This Golden Riviera
Gary Buchanan offers an approving view of Oceania Cruises’ latest eye-catching vessel
Oceania Cruises are the embodiment of refined yet casually elegant travel. These qualities, along with impeccable cuisine, decorous comfort and unparalleled personal service, have been at the forefront of the company’s ethos since its inception in 2002.
The vision of the company’s founders has ensured guests receive an enriching destination-orientated experience unlike any other. No cruise industry observer would deny that, when Marina was introduced in February 2011, this 1,258-passenger vessel was a ‘game-changer.’ Guests discovered Oceania’s first new-build had been created to enhance the experience for the discerning, sophisticated traveller.
It is difficult in measured terms to convey the perception of life on board Oceania ships but, for Chairman and CEO Frank Del Rio, mediocrity has no meaning. He has also ensured the world’s only upper premium line continues to be the antithesis of gimmick-driven cruising.
As I discovered during a recent cruise aboard Riviera, which was launched to an eager audience in May, this most recent addition to the fleet is undoubtedly the filament in the light bulb whose hot, bright ideas have succeeded in illuminating the industry. With the new vessel’s restrained yet luscious taste, the company’s vision of upper premium cruising is ensured.
It is received wisdom that ‘lifestyle’ is the way a person distinguishes themselves and ‘serendipity’ is the essence of cruising. Sating both these qualities in spades, the new sisters offer a genre of cruising that has few rivals.
Throughout Riviera, guests can revel in an ambiance that takes its inspiration from fine estate homes. To achieve this vision of sophisticated elegance Oceania sought out top companies in their fields of design. Chairman and CEO Frank Del Rio personally chose all the art and went to extraordinary lengths to source exemplary building materials.
The Grand Staircase is an icon onboard all the company’s ships and a signature element of the brand. To create this magnificent centrepiece, the company looked to the master artisans from Lalique, a company renowned for its expertise in the artistry of fine crystal.
As a dramatic focal point of the reception area, the sweeping Staircase features ornate double stairways with balustrades of crystal medallions. The creation involved 37 French artisans working 1,600 hours to handcraft 4,600 pounds of pure Lalique crystal.
Crafted in stunning Murano glass, the chandelier that adorns the Grand Dining Room sets the tone of this estimable room. Here, guests realise what a rare triumph it is when décor, service, atmosphere, fresh ingredients and the imaginative deployment thereof, all come together in a perfectly balanced operation.
With its 17ft high ceiling, colour scheme of cocoa, cream and gold, with splashes of apricot and cranberry, not to mention Versace charger plates and Riedel crystal, the restaurant effuses a glamorous rendition of emollient politeness.
Acclaimed restaurants throughout the world are like art galleries whose compositions allow you to take home the memory as creations for the palate. On board Riviera, the culinary offerings are as en vogue as any Impressionist or Surrealist collection. Like art, the best food is simple, sometimes deceptively so; its virtues explicit and unequivocal.
Oceania voyages may be a foodie maven’s delight, but the bravura of the menus endorses the tenet that one swallow doesn’t make a dinner. One night I savoured an appetiser of Tiger Prawns with Remoulade Sauce and Celery Hearts, followed by Strip Bass Fillet with Vegetable Stuffed Calamari wrapped in Pancetta, Duo of Green Peas and Fish Jus. The panoply of desserts and cheeses provided a perfect conclusion to each memorable meal.
Evoking tranquil Tuscan scenes with unimpeded views out to sea, the cool style of Toscana is the antithesis of florid opulence. Meals commence with artisanal breads accompanied by a menu of olive oils and balsamic vinegars. Exemplifying the essence of Tuscan cuisine, I selected Carpaccio of Beef with aged Parmigiano Reggiano; Porcini Mushroom Risotto with Caramelized Shallots; and Sautéed Jumbo Scampi wrapped in Prosciutto San Daniele.
Simply timeless, the Polo Grill is a chaste haven of profound conviviality. From its burgundy leather chairs, drapes in hues of crimson, claret, gold and shades of sage green, not to mention dark-wood furnishings, this classic American steakhouse is as civilised as it is snug.
Each course is a consummate expression of time-honoured favourites, although the highlight for me was the USDA Prime Beef, dry-aged for at least 28 days. A succulent Shrimp Cocktail, Lobster Bisque topped with Morsels of Roasted Lobster or Caesar Salad prepared tableside are precursors to signature dishes such as Whole Lobster Gratinée, Surf and Turf (featuring grilled Maine Lobster Tails), tender Filet Mignon or a succulent 32-ounce, bone-in King’s Cut Prime Rib.
Sequestered between Toscana and the Polo Grill, Privée is lavishly appointed with white leather throne chairs and a custom-made Lalique crystal table illuminated by a white Venini glass chandelier. In this cutting-edge sanctum, gastronomes can indulge in a menu dégustation exclusively designed by amiable Executive Chef Franck Garanger.
Red Ginger makes a dramatic statement with its decorative centrepiece of three Buddha heads brightly lit with multiple colours from within. With a nod to feng shui, the tranquil décor radiates with ebony woods, bronze and hand-blown glass light fixtures and eclectic, modern Asian artwork.
To complement the evocative interior, the dedicated chefs create epicurean pleasures noted for contemporary interpretations of Pan-Asian classics representing cuisines from China, Vietnam, Malaysia, Thailand and Japan. One night I dined on Spicy Thai Lemongrass-Flavoured Coconut Soup with Prawns, followed by a Salad of Duck and Watermelon with Cashews, Mint and Thai Basil, while Asian-Spiced Rack of Lamb with Kohlrabi, Cream Spinach and Truffle Oil preceded a divine Lychee-Raspberry Crème Brûlée.
Jacques unpretentiously draws inspiration from the fabled bistros of France and showcases mellowed wood that was reclaimed from a barn near Lyon. An art collection comprised of some of Chef Jacques Pépin’s favourite pieces adds a warm, personal touch; while custom-made signature china, antique flatware and Lalique glassware adorn the tables.
When I arrived at my table I was greeted with a bread basket of Les Trois Baguettes –assorted freshly-baked French breads accompanied by Country Petit Pâté, Rillettes du Saumon and Foie de Volaille. Highlights of the menu included a tasty appetiser of Saucisse de Lyon aux Salad des Pommes de Terre Lyonnaise; Moules Marinière; Gratiné à l’Oignon; and Hommard Comme à Cancale.
To cap the evening off, a choice of nine classic French desserts including Tarte aux Pommes Frangipane and a cheese presentation with 12 AOC French cheeses, providing a fitting finale to an unforgettable dining experience.
Infused with natural sunlight, the Terrace Café is a perfect oasis for relaxed dining at any time of day. Sumptuous breakfasts are cooked à la minute, while, at lunch, appetising salads and an expansive menu of international dishes are complemented by flavoursome rotisserie meats, all rounded off with indulgent desserts.
In the evening, the fanciful Murano glass chandeliers create a more esoteric ambiance with Mediterranean-themed menus that are at the sharp end of conscientious cuisine. I found few passengers who could deny that al fresco dining high above a sibilant, moon-kissed sea was the zeitgeist of cruising.
Aesthetes will also appreciate the elaboration of some of America’s most talented designers in the 625 elegantly appointed, custom-crafted suites and staterooms. Undoubtedly amongst the most spacious at sea, each lavish accommodation boasts artistic grace and refined glamour that spans the lexicon of decadent design.
The three 2,000sq ft Owner’s Suites extend across the entire beam on decks 8, 9 and 10. Upon entering, guests are struck with a sense of awe, as though they have entered an opulent estate home. They are unprecedented in maritime design and are hailed as the apogee of luxury at sea.
To accomplish this distinction, Oceania appointed award-winning designer Susan Bednar Long. She is familiar with the Ralph Lauren aesthetic and has previously overseen the decoration of flagship retail stores for Polo across North America. As a result of this collaboration, Long has brought a distinction to Marina and Riviera as the first cruise ships to have appointments from the acclaimed Ralph Lauren Home Collection.
With unimpeded views overlooking the bow from their elevated position on decks 8, 9, 10 and 12, the eight Vista Suites range from 1,200 to 1,500sq ft (depending on the deck). They are similar to the Owner’s Suites in that they have the novel inclusion of a TV on each veranda, as well as two whirlpools – one on the private, wraparound teak veranda, the other in the master bathroom.
Ten of the 12 Oceania Suites are located forward on deck 12. There are also two on deck 11 with a perspective over the stern. Encompassing 1,030sq ft, each offers a living room and dining room, walk-in closet and commodious private veranda with whirlpool. Like the Owner’s Suites and Vista Suites, these contemporary oases of style have a palette of colours of the sea and rich earthen tones.
Vista and Oceania suites have been conceptualised by celebrated New York designer Dakota Jackson. All architectural details are by Jackson, and it is his signature design elements that capture the quintessence of these suites. The use of extremely exotic woods takes restrained yet luscious taste to another level; less Art Deco, more smart deco.
Stateroom categories include 420sq ft Penthouse Suites and Veranda Staterooms that, at 282sq ft, are billed as the largest standard balcony cabins in the industry. There are also 242sq ft Ocean View Staterooms, while Inside Staterooms come in at a generous 174sq ft.
Prestige Tranquillity Beds, with a two-inch thick ‘pillow top’ cushion, feature throughout. Voluminous bathrooms finished in marble and granite boast a separate shower and full-size bath-tub. To enhance the all-pervading decadence, amenities are by Clarins and Hermès.
For a cruise line that puts so much emphasis on epicurean delights, it is little wonder Oceania’s BON APPÉTIT CULINARY CENTRES on Marina and Riviera have proved so popular.
With 24 fully equipped work stations and induction cook-tops as well as convection ovens, passengers in the beginners classes can learn basic knife skills, techniques for cooking fish and preparing French sauces while advanced classes concentrate on sous vide and pressure cooking methods.
Under the tutelage of Culinary Enrichment Director Kathryn Kelly, the one-hour classes start at $39, the two-hour versions at $69.
Guests can also sign up for the new ‘Culinary Discovery Tours’, available in more than 25 ports worldwide.
Led by expert chefs, these tours stop at local food markets, vineyards and gourmet shops (like chocolatiers or artisanal cheese makers), and are rounded out with an onboard cooking class inspired by in-port finds. Rates for these tours start at $175.
There are also dedicated 10-night ‘Bon Appétit Wine & Food Festival’ sailings, led by renowned culinary and wine experts, featuring cooking classes, market tours, and wine tastings.
There’s no disputing Riviera has enhanced the paradigm of patrician comforts showcased on Marina. The interiors are a delightful antidote to the recurring minimalism and functionalism that have been the leitmotif of all too many recent ships.