Three reasons why I love Oceania Cruises by Jos Dewing
Yesterday I attended an event at the City Cruise Terminal in Southampton. Organised by Oceania Cruises as part of their 10th anniversary celebrations, we were to be treated to a presentation by the Company’s executives and co-founders, a guided ship tour of Marina and a gala lunch on-board.
The day started off with a cancelled train to Southampton and zero communication to this fact by the train operating company, so for me, it was all down to the maritime sector to win back my faith in transportation of any kind. I would not be disappointed.
The Cruise Line has a long history with Oceania Cruises and not only are we one of the leading and award-winning agents for the line, but we like to think of ourselves as part of their history too. We launched Oceania Cruises in the UK back in 2003. We organised the press event, we produced and designed the brochure and we even sold to other travel agents. In short, we were Oceania and we still like to think that we are, although the Oceania Cruises we see today is a very different proposition indeed. I was fortunate enough to have experienced cruising on both Regatta and attended the christening of her sister ship Insignia in March 2004 in Monte Carlo, so to say I was excited about meeting the new big sister was an understatement to say the least, but would those original values and approach remain intact 10 years later?
Having embarked on Marina, we were escorted to the impressive and spacious theatre where a presentation was made by Frank Del Rio, the founder of Oceania Cruises (who is now chairman & CEO of Prestige Cruise Holdings, the parent corporation of Oceania Cruises and Regent Seven Seas Cruises), Bob Binder, Vice Chairman of Prestige Cruise Holdings and co-founder and Bernie Carter, the UK Managing Director. The presentation focused on history and the extraordinary Oceania story, how an investment of $14 million in 2003 has become such a globally recognized and successful cruise brand, with a new valuation closer to $850 million and with two new $600 million ships that can carry 1250 passengers each. However, more engaging than the financials was the theme of family running throughout the story. This is very much a family led business, with the word ‘family’ as much a representation of the Oceania team itself as the actual families behind the success.
Oceania Cruises as an operation and brand really does feel self-sufficient like a solid family. The founders are still incredibly hands on and you really feel this when talking to them and exploring their beautiful ship. With any cruise ship visit or discussion on a specific cruise company there is simply so much on offer and to cover so I’ll keep this focused on the real elements that for me, are Oceania’s signature and differentiation in the marketplace today. These are the true brand hallmarks and the reasons why this company has proved so incredibly popular and is experiencing such exciting growth, especially in the UK. These points are based around my knowledge of the company and the ship Marina itself.
Reason 1: The general approach
Perhaps overriding everything else here is the unique approach and the way true family values extend into product values with Oceania Cruises. With so many successful companies that experience growth, the senior executive often becomes detached from the product or service itself, just look at the UK banking sector. This is simply not the case with Oceania and it shows.
The founders have had a huge influence and involvement in the development of Marina for example, in fact they take the term ‘hands-on’ to a completely new level. Both Mr Del Rio and Mr Binder were clearly directly involved in every step of the Marina build process, from the initial designs and furnishings to the procurement of the incredible art collection. This collection is so extraordinary and varied that a book will shortly be published and available on Amazon purely focused on the collection. Mr Binder has promised me a copy which I eagerly anticipate.
But it’s not just the executive that are part of the family here. I under stand that the carpets were designed by Oceania’s in-house marketing team and the Executive Culinary Director’s very own and striking self-portrait hangs proudly outside his signature restaurant, ‘Jacques’. Show me another cruise line that operates like this?
At lunch I was fortunate enough to sit next to Bob Binder on the Captains table in the Grand Dining room. He pointed a painting out to me and after explaining its origins and subject matter, he asked if I thought it should be moved slightly to the right so that it could be viewed from our seating position. I agreed that it would be worthwhile and I have no doubt that it’s already been done. The personal touch, it really is very apparent here.
Reason 2: The food
Oceania Cruises proudly and boldly claim to have the finest cuisine at sea and the meal we were treated to at lunch would certainly back this fact up. The food once again is driven from the very top. When the founders first conceived Oceania Cruises back in 2003, they knew they must have a differentiation from other premium lines to ensure immediate success. The concept was simple, to deliver the very best food at sea whilst still protecting the ‘fare’ value for its passengers. Legendary Master Chef Jacques Pepin was recruited to both establish and inspire the food and once again, the family values were firmly set in the foundations. “Food” says Jacques Pepin is to be “shared with family or friends”, this is what makes a meal “great”. This and the gastronomic wizardry of course.
The passion flows through the signature restaurants which were again heavily influenced by the founders, Mr Binder creating Red Ginger, a daring contemporary Asian restaurant with a dramatic waterfall feature and exquisite cuisine.
For our lunch we experienced various dishes from around the ship. These included a divine ‘Lobster Risotto in a Lobster Broth Reduction’, the extraordinarily delicious ‘Den Miso Glazed Seabass wrapped in Cooked Hoba Leaf’ (A classic from Red Ginger with a lovely touch of informality with the miniature wooden peg holding the leaf together) and a sublime ‘Slow Cooked Short Rib Pertigourdine with Semolina Gnocchi, Vegetable Casserole and Crispy Parmesan’. These are three of six wonderful courses and make it very easy for me to state that from my dining experience alone, the Oceania foodie claim seems to hold true.
The entire foodie experience is also tied together with excellent service from the staff and that Oceania attention to detail again. The bread basket was a marvel in its own right with authentic and delicious French Baguette and over 10 varieties of dipping oils. The accompanying wine naturally a perfect partner for the food also.
Reason 3: So much more than cruise ship
And I absolutely mean this. Walking around Marina and talking to passengers and staff you realise what a great and varied place this is to be. Frankly, you could spend a week on-board just looking at the artwork, which hangs throughout the ship. But it doesn’t end there, there is a full art events schedule. Auctions, artists in residence, workshops in the ‘Artists loft’ and more. If you are interested in art of any kind, this ship is a destination in its own right.
This is extended to foodies too. Marina has its very own and very well equipped and designed ‘Culinary School’. In a UK society fixated and obsessed with food, this is a very clever move. But it’s not simply a case of watching a chef prepare a meal and taking notes, this is a full and personal experience. The Oceania chefs will actually take passengers off whilst in port to visit local farmers’ markets and shops to purchase ingredients and then return to the ship to cook them. One passenger explained how she had been taken in France to a market where they bought some shark, brought it back to the school and cooked it. She said it was delicious and I have no doubt whatsoever that it was. It is stories like these that people share with others and that bring new passengers on-board.
And then for us Brits that enjoy a touch of the homely and traditional, the library is indeed a home from home. It really does feel like a country cottage nestled in the Downs in Sussex. Open fires, magazines racks and more than 2000 books and periodicals. This is very much English inspired and I can really see myself snuggled up with a good book there, maybe I will be sometime soon.