December 19, 2014

Introducing Sirena: Arriving Summer 2016

SirenaOne of our most exciting new developments is the growth of our fleet with the addition of Sirena – sister ship to our award-winning trio: Regatta, Insignia & Nautica. Sirena embodies the most treasured elements of our celebrated mid-size ships, and she will join the Oceania Cruises fleet in the summer of 2016 for her inaugural voyage OceaniaCruises.com/Sirena. Sirena, which means mermaid in Spanish, will introduce a spectacular new array of destination-rich itineraries spanning the globe. Her highly-anticipated launch season will be released in late February 2015 with reservations opening on March 4, 2015.

Discover Sirena’s highlights below, visit the new Sirena page on our website OceaniaCruises.com/Sirena, and stay tuned for more details in the coming months!

ToscanaSirena Highlights

  • Joining the Oceania Cruises fleet in the summer of 2016
  • Mid-size, elegant ship catering to just 684 guests
  • Exciting destination-rich itineraries with new ports
  • Renowned specialty restaurants Toscana and Polo Grill
  • Baristas coffee bar featuring specialty coffee drinks and homemade biscotti
  • Alfresco dining and a cook-to-order grill at Terrace Café
  • Acclaimed Canyon Ranch SpaClub® 

December 17, 2014

Classic Chocolate Bread Pudding Recipe

This custardy bread pudding with pockets of warm melted chocolate isn’t hard to make. In fact, when our Corporate Chef, Franck Garanger, was eight years old, one of his first jobs in his father’s pâtisserie in Angers, France, was assembling individual bread puddings (known in French as poudings diplomate) for the pastry case. “It probably began as a way for bakeries to use up day-old bread,” he says, “but it’s such a French classic that it’s now one of the forty-eight recipes on the first-year French cooking apprenticeship certification exam.”

You can make it with leftover brioche, croissants, or even pain au chocolat. You can also add ¾ cup golden raisins instead of, or in addition to, the chocolate. Plump them first, if you like, by covering them with boiling water, letting them soak for a few minutes, and then draining, before layering them with the bread cubes.

Bread-puddingIngredients
1 ½ cups heavy cream
1 ½ cups whole milk
½ vanilla bean or 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
5 large eggs
½ cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
10 cups cubed leftover brioche
1 tablespoon (1/2 ounce) unsalted butter
¾ cup chip-sized pieces semisweet chocolate

(Serves 6 to 8)

Prepare an ice bath by filling a larger bowl with ice water.

To make the custard for the pudding, in a medium saucepan, combine the cream, milk and vanilla bean (if using) over medium heat. Heat to just below a simmer.

Meanwhile, in a large bowl, whisk together the eggs and sugar until blended. When the cream mixture is ready, slowly pour it into the egg mixture while whisking continuously, and then continue to whisk until fully combined. Remove the vanilla bean (if used), and scrape the seeds from the pod into the bowl. Return the combined mixture to the saucepan.

Select a bowl that will be large enough to hold the custard and will rest in the rim of the bowl holding the ice bath. Place a fine-mesh strainer over the bowl. Place the pan over medium heat and stir the custard constantly with a wooden spoon until it is thick enough to coat the back of the spoon and steam just begins to rise from the surface, about 3 minutes. Immediately pour the custard through the strainer. Place the bowl over the ice bath and stir from time to time until the mixture is thoroughly cooled. (If it is warm, it will melt the chocolate.) Stir in the vanilla extract (if using).

Butter a 9-by-13-inch baking pan. Cut the brioche into half-inch cubes.

Spread one-third of the bread cubes in the prepared pan, and sprinkle with one-third of the chocolate. Repeat the layering twice, ending with the chocolate. Slowly pour the custard evenly over the bread, allowing it to settle and soak into the bread as you pour. Set the pan aside at room temperature for 1 hour, or cover and refrigerate overnight.

Position a rack in the lower third of the oven, and preheat the oven to 325°F.

Place the pan holding the pudding in a larger pan, such as a roasting pan. Place the nested pans on the oven rack, and pour the hottest tap water possible into the larger pan until it reaches about two-thirds of the way up the sides of the smaller pan. Bake the pudding for about 1 hour. Begin checking to see if it is ready after 50 minutes: press on the bread cubes in the center of the pan. If you see liquid rise around the bread, continue to bake the pudding. When the center is just set, carefully remove the pudding, still in its water bath. Let the bread pudding cool completely in the warm water, or for at least 30 minutes, before serving. Cut into desired shapes to serve.

-Excerpted from The Food and Flavors of Oceania Cruises: Taste of the World

December 15, 2014

Guest Lecturer Post: Spectacular Angkor

Spectacular Angkor© Dr. John Freedman

Of all my experiences in Asia there is perhaps none more stunning and climactic than watching the sun rise over the incomparable Angkor Wat.

It is difficult to capture the essence of this singular experience with the written word, but let’s try. This architectural wonder served as the Khmer Empire’s great state temple (Angkor=Capital, Wat=Temple) in the early 12th century. It also was designed to serve as a magnificent mausoleum for its builder, the Sun God-King Suryavarman II. It has been described by observers throughout nine centuries with virtually every superlative available to writers in all languages. Intrepid French explorer Henri Mouhot, the temple’s 19th-century “discoverer” (of course, it had never truly been lost) wrote in his journal in 1862: “This grand temple, a rival to that of Solomon and erected by an ancient Michelangelo, is grander than anything left to us by Greece or Rome.” Its unparalleled enormity is not disputed – it is the largest religious structure ever built. Its artistic beauty, depth and unity, along with its engineering genius, complete the picture of a structure that represents the apogee of classical Khmer architecture and one of the greatest human achievements of all time. 

Spectacular AngkorTo watch the sunrise over the great temple one has to set out not long after 5:00AM and carefully walk down the long stone causeway over the temple complex’s 700-foot moat. The builders of Angkor were masters of hydrology and the entire city was one of moats, canals, and great reservoirs known as baray. Angkor Wat’s huge moat was designed not only for protection and irrigation purposes, but also to create an earthly incarnation of the celestial ocean which surrounded the mythological home of the ancient Hindu gods, Mt. Meru. Angor Wat’s five grand towers or prasats are each shaped like a lotus bud and taken together they represent the five peaks of Mt. Meru. They are arranged in a quincunx, which is an ancient Hindu pattern with four towers on the four corners of a rectangle and one majestic tower in the middle. We watched in awe as the saffron disk of the sun spread its soft bath of light over the entire “temple mount” scene.

Spectacular AngkorOf all the superlatives used to describe Angkor Wat, three seem most apt and encompassing: spectacular (the wow factor is certainly the first reaction), timeless (thus one stands in the Cambodian jungle today to watch the sun rise over the tomb and funerary temple of a ruler who left this earth in the year 1150AD), and captivating (the fascinating history and culture of this great Hindu temple city, which later became Mahayana Buddhist and then Theravada Buddhist, is endlessly absorbing and intriguing). In the full light of the pleasantly cool morning it is then a treat to follow the sunrise homage with a personal exploration of this amazing structure. Imagine three-quarters-of-a-mile of finely carved bas-reliefs depicting innumerable scenes from the Hindu epics as well as the pomp and ceremony of the Sun King’s court and gripping depictions of his epic battles. It is has been said without exaggeration that Angkor Wat is the most richly carved building in the world. As you ascend the temple mount, you will cross three progressive enclosures, rising higher and higher until you reach the upper level of the temple mount from where you can gaze down at the vast jungle in which this improbable jewel is ensconced. Imagine the expansive jungle as it was in Angkor’s glory days:  peopled with over 1 million inhabitants in long-gone wooden and thatch houses. Today, only stone survives. If you have very high expectations for your trip to Angkor Wat, prepare to have them exceeded by this indescribably beautiful and impressive monument to the great Khmer civilization that ruled the Indochinese Peninsula for more than 600 years.

Spectacular AngkorBut the great imperial city of Angkor had hundreds of magnificent temples besides Angkor Wat, and many stand today as testaments to this grand civilization. One should not miss the famed and exotic-looking Ta Prohm, with its armature of giant fig trees, or the enigmatic Bayon with its 256 giant Buddha-like faces (actually the God of Mercy, Lokeshvara – or perhaps the face of God-King Jayavarman VII who built the temple). A perfect complement to a morning taking in Angkor Wat’s grandeur is an afternoon visit to Banteay Srei, a small and exquisitely wrought temple constructed of a rare rose-hued sandstone. Banteay Srei is renowned for the refinement of its intricate carvings on every pediment (the triangular area above an entrance doorway) and lintel (a cross-beam over an entrance doorway or wall) as well as its innumerable walls, doors, and arches. Dramatic episodes from the mythopoeic Hindu epics are finely carved, as if by a jeweler’s hand, at every turn. The carving was so exquisite that when the temple was first “discovered” in the late 19th century it was felt to date from the early 14th century, about 200 years after the building of Angkor Wat. Decades later the consecration stele was unearthed and the temple was able to be precisely dated to 967 AD — a full 150 years before the building of Angkor Wat was even begun. One can only marvel at this artistic tour de force and it is made all the richer by the soft golden glow of the late afternoon sun.

Spectacular AngkorThe glories of ancient Angkor will never cease to amaze. Spectacular, timeless, captivating!

As one of Oceania Cruises’ passionate guest lecturers, Dr. John Freedman thrives on sharing his in-depth knowledge of international cultures while sailing around the globe with our guests. Combining his well-established career in medicine with a fascination with faraway lands, Dr. Freedman has led a number of medical volunteer programs and relief efforts throughout the world. He has spent over 30 years exploring Asia in particular, and delights in sharing his insight on the rich complexity of history and culture shaping this vast continent.

December 10, 2014

Discovering Denali

Alaska7Alaska is one of my favorite cruise destinations because I can spend hours on deck, mouth agape, as I marvel at one spectacular landscape after another. And the experience is even more thrilling when you venture inland. I had the chance to do just that on an unforgettable five-day land tour with Oceania Cruises prior to an Alaskan voyage on Regatta.

Arriving in Anchorage, I had plenty of time to relax and explore the city before boarding a deluxe motorcoach the next day for a stunning drive north on the famous George Parks Highway. The unbelievably scenic road winds through the tundra, soaring mountain peaks, glaciers, forests and wild rivers that define the Alaskan interior.

Alaska5Upon reaching the town of Talkeetna, a National Historic Site, I enjoyed a lovely stroll along the charming streets before boarding a luxury dome railcar. From the upper-level dome, the scenery became more breathtaking by the mile and culminated with our arrival at Grande Denali Lodge, perched on the edge of a bluff less than a mile from the entrance to Denali National Park. Dinner that night was accompanied by an enlightening lecture that left me eager to discover the park’s many wonders.

Alaska4The next morning I experienced the staggering beauty of Denali National Park, which encompasses the tallest mountain in North America, Mount McKinley, soaring 20,237 feet into the heavens. Along with my fellow guests, I explored a subarctic wilderness that supports more than 650 species of plants, including blue forget-me-nots – Alaska’s state flower – that add dramatic splashes of color.

Alaska2Like most visitors, I’d come to Denali hoping to see the rich diversity of animals, and I was not disappointed. Watching a bear frolic near a salmon stream was a sight I won’t soon forget. I also saw a herd of sure-footed Dall sheep, known for their curling horns, happily munching on grass in a meadow. And soaring over it all as if to add an exclamation point to the day was a pair of majestic bald eagles.

The following day we awoke to a cloudless blue sky that allowed postcard-perfect views of Mount McKinley as we drove toward the Iditarod Sled Dog Kennel. Here we learned about the amazing dogs that cover 1,150 miles of Alaska’s rugged terrain on what is called the “Last Great Race on Earth.” Alaska6

Our journey continued along the scenic shoreline between the Chugach Mountains and the waters of Turnagain Arm until we arrived back in Anchorage for the evening. The next day we boarded Regatta for a cruise along Alaska’s fabled Inside Passage. Reminiscing about the past few days inland and looking forward to new discoveries by sea, I knew that with Oceania Cruises I would truly experience all the wonders of the Last Frontier.

December 8, 2014

Barbara’s Bridge Tip: To Pull or Not to Pull?

Bridge-barbara-seagramOne of our favorite Bridge Instructors, Barbara Seagram, has been coaching players aboard our ships for the past six years. An award-winning player and the author of a number of popular bridge books, Barbara never tires of sharing her love of the game. Below, she shares one of her top bridge tips. 

To pull or not to pull, that is the question! Trumps that is. We learned at mother’s knee that we should always get the kiddies off the street. Thus as new players, we assume that on all hands we should make “drawing trumps” the first order of business.

In order to decide whether or not to embark immediately upon pulling trump, let us explore the scenarios in which doing so will cause us to not make our contract.

97642

K93

3

AJ62

 

 ---

QJ10876

A52

KQ43

BridgeYou and partner have overbid considerably on this hand and you (south) have landed in 6 Hearts. West leads the Ace of Spades. South counts his losers to find that he has 1 trump loser and two Diamond losers. He looks to dummy and notes that there is a singleton Diamond over there. Great. First item on the agenda: Create a Diamond void in dummy and ruff a Diamond loser in dummy, crossing back to his hand with a Club to ruff the final Diamond in dummy. Hold it…suppose he thinks to himself that he only needs to ruff two Diamonds in dummy and therefore can afford to pull one round of trump first. Alas, the opponents will win the Ace of Hearts and lead back a Heart. Now there is only one Heart left in dummy with which to ruff two Diamonds. Moral of this story: When you have a useful singleton, doubleton or void in dummy and have to ruff some losers from declarer’s hand with dummy’s trump, don’t pull trump first unless you have gazillions of trumps hanging around in dummy.

On this next hand, you have arrived in 4 Spades. You are South and West leads the K Hearts.

 J643

A52

 AQ3

Q102

 

 

KQ752

643

K7

KJ6

Bridge-2Counting those pesky losers again, you find that you have 1 Spade loser, two Heart losers, no Diamond losers and one Club loser. One too many. Let’s analyze those Heart losers again. Are they quick losers or slow losers? Since we won the Ace Hearts at Trick # 1, the two small Hearts are now quick losers as opponents will take two tricks QUICKLY if they win the lead. Along with Ace of Trumps and Ace of Clubs, this will spell disaster. So, the moral here is: When you have quick losers and no Ace of trump, try to discard a loser before pulling trump. Look for an extra winner i.e. A good looking lopsided suit (more cards on one side of the table than the other) which will provide an opportunity for a discard. Careful how you play that suit…Play the Diamond 3 to the King, then the Diamond 7 to the Ace and Queen of Diamonds. On the Queen of Diamonds, you must now pitch the Heart 4. Aha, now you can pull trump safely because now the opponents cannot hurt you. Less experienced players worry and think: “What if the opponents trump the third round of Diamonds?” Well in that case, you were never going to make the contract. If you had pulled trump first, you would have lost the next 4 tricks in a row.

Now for one more occasion in which you must not pull trump first:

32

Q108

432

AK542 

 

 

AQ87

AKJ9754

AK

 --- 

Bridge_4This time you made it all the way to 7 Hearts! Three potential Spade losers. Looks like a finesse situation. HMM…There are two extra winners over in dummy on which you can discard two small Spades. Then what? Finesses only work 50% of the time. Is there an alternative to doing the finesse? Yes! Dummy has a long suit…a five card suit! Always a good thing! Dummy has no entries however other than the trump suit so we cannot pull all the trump first. Opponents lead a Diamond. Shame they didn’t lead a Spade to be helpful! You win this and now you cross to dummy’s Heart 8 and play the AK Clubs, discarding your two small Spades. Now ruff a Club in your hand, carefully counting opponents’ cards in this suit. They follow. Back to dummy with Heart 10 to do this again, one more time with feeling. Lo and behold, you ruff the fourth club and opponents follow to four rounds of Clubs. Awesome. Now your fifth Club in dummy is finally high! Cross to dummy’s Q Hearts and play the thirteenth Club, pitching your Spade Q. 

So, to summarize: These are the three commonest occasions on which we, as declarers, cannot afford to pull trump first: 

  1. When we need to ruff losers from declarer’s hand with dummy’s trump.
  2. When we have quick losers and no Ace of trump, we need to first look for a parking place for our quick loser (extra winners in dummy or declarer’s hand on which we can make a DISCARD).
  3. When dummy’s trump will provide you with the only entries to dummy e.g. Long suit establishment.

These situations crop up very often. So be careful to watch for these. If you haven’t got one of these dilemmas, then it is probably okay to get the kiddies off the street right off the bat. 

Join the bridge fun on one of our Signature Sailings in 2015, featuring bridge lessons and tournaments with an American Contract Bridge League accredited master instructor!