January 23, 2015

Transoceanic Voyages: A Classic Travel Tradition

141670435Truly embodying the Golden Age of ocean travel, a transoceanic voyage recalls the classic crossings made by the elegant and exclusive ocean liners of the early 1900s. Alluring the rich and famous with the most desirable way to travel, these grand ships hosted a stunning range of notable figures, including the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, Greta Garbo, Clark Gable, Fred Astaire and Sir Winston Churchill, just to name a few. The extravagant spaces of the ship were designed to be on par with the fashionable hotels, clubs and establishments of the era. Elaborate dining rooms evoked French châteaux and smoking rooms were reminiscent of late-Renaissance Italian palazzos. Everything was imbued with an air of grandeur, and the floating palaces enchanted all who could afford the luxury of traveling on one.

Bermuda FunchalWith such a rich heritage, a transoceanic voyage still offers one of the best and unique ways to explore the world. It offers an ideal blend of blissful days at sea and visits to exotic ports of call otherwise not easily accessible. During a single itinerary, you can leisurely explore both the gorgeous shores of Bermuda and the distinct flavors of Funchal, perhaps strolling the art deco-style market and tasting world-famous Madeira wine. Alternatively, you might explore Montreal’s romantic Old Town and later discover Northern Ireland’s most famous landmark, Giant’s Causeway, and some of Dublin’s most storied monuments.

SpaclubThe many exquisite pleasures of our beloved mid-size ships also encourage you to fully relax during your days at sea.  Attend engaging presentations by esteemed guest lecturers, indulge in relaxing spa treatments at the Canyon Ranch SpaClub® and enjoy sumptuous cuisine at our gourmet specialty restaurants.

La-reserveOn board Riviera & Marina, you can also partake in featured wine tastings with friends at La Reserve by Wine Spectator, and attend hands-on cooking classes at The Culinary Center and art workshops and programs at Artist Loft. With our one-of-a-kind transoceanic voyages, embrace the timeless enchantment of sea travel and the magic of arriving in Europe without ever boarding a single flight.

Embark on a classic transatlantic crossing & join us this spring:

Beaches, Blooms & Bluffs | Miami to Barcelona aboard Riviera, April 1, 2015

River Routes & Channel Crossings | Montreal to London aboard Marina, May 18, 2015

January 21, 2015

Extraordinary Experiences: My First Oceania Cruises Voyage

Iram Ali, a Miami native and new guest to Oceania Cruises, writes about her experience on board Riviera and traveling throughout the Mediterranean. This past fall, Iram and her best friend sailed from Athens to Barcelona with calls on Santorini, Florence, Monaco and Marseille, among others. She shares her favorite moments ashore as well as some of the top indulgences aboard Riviera. 

Is it possible to fall in love with an experience?

When I think back on my first Oceania Cruises voyage, I get goose bumps.  Staring into the eyes of Michelangelo’s magnificent David in Florence, strolling barefoot across the beautiful stony beach in Nice, taking in the breathtaking views of Santorini; to say it was perfect would be an understatement. 

Extraordinary Experiences: My First Oceania Cruises Voyage
Riviera in Santorini, Greece

My best friend and I researched for months before we found our ideal itinerary, Autumn Wonders:  we’d board Riviera in Athens and cruise through the Mediterranean for 10 days with stops in Ephesus, Santorini, Taormina, Amalfi, Rome, Florence, Monte Carlo, Marseille and end in Barcelona.  

Extraordinary Destinations

Extraordinary Experiences: My First Oceania Cruises VoyageWe flew into Athens one day before embarking Riviera. Excitement overpowered jet lag and after dropping off our luggage, we walked to the Plaka and had a wonderful lunch with a view of the Acropolis. Then we got on a train and toured many of the top sites in the area: the Acroplis, the Parthenon, Temple of Olympian Zeus and the Theater of Dionysis just to name a few. I couldn’t believe I was walking in the same area where Socrates and Plato once stood!

Extraordinary Experiences: My First Oceania Cruises VoyageIn the months leading up to the cruise, I spent a lot of time googling photos of Santorini. Would it be as amazing as the pictures made it seem? Well, I got my answer as soon as we anchored near the island: It was so much more spectacular than a ‘Google Images’ search could ever reveal. We selected a Food and Wine Trails shore excursion, so we toured a local Greek winery and enjoyed delicious bread and cheese for lunch. Then we got lost walking through the white-washed town of Oia, took pictures and selfies near the famous blue domes and bought beautiful jewelry to remember the island.

Extraordinary Experiences: My First Oceania Cruises VoyageFlorence was my favorite destination, and by far, the most fascinating one. As soon as we walked into the Palazzo Vecchio, we were greeted by a parade. I loved staring at the cathedrals with such detailed architecture and walls brimming with Renaissance and Romanesque style. When we walked into the Galleria dell’ Accademia, our jaws dropped at the sight of David. Here we were, circling around one of the most important pieces of art, completely mesmerized.

I love telling people that I’ve been to Monaco. If it weren’t for this amazing itinerary, when would I ever have had the chance to visit this luxurious principality? Our excursion first took us to Eze, a charming medieval village in the French Riviera overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. Then we drove to Nice, where we walked through a flower market, bought local artwork and spent time at the beach.  Extraordinary Experiences: My First Oceania Cruises VoyageBack in Monaco, we visited the Saint Nicholas Cathedral, the final resting place of Princess Grace and watched the changing of the guards at the Prince’s Palace of Monaco. In Monte Carlo, we brushed shoulders with the rich and famous as we visited the casino and shopped in the high-end boutiques. 

Finest Cuisine at Sea

Three words: Miso Glazed Seabass. I’m often daydreaming about the food (so much food!) we had on board Riviera. Perhaps you can’t claim to have the finest cuisine at sea without it being true. Jacques, Toscana, Grand Dining Room, Terrace Café, Polo Grill, Waves Grill – every single meal on any given day, at any given restaurant was divine. Even early morning and late night calls to room service delivered mouth-watering meals. My favorite dish was the Miso Glazed Seabass at Red Ginger but the Filetto di Manzo alla Fiorentina con Crosta al Gorgonzola at Toscana was a very close second. The Gratiné à l’Oignon soup at Jacques was also amazing, as was the Grilled Jumbo Shrimp Scampi over Roasted Vegetables at Polo Grill. On the second day of the cruise, we dined with two other guests at the exclusive Privée, which offered an indulgent, one-of-a-kind experience with beautiful views of the Mediterranean. 

Extraordinary Experiences: My First Oceania Cruises Voyage
Private Dining in Privée

Extraordinary Experiences: My First Oceania Cruises Voyage  Extraordinary Experiences: My First Oceania Cruises Voyage  Extraordinary Experiences: My First Oceania Cruises Voyage  Extraordinary Experiences: My First Oceania Cruises Voyage  Extraordinary Experiences: My First Oceania Cruises Voyage  Extraordinary Experiences: My First Oceania Cruises Voyage

We also enjoyed every party, trivia night and entertainment show on the ship. Captain Luca Manzi shook hands with every single guest who made it to the Captain’s Party on the first Saturday of the cruise. In the Riviera Lounge, we watched an intriguing magic show and learned how to do a few tricks of our own, and we couldn’t stop dancing to 70’s music during the Flower Power performance. We spent time in the gym and at the Canyon Ranch SpaClub – receiving a much-needed spa manicure and pedicure.  On our relaxing day at sea, we had delicious ice cream in waffle cones and napped by the pool. But out of every moment experienced on board and ashore, waking up with the sun upon a new skyline every morning was my favorite.

Extraordinary Experiences: My First Oceania Cruises Voyage
Sunrise in Monaco

So after almost two weeks of cruising throughout the Mediterranean, wouldn't you agree it's possible to fall in love with an experience? Before you answer, don't forget to try the Miso Glazed Seabass!

January 16, 2015

Guest Lecturer Post: Sunset Over The Temples of Bagan

© Dr. John Freedman

Pic1One of the greatest wonders of Asia is the visually striking landscape of thousands of ancient religious structures spread over the vast plain of Bagan in central Myanmar, a site known as the Temples of Bagan. This forest of “payas” (temples or pagodas) and stupas (holy shrines containing relics) was built along a wide bend of the Iriwaddy River between the 10th and 14th centuries when the ancient Kingdom of Bagan was thriving. The Kingdom covered much of present-day Myanmar, and Bagan was its political center and spiritual heart. Little has changed over the millennium to take away from the splendor that Marco Polo described as “one of the finest sights in the world.” Over two thousand temples remain today, from an estimated 10,000 that were built. The structures are of a seemingly infinite variety of shapes and of every size. Some are gigantic, majestic edifices while others are humble pillar-like tributes to the Buddha’s grace and wisdom. The sheer number is overwhelming, and even today the Bagan plain remains host to the greatest concentration of religious monuments ever built anywhere. Many consider it to be one of the “hidden” jewels of southeast Asia, as it receives just a small fraction of the tourists who visit other epic sites such as Angkor in Cambodia and Borobudur in Indonesia. 

Pic2You can spend days exploring the temples, and for every one you climb to take in the expansive 360-degree view, you will see hundreds more beckoning you. Like other religious sites in southeast Asia, there are early Hindu influences which gave way syncretically to Buddhist architectural elements and iconography.  Many of the temples were built during the reign of the legendary King Anawrahta (1044-1078AD), who was a devout Theravada Buddhist and is considered by many to be the father of the Burmese nation. The plains of Bagan remained an important pilgrimage site for Buddhists even after Bagan was overrun by the Mongols in 1289, and they remain so to this day.  

Small roads, mostly unpaved, snake their way throughout the expansive plain, and you can travel them by horse cart, bicycle or automobile. I recommend trying all three modes of transport as each has its allure and advantages. The myriad of structures of every shape and size, and the refraction of light by the mist and dust that sit over the endless plain, give the vistas of Bagan an ethereal and other-worldly quality. In Bagan as nowhere else on earth, I get the sense that I could be looking at the remains of an ancient civilization on a distant planet. 

Pic3Unquestionably my favorite activity in Bagan is viewing the sunset from the top of one of the innumerable temples which have giant open terraces that serve as grand viewing platforms. There are so many temples to be climbed and you can choose your angle, decide how remote you wish to be, and even determine how many temples you want to see dotting the landscape before you. One of my favorites for a sunset view is Pyathada Paya, a 13th-century structure which is a bit off the beaten path in the eastern section of the plain. As the sun sets over the western plain, Pyathada’s easterly location means you will see a huge number of temples silhouetted before you, as well as the mighty Irriwaddy River in the background. Pic4The sense of other-worldliness is accentuated at sunset when the sun reflects off the saffron-tinged land and the pagodas become scattered jewels in every shade of pink and gold. The sun first reflects brilliantly off the gilded portions of the tops of many of the pagodas. Then, as it sets, all the structures slowly become more and more distinctly silhouetted. The scene is made all the more striking by the orange- and then purple-streaked sky, the rose-colored mountains, and the silver ribbon of the Irriwaddy as a backdrop. There is an ineffable sense of mystery that pervades, as is always the case when one is given to ponder the almost incredible story of our species and its amazing accomplishments.  A wonderful added bonus is the cool air that wafts in at sunset, bringing with it a sense of comfort and respite. The sight is one to behold, and the feeling is one of tranquility, beauty and wonder.

Pic5As 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.

January 12, 2015

Chef Kelly Welcomes Talented New Culinary Faculty

Join me in welcoming two new members to our faculty!  Susie Heller has a longstanding affiliation with Oceania Cruises and Jacques Pépin - so we're delighted to have had her for Riviera’s recent Sunny Getaways and Mayan Mystique voyages.  She's just completed a new cookbook, The Pizza Bible, so I'm busy working on a new Master Class for mid-2015 based on this latest masterpiece from Susie and her collaborators!

Dave Cruz joins us from The French Laundry – without dispute, America's number one restaurant and the brainchild of Thomas Keller. Dave is using 2015 to prepare and launch a new Asian restaurant in Napa, so I'm delighted that he'll be joining us on several cruises this year!

Read more about these two talented chefs!

Chef Susie Heller

Chef Susie Heller
Chef Susie Heller

If the term ‘Renaissance Woman’ ever appeared in a culinary dictionary, the definition would be Chef Susie Heller. For 35 years, Chef Heller has been a teacher, caterer, restaurant owner, food critic and consultant  – and now a Chef Instructor for The Culinary Center aboard Riviera.  Her love of the sea came early in life, when her family took cruise vacations and her exposure to the cuisines of the world cemented her passion for travel, food and cooking.  

Chef Heller has long had a special relationship with Oceania Cruises, beginning in1985 when her career ‘took a turn’ after a trip to China with Chef Jacques Pépin. They became close friends and colleagues, and through Jacques, Chef Heller met Julia Child and became her culinary producer. Chef Heller, Jacques and Julia became an inseparable team whose partnership resulted in the many beloved public television cooking shows.  Chef Heller and Jacques remain close friends, and she produced our Taste the World cookbook in 2010.

Chef Heller is celebrated for her many television and cookbook productions, which have been honored by the James Beard Awards, International Association of Culinary Professionals, Emmys and the New York Times Best Sellers List. In addition to writing and producing, Chef Heller has developed products with Thomas Keller and Mourad Lahlou for Williams-Sonoma. She teaches private cooking classes, tends to her vineyard and olive grove at home, and is a passionate philanthropist and devoted grandmother.

Chef Dave Cruz

“When did you know you wanted to become a chef?” is a question guests often ask our faculty in The Culinary Center. For Chef Cruz, his mother would tell you that she knew he was destined to become a chef when as a 6th grader his class homework assignment was to ‘make something – anything – to share with everyone, and he chose to make food.

Chef Dave Cruz
Chef Dave Cruz

Chef Cruz discovered his true calling much later when studying for his engineering degree, working nights in dining rooms. One night, a chef didn’t show up so Chef Cruz stepped in and the rest – as they say – is history. After attending The Culinary Institute of America and gaining experience, America’s renowned Chef Thomas Keller discovered and hired him in 2004 as a Chef de Partie at Bouchon in Yountville, later promoting him to Executive Sous Chef. With the opening of Ad Hoc in 2006, he was promoted to Chef de Cuisine and was instrumental in the restaurant’s success. Under Cruz’s helm, Ad Hoc received a 3-star rating from the San Francisco Chronicle and was included in the publication’s annual list of “Top 100 Bay Area Restaurants” each year he was there.

Cruz has been featured in Food & Wine, The Oprah Magazine and Wine Spectator among many other publications.  His TV appearances include the Cooking Channel, Food Network, The Today Show, The Early Show and Martha Stewart. Chef Cruz is the Chef and Owner of soon-to-open Miles Restaurant.  While in the planning and development stages of his project, he continues as a consultant and private chef, and as a member of the faculty of The Culinary Center on Riviera.

We look forward to a great year with our talented new chefs!

January 9, 2015

Salmon Two Ways: Pan-Seared & Aquavit-Cured

Perfect for the winter, salmon makes for a delicious and healthy option that’s completely versatile and suitable to a variety of preparation methods. Chef Kelly provides two favorite recipes below. 

PAN-SEARED LACQUERED SALMON
{ SERVES 6 }

This is one of our favorite dishes from Oceania Cruises’ Taste the World cookbook. It takes salmon to a whole new level and pairs perfectly with Franck’s Mashed Potatoes or a simple and hearty green salad. 

Recipe1½ cup soy sauce

¼ cup dry sherry

3 tablespoons lightly packed light brown sugar

Canola oil

6 salmon fillets, 5 to 6 ounces each, boned and trimmed

In a small saucepan over medium heat, combine the soy sauce, sherry, and brown sugar. Heat, stirring continuously, until the sugar dissolves. Set aside in a warm spot.

Pour a generous film of canola oil into 2 large nonstick frying pans and heat over medium-high heat until the oil shimmers but is not yet smoking. Place 3 fillets, presentation side down, in each pan and cook until golden on the undersides, about 2 minutes. Turn the fillets and cook on the second sides for 2 minutes. Remove the pans from the heat and transfer the fillets to a large plate.

Pour off the oil in the pans. Off the heat, add half of the soy sauce glaze to each pan and top with the fillets, presentation side up. Return the pans to medium heat and spoon the glaze over the tops of the fillets for about 30 seconds. Plate the fillets and serve.

Aquavit-Cured Salmon with Cucumber Salad
{ SERVES 2 TO 4 }

The tradition of curing salmon is an art form in the Baltic. This particular recipe is simple and easy to do at home. Given the price of gravlax, it can save you enough money to buy a good bottle of vodka!

I am particularly fond of curing salmon, which I learned from a fishmonger in Helsinki. He cures his salmon with all kinds of herbs and liqueurs, so once you have mastered our recipe, I hope you will experiment as I have with the many ways to enjoy one of the world’s most comforting fishes.

Recipe2SALMON

½ cup sea salt

1 teaspoon crushed red peppercorns

½ cup brown sugar

1 bunch dill, finely chopped

1 pound salmon fillet, boned and trimmed

2 tablespoons aquavit  

SALAD

2 English cucumbers

1 tablespoon white wine vinegar

1 teaspoon sugar

1 teaspoon sea salt

3 tablespoons minced dill

2 tablespoons capers

3 tablespoons sour cream

Freshly ground black pepper

FOR THE SALMON: Mix together the salt, pepper, sugar, and dill. Sprinkle half of the mixture on a piece of plastic wrap three times the size of the salmon. Sprinkle the salmon with aquavit. Place the salmon, skin side down, on the curing mixture, and then cover the fish with the rest of the curing mixture. Wrap the fish tightly in the plastic wrap and place it on a plate. Cover with another plate, weighed down with 2 to 3 cans or bottles. Set the plate in the refrigerator.

Turn the fish every 12 hours, draining off any brine that forms. Depending on the thickness of the fish, it will be ready in 24 to 48 hours, although you can let it cure for up to 4 days. Unwrap the fish when you are ready to serve and gently rinse off the cure. Thinly slice.

FOR THE SALAD: Slice the cucumbers as thinly as possible. Mix all other ingredients in a bowl. Add the cucumber and adjust seasoning to taste. Serve as an accompaniment to the salmon.

Bon appétit!