Straddling the line between entertainment and infotainment is the Bon Appetit Culinary Center, in which passengers learn kitchen secrets from a changing roster of master chefs. At tightly packed rows of personal cooking stations, you can chop, sauté, fry and fumble around under expert guidance -- and the crowds looking in from the pool make it even more fun. Book early for the classes, which on our cruise ranged from the simple “cooking chicken two ways” to “indulging in Italy." All were thorough, hands-on, and ultimately quite useful once we returned home. Classes cost $69 apiece, and it's important to note that while the cruise line says that it can accommodate 24 passengers per class, there are just 12 cooking stations (so you will probably wind up sharing not just space but also cooking tasks with a fellow passenger).
Note: Wine is liberally poured (or other drinks that are matched to the recipes) and you're expected to eat what you cook so you may want to avoid booking alternative restaurants for the same day.
Programs offered at La Reserve by Wine Spectator include wine tastings tied to the region. On our Adriatic cruise we had an outstanding class on Croatian wines and when we began to debate food pairings, the sommelier ran over to the Terrace Café and brought back food from the buffet. There's also a Riedel wine glass tasting session, and if you haven't figured out what the difference is between drinking vino in a cheap glass versus a crystal one, it'll be a revelation.
Across the hall from the Bon Appetit Culinary Center is the Artist Loft, in which artists are invited to cruise in exchange for leading workshops. Mediums include photography, watercolors, needlepoint, and arts and crafts, among others, and there's a materials charge to participate.
At night in the chichi Marina Lounge, Oceania is trying its hand at large-scale productions for the first time, with mixed success. "River Rhapsody” is a song-and-dance tribute to the world's tributaries, and the trippy "Groovin'" is a high-spirited salute to the 1960's. There's also a changing roster of pianists, jazz trios, comedians and the like, though if you're expecting a constant onslaught of entertainment akin to that offered by the industry's mega-ships, you'll be disappointed.
A small casino caters to the gambling set with its perfunctory mix of slot machines and table games.
There's a calm, cool -- maybe even sleepy -- vibe throughout the ship when the sun goes down. The one exception is Horizons, a sprawling lounge on Deck 15 with an in-house band and dance floor. Bars include the swanky Martinis, just off the atrium, and the long, narrow Grand Bar in the corridor leading to the Grand Dining Room. For something a little snazzier, check out the casino's bar, a purple-hued dazzler that's surprisingly garish compared to the rest of Marina.
Oceania's shore excursions cover most of the major bases though rarely surprise. One exception: The Culinary Discovery Program, which launched in 2012, offers food- and wine-themed excursions, paired with regional cooking classes. Complaints from Cruise Critic members that tours in general are overpriced are justified.
Marina Public Rooms
Most passengers' first view of the ship's interior will be of the Lalique Grand Staircase, a work of art in itself: a set of dramatically illuminated curving steps adorned with crystal medallions and pillars, hand-crafted by the French firm.
The art-as-adornment aspect of the ship continues throughout the vessel, with millions of dollars of artwork on display wherever you look. Navigation throughout is relatively simple, though some of the restaurants are tucked away and may lead to some hand wringing if your inner GPS isn't working. Just head to the Grand Staircase if you panic; most everything (including the few boutiques on hand) is nearby.
While you won't find bowling alleys, photo galleries and an auction house, bibliophiles will love the expansive library and its unusually cozy series of nooks and crannies. You can duck into the adjacent Baristas for a cup of coffee, and the Oceania@Sea Internet cafe provides a plethora of computer stations, if not privacy. There's WiFi throughout the ship so you're not limited to the café. Internet access costs 95 cents per minute. If that's too pricey, packages are also available, which lower the per-minute rate, starting at 100 minutes for $80 and going up to 1,200 minutes for $540.
The five self-serve launderettes onboard (spread over five decks) are some of the nicest you'll find at sea. Each has three washers, three dryers and an ironing board, plus a comfy couch and television for entertainment while you wait. Laundry is not free, and you'll need quarters to feed into the machine.
Marina Spa & Fitness
Befitting its adult-centric focus, Marina's sun deck is centered on a tranquil saltwater pool that's ringed by comfortable, cushion-topped loungers and straddled by a pair of covered fresh-water whirlpools. The Waves Bar keeps the libations flowing for sun-worshippers and other deck-hounds. Other outdoor diversions are similarly sedate and/or are geared to more mature travelers. These include a fitness track, putting greens, golf cages, Ping-Pong, croquet and shuffleboard.
Just off the sun deck, above the pool, sits a fully equipped fitness center with a panoramic sea view and plenty of machines on which to sweat off the fare from Jacques. Some classes are complimentary (walk-a-mile, stretch and relax, and complete core). Others (like Pilates, boot camp, yoga and Yamuna Foot Fitness) levy a fee. If you're planning to attend a lot of classes, consider buying the Cruise Fitness Class Pass, which allows access to all of them for a one-time fee of $99.
The fitness center is attached to the Canyon Ranch SpaClub. It's got a serene and peaceful vibe (with beautiful art and a waterfall), and you can order healthy drinks and snacks, which can be served anywhere in the facility including the forward-facing whirlpool deck. A plethora of treatments, from skin-care to massage to acupuncture, are available. An adjacent beauty salon handles hair styling and cuts, manicures, and pedicures.
Passengers who purchase a spa treatment or buy a $25 day pass can access the ship's thermal suite with a sauna, steam room and scented showers. Surprisingly, there's no thalassotherapy pool on Marina. (Designers on the newer Riviera actually changed the deck plan to accommodate a thalassotherapy pool but it will not appear here.) But take note: A fantastic and otherwise hidden sun deck with a huge whirlpool is available to all passengers, just beyond the spa at the bow of the ship.