147 posts categorized " Marina "

September 9, 2014

OCEANIA CRUISES UNVEILS NEW 2015-2016 WINTER COLLECTION

Today Oceania Cruises is thrilled to unveil our new collection of itineraries for the 2015-2016 winter season. Of these 42 destination-rich sailings, 27 are unique new itineraries never before offered, featuring 12 exciting new ports of call:

Reservations open on September 17, at 8:30 am EST, so now is the perfect time to begin planning your dream voyage to whichever corner of the globe intrigues you most. Here are the regions where each ship will sail and highlights of some of the fascinating new itineraries.

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Tierra del Fuego, South America

REGATTA: The Americas

In addition to Caribbean sailings and four voyages traversing the Panama Canal, Regatta explores South America at length, including two new Amazon River cruises and the new Alluring Andes & Majestic Fjords itinerary, departing Lima on February 7, 2016, and sailing around the southernmost tip of the continent. Marvel at Machu Picchu perched high in the Andes, cruise the magnificent Chilean Fjords and Tierra del Fuego, and explore vibrant cities from Valparaiso to Buenos Aires.

INSIGNIA: Around the World

For the most adventurous explorers seeking the journey of a lifetime, Around the World in 180 Days sails roundtrip from Miami and circumnavigates the globe. If your time is more limited, shorter segments of this journey also traverse oceans and continents. Departing from Barbados on January 14, 2016, Atlantic Ocean Exploration calls on Caribbean and South American destinations such as Belém, the gateway to the Amazon, before crossing the Atlantic to Africa. Explore the new port of Luderitz, Namibia, the vast sand dunes of Walvis Bay, and the exotic island of São Tomé.

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Walvis Bay, Namibia


NAUTICA: Africa & Asia

Nautica calls South Africa and Asia home for a series of eight unique itineraries, six of which are new routes. The new Dynasties & Empires, departing March 4, 2016, sails from Beijing to Hong Kong and features six overnight stays to allow ample time to explore fascinating cities such as Shanghai and Tokyo. Beautiful new ports on this voyage include Shimizu, Japan, nestled in the shadow of Mount Fuji, and Jeju, South Korea, known as the “Island of the Gods” for its beautiful beaches and dramatic landscapes.

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Bora Bora, French Polynesia

 

MARINA: South Pacific

Opening the season with two South American voyages, Marina then sails for the South Pacific to explore lush Polynesian islands and the treasures of Australia and New Zealand. Embark in Tahiti on February 4, 2016, for the new South Pacific Serenity sailing, and you can experience the pristine beaches and sapphire lagoons of Bora Bora, Fiji and Norfolk Island, a new port of call in Australia, as well as the architectural icons of cosmopolitan Sydney.

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Sydney, Australia

 

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Castries, St. Lucia

RIVIERA: Caribbean

Riviera explores the sunny Caribbean from the ancient Mayan ruins along the western shores to the idyllic islands of the east. What better way to spend the holiday season than on the new cruise Celebrate the Sunshine, which sails roundtrip from Miami on December 22, 2015, and spends 12 glorious days in gorgeous locales such as St. Barts, Martinique, St. Lucia and Antigua.

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.

June 17, 2014

SUMMER BREWS ON A CULINARY DISCOVERY TOUR IN OSLO

My friend and colleague Chef Annie B. Copps led guests on a fabulous Culinary Discovery Tour in Oslo to kick off the Baltic season. Check out her blog below:

The Scandinavian port of Oslo, Norway, was the perfect place to kick off a series of Culinary Discovery Tours as Marina makes the Baltic Sea home for the summer months. After a long and cold winter, Norwegians have been bursting with anticipation for the arrival of summer, and we were warmly welcomed to Oslo by enthusiastic locals enjoying a bright and sunny day. We explored the historic streets of the city and toasted the wonderful weather with the region’s favorite summer beverage – beer!

We were greeted by beer aficionado Bjerte at his beer academy, a downtown spot dedicated to the study of beer. Fortunately for us, this study involved tasting. We learned about the history of beer in the Norwegian culture and the growing popularity of artisanal and home brewing. After tasting both a commercial pilsner and artisanal Belgian ale, we were off to the Mathallen Food Hall.

Beer Academy

Commercial and Artisanal beer

The short walk through Oslo to the Food Hall was particularly beautiful with all the trees and flowers in bloom. We crossed the Aker River and arrived at Mathallen, located in a former rail works building along the riverbank. We strolled among the neatly arranged food stalls, and guests sampled cheese, smoked fish, cured meats, pastries and chocolate.

Aker River

Mathallen Food Hall

Bjerte led us to his eatery, Oltorget, where we sampled more beer – this time paired with cheese. Pouring our beer was Kim Daniel, who is a master bartender and champion beer pourer. He won top honors at the annual championship in the Czech Republic, which requires knowledge of pouring techniques and the brew’s history. The two masters served a tart beer paired with fresh, tangy goat cheese, followed by a rich porter matched with an aged blue cheese. Perfection!

Oltorget at Mathallen-Kim and Bjerte

Oltorget Beer List Porter beer

Next we enjoyed lunch at a restaurant called Smalhans, a word of German origin that loosely translates as "frugal." The restaurant is so named because it sources seasonal local produce and ingredients to create an ever-changing menu of simple yet delectable dishes offered at a remarkable value. A light, warm potato salad laced with artichokes, roasted red peppers and capers in a light vinaigrette was served alongside fresh asparagus and a red fish called uer fisk. (Search the internet for an image of this fish and you’ll see it looks like something out of Dr. Seuss!) A light Weissen, or wheat beer, was served with our main course. For dessert, ruby red strawberries over panna cotta were paired with a hearty stout that mimics many of the flavors of coffee. It was an excellent end to a delightful summer day of perfect pairings in beautiful Oslo.

Smallhans meal

June 13, 2014

FARM-TO-TABLE CUISINE ON A NEW CULINARY DISCOVERY TOUR IN COUNTY CORK

As I continue the Culinary Discovery ToursTM with our guests on Riviera, the delightful and talented Chef Annie B. Copps is hosting guests on board Marina. Below is a blog from Chef Annie about our exciting new tour in County Cork, Ireland:

Local. Seasonal. Sustainable. It is wonderful that these words are part of our culinary vocabulary—and even more wonderful that this is not a passing trend, but an age-old model that so many chefs and farmers strive to embrace. On Oceania Cruises' newest Culinary Discovery Tour, Marina guests visited the Ballymaloe Cookery School, where they practice this philosophy today and have been for decades, even before it was “cool.”

Ballymaloe Cookery School

The Ballymaloe estate is a short drive through the spectacular County Cork countryside of rolling hills covered with verdant crops, ancient castles, small villages and herds of cows and sheep. Ballymaloe consists of a hotel, market shop, professional cooking school and a certified organic working farm with both crops and livestock. Our tour began with a history of the Allen family, who have worked the land for three generations, and then a walking tour of the beautiful grounds. Each of the many gardens we visited seemed like a secret spot that we luckily happened upon, because each is separated by intricate topiaries, canopies and trellises—it all felt a bit like the work of fairies. There were also large open fields filled with sculptures. One garden was entirely herbs and artichokes. Another was cutting flowers, and a third grew potatoes and carrots. One had chickens running about. The family also maintains a large greenhouse, which was filled with tomatoes of all sorts ready to be picked.

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After our jaunt we settled in for a cooking lesson taught by Chef Pamela Black, whose bright red hair, soft giggle and twinkle in her eye belied her serious cooking talent. For all the good food we saw growing, the proof was indeed in the pudding. Chef Pam demonstrated traditional Irish soda bread, butterflied chicken breast and potatoes boiled with a touch of fresh mint. I can’t remember a potato tasting better than these, which were pulled from the ground that morning.

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We also enjoyed a salad of freshly picked greens and a lovely soft meringue filled with fresh strawberries—the first of the season. It was a simple meal, but an honest one made with ingredients almost entirely from the property. The exceptions were the wheat, olive oil and the chickens, which came from another local farm. At Ballymaloe they use their chickens for their eggs and get whole chickens from others to support their neighbors—also part of sustainability.

With full bellies and happy hearts, we made our way back home to Marina for a stunning sail away from the harbor of Cobh. I can’t wait to return and share this wonderful experience with more Oceania Cruises guests!

April 23, 2014

COOKING UP NEW CLASSES AND TOURS IN THE BON APPETIT CULINARY CENTER

The excitement continues on board Marina and Riviera as we introduce a new season of Bon Appétit Culinary Center classes and Culinary Discovery ToursTM. We’re launching a total of 21 new classes in the culinary center this year, and four of those will debut during this season in Europe. We're also IMG_6518 - Version 2unveiling two brand new Culinary Discovery Tours this summer, and we’ve added some wonderful new experiences to favorite tours of years past. All in all, it promises to be the most fun season yet!

Our new classes this season feature a diverse array of regional cuisines from every corner of the European continent. Our classes on Greek cuisine have always been some of my favorites, and the new Healthy Greek class is no exception. In this class you can learn flavorful recipes inspired by the famously healthy dietary lifestyle of Crete, and you’ll also learn to make the prized tomato fritters from Selene Restaurant on Santorini. The Modern Nordic class features treats such as salted caramel ice cream and other fresh, inventive dishes reflecting the latest trends of edgy Nordic restaurants such as Noma and Geranium. If, like me, you find Turkish culture intriguing, you can discover the secrets of the country’s cuisine in our new Turkish Arabesque class. Focusing on the renowned cuisine of Provence, Beyond Ratatouille offers the chance to make the favorite dishes of our own Jacques Pépin as well as Gui Gedda, considered the godfather of Provençal cuisine.

I'm especially excited about the launch of our brand new Culinary Discovery Tours in Cork and Palma de Mallorca. The beauty of the Ballymaloe country estate in Cork is reason enough to visit, but when you add in a private tour of the gardens and a cooking demonstration and tasting at the world-renowned cooking school located there, it becomes an experience not to be missed. Palma de Mallorca is also sure to be a hit, as we’ll shop the local market, sample different varieties of olive oil and dine at El Faro, a restaurant perched above the harbor where the view is only rivaled by the fabulous Mediterranean menu. We’ve also enhanced our Culinary Discovery Tours in Amalfi and Sicily with new restaurants such as the renowned Osteria Nero d’Avola in Taormina.

Photo1-2Of course, we'll continue offering Culinary Discovery Tours in the many destinations that have become guest favorites, as each season promises new trends and dishes to discover in the ever-evolving regional culinary scenes. This week we enjoyed fascinating tours in both Madeira and Morocco. On the island of Madeira, we explored the town of Funchal, always a treasure trove of passion fruit, exotic orchids and fresh fish. We tasted Madeira wines at Blandy’s, shopped the local market, and enjoyed an authentic Madeiran lunch.  

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In Tangier, Morocco, we strolled through the medina and the fish market, stopping to select some preserved doqq lemons and midway olives from one of our favorite vendors. We shared a luncheon of chicken tagine, pastilla, and couscous with a fantastic onion and beef confit, topped off with an exotic tea-pouring ceremony.

This is only the beginning of a great new season of exploring food and wine while making new friends both on the ship and amongst those who host us so generously in their wineries, restaurants and markets ashore. I hope you'll join us for the fun!

April 10, 2014

VERNE LUNDQUIST: FROM THE PGA MASTERS TO MARINA

Verne-LundquistThe distinctive voice of Verne Lundquist has marked some of the most memorable moments in sports history, and guests on Marina’s Viking Passage voyage will have a chance to sail with the legendary broadcaster. Lundquist will be a guest speaker on the May 22, 2014, cruise and will share personal stories from some of the most unforgettable moments in sports as the ship completes a 16-day transoceanic voyage that will traverse the Eastern Seaboard and sail through the British Isles.  

Lundquist has been an indelible part of CBS’s coverage of collegiate basketball championships for years, and this week marks his 28th year calling the PGA® Masters Tournament. A sportscaster since 1977, Lundquist was inducted into the National Sportscaster and Sportswriters Hall of Fame in April 2007. His stories span the decades and a wide variety of sports from football to figure skating. My favorite part of any game is when an outstanding play inspires him to declare, “How DO you do?!”

If you’re sailing with Verne, make sure to ask him about his all-time favorite sports moment. He’s called many, but odds are it will either be Jack Nicklaus’s final Masters win, Tiger Woods’s dramatic chip shot at the 2005 Masters, or last year’s Alabama versus Auburn game.  

This is an experience our guests won’t soon forget. If you were sailing with Verne Lundquist, what sports moment would you like to discuss?  

April 1, 2014

A GREAT DEAL IN ST. PETERSBURG

Of all the amazing places I have traveled over the years, St. Petersburg truly captured my heart. So you can imagine my delight when I heard that Oceania Cruises is now offering a dozen St. Petersburg shore excursions FREE on five Marina sailings in 2014. And with two or three full days in St. Petersburg on each sailing, you can explore at will because the number of free shore excursions you can enjoy is UNLIMITED.

On the shore excursion St. Isaac’s Cathedral, Kazan Cathedral and Spilled Blood Cathedral (a great deal at $195 and an even better deal for free), you will visit three magnificent centers of spiritual life. St. Isaac’s Cathedral is a breathtaking monument to 19th century Russian architecture with its shimmering gold-plated dome that is a dominant feature of the city’s skyline.   

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Image0908C8AC-58E6-4DFE-9DDD-F014EE657AF5Strikingly different but no less captivating is the Church of Our Savior on Spilled Blood, so named because it was constructed as a memorial on the site where Tsar Alexander II was assassinated. From early childhood I have been impressed by images of this style of Russian Orthodox temple so different from Western cathedrals. The colorful exterior and five copper-plated and enameled domes positively sparkle in the radiant summer sun. The interior is adorned with an incredible collection of mosaics, the largest in Russia and one of the largest in the world.

If you are an art lover, a visit to St. Petersburg may well inspire you to relocate permanently and spend the rest of your days wandering the Hermitage. If that seems impractical, the next best thing is the Hermitage, A Wealth of Art and History shore excursion (normally $195). Because of the convenience, comfort and a host of other reasons, an Oceania Cruises shore excursion is always the best way to experience a destination, but I especially recommend an excursion when visiting the Hermitage. The expert guides allow you to circumvent the lengthy lines and ensure that you see some of the most renowned works in the collection.

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One of the oldest and largest museums in the world, the Hermitage boasts a collection of more than three million works of art and artifacts, only part of which can be displayed in the complex of historic buildings that includes the Winter Palace, the former state residence of the Russian emperors. Some of my favorites include the 23 works by the Dutch master Rembrandt, Michelangelo’s sculpture Crouching Boy, and two of Leonardo da Vinci’s oil paintings, an extremely rare medium for this Italian Renaissance polymath. The environment in which these masterpieces are housed is as impressive as the works themselves.

Hermitage Rembrandt Portrait of an Old Jew

Hermitage Michelangelo Crouching Boy

Hermitage da Vinci Benois Madonna

These are just a few highlights of the 12 free shore excursions. There is obviously a great deal to see in St. Petersburg and no better way to see it than by taking advantage of this great deal from Oceania Cruises! And for a limited time, Oceania Cruises is also offering free pre-paid gratuities, unlimited Internet, and a shipboard credit up to $300 per stateroom on the sailings below, as well as the option to purchase a $99 premium economy air upgrade on select sailings. There has never been a better time to explore this magical city:

March 10, 2014

WAIOTAPU THERMAL WONDERLAND

WAIOTAPU THERMAL WONDERLAND - TAURANGA (159)Rotorua sits in the middle of the Taupo Volcanic Zone, a highly active volcanic area in northern New Zealand that attracts visitors from all over the world. Marina has been sailing the coast of New Zealand this week, and yesterday guests got an up-close look at the remarkable effects of this geothermal hot spot at Waiotapu Thermal Wonderland, about 15 miles south of Rotorua.

Originally settled by Maori in the 13th century, Waiotapu is the Maori word for “sacred waters.” Protected since 1931, the Waiotapu Thermal Reserve has the largest area of surface thermal activity of any system in the Taupo Volcanic Zone, with colorful hot springs, craters, geysers and boiling mud pools. 

Champagne Pool 2

At over 200 feet in diameter and approximately 200 feet deep, the Champagne Pool is Waiotapu’s largest hot spring. It was formed more than 700 years ago and is named for the abundant flow of carbon dioxide that gives it the appearance of bubbling champagne. The pool temperature averages 165 degrees Fahrenheit, and the oversaturation of metalloid compounds are what create the distinctive orange deposits that frame the pool. 

Champagne Pool 3

Champagne Pool 1 Champagne Pool 5

The Champagne Pool is tilted due to seismic activity, causing mineral-laden water to flow over the surrounding sinter-encrusted flats. Minerals in the water, micro-organisms and wind patterns combine to create an ever-changing array of colors on what has become known as the Artist’s Palette. 

Artist's Palette 1

Artist's Palette 2 Artist's Palette 5

One of the more active areas of the thermal reserve is the Mud Pool, where visitors can see – and hear – bubbling explosions of mud. Mud pools form in high-temperature geothermal areas where there is little water, and the boiling mud can sometimes reach heights of three to five feet. 

Mud 1 Mud 4 Mud 8 

Craters, formed when the ground collapses, can be found throughout the thermal reserve. They range from 15 to over 150 feet in diameter and reach up to 65 feet deep. The most recent crater, Thunder Crater, was formed in 1968.

Crater 1

Many types of geothermal activities can be observed within the craters, including steam vents, known as fumaroles, as well as sulfur vents and bubbling pools. 

Crater 2

Lime Green Pool Mud 10

This thermal reserve is just one of many fascinating places to explore in this region. Other excursion opportunities include a Culinary Discovery Tour, in which guests learn how the Maori used geothermal activity to prepare food, and a tour of the verdant New Zealand countryside where the Lord of the Rings trilogy was filmed.

A call on Rotorua holds great appeal not only for aspiring arm-chair geologists intrigued by the geological hot spot of Waiotapu, but also for anyone who wants to witness some of nature’s most beautiful wonders. Oceania Cruises calls on Rotorua three times next year:

March 5, 2014

2015 SUMMER SEASON OPENS FOR BOOKINGS

A recent study suggests that the planning stages can be one of the most pleasurable parts of a vacation. When it comes to a voyage with Oceania Cruises, nothing can possibly beat the vacation itself, but I do love all the steps leading up to the vacation. Perhaps the most exciting is the initial planning as I dream of what part of the world I might explore next. That is why this is one of my favorite times of year, because today Oceania Cruises unveils its new 2015 Summer Collection, a whole new array of itineraries that will inspire all of us to begin planning our next Oceania Cruises adventure.

Summer is always an exciting season for Oceania Cruises as the ships explore all corners of the globe, from Alaska to Scandinavia and from New England to the Mediterranean. And 2015 is no exception with 24 new ports, 40 new itineraries in Europe, five new itineraries in Alaska and autumn cruises up and down the Eastern Seaboard during the height of the beautiful fall foliage. The season’s itineraries sail from April through November, and I was thrilled to discover that a few itineraries for the 2015-2016 winter season are being unveiled early and will also be available for bookings today!

The first thing I like to do when new itineraries are released is research the new ports to find out what fascinating places have been added to an already enormous list of destinations that Oceania Cruises visits. It would be impossible to pick a favorite from the array of new destinations, but I did find myself particularly excited about Liverpool. Here in the hometown of one of history’s greatest rock bands, The Beatles Story exhibition offers a walking tour narrated by John Lennon’s sister. More distant history is revealed at the Liverpool Cathedral, which looks positively stunning in the photos I’ve seen, and I’ve read that the views from the bell tower are unbeatable.

Liverpool Cathedral
Liverpool Cathedral

If you read my recent blog on Barcelona, highlighting several works by Gaudí, you can probably guess that I’m a big fan of art nouveau architecture. So I was also happy to see that Glasgow, birthplace of Charles Rennie Mackintosh, will be a new port of call in the British Isles. His buildings can be found throughout the city, the most famous and perhaps the most beautiful being the Glasgow School of Art.

Another new port that caught my eye was the Solovetsky Islands, located in the White Sea off the coast of Northern Russia. After learning about Russian history on my amazing visit to St. Petersburg, I feel drawn to this isolated archipelago just a hundred miles south of the Arctic Circle, as it is home to one of the most powerful monasteries of the Russian Empire. If the history isn’t enough to intrigue you, the islands’ natural beauty alone will make this an unforgettable call.

Solovetsky Islands Monastery
Solovetsky Monastery

Of course, while I may be Oceania Cruises’ Blogger-at-Large, I have not yet lived enough years to visit all of the marvelous destinations to which the ships sail. So beyond the new ports, there are also several other places the ships visit regularly that remain on my bucket list. I’ve already mentioned my fascination with Russia, and the recent Winter Olympics have showcased the beauty of Sochi, framed dramatically by the Caucasus Mountains. Departing September 7, 2014, Riviera’s Black Sea Sojourn offers the opportunity to explore this picturesque city as well as other enchanting ports along the coasts of Romania, Bulgaria and Turkey.

The voyages to Iceland and Greenland have always called to me as well, and I can only hope that 2015 may be the year I make the trip. I like to venture off the beaten path, and the pristine wilderness of these northern treasures is sure to offer an experience like no other on board the luxurious – and newly renovatedNautica. If the raw beauty of nature appeals to you as well, you’ll have a tough time choosing between the icy grandeur of the Arctic and the untamed majesty of Alaska. There is no better way to experience Mother Nature at her best than to explore Alaska on board Regatta, also newly renovated.

Glazier Lake - Fire and Ice - Wrangell
Glacier Lake near Wrangell, Alaska

One of the most exciting things about the new 2015 summer season is that Oceania Cruises will be offering Grand Voyages in Europe. These extended voyages have been very popular in Africa, Asia and the South Pacific during recent winter seasons, and now guests will have the opportunity to linger in Europe and beyond on voyages of up to 39 days. One of the most irresistible aspects of these longer voyages is that they offer additional savings and Exclusive Prestige Package amenities, such as a one-night pre-cruise hotel stay, free laundry service and other great offers.

On the heels of the overwhelmingly positive response to Oceania Cruises’ first-ever world expedition unveiled last summer, Insignia’s 180-Day World Odyssey was announced in November, and individual cruises within the 180-Day World Odyssey are now open for bookings with the launch of the 2015 summer season. Also available are another series of Grand Voyages featuring combinations of these itineraries ranging from 35 to 70 days.

With all of these extraordinary voyages being released, your biggest challenge (and greatest pleasure!) will be choosing which one you wish to sail on. You may find your choice influenced by the Culinary Discovery ToursTM offered on select sailings on board Marina and Riviera. These unique excursions offer an in-depth look at the culinary culture of destinations worldwide, with the opportunity to dine in local restaurants, take cooking classes with renowned chefs, and visit local markets, farms and wineries. We’re thrilled to be offering several new Culinary Discovery Tours in the 2015 summer season, so be sure to check out which ones are available.

Reservations are now open, so you can begin the ever so pleasant process of selecting your cruise right away. I’ve found it’s always a good idea to book early for the best fares and availability. Following are links to some cruises that include the ports I mentioned here, and you can view the entire 2015 Summer Collection by clicking the Promotions link at the very top of this page.

 

January 31, 2014

REGATTA, INSIGNIA AND NAUTICA: IMPROVING ON PERFECTION

As Blogger-at-Large for Oceania Cruises, I have had the great fortune to sail on Regatta, Insignia and Nautica several times over the past few years. With only 684 guests on board, these ships feel as warm, welcoming and intimate as smaller vessels while also offering the conveniences and amenities of the larger ships. In other words, they are perfect. So it was hard for me to imagine how Oceania Cruises could improve on perfection.

But the folks at Oceania Cruises never stop striving to improve and innovate, and they will soon further enhance the already beloved Regatta, Insignia and Nautica by implementing the largest refurbishment program in the company’s history. The award-winning ships will undergo a $50 million transformation during the second quarter of 2014.

For those who, like me, feel the ships are perfect as they are, no need to worry. They will retain all the warmth, intimacy and charm that guests have come to cherish, but they will shine even brighter thanks to elegant new decor throughout the ships. And having received an overwhelmingly positive response to the innovations featured on board Marina and Riviera, Oceania Cruises will add many of those best-loved amenities and design elements to Regatta, Insignia and Nautica during the refits.

When the updates are complete, all guests will be welcomed with rich new decor in their suite or stateroom, imbuing their home away from home with a new sense of style, elegance and flair. Specific changes include new bathrooms with a lavish oversized shower and new onyx and granite vanities in the Owner's and Vista Suites. The Penthouse Suites will be transformed into virtual replicas of those on Marina and Riviera. All staterooms will feature luxurious new fabrics and furnishings.

Swatches

Penthouse Suite

Veranda Stateroom

Inside Stateroom

One of my favorite haunts on board is Horizons, the perfect place for socializing, relaxing or simply taking in the stunning views, and this lounge will also undergo a transformation with a new color palate and new furnishings. The Main Lounges will be completely refurbished with new carpeting, chairs and elegant new fabrics and upholstery. Martinis and the Pool Deck will both receive new furnishings, and the Canyon Ranch Spa Club® will have new steam rooms and changing rooms decorated with dramatic new mosaics and intricate custom tile work.

The Terrace Café will feature all new decor as well as a new state-of-the-art grill similar to the one on Marina and Riviera, so guests can dine on made-to-order specialties like juicy steaks, succulent lobster tails and mouthwatering chops any night they wish. As a coffee drinker, I was especially thrilled to hear that Baristas will be added in the Grand Bar area. This coffee bar is a guest favorite on Marina and Riviera and will certainly be a welcome addition to the other ships. Here master baristas prepare complimentary illy® espressos, cappuccinos and lattes and also serve fresh pastries and finger sandwiches throughout the day.

Baristas

The upper decks of the ships offer some of the greatest views of the sea, sky and coastlines, so what better place to enjoy an array of new deck games? Guests can take in the lovely vistas during a rousing game of shuffleboard or while playing a round of miniature golf on the 9-hole putting green, a feature unique to ships in this class.

Miniature golf

Fortunately we won’t have to wait long to experience these fabulous changes. Insignia will debut on May 8, 2014, in Barcelona for her 7-day Jewels of Europe cruise, and we’ll be especially excited not only to see her splendid new refurbishments but also to welcome her back to the fleet after her two-year charter. Nautica will be unveiled on May 16, 2014, in Civitavecchia for the 10-day Cliffs & Coves cruise, and Regatta will debut on June 7, 2014, in Vancouver for the 10-day Majesty of Alaska cruise. We hope to welcome you on board these refreshed, rejuvenated and resplendent ships very soon!

January 27, 2014

LEARNING TO MAKE TASTY LITTLE TREATS IN THE BON APPÉTIT CULINARY CENTER

Lemon cakes and ChampagneThe New Year is officially in full swing, and with it comes an exciting new array of classes in the Bon Appétit Culinary Center on board Marina and Riviera. In the Mediterranean Summer class, you can learn the secrets of the healthy Mediterranean diet, celebrated the world over for its focus on seasonal produce and local ingredients. Discover fresh, inventive recipes inspired by our travels in the Baltic in the Modern Nordic class. For those with a sweet tooth, you’ll definitely want to try the delicious desserts you can make in the Tasty Little Treats class.

In my case, the sweet tooth certainly applies, and as Blogger-at-Large for Oceania Cruises, I recently learned to make some decadent desserts during a culinary center class led by Chef Instructor Annie B. Copps. Chef Copps is an absolute delight. She’s not only educational and informative but also just plain fun, as are all the instructors I’ve met in the Bon Appétit Culinary Center. You won’t find any Gordon Ramseys here. Classes are filled with both learning and laughter, and making mistakes can be part of the fun!
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Blogger-at-Large and Chef Copps                            Blogger-at-Large and Sous Chef Vineesh

A jovial attitude was encouraged right from the start with the bubbly libations served to kick off the class. Chef Copps suggested a Kir Royal as the perfect dessert drink. Simply pour a half ounce of crème de cassis, a black currant liqueur, into a flute and top with champagne or sparkling wine. In this case we used Pol Clément Brut Blanc de Blancs from France. Delightful!

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Then it was time to start up the stand mixers and get down to business. Our first recipe was Drunken Lemon Semolina Cakes. Chef Copps demonstrated the process and then assisted us as we prepared the recipe ourselves in our individual work stations. We whisked together pulverized almonds, flour, semolina, baking powder and salt and then added the wet ingredients, plus some lemon zest. We then poured the batter into buttered ramekins so we could make an individual cake for each person. (This is also a great way to manage portion control so that you don’t overdo it on your dessert!) Once the cakes were in the oven, we made a limoncello simple syrup in which we would soak the cakes when they were done baking.

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The next dessert was the one that I’d been waiting for – Chocolate Fondant Cake. With this recipe we learned the secret to those delectable “molten” cakes in which a rich, dark chocolate center flows out onto the plate when you cut into them. The trick is to bake a homemade truffle in the center of the batter.

Part of every great chef’s process is tasting the food to check for the proper balance of flavors. I wanted to make absolutely sure that these cakes turned out perfectly, so I considered it my duty to give the batter a try before it went in the oven, although I’m not sure I used the proper utensil for tasting.

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Soon Sous Chef Vineesh was pulling the first batch of lemon cakes from the oven, and after soaking them in our limoncello syrup, it was time to enjoy the fruits of our labors. While I’m a chocoholic at heart, I have to say these cakes may have converted me to a lemon fan. The almond cakes were so delicious, baked golden and just slightly crisp on the outside and melt-in-your-mouth moist on the inside, and the flavor of the limoncello was the perfect complement.

Lemon cakes out of oven Lemon cake

Finally the chocolate cakes were done baking as well, and my love affair with lemon quickly became a distant memory as I tasted the rich chocolate decadence we had created. This was a recipe I would definitely be making again at home.

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Everyone in the class was all smiles as we enjoyed our delicious desserts. If you’re planning a cruise on board Marina or Riviera, I highly recommend that you try out a class in the Bon Appétit Culinary Center and learn to make your own Tasty Little Treats!

Eating Lemon Cakes

January 6, 2014

GUESTS SAVOR ARGENTINE CUISINE ON A CULINARY DISCOVERY TOUR IN BUENOS AIRES

Marina finished the year 2013 exploring the exotic coasts of Brazil, and during a recent call on Buenos Aires, guests enjoyed a fabulous Culinary Discovery Tour led by Bon Appétit Culinary Center Chef Noelle Barille.

Guests took a brief tour through the city on their way to the bustling, bohemian neighborhood of San Telmo, in which the cobblestone streets are lined with antique shops, galleries and tango halls. San Telmo is home to one of the busiest and most famous local markets, where guests were able to explore and sample some of the local treats. They tasted local liqueurs as well as dulce de leche pastry handmade by Margareite, an Italian immigrant. Many immigrants from Genoa settled in San Telmo in the past, and the Italian influence is still evident in the area.

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After the market visit, the group continued up the street to the Havanna Café, to try its robust coffee and famous alfajores. Said to be the best in Argentina, these delicious confections are filled with dulce de leche and coated in chocolate.

After this sweet nibble to whet their appetites, guests traveled to the Palermo neighborhood for the hands-on part of the tour. The Argentine Experience is not only a restaurant but also an interactive culinary experience that teaches people about the local cuisine. Everyone was greeted with the refreshing national drink of Argentina, mate infused with fruit juice. Then they moved on to the cooking class, which taught the entire process of making traditional Argentine empanadas, from the puffy dough to a variety of stuffings. Guests could fill their empanadas with caramelized onions, mozzarella, ratatouille, malbec-glazed beef and other savory treats. They even held a contest for the most creative empanada.

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A wonderful lunch of empanadas was complemented by roasted carrots and onions, whipped potatoes and three different Argentinian wines: a sauvignon blanc, a malbec, and a malbec blend. While historically known as one of the six grapes that can be used in a red Bordeaux wine, malbec has surged to prominence in Argentina and is now one of the most notable Argentinian wines.

After lunch everyone learned how to make mate and to assemble alfajores, so the secrets to several Argentinian specialties were now revealed. Before returning to the ship, the group stopped at an artisan ice cream shop called Volta. Considering the warm temperatures of the Argentine summer, this was the perfect place for the tour’s finale. Guests enjoyed one final incarnation of the ubiquitous dulce de leche, this time in ice cream. It was delightful conclusion to a day spent experiencing the vibrant Argentine culture through the local cuisine.

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December 24, 2013

OCEANIA CRUISES CELEBRATES THE HOLIDAYS IN FESTIVE SHADES OF BLUE

A holiday sailing is a wonderful way to celebrate this season, as the ships are decked out in their holiday finery, the atmosphere is warm and jubilant, and the spirit of the season is evident in the smiles of every guest, officer and crew member on board.

The holidays are ultimately about embracing peace, harmony and love for those with whom we share this planet, and what better way to celebrate this spirit than by traveling the world, experiencing diverse cultures and learning of our shared history.

Guests on board Riviera celebrate Christmas Eve today on the Caribbean island of Grand Turk. And while there isn’t any snow, there is no shortage of holiday glitter, for the sun shimmering on Grand Turk’s azure waters shines as brightly as any sparkling Christmas tree. In fact, while some might not associate a beach destination with the holidays, I find Grand Turk to be an excellent representation of the spirit of the season. Light is certainly one of the most powerful symbols of the holidays, from the Christmas tree lights to the Hanukkah menorah, inspiring reflection on the joys of the past year and hope for a bright future. And Grand Turk is nothing if not a testament to the beauty and power of light, as reflected in the brilliant blue waters that embrace the island.

Grand Turk Dock

Grand Turk

Grand Turk Sunset

As Blogger-at-Large for Oceania Cruises, I’ve sailed many seas in my day, and the waters always bring me a sense of peace, calm and awe. Perhaps that is why blue is one of my favorite holiday colors, and perhaps that is why the ships of Oceania Cruises often spend their holidays on some of the most spectacular seas in the world. Today Marina cruises the remarkable Chilean fjords, with their own shades of blue in the majestic glaciers rising from the sea. Nautica crosses the vast Indian Ocean, and Regatta sails from the Sea of Cortez, one of the most diverse seas on the planet and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Veranda Sunset Chile

From their verandas, guests will watch the sunset transform the turquoise blues of the bays into the midnight blue of the evening sea and reflect on a holiday of awe, joy and gratitude. While Elvis may have crooned melancholy lyrics about a blue Christmas, I’ll take a blue Christmas with Oceania Cruises any year!

If you’d like to spend the holidays with Oceania Cruises in 2014, take a look at the festive sailings below:

 

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!

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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:

October 23, 2013

A DAY AT THE ACHILLEION PALACE ON CORFU

Marina and Riviera both call on Corfu this week, and guests have the opportunity to explore this lovely island on the Corfu Town and Achilleion shore excursion. As Blogger-at-Large for Oceania Cruises, I recently enjoyed this wonderful excursion on a perfect summer day.

Achillion Palace

Gate at Achillion Palace

When reading about the Achilleion Palace, you will always find mention of the great views from the palace grounds, and many have attempted to capture these impressive vistas in photographs. But it is not until you are actually standing there, looking out across the beautiful island with the Ionian Sea glistening in the distance, that you truly understand what all the fuss is about. Having said that, this palace is more than just a pretty face. It also has a quite fascinating history behind it.

View from Achillion Palace

Empress Sisi StatueUpon arriving at the palace, I was greeted by a marble statue of Empress Elisabeth of Austria, affectionately known as Sisi, who built the palace in 1890 as an expression of her passion for Greek culture. In fact, she spoke Greek better than most Greek queens of her time. The central theme of the palace is Achilles, Chapel a mythical figure whom the empress admired for his strength and beauty, two characteristics she herself possessed. Achilles and Sisi also shared a tragic fate. At the time when the empress built the palace, she was desperate to escape her grief over the loss of her only son to suicide the previous year. And the empress would herself be killed by an anarchist in 1898.

One of the most moving and impressive rooms in the palace is Sisi’s Catholic chapel with its domed ceiling depicting the trial of Christ and a painting of Madonna and child hanging above the altar. I found this particularly poignant given the devastating loss of the empress’s son.

As you would imagine, there are several depictions of Achilles inside the palace. One of the most imposing is an enormous painting, The Triumph of Achilles by Franz von Matsch, in the hall above the main staircase. It dramatically portrays Achilles dragging Hector’s body behind a chariot in front of the gates of Troy.

Achilles Painting Over Staircase

Achilles is also well represented on the palace grounds, which I found even more impressive than the palace itself. High on a pedestal stands the centerpiece of the gardens, a marble statue of Achilles at the moment of his demise as he tries to pull the fatal arrow from his heel. Elsewhere in the gardens, a huge bronze statue of Achilles was added by Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany, who purchased the palace after Sisi’s untimely death. The antithesis of the beloved Sisi, he too would only enjoy the palace for a short time because he soon launched Germany into World War I and was later exiled with Germany’s defeat.

Achilles Statue (renown) Achilles Bronze

Achilles Statue (renown) close

Many other monuments to ancient Greek mythology also adorn the grounds, including several statues that line the courtyard. Some of my favorites were the nine muses, especially the one pictured here, whom I like to think of as the musing muse. 

Statue of Muses Musing Muse

The Achilleion Palace is only one of many fascinating things to do on lovely Corfu, and I am resolved to return and further explore the other palaces, forts and quaint villages and learn more about the history of this beautiful island. There are several opportunities to visit Corfu 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.

Manarola Manarola 3

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.

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

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 7, 2013

MORE ADVENTURES IN LISBON

LisbonGuests onboard Marina enjoyed a call in Lisbon yesterday. Whether you enjoy parks or palaces, churches or theaters, Lisbon has lovely examples of each. As Blogger-at-Large for Oceania Cruises, I recently shared some photos and stories of this wonderful city, and as there are so many interesting sights, I’d like to share a few more today.

The Square of Commerce, located on the Tagus River, was once the location of the Royal Ribeira Palace, the main residence of the king of Portugal. The palace, along with much of Lisbon and the surrounding areas, was destroyed in the Great Lisbon Earthquake of 1755 and the subsequent tsunami and fires. After the earthquake, as part of the massive reconstruction effort, the entire square was redesigned and renamed to reflect its new function as the government bureau that regulated customs and port activities. In this photo you can see a trolley, an excellent way to explore the streets of Lisbon, as well as the statue of King Joseph I, the king of Portugal during the rebuilding of Lisbon after the earthquake.

The Square of Commerce

In the 12th century, shortly after Lisbon was liberated from the Moors, construction began on a monastery dedicated to St. Vincent, the patron saint of Lisbon. Called the Monastery of St. Vincent Outside the Walls, it has held St. Vincent’s remains since they were transported here from his original burial place in Cape Vincent. From the 16th to the 18th century, the monastery and church were completely rebuilt. Here you see the statue of St. Vincent in the foreground and the monastery in the distance.

Statue of Saint Vincent

Built in the 1890s, the Campo Pequeno Bullring was inspired by a famous bullring in Madrid. A rich tradition shared with the Spanish, bullfighting in Portugal differs in one crucial way: the bull is not killed in the end, thanks to a decree by King Miguel of Portugal, who considered it inhumane. After undergoing considerable renovations, the building was reopened in 2006 as a multi-event venue.

Campo Pequeno Bullring

The Eden Teatro is a magnificent art deco theater constructed in the 1930s as an entertainment center with an arcade and shops on the ground floor and a theater on the first floor with an orchestra and two balconies. It lay unused for many years after it closed in the late 80s, until it was converted into a 134-room apartment hotel in 2001.

Eden Teatro

From Edward VII Park, you can enjoy beautiful views of the Tagus River. Occupying over 50 acres, the park was named for Edward VII of the United Kingdom for his efforts to strengthen relations between the two countries in the early 1900s. Between the park and Liberty Avenue is the Marquess of Pombal Square, a roundabout with a bronze statue atop a large column dedicated to the marquess, a prime minister who ruled Portugal from 1750 to 1777. The statue is shown looking towards the Baixa Pombalina, which is the area that was rebuilt under his direction after the 1755 earthquake.

Marques De Pombal Square Edward VII Park

I cannot get enough of this delightful city, and I look forward to more exploration soon! If you haven’t had a chance to visit or are eager for a second look, there are several opportunities in 2014:

September 18, 2013

OCEANIA CRUISES UNVEILS THE 2014-2015 WINTER COLLECTION

Today, Oceania Cruises announced its 2014-2015 Winter Collection, the largest winter launch in the company’s history. As Blogger-at-Large for Oceania Cruises, this is one of my favorite times of year as the future becomes full of new opportunities to see the world! And on Insignia’s Around the World in 180 Days voyage, you can, quite literally, sail around the entire world.

With new ports in Asia, Africa and the Americas, Oceania Cruises’ five ships—Riviera, Marina, Nautica, Insignia and Regatta—will visit five continents. The launch features a record-breaking 86 voyages, 44 of which are new itineraries, plus 19 all-new Grand Voyages ranging from 24 to 71 days and 15 Around the World itinerary combinations as part of Insignia’s epic Around the World in 180 Days cruise.

As always, luxury meets value with Oceania Cruises, and all 2014-2015 Winter Collection voyages feature two-for-one cruise fares and free airfare. Guests who book a veranda or higher category by December 31, 2013, will enjoy the added value of free pre-paid gratuities, free unlimited Internet and early booking savings of up to $5,000.

Riviera in the Caribbean 

Riviera offers 12 itineraries exploring the lovely islands of the Caribbean. Relax on one of my favorite beaches, Cane Garden Bay on Tortola, or take a shore excursion from Tortola to Virgin Gorda and the famous Baths during the new 10-day cruise, Heart of the Caribbean.

Cane Garden Bay Tortola The Baths Virgina Gorda
 

Marina in Paradise

Marina begins the season in Rio de Janeiro with two South American voyages before heading to the South Pacific and Australia. Quickly making it onto my wish list for 2015 is the new 10-day cruise Picturesque Polynesia, which leisurely explores the Polynesian islands, including an overnight in Papeete, two overnights in Bora Bora and calls on other idyllic isles such as Moorea and Huahine.

Moorea
 

Nautica from Africa to Asia

Nautica returns to Africa and Asia with eight itineraries ranging from 15 to 35 days, stopping in ports from Cape Town to Beijing and Dubai to Tokyo and featuring two new ports in South Africa: Mossel Bay and Port Elizabeth. One of the best things about visiting Africa and Asia onboard Nautica is the abundance of overnight stays. You’ll especially appreciate the extra time when exploring the grand metropolises of Asia and savoring spectacular views like the Hong Kong skyline at night.

Hong Kong-2
 

The Panama Canal & South America on Regatta

Regatta spends the season exploring the Caribbean and South America with several cruises through the Panama Canal. If you have never sailed across the engineering marvel that is the Panama Canal, this is the perfect opportunity to check this astounding experience off your bucket list.

Around the World with Insignia

INSIGNIA_008After a Caribbean and an Amazon cruise, Insignia departs on Oceania Cruises’ first-ever Around the World in 180 Days cruise. This extraordinary, once-in-a-lifetime voyage sails round-trip from Miami and circumnavigates the globe, visiting five continents, 44 countries and 89 ports of call.

Around the World itinerary combinations, ranging from 34 to 128 days, will open for bookings with the 2014-2015 Winter Collection launch, offering a unique array of exotic ports in the Americas, Africa, Asia, Australia and the South Pacific.

Guests booking these combinations will receive complimentary amenities from the Exclusive Prestige Package. Depending on the length of the voyage reserved, amenities include a one-night pre-cruise luxury hotel stay, access to exclusive shoreside events, a comprehensive visa package, laundry service, luggage delivery, round-trip transfers, Internet service and pre-paid gratuities.

All New Grand Voyages

Included in the unveiling of the 2014-2015 Winter Collection are 19 new Grand Voyages that blend multiple itineraries for in-depth exploration. These voyages feature two-for-one cruise fares and free airfare as well as Exclusive Prestige Package amenities, depending on the length of the voyage reserved. For bookings made by December 31, 2013, these voyages also offer free pre-paid gratuities and free unlimited Internet for all suite and stateroom categories.

For more information on the 2014-2015 Winter Collection, visit OceaniaCruises.com or call 800-531-5658. We look forward to welcoming you onboard one of these fantastic sailings!

August 2, 2013

THE AMAZING GEIRANGERFJORD

Guests onboard Nautica recently visited the incredible Geirangerfjord on Voyage of the Midnight Sun, and this weekend Marina’s guests will also have the opportunity to see this breathtaking destination on the Isles & Fjords voyage.

Just northeast of Bergen, Geirangerfjord is one of the world’s longest and deepest fjords and is considered an archetypal fjord landscape. Its exceptionally captivating beauty derives from its narrow canal flanked by steep-sided rock walls that rise over 4,500 feet above sea level and descend more than 1,500 feet below.

Geirangerfjord

The sheer walls of the fjord have numerous waterfalls, the most famous being the Seven Sisters. The falls are made up of seven separate streams, the tallest cascading from a height of 820 feet.

Water Falls in the Fjord
At the head of this nine-mile fjord is the little village of Geiranger, where Marina will stop on this journey so that guests can further explore this astounding fjord.

Highlights of a shore excursion in Geirangerfjord include Eagle's Bend, a viewpoint reached by a meandering road of switchbacks and hairpin turns that climbs to a fantastic vista of the scenic mountains and the fjord below. At Flydal Gorge, the view towards the fjord is also superb. The ship in the distance looks like a toy boat, giving you a perspective on the soaring height of the mountain cliffs that embrace the fjord.

Lupines overlooking fjord

Equally scenic is the lovely Djupvatn Lake. Usually covered by ice and snow until the end of June, the lake lies over 3,000 feet above sea level and is part of the Otta river system.

Lake Djupvatn fishing house Lake Djupvatn

Next year offers just a single opportunity to visit the magnificent Geirangerfjord, when Nautica sails there on Path of the Midnight Sun, which departs on August 2, 2014. Don’t miss the chance to see one of the most fantastic fjords in the world! 

 

Photos by Peter Pretty

June 21, 2013

BEETS, SAUERKRAUT AND CHERRIES: Can you guess where Chef Kelly is?

L1050109-2One of the nicest things about our second season of Culinary Discovery ToursTM is returning to see the local chefs and culinary experts that we met last season in the Baltic and Mediterranean. 

Such was the case this week in Riga when Chef Karlis greeted us at the port with hugs and stories of the cold Latvian winter. Chef Karlis was born and educated in Seattle but moved to Latvia 10 years ago in search of the authentic “peasant” cuisine that he refers to as “Latvian fusion.” This balance of simplicity, Baltic ingredients and seasonality is the hallmark of the restaurants and food trucks for which Chef Karlis is now known in Riga.

The sky was blue, the temperature was perfect and we were off to the Central Market. This impressive collection of five 20th-century German zeppelin hangars was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site and houses more than 3,000 vendors in 778,000 square feet. Each of the five hangars is dedicated to its own product: fish, dairy, meat, dried and pickled delicacies, or baked goods. The colorful and impressive displays held our attention, and until we looked up, it was easy to forget that we were in a building that was once a hangar for gigantic zeppelins! 

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We began in the fish pavilion, where Chef Karlis informed us that the fish in Latvia primarily come from freshwater streams. We then continued on to the pavilion dedicated to smoked fish and pickled vegetables to sample some sauerkraut, pickled carrots, garlic-infused pickles and curry-turmeric cabbage. We also tasted several local cheeses laced with nettles and herbs. 

 

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Since it’s spring in Latvia, the peas and cherries were abundant. There were also cups full of wild strawberries from the local forests.

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My favorite part of this market is the section devoted to flowers, and on this trip I found them to be just as beautiful as I remembered. The rows and rows of colorful begonias, petunias, hanging baskets and herbs were just breathtaking!

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After a lively stroll through the market, we were off to Chef Karlis’ teaching kitchen in the old city.  The kitchen sits on the second floor of a charming bed and breakfast that is typical of the café-bohemian style of this quaint neighborhood. 

Chef Karlis and his staff had set up his kitchen with work stations where we would help him prepare our Latvian fusion luncheon. The menu for the day was a chilled beet soup with quail egg and goat cheese, a braised pork belly with spring vegetables and a fruit salad with kefir and black bread crumble. 

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L1060927Our job as sous chefs was to peel and chop roasted beets, shuck fresh peas, shell quail eggs and scrub baby carrots. With aprons on and knives in hand, our tour group pitched in and had a lot of fun working together. Chef Karlis instructed us as to how to complete each task and also shared with us his culinary philosophy.

After about an hour in the kitchen, it was time to take a seat at the beautifully set table. This is one of my favorite times on any Culinary Discovery Tour – chatting with our guests, interacting with chefs and culinary experts in their home settings and relaxing in an authentically local environment. On this tour we were joined by Bob Binder, who is not only one of the founders of Oceania Cruises but also one of the creators of our Bon Appétit Culinary Center. Bob certainly enjoyed jumping in with the kitchen prep work and mingling with our guests in a relaxed atmosphere. And I have to say I was quite impressed with Bob’s knife skills!

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Lunch was delightful. The beet soup was an elegant combination of sweet from the beets, creamy from the goat cheese and texture from the quail egg – all topped with the spike of fresh and fragrant dill. 

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The pork was fork tender and lightened by the fresh, seasonal peas and baby carrots. Chef Karlis garnished this dish with pea shoots and a radish peel, which I thought elevated the rustic dish to the level of haute cuisine! The meal also included a tasting of three local beers that made for great conversation about which ones we liked best with which dishes. We finished our lunch with wild forest strawberries and other berries on top of a crumble made with dried black bread and a yogurt and berry coulis. 

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The day was such fun and was perfectly capped off with a return to the Bon Appétit Culinary Center onboard Marina for a class on crepe making, using cheeses, mushrooms, meats, tomatoes and herbs purchased at the market earlier that day.

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We topped our dessert crepes with my new recipe for salted caramel ice cream, which I’ve included below in case you’d like to try it at home.

  • 3 cups heavy cream
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 cup sugar
  • ¼ cup water
  • 8 egg yolks, beaten
  • ½ teaspoon plus ½ teaspoon Maldon salt

In a medium saucepan over medium heat, combine the cream and milk. Heat, stirring frequently, until nearly boiling, but do not allow the mixture to boil. Meanwhile, in a separate medium saucepan over medium heat, combine the sugar and water. Cook, without stirring, until the sugar caramelizes to a light brown color, about 3 to 5 minutes. As soon as the sugar caramelizes, stir the hot cream mixture into the caramel. Decrease the heat to low.

In a medium bowl, stir together the beaten eggs and a small amount of the hot caramel mixture to temper the eggs. Pour the tempered egg mixture back into the saucepan with the remaining caramel mixture. Cook on low for about 10 minutes to form a custard.

Add ½ teaspoon of the salt to the mixture. Transfer the mixture to an ice cream maker and prepare according to the manufacturer’s instructions. If using an ice cream maker with a frozen bowl, let the mixture cool slightly before transferring to the bowl, but be careful not to cool the mixture too much or the caramel will solidify. When the ice cream is prepared, sprinkle it with the remaining ½ teaspoon of Maldon salt.

I hope you enjoy the recipe, and I hope you have the chance to join us on a Culinary Discovery Tour in Riga on an Oceania Cruises voyage in the near future!

June 18, 2013

10-YEAR ANNIVERSARY RECEPTION HONORS LOYAL GUESTS, OFFICERS AND CREW

Ken and Sheila
Last night was a truly special evening on the 10th Anniversary Sailing onboard Marina, as we hosted a cocktail reception in honor of our Oceania Club members. I was thrilled to have the opportunity to greet many of our loyal guests, including Mr. Ken Reycraft and Ms. Sheila Brohman (above), who are on their 27th cruise with us.

I always enjoy attending these receptions when I am onboard, but last night’s event was especially memorable for me because we also recognized the onboard team members who have been with us for the company’s entire 10 years. 

 

GM and Captain
GM Dominique Nicolle introduces team
 
10-year team
10-year team members


We opened the Miami office on January 5th, 2003, with less than 20 employees. Our telephones weren’t working yet, and we did not have any computers. Our first ship, Regatta, was due to arrive in only six months and we were still planning her itineraries. 

Most importantly, only six months before delivery of the ship, we were in the process of building a team to operate the vessel. For a cruise line, the most important asset we have is our onboard team, and we needed to quickly recruit 400 officers and crew members. 

The cruise industry is dominated by a few very large players, and we had to convince 400 team members to take a chance on a startup company run by a small group of investors with big dreams. Those initial crew members that we were able to recruit were so much more than a crew of 400. They quickly became a strong team that would shape the future success of our company.

10-year employee 1
Cabin Stewardess Mayra Lisseth Valle
 
10-year employee 2
Asst. Chef de Partie Rojello Ozoria Rincon


10-year employee 3
Asst. Electro Technical Milen Dimitrov Dimitrov
 
10-year employee 4
Head Baker Valmarino Abad Alberto


Captain FlokosI am so pleased that many of those inaugural team members are still with Oceania Cruises. Fifteen of them are here with us on this anniversary sailing, including Captain Dimitrios Flokos (left). It was my honor and privilege to recognize each of them at the reception last night and to have the chance to shake their hands and thank them for being a cherished part of our Oceania Cruises family. I wanted to share their names here and to offer my congratulations and heartfelt thanks to all of the officers and crew across our fleet who have provided a decade of dedicated service. You are the reason that we welcome so many loyal past guests onboard our ships with every sailing.

10-Year Team Members onboard Marina's 10-Year Anniversay Sailing:

Head Baker Valmarino Abad Alberto

Cellar Master Ramona Caracas

Asst. Cabin Stewardess Ancizar Franco Chamorro Guacales

Maitre D' Toscana Paul Mihai Climescu

Asst. Electro Technical Milen Dimitrov Dimitrov

Butler Fabian Mascarenhas

Asst. Chef de Partie Rojello Ozoria Rincon

Provision Master Diosdado Jr Pilongo Pacot

Chef de Partie Esteban Racadio

AB Fireman Sammuel Capati Rugayan

Deputy Head Waiter Vedran Stanojevic

Cabin Stewardess Mayra Lisseth Valle

Chef de Partie-Pastry Jhon Jairo Romero Vaca

Restaurant Manager Borislav Sijan

Master Dimitrios Flokos

June 17, 2013

GALA BRUNCH CELEBRATES OCEANIA CRUISES' 10TH ANNIVERSARY

Chef and cake Anniversary cake

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.

Brunch service Fruit Torte

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 15, 2013

BOB BINDER & CHEF KELLY LAUNCH NEW BALTIC CULINARY DISCOVERY TOURS ON ANNIVERSARY SAILING

Vice Chairman Bob Binder is currently onboard Marina hosting a sailing in celebration of Oceania Cruises’ 10th anniversary. I’ve joined him on this wonderful voyage because, as part of the many festivities and special events, we are launching an exciting new season of Culinary Discovery Tours in the Baltic. I can’t think of a better way to celebrate Oceania Cruises’ 10 years of destination-rich itineraries and exquisite cuisine than with a series of new tours offering an in-depth, hands-on culinary experience of a diverse array of local cultures.

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Today Bob and I kicked off the Baltic season by welcoming guests on our new Culinary Discovery Tour in Oslo, which includes a visit to the famed Mathallen Food Hall and a lunch with beer pairings at a local restaurant that is both historic and trendy. 

L1060818We began the morning in Marina’s Bon Appétit Culinary Center with an overview of New Nordic Cuisine, which has been setting the pace in the local, fresh and simple culinary trend among chefs worldwide. Initiated by the chefs of Noma restaurant in Copenhagen, a group of 14 chefs from the Nordic region held a summit in 2004 to discuss their passion for local, fresh, simple and sustainable cuisine, which soon put this culinary region on the map. We also discussed the salmon farming industry and how Norway continues to lead the world in the innovative arena of aquaculture.

After the overview, we were off on this sunny, Nordic spring day to our first stop at the courtyard of the Mathallen Food Hall. We were greeted by our host for the day, the owner of the smallest pub in Oslo, which seats only 16 guests and was officially opening that night. Before entering the pristine food hall to explore the 33 fascinating stalls, we were treated to a tasting of three artisan beers – so we would be fortified for our shopping adventure. Not knowing much about beer, I was enlightened about this region’s passion for beer and the wide diversity of brewing styles and products. 

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Then we ventured into the food hall for a tasting of cheeses and smoked salmon. The Mathallen Food Hall is a feast for the senses, with each vendor presenting their specialty product in eye-catching and innovative ways. 

 

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The airy, ultra-modern building is quite inviting and caters to those who want to wander and taste, as well as the business person who pops in for a quick bite of lunch. After a brief orientation, we were off to try some local cheeses – an assortment of soft blues and aged sheep cheese with a hint of juniper berry. We were then treated to a lovely taste of smoked salmon and cream cheese as well as another local beer. 

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Each pair of guests were given a shopping assignment and 200 kroner, so we had about 30 minutes of free time to purchase local and seasonal produce, some cured meat, specialty preserves and other delicacies. We wandered the market, taking in all of the eye-popping displays and delicious offerings. There were even beautiful carvings made from a turnip!


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L1060863One of the things I love most about our Culinary Discovery Tours is the opportunity to interact with the local vendors.  And the experience is all the more meaningful because we are able to return to the Bon Appétit Culinary Center onboard the ship, where we can taste our purchases and make local dishes. The hands-on experience gives us an even greater appreciation and understanding of our experiences ashore.

At the cheese tasting, one of our guests purchased her favorite cheese and planned to share it with the class later that day.

L1060877When our shopping was complete, it was time to take a brief walk to our luncheon spot, Akersberget, which sits at the base of a mountain that was previously a mining site. The red-painted wood building had a rustic yet upscale Nordic ambiance. This charming and very trendy restaurant is booked for months in advance, but we were fortunate that our host had agreed to open for a special luncheon exclusively for Oceania Cruises guests! 

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We took a seat in the restaurant and were soon poured a glass of beer to welcome us. (I’m starting to figure out that beer really is the national drink of Norway!) The chefs were beginning to plate our lunch, so we grabbed a quick sneak peek at their handiwork.

 

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Soon we were served a fabulous white fish in a light sauce with new potatoes, spring carrots, baby spinach and radish foam. Bob said the potatoes were his favorite, and we soon learned the secret: they were simmered in butter, herbs, sugar and – of course – beer!

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L1060889We all enjoyed sitting around the table together, not only savoring a wonderful meal but also meeting new friends and hearing about where they had traveled. We finished our lunch with a chocolate fondant cake with fresh strawberries and, you guessed it, a dark beer that paired perfectly with the chocolate!

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After saying a heartfelt thank you to our host and chefs, we boarded the coach for a quick tour of downtown Oslo and its distinctive architecture.  The city was alive with locals and tourists, all enjoying the beautiful, crisp, sunny day. Maybe it’s just me, but it always seems that there is more oxygen in the Baltic, and today I had happy lungs breathing in this clean Nordic air!

As with all of our Culinary Discovery Tours, we met back at the Bon Appétit Culinary Center onboard for a brief class to bring together what we saw and learned today. Bob was pleased to discover that the culinary center has a magical machine that churns out granitas in just 20 minutes. So we started by making my special recipe using champagne, lemon and St. Germain, the liqueur made from the fragrant Alpine elderflower. As we sipped our cocktails, each guest shared what they had purchased at the market today.

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The class was devoted to salmon, so we made smoked and poached salmon rillettes with toasts, as well as gravlax. It was a delightful way to end our special day in this enchanting city of trendy restaurants, stunning architecture and, of course, its passion for beer!

Just in case my elderflower cocktail appeals to you as much as a beer does, here is the recipe:

  • 1 bottle (750 ml) cold sparkling wine
  • 1½ cups simple syrup, infused with lemon rind and cooled
  • ½ cup St. Germain elderflower liqueur

Pour all ingredients into and ice cream maker and prepare according to manufacturer's instructions. Enjoy!

June 14, 2013

CHEF KELLY LAUNCHES A NEW CULINARY DISCOVERY TOUR IN RHODES

I have so many fond memories of visits to the Greek island of Rhodes with Oceania Cruises. One of my first is from 2008, when we celebrated my mother’s 80th birthday on an Oceania Cruises’ voyage. Underneath the shadow of the ruins in the old city of Rhodes, I had a memorable lunch at Hatzikelis, feasting on some of the best grilled fish I’d ever had. Until then I had never tasted tzatziki – that heavenly mixture of cucumber, garlic, dill, lemon juice and creamy Greek yogurt. I was certain I would never be able to replicate this lunch at home, so I promised myself that I would return someday.

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I have returned to Rhodes many times. Since joining Oceania Cruises as executive chef of the Bon Appétit Culinary Center in 2011, I have shared many meals at that family restaurant with friends and family as well as guests and chefs on Marina and Riviera.

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While hosting a luncheon here last fall for Susie Heller and David Shalleck, two of our Bon Appétit Culinary Center chefs, we were all inspired to ask the family to host a Culinary Discovery Tour. They are always so welcoming, taking us into the kitchen and sharing today’s catch as well as their family’s Greek cooking secrets.

Over the winter I worked with the family and staff at Hatzikelis to design an authentic Greek cooking and dining experience for our guests. When Riviera docked for the first time in Rhodes this summer, those plans became a reality, and Hatzikelis hosted their first Culinary Discovery Tour.

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After a very brief walk from the ship, we arrived at the restaurant to tables overflowing with fresh produce, fish, cheeses and bread. Warm smiles and ouzo greeted us on the patio of our hosts’ family restaurant. We were told that the restaurant was originally a bakery, but when Pappa retired and the family business passed to his son, the passion for fish was so profound that the bakery was turned into a fish taverna. Not only was the present owner there to greet us and cook with us, but Pappa also dropped in to round out the hospitality.

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The first dish we made was spinach pie, and we began with the phyllo dough. We made the dough and rolled it out, then filled it with a spinach and feta cheese filling. We popped it into the oven, and our first dish was complete!

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Our next dish was the traditional salad using barley rusks, tomatoes, capers, lettuce, a lovely vinaigrette and sprinkles of fresh oregano.

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No Greek lunch is complete without grilled eggplant. We were able to master the art of charring an eggplant, scooping it out and filling it with a mixture of tomatoes, onions, dill, mint, oregano and Greek yogurt. Smoky eggplant – yum!

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My niece, Sarah, was traveling with me on this cruise, so she stepped in to make the tzatziki. She was so impressed with the family hospitality and Greek food that she promised to return soon and asked if, in the meantime, they might find her a suitable Greek husband! We all enjoyed a good laugh at that comment, but I wouldn’t be surprised if she does return soon (perhaps with a husband of her own choosing).

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The owner of the restaurant was busy making squid risotto and mussels saganaki, two more dishes we would enjoy over lunch. He also described how to select fresh squid and octopus, just in case we happened to find ourselves in the market for a fresh octopus! Soon after hatching their eggs, squid and octopus die, and often these less than desirable specimens are fished and sold. But we learned how to select a fresh one, which should be firm to the touch and resistant to pressure.

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While various dishes were being finalized and the staff was readying our lunch, we were treated to a behind-the-scenes visit to the kitchen. Now that we had learned how to select fresh squid, we acquired the same expertise regarding fresh fish. We also learned how to clean and filet a sea bass and how to grill it over open flames. The only seasonings used on fish at Hatzikelis are lemon juice and olive oil.

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Finally it was time to sit for lunch and enjoy some delicious local wines and the dishes we had made with the Hatzikelis family. The food just kept coming and coming, with the finale being the day’s catch of fresh fish, which was perfectly grilled.

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After saying farewell with lots of hugs goodbye and promises to return, guests were free to stroll the beautiful cobblestone streets of Rhodes. Later we returned to Riviera for a cooking class in the Bon Appétit Culinary Center to review what we had learned earlier that day.

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If you are planning a cruise that includes Rhodes on either Marina or Riviera this year, you will definitely want to put this special Culinary Discovery Tour on your “must-do list.” It’s a fabulous day with a friendly family who makes you feel welcome – and well fed – in the warmth and hospitality of the Greek island of Rhodes.

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.

Church and Brewery

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.

River Liffey

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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Trinity College

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.

Pub Famous

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.

Dublin Sunset Church Dublin Sunset Daniel O'Connell Statue

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!

Pub Oldest Beef and Guinness Stew Traditional Irish Stew

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

May 30, 2013

THE LAUNCH OF A NEW SEASON OF CULINARY DISCOVERY TOURS CONTINUES

In this week’s earlier blog I shared some of the delightful Culinary Discovery Tours™ we just launched for the European season. From the colorful markets of Funchal to the delectable lunch at the famed Chateau Eza, the tours continue to meet with rave reviews from our guests.

Our Culinary Discovery Tour in charming Portofino, Italy, offered a delightful contrast to the elegance of Chateau Eza in France. After a scenic ferry ride, we were greeted in Rapallo by our friend Guido with a sampling of meats, cheeses, olive oils and wines from Liguria.

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Then we took a quick stroll through the market for basil, pine nuts, garlic and olive oil (guess what we are making?) before heading to Recco to spend the morning with the pasta master at Da O Vittorio. I never tire of watching this master and the grace and speed with which he rolls out his pasta, fills his ravioli and spins his focaccia dough.

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Lunch was fabulous and the pasta-making class was such fun for the guests. I get emails frequently with tales of our students mastering the art of making fresh pasta at home! One of the best ways to serve fresh pasta is with a basil pesto, and as we were in the Liguria region of Italy, where pesto originated, we of course had to make some with our purchases from the market.

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The next region of Italy on our itinerary was Tuscany. No trip to Tuscany would be complete without a visit to Torre a Cenaia for a pizza and focaccia-making class using their wood-fired oven amidst their vineyards and centuries-old Cyprus trees.

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After a stroll through the market in Livorno and a tasting of local ham, we headed off to the winery for a tour and enjoyed a lovely wine tasting while making our pizzas and placing them in the searingly hot outdoor ovens. Then after a carriage ride through the vineyard we returned for sweet wine and biscotti. I could hardly think of a better way to spend an afternoon in Tuscany!

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One of the Culinary Discovery Tours™ I was most excited to launch was the new one we are offering in Venice. It began with a private water taxi ride from the ship along the Grand Canal to the Rialto market. The trip was a real treat in itself!

The market was buzzing and alive with locals, tourists, vendors and, of course, our special Oceania Cruises foodies. After an hour wandering through the market looking at the beautiful scallops and fresh fish and magnificently displayed produce, we were off to the private home of our chef host.

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The magnificent villa was like something out of a Merchant Ivory movie set – so decadently Venetian and yet so welcoming at the same time.

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Our host was a former television chef on the Italian Food Network and conducted an engaging cooking demonstration of local Venetian dishes, such as fried zucchini blossoms and a seafood risotto.

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We sat for a candlelit lunch in her dining room and enjoyed another opportunity to relax with our guests and make new friends while savoring fabulous food and wine!

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Our last stop was the trendy new chocolatier, Vizio Virtù. What better way to finish this day than with spectacular chocolate delicacies?

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You are probably asking yourself the same question my mother asks me, “They pay you to do this job?!” I am excited for more adventures as the season continues with new culinary tours in Rhodes, Corfu, Istanbul and Sicily. You can also join me in the Baltic to launch our new season of Culinary Discovery Tours™ in Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Tallinn, Riga, Oslo and Helsinki. If you can’t join me this summer, stay tuned for more culinary discoveries here on the blog!

Following are some of the Culinary Discovery Tours™ mentioned in the blog and the sailings on which they are offered – in case you wish to join us!

Portofino - Ligurian Cuisine & Pasta Making Class

Tuscany - Oven-Fired Focaccia, Biscotti & Pizza at Winery

Venice - Market Tour, Cooking & Chocolate Demos

Rhodes - Cooking Demo in Greek Family Restaurant & Lunch

 Corfu - Culinary Traditions & Greek Cooking

Istanbul - Fish and Spice Markets with Turkish Luncheon at Grand Bazaar 

Taormina, Sicily - Sensuous Sicily

Amsterdam - A Behind-the-Scenes Chef Tour & Lunch

Copenhagen - Food Market, Nordic Food Demo & Lunch

Tallinn - Fish Workshop, Winery Visit & Tallinn's Old Town

Riga - Central Market, Latvian Cooking Demo & Lunch

Oslo - Spectacular Mathallen Food Hall & Norwegian Pub Lunch

Helsinki - Visit to Food Market & Finnish Cooking Class

 

May 29, 2013

CHEF KELLY LAUNCHES NEW CULINARY DISCOVERY TOUR SEASON IN MEDITERRANEAN

L1060426As I sit sipping an Earl Grey tea beneath the centuries-old canopy trees overlooking the waterfront in Rhodes, I can definitely feel that spring is in the air. It is a sunny Saturday in the Mediterranean, and families as well as tourists are out for a seaside walk along the promenade of fishing boats, sailing vessels and, of course, the elegant and majestic Riviera. I just ordered a cheese pie, which I am reluctantly sharing with a few starlings. We chefs are always handing out food!

As I enjoy my lunch, I’ve been thinking about the recent launch of a wonderful new season of Culinary Discovery Tours™ in Europe. As you may remember, Oceania Cruises first unveiled Culinary Discovery Tours™ last year with the christening of Riviera, and we are thrilled with the success of these full-day excursions to the world’s most exciting open markets, restaurants and culinary destinations. I’m delighted to have the chance to share our experiences on this season’s tours.

As Riviera crossed the Atlantic at the end of April to begin the European season, she stopped first in Funchal and then Tangier, where we offer exciting culinary tours in both cities. Madeira, one of my favorite ports, is an enchanting island home to some of the most exotic fruits anywhere, and the local market in Funchal is always an adventure.

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When we arrived, we took a short bus ride to a local fishing harbor where the fishermen were drying their bacala (a dry salted cod), for which the Portuguese are famous. After an hour in the market buying all kinds of passion fruit hybrids and local spices like piri piri, we took a stroll through the old city past brightly colored doors painted by local artists. We had a lovely tasting of local Madeira wines at Blandy’s and then sat for a delicious lunch at a local tavern where we sampled island fish and meat specialties and more local wines.

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Then we were on to Tangier for a day in this city of exotic scents, eager merchants and charming locals. We strolled through the market, bought preserved lemons and herbs for our Moroccan cooking class and dropped some serious cash on a few tagines for the culinary center.

The highlight of our tour was lunch at Detroit, a restaurant that was officially not opening until the following week for the annual visit by the Rolling Stones but treated us to a special preview. We sat above the medina with a beautiful view of the sea while feasting on a meal of couscous and chicken tagine. Dessert was a flaky and delicately seasoned pastilla and a generously sweetened Moroccan tea – our lovely host impressed us all with his pouring skills.

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Crossing the Strait of Gibraltar, Riviera continued on to Europe and the site of one of my favorite tours from last year, Marseille. I favored this tour mostly because of the delicious meal prepared for us by Gui Gedda, the undisputed godfather of Provence cuisine – not to mention the magnificent Bandol wines we tasted!

This year I kicked off the tour with a shopping stop in the charming fishing village of Sanary-sur-Mer. The merchants were so proud of their spring produce, as well they should be: bright green zucchini, blood oranges and early fresh peas, the ultimate taste of spring.

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Here we met a pastry vendor who, upon hearing my English (and very bad French), asked if I had heard of Jacques Torres. Of course, I told her. She informed me she had studied with the famous chocolatier in New York City. We tasted her chocolate (we had to) and it was soft and flavorful. It just goes to show that the world of food really is very small!

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After our morning admiring the colorful fishing boats and picture-perfect produce, we were off to the Domaine de Souviou for our lunch with Chef Gui and a wine tasting that we so loved last year. 

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Riviera then sailed for Monte Carlo, the point of origin for one of our most popular Culinary Discovery Tours™: a visit to the market in Nice followed by lunch at the famed Chateau Eza. The picturesque market in Nice was brimming with beautiful flowers and produce, and we were all especially impressed with the early white asparagus. Those sweet white vegetables and zucchini blossoms were only a few of the items we had to purchase at the market. And there is always time for socca and a hug from Theresa, the “socca lady.”

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Then we were off to Eza and an unforgettable meal. I always think of Jacques Pépin on this tour because he remembers meals not only by the food but by the company as well. I am touched by the friendships that form around the table here at Chateau Eza. Our guests can relax, visit with one another, share stories of their families at home and enjoy what dining is meant to be, the perfect confluence of food and friendship. The food was exquisite, as always, and served with the ultimate flair!

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Well, I have finished my cheese pie – and the starlings are full – so I will wrap up this blog and return to Riviera. Be sure to check the blog again this week, when I’ll share more stories of our latest Culinary Discovery Tours™ in Italy.

Following are some of the Culinary Discovery Tours™ mentioned in the blog and the sailings on which they are offered – in case you wish to join us!

Tangier - Market Visit, Tangine Shopping & Moroccan Lunch:

Marseille - Exquisite Flavors of Europe:

 Monte Carlo - Local Market Visit & Lunch at Chateau Eza:

 

 

May 16, 2013

WENDY PERRIN REPORTS FROM MARINA’S GRAND PANAMA CANAL VOYAGE

Wendy-PerrinIf you read The Perrin Post, Wendy Perrin’s blog for Condé Nast Traveler, you know that she has been sharing photos and stories from her adventures onboard Marina’s Grand Panama Canal cruise. So far she has offered a couple of posts on how to recover luggage lost by the airline, great stories of the guests she has met and the activities onboard this 20-day cruise and some wonderful photos and information about the Panama Canal and Cartagena.

Onboard Marina as a guest lecturer, Perrin is offering practical travel tips and fascinating stories about places that every travel lover should visit. To see her posts on her travels with Oceania Cruises, check out her blog.

 

April 16, 2013

NUKU HIVA – VISIT TO TAIPIVAI VALLEY

Ancient legend has it that the god of creation promised his wife he would build a house in one day, so he gathered together land and created what is now known as the Marquesas Islands. All of the islands are named after parts of the house; Nuku Hiva is the roof.

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Guests onboard Marina recently enjoyed an overnight stay in Nuku Hiva, the roof of the gods, and got to see first hand why the ancient inhabitants of these islands would have come to believe that these islands were the home of deities. 

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On the shore excursion Nuku Hiva – Visit to Taipivai Valley, Nuka Hiva’s spectacular beauty unfolded on an off-road adventure in the Taipivai Valley. One of the richest archaeological sites in the Marquesas Islands, Taipivai Valley was made famous by Herman Melville. After deserting his ship, Melville spent several weeks living with the Taipi people, and his experience became the inspiration for his novel Typee.

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One of the first stops was the island's main town, Taiohae. Located on the southern coast in the shadow of Mt. Muake, the town is situated in an ancient volcanic crater. Here guests visited the Cathedral of Notre-Dame of Marquesas, built with rocks from the six islands of the Marquesas. The woodcarvings inside are a blend of Marquesan art with iconic Christian symbolism, including a beautiful wooden pulpit.

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Exploring Taipivai Valley, guests were treated to a beautiful drive on a steep trail, lined with lush vegetation, that took them through the island’s interior. Along the way, several stops were made to take in spectacular views of the coastline, bays and valleys.

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Amidst the stunning scenery, a light lunch was served with fresh local delights.

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A drive through Taipivai’s small agricultural villages ended at the picturesque shore village of Hatiheu with a curving black sand beach.

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If you have a yen to visit the house that the gods built, 2014 offers several options: South Pacific Isles, January 15, January 25 and March 26, 2014; Tahitian Pearls, April 5, 2014.

April 12, 2013

OFF-ROAD ADVENTURES IN BEAUTIFUL BORA BORA

The challenge of writing about the islands of the South Pacific is coming up with enough different ways to say “paradise.” Bora Bora is a lush, green paradise surrounded by unfathomably blue waters, and it’s little wonder why so many people dream of visiting this spectacular destination. Marina’s guests are currently enjoying their second day on the island following an overnight stay.

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Marina staff member Jessica Domm shared some photographs from a recent shore excursion, Bora Bora Off-Road Adventure, during which she accompanied guests on a thrilling journey to explore places only accessible via vehicles equipped for off-road travel.

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Guests enjoyed a drive through the small town of Vaitape on the shore of Pofai Bay with stops along the way to learn about the local flora of Bora Bora.

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The tour then ascended Pahonu Hill, offering spectacular views of Bora Bora’s natural harbor and Matira Beach. As Blogger-at-Large for Oceania Cruises, I’ve made fairly liberal use of the word “breathtaking,” but in this case the vibrant colors of the Bora Bora lagoon literally take your breath away. Because of the pristine clarity of the water and the varying depths of the lagoon, nearly every shade of blue you can imagine is represented here in its utter perfection. Some blues compete with the cerulean sky; others seem to be the fluid incarnation of a lapis lazuli or a turquoise gemstone. It’s difficult to stop snapping photos in a desperate attempt to capture the splendor, but if you visit Bora Bora, be sure to allow yourself some time to simply gaze at the spectacular scenery and savor the opportunity to be embraced by such wondrous natural beauty.

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Some of the evidence of human history on Bora Bora stands in stark contrast to the island’s natural wonders. During World War II, Bora Bora was a US military supply base with 7,000 military personnel, and seven massive cannons were set up around the island to protect it from potential military attack. Guests on the excursion visited several of the cannons that are still standing in their original locations.

Guests also enjoyed a visit to a local pearl farm. Here they learned about the art of pearl farming and why the world’s best black pearls come from the atolls and lagoons of French Polynesia.

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One of the last stops was Antena viewpoint, which offered more stunning views of the sparkling waters, the outer reef that protects the island, and the smaller coral islands known as motus that dot the lagoon.

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If you haven’t taken a trip to paradise yet, 2013 and 2014 offer several opportunities to sail the South Pacific with Oceania Cruises: Pacific Paradise, December 28, 2013; South Pacific Isles, January 15, January 25 and March 26, 2014; Pacific Isles & Coral Seas, February 4, 2013; Marvels Of The South Pacific, March 11, 2014; Tahitian Pearls, April 5, 2014; Islands & Incas, April 19, 2014. While you probably won’t want to miss the opportunity to swim in the crystalline waters of Bora Bora, you also might consider a trip into the hills to take in some uniquely scenic views of the seascape, while also experiencing some of the culture and history of this gorgeous island.

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March 21, 2013

SIGNATURE SAILINGS: A CRUISE … AND THEN SOME

I love sailing with Oceania Cruises. From the food to the familial atmosphere to the incredible destinations, I just can’t get enough. And the Oceania Cruises experience is enhanced even further when you travel on a Signature Sailing. I’ve had the opportunity to enjoy a couple of these sailings, and the featured dinners, guest lecturers and other special events gave me an even greater appreciation for both the onboard experience and the fascinating destinations we were exploring. My favorite Signature Sailings are the ones with a focus on wine and food. On these cruises you can interact with some of the world’s most renowned chefs, sommeliers and culinary experts.

There are three Signature Sailings coming up this summer that offer this fantastic opportunity. The first one departs in less than two months, so if a cruise vacation is in your upcoming plans, don't miss this chance to experience one of these unique voyages.

Wine & Food Celebration

There will be two Signature Sailings for wine and food lovers: Marina’s Grand Panama Canal, a 20-day voyage from Lima to New York City beginning on May 6, 2013, and Riviera’s Mediterranean Grandeur, a 10-day voyage from Monte Carlo to Rome beginning on June 23, 2013.

The Wine & Food Celebration on Marina will take guests on a culinary adventure from South America through the Caribbean, ending in New York. South American wine expert Daniel Soto will host wine lectures and tastings featuring the best of South American wines. Joining Daniel Soto is renowned culinary author Chef Paulette Mitchell, who will demonstrate classic South American dishes that guests can learn to prepare and enjoy at home.

 

Daniel Soto
Daniel Soto
Paulette Mitchell
Paulette Mitchell
 
Valerie Elam
Valerie Elam
Karen King
Karen King

During the Caribbean segment of the cruise, Bacardi Rum’s Brand Ambassador Kate Dahlen will be onboard to share the rich history of rum in the Caribbean and give guests a chance to taste some of Bacardi’s best. The executive culinary team from Grand Cayman’s Ritz Carlton will also join Marina’s onboard team to demonstrate some favorite Caribbean dishes.

Bicardo Ambassador
Kate Dahlen
For the home stretch, guests will have the opportunity to attend wine lectures, tastings and pairing presentations featuring flavors of America with wine expert Karen King and the executive chef of Oceania Cruises’ Bon Appétit Culinary Center, Kathryn Kelly.

Throughout the voyage there will be wine tasting events where guests can sample and discuss different wines with Marina’s wine experts and sommeliers. Once they’ve found a favorite, guests can enjoy wine and conversation as they are serenaded by Valerie Elam, a recording artist and Cape Coral restaurateur.

Marina Canal Transit 1 Aft Suspension Bridge
Panama Canal Transit

 

Tony Didio
Tony Didio
Max McCalman
Max McCalman
Bon Appétit Culinary Center Executive Chef Kathryn Kelly will host Riviera’s Wine & Food Celebration. She will be joined by several experts, including the Culinary Institute of America’s Master Baker Eric Kastel. An instructor and an author, Kastel will share the secrets of great bread making. 

Renowned New York wine educator, businessman and sommelier Tony Didio will lead a series of wine lectures, tastings and wine pairing presentations throughout the voyage. To complement the wine experience, Master Cheese Expert Max McCalman will be onboard to share the secrets of great cheeses and advise on pairings. Riviera’s onboard experts will also host events, and Valerie Elam will be on this voyage as well to serenade guests as they enjoy great wine and conversation.

Eric Kastel
Eric Kastel
Chef Kelly La Reserve
Chef Kathryn Kelly

Wine Connoisseur Cruise

Marina’s 10-day Baltic Odyssey voyage from Copenhagen to Stockholm beginning on September 3, 2013, will be anchored by Armando Fumanelli, owner of the famed Italian winery Marchesi Fumanelli. A wine ambassador from the winery will also be onboard. Located near Verona, the setting of Romeo and Juliet, the Fumanelli winery has been creating exceptional wines since 1470. Young actors from Verona’s drama academy will be onboard to perform during select Fumanelli wine dinners offered at La Reserve.

This voyage will also feature many wine tasting events during which guests can taste different wines and discuss their attributes with Armando Fumanelli, the Fumanelli ambassador and Marina’s sommeliers. Meanwhile, guests can also enjoy the music of Italian guitarist Vincenzo Martinelli.     

St. Petersburg
Enjoy an overnight in St. Petersburg on the Baltic Odyssey voyage
Armando Fumanelli
Armando Fumanelli
Vincenzo Martinelli
Vincenzo Martinelli

 

 

March 6, 2013

YOUR WORLD ON SALE

The worldwide celebration of our 10th Anniversary continues! Today, we announced that we have earmarked 10 sailings across four continents with special savings as part of our 10th Anniversary Your World on Sale promotion. The new promotion includes a $500 shipboard credit, free pre-paid gratuities, a free unlimited Internet Package, 50 percent off deposits and Business Class air upgrades from $799 per person, one-way, on select sailings.  

As always, guests will receive two-for-one cruise fares and free airfare, delivering additional value. The new Your World on Sale promotion is available for new cruise reservations booked now through May 31, 2013.

The Your World on Sale promotion is applicable on the following 2013 sailings:

Riviera

August 16: Treasures & Monuments | Istanbul to Rome | 12 days

September 29: Romance & Rivieras | Lisbon to Monte Carlo | 12 days

October 25: Paths of the Byzantines | Venice to Istanbul | 12 days

November 6: Continental Quest | Istanbul to Barcelona | 12 days

Regatta

August 22: Ultimate Panama Canal | San Francisco to New York | 21 days

Marina

October 29: Glorious Shores | Venice to Barcelona | 12 days

November 10: Treasures of the Ancients | Roundtrip Barcelona | 10 days

December 8: South American Holiday | Rio de Janeiro to Valparaiso | 20 days

December 28: Pacific Paradise | Valparaiso to Papeete | 18 days

Nautica

November 4: Classic Mediterranean | Roundtrip Barcelona | 10 days

We hope you will be able to join us on one of these fantastic voyages. To make reservations or for more information, visit www.OceaniaCruises.com, call Oceania Cruises at 800-531-5658 or contact your travel agent. Please refer to promotion code YW02013.

 

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 18, 2013

WENDY PERRIN AND TOM DEFRANK ARE FEATURED GUEST SPEAKERS ON TWO EXTRAORDINARY VOYAGES

Two of Oceania Cruises’ upcoming spring sailings will feature special guests who will share fascinating insights and stories to make your cruise even more enjoyable. There is still time to reserve a suite or stateroom onboard one of these voyages, but availability is limited, so if you’d like to explore the world with the benefit of some of the most trusted experts in their fields, be sure to reserve your cruise soon!

Tom DeFrank

Tom-DeFrankGuests onboard Nautica’s April 29, 2013, Temples and the Holy Land sailing will be joined by very special guest Tom DeFrank. A veteran reporter who has been part of the White House press corps during the administrations of eight presidents, DeFrank will weave his stories, both published and unpublished, into a compelling, entertaining presentation that will be as captivating as the ports featured on this once-in-a-lifetime voyage.

Newsweek’s White House correspondent for more than 25 years and current Washington bureau chief for New York Daily News, DeFrank has been described by ABC news as “impeccably sourced,” “well-connected” and “legendary,” and the American Journalism Review named him “one of the unsung heroes of Washington journalism.”

With a front row seat for every major political event of the last 40 years, DeFrank reported on the resignation of one president and the impeachment of another, was a witness to two assassination attempts against a third and co-authored Secretary of State James Baker’s memoirs.

DeFrank developed an extraordinary relationship with former President Gerald Ford through a series of interviews spanning from 1991 to shortly before Ford’s death in 2006, in which Ford talked openly in a way few presidents ever have. In these conversations, DeFrank got an intimate look at Ford’s insightful perspective on many of the most important events of our time.

A regular on international trips, DeFrank has been to every port on this sailing and will have fascinating stories about his encounters with presidents, heads of state and dignitaries specific to this region. 

Wendy Perrin

Wendy-PerrinIf you have been reading The Perrin Report, Wendy Perrin’s practical advice column in Condé Nast Traveler, you know that flying on Tuesday, Wednesday and Saturday means lower fares and less crowded cabins and that midday Tuesday is the time to find the best sales on airfares. For 16 years, Perrin has been offering advice to travelers and is considered an authority on consumer travel issues.

Oceania Cruises guests onboard Marina’s May 6, 2013, Grand Panama Canal voyage will visit some of the most beautiful places on earth while learning fascinating travel tips from this internationally acclaimed travel expert and author.

Perrin is the author of the critically acclaimed Wendy Perrin’s Secrets Every Smart Traveler Should Know, and her newsletter, The Perrin Postcard, is emailed to 200,000 subscribers monthly. Her feature “The Fabulous 50,” in which she enjoys an insider’s look at some of the rarest sights on earth, was a 2006 finalist for a National Magazine Award, the magazine industry’s most prestigious editorial award.

Honored with the 2005 Travel Journalist of the Year award by the American Society of Travel Agents, Perrin frequently gives lectures and moderates panels at conferences and Condé Nast Traveler events. She has also appeared on “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” “The Today Show,” “Good Morning America” and several CNN programs.

Drawing from her vast knowledge of how best to travel as well as her experience traversing the globe, Perrin will regale guests with practical knowledge and lively stories about places that every travel lover should visit.

February 12, 2013

USHUAIA: A TRIP TO THE END OF THE WORLD

According to ancient human fossils found in Tierra del Fuego dating back 8,500 to 11,500 years ago, humans lived in this remote region long before it became known as the “Land of Fire.” The name “Tierra del Fuego” was coined by Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan in 1520 when his ships arrived at this southernmost tip of South America. It is thought that, in the mists of dawn, the dispersed fires and columns of smoke from the native populations seemed to float on the water, thus giving this archipelago its name.

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Regatta recently called on Ushuaia, the capital city of the Tierra del Fuego province. Ushuaia is the southernmost urban center in the world and the closest city to the South Pole. In December and January, the region enjoys 17 hours of daylight. Despite its isolation and harsh conditions during the colder months of the year, or perhaps because of these things, there is a lot to see and do in and around Ushuaia. During Regatta’s recent visit, guests took an unforgettable trip on the Southern Fuegian Railway, also known as the End of the World Train, through Tierra del Fuego National Park to Lapataia Bay.

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Completely cut off from the rest of South America, Tierra del Fuego was developed in the 19th century as a penal colony where Argentina sent its worst criminal offenders because escape was virtually impossible. The prisoners were expected to take care of themselves, and a railway was built to transport wood from the forests for heating and building.

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Now a tourist attraction through this remote national forest, the unique train transports guests across rivers and peat bogs, the beautiful formations of peat moss for which this region is known. There was a brief stop at the Macarena Waterfall Station, where guests saw the lovely falls and also heard about Tierra del Fuego’s indigenous people, the Yamana.

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End of the World Train (10)

Arriving at Lapataia Bay, the group was met by a catamaran and treated to a cruise through Beagle Channel. These waters are among the best in the world for trout fishing, but on this day the cormorants, sea lions and seals were the stars of the show.

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The cruise visited Les Eclaireurs Lighthouse, which is also known as the Lighthouse at the End of the World. Put into service in 1920, it guards the entrance to Ushuaia and is now controlled remotely.

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Quite comfortable with tourists, the seals and sea lions on Seal Island and Isla de los Lobos went about their business of napping and playing, unaffected by the arrival of spectators.

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Beagle channel (19)

Island of the Birds is home to cormorants and other sea birds and a few seals and sea lions as well.

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Beagle channel (7)

Beagle channel (9)

There are numerous other thrilling adventures to be had at the end of the world for those looking to explore the majestic wilderness of South America. Marina will stop in Ushuaia on South American Holiday, which departs on December 8, 2013, as will Regatta on the February 3, 2014 sailing, Mystical Andes & Majestic Fjords.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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

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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 22, 2013

EASTER ISLAND AND THE MYSTICAL MOAI

DSC03508Over 1,200 miles from the nearest inhabited island and over 2,000 miles from Tahiti and Chile, Easter Island is one of the most remote inhabited islands in the world. On Marina’s recent call here, guests had a beautiful sunny day to explore this mysterious island and the centuries old relics left by a once thriving population.

The name “Easter Island” was coined by a Dutch explorer who encountered the island on Easter Sunday in 1722. The Polynesian name, Rapa Nui, is said to refer to its resemblance to the Island of Rapa in the Bass Islands, but some claim that Rapa was the original name given by settlers.

Uninhabited by humans for millions of years, it is believed that a group of seafarers, probably from the Marquesas, landed on Easter Island in 300 AD. With very few safe places to disembark, legend has it that King Hoto Matua landed a double-hulled canoe on Anakena Beach and founded the first settlement.

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Marina’s guests enjoyed a gorgeous day frolicking in the crystal clear blue waters at Anakena Beach and were even visited by some wild horses, a common sight on the island. Horses were brought here by settlers years ago and now roam the island untamed. Some estimates put the population of wild horses as high as 10,000.

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What draws the more than 50,000 visitors each year are the 887 mystical moai statues carved by the ancient inhabitants of this island. The tallest statue is nearly 22 feet high and weighs 82 tons, and thus a great deal of mystery surrounds the methods that would’ve been used to construct and transport these impressive monuments, built long before the benefit of modern machinery.

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Almost half of the moai are still at the main quarry where the statues were carved. The quarry is filled with statues that were never completed, including the largest moai that, if completed, would have been 71 feet tall and weighed an estimated 270 tons.

The other half of the known statues were completed and moved across the island. No one is sure exactly how this miraculous feat was accomplished. Legends tell of people enlisting divine powers to command the statues to walk, while other theorists describe an intricate system using ropes, trees and human labor.

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By 1868 all of the statues on the island had been toppled. Some accounts recall an island clan pushing a statue over, but others refer to “earth shaking,” and it is believed that an earthquake may have been responsible for the toppling of the statues. Today, because of preservation efforts, about 50 moai have been re-erected on their ceremonial sites.

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Marina will return to Easter Island in April 2013 on the Pacific Mysteries sailing, in December 2013 on the Pacific Paradise sailing, and in April 2014 on the Islands & Incas sailing. All three voyages are featured in Oceania Cruises’ latest Your World Your Way brochure that is hot off the presses. If you haven’t had a chance to visit this remarkable island, hopefully you will be able to take advantage of one of these wonderful voyages. 

January 15, 2013

EXPLORING BOUNTIFUL BUENOS AIRES WITH CHEF KELLY

My history with Argentina has more to do with horses than it does with food. As the owner of an equestrian breeding operation in Middleburg, Virginia, I hired my fair share of über-talented Argentinian jockeys and trainers, not to mention polo players, and I recall how special Sundays were to my Argentinian cohorts. The Sunday night festival of food, drink, dance and intense conversation (which, by the way, started at 10 pm) went well into Monday morning on more than a few occasions.

My recent trip to Buenos Aires was all about the food, as I was scouting great locations for a Culinary Discovery Tour that will be offered later this year.

Utf-8''L1060266Buenos Aires is intoxicating, and the panoply of restaurants and cuisines is dizzying. But my quest was to find the pulse of emerging culinary trends, which often involves the preservation of regional or traditional cuisines. Barbecued meats, known as asado, will always be a staple here, but I also noticed culinary trends that went beyond the Argentinian fascination with meat and embraced other aspects of this rich culinary culture. With the help of my delightful guide Eugenia, I was transported into the belly of the Argentinian culinary scene and discovered a passionate commitment to the regional cuisines of this diverse country, deference to the cooking methods of native populations and a celebration of pre-Columbian cooking traditions.

We set out first to explore local markets, an increasingly rare venue in cosmopolitan cities worldwide. Eugenia selected Mercado San Telmo built in 1897 by Juan Buschiazzo as an open, airy, glass-filled arcade, the perfect haven for artists, butchers, bakers, antique dealers, spice mongers, cheese makers and anyone with a unique product to sell.

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We strolled through the colorful stalls of fruits and vegetables, and it was clear that we were here in the middle of summer – the tomatoes were irresistible.

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Argentinians do love their meat, so finding chorizo (pork sausage), morcilla (blood sausage) and assorted embutidos (sausages) was not difficult. Eugenia pointed out the choripan, a beef and pork sausage that is the official street food of Argentina. It’s typically grilled and placed in a soft bun with chimichurri sauce.

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As we made our way through the market, we noticed a line at the stand for quesos artesanales, the local artisan cheeses. You can often sense the immigrant heritage of a place in its cheese, and Buenos Aires is no exception. While cheese is integral to Latin cuisine in general, here you can see the influx of the Spanish and Italian cheeses – esparto-woven manchego and the peppery Sicilian pepato made from sheep’s milk.

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I was determined to find some spices, so I was thrilled when we stumbled across a treasure trove at a stand run by a man and his son. I have learned over the years that being genuine wins over being pretentious, so I confessed that I was a chef interested in trying some of his best spice mixes.

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The truth is, I am a chimichurri addict, and I was most interested in uncovering any secret ingredients in this heavenly salsa of the gods. Chimichurri, besides being one of those words I just love to say, is typically served by the spoonful with grilled meats in Argentina. It is a blend of herbs, garlic, olive oil and vinegar, with some heat from black pepper or pepper flakes. Chimichurri is a lot like Indian garam masala in that it will vary from household to household, each cook having his or her own secret blend. When I was in Barcelona, I learned that many a Spanish chef has embellished chimichurri by adding pimenton (Spanish paprika) for a smoky, herbaceous flavor. I've shared my favorite chimichurri recipe with you below.

Needless to say, I walked away with not only the owner’s private blend of chimichurri spices – and instructions on how to bring the dried herbs to life – but also a sampling of both smoky and sweet pimenton and the house blend of maté. The dried leaves of the yerba maté plant make a heady tea with a bitter, tobacco-like taste, often sweetened with large amounts of sugar and a dried citrus peel.

As the granddaughter of a poultry farmer, I always make a stop at the egg vendor to jog my memory on what breeds of chicken lay what size and color eggs. On this day there were not only organic eggs but also double-yolk eggs, which I grew up believing was impossible to tell until you broke the egg! I have done the research since, and while there are a few hybrids that are bred to lay double-yolk eggs, it appears that, by and large, this is still one of nature’s wrapped packages, and the single-versus-double surprise is left until the shell is cracked open. I will continue to search, and perhaps in the meantime, Harold McGee can get to the bottom of this mystery!

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After an informative and invigorating stroll through the Mercado San Telmo, we were off to explore potential sites for a luncheon for our Culinary Discovery Tour guests. Our first stop, La Ventana, was selected because it personifies the gaucho barbecue and allows guests to learn about the unique cuts of Argentinian beef as well as taste the country’s celebrated cherry-rich Malbec wines. La Ventana is also a popular nightspot for tango dancing, which is one of those experiences I would encourage anyone to put on their bucket list.

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Our next stop was El Maté Café: The Argentine Experience. We were greeted by the chef and his partner, who not only run a trendy nightspot but also offer classes on Argentinian cuisine and wine. It’s a hands-on cooking school where seasonality and authenticity reign supreme. I was impressed! Eugenia had brought a group here recently, and she raved about the experience.

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After a morning of exploring, we were ready to sit down and enjoy an Argentinian lunch. We chose Aldo’s Vinoteca, known more for its wines than its food, although the food was outstanding. After a tour of the restaurant, the private dining room and the wall-to-wall wines, we settled in and chose a wine from the seemingly endless wine list. As I am known to do, I beckoned the lovely sommelier and asked her to select wines for us, and she did not disappoint. 

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We started with a Torrontes from the northern region of Salta. This searing, brilliantly acidic wine had the heady floral aromatic of a botrytis dessert wine. It was paired with our humita, a delicious pudding of corn and creamy brie wrapped in a cornhusk.

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Next was a filet steak grilled to perfection and served with an arugula salad. The pairing was a 2010 Mundo Revés Malbec, a smooth and full-bodied companion to our entrée. I was intrigued by the wine list presented on an iPad, but I guess I have been sailing for too long, as I hear this is no longer a novelty at shoreside restaurants.

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After lunch we said goodbye to our gracious hosts and returned to our car. (Our driver confessed to me that he had lunched at McDonald’s. I am not sure if that was meant to impress or not.) My knowledgeable guide wanted us to stop at one more place: Havanna. This café is known for its prized dulce de leche cookies. Dulce de leche is a sweet milk and sugar spread that is an iconic treasure of Argentina. It is used like Hershey’s syrup on everything from morning toast to cookies (in between shortbread cookies like an Oreo) to ice cream.

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After I filled my market bags with Havanna cookies (for class tomorrow, I swear!), we made one final quick stop at the famous Volta ice creamery for a dulce de leche ice cream cone. To be honest, I am usually not much for sweets, but this was a little piece of heaven.

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As always, I am indebted to the generosity of my guides selected by Oceania Cruises’ local tour operators. It was a day well spent, and as I returned to Marina, I was convinced that this was yet another essential destination for a Culinary Discovery Tour. I hope you can join us next December when Marina returns to Argentina and sample some of the treasures I uncovered on this scouting mission!

Chimichurri Recipe:

1 bunch flat-leaf parsley, washed

1 bunch cilantro, washed

6 to 10 cloves garlic, peeled

1 tablespoon dried oregano

1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

1 teaspoon dried thyme

1/2 cup champagne vinegar or white distilled vinegar

3/4 cup grapeseed oil or mild extra virgin olive oil

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Pinch of smoked paprika (pimenton), optional

Place all ingredients in a food processor and blend, adjusting the amount of garlic to taste. If the sauce is the consistency of a thick paste, thin with more oil. Sauce can be stored in the refrigerator in a tightly sealed container for up to 2 weeks. 

January 8, 2013

CHEF KELLY SCOUTS LOCATIONS FOR A CULINARY DISCOVERY TOUR IN RIO DE JANEIRO

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Brazil, like so many places, is an amalgam of cultures. The influx of the Portuguese settlers and the slaves from West Africa along with the native Brazilian Indians have created a dizzying collection of regional cuisines.

I find the cuisines of tropical areas fascinating, largely because they make use of the abundance of freshly grown ingredients without having to rely on culinary “crutches” like butter and cream.

The Fjords and Wonders cruise sailed last month from Rio de Janeiro amidst beautiful sunny skies and temperatures a bit higher than the average for this time of year. I was taking over for Chef Annie Copps, who had been on Marina since September. Before she boarded her flight back to the US for a well-deserved holiday, we took our almoco – the Brazilian mid-day meal – at Porcão, a popular churrascaria on Ipanema beach. Utf-8''L1060102

It was buffet-style with many Portuguese and Brazilian favorites, like coxinha (chicken croquettes), a variety of beans (broad beans, black-eyed peas, black beans) and scrumptious fruit salads made with tropical rainforest fruits. As is typical of these barbecue restaurants, the passadors – knife-wielding, meat-toting waiters – circulated with grilled steaks and sausages on skewers, slicing off portions of grilled meat tableside. Luckily for me, I was able to return to the ship and take a nap!

My first morning in Rio, I arranged for a guide to take me to a few culinary highlights of the city. Carlos was an avid home cook and was keen to share his love of Brazilian cuisine. My mission for the day was to design a Culinary Discovery Tour to be offered in this vibrant city starting in December 2013. I was also joined by Illiana, a member of our Destination Services team, all of whom are always helpful in crafting the perfect day for our foodie guests.

I like to visit fish and produce markets early, so this was our first stop. I had already visited Mercado São Pedro in Niterói, which is sure to be a hit with our guests, so on this morning we went to Mercado Cadeg in the Benfica neighborhood, to research a second option. It is a commercial-grade market where the flowers as well as the produce are highly regarded by locals and chefs. With its high ceilings and colorful aisles, the Mercado Cadeg is a nice place to shop and also people watch from one of the many quaint stand-up cafés and family-style luncheonettes.

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The Portuguese influence on Brazilian cuisine is evident in the multitude of bacalhau vendors, with their layers upon layers of salted and dried cod. During our Culinary Discovery Tours in Portugal and Spain, we frequently encounter salt cod and admire the quality of the preservation and the many varieties that can be purchased. Carlos suggested we try the fried cod cake made with mashed potato and deep-fried. It was delicious, especially with an über strong cup of Brazilian coffee. Carlos told us that these two local favorites were a typical mid-morning snack. Caffeine and cod – what an unusual combination! He also shared his grandmother’s recipe for cod cakes (oddly enough, the same recipe as my grandmother’s!): equal parts potato and cod combined with onion, celery, chives and garlic and then rolled into small balls and dipped in egg and bread crumbs. Be sure to soak the cod well, rinsing three to four times to remove the salt.

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Because it was early in the day, we peeked into several of the restaurants that line the aisles of the Mercado Cadeg to see what was on the menu for lunch. The place that caught my eye was Gruta São Sebastião, where several cod dishes were the specials of the day. Bacalhau à lagareira, a Portuguese recipe, is best when quality olive oil is used to sauté the fish and when served alongside smashed potatoes or a root vegetable soaked in the same high quality olive oil. Apparently the lines outside this local hot spot are quite lengthy around lunchtime, and I was excited to have arrived early enough to have a chance to take a quick stroll through the kitchen (with the permission of the chef) to see the impressive mise en place of fresh vegetables, fish and sausages.

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The Brazilians love their peppers! The market was full of colorful fresh peppers, which are an integral ingredient in the relishes found on Brazilian tables, much like ketchup and mustard on American tables. If you don’t find a relish you like, an assortment of hot sauces is always in abundant supply!

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After an enjoyable morning at the market, we were off to eat at Restaurante Aprazível, an authentic Brazilian restaurant enjoyed by foodie tourists and locals alike. As we drove to the restaurant, we toured the winding streets and unique architecture of the neighborhood of Santa Teresa. The artist-colony feel of this neighborhood reminded me a little of Nob Hill in San Francisco with its charming homes, shops and restaurants. We passed the famous Bar do Mineiro, home of the best feijoada in Rio de Janeiro, according to Carlos. Feijoada is considered by many to be the national dish of Brazil. It’s often made with meat scraps, such as pigs’ ears and feet, and served with black beans.

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Dining at Restaurante Aprazível was a bit like sitting in a tree house in a tropical forest. As the three of us sat for lunch, I was reminded of how often a dining table unites us, as a meal compels us to share the traditions of our culture with others. Our party was from Croatia, Brazil and the United States, and yet each dish evoked a personal comparison to some meal, memory or cooking technique.

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Our gracious host suggested we start our lunch with a local cocktail. The cheery bartender stood behind a large wooden bowl with a staggering array of tropical fruits at his disposal along with the ever-present cachaça, a distilled liquor made from cane sugar. When asked to pick a fruit, I chose a combination of passion fruit (maracujá) and star fruit (carambola). Illiana selected the stunning red strawberries. Carlos, who was driving, enjoyed an iced maté, a strong local black tea. Given that the temperature was unseasonably hot, the drinks went down easily and we were able to forget (or not care about) the heat and humidity. My drink had a sprig of rosemary as garnish, which tempered the sweet passion fruit. It was heavenly!

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As I frequently do, I asked our waiter to suggest some local favorites for lunch. Our first course was pastels, fried pastries filled with meat and vegetables, similar to empanadas. Two relishes were served as accompaniments, one of onion and peppers and another of pickled peppers. The pickled relish was made with pimentas malaguetas, and these fiery hot peppers preserved in oil, vinegar and cachucha are a standard condiment on most Brazilian tables. (So much for the timid dash of hot sauce – these people are serious about their heat!) Apparently Brazilian pastels are regional, and the different stuffings and cooking methods, such as fried versus baked, define the region.

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The next course was roasted yuca, mild sausages, lime wedges and warmed dende oil, a palm oil that was brought to Brazil by the West African slaves. It has a unique nutty taste. The yuca was starchy, but with the fat of the sausages and the sour limes, it was a perfect mouthful! The limes in Brazil are a little sweeter and milder than varieties elsewhere, and we were warned that the lime oils would stain our hands a mustard color when exposed to the sun if we did not wash them. Guess I won’t be drinking many caipirinhas on the beach!

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Next up was patinha de caranguejo, a bowl of steamed crab claws with canjiquinha (dried corn), tamarind mustard sauce and the ever-present farofa, a favorite Brazilian side dish of warmed and toasted manioc flour.

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The highlight of our appetizers was roasted fresh palmitos (hearts of palm), which were doused in olive oil and an herbaceous pesto and carved and served tableside. I had never had fresh hearts of palm, so this was a real treat. My research shows that it takes 12 years to grow the heart to three to four inches in diameter, at which point it is harvested from the mature palm. No wonder it is such a treat!

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Having sampled meats at the churrascaria the day before, I wanted to try some local fish. We were served a perfectly tender, grilled tropical fish – a locally caught snapper – with an orange sauce and roasted banana. In contrast, we tried a moquequinha, a fish stew in a savory and flavorful sauce of coconut milk, roasted peppers, ground nuts and herbs.

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After a delicious lunch in the treetops with the occasional monkey swinging from tree to tree, we headed back to Marina with our hearts and tummies full from the generosity of our lovely hosts at Restaurante Aprazível. On the way we saw a bus converted into a mobile produce store – perhaps the next generation of food trucks!

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Considering our wonderful experiences in Rio, we will be sure to return this winter with a Culinary Discovery Tour to retrace this phenomenal market tour and lunch!

If you won’t have the opportunity to join us for a Culinary Discovery Tour in the near future, but you’re eager to learn about the cuisines of Latin America, I highly recommend Gran Cocina Latina: The Food of Latin America by Maricel E. Presilla. I’ve been nose deep in this book for the past month, partially because I was traveling to South America onboard Marina, but also because it is heralded as a must-read cookbook of 2012. When Rick Bayless, José Andrés, Jacques Pépin and Harold McGee use words like “sexy scholarship,” “complex and intricate,” “tireless explorer” and “amazing foods that tell a rich history” to describe the book and its author, I am all in!

December 31, 2012

A HAPPY NEW YEAR IN SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO

Riviera will be in San Juan for New Year’s Eve, and what a beautiful place to be on this day. As Blogger-at-Large, I recently had a wonderful time exploring San Juan and highly recommend taking advantage of one of the many cruises that stop in San Juan during the winter months.

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My first stop was the Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico. Housed in a stately building built in the 1920s, it was once the San Juan Municipal Hospital. It is one of the biggest museums in the Caribbean and holds a permanent collection of the most significant Puerto Rican art from the 16th century to the present. In addition, the museum offers numerous temporary exhibitions designed to support the visual arts heritage of Puerto Rico. If you visit, check out the museum’s website to find out what special exhibitions will be featured while you are there.

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The museum has added several wings over the years, including a beautiful garden with sculptures by local artists that is naturally framed by trees and plants native to Puerto Rico, as well as water falls, koi ponds and native birds.

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After a lovely visit to the museum, I headed to Castillo San Cristóbal, built by the Spanish from 1634 to 1790 to protect against attacks on San Juan. Designed specifically to guard against enemy approaches by land, the fort is on the eastern side of Old San Juan.

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The largest fort built by the Spanish in the New World, it covers 27 acres and the views up and down the coast are truly breathtaking. In one direction was the white domed capital building of San Juan, in another, dramatic views of Castillo San Felipe de Morro, built 100 years prior to San Cristóbal to protect from sea attacks. Also along the banks stands the Santa Maria Magdalena de Pazzis Cemetery, the final resting place of many of Puerto Rico’s prominent residents.

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The fort has an intricate system of tunnels that allowed Spanish troops to move around the fort unseen. The tunnels were also devised as a defense system and could be secretly loaded with explosives and set off if invading troops attempted to overrun the fort. Because this clever tactic was never used, the tunnels stand in good condition today and are safe for guided exploration.

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I spent the last part of my day wandering the streets of Old San Juan and taking in the sights and sounds of this beautiful city. Plaza Colón is a lovely memorial to Christopher Columbus, who landed in Puerto Rico in 1493. (In Spanish, “Christopher Columbus” is “Cristobal Colón.”)

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DSCF1982San Juan is an incredibly colorful city, and I was particularly charmed by its blue-tiled streets. The blue cobblestones, called “adoquines,” were used in San Juan in the 16th and 17th centuries. Cast in Spain DSCF1976 from the slag of iron furnaces, the bricks were used as ballast in the empty galleons of Spanish ships. When they arrived in Puerto Rico, they would dump the bricks and load the ships with plundered gold and silver for the trip back home. Time and moisture has given the bricks their bluish hue.

My adventures led me to my final stop at Old San Juan’s main square, Plaza de Armas. In the middle of the square, surrounding a fountain, there are four statues, all over 100 years old, that represent the four seasons. I guess they need some representation of the seasons here since it’s 85 degrees year-round in San Juan! The square was beautiful and bustling with daily life.

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I bid a fond farewell to this delightful city as we sailed away, and the sail away itself was as lovely a part of the San Juan experience as being on shore. Judging by the number of fellow guests who joined me to watch the island fade into the distance, I would say that this is an occasion not to be missed.

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To everyone celebrating onboard Oceania Cruises ships, and to all of you following the blog and dreaming of your next Oceania Cruises vacation, I wish you a Happy New Year! I hope to run into you on the high seas in 2013!

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 

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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?

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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.

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Dessert Selection
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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)
Seafood Stir-fried
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.

LR Short Rib
72-Hour Slow Braised Short Rib with Gnocchi au Jus
LR Cab w Ribs
Paired with Gordon Brothers Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, Columbia Valley, Washington, USA
LR Rasb
Chef making the Raspberry Caramelized Mille Feuille with Madagascan Vanilla Cream
LR Rasb Chat
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!

November 21, 2012

JACQUES: A TASTE OF PERFECTION

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Jacques Pépin, Oceania Cruises' executive culinary director
It is no secret that food is a very important part of the Oceania Cruises experience. This is largely because the first thing that Jacques Pépin set out to do as Oceania Cruises’ executive culinary director was create the finest cuisine at sea. At his side was the dedicated and extraordinary culinary staff of Oceania Cruises and their fleet corporate chef, Franck Garanger.

Both Pépin and Garanger hail from France and specialize in French cuisine, so it was only natural that there would be an onboard restaurant devoted entirely to French food and that it would be some of the finest French cuisine available anywhere.

Available onboard Marina and Riviera, Jacques is Jacques Pépin’s first namesake restaurant. Designed in the tradition of the great French bistros and brasseries, Jacques serves timeless food that gives you a taste of the authentic classics prepared the right way and created with only the finest ingredients.

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In the forward to Oceania Cruises’ culinary lifestyle book, Taste the World: The Food and Flavors of Oceania Cruises, Pépin says:

51CjEFgThhL._SS400_“There is something irresistible about eating well at sea. I suppose it’s partly the sea air and the relaxed pace that makes everything taste better. But for me, a great deal of the pleasure comes from knowing what a true feat of organization and skill it takes to pull off a satisfying meal under such challenging conditions.

As I travel all over the world with Oceania Cruises, doing demos and working with the chefs to develop new dishes and ideas, I am more impressed with every voyage. I’m struck, first of all, by the quality of the ingredients and the fundamental respect for techniques and tradition. The brioche smells like butter when you break it open. 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. There is heartfelt pride in that brioche and that soup, and for my part, I am proud to be associated with the men and women who devote their lives to getting those details right every day.”

As Blogger-at-Large for Oceania Cruises, I’ve had the pleasure of dining at Jacques a few times. An evening at Jacques begins with the enviable challenge of selecting which of the delectable dishes you will try. This choice is often complicated by the creativity of Chef Garanger, who loves to design new recipes for the menu. The good news is that no matter which courses you select, you are certain to be delighted. You can see from the menu we chose during our most recent visit that my husband and I aren’t terribly efficient at narrowing our choices.

Cuisses de Grenouilles en Persillade, Flan de Persil

Sautéed Frog Legs with Garlic-Herb Butter, Parsley Flan

The parsley flan was a perfect, delicate complement to the flavor of the frog legs. And what more can be said about anything cooked in garlic butter? It was incredible.

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Gratiné à l’Oignon

Baked Onion Soup with Gruyère Cheese Crust

A classic prepared perfectly. I didn’t know what that meant until I tasted this. The onions are slowly simmered and topped with a layer of toasty Gruyère. Who knew I had to take to the high seas to find this treasure?!

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Pannequet de Saumon en Tartare

Salmon Tartare Wrapped in Salmon Gravlax with Cucumber Rosace

With the richness of much of the food, I found this to be a perfect contrast. A light, flavorful hors d’oeuvre, it was a salmon tartare wrapped in gravlax and simply but elegantly presented on a bed of cucumber.

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Moules Marinières

Fresh Mussels with Shallots, White Wine and Parsley

Happily, the dramatic presentation of this dish was matched by the incredible flavor. As Pépin mentioned in the forward to Taste the World, preparing and serving food in the proper dish is important. These mussels certainly were, and they were some of the best mussels I’ve ever tasted. I was supposed to share with my husband – let’s just say, he would recommend ordering your own.

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Escargots à la Bourguignonne

Traditional Baked Escargots in Shell with Burgundy Garlic Butter

Some people shy away from escargots. I am not one of those people. If you are not one of those people, try these. You will discover the way they should be prepared and eaten!

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Poulet Fermier Rôti aux Herbes

Herb-crusted Black Foot Free Range Chicken au Jus

While he usually prefers fish, my husband surprised me by ordering the rotisserie chicken. He wanted to taste a true French classic, masterfully prepared, which is exactly what he got. Juicy and delicious in a perfectly roasted crust, this is how chicken should taste. He chose traditional French accompaniments of haricots verts and gratin dauphinois (because we couldn’t have a course without butter!). Julia Child, a longtime friend and colleague of Pépin, famously said, “If you’re afraid of butter, use cream.” So what could be better than using both, as is the case with gratin dauphinois potatoes?!

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Homard Thermidor à ma Façon

Maine Lobster Baked in Shell with Mushroom Cream Sauce, Served with Crispy Parmesan

We capped off our rich, decadent meal with the ultimate in richness (cream, butter AND cheese!). Each time I dine in Jacques, I fully intend to try a new entrée. What actually happens is that I can’t pass up the lobster thermidor. And fortunately for my husband, I usually can’t finish it either!

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In case your mouth is watering and you can’t possibly wait for your next Oceania Cruises voyage to try some of this cuisine, I am including the recipe for French onion soup from Taste the World. In this book you will also find recipes for the gravlax, rotisserie chicken, several gratin dishes and many more, along with the story of one 24-hour day in the galleys, a behind the scenes look at how this fabulous cuisine is created.

French Onion Soup

(makes 5 cups, serves 4)

7 cups beef stock

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

9 cups thinly sliced onion

1½ tablespoons finely chopped garlic

3 thyme sprigs

3 marjoram sprigs

12 to 16 slices baguette, each ¼ inch thick

Extra virgin olive oil

1/3 cup dry white wine (such as Chardonnay)

½ cup dry red wine (such as Merlot)

3 tablespoons brandy

3½ cups chicken stock

Kosher or sea salt

Freshly ground black pepper

2 cups shredded Gruyère cheese

Pour the beef stock into a large saucepan and bring to a gentle boil over medium-high heat. Adjust the heat as needed to maintain a gentle boil and cook until the stock reduces by half, about 30 minutes. Set aside.

In a stockpot, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic and cook, stirring often, until the onion is translucent and a light golden brown, 15 to 20 minutes. Decrease the heat to medium-low and cook until the onion is a rich brown, 45 minutes to 1 hour, lowering the heat as necessary to prevent scorching. Stir occasionally.

Meanwhile, place the thyme and marjoram sprigs on a small piece of cheesecloth and tie into a sachet with kitchen twine. Set aside. Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Lightly brush the baguette slices on both sides with olive oil. Place in the oven and heat, turning once, until dry, about 5 minutes on each side. Do not allow the bread to color. Set aside.

Add the white wine, red wine, and brandy to the browned onion and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until the alcohol evaporates and the onion is glazed, about 5 minutes. Add the sachet, the reduced beef stock, and the chicken stock and bring to a simmer. Keep at a low simmer, uncovered, for 1 hour. Season with salt and pepper.

Preheat the broiler. Place 4 flameproof serving bowls on a small sheet pan. Ladle the soup into the bowls. Top with the bread slices, and then top the bread slices with enough cheese to cover the bread completely and extend to the rims of the bowls, about ½ cup for each bowl. Place under the broiler until the cheese is bubbling and toasted.

Recipes alone do not a chef make, so if you’re interested in honing your culinary skills and learning some of the secrets to Oceania Cruises’ fabulous recipes, I highly recommend taking a class at the Bon Appétit Culinary Center onboard Marina or Riviera. If the Oceania Favorites – Jacques class is featured on your cruise, you can learn to make several of the dishes served at Jacques, preparing them yourself in your own workstation with the guidance of masters like Chef Kelly. Classes also teach other signature recipes from Oceania Cruises and culinary techniques to prepare dishes from all over the world.

As we Americans prepare to celebrate Thanksgiving, we might suddenly find ourselves inspired to add a little French flair to our holiday dinner and enjoy this feast as those onboard Marina and Riviera will be doing – Jacques style! Happy holidays indeed!

October 24, 2012

CHEF KELLY HOSTS A PERFECT FAREWELL DINNER FOR MYRIAD GUESTS AT LA RESERVE

Before I hopped off Riviera in Livorno to join Marina in Athens and host our second Bon Appétit Signature Sailing, I had the chance to have one final meal with our wonderful guests from Myriad Restaurant Group. To bid a fond farewell, General Manager Thierry Tholon and I hosted a table for Drew Nieporent, Ted Rozzi and Chris Messina at La Reserve. To dine with one of the most famous restaurateurs in the world was a real treat for both of us, and to showcase our food and wine pairing restaurant, La Reserve, a collaboration between Oceania Cruises and Wine Spectator magazine, was very special indeed!

We started the evening with a glass of champagne on the deck outside of La Reserve and had a lovely time relaxing before dinner and meeting the rest of the 24 guests dining that night at La Reserve. 

After being seated, we began with an introduction to the night’s “Exploration Menu” from Christophe Belin, the senior executive chef of Riviera. (La Reserve offers three menus: Exploration, Connoisseur and Discovery.)

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Chef Belin explained each of the seven courses, focusing especially on the pairing of specific elements in the food with distinct attributes of the wine. Chef Belin is from Brittany and is as engaging and informative as he is entertaining and knowledgeable, so the guests enjoyed his personal touches.

Before the amuse bouche, the waiters explained the four salts served tableside. Drew, Ted and Chris each tasted the salts with the delectable baguette slices and French butter.

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The first course was the amuse bouche, which literally translates from French, "amuse the mouth" – and that it did! We savored a bay scallop on a seared hot rock with lava salt and rock chive cress. The scallop was paired with a prosecco from Veneto. The white pepper and citrus finish of the sparkling wine was a perfect match!

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The appetizer was a stuffed brioche with foie gras paired with a chenin blanc from the Loire Valley. The slight note of quince jelly in this wine paired perfectly with the buttery brioche and the creamy, earthy foie gras. Chef Rozzi and I had a great time photographing the food and its elegant plating – I even managed to snap a photo of him snapping a photo of his brioche. 

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Next came one of my favorite pairings, the risotto primavera with a Gewürztraminer from Alto Adige. The risotto was finished with a smoky scamorza di bufala (smoked mozzarella cheese) that brought it all together, both food and wine.

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Our fish course was a grilled turban of wild salmon and turbot, a dish that Oceania Cruises Fleet Corporate Chef Franck Garanger, the architect of this menu, has won many awards for. A California Chardonnay, with butterscotch, vanilla and melon notes was the perfect match for the flavorful fish accompanied by a seaweed casserole.

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We rounded the corner on the dinner with a Chateaubriand with bordelaise sauce paired with a full-bodied Bordeaux. The beef was perfectly cooked and so soft we could cut it with our forks!

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The cheese course was one of my favorites – gorgonzola, Napoleon style, with poached pear. Light, savory and sweet, it was the perfect cheese dish for this menu. It was paired with a voluptuous, golden Fonseca Porto from Portugal, with a light touch of acidity. Perfection!

As the pastry chefs filed in to finish the dinner, we watched Chef Bruno dip cherries in sugar for the plating of his Chocolate Mousse. This airy and rich mousse is served with a simple and refreshing Moscato d’Asti from the Piedmont region in Northern Italy.

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The test of a great food and wine pairing menu, according to Thomas Keller of the famed restaurants French Laundry and Per Se, is that the dinner leaves you feeling satisfied but not stuffed. This was certainly the case with our group. We had progressed through seven delicious and inventive pairings and left satisfied yet comfortable. What better way to end this amazing voyage than a lovely evening, great company, excellent food and wine and the gentle sea air?

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We are all so grateful for the generosity of Drew Nieporent, David Gordon, Ted Rozzi and Chris Messina. Riviera guests had a wonderful time and learned a lot from all of them. We are already trying to figure out how we can have them back next year for another fabulous Signature Sailing.

October 4, 2012

CULINARY STARS AT THE BON APPÉTIT WINE & FOOD FESTIVAL ONBOARD RIVIERA

Bon App Culinary Center logoAs Blogger-at-Large for Oceania Cruises, I’ve had the privilege of dining in each of the exquisite restaurants onboard the ships, and I can say we are not overstating our case when claiming to serve the finest cuisine at sea. Renowned as the cruise line for foodies, Oceania Cruises even features the only custom-built, hands-on cooking schools at sea: the Bon Appétit Culinary Centers onboard Marina and Riviera.

As if a typical voyage weren’t already an epicurean’s dream come true, Oceania Cruises also offers food and wine themed sailings hosted by some of the culinary world’s greatest luminaries. Guests are especially excited about the upcoming Bon Appétit Wine & Food Festival onboard Riviera that will sail from Athens on October 14.

 

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Drew Nieporent
Renowned culinary stars and wine experts from the Myriad Restaurant Group, including founder and celebrated restaurateur Drew Nieporent, will be onboard to dazzle guests with their expertise in food and wine. Over the last 26 years, Myriad has opened and operated over 35 restaurants in cities around the world, including Seattle, Louisville, Providence, Boca Raton, London, Moscow and New York.

 

IntroductionNieporent is perhaps most famous for partnering with celebrity restaurateurs such as Robert De Niro, Robin Williams and Frances Ford Coppola to open some of the most recognized restaurants in the world, including Tribeca Grill, Nobu New York City, Rubicon and Corton. Recently, Nieporent was featured with chef-partner Paul Liebrandt on the Emmy-nominated HBO documentary, A Matter of Taste.

 

David Gordon
David Gordon
Joining Nieporent is Myriad Wine Director David Gordon, who will give a series of wine lectures and tastings for guests. As a young manager at Gotham Bar and Grill, Gordon was seduced by a bottle of Penfolds Grange and never looked back. He has created stellar wine lists for top restaurants in New York and across the country, including the list at Tribeca Grill, which has won Wine Spectator's Grand Award every year since 2002. He frequently participates in the New York Times wine panel and produces and distributes his own wine under the Jeanne Marie and Bacchus labels.

Rounding out the events, Myriad Corporate Chef Ted Rozzi will lead a series of culinary demonstrations in the Riviera Lounge. Rozzi currently oversees the 400-seat Acela Club at Citi Field, home of the New York Mets. A graduate of the French Culinary Institute, Rozzi has

Ted Rozzi
Ted Rozzi
spent time at New York hotspots The Waverly Inn and Crown and has worked with world-class chefs like Daniel Boulud at Café Boulud, Terrance Brennan at Picholine and Juan Mari Arzak of the famous Arzak in San Sebastián, Spain.

When asked about his upcoming voyage onboard Riviera, Nieporent responded that he was very much looking forward to it. “Oceania Cruises’ reputation for fine cuisine has intrigued me for quite some time, and my team and I are excited to be part of this special sailing. We’re ready to roll up our sleeves and work with Oceania Cruises’ guests, as well as sample the food we’ve heard so much about.”

Guests onboard Riviera for this exciting sailing are certainly in for a treat. Please share your stories of the cruise with us here on the blog, and we’d love to see your photographs on our Facebook page.

September 27, 2012

A VISIT TO MYSTICAL MONT SAINT-MICHEL

Archangel-michaelAccording to legend, Archangel Michael appeared to St. Aubert in 708 A.D. and asked him to build a monastery atop the rocky islet of what is now called Mont Saint-Michel. When Aubert repeatedly ignored his instructions, a frustrated Michael finally burned a hole in Aubert’s skull with his finger. And thus the phrase, “You don’t have to ask me twice,” was born.

As Blogger-at-Large for Oceania Cruises, I took a fantastic shore excursion, Mystical Mont Saint-Michel, to this beautiful monastery built in the 8th century on an island just off the shore of France. Many guests onboard Marina enjoyed this excursion last week, and many more onboard Nautica will have the opportunity when she calls on Saint-Malo next week.

Saint-Malo is a lovely walled town with a fascinating history. I hope to be able to return and spend more time in Saint-Malo itself, especially because I heard rumors of restaurants famous for fresh seafood, crepes and other French specialties!

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But as a first time visitor to this area, I knew I would be making the short trip to Mont Saint-Michel, “a sublime thing, a marvelous pyramid,” as it was aptly described by Victor Hugo. I had dreamed of visiting this mystical place since I first learned of it in French class in high school. Like so many others, I was moved by the spectacular silhouette of this monastery perched in solitude on a rocky mount.

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Because the entire area is surrounded by vast, low-lying marshland, the iconic view of Mont Saint-Michel rising dramatically from the mist is visible from miles away. My first glimpse of the monastery was as impressive as I had imagined it would be. As we approached, the haze enveloping the abbey lifted, and the edifice grew even more imposing and inspiring as it sparkled in the bright summer sun. 

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Mont Saint-Michel is almost as famous for its tides as its monastery. The tides here are the highest in Europe. They vary greatly – roughly 46 feet between high and low tide – and can change very quickly. 

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As this has always been an important pilgrimage site, a causeway was built to allow pilgrims easier access to the island. This dramatically altered the flow of water in the area and led to the silting of the bay. As a result, Mont Saint-Michel is no longer surrounded by water.

P1010134A dam project, scheduled to be completed in 2015, will clear out the accumulated silt and allow tidal waters to once again flow freely around this tiny island. Visitors will no longer park at the foot of the island, so the hoards of cars and buses will not sully the view of the revered mount. Instead a separate parking lot will be built, and visitors will be shuttled to the island over a bridge.

The salt meadows surrounding the area create the ideal environment for grazing sheep – 30,000 to be exact! Salt meadow lamb is a prized delicacy served in the local restaurants, as the lambs’ high salt intake creates an especially tender and flavorful meat. 

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After navigating the sheep, we arrived at the base of Mont Saint-Michel, following in the footsteps of the millions that have flocked to this place of pilgrimage over the centuries. The site is so revered that many of the faithful settled at the foot of the mountain. Half-timbered houses were constructed, and eventually a village grew up below the abbey. Today the village is home to adorable little cafés, restaurants and souvenir shops. 

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A narrow cobblestone street winds through the village and up the incline to the abbey. Our guide for the day was Gil, an expert host with an encyclopedic knowledge of the region, and as we climbed, he did a wonderful job of bringing the abbey to life with stories of its fascinating history.

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Its location along the English Channel meant that Mont Saint-Michel held not only religious significance but also strategic significance to the various powers that ruled the region over the centuries. After the Norman conquest in the 11th century, the larger Romanesque church of the abbey was constructed. Following a devastating fire in the 13th century, the abbey underwent repairs, and a Gothic-style refectory and cloisters were added.

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The diverse architectural styles along with the natural rock are what make the abbey so extraordinary, both visually and historically. Here Gil points out one of the original walls of the monastery.

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During the French Revolution, monasticism was abolished. The abbey was closed and converted into a prison to hold clerical opponents and other high-profile political prisoners. At this time a giant wheel was constructed, and prisoners were forced to turn the wheel to operate an enormous pulley that lifted loads of stone and supplies up the mountain.

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Gargoyles adorn most of the walls and were added to divert water from the building, which seems like a far more visually interesting solution than the current gutters that frame the eaves of my house.

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Even with the throngs of tourists that visit Mont Saint-Michel each day, the abbey inspires a sense of peace. Every aspect of the architecture – the vaults, the arches, the famous spire – was deliberately designed to turn your gaze upward toward the heavens. And when you reach the abbey’s highest point and direct your gaze downward to the sprawling countryside below, the views are equally breathtaking.

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After visiting this remarkable place, I found myself incredibly grateful that St. Aubert finally got the hint! As reluctant as I was to leave, the tide was coming in, as if to say that my home on the sea was beckoning. I returned to the ship with memories of Mont Saint-Michel that I will cherish forever.

 

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!