Vineyards and Castles on the Oceania Marina
9/17/19 to 9/29/19



Click on the above link buttons that will take you directly to a particular page or area of the review; or you can just click through to the next page at the bottom of each page.

Page 1 - Pre-Cruise in Amsterdam, Netherlands, Embarkation, Ship
Page 2 - Ship (Continued), Cabin, Dining, Entertainment, Activities    
Page 3 - Ports of Call: Dover, England; LeHavre, France, St. Malo, France
Page 4 - Ports of Call: Brest, France; La Rochelle, France; Bordeaux, France - Day 1
Page 5 - Ports of Call: Bordeaux, France - Day 2; Bilbao, Spain
Page 6 - Ports of Call: Ferrol, Spain; Oporto, Portugal; Post-Cruise in Lisbon, Portugal - Day 1
Page 7 - Post-Cruise in Lisbon, Portugal - Days 2 & 3



 

Preface

This would be a very different cruise experience from our 52 previous ones.  My darling wife, Carol, passed away in March 2019, 6 months before this cruise.  We had booked the cruise almost two years earlier, since there were many ports, we either had never been to or were anxious to spend more time in.  Oceania is our favorite cruise line and we were so looking forward to this cruise.  I had even thought about cancelling the cruise after she died, but Carol had told me to go on it even if she could not.  Thankfully, my oldest son, Craig, was able to take enough time off from his job to go with me.  It was a blessing to be able to share the cruise and wonderful bonding experience with him.

We had planned on spending 3 days before the cruise in Amsterdam, since the only time that Carol and I had been there was in 2004 on a 1-day port stop, where there was rain much of the day.  We did not enjoy Amsterdam that day.  We also booked 3 days in Lisbon after the cruise, since we loved the city so much when we were there on a 1-day port stop in 2014.

 

Pre-Cruise in Amsterdam – Day 1

I arrived at the Schiphol Airport at around 8:30 in the morning about a half hour after Craig arrived from Dallas.  He was lucky enough to have a direct flight, where I had to fly from Ft. Lauderdale to Philadelphia to Amsterdam.  We easily found each other and headed out of the airport to go to our hotel.  During this cruise, I would use Uber several times.  It is particularly nice in a foreign country, where the driver knows right where you are and where you are going without trying to explain it to someone on the phone.  It also gets rid of the hassle of fiddling with foreign currency or possibly getting ripped off by a taxi driver.  I had originally planned on taking an Uber to our hotel; but decided instead to use the train that is just outside the airport doors.  It only cost 4.5€ each to Centraal Station, which was about a five minute walk to our hotel, the Kimpton Dewitt (www.kimptondewitthotel.com/us/en/).

The hotel is in a great central location, where it was easy to get anywhere in the city by walking or using the great public transportation that was easily accessible from our hotel.  All hotels in downtown Amsterdam are expensive, much more than I would normally pay.  The Kimpton Dewitt is a highly rated hotel, but the room we were in didn’t look like an expensive hotel.  But it was very comfortable and clean.  We were very pleased with the hotel and the service. 

   

   

Walking into the bathroom for the first time was a bit shocking with the tiles; but it grew on me. 

   

It was also fun to look out onto the street below and watch the activity during the day.

About six weeks before the cruise, I began having some right knee pain.  After trying some different remedies, my doc gave me a steroid shot that helped for a while.  When it started hurting a bit more before the cruise, I went to get another shot about a week before the cruise, so that I wouldn’t have too much pain with all the walking I had planned on doing during the cruise.  My knee was feeling great, so I was ready to explore with Craig.  Since we didn’t have anything specific planned for the day, we headed down to Dam Square, the historical center of the city.  It is located where the original Amstel River dam was located in 1270.  The main buildings in the square are the Royal Palace, the New Church and Madame Tussauds Wax Museum.  The Royal Palace outshines the others by a long shot.

   

   

There were several of colorful mobile music organ vehicles near the palace.  We would also see them in other parts of the city while we were there.

   

   

On the opposite side of the square is the National Monument, built in 1956 to memorialize the victims of World War Two.

   

We had a light lunch at a restaurant on the square.  The food was quite good.  After lunch we walked around the area some more and then came back to the square to see about touring the Royal Palace.  When we tried to walk in, a guard asked us if we had the book.  We didn’t know what he was talking about.  Apparently, during this weekend it was free to enter certain public facilities, but he said you needed to have the book that listed all the facilities to get in.  Well that was a bummer!  As we were walking away from the guard, two women approached us and told us that we could have their book, since they were getting ready to leave town.  We were most appreciative of their kind act.  We walked back to the guard, flashed the book and walked in.  With the price normally being 10€ each to enter the palace , it was really a good deal.  The palace was much prettier than I was expecting.  Below are probably more photos than you want to see of the palace.  All through this review, there will probably be more photos of some sites than I would normally put in, since Carol would usually tell me I had too many photos of a single site.  On this subject, she was also an excellent proofreader, having been a teacher for eighteen years.  I am having to proofread it myself now, so I apologize in advance for spelling and/or grammatical errors that I miss.

   

      

   

   

       

       

   

   

After leaving the palace we walked over to check out the New Church, which was a 15th century church; but is now used as an exhibition hall.  The interior wasn’t photo worthy. 

We continued walking around town and came across a gorgeous building, which turned out to be the Maga Plaza shopping mall.  It was the former Amsterdam Main Post Office. 

It is nice that they are able to utilize the old historic buildings and maintain their original exteriors.

   

We walked up to the Centraal Station area to look around.  It is a beehive of activity with people getting trams and trains, along with others taking canal boat rides from there.  The station itself is a gorgeous building.

   

Close by is the Basilica of Saint Nicholas.  It is an impressive looking building, but it was always closed when we tried to enter it.

   

We walked all over town looking at all the pretty buildings and weaving our way through the throngs of people.  With it being Saturday with beautiful weather, everyone wanted to be outside.

   

   

We went back to the hotel to rest a bit, since we were still not adjusted to the 6-hour time change for me and 7-hour for Craig.  We actually took a short power nap, which was most helpful, since neither of us slept much on the flight over.  Unfortunately, my knee was starting to hurt again.  I had been walking too much, but I wasn’t about to stop.  My knee hurt more when I stopped walking or going up or down stairs.  Bending my knee seemed to be the main issue.  We asked the hotel front desk attendant where she recommended for dinner.  She told us to go to the China Si-Chuan Restaurant (https://sichuan.amsterdam).  She also told me a dish to get that she loved, Sichuan Royal Pork.  The restaurant wasn’t far from our hotel and based on the sign on the window, it is listed in a 15 Best Restaurants in Amsterdam list.  Looking at the actual article, it was number 10.  The front desk person was right.  The food was great!

   

After dinner, we walked around some more, checking out the famous red-light district and souvenir stores.  The streets were just packed with people, making it difficult to move very quickly.  We got back to the hotel relatively early, since we were very tired.  I had walked over 21,000 steps or 9.1 miles for the day.  My knee was not happy, but I was.  It had been a most enjoyable day.

 

Pre-Cruise in Amsterdam – Day 2

After a most refreshing 9+ hour sleep, we were feeling significantly better.  Which was good, since we had a very busy day ahead.  We were going to the Anne Frank House in the morning, meeting friends for lunch and going with friends to dinner at a local’s home.  The hotel restaurant was very expensive for breakfast and we didn’t want a big breakfast, so we would look for something on the way to the Anne Frank House.  It was 8:30 am and we had tickets for 9:45 am, so we didn’t have a lot of time for breakfast, since it was about a 15-minute walk to the house.  Craig had been planning to go to a place across the street from the hotel that he could see from the window that advertised full English breakfasts; but they weren’t open yet.  We figured we would find something else on the way.  We were surprised at how empty the streets were, since it wasn’t that early; but it was Sunday.  The city was really pretty with the canals and old gorgeous buildings.

   

   

But the one thing that we couldn’t find was an open restaurant.  We couldn’t believe it.  When we got close to the Anne Frank House, we saw a place nearby called Pancakes Amsterdam.  Since it was the only place around that was open, we went in.  The breakfast menu only had four items on it, so we got the Dutch pancake with bacon.  It was more of a crepe but was really good.  We talked about it the rest of the vacation.  It doesn’t look that great in the photo, but it was.

We then headed to the Anne Frank House (www.annefrank.org/en/).  This is the house where a young Jewish girl lived in hiding with her family during the Nazi occupation of Amsterdam.  The family was captured shortly before the end of the war and she died in a concentration camp.  She wrote a diary of her experiences, which was a worldwide best seller.  To get tickets to tour the house, you should book them as soon as they come available online about 2 months before the date you want to go.  They sell out very quickly and many people are disappointed when they go to Amsterdam and expect to be able to visit the house without purchasing them in advance.  We purchased the tickets that had a 30-minute introductory program before the tour telling about what happened there and what we would be seeing.  It was a very good presentation.  The website also does an excellent job of preparing you for what you will see if you can’t get the tickets with the introductory program.  I had read the book over 50 years ago, so it was nice to get a refresher.  No photos were allowed in the house.  It is obviously a moving experience to hear what happened in this house and to see where it took place.  I will say that they allow too many people into the house at one time.  The place was packed and in many places we were jammed into tight quarters waiting in line to move to the next room.  It was not comfortable at times.  It is not a place for people with disabilities, since there are many steep steps to walk up and down; but it is certainly worth a visit if you can get tickets.

   

After leaving the Anne Frank House, we had to hurry to get to our 11:45 am lunch date with a couple that we had met on a New Zealand Australia cruise in 2006.  We had kept in touch over the years always hoping to go on another cruise together.  We were going to have lunch at a restaurant called Winkle 43 (https://winkel43.nl/en/).  It is known for having the best apple pie in Amsterdam.  Some other friends had told me that I had to have their pie; and every travel video I saw about Amsterdam mentioned it also.  The walk to the restaurant along the canal was so pretty.  I was really enjoying Amsterdam.

   

When we were almost at the restaurant, Peter and Wendy spotted us and we got to walk into the restaurant together.  It was very full.  A young lady volunteered to move to a different table so the four of us could sit together.  A lovely gesture that we really appreciated.   We all had some light sandwiches for lunch, which were OK, but I was much more interested in the apple pie.  It was quite delicious, but it was almost more like an apple cake with the thick crust.

    

After lunch, we headed back outside to continue our walk.  Across the street from the restaurant was an outdoor urinal.  I’d never seen one of those.  I will point out that maintenance crews come by regularly to wash down the area with the sudsy water that is underneath the urinal.  After seeing the Urinals again around Amsterdam, I also saw one in Lisbon at the end of the trip.

We saw more beauty along the way and came to the Posthoorn Church.  It was built in 1863 and had the same architect that did the Centraal Station and Rijksmuseum.  It is no longer a church and has been renovated to be used as a concert hall or rented for private functions.  It is quite interesting how they have maintained the beautiful architecture on the floor above while having offices on them at the same time.

       

I loved looking at the canal houses with their beams with pulleys sticking out of the top, that are used for pulling up merchandise or furniture from the ground level.

   

It was very difficult to pass by the many pastry shops in Amsterdam without stopping to try something.  We weren’t always strong enough to resist.

Our next thing to do was to take a canal boat tour.  I asked what tour company they recommended at the hotel.  I wanted an open boat, rather than the glass covered ones that most of the companies use.  It was a gorgeous day and taking photos through glass just isn’t that great.  They recommended KinBoat (https://kinboat.com/en).  The boat was much smaller than the covered ones and did provide a much more personal type tour.  Our main guide was from Norway.  He provided most of the commentary. 

   

The other one talked to people at the front of the boat and filled drink orders while we cruised along the canals.  It is most enjoyable to see the old-style canal houses and other scenery. 

   

       

There were many houseboats along the canals, some in bad repair and others that were just quite unusual looking.  The domed one was actually a swimming pool.

   

We came across a group of guys that the guide said were probably there for a bachelor party.  They seemed to be having a rather good time.

The guide also pointed out the narrowest house in Amsterdam.  He told us that it is used as an AirBnB.  It wouldn’t be my first choice of accommodations.

After the canal boat ride, we headed back to the hotel to get ready for dinner.  Peter had set up a dinner in the home of a local through a company called Dine With the Dutch (https://dinewiththedutch.amsterdam).  Peter had done dinners similar to this in several cities, so we were thrilled to be able to try it out.   Dinner was at 7:00 pm, but we were going to meet Peter and Wendy at the Centraal Station at 6:00 pm, so we would have plenty of time to get our metro tickets and be able to find the house.  It was about a 25-minute trip according to Google Maps.  Peter already had their metro tickets, but I needed to find where to purchase them.  I went into the train station, but they only sold train tickets, not transportation passes.  I finally found where to get them at a building just across from the train station.  We purchased the Amsterdam 24-hour GVB transportation ticket that was good on all forms of transportation around the city.  It only cost 8€ per ticket.  I actually could have gotten it at the airport and used it for our trip to the hotel; but this worked out better, since we would need the transportation to the museum area the next day.  I had seen the electric multi car vehicles all over town and was looking forward to riding one.  They are very comfortable and quiet.  They are also very convenient, since they come by regularly.

In addition to Peter and Wendy, their friends from Australia, Ken and Jeanette, joined us for dinner.  Our hosts for dinner were Mark and Elsmarieke.  Just a lovely couple with two very cute children.  Mark is the main cook and is a tax accountant.  Elsmarieke is a PHD working on her MD in radiology.  Mark’s aunt also joined us.  They are well traveled and were just a pleasure to converse with.  We just had wonderful time with some old friends and now new friends.

   

The dinner was superb.  It started with a European Eel appetizer.

We then had a Scallop salad.

The main course was Crispy pulled duck with smoked celeriac and red cabbage.

We then had a selection of cheeses of Gouda, old Gouda, Brie and goat cheese; followed by a yummy dessert of Yogurt and berries in cassis.  To complete the meal, we had Limoncello.  Everything was just outstanding.  We were so glad that Peter had set up this very special evening.

   

After returning to the Centrall Station after dinner, I was able to get a photo of the illuminated St. Nicholas Church.  A lovely ending to a fantastic day.

 

Pre-Cruise in Amsterdam – Day 3

After two very busy days, we slept in.  We had breakfast at the British breakfast place we had seen from our hotel room window.  The only major item on the agenda for the day, other than general sightseeing, was a visit to the Rijksmuseum (https://www.rijksmuseum.nl/en).  It is one of the most well-known art museums in the world.  It was founded in 1798 and moved to its current building in 1885.  The building’s style is similar to the Royal Palace and Centraal Station buildings, since they were designed by the same architect.  I liked the mosaics on the outside of the building.

   

The interior is quite different from the exterior, very modern and bright.

I loved the statues and pieces of gorgeous antique furniture throughout the museum.

        

   

They have some very famous paintings in their collection, but the most famous is Rembrandt’s Night Watch.  As luck would have it, the painting was being worked on.  It was undergoing a total body scan to determine what the picture looked like when it was completed in 1642.  It will take 56 scans, with each scan taking 24 hours.  It is quite a detailed process.  The area has been sealed off with glass and exhibits behind the painting were closed to prevent any possible movement that might affect the scans.

   

I was impressed with an area of beautiful stained glass.

   

There was a section devoted to a beautiful old library, which is used for study. 

   

There are so many gorgeous pieces to take in at the museum.  We spent about 3 hours there but could have spent a lot more time. 

       

   

After leaving the museum, we got back on the metro and went back to the main old town area for lunch.  Craig and I both love Mexican food.  We didn’t expect to find great Mexican food in Amsterdam, but we hoped that it would at least satisfy our craving for some spicy food.  The one we found didn’t satisfy anything and really didn’t taste that much like Mexican food.

We spent the rest of the day walking around the town sightseeing and looking for a place along the canal to have a beer.  With the weather being so beautiful over the weekend, seating along the canal was totally full wherever we went.  With it being Monday, we were able to finally find a place.  Since we had eaten a late lunch, we were in no hurry for dinner.  We walked back to Dam Square and was able to get a photo of the illuminated Royal Palace and National Monument.

   

We walked over to a different part of town to find a place for dinner.  We weren’t finding anything that was calling to us, when I spotted a sign for the Indian Restaurant Gandhi (https://indianrestaurantgandhi.com/damrak/).  Indian food would certainly meet our desire for something spicy.  From the street, we couldn’t see what the restaurant looked like inside.  So, we walked down a long hall and finally found the entrance.  The place was packed with people, so it must be popular.  We were able to sit at the last open table in the restaurant. 

   


Since we wanted to try several different items, we ordered the Gandhi Special.  Everything was so delicious.  At the end of the meal they had an Indian ice cream called Kulfi, which Craig fell in love with.  It was a different kind of ice cream and is the only item that I will put a photo of from the dinner.  We had really lucked out finding this restaurant.

We couldn’t believe how lucky we had been with the Amsterdam weather.  It is a town that gets lots of rain, so having mild temperature and sunshine for three days was quite a treat.

 

Embarkation

We had plenty of time to kill in the morning, since we weren’t going to the ship until around 11:00 am.  We walked over to the area close to the Centraal Station to go to a place I found on Yelp for breakfast.  Unfortunately, it was being renovated and not serving anything.  We found another place close by.  The view was superb.

After sitting around the hotel for a while, we checked out and I requested an Uber to take us to the port.  The Uber arrived quickly, and we were on our way.  Even though the port wasn’t that far from our hotel, it did take a little while to get there, since there isn’t a direct path to the port .  The cost was only 7.19€ or $8.25.  Taxi’s cost around twice as much or more.  I really love Uber and Lyft. 

Checking in got a little confused, since Craig and I have the same first name, but different middle names.  So, when the agent checked us in, he got our photos associated with the wrong key cards first and had to redo them.  Security was quick and there was no waiting to get onto the ship.  We were on the Marina at 11:38 am and heading for the buffet. 

As we left the Port of Amsterdam, we saw an unusual building it was the Eye Film Museum.

 

Ship

Having been on the Marina’s sister ship, Riviera, twice before, I felt right at home.  It is virtually the same beautiful ship, which has been our favorite of all the ships we have cruised on.  The various public rooms are shown below by category.

Dining Rooms (Link to Menus) –

Grand Dining Room – This is the main dining room for the ship.  There are no set seating times, so the passengers can eat whenever they want.  It is a truly elegant room with the large circular crystal chandelier in the center.  Unfortunately, photos cannot show the beauty created by all the sparkling within the fixture.  It just has to be seen to be appreciated.  The tables are spaced adequately where we didn’t feel crowded.  The chairs were also quite comfortable.

     

   

   

Jacques – This is one of the four specialty dining restaurants on the ship that require reservations to eat there, although there is no extra charge.  The Parisian bistro design just feels right for this restaurant.  It is a French restaurant; but the design makes it feel less formal and more comfortable to me.  The large flower arrangement at the entrance really sets the tone

   

   

Unlike most of the restaurants on the ship, Jacques is a bit difficult to locate.  It is down a long hall on deck 5 between the boutiques and the forward elevator.  It is the only public room that is located on that hall.  The restaurant is named after Jacques Pépin.  Jacques serves as Oceania’s Executive Culinary Director.  It was especially nice since Jacques Pépin himself was actually on this cruise.

 

Red Ginger – One doesn’t have to look at the menu to know that Red Ginger is an Asian restaurant.  From the Asian art on the walls and place settings on the tables, to the red upholstered chairs, it provides a definite Asian ambience.  It is one of the specialty restaurants requiring reservations.  It is also located on Deck 5 but is easily accessed next to the boutique area.

   

   

From my previous visits to Red Ginger, I knew that I would have their wonderful Miso Sea Bass for dinner.  It is just so good. 

Polo Grill – Polo Grill is the steak house specialty restaurant.  It is properly appointed with leather chairs and dark woods, as expected for a steak house.  The restaurant is a comfortable environment for a fine meal.  It is located in the same area of the ship on the top deck as on the smaller Oceania ships; but the room is much larger on the Marina.

   

   

 

Toscana – This is the Italian specialty restaurant.  Unlike the other restaurants, it didn’t have the ambiance of the type food they were serving.  But it was still a nicely decorated restaurant.  It was also located on deck 14 on the opposite side from where Polo Grill is located.

   

 

Terrace Café – Located on the back of deck 12, this buffet is the main dining venue for breakfast and lunch.  It is also very popular for dinner, since they have most of the same food items as the main dining room.  They also have grilled lobster tail available every night which is most appealing.  It is in the shape of a “U” with the middle being the area where the food is located. 

The long parts of the U are the seating areas.

   

I normally don’t like buffets that have the food lines rather than individual islands, but on the Marina it just worked well.  The main hot food line was on one side and it could be accessed from either end, since the food items were duplicated for whichever way you came in.

In the middle were the salads, desserts and other cold foods, plus the ice cream bar.  It was in effect a large island.

On the other side was a grill that had various food items including steaks, lobster, burgers and a very nice pasta station. 

There was a nice outdoor seating section adjoining the main buffet area at the back of the ship.

   

Additionally, there was a seating area on the other end of the buffet behind the pool area.

La Reserve – This is an additional charge restaurant that provides up to 24 people a 7-course gourmet dinner with wine pairings.  The restaurant is just outside the Terrace Café.

   

 

Privee – This restaurant is hidden at the back of the ship between the Polo Grill and Toscana.   It is reserved for groups that want to have a private dinner for up to ten people.  Food can be selected from both the Polo Grill and Toscana menus.  The cost to use the room is $250 for the group.  Since there is no cost for the Riviera specialty restaurants, there is no added food cost, just a charge for the private venue and the service.  I thought that the Privee concept was a great idea, since it allows people to have privacy for a special event.  The room itself was quite lovely and looked like a perfect place for a private meal. 

   

Waves Grill – Everybody loves Waves Grill.  It is the fast food area.  In addition to very good hamburgers, hotdogs and Ruben sandwiches; they even have a surf and turf sandwich with steak and lobster.  Unlike most ship grill areas, you give an attendant your order, sit down and a waiter will bring your order to you when it has been prepared.  Oceania really does make it too easy to overeat.

   

But the most popular area of the grill is the ice cream section.  They even make milk shakes, sundaes and smoothies.  It was rare for there not to be a line.

 

Lounges (Link to Menus) -

Martinis – This is a very comfortable and intimate feeling lounge.  It was our favorite lounge and we would go there each night during the happy hour between 5:00 PM and 6:00 PM.  The two drinks for the price of one was quite desirable, since I hadn’t purchased a drink package.  The lounge occupies a large area on deck 6 mid-ship.  It is broken into two sections.  Below is the port side where the bar itself is located.

 

On the starboard side there are more comfortable chairs and couches.

Between the two sides was a very attractive area with nice artwork.  There is also a passage between the two sides that provide a view of the grand piano, since Martinis is a piano bar.

   

Since Martinis was my go-to happy hour destination to meet up with my friends, I got to know one particular waiter very well.  His name was I. Made.  A good name, since he made me happy with the dirty martinis he brought each day.  He was a great guy, very helpful and personable.



Grand Bar – Between Martinis and the Grand Dining Room on the starboard side of the ship is the lovely Grand Bar.  I am not sure why it is called a bar, since there is no bar in the Grand Bar.  They get the drinks from the Casino Bar. In fact, it probably should have been called the Grand Hallway, since that is what it is mainly used for.  There the large expanse of marble flooring makes the area quite beautiful.

    


Casino Bar
– Just across from the Grand Bar on the port side is the Casino Bar.  It is located between the two sections of the casino.  There is also a pathway between it and the Grand Bar. 

   

The bar itself is illuminated with pink lighting.  Craig like to come here on occasion because it was never crowded and he could get his drink made the way he liked it


Horizons
- At the top of the ship on deck 15, is the largest lounge on the ship.  As soon as you go through the port side entrance, there is a smoking room. The only one on the ship.

   

There is a large seating area with great views looking out toward the front and sides of the ship.  In addition to the regular happy hour between 5-6, there was one at 10:30-11:30 during the evening entertainment there.  The room was used for many activities during the cruise including the Captain’s reception for returning Oceania guests.  They had to have two separate receptions, since there were so many returning passengers.

   

There is a nice size dance floor and area for musicians to play; which was used nightly.


Waves Bar
– This bar is appropriately named Waves, since it is next to the swimming pool area on deck 12.

 

Baristas – This coffee bar is in a great location on deck 14 looking out over the swimming pool area.  Since there is no extra charge for the various specialty coffees, it was quite popular. 

   

In addition to the high-top seats, there was a seating area with snacks adjoining it.

   

 

 

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