Review: Oceania Cruises
Cruise - Ocean Cruise
Mayan Mystique - Something Very Different
125 people found this review helpful
Every so often a cruise ship itinerary that catches the imagination will become available. An itinerary that gives something unusual and an opportunity to visit an area of world history that generally eludes many travellers.
One such itinerary was advanced by Oceania Cruises on their 66,000 Tonne mid-sized cruise ship, Riviera. A 10 day cruise that had at its core a series of port visits that would open up the world of the Mayan civilisation. The growth of the great Mayan civilisation remains as much a mystery as its equally amazing disappearance from the Central American regions of the Yucatan Peninsular that are now known as Mexico, Belize and Guatemala.
My wife and I joined Riviera in Miami. This was our second cruise with Oceania, a cruise line that exudes both quality and class with a well earned reputation for its cuisine. We found Riviera to be a very stylish and comfortable ship with an informal ‘country club’ atmosphere and casual on board manner.
Riviera can accommodate up to 1,250 passengers with a guest to staff ratio of 1.57 to 1 and on this particular cruise were 1081 guests, 133 of whom were from the UK, 597 from the USA and the remainder made up from 24 different nationalities.
Including our departure port, Miami, which we would also return to this was an 8 port itinerary with just 2 sea days so we had a rather hectic programme ahead of us.
The first port of call on day 2 of the cruise was to Key West, the southern most point of the North American continent. This was followed by a sea day prior to our arrival at Costa Maya and our first Maya adventure. Costa Maya is a purpose built cruise stop just for the Mayan experience though for those who may not particularly feel the need to take in depth excursions there are a variety of other activities and water sports available.
We had decided to immerse ourselves in this Mayan Mystique and had booked a series of ship’s organised excursions. The benefit of these is that each excursion is accompanied by a knowledgeable local guide who can relate so much detail and information.
This first experience was a 10 hour excursion to the twin Mayan sites of Dzibanche and Kohunlich.
Dzimbanche is credited with being by far the most spectacular Maya ruins site accessible from Costa Maya and is a great example of both Mayan architecture and urban organisation.
Kohunlich is a large archeological site covering some 21 acres and surrounded by dense sub-tropical rainforest There are upwards of 200 mounds that still remain largely un-excavated. The city was elaborately planned and engineered, with raised platforms and pyramids with features aligned to both the sun and the Mayan Calendar.
For example, the pyramids had a flight of 91 steps to each of their four sides. Add all the steps and include the final top platform and we have 365: still a significant figure in the calendar.
Other structures include courtyards, plazas surrounded with palace platforms, an acropolis and a rather unique ‘Ball Court’ (see my photographs)
Kohunlich is best known for its ‘Temple of the Masks’, one of the oldest structures here and whose central stairway is flanked by huge humanized stucco masks.
Quite amazingly, and considering the quality of these structures, there is little or no restriction in climbing upon them.
Costa Maya proved a memorable and full on introduction to the mayan Mystique and our next port of call, Belize, was going to prove equally fascinating.
Riviera anchored off Belize City and we were ferried ashore to where coaches were waiting for an hours drive inland. We were then transferred to fast river boats for the 40 minute journey to the beautifully positioned Mayan archeological site of Lamanai.
The Laminai site has many fine examples of Mayan buildings including the rather spectacular ‘Mask temple’, where again visitors are positively encouraged to scale the structure: there being a more modern system of wooden steps at the rear.
Lamanai also benefits from having a purpose built museum at the river bank site entrance.
To add to the interest of the journey our return boat ride took us passed an Amish farming community of which there are many in this country.
Our next stop was in Guatemala, and the port of Santo Tomas.
Today, for our third Oceania excursion, we chose to have a break from the Maya civilisation and head for a piece of history out of the Spanish period of dominance in the region, a visit to a Spanish colonial fort at the entrance to Lake Izabel, Castillo de San Felipe: an historic attraction that is on the Unesco World Heritage Tentative List.
Once again this excursion featured a coach and boat transfer and the usual high calibre tour guide. Castillo de San Felipe was built to protect Spanish trading communities on Lake Izabel from pirate attack. It is well preserved and an excellent example of the period’s fortifications.
Roatan, an Honduran island was our next stop. Widely believed to be the ‘real’ Treasure island, it was easy to see why Roatan was well suited to pirate activity. Here we had pre-booked a private island tour with a local company which proved to be the perfect way to discover this tropical gem.
Our penultimate destination was the Mexican island of Cozumel and for this visit we chose once again something completely different. The ship’s excursion we chose was entitled ‘Cozumel by Jeep & Snorkel’ where we, the ship’s passengers, were also the drivers of the 4WD Jeeps. During the course of the day we circumnavigated the island stopping for a snorkel in the clear blue waters, visited a Tequila hacienda where we sampled the fare on offer, visited some spectacular coastal scenery and had lunch in a waterfront hotel.
The final port visit was to George Town, Grand Cayman and here we spent a rather lazy day on the famous ‘Seven Mile Beach’ followed by a few margaritas in a very lively waterfront bar.
This review has really concentrated on the itinerary which was the whole point of the cruise. Having said that it does follow that if one can participate in this kind of cruise itinerary, and have it twinned with such a lovely cruise ship as Riviera, then who would argue with that.
Riviera is a beautiful ship with a distinctive comfortable feeling and atmosphere, supplemented by its design, refined ambiance, artwork and fixtures and fittings that could be straight out of ’Homes and Gardens’.
Being port intensive we had little opportunity to make a judgement on daytime onboard activities. However, from what we did witness that area should pose no problem whatsoever should there be an increase in sea days.
This was however, an all round outstanding cruise and we greatly appreciated the class and quality offered by Oceania.
A full review of the cruise which covers both the ship and the itinerary, with in excess of one hundred photographs of Riviera and the itinerary ports, can be found on my cruise blog.
125 people found this review helpful
This review is solely based on the opinion of a Silver Travel Advisor member and not of Silver Travel Advisor Ltd.