The Marina is a wonderful ship and a great addition to the Oceania fleet. After about 30 cruises, including previously on Insignia and Nautica, both of which we loved but I felt were just too small to guarantee me a sickness-free voyage, the Marina looked to be the perfect ship for us and, in all but one respect, it delivered perfection. I must explain here that DH travels with a small folding mobility scooter following a stroke 4 years ago and disabled access to the ship is the one area in which Oceania have made an enormous mistake, which will probably prevent us from sailing on Marina again. I will return to this at the end for anyone who is interested and no doubt it will be discussed on the disabled cruising board but on the assumption that 99% of readers will not even notice this problem, let alone encounter a difficulty with it, I really want to focus on what a wonderful ship it is for the able-bodied and give a bit of information about the ports of call, some of which are fairly unusual.
The ship is definitely the most comfortable we have ever travelled on, from the beds to the sun loungers to the chairs in just about every location the emphasis is on luxury. The decor is fairly understated but very nice throughout. The food was even better than on the smaller ships, if that is possible. The Tapas on the Terrace idea (which had never tempted us) has been replaced by a full evening dining experience including cooked-to-order steaks, fish, even lobster some evenings. We would gladly have eaten there, although I must admit we loved the Grand Dining Room so much that we dined there on the evenings not booked at the specialty restaurants.
Of the specialities I loved Red Ginger, my husband still preferred Polos (in line with our respective tastes in food). We both like Italian food but Toscana was perhaps our least favourite restaurant (although still wonderful). The service in Jacques was very slow, it took over an hour from arrival to even take our order and well over 3 hours to complete the meal, but my lobster thermidor was well worth missing the show for. Talking of shows, they are, typically for Oceania, entertaining without being exceptional, and the single performance takes place at 9.45pm each evening. To be sure of making it to the show you need to be eating by 7pm. We made all our reservations for 7.30pm and hardly ever got to see the show from the beginning, but really did not mind as the food and the company of the many lovely fellow passengers we shared it with was a very nice way to spend the evenings.
My personal dislike on Oceania, which is the same on Marina as other ships, is that the Terrace Cafe is not truly a buffet, the crew serve you each item and it is very difficult to get a small portion to try several different things. Especially at breakfast time I would prefer to be left in peace to choose what I want rather than ambushed by a hundred renditions of "good morning Madame would you like some toast/cereal/bacon/coffee/juice etc etc " - OK I understand that it is "service" that justifies the price differential over the mass market lines, I am just antisocial and unappreciative of such service in the mornings !
Waves has a wonderful new addition to its menu, Surf and Turf - yes really a fillet steak and a piece of lobster tail in a burger bun at the pool bar - which other line does that ! The ice creams, smoothies and milk shakes are still fabulous and included in the fare as are soft drinks now - sodas and juices as well as iced tea and American lemonade, and that includes cans from the mini bar in your cabin. As you leave the ship there was always a table from which to help yourself to small bottles of water, and there were 2 litre sized bottles in the cabin each day.
Another fantastic addition for Oceania was free shuttle buses in ports of call where transport is needed into town. These were not advertised until the 'Currents' magazine arrived each evening but it was really useful not to have to worry about having small change in the right currency for local transport. Yes, Oceania are a bit more expensive than some lines but these little touches all help to justify the extra.
Arriving on an early morning flight from the UK gave us nearly 2 full days in Venice, one of our favourite cities, and we spent the time just wandering. There was a free shuttle bus from the port to Piazzale Roma but we walked back each time, it is mostly downhill coming back to the port and only takes about 10 minutes. The first evening we spent in St Marks Square listening to the various orchestras that play at the restaurants. The second day the square was cordoned off due to a visit by the Pope. We should have sailed past just as he was due at the outside altar on the square but our departure was delayed for 2 hours to avoid that occurring (sadly).
Docking at Gruz harbour a couple of miles from the old city meant another shuttle bus, there was rather a long wait as we did not arrive until 1pm and everyone one headed ashore at the same time, but again the bus was free so avoided the need to acquire local currency or agree a taxi fare, that is such a help. We had been to Dubrovnik before so knew that 2-3 hours is enough (unless you want to visit the various museums or walk the walls) but spent a nice sunny Sunday afternoon wandering around. A local brass band competition was going on which added to the atmosphere, all shops and museums were open but there was a surprising absence of tourists apart from those from the ship.
This old city is a real gem, yet I had barely heard of it when we booked the cruise. It's another walled city but has a far more genuine, lived-in feel than Dubrovnik and sits at the end of a long, deep fjord, that took 90 scenic minutes to sail out from, you could easily be in Norway. The port is right by the city wall, literally two minutes walk into the city. Just outside the wall is a market in one direction and the new town in the other, where there is a nice, if small, modern shopping precinct (free wifi). Accessibility had concerned me here but all the streets were well worn marble type surface, not really cobblestone as had been described, so no problem for the scooter. High above the city stands an old fortress, it costs 3 euros to enter the pathway up, apparently it is about 1500 steps but the bottom was cobble slopes rather than steps and rather slippery as it had rained. I decided against the walk but our table mates that evening had done it and said the view was wonderful. It drizzled on and off most of the day and became quite cold, but this is a port I would love to return to in better weather. To the left from the port, past the new town, there was long seafront walk and looked like little beaches a mile or so along, although I expect the fjord water would always be a bit chilly.
Once again a free shuttle bus took us into town, this new innovation from Oceania is really welcome. It drops off by the "old fortress" (having passed the seemingly equally old "new fortress" en route !) which looked an interesting place to visit (4 euros, or 2 for over 65s). There is a large park through which you walk to the little streets of the old town, filled with fascinating little shops many selling local kumquats in candied or liqueur form. We found a very attractive Greek Orthodox church which was clearly an attraction as several tour groups were there, and generally enjoyed a day of wandering.
Zakynthos (a.k.a. Zante)
No need for a shuttle today as we tendered right into town. The tender operation seemed to work well even though the sea gave us a slightly rough ride. The town consists of a large square, several churches and a number of unremarkable shops and, along with most other passengers we spoke to, we considered it to be our least favourite stop on this itinerary. There are car hire shops along the harbour front so if we should ever find ourselves there again I think we will rent a car and get out of town to see the island. Apparently there are some nice beaches. In fact, after getting back on the ship, I noticed a small beach a short distance from the tender pier (turn right when leaving the pier rather than left into town).
What a wonderful surprise - a port we had never even heard of before booking this cruise and it was the highlight of the voyage ! It is a huge red rock, known as the "Gibraltar of Greece" joined to the mainland by a causeway. There are two tender piers, Marina used the one to the right of the causeway, looking from the sea, which was the closest to the Rock. Two smaller ships were tendering into a small harbour on the other side of the causeway, making their walk to the old city walls probably close to a mile whereas ours was about half that distance. There is a new Tarmac road leading around the rock and gently sloping upwards (fine for the scooter, would have been hard going pushing a wheelchair). On entering the old city through a gate in the huge thick old walls you go back several centuries. The streets are then narrow, steep and cobbled (no good for anybody with walking troubles - DH sat in the entrance gate and waited for me)but it is just so beautiful - easily as pretty as Santorini, in my opinion, but the buildings are earthy browns and reds instead of white, and I just cannot believe that it is not better known. It does seem that many of the houses are being restored and turned into holiday cottages so maybe tourism in just finding Monemvasia. From the lower part of the old city you can walk up to the ruined upper city on top of the rock. It is about 500 steps and I got about half way when the rain came down, as it had several times that day, so I aborted the climb and returned to look around the pretty little shops at the lower level. Sadly there had been very little information on board about Monemvasia and many passengers had been put off by the weather and missed out on seeing this lovely place, I am so glad we decided to risk a drenching to see it. In better weather it would be possible to use the pebbly beaches across the causeway in the new town (which is only really a few restaurants) or swim in a cut out rocky sea pool a short distance from the pier going towards the old city, where there are steps down into the water.
We have been to Santorini before and know that it is completely inaccessible to us, but it is still a beautiful place to spend a day on the ship. It was very windy so not really suitable to sit on deck but the ship was being blown around giving us a continually changing view from the Horizon lounge, where we spent most of a lazy day.
Always one of our favourite ports, especially as it was warm and sunny, naturally a lot of people head off to Ephesus but there is plenty to do in the town, which begins virtually as you step off the ship, although better prices and less hassle are to be found by heading a few blocks back from the cruise terminal into the little streets packed with 'genuine fakes' of everything you can imagine, not to mention Turkish carpets, leather coats etc. For once we managed to resist any major purchases on this visit to turkey but returned to the ship loaded with Turkish delight as gifts for our friends and a year's supply of apple tea for me.
The ship made a morning stop at Delos but having visited on a previous Oceania cruise we did not go ashore but enjoyed a lovely sunny morning around the pool. After lunch tendering into Mykonos started but took nearly 2 hours before open tendering was announced. However, we were in port until 8pm and a couple of hours wandering around the pretty white & blue town was enough, as we had visited before.
8am was a little early to have to vacate the cabin but disembarkation went very smoothly. We always arrange our own flights and transfers but had used some on board credit to take Oceania transfers to Athens airport and it was lovely to have our luggage moved for us for a change. The journey took just over and hour and we arrived in plenty of time for our flight home.
Now for the problem area. The ship itself is completely accessible to scooters/wheelchairs and, having booked late on a 'guarantee' basis we were pleasantly surprised to have been allocated one of the few accessible cabins. Our scooter folds and fits under the bed of a standard cabin so it was not essential that we got an accessible cabin but the extra space and walk in shower are a great help. It lacked some of the innovative accessibility features we have found on other ships (eg downward swivelling mirrors or lower-able clothes rails) but had a huge shower area (just remember to remove the toilet paper before showering, as it is located inside the shower curtain !) with a large seat that folds down if needed and plenty of grab rails. Unusually the disabled cabins on Marina are midships rather than near the elevators but the corridor (on deck10) was reasonable in width so a standard wheelchair and a stewards trolley could probably just pass each other. So the ship is fine for disabled people IF you can get aboard. From numerous discussions with various crew members on board it seems that Marina's entrance doors are not suitable for the standard short flat/slightly sloped shore gangways that we have found on all previous cruise ships, so the passenger gangway leads to deck five and consists of about 30 steps that wobbled severely, especially in some of the windy conditions we encountered. On several occasions I had to carry the scooter up or down on my own as no crew members were available but I can manage that, the problem was DH's difficulty in keeping his balance on the moving steps. There was a second gangway, allocated to crew and leading to deck 4. When we first asked we were not allowed to use it but another time a helpful senior officer was present and agreed that we could do so. After completion of a mid-cruise comment card drawing attention to our problem the concierge also gave permission for us to use the crew entrance. This was a help for me or whoever carried the scooter, but for a disabled person it is really no better as there are several steps up to the gangway, which have no handrail at all, and the gangway itself has large raised footholds every few inches, obviously so that it can be used on a slope, but leaving no flat surface to walk on. After speaking to several other people on board who had varying disabilities (some of whom chose not to get off the ship because of the difficulty) I enquired what would happen if a passenger was unable to walk at all - the concierge's answer was that 4 strong crew members would have to carry their wheelchair up and down the steps !! Come on, Oceania, that is not a dignified or, probably even a safe, solution. One lady told us she had been carried down once but was so terrified that she never got off the ship again until the end of the cruise. If the Marina is going to advertise disabled accessible cabins there has to be a safe way for disabled people to get on and off the ship without the embarrassment of being carried down a stepped gangway. If anyone is concerned about this problem do email me firstname.lastname@example.org and I can send you some photos of the gangways. If the powers that be at Oceania read this please do something about it - I can send you a photo of the normal, perfectly accessible, gangway on the ship that happened to dock next to us at one port to show you what is needed.