Aboard Regatta Enroute to Portugal -- We have just left Bordeaux, France, after a leisurely overnight stay that lasted until 9 p.m. of the second day. Oceania Cruises' vessel docked conveniently in the center of town and we stepped ashore to shop and dine at local bistros. In its European itineraries, Oceania Cruises' schedules include frequent overnight port stays, giving passengers the opportunity to explore on their own and still take a shore excursion to the top attractions.
One of my most memorable shore excursions was the one we took yesterday, to the medieval town of St. Emillion. After a visit to a chateau to see the wine-making process up close, we ambled through the ancient streets of this historic village, where nearly every store sold the prestigious wine of this region. Beneath the city are huge limestone buildings where locals once hid from invaders. Narrow cobblestone streets led to tranquil outdoor cafes, houses, churches and stores of sandstone dating back to the 12th century and earlier, in some cases.
In keeping with some of the most innovative aspects of the former Renaissance Cruises "R" ships, Regatta is still an open-seating vessel, a rarity among mid-priced cruise ships, and there is no extra charge for dining in the outstanding alternative restaurants. However, the levels of food and service are two noteworthy improvements over the vessel's Renaissance days.
Last night we had a memorable dinner in Toscana, the ship's specialty Italian restaurant, which seats 100 people (reservations required). My starter was lobster salad, which featured half a lobster tail sliced into bite-sized nuggets. Next came a salad and gnocchi appetizer. The entree choices included braised lamb chops, broiled swordfish, or traditional Italian dishes such as lasagna. As expected, dessert was a sinful delight -- tiramisu dusted with fresh cocoa powder or mouth-watering chocolate lasagna with layers of chocolate mousse, ricotta cheese and solid dark chocolate wafers.
Breakfast and lunch usually find me in The Terrace café, where one may dine alfresco overlooking the ship's wake. Lunch includes freshly rolled sushi, delicious salads, roasted meat fresh from the oven sliced by the chef on request, and pasta prepared to order. This ship's French pastry chef is truly talented, offering a constant surprise of desserts like banana cake, orange tarts and the best chocolate delights I've had on any ship. At night, this restaurant becomes "Tapas on the Terrace," featuring Spanish taste treats in individual portions. Other lunch options include a Pizzeria and a Grill called "Waves," serving up Cuban chicken sandwiches and the tastiest hamburgers I've ever had on a ship. The best thing about "Waves" is the efficiency. I never waited more than a minute for my hot and juicy burger to arrive.
The other alternative restaurant is "Polo Grill" for steak, ribs, mahi mahi, and other smokey delights. No surcharge here either, and we can't wait to try it.
But I did find hefty charges for alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages. Martinis are $8, premium scotch $5, coke $2. A large bottle of Evian is $3.50 in the cabin. A glass of wine with dinner varies according to the vintage selected.
Next we'll critique Regatta's staterooms and itineraries.
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