INSIGNIA Venice to Rome Blog, Part One

Oceania Cruises

Food And Wine Trails

INSIGNIA Decked! Tour

INSIGNIA Rome to Barcelona, ctd. (part two)

Please click on image to open a larger version. All photos by and copyright Peter Knego 2008 unless otherwise noted.

Updated and amended: August 8, 2008, May 29, 2012

On Tuesday, July 22, I departed Los Angeles for Venice to join Oceania Cruises’ MV INSIGNIA (ex R ONE, REGATTA) on a fourteen night cruise to Dubrovnik, Corfu, Capri, Amalfi, Rome, Portoferraio, Livorno, Portofino, Monte Carlo, Marseilles and Palma de Mallorca before finishing off in Barcelona on August 6.

I have been regularly updating this two part blog as well as a Decked! tour of INSIGNIA from the high seas as internet connections and schedule permit.

As an added bonus, about midway through the trip, we diverted to the Fincantieri shipyard at Genoa for the steel cutting of Oceania’s first 66,000 “Oceania” class ship, the MV MARINA, which is covered in a “blog within a blog” in part two.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

From Lufthansa to INSIGNIA at Venice.

The day began somewhere over the Atlantic on a Lufthansa 777, heading from Los Angeles to Frankfurt for a three hour layover before hopping on a Lufthansa Airbus for the 55 minute flight to Venice, Italy. Just after we cleared the Swiss and Italian Alps, the plane turned eastward and made an arc over the Venetian lagoon, offering a quick glimpse of the INSIGNIA berthed along the Canale Giudecca at the old San Basileo passenger terminal. The massive EMERALD PRINCESS was at the new passenger terminal along with an Anek Lines ferry.

Orb over INSIGNIA at Venice.

Bow lines at Venice.

Totally random Deck 7 carpet shot.

INSIGNIA Cabin 7117, facing starboard.

As the shuttle bus wound through mainland Venice and toward the expressway, a glimpse back at the Marghera Fincantieri yard revealed the towering COSTA LUMINOSA in the final stages of construction.

Once at the terminal, I passed through security and boarded INSIGNIA for a quick check-in in the Insignia Lounge, then headed straight for cabin 7117 on aft starboard Deck 7 to drop off my hand luggage and clean up before dinner. The Category A3 concierge level verandah stateroom was furnished with twin beds topped with Oceania’s Tranquility Bedding (700 thread count Egyptian cotton linens, goose down pillows, Italian silk-cut duvets, and a firm, ultra plush European mattress), a writing desk, sitting area and small sofa, two night stands, large closet, flat screen television with DVD player, mini-bar, w/c with shower and a wide array of toiletries (shampoo, conditioner, bath gel, moisturizer and bar of soap), and a balcony with two chairs and a cocktail table. Attendants Sheela and Vergilio were soon on hand for a warm greeting, assuring me that my luggage would arrive soon. I hopped in the shower, emerging moments later to find that their promise rang true, and jumped into some fresh clothes before joining the media group in the Polo Grill for dinner.

Polo Grill, facing aft.

Despite our overall wear and tear from long commutes, we all had a delightful dinner in what is possibly the most popular of all the INSIGNIA’s excellent restaurants. Although I was very well fed on my flights, it was impossible to resist the offerings, so I partook of Hearts of Palm Timbale Remoulade, a Beefsteak Tomato and Sweet Onion Salad, an Herb-Roasted Free Range Chicken and an Idaho Baked Potato. A sampling of five popular desserts (including creme brulée, tiramisu, fudge brownie and more) followed a tray of freshly made orange and currant jelly candies. Oh my!

My friend Rob DiStefano, who will be accompanying me through the first week of this fourteen night frolic, arrived later in the evening following a delayed flight through Charles de Gaulle.

Horizons, facing aft.

Horizon’s, facing starboard.

Totally random INSIGNIA Horizon’s carpet shot.

Our ho
st for the next fourteen days, Tim Rubacky (Oceania’s Director of Corporate Communications), led us to the handsome Horizon’s on forward Deck 10 where we enjoyed a nightcap until the lights of Venice gradually switched off.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

The Terrace Cafe, facing aft.

Our first official morning of the cruise began at 10:00 when Rob and I headed groggily up to the Terrace Cafe for breakfast with fellow media mates. In what would become a daily ritual, I ordered a freshly made onion, tomato and cheddar omelet, smoked salmon and muesli with berries. The friendly wait staff was immediately on hand to bring beverages such as orange juice or cappuccino, fill water glasses, and whisk away used plates. Aside from just being an immaculate, handsomely appointed and well-designed ship, the INSIGNIA has some of the most hard working and pleasant crew afloat.

Cloudscape over Canale Giudecca.

With maps in hand, four of us decided to walk along the Canale Giudecca and into Venice to explore the famed city with no set goals other than a quick pass through Piazza San Marco at some point and to enjoy lunch in a local cafe.

Golden mermaid of the gondola.

We crossed the Accademia Bridge and within moments found ourselves climbing into a gondola for a forty five minute ride through some of the narrow waterways and into the Canale Grande.

The crowds thickened as we got closer to St. Mark’s where we crossed behind the Doge’s Palace and past the Bridge of Sighs. I sighed when I realized we were far short of my intended destination of the Arsenale, where large lion statues strut in front of a medieval stone buttress guarding the ancient harbor entrance.

Rialto Bridge, Venice.

We settled on a simple insalata mista and pizza margherita at the pleasantly off beat Pizzeria Alla Strega, where Halloween lasts all year round. After lunch, we wound through the Venetian maze of canals and cobblestone, crossing the Rialto Bridge and finally reaching the INSIGNIA at about 3:30.

Venice in spires.

Binnacle of St. Mark’s.

INSIGNIA starboard wing bell off Venice’s Lido.

After boat drill and a quick workout, we joined the rest of the group in the wheelhouse as INSIGNIA pivoted into the Canale Giudecca and sailed slowly past the fabled city on a perfect afternoon. Between the beacons of San Marco and San Giorgio, past the sprawling Bienalle waterfront and ultimately past the Lido and into the Adriatic, it is an experience that will never get old or familiar, no matter how well-heeled or weary the traveler might be.

Toscana, facing port.

Buffalo mozzarella in Toscana.

Bacchanal sunset in Toscana.

Serving ravioli, Toscana style.

As though the day hadn’t been complete or delightful enough, we dined with the group in Toscana as the sun began its plunge into INSIGNIA’s wake. I enjoyed more delicious courses than genuine hunger could accommodate, beginning with the artisan breads, garnished with toasted garlic, spicy olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Fragrant minestrone soup, buffalo mozzarella and tomatoes, a caesar salad tossed tableside and the day’s special pasta offering of an al dente ravioli stuffed with artichokes and spinach would just have to suffice. And to top it all off, an out of this world creme brulée would be consumed along with various petites-fours to rival dinner at Nero’s.

Port Deck 9, facing forward.
With no chance of the evening petering out, we took some photos of the elegantly lit outer decks and then joined friends in Horizons for much animated chatter and an aperitif or two as INSIGNIA purred across the Adriatic. At about 4:00 AM, it was finally time to crawl back down to 7117 and succumb to sleep.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Dubrovnik coat of arms.

Since my father was born in Dubrovnik, I was nurtured on his poetic musings about the “Pearl of the Adriatic” throughout my childhood. Our family spent several months there in 1963 when he went to work on a Roger Corman film called “The Secret Invasion”. As he, Mickey Rooney, William Campbell, Stewart Granger and fellow actors were at work, I apparently attained a toddler’s appreciation for bell towers and crystal clear seas. Later on, I was chided for not remembering enough from that second year of my life, so made it a point to return, although financial limitations and the Bosnian War deferred that until late 2003, when the Croatian cruise ship DALMACIJA delivered me for a day’s visit.

Passing EMERALD PRINCESS in Dubrovnik’s anchorage.

Suspended over Dubrovnik.

A partial blanket of clouds loomed as INSIGNIA cut through the fjord-like passage into the harbor north of Dubrovnik, located in the suburb of Gruz. The EMERALD PRINCESS was anchored in the roads ahead of the suspension bridge as we eased past her to take the outermost berth, tying up just behind the MSC POESIA.

INSIGNIA at Dubrovnik.

After breakfast in the Terrace Cafe and with no planned excursions, we joined the press group for a scenic tender ride to the old town, sailing past the rugged cliffs until the ancient walls came into view. I looked up at the vertical planes of stone, figuring this was where I first experienced acrophobia and an appreciation for architectural beauty.

Buttress of Dubrovnik.

Alley of stone and terra cotta.

Croatian clothesline.

Above the terra cotta.


Avenue “D”.

A prosciutto moment with fellow scribes, Art Sbarsky and Mike Coleman.

Rob and I walked through the labrynthine streets at the base of the western wall, then headed up the main avenue, Stradun, past the ancient pharmacy and rows of shops and restaurants to the northern entrance. We bought tickets to encircle the wall for breathtaking views over the tile-roofed town. Afterwards, we ran into a cluster of media friends at a cafe in one of the city squares, then hopped on the 5:30 tender back to INSIGNIA.

Classic luxury off Dubrovnik.

OMEGA at Dubrovnik.

MV RISING SUN off Dubrovnik.


Before heading up the coast to the new harbor, we detoured through the yacht anchorage between Dubrovnik and Lokrum Island, past three mega-yachts. The clouds that had given us shelter from an otherwise incessant sun had darkened considerably, merging at the horizon with an orange sky as EMERALD PRINCESS sailed off in the distance. By the time we returned to port, a steady rain was pouring down.

Captain Dimitrios Flokos.

INSIGNIA’s Grand Dining Room.

INSIGNIA left some thirty minutes early, at 7:30, pivoting out into the Adriatic. At eight, we joined gentlemanly and genial Captain Flokos for dinner in the Grand Dining Room, where he shared some nice anecdotes about growing up in Piraeus, his years with RCCL and the VIKING SERENADE on the U.S. West Coast and later with nearly all the ships in the Renaissance fleet.

A prolonged stroll around the jogging track on Deck 10 ended the evening as INSIGNIA continued on her southerly course for Corfu.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Mama Mia, it’s Corfu! I love this little Greek island haven with its rocky, pine-fringed slopes, sparkling blue water, and friendly town. We arose in time to feel the thrusters kick in as INSIGNIA edged toward her berth, ultimately tying up across from the towering EMERALD PRINCESS. By 11:00 AM, it was extremely hot on the terrace, beyond which the remnants of a morning fog hovered at the base of the mountains to the north.

Entering Achillion.

We joined the press group for our Food And Wine Trails excursion (Achillion and Villa Rosa), led by guide Fofo, whose musical voice might be likened to that of a softened, apolitical Arianna Huffington. As driver Chris negotiated hairpin turns with nary a follicle of clearance, Fofo gave us a detailed history of Corfu and Austrian Princess Elisabeth (Sissy), who built the remarkable Achillion Palace overlooking the Ionian Sea and the Greek and Albanian coastline.

Turn to Wood: Medusa of the Achillion.

Dying Achilles.

As beautiful as the setting and stunning vistas are, they are rivaled by some of the Achillion’s works of art and sculptures depicting ancient Greek deities, nymphs, and heroes on display throughout the palace . The most stunning of all is the sculpture of a dying Achilles clutching Paris’ arrow in his heel.

ALEXANDER at the anchorage.

We next drove along the coast, past Mouse Island, its tiny monastery, and toward Corfu town, where late Greek oil billionaire John S. Latsis’ family yacht ALEXANDER (the former Lubeck Line cruise ship REGINA MARIS) was exiting the anchorage.

Greek buffet line at Villa Rosa.

Our next stop was the Villa Rosa, a private residence in the foothills of the Kerkyra region overlooking Corfu Bay. Ouzo, red and white homemade wines and chilled Mythos beer were served along with a beautiful buffet featuring spanikopita, tyropita, garlic-enhanced tzatziki, batter fried zucchini, eggplant and gigantes as well as a selection of baklava. Two musicians plucked at a bazouki and a guitar as two pretty Greek girls in folkloric costume danced with and for us, climaxing with the theme from Zorba the Greek.

By limiting the numbers on these exclusive culinary outings to 25 guests, Oceania has provided a richly cultural and delightful culinary experience that soars leagues above the average shore excursion.

Once back at the terminal, where Ibero Cruceros’ GRAND MISTRAL (ex Festival Cruises’ MISTRAL) had joined the line up, a few of us opted to walk to Corfu Town for some shopping and internet access. With the aide of a frothy cappuccino, I was able to upload some fifty photos before we returned. EMERALD PRINCESS was maneuvering out of the bay, so I lingered to capture her passing, then decided a healthy jog back to INSIGNIA would be a good substitute for the usual afternoon ellipticals.

As I ran along the harbor road, a tour bus full of jolly GRAND MISTRAL passengers stopped and offered me a ride, assuming I was late to their ship. I thanked them and can only assume they thought me a bit loopy as the bus continued on its way.

The Terrace on Aft Deck 9, facing port.

Revelers aboard the departing GRAND MISTRAL salute INSIGNIA at Corfu.

Once back on board, I watched from the Terrace as GRAND MISTRAL backed alongside us, then saluted vigorously as she gained forward momentum and slid out into the Ionian Sea. We followed an hour or so later, finally losing sight of her in the darkening waters beyond our bow. Our group had dinner at Tapas On The Terrace, where
wine and a remarkable selection of freshly prepared delicacies were consumed under yet another brilliant sunset.

With a sea day ahead to recuperate and relax, many of us lingered in Horizon’s, marveling at braver fellow passengers who joined in on the karaoke fest.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

We finally awoke just short of noon, still a bit blurry from three non-stop days’ worth of activity, aesthetic antiquity, Adriatic sunshine, fine wine, flawless cuisine, and good company. 7117’s curtains gradually parted to reveal the arid mountains beyond the Gulf of Taranto as INSIGNIA made a southwesterly course through the liquid Ionian sapphire toward the Straits of Messina.

INSIGNIA’s Gym, facing forward.

Although tempered by a light sea breeze, the air outside was a bit heavy as we ate freshly cooked veggie burgers by a window in Waves Grill. I spent some time in the gym before my late afternoon appointment in the Mandara Spa for a hot stone massage. Soft spoken therapist Danielle’s delicate long fingers were stronger than they looked, enough so that I spent the rest of the afternoon and evening in a catatonic delirium, barely able to keep my eyes open to organize some thoughts for this blog.

Meanwhile, as Sicily’s cloud-enshrouded Mt. Etna loomed off the port side of the ship, we entered the busy Strait of Messina. A Holland America Line Vista Class unit plowed through the slight chop on the mainland side while ferries crisscrossing between Messina and Calabria played chicken with the INSIGNIA.

We decided on a quiet dinner in the Grand Dining Room, entering just short of eight to get a table for two (no wait). Guatemalan server Francisco finessed us through a multitude of delicious courses, including Upside-down Cheese Soufflé with Leek Cream Sauce, Cream of Asparagus Soup with Salmon Julienne, Baby Spinach Salad with Pine Nuts and Rigatone alle Melanzane. I guess we’ll just have to dine light NEXT time!

With the Strait behind us and Stromboli in the darkness off our port stern, my fingers are having difficulty navigating the keys on this laptop, so it’s time to call it a night. Tomorrow’s call at Sorrento promises a visit to Pompeii and a wee bit of wine tasting.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Alarms are never a pleasant way to start the day but the buzzing this morning at 7:00 AM provided enough time to correct the “bed hair” and dash up to the Terrace Cafe where I enjoyed two “over easies” prepared by friendly Goanese chef Casicam, more excellent smoked salmon (they say it’s good for the brain) with capers, tomato and onions and some muesli with succulent blackberries, raspberries and strawberries.

INSIGNIA at Sorrento.

Off our starboard side, soaking up Sorrento’s morning sun, was (RCI/Celebrity Cruises’) Azamara’s sparkling but derivative AZAMARA QUEST, a former “R”, basically aping the Oceania white and blue livery with a diamond instead of an “O” with wave logo on the funnel. On our port side, Silversea’s SILVER WHISPER made it a top market threesome in the anchorage.

Insignia Lounge, facing forward from port.

At 8:10, we gathered in the Insignia Lounge to await a tender, which would take us ashore for a Food and Wine Trails excursion (The Best of Pompeii Wine Experience) to Pompeii and the Azienda Vinicoli winery on the slopes of Mount Vesuvius.

Our guide, the lovely and talented Piera, enlightened us about Sorrento and the Naples region as our small tour bus veered along the cliffy highway to Pompeii. The day was yet another scorcher but we were all basically prepared with hats, sun block and extra water on hand.

Do you know the way to Pompeii?

Pompeiian columns.

Pompeiian arches.

Verdant and volcanic.

Pompeiian plaster man.

Pompeiian pumice.

Pompeiian fresco.

Steam room.

Once at Pompeii, we were joined by another guide, Marcello, who escorted us through Pompeii’s basilica, stone streets, steam bath, red light district, fast food kitchen and other highlights. Elaborate frescoes, plasterized corpses, and stray dogs vied for our attention as we wandered through the maze of ruins.

Azienda Vinicoli vineyard.

Grapes of ash.

We next visited the Azienda Vinicola Sorrentino winery on the southern slope of Vesuvius, overlooking the Bay of Naples. We were led through the vineyard by one of its proprietors, Antonio, where several varieties of grape share the rich volcanic soil with tomatoes, mint, apricot, oregano and a hypnotic chorale of chirping cicadas.

Antonio and Dublin-based writer Muriel Bolger, to whom he has just proposed, exchange amorous glances over a magnum of Azienda Vinicola wine.

Once inside the winery, glasses of white and red wine were filled and replenished with gusto. Courses of homemade Italian specialties followed, including mozzarella cheese from Vesuvian cows, fresh tomatoes, crispy bruschetta dripped in viscous extra virgin olive oil, selections of salami and prosciutto, eggplant parmesan, a brilliant gorgonzola cheese, homemade peach cake and a lovely dessert wine. Afterwards, on the terrace, we enjoyed some pungent espresso as the gifted Pierra sang for us and flirtatious Antonio made floral bouquets for the ladies in our group. Meanwhile, a gentle breeze and the canopies sheltered us from the relentless Pompeiian sun.


Sorrento from INSIGNIA’s Deck 11.

Sorrento’s luxury line up.

On the return, we stopped momentarily to capture a precipitous view of Sorrento, then climbed down to the anchorage where we tendered back to INSIGNIA.

SILVER WHISPER shouts out to Sorrento.

MSC ORCHESTRA at Sorrento.

From the gym, I watched as SILVER WHISPER hoisted anchor and pivoted around the bay, headed out to sea, then circled back under the cliffs of Sorrento, sounding her whistle in salute before sailing northward. Later, as the sun set off our starboard bow, COSTA MEDITERRANEA or ATLANTICA crossed southward along the far horizon as MSC ORCHESTRA slowly approached from under the silhouette of Vesuvius. She, too, veered toward the cliffs of Sorrento, saluting gregariously as she turned along our starboard side, twinkling in the twilight, spectators gathered along every visible rail.

The Library, facing port.

Still engorged from lunch, I ordered just the caesar salad and a delicious pasta at Toscana, then, instead of attending a festive deck party by the pool, spent some time relaxing and writing in the cabin (and later in the Library) before finally retiring in the early morning hours.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

INSIGNIA to Amalfi.

Amalfi from INSIGNIA.

Another indulgent day began with a view of the spectacular Positano coast and Amalfi whose precipitous cyprus and bougainvillea-fringed drops and vertiginous villas were even more picturesque than Sorrento’s. But a melting moment or two on the verandah was enough to persuade us to enjoy Amalfi from the air conditioned sanctuary of INSIGNIA.

INSIGNIA Grand Staircase, facing port from Deck 5.

Port Insignia Lounge entrance, facing aft.

We had the ship to ourselves, savoring a quiet lunch with another journalist in the Terrace Cafe, time to document all the public rooms, some sunshine by the pool, and a chance to catch up on the blog process in the quiet Library.

INSIGNIA ring shadow.

Sunset over Ischia.

Hours later, as INSIGNIA plied north-westward through the misty Bay of Naples, we were back on deck. On our port side, portions of Capri emerged from the haze, then faded in our wake. A number of tiny boats were all around us, angling for their twilight catch. Just after the tomato red sun finished its plummet between our ship and the island of Ischia on our starboard side, we descended to the Grand Dining Room for yet another top notch culinary experience. My courses consisted of a Quail Pie (Moroccan style), Chicken Broth Soup with Chick Peas, Creamy Orechiette Pasta with Fresh Vegetables and a main course of Spaghetti Putanesca before succumbing to a Crispy Apple Tart with a dollup of Cinnamon Ice Cream.

Martini’s, facing forward.

Martini’s, facing aft.

Several of us made it to Martini’s for a few moments of Name That Tune, hosted by pianist Jerry Blaine. From there, it was our usual midships Deck 10 circuit under the stars and then a long stint in the Library to catch up on e-mail, picture sizing and blog writing.

Posted: July 30, 2008. Updated August, 2008, May 2012

Special thanks to: Martin Cox, Rob DiStefano, Captain Dimitrios Flokos, Anne Kalosh, Tim Rubacky, Captain Anastassios Varsamis

Click here for part two: INSIGNIA Rome to Barcelona, ctd.o

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