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SIGNATURE SAILINGS: A CRUISE … AND THEN SOME

I love sailing with Oceania Cruises. From the food to the familial atmosphere to the incredible destinations, I just can’t get enough. And the Oceania Cruises experience is enhanced even further when you travel on a Signature Sailing. I’ve had the opportunity to enjoy a couple of these sailings, and the featured dinners, guest lecturers and other special events gave me an even greater appreciation for both the onboard experience and the fascinating destinations we were exploring. My favorite Signature Sailings are the ones with a focus on wine and food. On these cruises you can interact with some of the world’s most renowned chefs, sommeliers and culinary experts.

There are three Signature Sailings coming up this summer that offer this fantastic opportunity. The first one departs in less than two months, so if a cruise vacation is in your upcoming plans, don’t miss this chance to experience one of these unique voyages.

Wine & Food Celebration

There will be two Signature Sailings for wine and food lovers: Marina’s Grand Panama Canal, a 20-day voyage from Lima to New York City beginning on May 6, 2013, and Riviera’s Mediterranean Grandeur, a 10-day voyage from Monte Carlo to Rome beginning on June 23, 2013.

The Wine & Food Celebration on Marina will take guests on a culinary adventure from South America through the Caribbean, ending in New York. South American wine expert Daniel Soto will host wine lectures and tastings featuring the best of South American wines. Joining Daniel Soto is renowned culinary author Chef Paulette Mitchell, who will demonstrate classic South American dishes that guests can learn to prepare and enjoy at home.

 

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Daniel Soto

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Paulette Mitchell

 

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Valerie Elam

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Karen King

During the Caribbean segment of the cruise, Bacardi Rum’s Brand Ambassador Kate Dahlen will be onboard to share the rich history of rum in the Caribbean and give guests a chance to taste some of Bacardi’s best. The executive culinary team from Grand Cayman’s Ritz Carlton will also join Marina’s onboard team to demonstrate some favorite Caribbean dishes.

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Kate Dahlen

For the home stretch, guests will have the opportunity to attend wine lectures, tastings and pairing presentations featuring flavors of America with wine expert Karen King and the executive chef of Oceania Cruises’ Bon Appétit Culinary Center, Kathryn Kelly.

Throughout the voyage there will be wine tasting events where guests can sample and discuss different wines with Marina’s wine experts and sommeliers. Once they’ve found a favorite, guests can enjoy wine and conversation as they are serenaded by Valerie Elam, a recording artist and Cape Coral restaurateur.

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Panama Canal Transit

 

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Tony Didio

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Max McCalman

Bon Appétit Culinary Center Executive Chef Kathryn Kellywill host Riviera’sWine & Food Celebration. She will be joined by several experts, including the Culinary Institute of America’s Master Baker Eric Kastel. An instructor and an author, Kastel will share the secrets of great bread making.

Renowned New York wine educator, businessman and sommelier Tony Didio will lead a series of wine lectures, tastings and wine pairing presentations throughout the voyage. To complement the wine experience, Master Cheese Expert Max McCalman will be onboard to share the secrets of great cheeses and advise on pairings. Riviera’s onboard experts will also host events, and Valerie Elam will be on this voyage as well to serenade guests as they enjoy great wine and conversation.

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Eric Kastel

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Chef Kathryn Kelly

Wine Connoisseur Cruise

 

 

Marina’s10-day Baltic Odyssey voyage from Copenhagen to Stockholm beginning on September 3, 2013, will be anchored by Armando Fumanelli, owner of the famed Italian winery Marchesi Fumanelli. A wine ambassador from the winery will also be onboard. Located near Verona, the setting of Romeo and Juliet, the Fumanelli winery has been creating exceptional wines since 1470. Young actors from Verona’s drama academy will be onboard to perform during select Fumanelli wine dinners offered at La Reserve.

This voyage will also feature many wine tasting events during which guests can taste different wines and discuss their attributes with Armando Fumanelli, the Fumanelli ambassador and Marina’s sommeliers. Meanwhile, guests can also enjoy the music of Italian guitarist Vincenzo Martinelli.

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Enjoy an overnight in St. Petersburg on the Baltic Odyssey voyage

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Armando Fumanelli

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Vincenzo Martinelli

 

 

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OCEANIA CRUISES WINS CRUISE CRITIC AWARDS FOR BEST CUISINE AND BEST SUITES

The 2012 Cruise Critic Editors’ Picks were recently
announced, and if you’ve ever been onboard an Oceania Cruises ship, you won’t
be surprised to learn that Oceania Cruises was chosen for Best Cuisine and Best
Suites.

Upon hearing this exciting news, I took a moment to go
through the many photos I have taken over the years as Blogger-at-Large for
Oceania Cruises and select a few of my favorites of the beautiful suites and incredible
meals I’ve enjoyed during my adventures onboard the ships. If you’re wondering
what inspired the Cruise Critic editors to select Oceania Cruises, here are
just a few of the reasons why these awards are so richly deserved.

BEST CUISINE 

Blogger and Chefs

The men behind the menus: Senior Executive Chef Christophe Belin and Fleet Corporate Chef Franck Garanger (pictured with Pancake, Blogger-at-Large)

 

 

GRAND DINING ROOM

One of the sure signs that Oceania
Cruises is perfect for foodies is that the Grand Dining Room is just as
wonderful as the specialty restaurants. In fact, I’ve spoken with several
guests who say it’s their favorite restaurant onboard. The menus change daily,
but you will always find European-inspired continental cuisine as well as
delicious Canyon Ranch SpaClub® dishes. Here are some photos of a
few of my favorite dishes.

GD Zuch

Grilled Turbot with Zucchini and Tomato

GD SHrimp Asp Risotto

Shrimp and Asparagus Risotto

 

GD Lobster

Lobster Thermidor

TOSCANA

As exquisite as The Grand Dining
Room is, I highly recommend pulling yourself away for a taste of Tuscan-inspired
Italian cuisine at the wonderful Toscana. The simple but elegant ambiance
elicits the romance of the Italian countryside, and quite a few of the recipes
are inspired by mothers and grandmothers of Oceania Cruises culinary staff. Also,
many of the sommeliers are from long lines of wine-producing families, further
enhancing the Italian experience.

Italian food is comfort food for
me, and Toscana is definitely one of my favorite restaurants – onboard or ashore. I’ve had the privilege of
celebrating two birthdays in Toscana, and if I had my choice, I’d celebrate all
of them here! Just look at some of the incredible dishes I have enjoyed at
Toscana.

 

TOS Octopus

Carpaccio di Polpo con Patate al Vapore e Vinaigrette allo Champagne (Octopus Carpaccio with Champagne Vinaigrette and Warm Potato Salad)

TOS Eggpland

Involtini di Melanzane alla Ghiotta (Sliced Eggplant rolled and sautéed with Roasted Minced Veal Stuffing and Basil, baked in Fresh Tomato Sauce)

TOS Artichoke

Sformatino di Carciofi in Salsa Tartufata e Olio Aromatizzato all’Arugula (Artichoke and Parmesan Cheese Timbale with Black Truffle Sauce and Arugula Infused Oil)

 

TOSLinguini Cioppino

 

Linguine Cioppino (Linguini Pasta with Little Neck Clams, Black Mussels, Calamari, Shrimp, and Monk Fish sautéed in a Light Pinot Grigio and Cherry Tomato Sauce)

POLO
GRILL

I admit, when writing about my dining experiences, it is
almost impossible not to claim that each restaurant is my favorite. If you have
dined with Oceania Cruises, I think you know what I mean, and you’ll understand
when I say Polo Grill is another one of my favorites. Polo Grill offers the classic
steak house experience with time-honored favorites done the way only Oceania
Cruises can, perfectly. The steaks are USDA Prime and dry-aged for at least 28
days.

On a recent cruise, we had reservations at Polo Grill for
the last night of the voyage, and my friend spent the entire trip in
anticipation of devouring the signature 32-ounce prime rib. Some people claim
that a steak this size couldn’t possibly be eaten in one sitting, but I have
found the person for whom this cut of beef was designed. He savored every bite,
and he was the first one to finish his entrée!

For those of us with daintier appetites, there are plenty of
options as well. I find the 7-ounce filet mignon is more my size. And if you prefer
seafood, Polo Grill has plenty of excellent options. How does Maine lobster
with drawn butter, grilled mahi mahi or jumbo shrimp cocktail sound?

PG Shimp

Colossal Chilled Shrimp Trio with Spicy Cocktail Sauce

PG Prime Rib

King’s Cut 32 oz Prime Rib – Bone-in, Seasoned to Perfection, Slow Roasted and Served Medium Rare

TERRACE CAFÉ

If you’re looking for something
slightly more casual, or if you just can’t decide what type of cuisine you’re
in the mood for, Terrace Café offers a whole array of international selections
in a buffet-style setting. The food is just as spectacular, and you can try a
little bit of everything! You will find things like Marinated Fennel Salad,
Cold Poached Salmon with Herbed Mayonnaise, Breaded Pork Parmigiana and Creamy
Carrot and Pumpkin Soup. Onboard Marina and Riviera, there is
even a sushi bar, which I try to visit daily. And good luck trying to decide on
just one dessert! Whether you choose to dine indoors or alfresco on deck, the
views are stunning in every direction.

TC Desserts

Dessert Selection

TC outside

Outside Seating

JACQUES

If you haven’t had a chance to take a
voyage onboard Marina or Riviera, I highly recommend you do so.
In addition to all of the amazing offerings onboard Regatta and Nautica, you
will find two new restaurants, including Master Chef Jacques Pépin’s namesake
restaurant. I recently had the pleasure of dining here and can’t say enough
about the whole experience. Everything was just perfect, from the classic
French cuisine to the charming French bistro ambiance.

Here are some photos of the amazing
dishes my husband and I enjoyed on a recent trip:

JA Mussels

Moules Marinières (Fresh Mussels with Shallots, White Wine and Parsley)

JA Onion Soup

Gratiné à l’Oignon (Baked Onion Soup with Gruyère Cheese Crust)

JA Chicken

Poulet Fermier Rôti aux Herbes (Herb-crusted Black Foot Free Range Chicken au Jus with Gratin Dauphinois and Haricots Verts)

RED GINGER

The other new restaurant onboard Marina and Riviera
is the Asian-inspired Red Ginger. The restaurant itself is beautifully
decorated, the centerpiece being three gorgeous busts of Buddha, each carved
from a single piece of glass and lit from within.

Complimenting the stunning décor is an equally
creative menu with contemporary interpretations of Asian classics. Rich, bold
flavors are perfectly balanced with delicate subtleties. This is one of the
most distinctive and delicious restaurants I have ever experienced, and the
moment I finish a meal here I am already hoping for the opportunity to return
as soon as possible.

RG Tuna Tataki

Tuna Tataki (Seared Tuna Filet, Shiso Sesame Crust, Wasabi Cream)

 

RG Lobster

Lobster Pad Thai (Rice Noodles, Bean Sprouts, Lime, Tamarind, Peanuts)

Seafood Stir-fried

Seafood Stir-fried (Scallops, Squid, Tiger Prawns, Mussels, Spring Onions, Ginger)

 

LA RESERVE

One of my favorite indulgences is
dining at La Reserve by Wine Spectator. The restaurant seats only 24 and has an
elite spot high atop deck 12. Each course is meticulously created, often before
your very eyes, and great care has gone into pairing each dish with the perfect
premium wine.

Dining at La Reserve is much more
than a meal; it is a special event. When you finish an evening here, you feel
like one of the most important and well cared for people on the planet.

LR Short Rib

72-Hour Slow Braised Short Rib with Gnocchi au Jus

LR Cab w Ribs

Paired with Gordon Brothers Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, Columbia Valley, Washington, USA

LR Rasb

Chef making the Raspberry Caramelized Mille Feuille with Madagascan Vanilla Cream

LR Rasb Chat

Paired with Château la Varière, Les Melleresses Bonnezeaux, Loire Valley, France

BEST
SUITES

After
a fabulous dinner onboard – and maybe a little dancing at Horizons lounge – there
is nothing more perfect than retiring to what Cruise Critic editors
called “the most sumptuous suites at sea.”

OWNER’S SUITE

The
Owners’ Suites were designed by Susan Bednar Long of New York-based,
award-winning Tocar Interior Design and are completely furnished with Ralph
Lauren Home Collection. Feeling almost as big as my house, the closets are one
of my favorite parts!

OS 1
OS 2
OS 5

OS 3
OS 4
OS 6

VISTA
SUITES

When
Marina first debuted, I had the great
privilege of spending time in the suites with a few honored guests, including
Dakota Jackson, the renowned American designer who created the Vista Suites.

OST LPF and DJ

Dakota Jackson pictured with Pancake, Blogger-at-Large

If
you like to know where the ship is heading, you may prefer the view from these
suites, which overlook the bow of the ship.

VS 1
VS 2

OCEANIA
SUITES

Oceania
Suites, also designed by Dakota Jackson, are so large you can comfortably host
a cocktail party – and they even have the bar for it! Or, if you prefer, make
it a quiet night and relax in the whirlpool tub on the veranda.

OST 5
OST 4

OST 2
OST 3

PENTHOUSE SUITES

Penthouse
Suites are the smallest of the suites, but small is a relative term! Walk-in
closets, marble and granite bathrooms, spacious and comfortable living quarters
– one guest told me these suites were her favorite place onboard Marina.

One
of the things I enjoy most onboard Oceania Cruises ships is lounging in the
beautiful bathtubs. This is just one of many amenities that distinguishes
Oceania Cruises suites, and on Marina
and Riviera, bathtubs are also featured
in most staterooms. There is a shower wand in the bath tub as well as a completely separate rainfall shower.

PS 1
PS 2

With
the perfect accommodations and the ultimate cuisine, Oceania Cruises offers an
unrivaled cruising experience at an extraordinary value. Some may say that I’m
biased, but the editors at Cruise Critic have confirmed what I’ve known for
some time: Oceania Cruises truly stands head and shoulders above the rest!

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JACQUES: A TASTE OF PERFECTION

Jacques Smiling in Suit

Jacques Pépin, Oceania Cruises’ executive culinary director

It is no secret that food is a very important part of the Oceania Cruises experience. This is largely because the first thing that Jacques Pépin set out to do as Oceania Cruises’ executive culinary director was create the finest cuisine at sea. At his side was the dedicated and extraordinary culinary staff of Oceania Cruises and their fleet corporate chef, Franck Garanger.

Both Pépin and Garanger hail from France and specialize in French cuisine, so it was only natural that there would be an onboard restaurant devoted entirely to French food and that it would be some of the finest French cuisine available anywhere.

Available onboard Marina and Riviera, Jacques is Jacques Pépin’s first namesake restaurant. Designed in the tradition of the great French bistros and brasseries, Jacques serves timeless food that gives you a taste of the authentic classics prepared the right way and created with only the finest ingredients.

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In the forward to Oceania Cruises’ culinary lifestyle book, Taste the World: The Food and Flavors of Oceania Cruises, Pépin says:

51CjEFgThhL._SS400_“There is something irresistible about eating well at sea. I suppose it’s partly the sea air and the relaxed pace that makes everything taste better. But for me, a great deal of the pleasure comes from knowing what a true feat of organization and skill it takes to pull off a satisfying meal under such challenging conditions.

As I travel all over the world with Oceania Cruises, doing demos and working with the chefs to develop new dishes and ideas, I am more impressed with every voyage. I’m struck, first of all, by the quality of the ingredients and the fundamental respect for techniques and tradition. The brioche smells like butter when you break it open. The onion soup is made with real Gruyère, real bread, and real stock, seasoned the right way, and served in the right bowl with that little indentation that catches the cheese so it forms a perfect crust in the oven. These small touches add up to a very great difference. There is heartfelt pride in that brioche and that soup, and for my part, I am proud to be associated with the men and women who devote their lives to getting those details right every day.”

As Blogger-at-Large for Oceania Cruises, I’ve had the pleasure of dining at Jacques a few times. An evening at Jacques begins with the enviable challenge of selecting which of the delectable dishes you will try. This choice is often complicated by the creativity of Chef Garanger, who loves to design new recipes for the menu. The good news is that no matter which courses you select, you are certain to be delighted. You can see from the menu we chose during our most recent visit that my husband and I aren’t terribly efficient at narrowing our choices.

Cuisses de Grenouilles en Persillade, Flan de Persil

Sautéed Frog Legs with Garlic-Herb Butter, Parsley Flan

The parsley flan was a perfect, delicate complement to the flavor of the frog legs. And what more can be said about anything cooked in garlic butter? It was incredible.

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Gratiné à l’Oignon

Baked Onion Soup with Gruyère Cheese Crust

A classic prepared perfectly. I didn’t know what that meant until I tasted this. The onions are slowly simmered and topped with a layer of toasty Gruyère. Who knew I had to take to the high seas to find this treasure?!

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Pannequet de Saumon en Tartare

Salmon Tartare Wrapped in Salmon Gravlax with Cucumber Rosace

With the richness of much of the food, I found this to be a perfect contrast. A light, flavorful hors d’oeuvre, it was a salmon tartare wrapped in gravlax and simply but elegantly presented on a bed of cucumber.

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Moules Marinières

Fresh Mussels with Shallots, White Wine and Parsley

Happily, the dramatic presentation of this dish was matched by the incredible flavor. As Pépin mentioned in the forward to Taste the World, preparing and serving food in the proper dish is important. These mussels certainly were, and they were some of the best mussels I’ve ever tasted. I was supposed to share with my husband – let’s just say, he would recommend ordering your own.

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Escargots à la Bourguignonne

Traditional Baked Escargots in Shell with Burgundy Garlic Butter

Some people shy away from escargots. I am not one of those people. If you are not one of those people, try these. You will discover the way they should be prepared and eaten!

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Poulet Fermier Rôti aux Herbes

Herb-crusted Black Foot Free Range Chicken au Jus

While he usually prefers fish, my husband surprised me by ordering the rotisserie chicken. He wanted to taste a true French classic, masterfully prepared, which is exactly what he got. Juicy and delicious in a perfectly roasted crust, this is how chicken should taste. He chose traditional French accompaniments of haricots verts and gratin dauphinois (because we couldn’t have a course without butter!). Julia Child, a longtime friend and colleague of Pépin, famously said, “If you’re afraid of butter, use cream.” So what could be better than using both, as is the case with gratin dauphinois potatoes?!

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Homard Thermidor à ma Façon

Maine Lobster Baked in Shell with Mushroom Cream Sauce, Served with Crispy Parmesan

We capped off our rich, decadent meal with the ultimate in richness (cream, butter AND cheese!). Each time I dine in Jacques, I fully intend to try a new entrée. What actually happens is that I can’t pass up the lobster thermidor. And fortunately for my husband, I usually can’t finish it either!

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In case your mouth is watering and you can’t possibly wait for your next Oceania Cruises voyage to try some of this cuisine, I am including the recipe for French onion soup from Taste the World. In this book you will also find recipes for the gravlax, rotisserie chicken, several gratin dishes and many more, along with the story of one 24-hour day in the galleys, a behind the scenes look at how this fabulous cuisine is created.

French Onion Soup

(makes 5 cups, serves 4)

7 cups beef stock

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

9 cups thinly sliced onion

1½ tablespoons finely chopped garlic

3 thyme sprigs

3 marjoram sprigs

12 to 16 slices baguette, each ¼ inch thick

Extra virgin olive oil

1/3 cup dry white wine (such as Chardonnay)

½ cup dry red wine (such as Merlot)

3 tablespoons brandy

3½ cups chicken stock

Kosher or sea salt

Freshly ground black pepper

2 cups shredded Gruyère cheese

Pour the beef stock into a large saucepan and bring to a gentle boil over medium-high heat. Adjust the heat as needed to maintain a gentle boil and cook until the stock reduces by half, about 30 minutes. Set aside.

In a stockpot, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic and cook, stirring often, until the onion is translucent and a light golden brown, 15 to 20 minutes. Decrease the heat to medium-low and cook until the onion is a rich brown, 45 minutes to 1 hour, lowering the heat as necessary to prevent scorching. Stir occasionally.

Meanwhile, place the thyme and marjoram sprigs on a small piece of cheesecloth and tie into a sachet with kitchen twine. Set aside. Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Lightly brush the baguette slices on both sides with olive oil. Place in the oven and heat, turning once, until dry, about 5 minutes on each side. Do not allow the bread to color. Set aside.

Add the white wine, red wine, and brandy to the browned onion and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until the alcohol evaporates and the onion is glazed, about 5 minutes. Add the sachet, the reduced beef stock, and the chicken stock and bring to a simmer. Keep at a low simmer, uncovered, for 1 hour. Season with salt and pepper.

Preheat the broiler. Place 4 flameproof serving bowls on a small sheet pan. Ladle the soup into the bowls. Top with the bread slices, and then top the bread slices with enough cheese to cover the bread completely and extend to the rims of the bowls, about ½ cup for each bowl. Place under the broiler until the cheese is bubbling and toasted.

Recipes alone do not a chef make, so if you’re interested in honing your culinary skills and learning some of the secrets to Oceania Cruises’ fabulous recipes, I highly recommend taking a class at the Bon Appétit Culinary Center onboard Marina or Riviera. If the Oceania Favorites – Jacques class is featured on your cruise, you can learn to make several of the dishes served at Jacques, preparing them yourself in your own workstation with the guidance of masters like Chef Kelly. Classes also teach other signature recipes from Oceania Cruises and culinary techniques to prepare dishes from all over the world.

As we Americans prepare to celebrate Thanksgiving, we might suddenly find ourselves inspired to add a little French flair to our holiday dinner and enjoy this feast as those onboard Marina and Riviera will be doing – Jacques style! Happy holidays indeed!

1

THE SOUTH PACIFIC: A PRETTY PICTURE

As your Blogger-at-Large, there is only one thing I enjoy more than traveling the world with Oceania Cruises, and that’s sitting down and getting to know fellow guests. Everyone has their own unique perspective on what makes a voyage with Oceania Cruises so appealing and also what makes each destination so unique. I recently had the privilege of spending some time chatting with Peter and Pauline Pretty, Bronze Oceania Club members who have found their home away from home aboard the ships of Oceania Cruises.

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There are two kinds of travelers I come across on our cruises: “sightseers” and “doers.” Make no mistake that the Prettys are “doers.” They told me the best way to get to know the regions of the world is to step ashore with abandon – talk to the natives, sample the cuisine and embrace the customs. Recently, the Prettys were able to do just that on a South Pacific cruise, and Peter and Pauline were kind enough to share some of their photos.

In American Samoa, they traveled out into the landscape to experience the culture and witness one of the most esteemed ceremonies in Samoan culture, performed by an illustrious High Talking Chief at a traditional village. The journey involves a breathtaking drive west, during which guests delight in the island’s natural beauty and historic landmarks. Highlights include the monolithic Fatu-ma-Futi, or Flowerpot Rock, that rises straight out of the ocean as if standing sentinel at the entrance to Pago Pago Bay. Farther west, the Leone Mission Monument and several churches mark the contribution of Reverend John Williams, who landed in the area in 1832 and began spreading Christianity.

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Despite readily embracing such non-native doctrines, Samoans still cherish traditional ways, especially with regard to ceremonies and social occasions. The High Talking Chief, or “tulafale,” is the village spokesman, a grand orator highly skilled at holding the audience’s attention through his extraordinary use of language and ancient proverbs. Dressed in traditional garb, the High Talking Chief launches into an animated and authentic performance of an ancient Samoan ceremony used to welcome visiting VIPs. After the ceremony, which takes place in an open-sided thatched “fale” building, guests are treated to a traditional dance performance.

DSC07207In Suva, Fiji, the Prettys explored the evolution of Fiji’s fascinating cultural history and art during a half-day tour that included a spectacular performance by the Fijian Firewalkers. Greeted by the reverberating sound of a hollow drum beaten by a Fijian warrior, the blowing of a conch shell and the welcoming song of the villagers, guests were escorted to the DSC07190 amphitheater to witness a performance by Fijian Firewalkers and the enthralling group from the Arts Village of Fiji. As elders chant, young men remove the burning logs from a smoking pit to reveal the white-hot stones signaling the beginning of this ancient ceremony. The group from the Arts Village of Fiji entertains with traditional dancing and by re-enacting their legends and history amidst this idyllic setting.

Cultural immersion isn’t the only way to feel a connection the South Pacific. Sometimes the flora and fauna speak just as loudly. In Lautoka, Fiji, the Prettys discovered the beautiful gardens and historic artifacts of the South Seas during a delightful tour. At picturesque Burness House, hosts Don and Aileen Burness greet guests and provide an escorted walking tour through their landscaped gardens filled with fruit and flowering trees, arthurium lilies and lovely orchids. An extraordinary collection of Fijian artifacts is also on display.

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Moorea is always a guest favorite thanks to its tranquil turquoise lagoon and jagged emerald-colored volcanic peaks that rise up into the bright South Pacific skies. Moorea exemplifies the image that most people have of the South Pacific. Remarkably, a trip to the island doesn’t disappoint as it is every bit as dramatic and captivating as it appears in photographs.

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While the South Pacific is spectacular, it was always comforting to return to their floating home courtesy of Oceania Cruises. The cuisine is always a big hit and this cruise was no exception. Pauline spent some time with Executive Chef Renald Macouin, who shared a few secrets on how to prepare meals à la minute for a ship full of guests.

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While meals are a cherished event each day, the classic afternoon tea was one of Pauline’s favorite indulgences. The assortment of finger sandwiches, scones and clotted cream and, of course, aromatic and exotic tea selections, were something to look forward to each afternoon upon returning from a day ashore.

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The specialty restaurants, none of which carry an additional surcharge, were something the Prettys looked forward to each time they held a reservation. Dinner with Regatta’s General Manager Raffaele Cinque was a treat, as was the cart of flavored olive oils brought tableside from which guests could choose their favorite.

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While many guests choose to cruise and then return home, the Prettys are big believers in extending their vacation with a pre- or post-cruise hotel stay. Papeete, Tahiti is the hub of the South Pacific but easily retains its reputation as a paradise. There are few hotel experiences that compare to staying in a bungalow suspended over the waters of the lagoon, the moon shimmering over the silver ripples, the stars competing for attention overhead and the tall peaks towering above. Imagine waking in the morning and stepping down to dangle your feet in the waters of a crystal clear lagoon, brightly colored tropical fish darting beneath the pilings as palms rustle just behind you. The Prettys know that feeling well and are convinced that the hotel stay in Papeete was time well spent. It was more than just a chance to recharge their batteries; it was invigorating as well.

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Remember, the South Pacific is only offered a few times a year by Oceania Cruises. A remarkable voyage from Valparaiso to Papeete is still available on December 27, 2012, as are two roundtrip cruises from Papeete on January 16 and January 27, 2013. Those who wish to wander farther afield, as the Prettys did, will be drawn to the February 7, 2013, cruise from Papeete to Auckland, especially considering this sailing offers two new Culinary Discovery Tours. Accompany chefs from the Bon Appétit Culinary Center to experience traditional Maori cuisine in Rotorua or regional dishes and wines in Kerikeri, just inland from the Bay of Islands.

Our thanks to the Prettys for sharing their remarkable South Pacific adventure with us. If you have stories of your South Pacific voyage with Oceania Cruises, feel free to share them here in the comments section of the blog.

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CHEF KELLY HOSTS A PERFECT FAREWELL DINNER FOR MYRIAD GUESTS AT LA RESERVE

Before I hopped off Riviera in Livorno to join Marina in Athens and host our second Bon Appétit Signature Sailing, I had the chance to have one final meal with our wonderful guests from Myriad Restaurant Group. To bid a fond farewell, General Manager Thierry Tholon and I hosted a table for Drew Nieporent, Ted Rozzi and Chris Messina at La Reserve. To dine with one of the most famous restaurateurs in the world was a real treat for both of us, and to showcase our food and wine pairing restaurant, La Reserve, a collaboration between Oceania Cruises and Wine Spectator magazine, was very special indeed!

We started the evening with a glass of champagne on the deck outside of La Reserve and had a lovely time relaxing before dinner and meeting the rest of the 24 guests dining that night at La Reserve.

After being seated, we began with an introduction to the night’s “Exploration Menu” from Christophe Belin, the senior executive chef of Riviera. (La Reserve offers three menus: Exploration, Connoisseur and Discovery.)

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Chef Belin explained each of the seven courses, focusing especially on the pairing of specific elements in the food with distinct attributes of the wine. Chef Belin is from Brittany and is as engaging and informative as he is entertaining and knowledgeable, so the guests enjoyed his personal touches.

Before the amuse bouche, the waiters explained the four salts served tableside. Drew, Ted and Chris each tasted the salts with the delectable baguette slices and French butter.

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The first course was the amuse bouche, which literally translates from French, “amuse the mouth” – and that it did! We savored a bay scallop on a seared hot rock with lava salt and rock chive cress. The scallop was paired with a prosecco from Veneto. The white pepper and citrus finish of the sparkling wine was a perfect match!

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The appetizer was a stuffed brioche with foie gras paired with a chenin blanc from the Loire Valley. The slight note of quince jelly in this wine paired perfectly with the buttery brioche and the creamy, earthy foie gras. Chef Rozzi and I had a great time photographing the food and its elegant plating – I even managed to snap a photo of him snapping a photo of his brioche.

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Next came one of my favorite pairings, the risotto primavera with a Gewürztraminer from Alto Adige. The risotto was finished with a smoky scamorza di bufala (smoked mozzarella cheese) that brought it all together, both food and wine.

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Our fish course was a grilled turban of wild salmon and turbot, a dish that Oceania Cruises Fleet Corporate Chef Franck Garanger, the architect of this menu, has won many awards for. A California Chardonnay, with butterscotch, vanilla and melon notes was the perfect match for the flavorful fish accompanied by a seaweed casserole.

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We rounded the corner on the dinner with a Chateaubriand with bordelaise sauce paired with a full-bodied Bordeaux. The beef was perfectly cooked and so soft we could cut it with our forks!

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The cheese course was one of my favorites – gorgonzola, Napoleon style, with poached pear. Light, savory and sweet, it was the perfect cheese dish for this menu. It was paired with a voluptuous, golden Fonseca Porto from Portugal, with a light touch of acidity. Perfection!

As the pastry chefs filed in to finish the dinner, we watched Chef Bruno dip cherries in sugar for the plating of his Chocolate Mousse. This airy and rich mousse is served with a simple and refreshing Moscato d’Asti from the Piedmont region in Northern Italy.

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The test of a great food and wine pairing menu, according to Thomas Keller of the famed restaurants French Laundry and Per Se, is that the dinner leaves you feeling satisfied but not stuffed. This was certainly the case with our group. We had progressed through seven delicious and inventive pairings and left satisfied yet comfortable. What better way to end this amazing voyage than a lovely evening, great company, excellent food and wine and the gentle sea air?

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We are all so grateful for the generosity of Drew Nieporent, David Gordon, Ted Rozzi and Chris Messina. Riviera guests had a wonderful time and learned a lot from all of them. We are already trying to figure out how we can have them back next year for another fabulous Signature Sailing.