Knego’s seven night cruise to the Western Caribbean aboard Oceania Cruises practically perfect MV MARINA concludes with a special farm-to-table culinary excursion in Roatan, a visit to the Mayan archaeological sites of Dzibanche and Kohunlich in Costa Maya and a day at sea.
All photos by and copyright Peter Knego 2017 unless otherwise noted.
Wednesday, February 22, 2017
An early morning dose of rain swept over the MARINA at her anchorage in Roatan. On our port side, the LIBERTY OF THE SEAS had just tied up at the cruise terminal and off our starboard side, the NORWEGIAN DAWN was slowly approaching, her anchor winches unraveling. Meanwhile, in the distance, there were two massive Carnival ships looming over the Honduran island’s dense foliage.
Moments after converging with the press group in the Chef’s Table, we were tendering out on a special excursion led by MARINA’s chef Kathryn Kelly.
Oceania’s exclusive Culinary Discovery Tours tend to book up well in advance, so we were especially pleased to be allotted space on the Honduran Farm & Ocean to Table Experience. After a twenty minute ride, our first stop was the Blue Harbor Tropical Arboretum, a 160-acre estate with a hydroponic farm that supplies the island’s best restaurants with veggies and herbs.
The highlight was a chance to sample some of the local fruits, exotic and otherwise.
Our next stop was Big French Caye, reached via a short bus and boat ride.
We gathered in the shade of a cafe for a pink shrimp cooking demonstration by Chef Samuel, a soft-spoken man renowned for his expertise in preparing locally caught crustacea.
We would sample a trio of shrimply delights, prepared in homemade cocktail sauce, garlic and fresh-grated coconut, respectively.
As MARINA wasn’t the only ship in port, the Caye bustled with the aroma of suntan lotion, the rumble of party music and the banter of frolickers.
Back aboard MARINA, we quelled the after effects of the humidity and heat with a refreshingly civilized tea in the Horizon Lounge. Oceania has an excellent afternoon tea with live chamber music…
…and trolleys festooned with all sorts of temptations, from sandwiches and cookies to scones with the proper trimmings (butter, jam and clotted cream).
Out on deck, as the sun began to set, lines were cast and anchors aweighed as LIBERTY OF THE SEAS and NORWEGIAN DAWN began their pivots outward and onward. MARINA would soon follow.
After another workout, we were off to dinner in Jacques, MARINA’s French Bistro restaurant named for and curated by Oceania’s master chef Jacques Pepin. Located on starboard Deck 2, it can seat up to 112 guests. Like most of the other specialty restaurants, it is free of charge but reservations are required.
A gifted friend in PR once used the epithet “velvet on the tongue” to describe one of his favorite gourmet treats. I’d like to borrow those scintillating words and wrap them around Jacques’ magnificent breadwork.
And so went another evening on the MARINA, a ship rife with otherworldly temptations.
Thursday, February 23, 2017
Few sites are as compelling as the Mayan ruins of Yucatan. Having been to the more well-traveled Chichen-Itza, Tulum and Copan (in Honduras), I was thrilled that Oceania offered tours to a pair of fascinating places that were within a reasonable distance of Costa Maya, the bustling new port where MARINA had berthed in the shadows of the (let’s be honest) ghastly looking NORWEGIAN GETAWAY.
Bracing for a day of sweltering heat, soggy humidity, relentless sun and biting bugs, we were thrilled to disembark into a warm, relatively arid, gentle breeze. Dzibanche (Mayan for “writing on wood”), our first stop, was approximately two hours away by coach, giving our astute guide, Ricardo Alvarado, plenty of time to catch us up on all things Maya, from their 31 dialects and sacrificial rites to how they used splints to flatten the foreheads of their newborn children.
After a short walk through the jungle, our first stop, the towering Temple of the Cormoranes, was simply breathtaking. Dating from 554, it was the funerary tomb of Kan-dynasty king Sky Witness. It was rendered in the talud-tablero style of Mayan architecture and was originally covered in friezes and painted red. For some reason, climbing its steps (an activity no longer possible at Chichen-Itza) was far less terrifying than I had expected.
Most of the buildings of Dzibanche are in the Peten style of architecture and date from the 6th century, including the smaller but still impressive Temple of the Lintels.
It was well worth another humbling climb to the summit.
Scaling Mayan pyramids is not unlike karaoke or aerobics. If everyone participates, no one can be too embarrassed by the process.
In nearby Kohunlich (Mayan for “Big palm trees in the highlands”), dating from the 5th Century and not discovered until the 20th, there were yet more steps to climb and stunning structures to behold.
The most well known attraction at Kohunlich is the Temple of the Masks, with its five remaining (of eight) stone friezes dedicated to the Sun God.
All witnessed on a postcard perfect day and without invoking human sacrifice.
The terrain of Yucatan was literally in flames as we made our way back towards Costa Maya.
We had earned a pitstop at a local taqueria with cold beers, sizzling salsa and chicken fajitas.
At Costa Maya, we found the MARINA bathed in a perfect light. Within moments of our boarding, she was casting her lines and heading north, on course for Miami.
A couple hours later, we overtook the NORWEGIAN GETAWAY, which, even in her captivating oceanic element, left so much to be desired.
After another fantastic meal, we found ourselves in the Marina Lounge, serenaded by the music of Peggy Lee.
Friday, February 24, 2017
We relished a final, languid day at sea as MARINA worked her way along the Cuban coast and past the Florida keys. A luxuriously late sleep-in, fresh air on deck, more cappuccini and teatime treats helped counter the effects of packing.
One thing we never managed was a swim in the MARINA’s gorgeous pool, which is all the more reason to plan a return one day.
As the sunset fizzled in the MARINA’s wake, we headed to the Restaurant for our final dinner.
Later, in the Martini Bar, where we enjoyed one last soda, nary a guest was stirring.
Saturday, February 25, 2017
The MARINA’s breakfast offerings and elegant surrounds made disembarking into the chaos of Miami’s cruise and airport terminals all the more agonizing. Fortunately, another Oceania cruise was already in the works…
Having documented over 400 passenger ships and taken more than 200 cruises, MaritimeMatters’ co-editor Peter Knego is a leading freelance cruise writer, a respected ocean liner historian and frequent maritime lecturer both on land and at sea. With his work regularly featured in cruise industry trades and consumer publications. Knego also runs the www.midshipcentury.com website which offers MidCentury cruise ship furniture, artwork and fittings rescued from the shipbreaking yards of Alang, India. He has produced several videos on the subject, including his latest, The Sands Of Alang and the best-selling On The Road To Alang."