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Oceania's Insignia: Dover to Dublin
About the Virtual Cruise
Oceania's Insignia: Dover to Dublin Editor's Note: All-Britain cruises are fairly hard to find but lines like Oceania will, in addition to the occasional U.K./Ireland itinerary, often include this option in trips that sail as well to Northern Europe.

A cruise of Ireland and the British Isles offers the ultimate "sampling" opportunity for any traveler who dreams of seeing places whose vast distances would otherwise require a more onerous journey. Join Cruise Critic Editor Carolyn Spencer Brown as she sets sail on Oceania's Insignia and takes us along with her -- virtually, of course. Brown writes daily dispatches from the nine-night Insignia cruise, as the ship visits ports of call such as London (Dover), Edinburgh, Peterhead, Invergorden, the Shetland and Orkney Islands, and Dublin. Also curious about the recently launched Insignia, the second ship to join Oceania's fleet, she will also cover the onboard experience in her virtual dispatches.

Brown has visited some of these ports on independent trips to England, particularly Aberdeen, Edinburgh, London and Dublin. "What's intriguing about this itinerary isn't so much that it takes you to exotic destinations you'd never otherwise visit," she writes, "because England and Scotland are fairly easy for independent travelers to explore. It's that the trip offers an easy way to cover vast differences and explore a few nooks-n-crannies I'd not otherwise visited -- and take a cruise at the same time."
Day 1: Departure from Dover
Day 2: At Sea
Day 3: Edinburgh
Day 4: Peterhead
Day 5: Inverness
Day 6: Shetlands
Day 7: Orkney
Day 8: At Sea
Day 9: Dublin
Related Links
British Isles & Western Europe Cruises
British Isles & Western Europe Messages
Day 1: Monday, Departure from Dover
Departure from DoverAs we sailed away from Dover this afternoon -- sun splashed and surprisingly warm for England -- we passed the famous White Cliffs. Dover's most famous attraction (next to, perhaps, its castle) the lofty cliffs, carved out of the sea, are stark white and quite dramatic. That the spectacle was marked by the poolside band playing a big band version of "Hello Dolly" (we overheard one wag saying "where's the calypso steel band?") pretty much sums up the passenger make-up on this trip. These folks are generally older, and just about everyone we talked to was quite an experienced traveler.

In fact, what was particularly interesting is how many passengers have been all over the world on genuinely exotic trips -- India, South Africa, Australia, Panama Canal, and on and on -- and have not ventured much beyond London. Ireland and the U.K. are basically, for Americans, an "in your own backyard" kind of trip -- you know, the best first "European" experience.

Dover is one of three major passenger ports that serves London (Harwich and Southampton are the others) and probably features the most interesting sites to see. We spent a half-day exploring the city and the best fun was to drive up to the White Cliffs Park. You don't see the cliffs much, being on top, but the views are fantastic, particularly if you love to watch ships -- the five mile expanse sits right above some of the world's busiest shipping lanes, mostly passenger ferries sailing back and forth from Calais (France) to Dover. At another pier we could see Oceania Insignia and Crystal Symphony shimmering in the sunshine. When you tire of the scenery, there are lovely paths for hiking (and it's a great place, in good weather, to bring a picnic).

On our "regrets" list was a lack of enough time to visit Dover Castle, the city's other major tourist attraction. It was built in 1187 to protect Dover -- which, with its strategic location on the English Channel has always been considered a gateway to the country. There are plenty of ancient structures, lighthouses and towers and the like but the castle's more recent highlights include the secret wartime tunnels (built for World War II) and a hospital and operation center that was used during the evacuation of Dunkirk.

Other than that, Dover was a bit of a disappointment and I don't recommend making an overnight of it here. Most folks either flew in this morning or spent a few days in London. This trip, having visited London many times, we decided to be adventurous and actually stayed the weekend in the medieval town of Rye, which is about a 1 1/4-hour drive from Dover. The town, beautifully restored and wonderfully atmospheric, feels a bit like a film set (with lots of lovely shops, tea rooms, used bookstores, and art galleries, not to mention Britain's ubiquitous pubs). Fabulous.

Back to Insignia! Embarkation was a breeze (we were the only passengers checking in at all) and onboard, we were greeted by white-gloved crew members who graciously led us to our cabin. Oceania's ships, like a handful of other cruise lines' -- including Princess' Tahitian and Pacific Princess and Swan Hellenic's Minerva II (transferred to Princess and sailing as Royal Princess as of April 2007) -- come from Renaissance Cruises' fleet of R-series vessels, all built in the late 1990's. Having spent some two months, all told, cruising on these once identical vessels (under various lines), I was very curious about changes that Oceania made to Insignia (the former R-1). There seemed to be a bunch of us -- former members of the "I Love Renaissance" club -- poking around the ship, noting the differences.

The ship looks super. Oceania has preserved the English Country House hotel-style ambiance and some areas look completely the same (albeit freshened up). Particular highlights on this first-impression countdown include the pool area, which has been completely revamped and now boasts teak flooring, lovely blue and white striped lounge cushions, and the sort of funky double lounge chairs (reminded me of the Balinese beds on SeaDream Yacht Club's two ships).

Our cabin, a category B with balcony, has been tweaked with some improvements -- mesh furnishings on the verandah, duvets on the bed -- but was generally the same as before, with a loveseat, vanity-desk area and television with multiple channels. The bathroom is quite small (shower only) but there's plenty of storage.

Service-wise, first impressions were a bit mixed. Upon boarding, Insignia offers a simple "tea-time" spread in its buffet venue (big hint: eat a real lunch before boarding). There seemed to be plenty of waitstaff there but they were mostly hanging around talking to one another rather than busing dirty tables or offering water. We also had a bit of a bumpy experience last night at dinner in the Polo Grill with a maitre d' who didn't exactly ooze warmth and welcome. We asked for a table for two for 8 p.m. and, having duly arrived on time, were shown to an eight-top with two other couples. When we repeated our request, he said there were no available duets. Funny thing was ... throughout the meal, tables for two sat empty -- and it turns out that the other couples were also a bit put-off as they'd made the same requests.

Dinner -- fantastic menu, delicious preparation and very attentive service -- turned out to be a great success, regardless.
  Day 2: At Sea

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