I arrive in Civitavecchia to find it bustling with cruise ships but easily spot the newcomer among them: Oceania Cruises’ Vista, the first ship of the line’s new Allura class vessels. At 67,000 grt and holding 1,200 passengers and 800 crew, she is smaller than the behemoths that surround her, a streamlined picture of elegance.
Yet, as I board the all-balcony newbuild, I find myself fearing change. I worry that, like so many other cruise lines, Vista might herald a “new era,” and, like a cosmetics company that discontinues my favorite lipstick shade or skincare product, eliminate the very things that have earned my devotion.
I needn’t have worried.
During my inaugural Vista sailing last week, I discovered a stunning and sensibly-sized ship that includes spectacular new design, restaurants and innovations that rest comfortably and seamlessly alongside the familiar elements that I love.
I board Vista to find a spacious marble-floored atrium done in neutral tones with accents of gold, blonde wood and natural stones, its dramatic curved staircase and glistening floor-to-ceiling chandelier the stunning focal points.
As I wander, stunning artwork in hallways and above stair landings captivates me while warm woods, intimate public spaces and the amber glow cast by magnificent overhead light fixtures lend a homey feel. At deck 14, I stop in my tracks, delighted to find that the multi-room library that I loved so much aboard Marina, with its glass-fronted bookshelves and comfortable easy chairs, is recreated here. Most astonishing, even on this, Vista’s inaugural sailing, the shelves are packed with a vast selection of fiction, non-fiction and travel selections.
An automatic sliding door brings me to the outside deck and a view of what just might be the ship’s most revolutionary space: The pool deck. Gone are the white steel and sharp angles that so often characterize the pool deck and, instead, I view a flowing design that is an artistic composition of materials, shapes and forms. Even the swimming pool corners are rounded and, beneath the shade of an overhang, circular sunbeds, privacy created by timber “fences,” continue the curving flow that creates a soft, elegant look.
My 291-square-foot Concierge Veranda Suite is a stylish and relaxing space of soft grays. The queen bed is topped with 1000-thread linens and its mattress–a seventh-generation ULTRA Tranquility one—incorporates a new fabric technology that reduces body temperature by two Centigrade for a cool and refreshing feel. Ample electric outlets, including bedside USB ports, dot the room and striking artwork and a wall-mounted device for adjusting temperature or requesting room make-up or privacy catch my eye. A mini-refrigerator stocked with soft drinks and a safe hide behind cabinet doors. The floor is covered with carpet created from natural fabrics and I mean really natural fabrics. In fact, the carpeting used contains no dyes that might contribute to allergic reactions or bad indoor air quality. According to ship designer Greg Walton of DADO Studios, a sheep’s wool can vary dramatically in color and these various shades allow the creation of attractive patterns without the use of dyes or chemicals.
It is when I enter the bathroom, however, that I realize that change can certainly be a very good thing! Vista’s Concierge Veranda suites have revolutionized the cruise ship bathroom with a layout that delivers luxury, convenience and, yes, glorious space! Tucked into a corner of mine is a medicine cabinet with ample storage—so much so that the three-drawer unit beneath remains unused throughout the sailing, even by an admittedly cosmetic-and-skincare-crazy woman. A rubber ring borders the drinking glass holders ensuring they’ll remain secure even on the stormiest seas. A full vanity, with a selection of Bulgari toiletries, is topped with a circular mirror that, at the push of a button, becomes the mother of all make-up mirrors. And the shower…ah…the spacious shower! A 7-foot basketball player could easily wash up under his or her choice of a large rain shower head, hand-held or stationary one and then dry off with luxurious single-twist cotton towels that are soft as a cloud.
This “Concierge” category stateroom includes access to the nearby Concierge Lounge with 24-hour snacks, coffees, teas and soft drinks and, aboard Vista, this category has been expanded to include six 270-square-foot veranda suites specifically for solo travelers with layouts that, for a change, afford singles a truly spacious and livable option.
Oceania Cruises has long touted its dining program. “The finest cuisine at sea,” is, without question, what most often draws the line’s fans back again and again. And Vista, with one chef for every 10 guests, will certainly continue that trend.
Vista, I knew, would slightly “tweak” the line’s traditional culinary program, eliminating some dining venues and adding others. The elimination of Jacques was a disappointment that was quickly overcome once I discovered a selection of Jacques Pepin dishes appearing regularly on evening menus in Vista’s Grand Dining Room. Bravo! I don’t think I could bear to sail without experiencing that heavenly Jacques foie gras!
Jacques may be gone but the newcomers debuting aboard Vista are all winners: Ember and its American cuisine; Aquamar Kitchen, the healthy breakfast and lunch spot; and The Bakery, a casual destination for delectable baked goods and more.
Classic New England lobster roll, blackened crab cake, French dip sandwich, grilled beef tenderloin, roasted Atlantic salmon and a creamy and sensuous potato soup with bacon, sour cream and cheddar are just a few of the inventive options at Ember, the stunning new restaurant on deck 5 that, like all Oceania dining venues, puts as much focus on atmosphere and elegance as it does food. Truthfully though? I’d have been thrilled with my selections even if they’d been served on paper plates instead of exquisite Versace china. Hell, I’d eat Ember’s sinfully-rich triple chocolate brownie—chewy, and decadent—right out of the pan.
The healthy-dining Aquamar Kitchen is where to head the morning after you’ve consumed every last morsel of that sinfully-rich triple chocolate brownie. Delectable fruit-topped energy bowls and muesli, four varieties of avocado toast, egg white or whole egg omelets, creamy fruit smoothies and fresh-squeezed juices like Pure Immunity with orange and lime juice, ginger, turmeric and a little kick of cayenne pepper remove the pain of virtuous eating.
High above Vista on deck 14, you’ll find The Bakery, a casual snack spot with the lightest most delectable croissant, tender donuts, muffins and other baked goods, conveniently located steps away from the popular Baristas coffee bar. The Bakery, however, isn’t just baked goods—stop by mid-afternoon and enjoy a delicious little quiche or sandwich to hold you over until dinner. In fact, I found The Bakery to be the most popular of the new dining venues!
It’s like being reunited with old friends when I see Toscana, Red Ginger, Polo Grill, Terrace Café, Waves Grill and Grand Dining Room listed in my issue of Currents, Vista’s daily program (a printed program—yay!–as Oceania does not currently offer an app). Aboard Vista, however, these familiar places often sport a dramatic new look. Vista’s Grand Dining Room is a riot of white and gold glamour, with spectacular arches, striking chandeliers and gilded, hand-painted murals surrounding diners; at Red Ginger, the iconic sea bass in banana leaf remains on the menu (thank God!) but the open kitchen design has been replaced with a more sophisticated, Pan Asian feel, pagoda lamp lighting providing a homey glow.
Casual dining fans will be happy to hear that they can continue to count on delicious hot and cold selections at Terrace Café—and that phenomenal sushi in the evenings—and Waves Grill now serves up not only grilled favorites but a variety of scrumptious pizzas and burrata when the sun goes down.
For those hungry for more, Vista offers a number of optional dining experiences like the new wine-pairing lunch, available at two levels (Sommelier’s Choice, $99 p.p. +20% gratuity or Cellar Master’s Classic, $159 p.p. +20% gratuity). This latter delivers a decadent menu of caviar, fresh burrata, twice-baked lobster souffle, chateaubriand, fine AOC French cheeses and a raspberry caramel mille-feuille dessert, each course paired with a spectacular wine.
Other dining experiences, like the iconic Dom Perignon Experience ($395 p.p. + 20% gratuity), a six-course tasting menu at the exclusive 8-person Privee private dining room, and the Moet & Chandon Tasting Experience ($45 p.p. + 20% gratuity) are also available.
At Oceania Cruises, there’s a new, elevated focus on mixology and its trends and nowhere is that more apparent than at Vista’s Founder’s Bar, tucked within the ship’s casino. My favorite? The Italian, a concoction of Bulleit bourbon, Amaro Averna, Aperol, lemon juice and old fashioned bitters, swirled together and then placed in a chamber which fills with an applewood smoke that lends additional flavor and aroma. This is theater and mixology at its best!
Macallan Whisky programs and Brugal 1888 Doblemente Anejado Rum programs allow guests to both learn the fascinating background of these spirits and imbibe at the same time.
Even teetotalers have their own drinks aboard thanks to Vista’s wide selection of mocktails created with zero-proof spirits. A “No-Groni,” anyone?
Aboard Vista, guests may take in a show at the Vista Lounge, try their luck at the casino, dance the night away at Horizons, enjoy the piano stylings at Martinis, work out in the gym or be pampered in the luxurious Aquamar Spa and Vitality Center…or, they might just want to try something a bit different!
The Culinary Center: Those who’ve sailed Oceania Cruises’ Marina or Riviera are familiar with The Culinary Center, where expert chefs conduct hands-on classes that guide participants in the creation of extraordinary dishes, instruct on technique and even show how to whip up exotic cocktails. The size of the Culinary Center aboard Vista is double that of those aboard Marina and Riviera, with 24 separate cooking stations now available. New to Vista is the Chef’s Studio, the place for culinary lectures, wine tastings, mixology classes and more.
The Artist Loft: Get your hands dirty (or wear the rubber gloves provided) and create your own masterpiece at The Artist Loft aboard Vista! It’s not as difficult as it seems, under the guidance of Artists in Residence W. Andre Allen and Jeffrey Holden, tremendously-talented and engaging young men who shares their secrets to creating intricate and imaginative artwork. But sign up for classes immediately upon boarding! I raced up to The Artist Loft and was lucky to secure one of the last three spots available for Andre’s two-part “drip technique” glass plate class!
LYNC Digital Center: So many ships have discontinued their Internet Centers–not so Vista! Not only are computers available for those times when you want to view something on a screen larger than your iPhone’s, but actual classes are offered for those of us who want to polish our skills and capture our cruise experience in the best possible light: “Landscape & Travel Photography,” “Photo Editing for Social Media” among them.
With Vista, Oceania Cruises has achieved the remarkable: A ship that feels familiar to their long-time fans while, at the same time, delivering exciting innovations that don’t change the onboard experience but enrich and enhance it.
She was certainly worth waiting for!
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Photos by Judi Cuervo, unless credited to Oceania Cruises
Thanks to Oceania Cruises and All Things Cruise!
See cruises here: Oceania Vista