Coming Soon: Oceania's Riviera Moves Closer to Launch

March 8, 2012
(9:35 a.m. EST) -- When Oceania Cruises announced last week that "Iron Chef" Cat Cora would be godmother of its new Riviera, to be christened May 11 in Barcelona, the food-enthused cruise line had a few other tidbits to share.

The 66,084-ton, 1,250-passenger Riviera is a near identical sister ship to Oceania's Marina, which debuted last year. But Marina was such a success, said Oceania President Kunal S. Kamlani, that only minimal tweaks -- mostly minor improvements -- were made to the new vessel. Kamlani made the statements before an assembled throng at the BA Kitchen, a cooking and event space at Bon Appetit magazine's New York City headquarters.

Changes include the rearranging of an elevator to permit the placement of a thallasotherapy pool in the ship's spa. Also, showerheads have been added to cabin bathtubs -- a decision made in part because of feedback from Cruise Critic members who noted that the ceilings in Marina's cabin showers are too low.

One important similarity between Marina and Riviera is that both vessels were designed and built to spotlight the line's passion for culinary-oriented travel. In addition to featuring 10 acclaimed onboard restaurants, its Reserve by Wine Spectator tastings and wine pairing dinners and the Bon Appetit Culinary Center cooking lab, the line's ships have long offered shore excursions with an epicurean bent.

In conjunction with Riviera's launch, Oceania is beefing up its program with the introduction of the all-new Culinary Discovery Tour series.

Available this spring and summer in 25 Mediterranean ports of call, Culinary Discovery tours blend visits on shore to food markets, chocolatiers, wineries and artisanal cheese makers, among others, with an opportunity to create dishes afterward in the Bon Appetit Culinary Center that reflect the experience.

According to chef Kathryn Kelly, the line's culinary enrichment director, "A tour of Barcelona, for instance, will include visits to the Santa Caterina market in the old city followed by a Spanish olive oil and an Iberico jamon tasting in the market, and then a typical tapas lunch with a tasting of Spanish wines. After the tour, participants head back onboard for a class in tapas following recipes from Joyce Goldstein and Jose Andres."

Culinary Discovery Tours will also be available to Marina passengers.

The offerings will expand to Asia, Caribbean and South America itineraries during the 2012-2013 winter season. There are also plans to feature these tours on two of the line's other ships (Regatta and Nautica), but because they don't have the Bon Appetit Culinary Center onboard the hands-on piece of the experience would take place on land.

With such an emphasis on food and wine, it's a natural then that Riviera's godmother would have a tie to the culinary arts. Cat Cora will preside over a christening ceremony that will wind up with a 15-liter Nebuchadnezzar of Champagne that will be custom-made by Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin. The chef, who was one of the original "Iron Chefs" (and the only woman) when the popular Food Network television series began, is also a restaurateur. She operates four eateries, located in Orlando, Costa Mesa, California, San Francisco and Houston. She produces her own branded olive oils, vinegars, sauces, tapenades and cookware, not to mention a collection of wines, and is the author of three cookbooks and a children's book.

Riviera sets sail on its maiden voyage on May 16, a 10-night Venice-to-Athens itinerary.

--by Carolyn Spencer Brown, Editor in Chief