Cruising the new Oceania Marina in (almost) luxury

With the launching of the Oceania Marina, there’s a new leader in a relatively new niche in cruising.

Oceania Marina (Photo by David G. Molyneaux, TheTravelMavens.com) The niche, somewhere between the high-priced luxury brands and the big ships of the premium lines, is called upper premium or maybe ultra deluxe or, my favorite because it’s mine, “almost luxury.”

The cruise line is Oceania.

The celebration party is just beginning, because its newest ship, the Marina, already is the belle of the ball.

The 1,250-passenger Marina, christened two weeks ago in Miami and cruising North America through March, exceeded the expectations of media and travel agents who recently inspected the ship, ate and slept aboard while the Marina sailed for three nights off the coast of South Florida.

Marina is the best in its class because nobody else has the ship to compete, said one cruise expert. (I’d put Azamara Club Cruises and Windstar with Oceania in this almost luxury category).

Click for a slide show on the Marina. Click on pictures in this blog for a larger view.

Finding a cruise ship niche

While some of the passengers aboard the special sailing tired of Oceania executives saying that the Marina was THE most beautiful ship built in the last 50 years, it IS a stunningly beautiful vessel. It’s as pretty as you’ll see in the cruise world, with design, décor, fabrics, furnishings, artwork, and a general atmosphere suggesting a boutique hotel or a large private country home – with 625 bedrooms.

Sanctuary out of the sun on Oceania Marina (Photo by David G. Molyneaux, TheTravelMavens.com) Oceania execs point out that Oceania Marina is more exclusive in style and inclusive in goodies than ships of the premium lines (Holland America, Celebrity, Princess) though not as expensive a vacation as the vessels of the most luxurious lines (Seabourn, Silversea, Crystal and Regent Seven Seas, which has the same owner as Oceania).

While cruise ship rates vary by cabin and depend heavily on the discounts of the moment, an Oceania executive said that cabin rates for premium ships are about $250-$275 per person per day, and luxury rates are at about $550-$800 per day. Oceania rates are about $350-$375 per day, he said.

Where Marina stands out

In addition to the high level of personal service that Oceania has a reputation for on its three other ships – the 684-passenger Regatta, Insignia and Nautica that formerly were owned by the defunct Renaissance Cruises –  the Marina offers:

* Four specialty restaurants, plus the Grand Dining Room, with a 17-foot ceiling, and casual choices such as the buffet Terrace Café

Oceania Marina Grand Dining Room (Photo by David G. Molyneaux, TheTravelMavens.com) All six dining choices are open seating. Though reservations are essential for the specialty restaurants, passengers are guaranteed a reservation once a cruise in each. They are Oceania regulars Polo Grill (a steakhouse) and Toscana (Italian), and new restaurants, Red Ginger (contemporary Asian) and Jacques, a Parisian bistro that is the first to bear the name of Oceania’s honorary commodore, chef Jacques Pepin.

There are no extra charges on the ship for food or basic beverages, such as bottled water, coffees, and sodas. The only dining fees are for alcohol and for the 10-person private party room chef’s table, Prive, which costs $1,000 for the night.

Prive on Oceania Marina (Photo by David G. Molyneaux, TheTravelMavens.com) Except for Prive, pictured at right, I managed to eat a meal at each of these restaurants on my short cruise (that’s why I am dieting at the moment).  I was impressed with the menus, the atmosphere and the consistently excellent food. My favorites: Red Ginger (don’t miss the sea bass marinated in miso) and Jacques (what do you expect from a name like Molyneaux? Loved the Coquilles Saint-Jacques.)

* Spacious and elegant cabins

Marina Oceania owners suite by Ralph Lauren Home Collection (Photo by David G. Molyneaux, TheTravelMavens.com) My veranda cabin measured 282 square feet, including the balcony. Some of the suites were designed by Dakota Jackson. Three owners suites, like the one pictured left,  stretch beam to beam at the aft and have furnishings and bedding from the Ralph Lauren Home Collection.

* New public areas, such the Bon Appetit Culinary Center

Learning to cook on Oceania Marina with Bon Appetit (Photo by David G. Molyneaux, TheTravelMavens.com)

At the Culinary Center, up to 24 passengers at a time can learn to cook under a chef’s tutelage. My colleague, Art Sbarsky, wrote in CruiseWeek newsletter he learned that feta cheese kneaded into lamb for burgers adds flavoring without being too obvious.

I liked the coffee bar, Baristas, which overlooks the pool deck. I was able to locate a cookie here at almost any hour of the day (coffees and snacks at no extra charge).

Oceania Marina Casino Bar (Photo by David G. Molyneaux, TheTravelMavens.com) My favorite lounge is the outrageous Casino Bar, pictured right, with some naughty Picassos on the wall. They are among 16 Picassos on the ship, part of an amazing art collection aboard that will keep you busy for days.

* The impressive Canyon Ranch SpaClub

Canyon Ranch is a leader in spa treatments and exercises managed by the famed ranch that has its headquarters in Tucson, Ariz. Canyon Ranch also offers overnight possibilities at its new hotel and spa on Miami Beach before and after cruises. Outside the spa on the ship is a nifty quiet area with pool, loungers, two hot tubs and eight thermal beds for relaxing over-stressed muscles.

Info on Oceania Marina at   www.oceaniacruises.com

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