Oceania MARINA Inaugural Cruise Feb. 8 -26, 2011 Miami to San Francisco
Often the anticipation of a trip is a good part the enjoyment. In our case, we did extensive "homework" on MARINA, and can report back that the cruise far outweighed any anticipation of it. Our Marina adventure was an excellent experience.
On February 8th, after meeting several interesting and friendly cruise mates in the Port of Miami terminal, boarding went smoothly and we were soon having lunch at TERRACES. The buffet was stunning, with many choices, and so tastefully displayed. It was difficult to choose from the varied selections. However, choose we did, and we enjoyed our lunch on the open fantail, on a sunny Miami day.
When our penthouse stateroom was ready, we ventured to #11001. We had had some concerns over its location, right behind the bridge, but that proved no problem on this trip. The stateroom was attractively appointed, with a large bathroom, walk-in closet, side reading area, and good-sized balcony. The welcoming bottle of sparkling wine was cooling, and there was a tray of welcoming treats on the table. Storage space was ample, not only in the huge closet, but all throughout the cabin. It was obvious that much thought had gone into the design. The stateroom was well-lit , and the room size was comfortable.
Our butler, Ravi, came to introduce himself, as did our cabin attendant, Carolina. Both would prove to be friendly, courteous, and very helpful during this cruise. After unpacking, we began our exploration of Marina.
We had previously cruised on Regatta and Nautica, and were concerned that the small ship tone would be lost on a ship double the size; however, this proved not to be the case. Somehow MARINA kept the intimacy and warmth that we enjoyed on the R ships, and this is due to a large part by the excellent staff that we encountered onboard.
Wandering around the ship, we noticed many clever nooks and crannies where one could curl up and read, or chat, have a coffee, or just sit and watch the scenery. We were always coming upon a new spot, and saw that other passengers sought them out, too.
Barista's was a treat not found on the R ships. We wish it could be transferred to them, and bring along Matteo who concocted such delicious coffees and biscotti.
The library was interestingly constructed, and seemed a maze at first; however, the comfortable chairs and wide selection of books made it a favorite of many.
The new cooking school and artist's loft were a welcome addition, particularly the photography courses that were offered by Curtis Hustace.
We especially enjoyed the two new specialty restaurants that have been added: Red Ginger and Jacques. We had several chances to eat at both of them, and cannot say enough about the quality and presentation of food, especially in Red Ginger. The menu there was unique, and well-received. We saw passengers who stated that they never enjoyed Asian cuisine wolfing down the lobster PadThai and sole tempura, much to their surprise. I particularly enjoyed the Tom Kha Gai, a coconut/chicken/lemongrass soup (divine!) Elegant touches such as the tea menu (awesome selections of fragrant and unusual teas served in clear glass individual teapots,) and a chopstick selection were brilliant ideas. And, the place settings, glassware, decorative artwork and wonderful ambience made Red Ginger a favorite with many folks on this cruise.
The dEcor in Jacques was country French, and the menu had lovely pates, as well as a notable duck cassoulet. Not to be missed was the sole Grenobloise. It was Dover sole in a lemon/caper sauce. Delightful!
Toscana and Polo were certainly up to their usual high standards as well. The Grand Dining room proved to have not only an impressive setting, but excellent cuisine as well. Terraces, though,really shined, whether it was the breakfast or lunch buffet, or when it became TAPAS at night. Their menus were mind-boggling and so tasty. And kudus to the Oceania bakery: the best baguettes outside France, not to mention the multitude of other delightful pastries that graced menus and trolleys in Horizons..
One comment about the Marina staff: they were superb representatives of the line. Everyone, no matter where you encountered them, was polite and friendly, without appearing to be forced. They just seemed to be a happy staff, intent on making the passengers feel relaxed and content. We were surprised to be recognized by several staff members from previous cruises. It was nice to be remembered!
The Concierge Lounge was located on deck 11, and we made good use of it. It appeared to be quite popular, especially during the day. Hot tea/coffee/ cappuccino, snacks, sodas, water, etc. were available, as was a television, magazines, computers, etc., and of course, a concierge. Oceania's policy of providing complimentary soda, water, coffees, and teas was appreciated.
Shopping was quite a bit more extensive than on the R ships. Jewelry, cosmetics, clothing, etc, were of very high quality and there was a good selection of items.
The cruise director was Leslie Jon, an energetic, approachable fellow who we felt did a very good job. We'd like to see him again on future cruises.
Early in the cruise a large group from Cruise Critic got together for a meet and greet in Horizons. It was fun to put faces to those screen names, and to make some new friends.
Reading this so far, it appears that we have no criticisms. Wrong. No ship is perfect, but Marina comes close. The suggestions we will note here are given ONLY in hopes of the management reading them, and considering some changes. Nothing was of a crucial nature. Just thoughts that could make an already outstanding experience even better:
--adding a magnifying mirror in the bathroom (hey, women need these for makeup) and more outlets, please!
--install a reading light in the penthouses over the loveseat (the only light is from the window and isn't enough)
---rethink the amount of furniture in the penthouse suites; perhaps eliminate the coffee table/chair arrangement; or move the table at the foot of the bed nearer to the loveseat and eliminate those square half-chairs
---allow passengers to use the Canyon Ranch Spa deck for the Panama Canal crossing day; many passengers were crammed on the upper decks while the spa deck was virtually empty
--perhaps in RIVIERA, consider making the bathrooms smaller in the penthouses, and eliminate the tub entirely, or make it a tub/shower combination with a half-glass door; most passengers we spoke with would rather have the additional room added to the stateroom. Yes, this is a major redesign, but the tubs don't seem to be that utilized, especially with older folks who may fear getting in and out of them safely. We heard several people mention that they used the tub only to hang personal laundry.
--consider changing the decorative curtain in the PH suites to a real curtain so that the loveseat/desk area can be shut off from the bed area. If it closed entirely, one could read while the other slept.
---perhaps adding some additional prime time tv series, perhaps "Law and Order," "Bones," "NCIS," especially on the longer cruises, and please please put back on the JACQUES PEPIN cooking episodes. They were wonderful!
Excursions: we took two Oceania excursions, one in Cartagena and the other in PuntaArenas. Both were satisfactory, if pricey. In Acapulco, we took a private tour with other CC members, and in Los Angeles we arranged for the SuperShuttle to pick us up at the port and drop us at the Getty, where we spent several hours. They then picked us up for return to the ship.
When we arrived in Los Angeles, many tour agents came aboard to become acquainted with Marina. We saw Mr. Del Rio several times, and were impressed with his close attention to even the smallest details. While we did not have the opportunity to speak with him personally, we did get the feeling that he and his staff are very open to passenger opinions, both pro and con, about Marina, Riviera, and the R ships; hence the comments found in the paragraphs above.
One thing that Mr. Del Rio has said is that Oceania budgets more for food than any other cruise line. As he put it, "Some spend money on stage shows and dancing girls. We put it on the plate. The food IS the show, and the dining experience IS the entertainment." We couldn't agree more.
Disembarkation in San Francisco went smoothly, and our luggage was easily found on the pier. We used the SuperShuttle again for transport to SFO.
Others have gone into detail about Marina's pool areas, entertainment, Canyon Ranch spa, etc. We take Oceania cruises because we very much enjoy our stateroom "home away from home," and the wonderful pampering we receive from the caring staff. The port-intensive itineraries are another reason, not to mention the excellent cuisine . We never expected to call ourselves "cruisers," but with Oceania, we are greatly enjoying this luxurious lifestyle at sea, and have already booked O cruises for December 2011 and April 2012.