Travel writer Patti Pietschmann has given rave reviews after cruising onboard Marina during her 18-day Inaugural Passage. Below we’ve shared some of her glowing remarks, along with some photos captured by our Blogger at Large and one from our onboard Photo Coach, Curtis Hustace.
You can read this and other articles on Marina from Patti at examiner.com/cruise.
Miso Glazed Sea Bass featured in Red Ginger
OCEANIA CRUISES’ MARINA WHETS THE APPETITE IN MORE WAYS THAN ONE
By Patti Pietschmann
The first evening out of Miami set the tone for the maiden voyage of Oceania Cruises’ gunshot-across-the-bow in mid-size luxury cruising. A woman at the table next to ours in Red Ginger, one of four no-charge alternative dinner restaurants onboard, looked down at her miso-glazed sea bass wrapped in a ti leaf closed with a tiny green clothespin and then up at her dining companion with misty eyes. “I think I could eat here every night,” she said with a note of awe in her voice.
Eavesdropping that first evening aboard the brand new Marina on her 18-day inaugural voyage from Miami through the Panama Canal to San Francisco (via Los Angeles, where we disembarked), may not have been polite. But listening while our fellow passengers praised the food on the fourth vessel and first new build in Oceania Cruises’ four-ship fleet pretty much gave away the headline for the 1,250-passenger ship. We heard the 20-ounce prime porterhouse served in the Polo Grill compared to those found in New York City’s renowned steakhouses, the beef carpaccio in Toscana extolled as exemplary, and the smoked salmon-wrapped salmon tartar in Jacques compared to a dish that might be served at Patina in downtown Los Angeles.
Which of the four was best? That was like asking fraternity guys which of the Victoria’s Secret models they favor.
That’s the food-forward way Marina, whose culinary godfather, after all, is the celebrated French chef Jacques Pepin (he of the eponymous Jacques) means to sail.
A striking chandelier in Terrace Café
Even dinner at the Terrace Café, the ship’s three-meal buffet restaurant—usually an afterthought on other cruise ships—strived for and often achieved a culinary level far loftier than might be expected. Aboard other ships, this restaurant is often an afterthought. Not here. At breakfast one morning, a passenger who had dined there the previous night buttonholed the maitre d ‘ and told him his meal had been “fabulous.” And one of your faithful reporters himself waxed ecstatic over lamb curry that was ideal in every way save for the odd absence of chutney, a touch that one comes to expect aboard Marina.
Frank Del Rio, the Miami-based cruise line’s CEO, quoted in Taste of the World coffee table book given to all inaugural cruise passengers, clearly enunciates Oceania’s battle cry. “We decided to budget more per guest for food than any other cruise company. Some spend that money on stage shows and dancing girls. We put it on the plate. We want the food to be the show, and the dining experience to be the entertainment.”
To that end, fully one-quarter of the ship’s crew work in the galleys, meaning approximately one cook for every ten passengers. It shows.
Just as much attention is paid to dining service, and on the decks too. Sometimes servers swarm to fill coffee cups and water glasses. It all gets a bit frantic at times. Plates are bussed perhaps too eagerly when a dining companion has not yet finished—an overlooked nuance that can get annoying.
What also quickly becomes annoying, or simply mysterious, is the reservation system for the alternative restaurants. Each stateroom gets one crack at each of the four, but then something akin to a free-for-all ensues. Dining slots are then assigned on a daily basis, beginning at eight in the morning, and a call almost always results in a sold-out shrug over the phone and placement on a waiting list that sometimes results in a coveted reservation and sometimes not. The arcane system is explained nowhere.
This is a cruise ship designed as its own foodie destination, with virtually everything else—entertainment, ports of call—assigned a secondary role. We attended one show and then decided our time was better used for reading books from the elegant library. As for ports, we found it almost extraordinary that a cruise from Florida through the Caribbean didn’t stop at a single island. The Colombian port city of Cartagena was the only stop prior to transiting the Canal—always a highlight for many passengers except those who, like us, had made the transit numerous times.
A Costa Rican sunset captured by Curtis Hustace
After the Canal, we stopped at Puntarenas, Costa Rica, where we bought a kilo of good shade-grown XXXXXX from Coffee John, who for years has set up a stand and sold his Shady Lady coffee whenever a cruise ship docks. We also bought coffee in Puerto Chiapas, the next port, where what later turned out to be a log snagged in the starboard propeller as we sailed away. That forced the captain to shut down propulsion on that side and to bypass Huatulco. At Acapulco, the next scheduled stop, divers freed the propeller. Aside from the skipped port, the glitch was hardly noticed by passengers.
The ship itself is a sharp departure for Oceania, formed in 2003 with repurposed previously owned vessels Insignia, Nautica and Regatta that are half the size of the 65,000 ton Marina and carry half the number of passengers. How roomy is Marina? It took us a week before we ran into Joe and Carol, who live in West Hills and we’ve known for years. Their stateroom was two away from ours.
The living room of one of the extraordinary Vista Suites
The Marina’s extra room is reflected in the number of balcony cabins (95% of the total), their size (standard staterooms measure 282 square feet, hardly spacious but bowling alleys compared 216 square-foot standard staterooms of the other ships), and the sprawling deck space including a huge-for-sea swimming pool whose length we could never learn (much head scratching and helpless shrugging) but pace-estimated at 35 feet.
The increased room also means Marina has those four no-charge alternative restaurants compared to two (Polo Grill, Toscana) on the other ships. Marina also has two specialty restaurants that do carry a surcharge–$75 to cover wine-pairing in La Reserve, $1,000 for up to eight persons for a multi-course menu degustation in Privée.