It's been a while since I have taken a cruise and so decided to do it in style on a new ship for a well respected cruise line notable for their level of fine dining and overall service.
The cruise we (my wife and I) booked and took was the Oceania Marina inaugural voyage from Jan 22 to Feb. 4 from Barcelona to Miami.
The embarkation went incredibly smoothly with minimal congestion and dining available the minute we stepped on the ship. We boarded at about 1:30 PM and immediately had lunch at Tapas on the Terrace. Rooms were available earlier than expected so as soon as we finished our lunch.
We had very high expectations for the food on an Oceania cruise and so were a little disappointed at the quality of some of the items at this first buffet luncheon. The mahi-mahi was dry and some other selections were good but nothing special. On the other hand the food was immediately available with a nice variety, and so very appropriate for making a transition from either staying in Barcelona or transferring from an airport.
Walking to our cabin, we were impressed by the beauty and elegance of this ship. When we got into our room, we found a complimentary bottle of Brut champagne and found the cabin (Veranda) to be well laid out, accessible, functional and aesthetically pleasing. The only oddity was the bathroom, which has a very large bathtub but a very small shower. Talking later to other guests, it seems many of us passengers would have sacrificed the bathtub for a bigger shower. One guest noted that if they dropped the soap the shower was too small for them to bend down to pick it up. Perhaps, if the architect had simply made the bathtub space into a combination bathtub shower, the bathroom would not only have been perfect for us but would have worked from the vast majority of guests.
I left the room to get a glass of water at the bar, and found out that for this trip that all but the more expensive wine and drinks were complimentary. Neither my wife nor I are big drinkers (generally only having wine on family get-togethers or special occasions) but because of this unexpected bonus we ended up having quite a bit of alcohol: a glass or two of wine for lunch and dinner each and every day and a few beers or cocktails here and there over the course of the two weeks.
That first day at about 6:30, we went to dinner. It was quite good but not at the level we had mentally prepared ourselves. Fortunately, after the first couple of days, the dining room quality improved considerably so that every single lunch and dinner was a special dining experience. Of special note were the fish entrees, which were cooked to perfection: moist, tender, fresh, succulent and full of flavor. One could always order asparagus and mushrooms on the side as well as mashed potatoes which were cooked perfectly with nutmeg and liberal amounts of cream and butter.
Tapas at the Terrace was also much better after the first day and the dinner buffets at Tapas at the Terrace were generally quite good. We didn’t visit Tapas for breakfast until later in the cruise, and found the Norwegian gravlax (Gravad laks – similar to lox) to be exceptional and loved the abundance of tropical fruits (papaya, mango) and berries (blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, strawberries.) The sushi and sashimi at night was quite good. Often there was a correspondence between some of the items offered in the main dining room and at Tapas, and on those occasions when we visited Tapas before or after a visit to the main dining room, we found the quality of the main dining room considerably better for those items we sampled that we available at both.
A visit to Tapas could be a short or as long as you wished – one could get in and out of Tapas in 15 minutes. The dining room was generally at 1 ½ to 2 hour experience. Service was amazingly prompt, with just the right amount of time between courses and a staff to guest ratio that left the illusion that one had their own private service. It seemed that either the waiter or their assistant was always there exactly at the right time. During the entire 2 weeks, there was only one instance of a delay during our set of visits to the main dining room. The delay was very minor, and one which was the waiter apologized profusely for even though it was very inconsequential to us.
The specialty restaurants were superb. We started with Jacques on the third night of the cruise and were very pleased. I ordered the roasted chicken, which was for me tasty but a bit dried out. Fortunately, everything else was excellent. The escargot was a special treat.
Our second specialty restaurant was Polo Grill. My wife had the grilled lamb and I had the Prime Rib. Both were top quality. The appetizers and dessert were also especially good. We both loved the crabmeat cake.
Toscana was great and we were wowed by the choice of one of several olive oils (with balsamic vinegar) for our bread. The bread was delicious and it was easy to fill up on just bread. For appetizers, all we tried were good and the fried calamari was particularly good. Both our entrees were great. My sea bass was fresh and cooked perfectly.
Red Ginger was also a real treat. I generally prefer real Asian cooking over fusion Asian cooking, but was very happy with the choices and quality offered even though it was more European and less Asian then what aligns with my personal preferences.
The specialty restaurants are at no additional charge and one is able to visit each one at least once and possibly more if you wish to try to follow-up with the reservation desk for any openings that occur on a given night. These restaurants were all at a couple of levels above the regular dining room and along with the exceptional service of the staff onboard the Marina, were a highlight of the trip.
Wherever one went, the chocolate mousse was irresistible. I have not been a fan of mousse in the past, but that changed completely with Marina’s offerings.
The bread offered in the main dining room was quite good, but the only non-white bread was a somewhat boring whole wheat roll. I suggested they add multi-grain or rye and a few days later I was exclusively offered a really good dark bread roll – very fresh and still warm. This was the best bread on the ship and it was a shame that it was not available to all the other guests.
Tea was a special treat with the Marina String Quartet (very high level of musicianship.) It was too challenging for us to have that much rich, sweet food every day, so we skipped several tea times, making those we attended even more special.
Important to emphasize that the service was excellent all around the ship: dining, housekeeping, tea, cocktails, etc. The staff come from all over the globe, with pretty good representation from Ukraine, Russia, Indonesia, Philippines, South Africa, Honduras and Portugal. We particularly were impressed with Diana and Alex in dining and the many sommeliers particularly Florentina. To our delight, a large portion of the staff treated you as if they were your friends, being attentive to service requirements, of course, but avoiding the extremes of being either subservient or aloof. Our gratuities were pre-paid, but we felt only fair to add to the normal amount. This was easy to do: we just transferred money from our room account to gratuities at the end of the trip.
We were scheduled to stop in 3 ports, but couldn’t make one of them (Malaga) because of weather. We went on our own to Loro Parc (Parrot Park with other animals) in Tenerife and explored Casablanca on our own. In both cases there was a free shuttle to take out of the port area. For Loro Parc we took a convenient local bus, which was fun. The Park had well over a hundred different varieties of parrots and was very much worth the visit for that alone.
Because of all the great dining I spent my share of time in their Fitness area. They had top quality treadmills, ellipticals, bikes, etc and I was able to pretty painlessly justify adding at least 1200 extra calories per day to what I ate.
Overall, this was a great experience, with food matching our high expectations. Dining was a little off at first, but soon came up to a level matching our expectation. It’s appropriate to call this a “shake-out” cruise, but management was particularly quick to fix problems.