(1:45 p.m. EDT) -- Oceania Cruises officially welcomed its newest ship, the 684-passenger Sirena today in Barcelona. Godmother Claudine Pepin, daughter of internationally renowned Jacques Pepin, Oceania's culinary director (and a celebrated chef in her own right), successfully smashed a bottle of Moet & Chandon -- on the second try, alas -- across Sirena's hull.
"We are making history today," said Jason Montague, President and Chief Operating Officer of Oceania Cruises, noting that the line was the first to christen two sister ships some 13 years apart. Oceania's Regatta, the first in the fleet, celebrated its debut in Barcelona in 2003.
Sirena, which previously sailed for Princess Cruises as Ocean Princess, just completed an extensive 35-day refurbishment at a cost of nearly $50 million. The ship is largely identical in size and style to Oceania's Regatta, Insignia and Nautica but there are some differences. Chief among them? While all staterooms got makeovers, including new bedding, furnishings and artwork, the ship's owners', vista and penthouse suites have redesigned layouts and lavish marble bathrooms with roomy showers.
Sirena is also the first of Oceania's R-class ships to get the Red Ginger eatery that's been a standout on the line's Marina and Riviera. Some public rooms, including Horizons, the ship's top-deck observatory and lounge, have a more contemporary ambience than is found on its siblings. And in order to make room for Red Ginger, Oceania created the new Tuscan Steak, a steakhouse-Italian seafood restaurant that combines menus of the hallmark Toscana and Polo Grill, found throughout the rest of the fleet.
Sirena originally debuted in 1999 as the fourth ship of the eight-ship fleet of the now-defunct Renaissance Cruises; it looks better today than when it launched, says Frank del Rio, chief executive officer of parent company Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings. He should know; he's a former president of Renaissance.
As of today, Oceania Cruises owns half of the original Renaissance fleet; the others cruise for lines such as Azamara, Fathom and Princess). "We're done," Del Rio said. "We have four out of the eight and that's enough." He hinted that that the the next Oceania addition will be an all-new design.
--By Carolyn Spencer Brown, Cruise Critic Editor in Chief