Oceania Cruises’ Marina: A sleek, sophisticated foodie paradise
Marina, launched in 2011 and one of six ships in the current Oceania Cruises fleet, was the first in the line’s new-build program and was joined by sister ship Riviera in 2012. They were clearly meant to be game-changers among midsize, balcony-studded cruise ships targeting reasonably well-heeled cruisers who appreciate luxury but revel in value pricing.
With 1,250 passengers, the ship is larger than Oceania's Regatta, Insignia and Nautica, but it retains the intimate feel of a smaller ship. Marina's look is well sculpted: sleek, elegant and sophisticated, with designer touches ranging from the Lalique Grand Staircase to the Owner's Suites furnished by the Ralph Lauren Home Collection. And while your fellow passengers will tend toward the upper crust, the atmosphere is hardly haughty. There's a casual vibe, and crew members offer smart, personalized service.
Oceania folds in some of the features extolled by lines that claim to be all-inclusive — exhibit A are the four no-charge alternative restaurants — though wine, drinks, shore excursions and gratuities are extra. In other words, you decide how you’re going to spend your money on board and what you’re going to spend it on.
Where Marina sails
Destinations: Itineraries are worldwide and much in demand. Marina sails across the globe with cruises in and around Europe, Australia and New Zealand, New England and Canada, the Caribbean, the Panama Canal, French Polynesia and the South Seas.
We found it almost remarkable on our 18-day cruise from Florida to California that a cruise through the Caribbean didn’t stop at a single island.
Where I went & what I liked
A woman at the table next to ours in Red Ginger, one of four complimentary alternative dining venues on board the then brand new ship, looked down at her miso-glazed sea bass wrapped in a ti leaf closed with a tiny green clothespin. Then she looked up at her dining companion with misty eyes. “I think I could eat here every night,” she said with a note of awe in her voice.
Richard (my first mate) and I boarded the ship in PortMiami. It was our first night on board and the Marina’s second voyage in her maiden season. By the time we were halfway through the 18-day inaugural voyage through the Panama Canal to San Francisco (via Los Angeles, where we disembarked), it was evident that the fourth vessel in Oceania Cruises’ fleet is clearly meant to be a game-changer among mid-size, balcony-studded luxury cruise ships. And in many ways, she is — particularly the food in those four specialty restaurants.
I thoroughly enjoyed Marina’s casual country-club style, semi-inclusive pricing, spaciousness and unusually generous number of balcony cabins — 95 percent of the total. But it’s truly the food that turns heads. That's mostly thanks to Frank Del Rio, the line’s founding CEO and chairman (he’s now CEO of parent company Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings), who pulls no punches on this matter: “We … (budgeted) more per guest for food than any other cruise company. Some spend that money on stage shows and dancing girls. We put it on the plate. We want the food to be the show, and the dining experience to be the entertainment.”
Dining on the Marina
Anyone who loves food will love it aboard the Marina, and it is a big reason why Oceania’s repeat passengers are enviably loyal. Even the Terrace Café’s lunchtime buffet is a surprising culinary event. Aboard other ships, the three-meal restaurant is often an afterthought. Not here. Like our fellow passengers, I stared open-mouthed at the paella displayed in the authentic huge copper paella pan — that’s something I would wager is a first at sea. Your faithful reporter herself waxed ecstatic over lamb curry that was ideal in every respect, save for the odd absence of chutney. Missteps that go unobserved on other ships tend to stand out on Marina precisely because they are so out of character.
The Marina offers guests nine dining venues: the Grand Dining Room, four specialty restaurants for no extra charge, two specialty restaurants for an extra fee and two casual spots.
Grand Dining Room: The ship's main dining room offers offers multiple courses of French-inspired Continental dishes and features fine china, crystal and silver alongside the formally attired wait staff, frescoes and domed ceiling. We found it to be big and largely impersonal, with an atmosphere that was a bit harried and with dishes too far removed from the promised a la minute (made to order). Service here slips a bit.
Here are the four no-fee alternative restaurants, which do require reservations:
- Jacques: Oceania’s culinary godfather, the celebrated French chef Jacques Pepin, lends his name and his talents to the first restaurant with his name on land or sea. Decorated with rich fabrics, heirloom antiques, wood furnishings and art from Jacques' personal collection, the restaurant resembles a classic Parisian bistro. We ordered the smoked salmon-wrapped salmon tartar and it did not disappoiint.
- Red Ginger: Another specialty restaurant, Red Ginger provides contemporary interpretations of Asian classics. Along with striking visuals that are rooted in the tradition of feng shui, Red Ginger's chefs have created a menu that draws from a variety of cuisines such as Thai, Malaysian and Indian.
- Polo Grill: With decor that recalls Hollywood celebrities of another era, the Polo Grill offers the atmosphere of a classic steakhouse. This intimate restaurant offers guests old-time ambience and romantic moonlit views at night. We had a 20-ounce prime porterhouse steak, deftly prepared.
- Toscana: With Tuscan recipes straight from Oceania's Italian culinary staff, this restaurant looks to create an authentic Tuscan experience. Toscana prepares its dishes with flavors rooted in family traditions, while sommeliers recommend a vintage to pair with each dish. I had the beef carpaccio.
Which alternative restaurant was the best? That’s like asking fraternity guys which Victoria’s Secret model they favor.
How do they offer these dining experiences without charging a fee? Well, unless demand is somehow absent, you will probably be limited to one dinner in each of the four restaurants during your cruise.
Privée: Oceania has decked out the private-dining Privée with Ferrari red carpeting, oversized white baby crocodile throne chairs, Baroque millwork and backlit onyx-clad walls. The goal is to create a refined yet intimate space for discerning foodies. The cost is $1,000 for up to 10 persons for a multi-course menu degustation.
La Reserve: Atop deck 12 is La Reserve by Wine Spectator, where wine tastings meet gourmet dinners. Daytime tasting menus offer vintages from the wine cellar selected by the head sommelier to reflect the region of the world in which you're sailing. Evenings are reserved for more elaborate affairs, such as seven-course gourmet dinners. Cost is $75 to cover the elevated wine pairings.
Casual options with open seating
Breakfast and lunch buffets at the Terrace Cafe offers an informal option for dining. Guests can dine indoors or outdoors, since the cafe opens onto both the teak-lined pool deck or aft onto the Terrace. Waves Grill is near the swimming pool and offers gourmet burgers, barbecue and seafood. The open galley allows you to observe the chefs in action while you sample fresh salads or hand-cut fries on the side.
All in all? What's inescapable is that Marina’s cuisine is as far above average as Lake Wobegon's children. This may be the first foodie destination ship.
Bars & lounges
Martinis: Before dinner, Martinis is crowded as if gin was rationed and will make you feel you’re fighting for a drink in a Manhattan saloon an hour before the last bar car train leaves Grand Central Terminal for Old Greenwich. Martinis serves numerous incarnations of the classic cocktail in an atmosphere reminiscent of a private gentleman's club, featuring live piano music.
And, by the way, the wine lists have been paid attention, to, with lots of California bottles at prices that wouldn’t be surprising on land. On the other hand, bottled mineral water, soft drinks and espresso are available everywhere without charge.
Grand Bar: Before dinner, you can also sample a rare vintage or sip on a handcrafted cocktail amid the opulence of the Grand Bar.
Baristas: Want a quick low-key escape? Marina's coffee bar is right next to the library, with an arc of floor-to-ceiling windows that provides panoramic views of the sea. Baristas offers espressos, cappuccinos, pastries and homemade biscotti.
Marina Lounge: From headline acts to comedians and magicians to jazz ensembles, the ship's lounges offer nightly entertainment.
Horizons: An observation lounge with floor-to-ceiling windows, Horizons offers views and vistas while nursing a cocktail at the bar.
Entertainment & activities
Marina features three stage shows, "Con Molto!," "River Rhapsody" and "Groovin." All three are produced by Gary Musick Productions, an award-winning entertainment group that provides musical revues on cruise ships and resorts. Del Rio made it plain that anything not having to do with food assumes a secondary role. We attended one show and decided our time was better spent reading books from the elegant library.
There’s a gym and a casino, of course, and the Canyon Ranch Spa at Sea provides pricey pamper options — a facial set me back $150 plus tip. But there is a big-for-sea swimming pool whose length we could never discover — much head-scratching and blank stares — but we pace-estimated it at 35 feet in length.
High tea aboard the Marina is served at 4 pm each day in the Horizons observation lounge. Pastry chefs offer a collection of English-style finger sandwiches, scones and other edibles.
Enrichment on board
You'll find an elaborate Culinary Center designed in conjunction with Bon Appetit magazine that affords the food-obsessed the opportunity to prep and cook along with an expert chef in a professional kitchen setting. Now, that’s entertainment.
The ship also offers a hands-on program for budding artists called the Artist Loft, a creative enrichment center where artists-in-residence offer step-by-step instruction in their areas of expertise. Passengers can learn how to paint in a variety of mediums, take needlepoint or create arts and crafts.
Staterooms on Marina
Standard staterooms measure 262 square feet, hardly spacious but noticeably comfier than the 212-square-foot cabins found in Oceania’s smaller ships. Décor is attractive with dark woods, bright modern art, a flat-screen TV and a posh bedding system similar to those found at upscale hotel chains. Bathrooms have a full-size bathtub and separate shower stall of, shall we shall, compact and sometimes painful dimensions.
We were in a concierge-level cabin, a category amped with 1,000-count bed linens, supposedly priority specialty restaurant reservations (nope, not on our sailing), the option to receive full room service breakfast and the use of a laptop — nice, though we had our own. But given the endlessly balky wi-fi in our stateroom and the slow speed and high cost, the perk was considerably diminished.
Internet & connecting with loved ones
Passengers can connect with friends and family back home or monitor business through the ship's 24-hour Internet center, [email protected], or use the ship's onboard wireless. Laptops are provided in all suites aboard the Marina as well as in the ship's Concierge Level Veranda Staterooms. Passengers in all Owner's, Vista and Oceania Suites get the use of an iPad throughout the voyage. (Starting in late 2015, Oceania is providing free Internet to guests who book premium suites; others will pay 99 cents per minute or $28 for the day. We can't vouch that the connectivity issues have been solved.)
Letters and postcards with the appropriate postage can be mailed at the Reception Desk.
Patti Pietschmann was hosted on Marina by Oceania Cruises as a travel writer. See Cruiseable's Ethics & disclosure policy.
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Top highlights on this ship
- Marina boasts a wide range of sublime dining options.
- The ship offers guests a hands-on gourmet cooking experience at the Bon Appetit Culinary Center.