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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 9: Tuesday, Dublin
DublinThere's a palpable burst of energy all over the ship because we've arrived in Dublin. Dublin is mystical, a town of poets and writers (James Joyce, George Bernard Shaw, Oscar Wilde); a major center for Irish culture; and...well, I'm not embarrassed to admit that it's also a great place to shop. One other plus: Dublin, part of the Republic of Ireland (and not an offshoot of Great Britain), has embraced the Euro as its national currency and so our American dollars will go a bit further (there are no bargains, of course).

While the cruise is far from over for most passengers, (there are three more ports of call to go -- Waterford, further south, then Holyhead in Wales and finally Falmouth in England's Cornwall -- before returning to Dover), it's sadly the last day for us. Prior commitments require an early return.

The good news? It's actually not as wrenching an experience to leave a ship before the official disembarkation day. Our ride to the airport wasn't to pick us up until 10:30 a.m., so there was none of that packing up the night before, putting suitcases outside, waiting for numbers to be called so you can depart. It was easy and comfortable.

The bad news? We honestly didn't want to leave. By this point, our experience on Insignia, from the ports to the crew to fellow passengers, had become so cozy it was like wearing the best sort of cashmere sweater draped around your shoulders.

While there wasn't time for us to explore Dublin, we'd both visited there recently and so can offer at least a bit of advice based on our experiences. Insignia featured a handful of desultory shore excursions, but Dublin is so compact and walk-able that it, like Edinburgh, is easy to navigate independently. A cab ride from the ship's dock (which was located in an industrial shipyard) to the center of town was about 15 Euros. One good way to get started is to sign up for a walking tour at the Dublin Tourism Center on Suffolk Street -- there are three themed experiences, from cultural to Georgian (the city's Georgian-era buildings are gorgeous) and an "old city" tour. If it's your first visit I'd opt for the Old City.

Regardless of which way you choose to explore, the marquee attractions are places like Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin Castle, the gracious and Georgian Merrion Square, the charming St. Stephen's Green (the Hyde Park of Dublin!) and the Writers' Museum. And you really shouldn't miss a venture into Trinity College's Library -- the highlight there is the Book of Kells, a luminous manuscript that dates back to 800 A.D.

If you're a particular fan of any of Dublin's famous writers, well, they all have individual museums, too. There's the Oscar Wilde House, the George Bernard Shaw Birthplace and, of course, the James Joyce Museum.

For shoppers? Head to Grafton Street for U.K.-style High Street chain shops (and department stores and mini-malls). Brown Thomas is its chi-chi department store. But for really distinctive and somewhat off-the-track finds, there are two places in particular that I love. The first? Head for the Merrion Square area -- its side streets have lovely boutiques and second hand bookshops. Don't miss Louis Mulcahy's shop on Dawson Street; he's one of Ireland's pre-eminent craftsmen (especially known for pottery); the hand-painted lampshades I bought there a few years ago are among my favorite-ever "souvenirs".

Temple Bar, a historic (and restored) neighborhood of 18th-century-plus storefronts, terrace houses and pubs, is a world unto itself. If you're lucky enough to call in Dublin on a Saturday, head for one of the markets -- one's for food, the other for secondhand books, and a third, on Cow's Lane, features unique and trendy fashions. Beyond Saturdays, though, there's still plenty to see; high-end art and craft boutiques, second-hand bookshops, fashionable clothing stores. And when you get tired...plenty of pubs and restaurants.

Now, back to Insignia. There was plenty of time on the long-long-long trip back to the U.S. to mull over our cruise, and so we offer a handful of random observations:

The British Isles itinerary itself -- which is offered only a handful of times by lines like Oceania, Regent Seven Seas, Holland America, etc. -- may not seem on the surface as exotic a European experience as, say, the Baltic or the Mediterranean. But it was equally enjoyable and, to be honest, quite exotic in its own right (particularly places like the Shetlands and Inverness). I'd take another British Isles cruise in a heartbeat -- would love to perhaps overnight at a couple of ports and add a call at Belfast, Northern Ireland and Glasgow, Scotland. Ultimately, my only criticism about these itineraries is that they're pretty much marketed to older travelers, which is great...but there's plenty to appeal to active folk (and young families) as well.

Cruising on Insignia was an absolute pleasure. Probably the highlight -- not just for me but also for many of the other passengers I met (and so many of whom were repeaters) -- is service by the crew. First, service in the dining rooms and lounges, in particular, is of a standard that meets if not exceeds the highest-end luxury lines. It goes beyond simply remembering your name, your drink, your coffee preference; somehow, and in a totally appropriate way, you feel like they've become friends, too. And that goes for many of the ship's more public staffers, from the general manager (hotel director) to the restaurant director to maitres d' and even the performers. One moving anecdote was that of a crew member who had learned that an Insignia past passenger was onboard and set out to find her, greeting her with open arms.

The ship itself is beautiful. Insignia, reaping benefits of being a second child, has received some refurbishments -- cosmetic, really -- that Oceania's first ship, Regatta, has not yet had. Having sailed now on three former Renaissance R-series ships operated by three different cruise lines, I can say that Insignia is the best overall in terms of enhancements and onboard atmosphere.

Which isn't to say that there aren't areas that could use improvement. Particularly lackluster was the shore excursion department. There were only a handful of selections in each port of call and, to be frank, there was very little variety beyond basic highlights types of tours or those that relied pretty heavily on motorcoaches. In addition, shore excursions were incredibly overpriced. An "Inverness on your own" bus ride from Invergordon cost $69.99 per person; Princess Cruises charges $35. On Lerwick, the "Birdlife of Shetland" half day tour was $49.99; on Holland America they charge $28. And a "Highlights of Dublin" excursion is priced at $79.99; Regent Seven Seas' fee is $68. Beyond the high price -- which naturally raised expectations -- we didn't hear from a whole lot of passengers who felt they'd gotten value for money; one exception was raves for the Shetland bird watching excursion. There was a concierge onboard who ostensibly could help make arrangements for private cars and such -- for the more independent minded -- but his lack of follow-through and a bit of a "loosy-goosy" attitude ("We might be able to get a car for you in Invergordon but won't know until the morning we arrive") made us nervous, and so we made our own arrangements. My advice: For those who want to go beyond "highlights" types of tours, do some pre-trip homework and make arrangements for sightseeing expeditions via independent channels.

One oddity about Insignia was the pricing of a la carte items. Wine was particularly astronomical; there were no bottles on the ship's list below $27 and a price of the "house" chardonnay (the cheapest available) -- though it was the quite-excellent La Crema -- was $8.50. Per-minute Internet usage, at 95 cents per, is on the high end of the market -- most other cruise lines are definitely making their computer charges more competitive than that. If you plan to spend a fair amount of time emailing, the packages are a good value. We've already addressed shore excursions. And yet: not everything was pricey. The spa was more reasonable than most (and my pedicure was terrific). There was no charge for use of its thalassotherapy pool. The two alternative restaurants -- Polo Grill and Toscana -- offer fantastic experiences, and there's absolutely no fee, though our meals there were definitely worth a $25 per person cover!

Evening entertainment -- or so we heard (we kept booking ourselves into late dinner times and missed the shows) -- was varied and creative and a big hit with Insignia's sophisticated passengers. I love the way Insignia mixed destination-based shows -- bringing, for instance, a Ceilidh band onboard for a "traditional Scottish evening" -- with those offered by a genuinely talented and versatile group of "regular" performers. My biggest regret: missing "Ah Yes, It's Love" -- an original musical review.

Our favorite onboard ritual? Afternoon tea with scones and clotted cream. Our second (by a hair) favorite onboard ritual? Lunch or dinner at any of the ship's eateries, from the Grand Dining Room to Waves Grille and from Toscana to Polo Grill. Probably our favorite meal -- and alas we only got there once -- was Tapas on the Terrace, the evening repast in the Terrace Café. Sublime.

Bottom line? We did the math and Oceania's Insignia still represents the best value for money in its class. We compared Insignia's per diem on this itinerary with that of two pretty close competitors. For a standard balcony cabin, Insignia's price, per person per day, was $250. As a point of comparison, Holland America's was $371 and Crystal's was $554.
Day 8: At Sea red arrow  

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