Oceania Cruises' Marina in Sydney - Photo by Oceania Cruises
Line: Oceania Cruises
Debuted: January 2011
Passengers: 1,258 passengers
Routes: Around the world
True foodies and those who prefer their ships understated and (dare we say?) tasteful.
Families with small children (there are no facilities).
- Celebrity Chef Jacques Pepin's first restaurant at sea
- Bon Appétit magazine's first co-branded cooking school at sea
- La Reserve, Wine Spectator magazine's first co-branded restaurant sea
- Red Ginger -- not the first pan-Asian restaurant at sea, but easily the best
- Truly deluxe Owner's Suites, thanks to a partnership with Ralph Lauren Home
Oceania Cruises started with Renaissance Cruise ships the company purchased when the line went under. Marina was the line's first new build, its first opportunity to showcase its priorities, food, and design. Walk into the lobby and, instead of Vegas-style neon lights, you'll find a Lalique staircase and seating that's more reminiscent of a restrained boutique hotel lobby than a flashy "Bob Fosse" moment in a resort on the Strip.
Tip: Take some time to admire the paintings throughout the public spaces. The ship has an extensive art collection--which isn't uncommon, but much of it was culled from the personal stash of the line's Vice Chairman Bob Binder.
Staterooms are as elegant and comfortable as you would hope for -- with floor-to-ceiling windows, 700-thread-count linens on the beds, and plenty of marble in the bathrooms. Upgrade to a Concierge-level Veranda Suite, and (in addition to access to the usual perks and the concierge lounge) you also get a laptop computer and an iPad to use on your cruise. The real showstoppers on the ship: the top-tier Owner's Suites, which are designed with furniture from Ralph Lauren Home.
Activities and Entertainment
Bon Appétit Culinary Center - Even if you don't love to cook, you'll want to sign up for at least one class in the cooking school ($69 per guest), which is made up of 12 stations at which you can chop and sauté right along with the chef. (No auditorium with a large monitor here and a chef "demoing" for the crowd to try at home later, thank you very much.)
Tip: Opt for a class that will show you how to recreate some of Jacques' signature dishes at home, or sign up for a shore excursion that includes a market trip and the chance to cook up the local ingredients back onboard.
Artist Loft - The line's innovative "artists-in-residence" program allows painters and photographers to not only create original pieces on sailing, but also teach classes to passengers on sea days.
Canyon Ranch Spa - The spa is equally high-quality, as you would expect since it's branded by one of the most impressive spa companies around. The highlight, aside from the treatments: the two hot tubs on an outdoor terrace.
Tip: Access to the spa facilities costs $25 per passenger, but you get it for free if you book a treatment. So sign up for at least a manicure or blow dry.
While the main dining room and the Italian food at Toscana are just fine, it's the specialty restaurants that stood out well above the crowd.
Jacques is a French bistro helmed by Jacques Pepin -- the first restaurant ever for the beloved French-American TV personality and cookbook author. Look for an eye-popping cheese trolley as well as all the expected French classics (garlicky escargot, cheese-topped French onion soup, airy chocolate mousse) that you probably know and love as much as we do.
Tip: Be sure to order the chicken. Jacques is home to an impressive infrared rotisserie, which was outfitted especially for the high seas in order to handle roasted black-footed chickens as well as prime rib and racks of veal.
Red Ginger is pan-Asian and a reflection of Binder's attention to authenticity. The Thai dishes -- from tom kha ghai soup that's properly redolent of lemongrass, to spicy duck and watermelon salad with plenty of mint -- blow anything similar on other ships out of the water.
La Reserve offers seven-course menus that are pricy (they start at $95 per person), but the wines are special and the atmosphere feels decadent. Picture a mere 24 seats, row after row of crystal glasses, and a table made out of a centuries-old tree trunk -- the perfect place to share a toast at the end of your trip.
By Sherri Eisenberg, Editor in Chief
Originally published on Bon Voyage magazine
A publication of Cruiseline.com