This is a sponsored post for Oceania Cruises, compensated through the SheSavvy Influence Network. Any opinions expressed in this post are my own.
It’s not a fluke that Cruise Critic readers recently voted Oceania Cruises’ Marina #1 in the “Best for Dining” category among mid-size ships for 2017. Marina’s sister-ship, Riviera, ranked #2 on the same list. Oceania’s commitment to culinary excellence has made it the cruise line of choice among many food-lovers. Even its trademarked tagline establishes a high bar: The Finest Cuisine at Sea™.
We’ve sailed on a number of different ocean and river cruise ships over the years and were impressed by the food-centric focus of Oceania Cruises. When I ask my husband to recall his most indelible food memory from a cruise—hands down, it is the double-cheese soufflé appetizer he ordered (three nights in a row!) in the Grand Dining Room of Marina on our Mediterranean cruise.
Excellence Starts at the Top
The appointment of Master Chef Jacques Pépin (once a personal chef to French President Charles De Gaulle) as Oceania Cruises’ Executive Culinary Director—almost since the beginning—set the tone from the start. Careful to preserve his own iconic reputation, Pépin played a role in hiring the cruise line’s culinary staff, designing its themed specialty restaurants, and overseeing the details of menu development. Jacques, the chef’s namesake specialty French restaurants on both Marina and Riviera (and Jacques Bistro on Sirena), serve up authentic country fare echoing Pépin’s Lyonnais roots.
Where shall we eat?
When it comes to dining on board, there’s an abundance of choices of where and what to eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner, including efficient 24/7 in-cabin room service. The style of every dining venue, like that of the ship overall, is relaxed, exuding casual elegance. With no formal nights, guests can pretty much dress up or down as they choose with the exception of no shorts or flip-flops at dinner.
With open seating in the Grand Dining Room, no reservations are required so guests can dine when and with whom they choose. Very often, my husband and I requested a table for two; other nights, it was fun to make fast friends at a larger table. Although the line is characterized as “mid-size” (ranging from 684 to 1250 guests), even the main dining rooms are broken up into discrete areas with assigned service staff so the experience feels intimate and personal.
Foods are prepared-to-order (à la minute), allowing for almost every possibility. Health conscious or on a diet? You can ask to have your vegetables steamed rather than sautéed. If you have the willpower, you can request a half portion of the pasta. Suffer from food allergies or intolerances? Simply ask for low-sodium, low-fat, or gluten-free options. Hungry after an active day? Ask for a double-portion. No one will bat an eyelid.
No matter where you choose to dine, the same high standards of service are maintained with attentive and professional wait staff and sommeliers who will not only be likely to know your name but also your food and wine preferences midway through the cruise (or sooner). If you choose buffet dining al fresco at the Terrace Café or Waves Grill near the pool, a friendly waiter is likely to lift your plate from your hands and kindly escort you to your table or lounge chair.
The quality of the cuisine served is top-notch, too. My favorite: The lobster tail dinner. The chefs often shop at local markets and create dishes based on recipes and techniques associated with the itinerary of the cruise.
Breakfast is served
Early risers don’t have to worry; they can arrange for room service in their staterooms; visit the Coffee Corner in the Horizons Lounge; hit the Starbucks-like Baristas coffee bar near the Library for Illy-specialty coffees, homemade biscotti and cakes; or make a beeline to the machine in the Terrace Café for a single-cup serving of Java. For a heartier breakfast, guests can eat at the Terrace Café, Waves Grill or the Grand Dining Room.
Let’s do lunch
If you have an afternoon excursion planned, you might want to grab something from the buffet at the Terrace Café that offers a wide array of prepared hot dishes, cold cuts, seafood, salads, veggies, breads and more. If it’s a sea day and you’re lazing around the pool, you can opt for a juicy grilled burger, hot dog, fries or salad from the Waves Grill. And if you have time for a more leisurely served lunch, the Grand Dining Room offers a changing menu each day.
Dinner: The Big Kahuna
After a stimulating day on shore or relaxed sea day (that might include a full-body massage at the onboard Canyon Ranch Spa), everyone looks forward to dinner. That’s when guests can sample the specialty restaurants at no additional charge: Red Ginger for bold, contemporary Asian fusion cuisine; Polo Grill (Tuscan Steak on Sirena) for classic steakhouse fare including USDA Prime and dry-aged steaks, and fresh seafood; regional Italian cooking at Toscana, featuring such dishes as Oven Baked Lasagne al Forno alla Bolognese and Osso Buco alla Milanese; and Jacques (Jacques Bistro on Sirena is open for lunch).
In the Grand Dining Room, the opulent setting with china, silver and fine linens is complemented by gracious service and a diverse and changing dinner menu that will please carnivores, seafood lovers, vegans and vegetarians. Also on the nightly menu: health-conscious dishes created by nutritionists associated with the Canyon Ranch Spa, and signature dishes from Jacques and Red Ginger. With a menu that changes daily, the Terrace Café is another option where guests can sample cooked-to order lamb chops or lobster tails outdoors while watching the sunset.
For more serious food enthusiasts
Yes, Oceania Cruises takes culinary arts seriously enough that it established the first cooking school at sea. Especially on sea days, both aspiring chefs as well as those who want to improve fundamental cooking skills will want to take advantage of hands-on cooking experiences at The Culinary Center (on both Marina and Riviera). The only downside: The distracting ocean views.
CIA-trained Executive Chef Kathryn Kelly heads up the culinary enrichment program. Either working individually or with a travel companion, guests can learn new cooking techniques and prepare regional recipes in this state-of-the-art setting at individual workstations with induction cooktops. Guest chefs often come on board for lectures and demos.
In addition, through Oceania Cruises’ shore excursions and Culinary Discovery Tours™, guests can visit local markets; participate in private tastings; meet with producers of artisanal food products; and learn about new cooking ingredients, recipes and methods.
Of course, there are many considerations when choosing a cruise including the line, ship, itinerary, and cost. But if dining well and learning about food are part of the equation, travelers would be well advised to consider Oceania Cruises. One more suggestion: Try the line’s signature drink: The Big “O” Martini (made with Grey Goose Vodka L’Orange, Cointreau, and orange, cranberry and lime juices).
All photo credits: Oceania Cruises