103 posts categorized " Marina "

November 17, 2014

Oceania Cruises Voyages Give New Meaning to "Holiday Travel"

Have you ever wanted to escape the hustle and bustle of the holidays and celebrate the season with a relaxing getaway? On these Oceania Cruises voyages, you can enjoy a festive holiday celebration while lounging on pristine beaches and exploring cultural wonders.

PACIFIC SERENADE, Valparaiso to Papeete, December 17, 2014

18 days on board Marina

Easter IslandWhether you celebrate on board Marina with the Hanukkah menorah lighting ceremonies or the Christmas Eve carolers, this voyage promises a special holiday treat with a call on a UNESCO World Heritage Site that has intrigued travelers for centuries. One of the most remote inhabited islands in the world, mystical Easter Island is famous for its hundreds of monolithic statues created between the 10th and 16th centuries. These moai were carved in the volcanic crater of Rano Raraku and then moved to sacred ceremonial platforms, the most colossal being Ahu Tongariki. Much mystery surrounds the methods used to construct and transport these impressive monuments, which reach up to 33 feet high and weigh up to 82 tons. Mull over this conundrum later in the voyage as you celebrate the New Year on the pristine beaches of Tahiti and Bora Bora.

SOUTH AFRICAN HOLIDAY, Cape Town to Cape Town, December 22, 2014

15 days on board Nautica

Holiday TravelSpend the holidays exploring the wonderful sights of South Africa, including a stop in the bustling city of Port Elizabeth on Christmas Eve. The city’s parks and museums offer great appeal, but many visitors are drawn to the game reserves just outside Port Elizabeth. About 45 miles north of the city, Addo Elephant National Park stands as living proof of the success of South Africa’s conservation efforts. When it was proclaimed a park in 1931, a mere 11 elephants lived in the area. Today the sanctuary is home to more than 350 elephants, as well as lions, rhinos, zebras and other indigenous wildlife. Enjoy a game drive through the park to observe these magnificent creatures. Then marvel at other natural wonders as you cruise along the Cape of Good Hope and ring in the New Year with a celebratory gala on the decks of Nautica.

HOLIDAYS IN THE TROPICS, Miami to Miami, December 23, 2014

12 days on board Riviera

CaribbeanNothing relieves holiday stress like a serene cruise along sapphire blue waters embraced by the elegant comforts of Riviera, beautifully decked in her most festive finery. Watch the warm sunshine sparkle like holiday lights on the sea as you cruise toward the idyllic islands of the Caribbean. Without you even lifting a finger, a splendid holiday feast with all of your traditional favorites will appear, created by Riviera’s master chefs. Who needs snow to enjoy a white Christmas when you can celebrate the season on the white sands of St. Barts and Antigua? As you greet the New Year on the spectacular beaches of the British Virgin Islands, you just might create a new holiday tradition.

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

 

Caribbean
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.

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.   

Image105B4D43-E1EE-483B-93E0-713422456B69

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!

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!

Park Guell 7

Park Guell 8

Park Guell 3

Park Guell 4

Park Guell 5 Park Guell 6

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

November 18, 2013

A DAY IN FLORENCE

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

View of Florence

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

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

Basilica di Santa Croce Basilica di Santa Croce Door

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

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

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

Lunch Caprese Salad

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

Ponte Vecchio

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

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

Palazzo Vecchio Neptune

Plaza Vecchio David

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

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

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.

Vernazza Vernazza 2

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 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 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! 

Double Rainbow 2

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.

St

St

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.

Trinity College 2

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.

St

St

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!

Grafton Street Grafton Street 2

2013 sailings to Dublin include:

2014 sailings to Dublin include:

*includes overnight stay in Dublin

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.

Nuku Hiva - Visit to Taipivai Valley (32)

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.

Bora Bora Off Road Adventure from Jessica - DTP (105)

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 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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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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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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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.

Riviera Galley Tour26

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

February 5, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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

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

 

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

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

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

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

January 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. 

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.

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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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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
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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!

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!

August 30, 2012

A TRIP BACK IN TIME IN TALLINN

IMG_4412 Armor w Oceania SignvcOn Marina’s recent stop in Estonia, guests visiting the Old Town at the heart of Tallinn were greeted appropriately by this knight in (not so) shining armor. On the UNESCO World Heritage list, Tallinn is considered one of the best-preserved medieval town centers in Europe. With cobblestone streets and beautifully preserved buildings dating from the 11th century and earlier, it is easy to be transported to a different time.

Many of the state buildings, churches and original residences date from the medieval period and have been preserved in their basic original form. The cobbled square has been at the heart of Tallinn life since the 11th century and is dominated by one of the most famous symbols of Tallinn, the Gothic town hall, dating from the early 14th century. The town hall has been meticulously preserved down to the ornate dragon rainspouts. 

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A particularly delightful aspect of the Old Town is the little shops and open-air markets where visitors can buy local handmade crafts like these hand-knitted sweaters and pullovers with traditional Estonian folk patterns and these souvenir bells with hand-painted scenes of Tallinn.

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One of the more popular attractions in Old Town is the 19th century Russian Orthodox cathedral, Alexander Nevsky Cathedral. Slightly out of place in this medieval city, it has been viewed by locals as a symbol of Estonia’s history of oppression and was nearly torn down in 1924 during a brief period of independence. After neglect during Soviet rule, the Cathedral was restored to its former beauty and now this classic onion-domed cathedral serves as one of Tallinn’s more famous tourist icons.

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To get above the scene, guests visited Toompea Castle atop Toompea Hill. The original wood structure was built in the 9th century, and the stone structure was added in the Middle Ages. Substantially reconstructed over the years, it still retains its original shape and currently is home to the Estonian Parliament. Near the castle, there were archery pits set up for visitors to take target practice, offering insight into the peaceful and relaxed atmosphere of this region, for how often does one find weapons available for public use in close proximity to a government building?

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The views from Toompea Hill of the Old Town and its beautiful colorful buildings with red roofs were gorgeous on an equally gorgeous day.

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Guests also visited the oldest church in Tallinn and mainland Estonia, Toomkirk, also called St. Mary’s Cathedral. Originally a Catholic cathedral, it became Lutheran in the 1500s and now belongs to the Estonian Evangelical Lutheran Church. Established in the 13th century by the Danes, the Baroque dome was not added until the 18th century. Over a hundred medieval coats of arms line the interior walls of the church.

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No trip back to medieval times would be complete without fire breathing and a meal inspired by ancient history. At Old Hansa Restaurant, guests are treated to a medieval-themed experience with servers in medieval dress and music and entertainment from centuries ago. The food was simple and delicious: fresh baked bread, Hansa House smoked herring, juniper cheese spread and dark honey beer in a big ceramic tankard (what Old Hansa calls women’s size!).

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Tallinn was a lovely escape into the past, made all the more wonderful when Marina guests returned to their thoroughly modern, immensely comfortable home on the sea.

 

Photos by Vanessa Cordo

August 22, 2012

AN EVENING FIT FOR ROYALTY AT THE WINTER PALACE

During a recent stop in St. Petersburg, guests onboard Marina were treated to a unique experience on an excursion called Musical Evening at the Hermitage. One of the oldest and largest museums in the world, the State Hermitage Museum sees approximately 2.5 million visitors a year. That is an average of about 8,000 visitors a day! So you can imagine how decadent it must have felt to be the only visitors in the building on this exclusive shore excursion.

The spectacular Winter Palace that houses the Hermitage was made all the more grand by the absence of the usual crowds. Constructed on a monumental scale, it was intended to embody the power of Imperial Russia, which encompassed almost one-sixth of the earth’s landmass and over 125 million subjects at the time the palace was built in the early 18th century. The clock tower bells that chime on the hour and half hour greeted the group for what was to be an extraordinary evening.

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The private tour began at The Main Staircase of the Winter Palace (also known as the Jordan Staircase) where the world’s dignitaries were greeted for state receptions and functions over a century ago. Restored according to the original designs after a devastating fire in 1837, the staircase is one of the only areas of the palace that has retained the original 18th-century style. The painted ceiling depicts the Gods of Olympus, and alabaster statues welcomed the evening’s visitors.

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After passing through The Memorial Hall of Peter the Great, the tour made its way to The Armorial Hall, once used for official ceremonies. With huge gilded columns, bronze chandeliers and stucco coats of armor framing the cavernous room, the effect was breathtaking.

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Emperor Alexander I created The War Gallery of 1812 to honor the generals who defeated Napoleon in the Patriotic War of 1812. When these portraits were hung, every citizen in Russia knew the names of these generals, 17th-century celebrities who fought valiantly in the war.

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IMG_5357The St. George Hall, or the Large Throne Room, is one of the largest rooms in the Winter Palace and home to the throne of the Emperor. Regarded as the throne of Russia, the velvet throne is emblazoned with the imperial coat of arms and the crowned double-headed eagle. The scene of  many of the most  IMG_5360
formal ceremonies of the imperial court, it was most notably the location of the meeting of the First State Duma, which marked the first time ordinary citizens were allowed into the palace in substantial numbers.

After a quick peek at the Hanging Garden through the windows, guests entered The Pavilion Hall with its 28 exquisite crystal and gold chandeliers and the visitor favorite, Peacock Clock.

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Next stop was The Rembrandt Room with 23 works by the famous Dutch master, including some of his more famous masterpieces: The Return of the Prodigal SonPortrait of an Old Jew and Danaë.

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Portrait of an Old Jew
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Return of the Prodigal Son
 
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Danaë

 

A particularly exciting moment of the tour was The Leonardo Room where guests were able to view two highlights of the museum’s collection. Of the few oil paintings by Leonardo da Vinci in the world, two can be seen at the Hermitage: Benois Madonna and The Litta Madonna.

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Benois Madonna
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The Litta Madonna

The group was then momentarily transported to Rome upon entering The Raphael Loggias, a meticulous reproduction of the famous 16th-entury gallery in the Vatican Palace. Under his supervision, Raphael’s pupils painted the walls and vaults according to his sketches.

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IMG_5431One of the museum’s masterpieces and the only work by Michelangelo in the Hermitage is the sculpture Crouching Boy in The Italian Cabinet. Unfinished, it is thought to have originally been designed for a chapel in Florence.

IMG_5449After taking in the art of many of the great Flemish and Dutch masters, guests entered The Small Italian Skylight Hall, one of three top-lit halls, to enjoy Italian art of the 16th and 17th centuries, including The Lute Player by Caravaggio and works by Tintoretto.

After the private tour of some of the highlights of this remarkable museum, everyone was able to take a seat and soak in the atmosphere of the evening with a concert performed by the State Symphony Orchestra of St. Petersburg in the largest of the three skylight halls, The Large Italian Skylight Hall. Surrounded by magnificent works of art by 17th- and 18th-century Italian artists, the orchestra brought the museum alive with works by Mozart, Faure and Tchaikovsky.

 

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As if that weren’t enough for one evening, the tour ended in The Gallery of the History of Ancient Painting where guests sipped champagne and witnessed Cupid bringing his love back to life with a kiss in Canova’s sculpture Cupid and Psyche.

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Three Graces by Finelli bid the group a fond farewell as they left the museum. Although it was 10 p.m., it was barely dark outside. Guests were able to snap some final photos of the empty Palace Square and The Alexander Column, named after Emperor Alexander I and erected as a monument to Russia’s victory in the war with Napoleon’s France.

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The private event at the Hermitage was remarkable, and everyone left with treasured memories of a truly one-of-a-kind experience.

A special thank you goes out to Vanessa Cordo of Oceania Cruises for sharing these photos and video of the Musical Evening at the Hermitage.

May 30, 2012

MEMENTOS OF THE JACQUES PEPIN CRUISE ONBOARD MARINA

Jacques & CaptainCaptain Giulio Ressa and Jacques Pépin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

April 6, 2012

ZIP LINING IN THE CARIBBEAN

If you follow us on Facebook, you saw the photos we posted yesterday of Barcelona, our Destination of the Week. Our new ship Riviera sails on her christening cruise just one month from today, and the christening ceremony will take place in beautiful Barcelona. Marina also arrived in Barcelona this week after her Atlantic crossing, leaving the lovely islands of the Caribbean and preparing to explore the historic shores of Europe.

As Blogger-at-Large, I was able to enjoy Marina’s final Caribbean sailing of the season, and everyone onboard came home with fond memories and fantastic photos. As Marina bids farewell to the Caribbean seas, I wanted to share one of my favorite adventures from that cruise.

We saw so many beautiful islands on that sailing that I couldn’t possibly choose my favorite. And while I savored every minute on the pristine beaches next to impossibly blue waters, one particular excursion on this cruise offered something a little different – zip lining in the rainforest of St. Lucia.

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Our shore excursion took us to the Treetop Adventure Park where we were welcomed by friendly guides who helped us don the proper gear for our zip lining experience. Everyone was fitted with a harness, gloves and a helmet. We had to wear hairnets under our helmets, and while the look was not especially becoming, I appreciated the focus on sanitation and safety.

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Ziplining04Next we were given a demonstration on how to zip line. I had never done this before, so I had no idea what to expect. Grace and coordination are not my greatest assets, so I was hoping that neither would be required. Based on the demonstration, the process seemed pretty simple and straightforward. Sit in the harness, cross your legs, grip the harness with your left hand and loosely cup the wire behind you with your right hand. We were encouraged to reach as far back as possible with our right hand to prevent spinning. Spinning sounded kind of fun to me, but I was told this should not be attempted by amateurs. I decided it would be best to follow instructions, especially considering my aforementioned lack of coordination.

Having received a thorough orientation, off we went to the first platform. Zip lining obviously involves being high above the ground, and unfortunately the only way to get there is by climbing a combination of hills and stairs. But considering my most rigorous activity of late was devouring the delicious food onboard and lounging on the beaches ashore, my body thanked me for finally burning a few calories.

 

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Our guide throughout the excursion was Damascus Dostalie of Cox and Company. We affectionately referred to him as John-John, the nickname by which he introduced himself. The affection was genuine because he was one of the most friendly and helpful guides I’ve ever met. This obviously was not his first zip line tour, as he not only accompanied us throughout the course, but also volunteered to take photos of us with our cameras. Several of us took him up on the offer, so he zipped ahead of us with three or four cameras strapped to his body, and then got photos of each of us (with the appropriate camera no less) as we came down after him. 

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While a few in the group had been zip lining before, most of us were novices. We were very excited about this new experience, but at the same time just a tad apprehensive about careening through the rainforest hanging from a cable. We were happy to see there were actually two cables for added safety, and the guides stationed on each platform were very regimented in their procedure for hooking us up. We were clearly in good hands.

We all watched as the first brave soul took off from the platform.

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Everyone ahead of me survived, so by the time it was my turn, I was ready to go.

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Despite my attempt to follow instructions, my body had a tendency to spin. Nevertheless, I landed safely at the end of the first line after a thrilling ride. I was having so much fun I forgot to take in all the stunning scenery surrounding me.

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On the next line, I realized I was leaning back instead of reaching back with my right hand. I straightened up and my body straightened out. And again, I reminded myself to look around as I soared over the beautiful, verdant rainforest. The longest line was 1,600 feet so I had plenty of time to admire the gorgeous surroundings.

Soon I was confidently zipping from platform to platform, enjoying the exhilarating ride and the fabulous view. John-John told me I was ready for prime time, and on the next line he took video of me!

 

We were all feeling pretty proud of our zip lining skills at this point, so John-John took great pleasure in introducing the fastest, most challenging line of the course. I guess all the confidence must have drained from my face, because John-John smiled and turned on my video camera again. “Now in case you don’t survive,” he teased, “what will be your final words to your family?”

As you can see in the video below, “I went out happy!” And as a final favor, John-John took video for me as he ran the zip line. Amazing!

   

Of course, we all not only survived but had a fantastic time. (On the way out, I saw kids no older than eight preparing to zip line, and I felt a little silly for ever having been apprehensive.) It was the most fun I’ve had in years, as is obvious in the final photos I’ll share with you below. 

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If you ever find yourself on an Oceania Cruise that offers a zip lining excursion, don’t miss the chance!

April 3, 2012

OCEANIA CRUISES SHOWCASES ART AND ARTISTS

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It’s no secret that Oceania Cruises has created the first ships at sea designed especially for foodies. Fine cuisine has always been one of our hallmarks, but did you know that Marina and the new Riviera are also havens for art lovers?

Oceania Cruises’ founder, Frank Del Rio, has a passion for fine art. He and Vice Chairman Bob Binder hand-selected the masterpieces currently featured onboard Marina, and Del Rio took a special interest in the works selected for Riviera as well. In fact, we are anticipating an exciting announcement later this week about the artists to be featured on Riviera, which debuts next month.

Marina Art4Marina and Riviera feature paintings, sculptures and prints to suit every taste, from the classic to the contemporary and from the referential to the abstract. Del Rio claims he wants the art to “spark conversation and contemplation” among the guests onboard. Based on my observations as Blogger-at-Large, he has certainly succeeded in this goal. One evening I was in Martinis lounge onboard Marina discussing a painting that myself and a guest found particularly fascinating. A few minutes later another guest approached the painting and commented, “The guy must have been on drugs when he painted that.” Some works are simply beautiful, and others are more provocative, but they all inspire conversation. 

Many of us who enjoy contemporary artists have an equal passion for creating art ourselves. While our efforts may not be museum worthy, we can certainly appreciate the need to express our creativity. And when traveling on a voyage with Oceania Cruises, the beautiful ships and marvelous ports of call provide ample inspiration for anyone with an inner artist clamoring for recognition.

 

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That is why Oceania Cruises created the Artist Loft enrichment center, currently featured onboard Marina and soon to be unveiled on the new Riviera as well. In the Artist Loft, talented artists-in-residence teach classes on everything from photography to needlepoint to painting to creating your own t-shirts and postcards.

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Award-winning watercolorist Annelein Beukenkamp was just onboard Marina sharing her skills with a packed house of aspiring artists. I was able to enjoy some of Annelein’s classes, such as ABC’s of Drawing and Paint a Tropical Sunset Scene. Marina was sailing her final Caribbean itinerary, so there was no shortage of vibrant tropical sunsets to inspire our paintings.

For the ABC’s of Drawing class, Annelein gathered everyone around to observe as she created a still life drawing of a wine bottle, an apple and a teacup. As she progressed, Annelein pointed out the choices an artist is constantly making regarding position, perspective, light and shading. Guests then created their own masterpieces with Annelein’s guidance. Annelein also offered open studio hours when guests could experiment in any medium they wished – pigments, graphite, pastels, pencils – or they could continue work on a project begun earlier in the voyage.

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It’s hard to say what the guests enjoyed more – expressing themselves in the Artist Loft or gazing at the masterworks throughout Marina that make her feel like a floating museum. Whether you’re an aficionado or an amateur, a cruise onboard Marina or Riviera is a treat for any art lover. Be sure to check our Facebook page later this week for the exciting announcement about the collection to be featured onboard Riviera.

March 23, 2012

A CELEBRATION OF THE FIRST OCEANIA CLUB DIAMOND MEMBERS

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Last week on Marina’s final Caribbean sailing of the season, the officers, staff and crew celebrated a tremendous milestone with two very special guests. The March 7th sailing of Caribbean Pearls marked the 40th cruise for Jerome and Elizabeth Kohel, making them the first guests to become Oceania Club Diamond members and the most frequent guests in Oceania Cruises history.

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While Marina was docked in Miami, Oceania Cruises President Kunal S. Kamlani hosted a lunch for the Kohels onboard in Privée. The guests of honor were joined by Executive Vice President of Passenger Services Victor Gonzalez, Manager of Loyalty Marketing Nick DeSantis, Oceania Club Ambassador Jennifer Faust, and Kunal's wife, Daniela.

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Victor Gonzalez, Jennifer Faust, Jerome Kohel, Elizabeth Kohel, Kunal S. Kamlani, Daniela Kamlani, and Nick DeSantis


The Kohels hail from Kalamazoo, Michigan, and they first sailed with Oceania Cruises onboard Regatta in March 2004. They have since cruised for over 520 days and visited more than 60 countries. While the Kohels have sailed all over the world, the Caribbean is one of their favorite destinations. They like the escape from the Michigan winters, and the relatively short flight to embarkation in Miami gives the Caribbean a slight advantage over transatlantic destinations such as Europe and Africa.

No matter what the itinerary, the Oceania Cruises family keeps the Kohels coming back time and again. “We came for the ships. We came back for the crew,” says Mr. Kohel.

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Captain Dimitrios Flokos, Mr. and Mrs. Kohel, and General Manager Damien Lacroix


Both Mr. and Mrs. Kohel sing the praises of the entire Oceania Cruises team, saying how much they look forward to seeing all of the familiar faces and warm smiles each time they return to the ships. So many of the officers, staff and crew have become dear friends that it feels as if they’re being welcomed home by family each time they embark on a new voyage. The Kohels say they have especially enjoyed watching staff members move up through the ranks, as they have seen so many promoted to new positions over the years.

On every Oceania Cruises voyage, past guests are celebrated and milestone cruises are recognized during the Oceania Club cocktail party. At this special event held in Horizons, Oceania Club Ambassador Jennifer Faust introduced the Kohels, and Captain Dimitrios Flokos presented them with their Diamond Oceania Club pins. General Manager Damien Lacroix also offered his congratulations, and Cruise Director Dottie Kulasa had a beautiful bouquet of flowers for Mrs. Kohel.

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Mr. Kohel, Dottie Kulasa, Jennifer Faust and Mrs. Kohel


While the Kohels are not particularly fond of the spotlight, they graciously accepted the expressions of gratitude from the captain and senior officers and agreed to let us share their story with you here on the blog. Enjoy this short video of the momentous occasion.

 

March 13, 2012

ACUPUNCTURE MASSAGE IN THE CANYON RANCH SPACLUB

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As Blogger-at-Large, I’ve enjoyed many wonderful travels with Oceania Cruises. Every sailing promises new and exciting experiences, from exploring exotic destinations to tasting delicious wine and cuisine to learning watercolor techniques in the Artist Loft. I embrace every opportunity to see the world and try new things, but I have to admit, I was a bit tentative about the new experience that awaited me in the Canyon Ranch SpaClub yesterday.

For those of you who have tried acupuncture, I’m sure you’re familiar with its benefits. But I had never tried it before, and when the treatment was suggested, I admit I was a little nervous about — well, to call a spade a spade — having needles stuck in my back. This didn’t seem like a service I would request as part of a dream vacation. It seemed more like a procedure I would conjure up in a nightmare after a stressful day at work.

However, part of my role as Blogger-at-Large is to experience everything that Oceania Cruises has to offer and share with you all of the fantastic options available. Neither Oceania Cruises nor the Canyon Ranch SpaClub has ever steered me wrong, so I decided to go for it. The SpaClub offered a treatment that combined acupuncture and massage, and since I had agreed to try the former, I decided I deserved the latter.

I arrived early for my appointment so I could relax on the SpaClub’s Private Spa Terrace and spend some time in the steam room. Once my muscles were warm and loose, I went to the Relaxation Room (pictured below) for some quiet time. Soon Dr. Ashish (pictured above center) arrived to take me to the treatment room.

Relaxation Room

Dr. Ashish hailed from India and studied at the Rajiv Gandhi University of Health Sciences in Bangalore. He asked if I’d had acupuncture before, and when I replied that I hadn’t, he happily provided me with some history on the practice. Acupuncture originated in China about 5,000 years ago, and it would seem that any health regimen in practice for that long must have significant benefits. While acupuncture is often used to treat chronic pain, I fortunately do not have that problem, but Dr. Ashish informed me that acupuncture has many benefits beyond the treatment of pain. It has also been shown to boost the immune system, relieve tension, reduce anxiety, and promote general well-being.

The ancient Chinese practice of acupuncture was based around restoring balance to the chi, the life force of energy that flows throughout the body. But as acupuncture evolved and came to be practiced internationally, those who didn’t necessarily subscribe to the concept of chi discovered other physiological explanations for the efficacy of acupuncture. Dr. Ashish explained that the needles stimulate the nerves and send messages to the brain. The needles are interpreted as an attack on the body, so the pituitary gland releases endorphins to combat the threat. Endorphins are secreted in response to stimuli such as exercise, pain and even the consumption of spicy food, and they are responsible for sedation, relaxation, stress and pain management, and an overall sense of well-being.

Dr. Ashish went on to explain how acupuncture can also interrupt pain messages to the brain and with ongoing treatment can help the brain adapt and interpret these messages differently. But by this time I have to admit I was losing focus on the details that Dr. Ashish was sharing. All the signals in the room had indicated to my brain that I was about to receive a relaxing massage – the soft, tranquil music, the low lighting, the warm massage table – and needles or not, my body had decided to relax.

It was about this time that Dr. Ashish touched the top of my head, and a moment later I thought, could that have been a — no, surely not. Dr. Ashish asked, “Did you feel that?” He had already inserted the first needle, and I had barely noticed.

He continued with a few more needles on my back, legs and feet, gently inserting them at the appropriate sensitive points. I felt some more than others, but nothing I felt could be characterized as pain. And when he was finished, I had a very pleasant, warm, fuzzy feeling throughout my body, one I would best describe as a sense of relaxation and overall well-being, just as advertised. I have to admit that having needles stuck in my back (by a well-trained professional) was actually a very pleasant experience and one that I would definitely consider repeating.

Following the acupuncture, Dr. Ashish performed a vigorous full-body massage, and his specialized training was evident as he immediately recognized and addressed all the points where I carry tension. The grand finale was the Revitalizing Foot Treatment. This is one of the enhancements that can be added on to a massage, and I highly recommend it. After a gentle exfoliation, Dr. Ashish administered a focused massage of my feet and toes, followed by an application of peppermint and tea tree foot balm that left my calves and feet pleasantly tingling and highly energized. It was the perfect treatment after a day spent hiking to The Baths and scrambling amongst the boulders on the beautiful beaches of Virgin Gorda.

The only thing I dislike about a great massage is that it must inevitably come to an end. There is always that bittersweet moment as you savor the sense of exquisite relaxation while trying to cope with the fact that the experience is over. I can tell you this is much easier to deal with when you have a fantastic dinner onboard Marina to follow it up. And it wasn’t until I had returned to my stateroom and dressed for dinner that I realized the full benefits of the acupuncture. Unlike other massages that had nearly put me into a coma, this treatment left me feeling revitalized and invigorated. I was relaxed, but also wide awake, refreshed and ready to enjoy a fabulous evening. And best of all, I had another wonderful wellness experience in the Canyon Ranch SpaClub to add to my long list of favorites.

If you have a favorite treatment that you’ve enjoyed in the Canyon Ranch SpaClub, please share your experience with us here on the blog. Feel free to leave a comment below.

January 24, 2012

ABHYANGA MASSAGE FROM CANYON RANCH

DSCF0743One of my favorite assignments as Blogger-at-Large for Oceania Cruises is experiencing the Canyon Ranch SpaClub® onboard the ships. As work goes, this is not a bad gig. The SpaClub onboard Marina is a relaxing haven and the perfect place to unwind after a day of exploring ashore.

A day pass allows you access to the entire spa, or if you’ve booked a spa treatment, you may enjoy the facilities before and after your treatment. Soak in the open-air whirlpool hot tubs on the private Spa Terrace and then recline on a chaise under the rays of the afternoon sun. Or gaze out of the floor-to-ceiling windows in the Relaxation Room at the beautiful shoreline of your current port of call and muse about the day’s wonderful adventures. There is also a sauna, a steam room and an experiential shower with Tropical, Cold Fog and Waterfall settings. The various temperatures and pressure levels of each setting are perfect for relaxing muscles in preparation for a massage or after a good workout.

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The SpaClub offers a multitude of services — from manicures to makeovers to fitness classes to seaweed wraps to facials — you name it. If it restores and rejuvenates, you can find it at Canyon Ranch. I personally am always a sucker for a great massage, so I chose to book this traditional spa treatment. However, I was a bit adventurous in selecting a type of massage I had not experienced before.

The abhyanga massage is part of the ancient ayurveda healing tradition, considered to be one of the treasures of India. The helpful young woman who welcomed me to the spa claimed I would feel more “energetic and active” after this “fairly vigorous” massage treatment. For me, the only challenge during a massage has always been to stay awake until the end. So the concept of an energizing, invigorating massage definitely intrigued me.

I did some research before my treatment, and the more I learned about abhyanga massage, the more seeming contradictions I discovered. It both tones and relaxes the muscles. It boosts mental alertness and calms the nerves. It increases body temperature and improves circulation while also allowing for a deeper, more recuperative sleep. I was very eager to experience this massage that sounded like a cure for anything that might ail me.

DSCF0744My massage therapist, Drainah, hailed from Thailand, a country also practiced in the ayurvedic techniques that originated in India. She showed me to the treatment room and let me get situated on the massage table before returning to begin the treatment. The key to abhyanga massage is the warm oil that is used. Drainah told me she was using Bindi oil, designed in the ayurvedic tradition and infused with herbs to nourish the skin and stimulate circulation. Aromatherapy is an important part of abhyanga massage, as the aromas help to heal and balance the body and mind. In the first illustration of the paradox of abhyanga massage, the pleasant scent of the oil was indeed both stimulating and relaxing.

While “fairly vigorous,” the abhyanga massage is not a deep tissue massage. The pressure is firm but gentle. The invigorating effect actually stems from the rhythmic motion of the massage, repeated circular movements on the back and long, smooth repetitive pressure along the legs. Drainah also utilized certain pressure points on my feet and hands to stimulate a deep sense of calm.

As the massage progressed, I began to realize that its benefits were similar to exercise, without all the annoying huffing and puffing. Like exercise, abhyanga massage relieves stress, cleanses the body of toxins, improves circulation and tones the muscles, all of which ultimately recharges and rejuvenates the body while also creating an overwhelming sense of calm, balance and relaxation.

The more I thought about it, the more I realized I’d invented a paradox between two states that were actually quite harmonious — alertness and relaxation. Without launching into a social discourse, I had to acknowledge that I’d bought into the concept that one pounds an energy drink so you can be alert and driven to work hard all day long, in the hopes of crashing into a recliner at the end of the day so you can then “relax.” In actuality, the ideal state of being seems to be something closer to both alert AND relaxed.

At least this was certainly my opinion by the end of the massage. I felt both energized and blissfully tranquil, and at that moment I couldn’t imagine a more pleasant state of being. Nor have I discovered one since.

Practitioners of ayurveda actually recommend a daily abhyanga massage as part of your morning ritual. Don’t I wish! If anyone out there happens to have access to a personal masseuse, I highly recommend following this advice. (You can actually perform the technique yourself, but I somehow doubt my skills would compare to the therapists at the Canyon Ranch SpaClub.) For those who can’t enjoy a daily indulgence, I suggest treating yourselves to an abhyanga massage at the Canyon Ranch SpaClub on your next voyage with Oceania Cruises!

January 11, 2012

LALIQUE AND OCEANIA CRUISES: A PERFECT PAIR

Hustace Photo-9-Grand StaircaseThe Grand Staircase is an icon onboard all the ships of Oceania Cruises and a signature element of our brand. To create this extraordinary centerpiece for Marina, we looked to the master artisans from Lalique, a company renowned for its unique expertise in the artistry of fine crystal. As the interior begins to take shape on Marina’s sister ship, Riviera, that same Lalique staircase will be the dramatic focal point of the reception area. 

Founded over a century ago, Lalique continues the legacy of the incomparable René Lalique. First renowned for his innovative Art Nouveau jewelry pieces, René Lalique was intrigued by the medium of glass. It became the focus of his mastery and his primary means of artistic expression, even as he expanded into the realm of architecture.

Today’s Lalique artisans are known as “sculptors of light,” embracing the strange alchemy that takes place between the sensitivity of the artist and the know-how of the craftsman. One easily recognizes the style of Lalique through its hand-finished form, intricately sculptured detailing, and vivid contrasts between clear and matte crystal.

“We’re very overprotective of the brand, to a fault at times,” says Maz Zouhairi, President and CEO of Lalique North America. “When this partnership came about, or the idea was born, we had to do our research and make sure that the two names, the two brands were compatible with each other.”

They certainly are. Both the ships of Oceania Cruises and the crystal masterpieces of Lalique are renowned for their elegance and artistry, and the partnership has been a perfect pairing.

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Riviera's Grand Staircase as it appeared a few months ago and as it will appear a few months from now

The Grand Staircase of Riviera features ornate double stairways with balustrades of crystal medallions. The dramatic centerpiece is Lalique’s highly prestigious Cactus Table crowned with an exquisite Lalique vase. The creation of the Grand Staircase involved 37 French artisans working 1,600 hours to handcraft 4,600 pounds of pure Lalique crystal.

Guests onboard Marina have been amazed by the results of the artisans’ craftsmanship, and when Riviera is unveiled in April, the Grand Staircase will certainly have the same impact. In fact, one guest was so impressed with this Lalique creation, he had the same staircase built into his own home, complete with the lit newel post at the base.

  Stair Column  Upper rail  Balustrades
There is certainly no greater compliment than that!

December 13, 2011

GALA TEA TIME ONBOARD MARINA

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

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

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

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

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

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


November 9, 2011

JACQUES SHOWCASES CLASSIC FRENCH CUISINE ONBOARD MARINA

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

August 24, 2011

Stuart Gregor's further adventures onboard Marina

Below is another post from Australian journalist, Stuart Gregor, who is currently sailing on Marina:

BORDEAUX AND BEYOND

So we left off somewhere in the west of France. I had not yet fully received my sea legs, but now, some five days later I am a veteran. I even crashed a party last night being hosted for Oceania Club legends who have cruised more than 10 times. Cool group, one day I suspect it will be me entering the main door, not slipping around the back when no one is looking.


Let’s go back to Bordeaux. Stu's lesson for cruising novices: Always check that you have the details of the port right. Saying you are going to dock in Bordeaux is in fact infinitely different from a port about 100km away... as the kids would say, my bad. But all was sorted out, and a day amongst the vines, tasting great wines, is not such a bad way to while away Ascension Day, August 15. Bad luck that, too, lobbing in the world's wine capital on a public holiday . . . and as my seriously good onboard concierge Daniel said, "They take their holidays very seriously in France.” Top day, bought some great wine – in fact two bottles of Comtesse Baron (CH#) from 1999 and 2004 and drank them the next night in the seriously delicious Polo Grill, which is currently leading the field in the "which one of the restaurants is our favourite.” We like them all, of course, but one thing you Americans do really, really well is an upmarket steakhouse.

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Talking of food, we must of course touch upon last Tuesday, one of the most memorable gustatory days of my considerably gustatorial life... lunch at Mugaritz. If Mugaritz means nothing to you, that’s fine but you don’t take food or your restaurants very seriously. Mugaritz is a restaurant in the hills behind San Sebastian. It is owned and run by Andoni Adurriz, a former disciple of the great Ferran Adria at El Bulli. Mugaritz is currently the number three ranked restaurant IN THE WORLD. And we were going... once we found a cab in St Jean de Luz. This was not easy but it added a certain frisson to the day’s adventure. That’s if you consider a frisson a mild, blind panic by an overwrought, overweight and slightly hysterical man, who could see his reservation at THE NUMBER THREE RESTAURANT IN THE WORLD being given away because HE CAN’T FIND A BLOODY CAB IN ST. JEAN DE LUZ. It came, of course, with enough time in the tank to have a quick wander around the streets of San Sebastian. That means of course, we headed for what I straight away declared as the best tapas bar I have ever seen. A quick beer, some anchovies and a bit of drool coming from the mouth at all the spectacular food and divinely rude, but spectacular bartender... I could have stayed all day. However, I had a RESERVATION AT THE NUMBER THREE RESTAURANT IN THE WORLD. So we go to Mugaritz, and it’s a humble brown, brick building surrounded by the most beautiful garden. I am seriously as excited as a grown man could be without his team being in the lead five minutes before full-time in a final. And then they smile, they ask us if we would like to have a drink in the gorgeous terrace, they bring out a bottle of beautiful cava that a friend back home has organised, we start eating, laughing and drinking and so begins one of the greatest lunches of my life. The food? Well it was weird and wacky, some sublime, some confusing, all a sensory challenge. But it was WAY more than food. It was superb and friendly service, it was the sense of whimsy and delight on the plate and in the restaurant, it was the sheer thrill of BEING THERE that made it so wonderful. And the four bottles of wine helped, too. There were four of us, and no that doesn’t include the cava so I guess I should be honest and admit to five...

If someone were to ask me what the highlight was, it was the sense of humour, the great fun we had being invited into the kitchen and talking with Andoni, who of course speaks no English and I speak no Spanish but who cared. We did lots of thumbs up, we had Oswaldo the interpreter and it was brilliant. Bloody brilliant. And the restaurant itself was beautiful, austere but characterful and totally unlike stuffy, formal top restaurants in France. I could go on and on but I fear I have already.

The rest of the day ends in something of a blur. Of course, there was the obligatory sprint (well shuffle/jog) to the tender at St Jean de Luz, another fine meal at Red Ginger with an extra couple of bottles of wine we most definitely did not need, and another encounter with Viya the Ukrainian croupier on the craps table, who by now I am seriously falling deeply in love with. She might be the funniest and shortest croupier on the seas. She reminds me of Natasha in “Boris and Natasha,” and she treats me equally poorly, but I keep coming back for more. Those Ukrainian blokes must live in a constant state of fear if there are more like her around!

The next morning, remarkably, I feel the need to exercise. I have taken on about 15,000 calories the previous day so I hit the treadmill for an hour. There is a fantastic gym on board, I just can’t change the miles to kilometres on the screen, so I go for 5 miles and spend most of the hour multiplying things by 1.6. It’s quite a clever diversion. Anything to keep my mind off the panting and the ugly silhouette.

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The next day is Bilbao and the Guggenheim. Much has been written about this and I know less about modern art than I do about moderation and abstinence, so suffice to say, it’s a drop-dead wonderful experience. I understood as much about the art as I did most of the dishes at Mugaritz, but I just loved being there all the same and what a building. Great architecture can transform cities. I just wish a few of our local urban planners in Australia would learn that lesson.

Another night onboard and a marvelous, relaxed dinner on the terrace of the Terrace Cafe, just me and the wife, her hair blowing in the breeze. It was almost romantic. As close as an old married couple will get… until she spoils the moment by telling me I have sauce on my face.

La Coruña is next and this is a wonderful city, which I see for exactly 8 minutes as the day is all about golf in the hills at Real Club de La Coruna. Only 15 minutes in a cab from the ship and a glorious morning playing (and winning on the 18th) with a great mate from Oz and a couple called Antonio and Jules. I learnt all sorts of new Spanish words for "fore" and "look out I have a horrible slice" and "I don’t think you should stand there" and "Oh bloody hell Stuart that’s a terrible putt" and "lost" and "trees.” Antonio also lets me know, after he drills a 30-foot putt for a birdie on the 14th that Spanish for birdie is in fact "birdie.” A great day. And much more to share, but Cadiz arrives to my starboard and an afternoon in Seville beckons.

This cruising thing is good.
Real good.
I'll be back for that party real soon...

 

August 19, 2011

Stuart Gregor shares experiences onboard Marina

Born and bred in Sydney, Australia, Stuart Gregor is a well-regarded wine commentator and magazine columnist. He is currently sailing on Marina’s “Tastes of Europe” cruise and has colorful tales to tell of his adventures onboard. Please enjoy the following blog post sharing his experiences during his first cruise with Marina

Confessions of Cruise Virgin

The wife and I are virgins. Well, we were until Wednesday. An odd confession granted, and especially bizarre considering we have two children, but until we walked the gangplank in Dover last week, virgins we were, at least as far as sailing onboard Marina goes.

As we board Marina in Dover there is an undoubted frisson for Sally and I, and this frisson, as we climb the stairs and navigate the corridors to stateroom 9139, is genuine and thrilling. It's a good room, dead posh with a nice verandah, and I am already getting the sense that I will only ever want to travel on ships during their first season. Everything just feels so shiny and new and untouched and well, virginal…

Cruising and I are off to a good start.

Of course everyone else on board appears to be doing something while we merely walk the halls with mouths agape. Everything can look pretty in the brochures, but in real life Polo Grill really does look like a proper American steakhouse, and Jacques really does look like a genuine French restaurant, and check out that sparkly bar near the casino... I can sense I will do some of my best work there later in the trip...

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Night One we dine at Jacques and it is very good indeed, no surprises there. Delicious roast chicken, bountiful and delicious sides, a crackerjack cheese trolley. But before we even made it to Jacques, I must give a huge rap to the bar staff at Martinis. I had a dead set ripper Hendricks Gin Martini, made strong and long and great value. I expected cocktails like this would be weak and expensive; I could not have been more wrong. Even if unwelcome, I will return.

Day Two I become aware of the onboard BYOB policy. If you buy a bottle onshore, you can take it to any restaurant and pay $20 corkage. Bloody brilliant idea. I will say it again for emphasis. Bloody brilliant. The wine lists onboard are good granted, but for a wine freak like me who simply must seek out the local and bizarre, I am indebted to this excellent policy. In Honfleur I discover a terrific little wine store called Les Vins de Pierre Boinet, on Cours Jean de Vienne 02 31 89 40 19, just behind the Absinthe Hotel. A terrific collection of wines from all the key regions of France, but my brief is to stay local so I buy some Vouvray, Sancerre and Fume de Pouilly. The wife rolls her eyes suggesting we might not need six bottles between Honfleur and Bordeaux... I have no idea who she thinks she married. 

In Honfleur, apart from wine shopping, I buy the most expensive chocolate in Europe, and we have a passable, not inexpensive lunch at L’Absinthe. There are probably better choices that can be made in this gorgeous town. There is a Bib Gourmand in town called Le Breard at 7 rue du Puits 02 31895340, and I wish I had gone there. Friends, always travel with a red Michelin guide if food and drink is your thing. It's the Bible.

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Night Two will go down as a trip highlight for sure. We dine at La Reserve by Wine Spectator and fair dinkum it is brilliant. Seriously good. But the real highlight is sitting across from my winemaking lecturer from university in Adelaide some 15 years ago – Dr. Pat Lland, legend of Australian wine education, author and world’s nicest bloke. So a great meal became truly memorable. Best dishes were a stunning, silken pumpkin ravioli with crushed almond biscotti and a lobster and mascarpone pancake. The dessert was awesomeness on a plate, raspberry caramelized mille feuille with Madagascan vanilla cream. There were probably only two criticisms I could make of an otherwise stupendous meal. The first being that the chef was just a little bit too tall and good looking, and he did somewhat gain the attention of my wife. A slightly shorter fatter and older version, perhaps without the fabulous French accent, would be my preference for next time.

My only other comment would be that I would love to see more regional French wines paired to the stunning food. While the wine pairings are thoughtful and appropriate, it does seem slightly incongruous to be tasting two Cabernet Sauvignons from the USA as one tootles down the west coast of France towards Bordeaux!

So good was the meal at La Reserve that I declared it could be awarded a Michelin star. The wife agreed that it might be possible so the following day we did the only thing two thorough and exacting restaurant reviewers would do and sought out the only Michelin-starred restaurant close by the Port of Concarneau, a very well regarded local place called Le Moulin du Rosmardec in nearby Pont Aven, awarded one Michelin star in the 2011 guide. And in good news for Oceania Cruises and Marina, I would declare unequivocally that the meal at La Reserve was superior to this lovely restaurant at Pont Aven. So for serious food and wine lovers I simply urge you to go to La Reserve, it's Michelin-starred food for $75 including wine. That might just be one of the greatest value food and wine experiences on land or sea. 

So we come to today, the weather at La Rochelle is awful but the Wallabies defeated South Africa last night, there is still whisky in my Highland Park bottle, there is still a craps table with my name on it and a booking at Red Ginger tonight. And I think I need to try that Wagyu burger at Waves for lunch...

I am a virgin no more. Thank God.

To think I had been missing out on all this fun for so many years… what was I thinking??

 

August 11, 2011

ARTIST LOFT WELCOMES DAN WELDEN

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Oceania Cruises and the Artist Loft are proud to welcome master printmaker Dan Welden onboard Marina. The "Tastes of Europe" itinerary sailed last night from London and will conclude on August 26th in Rome. During the cruise, Mr. Welden will be teaching his revolutionary printmaking technique known as the Solarplate method. Marina is the first and only ship in the world to offer instruction in this innovative art form. Guests onboard will have numerous opportunities to meet Mr. Welden and participate in the Artist Loft.


Dan Welden 2 An internationally acclaimed artist, innovator, teacher and author, Mr. Welden brings a unique experience to Marina guests. He is the originator of the Solarplate method of printmaking that uses the sun to develop pieces of art. The process does not use traditional acids or chemicals and is thus a safer and greener method of printmaking that also allows artists more versatility.

The Mediterranean sun is no stranger to Mr. Welden’s printmaking technique. He has taught at the Santa Reparata International School of Art in Florence, Italy, in addition to conducting workshops throughout the world each year. Prints and paintings from Mr. Welden’s portfolio have been featured in hundreds of exhibitions around the globe, and many pieces have found homes in both public and private collections. In 2001 Mr. Welden and Pauline Muir coauthored “Printmaking in the Sun,” the comprehensive manual to Solarplate methods. 

We are thrilled to welcome Mr. Welden onboard Marina!

 

 

 

July 8, 2011

FILMING WITH MARY HART IN LOS ANGELES

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Followers of our blog will recall that beloved television personality Mary Hart officiated as Godmother to Oceania Cruises’ Marina at the Christening Ceremony for the new ship earlier this year. As Senior Vice President of Marketing for Oceania Cruises, I have now had the pleasure of meeting Ms. Hart several times. But today was certainly the most exciting, as I was able to join Ms. Hart in front of the cameras!

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Ms. Hart, myself (pictured right) and Vice President of Corporate Communications Gary Gerbino (pictured left) spent today in Los Angeles recording her voice-overs and filming her camera appearances for our upcoming DVD. While I’ve filmed marketing pieces before, I’ve not often done so in a Burbank studio with a pro like Mary Hart, and I usually choose to stay behind the camera. It was quite exciting to be in the middle of all the action and get a taste of what it’s like to be in the spotlight. (But I don’t plan to quit my day job.)

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Ms. Hart is truly passionate about Oceania Cruises, so passionate in fact, that she took liberties with the script when she felt it necessary to express more strongly her appreciation for the Oceania Cruises experience. She was even wearing the Cartier necklace that she was given as Godmother of Marina. It was presented to her by Oceania Cruises Founder and CEO Frank Del Rio before the Christening Ceremony in February.

I’ve worked with Mary on several occasions since she first accepted our invitation to be Godmother of Marina, and each time has been a pleasure and a privilege. I look forward to our next meeting in person, and also to seeing Ms. Hart in the Oceania Cruises DVD!