Oceania Goes Luxury with Marina

Oceania Cruises, while not a household name like its larger competitors, has enjoyed success in its niche by operating smaller, premium ships on port-intensive cruises. But now the company is branching out and launching a newly-built vessel that is larger and more luxurious than the others in its fleet.

The Marina was inaugurated in Miami on Feb. 8 and simply put, it is superb.

Although Oceania has never been labeled “luxury” before -- a category commonly defined by cruise lines like Seabourn, Silversea and Crystal –that descriptor repeatedly came to mind during my three-day cruise on the new Marina.

The ship's interior is radiant: The three-deck grand staircase has mahogany rails finished with Lalique crystal panels. The thoroughfares are finished in rosewood ceiling panels, tan and beige carpet and walls upholstered in taupe-hued suede. Original artwork is everywhere, including plum-colored, high-back chairs that belong in the Museum of Modern Art design catalog.

Most of Marina’s culinary offerings were created by iconic chef Jacques Pepin, co-star of a PBS cooking show with Julia Child in the 1990s, and the eponymous Jacques is his first name-sake restaurant. Dining in that restaurant was the experience of a lifetime, yet there isn’t even a cover charge.

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Jacques is a light and airy restaurant reminiscent of Claude Monet’s “Yellow Room” in Giverny, France. The menu is surprisingly extensive with four meat and four fish entrees, eight appetizers, two soups, two salads and five desserts.

Also on the ship is Toscana, an Italian trattoria, Polo Grill, a steaks-and-chops venue and Red Ginger features Asian fusion.  None of these specialty restaurants charge a service fee.

The Terrace café offers buffet-style dining, with both indoor and al fresco seating. Pasta is made from freshly-rolled dough cut in open view, cooked and topped with freshly-grated parmesan.

Each dinner we had began with an amuse bouche based on caviar and lobster dishes were full Maine lobsters cut in half. The sautéed sea bass with Asian spicy peanut sauce served at Red Ginger was the most delectable fish I have ever tasted.

If luxury is defined by brand names, then Marina qualifies in spades. The Martini Bar has stools designed and built by Swarovski crystal and the onboard spa is operated by Canyon Ranch of Tucson.

Three owner’s suites, each more than 2,000 square feet and reaching from the port to the starboard sides at the aft end of three decks, evoke the Ralph Lauren Home Collection signature showroom on Madison Avenue. The living room of each suite has a 60-inch TV, a baby grand player piano and a computer for wireless Internet access. The bathroom has a bubble-jet tub, toilet, bidet, large screen TV and full-body shower. The workout room has a treadmill and an elliptical machine. The bedroom has a separate bubble-jet tub on the private verandah and there is a separate pantry for the butler with a discrete entrance.

All the Marina's staterooms are extra roomy, with verandah cabins averaging 250-square feet. Bathrooms have separate rain showers and tubs, and cabins have 36-inch flat panel TVs, writing desks, luxurious queen-size beds with Ralph Lauren sheets, and extra large verandahs. Considering all the square footage combined, it is said that Marina has the largest staterooms at sea.

The boundaries of what defines luxury cruising were already starting to blur before Marina came along --but this ship is a game changer. It now seems that luxury is defined by the quality of the experience, and not by what is included in the cost of the cruise.

Even better, Marina will continue to offer the solidly port-intensive itineraries that made Oceania successful in the first place. Although others may disagree, in my view there could not be a better way to see the world.