This past May, I hosted an Oceania
cruise called the “European Quest” on the Marina
. It was my first time on an Oceania ship. The voyage was a ten-day adventure that was round-trip from London
and visited the west coast of France
and part of Spain
. I was looking forward to this new destination and what this ship had to offer.
The Marina had just been refurbished a few years back and only accommodates 1,250 guest and 800 staff, which is an excellent guest-to-staff ratio. Southampton is an easy port and the process of getting on (and off) the ship was seamless. It was great to be able to relax and enjoy the ship before sailing. The “Barista,” the Marina’s signature coffee bar, was thoroughly taken advantage of. Lastly, our ship was 80 percent British, so the port gave them easy access in getting to and from the cruise with, basically, no flying involved.
Our first port was Honfleur in northwestern France and close to the Pont de Normandie. The old port is beautiful and picturesque with its slate-covered frontages which have been painted many times by artists. Then, onto Saint-Malo in Brittany on the English Channel! It’s a walled city that’s enormous and beautiful on the inside, full of cobble stones and seafood restaurants, and I had one of the best crepes there. Brest came next, which has a very important harbor. Its city center was heavily damaged in WWII but completely rebuilt after the war.
In between the ports while on the ship, we checked out the multiple dining venues, of which six are open seating gourmet restaurants with no surcharge! There are also wine tastings and seminars with gourmet food pairings being offered together with the Culinary Center which has the only “hands-on” cooking school at sea.
On to the harbor city of La Rochelle, a seaport on the Bay of Biscay, part of the Atlantic Ocean, and founded during the 10th century. It was very, very charming. Instead of Bordeaux, we opted to explore another little seaside village: Soulac-sur-Mer, which is where most Europeans spend their summer vacations and one can understand why. Biarritz was the last destination on the France coast, and we opted again to explore Saint-Jean-de-Luz instead. It has one of France’s most picturesque beaches and is a part of a Basque country.
The last two ports to explore were in the north of Spain. Bilbao, the first port, is also in the heart of Basque country. It is Spain’s largest port but one of the better towns to walk around in. Gijon is another wonderful coastal town. It is truly charming and has a wonderful beach area.
Now I can see why so many Europeans opt to spend their summer vacations in beach towns on the west coast of France and the northern part of Spain. We had a great sea day traveling from Gijon back to London and took advantage of room service, afternoon tea, and entertainment. The onboard ambiance and experiences remained casual and comfortable throughout the cruise, and I would highly recommend this itinerary to anyone.