INSIGNIA Decked! Tour
INSIGNIA Venice to Rome (part one)
Food and Wine Trails
Please click on image to open a larger version. All photos by and copyright Peter Knego 2008 unless otherwise noted.
Updated and amended: August 20, 2008, May 29, 2012.
July 30, 2008
INSIGNIA was fast at her berth in the outer reaches of Civitavecchia this morning when the alarm rang to alert Rob and me to get breakfast before his 9:10 AM transfer to the Rome Airport. It was already brilliantly hot on starboard Deck 9 as I waved farewell to him and a few other departing media people who now seem like family.
MV PACIFIC at Civitavecchia.
Meanwhile, Quail Cruises MV PACIFIC (ex SEA VENTURE, PACIFIC PRINCESS) was chugging into the harbor with a trail of orange brown exhaust from her funnel, passing alongside INSIGNIA to occupy the berth just ahead of us. Beyond her, the backlit form of Ibero Cruceros’ GRAND CELEBRATION (ex CELEBRATION) was the only other proper cruise ship along the quay, although the Moby, Grimaldi and SNAV ferries across the way kept the Civitavecchia harbor pilots busy throughout the day.
Newly-boarded and ever-delightful Anne Kalosh and I spent some time in the Library writing and checking e-mail before having a quick veggie burger in Waves and heading via the free harbor shuttle to the friendly seaman’s internet cafe in Civitavecchia. Three hours of high speed ethernet connection later, I was back on my way to the INSIGNIA for another workout, exiting the shuttle in front of the GRAND CELEBRATION for a few shots through the chain link fence. The Iberocruceros passengers seem to be a very friendly and accommodating bunch and despite my rudimentary Spanish skills, I think a week at sea with this line would be great fun.
MV PACIFIC at Civitavecchia.
From the gym, I watched as both PACIFIC and GRAND CELEBRATION belched out plumes of exhaust, hoping one or the other would leave before our scheduled departure at 8:00 PM. No such luck, so when INSIGNIA thrust herself around and glided into the Tyrrhenian Sea, I raced down to the cabin to take a quick shower.
Too exhausted for dinner, my friend, Christopher Kyte, had just arrived from his long journey from California, so I joined the press group in the Polo Grill for a Beefsteak Tomato and Sweet Onion Salad and one of Jacques Pepin’s delicious Herb Roasted Free Range Rotisserie Chickens. Parfait!
Catching up with Anne in Martini’s kept the glasses well clinked into the early morning as INSIGNIA plodded along.
July 31, 2008
My sleep-in was somewhat marred by the crew boat drill held at 10:00 AM today, which despite earplugs and two layers of Oceania’s plush down pillows atop my head, came in loud and clear. I dragged myself to the curtains to get my first ever glimpse of Portoferraio, Elba and loved what I saw.
Ferry busy at Portoferraio.
Off on the starboard side of the ship was a ferry depot with a constant shuffle of Moby and Toremar ferries coming and going. Some were classic, if diminutive, delights such as the MOBY BABY, a ship with early 1960’s Scandinavian roots and a prototype of NCL’s first SUNWARD.
MV INSIGNIA at Portoferraio, Elba.
Bougainvillea over Elba.
Oleander marina at Portoferraio.
Following breakfast, Christopher, Tim, and I ventured over to the terminal to indulge my cameras with a few bytes of vintage ferry before heading back past INSIGNIA and into the charming old harbor. Christopher found shelter in an air conditioned internet cafe as Tim and I sweltered it up to the top of the hill past some remarkable villas overlooking both the open sea and the harbor adjacent to the town. For a mere 3 Euros, we visited the old fortress and took in some rather stunning views before time and my tolerance for the non-stop heat ran out.
The usual workout preceded dinner with the media group at Tapas on The Terrace as the ship slowly meandered toward Livorno in the glass-like sea. I buried my delicious caesar salad under mounds of INSIGNIA’s shaved parmesan and then flaked more atop a mound of delicious farfalle pomodoro with extra garlic.
Although the evening was a lovely one, I spent the greater part of it writing and sizing images, so it was pretty “far niente” as far as having much to report. It all ended nicely in Martini’s with Anne and Christopher, as we chatted about cruise ships and the industry of yore.
August 1, 2008
I was up in the Terrace at 7:30, fueling the morning with one of Casicam’s over easies and the usual salmon with capers, onion and tomato, perked up with two cappuccinos. I excus
ed myself to be on deck for our arrival at Livorno, an excellent shipwatching port, if a little aesthetically challenged in comparison to all the harbor beauty we had experienced thus far.
NORWEGIAN GEM at Livorno.
INSIGNIA to AZAMARA QUEST at Livorno.
”R” canyon at Livorno.
Livorno’s ship tally was impressive, beginning with the bulbous white cityscape of CARNIVAL FREEDOM in the far northern part of the harbor, various Moby and Corse ferries, NCL’s “It Girl” NORWEGIAN GEM dead ahead and INSIGNIA’s illegitimate body double, AZAMARA QUEST, nearest to town. We spun about and backed in right next to the QUEST, creating an “R” Ship canyon over the quay and a great opportunity to compare and contrast liveries (not that Celebrity/Azamara made much of an effort to distinguish their pair of former “R’s” from Oceania’s trio of them).
”Wine sign nine” held by Riccardo Marghera.
With the heat hovering at some 30 degrees Celsius and the humidity on par with Miami’s, the very idea of rushing off to join The Food and Wine Trails’ Best of Terriccio wine tasting tour shortly after 8:00 AM was somewhat incongruous but nonetheless exciting. Our wine guide, Riccardo, regaled us with a brief history of Livorno and Tuscany, first inhabited by the Etruscans before Julius Caesar claimed them for Rome.
Once out of the industrial, aesthetically-challenged Livorno, the rugged coastline to its south was populated with crystalline coves and rocky outcrops at the base of dense, brush-covered hillsides.
Our first stop was the Leopoldo di Toscana winery, where a number of delicious Tuscan vintages were unleashed upon our late morning palettes, each described in intense detail by Riccardo, whose mantra is “The wine teaches us the value of time”. The thought seemed to make sense at the time, although I’m not sure my brain could keep up with all the information transmitted by my taste buds.
I heard it through the grapevine.
It was still early, so we piled back into our small bus (Oceania limits its culinary tours to between 15 and 25 guests) for our next destination, the sprawling Castello del Terriccio estate, where our first stop was in the vineyard. We waited on the unpaved road until a small white Punto pulled up, stirring up a cloud of dust and gravel.
Our wine goddess, Bettina.
Emerging from the Punto like Venus from a Cyprian wave, was the winery’s representative, Bettina Bertheau. Towering in sandals, billowing paisley chiffon, flowing hair and Sophia-sized leopard sunglasses, this sublime creature left us speechless as she purred on about the vintner, Dr. Rossi de Medelana and what has made the wine he produces so special (soil, climate, good grapes).
Top of the barrel to you!
Terrazzo del Terriccio.
From there, it was up through the pastoral hills to the winery, where we sampled an immature but delicious red right out of an oak barrel. Next stop, the owner’s villa, where the view stretched beyond a long lawn, vast swimming pool and the Tyrrhenian coast to the faint outline of Elba.
Bottles and Bettina of Castello del Terriccio.
A glass full of blogger. Photo by Anne Kalosh, copyright Peter Knego 2008.
The goddess delivered a feast of ambrosia (including the local mozzarella and a pesto lasagne of perfection) and nectar in the for
m of palette-whetting red and white Terriccio selections too numerous to recall. It was a wine connoisseur’s dream, especially with the insightful and informative Riccardo on hand to explain the finer points of each pouring.
Bolghari city wall.
Our full day tour ended with a short visit to the tiny Medieval village of Bolghari before returning to INSIGNIA and her restorative air conditioning. A quick, frantic detox session on her ellipticals followed, enabling me to attend dinner in the Grand Dining Room to enjoy a few tentative sips of Pinot Noir with a curried chicken egg roll starter and the vegetarian main course.
With an important day to follow, the evening drew to an early close with a quick return to stateroom 7117.
August 2, 2008: Blog In A Blog — A Visit to Fincantieri’s Sestri Ponente Yard and MV MARINA Steel Cutting/Cabin Preview
A Portofino morning.
Portofino, the richest and most celebrated town in Liguria, lay off our verandah this morning. I had allowed just enough time for a bite of lemon-drenched salmon in the Terrace before joining Christopher and the others in our group for the tender ride into the little cove dominated by massive, wedge-like yachts and the colorful reflections of the picturesque stucco boutiques, hotels and villas around its perimeter.
We had some very important hosts in the form of Oceania’s CEO, Frank Del Rio and executive vice president of newbuilds, Robin Lindsay. Accompanying us were a distinguished group of repeat passengers, who would be solicited for their input about the Oceania hardware and product throughout the day.
We boarded another boat (where mimosas and freshly-baked Italian cookies were temptingly offered) for a cruise along the rugged Portofino peninsula, past the lighthouse and then down the scenic shores to Santa Margherita, an equally beautiful but larger and more “down to earth” part of Liguria. A coach awaited near the waterfront on Viale Andrea Doria to take us through the even more scenic neighboring town of Rapallo to the main highway and up the coast to the bustling Sestri Ponente shipyard in Genova.
Oceania Cruises’ CEO, Frank Del Rio, fields a busload of questions.
En route, the very approachable and informal Del Rio took the mike and sat in the aisle at the front of the bus to tell us about Oceania’s spectacular, recently contracted MARINA class ships (66,000 gross tons, 1252 guests). We were en route to witness the cutting of the new ship’s first steel plate and walk through early mock ups of her penthouse and standard verandah cabins.
Sign of the times.
COSTA PACIFICA at Sestri Ponente.
Magrodome in the making at Sestri Ponente.
Now operated by Fincantieri, Italy’s state-owned ship building company, the Sestri-Ponente yard built a number of brilliant liners, including REX, CRISTOFORO COLOMBO, LEONARDO DA VINCI, and MICHELANGELO. Today, the common platform, enhanced CARNIVAL DESTINY clone, COSTA PACIFICA, beacons over over a patchwork of warehouses and cranes, nearing completion. Our bus wound past portions of her magrodome, which are positioned near her bulky, angular stern, awaiting installation.
Brilliance of the seas: Paolo Piccione.
Our first stop was the yard’s headquarters where we were allowed to visit a showcase of models of every ship built at Sestri Ponente. As I stood in the entryway admiring a huge model of ANDREA DORIA (which, following the ship’s sinking by collision with STOCKHOLM, was “renamed” after her less tragic twin CRISTOFORO COLOMBO), a familiar face stood out in the crowd. Paolo Piccione (the brilliant Italian author of so many beautiful books on Italian ships as well as the definitive volumes on the three great Italian designers, Gio Ponti, Nino Zoncada, and Gustavo Pulitzer-Finale) is a part of the architectural team employed by Martinoli, who will supervise the MARINA’s construction and outfitting.
Frank Del Rio hits the switch.
The Four Tenors, left to right: Attilio d’Apello (Director of Fincantieri Sestri Ponente yard), Frank Del Rio (CEO Oceania Cruises), Robin Lindsay (Executive Vice President, Prestige Cruise Holdings Newbuilds), Franco Semararo (Senior Vice President, Prestige Cruise Holdings Hotel Operations).
Let the flame begin!
Our next stop was the steel cutting shed, where we donned hard hats and watched as the yard representatives and Frank Del Rio welcomed us. Mr. Del Rio pressed his palm to a lever that started the plate cutting in a neighboring tank where a large yellow aparatus slowly moved above a piece of raw steel, its blue and red flame shooting through the water to safely cut plate number AA1-2, Section 7310, in the ship’s keel.
A standard crew cabin mock up for MARINA.
From there, it was through rows of keel sections and past a huge drydock to the mock cabins where we were allowed to document and size up the merchandise. The frequent passengers had a field day, offering their suggestions on the color schemes, wood tones, furniture, fittings, showers, etc.
Standard MARINA verandah cabin, facing inboard.
Standard MARINA verandah cabin, facing outboard.
MARINA verandah cabin bathroom.
MARINA penthouse, facing outboard.
MARINA penthouse, facing inboard.
MARINA penthouse bathroom.
In the 429 square foot penthouses (versus the current 322 on the ex “R” ships) and 312 square foot verandah cabins (versus the 216 “R” verandahs), the plush styling will feature dark woods, suede upholstered bed boards, fleur de lis carpet patterns (in a shade slightly darker than the ones on display), marble and granite bathrooms with tubs, and much more.
And, while it is too early for renderings of the public areas, the MARINA class ships promise the best of the “R” ship features with an expanded forward facing gym and spa, a larger midships pool and lido area, more specialty restaurants (with French and Pan Asian in addition to Toscana’s, the Polo Grill, and the Terrace), a grand staircase, and a deck of public rooms with soaring 15 foot ceilings. The decorative style will be a slightly evolved version of the current “R” ships’ look with dark woods and a grand hotel ambiance, if lighter on the Edwardian elements and some of the more busy soft fitting patterns. Externally, they will be very tall ships but pleasantly rounded and streamlined in the style of a large yacht.
Oceania CEO Frank Del Rio flanked by Oceania World Club cruisers at Fincantieri’s Sestri Ponente yard.
Our visit to Sestri Ponente concluded with a return to the offices where a lovely buffet was laid out for us along with champagne and other potions to salute with. I consumed chunks of a brilliant peccorino romano and eggplant-crusted panini with my right hand as the left hand finagled the cameras.
One of the many reasons why underrated Genova is among the world’s most beautiful cities.
We then enjoyed a multi course (I lost count of the offerings, which included every possible Italian specialty from seafood, two pasta courses, prosciutto, fresh fish, and melon to a custard dessert) lunch in gorgeous downtown Genova at the Piazza Ducale, allowing me some time to catch up with the prolific Piccione before it was time to jump back on the coach to Santa Margherita.
INSIGNIA at Portofino.
When we reached the boat, chocolate-dipped strawberries, champagne, and soda water were available for us to enjoy as we tendered past INSIGNIA to Portofino, then back to the ship via one of her own boats.
MSC RHAPSODY at Portofino.
As INSIGNIA prepared to depart, MSC’s RHAPSODY (whose rigid but balanced 1975-built lines are getting more and more attractive by default) arrived at Portofino, dropping anchor in the waters off our port bow. INSIGNIA circled her and headed on a southwesterly course for Monaco.
A totally unnecessary but highly enjoyable dinner in the Terrace followed, including some pita with hummus, a caesar salad and spaghetti pomodoro with extra garlic and parmesan. I was able to size down and edit some photos and text in the Library before joining Christopher and the media clan in Martini’s for a Perrier and lime before retiring in the early morning hours.
END OF BLOG IN A BLOG: MV MARINA Sestri Ponente/Fincantieri Steel Cutting and Cabin Preview
August 3, 2008
Monaco had somehow blocked the ship’s internet access and there was no easily found internet cafe ashore, otherwise this portion of the blog would have been posted earlier.
INSIGNIA to MSC MELODY at Monaco.
LAUREN L to MSC MELODY at Monaco.
This morning, as we tendered past MSC’s MELODY and into Monaco, a fog clung to the cliffy mountaintops. Now, the mini-metropolis of the rich and famous is cloud free and the distant shoreline of the Italian Riviera is visible beyond Monaco’s eastern promontory.
Boats and Buildings of Monaco.
This is my very first visit to the stunning Mediterranean hamlet ruled by the benevolently totalitarian Prince Albert. I am writing from the soon-to-not-be-plaid ambiance of Horizon’s, where the deep blue Mediterranean around INSIGNIA’s anchorage is continually criss-crossed by speed boats.
MV DELPHINE at Monte Carlo.
Off our port side, the ultra handsome yacht DELPHINE is bathing in the temperate afternoon sun, which is mercifully less blistering than it has been for the past ten or so days. The gala afternoon tea has just ended but a number of passengers linger, chattering and clinking as the ship’s band plays a lively yet soothing jazz set. Cymbals, trombone, clarinet, and some virtuoso piano playing enhances the mood, helping urge my writing process in tandem with a foamy cappuccino.
Boat/train at Villefranche: MV EXPLORER OF THE SEAS.
I have just returned from a very pleasant visit with Christopher and Tim to nearby Villefranche, a mere fifteen minute and 5 Euro round trip train ride to the west. Since it is a Sunday, Villefranche’s pebbly beach was filled with frolicking families and a couple thousand passengers disgorged from RCI’s EXPLORER OF THE SEAS, which awaited beyond an armada of sailboats at the mouth of the harbor. While there, we rode the “petit train” (6 Euros) around town and settled at a cafe for some pizzas.
MV ATLANTIS II at Monaco.
We left the seaside villa romanticized by Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr in “An Affair To Remember” in the late afternoon, spending enough time in the glitzier casino-fed province romanticized by Cary Grant and Grace Kelly in “To Catch A Thief” just to walk from the train station directly to the INSIGNIA’s tender. En route, we passed some impressive super yachts, including the ultra sleek ATLANTIS II and the LAUREN L, the latter a twin sister to the cruise ship CELEBRITY EXPEDITION.
August 3, 2008, ctd.
Breads of Viron flour, grown in the Beauce region of France, created exclusively for Toscana and the other restaurants on board Oceania ships.
Midnight off Monaco.
Internet access has returned!
Dinner in Toscana was a sultan’s feast of Italian delicacies, peppered by a lively political discussion with our engaging Dutch comrades, who boarded today. Back on deck, tonight’s sail away was nothing short of spectacular as Monaco loomed overhead like a glittering tsunami.
August 4, 2008
Marseilles harbor unfolded beyond Horizon’s as I took the morning to complete this portion of the blog entry. It was hot and sunny although thick banks of fog were rolling past. A cluster of large SNAV and other ferries were in port but there were no other proper cruise ships.
Our Sacred Lady of 7117: Santa Sheela.
Before I go any further, I want to interrupt this blog to give kudos to the sweetest, most efficient and thorough cabin attendants ever, Sheela and Vergilio! Thanks to both of you for keeping the occupants of 711
7 well stocked and comfortable!
August 4, 2008, ctd.
Vieux Port, Marseilles.
INSIGNIA stone sandwich at Marseilles.
After a half mile or so walk around the adjacent Fort Saint Nicholas to the picturesque Vieux Port, I found an avenue of cafes, finally settling in at the friendly Lounge Lo where a wifi connection was available. While sipping a cold Perrier, I managed to upload a few dozen more images before the pleasant eatery was cleared of its last lunchtime customers. With the computer and cameras in tow, I decided against going further into town and got back to INSIGNIA in time for the remarkable daily tea in Horizons.
Sous chef Patrick and a few tea offerings.
Guilt-tea pleasures come with a view in Horizon’s.
Tea Tunes: The Odessa Quartet.
Eleven teas to choose from.
Just try to resist…
Quel spectacle! INSIGNIA’s daily tea must be one of the most comprehensive and beautifully presented at sea, beginning with Oceania’s handsome china table settings. The Odessa quartet provides an elegant soundtrack as INSIGNIA’s white gloved staff circulate with trays and carts full of freshly baked delights (cookies, baklava, pastries, napoleons, tarts, finger sandwiches, scones with clotted cream, etc) and a huge selection of teas (including green and herbals) and coffee. Although I was still full from an afternoon “gorge fest” of eggplant and pasta in the Terrace, I did manage, nonetheless, to savor a few too many sweet treats before stumbling off in a glucose haze to 7117.
I watched from the balcony as the impressive Tunisian ferry CARTHAGE rumbled into position at the quay perpendicular to our stern, her giant car doors hydraulically extending outwards like a Martian landing craft. Close behind her, the DANIELLE CASANOVA continued further into the harbor with a full complement of passengers returning from Corsica.
At 6:00 PM, INSIGNIA effortlessly thrust herself into the channel (even at the very stern, there is no noticeable vibration during the ship’s maneuvers). From the Terrace, a gentle wind whipped as our vessel sped out of the harbor between brilliantly sunlit Marseilles and the rugged island, Chateau d’If, Dumas’ penal setting for “The Count of Monte Cristo”.
There was only the slightest hint of movement as we made a good clip for Palma de Mallorca, some 290 nautical miles distant.
Francisco, one of the finest of the Grand Dining Room’s fine wait staff, takes Christopher’s order.
Dinner in the very aft part of the Grand Dining Room with a view over INSIGNIA’s darkening wake, the variety show in the Insignia Lounge, Jerry and Margaret’s sing along in Martini’s and a visit to Horizon’s to sample a beat or two of the Disco Dance party wound up the wee hours.
The ennui that this paradisical fortnight was drawing to an end had begun to set in.
August 5, 2008
Denial about the inevitable end of the cruise had fully fizzled into reality. After breakfast in the Terrace, I hauled out the suitcases and began ransacking the closets and wardrobes for my clothing and various items collected over the past two weeks (menus, programs, maps, etc.). Returning to regular life after any cruise is a sobering experience but this time, it would be especially harsh. The consistently high level of service, excellent food, friendly staff, beautiful ports, and perfect-sized ship had raised the bar. All future cruises would have a new (dare I say impossible) benchmark to match or succeed, following Oceania.
Palma’s historic and spectacular Gothic cathedral was begun in 1230 and took nearly 400 years to finish.
OCEAN VILLAGE 2 has a trapeze suspended o
ver her midships lido.
ISLAND ESCAPE at Palma.
With packing about half way complete, I headed up to deck to watch as INSIGNIA approached Palma de Mallorca. In the main harbor, the colorful OCEAN VILLAGE 2 (ex CROWN PRINCESS) and ISLAND ESCAPE (ex SCANDINAVIA, STARDANCER, VIKING SERENADE) were among a cluster of large ferries in port. Once we had berthed, I joined Christopher and Tim for lunch in the Terrace before we wandered off into the terminal and along the crescent-shaped marina.
INSIGNIA “face” shot.
Staff Captain Branko Skoric waves from the starboard wing.
After a mile or so of walking past closed shops and cafes, the heat finally persuaded us to return to the ship. Once back on board, Tim had arranged through staff captain and fellow Croatian, Branko Skoric, a visit to the fo’c’sle for my signature INSIGNIA “face” shot.
One final workout and more packing preceded our sailing for Barcelona. Cocktails with Captain Flokos provided another chance to learn more of his life aboard passenger ships. His first vessel was Chandris’ AMERIKANIS which was followed by time on cargo ships, leading to contracts aboard Eastern’s NEW BAHAMA STAR and EMERALD SEAS, Western’s AZURE SEAS and then STARDANCER/VIKING SERENADE (which conicidentally shared Palma port with us).
Warning — Addicitive!
Dinner and toasts with fellow press comrades in the Polo Grill (I had to get one last rotisserie chicken and consume almost half a tray of those delicious and tart jelly candies) and a walk on deck (just in time to witness the inbound, neon-centric COSTA CONCORDIA pass closely by) summed up the final night of bliss aboard INSIGNIA.
August 6, 2008.
Where was everybody? Barcelona’s normal summer harbor congestion was nowhere to be seen as INSIGNIA lay alongside the World Trade Center terminal, sharing the vast port with just one large white ferry.
It was a series of quick good byes to some of the finest staff at sea, from Casicam in the Terrace to Sheela and Vergilio in the Deck 7 passageway, excellent concierge Bruno Haag (an ex RVL man) and Hotel Manager extraordinaire, Damien Lacroix.
Within ten minutes of our purple luggage tags being called in the Insignia Lounge at 10:15, we had gathered our bags, cleared customs, and boarded a coach for Barcelona’s airport.
Barely visible in the distant upper right portion of Barcelona harbor, MV INSIGNIA, from Lufthansa.
As the plane soared over the Western Mediterranean, it afforded a final, if fleetingly distant view of INSIGNIA. A very lucky 700 plus cruisers were about to continue where we left off and in a similar rite of passage, they, too, will have to eventually accept that all good things must come to an end.
Special thanks to: Martin Cox, Rob DiStefano, Captain Dimitrios Flokos, Anne Kalosh, Christopher Kyte, Tim Rubacky, Captain Anastassios Varsamis
Last Updated: August 20, 2008, May 2012