Marina's Maiden Voyage! WOW!: Marina Cruise Review by TKS

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Marina's Maiden Voyage! WOW!

Sail Date: January 2011
Destination: Transatlantic
Embarkation: Barcelona
The Maiden Voyage of Marina is now behind us. That's hard to believe, after a year of planning and heightening excitement. We had high hopes and expectations of Marina (this was our second O cruise), and overall she not only met, but exceeded, all our expectations.

First, let me say, since this was a maiden voyage, we understood we would be responsible for the "shake out" of the ship. We expected to experience a work in progress, as over 800 staff and crew (25-50% of those new to Oceania) began entertaining and caring for over 1,200 passengers, ten new restaurants, expanded bars, lounges, etc. We tried to keep our expectations reasonable - if the plumbing and heat worked and we had enough to eat, everything else would be a bonus.

And what a bonus Marina delivered!

I will not review the ports (Barcelona, Casablanca, Santa Cruz/Tenerife and Miami) because this cruise was really about the Marina, and I know that is what CC members want to hear. More

Embarkation: We arrived at the pier at 11:00, our designated embarkation time, to find the line of people to the street. We were booked in a PH suite, so I was a little dismayed by this line, but it was primarily to pass through security, a fairly quick and seamless passage. After we were inside the terminal, we only had three couples in line ahead of us to check in. Our check-in only took about two minutes, with a swipe of our credit card, a photo for ship security, and issue of our Marina card/key. Some new friends we met the day before were not as lucky. The electricity in the terminal went out just about the time we finished, and others had to wait some time before Marina staff could re-boot the computers and resume check-in. Numerous Marina staff were stationed along the gangway to greet and guide passengers. We were told our room was not yet available, to keep our carry-on luggage and to proceed to lunch. Lunch in Terrace Cafe was fresh and certainly adequate, although it was only a glimpse of what we would encounter in the coming days.

Exploring Marina: We walked around the ship, drinking in all the areas we'd been so excited to finally experience. Staff were available in all the venues to welcome exploration and to answer questions. Even the Spa, La Reserve and Privee were open to inspection. La Reserve is like a large, private dining room from a home, with dark wood tones, but light available from the outside as well. Privee is very special-stark whites and reds, with a lush white carpet, white alligator seat coverings for the chairs and crisp reflective white and red oval table. Privee is another, but very different, private dining room which offers wonderful trailing views of the ship's wake.

The ship is more beautiful than we expected, with restful and muted colors accented by vivid art and fabrics. The varied textures and high quality of the materials throughout the ship was obvious at just a glance. Almost no plastic or chrome visible anywhere. Rich wood tones, plush custom designed carpets, varied and high end fabric and furniture, Murano and Lalique glass accents were set throughout the ship. I was impressed by the amount of light Marina allows in most public areas. I find her to be a lighter and brighter ship than her fellow R-class ships (we've sailed Nautica), which makes her more modern in my mind. Interestingly enough, the ship definitely feels larger than the R ships, but it is also familiar, since the layout of the ship is similar to her older sisters. It is also generally more luxurious, in my opinion.

The two new specialty restaurant venues, Red Ginger and Jacques, are luxurious theme restaurants very different from one another. Both have a curtained window to the kitchen which can be opened at appropriate times to reveal the final flourishes of meal preparation. Pollo and Toscana are updated and modern, but they have a very similar feel to their R sisters. The Grand Dining Room feels lighter and brighter (the chandelier in the raised ceiling is even more beautiful in person than in the advertising photos)and more open feeling than her R sisters because it is a single level dining room with higher ceilings which steps down fairly quickly from the entrances on both sides. However, I did find the tables a bit crowded together for comfort when the room was full. Terrace Cafe feels very similar to the R ships, but gone are the pizza and stir-fry stations, and added is a large "a la minute" cooking station - a wonderful addition, especially at breakfast and lunch. I was least enchanted by the decoration in Terrace Cafe, as the colors were a bit to garish compared to the rest of the ship for my taste, and tables also feel crowded together, especially during busy times. Waves Grill is much larger than on the R ships, and it offers a self-service salad bar as well as a sandwich menu. Gone is the ice cream cart, rather there is a fully stocked station where one can order milkshakes, smoothies and other decadent frozen goodies. Waves Bar has been moved to the far side of the pool area from Waves Grill, but staff is happy to bring drinks from there if you wish and service is fairly quick.

Baristas, the computer room and the library are just up the stairs from Waves Grill. The deck surfaces around Baristas were not yet finished when we sailed, so one side, then the other, was closed off for about 2 days as shipbuilder workmen transformed the bright blue rubberized surfaces to the teak colored surface visible around the pool. The exterior deck is not wood, rather a rubberized material which should require much less maintenance in Marina's harsh salt sea climate and was not as slippery as wood in the frequent showers we encountered on the maiden voyage; but you will have to get on your hands and knees to tell the difference visually. Baristas became one of my favorite places because of the wonderful views available from the encircling windows and the rich, the coffee colored decoration, and Giovanni, the expert, friendly and outgoing barista. I'm a tea drinker, and O doesn't offer chai, my favored morning drink, but Giovanni's cappucino could convert me to a coffee drinker! Marina now uses Illy coffee from Italy, and although there are several cappucino machines around the ship, none are as good as Giovanni's with his magic "pouring cream" froth added liberally at the appropriate time.

The computer room is open, so you can just stroll by and any slip into any open computer station. Computer service was not yet fully functional during the maiden voyage. It seems the company who installed the equipment somehow messed up and only made available a router with 250 IP addresses for the entire ship, so as a result the computers were not installed in the suites and internet service was pretty poor for the maiden voyage. Because of this inconvenience, Marina gave all passengers complimentary internet for the entire cruise, certainly a fair compensation in my estimation. We found wi-fi to be intermittent at best; I was only able to log on, and stay online with my I-pad a couple times during the week in our PH suite. The new router with over 3,000 IP addresses is to be installed in Miami, so I hope the internet service will improve for future cruises.

The library was controversial, with two distinct thoughts by passengers. Some hated the space; the computer room is a series of alcoves with chairs you stroll past which could certainly distract someone reading in one of the chairs in the alcoves. Also there is music piped into the library, providing further distraction for a serious reader, and soft lighting makes reading in areas other than the chairs and benches somewhat difficult. Books are arranged on a series of glassed shelves which snake through the alcoves, organized by topic and category, with seating areas in each alcove and two fireplaces in the space. Dedicated O passengers who loved the R-ship libraries were disdainful of this new library. However others who simply went to the library, browsed for a book and took it away were enchanted. I happen to fall into the latter category, myself, but respect the complaints of the serious readers. Maybe if O could kill the music, close off both ends by doorways so people became aware quiet was needed in a library and added some additional lighting, the objections could be overcome.

Horizons is also much larger than on the R-ships. The colors are a soft teal blue with high and low-backed chairs and soft green sofas. The effect is beautiful, but I found the high-backed chairs and sofas to have been built for much taller people and they were not really comfortable for shorter folks. This was also true in the Grand Bar spaces as well. The bandstand has been moved so the area is much more open and accessible, a very smart move, and the smoking area on the port side is enclosed except for the entry; if you simply timed your breathing correctly you never even noticed it was there walking by (the same is true of the outside smoking area on the starboard side of the pool.

The culinary center was busy all week, and Chef Kelly indicated it was booked up for three months. Therefore, if you want to take a class, you should definitely book on line as soon as possible (after you make your final payment). The classes were interesting and fun. I was kind of surprised since you worked in teams of two, but it actually worked out fine. Kelly is very knowledgeable and professional, and the pasta classes I took were definitely worth their cost.

The art loft is a large space, and the classes were interesting, but I won't comment on the artist in residence, since he will only be on board a couple months, and then someone else will take the reins. The space is somewhat dark for an art loft, with shutters over the windows to the ocean, and the space is still a bit sterile, but since not all the equipment arrived in time for this cruise, I'm sure that will change as the space develops it's own character.

We were in a PH3 cabin and loved it! The cabin offers excellent storage, the chairs and table at the end of the bed ended up being where we spent most of our time rather than the love seat, and the bath was very functional, attractive and had plenty of enclosed storage. Interestingly, the rain shower is directly overhead, and because we also had a light there we were able to step out from under to shampoo our hair, but passengers in verandah category cabins indicated their showers were smaller and that was not possible. There is a handheld wand too, so that is not really a problem, but the passengers said it did take some time to learn how to most efficiently shower. My only complaint about the bath is the handheld hair dryer socket does not fit into the one outlet in the bath, so you have to go into the bedroom area to dry your hair. I understand that is for safety sake, but it's not convenient if one or the other likes to sleep in. There was no wall-mounted hairdryer in our cabin. The bed is comfortable, although it took us a few days to regulate the heat so we were comfortable at night under the duvet and those luscious sheets, and even then I woke up very hot during the night several times (don't know if that was Marina or me). We saw the verandah cabins and they were also lovely, but maybe not quite as well-organized as the R-ship cabins for two passengers; the closet is alongside the bed without enough room for two people to pass and get clothes at the same time, and the shower issue noted above.

We enjoyed all the food onboard, which ranged from good to excellent. Our favorite was the sea bass in Red Ginger, the frogs legs in Jacques, and a wonderful truffle ravioli special in Toscana. Pollo was also good, but we both ordered the same steak, prepared the same way, and my husbands' was properly cooked while mine was overcooked; even so it was very tender and good.

The crew onboard Marina is very well-trained, as one would expect. Some of the new crew were a bit nervous the first couple of days, which manifested as stiffness, but as time went along they relaxed and the service improved. Service for some meals early in the cruise was slow, but later in the cruise the timing of the meals was normal and comfortable as the start-up jitters calmed. Our butler was newly promoted, but he was friendly and helpful, and we appreciated his efforts. I do think he may have too many cabins to care for, because two mornings we called for coffee he was unable to respond until the afternoon.

I only attended one evening entertainment venue, but while the Marina Lounge is small the space feels intimate. The four singers and four dancers and eight-person orchestra made the "Groovin" production show a joy. They are talented young people, the production was of good quality, if not Vegas glitzy, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. My husband saw several of the evening programs and enjoyed nearly all of them. The quality of entertainment has definitely risen several notches.

Marina did exceptionally well on the maiden voyage, braving up to 25' waves and 60 mph winds one day with substantially less rocking and rolling than most similar-sized ships, according to more seasoned cruisers than us (this was the highest we've ever seen the seas). By about day 10 the seas were quite calm, and you'd find yourself reading, or visiting with friends and suddenly remember you were at sea. That's how calm the ship was in calm seas.

Well, this is getting very long, and you're probably getting bored reading my drivel. But I wanted to let you know my thoughts. While not 100%, the Marina is a gem in the making, we enjoyed our crossing, and I urge anyone looking at a transatlantic crossing on Marina, to take the plunge. You will be pleased. We certainly were!

Thank you FDR and Bob Binder for giving us this memorable experience on your baby, the lovely lady Marina. Less

Published 02/08/11
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