80 posts categorized " Dining "

September 3, 2014

Executive Cellar Master Features Joseph Phelps Premium Wines

JoesephPhelps-Insignia-2010-smWith a prominent reputation among food and wine connoisseurs, Oceania Cruises continually curates a selection of some of the finest wines from top wineries around the world, including those from Joseph Phelps Winery. Founded in 1973, the family-owned Napa Valley estate winery has vineyards throughout Napa Valley, as well as along the foggy Sonoma Coast. Joseph Phelps has a history in making distinguished Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. The winery also serves as the country’s Syrah pioneer – being the first to bottle the varietal commercially post-Prohibition.

Our sommeliers are pleased to offer you Joseph Phelps wines on board, including Insignia, the flagship wine blend that put the now famous vineyard on the map of top Napa Valley wine producers. The proprietary Napa Valley blend of red Bordeaux varietals was first produced in 1974. Year after year, Insignia continues to be recognized as one of the world’s greatest wines. Of 37 vintages, 31 have been rated 90 or more points by various wine publications, including three perfect 100-point scores for the 1991, 1997 and 2002 vintages from The Wine Advocate founder Robert Parker’s Historical Tasting of Insignia report (published in November 2013).

We invite you to explore Joseph Phelps wines more in-depth with our exclusive Joseph Phelps Food & Wine Trails package aboard Marina’s Discover Down Under voyage, departing February 12, 2015 from Sydney, Australia. This special cruise features tastings with the director of Joseph Phelps Winery, winemakers dinners and several wine-focused shore excursions, all while calling on a number of fascinating Australian and New Zealand destinations. Please call 855-OCEANIA (855-623-2642) for further details.

Joseph Phelps wines currently featured on board include:

Joseph Phelps Estate Grown Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, California 2010
Joseph Phelps Insignia, Napa Valley, California 2006 (proprietary blend)

The next time you are on board, ask your sommelier to pour you one of our Joseph Phelps wines, and share in a toast to your unforgettable vacation with Oceania Cruises.

August 5, 2014

JACQUES PEPIN'S SIGNATURE ROTISSERIE CHICKEN RECIPE

Guests on board Marina enjoyed culinary demonstrations, special shore excursions and more on the annual cruise hosted by legendary master chef Jacques Pépin. As executive culinary director for Oceania Cruises, Pépin has led our team of talented chefs in crafting the exquisite cuisine for which we are renowned.

IMG_7765 - Version 2In the Grand Dining Room, Pépin’s signature rotisserie chicken has always been a cornerstone of the nightly menu. This French classic is also served in Pépin’s namesake restaurant, Jacques, on board Marina and Riviera, where you can watch the herb-crusted chicken roast to succulent perfection on the gleaming display rotisserie.

In celebration of the recent Jacques Pépin Cruise, we’re sharing Pépin’s signature recipe. The secret is both the seasoning blend and the cooking method. Many grills now have rotisserie attachments, so give the recipe a try at home, or we’re of course happy to prepare it for you any evening on board one of our ships!

 

0IFC 1-37 Europe 2012_BrandingJACQUES’ ROTISSERIE CHICKEN
{ SERVES 4 }
 
SEASONING BLEND
2 bay leaves
2 tablespoons dried thyme
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon dried rosemary
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon dried sage
1½ teaspoons dried basil
1 teaspoon dried oregano
¼ cup kosher salt
2 tablespoons sweet paprika
1 teaspoon ground ginger
¾ teaspoon ground coriander
¾ teaspoon ground mace
½ teaspoon ground white pepper
½ teaspoon ground cloves
¼ teaspoon ground cardamom
 
1 whole chicken, 4½ to 5 pounds, trimmed of excess fat
 
Canola oil
Fleur de sel

FOR THE SEASONING BLEND: In a spice grinder, combine the bay leaves, thyme, rosemary, sage, basil, and oregano and grind to a coarse powder. Transfer the ground mixture to a small bowl and stir in the salt, paprika, ginger, coriander, mace, white pepper, cloves, and cardamom.

FOR THE CHICKEN: Rotisserie and grill set-up will vary depending on the manufacturer, so follow the instructions provided with your equipment. For a grill that has a separate burner or infrared heating element for the rotisserie, preheat that area to medium-high and preheat the grill under the rotisserie to medium.

Place the chicken on a work surface and place a long piece of kitchen twine under the wings. Bring the twine up around the chicken and tie, securing the wings against the bird. Tie the drumsticks together with a separate piece of twine. Trussing the chicken will help it cook more evenly.

TO SEASON AND COOK THE CHICKEN: Rub the chicken with an even coating of the seasoning blend. You won’t need all of it. Store the remainder in an airtight container at room temperature for future use. Lightly dab the surface of the seasoned chicken with canola oil to help the spice blend adhere.

Secure the chicken to the rotisserie rod using the prongs provided. Cook, adjusting the heat as needed to keep the chicken skin from becoming too dark as the meat cooks. The chicken is done when a kitchen thermometer inserted into the meatiest part of the thigh without touching the bone registers 165°F, about 1½ hours.

TO SERVE: Remove the chicken from the rotisserie and let rest for 10 minutes. Cut into serving pieces and arrange on a platter. Sprinkle with fleur de sel.

July 9, 2014

ALASKA AND REGATTA: THE PERFECT COMBINATION

By Jason Lasecki, Senior Director of Public Relations

The hottest thing on cable television these days seems to be America’s 49th state. With shows ranging from Alaska State Troopers and Deadliest Catch to Buying Alaska and Wild Alaska, there is a never-ending fascination with America’s last frontier, and with good reason. Alaska offers some of the most picturesque and pristine natural settings in the world, and there’s no better way to experience the wonderment of Alaska than on board the newly refurbished Regatta.

Having recently sailed on the 10-night Majesty of Alaska voyage, it’s clear to me that the beauty and splendor of Alaska coupled with the elegance and style of Regatta create a magical and memorable combination.

Regatta

The ship itself was immaculate, and the additions made during the refurbishment, such as Baristas coffee bar and the cook-to-order grill at Terrace Café, were a huge hit with guests sailing on Regatta. Many guests congregated at the redesigned Horizons bar to soak in some musical entertainment and incredible Alaskan vistas, while others enjoyed sipping a cocktail at the restyled Martinis.   

Baristas(New)

Horizons(New)

Oceania Cruises is well known for having the finest cuisine at sea, and when it’s paired with one of Alaska’s stunning late evening sunsets, you’re assured an amazing dining experience. While enjoying an exquisite dinner one particular evening at Toscana, we were treated to a painted sky sunset as the ship sailed a scenic fjord, passing by glimmering waterfalls and soaring bald eagles.

Sunset

The intimate nature of Oceania Cruises’ mid-size ships allows the staff to provide attentive personalized service to each guest, and the ideally sized ships offer an additional advantage when cruising Alaska because the captain can provide closer and more breathtaking views of one of Alaska’s premier attractions—the glaciers! During our visit to Hubbard Glacier, we were so close we could hear popping sounds as sheets of ice calved into the ocean.

Hubbard Glacier

Hubbard Glacier 2

One of the highlights of any Alaska cruise is the wildlife. Whales, bears, eagles, otters and seals are abundant, and Oceania Cruises offers a wide array of shore excursions that provide you the best opportunities to see these majestic animals. Definitely a sight to remember was a pod of orcas that paid our boat a visit during a whale-watching tour in Juneau. Wildlife is everywhere and it’s common to spot whales, eagles, seals and sea lions from the comfort of Regatta.

Orca Pod 2

Orca Pod

Speaking of wildlife, we came across this guy while on a nature hike in Hoonah. Readers, any clue on what species of bird this is?

Bird

June 18, 2014

A RED GINGER FAVORITE: LOBSTER PAD THAI

Today we’re sharing our recipe for Lobster Pad Thai, one of the most popular dishes served at the onboard restaurant Red Ginger. There are many variations; our version is light, fragrant and not too spicy – although you can certainly add extra kick if your palate prefers! We hope you’ll try the recipe at home or come taste the Asian creations of our talented chefs on board – either in Red Ginger restaurant on Marina and Riviera, or in the Grand Dining Room on Regatta, Insignia and Nautica where dishes from Red Ginger are featured nightly.

LOBSTER PAD THAI

IMG_0160 - Version 23 cups rice noodles
2 tablespoons tamarind paste
½ cup warm water
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1 tablespoon tamari sauce or light soy sauce
1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
2 tablespoons palm sugar
2 tablespoons nam prik pao (optional)
1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons peanut oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon minced ginger
3 scallions, thinly sliced on the diagonal
1 small leek, thinly sliced
1 cup lobster, shrimp, chicken, or pressed tofu pieces
2 eggs, beaten
¼ cup coarsely chopped cilantro
2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
2 lime wedges
1 tablespoon chopped roasted peanuts
1 tablespoon slivered daikon radish, salted (optional)

Soak the rice noodles in warm water according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Drain well.

In a small bowl, whisk the tamarind paste in the water until dissolved. Add the fish sauce, tamari sauce, rice wine vinegar, and palm sugar. For a spicy dish, add the nam prick pao. Whisk well and set aside.

Lay out the remaining ingredients and garnishes in the order they will be used, so you will be able to work quickly.

Heat 1 tablespoon of the peanut oil in a wok over high heat. When the oil is hot, add the garlic, ginger, and two-thirds of the scallions, reserving the remaining scallions for garnish. Heat for 30 seconds to release the aromas, moving the ingredients constantly to avoid burning them. Push the garlic, ginger, and scallions up one side of the wok, off the direct heat. Add the leek and cook for about 1 minute, until it softens. Push the leek up the side of the wok. Add the lobster and cook for 1 to 2 minutes, until it turns opaque. Mix the lobster with the garlic, ginger, scallions, and leeks.

Working quickly, add the remaining 2 teaspoons of oil and the eggs and scramble lightly. Then add the prepared noodles and sauce and stir-fry everything for about 1 minute, just until the noodles are warm. Fold in the cilantro. Taste and adjust seasoning with additional fish sauce and nam prik pao if needed. Remove from the heat and drizzle with the toasted sesame oil. Quickly transfer the pad Thai to plates or bowls.

Garnish with the lime wedges, peanuts, the reserved scallions, and the radish. Serve immediately.

June 10, 2014

REGATTA REFURBISHMENT COMPLETE – GUESTS EXPERIENCE THE OLIFE IN ALASKA

By Kunal S. Kamlani, President

Regatta Alaska

Regatta Deck-WebWe’ve celebrated several significant milestones at Oceania Cruises over the past few years, from the launch of our first newly built ship, Marina, to the celebration of ten years at sea. This week I joined Regatta as she emerged from dry dock to embark on a 10-day Alaskan voyage from Vancouver to Seattle.  It was immediately apparent that another pinnacle had been reached.

From the moment you step on board, you are struck by Regatta’s amazing transformation. She possesses a renewed sense of style and grace, but maintains that elegance and warmth our guests love. Regatta’s return to service marks the culmination of the most massive refurbishment in Oceania Cruises’ history – a $50 million makeover of our original trio of ships from bow to stern.

The true joy of being on board was seeing the reactions of our guests. Feedback on Insignia and Nautica has been overwhelmingly positive, and that same excitement was evident on Regatta. Comments ranged from the beauty and comfort of the suites and staterooms to the casual elegance of a completely new Terrace Café.

Terrace-GrillOne key objective of the refurbishment plan was to incorporate some amenities and experiences we introduced with Marina and Riviera, such as Baristas coffee bar and the cook-to-order grill in Terrace Café. Given that all elements of a refurbished ship must be fully tested, I took it upon myself to ensure that the new grill delivered on its promise. The steaks, lamb chops, shrimp, scallops and lobster tails did not disappoint. And I found the illy espressos in Baristas to be just as popular as they are on Marina and Riviera. It was truly gratifying to watch our guests aboard Regatta experience the beauty of Alaska while enjoying what we endearingly refer to as the OlifeTM.

 

The new upgrades to Regatta and her sisters, Insignia and Nautica, reflect our commitment to continually raising the bar on the Oceania Cruises experience and exceeding the high expectations of our guests. It was a pleasure to meet so many of you on board, and on behalf of the entire Oceania Cruises family, I thank you for sharing your excitement and feedback on the refurbishment. For others who are sailing or will soon sail with us, we hope you’ll share your impressions here on the blog. We look forward to hearing from you!

May 5, 2014

SIGNATURE SAILINGS: YOUR WORLD AND BEYOND

As if visiting the world’s most fascinating destinations weren’t enticing enough, Oceania Cruises also offers several Signature Sailings with guest celebrities and special events to enhance your remarkable vacation.

In a recent blog, I wrote about the Viking Passage Signature Sailing, featuring hall of fame broadcaster Verne Lundquist. But he won’t be the only special guest on board this transoceanic voyage. Barbara Seagram, an American Contract Bridge League accredited master instructor, will be on board to conduct classes and tournaments.

If bridge is your passion, there are eight other opportunities to see the world and improve your bridge game with American Contract Bridge League instructors on board between May and December. 

Jaques PepinWorld-renowned master chef Jacques Pépin, who is the executive culinary director for Oceania Cruises, will be on board the Explore the Isles sailing, which departs July 23 and sails roundtrip from London. Guests will enjoy special signature menus, engaging lectures, culinary demonstrations and much more.

Departing June 10, Historic Holy Lands will be an especially noteworthy Signature Sailing as it celebrates the return of Insignia to the Oceania Cruises INSIGNIA_008fleet. Founding Chairman Joe Watters will host this gala voyage aboard the newly refurbished Insignia with his wife, Virginia, who is Insignia’s godmother. Guests will be treated to a number of exclusive events and festivities, including a momentous rechristening ceremony in Istanbul.

 

OceaniaClubCrestLargeAlways a special occasion for Oceania Cruises’ valued past guests, the 11th Oceania Club Reunion Cruise promises a memorable Signature Sailing when Riviera departs on the Gems of Antiquity voyage on July 29. Reunion cruises honor our cherished Oceania Club members, and this year’s cruise will feature a private cocktail reception hosted by the Captain as well as exclusive shore excursions in Istanbul, Santorini and Kusadasi, among other celebratory events.

From Europe to Africa and South America to the South Pacific, don’t miss your opportunity to explore your world and beyond on one of Oceania Cruises' special Signature Sailings.

February 17, 2014

HO CHI MINH CITY AND THE VIETNAMESE COUNTRYSIDE

SaigonAlthough Ho Chi Minh City made the news last week for the grand opening of Vietnam’s first McDonald’s, guests on board Nautica got nothing but a quintessentially Vietnamese experience over the weekend while exploring this city of more than nine million and its surrounding countryside.

Known as Saigon prior to the end of the Vietnam War and still referred to as such by many, the city’s name was officially changed to Ho Chi Minh City in 1976, in honor of the revolutionary leader who served as prime minister and president of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam from 1945 until his death in 1969. Oceania Cruises offers several shore excursions that explore this bustling metropolis, from its wartime relics and colonial architecture to its folkloric traditions and spiritual heritage, and excursions into the Vietnamese countryside are available as well.

Because Nautica frequently stays overnight in Ho Chi Minh City, guests have ample time to explore and take advantage of the opportunity to experience the contrast of city and country life. For me, there is nothing as energizing as immersing myself in the culture of a thriving urban center, but just as appealing is the serene countryside, where often I find a more authentic expression of cultural traditions that have been passed down through the centuries.

Guests on board Nautica enjoyed warm temperatures and bright sunshine while exploring the Vietnamese countryside on the Mekong River Cruise shore excursion. At the mouth of the seventh longest river in Asia, the Mekong Delta is one of the “rice baskets” of Vietnam, contributing about 50 percent of country’s rice production. Life in the Mekong Delta is centered on the river, and many of the locals spend their time paddling its canals and tributaries, whether farming, fishing, trading or escorting visitors on tours.

Mekong River Dusk

Vietnam Canal Cruise Paddler

The shore excursion began in My Tho. Considered the gateway to the Mekong Delta, the city was founded by Chinese refugees fleeing Taiwan in the 1680s. Here guests toured the Vinh Trang Pagoda, an ornate sanctuary near the city center set amidst beautiful gardens and decorated with carved and gilded wood. The laughing Buddha statue, an image believed to have originated in Chinese folklore, towers over the peaceful retreat where monks provide a home for orphaned, needy and disabled children.

Vinh Trang Buddha

Guests then boarded a motorboat and began to get a feel for daily life on the Mekong Delta as they passed fruit orchards, stilt houses, fish and shrimp farms and a vast variety of boats.

Far from the lines at the new McDonald’s in Ho Chi Minh City, guests stopped to explore the picturesque Thoi Son Island and enjoy a lunch of authentic Vietnamese food before continuing on to visit a family-run coconut candy factory. They then traded their motorboat for smaller, more traditional sampans and concluded the day with a scenic cruise through the narrow, tree-line canals of the lush delta.

Lunch at Thoi Son Island-Saigon

Thoi San Island-2

Oceania Cruises offers several opportunities to visit Vietnam in 2015. Enjoy a tranquil afternoon in the countryside, a thrilling day in Vietnam’s largest city, or both, because all the 2015 cruises feature overnight stays in Ho Chi Minh City!

 Photos by Peter Pretty

December 20, 2013

AN EVENING OF AUTHENTIC ITALIAN CUISINE IN TOSCANA

DSC04822 - Version 2As Blogger-at-Large for Oceania Cruises, I share this post today to right an egregious wrong. In looking through past posts, I discovered that somehow I have never devoted a blog to Toscana. Considering it is not only my favorite restaurant on the ships but also one of my favorite restaurants period, I can’t believe I’ve neglected Toscana in this way.

Perhaps I’ve been reluctant to share my passion for Toscana because I’ve been teased about how much I love this restaurant. This is probably because each time I join friends for dinner here, my first question is, “How many courses is everyone having?” At my birthday dinner in Toscana, one of my friends answered, “Two.” I very nearly invited her to leave the party.

Toscana03Toscana serves authentic Italian recipes prepared with all the love and care of a Tuscan grandmother. And in some cases the recipes actually came from a Tuscan grandmother. Many dishes were created by Oceania Cruises’ talented team of international chefs, and others are generations-old family recipes shared by Italian crew members.

These wonderful recipes beg to be accompanied by a fabulous wine, so as with all evenings in Toscana, my most recent visit began with perusing the list of exclusive Italian wines. While the obvious choice would be a Chianti, my party selected a Famiglia Anselma Barolo from the Piedmont region, northwest of Tuscany. Typically bold and full bodied, Barolo is one of Italy’s greatest wines, and the Anselma family certainly knows Barolo because that is all that they make.

Next it was time to select that essential ingredient in any Italian meal, olive oil. We were presented a menu detailing the range of flavors and intensities of several extra virgin and infused olive oils. With olive oil this good, I prefer to savor the pure characteristics and aromas of the oil, but for those who like to add balsamic vinegar to their olive oil, an equally high-quality selection of balsamic vinegars is also featured. Our chosen olive oils were poured for us, and there was a diverse assortment of fresh homemade breads presented to dip in the oil.

Toscana02 Toscana01

Then it was time to get down to business. I almost always begin with the Mozzarella di Bufala Caprese, as I simply can’t resist fresh mozzarella, vine-ripened tomatoes and fragrant basil. The Caprese salad is one of the best ways to enjoy these Italian staples – fresh, full of flavor and complemented by a touch of olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

The more adventurous will want the try the Carpaccio di Polpo. This octopus carpaccio served with a warm potato salad and champagne vinaigrette is not only delicious but also one of the prettiest dishes on the menu.

Toscana05 Toscana06

On this particular evening, I decided to try a new antipasto, the Sformatino di Carciofi in Salsa Tartufata, which showcases one of the most treasured of Tuscan delicacies, the truffle. This timbale is made with artichokes and Parmesan cheese, served with a black truffle sauce and drizzled with arugula-infused olive oil. The flavors were exquisite, both rich and perfectly balanced.

In Tuscany, pasta is not typically served as an entrée but rather as an earlier course in the meal. So in Toscana, you can enjoy a small pasta dish as a first course, or “il primo,” and still try one of the delectable beef, lamb or fish dishes as an entrée. The chefs seem to have anticipated my difficulty in deciding between all the wonderful pastas, as they kindly created the Trio Toscana that allows you to sample two delicious pastas and a risotto in one dish. The trio includes a perfectly prepared lobster risotto, a classic fettuccine carbonara, and a spinach and ricotta tortelloni laced with a delicate sage butter. If you prefer a tomato-based sauce, try the Linguine Cioppino with seafood in a light pinot grigio and cherry tomato sauce.

Toscana07 Toscana08

Toscana10The Tuscans are fond of their grilled meats, so on this visit I selected the Filetto di Manzo alla Fiorentina as my entrée. The filet mignon is served with a Gorgonzola crust, sautéed garlic spinach, grilled polenta and a Brunello sauce. I typically order steak when I dine at Polo Grill, but now I will definitely consider a steak entrée at Toscana as well. Each bite melted in my mouth.

The veal dishes are also very popular, such as the bone-in veal chop in wild porcini mushroom sauce. And as if there aren’t enough options already, Toscana also features dishes from neighboring regions of Italy, such as the Osso Buco alla Milanese and Lasagna al Forno alla Bolognese. If you somehow manage to save room for dessert, Toscana has an excellent tiramisu.

 

Toscana09a
Needless to say, I am completely satiated when I finish a meal in Toscana, and yet each time I leave I’m already looking forward to my next visit. If you love Toscana as much as I do, feel free to share your favorite dishes in the comments here on the blog!

November 25, 2013

MEMORIES OF BARCELONA

Marina and Riviera have said goodbye to Europe for 2013 and set sail for warmer waters for the winter. Both ships ended their final European cruise of the season in Barcelona, an amazing city that I’ve so enjoyed exploring as Blogger-at-Large for Oceania Cruises.

One of the things that makes Barcelona distinctive is its blend of traditional architecture interspersed with the modernist buildings of Gaudí. The renowned architect’s inimitable style is found throughout the city, as he designed everything from private homes to public parks and churches. One of Barcelona’s most famous façades, Casa Batlló is the most unique and striking building I’ve ever seen. Now a museum and event space, Casa Batlló was built from 1904 to 1906 as a private home for textile industrialist Josep Batlló.

Casa Batllo

Casa Batllo 2

Next door is another modernist building, Casa Amatller. While it was designed by Gaudí contemporary Josep Puig i Cadafalch, the style is drastically different. The contrasting styles of these buildings, along with two more nearby homes by two other modernist architects, have earned this block the moniker of Illa de la Discòrdia, or Block of Discord.

Casa Batllo and Casa Amatller

Wine and TapasAfter visiting Casa Batlló, I stopped for some tapas and wine on the patio of a restaurant just down the street on Passeig de Gràcia, one of the most fashionable and expensive streets in Barcelona. Every time I visit Spain I’m truly amazed at what the Spanish can do with just bread, tomato and a touch of garlic. Pan con tomate (literally “bread with tomato”) is one of my favorite tapas. Add a little manchego cheese and I am in heaven! I also enjoyed a glass of El Perro Verde (The Green Dog), a lovely and very reasonably priced Spanish verdejo.

It was a good thing I fortified myself with tapas, because my next stop, Park Güell, is perched on the top of a very steep hill overlooking the city. Esuebi Güell, a well-known Catalan industrialist, commissioned Gaudí to create a residential garden village. Although the residential project failed, the city of Barcelona acquired the property and opened it to the public as a park.

The entrance, unmistakably designed by Gaudí, is composed of four flights of ornately decorated stairs, including a beautifully tiled dragon-like lizard, one of the best-known images of the park.

Park Guell

Among the completed buildings were two pavilions for visitors and park keepers, also distinctly Gaudí. The number of beautiful, detailed mosaics, sculptures and structures is astounding. The park is essentially a spectacular outdoor museum with free entrance!

Park Guell 7

Park Guell 8

Park Guell 3

Park Guell 4

Park Guell 5 Park Guell 6

I’ve shared a few blogs about Barcelona, but there is so much to see and do in this city that I’ve only scratched the surface. I look forward to sharing more when Oceania Cruises’ ships return to Europe next season, and I hope I’ve inspired you to plan your European cruise for 2014! Oceania Cruises makes frequent stops in Barcelona in the summer season, so hopefully you will have a chance to visit on one of these cruises or the many others offered:

November 18, 2013

A DAY IN FLORENCE

Last week Nautica, Marina and Riviera all called on the port of Livorno, the gateway to Tuscany. From this port, you can explore the beautiful Tuscan countryside and so many charming towns, from Pisa to Cinque Terre to San Gimignano. Of course, one of the most popular places to visit is the grand city of Florence.

View of Florence

I recently took the Florence On Your Own shore excursion, which is perfect if you want the freedom to wander the streets of this amazing city at your own pace without worrying about getting back to the ship on time. A comfortable, air-conditioned bus picked me up at the ship for the two-hour trip to Florence, during which a guide shared info and maps that helped me navigate the city. Once we arrived, I had six lovely hours to enjoy Florence before the bus picked me up and returned me to the ship.

The bus dropped me off at the Piazza di Santa Croce, just off the Arno River and near the Basilica di Santa Croce, where I began my day. Construction began on the basilica, the principal Franciscan church in Florence, in 1294. With 16 chapels, it is the largest Franciscan church in the world and the burial place of some of history’s most famous Italians, including Michelangelo, Galileo, Machiavelli and Rossini.

Basilica di Santa Croce Basilica di Santa Croce Door

At the steps of the Basilica di Santa Croce stands a statue dedicated to the great Italian poet, Dante. Donated in 1865 to celebrate the sixth century since Dante’s birth, the statue was moved to the steps of the basilica in 1968. Born in Florence, Dante was eventually condemned to exile for political reasons, and it wasn’t until 2008 that Dante’s sentence was rescinded. Thus, while the city of Florence built a tomb for Dante in the Basilica di Santa Croce in the 19th century, his remains are still in a tomb in Ravenna, the city where he died. At each corner of the base of the Dante statue sits a rather stern-looking heraldic lion with one paw on the city’s coat of arms, said to represent the power of the people of the Republic of Florence.

Basilica di Santa Croce Dante Statue Basilica di Santa Croce Lions Dante Statue

With only one basilica down, I was already starving. I stopped at a restaurant on the piazza and enjoyed one of the best Caprese salads I’ve ever had, accompanied by some delicious prosciutto, a rich lasagna and a glass of red wine. Suffice it to say, I was sated and ready to continue exploring.

Lunch Caprese Salad

My next stop was Ponte Vecchio, Florence’s most famous bridge. Originally built during Roman times, it is the oldest bridge in Florence. The current structure was built in 1345, and the workshops along the bridge were mainly used by butchers and tanners. Today the shops offer a wide array of jewelry and souvenirs to the many tourists that visit.

Ponte Vecchio

Plaza VecchioAfter Ponte Vecchio I moved on to the nearby Palazzo Vecchio, the town hall. At the end of the 13th century, Florentines decided to build a palace that provided greater security to the magistrates. The massive Romanesque fortress is one of the most impressive in Tuscany and overlooks the Piazza della Signoria.

The Fountain of Neptune stands on the piazza, as well as a replica of Michelangelo’s David, marking the place where the original statue once stood. The original is now housed in the Accademia Gallery, about a 15-minute walk north of the Palazzo Vecchio, and I consider it to be one of Florence’s must-see sights. While you’ve probably seen any number of the images and replicas of the statue that seem to pervade Western culture, the original is truly astounding in its scale, detail and beauty.

Palazzo Vecchio Neptune

Plaza Vecchio David

Uffizi Gallery CourtyardNear the Palazzo Vecchio and also well worth a visit is the amazing Uffizi Gallery, one of the oldest and most famous museums in the world. The gallery houses some of Italy’s greatest works of art, including works by da Vinci, Michelangelo and Raphael. One of my favorite works in this museum is Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus, although it’s almost ludicrous to name any favorite amidst the incredible collection of masterworks. There is usually a long line to get into the Uffizi, so I highly recommend advance reservations, which can be made online for a fee. Oceania Cruises also offers excursions to both the Uffizi and the Accademia Gallery, so you can avoid the lines at both.

There are so many wonderful things to see in Florence, and I haven’t even mentioned the Duomo yet, one of the most famous and impressive cathedrals in Europe! I’ll save that for a future blog, and if you want to see this wonderful city for yourself, here are just a few of the ample opportunities to visit with Oceania Cruises in 2014:

November 4, 2013

MORE OF THE BIG APPLE

This week Regatta made her final stop in New York for 2013 before sailing south to warmer waters for the winter season, so I am taking this opportunity to share the remainder of my photos from my most recent trip to this fabulous city as Blogger-at-Large for Oceania Cruises.

On this trip I was very much looking forward to visiting to the 9/11 Memorial. Tickets to visit the memorial are free, but you do need to get them in advance if you are not on a prearranged tour. I highly recommend the Oceania Cruises shore excursion Downtown Manhattan and the 9/11 Memorial, which includes a harbor cruise past the Statue of Liberty and a walking tour of Lower Manhattan followed by a visit to the memorial.

Honoring the lives of those who were lost in the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, and February 26, 1993, the memorial occupies 8 of the 16 acres of the former World Trade Center complex. Names of all the lives lost are inscribed in bronze plaques that surround the two waterfalls and reflecting pools set in the footprints of the twin towers. Like a beacon of hope, the new One World Trade Center being built to replace the twin towers rises over the memorial plaza. 

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There is no way to describe the feeling of arriving on this solemn scene. The roaring water of the fountains blocks out the ambient noises, so I was left with what felt like a very solitary experience of the monument despite being surrounded by visitors. I knew it would be a powerful tribute, but there is no way to really know how moving the experience will be until you are there. It is a poignant testament to the impact of the tragedy and the incredible strength and resilience of the American people, particularly New Yorkers, in the wake of the devastation.  

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After visiting the memorial, I spent some time walking the streets of Manhattan and just taking in all the sights, sounds and smells of this wonderful city. The skyscrapers soaring over historic churches nestled in their shadows. The car engines and taxi horns blending somehow harmoniously with the din of voices, within which I could discern any number of accents and languages as I strolled through the multitude of faces. Ultimately, the tempting aromas from the street vendors and local restaurants drew me to my final quintessential New York experience of the day – pizza!

When an Italian immigrant reinvented a Neapolitan staple food in 1897, New York–style pizza was born. In 1905 Lombardi’s was licensed by the city of New York, becoming America’s first pizzeria. There are now pizzerias on just about every street corner in New York (Ray’s and Original Ray’s being the most ubiquitous), but what makes Lombardi’s special, along with a handful of other pizzerias in the city, is the brick oven. In an authentic New York pizzeria, the ingredients are fresh and the pizza is baked to order in a brick oven.

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I “accidentally” ordered a large pizza and for a few minutes was concerned that I wouldn’t be able to finish, even with the help of my friend who had happily agreed to join me. But walking the streets of New York and the smell of Lombardi’s pizza have a way of making a girl hungry, and I am proud to say, there was not much left when we were finished.

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One of the greatest things about New York is that, no matter how many times you visit, there is always more to see and do. If you’ve never been, you simply must add this city to your bucket list. And there are some distinct advantages to seeing the city on an Oceania Cruises voyage. New York is a city in which it’s easy to drop several hundred dollars on food and lodging in just a day or two, but with your Oceania Cruises home away from home awaiting you in port, you can sample the local fare, see the sights and then return to the luxurious accommodations and fine cuisine on board and take full advantage of Oceania Cruises’ incredible value. Plus, on these 2014 voyages, you can also visit a number of other wonderful cities along the American and Canadian coasts – and even the Caribbean!

 

October 31, 2013

PUMPKIN CARVING ON BOARD RIVIERA

Carving competition1 The holidays are always a festive time on board the ships of Oceania Cruises – and Halloween is no exception! The chefs embraced the spooky spirit of the season in a pumpkin-carving contest onboard Riviera. Everyone put their knife skills to the test to concoct the creepiest, craziest, most creative jack o’lantern in the galley. Podium

We’ve always known our chefs were gifted, but they really showed off their artistic talents in carving these fearsome faces. The grand prize went to Assistant Cook Emmanuel Paygane. Cook I Komang Pamatha took second place, and Assistant Chef de Partie Vishant Raut took third.

Winners
Congratulations to each of them!

Of course, amidst the Halloween fun, our chefs continue to create the exquisite cuisine that our guests enjoy on board each day. In fact, Fleet Corporate Chef Franck Garanger was putting the finishing touches on a new salmon en croute to be served at lunch. Is your mouth watering yet?

Salmon crust prep FG

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Happy Halloween from your Oceania Cruises family!

October 29, 2013

NEW YORK STATE OF MIND

Regatta arrived in New York City today, and guests will enjoy an overnight stay in the city that never sleeps. Overnight stays are one of the hallmarks of Oceania Cruises itineraries, and if any city merits two full days of exploration, New York City certainly does.

As Blogger-at-Large for Oceania Cruises, I’ve had the privilege of traveling to cities all over the world, and each one holds a special place in my heart. But when I visit New York, it’s a different experience than disembarking in a city on distant shores. I know the language; I know the culture; I know the traffic laws. But no matter how familiar it may feel, each visit fills me with new excitement at the prospect of further exploring this wonderful city.

As I’ve previously visited New York’s most famous sights, on my most recent visit I decided to dig deeper into the quintessential New York experience. I began by heading uptown to 112th Street and Amsterdam to get a glimpse at the spectacular Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine. One of the largest Christian churches in the world, construction began on the cathedral in 1892. The original design was Byzantine-Romanesque, traces of which can be seen in the dome, but was changed to a Gothic style in the early 1900s. A fire in 2001 badly damaged the inside and it was closed to the public until 2008. Although yet unfinished, the cathedral is just as breathtaking on the inside as it is on the outside.

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As a foodie, I was especially looking forward to my next stop. From 112th street, I made my way down to 80th Street and Broadway to Zabar’s grocery store. In 1934, Louis and Lillian Zabar opened a small counter in the Daitch Market with the idea of selling the highest quality smoked fish at a fair price (a philosophy that Oceania Cruises can appreciate, as the company was founded on offering a luxurious cruising experience at an exceptional value). Almost 80 years later this market is a celebration of everything good about food: barrels of olives, walls of cheeses (some hanging from the ceiling), fresh bread, and I lost count after 15 different kinds of butter from all over the world.

Zebars

Zebars Cheese Zebars Bread

Zebars Butter

Zebars Olives

I might still be standing in the chocolate section, but after being surrounded by so much amazing food, it was time to eat. So I headed south to Carnegie Deli, across the street from Carnegie Hall. There is usually a line out front, but if your party is small, it moves fast. And if you are as hungry as I was, fear not, because right away you can enjoy a generous serving of an assortment of real New York pickles.

Carnegie Deli 3 Carnegie Pickles

Family owned and operated since 1937, the restaurant has several rooms, the walls of which are covered with hundreds of photos of famous people who have eaten here. There is nothing romantic about it, but if what you want is great New York deli food, you can’t go wrong here. The menu is enormous but I came for the basics: matzo ball soup and a pastrami sandwich on rye. The portions are generous to say the least, so I recommend sharing! The soup was heavenly and the pastrami was perfect. They just don’t make pastrami like that where I come from!

Carnegie Soup Carnegie Sandwich

These highlights of my day are just the beginning of my New York experience, and I look forward to sharing more with you soon. If you are hoping to explore this amazing city for the first time or return for more, there are several opportunities to sail there with Oceania Cruises in 2014:

October 14, 2013

ENCHANTED BY CINQUE TERRE

Today Marina calls on La Spezia, Italy, and guests have the chance to visit delightful Cinque Terre. As Blogger-at-Large for Oceania Cruises, I had the opportunity to visit the villages of Cinque Terre last year, and they are the most enchanting I’ve seen.

Intro

Cinque Terre is composed of five fishing villages along the stunning Ligurian coast of Italy. Soaring cliffs rise straight out of the sea, and this rugged landscape kept these towns inaccessible by land and completely isolated for centuries. As a result, the traditional Ligurian culture has been remarkably well preserved, and Cinque Terre is both a national park and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Even today it is very difficult to reach the villages by car, and no traffic is allowed in the historical centers. The best way to reach the villages is by boat or train, both of which are available from La Spezia. There are also hiking trails that lead between each of the villages, although some require steep ascents or descents, often via stairs. The easiest, shortest and most famous path is the Via dell’Amore, or “Lovers’ Lane,” that runs between Manarola and Riomaggiore and offers spectacular views. But then, in Cinque Terre almost any vantage point offers spectacular views.

My visit began in the village of Manarola. At first I was simply mesmerized by the uniquely scenic beauty of the town, embodying all the romance of the Italian Riviera. But I was even more astounded to imagine what perseverance had been required to create these isolated villages and ensure their survival. In addition to fishing, the locals have made their living through the centuries by constructing thousands of miles of terraces along the cliffs on which grapes and olives are grown. Because of the challenging topography, most of the cultivation of the vineyards is done manually. Today Cinque Terre offers a picturesque and peaceful retreat only because of centuries of hard work and determination.

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Manarola 2 Manarola Terraces

My next stop was Vernazza. Both Vernazza and Monterosso were devastated during a freakishly severe rainstorm that caused destructive floods and mudslides in October 2011. But both towns rallied impressively afterward and made a remarkable recovery. Now the cafés, restaurants and shops are all bustling again as tourists and locals alike enjoy Vernazza’s charming waterfront, one of the most photographed spots along a coastline that inspires infinite photographs.

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My final stop for the day was Monterosso al Mare, where the Torre Aurora stands on a promontory overlooking the sea. The medieval tower was one of several constructed in the 16th century to protect the town from pirates. A lovely walk along the coast took me from the train station past the Torre Aurora to the Old Town.

Monterossa Monterosso with Torre Aurora

Monterosso has some lovely churches, such as the 14th century Church of Saint John the Baptist with its striking striped façade and rose window.

Church of St

Next door is the Church of the Brotherhood of Death and Prayer. This charitable brotherhood for the poor, farmers, fishermen and sailors was committed to providing burials for those who could not afford it. As I was admiring the Baroque details of the church, I suddenly found myself taking a much closer look. The interior was adorned with skeletons, a reminder of the inevitability of death. It is said that pirates donated their treasure to the church in an attempt to save their souls.

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Church of the Brotherhood of Death and Prayer Skeleton decor Church of the Brotherhood of Death and Prayer Skeleton decor 2

After a day of touring, I stopped into one of the lovely restaurants that lined the narrow streets. I felt obligated to reward the local fishermen and vintners for their efforts, so my choice for lunch was an easy one: seafood pasta and a local wine. Both were absolutely delicious, and the crisp white wine beautifully complemented the flavors of the pasta. Liguria is also known for its pesto, so as an appetizer, I tried some trofie al pesto. The hand-rolled pasta was the perfect marriage for the best pesto I’ve ever tasted.

Cafe Cafe Pasta

Cafe wine

I was content to conclude my visit without seeing the other two villages, Riomaggiore and Corniglia, because that gave me an excuse to return! Oceania Cruises offers excursions to Cinque Terre not only from La Spezia but from Livorno as well. I hope you have the chance to visit these captivating villages on an upcoming Oceania Cruises voyage. 

 

 

October 11, 2013

OCEANIA CRUISES UNVEILS NEW “TASTE OF THE WORLD” MENU

If you follow Oceania Cruises’ blog, then you know that as Blogger-at-Large, I love travel and I love food. Oceania Cruises has always appreciated that the two go hand in hand, because one of the greatest parts of travel is experiencing the variety of world cuisines. This is one reason that we feature many later evening departures and overnight stays in port, so that guests have plenty of time to sample the local fare and enjoy an authentic meal ashore. At the same time, the onboard cuisine is the finest at sea, and the culinary program is designed to reflect the varied flavors of the international destinations we visit. Our chefs continually strive to enhance this onboard culinary experience, and we are very excited to unveil their latest innovation.

Franck GarangerAfter many months of research, experimentation and plenty of tastings by both chefs and executives, Oceania Cruises is pleased to introduce the Taste of the World dishes. Fleet Corporate Chef Franck Garanger and his culinary team thoroughly researched and tested more than 80 recipes to create this new collection that captures the essence of 13 countries with six to seven recipes presented on each plate. These new dishes celebrate the authentic flavors of some of the most intriguing areas to which Oceania Cruises sails.

The new Taste of the World dishes will be featured during lunch in the Grand Dining Room and the Terrace Café on each Oceania Cruises ship beginning in January 2014 as part of an entirely new menu (about which I’ll share further tantalizing details in a future blog!). Guests who have lunch in the Grand Dining Room can order a Taste of the World selection as an entrée or enjoy it as an appetizer, perfectly sized to share with the entire table.

Cuisine onboard Oceania Cruises is noted for its variety, and the Taste of the World dishes are no exception. Here are few of my favorites (and I freely admit that my love for some of these cruising regions has a lot to do with which Taste of the World choices I will enjoy the most).

What is more enticing than golden and emerald buddhas, red-roofed pagodas, terraced rice fields, buried terra cotta warriors or great walls that stretch for thousands of miles? For me, that would be Asian food, and the Taste of the World from Asia showcases some of the best of countries such as Japan, Thailand and Vietnam. Dig into crispy Prawns Tempura, a delectable Thai Beef Salad, creamy Avocado Rolls, tasty Wakame Salad, satisfying Vietnamese Chicken and Shrimp Fried Rolls, and a perfectly cooked Chicken Satay with Peanut Sauce.

Taste of the World from Asia

Few countries tantalize the palate like Italy. Until you travel among the hills of Tuscany, glide across the canals of Venice, walk the cobbled streets of ancient Rome or sip a glass of limoncello among the lemon trees of the Amalfi Coast, you may not realize the incredible breadth and depth of Italian cuisine. Somehow the Taste of the World from Italy embodies all of the nation’s great flavors in just one plate featuring refreshing Melon and Prosciutto, delicious Cipolline in Agrodolce with Goat Cheese, tangy Grilled Marinated Vegetables, decadent Tomato Mozzarella Stracciatella, smooth Ricotta and Spinach Panzerotti, and lovely Fagottini di Bresaola e Ricotta.

Taste of the World from Italy

England has given us amazing cathedrals, crown jewels, stunning palaces, historic museums and iconic clock towers, but this popular destination’s cuisine is often overlooked. It’s a shame, because the best of English dishes presented on a single plate is a reminder of why this empire once stretched around the world. The Taste of the World from England presents a wonderful Salmon Cake with Tartar Sauce, savory Roast Beef with Coleslaw, fantastic Soft Eggs with Potato Salad, traditional Fish and Chips, surprisingly good Honey and Mustard Pickled Vegetables, classic Yorkshire Pudding and beloved Minced Beef and Onion Pie.

Taste of the World from England

Wander among the lavender fields of Provence, explore the small towns in the countryside, discover the great museums of Marseille and you have only scratched the surface of what this amazing region has to offer. With the Taste of the World from Provence, you will better understand the many cultural and artistic influences that have shaped Provence through the centuries. Sample Salted Cod Aioli, vibrant Artichokes Barigoule, a smooth Chicken Liver Pâté with Aubergine in Vinegar, spicy Nice Black Olive Tapenade, crunchy Fried Barbajuan with Spinach and Ricotta Stuffing, traditional Salad Niçoise with Tuna and a spirited Green Olive Fougasse.

Taste of the World from Provence

We get so caught up in the swaying palm trees, turquoise waters, white sand beaches and brightly colored undersea worlds of the Caribbean that it’s easy to forget its cuisine is among the most interesting and sought after in the world. With almost every major European power laying claim to an island at one point or another, the dishes served in the Caribbean hark back to an intriguing ancestry. Mix in the native plants and indigenous spices and things really start to get interesting. The Taste of the World from the Caribbean features spicy Jerk Chicken, Dirty Rice, refreshing Avocado and Pineapple Salad with a Passion Fruit Vinaigrette, moist Crab Cake with fiery Poblano Aioli, tart Lemon Marinated Fruit Salad, Dhal Puri Flat Bread and delicate Acras de Morue and Sweet Potatoes.

Taste of the World from Caribbean Island

Many other countries are also delectably profiled in the Taste of the World. Some of my favorites are the positively divine Eggplant Baba Ghanoush that is part of the Taste of the World from Turkey, the Lamb Bourekaki and Spanakopita included in the Taste of the World from Greece and the Beef Kefta with Yogurt Sauce served with the Taste of the World Morocco. I’m a big fan of Indian food, so the Taste of the World from India’s Chicken Tikka Salad, Samosa and Prawns Curry sound delicious. The Philippines are represented by Pork Spring Rolls and a Mango Salad, and Mexico tempts the palate with Fish Ceviche and Empanadas with Salsa Cruda. The rich fishing history of Scandinavian countries is showcased in Gravlax and Marinated Herring with some Swedish Meatballs and Polar Bread to keep things interesting. Last but certainly not least, the Taste of the World from Spain represents the many flavors of the country, ranging from a Valencia Spinach and Orange Salad to Beef Albondigas and Pulpo Alla Gallega.

Taste of the World has been a huge hit with guests who got a sneak peek during the preliminary onboard tastings, and those cruising with us in 2014 can look forward to enjoying this wonderful array of new dishes. The creativity and innovation of our chefs continues to uphold Oceania Cruises’ long-held reputation for serving the finest cuisine at sea.

September 23, 2013

JACQUES PÉPIN HOSTS SIGNATURE SAILING ONBOARD RIVIERA

Sagrada FamiliaRiviera set sail from Barcelona on Thursday on the Mosaic Masterpiece cruise, hosted by celebrated master chef and Oceania Cruises’ executive culinary director, Jacques Pépin. Chef Pépin is hosting several special onboard events during this cruise, including culinary demonstrations and guest appearances in the Bon Appétit Culinary Center.

Chef Pépin has also been enjoying the opportunity to explore the wonderful destinations on this itinerary. In Barcelona, he visited Antoni Gaudí’s masterpiece, La Sagrada Família. Begun in 1882, the magnificent church was unfinished at the time of Gaudí’s death in 1926 and remains unfinished to this day, although successive architects have continued the work according to Gaudí’s original designs. 

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Of course, Chef Pépin also wanted to explore the local markets in Barcelona, so he stopped into the Santa Caterina Market to check out the expansive selection of fresh produce, fish, meats, cheeses and more. It was the perfect spot to enjoy a bite of lunch as well!

While Pépin is renowned as a brilliant master chef, you may not be aware that he is also a talented artist. Some of his own works as well as several works by other artists in his personal collection are displayed in Jacques restaurant onboard the ship. Thus, it’s no surprise that Pépin greatly enjoyed the chance to visit the Miró museum when Riviera called on Palma de Mallorca.

 
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Pépin with friend and fellow chef, Jean-Claude Szurdak

While Joan Miró was born in Barcelona, his mother’s family was from Mallorca, and he began visiting there at a young age. In 1929 he married a Mallorcan woman, Pilar Juncosa, and settled in Mallorca permanently in 1954. He built studios here that he and his wife later donated to the city of Palma, and now visitors can contemplate the artist’s work amidst his own creative surroundings. Pépin and his friends enjoyed a lovely afternoon discussing the works of this legendary artist in such an intimate and personal setting.

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It’s no wonder that Oceania Cruises and Chef Pépin make such a perfect team, as our ships are known for two of Pépin’s favorite things: exquisite cuisine and an exceptional art collection. Upon returning to Riviera, Pépin could observe works from an astounding array of artists, from Pablo Picasso to Wifredo Lam. And guests onboard Marina can see some of Joan Miró’s finest works without even disembarking the ship!

The Mosaic Masterpiece cruise continues with calls on Málaga, Gibraltar, Casablanca and Cádiz. More culinary and artistic delights are sure to come!

September 16, 2013

10TH-ANNIVERSARY SAILING CONCLUDES A YEAR OF CELEBRATION

Nautica arrived in Athens today, marking the end of Oceania Cruises’ final 10th-anniversary sailing of the year. Hosted by Founding Chairman Joe Watters and his wife, Virginia, the cruise concluded with all the fanfare merited by this historic milestone.

Oceania Club Reception
On the evening of September 13, the Captain’s cocktail reception in Nautica Lounge was hosted by Captain Igor Bencina, Founding Chairman Watters, General Manager Carlo Gunetti, Oceania Club Ambassador Sharon Miceli and Cruise Director Nolan Dean (pictured above). Mr. Watters and the senior officers warmly welcomed each guest to the special event.

Greeting Guests Greeting Guests-2
At the celebratory reception, Mr. Watters expressed his gratitude for the patronage of all of Oceania Cruises’ guests over the past decade and for their loyalty in the years to come. He also recognized the individual officers and crew who have been with Oceania Cruises for its entire 10-year history, noting that these dedicated members of the Oceania Cruises family are certainly one of the reasons that guests continue to sail with us time and time again. 

10-Year Team Members
That evening Mr. and Mrs. Watters hosted several of Oceania Cruises’ most loyal guests for an exquisite dinner in Toscana, which of course included a celebratory toast. 

Toscana
Gala Tea with Chef

The celebration continued on September 14 at the Gala Teatime in Nautica Lounge. Executive Sous Chef Mario Santoro and the Nautica culinary team presented a magnificent event that included not only the artisan teas, delicious pastries and finger sandwiches that are guest favorites during the traditional daily teatime, but also ice sculptures, fine champagne, caviar and other special treats. Mr. Watters greatly enjoyed the opportunity to talk more with several of Oceania Cruises’ loyal guests. 

 

Mr. Watters and Guests enjoy Gala Tea Gala Tea with Guests
The year 2013 has been full of celebrations marking the landmark 10th anniversary of Oceania Cruises. As the final anniversary sailing concludes, Oceania Cruises’ founders, executives, officers, crew and guests continue to reflect on fond memories of the past decade at sea and look forward with great excitement to the next 10 years and beyond.

September 11, 2013

REGATTA HOSTS MASTER CHEF JEAN-LOUIS DUMONET

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Jean-Louis Dumonet, Karen Dumonet and Eric Barale

Regatta
has been playing host to two very special guests onboard the current Ultimate Panama Canal cruise. Master Chef Jean-Louis Dumonet and his wife, Karen, boarded Regatta in San Francisco for their first cruise ever and presented several cooking demonstrations during the sailing.

 

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Barale, Dumonet and Macouin
Chef Dumonet is executive chef of the Union Club in New York City and president of the North American region of Maîtres Cuisiniers de France. This prestigious association of some of the world’s leading chefs is dedicated to preserving and spreading the French culinary arts, encouraging training in cuisine and assisting in professional development. Maître Cuisinier, or Master Chef, is one of the most esteemed titles that a chef can aspire to attain. Oceania Cruises Culinary Director Eric Barale and Fleet Corporate Chef Franck Garanger are also members of this eminent organization.

 

 

Chef Dumonet and his wife were joined by Barale as well as Traveling Senior Corporate Chef Renald Macouin in presenting entertaining and informative culinary demonstrations that were greatly enjoyed by guests throughout the voyage. As an additional treat, the Grand Dining Room menu featured one of Chef Dumonet’s special dishes each evening. Guests enjoyed creations such as Foie Gras Crème Brûlée, Sweet Corn Soup with Lobster, and Dumonet’s signature Chocolate Mousse.

August 22, 2013

REGATTA LEAVES HER HEART IN SAN FRANCISCO

Regatta is wrapping up another fantastic summer in Alaska with a final stop in San Francisco before following sunny skies to the Southern Hemisphere. Highlights of the summer included Oceania Cruises’ 10-year anniversary sailing with Chairman and Founder Frank Del Rio and his wife, Marcia – godmother of Regatta and stops in destinations as far west as Kodiak and Seward. As Regatta calls on San Francisco, this seems like the perfect time to share some of the amazing shoreside activities available from this charming city by the bay.

Alcatraz Island is a 25-acre island in the middle of the San Francisco Bay, a little over a mile from the city. Designated as a maximum security prison in 1933, Alcatraz housed many infamous criminals, including Al Capone, George “Machine Gun” Kelly and Robert Franklin Straud, known as the “Birdman.” The tour of the island includes a roundtrip ferry ride with scenic views of the bay, the Golden Gate Bridge and the city, an opportunity to explore the island with a tour guide, access to the prison and a fascinating 45-minute cellhouse audio tour featuring interviews with former inmates and prison guards.

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Considered one of the most beautiful bridges in the world and certainly the most photographed, the Golden Gate Bridge was the longest suspension bridge in the world from 1937 until 1964 when New York City’s Verrazano Narrows Bridge opened. Completed in four years, the tremendous 746-foot-tall towers, enormous main cables and signature orange color attract 10 million visitors annually. And the views are stunning from either side of the bridge!

Golden Gate Bridge-2

San Francisco boasts several highly regarded museums, and many of the museum sites are as famous as the collections themselves. The Legion of Honor is a three-quarter-scaled adaptation of the Palais de la Légion d’Honneur in Paris, perched high on the headlands above the Golden Gate, offering fantastic views of the bridge and the city as well as a wonderful collection. Reopened in 2005, the new de Yong Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco is an impressive modern building in the heart of San Francisco’s beautiful Golden Gate Park.

San Francisco is also renowned for its cuisine. The birthplace of California Cuisine, the city is also home to some of the best Asian, Italian, Mexican and fusion cuisine in the world. Wine lovers will not want to miss an opportunity to tour Napa Valley, which offers world-class wineries as well as exquisite restaurants by famed chefs such as Thomas Keller, Michael Chiarello and Masaharu Morimoto.

If you’re looking for the opportunity to visit this amazing city, Regatta returns to San Francisco several times in 2014. Because many cruises embark or disembark here, you can take advantage of Oceania Cruises’ pre- or post-cruise hotel programs and spend a few extra days exploring the city before or after your cruise. It will be an experience you will never forget!

Regatta in San Francisco:

July 15, 2013

10TH ANNIVERSARY SAILING ONBOARD REGATTA CONCLUDES

Chairman and CEO Frank Del Rio recently concluded Oceania Cruises’ 10th anniversary sailing onboard Regatta, the ship that started it all. Regatta sailed from Seattle on the Coastal Alaska voyage on July 5th, exactly 10 years after the ship set sail on her inaugural voyage. Mr. Del Rio hosted the sailing with his wife, Marcia, who is Regatta’s godmother.

The sailing featured numerous celebrations in honor of the milestone anniversary. The exceptional culinary team flexed their creative muscles at the Gala Tea. High tea is a time-honored tradition onboard the ships of Oceania Cruises and is held each day at four o’clock in Horizons lounge. But the Gala Tea was a unique celebration that went above and beyond the traditional teatime selections. The talented chefs spent many hours preparing not only a vast assortment of finger sandwiches and pastries but also exquisite sculptures made from ice, fruit and chocolate to adorn Horizons for the special event.

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On one evening Mr. and Mrs. Del Rio hosted a special dinner in Terrace Café for some of Oceania Cruises’ most loyal guests. Fleet Corporate Chef Franck Garanger prepared a special menu that included Steamed Prince Rupert Wild Halibut “au Caviar” with a Fennel and Saffron Emulsion, as well as Roasted Veal Rack Loin with Cocotte Potatoes.

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One of the most special evenings was the 10th Anniversary Oceania Club Cocktail Reception in honor of all of Oceania Cruises’ loyal guests as well as the dedicated officers, staff and crew. Some of the most traveled guests in Oceania Cruises’ history were onboard this sailing, including Mr. and Mrs. Kohel, Diamond Oceania Club members who were on their 56th cruise. Also recognized were Mr. and Mrs. Starzman, Platinum Oceania Club members who had sailed on Regatta’s inaugural voyage on July 5, 2003.

Platinum Members

Mr. Del Rio took the opportunity to thank all of Oceania Cruises’ guests who have made the past decade possible. He also joined Captain Vitaliy Silvachynsky and General Manager Jason Gelineau in honoring the team members who have been with Oceania Cruises for its 10-year history.

 

Captain Vitaliy Silvachynsky 2
Frank Del Rio, Captain Silvachynsky and GM Gelineau
 
Culinary Director - Franck Garanger
Fleet Corporate Chef Franck Garanger is recognized


Captain Silvachynsky himself was one of those congratulated, along with Fleet Corporate Chef Franck Garanger. Several others were also recognized, including those pictured below.

Cabin Steward - Freddy Reyes
Steward Freddy Reyes
Bosun - Kosta Niolov
Bosun Kosta Niolov

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cellar Master - Marlito Medollar
Cellar Master Marlito Medollar
 
Chef De Cuisine - Edgar Valguna
Chef de Cuisine Edgar Valguna


 

 

Chef de Partie - Dindo Sabado
Chef de Partie Dindo Sabado
Chef De Partie - Jonathon Bravo
Chef de Partie Jonathon Bravo


 

 

Chief Purser - Doru Gherghin
Chief Purser Doru Gherghin
Jr Sous Chef - Amador Gutierrez
Jr Sous Chef Amador Gutierrez


 

Mechanic - Evgeni Popov
Mechanic Evgeni Popov
Night Auditor - Emily Flores
Night Auditor Emily Flores


 

Staff Captain - Damir Kurilic
Staff Captain Damir Kurilic

 

The sailing ended with a spectacular show in the Regatta Lounge, after which the entire crew paraded into the lounge to join guests in a final celebration. It was truly a historic and unforgettable 10th anniversary sailing – a wonderful celebration of the past 10 years at sea and the perfect way to kick off the next decade to come!

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July 13, 2013

A GRAND CELEBRATION AT SEA

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When Vice Chairman Bob Binder was on Oceania Cruises’ 10th anniversary sailing onboard Marina last month, he shared some photos from the gala anniversary brunch. After seeing the spectacular celebration created by Oceania Cruises’ talented chefs, I was especially looking forward to this event when I embarked the anniversary sailing onboard Riviera. As always, our brilliant chefs did not disappoint.

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This special “Colossal Brunch” was held during a beautiful day at sea. You could sense the festive atmosphere the moment you arrived in the Grand Dining Room, where the staff stood ready to greet all of our guests with a warm welcome to the celebration. The Grand Dining Room was adorned with ice sculptures, floral arrangements and amazing displays of “edible art.” From the pastries, breads and fruits to the carving stations and the seafood, every creation was a feast for the eyes as well as the palate. 

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Guests were treated to an array of culinary delights. There were crab claws, gravlax, colossal shrimp and grilled lobster tail. Prosciutto and Virginia ham were sliced to order. Caviar was served with the traditional accompaniments, and there was a selection of cheeses from around the world as well as a colorful assortment of fresh fruits and vegetables. The bread onboard is always baked fresh daily using only the finest French flours, and each baguette, bagel and croissant was carefully crafted into a masterpiece.

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IMG_0315The only challenge was saving room for the splendid desserts, each a work of art. A delicious anniversary cake was accompanied by a towering sculpture designed in chocolate. What better way to celebrate Oceania Cruises’ 10 years of culinary excellence at sea than with a spectacular brunch as we sailed the Adriatic from Dubrovnik to Venice. It was the perfect beginning to a wonderful day, and the day concluded with an equally special celebration.

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While exceptional cuisine has always distinguished the Oceania Cruises experience, our guests tell me time and again that it is the officers, staff and crew that make every Oceania Cruises voyage feel like coming home. Last night was the Oceania Club cocktail reception in honor of our cherished guests and dedicated team members that are such an important part of our Oceania Cruises family.

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I welcomed guests to the event with (pictured above left to right) General Manager Thierry Tholon, Oceania Club Ambassador Carol Harrington, Captain Gunnar Romtveit and Oceania Club Ambassador Cary Arias. It was an emotional event as we honored some of the most loyal guests, officers and crew that have sailed with us over the past 10 years.

DSCN1295-2 DSCN1306-2In the above photo are pictured Ms. Deanne Abram and Mr. Stanley Smith, who we welcomed on their 13th voyage with Oceania Cruises. To the left are Mr. and Mrs. Louis Abrams, who were recognized for reaching the Bronze level of Oceania Club membership on their fifth cruise with us. In total, nine guests received their Bronze pins for having sailed five cruises, and six guests received their Silver pins in recognition of their 10th voyage with us. It was truly a pleasure to meet so many of our loyal guests and have the opportunity to thank them for being a part of our Oceania Cruises family.

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We also recognized Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Fraterman, who were on their 14th cruise and were our most traveled guests on this sailing. One of the most special moments of the evening was when we honored Cruise Director Leslie Jon, who has been with Oceania Cruises for our entire 10 year history. This day was truly the pinnacle of an unforgettable 10th anniversary sailing, and we look forward to making more fond memories in the next decade to come.

July 9, 2013

A MEMORABLE 10TH ANNIVERSARY CELEBRATION IN TOSCANA

Toscana PhotoOn a sailing that has already created so many fond memories for me, last night was the most memorable yet. As Riviera set sail from Taormina, Sicily, I headed to Toscana with my wife, Daniela, to host some of our most loyal guests for a dinner in celebration of Oceania Cruises’ 10th anniversary. Through the windows of Toscana, we could see the beautiful sunset behind Mount Etna, a perfect backdrop for a very special evening.

Riviera’s string quartet played as our guests arrived. Daniela and I welcomed each guest, as did Captain Gunnar Romtveit and General Manager Thierry Tholon. We were also joined by several of the senior officers, each of whom hosted a table for the evening. Our guests were more than 50 of our most loyal Oceania Club members, from Bronze level through Platinum, and we were honored to be celebrating 10 years at sea with some of the guests who had made it all possible.

Senior Executive Chef Alexis Quaretti prepared a six-course dinner befitting the exclusive event. The menu was printed for each guest as a keepsake to remember not only the exquisite meal but also the wonderful company we all enjoyed as we celebrated this special occasion together. It was such a pleasure to be able to talk with our guests in this intimate setting and to hear their delightful stories and fond memories of their voyages with Oceania Cruises. I was pleased to hear that, while the ships are beautiful and the cuisine exceeds their highest expectations, it is our officers, staff and crew Toscana Photo-2that truly differentiate the Oceania Cruises experience from any other. As one guest put it, “It’s like coming back to see family every time.”

We are so grateful to have these cherished guests as part of our Oceania Cruises family, and I offered a toast to their health and happiness. I was glad to have the opportunity to personally thank them for choosing to explore the world with us and for making it possible for us to expand our fleet and deliver even more dream vacation experiences. We raised our glasses to the wonderful journeys we’ve enjoyed over the past 10 years and to creating more treasured memories onboard Oceania Cruises in the years to come.

Everyone in Toscana last night said they are looking forward to the next decade with great excitement, and in fact, we made a commitment to each other that we would reunite the group and celebrate Oceania Cruises’ 20th anniversary together as well. In the meantime, we will always cherish our memories of this special evening, and I hope our paths cross again many times.

June 17, 2013

GALA BRUNCH CELEBRATES OCEANIA CRUISES' 10TH ANNIVERSARY

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The celebration of Oceania Cruises’ 10th anniversary continues on the Scandinavian Serenade sailing onboard Marina. As we sailed into Copenhagen this weekend, Chef Alexis Quaretti created a magnificent celebratory brunch. The centerpiece was a chocolate castle and a cake to commemorate this milestone anniversary. You will note that there were already a couple pieces of cake missing by the time I took the photo. I am not an early riser, and apparently some of the early birds have sweet tooths.

The chefs created a spectacular feast for us. There were a number of carving stations, making it particularly challenging to select my entrée from the many appealing options. I finally settled on the salmon in puff pastry with spinach mousse, and I was very pleased with my choice. Since we were breakfasting, I felt obligated to include some eggs with my meal, so I doubled up on the béarnaise sauce.

It is also important to eat six servings of fruit and vegetables each day, so I toughed it out and had two large servings of this luscious fruit torte.

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For this celebratory event, the chefs not only created beautiful dishes but also sculpted culinary masterpieces to adorn the Grand Dining Room. You would be amazed at what these talented chefs can create from sugar and fruit – true works of art. 

Chef Sculpting Fruit Sculpture

It was a brunch befitting a 10th anniversary celebration and a wonderful start to another day exploring the wonders of Scandinavia.

June 13, 2013

VICE CHAIRMAN BOB BINDER SENDS GREETINGS FROM 10TH ANNIVERSARY SAILING

Marina has set sail on the first of four cruises this year that will celebrate the 10th anniversary of Oceania Cruises. As one of the founders of Oceania Cruises, I am excited to be hosting this celebratory voyage, and I’m looking forward to meeting many of our valued guests whose loyalty has allowed us to reach the milestone of 10 years at sea.

Butler GreetingMarina set sail from Southampton under rather stereotypical British weather. There was a crisp breeze and a bit of fog and light drizzle, which was all the more reason to spend the day exploring the Marina! We have almost 700 past guests onboard, so most are enjoying refamiliarizing themselves with the ship, and our new guests have been very impressed with what they’ve seen so far. Our team of butlers was ready with welcoming smiles to greet guests and assist with their every need.

I also enjoyed welcoming guests as well as some British government officials and travel agents. I decided I should probably wear a tie for my official duties, but don’t worry, we haven’t changed the dress code. I’ll be packing the tie away soon and enjoying our country club casual dress code for the rest of the cruise.

Bob BinderMarina looks as beautiful as ever, although last winter I sailed around South America onboard Regatta, and I have to say I am equally fond of all of our ships. The only thing I had missed onboard Regatta was the cuisine from Red Ginger, since Red Ginger restaurant is only available on Marina and Riviera. But now we are offering selections from both Red Ginger and Jacques in the Grand Dining Room on Regatta and Nautica as well, so guests can enjoy the full scope of the exceptional Oceania Cruises culinary experience onboard all of our ships.

Speaking of the Grand Dining Room, I’m looking forward to trying many of the 82 new dishes that we recently introduced on these menus. Our culinary team spent nearly a year designing and testing the new dishes, including three new lobster dishes and 10 new pastas and risottos. Now I get to enjoy the fruits of their labors!

You can probably tell that the excellent cuisine is one of my favorite parts of an Oceania Cruises voyage. But I shouldn’t neglect to mention the wonderful ports of call we’ll be visiting. As with all Oceania Cruises itineraries, this one includes a wealth of fascinating destinations, from Oslo to Copenhagen to St. Petersburg, where we’ll stay for two nights so our guests have plenty of time to explore this spectacular city.

This promises to be another unforgettable Oceania Cruises voyage, made uniquely special by all of the onboard events in celebration of our 10th anniversary. I will enjoy reflecting on the past decade and looking forward to the next as I celebrate with our cherished guests. I’ll share more stories of our journey here on the blog soon!

June 11, 2013

A DAY IN DUBLIN

Marina just made her first stop in Dublin for the summer season, which inspired me to pull out photos of my recent trip to Dublin as Blogger-at-Large for Oceania Cruises. If you haven’t been, there are several opportunities on sailings this summer and next, and I highly recommend exploring this wonderful city steeped in history.

If you select a sailing with an overnight stay in Dublin, you might spend some time exploring the beautiful Irish countryside. While some decry Ireland’s frequent rains, the reward is lush green hills, verdant pastures and the iconic rainbows – often they even come in pairs! 

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Despite the amount of rainfall, Ireland also gets plenty of sunshine, and I enjoyed a beautiful sunny day during my visit to Dublin. With its heart on its sleeve, Dublin doesn’t pretend or try to be something it is not. Everywhere I looked I saw its jovial spirit written on the faces of its residents, its spirituality exuding from the many churches, its conviviality embodied in the pub culture, and its ancient and modern history harmoniously situated side by side throughout the city.

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One of the nice things about Dublin is that many of the major landmarks can be found along the River Liffey, so I was able to see quite a few sights by meandering parallel to the river for a mile or so.

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I started the day with a jaunt through St. Stephen’s Green. An oasis from the hustle and bustle of urban life, this is one of the larger city parks, covering 22 acres. With more than two miles of walking trails and a faithful adherence to its original Victorian layout, the park is a wonderful example of this country’s passion for landscape design.

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After a quiet walk in the park, I headed a few blocks north to visit Trinity College. A highlight of any trip to Dublin is a stop at Trinity College Library, which displays the original Book of Kells. It is said that the Irish “saved civilization” when Celtic monks set about meticulously copying the books that were being destroyed across Europe after the fall of the Roman Empire. Thought to have been created in the ninth century, the Book of Kells is an immaculately preserved, illuminated manuscript of the four Gospels. Written in Latin, the calligraphy of the text is itself a work of art, and the intricacy of the colorful illustrations is astounding. The book is in a locked display case, so only two pages are viewable, but these are certainly worth seeing. Replicas of other pages are on display along with a treasure trove of other ancient works. Unfortunately, photos are not allowed, so you’ll have to visit Dublin and see this magnificent book for yourself.

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Book of Kells Museum

Continuing along the river, my next stop was the Temple Bar District, which is located on the south bank. It is a unique neighborhood in that it has preserved its medieval street pattern, with narrow cobblestone streets that are lined with galleries, boutiques and, of course, a famous pub or two.

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Just south of the Temple Bar District is Dublin Castle, the prestigious city center, which has been continuously occupied since it was built in 1204. Situated on 11 acres, the site includes two museums, two cafés, an international conference center, two gardens, government buildings and the State Apartments. With so much to see, I was not able to spend nearly as much time here as I wanted, thus giving me ample reason to return as soon as possible!

Bedford Tower of Dublin Castle

Religion is a huge part of this country’s history and culture, so there are numerous churches in Dublin, each one more striking than the last. In fact, the city has two medieval churches that have shared status as cathedrals of the Church of Ireland, an arrangement nearly unprecedented in history. Christ Church Cathedral is an impressive structure founded in 1030 by the Norse King Sitriuc Silkenbeard.

Christ Church Cathedral

St. Patrick’s Cathedral has been at the heart of Ireland’s history and culture since it achieved cathedral status in the early 13th century. The largest cathedral in the country, it has been visited by many of Irish history’s important dignitaries and is also the final resting place of Jonathan Swift.

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The Dublin sunset made an especially lovely backdrop for the city’s churches as well as its more modern facades and bustling streets. As evening approached, I decided it was time to stop for a pint of Guinness (or maybe two) and a classic Irish meal.

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Dating to 1198, The Brazen Head is Ireland’s oldest pub. Here you may sip a pint in the exact same spot as James Joyce, Jonathan Swift or Michael Collins. Guinness is not only a delicious beverage but also a fabulous cooking stock, as I discovered in a stew made with beef, mushrooms and onions in a Guinness and thyme sauce served in Yorkshire pudding. You can also enjoy a traditional Irish stew with chunks of lamb, vegetables and potatoes, as well as several other classic Irish dishes. And of course, everything comes with potatoes!

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After dinner and a pint, I headed to the famous Grafton Street to share the remainder of my time with the lively crowds. The city is an open book, and in only one day I was able to enjoy a fascinating look at the history and culture of Ireland. I hope you will be able to do so as well on one of Oceania Cruises’ upcoming sailings!

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2013 sailings to Dublin include:

2014 sailings to Dublin include:

*includes overnight stay in Dublin

June 6, 2013

ICONS OF THE ETERNAL CITY

Today both Nautica and Riviera are in Civitavecchia – the gateway to Rome. Traveling just an hour or so inland takes you to the Eternal City and all of its legends and wonders. Western society is rife with images that give us a notion of the grandeur of Rome, but until you visit, it’s difficult to truly conceive the immensity of the city.

Amidst the classical architecture and ancient relics sprout the trappings of modern man, from high-end fashion boutiques to souvenir shops selling aprons that make you resemble a gladiator. This mélange draws criticism from some visitors, but I actually feel a relative sense of harmony in the city considering its vastness. I enjoy grabbing a gelato and then rounding the corner onto a 17th century piazza that transports me back in time – or a forum more than two thousand years old that takes me back much further.

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I recently returned to Rome as Blogger-at-Large, and because I had already seen many of the historic monuments, I had a simpler plan this time: espresso, pasta, vino, gelato. But despite my intent to focus on culinary culture, and despite the rain that assured me this was a wise decision, I found myself drawn back to the city’s landmarks for another look. It just didn’t seem right to go to Rome without strolling by the Colosseum and tossing a coin in Trevi Fountain. This trip confirmed that, no matter how many times I visit Rome, I will always be awed by its icons, learn more of its history and discover new wonders.

On this trip I joined the Oceania Cruises excursion Rome on Your Own, which was great for those who have visited before. It provided transportation from the ship to the city and back, with the added benefit of an informative guide along the way who shared historical facts, helpful tips and a well-marked city map.

We were dropped off at the Piazza del Popolo, a large, impressive square that was a great starting point because from here Via del Corso led right into the heart of the city. Several of Rome’s most famous monuments are within blocks of this main street.

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The fact that I wanted to visit some landmarks did not deter me from my original plan, and I began the day with a delicious cappuccino. Buoyed with espresso, I set off for Trevi Fountain, passing by the famed Spanish Steps during the first of several rain showers that day. Like the horses pulling the carriages, I donned my rain gear and forged ahead. The famed Trevi Fountain had to be my first stop so that I didn’t miss the chance to toss in a coin to ensure that I would return to Rome again.

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Trevi Fountaoin and LPF Spanish Steps

After tossing the requisite coin and taking a few minutes to gaze at the majestic fountain, I headed for the Pantheon. Once a temple to the Roman gods and now a church dedicated to St. Mary and the Martyrs, it is the best preserved ancient building in Rome. While hardly visible from the front of the Pantheon, its dome is one of the most impressive features. To this day it is the largest unreinforced concrete dome in the world. Its oculus is completely open, acting as the only source of natural light and also allowing in rain. It was remarkable to see the sunlight and showers falling from the heavens into the center of the church.

Pantheon panorama

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Pantheon Inside

As I left the Pantheon, I was pleased to see it was time for lunch. On to the pasta and vino part of my plan! The Piazza della Rotunda in front of the Pantheon is surrounded by cafés, which one might assume are tourist traps because of their location. But while the prices may be a bit higher than a restaurant off the beaten path, the food I had there was delicious. And I was happy to pay a little extra for the view!

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I’ve eaten twice at the café on the southwest corner of the square, and I confess I had the lasagna both times. If you like your lasagna with béchamel sauce, then the lasagna in Toscana onboard the ship can compete with just about anything shoreside. But while I love a good béchamel, I sometimes prefer to forgo the milk and butter in favor of a hearty tomato sauce in its purest form, and in that case, the best I’ve ever had was at the café on Piazza della Rotunda. If you’re in the mood for a white sauce, try the gnocchi with arugula and prosciutto, which is divine!

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Having checked the pasta and vino off my list, I wandered for a bit and stumbled upon the lovely Piazza Navona with the Sant’Agnese in Agone church and the Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi by Bernini, arguably Rome’s greatest achievement in the fountain genre.

Piazza Navona Sant'agnese in Agone church

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I continued south again and arrived at a work that is modern architecture by Roman standards, the Monumento Nazionale a Vittorio Emanuele II. This monument has met with some controversy since its inauguration in 1911 because an area of Capitoline Hill was destroyed to create it.

Monumento Nazionale a Vittorio Emanuele II

The Cordonata, a grand staircase designed by Michelangelo, led to the Piazza del Campidoglio atop Capitoline Hill, the smallest but most famous of the seven hills of Rome and the origin of the English word, “capitol.” Once the site of Rome’s holiest temples, the hill fell into ruin in the Middle Ages. Michelangelo was asked to redesign this ancient square in the 16th century, including the Palazzo Senatorio, which is now the city hall and is flanked by the impressive Capitoline museums.

Piazza del Campidoglio

At the base of the hill, I could see the Roman Forum, once the economic, political and religious center of Rome and home to some of the most ancient and renowned excavations in the city. Just beyond the Forum stood the Colosseum, the largest amphitheater in the world and the most recognized landmark in Rome. Coming from a country just a couple centuries old, I could hardly conceive of a structure that had been standing for a couple millennia, surviving both natural disasters and human plundering.

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Colosseum close

This iconic monument seemed an appropriate place to conclude my day and head back to meet the coach. I grabbed a gelato on the way and completed my culinary tour along with my historic one. I only hope that the legend of Trevi Fountain is indeed true, and that my coin will ensure that I return to this great city again!

April 26, 2013

50 DAYS AT SEA FOR 50 YEARS OF MARRIAGE

A few days ago I received an email from Peter and Pauline Pretty, loyal Oceania Cruises guests from Oakville, Ontario, sharing several photos from their 50-day Grand Voyage to celebrate 50 years of marriage. You may remember the Prettys from a previous blog post I wrote on their South Pacific cruise or from the article in the January 2013 Your World Your Way brochure. I couldn’t resist the opportunity to share their wonderful photos as well as congratulate them on this amazing milestone.

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The Prettys feel at home on the ships of Oceania Cruises, one of the many reasons they return year after year, and celebrating such an important anniversary did not go unnoticed on this momentous sailing. Nautica General Manager Jason Gelineau arranged a special celebration at the Polo Grill, Pauline’s favorite restaurant, and the social director, Emmanuelle, serenaded the couple.

Of course, the best part of the Grand Voyage for these adventurers was the nearly two months spent exploring Africa and Asia onboard Nautica. As Nautica prepares to sail for Europe for the summer, the Prettys’ stories provide a lovely recap of some of the highlights of a wonderful winter season.

The Prettys got a feel for the history and culture of Mozambique during a tour of its capital on the Discover Maputo shore excursion. Stops included the Central Train Station designed by Gustav Eiffel, famous for conceiving the Eiffel Tower in Paris, and also the Museum of Natural History, Independence Square and City Hall. Highlights for the Prettys were the opportunity to observe semi-wild lemurs and a visit to a local market where they shared a moment with these adorable kids.

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In Colombo, Sri Lanka, the Prettys took the Ingiriya Tea Plantation shore excursion, where they got an insider’s look at how Sri Lanka’s most important cash crop is cultivated. They watched harvesters pick the fresh tea leaves – 65 to 75 pounds a day are collected – and saw how the leaves are processed. Afterward they enjoyed a freshly brewed cup of tea and were able to purchase some to bring home.

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The Prettys frequently enjoyed tea onboard the ship as well because afternoon tea is one of Pauline’s favorite activities. Longer voyages provide the chefs the time to really flex their creative muscles and create an extraordinary event even more splendid than the traditional teatime – the Grand Gala Tea Party. The pastries and cakes were not only beautiful to look at but scrumptious too. Jason and Emmanuelle were among the crew members who were in attendance to celebrate the special occasion.

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Back ashore on the Scenic Phuket & Elephant Camp excursion, the Prettys had the chance to ride an elephant after enjoying an impressive show put on by the elephants and their handlers. In this photo the elephant is hoping that the Prettys will tip with bananas.

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As a contrast to their adventures in the countryside, the Prettys also visited some of Asia’s grandest cities. Known as the “Garden City,” Kuala Lumpur is a modern urban environment with an abundance of greenery and beautifully landscaped parks. The Petronas Twin Towers, the tallest twin towers in the world, are an indelible feature of the city’s skyline.

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The Prettys also enjoyed a day exploring Singapore and the truly unique modern landscape.

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We’re so pleased the Prettys shared their photos and these wonderful highlights of Nautica’s season in Africa and Asia. If their adventures have inspired you, now is the perfect time to reserve a voyage for next season. Nautica will be back in Africa starting in December with Lands of Grandeur, and then in Asia starting in February with Pagodas & Palaces.

A special thanks to Peter and Pauline for sharing this special occasion with us, and congratulations on 50 years of marriage!

 

April 1, 2013

ANTIGUA: A BEACH FOR EVERY DAY OF THE YEAR

Named by Christopher Columbus after Santa Maria la Antigua, the island of Antigua was first colonized by Christopher Codrington in 1632. Long before the English arrived, the island is believed to have been settled around 3100 BC.

Antigua is one of two main islands in the Caribbean island nation of Antigua and Barbuda, which is said to have 365 beaches, one for every day of the year. After the sugar trade began to diminish, these beautiful beaches became the country’s new commodity, and visitors flock from all over the world to thaw out on one of the many pristine beaches on these gorgeous islands. During my last visit to Antigua as Blogger-at-Large, I was only able to visit a couple of these beaches, but I wish I had an entire year to explore them all!

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When visiting Antigua, the ships of Oceania Cruises call on St. John’s, the nation’s capital. One of the first recognizable sights on the city’s skyline is the beautiful white towers of St. John’s Cathedral. After being destroyed in earthquakes in 1683 and 1745, the current incarnation was built in 1845.

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One of the most popular shore excursions from St. John’s is the Champagne & Lobster Catamaran Cruise. This excursion is a wonderful way to visit some of the most idyllic beaches of Antigua – and enjoy a fantastic lunch as well!

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The crew of the catamaran greet guests just a short walk from where the ship is docked. The boat then cruises along the beautiful coastline of Antigua, making a couple of stops at secluded beaches along the way. There are ample opportunities to swim, snorkel, explore or just relax and take in paradise.

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Of course, the highlight of the cruise is lobster fresh off the grill, prepared by the captain and his crew and complemented by a glass of champagne.

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There are several other fabulous shore excursions offered on Antigua as well, including an opportunity to swim with stingrays, a tour of galleries dedicated to local artists and kayaking through the mangroves.

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Nothing cures the winter blues like the blue waters of the Caribbean, and there are several sailings that visit St. John’s in 2013 and 2014. We look forward to seeing you onboard!

March 14, 2013

PUNTA DEL ESTE, CHEF’S PATIO DINNER AND A CAVIAR BRUNCH ONBOARD THE REUNION CRUISE

Greetings from Brazil and the 9th Oceania Club Reunion Cruise. It’s hard to believe there are only 6 days left, and we still get to visit Porto Belo, São Paulo, Parati, Ilha Grande, Buzios and Rio de Janeiro.

The past few days have been extraordinary and full of wonderful experiences. On Saturday we visited the delightful city of Punta del Este, or the “Peninsula of the East,” where several of our Reunion Cruise guests took the exclusive shore excursion The Iconic Art & Flavor of Punta del Este. This lovely city on a scenic peninsula is known for its beautiful beaches. We started the day at Brava Beach where there is an open-air collection of sculptures, including the famous Mano de Desierto, or “Hand of the Desert,” by Mario Irarrázabal.

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Oceania Club Manager Nick DeSantis at Mano de Desierto

Our next stop was the Ralli Museum, which has several galleries all over the world. The first was established here in Punta del Este in 1988; the second in Santiago, Chile, in 1992; the third (Ralli 1) in Caesarea, Israel, in 1993; the fourth in Marbella, Spain, in 2000; and the fifth (Ralli 2) in Caesarea, Israel, in 2007. The Ralli Museums house one of the most important collections of contemporary Latin American art in the world.

Ralli Museum

Then we moved on to the Pablo Atchugarry Foundation, a nonprofit organization founded by renowned artist Pablo Atchugarry in 2007 to promote visual arts, literature, music and other creative pursuits. Atchugarry, a prolific artist, began sculpting when he was only eight years old and had his first show at age 11.

Before the end of the tour, we stopped for lunch at Finca Narbona, where we ate wonderful locally made cheeses and fresh cold cuts and enjoyed some delicious wines. Punta del Este is one of my favorite stops so far!

The following evening, we had a special Reunion Cruise Chef's Patio Dinner for a few of our guests who have sailed with us the most. It was hosted by Senior Vice President of Sales Michael Hirsch, Oceania Club Ambassador Cary Arias, Chief Purser Gurdep Besla, Human Resources Manager Maria Cormane and myself. The six-course meal was selected by Executive Chef Lisa Anne Jones and prepared by Sous Chef Thorsten Czap. We started with a crispy polenta with olive tapenade and cherry tomato confit, followed by a main course of either Chilean sea bass with palmito salad or roast veal rack with rosemary and glazed vegetables.

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The dessert, chosen especially to celebrate Oceania Cruises’ 10th anniversary, was a Manjari chocolate bar with milky yuzu-flavored gianduja chocolate and hazelnut croquant. Everything was incredible. It was an evening to remember!

The next day we had another very special event – a caviar brunch in the Grand Dining Room. Everyone onboard had an opportunity to enjoy this delicious feast. There was a full brunch menu, including caviar, as well as complimentary mimosas and Bloody Marys. If you are on a Reunion Cruise in the future, I highly recommend attending this event. Everyone had a wonderful time!

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Later that morning there was a one-hour Town Hall Meeting for guests that was hosted by Michael Hirsch, General Manager Carlo Gunetti and yours truly. The turn-out was great, with more than 100 guests in attendance. Cruise Director Leslie Jon moderated the Town Hall and asked our panel a variety of questions based on past guest feedback.

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One request was that I talk about some of the exciting new features in our enhanced Oceania Club loyalty program. The new program started at the beginning of this year with the introduction of a new “Blue” level of membership, plus additional benefits for all existing levels. This information can found in the Oceania Club section of Oceania Cruises’ website, as well as in many of our brochures.

We still have a lot of planned activities for the remainder of the cruise, including an evening pool deck party and an Oceania Club cocktail party. We will also be honoring our 14 Silver level Oceania Club members and 56 Bronze members, 26 of whom will be receiving their Bronze pins! There are still more exciting days to come on the 9th Oceania Club Reunion Cruise!

March 10, 2013

NICK DESANTIS SHARES STORIES FROM THE OCEANIA CLUB REUNION CRUISE IN SOUTH AMERICA

Greetings from the 9th Oceania Club Reunion Cruise, sailing from Buenos Aires to Rio de Janeiro on the lovely Regatta! As manager of the Oceania Club, I am always so pleased to see past guests onboard with whom I have sailed before, and many have become dear friends. I also love meeting other Oceania Club members for the first time and having the opportunity to thank them for their loyalty.

In short, everyone is having a wonderful time and it has only just begun! Though a lot of work went into the planning of the cruise, one thing my team cannot control is the weather, but this has not been a problem because the weather in Buenos Aires was better than we ever could have planned. Of course, there are a lot of things we can control, so the day I arrived, Oceania Cruises Senior Vice President of Sales Michael Hirsch and I met with the senior staff to go over the itinerary, make sure we were all on the same page and see if there were any final details that needed to be ironed out. We all want this voyage to be unforgettable!

I was happy to find that there are a few members of the Regatta team with whom I've had the pleasure of sailing on previous Reunion Cruises: Captain Jurica Brajcic, Oceania Club Ambassador Cary Arias, Cruise Director Leslie Jon and Restaurant Manager Vladimir Cavic. Everyone understands what an important and fantastic event this Reunion Cruise is, especially in the year of our 10th anniversary, a milestone we attribute to the unprecedented loyalty of Oceania Cruises’ guests.

On our second day in Buenos Aires, we hosted one of the first Reunion Cruise tours, Discover Historic Buenos Aries. It was a half-day tour and included a stop at the Plaza de Mayo, the site of the salmon-colored presidential palace known as Casa Rosada with its famed balcony where Eva Peron once addressed adoring crowds.

Across from Eva buliding Eva Peron-Presidental buliding

We had the chance to sip coffee at the oldest café in Argentina where notables from Jorge Luis Borges to Albert Einstein once gathered. Before heading back to the pier, we explored El Zanjón de Granados, believed to be the site of Buenos Aires’ first settlement.

El Zanjon entrance El Zanjon 2 El Zanjon

To kick off our first night at sea, we gathered for an exclusive dinner at Toscana with most of our 70 Oceania Club guests who have reached the Bronze level or above. I had the pleasure of hosting three couples, all of whom have traveled extensively throughout the world (even beyond the 30-plus countries I’ve visited, which I once thought was an impressive total!). These three couples will be staying onboard for several subsequent cruises. In fact, there are about 95 guests staying onboard Regatta until the ship arrives in Miami in April.

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Starting from the left: Mrs. Dunn (Bronze), Mr and Mrs. Hopkins (Silver), Nick DeSantis, Mr. and Mrs. Lindley (Bronze) and Mr. Dunn (Bronze)


It was a truly wonderful evening, followed by a beautiful sunrise that greeted us in Montevideo the next day. I can’t wait to share more of our exciting exploration of the east coast of South America.

Sunrise 2 Sunrise in Montevideo

February 25, 2013

OCEANIA CRUISES LAUNCHES FIRST-EVER TV ADVERTISING CAMPAIGN

Today Oceania Cruises reaches another milestone in the company’s history. We are launching our first ever television advertising campaign. Airing on national networks in cities on the East and West coasts, the new 30-second spot begins running today and showcases the brand’s pillars of destinations, cuisine, onboard experience and value. 

The first scene opens on an Oceania Cruises ship at sea and highlights the experiences guests can “wake up” to every day, like visiting the Taj Mahal in India or the Meteora monasteries in Greece, whale watching in Alaska or a gondola ride in Venice. The ad transitions to the onboard experience and Oceania Cruises’ extraordinary cuisine, focusing on the freedom guests have to decide when, where and with whom they will dine.

 

The ad campaign is timed to coincide with the launch the 2014 Summer Collection, the largest offering in Oceania Cruises’ history. Unveiled on February 13th, the collection encompasses 90 voyages, an almost entirely new line-up of European itineraries and the highly anticipated return of Insignia. The five ships in the fleet – Marina, RivieraRegatta, Insignia and Nautica – will sail to more than 330 destinations throughout the world.

The Oceania Cruises family is always growing, and with this television campaign, we hope more people than ever will hear about the fascinating destinations, luxurious ships, exquisite cuisine and extraordinary value of the Oceania Cruises experience.

February 6, 2013

THE SECRETS BEHIND THE FINEST CUISINE AT SEA

For the past eight months, Fleet Corporate Chef Franck Garanger and the rest of the Oceania Cruises culinary team have been designing and testing new menus for the fleet’s flagship restaurant, the Grand Dining Room. The menus in the Grand Dining Room change daily, and in total, Garanger has created 85 new recipes for 14 different menus.

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One of Garanger’s latest creations: Zucchini-Wrapped Jumbo Shrimp with Parmesan Cheese and Angel Hair Pasta al Limone

“If you just copied other recipes or used a cookbook, you could do this rollout in two months,” Garanger says. “But we try to be unique in every single recipe we create, and that is a lengthy process requiring the dedicated efforts of the entire team.”

Photo 21So what is Garanger’s creative process for conceiving all of these unique recipes? “I start to think about the recipe and then I start to make notes. Then I prepare it once. If I’m lucky, I only have to prepare the dish three or four times before it’s finalized. But often I have to try it eight or ten times before it’s perfect. And sometimes I give up!” Garanger chuckles. “Sometimes I say, okay, this one is never going to work – and then maybe it works a few years later. It happens sometimes.”

Garanger’s conception of the recipes is only the first step in a launch of this scale. Once the recipes are designed, a great deal of product research must be done to secure all of the new ingredients. This is one of the challenges facing restaurants operating onboard a ship versus restaurants ashore.

“Fresh products are purchased in every port, and the availability changes depending on whether you’re in South America or Europe or Asia, so the executive chefs have to plan ahead and make adjustments,” Garanger explains. “Meanwhile, dry goods and frozen items are delivered via shipping containers, which can take a long time to reach the ship. If a container is traveling from Miami to Europe, it may take three weeks. To ensure we have all the necessary ingredients for these new recipes, we had to begin scheduling these shipments months in advance.”

Onboard restaurants are open seven days a week, 365 days a year, another aspect of shipboard operations requiring ingenuity in management. Galleys operate around the clock, and shifts must be staffed accordingly. Training and oversight must be constant and diligent.

Riviera Galley Tour26

As an example of the team’s commitment to the ingredients, design and process of recipes from start to finish, consider the dinner baguette in the Grand Dining Room. Only the finest (and most expensive) French flour is used – Viron flour harvested in the Beauce region – because it has a lower gluten content and thus more flavor. The flour is shipped direct from France, and each batch of dough goes through a two-stage proofing process to release the full aromas of the flour. The dough is refrigerated to proof overnight and then worked, formed into baguettes and proofed again before baking. And this is just to create the dinner baguette, one of thousands of items prepared onboard each day.

Here Garanger and Senior Executive Chef Alexis Quaretti discuss the finer points of the baguette wafer that will accompany the new Grand Dining Room dish: Cauliflower Panna Cotta with Artichoke Salpicon, Tomato Coulis and Poblano Chili Aioli.

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Considering the complex methods required to make an exceptional baguette, you can imagine how involved the process is when launching entirely new menus for the Grand Dining Room. The rollout will take nearly four months to complete across the entire fleet, with each ship requiring a full cruise for initial implementation and another full cruise for follow-up training.

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The new dishes are a feast for the senses. The flavor profiles are rich and diverse, and the presentation is spectacular.

Photo A - Beef Carpaccio with Fried Shallots, Parmesan and Lemon Vinaigrette
Beef Carpaccio with Fried Shallots, Parmesan and Lemon Vinaigrette

 
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Baby Shrimp and Avocado Cocktail with Marie-Louise Sauce
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Warm Duck Pâté in Puff Pastry with Port Wine Sauce

 

The new menus also include an assortment of Canyon Ranch® Healthy Living Choices that meet the Canyon Ranch standards for balanced nutrition from a wide variety of fresh fruits and vegetables, healthy fats, whole grains and lean proteins. The calories, fat grams and fiber grams for each Canyon Ranch selection are included on the menu. If healthy living means eating dishes like this, then I’m becoming a health nut!

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Canyon Ranch Vegetable Caponata on Roasted Red Pepper Dressing with Crispy Sardinian Bread
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Canyon Ranch Wild Salmon Tartare with Sushi Rice and Avocado

 

Having created so many exquisite dishes, does Garanger have a personal favorite?

“My signature dish is my mashed potatoes,” Garanger says. With the new rollout, Franck’s Mashed Potatoes will always be available as a side in the Grand Dining Room, and you really must try them. Absolute heaven!

“The pâté en croute on the new menu is also very close to my heart,” Garanger continues. “This is a recipe from my childhood for the classic dish that the French enjoy around the family table.” Here Franck prepares his Childhood Paté en Croute: French Family-Style Encrusted Paté with Smoked Ham and Pheasant.

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Until you’ve visited the Grand Dining Room, you can only imagine the amazing selection of delectable new dishes to be tasted. And the Grand Dining Room is only one of four gourmet restaurants on Regatta and Nautica and six restaurants on Marina and Riviera! When you reserve your next voyage with Oceania Cruises, I suggest you make it a lengthy one, so you have plenty of time to sample all of the spectacular cuisine!

February 5, 2013

BEHIND THE SCENES WITH OCEANIA CRUISES’ FLEET CORPORATE CHEF FRANCK GARANGER

Photo 11Any fan of Oceania Cruises knows that esteemed master chef Jacques Pépin is our executive culinary director and the inspiration behind our extraordinary cuisine. But even Chef Pépin knows that it takes more than one person to create a culinary program for a cruise line that can successfully rival the cuisine of even the best restaurants ashore. As Blogger-at-Large for Oceania Cruises, I recently had the privilege of interviewing one of the other culinary team members responsible for creating the finest cuisine at sea.

Fleet Corporate Chef Franck Garanger might modestly resist the label of “creative genius.” But after tasting the exquisite dishes he has conceived for Oceania Cruises’ ships, I can’t think of a more appropriate moniker.

While many cruise lines employ a single corporate chef, Oceania Cruises has an entire team of culinary directors and executive chefs committed to realizing its culinary vision. Thus Garanger is free to focus his creative genius – there, I said it – on designing recipes that uphold Oceania Cruises’ reputation for the finest cuisine at sea. 

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An example of the finest cuisine at sea: Tamarind-Braised Black Cod with Sweet Ginger Sauce and Vegetable Ragout

While Garanger was born in the Normandy region of France, his family moved to Angers in the Loire Valley when he was two years old. His father owned a bakery, and after being exposed to the culinary world at a very young age, Garanger began working with his father and learning the pastry trade at age 16. One year later he began studies in hospitality and hotel management. French universities are very specialized, and the training involved one week of classes alternating with two weeks of hands-on restaurant experience, at which time Garanger worked with a French master chef at a Michelin-starred restaurant in Angers.

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Fleet Corporate Chef Franck Garanger
After passing his first exams, Garanger worked at one of the world’s most famous hotels, the Hotel de Paris in Monaco, followed by the equally renowned Hotel de Cap Eden Roc, a palace on the French Riviera in Antibes. He then returned to school for two years to complete his degrees and after exams, at the age of 24, began officially working as a chef.

His first position on a cruise ship was with Silversea Cruises in 1995. When he was asked to join Oceania Cruises in 2003, he did not hesitate to accept. “I liked the vision they had for the line,” Garanger says. “And I really liked the passion of all the people involved. They were so into food that, in everything we were creating, they were not only behind me but also tasting the food with me. When you have the CEO and the president coming onboard just to taste the food to see if we can put it on the menu, it applies a little pressure, but it is also very rewarding because you can really see how important the food is to the company.”

Much like the passionate commitment of the executives, many aspects of Garanger’s tenure with Oceania Cruises have been both challenging and rewarding. “Regatta was a challenge because we had to start from scratch, and we were working with a ship we didn't build, so we had to make adjustments. We built Marina ourselves, but it was also challenging because we opened eight different restaurants – each a completely different concept – and had 160 cooks onboard to manage. In both cases, there were very high expectations, and we had to deliver in a short period of time. Both debuts were a huge success, and so of course, we’re very happy.”

So what is the secret to continuing to deliver the finest cuisine at sea? For one thing, most members of the culinary team, such as Executive Culinary Director Jacques Pépin, Senior Vice President of Hotel Operations Franco Semeraro, Culinary Director Eric Barale and Assistant Culinary Director Pascal Lesueur, have been with Oceania Cruises since its very beginnings. And the line’s commitment to cuisine has ensured that the team is provided every tool they need to succeed.

“I’ve always been asked what I needed, and whatever I asked for, I got,” Garanger says. “Of course, then you have to make sure you deliver, and so far, I’ve succeeded. That’s why I’m still here!”

Each restaurant onboard provides its own unique challenges. Jacques is perhaps the most challenging because of the technical precision required to execute true, authentic French recipes using traditional, time-honored methods on a daily basis. Toscana is also technically challenging because of the à la minute preparation of all the fresh pasta and risotto.

Red Ginger is one of Garanger’s favorite concepts because it is truly “his baby.” Garanger traveled in Asia for two years and then spent time in both London and San Francisco researching ideas before developing the restaurant concept and recipes.

Photo B-Miso-Glazed Sea Bass
One of Red Ginger’s signature dishes: Miso-Glazed Sea Bass in Hoba Leaf

While Jacques and Red Ginger are featured on Oceania Cruises’ newest ships, Marina and Riviera, guests will be excited to know that they can soon get a taste of these restaurants onboard Regatta and Nautica as well. These ships will soon feature an entrée from both Jacques and Red Ginger each night in the Grand Dining Room. The new features are just one small part of Garanger’s latest large scale project, the rollout of new menus for the Grand Dining Rooms on the entire fleet.

In my next blog post, I’ll share Garanger’s insights into the creative process, training and implementation involved in this extensive menu rollout. Check the blog again soon for more behind-the-scenes stories.

February 1, 2013

MEET THE TEAM BEHIND THE FINEST CUISINE AT SEA

Pepin
Executive Culinary Director Jacques Pépin
While most cruise lines employ a single corporate chef that oversees the creation, organization and implementation of menus, Oceania Cruises has an entire team at the helm of its culinary program. Of course, renowned master chef Jacques Pépin has been the inspiration for the program since he became executive culinary director when the line was founded 10 years ago. But consistently delivering the finest cuisine at sea requires a large group of dedicated chefs committed to this vision.

“No one person can be in charge of all the food and beverage for a cruise line and do it well,” says Senior Vice President of Hotel Operations Franco Semeraro. “It’s  creativity, it’s administration, it’s logistics and human resources; it’s sourcing and tracking and training and quality control. And then there’s bread and pastry. From a culinary point of view, that’s like another planet! How could one person do all that?”

As Blogger-at-Large for Oceania Cruises, I’ve enjoyed the privilege of meeting several members of the culinary team, including Semeraro, who led the team in one of its most ambitious projects to date: the launch of entirely new menus for the Grand Dining Room. Semeraro has been a key player in the creation of Oceania Cruises’ renowned cuisine since the line’s founding in 2003. In fact, most of the culinary team has been onboard since the company began with a handful of employees a decade ago, which accounts for the family atmosphere amongst the entire team and translates to a warm camaraderie amidst the crew and guests onboard the ships. It truly is a family affair, as several of the original recipes served in the Italian restaurants have come from Semeraro and his wife, Packy, and their mothers.

Fleet Corporate Chef Franck Garanger has certainly found his niche within the team. His sole responsibility is creating innovative new menus that keep Oceania Cruises at the forefront of culinary excellence. Meanwhile, Culinary Director Eric Barale handles the logistics of implementing Garanger’s creations, from purchasing fresh ingredients and acquiring new equipment to assembling the necessary staff and designing menus. Interestingly, Barale used to be Garanger’s teacher at culinary school, and when Garanger was invited to come onboard with Oceania Cruises when the line was founded in 2003, Barale was the first person he called to join him.

“Eric does all the work I don’t like to do,” Garanger says, chuckling. “I am the right brain and he is the left, so it makes a great partnership. When you don’t have to take care of all the logistics and you’re free to just create the recipes, it’s fantastic. It allows me to keep a clear head and to simply create. Otherwise, there wouldn’t be enough hours in the day.”

Of course, the right brain and left brain wouldn’t function without a lot of neurons flashing in synchronicity. Several other team members help execute this culinary vision, not to mention the hundreds of chefs and sous chefs working onboard the ships. Assistant Culinary Director Pascal Lesueur and Senior Executive Chef Alexis Quaretti were both heavily involved in the new menu rollout in the Grand Dining Room. Senior Executive Chef Christophe Belin oversaw implementation on Riviera, while Senior Executive Chef Laurent Trias will oversee Marina, and Executive Chef Renald Macouin will oversee Regatta and Nautica

Belin Blogger Garanger
Senior Executive Chef Christophe Belin, Blogger-at-Large Lisa Pancake Fossland and Fleet Corporate Chef Franck Garanger
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Senior Executive Chef Alexis Quaretti

 

If you saw yesterday’s blog, your mouth is probably still watering over the photos I shared that revealed the fruits of the team’s labors. There are so many delicious dishes on the new Grand Dining Room menus that I wanted to share a few more with you today. 

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Grilled Vegetable Terrine with Creamy Pesto and Crispy Focaccia Bread
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Prosciutto-Wrapped Monkfish Fillet with Saffron Mussel Sauce

 
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Herb-Crusted Cornish Hen alla Diavolo with Bacon and Shoestring Potatoes
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Dorado and Tuna Ceviche with Cilantro and Heirloom Tomatoes

In my next blog post, read my behind-the-scenes interview with Fleet Corporate Chef Franck Garanger and learn where he gets his inspiration to create the finest cuisine at sea.

January 31, 2013

OCEANIA CRUISES DEBUTS EXCITING NEW MENUS IN THE GRAND DINING ROOM

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Fresh Sea Bass on Ratatouille Sauce with Chickpea Croutons and Tomato Petals

Oceania Cruises has long held a reputation for cuisine that is not only the finest at sea but also rivals that of the best restaurants ashore. If you’ve dined onboard an Oceania Cruises ship, then you know we take fine dining to an entirely new level. Creating truly exquisite cuisine requires more than just the freshest and highest-quality ingredients. It requires passion, creativity, à la minute preparation and careful attention to detail. 

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Pancetta-Wrapped Jumbo Shrimp with Kalamata Olive Sauce and Vegetable Julienne
Oceania Cruises has further solidified its reputation as the cruise line for foodies by successfully rolling out entirely new menus, including 85 new recipes, for its Grand Dining Room onboard Riviera. The remainder of the fleet will receive the new menus over the course of the next three months.

As Blogger-at-Large for Oceania Cruises, my job has a lot of perks, but in this case I have to say, it involved a bit of torment. For the last few weeks, I’ve been receiving mouthwatering photos of all the fabulous dishes that the chefs have been creating, testing and, most importantly, tasting. I can’t wait to sail again to try all of the new dishes. Your taste buds are about to sit up and take notice.

The new menus for the Grand Dining Room are an ode to classic European-inspired cuisine, while also giving a whole new meaning to dishes such as steak au poivre and moules marinières. The team has taken the execution of classic dishes to a higher level, and the vision of Fleet Corporate Chef Franck Garanger has revealed interpretations such as Palermo-Style Grilled Swordfish over Crushed Red Bliss Potatoes with Eggplant Caviar, Traditional French Beef Tartare with Toasted Baguette Wafer, and Grilled Veal Chop with Rustic Tomatoes and Lemon Confit. 

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Moules Marinières: Fresh Black Mussels with Shallots, White Wine and Parsley

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Palermo-Style Grilled Swordfish over Crushed Red Bliss Potatoes with Eggplant Caviar

 

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Traditional French Beef Tartare with Toasted Baguette Wafer
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Grilled Veal Chop with Rustic Tomatoes and Lemon Confit

Menus also include three exquisite new lobster dishes, such as the Lobster and Spring Vegetable Crepe with Langoustine Bisque. If, like me, your craving for Italian food is never satiated, you will love the 10 new pastas and risottos that are featured. How about Fettuccine with Wild Sea Bass in Rustic Tomato and Peperoncino Sauce? Or perhaps Rigatoni alle Melanzane e Ricotta Affumicata, a delicious dish of rigatoni pasta served with sautéed eggplant in a tomato basil sauce and topped with smoked ricotta?

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Lobster and Spring Vegetable Crepe with Langoustine Bisque
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Rigatoni alle Melanzane e Ricotta Affumicata

 

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Fettuccine with Wild Sea Bass in Rustic Tomato and Peperoncino Sauce

If you prefer a light garlic and wine sauce, you must try the Pasta with Fresh Littleneck Clams and Pinot Grigio Sauce. Risotto lovers shouldn’t miss the Risotto Venere con Gamberoni All’Arrabbiata, a black risotto with a spicy shrimp ragout.

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Pasta with Fresh Littleneck Clams and Pinot Grigio Sauce
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Risotto Venere con Gamberoni All’Arrabbiata

 

Beyond the traditional dishes from countries such as France, Spain and Italy, you will also find European-inspired versions of other classics, such as the American barbecued pork chop and the Japanese crab tempura.

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Sweet Barbecued Pork Chop with Applewood-Smoked Bacon, Stuffed Potatoes and Brussels Sprouts
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Soft Shell Crab Tempura with Roasted Cherry Tomato Aioli

Jacques Pépin has always said that the finest cuisine must start with the freshest, highest-quality ingredients, and Oceania Cruises’ unwavering commitment to this philosophy is evident in all of the new dishes. A new lobster and rice dish is made with saffron from the Castilla–La Mancha region of Spain, known for producing the finest of this priciest of all herbs. Fans of “the other white meat” will find some of the most renowned pork in the world, from roast Segovian suckling pig to jamón Ibérico de bellota, the famous Iberian ham that comes from pigs fed on acorns. 

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Steamed Maine Lobster on Castilla-La Mancha Saffron Rice
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Roast Segovian Suckling Pig with Rosemary Fingerling Potatoes

Unique international ingredients are also featured, such as the kadaif pasta in the Crispy Kadaif-Wrapped Tiger Prawns with Mango-Chili Salsa.

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Crispy Kadaif-Wrapped Tiger Prawns with Mango-Chili Salsa

There are also delectable new appetizers, such as the Molten Cheese Soufflé with Chive Velouté and the Quinoa and Vegetable Tartare with Salmon Gravlax and Sherry Vinegar Cream.

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Molten Cheese Soufflé with Chive Velouté
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Quinoa and Vegetable Tartare with Salmon Gravlax and Sherry Vinegar Cream

The salads are exquisite as well. Check out the colorful Roasted Butternut Squash with Arugula, Mango, Black Radish, Hearts of Palm and Pumpkin Seed Vinaigrette and the work of art known as Heirloom Tomato Carpaccio and Sicilian Tomato-Basil Press with Cream of Buffalo Mozzarella. 

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Roasted Butternut Squash with Arugula, Mango, Black Radish, Hearts of Palm and Pumpkin Seed Vinaigrette
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Heirloom Tomato Carpaccio and Sicilian Tomato-Basil Press with Cream of Buffalo Mozzarella

 

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Zen
Lest you think I’ve forgotten to mention the desserts, I’ve saved the best for last. The year 2013 marks Oceania Cruises’ 10th anniversary, and to celebrate this momentous occasion, Chef Garanger has created a dessert as extraordinary as this special milestone. Named “Zen”, the dessert begins with a Valrhona 64% cacao Manjari chocolate bar, made from the finest Madagascan cacao beans. That is combined with milky gianduja hazelnut chocolate and citrus yuzu fruit and accompanied by a hazelnut croquant. Now that’s a dessert befitting a celebration of a decade at sea!

If you haven’t already left the blog site to reserve your next Oceania Cruises voyage so you can indulge in these wonderful new dishes, now is the time! But do check back throughout the week for behind-the-scenes stories revealing the secrets to creating such extraordinary cuisine, including an interview with Fleet Corporate Chef Franck Garanger. I’ll also share more mouthwatering photos that will have you wishing you could dine onboard every day of the year!

December 10, 2012

OCEANIA CRUISES WINS CRUISE CRITIC AWARDS FOR BEST CUISINE AND BEST SUITES

The 2012 Cruise Critic Editors’ Picks were recently announced, and if you’ve ever been onboard an Oceania Cruises ship, you won’t be surprised to learn that Oceania Cruises was chosen for Best Cuisine and Best Suites.

Upon hearing this exciting news, I took a moment to go through the many photos I have taken over the years as Blogger-at-Large for Oceania Cruises and select a few of my favorites of the beautiful suites and incredible meals I’ve enjoyed during my adventures onboard the ships. If you’re wondering what inspired the Cruise Critic editors to select Oceania Cruises, here are just a few of the reasons why these awards are so richly deserved.

BEST CUISINE 

Blogger and Chefs
The men behind the menus: Senior Executive Chef Christophe Belin and Fleet Corporate Chef Franck Garanger (pictured with Pancake, Blogger-at-Large)

GRAND DINING ROOM

One of the sure signs that Oceania Cruises is perfect for foodies is that the Grand Dining Room is just as wonderful as the specialty restaurants. In fact, I’ve spoken with several guests who say it’s their favorite restaurant onboard. The menus change daily, but you will always find European-inspired continental cuisine as well as delicious Canyon Ranch SpaClub® dishes. Here are some photos of a few of my favorite dishes.

GD Zuch
Grilled Turbot with Zucchini and Tomato
GD SHrimp Asp Risotto
Shrimp and Asparagus Risotto
 
GD Lobster
Lobster Thermidor 

TOSCANA

As exquisite as The Grand Dining Room is, I highly recommend pulling yourself away for a taste of Tuscan-inspired Italian cuisine at the wonderful Toscana. The simple but elegant ambiance elicits the romance of the Italian countryside, and quite a few of the recipes are inspired by mothers and grandmothers of Oceania Cruises culinary staff. Also, many of the sommeliers are from long lines of wine-producing families, further enhancing the Italian experience.

Italian food is comfort food for me, and Toscana is definitely one of my favorite restaurants – onboard or ashore. I’ve had the privilege of celebrating two birthdays in Toscana, and if I had my choice, I’d celebrate all of them here! Just look at some of the incredible dishes I have enjoyed at Toscana.

 

TOS Octopus
Carpaccio di Polpo con Patate al Vapore e Vinaigrette allo Champagne (Octopus Carpaccio with Champagne Vinaigrette and Warm Potato Salad)
TOS Eggpland
Involtini di Melanzane alla Ghiotta (Sliced Eggplant rolled and sautéed with Roasted Minced Veal Stuffing and Basil, baked in Fresh Tomato Sauce)


TOS Artichoke
Sformatino di Carciofi in Salsa Tartufata e Olio Aromatizzato all’Arugula (Artichoke and Parmesan Cheese Timbale with Black Truffle Sauce and Arugula Infused Oil)
TOSLinguini Cioppino
Linguine Cioppino (Linguini Pasta with Little Neck Clams, Black Mussels, Calamari, Shrimp, and Monk Fish sautéed in a Light Pinot Grigio and Cherry Tomato Sauce)

POLO GRILL

I admit, when writing about my dining experiences, it is almost impossible not to claim that each restaurant is my favorite. If you have dined with Oceania Cruises, I think you know what I mean, and you’ll understand when I say Polo Grill is another one of my favorites. Polo Grill offers the classic steak house experience with time-honored favorites done the way only Oceania Cruises can, perfectly. The steaks are USDA Prime and dry-aged for at least 28 days.

On a recent cruise, we had reservations at Polo Grill for the last night of the voyage, and my friend spent the entire trip in anticipation of devouring the signature 32-ounce prime rib. Some people claim that a steak this size couldn’t possibly be eaten in one sitting, but I have found the person for whom this cut of beef was designed. He savored every bite, and he was the first one to finish his entrée!

For those of us with daintier appetites, there are plenty of options as well. I find the 7-ounce filet mignon is more my size. And if you prefer seafood, Polo Grill has plenty of excellent options. How does Maine lobster with drawn butter, grilled mahi mahi or jumbo shrimp cocktail sound?

PG Shimp
Colossal Chilled Shrimp Trio with Spicy Cocktail Sauce
PG Prime Rib
King’s Cut 32 oz Prime Rib – Bone-in, Seasoned to Perfection, Slow Roasted and Served Medium Rare

TERRACE CAFÉ

If you’re looking for something slightly more casual, or if you just can’t decide what type of cuisine you’re in the mood for, Terrace Café offers a whole array of international selections in a buffet-style setting. The food is just as spectacular, and you can try a little bit of everything! You will find things like Marinated Fennel Salad, Cold Poached Salmon with Herbed Mayonnaise, Breaded Pork Parmigiana and Creamy Carrot and Pumpkin Soup. Onboard Marina and Riviera, there is even a sushi bar, which I try to visit daily. And good luck trying to decide on just one dessert! Whether you choose to dine indoors or alfresco on deck, the views are stunning in every direction.

TC Desserts
Dessert Selection
TC outside
Outside Seating

JACQUES

If you haven’t had a chance to take a voyage onboard Marina or Riviera, I highly recommend you do so. In addition to all of the amazing offerings onboard Regatta and Nautica, you will find two new restaurants, including Master Chef Jacques Pépin’s namesake restaurant. I recently had the pleasure of dining here and can’t say enough about the whole experience. Everything was just perfect, from the classic French cuisine to the charming French bistro ambiance.

Here are some photos of the amazing dishes my husband and I enjoyed on a recent trip:

JA Mussels
Moules Marinières (Fresh Mussels with Shallots, White Wine and Parsley)
JA Onion Soup
Gratiné à l’Oignon (Baked Onion Soup with Gruyère Cheese Crust)
JA Chicken
Poulet Fermier Rôti aux Herbes (Herb-crusted Black Foot Free Range Chicken au Jus with Gratin Dauphinois and Haricots Verts)

RED GINGER

The other new restaurant onboard Marina and Riviera is the Asian-inspired Red Ginger. The restaurant itself is beautifully decorated, the centerpiece being three gorgeous busts of Buddha, each carved from a single piece of glass and lit from within.

Complimenting the stunning décor is an equally creative menu with contemporary interpretations of Asian classics. Rich, bold flavors are perfectly balanced with delicate subtleties. This is one of the most distinctive and delicious restaurants I have ever experienced, and the moment I finish a meal here I am already hoping for the opportunity to return as soon as possible.

RG Tuna Tataki
Tuna Tataki (Seared Tuna Filet, Shiso Sesame Crust, Wasabi Cream)
RG Lobster
Lobster Pad Thai (Rice Noodles, Bean Sprouts, Lime, Tamarind, Peanuts)
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Seafood Stir-fried (Scallops, Squid, Tiger Prawns, Mussels, Spring Onions, Ginger)

LA RESERVE

One of my favorite indulgences is dining at La Reserve by Wine Spectator. The restaurant seats only 24 and has an elite spot high atop deck 12. Each course is meticulously created, often before your very eyes, and great care has gone into pairing each dish with the perfect premium wine.

Dining at La Reserve is much more than a meal; it is a special event. When you finish an evening here, you feel like one of the most important and well cared for people on the planet.

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72-Hour Slow Braised Short Rib with Gnocchi au Jus
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Paired with Gordon Brothers Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, Columbia Valley, Washington, USA
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Chef making the Raspberry Caramelized Mille Feuille with Madagascan Vanilla Cream
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Paired with Château la Varière, Les Melleresses Bonnezeaux, Loire Valley, France 

BEST SUITES

After a fabulous dinner onboard – and maybe a little dancing at Horizons lounge – there is nothing more perfect than retiring to what Cruise Critic editors called “the most sumptuous suites at sea.”

OWNER’S SUITE

The Owners’ Suites were designed by Susan Bednar Long of New York-based, award-winning Tocar Interior Design and are completely furnished with Ralph Lauren Home Collection. Feeling almost as big as my house, the closets are one of my favorite parts!

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VISTA SUITES

When Marina first debuted, I had the great privilege of spending time in the suites with a few honored guests, including Dakota Jackson, the renowned American designer who created the Vista Suites.

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Dakota Jackson pictured with Pancake, Blogger-at-Large

If you like to know where the ship is heading, you may prefer the view from these suites, which overlook the bow of the ship.

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OCEANIA SUITES

Oceania Suites, also designed by Dakota Jackson, are so large you can comfortably host a cocktail party – and they even have the bar for it! Or, if you prefer, make it a quiet night and relax in the whirlpool tub on the veranda.

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PENTHOUSE SUITES

Penthouse Suites are the smallest of the suites, but small is a relative term! Walk-in closets, marble and granite bathrooms, spacious and comfortable living quarters – one guest told me these suites were her favorite place onboard Marina.

One of the things I enjoy most onboard Oceania Cruises ships is lounging in the beautiful bathtubs. This is just one of many amenities that distinguishes Oceania Cruises suites, and on Marina and Riviera, bathtubs are also featured in most staterooms. There is a shower wand in the bath tub as well as a completely separate rainfall shower.

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With the perfect accommodations and the ultimate cuisine, Oceania Cruises offers an unrivaled cruising experience at an extraordinary value. Some may say that I’m biased, but the editors at Cruise Critic have confirmed what I’ve known for some time: Oceania Cruises truly stands head and shoulders above the rest!

September 18, 2012

MEET THE OFFICERS: Marina General Manager Damien LaCroix

Of the many wonderful things I get to do in my role as Blogger-at-Large for Oceania Cruises, one of my favorites is getting to know the warm and generous officers and crew. From everything I see, hear and experience, the sense of family that the staff creates is one of the main reasons Oceania Cruises has so many loyal and returning guests.

DownloadOn a recent cruise, I had the great pleasure of meeting Damien LaCroix, who has been a part of the Oceania Cruises family for eight years. Though his official title is General Manager onboard Marina, Damien considers himself a conductor, and after watching him “perform,” it’s obvious he can hold a baton with the best. When Damien is in charge the show flows seamlessly. Indeed, one might be tempted to think that his job is easy, given how effortlessly things unfold.

Originally from Lyon, France, Damien started with Renaissance Cruises. It was a good product but not upscale. He left Renaissance and joined a luxury resort in French Polynesia. It was there that Damien first got a call from Oceania Cruises asking him to come aboard. At first he resisted, because he didn’t want to leave the elegant atmosphere of the resort.

Oceania Cruises coaxed him into visiting one of the ships. He was immediately impressed with the ship and its focus of fine cuisine – the elegance, the presentation and the quality of service. He knew he could be happy in this environment. So in 2004 he accepted a position as Food and Beverage Director, and in 2007 he was promoted to General Manager.

Onboard Marina, he says there is never a typical day. Each day begins with a ship inspection, followed by a meeting with department heads. But after that, it is Damien’s job to be prepared for anything. While there is always a plan for what the day should look like, changes inevitably arise. Something as simple as the weather can present a logistical challenge, because on a rainy day the outside venues aren’t used, and the inside venues are all much busier.

Listening to Damien talk and watching him work, he thrives on handling the unexpected. He told a story about when cruises first began originating in China years ago. Guests had arrived for their cruise and were scheduled to embark at 11 am, but authorities delayed embarkation. Damien didn’t want guests to spend precious vacation hours just milling about the cruise terminal, so he quickly pulled the crew together to organize activities and provide food and drink.

Damien is quick to credit the wonderful people working with him for helping make each day a success. It is clear that the reason Oceania Cruises feels like a home away from home for guests is that it is a home away from home for staff as well. There is a real sense of family within the organization that is easily passed on to guests. Damien can often be found entertaining guests, who clearly enjoy his company, as he hosts cocktail parties or tables for dinner.

Choosing a favorite port of call from the vast array of wonderful destinations is tough for Damien. He enjoys Venice and Buenos Aires because ships often stay overnight there, and he can spend an evening exploring and enjoying dinner ashore. He thinks Santorini and Rhodes are gorgeous. And because he worked in Vietnam for three years, he loves stops in East Asia where he still has favorite places he likes to visit.

Of course the best part of working for Oceania Cruises is that it is where he met his wife Jackie, a cruise director. Since both he and Jackie work for Oceania Cruises, they know the lifestyle and enjoy the months of time off they have together. They recently welcomed Elise, the newest Oceania Cruises baby, to the family. Oceania Cruises has a family program, so if accommodations are available, Damien can bring his family onboard with him.

I’ve had the privilege of speaking with several officers and crew members, and each one has been quick to tell me about Oceania Cruises’ commitment to family and to the happiness and well being of their staff. This is just one more reason that Damien and his team are so dedicated to the happiness of every guest onboard and to creating the warm, welcoming environment that makes guests feel so comfortable and cared for. No wonder so many guests say that each time they board an Oceania Cruises ship, it feels like coming home!

July 26, 2012

FRANCE VERSUS ITALY: Cooking and Comedy with the Chefs of Oceania Cruises

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The culinary team with Frank Del Rio, founder and chairman of Oceania Cruises.

Any fan of Oceania Cruises knows that our chefs are serious about cuisine. But did you know they can be funny about it too? Culinary demonstrations are offered onboard all of Oceania Cruises’ ships, and as Blogger-at-Large, I had the chance to attend one recently. It would be difficult to say which I enjoyed more – the cooking or the comedy.

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France v. Italy: Chef Garanger on the left and Chef Gjoka on the right.

Fleet Corporate Chef Franck Garanger is one of the “head honchos” of Oceania Cruises’ culinary team and has created many of the recipes served onboard. And he’s French. Executive Chef Alban Gjoka, one of the culinary experts onboard Riviera, is Italian. The two of them decided it might be fun to engage in their ongoing friendly rivalry during a culinary demonstration that they called “France versus Italy.”

Chef Garanger became known for his mashed potatoes at age 17 when he was charged with making lunch for Sébastien Bonsignore, the last working disciple of the legendary chef Escoffier. Bonsignore described Garanger’s mashed potatoes as the best he’d ever eaten. Not surprisingly, Chef Gjoka’s specialty is fresh pasta dishes.

 

But first thing’s first. They begin by pouring the champagne.

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Once properly hydrated, Gjoka starts the demonstration by recommending Tipo 00 flour for the pasta. The flour is Italian, but Gjoka tells us we can buy it in the U.S. because the Italians actually produce and export things – unlike the French. The game is on.

Gjoka uses precisely measured flour and semolina but quickly adds that, “In Italy the recipes are good, but it’s just a guideline. Everybody cooks with the heart.”

“You cook with the heart?” Garanger asks.

“Yes.”

“I try to cook with my brain.”

Undaunted, Gjoka continues, adding eggs to the flour. But he checks the eggs before cracking them, informing us that when he and Garanger cook together, Garanger sometimes replaces them with hard-boiled eggs.

“Sabotage,” Garanger whispers, a mischievous twinkle in his eye. He then artfully changes the subject by announcing, “So, potatoes!”

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Culinary Demonstration20Garanger started cooking the potatoes before the demonstration, and they are ready for the next step. “Very important…how do I strain my potatoes? I can use this one, the one from Italy?” he asks, requesting to borrow Gjoka’s ricer.

“No problem. We are good neighbors,” Gjoka says, but we all know he has another comment up his sleeve. “We are so good that we even gave you the wife of the former president.”

“You can have her back now. We don’t need her anymore,” Garanger responds, referring to Sarkozy’s election defeat.

“No, no you always need Italian women. It was another one that taught the French, Catherine
de Medici,” Gjoka fires back.

“Yes, because the Italians, they believe that Catherine de Medici, when she came to France, we were eating with the Huns, and she taught us how to use a fork and knife.” Garanger clearly disagrees with this Italian perspective, so he tosses out another zinger. “What can I say? The Italian girls fall in love with the French. Instead of cooking with your heart, you should use your heart for something else.”

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Amazingly, these gifted chefs are capable of cracking jokes and working their magic at the same time. Because pasta dough needs to rest, Gjoka has prepared some in advance, which he now feeds through a pasta machine. He confides that his grandmother considers this cheating, but he finds the machine useful. You must pass the pasta through at least 10 times, folding and turning it each time and working from level 10 down to level 2. I have the utmost respect for Gjoka’s grandmother, because I certainly wouldn’t want to do this process by hand!

 

Culinary Demonstration15Garanger has strained the potatoes and is letting them sit so the steam can evaporate. Meanwhile, he turns to his entrée, a zucchini-wrapped chicken breast. For the stuffing, he sweats some onions and then adds garlic, diced tomatoes and green olives.

While the stuffing simmers, Garanger begins to work the potatoes, putting them on the stove so the heat can release any remaining steam. When the potatoes are dry, he gradually adds some cream and milk and a touch of nutmeg while he continues to stir.

 

 

Culinary Demonstration13Meanwhile, Gjoka is now cutting cappellini and preparing to make pappardelle and fettuccine. As he works, Gjoka eyes Garanger, who has moved on to his chicken and is pounding it flat. “The chicken is French, and look how he’s beating it,” Gjoka says. “Imagine if the chicken was Italian what he would do.”

Rather than retort, Garanger lowers his voice. As if there were a chance Gjoka might not hear, he very quietly shares that he is layering the chicken with sliced zucchini and (blasphemy!) Parmesan cheese.

 

Culinary Demonstration23He quickly justifies his usage of Italian cheese by saying that it’s fine to cook with. But in France, the cheese is so good it is served as its own course.

Gjoka just smiles and moves on to his ravioli and tortelloni.

Garanger puts the chicken in the oven to roast. He is now ready for the final touches on the potatoes, but he looks concerned. He asks Gjoka if they have enough butter.

“I make sure we have enough,” Gjoka assures him. “One kilo of potato, five kilo of butter.”

The audience laughs, but Garanger seems to consider this a reasonable amount. “That’s good,” he says, taking another sip of champagne.

As far as Garanger is concerned, this is the moment of truth. “Now that I have the potatoes almost the consistency I want, I have to start to put in a little butter. You start to add the butter little by little and whisk it in. It requires a lot of work with your arms, the mashed potatoes.”

At this point, he adds so much butter that the audience literally gasps.

Garanger looks at all of us as if to say, “What? You expect me to make mashed potatoes without butter?”

It is now obvious to him that none of us know a thing about mashed potatoes. “Listen!” he exclaims. “Very important. Minimum, minimum, minimum, minimum is three part of potatoes, one part of butter. Me, I put two for one.”

To which Gjoka responds, “And afterwards you go straight for a heart check-up.”

Garanger dismisses Gjoka. “No, because you do not need to eat a lot.”

Aaaaahh, there’s the rub. He plans to present us with all this buttery goodness and then insist on portion control. Clearly, Garanger is not aware that we’re all on vacation.

Culinary Demonstration27Gjoka somehow manages to distract us from the butter extravaganza and turn our attention back to the pasta. His selling point is that, unlike the French, the Italians cook very fast. Garanger started cooking at 11am and two hours later hasn’t even finished the potatoes. “Imagine if you had 50 people at home,” says Gjoka. “You need to start a week in advance.”

“It all depends who you invite,” Garanger argues.

“Yes,” Gjoka agrees. “If it is my mother I have at home, I make the risotto in 5 to 10 minutes. But if it is my mother-in-law, I need 45 minutes to 1 hour. You know why? Because I don’t need to talk to her.”

The audience roars at this joke, but Garanger looks indignant. "This is supposed to be my joke. He stole my joke.”

Gjoka tries to distract him, “I think you need some more butter.”

“Okay, one more little piece,” Garanger is easily drawn back to his masterpiece.

The potatoes are now ready to be tasted. Garanger scoops up a spoonful and turns to Gjoka, “Find me an Italian chef that makes mashed potatoes like this.”

“Actually, I can’t, because you know why? Because they are not mashed potatoes. This is butter mousseline with potato,” Gjoka shoots back.

But ultimately Gjoka has to concede, “It’s true. It’s very, very good.”

Culinary Demonstration31 copyFinally, it is our turn to try the potatoes, and we quickly realize Gjoka was right. These are not mashed potatoes, at least not the chunky, bland mashed potatoes that certain family members, who shall remain unnamed, served me in my youth. If ever there were a vegetable meant for butter, it is clearly the potato, because this is how potatoes were born to be served. Each bite melts in my mouth and fills it with warm, rich potato deliciousness. The amazing thing is that it doesn’t even taste like butter; it just tastes like the best darn potato you’ve ever had in your life.

But remember, we “do not need to eat a lot.”

Gjoka realizes he is losing us as we all swoon under the influence of Garanger’s potato glory. He tries to break the spell with a word of warning, “All these people who tried the mashed potatoes should go to the gym at least 15 minutes today.”

But his efforts are futile because he knows we would all happily climb on a stairmaster. These potatoes are worth every calorie we have to work off.

Culinary Demonstration25Garanger has no time for compliments because he is making the Kalamata olive sauce for the chicken, which we’ve all momentarily forgotten about. He announces he’ll be ready in 10 minutes, and Gjoka rallies, saying he can make 10 more dishes in that amount of time. He starts a fresh tomato pasta.

Garanger raises his eyebrows as Gjoka adds garlic. “That much garlic for one portion? Whew!”

“Yes, it’s healthy.”

“It smells bad, but it’s healthy… Don’t put garlic in my mashed potatoes,” Garanger warns anyone within ear shot.

“Don’t worry. I will not put healthy stuff in your mashed potatoes,” Gjoka promises.

The chicken is ready, and Garanger presents it with the sauce and a side of mashed potatoes, “Eh, voila!”

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Gjoka is proudly making his third dish – fettuccine with scampi. “And this is called productivity,” he says.

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Gjoka brings his point home by counting his dishes: “One, two, three.” He counts Garanger’s: “One.”

Garanger smiles. “But, is it better to do one perfect or three average?”

Garanger gets the last word, but as we all gather around to try the dishes, Gjoka’s pastas are getting just as many oohs and ahs as Garanger’s potatoes. And I have to admit, there is an advantage to delicious dishes that one could prepare in a few minutes on any given evening, versus Garanger’s more labor-intensive recipes.

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So who won, France or Italy? Call me spineless, but I’m calling it a draw.

 

June 26, 2012

TOWN HALLS AND TOASTS ON THE OCEANIA CLUB REUNION CRUISE

Posted by Oceania Club Manager Nick DeSantis

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The fun continues onboard the 8th Oceania Club Reunion Cruise. Riviera spent the past two days in Monte Carlo, so guests had plenty of time to explore the city at length. However, in my case, I was hosting so many events and parties that I hardly had time to get off the ship! Of course, this was perfectly fine with me because Riviera is an absolute beauty, and I’m having such a wonderful time with all of our guests onboard.

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Our guests especially enjoyed the town hall with Oceania Cruises President Kunal S. Kamlani yesterday afternoon. We all gathered in Horizons, and Kunal answered questions and listened to ideas that guests had to share. We got some great insight from our most loyal guests on how to continue enhancing the Oceania Cruises experience. As Kunal said, “There is no substitute for direct and in-person dialogue where we can exchange ideas.”

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Kunal S. Kamlani & Mr. and Mrs. Henry Doble

Last night we took advantage of the beautiful views of Monte Carlo from the ship and hosted a cocktail party on the Spa Terrace behind Canyon Ranch SpaClub. Glasses were raised several times because we have so many things to toast – our loyal guests, the new Riviera, and all the great friends we’ve made on the Reunion Cruise. A wonderful time was had by all.

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Oceania Club Ambassador Cary Arias & Mrs. Youkers
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Mr. and Mrs. Maleche & Oceania Club Manager Nick DeSantis
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Mrs. Moseley & Executive Concierge Randall Abrahams

Afterward we enjoyed a five-course tasting menu created by Fleet Corporate Chef Franck Garanger. While it’s difficult to choose a favorite dish, the Kobe beef in a Valrhona chocolate glaze was outstanding!

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Tomorrow is the last day of the cruise, and it will be difficult to say goodbye to all of the lovely people with whom I’ve spent the last ten days – guests and staff alike. But I don’t have to think about that quite yet. Italy awaits!

June 22, 2012

POST FROM THE PRESIDENT: Riviera Returns to Barcelona

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This morning Riviera arrived in Barcelona. It was a nostalgic moment for many of us as it was just over a month ago that we christened Riviera in this beautiful city. As we sailed into the port, I confess I got a bit emotional thinking back on all the memories from the christening ceremony.

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While we didn’t have much time to explore on our last visit to Barcelona, this time Daniela and I joined a Reunion Cruise shore excursion to visit some of the architectural masterpieces of Antoni Gaudí. First we visited Park Güell, a garden complex filled with Gaudí’s striking designs. Then we saw Gaudí’s most famous creation, the Sagrada Familia. Gaudí died in 1926 before it could be completed, and work continues on the church to this day.

Besides learning about the history of Catalonia, we also made some new friends. Peter and Elle Hecht from New Jersey are on their second Oceania Cruises sailing. They are having a great time and have already booked their third sailing, a Baltic cruise onboard Marina.

After the excursion we stopped for lunch at Marina Moncho’s, which sits right along the sea. The food was spectacular.

 

The pictures say it all. We had gazpacho, baby octopus and paella de mariscos.

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Tomorrow we call on Marseille, and Daniela and I are looking forward to experiencing our first Culinary Discovery Tour: The Exquisite Flavors of Provence. There will be more stories from the Reunion Cruise coming soon.

June 21, 2012

OCEANIA CLUB MANAGER NICK DESANTIS SHARES STORIES OF THE REUNION CRUISE

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Captain Luca Manzi and Oceania Club Manager Nick DeSantis

Greetings from the Oceania Club Reunion Cruise!

My team has spent the last several months planning special events for this cruise to show our appreciation for our loyal past guests. Over the past few days we have hosted dinners, sail-away parties, a Captain’s reception, shore excursions, cocktail parties – and this is just day five of the cruise! It has been such a pleasure to see past guests with whom I’ve sailed before. So many of them have become dear friends. It’s been equally nice to meet some of our Oceania Club members for the first time and to have the opportunity to thank them for their loyalty.

In short, everyone is having a wonderful time!

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From left: Mr. and Mrs. Doble, Kunal Kamlani, Sheila Brohman, Ken Reycraft, Mr. and Mrs. Grimwood, Daniela Kamlani, Mr. and Mrs. Addleson

On Monday evening, Oceania Cruises President Kunal S. Kamlani and his wife, Daniela, hosted a dinner in Privée for our most loyal Oceania Club members on this sailing. This elegant and intimate setting accommodates just ten guests for private dinners, so Kunal and Daniela invited some of our most frequent guests to join them for a truly memorable evening. These guests have sailed with us as many as 15 or 20 times! Sheila Brohman and Ken Reycraft become Platinum Oceania Club members on this voyage because it is their 20th cruise, which is free as part of the Oceania Club program.

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The next evening Kunal, Daniela, Captain Luca Manzi and General Manager Thierry Tholon greeted guests as they arrived for the Captain’s Welcome Reception, always a favorite event of our Oceania Club members.

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Kunal, Captain Manzi and the Senior Officers expressed their deep appreciation for all of our loyal guests, and Captain Manzi offered a toast in their honor. Following the reception, many of our guests enjoyed dinner in Toscana, and it was my great pleasure to join them!

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Nick DeSantis with Mr. and Mrs. Addleson

Toscana is one of my favorite restaurants, and here is one reason why: Sautéed Jumbo Shrimp wrapped in Prosciutto di Parma Ham with Candied Cherry Tomato. Delicious!

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Kunal and Daniela also enjoyed dining with several Oceania Club members in Toscana that evening.

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Captain Luca Manzi hosted guests in Toscana as well. They enjoyed their evening so much that they asked Toscana Chef Raffaele Saia and Senior Executive Chef Christophe Belin to sign their menus.

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What a wonderful cruise it has been so far, and this is only the beginning. I’ll be sure to share more stories and photos here on the blog very soon!

May 30, 2012

MEMENTOS OF THE JACQUES PEPIN CRUISE ONBOARD MARINA

Jacques & CaptainCaptain Giulio Ressa and Jacques Pépin

One of Oceania Cruises' most popular Signature Sailings, the recent Jacques Pépin Cruise onboard Marina was a resounding success. Guests on the Tuscan Artistry cruise from Barcelona to Rome were treated to special lectures, cooking demonstrations and shore excursions with Oceania Cruises’ Executive Culinary Director, world-renowned Master Chef Jacques Pépin.

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Jacques wasn’t the only culinary superstar onboard. He was joined by his best friend of more than 50 years, fellow chef Jean-Claude Szurdak. The two have known each other since 1956, when they were cooking together for French heads of state. Jean-Claude lent his expertise to the culinary demonstrations, and the friendly banter between him and Jacques made the demonstrations all the more entertaining.

Susie, Noelle, Jacques & Gloria at Chateau EzeCulinary luminary Susie Heller (far left) is also a long-time friend and colleague of Jacques, having produced several of his television shows. She has served as producer for several cookbooks as well, including Thomas Keller’s French Laundry Cookbook and Oceania Cruises’ own culinary lifestyle book, Taste the World: The Food and Flavors of Oceania Cruises. Heller accompanied Jacques and his guests on some of the exclusive culinary excursions offered as part of this cruise.

While a cruise named Tuscan Artistry would obviously include Italian ports of call, this sailing began by visiting some beautiful coastal towns in Jacques’ native France. Pépin, Heller and Chef Noelle Barille of the Bon Appétit Culinary Center hosted a lunch at the Michelin-starred restaurant of Chateau Eza, one of the most stunning hotels on the French Riviera. Guests enjoyed exquisite cuisine, fine wines and beautiful views of the Cote d'Azur. They also got to shop the local spice market.Spice Market in Ezed
Gloria and Jacques out for a walkWhile in Provence, Jacques and his wife, Gloria, enjoyed a stroll through the charming village of Cassis, which lies about 20 miles southeast of Marseille. Lunch in Cassis

They couldn’t miss sampling some of the local fare, which of course included fresh seafood from this Mediterranean fishing village. The area is also known for its white wines and produces some lovely rosés as well.

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While there was fantastic local cuisine to be tasted at every port of call, Pépin also enjoyed the culinary delights onboard, which is no surprise considering that the first restaurant to ever bear his name is found onboard Marina! There is a portrait of Pépin at the entrance to the restaurant, which is known simply as Jacques.

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Pumpkin Soup at Jacques
Also recently unveiled onboard Riviera, Jacques features fresh interpretations of French culinary classics. Succulent rotisserie meats, escargot, bouillabaisse…all of the French favorites are here. Each is perfectly prepared using only the finest, freshest ingredients, which are the foundation of any fine cuisine, as Pépin is always quick to point out.

The pumpkin soup is one of the most popular dishes, partly because of its wonderful flavor and also because of its brilliant presentation.

You won’t be surprised to hear that, while Pépin greatly enjoys all of the restaurants onboard Marina, Jacques is his personal favorite. We won’t hold his bias against him.

If you would like to join Chef Pépin on a Signature Sailing, the next Jacques Pépin Cruise will be onboard Riviera, sailing on September 19, 2013, from Barcelona to Lisbon. Jacques hopes to see you there!

May 22, 2012

RIVIERA IN GREECE: Great Local Restaurants & Cooking Tips from Chef Cat Cora

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Continuing on her historic Maiden Voyage, Riviera now explores the storied coasts of Greece. Today Riviera arrived in Santorini, one of several island gems on this aptly entitled Pearls of the Aegean itinerary. Guests were treated to stunning cliffside views of whitewashed villages, iconic blue domes, charming churches and colorful bell towers.

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As Blogger-at-Large, I’ve had the privilege of visiting Santorini on three previous occasions, and I never tire of meandering the cobblestone streets lined with shops, cafés and restaurants. Even a completely inept photographer can’t help but capture beautiful shots here. The villages of Fira and Oia seem to burst with charm, color and contrast.

Greece17Anyone who loves Greece knows that the only thing that can compete with the stunning scenery and historic icons is the delicious cuisine. One of my favorite pastimes in Santorini is to sip a local wine and enjoy lunch at one of the delightful cafés perched on the cliffs of Fira, where you can admire the view of Riviera in the bay set against the backdrop of the caldera. Some friends and I dined at a restaurant called Archipelagos where the food was as fantastic as the view. We started with a beautiful Greek salad with Kalamata olives, feta cheese, red onion, cucumber, and fresh tomatoes bursting with flavor.  Greece08

Next were the mezes, which are essentially the Greek counterpart of Spanish tapas. (Or tapas are the Spanish counterpart of Greek mezes, depending on your perspective I suppose.) I have to say that
Europe as a whole has a far greater appreciation for the appetizer than we Americans do. Greece, Turkey, Greece15Spain and other Mediterranean countries often make meals of an assortment of delicious small plates. I’m especially fond of this tradition because it gives me a chance to try everything put in front of me.

There was pita bread with tzatziki made of cucumber, yogurt, garlic and mint, plus stuffed grape leaves, lamb meatballs and one of my favorites – saganaki. While saganaki sounds very exotic, it is actually just fried cheese. But really, what could be better than fried cheese? Besides, this ain’t your average mozzarella stick. Saganaki is made with Kefalotyri, or one of a few other cheeses unique to Greece, all of which have a rich, delicious flavor. The dish is named for the small frying pan in which it is prepared.

Tomorrow Riviera continues her exploration of the Greek Isles with a call in Aghios Nikolaos, Crete – another port where I’ve enjoyed a lovely lunch at a local café with a view of the sea. If you get off the ship and walk along the beach, you’ll find several little restaurants on the opposite side of the bay, one of which is Ofou To Lo. Talk about fresh fish! We chose our own fish from several presented to us right off the boat. After disappearing into the kitchen, Greece12the owner returned with the prepared fish, which strongly resembled the fish in its original form. It was deliciously seasoned and seared, but we soon realized that we’d have to do all of the deboning ourselves.

Luckily, we were up to the task. The fish was so good we picked it clean, and one of my friends even threatened to devour the bones!

We also enjoyed some scrumptious moussaka, a dish not to be missed in Greece. It is popular in Turkey as well, but the Greek version somewhat resembles a lasagna and is made with layers of eggplant, meat and béchamel sauce. Opa!!

Needless to say, guests onboard Riviera are in for a cultural and culinary treat as they continue exploring Greece on the Maiden Voyage. And they even have an expert on Greek cuisine onboard with them. Followers of the blog know that Chef Kelly of the Bon Appétit Culinary Center spends a great deal of time exploring European markets and tasting local cuisine, and she has enjoyed several forays to the markets and restaurants of Greece, including Corfu, Zakynthos and Athens. She teaches guests onboard how to make these fabulous Greek recipes (and many others) in the culinary center. I especially enjoyed her class on Mediterranean fare in which we made grilled lamb and feta cheeseburgers with a Greek salad, plus gazpacho for a touch of Spain. My final dish didn’t turn out nearly as pretty as Chef Kelly’s did, but it sure tasted delicious!

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It is perfectly apropos that Riviera is exploring Greece on her Maiden Voyage, because Chef Kelly and I aren’t the only fans of Greek food that have been onboard. Riviera’s godmother, Chef Cat Cora, is also an aficionado of Greek cuisine, as her grandmother came to the U.S. from the Greek island of Skopelos. Many of Chef Cora’s delicious recipes put a Greek spin on traditional favorites, such as her Greek-style nachos in her latest cookbook, Cat Cora’s Classics with a Twist.

Greece A1Chef Cora recently shared some of her culinary history and secrets with guests onboard Riviera during a “Chat with Cat” that was hosted by Cruise Director Leslie Jon. She said that her greatest personal mentors have been her family members, such as her grandmother, godfather, mother and father. “My father was incredible. He could smoke meats and marinate meats and grill meats like nobody else. He taught me all of that growing up, which was wonderful.”

At a very young age, Chef Cora learned Greek cooking techniques from her mother, who taught her how to roll grape leaves and work phyllo dough. The best advice she ever got from her mom? “The only piece that needs to be perfect with phyllo dough is the top piece!”

Another good tip on working with phyllo dough is that you don’t have to clarify the butter. “In fact, if you clarify the butter, you’re taking out the milk fat which adds flavor,” said Cora. “It also helps with the browning and the caramelization of your pastry…so don’t worry about clarifying.”

Chef Cora’s professional mentor, Julia Child, was famous for saying, “You can never have too much butter.” Leslie Jon asked Chef Cora what Greek ingredient she cannot get enough of.

In Cora’s opinion, “You can never have too much garlic. I mean, you probably can…I can think of situations where it’s probably too much, but…as long as the other person also has too much, you’re okay!”

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Chef Cora’s sense of humor and down-to-earth nature were evident as she described the challenges she faced coming up as a young chef in a profession that was largely dominated by men, especially in the French restaurants where she first interned as a sous chef. She credits her success to perseverance and passion. “I always remember hearing Oprah Winfrey say, ‘If you can stay passionate about what you do, the rest will come.’" 

Leslie Jon responded with his own apt quote from George Bernard Shaw, “There is no love sincerer than the love of food.”

“Yes,” Chef Cora smiled, “I think we can all agree with that.”

May 13, 2012

COUNTDOWN TO RIVIERA: 3 DAYS TO MAIDEN VOYAGE

Tuna

Look what I caught!

Sport fishing is one of my favorite hobbies, and it’s always been a dream of mine to catch a fish this size off the back of the ship. This line-caught yellow fin tuna weighs 80 kilos and was the centerpiece of the Mother’s Day brunch onboard Riviera today.

Gala Brunch09Okay, I confess, it wasn’t my catch, but a guy can dream. And the tuna wasn’t the only catch of the day featured at this gala brunch. There were langoustines, crab legs, linguini with clams, salmon, the finest caviar, and bouillabaisse with shrimp, scallops and mussels. If it lives in the sea, we dined on it today at a celebration in honor of mothers everywhere. We even had World Champion Oyster Shucker Xavier Caille onboard to shuck these beauties.

The culinary team never ceases to amaze me, and today was no exception, especially considering this is the second gala brunch they have prepared in three days. On the day of the christening, we dined on jamon Iberico pata negra and roast suckling pig.

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It just doesn’t get any better than this, and I can't wait for all of our guests to experience Riviera on her Maiden Voyage, which sails just three days from today!

 

May 4, 2012

RIVIERA SETS SAIL FROM GENOA!

If you follow the blog, you’ve seen Chef Kelly sharing posts about her classes in the Bon Appétit Culinary Center and her outings to local markets ashore. She posted yesterday about her recent adventures in Sicily as she was finalizing the plans for the Culinary Discovery Tours that will be launched with Riviera. Her beautiful photos of all the fresh fish and produce made me think – I can’t leave Italy without a visit to the local markets!

You’ve probably noticed that almost everyone at Oceania Cruises is obsessed with great food, and I’m no exception. Like any family, food is a large part of what brings the Oceania Cruises family together. I am at best an amateur chef, and my skills in the kitchen certainly don’t compare to the likes of chefs Pépin, Garanger or Kelly, but I can still appreciate the beauty of a local market. So before we left Genoa today, I stole an hour to venture ashore, and look what I found…

Fresh fish right off the boat…

Genoa Fish Market
Gorgeous basil that makes the best pesto in the world... 

Genoa Vegetable Market
Handmade cheese in every variety imaginable…

Genoa Cheese Market
As you would expect, I found Chef Garanger shopping these same markets in preparation for our sail-away dinner in Toscana tonight! That was a telltale sign I was in the right place.

There is a reason that the cuisine served in Toscana rivals that of any Italian restaurant in the world. Many of the recipes have been handed down from the Italian mothers and grandmothers of our own culinary team. And the reason we spend more money on cuisine than any cruise line out there is that exquisite, authentic cuisine can only be created with the finest, freshest ingredients.

At this point I had to rush back to the ship because I could hardly wait for dinner. But no matter how spectacular the cuisine would be, I didn’t want it to eclipse the occasion we would be celebrating. Tonight would be the first ever sail-away celebration onboard Riviera. Tonight she would sail from Genoa and venture out into the open sea en route to her first ever port of call.

I have to say everyone onboard feels a bit like proud parents at this point. Parents out there know that when your kids are babies, it seems like every day they reach some new milestone that makes you beam with pride. Riviera seems to be doing the same. Over the past week we’ve taken official delivery, celebrated her last night in Genoa and sailed for her first port of call. And she has no plans to slow down because her Christening Cruise and Maiden Voyage are right around the corner.

Victor in ToscanaTonight as we said goodbye to Italy, I couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate this historic moment than with a delicious meal in Toscana with members of the Oceania Cruises family – Victor Gonzalez and Fiona Applebaum.

Considering the flawless performance of the staff, it’s hard to believe that Riviera has not been at sea for years. Their service and presentation were impeccable.

The only challenge to an evening in Toscana is the decision making process. It started right from the beginning when we had to make a selection from the numerous olive oils and balsamic vinegars offered along with a selection of fine breads and crostini. In honor of Riviera’s godmother, I chose Chef Cat Cora’s olive oil. It seemed appropriate considering Chef Cora would be officially naming Riviera just a few days from now. And it was of course fantastic.

Toscana Olive Oils
But the decisions only got tougher from there…

For my pasta course, I finally settled on the special pasta of the day, which was linguini with sausage in a pomodoro sauce with freshly grated parmesan. The spices in the sausage perfectly complemented the rich flavor of the tomatoes, but the real star of the show was the fresh pasta.

Toscana Pasta
For my entrée, I chose the grilled veal chop with a porcini mushroom sauce and roasted potatoes. It melted in my mouth. Absolutely delicious.

Toscana Veal Chop
While I was absolutely ready for Toscana’s tiramisu, Victor reminded me I needed to pace myself. We have 12 days to go before we reach Venice and Riviera sets sail on her first Mediterranean voyage, which means there is a lot of desert in front of us. One hour later, I knew I shouldn't have listened to him...I missed that tiramisu!!!

May 1, 2012

BOB BINDER ON BURGERS AND BEGONIAS


Chef Garanger Prepares Tasting     Waves Tasting
If you read my post yesterday, you’ll recall that I was about to indulge in a burger tasting at Waves Grill. I am here to report that, as you might imagine, I was thoroughly impressed with the latest burgers from Chef Franck Garanger. As our Fleet Corporate Chef, he is responsible for many of the new recipes that will be unveiled onboard Riviera, and each dish we’ve tasted onboard has been better than the last.

Burger Tasting    Waves Fries
Of course, we’ve tried some exquisite dishes, such as the hoisin-sautéed duck foie gras with pecan and cucumber salad that will soon be featured in La Reserve. But some days you just want a great burger. And when Chef Garanger is involved, even a burger becomes a work of art. How does a Kobe beef burger with black truffle sauce and baby cress sound? Or perhaps the newest twist to be featured in Waves – the Alaskan salmon burger with Béarnaise tartar sauce and spicy slaw. And it goes without saying that Waves has the best fries anywhere.

While I love to take every possible opportunity to get involved in food tastings, one area in which I am definitely hands-off is the floral department. At home my flowers shrivel up after a day or two, so I’ve been sure to keep my “non-green thumbs” away from the plants onboard Riviera.

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More than 40 varieties of flowers will be featured onboard. They come from all over the world – just like our international crew. And you will NEVER find an artificial plant onboard an Oceania Cruises ship.

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I’d better get back to work as we’re six days and counting from the sailing of Riviera’s Christening Cruise. President Kunal Kamlani joined us today and will be sharing his impressions of Riviera here on the blog as well. Hint: I think he’ll be pretty impressed.

April 30, 2012

VICE CHAIRMAN BOB BINDER SENDS GREETINGS FROM RIVIERA

New Artwork at Red GingerHello from Riviera!

As our president, Kunal Kamlani, announced on Friday, we have officially taken delivery of Riviera, and we're now putting on the final touches in preparation for her christening in Barcelona next week.

For the past few weeks, we've been sharing some of Riviera's unique design elements here on the blog, and I'm sure those of you booked on an upcoming voyage are eager to get onboard and experience the ship. Of course, Marina and Riviera were first and foremost designed for foodies, but our secondary goal has been to create floating museums that inspire and engage our guests with their sense of style and their striking, contemporary artwork. 

Our chairman, Frank Del Rio, holds a special place in his heart for all the Cuban artists featured onboard, which is understandable due to his Cuban heritage. My fascination with Asian art is not so easily explained, but it has likely evolved from my travels on that continent and my experiences with the beauty of not only the paintings and sculptures of Asia, but also the gardens, the temples and especially the people and their cultures. 

As you might imagine, I was especially pleased to be able to help with the installation of the artwork in Red Ginger. Below we are hanging a Vietnamese painting that reads "Celebrate."

Celebrate in Vietnamese
The next painting says "Serenity" in Thai. I especially like it because it reflects the harmony of Red Ginger's bold, yet tranquil, design.

Serenity in Thai
As with all of our restaurants onboard, every detail is a statement on the distinctive style of each venue. So in Red Ginger we had to make sure that the table settings were works of art in themselves.

Red Ginger Table
Frank, Kunal and I can't wait until Riviera welcomes her first guests onboard, and I hope you'll enjoy exploring every corner of the ship. In fact, we only have a few corners left to prepare. We'll continue to share photos here on the blog as we complete the finishing touches.

I hear Chef Franck Garanger is preparing a tasting for us in Waves Grill, so for now I'd better attend to the business at hand. Like I always say, it's a tough job, but somebody has to do it!

December 13, 2011

GALA TEA TIME ONBOARD MARINA

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Afternoon tea in Horizons lounge is a time-honored tradition onboard Oceania Cruises' ships. Each day at four o'clock, guests gather for this festive occasion to enjoy various treats and, of course, a nice cup of tea. Lengthier voyages, such as Marina's recent transatlantic cruise, give the onboard pastry chefs a chance to really flex their creative muscles during "Gala Tea Time." For this grand affair the chefs go above and beyond their already impressive display of goodies and elevate the traditional tea time to an expression of artistic inspiration. 

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The centerpiece of the Gala Tea Time is the croquembouche, a regal tower of caramelized puff pastries with delectable fillings.

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But the croquembouche is only the beginning of an array of elegant edibles. There are eclairs, tarts, scones, and even truffles prettily arranged in the shape of the Oceania Cruises logo.

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Not all of the choices are sweet treats. Finger sandwiches, such as smoked salmon with lemon cream cheese on navette or roast beef and gherkins on poulichette, are an essential part of any tea time.

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Some of the creations are simply too beautiful to eat. Ornate sculptures created from spun sugar adorn the sumptuous spreads.

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Over 500 guests enjoyed the Gala Tea Time onboard Marina this week, affirming that afternoon tea is not just for the English anymore!


November 9, 2011

JACQUES SHOWCASES CLASSIC FRENCH CUISINE ONBOARD MARINA

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Any fan of Oceania Cruises knows that exquisite cuisine is one of our hallmarks. We have gone to great lengths to ensure that our onboard restaurants serve only the finest cuisine. Our culinary success can be largely attributed to Vice Chairman Bob Binder, Senior Vice President of Hotel Operations Franco Semeraro, Fleet Corporate Chef Franck Garanger and to the vision of our Executive Culinary Director, Master Chef Jacques Pépin.

Chef Pépin has been a source of inspiration for our entire culinary team since day one, but his contribution to the organization does not end there. Onboard Marina – and soon Riviera – we proudly feature his first-ever namesake restaurant, Jacques, a charming Parisian-style bistro serving authentic, timeless French classics.

“A brasserie is an intimate restaurant because dining is a very human experience,” says Chef Pépin. “It may be one of the greatest experiences to share food with friends.”

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Pépin’s great love of not only fantastic food, but also the dining experience itself, manifests in every detail of Jacques. As one would expect, each course is a culinary masterpiece, but equal attention has also been given to the exquisite design of the chairs and the custom preparation of the bread. The entire atmosphere of the restaurant is very personal, almost as if Pépin has invited you to join him for dinner at his home. Some of the artwork gracing the walls even came from his personal collection.

Jacques22 Jacques03
In the foreword to Taste the World: The Food and Flavors of Oceania Cruises, Pépin writes, “We have designed the menu and the space itself in the spirit of the great brasseries and bistros of France­ – casual yet with a certain elegance and a dreamlike feeling of entering another time.”

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As Blogger-at-Large for Oceania Cruises, I recently had the pleasure of dining at Jacques, and my only regret is that Jacques is not the corner restaurant down the street from my home. Jacques would always be my choice for celebrations, even if I were simply celebrating the company of good friends. Dining at Jacques is more than just a great meal; it’s an experience.

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It goes without saying that an evening at Jacques begins with an excellent bottle of French wine, so without further delay, let’s move on to the cuisine. Chef Pépin’s vision was to offer a taste of classic French dishes, prepared the right way. He says, “This is the kind of ‘perfect meal’ food that satisfies me and makes me happy. It has panache and style, but it’s also familiar and comforting, and I hope that combination makes you happy, too.”

It certainly does. Chef Franck Garanger has collaborated with Pépin to create a menu that is sure to please. The classics are here in abundance, and each dish is masterfully executed, from the escargots to the French onion soup to the pommes frites to the canard à l’orange. The only challenge is to limit yourself to a reasonable number of courses, and the wait staff will be of no assistance there, as they only encourage you to fully indulge your palate’s every desire.

I cleverly resolved my conflict over which entrée to select by ordering one of the entrées as an appetizer—the Coquille Saint-Jacques aux Morilles et Pommes de Terre Fondantes. This delightful dish featured perfectly seared scallops over fondant potatoes that melted in my mouth. The flavor of the morel mushrooms provided the ideal complement.

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My husband began with the Escargots à la Bourguignonne. I could barely contain myself long enough to allow him the first taste. The escargots filled my mouth with the rich, buttery flavor that is the essence of French cooking, and I could not resist dipping my baguette in the delicious sauce.

We of course had to try the French onion soup. You won’t be surprised to hear that it was exceptional, and Chef Pépin explains why. “The onion soup is made with real Gruyère, real bread and real stock, seasoned the right way, and served in the right bowl with that little indentation that catches the cheese so it forms a perfect crust in the oven. These small touches add up to a very great difference.”

I can certainly bear witness to the truth of that statement.

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We decided to try another classic soup as well, the Soupe de Poisson Marseillaise. This delicious fish soup was served with crisp garlic croutons and rouille sauce on the side, so I could garnish it exactly as I wished. Trusting the chef’s judgment on the portions provided, I decided it would be best to use every bit of the garnish, and I believe I made the correct choice. The flavor profile was both intense and well balanced.

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Jacques16For my entrée, I knew from the onset that I would be unable to resist the Homard Thermidor à ma Façon. When it arrived, I recognized at once that it would be everything I had hoped. The lobster was baked in shell in a delectable mushroom cream sauce and served with crispy parmesan. It was both decadent and comforting at the same time.

My husband ordered the Carré de Veau Mariné à la Tapenade from the rotisserie. As if the aromas wafting through Jacques are not enough, the rotisserie is open to view so that the roasting meats can tempt you visually as well. My husband’s inability to resist was duly rewarded. The veal was unbelievably tender and flavorful.

As if all of this were not enough to satiate us, there were also many tantalizing choices available to accompany the entrées. My husband and I were unsuccessful in our attempt to make a modest selection.

It is with a great sense of shame that I confess I simply could not find room for dessert. There was a pastry display at the front of Jacques filled with delectable options, and I’d had grand notions of sampling several. But the side dishes were ultimately my undoing. Had I been able to forego the Gratin Dauphinois, I may have been able to try a dessert, but I have to say the creamy, crispy buttery goodness of those perfectly prepared potatoes was worth the sacrifice.

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I guess this means I will be forced to return and sample the pastries another time. Chef Franck Garanger continues to create sumptuous new dishes to feature in Jacques, so I feel obliged to try these as well. I am most definitely up to the task, and I hope the opportunity presents itself very soon.

 

September 16, 2011

TASTE THE WORLD: The Food and Flavors of Oceania Cruises

Taste the World Cookbook
Fans of the exquisite cuisine served onboard Oceania Cruises ships will be thrilled to know that they can now try many of these fabulous recipes in their own homes! Taste the World, the culinary lifestyle book from Oceania Cruises, is now available on Amazon.com. Not only does it contain numerous recipes featured onboard Oceania Cruises ships, but it also includes fascinating stories from the chefs and staff, as well as a look behind the scenes during a full day and night of culinary wizardry in the onboard galleys. 

Those less experienced in the culinary arts need not be intimidated by the vast array of recipes featured in Taste the World. As Blogger-at-Large for Oceania Cruises, I felt compelled to try a few of the recipes at home myself, and I can attest to the fact that even a novice in the kitchen can successfully prepare these dishes. And if you aren't currently onboard savoring the luxuries of an Oceania Cruise, this is the perfect way to enjoy the Oceania Cruises experience at home!

On the back cover of the book is a picture of Jacques Pépin and members of the Oceania Cruises culinary team shopping in a seafood market. My husband and I decided to begin our culinary journey in similar fashion and compiled a list of interesting recipes revolving around the sea.

We discovered so many delectable options that we initially had a seven-course meal on our hands. Lacking a professional chef's kitchen, we decided it would be wise to scale our choices down to three.

Tuna Tartare Recipe1
On page 125 we selected the Sesame-Seared Tuna with Vegetable Tartare. You can see from the photo above that we had our work cut out for us. We turned the page to find Tiger Prawns with Sauce Remoulade along with a recipe for Court Bouillon. And on page 224, we decided on the Pan-Seared Scallops with Cauliflower Mousseline.

Any chef would have been proud as we compiled our prep and shopping lists. Since my husband and I are landlocked, finding a seaside market is not an option, but we did very well with a local purveyor. As the shop was quaint in size and selection, we did need to finish our shopping at another store but were able to secure the necessary ingredients in a timely fashion.

As we began our culinary soiree, my husband noted that he was missing the chef’s hat that he had worn during our class at the Bon Appétit Culinary Center onboard Marina. His next realization was that he had forgotten the first rule we had learned in that class:  Always have a glass of wine in hand when you begin cooking. We quickly resolved these issues, and once everything was in order, we started preparing for our feast.

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The next couple of hours focused on prepping all of the necessary ingredients and, and in accordance with what we had learned from Chef Kelly at the Bon Appétit Culinary Center, we prepared our “mis-en-place." Soon the vegetable tartare rolls were laid out on their plates while the shrimp danced in the bouillon before going into an ice bath.

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We coordinated our steps and were able to move about the kitchen without getting in each other’s way. We soon found ourselves wrapping up the cooking process and just a few minutes away from enjoying our dinner. 

The results were in...

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Tiger Prawns with Sauce Remoulade

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Pan-Seared Scallops with Cauliflower Mousseline

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Sesame-Seared Tuna with Vegetable Tartare

While our presentation wasn't exactly up to Oceania Cruises standards, we were quite pleased with how closely our tuna resembled the photo in the book. We paired the food with a sauvignon blanc and sat down to enjoy our dinner and reflect on the process. We agreed the day had been great fun, and now it was time to relax while enjoying the fruits of our labor. Each dish was delicious!

We plan to revisit Taste the World again very soon. Of course, we are also looking forward to returning to Oceania Cruises ships where the talented chefs will prepare these fantastic dishes for us!