I’m in Liverpool with 16 Picasso’s and lots of Swarovski crystal – where exactly am I? At the Pier Head on Oceania’s ‘Marina’, of course!!
‘Marina’ was the first new build from Oceania, in 2011 (followed a year later by sister ship, ‘Riviera’). She weighs 66,084 tonnes, carries 1,250 passengers and 780 crew, with 95% of the 625 cabins and suites having private teak balconies. Most of the accommodations are larger on these ‘O’ Class ships than the corresponding ‘R’ Class Ships ‘(Insignia’, ‘Nautica’, ‘Regatta’ and the more recently acquired ‘Sirena’ which carry 684 passengers each), with a resultant larger PSA (passenger space area) of 52.5 compared to 44 (‘R’ Class).
The minute you step on board this ship it is obvious that a lot of love, pride and attention to detail has been put into furnishing it. Oceania Cruises was founded in 2002 by luxury cruise industry stalwarts Frank Del Rio, Bob Binder and Joe Watters, who have personally sourced many of the interior fittings, fixtures and furniture. The chairs in ‘Red Ginger’ were inspired by those seen by Frank Del Rio in a New York restaurant and it is said that if both Frank and Bob like a piece of art – then they don’t buy it, leaving an extensive and very diverse art collection to peruse (I wonder which one of them doesn’t like Picasso?).
Embark on deck 5 and you are immediately ‘wowed’ by a stunning horse shoe shaped staircase of Lalique glass. This continues with the rest of the ship’s interior, decorated with rich woods, Italian marble, granite, wool carpets and leather and furnishings by the likes of Ralph Lauren, Dakota Jackson, Baker, Donghia, Kravet and Jofa.
On ‘Marina’ there are 14 inside cabins (174 sq ft), 20 outside/ocean view cabins (242 sq ft), 244 verandah cabins (282 sq ft), 200 Concierge verandah cabins (282 sq ft), 124 Penthouse Suites, the most popular accommodations on board (420 sq ft), 12 Oceania suites (1063 sq ft), 8 Vista suites (1200 – 1500 sq ft), both of which are designed and furnished by Dakota Jackson and 3 Owners Suites (2500 sq ft – larger than the Master Suites on Regent Seven Seas ships). Of particular note, are the differences in size of the 2 types of verandah cabin, when comparing ‘R’ and ‘O’ Class ships: Verandah cabins are 66 sq ft smaller on the ‘R’ class ships. Although there is no difference in size between the verandah cabins and the Concierge cabins on ‘Marina’, there are additional amenities available with the latter, including 3 bags of complimentary laundry, in suite dining and free access to the Spa Terrace (otherwise incurring a cost of $25 pp per day).
All verandah cabins (and above) on ‘O’ Class ships have a bath/shower combo as well as a separate shower in the bathrooms, a feature missing from ‘R’ Class ships. The largest suites on all cruise ships, due to their size, are typically the full beam of either the bow or stern of the ship. The 3 Owners Suites on ‘Marina’ are aft on decks 8, 9 & 10, complete with Ralph Lauren Home furnishings, inside and outside jacuzzi whirlpools, a music room and exclusive access to the Executive Club (a snug hideaway with sofas, wifi and computers, continental breakfast, papers and magazines). All accommodations benefit from Bulgari toiletries, Prestige Tranquility beds, goose down pillows and 1000 thread Egyptian cotton bed linen. Additionally the suites have Guild of Professional English Butlers trained butlers servicing clients every need.
Marina has 10 dining venues (if you include room service/in suite dining), all of which offer open seating: The Grand Dining Room (with 566 covers, is a light airy room with plenty of natural light as well as a domed crystal central ceiling, Versace china, Riedel crystal and Christofle silverware, where Canyon Ranch (spa healthy) style dishes are offered at all meals alongside Jacques Pepin signature dishes. At lunchtime, The Bistro by Jacques Pepin, pops up in The Grand Dining Room offering french stalwarts like croque monsieur and salad nicoise as well as spicier dishes from around the world), the Terrace Café (buffet style restaurant, with a small al fresco area, but still with a drinks trolley and very smart, atypical buffet seating), The Poolside Waves Grill (for burgers, sandwiches and other fast food items, through the day, offers sheltered outdoor seating) and 4 specialty restaurants (not all restaurants are available on every Oceania ship however).
On ‘Marina’ the specialty restaurants are the award winning Red Ginger (a 116 seater classic and contemporary Pan Asian restaurant decked out in oriental reds and ebony and dark woods. Take your choice from the chopstick presentation box (beginners versions are available!) and perhaps try the famed Den Miso Glazed Sea Bass, Red Snapper in Banana Leaves, Bulgogi Rib-eye Steak or Macha Green Tea Ice Cream.
Aft on deck 14 is The Polo Grill (132 seats for 28 day aged steak (including the 32oz bone in King’s Cut prime rib and the boneless 16oz Queen’s Cut). chops and sea food, all embodied in a classic New York steakhouse style of burgundy leather chairs, white table cloths and dark wood paneling).
Toscana (138 guests eating Italian dishes, many of which are favourites from the chefs’ own family repertoires, off Versace crockery with Tuscan views on the wall hangings. If the Fagottini Al Formaggio (provolone stuffed pasta purses with a butternut squash cream) served at lunch on board, was anything to go by, this is a delicious restaurant to eat in).
Sandwiching the two is Privee (a 10 seater, private dining venue with magnificent views over the stern of the ship. This is one of two restaurants where there is a cover charge ($250 for the room, regardless of numbers dining). The table, designed by Jackson Dakota, sits on a stunning bright red carpet and has a golden Venini chandelier overhead. Mixing and match dishes from the menus of the two restaurants on either side, this is a really nice area to celebrate a special, private occasion).
Jacques Pepin, has long been the Executive Culinary Director for Oceania cruises and as a nod to his culinary heritage hosts Jacques a 124 seater Parisian style Bistro. The room is airy, with antique oak flooring and a mellow, yellow décor. The glassware is Lalique and the food traditionally french with dishes like Mediterranean Bouillabaise, Coquille St Jacques, Filet de Boeuf Rossini (with foie gras and truffle sauce), as well as rotisserie items, a choice of 9 desserts and of course a French cheese board.
La Reserve by Wine Spectator (only on ‘O’ Class ships) offers early evening tapas and wine parings, as well as wine seminars and tastings, but its piece de resistance is when 7 courses of sublime food and wine are served as a gourmet dinner to 24 guests. Dishes include Bay Scallop Teriyaki Seared on Riverstone served with a pink rose Laurent Perrier champagne, Culatello Gran Riserva and Smoked Ricotta in Tricorne Ravioli with Pumpkin Velouté, paired with Valdamor Barrica Albariño, from Spain and Omelette Siberienne (Baked Alaska with Williams pears and chestnut ice cream) with a French Château Laffitte-Teston Pacherenc Du Vic-Bihl.
On Oceania ships, dining in specialty restaurants is complimentary (apart from Privee and La Reserve). Guests are pretty much guaranteed at least one evening meal in each of the restaurants on board during their cruise, should they wish to dine there and return visits are allowed, dependent on availability (and the duration of the cruise, of course). Reservations can be made ahead of sailing date with the top suite accommodations taking precedence.
In between lunch and your choice of restaurant for the evening, there is always a complimentary white gloved afternoon tea, served at 4pm in Horizons and Barista’s the coffee bar near the Library and pool, on deck 14, serving complimentary coffee specialties like Illy espressos, cappuccinos and lattes as well as pastries, finger sandwiches and homemade biscotti. It is argued that the Illy Crema (frozen coffee and cream) is the favourite coffee selection served. Canapés are delivered each evening to suites and served in all bars and lounges throughout the ship, not forgetting locally inspired tapas and wine pairing at La Reserve.
Oceania takes the sourcing of each its ingredients, and their continual high standard very seriously, with all the lobster served coming from a single fish farm in Maine, the steak from one particular ranch in Texas and similarly with the lamb. The ship carries multiple types of French and Italian flours for making all the different types of bread, croissants, pastries and pasta that abound – along with tons (probably) of D’Isgny butter to further enrich dishes. As part of its Wellness experiences, Oceania became the first cruise line to serve freshly made vegan smoothies (available from the Raw Juice & Smoothie Bar at Waves Grill) and has recently added a 14 day rotating vegan menu, to its extensive vegetarian and gluten free life style choices. Of course, medically approved dietary requirements are also met.
All this is geared towards fulfilling Oceania’s boast of offering the finest culinary experience at sea (along with a ratio of 1 culinary staff member to every 4 guests). Oceania’s Discovery Culinary Tours are not to be missed especially if you enjoy the interplay of food and culture: shopping with the chef, choosing ingredients, returning to the ship with them and creating your own lunch in The Culinary Centre (the first hands on cooking school, at sea). Tours are available on European itineraries, including Oslo, Portofino, Rhodes, Riga, Bilbao, Helsinki and Venice. It is also possible to attend chargeable hands on cooking classes (for 24 people) making: pasta, tagines, fresh, healthy dishes from the Canyon Ranch Spa menus (or a la Ottolenghi), brunch dishes, grilled items, fish dishes, crepes or learning new knife skills.
Evening entertainment on ‘Marina’ takes place mainly in the Lounge and Horizons (see later). There is a string quartet, a pianist, several production shows and opportunities for dancing of different genres. The cruise line focuses more on overnights and longer stays in ports, the restaurant options and enrichment programmes. The latter primarily run during the day and include the Culinary Centre (described above) as well as an Artists Loft with 24 work stations (where artists lead creative workshops on painting, drawing and more.
The current artist in residence is Willard Andre Allen, a self taught artist with an interest in African design and working with glass plates), guest lecturers, trivia, wine tastings and Canyon Ranch Seminars. There is also a library of 2000 books and periodicals, over a wide range of genres, set out in a series of small private alcoves each with a selection of books and comfortable arm chairs or sofas and a view over the sea and the pool deck (where there are sufficient padded loungers to accommodate everyone on a sunny sea day).
Wellness, is the other enrichment topic that Oceania takes very seriously. In conjunction with Canyon Ranch Spa, there is a new array of wellness options on board ranging from vegan and healthy option menus and smoothies (detailed above) to the extensive range of more than 24 complimentary classes like yoga (on deck at sunrise), Pilates, cycling, aerobics and group fitness classes (including Boot Camp, core conditioning and Full Body Stretch options) on offer. Conversely, you can do it yourself in the gym, jog round the track above The Polo Grill and Toscana restaurants, play a bit of croquet or shuffleboard, paddleboard or putting and then take a spa treatment.
Or just chill on the Spa Terrace (‘Marina’ has 2 whirlpools on the Terrace, whereas ‘Riviera’ has alternate hydrotherapy options). There is also an exclusive series of shore excursions available; Wellness Tours Inspired by Canyon Ranch on specific itineraries and locales in Europe, Asia, South America and Australasia. Tours include taking part in a private vinyasa yoga class on a peninsula overlooking Monte Carlo, meditation and a Tea Ceremony at the St Benedicts Abbey in Buenos Aires and learning spiritual drumming in Adelaide.
There are 6 bars and lounges on ‘Marina’: The Lounge is ‘Marina’s’ theatre, spanning two decks it can seat 600 people, but is more of a cabaret style lounge than a true theatre. Horizons is the observation lounge, forward on deck 15, famed for serving afternoon tea during the day and boasting a dance floor for dancing the night away Martinis does what it says on the tin, offering a selection of martinis in a setting reminiscent of a gentleman’s club with live piano music. Continuing aft along deck 6, out of Martinis, you come to the Monte Carlo Casino and then the lavender and Swarovski crystal decorated Casino Bar, complete with 6 Picasso pen drawings. Opposite is the Grand Bar. Waves Bar is the only poolside bar, also serving homemade gelato, made-to-order hot fudge sundaes and a range of milkshakes.
Unlike true luxury cruise lines, Oceania's fares are not overly inclusive. Bottled water, soft drinks, tea and coffee (even speciality coffees) are free of charge throughout the ship. Speciality restaurants (apart from La Reserve and Privee) are complementary, as is internet usage, fitness and wellness classes (see earlier) and shuttle buses in ports. ‘O Life Choice’ campaigns typically include a choice of free shore excursions, a free House Select drinks package or free on board spend. Some campaigns may offer more than one choice +/- free pre paid gratuities on specific cruises.
The House Select drinks package includes unlimited beer, champagne and wine with lunch and dinner, but with non mealtime drinks starting at $8.25 for a cocktail, a glass of wine $10.50 and a beer $7.00, (plus 18% bar gratuity) it may be worth considering upgrading to a Prestige Select drinks package for unlimited wine, premium spirits, champagne and beer. The cost to upgrade is currently $20 pp per day. Should you elect not to choose a drinks package, the cost to buy them is $39.95 pp per day (House Select) or $59.95 pp per day (Prestige Select). Gratuities are set at $16 pp per day (or $23 pp per day for guests in suites where butler service is provided) and are added to on board accounts. It is also possible to bring up to 4 bottles of wine on board with you, attracting no corkage charge.
All in all, ‘Marina’ is a food-focused ship offering multiple enrichment and dining opportunities within an intimate country house atmosphere, but without the luxury price tag. The casual, but elegantly sophisticated on board experience is coupled with intensive itineraries featuring 450 destinations across the fleet: it is a ship where you can have an inside cabin, but not pay to eat in a specialty restaurant or luxuriate in a Ralph Lauren designed suite, but as a teetotaller not feel that you are paying for drinks that you do not want.