We recently returned from an eleven day cruise from Rome to Venice on the Oceania's Sirena. We picked this cruise because of the itinerary. The Oceania did an excellent job of getting to every port as scheduled so we had ample time at each port to explore. My only complaint is that we tendered twice, and the tender boats were very uncomfortable with no fans and very hot.
We have been on four cruises, twice with the Princess, once with the Azamara and now the Oceania. In comparing the cruise lines, we found the rooms very similar. We did not have a balcony on the Oceania since the additional cost seemed very high but the porthole was a very nice size. The Princess does not charge nearly as much for a balcony. I think the bathroom/shower was best planned on the Oceania and the staff cleaned the room promptly.
The Oceania advertises that they are famous for their food. I actually found the food disappointing. Buffet breakfast was fine although I did not like their orange juice. We did not have lunch since we were touring. However, based upon our room status we were only entitled to make reservations for two nights at the specialty restaurants. Red Ginger
is indeed special. From the moment we were seated, we were treated royally. The menu was quite interesting, and it was truly a delightful dinner. We also enjoyed the Tuscan Grill but the overall experience was just not as special as Red Ginger. We were lucky to be seated at the front of the ship in that restaurant and had a stunning view as we left the port. My disappointment was with the main dining room. I found the portions very small, and I did not find the overall quality exceptional. Once I ordered sea bass and it was not very good. Another night I ordered steak which was not a good cut. You could order as many sides as you wanted but I would have preferred a better overall meal. On the Azamara they would serve free interesting wines with dinner and that certainly helped the overall atmosphere. I just did not find the staff all that engaging on the Oceania.
The Sirena offered less entertainment than the other cruise lines. There was an evening show but the problem was it was a small stage without any slope in the theater so unless you were up front viewing was difficult. We had a singer twice(he was fine), a comedian twice(better the first night) and a mime /magician (poor). The troupe of eight also performed and they were enjoyable. The Princess being a larger boat had a much more professional theater and show.
The only sports offered was one outdoor ping pong table, a shuffleboard court on a rubber surface making it unplayable, and a small putting green. There was also a small running/walking track. The pool was tiny but there were two Jacuzzis. Since every day was sunny and over 90 degrees the pool was used. The card room was very small and there were no organized games. The Sirena did have an excellent lending library. I found the gym to up to date modern equipment. Children are not encouraged on the Oceania and there were no organized activities for them. Some of the other cruise lines hire guest lecturers to talk about the upcoming ports. I think the Sirena was very weak in this area. There was trivia every afternoon and this was popular.
I probably would not go on the Oceania again unless the itinerary was one I could not find elsewhere. I think other lines give you more value for less money. Finally, since I prefer modern , I found the décor of the Sirena not that attractive and tired looking. However, since I picked this line for the itinerary of the cruise I was not disappointed by the cruise since I enjoyed our ports of call.
I find that part of the fun of travelling is planning the trip so I do a lot of research. I never sign up for excursions provided by the cruise line since they are over-priced. My travel agent suggested using Shore excursions but I also found this company to be too expensive. A third alternative is to use Viator which partners with local tour companies and offers more value for your dollar and more variety of tours. However, we made the decision to find private tour guides where possible. This can be expensive if it is just one couple because usually the cost of adding two more people is nominal. We mentioned our planned tours on our cruise line blog and were lucky to find another couple to join us and the four of us thoroughly enjoyed the tours.
Day 1 Amalfi- I had always wanted to visit Pompeii. Unfortunately, I did not find any tours leaving from Amalfi going there. I found a company called Benvenutolimos.com that would arrange to give us a driver for eight hours who would take us to Pompeii and Positano and tour the Amalfi Coast. They arranged for a private tour guide inside Pompeii. Giovanni was an excellent driver. He first took us to the scenic town of
Rafello for a short stop. His English was excellent and we learned about the Amalfi Coast and its history and culture as he made hairpin turns through breathtaking terrain. He then took us to Pompeii where we met our tour guide Salvatore. As we strolled along ancient Roman streets, Salvatore described what is was like to live in Pompeii 2000 years ago. Pompeii is amazingly preserved. After this tour, we drove to Positano to get a brief glimpse of this upscale beach town. It was a full 8 hours of touring, and I compliment Benvenuto tours for planning a very enjoyable day.
Day 2-Sicily- we docked in Taormina for our tour of Sicily. We arranged to be met by Luca from firstname.lastname@example.org. and again our driver was very professional. We first stopped at a local honey farm, and then we drove to Mt. Etna. Cars are limited to about 7000 feet and from there you can plan hiking excursions. We took a small hike and admired the incredible landscape where gorges were cut into the mountain from lava flows. After Etna, Luca took us to a local winery where we spent a very pleasant afternoon tasting local dishes and sampling wine. We enjoyed our day with Luca and would recommend his company.
Day 3-Malta- we docked in Valletta, Malta and were met by Karl from Karlito's Way, and by the end of the day we felt we had a great understanding of Malta. Karl wanted to show us traditional Malta whether it was taking us to traditional neighborhoods, restaurants, or vistas. During the course of the day we circled the entire island seeing all of its most beautiful areas while we talked politics and philosophy. By the end of the day we felt Karl had become a friend as well as a tour guide. We consider our time in Malta
very special and would highly recommend using Karl.
Day 4-at sea.
Day 5 Argostoli-Greece-we could not find a private tour guide so opted to use Viator. Although we were in a bus and the tour was not nearly as personal, the tour was a successful. We visited a monastery, a cave which was actually used for concerts, a fishing village, and the most impressive stop was a rowboat ride in an underground lake/cave. The island was quite picturesque so this port was well worth a visit.
Day 6 Durres, Albania. We used a Hong Kong company called tour HQ which has a lot of host tour guides throughout the world. Basically, HQ gives you a list of potential local guides and their biography and then you select one. Although I selected a guide months before and had the trip confirmed, he cancelled just prior to my trip. Luckily, HQ did assist in finding me a replacement guide. Durres was probably the only port we visited which was not scenic especially where we docked. Since I knew very little about Albania I was hoping to get a well planned itinerary from our guide. We went to Kruje which was an interesting medieval city. There, we visited an historical museum. We also visited a bazaar. Then, we had a terrible lunch. The countryside we saw was not that pretty and our guide Marjen was quiet so the touring was not as interesting as our other stops. After Kruja we went back to Durres to see some Roman ruins and a Venetian tower. This did not take too long to view. We ended the tour early, because there did not seem to be much to see or do. I would suggest that our guide should revise the tour to see more sights in the future.
Day 7- Kotor, Montenegro. We used a company called M Tours which was highly rated on Trip Advisor. We had met another couple on the cruise who joined us so that Aleksander our tour guide led 6 of us through the enchanting countryside of Montenegro. He had an encyclopedic knowledge of Montenegro history and culture. It was a full day of touring-we went to Budva, then drove to Cetinje, and then went to Njegusi village for lunch at an old, local and a tour of their smokehouse. All of these places had both religious and historical significance. I never realized what a beautiful country Montenegro is, and it certainly is a country I would love to see again. I would highly recommend using M Tours.
Day 8-Split Croatia. We used Viator and were lucky because only the four of us signed up for the tour so we had a private tour. We were very happy to have Sandra as our tour guide. She was vivacious and loved showing us Trogir, a medieval city. After Trogir, Sandra led us on a walking tour of Split where we marveled at the ancient Roman Palace. Sandra made the day enjoyable and I would recommend her company Croatian Trails.
Day 9 and 10-Venice. We decided to do Venice on our own. In the morning we walked the whole city until we reached St. Marks Square. We then took a water taxi to Murano to do shopping. We really enjoyed Murano since it was much less crowded and the shops had beautiful glass items perfect for gifts. We also found a terrific place for lunch called Cicchetteria Pizzeria with a large courtyard where we had a delicious pizza and prosecco. Afterwards, we returned to Venice to take a 45 minute gondola ride. If you do not mind sharing, the cost is reasonable since you are paying for the ride which seats up to six. Although touristy, we enjoyed it.
All in all it was a great trip with many memories. One final note, we had arranged our transfers prior to the trip and they worked out and were much more reasonable than cruise rates. I recommend both venutoinside.com(Venice Port to airport) and email@example.com(Rome airport to Port).