On the route across the Mediterranean, Insignia provided us with the opportunity to see a diverse collection of art and architecture, from the 2,500-year-old Acropolis in Athens to the modern art of Picasso, Miro, Dali and Gaudi in Barcelona, along with the treasures of Florence, Pompeii and the Vatican, and some extraordinary scenery in France and Sicily.
While we could have experienced daily high temperatures as low as the 50’s, this year the Med basked in highs in the 70’s, and there was no rain until the final morning in Athens. Mornings and evenings were cooler, of course, so we dressed in layers, which allowed us to add on or peel off as necessary. It was the ideal temperature for sightseeing and all the walking required to explore Europe properly. Onboard, it was never too cold to be on deck or on the balcony to watch sail-in or sail-out.
Touring Europe with fewer visitors was a real pleasure. The only cruise ships in port with us were the Delphin Renaissance, a German cruise ship that pulled into Civitavecchia, the port for Rome, the same morning; and Costa Allegra and MSC Lirica in Naples. In most ports we didn’t feel crowded, and queues were never very long.
The exceptions were Rome and Florence, which were actually much busier than on previous visits. With the change of Pope this year, pilgrims from around the world are flocking to Italy, so even in November, Rome was extremely vibrant. The line to enter the Vatican stretched four blocks at 10:30 a.m. and visitors thronged around all the major sites throughout the city.
With the shorter November days, dawn was breaking as we pulled into port each day, while departures were often in darkness with a view of the city lights as we sailed away. In the mornings, it was warm enough to be on the balcony and film the spectacular sunrise.
Insignia’s itinerary was port-intensive, with only one day at sea during the 10-night cruise. On this type of itinerary the ship becomes your floating hotel as you tour Europe, having to unpack only once, a point appreciated by those passengers who had previously visited Europe on a motorcoach tour.
Those who had done Europe independently in the past enjoyed having their accommodations and meals for the day already taken care of, leaving them free to go ashore and explore without having to worry about the basic logistics for the day.
Our ship's limited complement of 684 passengers did not overwhelm any of the ports of call, and many people chose to explore on their own, setting off on foot or taking the train along the Riviera, and into Pisa, Florence and Rome.
The ship’s shore excursions were extremely popular, however, and Insignia’s Destination Services department was well organized, with the morning half- and full-day tours operating efficiently and on time. Although they were obviously more expensive than setting off on one's own, the quality of the tours we took was extremely high and we learned a lot from the highly qualified, English-speaking guides, who shared their wealth of knowledge and personal experience. (Prices ranged from $59 for a half-day to Pompeii from Naples, to $159 for 11.5 hours to Rome and the Vatican from Civitavecchia.)
A variety of musical entertainment was featured in the lounges every evening, and a cabaret or production show took place in the show lounge. In Athens, a folkloric troupe came aboard for a colorful pre-dinner show.
Alternative lunch venues were the Terrace Café buffet and Waves Grill, which offered a daily fish, grilled sandwiches, sirloin burgers, all-beef hot dogs, salad bar and ice cream bar. Continental breakfast was delivered promptly to the stateroom each morning and the extensive 24-hour room service menu included a variety of snacks and meals. The dining room and Terrace Café were also open for breakfast offering full service and a buffet respectively. The Express Breakfast of eggs, toast, coffee and fruit was a great way to be served quickly in the dining room before heading off the ship for the day.
Oceania Cruises has gathered a loyal following in its three years of operation and many passengers we spoke with called it their preferred cruise line. The high level of food and service, open-seating dining, resort casual dress code and friendliness of passengers and staff aboard the line’s small ships combine to create a product that fits well with the needs of today’s active travelers.
Oceania will sail in the Mediterranean again from April through November 2006 with all three vessels -- Regatta, Nautica and Insignia -- exploring the Eastern and Western Med, late season, on a variety of itineraries.