Oceania launches Marina, ship extraordinaire.


I've just returned from spending a few nights aboard this magnificent new cruise ship. Marina arrives with high expectations, and doesn't disappoint. Once aboard one is immediately struck by the residential feel of the ship, as if you are a guest in a large mansion, even though this ship is twice the passenger capacity of the line's popular small ships: Regatta, Nautica and Insignia.

While firmly planted in the upper-premium niche of cruise ships, a category uniquely carved out by Oceania Cruises, it's clear Marina will give some luxury cruise ships a run for their money. One has to think hard to figure out how Marina isn't a luxury cruise ship at all, in fact, and how many things Oceania gets right that other luxury cruise ships still seem to struggle with. However, even with Marina, and her forthcoming twin sister, Riviera, Oceania is smart to position itself as upper-premium and not luxury. In this regard, with the bar set a bit lower, it should continue to exceed expectations.

Service. With nearly half the crew new to the line on this new ship, there were no serious hiccups on this quite full sailing of travel professionals, though there is fine-tuning to be done. Service in the dining venues was spotty, in some cases a bit slow, and in others overly quick. That's to be expected as the crew settles in and servers are better trained thru experience. Throughout the ship, however, the crew is friendly an eager to please.

Dining. In addition to the beautiful Grand Dining Room, which is reminiscent perhaps of the great ocean liners of the past with a stunning central crystal chandelier and tiered levels, there are several alternative restaurants onboard Marina, most without any additional surcharge. Jacques is Jacque Pepin's first signature restaurant at sea, and it's a delightful venue with wooden floors, stunning flower arrangements, and cheerful colors. It reminds one of a French countryside bistro. Red Ginger is the Asian fusion venue, attractively designed, offering your choice of chopsticks and an array of freshly brewed teas. Polo Grill is the steakhouse, while Toscana is for Italian fare, with a separate menu for olive oils and balsamic vinaigrettes from which to choose. Terrace Café is the traditional Lido dining area, with outdoor and indoor seating, and Waves is the poolside venue with breakfast in the morning, and a fabulous lunch menu featuring a variety of burgers, including Wagyu beef burgers, Reuben sandwiches, Ahi burgers and more.

In addition to these main venues there are two more exclusive venues with a surcharge: Reserve, which is a 7-course menu paired with wines for $75 per person, and Prive, a largely white private dining room with red accents, available for a flat $1000 charge, that seats up to ten and offers a custom-designed menu worked out with the chef.

Throughout these venues, the culinary fare does not disappoint. Quality, presentation and choice is all done with taste and finesse for the most part. Seafood, steaks and pastas all seem to be cooked just right, and if not, the staff would see to it that it was. Some dishes were the best in their class, without a doubt, and would be impossible to improve upon.

While there are some luxury cruise lines that exceed Oceania's cuisine, the value and choice included on an Oceania cruise is hard to beat.

Public Areas. Marina is a gorgeous ship. The public spaces, furnishings, upholstery, lighting, and design touches are perhaps without equal of any ship afloat. The entire ship has a residential feel, warm and inviting. The only public space that falls short in my view is the Marina Lounge, the show lounge. While one appreciates the wider aisles compared to many ships, the seating is a bit tight, the ceiling low, and the sight lines in some places obstructed.

Martini's, the martini bar, is a central gathering spot, and the martini's here excellent. One can't but help notice the art selected for the ship, and I only regret that the ship didn't have any sort of reference piece to learn more about the artists on display. Much of the art is tasteful and colorful. So many ships offer up ho-hum art that is poorly selected and cheapens the product. Onboard Marina one could readily enjoy a walk, taking in a diverse range of contemporary paintings that are intriguing and enjoyable. There's a number of sculptures onboard as well that are gorgeous pieces. The Library, adjacent to the Illy coffee bar, is a comfortable space with large leather chairs and a great selection of books to enjoy. The computer room has a good number of monitors for a small ship, has wi-fi available onboard, though rates, as on most ships, are pricey, ranging from about .70 to .95 per minute. The casino is sufficient, and the purple-lit bar (see photo) a fun space.

Entertainment. I was able to catch three of Oceania's shows onboard. While the ship's 8-piece orchestra is quite good, the four dancers and singers talented enough, the staging and costuming left a lot to be desired. Groovin', a paean to the 60's was passable, but seemed poorly orchestrated. Con Molto, with its mix of opera with songs from Queen, and shows like Hair and Aquarius, was drab and boring. Several numbers from the Swing era show were entertaining, and perhaps worked best with these singers and voices. There were no guest entertainers onboard this short cruise, and I hope Oceania reviews its stage shows. But onboard shows, after all, are not, for most cruisers, what draws them to a ship, and we can forego this weak point given Marina’s strong suits.