Sunday, December 26, 2010

Oceania Cruise: Zakynthos, Greece

This is the fifth in a series that reflects the itinerary of Oceania’s “Grecian Glory” cruise, which will take place in May 2011 in the Adriatic and Mediterranean Seas. The vessel will be Oceania’s soon-to-be-christened new ship, Marina.  (To see my updated version, with photos and diary from our time in Zakynthos on the cruise, click here.)

During this series I’ve been sharing photos of the Marina, and here are some showing a couple of her dining rooms: the Jacques Dining Room and the Grand Dining Room, respectively.  (All photos of Marina from  Due to technical issues, the Jacques photopraph may show up at the very end of the post.)

So far this series has covered Venice (the city of embarkation); Dubrovnik, Croatia; Kotor, Montenegro; and Corfu, Greece. Now we come to Zakynthos, Greece, the southernmost of the Ionian Islands and, with an area of 158 square miles, the third largest.

(Photo courtesy of Wikipedia)
Panaroma of Zakynthos  

The major commerce on the island is agriculture (citrus, olives and raisins) and, not surprisingly, tourism. Visitors flock to enjoy Zakynthos’s warm, Mediterranean climate; its miles of beaches on the north, south and east of the island; and its sheer cliffs, arches and sea cavessuch as the famous Blue Cavesin the west of the island.

Perhaps best of all is that it’s surrounded by turquoise waters that are crystal clear. It must be an absolutely amazing experience to cruise the Greek Islands. I saw a photo of boats that appeared to be almost suspended above the water, due to the water’s clarity.

While in Zakynthos, one may be able to see some endangered Caretta-Caretta (Loggerhead) sea turtles. The island is famous for being a nesting place for the turtles; eggs are laid in the soft sand of the beaches.

(Photo courtesy of Wikipedia) 

Per a very much documented article in Wikipedia, “The loggerhead sea turtle is the world's largest hard-shelled turtle. Adult loggerheads have an average weight range of ...180 to 440 lb and a length range of ...28 to 37 in. The maximum reported weight is ...1,200 lb and the maximum carapace length is ...84 in.” [By comparison, a male Asian elephant weighs an average of 5,100 pounds.]

“Greece is the most popular nesting site along the Mediterranean with more than 3,000 nests per year. Because of this, Greek authorities do not allow planes to take off or land at night in Zakynthos due to the nesting turtles."

Probably the most photographed spot on Zakynthos is Shipwreck (Navagio) Beach—also called Smuggler’s Cove—on the northwest side of the island. A smuggler ship, wrecked in 1983, lies imbedded in the beach, which is only accessible by boat.

(Photo from
Another popular sight, mentioned above, is Blue Caves area in western Zakynthos.

A window in Volimes
Volimes is a traditional mountain village that is famous for products such as handicrafts, rugs, embroideries, china, honey and pure olive oil, all displayed along the roadside.”



The ScheckTrek pick for accommodations on the island of Zakynthian is: Blue Caves Villas.

This is a collection of four villas: Villa Deep Blue, Villa Purple, Villa Crystal and Villa Palace, each with 3-5 bedrooms. Villa Deep Blue includes a 2-3 person guesthouse that can be rented separately. The minimum stay at any of the four is 7 nights, and car rental is “warmly recommended.”

My favorites were Villa Deep Blue and Villa Purple. (All photos of Blue Caves Villas from

Villa Deep Blue

Villa Deep Blue is a Zakynthian style villa of almost 2700 sq. ft., with sleeping accommodations for up to 9 people. It has a private pool and spa, an amazing view, and a foot path that leads directly to the sea. The four bedrooms include a separate, 538 sq. ft. guesthouse.

Villa Purple

Villa Purple has 3 bedrooms, with just under 1200 sq. ft. It can accommodate 6 to 7 people and has a private pool and spa, and a veranda with panoramic sea view.

Outdoor shower?  From a jug?

Do you think you could take being there for a week?  ;)

The next stop on Oceania’s “Grecian Glory” cruise is “The Gibraltar of the East,” Monemvasia, Greece. We’ll “visit” there next week!

Addendum: a subsequent Zakynthos post chronicles our visit there.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Oceania Cruise: Corfu, Greece

If you’ve been following this blog in recent weeks, you’ll know that we’re tracking the itinerary of an Oceania cruise called Grecian Glory. We’ve so far covered its city of embarkation—Venice—as well as Dubrovnik, Croatia; and Kotor, Montenegro. In this post we’ll visit Corfu and, as usual, pick a favorite hotel there for those staying shore-side.

But first, a little more about the 1,252-passenger ship. The cruise will take place on Oceania’s brand new, not-quite-yet christened ship, Marina.
(Oceania photos from  All other photos from unless otherwise noted.)

Earlier posts have included some photos of Marina’s staterooms, including, last week, a couple of the Owner’s Suite (bedroom and bath). This week we have a couple more from the Owner’s Suite, which is simply fabulous.

I could be won over by the zebra rug alone, but we wouldn’t want to become too distracted by that and miss the view out those windows!

Another place to enjoy the view from the Owner’s Suite, and perhaps a favorite beverage, is the foyer.

Before that afternoon drink, though, there’s a shore excursion in Corfu.

Corfu is the second-largest island in the Ionian Sea, lying at the entrance of the Adriatic and very near the coast of Albania. Per Wikipedia, the city’s old town was chosen for the UNESCO World Heritage list in 2007. Its capital city has been officially declared a Kastropolis (“castle city”) because it’s the only city in Greece that’s completely surrounded by the walls of two castle fortresses.

The Liston, Corfu Town

The town itself is one of charming, narrow streets, public squares and numerous French, Italian and Venetian buildings. Perhaps of interest to British subjects or royals watchers is that Corfu was the birthplace of Prince Philip in 1921. (Off the subject, but that makes him almost 90!)


ScheckTrek Pick: Corfu Imperial Grecotel

For those touring Corfu by land, the ScheckTrek hotel pick is the 5-star, Corfu Imperial Grecotel. I would love to stay there! I also applaud their website; I've rarely seen a hotel’s photo gallery that is so rewarding in both the quality and quantity of its photos. So be forewarned, we'll include a good sampling of them; and I don't think these pictures need a lot of discription.  I look at them and feel transported!

The Grecotel's pool and private cove 

Yiali, a Waterfront Fish Restaurant

Odysseus Cocktail Bar

Aristos Fine Dining

Breakfast Veranda

Junior Bungalow Suite

Dream Villa Living & Dining Areas

Dream Villa Corfu, Master Bedroom Suite

Dream Villa Waterfront, Ebony Jet Shower

Royal Pavilion Living Room

Royal Pavilion, with private pool on the seafront

Presidential Suite

Presidential Bathroom—this may be one of my favorites, though several others are vying for first place!

Palazzo ‘Sissy’ Lounge

Palazzo Odyssia Lounge

Palazzo Imperiale Master Bedroom

Palazzo Imperiale Lounge

Palazzo Imperiale, Aerial View

Palazzo Imperiale Master Bath, with Color Therapy

ScheckTrek’s next stop, as we preview Oceania’s May 2011 cruise: Zakynthos, Greece. A beautiful spot!


Monday, December 13, 2010

2010 Luxury Travel Expo

Photo of me with Wendy Perrin at the 2010 Luxury Travel Expo

I spent last week at the Luxury Travel Expo in Las Vegas. Wow, information overload! But it was all so good!

One of the major highlights for me was hearing Wendy Perrin and being able to have my picture taken with her (courtesy of our sound technician :)). Wendy is the consumer news editor for Conde Nast and the author of Wendy Perrin’s Secrets Every Smart Traveler Should Know.  She also has a great blog full of travel tips:

And to think that I was debating beforehand whether to take my camera...!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Oceania Cruise: Kotor, Montenegro

This is the third in a series covering Oceania’s “Grecian Glory” cruise of their new ship, Marina. We’ve so far visited Venice, Italy and Dubrovnik, Croatia.

(Photo from Oceania Cruises)
Oceania's Marina

After Marina’s stop in Dubrovnik (the actual cruise will take place in May 2011) it will cruise about 30 miles south to Montenegro.

We rarely ever hear mention of Montenegro (it means “black mountain”). Other than that it was one of six republics that made up the former Yugoslavia, I knew very little about this pearl on the Adriatic Sea.

I was surprised to learn that Montenegro was included in Yahoo’s "10 Top Hot Spots of 2009." The article referred to it as “this gem of a country,” spoke of its “medieval cities and ancient monasteries, over 200 miles of coastline, a plethora of beaches, soaring Dinaric Alps, four national parks, and two UNESCO World Heritage Sites,” and added that it “ranked as the second fastest growing tourism market in the world (falling just behind China),” (

This sounds like a place we should know about!

Marina’s stop will be in the coastal town of Kotor, which several sources said is one of the best preserved and most beautiful medieval fortified towns in the Mediterranean region. Built largely between the 12th to 14th centuries—but with some earlier architecture, including a 9th century city gate—the town is included on UNESCO's “The World Natural and Cultural Inheritance” list.

We can walk through Kotor’s charming narrow streets, or atop its imposing city wall. The latter is more than 2.5 miles in length, 66 feet tall, and 49 feet wide! The Fortress of Saint Ivan can be reached by walking the walls to the top of the ramparts for the best vantage point of Kotor—from the top.

(Photo from
Ancient Romanesque architecture,
Cathedral of Saint Tryphon

The most representative monument of Roman architecture in the Adriatic, according to, is the Cathedral of Saint Tryphon. It was constructed in 1166 on the ruins of a 9th century temple, then restored in the 17th century, after an earthquake. When seen from the front, the right tower is more ornate than the left. The suspected reason is that the builders ran out of money.

Kotor Bay is often referred to as Europe’s southernmost fjord, though it’s really a 17-mile long, submerged river canyon. From photos on, it looks gorgeous!

(Photo from

Kotor is located at most secluded part of Kotor Bay (the bottom of that dip on the upper right), so it should prove to be a cruise of exceptional beauty, navigating between mountains and limestone cliffs of over 6200 feet.

(Photo courtesy of Sandra Djurbuzovic,


Though this series is following the itinerary of a specific cruise, the stated purpose of the blog is to pick my favorite hotel or vacation rental for each location. So for any who will be visiting Kotor by land, this section may be of interest.

It wasn’t surprising that I didn’t find hundreds of accommodations options in Kotor, but what was surprising—pleasantly so—was the percentage of findings that were updated, and fairly upscale. There was a definite ScheckTrek favorite, however!

The ScheckTrek pick for Kotor is Palazzo Radomiri. Though currently closed for renovations and due to reopen in the spring of 2011, I’m taking it on faith that the renovations will be in keeping with what we already see. If not, we’ll just enjoy the photos for now and search again when the time comes!

Palazzo Radomiri is an late 17th to early 18th century palace that’s been converted into a 4-star boutique hotel. (They call it a Baroque palace, but I'm not seeing that.)  Located on the coast, with a private dock, it has 2 apartments, 5 suites, and 5 rooms. The villa can be rented as a whole, subject to availability.

(Photo from
I can agree that some of the decor is Baroque.

The feeling of this photo is quite different from the more ornate style above. I wonder if the remodel is moving more toward this, a fresher look.

(This and bathroom photo from
The Honeymoon (Junior) Suite


(Above two photos from

In honor of our cruising series, however, here’s another look at Oceania’s ship, Marina, with some photos of the Owner’s Suite.  Very, very nice.

Now that’s a head!
And looking ahead to next week: Corfu, Greece!