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Stuart Gregor’s further adventures onboard Marina

Below is another post from Australian journalist, Stuart Gregor, who is currently sailing on Marina:

BORDEAUX AND BEYOND

So we left off somewhere in the west of France. I had not yet fully received my sea legs, but now, some five days later I am a veteran. I even crashed a party last night being hosted for Oceania Club legends who have cruised more than 10 times. Cool group, one day I suspect it will be me entering the main door, not slipping around the back when no one is looking.

Let’s go back to Bordeaux. Stu’s lesson for cruising novices: Always check that you have the details of the port right. Saying you are going to dock in Bordeaux is in fact infinitely different from a port about 100km away… as the kids would say, my bad. But all was sorted out, and a day amongst the vines, tasting great wines, is not such a bad way to while away Ascension Day, August 15. Bad luck that, too, lobbing in the world’s wine capital on a public holiday . . . and as my seriously good onboard concierge Daniel said, “They take their holidays very seriously in France.” Top day, bought some great wine – in fact two bottles of Comtesse Baron (CH#) from 1999 and 2004 and drank them the next night in the seriously delicious Polo Grill, which is currently leading the field in the “which one of the restaurants is our favourite.” We like them all, of course, but one thing you Americans do really, really well is an upmarket steakhouse.

Polo Grill
Talking of food, we must of course touch upon last Tuesday, one of the most memorable gustatory days of my considerably gustatorial life… lunch at Mugaritz. If Mugaritz means nothing to you, that’s fine but you don’t take food or your restaurants very seriously. Mugaritz is a restaurant in the hills behind San Sebastian. It is owned and run by Andoni Adurriz, a former disciple of the great Ferran Adria at El Bulli. Mugaritz is currently the number three ranked restaurant IN THE WORLD. And we were going… once we found a cab in St Jean de Luz. This was not easy but it added a certain frisson to the day’s adventure. That’s if you consider a frisson a mild, blind panic by an overwrought, overweight and slightly hysterical man, who could see his reservation at THE NUMBER THREE RESTAURANT IN THE WORLD being given away because HE CAN’T FIND A BLOODY CAB IN ST. JEAN DE LUZ. It came, of course, with enough time in the tank to have a quick wander around the streets of San Sebastian. That means of course, we headed for what I straight away declared as the best tapas bar I have ever seen. A quick beer, some anchovies and a bit of drool coming from the mouth at all the spectacular food and divinely rude, but spectacular bartender… I could have stayed all day. However, I had a RESERVATION AT THE NUMBER THREE RESTAURANT IN THE WORLD. So we go to Mugaritz, and it’s a humble brown, brick building surrounded by the most beautiful garden. I am seriously as excited as a grown man could be without his team being in the lead five minutes before full-time in a final. And then they smile, they ask us if we would like to have a drink in the gorgeous terrace, they bring out a bottle of beautiful cava that a friend back home has organised, we start eating, laughing and drinking and so begins one of the greatest lunches of my life. The food? Well it was weird and wacky, some sublime, some confusing, all a sensory challenge. But it was WAY more than food. It was superb and friendly service, it was the sense of whimsy and delight on the plate and in the restaurant, it was the sheer thrill of BEING THERE that made it so wonderful. And the four bottles of wine helped, too. There were four of us, and no that doesn’t include the cava so I guess I should be honest and admit to five…

If someone were to ask me what the highlight was, it was the sense of humour, the great fun we had being invited into the kitchen and talking with Andoni, who of course speaks no English and I speak no Spanish but who cared. We did lots of thumbs up, we had Oswaldo the interpreter and it was brilliant. Bloody brilliant. And the restaurant itself was beautiful, austere but characterful and totally unlike stuffy, formal top restaurants in France. I could go on and on but I fear I have already.

The rest of the day ends in something of a blur. Of course, there was the obligatory sprint (well shuffle/jog) to the tender at St Jean de Luz, another fine meal at Red Ginger with an extra couple of bottles of wine we most definitely did not need, and another encounter with Viya the Ukrainian croupier on the craps table, who by now I am seriously falling deeply in love with. She might be the funniest and shortest croupier on the seas. She reminds me of Natasha in “Boris and Natasha,” and she treats me equally poorly, but I keep coming back for more. Those Ukrainian blokes must live in a constant state of fear if there are more like her around!

The next morning, remarkably, I feel the need to exercise. I have taken on about 15,000 calories the previous day so I hit the treadmill for an hour. There is a fantastic gym on board, I just can’t change the miles to kilometres on the screen, so I go for 5 miles and spend most of the hour multiplying things by 1.6. It’s quite a clever diversion. Anything to keep my mind off the panting and the ugly silhouette.

Bilbao-2
The next day is Bilbao and the Guggenheim. Much has been written about this and I know less about modern art than I do about moderation and abstinence, so suffice to say, it’s a drop-dead wonderful experience. I understood as much about the art as I did most of the dishes at Mugaritz, but I just loved being there all the same and what a building. Great architecture can transform cities. I just wish a few of our local urban planners in Australia would learn that lesson.

Another night onboard and a marvelous, relaxed dinner on the terrace of the Terrace Cafe, just me and the wife, her hair blowing in the breeze. It was almost romantic. As close as an old married couple will get… until she spoils the moment by telling me I have sauce on my face.

La Coruña is next and this is a wonderful city, which I see for exactly 8 minutes as the day is all about golf in the hills at Real Club de La Coruna. Only 15 minutes in a cab from the ship and a glorious morning playing (and winning on the 18th) with a great mate from Oz and a couple called Antonio and Jules. I learnt all sorts of new Spanish words for “fore” and “look out I have a horrible slice” and “I don’t think you should stand there” and “Oh bloody hell Stuart that’s a terrible putt” and “lost” and “trees.” Antonio also lets me know, after he drills a 30-foot putt for a birdie on the 14th that Spanish for birdie is in fact “birdie.” A great day. And much more to share, but Cadiz arrives to my starboard and an afternoon in Seville beckons.

This cruising thing is good.
Real good.
I’ll be back for that party real soon…

 

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Stuart Gregor shares experiences onboard Marina

Born and bred in Sydney, Australia, Stuart Gregor is a well-regarded wine commentator and magazine columnist. He is currently sailing on Marina’s “Tastes of Europe” cruise and has colorful tales to tell of his adventures onboard. Please enjoy the following blog post sharing his experiences during his first cruise with Marina:

Confessions of Cruise Virgin

The wife and I are virgins. Well, we were until Wednesday. An odd confession granted, and especially bizarre considering we have two children, but until we walked the gangplank in Dover last week, virgins we were, at least as far as sailing onboard Marina goes.

As we board Marina in Dover there is an undoubted frisson for Sally and I, and this frisson, as we climb the stairs and navigate the corridors to stateroom 9139, is genuine and thrilling. It’s a good room, dead posh with a nice verandah, and I am already getting the sense that I will only ever want to travel on ships during their first season. Everything just feels so shiny and new and untouched and well, virginal…

Cruising and I are off to a good start.

Of course everyone else on board appears to be doing something while we merely walk the halls with mouths agape. Everything can look pretty in the brochures, but in real life Polo Grill really does look like a proper American steakhouse, and Jacques really does look like a genuine French restaurant, and check out that sparkly bar near the casino… I can sense I will do some of my best work there later in the trip…

Casino Bar

Night One we dine at Jacques and it is very good indeed, no surprises there. Delicious roast chicken, bountiful and delicious sides, a crackerjack cheese trolley. But before we even made it to Jacques, I must give a huge rap to the bar staff at Martinis. I had a dead set ripper Hendricks Gin Martini, made strong and long and great value. I expected cocktails like this would be weak and expensive; I could not have been more wrong. Even if unwelcome, I will return.

Day Two I become aware of the onboard BYOB policy. If you buy a bottle onshore, you can take it to any restaurant and pay $20 corkage. Bloody brilliant idea. I will say it again for emphasis. Bloody brilliant. The wine lists onboard are good granted, but for a wine freak like me who simply must seek out the local and bizarre, I am indebted to this excellent policy. In Honfleur I discover a terrific little wine store called Les Vins de Pierre Boinet, on Cours Jean de Vienne 02 31 89 40 19, just behind the Absinthe Hotel. A terrific collection of wines from all the key regions of France, but my brief is to stay local so I buy some Vouvray, Sancerre and Fume de Pouilly. The wife rolls her eyes suggesting we might not need six bottles between Honfleur and Bordeaux… I have no idea who she thinks she married.

In Honfleur, apart from wine shopping, I buy the most expensive chocolate in Europe, and we have a passable, not inexpensive lunch at L’Absinthe. There are probably better choices that can be made in this gorgeous town. There is a Bib Gourmand in town called Le Breard at 7 rue du Puits 02 31895340, and I wish I had gone there. Friends, always travel with a red Michelin guide if food and drink is your thing. It’s the Bible.

La Reserve Setting
Night Two will go down as a trip highlight for sure. We dine at La Reserve by Wine Spectator and fair dinkum it is brilliant. Seriously good. But the real highlight is sitting across from my winemaking lecturer from university in Adelaide some 15 years ago – Dr. Pat Lland, legend of Australian wine education, author and world’s nicest bloke. So a great meal became truly memorable. Best dishes were a stunning, silken pumpkin ravioli with crushed almond biscotti and a lobster and mascarpone pancake. The dessert was awesomeness on a plate, raspberry caramelized mille feuille with Madagascan vanilla cream. There were probably only two criticisms I could make of an otherwise stupendous meal. The first being that the chef was just a little bit too tall and good looking, and he did somewhat gain the attention of my wife. A slightly shorter fatter and older version, perhaps without the fabulous French accent, would be my preference for next time.

My only other comment would be that I would love to see more regional French wines paired to the stunning food. While the wine pairings are thoughtful and appropriate, it does seem slightly incongruous to be tasting two Cabernet Sauvignons from the USA as one tootles down the west coast of France towards Bordeaux!

So good was the meal at La Reserve that I declared it could be awarded a Michelin star. The wife agreed that it might be possible so the following day we did the only thing two thorough and exacting restaurant reviewers would do and sought out the only Michelin-starred restaurant close by the Port of Concarneau, a very well regarded local place called Le Moulin du Rosmardec in nearby Pont Aven, awarded one Michelin star in the 2011 guide. And in good news for Oceania Cruises and Marina, I would declare unequivocally that the meal at La Reserve was superior to this lovely restaurant at Pont Aven. So for serious food and wine lovers I simply urge you to go to La Reserve, it’s Michelin-starred food for $75 including wine. That might just be one of the greatest value food and wine experiences on land or sea.

So we come to today, the weather at La Rochelle is awful but the Wallabies defeated South Africa last night, there is still whisky in my Highland Park bottle, there is still a craps table with my name on it and a booking at Red Ginger tonight. And I think I need to try that Wagyu burger at Waves for lunch…

I am a virgin no more. Thank God.

To think I had been missing out on all this fun for so many years… what was I thinking??

 

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FILMING WITH MARY HART IN LOS ANGELES

Mary Hart-1
Followers of our blog will recall that beloved television personality Mary Hart officiated as Godmother to Oceania Cruises’ Marina at the Christening Ceremony for the new ship earlier this year. As Senior Vice President of Marketing for Oceania Cruises, I have now had the pleasure of meeting Ms. Hart several times. But today was certainly the most exciting, as I was able to join Ms. Hart in front of the cameras!

Mary Hart 2
Ms. Hart, myself (pictured right) and Vice President of Corporate Communications Gary Gerbino (pictured left) spent today in Los Angeles recording her voice-overs and filming her camera appearances for our upcoming DVD. While I’ve filmed marketing pieces before, I’ve not often done so in a Burbank studio with a pro like Mary Hart, and I usually choose to stay behind the camera. It was quite exciting to be in the middle of all the action and get a taste of what it’s like to be in the spotlight. (But I don’t plan to quit my day job.)

Mary Hart 3
Ms. Hart is truly passionate about Oceania Cruises, so passionate in fact, that she took liberties with the script when she felt it necessary to express more strongly her appreciation for the Oceania Cruises experience. She was even wearing the Cartier necklace that she was given as Godmother of Marina. It was presented to her by Oceania Cruises Founder and CEO Frank Del Rio before the Christening Ceremony in February.

I’ve worked with Mary on several occasions since she first accepted our invitation to be Godmother of Marina, and each time has been a pleasure and a privilege. I look forward to our next meeting in person, and also to seeing Ms. Hart in the Oceania Cruises DVD!

3 comments on “Messages from Marina: BEAUTIFUL SANTORINI”

Messages from Marina: BEAUTIFUL SANTORINI

Santorini Panorama

Yesterday Marina sailed to Santorini, a particularly charming Greek island of volcanic cliffs dotted with whitewashed facades and brilliant blue domes. There is an interesting history surrounding this volcanic island, from its occupation by various empires to the legend of Atlantis that draws visitors to its shores.

Santorini from tinder
However when you arrive in Santorini and climb the soaring cliffs, whether by foot, donkey or cable car, it is easy to forget any historical references and simply savor the beautiful tranquility of the present. As we were preparing to disembark Marina, our server Tyrone told us that Santorini is a great place in which to lose yourself. He was absolutely right. We meandered the cobblestone streets, sat cliffside sipping local wine, absorbed the stunning views, and forgot everything but the moment at hand.

Below are some of the photos we captured of the lovely views we found at every turn. It is no wonder that Santorini is one of the most photographed of the Greek islands.

Santorini Dome and Cliff

Santorini Clock Tower
Santorini View

Santorini Me and Ship

Santorini Pool and Umbrellas

Santorini Center

Marina Santorini

Santorini even provided the ideal frame for a shot of Marina. One would be hard pressed to say which was lovelier, the ship or her port of call. Should your travels with Oceania Cruises take you to Santorini, prepare to savor every moment ashore.

1 comment on “MARINA GETS 5-STAR REVIEW from Patti Pietschmann, National Cruise Examiner”

MARINA GETS 5-STAR REVIEW from Patti Pietschmann, National Cruise Examiner

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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 Sea Bass

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.

Terrace Chandelier

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.

Costa Rican Sunset
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.

Vista Living Room

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.