Pictured left to right outside the new store are: Paul Hardwick, Fred. Olsen Travel Agents Director of Retail; Emma Bailey, Fred. Olsen Travel Agents; Tutti Taylor, Fred. Olsen Travel Agents; Councillor Candy Vaughan, Mayor of Eastbourne; Trevor Ridler, Fred. Olsen Travel Agents Business Development Manager; and Shirley Waters, Fred. Olsen Travel Agents..
When I was asked if I would like to go on a 3-night pre-inaugural sailing on board Oceania Cruises’ brand new ship Vista I admit I could not contain my excitement. Not only because I knew I would be visiting Florence, a city I had long yearned to see, but because I knew I would be travelling in the ultimate luxury in the care of Oceania.
On 3rd May 2023 I finally stepped on board. After very quick hop from Genoa to the port of just ten minutes we were swiftly on board and sipping a cocktail in the sun at lightning pace. After a cooling drink on the beautiful Sun Deck we were off to explore the rest of the ship.
We decided to start at the top and work our way down as the weather was so lovely and because it felt like months since we had seen the sun. I was blown away to find a ranging mini-golf course, the first time I had seen that on board a cruise ship, as well as driving range nets for someone far more coordinated than myself, paddle tennis, a running/walking track, deck games and a well-equipped fitness centre with separate studio for classes.
We had a tour of the beautiful Aquamar Apa which featured multiple treatment rooms for massages, facials and so much more, steam rooms and sauna, a hair salon and a barber shop for the gents. The real highlight of the spa though was the Aquamar Spa Terrace which featured cushioned loungers, daybeds, plunge pools and whirlpool spa tubs. All that whilst overlooking the aft of the ship with stunning views out to sea. A wonderful place to relax and get calm both body and spirit.
The area around the pool features wonderful, cushioned sunbeds with crisp white towels. Waiters patrol the sun deck, eager to refill your glass and it is just a few steps from either the Terrace Café, the onboard buffet (I recommend the burgers!) or a variety of other restaurants I’ll come on to later. The Horizons bar is also here which is a wonderful space for an evening drink and dance, afternoon tea or some live music. Some other notable facilities on the upper decks are The Culinary Centre, we only got a chance to peep through the doors, but this is a fantastic space for you to learn how to cook the wonderful dishes on board under the instruction of top chefs, with its own dining room to enjoy your creations later. There’s also the artists loft, digital centre, the best library I’ve ever seen on board a ship and Baristas coffee bar and bakery for a specialist coffee and a quick bite.
Decks 7 – 11 feature all the staterooms and suites on board. We took a quick stop at our Verandah Stateroom to get changed and I was particularly blown away by the bathroom… it just kept going! The luxurious rainfall shower, Bulgari toiletries and stunning fittings were the finest I’ve seen on a cruise ship far. The stateroom was equally beautiful; USB sockets by the beds are always a win to me; the mattresses were fabulously comfortable and the verandah itself was the perfect size to relax on and read a book… which I did. After a 2am start I could quite happily have fallen straight into one of those beds but there was still plenty to see and do… and eat!
We popped down to the lower decks to see what else was in store and found yet again more wonderful facilities. A string quartet greeted us in the stunning lobby. We wandered through Martinis, the piano bar, took a peek into the Casino, The Grand Lounge and the Grand Dining room. I can honestly say this was the most beautiful main dining room I have seen as sea. So clean, bright and modern with stunning fittings and a view out to sea to boot.
The final deck, Deck 5 was home to the reception, destination services, luxury boutiques and the Vista Show Lounge. It was also home to two speciality restaurants; Red Ginger, home to Asian Fusion cuisine and; Ember, where we would dine tonight!
Whilst Oceania is a luxury line it is also not a dressy affair. Country Club casual is the order of the day and you are not required to dress up for dinner other than not wearing your shorts and flip flops! We were very honoured to be dining in Ember as it is a new restaurant to Oceania so we were the very first guests to ever enjoy the menu. I opted for the pork ribs starter, beef tenderloin for my mine and beignets for dessert. Every course was fabulous. I also stole some of my travel companion’s lobster mac and cheese and I can highly recommend that too! Worth mentioning my travel companion has a severe nut allergy. Because of this Oceania delivered the menu to our stateroom every evening and she was able to pre-order her meal to ensure everything was safe for her. Because this was a special sailing our dining was selected for us but ordinarily you can choose your dining, and pre-book the speciality restaurants at no extra cost. After a fabulous meal we had a few drinks in Horizons Bar before falling into bed as our ship sailed gently towards Monaco.
I was up with the lark the next morning and hit the fitness centre for a quick workout and then did a few laps of the running track. What an absolute treat this was, and definitely worth the sweat as I got to enjoy wonderful views as we sailed into and docked in Monaco throughout my whole session. I had a quick fruit juice in Baristas, and went to meet my room mate for buffet breakfast in the Sea Terrace. Plenty of options to pick from but I had eggs Benedict and some fresh fruit.
We hadn’t booked an excursion for today as we were literally docked in the centre of Monte Carlo and it was absolutely the perfect time to visit. Just two weeks to go until the Monaco Grand Prix and we were able to wander through the pit lane and around the famous Formula 1 route. I sent plenty of pictures to my very envious brother. After wandering up to the Casino and a good look around we headed back to the ship for a late lunch. We choose the Waves Grill where I opted for the Surf and Turf baguette which came with some delicious fried.
We had a chilled afternoon around the pool, and then hit Afternoon Tea… it would have been rude not to. The string quartet were once again playing, our sandwiches, cakes and scones were bought to us on a trolley by white-gloved waiters, what could be more refined over a cup of Earl Grey!
Dinner was in the Grand Dining Room and I had lobster bisque, veal steak and a fan favourite, Crème Brulee… in fact our whole table of six ordered the Crème Brulee! This evening there was a show in the Vista Lounge where the singers were singing their favourite songs from Broadway shows. These were some of the lesser-known songs and the voices were stunning.
Day 3 we awoke in Livorno and there was no time for a workout as we were booked on a full-day excursion departing a 7:45am to see both Florence and Pisa. We had a quick breakfast in the Aquamar Kitchen, the healthy option on board with Vegan menu and plenty to choose from. My travel pal had the Avocado toast whilst I had the banana pancakes and a healthy green smoothie. Then we were down to the Vista Lounge to assemble for our excursion and onto the coaches in no time. The journey to Florence was about an hour and a half but our wonderfully knowledgeable guide Samuele kept us interested and entertained throughout. We took the scenic route as the traffic wasn’t too bad and were rewarded with panoramic views over the city which was dominated by the stunning Duomo.
Dropping off close to the city centre we walked into the city and Sam stopped at many points to talk us through the history, point out his favourite eateries and shops… and tell us where the toilets were! We visited the Piazza Santa Croce and admired the beautiful Basilica of Santa Croce before winding through the cobbled streets and emerging at the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore which features the stunning Duomo which Florence is so famous for. There wasn’t time to head inside today as the queue is two hours and you really need to pre-book but Samuele assured us the outside is more beautiful that the inside anyway. I would like to return to Florence one day and climb the Duomo, which is possible if you fancy hiking up the 463 steps to do so. We wandered through Florence some more and Samuele pointed out many more sights and statues as we went, as well as the Uffizzi Gallery which again there wasn’t time to visit today but I fully plan to in the future, and the Ponte Vecchio, famed bridge and home to many fine jewellery sellers. There were other tour options available including “Florence and Pisa on your own” which meant you had the coach but not the tour, this would have given more time to visit these sites. I was glad of the knowledge of Samuele though. We did have a couple of hours of free time after the tour to grab some lunch, shop for souvenirs and grab the obligatory gelato. We met up at 2pm with the rest of the group and we were off to Pisa to visit the famed Leaning Tower. Samuele told us all about the Tower’s history during the drive and then we were free to explore on our own upon arrival. We had an hour here which was plenty of time to snap the unavoidable propping-up-the-tower pictures and admire the other monuments in the vicinity. Tired but happy we boarded the coach back to the ship for our final dinner on board.
Dining was again in the Grand Dining Room where I opted for the caviar starter, Maine lobster main and chocolate caramel lava cake to finish. It all felt highly decadent and a real treat after a long day. The evening show featuring the full entertainment cast was “British Pub Classics”. It did feel rather like the show has been created by Americans as some songs weren’t British and others I have definitely never heard in my local, but the singing and dancing was great, and it was a lot of fun all the same. A farewell drink in Horizons and we were off to bed before our final breakfast and off to Rome airport, sad to be leaving but with many wonderful memories.
Oceania is the perfect line for anyone who enjoys the voyage as much as the destination and is looking for a luxury experience without all the dressing up. I greatly enjoyed my time with Oceania and Vista is definitely one of the finest ships at sea today.