Today is a very special day for Oceania Cruises, as it marks the 15th anniversary of their first office opening for business in the United States. I was invited aboard MS Marina last year to have a look around and find out why with Oceania Cruises – It’s All About The Food.
Cruising is rather quickly becoming more and more popular. Thirty years ago I saw it as something for retired folk who would spend their time playing bridge on sea days, join an organised shore excursion when in port and coming back to watch a cabaret act in the theatre during the evenings. Back then food was never really a selling point to go on a cruise. Being offered a place to sit at the Captain’s table was probably the only mention that was ever made to the dining on-board. I admit that is a very stereo-typical view, but probably not too far from the truth either.
How things change. Dining on-board is now one of the features that all the cruise lines focus on as part of their marketing campaigns. However, there is one cruise line who spends more money per guest on on-board dining that any other and promote their cruises with the trademark registered tag line “Savor the world with The Finest Cuisine At Sea” and is one of the brand pillars that represent Oceania Cruises’ five-star product.
Back in 2002 Frank Del Rio, Joe Watters and Bob Binder, all practiced in the luxury cruise market, formed Oceania Cruises and it is the world’s largest upper premium cruise line. Acclaimed for their gourmet culinary programme and inspired by Executive Culinary Director Jacques Pépin, they offer a wide range of on-board restaurants influenced by the many destinations they visit worldwide.
Oceania’s ships accommodates between 684 up to a maximum of 1,250 guests. By only operating smaller ships means they can easily sail into smaller ports and coastal villages that bigger ships cannot access and if you want to bring aboard a bottle of the local wine back with you and drink it on-board in your cabin that is fine with Oceania, if you wish to drink it in one of their restaurants with your meal there is a $25 corkage charge.
Jacques Pépin is a French chef, author and television personality working in the United States. Since the 1980’s he has appeared on various cookery shows and has had numerous bestselling cookbooks published. Pépin has been personal chef to three French heads of state which include Charles de Gaulle. In 2010, along with other chefs, he prepared a $30,000 per couple dinner in aid of a President Barack Obama fund raising event. Earlier in the same year during the christening of MS Marina, Pépin was named honorary commodore of the Oceania Cruises fleet, where he serves as Executive Culinary Director.
The ship I was invited to visit was Oceania’s Marina. It was in Southampton preparing for a cruise to the Baltic, sailing via various ports in northern Europe including Copenhagen and Hamburg. Marina was built in 2011 and has a relaxed but elegant feel to it. You won’t find a ship’s photographer, but what you will find hanging on the wall is $4 million worth of original artwork, including 10 Picasso’s and a piece by English artist Damien Hirst.
On-board you can also relax in the library, enjoy a game of chess in their games room, or unwind in the Canyon Ranch Spa, and they even have a large torture chamber that they refer to as the gym. There is an outdoor pool and sports deck; for the budding artist there is also a quiet area to be creative in known as the Artist’s Loft. Alternatively you can enjoy lectures by historians through to former ambassadors, enjoy musical performances or try your luck in the casino. Oceania are also the first ever cruise line to have a cookery school at sea. A place in the Culinary Centre starts at $39 and classes are based on the cuisine of your next destination.
If the opportunity to dine in a different genre of restaurant appeals to you, then you’ve boarded the right ship, as they have restaurants by the bucket full. Oceania’s food spend is four times per passenger than the likes of Princess Cruises, P&O Cruises, Celebrity Cruises and Cunard and double that of Regent Cruises. All bread is freshly made and baked on-board, all ice-cream is made on-board. All the lobster comes from one supplier in Maine and Oceania are their only customer. All their lamb comes from one supplier in Colorado and again Oceania are their only customer. Every single restaurant has its own kitchen and to ensure freshness, all dishes are prepared à la minute.
Oceania’s Italian restaurant Toscana literally translated mean Tuscan, all the chefs are Italian and bring a wealth of family recipes with them. You can dine on classic dishes from the northern regions such as Osso Buco alla Milanese or Minestrone alla Genovese.
A classic steakhouse serving 28 day dry-aged prime beef cooked to your liking, alongside a range of classic seafood dishes, soups, salads and side dishes. Dine on a Caesar Salad that is prepared tableside, a 32oz Porterhouse, Lobster Mac & Cheese or why not try the Polo Grill Surf n’ Turf which incorporates a Florida Lobster Tail and Filet Mignon.
Hidden between Toscana and Polo Grill you can dine with up to nine of your best friends in Privée. The cost to hire the room is $250. Under the golden Venini chandelier the table is custom-made out of onyx by Dakota Jackson. The cutlery costs $1,100 per piece and you have 5 waiting staff to look after your every need. You can choose as many dishes as you like from Toscana and Polo Grill menus.
Voted Best Specialty Restaurant at Sea, Red Ginger is loosely based on The Slanted Door, a modern Vietnamese restaurant in San Francisco. You can enjoy their interpretation of classic Asian dishes such as Red Snapper in Banana Leaf or try the signature Miso Glazed Sea Bass. In addition to wine, you can also choose from their tea and sake menus.
La Reserve is the only chargeable restaurant (other than Privée). Enjoy a seven course tasting menu all paired with matching wines. The menu featured while I was on-board was designed by Jacques Pépin, and are all dishes that he has enjoyed since his childhood.
Modelled after a Parisian bistro, Jacques is decorated with antiques and art work from Jacques Pépin’s personal collection. A range of poultry, pork, beef and veal joint roasts can be seen slowly turning in the showcase rotisserie. All dishes are French classics and plated in masterchef Pépin’s own way.
For a more relaxed and informal meal you can dine at the Terrace Café at any time of day inside or out. First thing in the morning a selection of breakfast dishes are served. For lunch choose from dishes ranging from rotisserie meats or a pizza fresh from the pizzeria’s oven. In the evening be tempted with anything from freshly prepared sashimi to lamb chops or even lobster tails, all prepared to order. The following day something different will be available.
Casual dining on all-American favourites close to the swimming pool. From burgers to barbeque, seafood, fresh salads and hand cut fries. Finish with ice cream, a hot-fudge sundae or thick milkshake.
Coffee lovers, you’ve hit the jackpot. Complimentary coffee, pastries and biscotti are served inclusive during the day, but you can also try their Crema Fredda al Caffe (Cold Coffee Cream).
Daily from 4pm you can go to Horizons, listen to a classical string quartet, while Oceania staff present you with freshly made finger sandwiches, petit fours, scones with clotted cream and some wonderfully decadent desserts.
We were treated to a Gala Lunch which beautifully demonstrated the variety of different cuisines that are served on-board.
Maine Lobster & Daikon with Caviar
Tagottini Al Formaggio
Filet de Boeuf Périgourdine
Papuan Chocolate Volcano
Petits Fours & Macaroons
MS Marina Recent Culinary Awards
2017 | “Best Dining” (Mid-Size Category)” – Cruise Critic Cruisers’ Choice Awards
2016 | “Best Dining” (Mid-Size Category)” – Cruise Critic Cruisers’ Choice Awards
2014 | “Best Restaurants at Sea – Red Ginger” – USA Today
Oceania Cruises Recent Culinary Awards
2017 | “Best For Food” – Cruise International Awards
2016 | “Best Cuisine” – 2016 Readers Choice Awards (Travel Weekly)
2016 | “Best Dining” – 2016 Cruise Critic Cruisers’ US Editor’s Picks Awards
2016 | “Best For Food”, “Best for Suites”, “Best Excursions” – Town & Country Travel
2016 | “Best for Food” – Cruise International Awards
2015 | “Best for Foodies” – Fodor’s Travel World’s Best Cruises
2015 | “Best Lines for Foodies” – BCrC Cruising & Cruise Ships
So to sum up, if you like the idea of a “foodie cruise”, then Oceania Cruises is quite possibly the cruise line for you. The extravagance of food is not a one off special; they do it all the time. It’s all about the food!
www.oceaniacruises.comI was a guest of Oceania Cruises on-board MS Marina. However, all editorial content is my own.