The Grand Dining Room, Regatta's main restaurant, is a "come when you please, with whomever you please" open-seating venue at the aft end of Deck 5. As are many dining rooms of this ilk, it's surrounded with windows on three sides. Unlike many of the other dining rooms of this type, though, Regatta's offers an unprecedented number of two-tops for those who do not prefer forced intimacy with strangers. The decor is positively heavenly -- literally. Celestial frescoes cover the ceiling; the center of the restaurant is on a raised platform under a domed painting of seraphim. If not for the endless ocean views, passengers would hardly know they were in a ship's main dining room. Rather, it looks and feels like one of the more precious restaurants found in New York, Chicago, Miami or Los Angeles.
Of course the decor and ambience are only precursors to the Grand Dining Room's real star -- the cuisine. Celebrity chef and author Jacques Pepin serves as the line's culinary director, and Gallic influence is standard in the menus. From crispy duck a l'orange to garlicky scampi Provencal, the food reflects a bit of France. Even the anytime menu -- which is available in the Grand Dining Room and features standbys like grilled salmon or chicken breast and New York strip steak -- is offered with a garlic-herb butter, designed by Mr. Pepin.
Another nice touch is that, every night, Regatta's main dining room features one entree each from the menus of Jacques and Red Ginger, specialty restaurants found on Oceania's bigger ships, Marina and Riviera. Dishes allow Regatta travelers to enjoy the cuisine of these venues, even though the standalone restaurants are not onboard.
Oceania Cruises offers two all-inclusive beverage package options. The first, at a charge of $34.95 per person, per day, includes house wine and beer with dinner and lunch. The second package is pricier -- $54.95 per person, per day -- and includes beer and premium house wine (from a selection of red and white vintages that change daily), all beverages on the bar menu (except Remy Martin Louis XIII cognac) and room service beverages (but not mini-bar selections).
Although the Grand Dining Room is open for all meals, most Regatta cruisers choose the casual Terrace Cafe for breakfast and lunch. Located at the aft on the pool deck, it also boasts an alfresco dining area at the fantail, partially covered by a shady canopy. The cafe serves its food cafeteria-style; in other words, portions are served to passengers, as opposed to passengers serving themselves. (The exceptions are the pre-plated desserts and breads.) During breakfast, passengers can find the usual cereal, sausage, scrambled eggs and bacon, in addition to an omelet station, fresh fruit, muesli and spectacular breads, rolls, pastries and croissants. Lunch is filled with innovative salads, pasta and carving stations, often with a theme (Oriental Day, Mexican Day, Italian Day and the like). There's also a separate window for pizzas. For dinner, the restaurant offers a selection of hors d'ouevres and salads, a sushi bar and a hot buffet plus pasta, carving and wok stations. A selection of desserts is complemented by a trolley full of homemade ice cream. On one side of the cafe, a help-yourself coffee and tea station is open 24 hours a day.
The two restaurants that require reservations are Polo Grill -- a steak-and-chop house -- and Toscana, which features a northern Italian menu. (Cruisers in concierge-level cabins and above are guaranteed two reservations in each restaurant, while passengers in standard accommodations are guaranteed one.) If we ran the Michelin Guide, we'd give each of these restaurants three stars; the service is attentive, and the cuisine is unprecedented for a no-fee restaurant on the sea. In Polo Grill, for example, you can choose a full two-pound Maine lobster. Want it with a side of filet mignon? No problem. A 32-ounce prime rib is also offered, in case you're really, really hungry.
At Toscana, the dishes come prepared just like your grandmother would have made them -- if your grandmother was a six-star chef from Northern Italy with access to the freshest meats, seafood and produce imaginable. Don't forget to shave off a few bites of Parmesan cheese from the giant wheel up front. It's cheese heaven.
Oceania also prides itself on its extensive wine list, which features some surprising choices. Wine regions from around the world are recognized, including Chile, Australia, France, Italy and California.
All of these restaurants offer complimentary espresso and cappuccino during mealtimes.
After 6 a.m., early risers can take advantage of pastries and coffee offered in the Horizon Lounge, one of the best places to sit quietly and watch arrival in port. Afternoon tea is also served there. The tiny, crustless sandwiches are dainty, the cheery yellow tablecloths and elegant crockery set the tone, and it's one of those Oceania traditions that just shouldn't be missed. Be warned, though: the scones seem more like sweetened buttermilk biscuits and the clotted cream more like unsweetened whipped cream.
Lunch also is available at Waves' Grill, located between the pool and the Terrace Cafe. There, food is literally prepared while you wait. Each day, there is an array of salads from which to choose (one of the rare self-serve spots on the ship), which is good because if there's a long line, the wait for that perfectly prepared fish sandwich, burger or chicken breast can be excruciating. They even make Reubens, which look fantastic. We wanted one until we saw hand-made sirloin patties, mushrooms and the Swiss cheese, at which point we chose a mushroom-Swiss burger instead.
Catty-corner to Waves is an ice cream venue, serving up delicious milkshakes in three flavors. They're perfect on a hot day.
The standard room-service breakfast includes baked goods like bagels and muffins, cereal, fresh fruit and yogurt. Concierge- and suite-level passengers have the added options of eggs (including omelets), oatmeal, pancakes and breakfast meats.
Note: One night -- the night after joining the cruise -- our jetlag got to us, and we conked out until midnight, missing dinner completely. We awoke famished and ordered the Captain's Pantry salad from room service; it was fantastic -- perfect for a midnight meal. We recommend asking for the Caesar dressing on the side. We don't know exactly how chefs make the Caesar dressing, but Oceania could increase revenue substantially if they would bottle it for sale.