ABOARD THE OCEANIA INSIGNIA — Because Bill and I were confirmed on our cruise fairly late, our choice of flights to Miami for embarkation on Dec. 23 was quite limited–and expensive so close to the holidays. I made our air arrangements for us and found more flights, at less expense, flying into Fort Lauderdale on the day before. We decided to spend the night in a hotel near the airport, then transfer to the Port of Miami the following day.
The plan worked perfectly. First of all, coming from the north in winter always means a chance of flight delays or cancellations, so traveling a day early gives us a little cushion against that possibility. This time our flight was right on schedule and the hotel shuttle whisked us from a very crowded FLL to a nearby inn. The next morning Bill pulled out his smartphone and requested an Uber ride to the Port of Miami. The 40-minute ride cost around $30, less than half the fare of a shared shuttle and so much more quick and convenient. Lesson learned.
Unlike most cruises from Miami, Oceania departs from Terminal J on the opposite side of the port. On the main side, a long row of big ships stood alongside crowded terminals and traffic congestion. Bill thinks it took our driver as long to make our way through the maze to terminal J as it did to travel from our hotel. Once there we were pleased to see the 684-passenger Insignia standing all by herself, a picture of serenity contrasting with the chaos across the way.
Check-in went smoothly and because our stateroom is on the concierge level we were allowed to board shortly after 11 a.m. We could not access our room until 3, however, so we lingered over lunch in the Terrace Café sitting at a window with a view of the Miami skyline. A quartet of singers in Victorian dress stopped to perform a few holiday songs next to a two-foot-high gingerbread house just inside the café entrance.
We decided to stretch our legs to explore the ship’s public areas and ended up settling into comfy easy chairs in the library. Both of us fell into a snooze until our staterooms were ready. We quickly unpacked, finding space for everything in our stateroom’s ample closets, drawers and cubbies.
Insignia performs its customary muster drill before sailing from Miami and we were happy to get it out of the way. The drill was more comprehensive that what I’ve experienced in the past, especially the emphasis on fire prevention. Of course, open flames aren’t allowed. Smoking is limited to two public areas and prohibited in staterooms and verandas. This was the first time I’d been told electronic devices must be unplugged when leaving our stateroom and that housekeeping had been instructed to do so in our absence. The fire-prone Samsung Galaxy Note 7 smartphone was not allowed anywhere on the ship and anyone sneaking it on board would have it confiscated.
I had made reservations for this evening at Toscana, one of four restaurants on board. We’d eaten at an Italian spot near our hotel the night before and were pleased, but the fine dining in this Italian restaurant soared to a whole other level. Rather than a passing waiter plunking basket of rolls on our table, we were treated to an elaborate bread presentation, handed a sculptural tower of focaccia, rolls, crostini and bread sticks along with a half head of roasted garlic and chunks of fresh Parmesan. A rolling cart displayed nearly a dozen varieties of olive oils and three balsamic vinegars from various regions of Italy.
Bill ordered a nice bottle of red wine for us but chose to start his dinner with beer, telling the sommelier to bring him a “chateau Budweiser.” It became a running joke with the waitstaff the rest of the evening.
Caesar salad was prepared tableside and we watched a server de-bone a Dover sole at the next table with the skill of a surgeon. We ordered meat, however, veal marsala for Bill and osso buco for me, both exceptional. Our remaining half bottle of wine was tagged with our room number to enjoy at a future dinner at any of the ship’s restaurants. I just hope we can snag another reservation at Toscana later in the cruise.