MS Marina Cruise Review
Transatlantic - November 24 - December 10, 2011
I am Phil Haggerty and my wife is Edith Goble. I am a retired city attorney and Edith is an un-retired homemaker who previously worked in health services. This was our 29th cruise since 1999, including one river cruise. Without providing a boring laundry list of destinations, we have sailed in Tahiti and the Galapagos, around and in South America; to Alaska; made the usual Caribbean, Baltic, Mediterranean cruises and several Transatlantic crossings.
Why This Cruise?
It is reaching the point in our cruising life that we are having a little difficulty finding new areas to explore. We will probably never do a Caribbean or solely Mediterranean cruise again, although we have one more Transatlantic crossing set which starts in the Med. We have not done any cruises in Asia, mainly because we do not enjoy super long air transits.
But this one appealed because of the cruise line and ship. We had greatly enjoyed Oceania cruises on Insignia (twice) and Nautica (once). The almost brand new aspect of Marina called to us, and our travel agent had enjoyed its maiden voyage earlier this year. We like ocean crossings for the sea days; and the stops at Barcelona, Tangier, Madeira and Bermuda presented a pleasant prospect. We had read excellent reviews of this ship with its emphasis on fine dining, offering four specialty restaurants which, as in all other Oceania ships, carried no extra charge. And to put it succinctly, all our expectations were met.
Getting There and Boarding
British Airways has a non-stop from our home (Phoenix) to Heathrow. We had used this for our Eurodam Transatlantic cruise in August, and did so this time, opting again to purchase the "Premium Economy" class for the nine hour flight. We had a four hour layover in London before getting our British Air flight to Rome; arriving there at 10:00 P.M. We had booked the same hotel in Civitavecchia that we had used two years earlier when we did another crossing on Celebrity's Equinox, although the hotel had changed its name to Hotel Borgo del Mare. They provided, for â‚¬110.00, transportation in a van with a cheerful driver who had been forced to wait over 45 minutes for the very slow luggage delivery. The trip is about 40 miles and takes almost an hour, so we were happy to fall into bed at midnight. Our room was on the ground floor, so we had no hauling luggage upstairs. The next day we had breakfast, provided by the hotel, walked into a shopping area about a half mile away, bought euros at $1.33, and two bottles of wine for Edith. We also chatted with a couple sailing with us who recognized us from our Eurodam trip. The hotel provided transportation to the ship and we arrived at about 11:30. We checked in after a short wait. We were told that our cabins would not be ready until 1:00. We went to the library, and I left Edith there to see if I could get into our stateroom. It was open and obviously ready for occupancy, but we went to lunch first. Altogether our travel and boarding experience went well except for the airport delays.
This is a truly beautiful ship, showing care, attention to detail and an artist's sense of design in every aspect. For example, the elevator and stair lobbies are done in a striking 1920s Art Deco style. The Main Dining Room is a symphony in white and cream In almost an 18th century dÃ©cor. The corridors on the stateroom decks are a soft cream with brown doorways, and twin lamp fixtures with soft lights. The artwork features abstract paintings, marvelous glass fixtures and free form lovely sculptures.
The furniture is varied throughout the ship, and shows care in its selection, color and fabrics. The public areas are a delight, and contribute to a sense of relaxation, luxury and quiet.
Our Penthouse stateroom was the best we have ever had in all our 29 cruises. There was more drawer space than we ever could use. The true walk-in closet had ample room and hangers. There was a long dresser area opposite the bed with a lift up vanity drawer as well as a small refrigerator, and a real, non-digital, clock. The "living area" had an ample desk with drawers, and a laptop. There was a small couch, coffee table and extra side chair. At the foot of the bed there were two chairs with a small round glass table in between, designed for in-room dining. We do not do room service, but the table was handy and; so were the chairs for TV viewing, and there was a vase with fresh flowers on this table for a nice touch. There also was a very complete TV guide for every day viewing furnished, a benefit we had missed on other cruise lines. The verandah had two comfortable, cushioned wicker arm chairs and a small table. The railing is open with little view obstruction. The bed had two individual gooseneck halogen reading lamps in addition to normal lamps. There was a full length mirror next to the bathroom, and a large mirror over the vanity. The walls were cream and brown, had pleasing crown molding and there was quite adequate lighting. The art work was quite nice. The bathroom was large, with beautiful black granite flat surfaces, and nice grey tile walls and floors. We had a shower (a tad small) and a spacious bath tub. There is only one sink. A bathroom night light was supplied. The stateroom was ample enough so that we could move around in it without bumping into each other. (Of course, we are both pretty slender people).
These living quarters were so attractive and comfortable that on the third day we
e-mailed our travel agent to upgrade our verandah cabin on this ship, booked for Papeete in January 1213, to this level; and she was able to get us the same cabin!
Oceania spends a great deal of its advertising concerning Marina in touting its dining aspects. Fortunately, a lot of money was spent on the venues, the cooking and the overall food service, and the money was well spent. On a scale of 1-100, I would put the effort at 99 and the success at 95, just about equal to the full size ship standard set by Crystal. To begin, the variety of offerings is truly outstanding for a passenger complement of 1180. There is the main dining room; the Terrace Cafe buffet; Jacques, a French restaurant named after Oceania's culinary director, Jacques Pepin; the Polo Grill for steaks, beef and lobster; Toscana's for Italian food (both of these found on the smaller ships of this line) and Red Ginger for the Oriental motif. There are no extra charges for these specialty restaurants. Reservations are required, but we never heard of anyone being turned away. There are two other facilities available by special reservation only. PrivÃ©e holds only eight diners, is located between, and has the menus of, the Polo Grill and Toscana's at the aft part of Deck 14; and costs $250.00 to serve the 8 participants. La Reserve, near the Terrace Cafe on Deck 12, is used for special wine tasting events, and can be reserved for private seven course dinners with wine pairings for $75.00 per person. We did not become aware of anyone using these facilities for dining, but that is not to say it did not occur, especially since one can only reach PrivÃ©e through the Polo Grill or Toscana's, and so is not very visible.
Perhaps the most telling hallmark of Marina's food quality was the fact that twice we chose to have dinner at the Terrace Cafe because at this; the most modest of all the food venues; the table set up, service, atmosphere and food were so good we did not feel that we were making a lesser choice, just a different choice. A decision with which we were completely comfortable. This is not to say that we were not largely delighted with the other venues. We dined one time each at Jacques, Toscana's and the Polo Grill, and three times at Red Ginger, which had an especially high appeal for Edith, who is vegetarian. Dining was always a leisurely affair, but since we made our reservations for 6:30 at the specialty sites, and arrived at the Terrace Cafe and the Main Dining Room before 7:00, we had no problem with the pace. There were a few people who felt that they had to rush a bit to make the 8:30 Trivia session, however. Since the entertainment in the Main Lounge did not start until 9:45, most had no problem with the relaxed dinner pace.
A couple of notes. When I requested dark meat turkey for our boarding day Thanksgiving dinner, the waitress told me that they served both white and dark meat. However she showed up with a plate of dark meat only, a personal touch which raised my appreciation of their service. Also, there was a featured "Canyon Ranch" low calorie, low fat selection every day. When Edith checked the menu at Toscana's, she liked the vegetables which accompanied the filet mignon, so she ordered that dish, without the filet! No one hesitated at that. I did conclude that the "chocolate mousse" served at Jacques' was not truly a mousse, merely a very rich dark chocolate pudding. But it tasted quite good, and was not sent back. We also noted that all of the tableware was first class, from Rosenthal Hotel Porcelain in Toscano's to very modern, striking and colorful ware in Red Ginger.
Service on Oceania has always been quite good, and Marina, with a high passenger to staff ratio of 1.48/1 continues that standard. We noticed, for example, the Hotel Manager all over the ship, all the time, making sure people were satisfied, even assisting with plates at the buffet, and generally making sure things were running smoothly. We did not use our butler much, but he was very helpful in getting specialty restaurants beyond the three we had ordered prior to embarkation. Room service was prompt and very fastidious. As noted in the Dining section above, service at all restaurants was excellent, and we particularly appreciated the service in the Terrace Cafe. Buffet service on cruise lines, other than Crystal, is not as prompt and complete. We really enjoyed having our breakfast cappuccino (no extra charge for this) delivered with juice as requested to start off each day. There were a couple of scheduling mix-ups at the Canyon Ranch Spa and one of the boutique shops, but the staffs there are not Oceania employees.
Penthouse Suite passengers have access to an Executive Lounge on Deck 11, which we used a great deal. A very pleasant young Concierge from Halifax, Canada was there most of the day to assist with any problems, and generally make us feel welcome. Two laptops are available as a sort of private supplement to the many machines available at the Oceania at Sea Computer facility on Deck 14. In addition there was a wine and cheese gathering every day in the Lounge at 6:00, although we were told this is only offered on Transatlantic cruises. It was well attended and a pleasant way to form and renew casual acquaintanceships. The room also has a coffee/espresso/cappuccino machine operating all day, as well as available soft drinks, cookies and sandwiches, in addition to a light breakfast set-up with bagels, toast and juice.
This, as usual, was a mixed experience. One somewhat unique offering were the Culinary Classes. Marina has, on Deck 12, the Culinary Center, a room outfitted with a main cooking area, plus 12 cooking stations with full induction cooking tops and room to work. Here 24 people can, for a fee of $69.00 each, participate in a hands on cooking class of 2 hours, covering 11 different subjects. These included Traditional French, Modern Greek, Chicken Two Ways, Perfect Paella, etc. and were usually held twice a day on sea days. One day had to be cancelled due to heavy seas posing a danger with large pots full of hot water. Most of the classes were conducted by Chief Executive Chef Kathryn Kelly, (who also holds a medical degree). In addition to the 24 participants, the Center had seats along the side for spectators. My wife purchased one session, and sat through several others, pleased that is was possible to take notes as a spectator, when one could not as a participant. Chef Kelly runs a tight kitchen, telling the spectators, including her mother who was attending one session, that they must keep quiet! She also helped with the frequent Cooking Demonstrations in the Main Lounge, which come under the heading of entertainment rather than serious cooking lessons.
We believe she is the first American chef we have seen on board a cruise ship, not to mention her status as a female Executive Chef.
There were two "enrichment lecturers" presenting talks on sea days. One was Jerry Kindall, a former major league baseball player and coach speaking on various baseball topics, a series marked by his great personal knowledge of the game and many of its players. The other was Dr. Stewart Nelson, who had even more talks on destinations and other cruise related subjects plus a detailed two part lecture on the German Zeppelin Airships.
The musical offerings were normal, including a pretty good string quartet, the Tatra Quartet, a pianist at the Martini Bar, the ship's dance orchestra and the orchestra backing the musical shows in the main lounge. These shows were okay, with the featured singers being rather loud, the revue shows rather routine and the magician accompanied by a contortionist reasonably entertaining. The Cruise Director sang for us once, and he has a pretty good voice.
One very popular daytime activity was "De Barcelona a Miami en 15 Dias" a class in Spanish, that is, entirely in Spanish, conducted by Assistant Cruise Director :Professor" Roy Perez, who hilariously acted out all the Spanish words he was teaching. It first was held in the Martini Bar, but proved so popular it was moved to the Marina Lounge.
The same shift in location was required for the digital photography classes, which moved from the Artists Loft to the Lounge due to attendance.
There were the usual rounds of Trivia, Bingo and craft classes, some of which Edith enjoyed. The ship has a well laid out putting green and a golf net set-up with a full set of decent clubs for practice hitting. There is also a croquet field. All in all a pretty fair job was done with the entertainment especially considering the number of sea days - 10 in all. What was also notable and nice was the absence of any art auctions or ship's photographers.
Ports of Call
The four stops were Barcelona, Tangier, Funchal, Madeira and Bermuda. We do not do ships' tours, although a pretty large number were offered, and fairly well spoken for judging by the buses waiting at the piers. We have been tp Barcelona several times and love doing our own thing in this most attractive city. We were there on a sunny Saturday, the whole town was out and about and we had a great day. We went to the Joan Miro Museum, walked back downtown, strolled back up La Rambla and took a subway to Parc Guell, one of Gaudi's masterworks, which we had previously enjoyed.
The all day transportation pass costs â‚¬12.00 pp and got a lot of use. It was a grand day.
The next stop was Tangier; new to us. We had been contacted on Cruise Critic by a fellow passenger who had arranged a private tour. The owner and our guide is Aziz Ben Ami, and his website is www.tangierprivateguide.com. The cost was â‚¬ 35.00 per person for a tour lasting from about 9:00 A. M. until 2:30 P.M. Lunch for an additional â‚¬15.00 was an option, which nobody was interested in, except perhaps me since we had greatly enjoyed Moroccan food on our Oceania Insignia cruise to Agadir and Taurodant in 2008. We traveled in a van holding 10 people, and the company also had another van for fellow passengers with the same number. The tour first went around town, including some very posh areas, then traveled out to the Atlantic Coast and down into a cave opening into the ocean, with a view of Spain, and then back into the town, where we walked through parts of the old city area, into a museum/mosque of great beauty, to a spice shop where Edith bought some spices and argan oil, and to a rug shop where we almost bought a rug after the price came down from $260.00 to $100.00 US. Just walking through the streets and seeing all the shops and people was vastly entertaining. Our guide, Aziz, was a young man, dressed in a western style business suit, who spoke English very well and did a great job. He had an cheerful assistant we called the shepherd since he followed our group and kept us from straying off. This is a necessity in Tangier streets. We enjoyed Tangier, and thought it essentially a pleasant and non-threatening city.
The next stop was Funchal. Madeira, about 540 miles southwest of the southernmost tip of Portugal, and at 32 degrees North Latitude is called the Springtime Island for its mild climate. We had been there in 2004 and remembered it as an place of great beauty. I had contacted a company called Madeira Seekers, which offers a variety of excursions. We opted for a taxi for four people, and recruited another couple on Cruise Critic. We had a little confusion in locating the taxi on shore, but then took off for a trip to the eastern part of this lovely island. Our driver, Manuel, had grown up in South Africa, although his parents were from Madeira. They returned home when he was 17 due to the crime in South Africa, and this meant he spoke English well. He provided several interesting places to stop and see the small towns as well as some spectacular views, sharing as we went, a thorough commentary on Madeira life. After returning to Funchal our companions opted to shop, while we had Manuel drive us up through town to the Botanical Garden and Bird zoo. This was a marvelous place, with striking views, a wonderful cactus exhibition, and a great assortment of birds, mostly of the parrot species. We could easily have spent more than an hour there, but we had arranged to get back together with Manuel for the return to the ship. Madeira lived up to its expectations earned on our previous trip, and we could understand that a week or two there would be a great trip.
After five sea days we were pleased to arrive in Bermuda. The Oceania brochure and website information had us docking in Hamilton, the largest city, and indeed Marina had used this pier on its inaugural crossing last January. But we kept getting information that we would use the Naval Dockyard at the extreme western tip, and this was confirmed by the Bermuda Port Authority website. We thought that this location might be inconvenient since we would arrive at 2:00 P.M. Tuesday and depart at 3:30 Wednesday. However Oceania provided everyone with a two day pass good on the ferry from the Dockyard to Hamilton and on all island buses. Since the normal cost was $12.00 for a one day pass per person, this was a $48.00 value. The Bermuda dollar is tied to the US dollar, and we were able to get change in US dollars wherever we spent anything. The first day we ferried into Hamilton, about a 30 minute trip, and walked around for a while. It is a pleasant enough small town. We then caught the No. 7 bus back to the Dockyard, a route which went along the eastern, Atlantic Coast for some distance and provided a very scenic trip., with a view of a number of quite expensive ocean view homes. Bermuda has a high standard of living, but allows no rental cars and only one auto per family. The next day we again took the ferry into Hamilton and took a local bus to the Bermuda Aquarium Museum and Zoo, about a 20 minute trip. There, for an admission of $5.00 apiece Senior rate, we enjoyed a very well done aquarium and a small zoo. After returning to Hamilton we went back to the ship by ferry.
Bermuda is a rather low key destination, with a laid back attitude and mostly British naval history sites. There is a glass factory near the Dockyard which has some reasonably priced decorative items.
Demographics of this Cruise
We were an experienced group of cruisers. Out of 1180 passengers, over 700 had sailed Oceania before, and there were many with more than 25 prior cruises. There also were over 320 Canadians on board, a very high percentage. There were few Europeans however, and not many from Asia proper, although there were several of Asian ancestry from Canada. Almost all of us were drawing Social Security from our home countries, with several in their 90s. Most got off the ship for shore excursions, and several even took the basket sleds down the hillside in Funchal. We always opted for a "shared" table in the main dining room as well as at the specialty restaurants, and enjoyed meeting new people despite my lack of skill at remembering names.
This was a very comfortable and relaxed cruise on one of the nicest ships we have ever enjoyed. We don't like to think we cruise to eat; but dining was certainly a highlight thanks to the effort put forth by Oceania. Edith appreciated the fact that there was no charge for fitness classes on board, although the somewhat smaller space for yoga made scheduling an occasional problem. We liked the free water replenished daily in our stateroom, and understand that the soft drinks were complimentary also. We think that the shows were a little late at 9:45, and think that the set-up in the Marina Lounge for the Quartet could have been improved. The library had a good selection, but the seating was not as well laid out as on the smaller ships. There was a deck area in front of the spa with very comfortable lounge chairs and two Jacuzzis which I used on one occasion; since no one objected, and it was easy to walk through the Canyon Ranch corridor to reach. Even though it was November and December, the main pool area was well used on many sea days when the sun was out. This trip did not have a strong itinerary as cruises go, but the ship itself, the food, the on board activities and the overall attitude of all the staff made this one of our favorites. We look forward to sailing once more on Marina in French Polynesia in January 2013