Food is Oceania's calling card, and the line aims for both high-quality cuisine and an abundance of options, most without extra charge. Famed French chef Jacques Pepin is the line's executive culinary director, and he was instrumental in developing the restaurants and menus onboard Marina when the ship launched. The ship employs more than 140 cooks onboard each sailing, and has the highest ratio of galley square footage to passenger in the cruise industry, with 10 separate galleys to serve all the restaurants. The philosophy here is to serve as much fresh and freshly made food as possible, and to cook it to order rather than pre-preparing.
The result is that you will spend much of your cruise eating, talking about dining, making additional dinner reservations and likely gaining weight. We found that food was of a high quality and menus overflowing with choice, but we raved more about starters than mains, and desserts were a bit disappointing.
The ship's main wine list is curated by Wine Spectator; each of the four specialty restaurants also offers a menu of wines exclusive to the venue. For example, Toscana's exclusive wines are all Italian, and Jacques' are predominantly (but not entirely) French. Knowledgeable sommeliers can help you pair your menu selections with the perfect glass or bottle. If you prefer to bring your own wine onboard, you are welcome to do so, but must pay a $25 corkage fee per bottle consumed in a dining room or public area.
All four of Oceania's alternative restaurants are fee-free and are open from 6:30 to 9 p.m. on longer cruises and 6 to 9:30 p.m. on weeklong cruises. It is wise to book reservations online ahead of your sailing, as it's tough to get last-minute reservations once onboard (unless you are OK eating at 9:30 p.m.). The dining staff does its best to get everyone into each restaurant at least once; this is easier on 10-night sailings than on weeklong voyages. Red Ginger is the most popular with more requests for repeat visits.
Jacques (Deck 5): Oceania's celebrity chef, Jacques Pepin, created his own idea of the perfect restaurant onboard and named it after himself. Naturally, it serves French food, but the venue is light and airy rather than fussy -- though you will find plenty of heavy creams and cheeses in your dishes. You can choose from bistro fare like escargot, foie gras, bouillabaisse and Pepin's signature rotisserie meats with a European flair (herb-crusted "black foot" roast chicken, garlic-marinated veal rack, cider-brined pork loin and prime rib with herbs de Provence). Don't miss the pumpkin soup (raved about by nearly everyone on our cruise) and the goat cheese souffle; you can sop up the last bits in your bowl with the excellent baguettes and signature rolls. The legendary cheese trolley is a standout here and if you have any room for desert, try Jacques' "favorite" apple tart or the chocolate and vanilla ladyfinger cake. The wine list is French, though a few vintages from California, Chile and Italy have snuck in.
Red Ginger (Deck 5): Red Ginger is an Asian fusion restaurant that debuted on Marina. The ambience is exotic with a red and black color scheme and no windows. The menu is terrific, a something-for-everyone array of selections, and you even get to choose from various types of chopsticks. To start, there's sushi and tuna tataki, summer rolls and calamari, plus a selection of black, white and green teas. There are courses for soup (tom kha gai was a favorite -- chicken, coconut milk and lemongrass -- as well as miso), salad (spicy duck and watermelon salad and Thai beef salad) before moving on to mains. The lobster pad Thai is a definite hit as are the spiced lamb tenderloin and the miso-glazed sea bass. Mains come with your choice of rice and vegetable sides. Desserts include green tea ice cream, Bounty cake with coconut and chocolate chips and caramel tapioca. Red Ginger's exclusive wine menu also features a list of available sakes (with notes on foods they pair well with) and Asian beer.
Grand Restaurant (Deck 6): The Grand Restaurant is warm and welcoming with a gorgeous white on white decor (with touches of earth tones) and windows lining the walls around three sides of the room. It offers a nice range of table sizes from two-tops to 10-tops, though the cushioned chairs are almost too low and cushy for dining. We found the art choices in the back corner to be, ahem, interesting. The Grand serves breakfast from 8 to 9:30 a.m., lunch from noon to 1:30 p.m. and dinner from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m.
Consistent with Oceania's passion for food, its breakfast menu will not send you away hungry. We can't think of anything we could want that its menu didn't offer from fresh fruit, cereals (hot and cold) and breakfast pastries to eggs, lamb chops and breakfast steak. Also on offer: steamed haddock and broiled kippers, smoked salmon and prosciutto, smoothies, pancakes (banana to pecan nut), waffles and French toast. Service is leisurely -- expect breakfast to take an hour.
At lunch, an ever-changing main menu includes starters, soups, sandwiches and salads, both sides and entree-sized. Hot entrees generally include pasta, fish and meat offerings. There's also a "Taste of the World" sampler plate that focuses on a specific region's cuisine and comes on an adorable little lazy Susan; a "healthy living" menu with an appetizer, entree and dessert; and an "always available" list of choices including crudites, chicken consomme, burgers, hot dogs, chicken breast and sirloin steak. Desserts feature a few cakes and tarts, as well as daily ice cream and sorbet flavors.
At dinner, the menu is divided into appetizers, soups, salads, main courses, side dishes and desserts. A handful of Jacques Pepin's specialties, such as steak frites, roast chicken and poached salmon, are always available. There's also a section for a three-course "healthy" meal with appetizer, soup and main and a four-course menu degustation (appetizer, salad, main, dessert).
Vegetarian dishes are marked with a V; there is a separate vegan menu that mirrors the daily menu (with fewer options), but vegans can choose from an extensive recipe menu if they plan meals 48 hours in advance. Other dietary restrictions can also be accommodated; just alert the cruise line in advance of sailing and speak to the culinary team once onboard to preorder meals, so they have time to make individual dishes specially for you. Kosher meals must be preordered prior to sailing, and are generally heated up rather than made from scratch onboard.
The wine list has been selected by Wine Spectator, with all vintages sold onboard receiving an 85 or higher under its rating system. The list offers a wide spectrum of wines by the bottle and glass, with wines from Europe, California and the Pacific Northwest, South America, Australia and South Africa. A sommelier can help you choose, plus the selections on the daily menu degustation are listed with recommended wine pairings.
Terrace Cafe (Deck 12): The Terrace Cafe is one of the most varied and beautifully arranged buffet venues we've ever seen on a cruise ship, and is set up in stations so there's not too much congestion. It's the go-to venue for breakfast and lunch. If you like alfresco dining, don't miss the terrace seating aft of the restaurant; you'll find plenty of dining tables inside this fall-themed venue done in lots of dark browns and oranges. Unlike at other big-ship buffets, you cannot serve yourself; while this is smart from a health standpoint, it's frustrating when you can't serve yourself your preferred amount of fruit or salad dressing.
At breakfast, there are offerings of cooked-to-order eggs and fruits, yogurts and cereal, French toast and breakfast meat, and mounds of freshly baked pastries. Breakfast is served 7 to 10 a.m. Waiters will bring coffee, tea in pots and juice.
At lunch, offered noon to 2 p.m., there are areas for hot food (often with an international theme like Mexican or Asian), a carving station, a grill station with fish, meats and burgers cooked to order, a salad buffet with made-to-order and pre-prepared salads, sushi, pizza and desserts. The homemade ice cream, with six to eight flavors changing each day, is a bit too tempting. We were a bit dismayed to see that the salad bar never had very much in the way of toppings (like tomatoes, carrots or chickpeas), and resigned ourselves to plain, mixed greens.
Dinner, reflecting the menu being served at The Grand, is offered between 6:30 and 9 p.m.
La Reserve (Deck 12); $95 to $165: The La Reserve by Wine Spectator wine bar and dining venue hosts seven-course dinners on select evenings, by demand. (Book your dinner at the restaurant reservations desk on Deck 5.) Four separate menus feature gourmet dishes with appropriate wine pairings. This is the only restaurant onboard with a fee to dine; $95 plus an 18 percent gratuity for the Discovery and Odyssey menus, and $165 plus gratuity for the Connoisseur menu. A special Dom Perignon menu is $295 per person, plus gratuity. The difference is in the expense of ingredients and wines. The offerings are definitely dynamic and unusual; for example, the "Discovery Menu" starts with an amuse-bouche of a lobster and mascarpone pancake, accompanied by Champagne Pommery Brut rose; an appetizer of sauteed duck foie gras with a glass of Cervaro Castello della Sala chardonnay; and a pasta course featuring a pumpkin ravioli paired with Novelty Hill Viognier. The Dom Perignon menu was specifically designed to pair with vintage Champagne and was developed in concert with Moet & Chandon. Dietary restrictions can be accommodated, but the surcharge will not change.
While the meal was divine, what we really loved about our La Reserve experience is that the restaurant seats only 24 passengers. On Marina, this dinner was one of the few times when we weren't able to choose our tablemates, and it actually proved to be a great opportunity to meet new people and bond with them during the long, multicourse meal.
Waves Grill (Deck 12): Even casual venues, like the Waves Grill, take the food quality up a notch from other cruise lines. Lunch is served here from 11:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., particularly convenient to those wanting a late lunch. There's a small salad bar, but the real draw at the Waves Grill are the burgers -- five beef varieties include some interesting choices, like the "romano" (provolone, roasted peppers and pesto), the "Kobe" (Wagyu beef with black truffle sauce) and the "Texan" (cheddar cheese, bacon and bourbon BBQ sauce). Also available are salmon, tuna and veggie burgers, three types of hot dogs, grilled panini sandwiches, grilled fish and the infamous "surf and turf" sandwich -- consisting of lobster medallions, filet mignon and parmesan-dusted truffle fries.
Waves also is the first venue to start serving breakfast each morning, open between 7 and 11 a.m. You'll find an omelet station, a selection of breakfast breads and baked goods, yogurt, fruit, cereal, deli meats and cheeses. Fruit juices, coffee and tea are available.
Attached to the Waves Grill is the smoothie and milkshake bar. In the morning from 7 to 11 a.m., it's a raw, vegan, gluten-free, refined-sugar-free juice bar serving fresh juices, smoothies (made with homemade cashew milk), cold brewed coffee drinks and "energy" bowls with ingredients like yogurt and chia seeds, all free of charge. At 11:30 a.m., it switches to serving ice cream with fudge or caramel sauce, milkshakes and fruit smoothies.
Tables for twos and fours line the Waves Grill side of the pool deck, with lots of shady spots for alfresco dining.
Toscana (Deck 14): At the Italian-influenced Toscana, the voluptuous menu is divided into seven categories (not including side dishes and dessert). They include hot and cold antipasti, soup, pasta, risotto, salad and "secondi" (the Italian word for entree). Fun touches include a giant wheel of Parmesan from which pieces are delivered to your table and a cart filled with different varieties of olive oil (a waiter will help you pair fruity, grassy or peppery oils with your delectable bread of choice). The wine list focuses, naturally, on Italian bottles.
Pasta dishes come in both appetizer and entree portions, but if you're looking for a rich homemade gnocchi or lasagna as a main after a couple of starters, you won't need more than a small dish. The artichoke and cheese timbale starter should not be skipped, and the lobster tail with tagliolini pasta gets rave reviews. Desserts include a chocolate "lasagna," tiramisu, semifreddo and cannoli, as well as a dessert sampler and standards like cheesecake and apple crumb pie, which you can also get in the Polo Grill.
Polo Grill (Deck 14): Polo Grill is the ship's steakhouse with classic fare that includes Oysters Rockefeller, whole Maine lobster, lobster bisque, Caesar salad prepared tableside and, of course, a wide variety of steaks and chops. Try the King's Cut 32-ounce prime rib (if you dare), New York strip, rib eye, filet mignon and porterhouse. For variety there are other meats and fishes -- among them is a grilled rack of lamb, Kobe beef with truffle demi-glace, veal chop, blackened salmon and pork T-bone. On one visit we created a menu around appetizers (including the foie gras, Maryland crab cakes and escargot), and it was fantastic and filling. You also get a choice of sides, such as truffle mashed potatoes, lobster mac 'n cheese and creamed spinach. If you'd like to order a drink to go with your steak, you can choose from the restaurant's exclusive wine list or its special scotch and whiskey menu.
For dessert, go standard with a cheesecake or chocolate cake, or go funky with creative options like a mousse burger (that actually looks like a cheeseburger, but is made of chocolate mousse and almond pastry) and a trio of marshmallows, each in a different sauce.
Privee (Deck 14); $250: Hidden between Polo Grill and Toscana, Privee is a private dining venue that groups of up to 10 people can reserve for special event dinners. Diners are given menus to both the steakhouse and Italian venue and can order off both. The $250 cost is for the room rental and can be split among participating cabins or charged to a single account. There's no charge for the food, and drinks are charged at regular prices or against your beverage package. Dietary restrictions are accommodated as elsewhere onboard. Book with the Deck 5 concierge, or pre-reserve online before your cruise.
Afternoon Tea (Deck 15): Not to be missed, the popular afternoon tea is served graciously at the Horizons Lounge between 4 and 5 p.m., complete with white linen-clothed tables and classical music. Choose scones with clotted cream and jam from a central buffet, or wait for waiters to wheel carts around with finger sandwiches, little cakes and other sweet treats. Tea is Twinings, with both caffeinated and decaf options.
Room Service: If all these options don't please, know that in-cabin service is available around-the-clock. Continental breakfast is available through midmorning with beverages, cereal, toast and baked goods, fruit and yogurt; Concierge level and above can choose from hot options like omelets and eggs, pancakes and oatmeal. Use the door card, or call when you're hungry. We appreciated the room service staff calling our room to tell us our breakfast was on its way, just in case we overslept.
All-day selections include appetizers (shrimp cocktail or California rolls), soups (chicken and matzo ball, or French Onion), salads (Caesar, Cobb), sandwiches and burgers (including a vegetarian club and a turkey burger), entrees (pizza, pasta, grilled chicken breast and beef filet) and desserts (cheesecake, chocolate madness cake, ice cream). Suite passengers can order off restaurant menus as well.