Straddling the line between entertainment and infotainment is the Bon Appetit Culinary Center, in which passengers learn kitchen secrets from a changing roster of master chefs. At tightly packed rows of personal cooking stations, you can chop, saut, fry and fumble around under expert guidance -- and the crowds looking in from the pool make it even more fun. Book early for the classes, which on our cruise ranged from the simple cooking chicken two ways to indulging in Italy." All were thorough, hands-on, and ultimately quite useful once we returned home. Classes cost $69 apiece, and it's important to note that while the cruise line says that it can accommodate 24 passengers per class, there are just 12 cooking stations (so you will probably wind up sharing not just space but also cooking tasks with a fellow passenger).
Note: Wine is liberally poured (or other drinks that are matched to the recipes) and you're expected to eat what you cook so you may want to avoid booking alternative restaurants for the same day.
Programs offered at La Reserve by Wine Spectator include wine tastings tied to the region. On our Adriatic cruise we had an outstanding class on Croatian wines and when we began to debate food pairings, the sommelier ran over to the Terrace Caf and brought back food from the buffet. There's also a Riedel wine glass tasting session, and if you haven't figured out what the difference is between drinking vino in a cheap glass versus a crystal one, it'll be a revelation.
Across the hall from the Bon Appetit Culinary Center is the Artist Loft, in which artists are invited to cruise in exchange for leading workshops. Mediums include photography, watercolors, needlepoint, and arts and crafts, among others, and there's a materials charge to participate.
At night in the chichi Marina Lounge, Oceania is trying its hand at large-scale productions for the first time, with mixed success. "River Rhapsody is a song-and-dance tribute to the world's tributaries, and the trippy "Groovin'" is a high-spirited salute to the 1960's. There's also a changing roster of pianists, jazz trios, comedians and the like, though if you're expecting a constant onslaught of entertainment akin to that offered by the industry's mega-ships, you'll be disappointed.
A small casino caters to the gambling set with its perfunctory mix of slot machines and table games.
There's a calm, cool -- maybe even sleepy -- vibe throughout the ship when the sun goes down. The one exception is Horizons, a sprawling lounge on Deck 15 with an in-house band and dance floor. Bars include the swanky Martinis, just off the atrium, and the long, narrow Grand Bar in the corridor leading to the Grand Dining Room. For something a little snazzier, check out the casino's bar, a purple-hued dazzler that's surprisingly garish compared to the rest of Marina.
Oceania's shore excursions cover most of the major bases though rarely surprise. One exception: The Culinary Discovery Program, which launched in 2012, offers food- and wine-themed excursions, paired with regional cooking classes. Complaints from Cruise Critic members that tours in general are overpriced are justified.
|Fitness and Recreation|
Befitting its adult-centric focus, Marina's sun deck is centered on a tranquil saltwater pool that's ringed by comfortable, cushion-topped loungers and straddled by a pair of covered fresh-water whirlpools. The Waves Bar keeps the libations flowing for sun-worshippers and other deck-hounds. Other outdoor diversions are similarly sedate and/or are geared to more mature travelers. These include a fitness track, putting greens, golf cages, Ping-Pong, croquet and shuffleboard.
Just off the sun deck, above the pool, sits a fully equipped fitness center with a panoramic sea view and plenty of machines on which to sweat off the fare from Jacques. Some classes are complimentary (walk-a-mile, stretch and relax, and complete core). Others (like Pilates, boot camp, yoga and Yamuna Foot Fitness) levy a fee. If you're planning to attend a lot of classes, consider buying the Cruise Fitness Class Pass, which allows access to all of them for a one-time fee of $99.
The fitness center is attached to the Canyon Ranch SpaClub. It's got a serene and peaceful vibe (with beautiful art and a waterfall), and you can order healthy drinks and snacks, which can be served anywhere in the facility including the forward-facing whirlpool deck. A plethora of treatments, from skin-care to massage to acupuncture, are available. An adjacent beauty salon handles hair styling and cuts, manicures, and pedicures.
Passengers who purchase a spa treatment or buy a $25 day pass can access the ship's thermal suite with a sauna, steam room and scented showers. Surprisingly, there's no thalassotherapy pool on Marina. (Designers on the newer Riviera actually changed the deck plan to accommodate a thalassotherapy pool but it will not appear here.) But take note: A fantastic and otherwise hidden sun deck with a huge whirlpool is available to all passengers, just beyond the spa at the bow of the ship.
Sorry, wrong ship. Most activities are geared to grownups on Marina, and there's no daycare center, teen club or arcade to keep the younger ones occupied.
Travelers tend to fall into the older age ranges (50 and up), are well traveled and hail mostly from the U.S. and Canada, with Brits and Australians making up the balance.
Marina features three Owner's Suites, eight Vista Suites, 12 Oceania Suites (a new category), 124 Penthouse Suites, 20 deluxe oceanview staterooms, 466 verandah staterooms and 14 inside cabins. Wheelchair-accessible accommodations are available in each category.
Representing the vast majority of the lodging, the 282-square-foot verandah staterooms are awash in a sea of warm brown and grays and feature comfortable couches, flat-screen TV's, inviting teak decks and beds topped in 1,000-thread-count sheets. Add in marble-and-granite-bedecked bathrooms with separate showers and tubs, and you've got a real haven. Note: One complaint about Marina's bathrooms, that the showerhead is too low for tall passengers, will be fixed during the ship's next scheduled dry dock.
Inside cabins, at 174 square feet, are only slightly larger than the tiny inside cabins on Oceania's older ships. Oceanview staterooms, at 242 square feet, are outfitted with floor-to-ceiling windows -- so while there are no verandahs, there's still a copious amount of light. Verandah staterooms on the Concierge Level include a welcome bottle of Champagne, complimentary clothes-pressing at embarkation, priority dinner reservations and use of a lovely interior lounge with computers, snacks and a designated concierge.
Decks 10 and 11 are home to the Penthouse Suites, offering a welcome 420 square feet of space, 24-hour butler service and the same earthy palette. The separate living area -- complete with a sofa, two super-comfy chairs and a lighted vanity table -- opens up to a spacious verandah, decorated with wide wicker chairs. (One complaint: these balconies are large enough for a real dining table but only offer a cocktail table.) A walk-in closet ensures you won't have to look at piles of dirty clothes while onboard.
Suite guests are entitled to use the Executive Lounge on Deck 11. It's set up like the Concierge Lounge, with a large flat-screen television, printouts of daily newspapers like The Wall Street Journal, Internet stations and a concierge.
The higher-end options are predictably opulent, with the Oceania Suites offering 1,000 square feet of space atop Marina, private hot tubs and outdoor flat-screen televisions on over-sized verandas, media rooms, butler service, and living/dining room combos. The Vista Suites, which come with a private workout room, are about 25 percent larger than these and overlook the bow, so you're in for some astounding views. Both are decorated by noted interior designer Dakota Jackson, known for a design philosophy that he describes as "the furniture has to be beautiful, it has to be provocative, it has to be meaningful." He nails it!
The Owner's Suites, which each measure 2,000 square feet (there are three onboard), are among the most elaborate and spacious at sea. Using furnishings from Ralph Lauren Home, each of the Owner's Suites spans the beam of the ship, and features a large living and dining room, bedroom with king-sized bed, his and hers walk-in closets, a music room complete with a grand piano, and even a media room with professional entertainment system. There's a whirlpool tub in the bathroom and on the veranda (the latter has a flat-screen television outdoors).
On a ship whose crew is so service-oriented, it could be argued that butler service is not all that necessary. But in our two stays in Penthouse-category cabins, the outstanding above-and-beyond efforts definitely made a difference. In one case, our butler loaned us his own computer power cord when we realized we'd forgotten ours.
One real plus to booking a Penthouse, Oceania, Vista or Owner's Suite: At dinnertime, you can order room service off any of the ship's restaurant menus, including those from Red Ginger, Toscana, Polo Grill and Jacques.
Tips are automatically charged to your onboard account at the rate of $12.50 per person, per day. Passengers in suites with butler service (Penthouse, Vista and Owner's suites) are charged an additional $4 per person, per day. Room teams, favorite bartenders, the sommelier, the maitre d' and certain waitstaff members might be worthy of more, which can be offered at each passenger's discretion. It's expected that those bringing room service will be tipped (anywhere from $1 to $5, depending on what's ordered) as items are delivered.
A relative upstart among the cruise lines, having only been in existence since 2003, Oceania Cruises officially entered the big time in January 2011 with the launch of Marina, its first new-build. Sleek, spacious and oh-so-chic, Marina marks a giant step forward for the fledgling upper-premium line. (Riviera, Marina's nearly-identical sibling, launched in May 2012.)
Upper premium? Hmmm. After spending a few days aboard the 66,084-ton, 1,258-passenger vessel, you may begin to wonder if Marina has actually pushed Oceania across the line into luxury. Credit goes to the uber-fine dining (including super-chef Jacques Pepin's first namesake restaurant), amenity-packed cabins and abundance of artwork at every corner. Indeed, much of the inspiration for the ship's design came from such high-end establishments as Miami's Mondrian Hotel, the Palm Court at NYC's Plaza Hotel and Bouchon restaurant in Napa. Marina is not a true luxury ship, of course; its cruises sell at a more moderate price point and are significantly less inclusive (passengers will have to bring out their wallets for a range of fares charged a la carte, from cocktails to enrichment programs).
Of course, there are plenty of places to think about the distinction while chilling aboard the ship, whether you're getting a massage in the Canyon Ranch SpaClub, reading a good book next to the faux fireplace in the massive (yet surprisingly cozy) library or straddling one of the oversized padded lounges in the Sanctuary -- an aptly named touch o' the South Pacific near the pool that offers copious shade, swaying palms, ceiling fans and dedicated drink waiters.
Inasmuch as the ship offers double the capacity of Oceania's older vessels, it's no surprise Marina introduces a number of innovations to the line. One of the most touted is the Bon Appetit Culinary Center, offering highly entertaining -- and practical -- hands-on cooking lessons from Culinary Institute of America instructors. Marina's culinary center is the most elaborate in cruising.
New restaurants include La Reserve, a 24-seat wine-themed eatery from Wine Spectator magazine; Jacques, for French country cooking; and Red Ginger, an Asian fusion mecca whose decor alone (a sea of deep reds, black and dark wood) will leave you smitten. In addition, cabins are larger, with an earthier palette and greatly expanded bathrooms.
Right out of the shipyard, Oceania Marina got most things right, but there were glitches. Service, generally superb in any venue we came across, didn't live up to the cruise line's standards in the Terrace Grill, the ship's casual restaurant, on a number of occasions (particularly when dining on the otherwise lovely alfresco terrace off the back). The bars and lounges laid out along the Deck 5 corridor, which passengers tramp through on their way to the Grand Restaurant, weren't particularly appealing or intimate. (Much nicer was the Horizon, the ship's top-deck bar and lounge.) Evening entertainment, never an Oceania strong point, was mediocre. Also, given the ship's port-intensive itineraries (with very few sea days), we found that activities often conflicted with time in port or were held at dinnertime. As a result, sometimes you had to make tough choices about what to do.
Despite these minor complaints, you can expect a ship that's fun to explore, focused on food and wine, easy to navigate and easy on the wallet when compared to luxury lines (hence that "upper-premium" designation).
Most passengers' first view of the ship's interior will be of the Lalique Grand Staircase, a work of art in itself: a set of dramatically illuminated curving steps adorned with crystal medallions and pillars, hand-crafted by the French firm.
The art-as-adornment aspect of the ship continues throughout the vessel, with millions of dollars of artwork on display wherever you look. Navigation throughout is relatively simple, though some of the restaurants are tucked away and may lead to some hand wringing if your inner GPS isn't working. Just head to the Grand Staircase if you panic; most everything (including the few boutiques on hand) is nearby.
While you won't find bowling alleys, photo galleries and an auction house, bibliophiles will love the expansive library and its unusually cozy series of nooks and crannies. You can duck into the adjacent Baristas for a cup of coffee, and the Oceania@Sea Internet cafe provides a plethora of computer stations, if not privacy. There's WiFi throughout the ship so you're not limited to the caf. Internet access costs 95 cents per minute. If that's too pricey, packages are also available, which lower the per-minute rate, starting at 100 minutes for $80 and going up to 1,200 minutes for $540.
The five self-serve launderettes onboard (spread over five decks) are some of the nicest you'll find at sea. Each has three washers, three dryers and an ironing board, plus a comfy couch and television for entertainment while you wait. Laundry is not free, and you'll need quarters to feed into the machine.
Think casual-but-elegant throughout the ship, both day and night. Tank tops and swimwear are discouraged at all times from any of the restaurants, while shorts, jeans, T-shirts, sneakers and sandals are not allowed in most eateries at dinner. Men can't go wrong with blazers and slacks after sunset, while women will feel comfortable in dresses or skirts with blouses.
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