Monday, March 14, 2011

Our Anniversary at the Mission Inn, Riverside, CA

Mission Inn
The Mission Inn

This will be a short entry because I already did a blog on the Mission Inn on February 7. I actually wrote that entry the day before, on the 100th anniversary of President Reagan’s birth, and I chose the Mission Inn because that’s where he and Mrs. Reagan spent their honeymoon.

I’ve lived in Southern California for over 30 years, and the research for that blog post convinced me that this was a place we needed to see, however belatedly! So I’ll share with you some of my favorite photos from that day.

The Mission Inn
Plaza in front of the St. Francis of Assisi Chapel at the Mission Inn


The Mission Inn
Staff member was guarding the door during a wedding inside the St. Francis of Assisi Chapel at the Mission Inn

The Mission Inn
I find this one intriguing. Why was the door cracked?

Mission Inn
The workmanship is amazing on this façade of the
St. Francis of Assisi Chapel
(even if Assisi is misspelled, per my research).

Mission Inn
The Mission Inn has an incredible conglomeration of architectural styles.

Guest Room at the Mission Inn
A room on the top floor at the Mission Inn


Clock Tower at the Mission Inn
The famous clock tower at the Mission Inn


Mission Inn
So European in feeling!


Anniversary Brunch at the Mission Inn
Our anniversary brunch at Duane’s


Our Anniversary Dessert at the Mission Inn
The surprise dessert they brought us


And we lived happily ever after!

Monday, March 7, 2011

Exclusive Tour of Oceania's Brand-New Ship, Marina

Oceania Cruises’ newest ship, Marina

Last week my husband and I had the opportunity to tour Oceania Cruises’ brand-new ship, Marina. If you’re a follower of the ScheckTrek blog, you may recognize that as the ship whose “Grecian Glory” itinerary I chronicled from November to January. So even though I was fairly familiar with what many of the public areas and staterooms look like, it was a special treat for me to be able to see it all in person. The only thing lacking was that I wanted to “feel the sea move under my feet,” to paraphrase Carole King. But I look forward to taking care of that part of it in due time!

This tour was only open to travel agents – some of whom flew in from Canada just to see this ship first-hand – but I can at least provide you with a visual tour and let you know why we thought it was special.

First of all, it’s gorgeous! We overheard agents saying they thought it’s the most beautiful ship out there, and its staterooms are especially nice. Prior to Oceania’s release of Marina, the staterooms on their existing three ships ranked 3rd, 5th, and 7th, respectively, in Conde Nast’s ranking of the top 20 ships in their size category. For Marina, Oceania has upsized and upgraded the staterooms – all of which is to say, they’re really nice!

Master Bedroom of the Owner’s Suite on Oceania's ship, Marina

There are three Owner’s Suites on the ship, each with 2,000 sq ft and a large, wrap-around veranda.

Dressing table in the Master Bedroom of the Owner’s Suite of Oceania’s ship, Marina

I should have had my husband take my photo while sitting at this table, pretending!

The Music Room in the Owner’s Suite of Oceania Cruises’ ship, Marina

This is the short side of the wrap-around deck of Marina’s Owner’s Suite, but this is the side with private Jacuzzi and outdoor television!

Our tour started in Horizons, an elegant lounge overlooking the bow of the ship and largely enclosed with windows. For this travel agents’ tour, we looked out onto the docks of San Diego; but imagine seeing the passing scenery of Adriatic coastline, for example, while sipping champagne and tasting canapés.

We then had the run of the ship, with one of each type of stateroom and suite available for our inspection. Marina has four suite levels: Owner’s (pictured above), Vista (1,200-1,500 sq ft), Oceania (1,000+ sq ft), and Penthouse (420 sq ft). All provide butler service and access to the Executive Lounge.

Following are photos of the Penthouse Suite. Though larger and with added amenities, it is similar in feeling/decor to the Veranda, Ocean-View, and Inside Staterooms.

Sitting area of the Penthouse Suite in Oceania’s newest ship, Marina

Penthouse Suite. There are two upholstered chairs and a table at the foot of the bed – just in case you feel like eating in your suite and prefer not to do it, for whatever reason, on your veranda or in bed.

The pool area of Oceania’s ship, Marina. I dream of parking myself in one of those lounge chairs while at sea.

After the tour, we had a 5-course lunch in the Grand Dining Room. Meals are one of the things Oceania does best. In Conde Nast’s ranking of the top 13 “always the best” cruise lines out there, Oceania’s food ranked 3rd, missing 2nd place by .1 point to Crystal. However, in a separate CN readers’ poll to rank the top 20 specific ships in their size category, Oceania’s ship Regatta, came in first with an overall score of 95.8. Their other ships were 3rd and 5th. The February 2011 publication was too early to include Marina, but I can tell you, we ate well! Following are some of the visuals:

This is the Grand Dining Room on Oceania’s ship, Marina

Beautiful china in Marina’s Grand Dining Room

Though I’m not a fan of caviar, personally, I appreciated Marina’s/Oceania’s generous offering.

I believe this fish appetizer came from Marina’s Red Ginger restaurant.

Surprisingly, considering the cost of gold these days, they gave us some to eat atop the dessert on Marina.  And I ate it!

There are a number of very good cruise lines out there, and sometimes it depends on what a person wants. (For example, those with small children might want to consider a Disney Cruise.)

Oceania is an upscale – though, for some reason, not considered deluxe – cruise line.  It is widely reputed to give good value for the money, and it excels in the following areas (where stats are given, they’re based on Conde Nast’s January and February issues, 2011):

• Ship size. I like medium-size ships, such as Oceania’s. They’re large enough to provide restaurant choices and things to do, but they can get into ports that the mega-ships can’t, and there are fewer lines (to eat, to get off the ship, etc).

• Port-rich itineraries, with enough time to feel you’ve actually been there. A personal pet peeve is to see some place like Santorini, for example, on a ship’s itinerary, but notice that there’s hardly enough time to get up to the top (where you want to be), see anything, and get back down to the ship on time. The itineraries for Oceania’s three earlier ships (Marina wasn’t out in time for these stats) were ranked 2nd, 3rd, and 6th for the top 20 ships of their size; and as a cruise line, Oceania’s itineraries ranked 3rd for top cruise lines (without regard to ship size).

• Food. Oceania Cruises was ranked 3rd for food, and readers of Conde Nast ranked Oceania’s ship, Regatta, in 1st place for food on a ship of its size. Another plus is that Oceania doesn’t charge a premium at any of their restaurants, which is increasingly rare. Four of their 10 dining rooms require reservations (but not set seating times, which provides flexibility) and 6 are open seating.

• Cabins are lovely and, depending on the ship, rank as high the top 5 for ships of its size.

• Crew and service also rank very high on Oceania.

Anyway, we had a really great time!
If you've cruised, please let us know where you went, which cruise line, how you liked it, etc.!  If you haven't yet cruised, where would you most like to go?
If you’d like to see all our photos from this tour, click here.