Oceania Marina Cruise Blog Day 4
Today we are anchored at Santorini, Greece. Santorini, officially Thera, are islands that are the remains of a volcanic caldera located in the southern Aegean Sea, about 200 km (120 miles) southeast from the Greek mainland. It is the largest island of a small circular archipelago that bears the same name. It forms the southern most member of the Cyclades group of islands, with Mykonos being the Northern most island in the group. The population is just over 13,000 and Santorini has an area of 73 km sq (28 sq miles)
Santorini is essentially what remains of an enormous volcanic explosion destroying the earliest settlements on what was formerly a single island, and leading to the creation of the current caldera. A giant central lagoon is surrounded by 300 m (980 ft) high steep cliffs on three sides, and the water in the lagoon in nearly 400m (1,300 ft) deep. There are no ports on the outer perimeter of the island; the capital, Fira, clings to the top of the cliff over looking the lagoon.
We started tendering at 8am, with the guests booked on shore excursions disembarking first. The tenders headed to a small port area, where the coaches were waiting to whisk them up the twisty cliff on a road that kept switching back on itself to climb the high cliff. Once these guests were off the ship, the ship then moved up the coast and started to tender the remaining guests that wanted to get off onto the island, only this time to a more touristy area where the bottom of the cable care was situated, along with the donkeys and another steep twisty path for you to climb if you didn’t fancy the cable car – more on that delightful little set up later.
We dined in the Grand dining room again for breakfast, and after a morning of business sessions decide to have lunch today in the Terrace Café
The Terrace Café is infused with natural sunlight from the floor-to-ceiling windows, and looks more like a restaurant than a usual Lido buffet area you see on other ships, with all the tables laid up, warm Murano glass chandeliers hanging over the tables, and other nice touches that elevate this area from just a another cruise ship buffet café. At lunchtime, the expansive menu of international dishes changes daily, with roasted and rotisserie meats, and the magic of the pizzeria’s oven. You can dine inside or alfresco at one of the shaded teak tables on the terrace; both areas offer stunning views over the stern. Evenings, the menu bears a certain Mediterranean flair. You may indulge in whole Maine Lobster, delicately roasted duckling, made-to-order grill dishes and mouth-watering pastas and paellas. Today I opted for a light lunch as we were dining in Polo Grill later that evening, so just salads and cold meats today – I need to sane my appetite for the 20oz Porterhouse Steak…or will I got for the 32 oz Kings Cut…??
After lunch our hosts had arranged a private excursion for the business group, and so we all boarded the tender and were taken back to where the mornings guests were dropped off to board the buses. Our tour was “Santorini Wine Tasting and Oia Visit” This retails at $145 per person. The bus driver (whose name was Stavros – could he be more typically Greek!?) navigated the steep road very well, and it was a bit precarious going around the numerous sharp bends – don’t look down over the sides if you suffer from vertigo – it was very, very steep! Once at the top we visited an old monastery that had a delightful garden filled with vibrant magenta-coloured bougainvillea that contrasted beautifully against the deep blue sky. After stopping here for a while, taking photos and admiring the stunning view, it was back on the bus – next stop wine tasting!
I had imagined we would be taken to a small artisan wine producer, in a rustic farmhouse, set miles away from any where. Maybe he would produce a few bottles and explain to us the process of making win, the characteristics of his blend, the notes and bouquet of his reds, the fruity top notes of his whites, maybe some local foods to accompany it, maybe a tour of the vineyard and a talk through the process of producing the wine. But no. That’s what I had imagined. The reality was far different.
We arrived at the “vineyard” set high on the hill. There with about 10 other coaches from the other ships that were anchored with us ( NCL,Princess, HAL) here too. There were tables set-up, piled high with glasses, ready for the tourists sweaty little hands to grab. A few staff filled each glass with a splash of either red, white or a dessert wine. You didn’t know what you were drinking, where it was from (I suppose from the vineyard we were visiting but it who knew? It could have been from the supermarket down the road) Nothing about the history of the wine – nothing other than a mouthful of wine in a cheap glass. They did provide cheese, tomatoes and olives for you to nibble on to change the taste of your palate but in reality it was just like another free for all buffet for the mass-market tourists. There must have been about 200 people there, all quaffing and munching. The wine wasn’t even that good. The view from the top of the cliff overlooking the ships moored in the bay was spectacular however.
After this underwhelming “wine tasting” experience we headed to Oia on the northern tip of the island. Oia is perched on the cliff and offers stunning views across the caldera, and was once the capital of the island. Its twisting, narrow cobbled streets are lined with gift shops, boutiques and art galleries and there a plenty of shops selling locally made handicrafts and foods.
Just nipping down a side street gives you an amazing view of the town perched on the hillside, with the classic Greek blue-topped churches punctuating the vista of white washed houses. It’s a real photo opportunity and was the highlight of the trip for me. However – again it was overrun with tourists from the other ships and it made for a very crowded experience. One of the reasons you choose to sail on a smaller boutique style cruise ship like Oceania Cruises is to avoid the mass crowds and mass tourism of the mega-liners – which of course is fine onboard – however at these smaller ports of call you cant really avoid the crowds. Not much you can do about that really – whilst I was there I tried to imagine the town in low season, when a ship was not in – it would be absolutely delightful to spend a few days here, exploring the twisty little alleyways, discovering a local restaurant and sampling the locally produced foods – will have to come back one day!
So after our stop here it was back on the bus and this time we were headed for the capital, Fira. Due to commitments we had back on board Oceania Marina, we did not have time to look around, so had to head back down to the small port to get the tender.
There are three ways to descend from Fira:
- The cable car
- Walk down the steep road
- Take a donkey
We had been given a ticket for a cable car – however the queue was miles long. Literally there was a queue of passengers as far as I could see. This was going to be a long wait. So our other options were walk down or take the donkeys down. We decided to walk down the cobbled street. Bear in mind this is the same street that the donkeys go up and down all day long, so you really have to watch your step if you get what I mean. The descent was fairly easy, however at one stage we were surrounded by the donkeys, some with passengers on, some not, and it was actually a bit unnerving. They are all muzzled so cannot nip you but there are pretty big and some people were getting a bit upset – understandably – and later we heard one or to people had been trodden on. Once we had cleared Donkey Grid Lock it was fine but just something to bear in mind if you visit the island.
Back onboard we got ready for dinner as we were dining in the Polo Grill
Polo Grill is a traditional intimate setting that personifies a classic steakhouse, courtesy of its crisp, white linen tablecloths; dark-wood furnishings upholstered in richly textured fabrics, and supple burgundy leather chairs. Each course is an expression of time-honoured favourites. Try a succulent Colossal Shrimp Cocktail, followed by Lobster Bisque Topped with Morsels of Roasted Lobster. Enjoy a Caesar Salad prepared tableside. Delight in knowing that all of the beef dishes such as Oceania’s signature 32-ounce, Bone-In King’s Cut Prime Rib are USDA Prime and dry-aged for at least 28 days. Other magnificent classics include Surf and Turf, featuring a grilled Florida Lobster Tail and tender Filet Mignon, and whole Maine Lobster Gratinée. The room is decorated with original works of art from a Cuban artist, and match perfectly with the décor of the room.
I had the crab cakes, followed by the chowder, then the 20 oz Porterhouse steak, with asparagus & creamed spinach. For desert I could not decide between the 7-lay Belgian chocolate cake and the Key Lime pie – so I had them both!Food in here was delcious and the steaks flavour was superb and perfectly cooked. Another amazing culinary experience onboard Oceania Marina.
After that food-event – we headed up to Horizons to watch the karaoke – and might have tried our hand at a song or two!