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Home > Virtual Cruises > Oceania's Insignia: Dover to Dublin
Oceania's Insignia: Dover to Dublin
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
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Day 6: Saturday, Shetlands
ShetlandsThis morning we awoke to a luminous sunlight -- all blue sky, too! -- for the first time since we left Dover. The sun was so bright it nearly seared my eyeballs, seriously, and my first thought was that the skies on this trip had been gloomy for so long that they needed to adjust.

But throughout the day, as clouds came (gloom) and went (brilliant sunshine), there was most definitely something different about the light here. The Shetland Islands, of which there are more than 100, represent the northernmost point of the U.K. To give you an idea of how far north we've come, Lerwick, the isles' main city, lies at roughly the same latitude as Bergen (Norway) and Helsinki (Finland). Only 15 of the islands are inhabited (total of about 23,000 folks) and humans are quite outnumbered by wildlife. Culturally speaking, the folks here draw from both nearby Norway and Scotland, so the islands breed their own distinctive music and art.

What surprises us most about this port of call, which in pre-voyage destination research had gotten lost behind bigger, better-known places like Edinburgh, Inverness and Dublin, is how fabulous it is. There is so much to do! And there's no way one day here will satisfy us (no, we didn't abandon the ship but definitely want to come back). Nature is the star here -- the landscape alone is smooth and hilly, with lots of inland harbors and gorgeous windswept moors -- and activities that are most popular include bird watching and otter-spotting. In fact, I saw an otter poke its head up in the harbor as we arrived this morning and again, later, from lunch in the Grand Dining Room, saw several others cavorting nearby.

Insignia's shore excursions department offered a handful of scenery-oriented tours (we regret not finding time for the cruise around the Shetlands' famous Noss National Nature Reserve) and a couple of bird watching expeditions. One of our fellow passengers, with a huge grin on his face, later told us he thought he was crazy to go bird watching, but the experience turned to be huge fun because their local guide was so passionate that his enthusiasm infected them as well.

If the weather hadn't turned grim by mid-morning (this comes from a brochure and is so true: "Shetland's weather can change a lot in three hours so bring something warm to wear"), my first choice of activity would have been to rent bicycles (there's a shop in town) or rent a car (also available in town via Europcar or Avis) or even hire a taxi for a tour; instead, we had a marvelous time poking around Lerwick's old town. Centered on Commercial Street, just a 10-minute walk from where we're docked, the Victorian village boasted a surprisingly cosmopolitan air and was full of shops and boutiques alternately geared to tourists and to locals. For all its "High Street" feeling, most of the retailers were quite distinctive (and there were few British national chains represented), which added to the exotic ambiance.

The big souvenir to buy here is handmade woolen sweaters and a number of shops sell them. They are distinctive in pattern and color (and the wool is very soft) and priced very reasonably. There are also shops selling various, beautifully made crafts and jewelry. We were bewitched by the Shetland Soap Company boutique, with its "spaced oot" bubble baths in fabulous scents like rose and lavender, musk and patchouli. The Shetland Times bookstore was wonderfully stocked -- perfect if you've run out of books to read.

After a restorative lager in the Grand Hotel's Victorian lounge bar (we were so tempted to stay and order pub food -- like the lamb and mint burger -- but resisted the impulse), we walked back through an increasingly misty and wickedly nippy afternoon to Insignia, just in time for lunch in the Grand Dining Room. The specialty on tap was tomato soup and a hearty lamb stew. Not only the perfect sustenance for our chilled selves, it, along with our desserts and the view of the Victorian town from the window beyond, contributed to the most enjoyable lunch ever on a cruise ship.

It's probably understandable then, that later we approached the idea of dinner with heavy hearts (and low appetites). We started the evening in the Horizon Lounge, our favorite pre-dinner spot not only because the huge bar, which features windows on all three sides, is located on one of the ship's top decks, but also because it's a friendly place. We particularly adore the regular bartender there, who is personal, efficient and attentive -- she exemplifies the best of cruising's tradition of great service.

When we finally did eat it was after 8:30 p.m. (good company of two other passengers and a delicious dinner in the Grand Dining Room) and once again we missed the evening's theatrical performance (they usually start at about 9:45 or so -- it's a good idea to plan for an early meal!). While we can't critique the quality (two nights in a row we made it just in time for the curtain call), they're pretty interesting. Last night's was "The Comedy and Magic of Des & Cherry King" and the place was packed.

We've already noticed that, after dinner and a show, life on Insignia winds down pretty quickly. A note in the program says that beginning at 11 p.m. you can "dance the night away with the Insignia Orchestra," but they don't really play dance music (it's more like a concert performance) and there was barely another soul there, aside from officers and staff. Still, my husband commented, "The more days I spend on this ship the better I like it," and I feel the same way.

Tomorrow we call at Kirkwall, in Scotland's Orkney Islands.
Day 5: Inverness red arrow Day 7: Orkney

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