he used is brand new and has wi-fi! This was yet another day that we had spectacular weather! The Pena Palace above Sintra is a really beautiful place! Our pictures there are incredible. I think if I had it to do again, I would skip Caiscais and spend more time in Lisbon. I do want to go back to Lisbon again. If you have a chance to book a day with Alex, do it! He is really wonderful!
Cadiz: We took the train from Cadiz to Seville with two others from our Roll Call. The train station is located right across the street and around the corner from the port. It couldn’t have been more simple. The people we travelled with arranged for a walking tour of Seville with Marta Casals. She was very good! We were with her for three hours and we visited the Plaza de Espana, the Cathedral, the Alcazar, and the Barrio Santa Cruz, among other places. Marta made the very most of our short time with her. She is another of our “very best” guides for this trip.
Post-Cruise: Sadly, our time aboard Marina had to come to an end. We spent two nights in Barcelona, at the Catalonia Catedral Hotel in the Gothic Quarter that was located right across the square from the old Cathedral. We had been to Barcelona before, and this was our favorite part of the city. Our first day was spent wandering the curvy streets of the Gothic Quarter. On our second day, we booked a full day trip to Montserrat with Spanish Trails. They are awesome! Our guide, Dan, was yet another amazing guide. Montserrat is unbelievably beautiful! We had an amazing lunch at a restaurant in the national park at the foot of Montserrat. We then visited a vineyard for wine tasting. We ended our day at the overlook at Montjuic, with Barcelona spread out at our feet. Our day included all expenses. I recommend Spanish Trails very highly. I will be booking some of their other day trips when we return to Barcelona.
Overall Impressions: The Marina is an exceptional ship and this itinerary was fantastic. We enjoyed every second of our vacation and have already booked our next trip aboard Marina.