“At times, the level of beauty and fashion made the ship seem surreal—like being in a classic Hollywood movie on a gorgeous set with characters cast with an eye for glamour. Your senses will be besieged daily by random visions of extreme, glorious, natural beauty in the ship’s eye-candy architecture, sky, surf and in the form of your fellow passengers.”

This “Travel Tattler” tale is told from the wide-eyed view of a “cruise ship rookie.” I had never been on a luxury liner full itinerary like the 12-day “Caribbean Wanderlust” voyage on Oceania Cruises’ virtually new Vista ship.

The adventure came thanks to a random elevator conversation on the way down following travel broadcaster Peter Greenberg’s taping of his syndicated radio show in his suite at the Bellagio Hotel during the vaunted Virtuoso Travel Week. Frank A. Del Rio was on the lift with me and curious to know, as a travel writer, what had my attention and what I was covering at the travel week conference.

After a little back-and-forth, Del Rio revealed he was president of Oceania Cruises, a company that had been highly recommended to me by a Canadian travel writing colleague, Toby Saltzman. Toby had extensive experience covering cruises. I had zero. Zoe Ward, with NJF public relations, assisted in my exploration of this sector with Oceania, which has ships of various sizes in all oceans across the globe.

One of Vista’s library rooms
One of Vista’s library rooms. Photo by Michael Patrick Shiels

Cruise Cliches Cancelled

It seemed like a solid scheme. My first-ever, full ocean liner cruise experience would be an opportunity for a healthy master reset. Almost two weeks aboard the brand-new Oceania Vista, a 15-story ship—smaller than other cruise ships—known for its culinary excellence and curated quality.

Oceania’s luxury liner was low-density in terms of passengers, but could it be low calories? And what kind of madman goes on a cruise attempting to lose weight? These bountiful excursions are, when it comes to indulgence, as infamous as the “freshman 15” students gain in college cafeterias.

My logic? Oceania Vista offered active shore excursion options ranging from walking tours of Old San Juan to swimming with pigs on Great Stirrup Cay, its private Bahamian island. The shipboard Aquamar Spa and Vitality fitness center opened at 6 a.m. each morning, and there is a scenic walking track around the top deck.

No Excuses

In terms of caloric deficit, when would I ever have it easier? An array of restaurant options and a buffet meant I could easily eat healthy. Assuming, that is, if I put my blinders on and stayed focused on my inner circle of cuisine: fish, vegetables, salads, eggs and fruit.

These items, especially fish, shrimp and lobster, are not always available in my bachelor kitchen. But varieties of them would be at my fingertips during every meal on the Vista and 24-hours a day via room service.

I had no excuses.

As a reward, I scheduled, for the last day of the cruise, a deep-tissue, bamboo and hot stone massage in the Aquamar Spa as an incentive and reward. The spa also offered energizing eye treatments, ELEMIS touch facials, and foot and ankle or scalp massages.

I, attempting to be macho, tried not to “cry uncle” when the massage therapist, Eileen from the Philippines, took my breath away by using her knuckles to work out the tension in my back (which I knew was good for me.) Instead of asking for a lighter touch, I tried to be subtle.

“Wow,” I croaked.

“Thank yooouuu,” she cooed.

“You are….very strong!” I gasped again.

“Thank yooouuu!”

(She did adjust.)

Delicious seafood dinner.
Delicious seafood dinner aboard the Vista. Photo by Michael Patrick Shiels

My Last Meal

To check-in to the cruise and board the ship, I arrived at Port Miami’s Terminal J at noon on a Sunday. I waited, in the dockside building, for my turn to handover my suitcase to a dock porter, show my boarding pass and Passport, and receive my room key and shipboard I.D.

The registration attendant at the counter called over Andrea Zanchi, the Oceania Vista’s executive concierge, and introduced me. He greeted me and welcomed me in English, with an accent, to which I responded, “Merci.”

“I am Italian,” he corrected me flatly.

“Scusi. Grazie mille,” I countered with a shrug.

Zanchi offered to help with anything I needed onboard.

“What time do we sail?”

He told me the ship left at 9 p.m.

“Oh, so I have all day?” I said reflexively.

“Yes. You will want to familiarize yourself with the ship,”” Zanchi advised.

Jumping Ship

“Grazie,” I said, and then, after he left, I jumped ship. I guess I technically did not jump ship because I had not boarded it yet, but I hopped a $20 UBER to South Beach. I figured I’d let all of the other passengers settle in and allow my suitcase to get to my room.

Meanwhile I would watch the Dolphins football game at the famed Joe’s Stone Crab Restaurant take away shop with a lunch of bisque, crab cakes and key lime pie. 

Joe’s has been in operation for 111 years and only a true devotee would make a run to pay $14 for a piece of key lime pie knowing his meals are included the minute he stepped aboard. But I figured my beloved Joe’s was an understandable, iconic choice for one last lunch indulgence.

(True confession; later that evening, once on board, I did eat a Napoli-style pizza at Waves. I also spooned up some Humphrey Slocombe-brand “Elvis the Fat Years” ice cream at the scenic Terrace Café on the ship’s stern. Another “last meal” I guess. Unless you count the room service black angus cheeseburger and fries I ordered before bed.)

All Aboard and All Together

I taxied back from South Beach after the Dolphins beat the Raiders and walked across the terminal gangplank, through a door, and onto the supremely elegant Oceania Vista. I was startled at first as I stepped through a door and onto a seagoing vessel.

The ship seemed more like the poshest hotel in Beverly Hills or a gilded, Golden Age, contemporary palace. It made me want to keep my voice lowered to a whisper.

The sense of arrival is sensual as the ships’ subtle-but-stunning décor is swirling, elegant eye-candy from the minute you enter the door. Muted gold tones and blonde wood floors and accents with earth tones throughout the ship were calming, classy and elegant.

My suitcase was at the door of my stateroom on the eighth deck. I also found a note from the Vista’s social hostess, Clara Morna Freitas, inviting me to a “Solo Travelers Get Together” at 6:30 in the Horizons Lounge.

I found it to be a nice and intriguing idea, so I tried to unpack quickly and get ready to go.

A Macedonian housekeeper named Olivera Olitlateska knocked on my door and entered my sizeable stateroom, which had a balcony with two chairs and small table. Olivera was thorough in describing the room’s features and services.

Stateroom at sea
Stateroom at sea. Photo by Michael Patrick Shiels

A Housekeeper, a Lawyer and a Comedian

Since I was late to board the ship, I had to keep unpacking while she talked. But I was careful to make frequent, appreciative eye contact.

Olivera was funny. She was especially proud of the bathroom amenities: “These are Bulgari,” she stated. “That is no joke.” 

Olivera’s attention to detail was no joke, either. On various days I came to the room and caught her thoroughly deep cleaning, even behind the couch and under the nightstand.

She and her co-worker, named Princess, were fun to see from time to time. Once again, I happened across Olivera performing turndown service. She showed me the jar of wrapped chocolates for placement on each pillow. I held out my cupped hands urging her to pour a pile of the little squares to fill my hands.

“’Mr. Michael,’ she said, “it is moments like this that make fun memories. We are very happy on this ship when we are working and when we are off work in our quarters. We are like family.”

I came to learn that Olivera had a law practice in Macedonia and a degree in criminal studies.

Being routine-obsessive, every morning, no matter where I am, I make my bed, even in hotels. Though I tried to smooth the comforter out, my effort, of course, was not up to Oceania or Olivera’s standards. She worked her housekeeping voodoo magic to make my bed look as smooth as and ice rink.

But Olivera left me a note on the bed one day, joking, “Very nice try. But when will you learn turn-down service?” (She also left me three chocolate squares as a consolation prize.)

Magicians All

I noticed more of this extra-care, “back of the house-slight of hand” (or is it “below-deck deception) one night when most guests were in the Vista Theater. There they would be watching one of the varied, nightly, after-dinner entertainment performances of music, dance and comedy.

Plus, a young, well-traveled magician, Joshua Jay, who said he was onboard to try out new tricks before his next stop: Carnegie Hall.

I witnessed the magic of an “all-hands-on-deck ‘Santa’s elves’” operation as the Vista crew quickly put up tasteful Christmas trees and holiday decorations throughout the lovely lobby area. I saw even the ship’s senior executives hanging bulbs.

Nightly Music to My Ears

I reached the same sprawling, stylish, contemporary Horizon Lounge, with its beautiful circular bar and panoramic window views from the Vista’s stern. Here, I found the seven-piece Vista Show Band, with a sexy singer in a red dress, performing standard hits on the stage.

The following days would find me enjoying the orchestra’s three or four performances every happy hour and evening. It was so cool to hear that kind of rousing and romantic music steps from my suite.

Their music scored my entrance to the Horizon Lounge where I set about looking for the gathering of single souls. 

Clara and the solo travelers first gathering
Clara and the solo travelers first gathering. Photo by Michael Patrick Shiels

Solo Traveler Session

“Do you know where a staff member named ‘Clara’ who is holding the solo travelers gathering is?” I asked a server. He nodded and walked me over to a line of small, four-top tables pulled together and surrounded by 11 people. Every single person at the table was a very much adult woman.

Clara, who was apparent by her youth and gracious formalness, stood to greet me.

“Do you even allow men?” I asked her. The newly-formed group of bachelorettes and widows laughed. “I must be dreaming. No one will ever believe this!” 

I learned, in friendly and funny conversation, that the women were a mix of aunts and grandmothers from Leeds, England; New Jersey; Alabama and Niagara Falls. Clara had ridden the Vista from Miami to Los Angeles and back on 21-day cruises through the Panama Canal. 

The two women from New Jersey, who had each lost their husbands and met at a Pinochle-playing club, talked gambling strategy with me and we planned a run on the ships’ casino some night.

No Third Wheels on Vista

It was fun to see many of the women from that night and the other solo night invitations – including Thanksgiving dinner – throughout the cruise. I must mention, though, that even as a solo traveler, I went all 12 days never feeling like a “third-wheel” or lonely.

Aside from the attentive and entertaining servers, baristas, bartenders and crew members, other passengers were almost always first to engage in casual conversation at the pool, or in the surf or during the excursions.

Bobbing in the surf off Grand Anee Beach in Grenada, I met a man named Eric, who said he had been on 30 cruises. His concern of the day was making it back to Orlando quickly when the Vista returned to Miami because he is a season ticket holder for the NBA’s Magic.

“I sit three rows behind the visitors’ bench,” he said. “The Magic are playing the Washington Wizards, a terrible team, but when I am paying $300 a seat for a game, I like to be there.”

Similarly, I met a woman from Goodrich, Ontario floating off Shell Beach in St. Bart’s. I complimented the bright blonde beauty on her snazzy pink sunglasses.

“These? Thank you,” she laughed. “I got them at Shoppers Drug Mart for five-dollars.”

She and her husband were traveling as guests of her in-laws, who were on their 20th cruise. “My husband doesn’t like the water, so I sent him into town to find us a cold six-pack.”

Oceana Frank and Janet Wenz, of Palm Beach
Frank and Janet Wenz, of Palm Beach. Photo by Michael Patrick Shiels

Plenty of Fun and Casual Conversations

A woman from Tucson told me (and I am not making this up), that she was meant to travel with another couple but before the flight from Arizona, her friend came down with a bad flu. “Her husband came anyway and left her home with their dog-sitter,” she explained.

“The dog-sitter?”

“Yeah, you know…to look after her,” she confirmed.

A couple from Sarasota, Cathie and Bob Kruse (ironic last name) told me they had already booked an Oceania cruise of the British Isles for summer of 2024 and decided, when they saw this Caribbean itinerary offered, to jump aboard and see what the ship was like.

“Does that ‘British Isles’ itinerary you mentioned include Ireland?” I asked the husband.

“It sure does,” he answered.

“I advise you not describe it in Ireland as a ‘British Isles’ cruise,” I teased him. “You might get away with it in Northern Ireland.” 

No Foster’s?

I swam in the surf off St. John’s, Antigua with a couple who had come from “Down Under:” Queensland, Australia – Linda and Peter O’Brien. Once back aboard the “Tropical Adventures” catamaran excursion we booked through Oceania, we feasted on lobster and champagne.

“No Foster’s beer or Vegemite?” I prodded, mentioning two Aussie.

“Even we have to spread that Vegemite very thinly on our toast in order to tolerate the taste of it,” the man revealed. 

It was a fun, boozy day cruise with lots of rum punch poured. A woman with her tall, handsome husband was wearing a one-piece, black, bathing suit with lingerie-like lace drew a compliment from another woman, so I weighed in, as well.

“You know that woman is right,” I told the woman in the one-piece.

“About what?” she asked.

“That swimsuit you’ve got on really is the star of the ship…but as a man I am not supposed to say that!” 

“Awww,” she responded, smiling, squeezing my arm, and winking. “It’s fine. We just won’t tell my husband!”

A family law attorney from London, Ontario overheard and complimented my simple, all white linen look. “You look good, too,” she surprised me by saying. “Really. You are well put-together. I can tell you care.”

The solo traveler gathering arranged by Clara on the first night – and the subsequent ones – really got the social ball rolling. 

Moon over Miami from the Vista
Moon over Miami from the Vista. Photo by Michael Patrick Shiels

Water World on Night One

By the 9 p.m. sailing away from Miami that first night, passengers were scattered throughout the restaurants and on-board entertainment options. But some, like me, gathered in the dark atop the high decks under the moon over Miami to marvel at the ship and hear the horn blasts. Also, to watch a tugboat turn the ship and point her out Miami’s Beach’s Government Cut and toward the Atlantic.

The lighting on the decks surrounding and looking down over the pool are special: swirling spirals of snow fence slats made from blonde wood, up-lit with soft, white and gold lights with occasional tiny touches of color.

From a 14th floor railing, when I was not gawking at the architecture, I watched the water wash by with two women named Lilly and Tobi – the first pair of new friends I would meet onboard. I pointed out the neon of Miami’s “Deco Drive” bars as we slipped out past South Pointe Pier.

The darling dears were New Yorkers now living in West Florida, and, at their station, were more suited for Sarasota than South Beach. The lovely ladies were charming and adorable additions to the shipboard experience.

If anyone tells you, “These ships are so big with stabilizers that you won’t even know you’re on a ship,” do not believe them. The low rumbling undertone of the powerful engines of Oceania’s new ship Vista can be heard and felt at first.

Pool deck under the stars as seen from deck 14
Pool deck under the stars as seen from deck 14. Photo by Michael Patrick Shiels

Late Night Swim

The Vista moved over the Atlantic like a stagecoach during my first of 10 nights aboard. The rising and rocking motion was not unpleasant, but it was noticeable. This was especially true when I saw the water sloshing over the side of the swimming pool and onto the pool’s mosaic-tiled deck area. Shades of green, white and black were designed to make overflow accessible to those who wish to relax in an inch or two of warm water.    

I only waded in the wobbling water because the pool and Jacuzzis closed at 10 p.m. But two days later, with the pool water rolling like waves due to the motion of the ship, I jumped in for an hour of body-surfing through and against them to burn calories.

Humorously, one of the tunes played on the piped in music during the departure hour was Dido’s song “White Flag,” which including the lyric “…I will go down with this ship…”

Aqua Highway

The waves seemed to smooth out, or this landlubber got used to them, after midnight. The rest of the voyage I adored the action. I was happy my Vista voyage always felt like being on a boat instead of a giant floating hotel.

I left the sliding door wall of my balcony open all night to be soothed by the waves and the warm wind. Before I drifted off (pardon the pun), something caught my eye in the blackness beyond the boat: it was the diamond-like lights of another cruise ship passing the other direction back toward Miami.

The big boat was not close, but it was not far either, and it made me wonder if the proximity was random or if there is a sort of designated Atlantic “aqua-highway” for these vessels to take the optimum course.

Shell Beach in Gustava on St. Barth’s
Shell Beach in Gustava on St. Barth’s. Photo by Michael Patrick Shiels

Excursion Time

I awakened to natural light and the sense that the ship was no longer steaming forward. The Vista had arrived near Oceania’s private, Bahamian island called Great Stirrup Key.

By 7:30, I was sitting in the sunshine atop a two-level transfer boat that had pulled up alongside the fourth-level deck to ferry some of us from the ship for excursions on the key.

The boat would make the short run back and forth all day for Vista passengers who wanted to enjoy Great Stirrup Keys beach on a crystal blue bay.

The small group had some chatty couples, including a pair from Vancouver who were also on their first cruise.

Worth the Risk

“My wife suffers from sea sickness. I really wanted to come, so I lured her here with Oceania’s reputation for fine cuisine,” said the husband, who had served in the Canadian military.

“When he showed me the details, I decided it was worth it to risk it,” said the woman, who must occasionally navigate riding car ferries on Vancouver Island and grew up around boats in Newfoundland.

A pair of New Yorkers named Frank and Janet Wenz, now living in Palm Beach, amused me with their excitement, too. Frank was wearing a NY Giants cap and she was sporting purple sunglasses. Seven weeks earlier, Frank had his second hip replaced.

Yet there he was, a retired police officer and former charter fishing boat captain, standing in the sand and surf putting on snorkel fins and diving in. “This trip is his reward,” his wife, Janet explained. She was a psychotherapist and hypnotist who occasionally wrote pointed political columns.

Janet explained that their son, Alexander Krivosheiw, had a connection to Oceania Cruises.

“Three pieces of his artwork are displayed on the ship. Two sculptures at the pool and one in Martini’s Bar. That one is about a woman and her first kiss,” she explained.

“You must be so proud. The artwork on this ship is exquisite,” I said as they attempted to put their fins on.

Frank responded that Frank Del Rio, Oceania’s president, became an admirer and collector of Krivosheiw’s art after randomly seeing it in an in-flight magazine.

Oceana Most cruise stops were dockside - this is San Juan
Most cruise stops were dockside – this is San Juan. Photo by Michael Patrick Shiels

Ship to Shore to Ship

The view of the white sand and bright blue, placid water in front of us in the soft morning light looked like a Robert Wyland painting. But before I began snorkeling in the swimming pool-like bay, I gravitated toward an overwater swing set and was feeling like a kid again, swinging to the live Caribbean music, when a Great Stirrup Cay staffer kayaked over.

“Captain’s orders. You must return to the ship now. Sorry,” he said, before paddling his kayak to the few others who had already started snorkeling in the bay.

I thought, at the start of the day in that idyllic setting, he was joking, but it turned out the wave heights outside the bay were increasing – and expected to grow – which could make it tricky for the tender boats to get people back to the ship later.

Three-meter swells are quite usual for this part of the ocean,” said Vista’s captain, Luca Manzi. “When people come to Caribbean cruises, they probably imagine it is always very nice but most of the time, in these passages, it can be a bit rough. We have to calculate the risk and the benefits every time we are doing something on the edge of the possibilities of the ship.”

Alas, the snorkeling, swimming with the pigs and kayaking and barbeque with Kalik local beers were cancelled. It is mother nature, and shows me the captain is no “cowboy.” Oceania values safety.

With the wave action, I was impressed how the ferry pulled beside the ship in one pass and connected the gang plank. Staffers lined up to help guests wobble back on. We were asked to proceed off the ferry one-at-a-time.

“Women and children first!” I shouted. (My joke received somewhat less than unanimous laughter.)

Vista's pool
Vista’s pool. Photo by Michael Patrick Shiels

Jump In – The Water’s Fine

Since I was still soaked with saltwater from the Cay, once back aboard the ship, I headed straight to Vista’s saltwater pool to get some exercise. My first hour in the pool was spent treading water chatting with a couple from Manchester, England, who were perched on the side.

They had traveled all around the world, even Mount Everest base camp, and otherwise frequently on Oceania cruises, so they made for great company and good laughs.

“Okay,” another poolside woman interrupted us, “has anyone ever said you resemble Alec Baldwin?”

I took it as a compliment.

Because there are a maximum of 1,200 passengers onboard, Vista never seemed crowded. I could hear other conversations at the pool, including a pair of retired teachers who stood near the pools’ entry steps.

“I’m glad this ship is small and not crowded,” said one of the men, who was from Valencia Shores, Florida. “I don’t want to be on a ship with a crowded swimming pool full of people drinking beer at a swim-up bar.”

Cruiser Culture

He had clearly refined his tastes because he said he had taken 31 cruises.

I dogpaddled around the perimeter of the pool for another hour, hearing conversations from the adjacent chase lounges, pool couches and two Jacuzzi’s. I was learning there is a “cruiser culture” among many of the passengers who seem to know the name of each restaurant and facts about the ship.

They relished in sharing details and comparing the Vista to other experiences. Some of the guests are the type who attend every show and get to know the staff by name. Nautical nerds? Nah – devotees.

Everyone I met or dined with on board had extensive world travel experiences to share. From Machu Pichu to Scotland’s Orkney Islands to Singapore and the Azores, these people had been everywhere. The ship was like an explorer’s club. Just be careful when asking polite questions because you may get very, thorough, detailed answers.

Wave Pool

While I was swimming, I felt the rumble of the Vista’s engines crank up as she got underway. Since the ship was moving, I could now feel myself in the “tide” of the pool with swells picking me up and moving me forward or to the side like a toy boat as some water sloshed over the side.

The “wave pool effect” was thrilling in its way, as if I were swimming laps overboard and battling the cruel sea. I bobbed about like a wine cork in a wash machine.

Felix, an always-smiling pool attendant from India, assured me the swells of water would not launch me out of the pool and onto the deck.

“It is not possible. You can swim,” he said…”at your own risk.”

We laughed and became fast, funny friends for the remainder of the adventure. He was just the type of enabler I would want on my side.

The disappointment of having to leave Stirrup Cay’s beach behind so quickly was replaced by the sight, from 14 stories up, of the waves passing us by.

Fitness with a Vista view
Fitness with a Vista view. Photo by Michael Patrick Shiels

Health Kick

There is nothing more boring than talking about diet and fitness. But I will tell you that, after the pool, I realized I had not eaten in 13 hours. It was time to face the ship’s buffet at Terrace Café. It was on the same 12th-deck level as the pool and had a terrace with a sweeping, open-air view of the Vista’s stern.

I successfully navigated through the aisles of delights with a plate of salmon, salad and fruits.

Then I hit the 15th floor fitness center for an hour of elliptical overlooking the Caribbean Sea, which became my daily routine. From the fitness center I was surprised to see the very recognizable sight of the high-rise Atlantis Resort on Paradise Island in Nassau, Bahamas off our port side. (Did you like my use of nautical lingo, there?)

Nassau was not on our itinerary, which was Miami to Great Stirrup Cay; San Juan; St. Barts; Dominica; Barbados; Grenada; St. Lucia; Antigua; and two days at sea before returning to Miami.

It clearly had been a day to improvise, as the captain allowed during the “meet the crew” formal presentation and champagne toast that night in Horizons Bar. 

Scuttlebutt around the ship, but no official announcement for privacy reasons, was that the reason the Vista had us moored off Nassau for a couple hours was a passenger had a medical issue and needed to leave the ship. I found the slight diversion impressive.

Clara Moran Freitas, Captain Luca Manzi, Michael Patrick Shiels and Damien Lacroix
Clara Moran Freitas, Captain Luca Manzi, Michael Patrick Shiels and Damien Lacroix.
Photo by Michael Patrick Shiels

Orange Blazer For the Win

Anticipating that evening’s elegant presentation, and respecting that the drinks were on the house, I dressed-up in an orange blazer, for which I received countless compliments all night.

Lots of people asked if the orange blazer represented a sports team – Tennessee? Clemson? But no. I explained to them Frank Sinatra said, “Orange is the happiest color.” And I figured it had a tropical tinge to it.

So popular was the jacket that even two nights later a blonde woman walking behind me asked me, “Are you the gentleman from the other night who wore the orange blazer?”

“Guilty, as charged,” I admitted.

She told me she loved it.

“It’s not the kind of jacket I can wear every night, but I promise it will make a second showing before the end of the cruise.”

A woman in a polka-dot dress approached me and said, “I’d like to shake your hand.”

“Why?” I asked.

“Because you are ‘different,’” she said, gesturing to the blazer and giving me a thumbs up. “I like to be different too.”

Captain Manzi with the Vista Show Band
Captain Manzi with the Vista Show Band. Photo by Michael Patrick Shiels

Captain, Sir!

In the blazer that night, I passed through a greeting line featuring all the Vista’s senior officers. This included Captain Manzi, a very fit fellow who had previously served in the Italian Navy, and smiled at the jacket as we shook hands, but then seemed startled by what I said next. 

“Look at me. Look at me,” I insisted dramatically.

He nodded. Then I said, “I’m the captain now.”

He then laughed realizing I was mimicking the line from the film “Captain Phillips.”

“There are still pirates operating near the Red Sea,” he told me. “But here, in the Caribbean…only in the movies.”

Once all the guests attending passed through the reception line, Captain Manzi took the stage in front of the tuxedoed, Vista Show band which played “Anchors Away” to welcome him up.

“Six months in operation – and this ship was built near my hometown in Italy. In my opinion, she is quite elegant,” said Manzi, which drew applause.

Vista was built in 2023 by Fincantieri Shipyard, Sestri Ponente, Italy. 15 total decks; 790-feet long; and a beam of 105 feet. She has diesel engines and stabilizers and Oceania maintains a guest-to-staff ratio of 1.50 to 1. 

Then, gesturing to the lineup of senior officers, Captain Manzi joked, “I am sure you would like to ask me who is on the bridge at the helm right now? Do not worry – we sent the baker up there today.”

The Truth About Safety

Captain Manzi told me later there are strict rules as to when he must be on the bridge.

“I like to be social with the guests and with people, but I still love my job of steering and driving the ship. We are required to be on the bridge in any situation where we have close passage between islands or in a high-traffic area approaching the port or leaving the port.”

Captain Manzi was very disciplined. Each evening I noticed him speedwalking laps around the Vista’s top-deck walking track – which is near the hidden bridge, by the way. 

But at this moment, in the Horizon Lounge, the full brass in blue was on display. The tall, bald, goateed captain on stage with the microphone turned to the senior officers, including general manager Damien LaCroix.  Each introduced themselves, from the purser to the housekeeper to the Senior Executive Chef Raffaele Saia, who received the biggest ovation of all of them.

Saia is from Italy, but each executive identified where they were from: Croatia, Serbia, France, Greece, Southern Italy, Montenegro, South Africa, and Scotland. Then cruise director Ray Carr, in a paisley blazer, introduced himself.

“I am from a little country called the United States of America,” Carr said. “And as the only American up here, it proves the adage that ‘every village has one!’”

Barista’s chic coffee house on deck 14
Barista’s chic coffee house on deck 14. Photo by Michael Patrick Shiels

Meet the Cruise Director

Despite his self-deprecating humor, the Vista’s American cruise director is no “idiot” – but maybe just a bit of a clown. He plays game show host for the daily “Team Trivia” contest and hosts a “Today Show”-style televised morning briefing. The latter is repeatedly seen all night and day on the in-cabin flat screens (blissfully the only TV’s visible onboard, by the way.)   

I met Carr for cappuccino in Baristas Aperitivo, the cotemporary coffeehouse with a 14th-deck view. Rosa, a lively Dominican Republic native with an Italian accent, brewed the java with a deliciously sassy flair. She had lived in Sorrento, on the Amalfi Coast, for 12 years before she “got rid of her husband.”

“Amalfi was full of tourists,” she said, missing the apparent irony of being on a ship surrounded by 1,000 of them daily. “Allora.”

Thankfully though for Rosa, who also dispenses olive oil and bread in the ship’s Toscana Italian restaurant, Vista, and all of Oceania’s fleet, are smaller and low-density.

“Not every cruise is the same. The important thing when choosing a cruise is deciding where you want to go. Caribbean? Europe? Then decide the experience you want,” said the caffeinated Carr, a 29-year veteran of the cruise industry from Seattle who now calls Bali “home.”

Choosing Your Cruise

“Are you going cruising with your significant other? A group of college buddies? Do you want to party, party, party? If you want a nice, relaxed experience with gourmet food, you probably want an Oceania cruise. If you want a roller coaster, you can find a ship with one.”

Carr tossed a hilarious “Beaver Moon” dance party under the annual, folklore-designated full moon during the cruise. Carr ran around the Horizon Lounge with a tray and tongs passing out “Beaver Tail” pastries and while bartenders poured two-for-one “Beaver Moon Martinis” with a dollop of sorbet in them. The live band played songs with lyrics altered to include the dam-making creatures such as: “Let it Beaver” and “I Saw Her Face, Now I’m a Beaver.”

Lastara String Project performs in the Grand Lounge
Lastara String Project performs in the Grand Lounge. Photo by Michael Patrick Shiels

Beaver Moon Party,Yes. But Badger? Never!

“We do not badger our guests with hourly activity announcements. ’The world your way,’ is the way we want you to experience an Oceania cruise.

To prove his point, I emailed my friend Kirk Squires, a 65-year-old adolescent who happened, at the time, to be aboard a five-day cruise on a brand-name megaship in the Gulf of Mexico. I sent him a photo of the sophisticated string quartet of musicians called “Lastara” performing classical music onboard the Vista.

Squires’ bemused text response was: “WTF?”

I can only imagine the vulgarity of his retort if I had sent him a screen shot of the Mensa quiz questions the ship’s entertainment team offered each morning. Hopefully, he was enjoying the limbo line dance or wet t-shirt contest with balloon animals or whatever was going on where he was.  

I sat to hear Lastara String Project perform on the intimate, floor-level stage during the Vista’s daily, 4 p.m., traditional tea and scones.

Comedian George Casey joined in my admiration of the musicians. The funny Irishman from County Clare performed two evenings on board Vista.

Comedy From County Clare

As a rare Irish teetotaler, tea was perfect for Casey, who, the next morning, would fly back from our Barbados stop to his home near Orlando. Two days later, he would jet to Miami to climb aboard another of Oceania’s ships and take the stage again.

“I have performed on over 300 cruises,” Casey whispered as the gorgeous musicians began to take their places on the floor-level stage and unpack their instruments. Casey, long ago, allowed a pre-teen named Michael Flatley (who went on to be the “Riverdance” worldwide juggernaut) dance next to his band playing in Irish pubs. “But I was a better comedian than a singer,” Casey allowed. He said he enjoyed his comedy career in Chicago and opened for years for Bobby Vinton in Branson, Missouri.

“I did a gig for the Union at the Washington Hilton where Reagan was shot. They took me to the White House and the Capitol Building. And I once met Lauran Bush,” he recalled. Casey visits his family in Ireland by flying to Shannon between European summertime cruise ship gigs aboard Oceania ships in the United Kingdom, the Mediterranean and Scandinavia.

Casey takes his comedy as technically and seriously as the significant Lastara musicians we were about to hear.

“I record every single performance and listen back after to hear which jokes, and the way they were delivered, got the best laughs. It is also important where I place them in the show,” he explained.

Lastara String Project’s Ukrainian musicians
Lastara String Project’s Ukrainian musicians. Photo by Michael Patrick Shiels

Lastara String Project

A glance shot from a woman seated at a table in front of us was meant to “schuss” us, so we settled back as Lastara, dressed formally in black, sparkling evening gowns, got their stupendous string symphonies started.           

I was hypnotized after a heavenly hour of hearing Lastara’s lavish melodies. I was eager to experience them again, which I did that evening in another session staged in a sitting area between the casino and the Grand Dining Room.

The ladies, for 45 minutes in a small setting, performed the music of Vivaldi. As a person who savors every second I spend in Venezia, I savored every stanza and swelled with an almost sensual appreciation.

I shared my appreciation with these virtuoso performers afterward.

“Do mind playing the music of Vivaldi?” I asked.

“We only play music we like,” came the quick response from violinist Oleksandra Kolesnik.

“Vivaldi’s music is complicated, but we love to play it,” Olga Ilyashenko elaborated. 

Impressive Portfolio

Kolesnik laughed when I remarked that they play such pieces without a conductor. “Olga is our lead violin, so she serves as conductor.”

Cellist Dina Kononova explained that she founded Lastara in 2013. “We are not only a quartet; we are the Lastara String Project. We also play modern pop, rock, and deep house with acoustic and electric instruments. Our electro-instrumental shows combine classical pieces with drive, rock and tenderness.”

She mentioned Lastara playing with Eminem during a 2019 performance in Abu Dhabi.

Ilyashenko, a long-haired brunette with even longer, slender, strong arms, played lead violin with an intensity visible via her dramatic facial expressions. Her dark eyes and red lipstick emoted every note played with her perfect posture and halting movements.

Kolesnik’s sly smile and violin performance were as peaceful and fair as her hair and demeanor. Her precise touch with the bow was so gentle and smooth that the bow seemed to float in mid-air.

Between Kolesnik and Kononova, Marharyta Pashkovska played with perfection and heart.

Strangers in the Night

When I asked for a photo after the group had packed up for the night, Pashkovska thoughtfully asked, “Is it okay that we are not holding our instruments?”

I wanted Pashkovska to know the ladies of Lastaras’ talent transcended their violins and cello. They were scheduled to perform aboard the ship daily from September until January, but Kononova told me, after that, they would not be going back home to Ukraine.

“We all live in Kharkiv, 30 miles from Russian border,” she explained. “We are all graduates of Kharkiv’s Higher Musical Education Institute.” 

I confess to becoming a groupie and catching their act onboard when I could. On one occasion, mugging for photos before their performance, I joked that I would be their singer tonight.

“Strangers in the night…” I warbled.

“You can sing with us anytime!” Ilyashenko insisted.   

“But you had better sing now because our next set is baroque,” Kononova deadpanned.

Moments later the Lastara ladies surprised me by started their session with “Strangers in the Night.”

More International Intrigue

As an American, I was intrigued to visit Grenada, 40 years after, as I understand it, United States Armed Forces, at the request of a confederation of Caribbean nations, staged a brief, effective military intervention. This included a targeted bombing of a combat airfield after Grenada’s leader and others were assassinated by firing squad during a coup-turned-civil war.

“I appreciate what Ronald Reagan did for us here. He saved Grenada from Communism,” said friendly Phillip, a taxi driver. “Yes, I liked Ronald Reagan. Donald Trump: 50/50. Joe Biden: 50/50.”  

Phillip was driving me back from bucolic Grand Anee Beach, a 10-minute drive for which he charged me five dollars (the same price I paid for the water taxi boat that ferried me to the beach from the cruise dock. Of course, I tipped on top of the fare and was surprised to see others not doing that.)

Bridgetown’s beach clubs reached easily by $5 cab
Bridgetown’s beach clubs reached easily by $5 cab. Photo by Michael Patrick Shiels

Beach Day

My daylong experience in Grenada was achieved by simply walking off the ship with no reservations or pre-arranged excursions. The cruise terminal had plenty of helpful people to direct me. (Bring U.S. dollars and your own towel.

Otherwise, Grand Anee Beach has all the beverages—including local Caribe beer—food, watersports, shopping and restroom facilities you need, including a cushioned beach chair and umbrella for only $10. I tipped the spirited, strolling musician. “Thank you, my brother,” he said. “I will see you in heaven!”

My advice here: do not push it too late to return from Grand Anee Beach by water taxi or car. More than one flock of cruise ship beachgoers may be trying to do that at the same time as the afternoon draws on. And your boat ride back to the bay may be more turbulent later in the day. 

The other grand Grenada bargain was the $15 I paid to hop aboard the Grenada Discovery Train, a cute, two-car open-air trolley right beside the cruise dock terminal (where a band playing Caribbean music welcomed visitors.) The trolley tour looped around every 45-minutes, going up and down the twisty roads of the very hilly town of St. George’s.

An entertaining, polite 19-year-old named “Joy Boy” narrated the trolley tour, giving light-hearted history and cultural commentary. We passed the infamous firing squads’ fort; prison; former zoo-turned-botanical gardens; and other dramatic, colorful, sometimes crumbling sites bloodied, but unbowed, from fires and hurricanes.

Walkway of Presidents in San Juan
Walkway of Presidents in San Juan. Photo by Michael Patrick Shiels

Other Presidents in Puerto Rico

Beyond Ronald Reagan, my other Caribbean collision with Commanders in Chief during my Oceania Cruise came during an excursion tour of Old San Juan, Puerto Rico. Our bus stopped at the “Walkway of Presidents” on Constitution Avenue across from Puerto Rico’s capitol building.

The sidewalk is lined with a spaced row of life-sized statues of U.S. Presidents who’ve visited Puerto Rico while in office since the 1898 end of the Spanish-American war. Gerald Ford; John F. Kennedy; Dwight Eisenhower; Harry Truman; Franklin Roosevelt; Herbert Hoover; Theodore Roosevelt; and Barack Obama are all represented. Each have a plaque describing the circumstances and context.

I learned the statues are commissioned by the Puerto Rican government, and I noticed a position and a pedestal had been prepared and ready to go, but was empty.

“Who is that pedestal for?” I asked a Puerto Rican capital police officer keeping a casual watch.

“I don’t know,” he answered in his accent with a shrug. Then he smiled. “Trump maybe?…Maybe.”

I laughed and he attempted to conceal an even broader smile.

“Biden?”

I shrugged.

For the record, both Donald Trump and Joe Biden visited Puerto Rico while in office as President.     

Bee, the bright blackjack dealer in Vista’s casino
Bee, the bright blackjack dealer in Vista’s casino. Photo by Michael Patrick Shiels

Gambling With a “Sharing Table”

Onboard the Oceania Vista and on my way to the Grand Dining Room, I won $100 in the ship’s sleek, tasteful casino. I quite naturally shared a table with a couple from Albuquerque on their 10th cruise while being dealt Black Jack.

I was dealt two 3’s, which I split and drew two more. After one of the hits drew an 8, I also doubled down. It was the kind of hand one dreams of since the dealer was showing a 5.

Bee, the dealer from Malaysia, lit up the room with her smiling eyes and sonny spirit.

“I like working on the ship because of the opportunity I get to meet people of different cultures. You can read about them in books, but here they are real! And it is free travel,” said Bee. In fact, between the crew and passengers, the Vista had 140 nationalities represented onboard. 

Happy Crew

Bee told me she spends two months at home in between shipboard stints. “But I like the action of being on the ship. The food is good. We get steak and chicken. We can go ashore and there is a deck up on the top level just for crew to get sunshine and fresh air.”

I learned, too, there is a big bar with a deejay for crew to enjoy themselves socially, plus ping-pong and other shipboard life activities.   

Getrude, the other dealer, from South Africa, was quieter than Bee, but just as sweet.  

I cashed in my chips, which I lost  on a later day. But also won my first-ever blackjack tournament while on board…with Bee dealing.

I was startled to find myself with the lead going into the final hand. When the other five contestants bet all their chips to go “all in” to try to catch up with her, fate allowed Bee to deliver her final sting: she dealt herself a black jack, which meant no one could catch up and locked in my win. (Which, of course, I shared with her.)

Le Select- home of the “Cheeseburger in Paradise”
Le Select- home of the “Cheeseburger in Paradise”. Photo by Michael Patrick Shiels

Sharing a Table at Dinner

On that first night in the ship’s casino, I took the money and ran to dinner down the hall in the Grand Dining Room.

It was here, the concept of “sharing a table” was less organic.

When making reservations in the ships’ premium restaurants, you will be asked, as a solo traveler or couple, if you prefer dining alone or at a shared table. I mixed up my preferences when I made my reservations – sometimes I might feel chatty; sometimes solitude would be soothing.

But I had no reservation when I walked into the Grand Dining Room for the first time aboard. 

A grey-haired customer was pounding his palm on the desk shouting at the patient maître d: “I have been on seven Oceania Cruises. I want my table now!”

A greeter asked me, since I was alone, if I wanted my own table or a “sharing table.”

“Put me wherever it is convenient for you,” I answered, eager to get away from the impatient ogre.

The hostess took me to a table with two men and advised them I would be joining them. They nodded, but did not smile.

“Are you sure?” I asked.

I cannot remember if they nodded, but they mainly sat, stony. One of them was looking at his phone.

Oh my God, was it awkward. I was envisioning three courses of this silence.

At this moment, my “fight or flight” mechanism kicked in. I considered excusing myself and not coming back. The trouble was that my orange blazer was so conspicuous. And with 10 days to go on a ship of 1,000 passengers, I was bound to cross paths with them again.

Brothers From Brazil

To cut a long story short, it turned out they were brothers from Brazil: Sergio and George. Sergio performs as an entertainer in Rio De Janeiro’s annual pre-Lenten Mardi Gras Carnivale parades. They were planning a cruise to Antarctica in February – which would mean they will have visited all seven continents.

They gave me the Brazilian view of current American leadership, why they traveled without their girlfriends, and, throughout the dinner, even in broken English and zero Portuguese, we ended up laughing out asses off.

(Again, I ate healthy: shrimp cocktail; a small Caesar salad; lobster and a small baked potato; with fruit for dessert.)

“I hope we dine with you again on this trip,” George told me. “I’d like you to meet my sisters!”

It turns out the reason Sergio and George were seated alone in the dining room was they lost track of their sisters on the ship. My lesson for the night? Give things time and try not to panic.

I parted with them to sit for some gorgeous classical music in the by the all-female Lastara String Quartet.

When I reached the Vista Lounge theater just before 9:30 to see Irish comedian George Casey perform, Lilly and Tobi, the darling senior sweeties I met on deck the night before, spotted me and sweetly invited me to join them for the show. They had me sit between them.    

Dining Dilemma

Even eating smartly, I did not feel I was missing out on the culinary element of my Oceania experience. In fact, the menu at the Grand Dining Room menu designated the healthiest choices on the menu. This included plant-based, vegan, or gluten-free items and no sugar-added options, even for dessert.

One night, on a teak table in the Terrace Café’s buffet, I ate shrimp; mahi-mahi; and lobster tail – all grilled – and chose polenta to garnish the shrimp. I know that feast could not have equaled 500 calories. 

(Germaphobes should know the buffet items were behind glass and passengers’ food choices were plated by servers wearing gloves.)

I was not the only one looking out for my health, either. One evening in the Horizon Lounge listening to the Vista Show Band’s live music while doing a little writing, a server named Nebjon brought me yet another Diet Coke I had requested.

“This is like water for you, sir,” he said with a smile while placing the glass on the table.

“You’re right, my good man,” I answered, “and that is terrible! No matter what I say, bring me water from now on. No more of this ‘poison!’”

Sure enough, the next time I was in the Horizon Lounge, amongst countless other people, Nebjon recognized me, approached and asked, “Can I bring you at least a water, sir?”

The next night, during the Beaver Moon Party, I asked Nebjon for two Diet Cokes.

“Really, sir?” he asked. And then he brought me one Diet Coke and one water. God bless him.  

Caribbean Temptation

The evening Vista’s Terrace Café buffet outdid itself, in my opinion, with the “Chef’s Market Caribbean” menu. I cannot possibly list all the dishes, nor could I come close to sampling them all.

But the smiling servers spooned out Jamaican jerk chicken; empanadas; fish fritters with dip; Malaga cream soup; shrimp with chutney; island-style pork curry; Puerto Rico chicken stew; Cuban-style shredded flank steak; black bean stew; and a mojo-roasted suckling pig.

Churrasco con Chimichurri; grilled lobster; fish and chicken were made to order.  

The festive night also presented an array of salads and salsas and deserts to fit the cultural theme, including cheese flan; rice pudding; rum cake; passion fruit verrine and tres de leche.

Oceana Fresh fruit and fresh air in Terrace Grill
Fresh fruit and fresh air in Terrace Grill. Photo by Michael Patrick Shiels

Starting at Sunrise – Shipboard Breakfast

My daily breakfast, sitting outside on the covered veranda overlooking the ship’s stern, was scrambled eggs, mixed fruit and yogurt. If I got hungry during the day, I had a hot tea or a big gulp of chilled water from the ships many cooler stations.

Walking around Old San Juan, Puerto Rico, I cured my afternoon oral fixation with a San Cristobal cigar, which I sat and smoked in the shaded, waterfront courtyard beside a fanciful fountain. I dedicated the stogie to my late father, Arthur Shiels, who would have done the exact same thing if he were me at that moment.

While I smoked, he and I had a little chat. And this is what getting away from the rat race and going to sea can do for your spirit.

As a travel writer, though, due diligence would require I dine in each of the Vistas’ gourmet restaurants: Ember; Red Ginger; Polo Grill. Also, and what I expected to be the most calorically tempting: Toscana Italian. How could I expect myself to resist pasta and cheese?

In the end, Toscana surpassed every other restaurant door I darkened aboard. “We consistently rank the highest,” said the lively Mela, my Toscana server from the Philippines. It stands to reason that Italian celebrity chef Giada De Laurentiis is Vista’s “Godmother.”

Tasty Toscana

“I have not seen you here yet! Where have you been hiding? Are you one of the entertainers?” asked Mela, probably drawing the conclusion from my orange blazer. Mela helped with my menu choices and steered me away from the filet mignon with melted gorgonzola crust, sauteed spinach, creamy summer corn and a Brunello red wine reduction.

“You can get the filet anywhere on the ship. Have the veal,” she advised, pointing to the grilled, bone-in, milk-fed veal chop sauteed with a Piedmont porcini mushroom sauce for my “secondi.” (Mela added a side of lasagna Bolognese)

The zuppa di fagioli salciccia – white bean soup with sweet sausage and pasta – was hot, thick and flavorful: definitely not a peasant dish in Toscana.  

My “primi” was the “Trio Toscana:” a tasting of taglioni carbonara; lobster risotto; and pesto gnocchi.

Rosa, the Dominican/Italian I had met in Baristas, also brought me an elaborate bread basket and a tray full of olive oil choices.

“I will choose my favorite for you. The strongest,” Rosa told me.

“Forza!” I responded.

“Cosa?” she asked.

“Mi dispiace, bella donna. Mi Italiano es bruto,” I shrugged.

“Non ‘bruto,’” she insisted. “’Bruto’ means ‘ugly.’ Your Italian is ‘non buono.’ It is ‘no good,’”

We both laughed.

Too Good for Just One Meal

A confession: I went back to Toscana the next night and ate the exact same items, except for, at the servers’ suggestion, I switched my “secondi” to the chef’s special pasta of tagliolini with a gorgonzola cream sauce. But imagine the surprise and ironic delight I felt when I saw a note stuck in my cabin door. It read:

“You are cordially invited to dine with Damien Lacroix, Vista General Manager, Wednesday at 7 pm, in Toscana.”

I had just managed, nearly in a food coma, to roll myself back to my cabin intending to collapse on my comforter, but I would now dream about going back to Toscana again for a third-straight night.   

During dinner, Lacroix, a jolly Frenchman, answered my questions about his fascinating career, which included hospitality industry stints in Paris, Vietnam and Bora Bora. This was all before his nearly two-decade of service at sea with Oceania – three months on – three months off. His American wife, a singer from upstate New York he met when she was performing on a cruise ship, lives in France now with their children.

“She performed a country and western songs,” Lacroix recalls. “Her show was called ‘Did I Shave My Legs for This?’ I didn’t take it personally.”

Lacroix sees ships full of romance on every cruise while he serves at sea. But, he said, the busy time goes quickly. Also, when home and off work for three consecutive months, he gets to spend more quality time with his family than many parents working daily 9-5 jobs.

Oceana Pre-dinner tasting meeting in the Vista’s deck four galley.
Pre-dinner tasting meeting in the Vista’s deck four galley. Photo by Michael Patrick Shiels

Culinary Tour

He invited me to a behind-the-scenes, culinary immersion, in-depth tour of the ship’s spacious lower-deck galleys the next day. I was to see the facilities and culinary team known as Oceania’s Cruises “Finest Cuisine at Sea.”

Senior Executive Chef Raffaele Saia walked us through the immense, clean-as-a-laboratory kitchens, prep, baking and storage areas. And, since we were below the ships waterline on deck 4, I also saw the vessel’s water-tight compartment doors.

When we reached the giant cooler refrigerating all the beer and wine, the chef was surprised. “This is the most depleted I have ever seen it. This was some fun cruise. This is scary,” he said for dramatic effect. “It is a good thing we are restocking in Miami tomorrow.” We all laughed because there was still enough booze in that big room to throw one hell of a hooley. 

Lacroix’s general manager office on the sixth floor is clearly labeled and the door is wide open. 

“My most important role as a manager is to listen to my managers and crew. They typically spend six months on the ship, so I must make sure they have everything they need to perform their jobs and be certain they have a good time on board,” he explained, seeming very happy himself.  

The shipboard Culinary Center also offered cooking classes, and Oceania Vista’s culinary piece de resistance – Privee – is offered upon request. I read it is essentially a private dinner party experience for 12 serving a six-course tasting menu alongside three different vintages of Dom Perignon champagne. C’est si bon! Magnifique!

Cruise Tattles

Prepare Your Senses

Prepare, on a high-end, luxury cruise, for the “bonfire of the vanities,” to some degree. At times, the level of beauty and fashion made the ship seem surreal, like being in a classic Hollywood movie on a gorgeous set with characters cast with an eye for glamour.

Your senses will be besieged daily by random visions of extreme, glorious, natural beauty in the ship’s eye-candy architecture, the sky, the surf and in the form of your fellow passengers and in the sight and spirit of every single, gorgeous crew member.  

You will not feel out of place amidst the surrounding grandeur because the atmosphere aboard Oceania’s ships is not stuffy.   

Oceana cruise Interactive mapping in staterooms tracks the ship
Interactive mapping in staterooms tracks the ship. Photo by Michael Patrick Shiels

Too Long?

Upon booking the Oceania Cruise, I was initially concerned that 12 nights at sea would be too many days away in a confined, controlled situation. That concern slipped away the moment the ship steered away from Miami.

There is nothing confined about the ship, even though it is smaller than the megaships. There is plenty of space to get air or hideout. You can even get room service on your own veranda. I took hourlong, solitary morning swims in the pool before anyone had staked out a spot on the poolside chairs and couches.

As for the length of the cruise, I took great comfort in not mentally minding how many days remained the moment the cruise began. I was actually able to lose track of time and get a little lost at sea.

I could only be as lost as I wanted to be, though, because each staterooms television had an option to see a navigational or interactive map of the ships location and where it had been. The map included windspeed, the speed of the ship, GPS coordinates and even a “bridge-cam.”

There were no televisions elsewhere or clocks in any of the public spaces on the ship. You can be screen-free if you wish, though the ship’s internet worked fine, even at sea. I chose the basic package for email, some web-browsing and social media posts. 

Disembarking and Sailing Away

When the itinerary in the “Day 10” edition of “Currents,” the Oceania Vistas’ daily newsletter, listed Miami as the next port of call, I admit it was startling. There were two days at sea and 1,172 more nautical miles to experience the ship and her glories. And, of course, say goodbyes. (Though gratuities were included in the fare, I passed out cash tips to crew members and servers.)

The only consolation about the cruise ending and returning to Miami? Two nights to “reacclimate” on the sand and in the swimming pool of the exciting Loews Miami Beach Hotel on Ocean Drive at the foot of the Lincoln Road Shopping District.

Loews now features the famed New York City classic Rao’s as its’ flagship restaurant. Hoping to get a table at the legendary Rao’s in Gotham is like praying the Jets will make the playoffs. And speaking of a touch table, of course, while in Miami Beach, I’d sneak back to Joe’s Stone Crab. 

Sublime sunset
Sublime sunset. Photo by Michael Patrick Shiels

A Final Farewell

But, even amid Miami’s magic, I could not resist the siren call for one last look: one final view of Vista. That evening, I walked past all the neon-lit, art deco nightclubs down past Joe’s to the Government Cut at the south end of South Beach and out into the dark on the South Pointe Pier.

On schedule, at 6 pm, there she steamed – Oceania’s Vista – slipping up the strait and out into the sea, lighting up the night and my heart. I wished I could turn back the clock two weeks and do it all over again.

As I watched her glide by, I imagined Captain Manzi at the helm, and tried to pick out my 8th deck stateroom balcony. I tried to peer up on deck to Barista’s, which is at about the highest point on the ship, and attempted to see the lights of the cocktail crowd up in the Horizon Lounge.

And just for a moment with my memories, under Miami’s moon in the sea breeze, I swore I could hear from the ship the sweet melodies of the ladies of the Lastara String Project playing a lullaby to me: “Strangers in the Night.”     

Read more of Michael Patrick’s work at The Travel Tattler and contact him at [email protected] Order his book Travel Tattler – Less Than Torrid Tales at https://amzn.to/3Qm9FjN 

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