Friday, February 28, 2014

The Nordic Explorer - Marina

 Marina!
Ready to board!

We immediately fell in love with this dazzling man-made creation! Owned by Oceania Cruise Lines, Marina is to us the ultimate in what a cruise ship should be. Everything about Marina is relaxed, creatively decorated, efficient in the way it cares for its guests (yes, they are guests - not passengers or clients) and a level of luxury that compliments one's every need. The staff from some thirty nationalities is friendly, yet professional. Nothing seems to be too much to ask for. I could continue to rave on further, but merely wish to say that whenever we wish to cruise again (and we have already booked another cruise) it will be with Oceania.

I wrote recently to the General Manager of Marina conveying our delight with the two cruises we have completed:
"Let me say how delighted we were with the excellent service we enjoyed courtesy of Marina staff. You are quite a TEAM!

Oceania’s quest for excellence in customer service is highly commendable. During our two cruises we observed a high level of morale.  This is a credit to senior management as well as to the work ethic of your staff. It requires dedication and discipline to ‘due process’.

I have rarely come across such an outstanding balance of professionalism and friendliness. Marina’s d├ęcor is distinctive and very beautiful; the variety, quality and choice of fine food together with cheerful, helpful staff made our Oceania experience very special. Congratulations!

Why did we choose Oceania? We were looking for a cruise with a smaller passenger list than most and our travel agent, Sarah Hewitt from Cruiseabout in Hobart recommended your line.   Thank You Sarah!!" 
Another reviewer puts it most succinctly:
"From stem to stern, Marina’s vibe is upscale, mature, and unhurried."

One could happily say more, but perhaps I should just say, 'try it for yourself!' and show you some pics of this floating palace:

Welcome! A grand entrance indeed!
 
Grand corridors with original art that changed regularly 
made one feel like being in an art gallery!

Our Nordic Explorer is about to get under way. Even a personalised itinerary with lots of information in the booklet below:

Oceania does it in style!

I mentioned in my introduction that Marina is 'creatively decorated' and the following photographs confirm that most eloquently:
 
 

Naturally, we were looking forward to a comfortable room where we could relax, enjoy a drink, read a book and just chill out. Well, we were not disappointed. Our room was spacious and beautifully appointed. Our cabin attendants went beyond the call of duty and we very much enjoyed Anna and Marco's sensitive care, delighting us with good personalised service. "Thank you!" We hope to have the pleasure of welcoming them in Hobart in late February when Marina berths across the river from us.
What can I say?
A room like this and a bottle of champagne to welcome us!
Cheers!

Fine dining is a priority in making the journey an unforgettable experience. We heard from friends that the greatest danger is to eat too much. I am sure that is true, but we did try very hard to keep our indulgences within acceptable limits. I put on a kg, while Jeanette was really well behaved and lost a kg or so, despite the most excellent dishes and grand dinners that were set before us, including lobster as often as you wished. Once again, the food was beautifully prepared and delicious to the point where we ran out of superlatives.

We had the choice of several restaurants and were always in the company of different folk, which made the experience even more enjoyable. We tried at least six of the restaurants available including:
 Red Ginger
 Grand Dining Room
Marco Polo
The Terrace

The presentation and service was always excellent:
 And this was only (???) breakfast!

When at sea, we made good use of the 4 pm High Tea with all its trimmings. It wasn't only the nibbles, but also the great music that a string quartet delighted us with. I will include a photo of the four ladies who entertained us. My apologies for less than a clear photo, but it will hopefully give you a bit of an idea:
 High Tea in the Horizons
Every day this grand piano was used and , as well, the string quartet also 
played while we enjoyed pre-dinner and post-dinner drinks. How civilised!

While some of the guests enjoyed the pool, others indulged in more creative activities, like Jeanette who booked herself in a glass painting session, which she found enjoyable and relaxing.

 Impressive!

For those who didn't mind the cooler weather!

Our 14 day cruise is about to get under way, the first port of call, Helsinki in Finland. Then.....? Well, here is a map of our route. This blog will seek to cover all the ports.

Enjoy the journey with us!

Monday, February 24, 2014

The Nordic Explorer - Stockholm

It is almost a year since I last wrote on my blog. Hard to believe, but true. Always loved blogging and share with family and friends some of life's wanderings and experiences. Recently, I have just not been motivated to put 'pen to paper', so to speak. Or should that be 'fingers to keyboard'?

Well, 'fingers to keyboard' it is! Quite a number of our friends have been waiting for updates about our (not so recent) overseas trip. including a couple of fantastic cruises. It was a big decision to embark on another loooong plane journey to Europe to catch our first cruise. Yes, I did say, 'first cruise'. We were tossing up whether to do the Nordic Explorer that covered Scandinavia and the Baltic or to go on an Eastern Mediterranean cruise. We liked the look of both and in the end decided that, seeing it is such a long plane trip from Oz to Europe, we might as well do both.

On the 10 September we made our way to Sydney and then joined British Airways to Stockholm via Singapore and London. Only a mere 32 hours!! But we had great trip and thankfully managed a few hours sleep. That helped to get over jet lag.

Arriving in Stockholm nicely on time, we were met by a taxi and taken to our accommodation on the little island of Skeppsholmen, which is separated by just a  bridge from the main city.
The island is marked by the yellow circle. Our accommodation is the yellow rectangle.

It was a lovely location and suited us well. The hotel is a converted barracks that has all the atmosphere and ambiance we were looking for. All so close to the water and within walking distance to most of the attractions, including the old town of Gamla-Stan. And if we didn't feeling like walking we just took the hop on-hop off boat and enjoy this idyllic water transport.

We soon unpacked, had a bite to eat and then couldn't wait to put our walking shoes on and with cameras at the ready, went walking. What delightful scenery and interest points awaited us. The weather too was just the ticket for a great afternoon of exploring. Jet lag, I hear you say? What's that. Let's go baby!

 Our hotel was beautifully situated.

If you look at the map you can follow our walking track from the hotel around the island beginning at letter 'C'. Too easy! The waterfront was lined with beautiful old boats and other points of interest. Let me give you a short tour, beginning with this delightful scene across from our hotel:


From here there was an endless variety of boats - too many for me to show!


As we wandered, we could not help thinking of our dear friend Fred, who would just soak up this place like a dry sponge. Wish you had been with us Fred:

Don't you love the letter boxes?!



 
And just to break the row of old boats, a blacksmith shop of the old variety, 
but sadly without a friendly blacksmith.

A Viking ship to add further to the afternoon.
And below, something quite different.
 Then this great looking ship  that is used as a floating hotel!
But there is more! We still haven't quite finished for the afternoon.
A breather would be good, and the look tells me we are thoroughly enjoying ourselves. 
Not even jet lag can interfere!

As we walked, we were captivated by the outstanding scenery and counted ourselves very blessed to have such great weather.
 
Gorgeous views of the harbour!
 

 
A castle to give even more atmosphere and below,
an old cottage right on the water. Great living!

  

A very happy afternoon and we loved it! By now our eyes must have started to look a little heavy. We did not linger too much over the evening meal and soon retired to a well deserved and much needed sleep.

Some ten hours later, we rose to new beginnings. A typical European breakfast was a good beginning and we wasted no time to get under way. Walking of course! This time over the bridge that connects the island to the main city.
 With ongoing royal views.
The Grand Hotel on the left where VIP's stay when in Stockholm. 
I love it that in this area there are no high-rise skyscrapers of metal & glass.
Sweden's Houses of Parliament. Nice setting.
Going fishing in retirement on the steps of the royal palace is certainly different!
 The entrance to the royal palace.
We just love the following views. Stockholm is beautiful!
Stockholm Opera House

Entering the old city of Gam-stan created a totally different atmosphere. Narrow streets, lots of cafes and boutique shops, lots of people etc. Just a wonderful balance of a 'yesterday' that is for us to enjoy in the 21st century.
Above and below show most attractive architecture. 
And look at the blue sky above!

Irrespective, life goes on for the citizens of the city. 
Kids above having a day's outing with their teachers.
 And the 'kids' above and below, meeting the locals!

Looking at people enjoying lunch made us realise that it was time to replenish.
This looks nice and secluded for a restful lunch. Mid-east fare both of us.

There are many treats in Gamla-stan we enjoyed. One that certainly got our attention was a glass shop that displayed the most exquisite creations made by an artist in Sweden, as you can see in the next photo. I for one was all for buying a couple of items for Jan and adorn our lounge in Hobart with these. In the end, we purchased something a little more modest. Pity really, but still happy!


We simply ran out of time. We just love Stockholm and its 'old city' charm!

 Narrow street? Yes sir! Just so wide and less.

By mid afternoon we were ready to let someone else lead us and so boarded the hop on-hop off ferry that took us for a lovely, peaceful return back to our hotel. Just soak up the ambiance with us:

And above, our hotel seen from the water.

Quite finished? No! No! We went back into the Gamla-stan and had a light evening meal. Then went into the beautiful church for an organ recital that we both enjoyed very much - both music and the interior. Enjoy it with us:



Well, that was some day! We really pushed ourselves and slept wonderfully well. The following day started off with.....of course, a cuppa coffee:

When going outside, the mist gave us an entirely new way of seeing and feeling Stockholm.

 
So quiet and calm, but somehow invigorating.  
Thank you Stockholm!
Just one final walk around the island and then we'll catch a taxi to our cruise ship.  
Marina....here we come!!!!
 Our last pics after the mist lifted. Can it still get better!

See you on the Marina.