Kilroy was here » Scoop Lynch, Ace Reporter. . .

by Kevin Keating

Hanging in the home of my friend Joseph Lynch is one of the best travel posters I’ve ever seen. It promotes Air Nepal’s Yeti Service and features a huge, hairy hand holding a tray with an iced martini. When you’re flying over the high Himalayas, wouldn’t you expect your cocktail to be served by a mythical beast? Of course you would.

Joe has retired from Merrill Lynch and travels frequently all over the world. He has sharp eyes and sees things a lot of people miss. So I asked Joe to do a little reporting for me.

He’d signed on for a 25-day cruise from Barcelona to Miami with port calls in Spain, France and Italy. And his ship tied up at several islands on his transatlantic crossing. Joe flew from San Francisco to Barcelona. He spent two days sampling the excellent tapas bars along the wide, tree-lined Passeig de Gràcia before boarding Oceania Cruises’ M/S Regatta.

Now, my buddy Joe is a tranquil kind of guy. Calm. Serene. Unruffled. You couldn’t startle Joe if you told him his shorts were on fire. So I became a bit nervous when I read some of Oceania’s promotional material.

One of the things the cruise line shouts about is their “Tranquility Beds.” An Oceania copy writer insists the beds provide a “sybaritic sleep experience.”

Oh-oh. That promotional chatter gave me a nagging suspicion that Joe would toss aside the silk-cut duvet, hit the custom-designed mattress, fluff up his goose-down pillows, pull the 350-thread-count Egyptian cotton linen up to his nose and nod off for the entire voyage.

It would be the longest seaborne snooze since Noah hung two sloths from the yardarm of the ark.

Furthermore, the line’s brochure proudly prints that “staterooms feature bolster pillows, more commonly known as ‘tootsie-rolls,’ and soft, cuddly throws which are perfect for nap time.”

That made a movie in my mind: I saw Joe spending most of his sea days napping with his head squashing a tootsie roll. And his nights cleverly cuddled in his Tranquility Bed. I figured there’d be precious few travel reports if Joe spent his waterborne hours snoozing in his nautical nest.

I needn’t have worried. Joe managed to stay alert sufficiently long to trot through the ports of Marseilles, Portofino, Livorno, Nice, Sète, Málaga, Gibraltar, Seville and Lisbon, with visits to the Canary Islands, Funchal (Madeira) and Santa Cruz de Palma before disembarking in Miami.

He scribbled notes from every port, put them in bottles and tossed them off Regatta’s fantail. I imagine they’ll wash ashore somewhere on a rocky beach in Maine around 2008.

In the days of iron ships and wooden men, we could only communicate through a ship’s telegraph. Radio officers could tap out Morse code faster than running water. Radio officers were exclusively men in those politically incorrect days. All nicknamed “Sparks.”

Later, cruise ships had scratchy fade-in, fade-out conversations on radio phones with plenty of “WHAT?” Then came clear calls by satellite. You could reach your friends. “Can you run by my house and see if I turned off the oven?” Early satellite calls were pricey, though. About $7 a minute.

Communication from ships is a breeze these cyberspace days. Joe sent e-mails along the way (whenever he was moved to turn off his Horatio Hornblower nightlight and climb out of his Tranquility Bed). Internet access is priced at 95¢ a minute, so Joe’s reports were marvels of editing. Meaning they were short.

I’ll tell you all about Joe’s experiences on the ship and on the shore next month. After I’ve retrieved those bottles from the rocky coast of Maine.

Oceania Cruises’ M/S Regatta

Here’s what Joe Lynch told me about the motor ship Regatta of Oceania Cruises (Miami, FL; phone 800/531-5619 or visit

She was christened in 1998 as Renaissance Cruise Line’s R2. Now chartered by Oceania, the vessel has been given a $10 million refit with upgrades of all power and navigation equipment.

Staterooms were given face-lifts and the four restaurants equipped with new flatware, china, glassware and table linens. New stonework and blue tiles were laid around the pool. French blue and white chaises are spread on decks of honest teak.

Jacques Pepin is Executive Culinary Director for the galleys on Oceania Cruises. You’ve probably seen him cook on television. He monitors what comes out of the ship’s pots and pans. He was personal chef to three French heads of state, including Charles de Gaulle. He knows what to do with a quail egg and other exotic groceries. He comes on board occasionally to stage cooking demonstrations.

Passengers can choose daily from four main dining experiences. The Grand Dining Room is the largest dining area, yet it somehow maintains an intimate feeling. No reservations are required. Reservations are necessary for the specialty venues, but there’s no extra charge as is often the case on some cruise lines. The Polo Grill is where you go for steaks, lamb and veal. A good selection of seafood is on the menu as well. Toscana features food from various regions of Italy, and The Terrace Cafe serves breakfast and lunch and in the evenings evolves into “Tapas on the Terrace,” serving sherry and a wide selection of small plates — appetizers and finger foods — from tables typical of Andalusia, Spain’s sunny south.

There are eight lounges, bars and showrooms. The Regatta Lounge is the main showroom. You can find a barman at Horizons, Waves, Martinis, The Polo Bar, The Grand Bar, The Tapas Bar and The Toscana Bar.

For the few people who still need a nicotine fix, there are a couple of smoking areas on this otherwise nonsmoking ship.

Waves serves late luncheon snacks between 2 and 5 p.m. — hot dogs, burgers and sandwiches plus fried calamari and salads.

Regatta has 330 guest rooms, suites and penthouses to accommodate 660 passengers and a few additional when there are third persons in staterooms. More than 50% of the outside staterooms have verandahs.

Entertainment is low key — cool jazz, a little song and dance, and an excellent orchestra and string quartet. No glitzy productions. Not much for kids to do. Perhaps the line discourages taking children.

Experts on the areas where the line sails are booked as enrichment lecturers.

The dress code by day is T-shirt, shorts and sandals, and after dark the line suggests “country club casual.” No need to pack tuxedos or long dresses on Oceania ships.

There’s a small casino. The spa is run by London-based Harding Brothers, Limited, with fitness classes and a full menu of treatments and massages.

$10.50 per person per day is debited for staff tips. People in suites and penthouses add $3 a day more because of 24/7 butler service.