It’s the 43rd minute of my daily hour-long workout atop an elliptical machine at Oceania Marina’s fitness center and the digital window says I’ve burned 307 calories. If my calculations are correct, my efforts thus far have erased the caloric damage of the two glasses of wine I enjoyed with last night’s dinner. I recall that feast at Jacques’, Oceania Marina’s French restaurant with a menu created by master chef Jacques Pepin: the rich, gravy-drizzled foie gras encased in a flaky pastry crust, the creamy pumpkin soup, the fork tender slab of perfectly-roasted lamb and the luscious brick of crisp and creamy meil feuille, liberally dusted with powdered sugar. I continue to pedal but, seriously, who am I kidding?
Ask anyone who’s sailed Oceania Marina and you’ll hear all about the food, a word I find far too pedestrian to describe the award-winning cuisine aboard this 66,084 grt, 1,250 passenger ship that launched in 2011 and was refurbished in 2016 and, most recently, in 2021. While Oceania Cruises has long touted “the finest cuisine at sea,” aboard Oceania Marina, I discover that creative menus, fresh ingredients and exquisite dishes are just part of story. You can count on savoring that extraordinary cuisine against a backdrop of tastefully-decorated dining venues (the French Jacques, the Italian Toscana, the Asian Red Ginger, the Polo Grill steakhouse, and the Grand Dining Room), enhanced with touches of magnificent art, open kitchens, stunning table settings and, often, fun and quirky details. You can feed your mind with cooking demonstrations at the ship’s onboard Culinary Center and follow the topic ashore with participation in one of the many culinary-themed excursions offered at most ports.
Oceania Marina’s cuisine may, justifiably, be the superstar here but even when you’re not hungry, there’s plenty to devour.
At Sea…At Last!:
The Rolling Stones’ “Angie” wafts across the sundeck aboard Oceania Cruises’ Oceania Marina. Despite a blustery wind that churns the swimming pool’s surface into a frothy dance of breaking waves, some hardy guests occupy mattress-topped deck chairs determined to absorb the blinding sun as Oceania Marina heads from Miami to the Caribbean on its “Sun-Splashed Soiree” sailing. It’s no surprise. For the majority of guests, this sailing marks their return to cruising after two years of lockdown and, dammit, they’re going to enjoy every minute of it.
Two decks down, in room 10033, my travel companion Sanja and I leisurely unpack, placing our garments in the walk-in closet of the spacious 420 square foot Penthouse suite, not even coming close to filling every drawer available for storage. The suite dazzles Sanja, a first-time cruiser who clearly didn’t expect digs that were large enough to include a dining table, separate seating area, full-size tub and separate shower with Bulgari toiletries, private veranda, interactive TV and the services of a butler who eagerly offers assistance with restaurant reservations, shore excursion bookings, room service orders and more. As occupants of a Penthouse suite, we find a complimentary bottle of champagne sitting in an ice-filled bucket and learn that we are entitled to our choice of daily afternoon canapes, complimentary laundry and ironing service, card-only access to the Executive Lounge (a private hideaway with round-the-clock drinks and snacks, computer terminals, and a large-screen TV), and use of the Aquamar Spa Terrace, an exclusive sunning area with two bubbling hot tubs and entry to a serene indoor space featuring heated tile lounge chairs.
Every cruise should kick off with two sea days as our 10-day sailing does. With no imminent port calls, Sanja and I explore Oceania Marina, stopping at the Aquamar Spa to peruse the extensive treatment selection, and popping into the Culinary Center and Artist Loft Open House. The latter is a unique destination where, under the guidance of its Artist in Residence, W. Andre Allen, guests learn a variety of techniques that allow them to create colorful decorative plates that bring a personal touch to the concept of a sailing’s souvenirs.
As we explore, we find that Oceania Marina is stunning, with an eclectic design that ranges from the clubby ambiance of Martini’s and the nearly half-deck-long old-fashioned library adorned with glowing table lamps and leather easy chairs to the gilded sophistication of Jacques and the bold and modern red and white palette of Asian restaurant, Red Ginger.
Aboard Oceania Marina, art—a collection personally selected by Oceania Cruises’ founders Bob Binder and Frank Del Rio—is everywhere and it is the type of art that stops guests in their tracks. A sculpture titled “Woman” rests at a stair landing, almost as an afterthought, yet its presence forces me to absorb the power in its simplicity. A series of paintings that, at first glance, resemble an unfurling bolt of white fabric mesmerizes me, the fabric’s texture and motion somehow leaping from the canvas. A collection of works by Joan Miro adorns the entrance to the Casino bar, gleaming abstract sculptures command attention and, perhaps most magnificent (and certainly most visible) is the dramatic custom-designed Lalique staircase that rises from deck 5 to deck 6, its massive centerpiece framed by a dizzying pattern of delicate gold and black latticework dotted with circular panels of sparkling Lalique.
Music—and More–On Board:
Later that night—and, I confess, on most nights—I find myself barefoot on the dancefloor and boogying like no one’s watching as the Music Station Band’s phenomenal female vocalist belts out songs I know and love during sets at Horizons, a lovely observation lounge located high atop Oceania Marina. On our sailing, the majority of guests fall into a 50–65-year-old demographic and Oceania Marina’s music seems to acknowledge the fact–even on the pool deck, the piped music leans towards 1960s and 1970s artists like Cat Stevens, Queen, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, The Faces and The Rolling Stones.
But music of all types may be found aboard Oceania Marina, from the relaxing strains of a talented pianist at Martini’s to a string quartet at the Grand Bar and theater shows that might showcase an electrifying Elton John-themed performance or one celebrating the music of The Four Seasons.
For those who’d rather laugh than dance, there’s comedy! On our sailing, that comedy comes from Darrell Joyce, who entertains with hysterical stories we can all relate to, and bemoans the fact that a masked audience (masks were required indoors until March 1st when they became optional on board) makes it virtually impossible for him to determine if he is going over well. He even pokes fun at the maddening number of light switches in cruise ship cabins—a topic that has made me nuts for over 40 years. Bravo, Darell!
After a brutal winter, I’m desperate for a manicure and pedicure. At the same time, past experiences at cruise ships spas make me hesitate, dreading the hard sell of past visits. “If you really care about your cuticles,” I was once told by a shipboard manicurist, “you must incorporate this oil into your regimen.” Well, the truth is that I really don’t care about my cuticles and certainly not enough to spend $100 on a tiny bottle of smelly oil.
I’m happy to say that during my excellent “Fire & Ice” pedicure at Oceania Marina’s Aquamar Spa I encountered no hard sell. None. And, today, as I write this, I almost wish my lovely Jamaican-born technician Amanda would have pushed that CND Vinylux Long Wear Nail Polish at least a bit because 13 days after application, it remains shiny and unchipped.
St. Maarteen. St. Kitts. St. Lucia. Antigua. San Juan. Puerto Plata. To this New Yorker, our Oceania Marina itinerary is a late February godsend! After a winter of bitter cold and snow, lazing under the sun on the soft sand beaches during shore excursions like Antigua’s Blue Waters Beach Retreat and St. Maarteen’s Beach Rendezvous transports us to another world, a peaceful one filled with sapphire seas, tropical cocktails and conch fritter lunches. We don’t really expect our Puerto Plata excursion–Damajagua Waterfalls & Private Beach Getaway–to be all that different.
Surprise! Instead of admiring a series of glorious waterfalls before heading off to that private beach and a buffet lunch, I discover that the experience will be decidedly adventurous. A 45-minute trek through the shaded rainforest to the falls is a delight, the often-uphill climb erasing the guilt I feel about skipping my morning workout because of our early departure time.
When we arrive at our destination, however, we do not find a viewing platform. In fact, the “waterfalls” cascade from the surface of massive rock formations which, over the centuries, have carved deep grooves that we will slide down, splashing into the deep pools below—Yikes! This must be why life jackets and helmets are provided! A more adventurous option is to dive directly into the pool from about 20 feet above. Um…no. So I slide. And slide. And slide. And when I surface, I am on another planet, or so it seems. I am surrounded by massive gray boulders, and floating wide-eyed in crystal waters. I love it! Sanja, who actually does dive into the pool instead of slide, feels the same. In fact, when I later ask which she loves more, the Chilean seabass she had for dinner at Red Ginger last night, or this experience, Damajagua Waterfalls wins. (But it took her awhile to decide.)
The moral of the story is to actually read your tour’s description, and heed the activity level indicated. But don’t be afraid to try something new. Something exciting. Something adventurous!
But Back to that Dining…
Sea Bass filet baked in puff pastry crust for two at Jacques. Carmelized spicy tiger prawns with onions, chili garlic sauce and scallions at Red Ginger. Tender filet mignon with a pungent gorgonzola crust at Polo Grill. Zesty tagliolini arrabiata with tender lobster tail at Toscana.
If these are among Oceania Marina’s standard dishes, just imagine the ship’s special dining events. Three particularly extravagant options include:
–The Dom Perignon Experience. Priced at $299 per person and limited to a table of 10, this extraordinary event pairs three superb Dom Perignon vintages (2006, 2009 and Rose 2006) with a seven-course celebration of culinary perfection. The dishes, created by Chef Marco Fadiga of Dom Perignon, include the most decadent of ingredients: Brittany blue lobster, black truffle risotto, Wagyu beef, all paired with the creative and surprising accompaniments that best showcase the elements of each vintage.
-La Cuisine Bourgeoise. Priced at $95 per person and limited to 12 participants, this dining experience celebrates the simplicity of fresh ingredients in a 7-course meal accompanied by six exquisite wines.
-Privee. (Room reservation surcharge applies.) It’s a special occasion: A birthday or anniversary, perhaps. This is the time to reserve a special dinner for up to 12 guests at Privee, the most exclusive dining space aboard Oceania Marina. Be personally escorted to the stunning dining room with its ruby glass artwork, commanding Murano glass chandelier and red-and-white-patterned table designed by the famed Dakota Jackson and select your meal from the extensive menus of Toscana, Polo Grill or a combination of the two.
Those who prefer a more casual dining atmosphere will gravitate to The Terrace Café, a breakfast, lunch and dinner spot that offers both indoor and outdoor seating. And the very casual—and health conscious—just might find themselves taking breakfast and lunch at Waves, an outdoor nook that offers freshly-made juices and smoothies, power bowls, veggie burgers and other quick bites. My personal lunch favorite, however, is a formal one served at the elegant Grand Dining Room–the daily “international” platter, a sampler of tasty dishes from a specific region of the world. My Scandinavian and Indian samplers were both delicious–and fun!
The Oceania Marina Experience:
The Oceania experience is a unique one with features, and certainly dining, that meet or even exceed those found on the most luxurious lines. The difference, however, is what’s included. Rather than the open bar scheme you’ll find on luxury lines, aboard Oceania Marina, you’ll find a choice of beverage packages ($39.95 for the House Select Plan which includes champagne and wines by the glass as well as beers and $59.95 per person per day for the same plan plus cocktails). Some guests skip the plans entirely and order drinks as they go, taking advantage of the frequent “happy hours” that seem to pop up pretty frequently, even after dinner. Shipboard gratuities, airfare and shore excursions are not included in passage but dining in Oceania Marina’s specialty restaurants is. On many sailings, U.S. and Canadian guests may be able to take advantage of OLife Choice promotions that offer free air as well as a choice of one amenity: a free beverage package, up to 8 shore excursions or a generous $800 shipboard credit.
And you won’t have to spend a fortune on a fancy cruise wardrobe because despite the luxury you’ll find aboard Oceania Marina, dress code is one of casual elegance—no formal nights here.
Oceania Marina sails from Miami to Rome on May 19th. She will explore Europe during the Spring and Summer and crosses the Atlantic for South American itineraries this winter.
But no matter where Oceania Marina sails, she’s the perfect cruise for anyone with an appetite for life and luxury.
Photos courtesy of Judi Cuervo