Pursuitist recently embarked on a cruise aboard the Marina, which is part of the fleet owned by Oceania Cruises, an upper premium luxury cruise line. The Marina is one of six ships owned by Oceania and is a custom-made 785-foot long vessel built in 2011 that can accommodate 1,250 passengers, although our excursion had a total occupancy of slightly more than 1,100 passengers.
Our itinerary, called “Tropical Tempos”, included a seven-day cruise that started in Miami, Florida with stops at Key West (Florida), Harvest Caye (Belize), Roatan Island (Honduras) and Costa Maya (Mexico) before returning to Miami.
We boarded the ship in the morning and were very pleased with our “Concierge” level veranda stateroom, which felt more like a well-appointed hotel room rather than a guest room aboard a ship. Our stateroom was 282 square feet in size and had a king-sized bed, sofa (with a pull-out bed), desk, balcony with two chairs and a remarkably spacious bathroom with a soaking tub and separate shower stall. The marbled bathroom was stocked with Bulgari products and the bedding was high-end quality—the sumptuous bed collection featuring 1000-thread count linens is so popular among passengers that it is available for purchase through the Oceania Cruises Bed Collection website. There was adequate storage for our belongings and we did not feel cramped at all for space. The only shortcoming in the room was the lack of enough outlets for charging our phones, laptops and portable chargers as half of the outlets were for European devices. There were no outlets located bedside.
The Wi-Fi worked well throughout most of the ship, although our package only worked for one device at a time. Several complimentary amenities were offered to us, including a bottle of champagne on ice upon arrival and an offer to press garments and shoe shine services. As a guest in a Concierge Level stateroom, we were given access to a private lounge that was stocked with non-alcoholic beverages and snacks.
A selection of large suites are also available on the ship that offer additional amenities such as butler service and the ability to order in-room dining from the speciality restaurants in addition to the regular room service menu.
We were impressed with the ship’s Canyon Ranch Spa Club’s facilities that are available for all guests to enjoy. There was a large fitness room outfitted with state-of-the-art Technogym equipment, separate steam rooms and saunas for men and women and a yoga studio. The spa offers a full menu of treatments ranging from facials to massages and body scrubs. A personal trainer is available for hire and yoga classes were offered for a nominal fee. The spa also had a hair salon and a relaxation area with heated chaise lounges. The spa has a private outside deck furnished with sun beds and two bubbling hot tubs.
The ship is also equipped with a saltwater swimming pool that is surrounded by large teak decks with enough chaise lounges to go around so that it is always possible to find one.
There is a casino, a theater featuring a variety of live performances each evening, a state-of-the-art culinary arts facility that offers cooking classes, and an artists’ studio with classes featured throughout the cruise.
On an upper deck, there is an outdoor putting green, paddle tennis court and a jogging track. There are also several beautifully appointed public spaces on the ship, including a wood-paneled library.
Our itinerary included stops at Key West, Harvest Caye (Belize), Roatan Island (Honduras) and Costa Maya (Mexico). There were also two days “at sea” which were welcome respites to enjoy all the amenities that the ship has to offer. Keep in mind that visits to ports offer not much more than a “snapshot” of the locale—if it is a deep cultural experience you are seeking, you will need to return on your own and stay at a hotel.
What the ports did offer, however, was the opportunity to experience a wide variety of activities through an array of shore excursions. There is something for everyone–from Culinary Discovery Tours where passengers experience firsthand the culinary culture of a destination while guided by a chef from the ship to professionally guided tours of historic sites (such as Mayan ruins on this itinerary). For the adventurous, there are excursions that feature hiking, cliff diving, zip lining, snorkeling, scuba diving, sailing, swimming with dolphins, sea kayaking, horseback riding and deep-sea fishing.
We wanted to experience things “out of our element” so we signed up for an ATV jungle ride in Costa Maya, which was both exhilarating and fun and we courageously completed the zip line course at the 75-acre island called Harvest Caye, which is privately owned by Oceania’s parent company, Norwegian Cruise Line. Both experiences were extremely well-run and professionally managed. In Roatan we went on a Culinary Discovery Tour guided by Chef Kathryn Kelly who guided us through the Blue Harbor Tropical Arboretum that also had a hydroponic farm. Afterward, we were treated to a cooking demonstration by a local chef.
Most excursions are capacity-controlled and subject to availability so it is advisable to reserve them well in advance as many fill up. Those who wish to be very active might want to sign up for the “Unlimited Passport Collection” that offers unlimited shore excursions throughout the voyage for one price that is a savings of as much as 40% compared to booking excursions individually.
The highlight of the cruise, however, wasn’t just the luxury of the ship or the ports that we visited. Indeed, it is the Oceania’s outstanding cuisine, for which it is well-known, and its highly trained, professional staff throughout the ship.
We quickly discovered what sets this cruise line apart from the competition is the culinary experience, which is considered to be the cornerstone and foundation of the Oceania brand. It’s no wonder that Oceania Cruises is the well-deserved recipient of numerous awards for its culinary programs, including “Best Cuisine” from Travel Weekly and “Best for Food” from Town & Country Travel.
The Marina offers an impressive eight different dining venues on board and has more than 140 chefs in total—the largest number of chefs on a ship per passenger in the entire cruise industry, we were told. The restaurants range from authentic French and Italian fare to Asian-Fusion and Continental.
The creation of French Master Chef and Oceania Cruises’ Executive Culinary Director, Jacques Pépin, “Jacques” is an exceptional French country restaurant that uses “traditional, time-honored methods”. Its specialties include traditional bouillabaisse, Coquille Saint-Jacques and homard thermidor à ma Façon. Toscana is an authentic Italian restaurant that specializes in made-to-order pasta and risotto dishes in addition to Osso Buco and veal scaloppine. Red Ginger features Asian-Fusion specialties with signature dishes including miso-glazed sea bass in hoba leaf, lobster pad Thai and red snapper in banana leaf.
The Polo Grill is a traditional steakhouse serving Porterhouse steaks, prime rib, Colorado rack of lamb and whole Maine lobsters, while Continental cuisine is offered in The Grand Dining Room (in addition to a selection of Canyon Ranch dishes). The Terrace Café offers a wide selection of made-to-order dishes including a pasta station, a grill, sushi, custom-made Caesar salads, and other favorites. There is also a coffee bar on an upper deck staffed by a professional barista who makes coffee drinks to order and a smoothie/green juice bar near the pool area.
Each specialty restaurant offers an unexpected twist. At Red Ginger, we were amazed to be offered a wide selection of chopsticks from which to choose, from chopsticks made of stainless steel to others made of different types of wood. Red Ginger also featured a separate menu just for the tea selection, which was a nice touch.
At the Terrace Café, attentive staff will offer to hold your plate for you while you select items from the various food stations and if you want a made-to-order dish, such as grilled lobster, a waiter will stand in line and wait for you so you can return to your table. Every restaurant had its own custom-made dishes, which were beautiful. This attention to detail made for a memorable dining experience at each of the Marina’s restaurants.
What really struck us, however, is that we were constantly forgetting we were even on a ship. Indeed, we remarked on several occasions that we felt as if we were dining in a top restaurant in New York, Paris or London due to the high quality and presentation of the food, the professional service and the beautifully decorated spaces.
Another nice feature of the ship is its traditional Afternoon Tea that is offered every day at 4:00 pm. Located in Horizons, an expansive lounge on the top deck offering glorious views, the Afternoon Tea features a dizzying array of tea, scones, sandwiches and desserts. Guests are served by white-gloved waiters and entertained by a string quartet performing classical music.
Oceania is known as the cruise line for foodies for good reason. Each of its ships offer multiple dining venues for breakfast, lunch and dinner, including the specialty restaurants, at no additional charge for all guests, regardless of the stateroom they have booked. Passengers just need to be sure to reserve these venues in advance as they can fill up (we learned that some wise guests made their reservations before even boarding the ship). Wines and other alcoholic beverages are priced a la carte or can be purchased through a variety of beverage packages.
Oceania Cruises was formed in 2002 and is the world’s largest upper premium cruise line. Its fleet of six luxurious ships visit a total of 330 ports across Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia, New Zealand, the South Pacific and the Americas. The fleet includes the Regatta, Insignia, Sirena and Nautica which have a total capacity of 684 guests while the Marina and Riviera ships have a total capacity of 1,250 guests. The staff to guest ratio is among the highest in the industry.
Oceania Cruises does not offer activities that are geared towards young children. It is a cruise line that is best suited for adults who are seeking excellent cuisine, great service and luxurious surroundings.
What to do before you board:
*Make your reservations at the specialty restaurants
*Reserve the Culinary Arts Center Classes
*Reserve Canyon Ranch Spa Club treatments
*Book shore excursions
*Bring small bills ($1s, $5s and $10s) for tipping bus drivers and shore excursion leaders.