Let me sum up…

This should be the last post on our Vista cruise from Montreal to Miami. I hope you have enjoyed following along and the photos I have posted. I promised a final review of what we liked and didn’t. Also, since Oceania has decided to become more Viking Ocean-like with their new Simply More inclusions, I will finish by comparing the two. They both desire to occupy the same space and attract the same cruisers.

When doing this post, I consulted all seven members of our party, and they mostly agreed with me. And please—realize these are my perceptions. Not yours. If you had a different experience on your cruise, let me know, but don’t challenge me on my opinion of what I experienced.

What we loved…

  • Obviously, the food. Oceania promises the best food at sea, and in 90% of their venues, they succeed. Every single place to eat was as good or better than any place I have eaten on any other ship. If cruising is all about food for you—you want Oceania.
  • The new-ship smell. Kathleen came up with the description. It was great to sail on a ship that was only six months old. Everything was bright and shiny. Of course, this won’t be true in a couple of years, but if you get on board this year, you should have the same experience.
  • Service was incredible. We haven’t had service like this in quite a few cruises. Besides the crew members themselves their training, the way they are treated and how they are managed. What a massive contrast to our last cruise on HAL’s Koningsdam, where no one was trained to do their job, and some of the things they did were just dangerous.
  • Vista is beautiful. Great design. Some nice art. Just about every part of this ship is gorgeous to look at.
  • The shower in my brother’s stateroom. I’m not sure if he had a different shower than we did; I do get it. He is a big guy, and a big shower is important to him. Sadly, I disagreed because that oversized shower (a big square) meant there was less room in the rest of the stateroom and less storage space.

What we thought needed improvement…

  • Their entire system for doing WiFi. Come on, Oceania. It makes me log in and out and kick my wife off. Even worse, it meant she couldn’t text me if she wanted to ask me something or let me know where she was. I totally realize that the new Simply More program (which includes two device logins) will be an improvement. But if you have more than one device on the ship with you (a phone, tablet and computer), you will have to log off one to get on the other. That means I have to log off or kick myself off before I can receive something else on the new device. Give us WiFi like every other cruise line if you get “FREE” WiFi. Quick messing with it. Even the guy in the digital center hates it. He said it is his biggest complaint. And from what I have seen on Cruise Critic, it hasn’t worked very well since the Simply More changeover.
  • Speaking of technology—they need to get an app! Every major cruise line has an app that you can text in (without having an internet package), you can see the daily program, you can check your account, you can see the menus for that evening, and so much more. In 2023, not having your own app says you are just stupid and living in the last century.
  • The elevators. I touched on this when I wrote about the ship’s public areas, but the elevators are ridiculous, and for a new ship, they broke down far too often. Thankfully, I don’t believe anyone got stuck in one, but there are just not enough of them. Sadly, they can do nothing about this, but they can improve it on future ships.
  • Very few spaces where you can see the sea. For a cruise line named after the ocean, they didn’t want you to see the ocean when they designed this ship. If you don’t have a verandah, you can’t see the ocean until you are on deck 12. Below that, the only place you can see off the ship is the Grand Dining Room. That’s nuts. All the other windows on decks five and six are covered with drapes, and there is no access to outdoor decks, let alone an actual promenade deck that encircles the ship. Again, this is one thing they can’t improve on Vista but should make note of for future ships.
  • The AC can’t keep up. If you are in the Aquamar Kitchen, the Waves Grille and most of the Terrace Cafe and doing a warm-weather cruise—you better love hot and humid temps. Both the Aquamar and the Grille are open to the outside and have no air conditioning that we could see. On cold days, they have heaters but not even fans for hot days. On our last sea day before we got to Miami, the temperature was in the high eighties/low nineties and the humidity was close to 90%. Finding a place to sit in the buffet where you didn’t get a blast of hot, humid air whenever someone came into or went out of the room was challenging. If you are from Florida, this probably won’t bother you, but those of us from the northern climates were dying.
  • Someplace to sit. There is really no place to sit and have a pre-dinner cocktail that doesn’t have music playing in it. Piano player in Martinis, dance band in Horizons and string quartet in the Grand Lounge. This is especially true if you want to get together with new or old friends and talk.   But this problem is one they can fix now. Just play excellent background music (like they play all day) in Martinis. No Bill Murray-style lounge singer with a grating voice who tries to drown out every single conversation. That should do it. If people want a quiet conversation pre-dinner, the only nice lounge is the Smoker’s Lounge. So many convert that to a regular lounge and just make the entire ship non-smoking?

That’s about it. See, we really had a great cruise. Yes, we missed two ports, but O gave us a future cruise credit for the one they were responsible for, and the other was due to weather, so it was not their fault. On the list of all our cruises, I would put it up with our HAL cruise on Nieuw Statendam or one of our early cruises with Celebrity until they decided they didn’t like cruisers our age anymore.

Let’s Compare

Over the last six months, Oceania has been bringing out its Simply More program that incorporates much of what Viking Ocean Cruises does. It adds free wine and beer at dinner, free internet (but only two devices at a time per stateroom) and more. So clearly, Oceania sees itself competing with Viking Ocean for the same clientele.

Since we left Celebrity, we have been looking for a new cruise line to lend our loyalty to. And so far it has come down to Oceania (O) or Viking Ocean (VO). So, since both O and I have decided to make a comparison, here is ours based on this 15-night cruise on O’s newest ship and our 21-night cruise on the slightly older Viking Sky last year around this time. Here’s how I see it. Again, please realize that this is MY PERCEPTION. If you had a different experience, please let me know but don’t attack my reality.

  • Stateroom Design (Viking wins). Staterooms on Viking for close to the same price are much bigger—there is a ton more storage space, which is important on longer cruises that we seem to take now.
  • Bathroom Design (Viking Wins). Even though my brother likes his shower better on Oceania, I like the bathroom layout much better. No wasted floor space
  • Internet (Viking Wins). I think I have been over this enough. From the minute we got on board Viking until the minute we got off, we had complete WiFi on every device we owned. I am not even sure if Viking offers an internet upgrade.
  • Cruise Ship App (Viking Wins). Oceania has no app. Viking’s isn’t perfect, but I can at least see what is going on during the day without a paper copy, and I can check menus around the ship and text each other.
  • Elevators (Viking Wins). Enough said. Kathleen never had to wait for an elevator on Viking. Ever.
  • Lounges (Viking Wins). There were a number of places we could get a quiet drink and have a conversation.
  • Closed-in Ship (Viking Wins). You can see the ocean from almost any public space on a Viking Ocean ship. Not true on Vista, where you can’t see it until you get to deck 12.
  • Promenade Deck (Viking Wins). If I am on deck five and want to know what the weather is like, I have to wait until I get back up to my stateroom to find out. There is no place below deck 12 (other than my verandah) where I can step outside. Plus, as a walker, I much prefer a walking track that is partially protected. With Vista’s being on deck 15, they closed on a number of days to walkers and joggers because of strong winds.
  • Interior furnishings (Viking Wins). This is really a matter of taste, but I just love Viking Ocean’s Scandinavian design. Much of Vista’s public space was beautiful, but some bordered on gaudy. I said bordered (the lighting in the Grand Lounge was really close to Vegas).
  • Horizons/Explorer’s Lounge (Viking Wins). Horizons is a cocktail lounge/dance hall. Explorer’s Lounge on Viking is on two levels. The top one is for quiet reading (I did most of my writing and photo processing up there), and the lower level has a bar and excellent seats for conversation.
  • The entire spa (Viking Wins). I am the first to admit that even though we were in a Concierge stateroom, I never tried the Aquamar Spa, but in my mind, Viking wins this one because everyone has access for free. Not just those in Concierge or above staterooms.
  • Outside activities (Oceania Wins). Deck 15 and 16 had so much you could do on sea days it wasn’t even funny. From bocce to shuffleboard, from pickleball to mini golf (not to mention the golf simulator and cornhole), it was a veritable playground for those wanting an outdoor diversion. If I had one criticism, it would be that they need more barriers to the wind as they had to close these decks fairly often at sea…which defeats the purpose.
  • Culinary Center (Oceania Wins). I don’t even think Viking has a Culinary Center. It is undoubtedly a draw for me.
  • Smoking Lounge (Oceania Wins). If you want to smoke on Viking, go outside in the weather. Vista’s Smoking Lounge is gorgeous. How about both cruise lines ban smoking entirely, and then Vista can open up her Smoking Lounge to people who want to gather before dinner and not hear music?
  • Casino (Viking Wins). Because they don’t have one. The space they saved by getting rid of their casino went into the Wintergarden, a beautiful room where anyone can gather. With Viking, we were drawn to the things they don’t have as much as to the things they do. No kids under 18, no casino, no ship photographers, no upsell in the spa, no indoor smoking, etc.
  • Artist’s Loft (Oceania Wins). Another great extra on Vista. I didn’t use it, but it was jammed every single day.
  • Complimentary pressing (Viking Wins). Oceania said we got pressing of our clothes when we arrived. There were coupons in our stateroom. Five of them. That means that you can have five things pressed. On Viking (in the PV–the stateroom we had), you got free pressing all the way through the entire cruise.
  • Free Laundry (Viking wins). We got about the same amount of free laundry on both ships, but the note on Vista said that it could take “up to three days.” Well, if I have three pairs of pants and two are dirty and I send them to be laundered and then I spill something on the one I kept, I am out of luck for three days. I do realize that they were under-promising and over-delivering because many who sent their laundry out got it back one day later. But I can’t take that chance.
  • Launderettes (tie). Both have great self-serve laundries, although the ironing boards on Vista could be bigger.
  • Beds (Oceania wins). This is a hands-down thing. My bed on Viking was almost unusable. It was way too hard for me. Our bed on Vista was excellent (Kathleen thought the pillows sucked, but they didn’t bother me that much).
  • Ships across the entire line (Viking Wins). We were on Vista, Oceania’s newest ship. The entire line has seven ships, with one on the way in 2025. We have heard that Vista, Marina and Riviera are all about the same size and have the same features. But the other four are old R-class ships with some of the tiniest staterooms in all of cruising.—175 square feet in their verandah staterooms, and their Penthouse Suites are only 260 square feet—they call that a suite? Our Concierge verandah on Vista was 250 square feet. The staterooms on those ships are just too small. And those ships were all built in the 1990s. That’s just too old. Viking has 11 ships, with one on the way in 2025. They are all identical—seriously. You go on one, you go on all of them. And all were built since 2014, with four of them going into service since 2022.
  • Deposit and Final Payment Due Dates (Oceania wins). This is a total given. Viking is notorious for having the earliest final payment dates in all of cruising. For instance, if I buy a Viking cruise today (October 2023) that will sail in December 2024, my Viking Ocean final payment will probably be due on December 31, 2023. But by the same token, Oceania’s final payment will be due 90 days before the cruise sales. Of course, you can still get all your money back from Viking before 120 days with only a $100 PP booking fee loss (and you can apply those to another cruise), but the biggest complaint I hear from Viking cruisers or those who want to cruise with Viking but haven’t tried them yet is this early final payment date. When someone asks me why they have that early a date, I tell them, “Because they can.” Their passengers are amazingly loyal. If people stopped booking Viking or their ships were sailing empty, this might change. But as of now, it isn’t.

Food! I thought this deserved a special category all its own

  •  Grand Dining Room/Main Dining Room (Oceania wins). I HATE Viking’s dining room. There were low ceilings and a staff (at least on our cruise) who was totally disorganized, not to mention some food that wasn’t really that good. O wins here big time.
  • Specialty Restaurants (Oceania Wins). Was there ever a doubt? There are only two on Viking—Manfredis and Chef’s Table. Manfredis is a sorry excuse for an Italian restaurant, and the Chef’s Table has a fixed menu. It changes every few days. If you don’t like what you get when you go on the day of your reservation, you are stuck. I was stuck. All four Vista specialty restaurants are better than either of these.
  • Grille (Viking Wins). Surprise. But the Grille on Viking is so much better than the Waves Grille (for lunch) that it isn’t even close.
  • Buffet (Tie). I almost gave it to Oceania here, but cold desserts and serving entirely the same menu two nights in a row knocked it down to a tie.
  • Mamsens/Baristas (Oceania). I have to get this to Baristas. I love Mamsens, but Baristas’s pastries and coffees are so much better.
  • Aquamar Kitchen (Oceania Wins). Because there is nothing like it on a Viking ship. And I want to eat lunch there every single day.
  • Pricing (Tie): Here’s a comparison of two different cruises in three types of staterooms.

Here’s a price comparison on a 2024 New England cruise. This is much like the one we did, minus Miami and Charleston.

  • Viking Penthouse Verandah (338 square feet) for 15 nights in New England is $8999 per person. Per Night cost on Viking is $599 pp
  • Oceania Concierge Verandah (173 square feet) 18 nights New England on Nautica (one of the older ships) $10,599 per person. Per Night costs $588 pp
  • Oceania Penthouse suite (260 Square feet) $13799 pp, $766 per night pp.

Or I did a Mediterranean cruise in the same time frame. Comparing a Rivera–10-night Med cruise in the fall of 2024 with a 15-night cruise in the Med on any Viking ship.

  • On Viking: Penthouse Verandah for 15 nights Med (338 square feet) $ 11809 Per night $739 pp
  • On Oceania: Concierge Veranda Stateroom (242 square feet): $6299 pp Per night  $629.
  • Penthouse Suite (420 square feet) $ 7599 pp Per night $759

Yes, each line offers different things with their base price, and they aren’t all the same. I met a guy on Vista, an accountant who does an Excel spreadsheet for all their cruises. I am not that interested. A few dollars either way doesn’t make that big a difference to us. Ultimately, it all comes down to what is important to you. If it’s food, sail with Oceania (stick to their bigger ships), but if it is pretty much everything other than their final payment stuff, try Viking. All that said, we have future cruises booked with both of them, so I guess we are still deciding.

Reality doesn’t bite, rather our perception of reality bites.
—Anthony J. D’Angelo




Speciality Restaurants…one is truly special

Vista has four specialty restaurants. Unlike most cruise lines, you get to eat there for free. No charge! But you have to make a reservation—in advance. Everyone gets four guaranteed—one in each restaurant. Unlike Viking, where you could get into one of their two specialty restaurants almost any night you tried. We tried to get another reservation for Toscana, but we couldn’t. We really wanted it, but all they could offer us was 8:30 p.m. on the last night of the cruise. We were not doing that one. So the message here is: if you want to eat in a particular restaurant on a particular night, be online on the day you can make reservations at midnight EST and make them. I was lucky enough to get ones that worked well for us.

Before telling you about the four of them, I want to reiterate the Steve Test from yesterday’s post.

The Steve Test

After our disastrous Celebrity Millenium cruise in May of 2022, my brother Steve came up with a way to rate food and restaurants on a cruise better than I have ever been able to do it myself. From then on, I have called this the Steve Test. Here it is: If you eat in a food venue on a ship, be it the main dining room, buffet, grille or a specialty restaurant, and that restaurant were near you once you got home, would you go there again?  

That’s pretty simple. I think it is the best way I have ever heard of to rate food on cruise ships, and I will rate each venue (and, in the case of some of them, by the dish or meal) using the Steve Test.


Ember (I keep wanting to put an S on the end of it and name it EmberS) is a new restaurant that is only onboard Vista. On Marina and Riviera, you get the French Bistro, Jacques, named after Oceania’s menu-planning chef, Jacques Pepin. So we didn’t get high-end French food; we got slightly higher-end Applebees food. Check out the sample menu on the Oceania website , which will give you an idea of what we ate that night. I had the lobster roll appetizer (mostly bread, very little lobster), salt-crusted beetroot salad (it was “fine”), the pork chop (Mine was OK but the sauce was watery, Mike’s was tough), a side of “potato dippers” with no dip??? Not sure what that was about. I finished up with the fried Beignets (dry as a bone with very little sauce underneath them). All-in-all, it was a very unimpressive meal.

Even though it wasn’t my favorite meal on board, I do want to thank the maitre’d Raja (also the head of house in the Aquamar Cafe during the day) for taking such good care of us. When I made the reservation, I could only get a table for five and another for two. When I saw Raja in the Aquamar in the afternoon, he came up to me and addressed me by name and told me he would have a table for seven ready for us that night—that is service!

My Steve Test Rating: Not a chance. Worst of the four specialty restaurants. Just not impressed at all. Would I go again—nope, I don’t eat at Applebees. Never have, never will. How bad was it? I didn’t even take a photo. Go down and eat at almost any American restaurant. You will see just what the food looks like. I can’t wait to try Jacque’s on Riviera. They should replace Ember with it as soon as possible.

The Polo Grille

This is Vista’s steak house. I need to say upfront that I am not a steakhouse person. If I want a steak, I will grille my own. We don’t eat that much beef—balsalmic ribs on Christmas Eve, etc. But I can count on one hand the number of times I have ever ordered a steak in a land-based restaurant…in my life.

I thought this was the most impressive restaurant, ambience-wise. High on deck 14, with wrap-around windows and low lighting, it is beautiful if you come in pre-sunset. We barely got here in time to see the sun disappear. We didn’t appreciate that this was the only restaurant where they didn’t have a table for seven for us. They basically just pulled up another chair to a table for six. This made eating a little painful. The number of dishes they brought to the table would not fit on the table. Sides had to be quickly scooped onto entrée plates. And don’t stick your elbows out, whatever you do. Here’s a link to the menu on Oceania’s website. I had the escargot, no soup or salad (None of the selections appealed to me), the rack of lamb (they were “fine” as rack of lamb goes), the truffle parmesan fries and the roasted asparagus spears. For dessert, I had the Polo Quartet. This is a small sample of all their best desserts. It included their chocolate fudge brownie, key lime pie, Bailey’s cheesecake and Granny Smith Apple Crumb Pie—the best part of the meal.

Here are some quick pics of some of what we ate.

My Steve Test Rating: Since I don’t eat at steakhouses, I am not the one to ask about the Polo Grille. My brother loves steakhouses and often orders a good steak. I will let him give the rating on this one—I just texted him. He said he would go back, but it would depend on how much it cost. So I asked him if he had to choose between the Capital Grille and Polo, which would he choose if the prices were close. He said Captial Grille—hands down. Maybe compared to Sizzler 🤪?

Red Ginger

Red Ginger is Vista’s Asian restaurant. Before we went, if I told someone we were going on Oceania, they would tell me that I would LOVE Red Ginger. That it was the best Asian restaurant they had ever eaten in. Having eaten there, I wouldn’t say it was the best Asian restaurant I have eaten in, but it was very good.

The ambiance in Red Ginger and Ember (located on Deck 5) is nowhere near as good as in Polo Grille and Toscana. Mainly because you can’t see the ocean. But that’s OK. The food made up for it. If you have been to Red Ginger, you know that their most loved dish is a watermelon and duck salad. I am sure it is wonderful but I despise watermelon, and Kathleen is highly allergic to duck, so we didn’t even try the dish everyone raves about. And I am not a big soup fan, either. So that meant I got to try three appetizers instead of a soup and salad course. Yummy! Here’s a link to the Red Ginger menu. So you can see what I didn’t eat.

I started with a special appetizer that isn’t on the sample menu featuring my favorite food—octopus. I followed that with the spring roll and then the crisp ginger calamari. I think the pic of the ahi was Steve’s, but I am not sure. My entrée was an easy choice as they had soft-shell crab on the menu, a dish I have loved since I had it in Bangkok. Theirs was excellent. I finished it all up with a steamed ginger cake. All-in-all, a wonderful and tasty meal. Here are a few photos from around the table.

My Steve Test Rating: I would eat there on a monthly basis if this place were nearby. Just about every dish was better than what we get when we go out for Asian food. The local place has much the same type of menu, but Red Ginger just seemed to up the game on every dish. For example, instead of calamari, they gave it a slight twist and added a bunch of ginger. Nice touch.


Way up on Deck 14 aft, on the opposite side of the ship from the Polo Grille, sits one of the best Italian restaurants I have ever been to. Usually, we don’t go out for Italian food. That’s because I make a lot of Italian food. So I went to Toscana expecting another great Oceania meal. What I got was a wonderful Italian dining experience. One that I would put up against any place we have eaten in our four trips to Italy.

It wasn’t just the food (which was amazing) but also the service and the bread and the olive oil and balsamic pairings (by the wonderful Massimo from Milano) and so much more. This was more than a meal; it was the way I want to be treated at every restaurant I ever go to. Viking Ocean has an Italian restaurant called Manfredis. Toscana and Manfredis should never be mentioned in the same sentence (shame on me for doing it here).

They will blow you away from the moment you arrive. You sit down; they bring you one of the most amazing bread services I have ever seen. Then they put bowls of superb parmesan cheese (big hunks of it) on the table for you to share. Massimo comes by to pair any of seven or eight incredible olive oils with any of five or six balsamic vinegars to dip your bread in. Then, the wonderful sommelier comes over and recommends some great Italian wine. While you are sipping that, your server takes your order. When you tell him that you would really love to try the lasagne, but you don’t want to eat an entire order of it, and a few others around the table say the same thing, he says he will take care of it. Later in the meal, four entire orders of lasagne show up for the seven people. We all say we will try a bite, but when we finish dinner, there is very little left.

Let’s get on with the rest of the food, though. Click here to see the Toscana menu. I started with the stuffed artichoke. It was just fine, but it was the only thing I had that night that I wouldn’t order again. Then I sampled (devoured) the lasagne and topped it off with my entrée—the best dish I had on the entire cruise on Vista, the Agnello Arrosto.

Seriously it was that good. Here’s the description from the menu: “roasted stuffed lamb loin, spicy soppressata sausage, spinach, aubergine stiletto, tomato jam.” That sounded amazing to me when I read it, but to be honest, it was all about the sauce. I would give my right arm for the recipe for that sauce. But everything just came together for that dish. I can’t say more great things about it.

How good was it? I didn’t even have dessert. I didn’t even think about dessert. What I really wanted for dessert was another serving of roasted lamb, which was beyond amazing. When you do another Oceania cruise, forget the other specialty restaurants. I will book Toscana for four nights and order the lamb. Maybe the photos will make you even hungrier.

My Steve Test Rating: If this restaurant were within 100 miles of here, it would be our “celebration restaurant.” It is the kind of place you go for your birthday or anniversary. If it was within 30 miles, I might go once every other week if I could afford it. I have to try and find out how they make that sauce. But it was more than just than just that one dish. It was the entire experience. I would sail on Vista again to have that Toscana experience one more time. 

I think that about covers food on Vista. If you have any questions about the food or the restaurants, please ask away.

Eating is not merely a material pleasure. Eating well gives a spectacular joy to life and contributes immensely to goodwill and happy companionship. It is of great importance to the morale.
—Elsa Schiaparelli





It’s All About the Food

As is the case on so many cruises, it’s all about the food. There is something about being able to eat out at a restaurant every single night during a vacation, and they never bring you the check (except for drinks).

Within the cruise industry, it is common knowledge that Oceania is known to have the “best cuisine at sea.” Is this true? My judgment is that I expected too much and that 90% of their food is better than 90% of the food on other cruise lines. Other lines we have been on have had some dishes or meals that have stood out over the years. The original United States Dining Room on Celebrity’s Infinity was amazing, as was Qsine before Celebrity ruined it with their stupid Petit Chef. Some meals in Club Orange on Nieuw Statendam were as good as anything we ate on Vista. The grille on Viking Sky is better than the Waves Grille on Vista. But all in all, Vista has better food overall.

The Steve Test

After our disastrous Celebrity Millenium cruise in May of 2022, my brother Steve came up with a way to rate food and restaurants on a cruise better than I have ever been able to do it myself. From then on, I have called this the Steve Test. Here it is: If you eat in a food venue on a ship, be it the main dining room, buffet, grille or a specialty restaurant, and that restaurant were near you once you got home, would you go there again?  

That’s pretty simple, right? I think it is the best way I have ever heard of to rate food on cruise ships and I will rate each venue (and, in the case of some of them, by the dish or meal) using the Steve Test.

Please keep in mind that the Steve Test Ratings below are my ratings. Steve will (I hope) chime in with a comment about what he thinks passed his test.

Editor’s Note: Since this is about the food, I struggled to figure out how to cover it. I didn’t want just to list things we ate. So let’s take it venue by venue. And sorry, but I don’t have the menus for every restaurant, but my buddy Mike will when he does his review. I am more about taking “pretty pictures,” and Mike is about remembering that you want to read the menus. I will post a link as soon as his review is up. Is it done yet, Mike?

The Grand Dining Room

This is the best place to start. We ate dinner here our first three nights and never went back. It wasn’t that we didn’t like the food. It was because they had just about the same food in the buffet, and when we went to the buffet, we didn’t have to dress up and put on hard-sole shoes. We also found that dinner took so much longer there. If we went to dinner when the dining room opened at 6:30, we never got out of there before 8:30. Sometimes that is fine, but when you are going to bed at 9:00, it leaves you stuffed and feeling bloated when you are trying to sleep. We also found that we ate too much. We would be seated; they would bring out some bread to keep us going while we went over the menus. They would take our order and bring more bread. We would eat it. They would bring the appetizers…and more bread. Then the same thing through the salad course, the soup course and finally the entrées. The only course without bread of some kind was dessert. And yes, I have absolutely no self-control when it comes to bread of any kind. So we switched to the buffet for dinner.

I will say here that the dining room food and ambiance were far superior to Viking Ocean or pretty much any cruise ship dining room we have eaten in for quite a while. Here are some of the dishes we had in the Grand Dining Room. I tried to remember what they were, but it’s been two weeks. I will mention if they were either exceptional, bewildering or just bad. Don’t forget; if you click the first shot, you can then scroll through with your arrow keys or by swiping.

We also had breakfast in the Grand Dining Room once because they serve lamb chops for breakfast, and we all had to try that—because we all love lamb—at least Steve and I do. Here’s the pics on that.

My Steve Test Rating: Nope, not special enough. Nothing really stood out. If this restaurant were next door to my house, I wouldn’t go back.

The Terrace Cafe

In the buffet, we found pretty much the same food as the dining room but in a more relaxed setting, and we also found (much to our surprise) that we ate less. For one thing, a lot less bread. We would all go grab a salad or some sushi, have that, and then instead of eating bread and waiting for the next course, we would just walk back and get an entrée or two. When we were done with that, we went back and grabbed a dessert. And all of it was excellent food.

We did have a couple of quibbles. First, the desserts were always cold. Even cobblers and bread puddings that should have been served warm were kept cold on purpose. It ruined a bunch of very good desserts. Second, sometimes, they would repeat menus/theme evenings. The last two nights had the exact same menu, and we actually think that some parts of what was available that evening were just leftovers from the night before. Sadly, this is what their parent company, Norwegian Cruise Line, is doing with their top-tier Haven product. They have the same menu every night in their Haven dining room, so why not migrate that idea to Oceania? It would also be nice if they had a couple of other large tables. With seven of us, we had only two tables in the buffet where we could all fit. Steve and Jamie would often go up and save one of those two big tables so we could all eat together. Other than those three rather minor things, we loved the Terrace Cafe.

The thing I really loved the most, Terrace, was the service they gave our buddy Jocelyn, who was walking with a cane. Almost every time she would go to get some food, she would come back to the table with no plate in her hand…but she would be followed by a server or maitre’d with her plate in their hand. I loved how they took such great care of her—heck, of all of us.

My Steve Test Rating: I would go back…for certain items and for the amazing selection of things. There was never a night (not even when we had the same menu two nights in a row) that I couldn’t find something I really wanted to try.

I also need to mention one amazing meal that we ate in the Terrace Cafe. Other than our night at Toscana, this was the most memorable food I had on board. I wish they had done this menu again and again. I would have eaten there every day. It was a Mexican-themed lunch. And the Chocolate Mole’ Braised Short Ribs were the second best dish I had on the entire cruise…from any Vista restaurant. It is really hard to get a chocolate mole’ sauce to work. So many chefs try it but Vista’s chef hit the ball out of the park. That plus there were a lot of other great Latin-American dishes as well.

My Steve Test Rating: If I could get this dish at home, that would be the only restaurant I would ever eat in again. Well, maybe not the only one, but I would get really fat if I could drive to this within an hour.

The Aquamar Cafe

My incredible Poke Bowl

This is a new eating venue for Oceania (or so I think–please correct me if I am wrong) and other than the design (open-air to the outdoors) it is one of my favorites. The idea is healthy alternatives for breakfast and lunch. We never ate breakfast here but I can tell you, when these guys do healthy lunch, the knock it out of the park. We ended up eating lunch here at least eight days out of 15. Maybe more. They had a poke bowl that knocked my socks off. Easily in the top three things I ate onboard. They also had some of the best sweet potato fries with chipolte mayo. Only problem was, you had to order them again and again because they never brought enough 🤪. The crispy chicken burger was Kathleen’s favorite. I had it once and really liked it but it was really hard for me to eat there without having that Poke Bowl. Here’s a few pics.

My Steve Test Rating: I could eat lunch at the Aquamar Cafe every day for the rest of my life. If it were next door to my house, I might never go anyplace else. Oceania hit it out of the park with this restaurant for lunch.

Waves Grille

On the opposite side of the ship from the Aquamar Cafe was the Waves Grille. They were really two restaurants in one. At lunch, they served burgers, paninis, one specialty dish (paella, chili, BBQ chicken, etc.) and had an ice cream counter. In the evenings, they turned into a great little pizza place with some pretty great pizza.

As a grille at lunch, I wasn’t impressed. Nice place (very crowded), burgers were OK. Paninis were “fine.” Fries (thick steak fries) couldn’t hold a candle to the sweet potato fries in the Aquamar Cafe. You could get the ice cream at the buffet, and the two times I had the specialty dish, I was unimpressed.

But at dinner, their pizzas were excellent. They do New York style, but the crust was a little too thin for me. But the choices were excellent, and one of our favorite parts was that you could order a pizza and have it delivered to the buffet next door. One night, we decided to do a pizza night, but there is not a single table that would hold seven of us in the Grille. So we took up our regular table in the buffet (just inside the door to the grille) and ordered one of every kind of pizza they made. They gave us a number, asked where we were sitting and brought us every pizza…and a BBQ beef flatbread that was WONDERFUL!

My Steve Test Rating: For lunch—FAIL! I would not go there for burgers. The grille on Viking Sky was far superior. But for dinner, their pizza was really good and that night was one of the most fun meals we had. That said, I probably wouldn’t go back there either—I make better pizza 😁.

That’s going to be it for today. What’s left here are the four specialty restaurants on Vista. I have some work to do today, and I want to get this post online. So tomorrow morning, I will hit those and then the final review and comparison.

There is no sincerer love than the love of food.
—George Bernard Shaw

Vista’s Culinary Center—two of us took a class

This is a short bonus post for anyone who, like me, likes to cook. Vista has a culinary center on deck 14 forward that ranks with any facility that I have ever taken a cooking class in.

Prior to the cruise, I signed up for the only cooking class available in the online reservation section for our cruise. I had hoped to do a few classes, but the one I ended up taking was all that was available for pre-cruise booking. We later found out from the instructor that there are usually spaces left for some to book on board and that there are cancellations as well. So, if you aren’t able to reserve the class you want or as many classes as you want, check with the reservations desk on Deck 5 when you are on board. Happily, the one class I signed up for, Cathy, signed up for as well—so I had a cooking buddy.

The cost for the class was $79, and that included two hours of instruction by our amazing teacher, Noelle, cooking and having fun, as well as eating what we made. To say that this class was well organized, that the facility was impressive and that the instructor was excellent would all be a gross understatement. All those things were true.

Our class was called “Lovers Together” or something like that. Cathy and I kept teasing Mike and Kathleen that they better come up and keep an eye on us. But the “Lovers” the class description referenced were the wine pairings—when wine and food are “Lovers.” I know—stupid marketing speak. Just say Wine and Food pairings.

I would guess by now you get the fact that this class and facility were top-notch. Forget the fact that we are on a ship; I would take classes here (at a great price) at sea or on land—just an amazing experience. If you like to cook, take a class on an Oceania cruise. You won’t be disappointed. Another great thing about these classes is that Noelle had three assistants who would set us up with everything we needed for the next course and clear out our refuse from the previous course while Noelle would have us come forward for instruction.

Here are some photos I took (with my phone) of the culinary center, the food we made and the class itself. I put captions on these so you will know what you are seeing.

After photography, cooking is my second favorite hobby and I love experimenting and taking cooking classes. These were great. The instructor was super helpful and answered all our questions including helping us with possible substitutions. That’s a great teacher—willing to adapt.

Be back tomorrow or Wednesday with my final review.

I’m not a chef. But I’m passionate about food – the tradition of it, cooking it, and sharing it.   —Zac Posen


Vista Public Spaces…continued

I forgot to mention earlier that I needed to break my tour of Vista up into different posts because there are so many photos. I got all the rest into this post, but it may take a few minutes to load, so read slowly.

BTW: There are no public areas on decks 7, 8, 9, 10 and 11. Those are all staterooms, and there are even some more staterooms on the forward area of deck 12. And, of course, due to silly superstition, there is no Deck 13.

Deck 12–eating and swimming—all in one place

Deck 12 is basically broken up into three parts—those staterooms that are forward, the swimming pool area midships and three food choices in the aft section. I am not going to say much about the pool. Not only did we not use it on this cruise, but no one really did until the last two days or so; it was just too cold or rainy. But I did get some pictures of the pool and the surrounding area.

Headed back on the starboard side from the pool, you walk right into the Waves Grille. On the opposite side is the brand new (not on any other Oceania ship) Aquamar Cafe. We loved both spaces, but on our last sea day, we noticed something that may be a problem in both places. That last day, when we finally got into warmer temps, we suddenly realized that both venues are open to the outside with no way to air-condition them adequately. We had lunch (a lot of times) at the Aquamar, and that day, it was hot and humid—no AC. After lunch that day, we wandered over to the grille—same problem. When we were in colder weather, they had heaters in the ceilings that kept everyone toasty. But when it got hot and humid, there are no fans or AC that can keep up with the fact that the place is wide open to the outside air. In the Caribbean, this may be a BIG problem.

And finally, the Terrace Cafe or, as it is well known…the buffet. It was a very nice buffet. Well-designed, with really nice tables, and it included an outdoor area that was really only used on the last two days of the cruise because it was cold out there. We wish there had been more tables that would fit the seven of us (there were only two), but sometimes there were only six, and there were a few more of those.

Deck 14–Eat it on 14

One of our favorite places on the ship was on Deck 14, where Kathleen and I had breakfast almost every day—Baristas. The incredible Massimo presided over a wonderful coffee bar, and within two days, he got to know our coffee order and where we were sitting. It’s a really nice space, and I know I took photos of it, but darned if I can find them. If I dig them up, I promise to post them.

But I do have photos of other spaces on Deck four, including both of the specialty restaurants located on the aft end of the deck. We ate in both Polor and in Toscana, and the decor and wrap-around windows made both rooms a joy to visit.

Just in front of Toscana was a truly beautiful and much larger-than-expected library. They had some really great. books, tons of games and very nice places to sit. I spent a little bit of time there because they had some great books on travel photography.

At the front end of the ship were a variety of smaller rooms and the really wonderfully large Horizons Lounge. You find this type of forward-facing lounge on most ships, but this one had a lot more real estate for a smaller ship like Vista. It was a good place for cocktails, especially when entering or leaving a port, but our last night in NYC it was a madhouse because the Captain was nice enough to buy everyone complimentary cocktails while we sailed down the Hudson. The place was JAMMED! So it can get crowded. It can also be loud and conversation-stifling because starting at 5:45, the ship’s band made dance music (very few people danced—never saw more than six or eight couples), and if you weren’t seated all the way on the other side of the lounge, it again became impossible to hear anyone who wasn’t whispering in your ear.

On your way into Horizons from the stairs or elevator, you pass a number of small rooms housing the Culinary Center (took a cooking class here), the Smoking Lounge (one of the nicest places on the ship???), the Lync Digital classroom/meeting room (you could go there to take a class or for internet help and they also used it for meetings) and the Artists Loft (where you could take an art class).

Deck 15–Lost it on 15

I’m just going to run through these from bow to stern. Upfront, the spa is the star. Didn’t use it or the gym or the Aquamar Spa pool, steam rooms or hot tubs…but I did take their pictures so you would know what is available.

Also, on Deck 15 aft, there is a one-tenth-of-a-mile running/walk track (I spent a lot of time here), a shuffleboard on the starboard side and a bocce court on the port side. My one complaint about this deck was that they closed it too often for winds. If you are going to have a deck, you have to keep closing due to wind, but some kind of wind barrier up. My guess is that on the sea days (when I needed it for exercise) it was closed four out of five days.

Deck 16–A little more activity

Deck 16 only exists on the front of the ship. It is another outdoor activity space that gets closed when the weather is windy. You can find pickleball, miniature golf, a golf-simulator and cornhole.

Whew! That does it. The grand tour of a grand ship. Hope you enjoyed it. It’s funny that this one took longer to organize than any other post. So many great places. Vista is a classy, new ship. When I do my final review tomorrow, I will mention the few things we really did not like about her.

You can find tranquility, you can find party, you can find new friends. I’m a cruise convert.  —Guy Fieri



Let’s look at Vista: Decks 5 & 6

We are home, and I am sitting in our living room after a very late flight, a good ride home with Century Car Service of Seattle and a fairly decent night of sleep. So, as promised, I am bringing you (between taking a walk, helping Kathleen with loads of laundry and sorting through our mail) my virtual tour of Vista with my comments on the different parts of the ship.

Going up! Let’s start on Deck 5

Unlike any ship we have ever been on before, Vista started with public decks on deck five (there is the infirmary on four). Most ships start at two, three or at least four, but Vista starts on five. And only about half of deck five, is open to passengers. Starting from the very front, there’s the Vista Lounge, Vista’s main showroom. I would love to say that I saw a bunch of shows there, but sadly I didn’t. If you want to read about the shows, make sure and check out my buddy Mike’s review in a few weeks. He saw them all. I saw one—a hilarious comedian—Cory Kahaney. We had seen her on an old show called Last Comic Standing and truly enjoyed her, so I joined Mike and Cathy at the show.

BTW: The reason I don’t attend shows is not because we don’t like shows. It used to be (on Celebrity) that we stopped going to shows because we had seen them all after so many cruises on the same line. We stopped going because, in case you can’t tell from the description on my photos, I get up REALLY early to take photos and to write posts REALLY early, like 4:30 a.m. (See what I give up for you my readers 🤪) So, by the time it rolls around to show time (usually 9:15 or 9:30), I am out of it. Cory’s performance was hilarious, and I really wanted to go back when she did her second show a few days later; I was wiped out and had to skip it. I should also say that I did attend some of the lectures by our two excellent enrichment speakers held in this lounge.

The Vista Lounge is a nice theater, but it needs more height. If you are at all of a diminutive stature (short 😁) then you will be moving your head from side to side to see anyone on the stage. Part of this is due to Vista’s size. On most cruise ships, the theater is much larger, but on Vista, they don’t need the large number of seats that a 6,000-passenger ship needs. There is nothing that can be done about it, but this is just a heads-up. Here are some pics. For all of these shots, feel free to look at them on your phone. Nothing artsy here. Don’t forget; if you click the first shot, you can then scroll through with your arrow keys or by swiping.

Shops and Customer Service

Also, on Deck 5, you will find the Oceania Shops and a reception desk, a concierge desk and a Destinations desk (shore excursions) midships. Not being a big shopper, we walked through these once, just for me to get photos. And I only had to visit the reception desk once. And I almost forgot, these shops and desks are placed all around the grand staircase in the Atrium, where there is a beautiful glass sculpture. Here are some pics.

Two specialty restaurants

I am going to review the dinners we had at these two restaurants in an upcoming post on food. But I did want to show them to you. Vista has four such restaurants, and deck four has Red Ginger (Asian food) and a new restaurant to the Oceania fleet—Ember. (We heard it referred to as this shipboard version of Applebees.) Either way, here are some pics.

Going to Deck Six—climb the stairs–the elevators suck

Before I go on to Deck Six, I want to take a moment to talk about the elevators. There aren’t enough, the ones they have aren’t big enough, and many of the people on them are beyond rude.

First, let me say that other than walking on with carry-on luggage at embarkation, I NEVER take an elevator on a cruise. But Kathleen does, and she encountered so many problems she reminded me that I had to mention them.

First, there are only two elevator banks on Vista. One aft (nearest our stateroom) with two full-size elevators and the other at midships with four elevators. Of those four, two are full-size elevators, and two are small, oddly shaped glass elevators that hold fewer people. Just about every day, at times when people would be moving around (usually meals or before shows), those elevators were slammed. Going to lunch in the Aquamar Cafe on Deck 12, I would leave her at deck nine and climb the stairs. Many, MANY times, I would climb the stairs to deck 12 and have to stand and wait for 5-10 minutes for her to arrive. It was even worse at the dinner or cocktail hour. It got REALLY horrible when one of the elevators would go down. This is ridiculous on a six-month-old ship. By now, they should have fixed any problems and they can’t chalk it up to the ship being old.

At disembarkation, I had to carry my carry-on and my 35lb computer/camera down a flight of stairs because one of the aft elevators was out…during disembarkation—when people are trying to get down to get off—are you kidding me? Every floor had at least six to eight people waiting to get on an elevator. And many of these people were elderly or handicapped.

Deck 6—you got here—let’s eat and drink.

Deck 5 had started at the bow and went back to the Atrium. Deck six starts at the Atrium and goes to the stern. Basically, decks five and six are one deck. This is because the theater on deck five needs more space above the theater, and when you enter the Great Dining Room (GDR) at the stern, you walk down into the room. That gives the GDR some very nice high ceilings.

Starting from the Atrium, you have the Oceania Club (people who have sailed with Oceania before) and future cruise sales. This sits right above the Atrium. If you are interested in purchasing a future cruise, please keep in mind that there are only two reps selling them (they give you GREAT incentives for booking on board), and that means a lot of waiting. They also have limited hours because they have so much paperwork, so be cognizant of that when you are planning your time. Sea days are the worst—big lines.

Moving aft, you run into Martinis, a very nice lounge—especially early in the morning—this is where I did most of my writing and photo processing between 4:30 and 7:00 a.m. We only went there for drinks once or twice because of the live music they play that makes conversation almost impossible. Otherwise, it is a very nice lounge. Here are some pics.

Further on beyond Martinis is a long hallway with a beautiful floor that runs on the outside of the casino. We are not casino people, so the only time we walked through was when I was taking photos. I did walk by a few times when it was open, and since the wall between the hallway and the casino is glass, I could tell that things were hopping and people seemed to be really enjoying themselves.

Further down that hallway, you walk into the Grand Lounge, which is really just a long, wide room leading to the Grand Dining Room, where they serve you drinks prior to dinner. It is also where the wonderful classical string quartet plays every night. We had cocktails here a few times (which were great), but this, too, was not a place where we could converse. The quartet were excellent musicians, and the people who were there to hear them deserved to be able to hear them and not us talking, so we continued to search for a place where we could have a nice cocktail and talk.

On the other side of the ship from the Grand Lounge, in a much smaller space (with a VERY low ceiling, as my brother found out), is the Founder’s Bar. This was the place for truly special cocktails. The kind that cost a bunch but are often smoky (with real smoke). But this one didn’t work for us because there were only tables for two. It’s a kind of an out-of-the-way bar, and their main job is providing the cocktails for the Grand Lounge.

And lastly, at the stern is the aforementioned Grand Dining Room. This room is drop-dead beautiful. It is everything I like in a dining room, lots of space but divided into smaller spaces. It reminded me of a nice restaurant instead of a banquet hall. My only quibble with the design was that the only two tables we ever had dinner at were in the corners with no windows. When I go on a cruise, I want to see the ocean. More about this in my final round-up but I will say that this dining room is beautiful. Here’s my final set of pics for this page.


Disembarkation…Warnings, Thunder, Lightning & More

I am waiting at the airport and thought I would do two things. I want to drop you a photo of one of the most magnificent sunsets I have ever seen (taken last night at sea off Florida from the 14th deck).


We did all the usual stuff: Put our luggage out the night before, kept clothes and carryons to get off with, had breakfast in Baristas, told Massimo goodbye, packed up and got out of our stateroom by 8:00.

Disembarkation from the ship was a little delayed. The first people were not allowed off until 7:45, so please take that as a warning if you think you will just be able to walk off to catch an early flight. We got off with the first group.

From that point on, we split into two groups. Mike and Cathy were driving home to Wellington (just 40 miles or so north), and I needed a ride to the Avis office to get a rental car for the day. Mike, Cathy and I were some of the first to exit under a covered awning and then into an air-conditioned room warehouse-like room where all the luggage was located. We got their luggage (Kathleen, Jamie and Steve would get ours when they got off), and we were on our way. Their driver met us right outside the building, and we didn’t get too wet getting in.

I talked them (and their driver) into taking me the two miles (as the crow flies) but nine miles (as the car drives), which was awesome of them. We had a heck of a time finding it because our driver was only letting his phone show written directions and not a map. We came very close to hitting a median barrier head on. It was about as scared as I have been while driving in a while. But we did finally get there.

People had warned me about this particular Avis office. That they would not start their shuttle to the port until 9:00 am (when you have to be off the ship) or that they would not have cars ready when you got there, no matter when you reserved them. I was hoping this would not be the case with me, but alas, it was. I was the first customer in the door at 8:00 a.m. when they opened. The lady at the desk said that they were cleaning my car and that I would have to wait. We had reserved a Chevy Suburban because there were five of us with all our luggage, and when I came in, I had seen a white Suburban about a block away in their parking lot.

Did I forget to mention that when we got up this morning on the ship, there was a light rain, and it was 85 degrees? And that as soon as we left the ship, the heavens opened up and literally dumped water. Thunder, lightning and the equivalent of a firehose of water. So, getting from Mike and Cathy’s ride to the Avis counter left me soaked to the skin.

Inside the agency, I was told to have a seat. There were four chairs and room for about eight other people to stand, and by the time I left (25 minutes later) the place was full. Not sure what was going to happen when their 9:15 shuttle arrived.

In the meantime, while waiting, I was watching the white Suburban out the window. No one was cleaning it, or anywhere near it, so I kind of assumed it was not my car. Wrong again. After seeing it sitting there with nothing being done to it, my name was called, and I was told that it was my car. Since it was still POURING, I asked if they could possibly pull it up to the office for me so I didn’t have to get the two bags I had with me (and myself) totally soaked. I was told (by the three people working there—doing nothing) that I should just walk the block…which I did, getting myself and my bags thoroughly soaked. I mean, I looked like a wet dog who had been walking in Seattle rain for at least an hour.

And when I got to the car, I could not figure out how to open it. I got the front door open but not the rear cargo area. I knew it was on my key fob, but I couldn’t see through the water on my glasses which little icon it was—I finally got it figured out and got into the car to try and figure out the car’s systems. It was at this point that I wished I had paid better attention in high school Spanish because all the controls on the cars were programmed in Spanish, and I was darned if I could figure out how to change them back to English. In the meantime, 9:00 am had rolled around, so I needed to get back to pick up Kathleen, Jocelyn, Steve and Jamie at the ship. So I had to use my phone to navigate, and I was back in front of the cruise port within about 20 minutes…just as they were walking off. They jumped in the car, and we were off.

Off to where? Originally, we had wanted to do a Miami tour because all of us were leaving in the late afternoon. But at the last minute, Steve and Jamie’s flight got moved way up (it’s 3:30, and they are already in the air), but ours didn’t. That’s why I rented a car. I also found a Miami driving tour app that did a nice 1.5-hour tour of Miami with narration and GPS. It worked fairly well, but it still needs improvement. When we were done with the tour, it was time to drop Jamie and Steve at the Fort Lauderdale airport. Once we had them off to airplane land, we headed into downtown Fort Lauderdale to grab lunch. We found a great Mexican place downtown—El CaminoGive it a try if you are downtown, but remember, the portions are enormous.

And that led us back to where we are now, Fort Lauderdale airport at 4:30 p.m., waiting for our 5:40 p.m. Alaska Air flight. We will get back tonight around 9:00 PST (which will be midnight based on when we got up), and then we have about an hour ride home. Whew. I am tired just thinking about the six-hour flight coming up. Thank goodness we are in First Class. And thank goodness we are heading home. See you tomorrow with a ship tour in photos, provided I get out of bed. Otherwise, it might be Monday.

Oh, and we have all decided it was basically a great cruise and a great trip, no matter how many rental car snafus there were🤣 .

Where we love is home – home that our feet may leave, but not our hearts.  —Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.



Charleston: Bad Bread On My Great Sandwich

Let me explain the headline here. Imagine my day yesterday was a sandwich with moldy bread but a great piece of BBQ brisket in the middle. That was my day in Charleston.

When I finished writing up yesterday’s post to finalize NYC, I headed upstairs, and while Kathleen was in the shower, I heard what I believed to be the pilot boat outside our verandah. So I grabbed my camera and went out to shoot photos. What I saw might have been a harbinger of what our day would be like—two tugboats—actually pushing and pulling the ship. In all our years of cruising, I have never seen the wind so bad that it took two tugboats (one pushing, one pulling) and the ship’s thrusters to get us on the dock. Added to that bad wind was driving rain. And I was going to go out and walk in that as soon as we docked.

Here was our plan at that point. I had rented a mini-van from Enterprise Rent-A-Car. Their office was 1.9 miles from the cruise terminal. I was going to take a walk with my camera on a beautiful sunny day, get the car, and then come back and pick everyone else up for a day of planned activities. Then, at the end of the day, I would drop everyone off, return the car and walk back to the ship.

Problem one: It was not a beautiful, sunny day. The rain was coming down sideways, and the wind was at (according to the ship’s info on our TV) 34 knots. But I had a job to do, and I was going to do it. So I grabbed the big golf umbrella that Oceania puts in every stateroom, and I headed out to go get the car. The walk was not pleasant. The umbrella reversed itself in the wind about every 10 steps until I got away from the port, where I was better protected from the wind. By the time I got less than 500 yards from the ship, I was pretty much soaked from the waist down. The spray from cars going by hitting big puddles didn’t help either. But I mustered on. And after a long, wet, dreary slog, I got to the car rental place. Except the sign at right is what I found.

I had made the rental car reservation with Enterprise in February when Mike and I were planning excursions. We each took some ports, and I had taken Charleston because we had been here before and loved the city. In all the time since April 28th, when the sign in the window states that this office closed…permanently, you would have thought that Enterprise would have bothered to let me know this pretty important fact? Did they? NO! In fact, they had sent me an e-mail reminder about my rental two days prior showing this address. In fact, if you go online to Enterprise right now, you can still book a car at this address. WTH???

To say I was upset with Enterprise at this point was probably one of the biggest understatments of this century. I was screaming, cursing, soaking wet, standing in front of a closed store. So I call the number on the sign. I was put on hold by their automated system for five minutes and then told that their voicemail was full and hung up on. Did this three times before I finally decided to call their 800 number, which put me in touch with another Enterprise agency about a 20-minute drive away from where I was. Notice I said drive.

At this point, I have to give this Enterprise agency (they are a franchise) full credit. Their manager jumped in and sent an Uber for me, got me to her store, had the car I had reserved ready and waiting and had me on my way back (a 30-minute drive) to the ship in no time. By now, it has been almost two hours since I set out, and I am just getting back to pick up the rest of the gang—minus Kathleen, who had caught Jocelyn’s cold—and get started on our day.

Our original plan had been for me to drive the group downtown, where we would grab a horse-drawn surrey and take the tour around the older parts of the city and the waterfront. Not only had we lost the time to do this, but the horse-drawn surreys were covered to protect people from the sun, but those covers would do nothing to stop us from getting soaked by the wind-driven, sideways-falling rain. So we bagged that idea, and I drove the group around the old section of town that Kathleen and I had visited in 2016.

Our plan for the day continued with an early lunch at Rodney Scott’s Whole Hog BBQ. When I was here in 2016 to teach a workshop, I met James Roller, a great guy who owns and runs a website called DestinationBBQ.com. He is something of an authority on the vinegar-based BBQ that is all around this state. I asked him then what BBQ place was the best in Charleston, and he said, “Hands down, it’s Rodney Scott Whole Hog BBQ.” So I went and tried it, and he was right! I mean, this place has a James Beard award for BBQ. That has to say something. And I love going to eat someplace that someone tells me is the best, and it is. So, when I came back with friends to Charleston, I had to take them there. If you go, and you eat meat, you should go there too.

We had the MOST amazing lunch. To me, this lunch was the best thing I ate on the entire trip. Or at least it tied with our meal in Toscana (on the ship) for the best meal. It was so good I have to describe it to you. I ordered the two-meat combo, and the two meats I chose were the “whole hog” and the brisket. Each order comes with two sides and a slab of cornbread. I got the collared greens and the onion rings. Topped that off with a local IPA, and I was in HOG HEAVEN! The meat was melt-in-your-mouth, and the sides were perfect. If you are ever in Charleston, this should be your one must-eat place…unless you happen to be a vegan.

Our next stop was a drive out of town to the Magnolia Plantation. We had booked three different 45-minute tours there in advance. The first started at 1:00 p.m., and we arrived right on time. The first tour is entitled Slavery to Freedom. We met up with our guide for this tour, the wonderful Vanessa (who had recently moved here from Seattle), and she shared with us the life of slaves on the Magnolia Plantation from the mid-1600s through the present day. I am ashamed I did not get a photo of Melissa, but my buddy Mike did, and I will let you know when his review comes online in about three weeks or so. That way, you can see what she (and the other guides I forgot to take photos of) look like. Her tour was definitely the best of the day as she did a presentation, and then we toured four historical slave/free man quarters. See my photos below.

From there, it was on to our tour of the plantation house. The photo of the outside of the house is here because we weren’t allowed to take photos inside. Our tour guide was Millie, and again, you will have to wait for Mike’s review to see what she looks like. (BTW: I will post the link when Mike’s review is done, so you if follow me, you will get it when it is ready.) It was a very nice tour, and Millie (a retired teacher) was an excellent guide. The house is very nice.

Our last tour started just outside the house when we boarded a tram and were taken on a tour of the grounds to see how they farmed rice in the 1850s when the plantation was in full production. It was a nice tour, but since the driver who did the tour was two cars in front of us, I never got his name. This tour was just “fine,” and we all decided that if we were to do the tours again, we would skip this one. It’s just not enough to see beyond some swamp and some far-away baby alligators.

At this point, our plan was that I would drive the rest of the crowd back to either downtown or the ship, and then I would go and return the car and walk back. Well, you know I couldn’t walk back. This presented another problem. We were 28 minutes from the ship, the rental car return was 25 minutes from the ship, and I needed to have the car back by 5:00. We left the plantation at 3:55. YIKES! Not only that, but if I got the car back by 5:00, they would give me a ride back to the ship. After that time, they would be closed, and I would be on my own. Needless to say, it was one of the longest, most stressful drives of my life. I did get the group back to the ship, knowing full well that I was going to have to turn around and go back out to the rental agency. And as we drove to the ship, we just happened to notice that the road I had to drive back out on was SLAMMED WITH TRAFFIC! I was not in a good place. The ship wasn’t sailing until 6:30, but I was beginning to doubt I would be able to get back in time. I was sure I would never get back to the rental agency by 5:00, so I would be on my own to find an Uber to bring me back to the ship. While waiting at a light on the way back, I checked, and the nearest Uber could not even get to the agency to pick me up for 45 minutes, and the ride would cost (surge pricing at rush hour) $64.

But thanks to the Apple Maps app that routed me around all the traffic on some back country roads that made me think I was lost the entire time, I made it to the agency at 4:58. They had their van going out with the incredible Linda driving it, so she took me back to the ship. And she even found a way to get me back on board by 5:45. She is my Charleston hero. I was sure I was going to have to call my friend who lives in nearby Mount Pleasant and get him to let me spend the night and then fly to Miami today. Thank goodness that didn’t happen.

So now you can see why I said yesterday was like a moldy bread sandwich with great filler in between. Our lunch and tour were excellent, but getting there and getting back were not.

With all of this going on, I did manage to get some pics so here they are. Don’t forget; if you click the first shot, you can then scroll through with your arrow keys or by swiping…and PLEASE…don’t look at my photography on a phone. Please…

That about covers one of the MOST STRESSFUL DAYS of travel I have ever not had the pleasure to experience. Loved the lunch, liked the plantation, and I will NEVER rent from Enterprise Rental Cars again. The idea that they never told me that location closed or that they are still showing it open on their website is just WRONG!

Just a quick note about the rest of this review of our Oceania Vista cruise. We are on our last full day today. We are at sea, headed to Miami (where it is predicted to be raining and 99 degrees—how fun) tomorrow to disembark. After we tell Mike and Cathy goodbye (they live in South Florida, so they just need a car ride to get home) we will execute a plan to get the rest of us to the Fort Lauderdale airport at different times. I will also be renting a car there (but thankfully from Avis—and you can believe I checked on it) and driving. Steve and Jamie to catch their 2:51 flight back to Orange County, and then Kathleen, Jocelyn and I will grab lunch before we return the car and get on our 5:40 p.m. Alaska Air flight to Seattle.

My plan is to finish the review at home, where I will do a quick post on disembarkation (probably tomorrow at the airport) and then, sometime in the next few days, do a major post (with photos) about the public rooms on Vista followed up by my last post summing up and reviewing the cruise itself with a comparison with Viking Ocean. I hope you will stick around for the last couple of posts.

Charleston is one of the best built, handsomest, and most agreeable cities that I have ever seen. —Marquise de Lafayette



Day 2 in NYC: I Need More Power! And better feet.

Pre-dawn photos

Our second day in New York City started early for me (Like, when is that a surprise?) with a two-hour photo walk. But that walk got interrupted before it even began…twice. First, as I was leaving the ship, I looked at my phone (that I use to track my travels, navigate by GPS, call Kathleen if I need to, etc.) and found that it had not charged overnight even though it had been plugged in. Damn! So I walked back upstairs and plugged in. I knew I could get it up to around 40% in under 30 minutes, and that would be enough. Half an hour later, I was on my way.

This time, I got off the ship and through security before I thought, “You should check your camera batteries as well.” (I always have two on me. One in the camera and one in a pouch on my camera strap.) The one in the camera was at about 25%, but the one on my strap was…dead. So, back through security, back on the ship, up 4 floors to grab my third battery, which thankfully was fully charged. Finally, I was on my way. Whew! That was frustrating.

My original intention had been to re-walk the High Line, but since I had done that the day before and also five years ago, I decided to go out and shoot some light—Times Square. On the way, I thought how ridiculous it is that I would NEVER walk in the dark for that distance in Seattle. I would never have felt safe. But here I was in the Big Apple, and I felt totally secure. Working people were everywhere, a friendly cop on most corners and strangely enough, walking three miles around Manhattan, I did not see a single person high on fentanyl, asking for money or doing anything but getting on with their day. What a difference a few years makes. Seattle wishes it was as safe as NYC.

At any rate, I had a fun walk around the Times Square/Broadway area and these are the photos I brought back (and of course they have captions). Don’t forget; if you click the first shot, you can then scroll through with your arrow keys or by swiping…and PLEASE…don’t look at my photography on a phone. Please…

Midday trek

Back to the ship, and after a quick breakfast, and five of us were off in an Uber to explore NYC. Jocelyn was still getting over her cold, and Kathleen felt like it was coming on, so they elected to stay on board. We were first headed to Zabars on the Upper West Side. If you have never heard of Zabars, just imagine the most well-stocked grocery store you have ever been to, where you can get ANYTHING, and it is all crammed into two 7-11s…with an entire kitchen shop on top of it. That’s Zabars. Here are three quick shots to show you what I mean.

All the sections of the store were as well-stocked, with as many choices as the cheese section. Add an upstairs cooking supply store, and for people like me who love to cook, it was magic. We stuck around there, but I knew I wasn’t going to buy anything because I didn’t want to have to lug it around the rest of the day. I am ashamed to say that every product I saw in the kitchen supply shot that I really wanted, I took a photo of with my phone and will be ordering those from Amazon when we get back home. I love to support small businesses but Zabars looked like they will survive (they have for a very long time).

I got done looking long before the rest of the gang, so I went outside to find a mailbox to drop some postcards I had written. Yes, I still write postcards. And then I planted myself in front of the store and did some street photography until everyone else had made their purchases. Here’s a quick gallery of photos from that session of waiting about 15 minutes. Don’t forget; if you click the first shot, you can then scroll through with your arrow keys or by swiping…and PLEASE…don’t look at my photography on a phone. Please…

I forgot to mention that this midday foray into Manhattan had totally broken one of my absolute travel laws—never go anywhere unplanned. For me, the worst thing to be when traveling is just wandering around and going, “What do you want to do now?” Just typing those words bothers me. I know. I should just be spontaneous. But more arguments and ruined vacation days have come from those seven words than I want to remember. But there we were outside of Zabars, asking ourselves where we wanted to go. So we checked the map and found out we were just north of the entrance to Central Park, and since no one in our group except me had ever walked through the park, we decided to head that way.

Once we were in the park, the next question was where to go. I had never been to the Belvedere Castle, so we headed off to find that. Hopefully, it would make a good photo-op. It did. After exploring the castle and the views from the castle, we spoke with a park guide who suggested a great walk down the rest of the park to Columbus Circle. I was all up for this, but that’s because I am the walker in the group. The rest of the group decided that what they wanted most in NYC was a pastrami sandwich at a deli. So they headed off to find one on Lexington Avenue, and I headed south into the park on the route the guide had suggested to shoot more photos. Here’s what I got in the park. Don’t forget; if you click the first shot, you can then scroll through with your arrow keys or by swiping.

After I took the second Belvedere Castle shot, the battery in my camera died, and I had to switch to my partially charged backup. Talk about worried. I knew I had a long way to go to get back to a charger. So I walked through the rest of the park, making sure my camera was only turned on to take a composed shot that I liked. For me, this was sheer torture. I like taking pics of everything (that’s why my batteries keep running out) and then sorting them out later. I probably discard 80% of the photos I take. But on this walk, I only took the ones I absolutely HAD TO HAVE. And this situation put me on another search. I was in Manhattan. There must be a camera store nearby where I could buy a new Nikon battery. Hopefully, they will have one fully charged and ready to go. So I popped out Google Maps on my phone and Googled nearby Nikon stores. I about fell on my face when I saw I was only 1.9 miles from the midtown home of B&H Photo.

For those of you who are not nutso, serious photographers like me, B&H is our Mecca. They are the ultimate camera store. They are only in NYC, but half the serious photographers in the USA buy from them. I had considered going there earlier, but I would have been the only one interested, and it would have been way too tempting for me. They literally have everything! Of course, as it turns out, they don’t have everything. They don’t sell fully charged Nikon batteries. Damn! (But that was OK. I got to spend about an hour browsing B&H and didn’t spend a cent.) Did I mention that B&H was at 34th and 9th? Because now I was way past Pier 88—so off I went to get back to the ship and to rest my feet. My total miles walked on this day in the Square, The Park and B&H was 14.2. To say my feet and legs were mad at me is a huge understatement.

The walk back was uneventful. I didn’t have any more photo opportunities because, by now, my camera battery was totally dead.

Sailing away from Manhattan

My plan (since I had shot our sail-in to NYC) was just to take a few photos as the ship was sailing back down the Hudson to the sea. But when I went up on deck and found that there was almost perfect light focused on the city, I had to stay and take more than a few photos. It was a good thing I had completely charged one of my camera batteries as soon as I had gotten back to the ship. Because, in that 45-minute trip from Pier 88 to the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, I shot almost 300 photos. Everywhere I looked, there was perfect light on something else. I hope you agree. And don’t worry. I culled them down to a few of the best. And these you really shouldn’t look at on a tiny phone screen. Don’t forget; if you click the first shot, you can then scroll through with your arrow keys or by swiping.

Other than an evening meal at Ember (another of Vista’s specialty restaurants–That I will review soon along with the other three and all the food), that was about it for this day. It’s a good thing because my feet could not take standing anymore. I was thrilled that yesterday was a sea day, and I didn’t have any place to go except an onboard culinary class—more about that tomorrow. Today, we are in Charleston, South Carolina, and I look forward to a short walk to pick up a rental car, a covered surrey ride around downtown, some of the world’s best Carolina BBQ at Rodney Scott’s and a tour of the Magnolia Plantation. With a 90% chance of rain…this should be fun.

“I get out of the taxi, and it’s probably the only city which in reality looks better than on the postcards, New York.”   — Milos Forman


Whew! NYC wore me out…but it was GREAT!

So much to tell you. I hope I get this done before I have to go upstairs to do laundry (If I’m not the first person there on a sea day, I will never get it done.)

So, to go back what is now three days, there will be no report on Martha’s Vineyard. After a fairly bumpy ride on Saturday night, the Captain made the decision that the seas were too rough and the swells too high to use the tenders safely, so we skipped the Vineyard and floated around out at sea for most of a day. But that worked out as early Monday morning, we sailed under the Verrazano Narrows Bridge into New York Harbor. We got incredibly lucky with the weather for both of our days in NYC. From the sail-in until the sail-away, we had either sunny or partly cloudy skies. Temps in the 50s and 60s, so I was loving it.

Day 1—we sail in

My day started at 4:45 a.m. when I headed up to the Horizons lounge at the front of the ship to watch the city get closer. Then, around 5:45, we sailed under the aforementioned VN Bridge, past Lady Liberty and all the way up the Hudson to Pier 88. We arrived at around 8:00 a.m., and the captain made what I thought was a miracle turn into our berth… I came back in from shooting photos to warm up. Even though the temps weren’t that bad, the wind on the deck made it feel a whole lot colder. But I got some great pics, and here they are. Don’t forget; if you click the first shot, you can then scroll through with your arrow keys or by swiping…and PLEASE…don’t look at my photography on a phone. Please…