Oceania Marina: A graceful cruise ship with splashy art and good food
Oceania Cruises newest ship, the Oceania Marina, arrives at the Port of Miami on Feb. 4, 2011. The Marina is the cruise line's fourth ship, and the first built from scratch for the company. A sister ship, the Oceania Riviera, is still under construction, set to debut in 2012. (OCEANIA CRUISES)
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Guests can dine on Frog Legs with Parisian Herb Gnocchi in Riesling Sauce and Cassoulet au Confit de Canard in Jacques, the restaurant named for legendary chef Jacques Pepin, who is Oceania's executive culinary director. They can eat Malaysian Beef Penaeng and a salad of watermelon and duck foie gras in Red Ginger, a pan-Asian restaurant whose menu Pepin also oversees. Those are in addition to the main dining room, the steakhouse and the Italian restaurant that carried over from Oceania's older ships and gave the company a reputation for great food.
But Marina is really the house that Frank and Bob built.
The ship incorporates the vision of Frank del Rio, CEO of Prestige Cruise Holdings, Oceania's parent company, and Bob Binder, president of Oceania Cruises, who were heavily involved in the ship's design and decor. They chose the colors of the walls and carpets; the chandeliers and lamps, some of the china, stemware and flatware; and even some of the wine. They put favorite dishes from their travels on the menu at Red Ginger, and chose all the furnishings, seeking to give the ship the feel of a luxurious home.
"You can see our fingerprints in every room on the ship," del Rio said.
Most cruise lines hire a company that specializes in finding art for big ships, but Oceania's executives hand-picked every piece of art.
"Let's just say I was given a budget for art and I went way over," said del Rio, showing off some of the 16 signed Picasso lithographs he bought for the ship.
The Marina was christened in Miami on Feb. 5. It is the first new ship built for Oceania, which has been operating for eight years with three smaller ships formerly owned by the defunct Renaissance cruise line. A twin to Marina, the Riviera, is under construction in a shipyard in Genoa, Italy and is scheduled to join the Oceania fleet in April 2012. The two new ships, which cost about $600 million each, will more than double Oceania's capacity. Each of the three older ships has berths for 684 passengers; the new ships will hold 1,250 each.
But more significantly, the new ships will reinforce Oceania's niche as what del Rio calls an "upper premium" line catering to experienced travelers — generally smaller ships, more space and staff per passenger than Celebrity, Princess or Holland America, but bigger and less intimate than luxury lines like Seabourn and Silversea. Unlike most premium ships, Oceania doesn't charge an extra fee for dining in alternative restaurants. Unlike the luxury lines, gratuities, wine and spirits are not included in the cost of an Oceania cruise.
Oceania's guests view the line's cruises as a good value, said Susan Reder, president of Frosch Classic Cruise & Travel in Southern California..
Although prices aren't exactly comparable because cabin sizes, itineraries and amenities are different, per-person per-night fares on Marina generally run significantly less than on Seabourn, Silversea, or Crystal, and significantly more than Celebrity, Princess, Holland America or Azamara Club Cruises, another super-premium line that uses the same model of former Renaissance ships as Oceania's older ships, but with different decor.
The Marina is a graceful ship — plush and elegant, incorporating both contemporary and classic design elements. It has intimate nooks in public spaces and an overall sense that this is a place to relax (there are no tie racks in the closets). Overall the decor is understated, in shades of browns, beiges, blues and burgundy, but it is accented by splashy art and a few over-the-top pieces: a Lalique staircase on the main deck, the lavender lighting in the Casino Bar (matched by the lavender tie and pocket square that del Rio wore to the christening ceremony) and the Dakota Jackson electric piano in Martinis.
"Oceania is where it is today because they have been so fabulous with the food and service," said Reder. "Now the hardware they have added … is going to be amazing the cabin sizes, the design, the public spaces, the restaurants. The ship is going to be very hot."
One reason is the dining, which was consistently good and often outstanding on a preview cruise this month.
Although Pepin has been Oceania's executive culinary director since the company was established eight years ago, his role is much more visible on the Marina because his first restaurant is on the ship. With the launch of Marina, Oceania also published a cookbook in which Pepin figures heavily.
Pepin — chef, cookbook author and host of several food shows on TV — oversees the development of menus and recipes, and he's always aware of who the clientele are.
"I would say that the people that come on our ship are pretty sophisticated," he said. "They have been in the best restaurants. You are not going to fool them. They are knowledgeable about food. They're ready to be happy, and unless you really screw up, they're going to be happy."
In Jacques, Pepin says the menu is built around classic French comfort food. "My philosophy is the best ingredients and the least possible fussing. This is not the place for innovation or creation or nouvelle cuisine. It's dishes from the '50s and '60s," he said, citing the garlic-marinated rack of veal, cassoulet, French onion soup with real Gruyere.
Guests have responded to Oceania's emphasis on gourmet food and its alternative restaurants that, said Deborah Brye, an agent with Unique Travel of Palm Beach. "They love the dining. It's open seating and there's no additional cost. They can go to the main dining room when they want. The food is outstanding that's where they put the money on all their ships. When our clients come back from a cruise, they're very happy."