103 posts categorized " Riviera "

August 8, 2014

CELEBRATE DEBUT OF PBS DOCUMENTARY SERIES THE ITALIAN AMERICANS ABOARD EXCLUSIVE VOYAGE

Italian-americans-cruiseWe’re pleased to announce an exciting collaboration with Artful Travelers to host the world premiere for the highly anticipated new PBS documentary series, The Italian Americans aboard Riviera this fall. Narrated by Academy Award–nominated actor Stanley Tucci, The Italian Americans consists of four, one-hour documentary films that chronicle the history of Italian Americans from the mid-19th century to present day. Examining the struggles and powerful ideals shared by many Italian immigrants, it ultimately explores how this community has left a distinct mark on America’s political, social and cultural landscape.

During this special voyage, filmmakers will host complimentary screenings for each individual one-hour episode in the Riviera Lounge, offering compelling insight into the film prior to the screening, and inviting you to participate in a Q&A session afterwards. Scheduled to appear during the voyage include:

Jeff Bieber – Executive producer for The Italian Americans and veteran executive producer for public television documentaries, specials, news and cultural programs at WETA, the public broadcasting station for the Washington, D.C. area. 

John Maggio – Writer, producer and director for The Italian Americans and acclaimed producer and director for PBS series Finding Your Roots, American Experience and FRONTLINE.

Maria Laurino – Creative nonfiction professor at New York University and the celebrated author of the national bestseller Were You Always an Italian?, an exploration into ethnic identity.

You’ll have the chance to attend a special book signing event featuring Maria Laurino, who penned a companion book for the series, entitled The Italian Americans: A History. In addition, we invite you to celebrate The Italian Americans premiere with special wine tastings highlighting some of Italy’s finest vintages and Italian-inspired cooking adventures at the Bon Appétit Culinary Center, each for a nominal fee. You can even extend the enriching celebration to your explorations ashore by booking exclusive shore excursions that tie directly into The Italian Americans theme.

The Italian Americans package is available to you at no additional cost when booking the Oct. 29, 2014 Enchanting Riviera voyage. At the time of booking, you or your travel agent should request the promotional code "ARTFUL" to be added to your reservation. Special experiences with limited capacity, such as private dinners and intimate cocktail functions with guest speakers, will only be available if you specifically book The Italian Americans package. Learn more on the Signature Sailings page of our website, OceaniaCruises.com.

June 23, 2014

THE BOUNTY OF PROVENCE INSPIRES RATATOUILLE RECIPES

Is there a more glorious season than summer in the south of France? The markets of Marseille, Nice, Antibes and other coastal towns are bursting with color from the abundance of fresh vegetables. In the Bon Appétit Culinary Center on board Riviera, we’re celebrating the bounty of Provence by making one of the region’s signature dishes, ratatouille, and we’ve shared our recipe here. Feel free to substitute whatever veggies are fresh and in season at your hometown market, or come join us on a Riviera sailing where you can shop the local markets and learn to prepare this classic dish in the very region where it was invented!

Peppers

Garlic

Zucchini Tomatoes
 

Classic Ratatouille

{ serves 6 }

½ cup olive oil


1 medium eggplant, trimmed (not peeled) and diced

3 medium zucchini, trimmed (not peeled) and diced

3 red bell peppers, cored, seeded, and diced

2 large onions, diced                                                                                                                 

5 to 6 garlic cloves, very finely chopped

¼ cup white wine

4 to 5 fresh or canned tomatoes, diced

Kosher or sea salt

Freshly ground black pepper

1 to 2 tablespoons tomato paste

1 sprig thyme

1 sprig marjoram

1 tablespoon herbes de Provence    

6 to 10 Niçoise olives (optional)

Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Sauté the eggplant for about 8 minutes, until cooked. Remove the eggplant from the pan and set aside. Carefully wipe out the pan with a paper towel.

     Heat 2 more tablespoons of the oil in the same pan and sauté the zucchini until soft but not brown. Remove from the pan and set aside. Wipe out the pan.

     Heat 2 more tablespoons of the oil in the same pan and sauté the bell pepper until soft but not brown. Remove from the pan and set aside. Wipe out the pan.

     Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil in the same pan and sauté the onion for about 10 minutes, until soft and translucent. Add the garlic and then immediately add the wine. Cook until most of the wine has evaporated and the mixture is nearly dry, or “sec.” Add the tomatoes and season with salt and pepper. Simmer for 3 to 5 minutes, until the tomatoes are cooked. 

     Add 1 tablespoon of the tomato paste to enrich the sauce. Add the remaining tablespoon if desired, but be careful not to add too much tomato paste as it can overpower the vegetables. Add the eggplant, zucchini, and bell pepper to the tomato mixture and incorporate well. Top the mixture with thyme, marjoram, and herbes de Provence.

     Cover and warm on low heat. Do not cook the mixture; merely heat until the vegetables are warm. Garnish with olives if desired.

 

June 13, 2014

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

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

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

Ballymaloe Cookery School

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

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

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

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

May 5, 2014

SIGNATURE SAILINGS: YOUR WORLD AND BEYOND

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

May 2, 2014

CHEF KELLY LAUNCHES NEW CULINARY DISCOVERY TOUR IN RAVELLO

Perched high above the Amalfi Coast, Ravello is a festive and enchanting village that I have been visiting for decades. I’ve been eager to share this town’s charms with Oceania Cruises’ guests for some time, so I am very excited to be launching the new Culinary Discovery Tour: Ravello Lunch & Amalfi Chocolate Demo

As with all of our Culinary Discovery Tours, I seek out markets, restaurants and culinary venues that capture the essence of the people and uniqueness of the cuisine of each destination. Last year, with the help of my friends Margarita and Salvatore, I set out to design an authentic Ravello experience Ravello Duomo
for our guests. This brother and sister team is so excited to share their love of Ravello. Margarita runs a ceramics shop with her father. Cosmolena, whom we all affectionately call “Papa,” is a master painter whose ceramic artwork has been exported all over the world, including my home in Florida. Margarita’s brother, Salvatore, operates a restaurant that serves fresh, local Mediterranean seafood as well as sumptuous pastas and sinful desserts. You can bet that I tried as many dishes as possible before settling on the menu for this Culinary Discovery Tour!

Riviera’s recent stop in Amalfi marked the first time I led guests on this new tour. After a brief but beautiful drive up to Ravello from the port, we had some free time to explore the small piazza or simply sit in the shadow of the Duomo and people watch over a cup of coffee. 

Then we gathered for a short walk to our luncheon spot, where Salvatore greeted us with a glass of chilled limoncello. Next door at the ceramics shop, Ceramiche Cosmolena, there was a bowl of Amalfi lemons with a “Welcome Chef Kelly” sign (made by Papa), and guests were invited to select one of the famous lemons and take home a bit of Ravello. Papa told me he how pleased he was with the success of his children’s businesses and that, even though he is now retired, he comes to the shop and restaurant every day. He is such a dear man, and I am thrilled that Margarita is carrying on the tradition of beautiful ceramics and warm hospitality.

Salvatore Greets

Lemons CK and Papa

Melon slices

We then took our seats for lunch overlooking the Amalfi Coast, starting with fresh mozzarella, thinly sliced ham and freshly cut melon, sliced minutes before serving. The wine was flowing and the conversation was lively and relaxed.

Because this tour offers an insider’s look at an Italian family restaurant, guests were invited to watch the chefs as they prepared and plated the dishes.  Guests learned some of the secrets behind the next course, a delicious pasta in an exquisite shrimp sauce, served with a big smile by Salvatore. Next was a local branzino, or sea bass, in a light broth with local cherry tomatoes and a side salad of crisp greens. The combination of the fish and the greens was unforgettable! 

 

 

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Chefs

Salvatore with Food

Branzino
After a dessert of lemon tiramisu and a strong espresso, we said our goodbyes and headed down the winding road back to Amalfi. (Thank goodness for our local bus driver!)

CK and Salvatore

In Amalfi we toured another multigenerational business – Pasticceria Pansa – where we tasted candied lemon peels from the family garden, chocolates with hazelnuts, and a lemon sorbet. It was a marvelous day filled with delicious treats and the chance to learn about traditions passed down for generations in local family-owned businesses.

Pasticceria Pansa 1

Pasticceria Pansa 2 Pasticceria Pansa 3
 

April 28, 2014

CULINARY DISCOVERIES IN NICE AND ÈZE

I cannot imagine a more glorious reception than the one we had in Monte Carlo. Everyone on board Riviera awoke to a beautiful spring morning, and I opened my drapes to a blue sky that took my breath away. Soon we were all happily preparing for the day’s adventures in another magical port of call.

Several guests joined me for a Culinary Discovery Tour to two of my favorite destinations, Nice and Èze. We started the morning in the Bon Appétit Culinary Center, using my trusty map as a guide to review the various influences on the cuisine of Nice. We discussed the ancient spice trade that brought flavors from lands as distant as Asia and Africa, and we also looked at culinary trends from the regions of Savoy and northern France that migrated into Provence, all influencing the cuisine of Nice in subtle yet distinctive ways.

Traveling to the market in Nice, we discovered the usual eye-popping rainbow of colors, made even more spectacular by the fresh flowers available this time of year. Lilacs were in bloom and paired with white roses in elegant bouquets, and my personal favorite, peonies, were overflowing in all shades of pink, including a tangerine color I had never seen before.

Nice Flowers

Nice Lilacs Nice Peonies

After stopping to smell the flowers, we were on to the produce, where we found an abundance of asparagus, peas, fava beans and artichokes. We also shopped for olive oils before making a requisite stop at my favorite chocolate shop, Maison Auer, to see the last of their exquisite Easter eggs. 

Nice Market Guest

Nice Market guests

Nice Aspargus

Nice Veggies Nice Chocolate

We then savored a bite of peppery socca, the Nice specialty made with chickpea flour and olive oil, fried like a pancake and served in paper cones with lots of salt and pepper. We were disappointed to learn that our favorite socca vendor had retired, but happy to discover that her replacement was making a creamy socca that was equally delicious.

After a refreshing snack, we headed to Èze, a medieval town perched at the top of a mountain overlooking the Côte d’Azur. This is our third year offering a Culinary Discovery Tour to Èze in which we visit the grand Château Eza. Today the chef of Château Eza prepared seasonal favorites: a salad of baby lettuces atop a mousse of garden greens, a cream of asparagus soup, and an entrée of sea bass with braised fennel and artichoke purée. The dessert was a mille-feuille of chocolate mousse with a hint of citrus. As always, it was an impeccable meal served with local wines and enhanced by unparalleled views. Everyone always loves coming here, and I love sharing this unforgettable experience with our foodie guests.

Eze 3

Eze 2

CE Salad CE Soup CE Sea Bass

CE Dessert CE View

We returned to port with time to spare, so we all headed in different directions to explore Monte Carlo. I stopped by the gardens of Princess Margaret, where I called my mom and relived a few memories from our 2008 trip on Insignia to celebrate her 80th birthday. Oceania Cruises has been such an important part of so many people's lives and travel memories, and my family is no exception. As I strolled through the gardens, I saw many familiar flowers of spring and one that I had never seen, the black petunia, majestic and sensuous! I love discovering new things when I travel!

PM Garden

PM Garden 2 PM Black Petunia

What an amazing day of culinary discoveries in Nice and Èze, topped off by a lovely jaunt through Monte Carlo! Next we head to the Pitti winery and the market in Livorno for a day of pizza, focaccia and biscotti in the Tuscan countryside. It doesn't get any better than this!

April 25, 2014

SPRINGTIME IN PROVENCE WITH CHEF KELLY

It's spring in Provence! And what better way to kick off Riviera's 2014 season in the Mediterranean than a Culinary Discovery Tour in Marseille.

We began in the Bon Appétit Culinary Center on board, gathered around my map of the Mediterranean for a review of the day’s itinerary and a discussion of the cuisines of France. Several guests were new to Oceania Cruises and the culinary center, so it was a thrill to introduce them to the culinary culture that is part of Oceania Cruises’ DNA.

CKMap

Eager to experience Provence firsthand, we went ashore for a stroll through the market of Sanary-sur-Mer, a quaint village where the fish is unbelievably fresh and the seasonal produce is of the highest quality imaginable. On this beautiful spring day, we found baby artichokes, white asparagus, green fava beans and piquant radishes. 

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Asparagus

Beans Artichokes

Baby Artichokes

Radish

MiravalWe also came across a shop that was carrying the new Miraval Rosé from the historic Provençal winery that was resurrected by Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt. The wine has received rave reviews, so I snagged two bottles to try this summer. It will be the perfect complement to a Niçoise salad and an afternoon spent relaxing by the swimming pool. 

MacaroonsAfter shopping for herbes de Provence and other local treasures, I bought some macaroons bursting with coconut flavor to share with guests during our bus ride to the Domaine de Souviou winery. It was the perfect sweet treat!

When we arrived at the winery, we stretched our legs a bit on a lovely tour of the groves of thousand-year-old olive trees. Then we were treated to a luncheon prepared by our friend and host, Chef Gui Gedda, who is known as the godfather of Provençal cuisine. Chef Gedda serves something different every time we visit, and today we were treated to market-fresh vegetable soup with chickpeas and fresh marjoram, as well as the classic Provençal dish of tomate farcie, a slow-roasted, veal-stuffed tomato. We also enjoyed a delicious Cannes-style poule au pot, a chicken mousse wrapped in chicken thigh and served over rice with a light cream sauce. We ended the meal with crème au pain d’épices, a magical dessert resembling bread pudding that perfectly complimented the day, the wine and the company.

Olive Grove

Gui

Tomate Farcie

Poule au Pot Creme au Pain

After saying goodbye to our friends at Domaine de Souviou, we returned to the ship for a cooking lesson on preparing fish in the Provence style. Guests made a delightful shrimp Provençal as well as a Provençal version of the Italian acqua pazza, a dish of seared fish with tomatoes, Niçoise olives and wine.

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All in all, it was a spectacular day, and this season of Culinary Discovery ToursTM promises many more to come. Next stop is Monte Carlo and a meal at Château Eza. Yum!

April 23, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

April 18, 2014

LEARN FAVORITE CANYON RANCH RECIPES IN THE BON APPÉTIT CULINARY CENTER

L1000002Riviera has set sail across the Atlantic, destined for a fabulous summer in Europe, and I’m on board to launch another exciting season of classes in the Bon Appétit Culinary Center. It is hard to believe I am already entering my fourth year as executive chef of the culinary center, and I can report that I am still loving every minute – especially when we introduce new classes and Culinary Discovery ToursTM. L1000029

The Canyon Ranch SpaClub® has long been a popular retreat on the ships of Oceania Cruises, and our guests rave about the Canyon Ranch cuisine featured in the onboard restaurants. Over the past year I have worked with a fellow graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, Chef Scott Uehlein, to develop cooking classes inspired by Canyon Ranch, the undisputed leader in spa cuisine. As the corporate chef for Canyon Ranch, Chef Uehlein reinvents classics such as mac and cheese or Caesar salad in a healthier, yet satisfying and flavorful, way.

I spent a week at the Canyon Ranch resort in Tucson (I know, tough life I lead…), where Chef Uehlein and I selected a handful of recipes most requested by their guests over the past three decades. Together we designed our newest class for the Bon Appétit Culinary Centers on board Marina and Riviera: Most Requested from Canyon Ranch.

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The class was a huge hit with our guests on board this Riviera sailing. We were delighted to have Vera, the fitness and nutrition director for Riviera’s Canyon Ranch SpaClub, welcome our guests to the class and share a bit about the Canyon Ranch philosophy. Then we dove right into the recipes.

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L1000020We began with a couple salad dressings, one a simple balsamic dressing and the other using citrus and honey to liven it up. Then we learned one of my favorite breakfast recipes, the alpine muesli, before moving on to a salmon teriyaki with a spicy curried cauliflower.

Everyone in the class had a lot of fun, learned new healthy cooking techniques, and took home a handout with over a dozen Canyon Ranch recipes. Below I’ve shared one of the class favorites, and if you want to learn more secrets to healthy and delicious Canyon Ranch cuisine, come along on Marina’s Viking Passage sailing, departing May 22, and join us for a class in the Bon Appétit Culinary Center!

 

L1000017APPLE CRANBERRY SALMON SALAD

Makes 4 servings, each containing approximately: 325 calories, 38 gm. carbohydrate, 11 gm. fat, 54 mg. cholesterol, 20 gm. protein, 223 mg. sodium and 6 gm. fiber.

 

½ cup Mongolian BBQ Sauce (see recipe)

4 (4-ounce) salmon fillets

¼ cup fresh lemon juice

2 tablespoons honey

¼ teaspoon sea salt

Pinch freshly ground black pepper

1 pound Gala apples

½ pound Granny Smith apples

½ cup chopped fresh cranberries

2 tablespoons chopped fresh tarragon

 

 

In a shallow glass baking dish, combine BBQ sauce and salmon and marinate for 30 minutes or up to 2 hours. In a large bowl, combine lemon juice, honey, salt, and pepper. Preheat grill or broiler. Grill or broil salmon fillets 3 to 5 minutes on each side or until fish is cooked through. Thinly slice apples using a mandoline or a knife. Add apples to lemon honey dressing and toss together to coat. Toss cranberries and tarragon with the apple mixture. Break apart salmon fillets into bite-sized pieces. Toss salmon with apple cranberry salad. Evenly divide between 4 plates and serve.

MONGOLIAN BBQ SAUCE

½ cup low-sodium wheat-free tamari sauce

2 tablespoons sugar

¼ cup rice vinegar

1 tablespoon sesame oil

½ cup sake

1/3 cup water

1/3 cup ketchup

Pinch dried coriander leaves

Pinch dry ginger

¼ teaspoon red chili flakes

¼ cup minced leeks

2 teaspoons minced garlic

2 teaspoons minced fresh ginger

2 tablespoons water

2 tablespoons low-sodium wheat-free tamari sauce

In a large saucepan, combine first tamari, sugar, rice vinegar, sesame oil, sake, and first water and bring to a boil. Add ketchup, coriander leaves, dry ginger, and red chili flakes. Simmer for 10 minutes. Remove from heat. In a small bowl, combine leeks, garlic, fresh ginger, second water, and second tamari sauce. Add to cooked mixture and stir until combined. Store in refrigerator.

April 2, 2014

BROADWAY STAR DEBUTS IN NEW Life in the Theater SERIES ON BOARD RIVIERA

Andrea McArdle Photo (by Grace Rainer Long)Theater fans will be thrilled to learn that today Oceania Cruises announced a new onboard entertainment series called Life in the Theater. Offered on select sailings, this fantastic new series gives guests the chance to not only see stellar performances by Broadway stars but also get up close and personal during special private events. The first stage legend welcomed on board will be none other than Andrea McArdle, who created the original role of “Annie” on Broadway.

After making history as the youngest performer ever nominated for the Tony Award® for Best Actress in a Musical, Ms. McArdle went on to star in such iconic roles as Fantine in Les Misérables and Belle in Beauty and the Beast. She’s received wide acclaim for performances in venues from Carnegie Hall to the Metropolitan Opera House to the White House. Now this Broadway legend will take center stage on the Enchanting Riviera sailing, departing Athens on October 29, 2014, and exploring the Greek Isles, Italy and France before arriving in Monte Carlo.

There are a limited number of tickets available for the exclusive Life in the Theater package, which features eight special events where Ms. McArdle will share her talents in stage performances as well as her personal stories in more intimate events. All guests on this unique voyage will be treated to a superstar performance that is open to everyone, with guests purchasing the Life in the Theater package receiving preferred seating at this performance. Life in the Theater guests will also have exclusive access to all other events with Ms. McArdle, including a cocktail party, a private performance and several gatherings in which she shares tales of her life as a Broadway star, songs that are personal favorites and other details about the highs and lows, both dramatic and humorous, of her extraordinary personal journey.

If you wish to experience the secrets, struggles and successes of a Broadway star as well as fabulous performances (not to mention an extraordinary cruise on board Riviera!), I can imagine no better way than embarking on the Enchanting Riviera sailing with Andrea McArdle. And be sure to check back on the blog to see what Broadway superstars will be featured in future Life in the Theater sailings!

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.

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Glacier Lake near Wrangell, Alaska

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

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

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

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

 

January 31, 2014

REGATTA, INSIGNIA AND NAUTICA: IMPROVING ON PERFECTION

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

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

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

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

Swatches

Penthouse Suite

Veranda Stateroom

Inside Stateroom

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

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

Baristas

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

Miniature golf

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

January 27, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lemon cakes out of oven Lemon cake

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

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

Eating Lemon Cakes

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:

 

December 12, 2013

RIVIERA'S WINTER SAILINGS OFFER THE CHANCE TO EXPLORE VIBRANT MIAMI

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As Blogger-at-Large for Oceania Cruises, I’m always paying close attention to where the fleet is sailing, and I’m constantly amazed at the multitude of worldwide destinations to which these intimate mid-size ships can take you. In fact, sometimes I’m so intrigued by the exotic ports of call that I forget the treasures that are closer to home. Riviera’s arrival in Miami today as she concludes her first cruise of the winter season was a reminder that cosmopolitan Miami is blessed with wonderful diversity in architecture, culture and cuisine, and the city is constantly evolving as well.

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Few cities on earth are experiencing a renaissance as notable as that which is taking place in Miami. In just under a decade, the city has quickly become one of the world’s fastest growing metropolises, and the skyline now stretches across the horizon. If you haven’t sailed from Miami in the past few years, you might not recognize it at all. New hotels, fine restaurants, Cuban cafés, charming boutiques and stylish shops have opened their doors just steps from Riviera’s renovated Miami pier. And from Riviera’s decks, guests can see the stunning new Pérez Art Museum Miami (PAMM), which just opened last week. The museum was designed by architects Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron, winners of the Pritzker Architecture Prize, often referred to as “architecture’s Nobel.”

Art DecoThe beauty of a city like Miami is that it has found a way to celebrate the future while still preserving its past. Even as shining glass towers reach skyward in downtown, the extraordinary Art Deco District on South Beach lures visitors with its sleek architecture, period neon signs and cool preservationist vibe. Nearly 1,000 buildings are protected by law, and the entire district is on the National Register of Historic Places. Many of our guests admit they could spend the day doing nothing but walking along chic Ocean Drive.

Also on the National Register of Historic Places is the Freedom Tower on Biscayne Boulevard. Once the headquarters of The Miami News, the Freedom Tower was used by the US government to provide services for refugees fleeing Castro’s regime in the 1960s. Reminiscent of the Giralda in Seville, Spain, the Mediterranean Revival–style building now stands as a monument to Cuban American heritage. You can get a taste of the Cuban culture that thrives in Miami today with a stroll along Calle Ocho in Little Havana, a landmark street lined with coffee shops, salons, galleries, parks, markets and boutiques. Be sure to stop in to Café Versailles for a cup of Cuban coffee and grab a Cuban sandwich or some roast pork with mojo for lunch. Known as “The World’s Most Famous Cuban Restaurant,” Versailles is the unofficial town square for the Cuban community.

IMG_5948 vistacrop-2It’s becoming obvious that a single day spent exploring Miami is never enough. Fortunately, since several itineraries embark and disembark in Miami, there are many options for extending your visit with a pre- or post-cruise stay. Oceania Cruises offers a variety of one-, two- and three-night hotel packages at two of the city’s most distinguished hotels. After a recent redesign and $31 million in extensive renovations, the Marriott Biscayne Bay boasts gorgeous waterfront views and a location just across from the hip Miami Art and Design Districts. At the JW Marriott Marquis, guests can choose from a number of delightful pursuits, ranging from dining at James Beard award winner Chef Daniel Boulud’s DB Bistro Moderne to attending the world-renowned Jim McLean Golf School with instruction, golf simulators, putting greens and a Pro Shop.

You can rub shoulders with Miami society’s glitterati at the Canyon Ranch Hotel & Spa on Miami Beach, a resort with boundless facilities that inspire healthy living and promote wellness. Oceania Cruises offers a two-night package with full access to Canyon Ranch's state-of-the-art, 70,000-square-foot Wellness Spa, the largest in Florida. Lose yourself in the Aquavana® thermal suite, a collection of European-style healing aquatic environments including the Finnish sauna and rooftop HydroSpa. You also receive a $150 spa credit, so indulge in a Thai massage and restorative touch therapy or enjoy a facial enhancement that leaves your skin looking more vibrant and youthful.

Take advantage of the opportunity to explore vibrant Miami when you reserve a voyage with Oceania Cruises in 2014. Our special Canyon Ranch Hotel & Spa package is offered as a pre-cruise option on the following sailings:

The package is also offered as a post-cruise option on the following voyages:

November 25, 2013

MEMORIES OF BARCELONA

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

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

Casa Batllo

Casa Batllo 2

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

Casa Batllo and Casa Amatller

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

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

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

Park Guell

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

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

November 18, 2013

A DAY IN FLORENCE

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

View of Florence

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

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

Basilica di Santa Croce Basilica di Santa Croce Door

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

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

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

Lunch Caprese Salad

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

Ponte Vecchio

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

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

Palazzo Vecchio Neptune

Plaza Vecchio David

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

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

October 31, 2013

PUMPKIN CARVING ON BOARD RIVIERA

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

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

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Congratulations to each of them!

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

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Happy Halloween from your Oceania Cruises family!

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 9, 2013

CHEF KELLY LEADS CULINARY DISCOVERY TOUR IN SAN SEBASTIAN

Fall is in the air in the markets of Spain, and I led a wonderful Culinary Discovery Tour in San Sebastian last week, where guests enjoyed a hands-on workshop at the exclusive restaurant Ni Neu.

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We were traveling onboard Riviera from Southampton to Barcelona, and along the way we enjoyed fresh oysters in Brittany, Calvados in Le Havre and pintxos in San Sebastian. For those who may not be familiar with pinxtos, they are similar to tapas and are especially popular in the Basque region of Spain. Many say that San Sebastian has the best pinxtos in Basque country.

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In Bilbao we boarded a bus for San Sebastian, a city known for Michelin-starred restaurants and fabulous food. Our first stop was a market in the old town with a wide selection of fresh fish. The city’s finest chefs shop here for anchovies, sole, squid, swordfish, hake, snapper and various shellfish. The bacalau vendor offered an array of salted cod varieties – always spectacular in Spain. 

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After purchasing jamón, local cheese and wine, we walked across the bridge for our pintxos workshop and lunch at Ni Neu. The chef and his interpreter greeted us warmly, and everything was set up for our workshop.

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The circulator was at the perfect 145°F temperature for the eggs, which we would eat on a mash of potatoes and garlic – with Spanish olive oil and salt of course. I shared with the class the method known as “sous vide, a hot trend in the culinary world today. Oceania Cruises chefs have used this method to prepare one of the courses on the tasting menu in La Reserve. They’re expanding the technique to dishes in other venues as well and are excited to continue showcasing one of the latest culinary trends onboard the ships.

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We worked in tables of five and made four different pintxos, all very tasty. Many of our guests were inspired to host a pintxos party at home. We also sipped Spanish wines and learned about the emerging wine regions in central Spain. 

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After a 60 minute workshop, we enjoyed two signature dishes from Ni Neu. The first was roasted lamb IMG_3768on a bed of Parmentier cheese purée and a wild mushroom dust. “Parmentier” refers to dishes made with potatoes and honors the 18th-century Frenchman who devoted his life to promoting the attributes of the potato. For dessert we had the restaurant’s famous French toast soaked in egg yolk and fresh cream, caramelized and served with homemade ice cream.

Waddling back to the bus for the scenic ride home, we all had a full appreciation of why San Sebastian is heralded as the culinary capital of northern Spain.

September 25, 2013

MORE ADVENTURES WITH JACQUES PÉPIN ONBOARD RIVIERA

AnniversaryThe Jacques Pépin Signature Sailing onboard Riviera continues, and it has been a festive and eventful cruise. Jacques and his wife, Gloria, were surprised with a special celebration in Privée for their 47th wedding anniversary, complete with confetti and a beautiful cake created for the occasion by Oceania Cruises’ talented chefs.

When Riviera called on Ibiza, Pépin enjoyed a trip to the Sa Cova winery in the green hills of San Mateo. Grapes have been grown in this region since the time of the Phoenicians, including varietals such as monastrell, malvasia, cabernet sauvignon and tempranillo. Covering more than 22 acres, Sa Cova produces wines with grapes grown on the estate, using modern production techniques and high ecological standards combined with traditional methods and aging processes.

Pépin and his guests had a wonderful time with the winery’s friendly staff, who explained the production process and also offered a tasting of several different wines paired with local bread, aioli, sausage, cheese and ham. Any food and wine lovers on an Oceania Cruises voyage to Ibiza will not want to miss this shore excursion, Wine Tasting at Sa Cova!

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While everyone on the cruise has greatly enjoyed exploring ashore, there have been several special events onboard as well. Chef Kelly of the Bon Appétit Culinary Center hosted “An Informal Chat with Chef Pépin” in which he shared several personal stories with guests, from his childhood as the son of restaurateurs to his position as the personal chef to three French heads of state, including Charles de Gaulle. Pépin also shared several fond and funny memories of his work with Julia Child, with whom he collaborated on the award-winning television series Jacques and Julia Cooking at Home.

There have also been book signings and other opportunities for guests to interact with the renowned chef who is the inspiration behind Oceania Cruises’ exquisite cuisine. While the culinary experience on any Oceania Cruises voyage is exceptional, having legendary Chef Pépin onboard has truly made this cruise extraordinary.

September 23, 2013

JACQUES PÉPIN HOSTS SIGNATURE SAILING ONBOARD RIVIERA

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

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

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

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

 
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Pépin with friend and fellow chef, Jean-Claude Szurdak

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

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

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

September 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.

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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.

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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.

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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 14, 2013

A SECOND LOOK AT EPHESUS

DSCF0970 - Version 2There are certain places in the world that are worth revisiting because they are so rich in history and beauty. Ephesus is one of those places, and as Blogger-at-Large for Oceania Cruises, I had the great fortune of visiting this extraordinary archaeological site twice. Today guests onboard Riviera’s Sacred Sanctuaries voyage explored the ruins of this magnificent city.

Ephesus is 13 miles from the port city of Kusadasi and 10 miles from the Aegean coastline, so I was a little surprised to discover that this landlocked city was previously one of the most important ports in the world. As a result of the silting of the Meander River, what was once the bay had become marshland by the end of seventh century, and 60,000 people were killed by malaria from the mosquitoes. The town was rebuilt nearby, but because it was no longer a port city, it never regained its prior importance.

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During Roman times, the population of Ephesus was 250,000, making it one of the largest cities in the world. Most of the ruins that can be seen today were originally built between the first century BC and first century AD. Ephesus was uniquely positioned in both place and time to be at the center of perhaps the greatest evolution of religious philosophy in history. Sacred monuments in the city pay homage to the Greek goddess Artemis as well as the Apostle Saint John.

Ephesus is thought to be where Jesus sent Saint John and the Virgin Mary after his death. After being exiled to Patmos, where he wrote Revelations, John came back to Ephesus and died of natural causes at the age of 100. He was purportedly the only apostle who was not martyred. John was buried in Ephesus in the place where he died, and later the Basilica of St. John was built over his grave.

Meanwhile, the Temple of Artemis had been standing in Ephesus since centuries earlier. Even though only one column remains, you can still see the foundations of this magnificent construction from the Hellenistic period, which stand a few hundred meters from the primary archaeological site of Ephesus. While the ruins are sparse, it is nevertheless impressive to stand at the foundations of one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World and envision its past glory. The temple was four times larger than the Parthenon and had 127 columns, each standing nearly 60 feet high.

Ephesus was plundered by numerous invaders over the centuries, and marble from the Temple of Artemis was used to build the Basilica of St. John, which then later became a mosque. At any given point in history, Ephesus was under the control of the Greeks, Romans, Arabs, Ottomans and other empires.

Archaeologists have been excavating Ephesus since the 1890s. Among the many fascinating discoveries was the sophisticated water collection system that brought water from huge cisterns on the hill down into the city via clay pipes. This ancient city had running water!

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I was astonished to find that original marble remains on the main road through the city, which leads down to the most famous edifice in Ephesus, the Library of Celsus. It took seven years to reconstruct the façade, 75 percent of which is original. First built in the first century AD in honor of the Roman senator Celsus, the library was destroyed by an earthquake in the third century and only the façade survived. It remained a monument until it, too, was destroyed by an earthquake.

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The magnificent Great Theater is the largest Roman theater in Turkey and the best preserved in the world. 

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The acoustics in the theater are so advanced that it has hosted modern performers, such as Diana Ross, U2, Sting and Pavarotti, without the need for amplification. Overlooking what was once the harbor, it seats 25,000 and it is believed that Saint Paul preached here. Because most people were idol worshippers at the time, there were tradesmen, especially silversmiths, who made money selling idols. Paul’s preaching warned against idolatry and threatened the livelihood of these tradesmen, so he met with resistance and persecution during the three years he was in Ephesus.

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The center of Ephesus was relocated a few times during its long history, but remarkably, it stood at the location of this archaeological site for a millennium. Centuries of earthquakes and changing landscapes buried and protected these ruins so that today we can take an incredible journey back in time. Whether you visit once or many times, Ephesus always has more fascinating history to reveal, and I highly recommend any of the upcoming Oceania Cruises sailings that call on this amazing city.

The following voyages visit Ephesus in 2013:

 

 

July 9, 2013

A MEMORABLE 10TH ANNIVERSARY CELEBRATION IN TOSCANA

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

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

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

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

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

July 7, 2013

ANNIVERSARY SAILING CELEBRATES 10 YEARS OF SPECTACULAR DESTINATIONS AND FINE CUISINE

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Greetings from the Italian Escapade sailing onboard Riviera and the ongoing celebration of Oceania Cruises’ 10th anniversary. It has been a wonderful cruise so far, and I’ve enjoyed the opportunity to meet many of our past and first time guests. I couldn’t be more proud of the officers and crew who continue to make everyone onboard a part of the Oceania Cruises family.

DSCN1004-2Oceania Cruises was founded on the vision of a group of people with a passion for spectacular destinations and fine cuisine, and we are enjoying both as part of this anniversary sailing. In celebration of 10 years of culinary delights, Senior Executive Chef Alexis Quaretti and Bon Appétit Culinary Center Executive Chef Kathryn Kelly hosted a culinary demonstration. I welcomed guests to the event and shared a bit about the culinary history of Oceania Cruises before turning it over to the experts to share some of the secrets behind our exquisite cuisine.

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As we were celebrating 10 years at sea, it seemed appropriate that the chefs would prepare dishes from the sea. They demonstrated three guest favorites: Salmon Gravlax with Cucumber Salad, Poached Halibut with Lemon Cream Cuisson on a Quinoa Cake, and the ever-popular Red Ginger specialty – Miso-Glazed Chilean Sea Bass. It was both educational and heartwarming to see Chef Quaretti and Chef Kelly, two special members of the Oceania Cruises family, working together to share their knowledge with our guests and illustrating one of the reasons that our guests have continued to return to us for the past 10 years: the finest cuisine at sea prepared by some of the most talented – and entertaining – chefs in the culinary world.

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Soon after the demonstration, Riviera dropped anchor in Sorrento with the impressive Mount Vesuvius looming in the background. Situated on a terrace overlooking the splendid Amalfi coastline, Sorrento is imbued with charm and echoes of the ancient past.

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There are a number of appealing ways to spend a day in Sorrento, from going to see the ruins of ancient Pompeii to visiting the Blue Grotto in Capri to simply walking around the rustic, sun-drenched town of Sorrento. The Blue Grotto was on the bucket list of many guests, so a group of us boarded a ferry and headed to Capri for the afternoon.

The grotto is a uniquely beautiful sea cave on the coast of the island of Capri. A small opening in the cave at the surface of the water and a larger opening beneath the surface provide the only light sources. We entered the grotto through the small opening, just large enough for a rowboat to pass through. Inside the cavern itself was dark, but the water was illuminated with a brilliant blue glow. The effect was absolutely dazzling. It’s difficult to fully capture the beauty of the experience in a photograph, so if you haven’t visited the Blue Grotto, I highly recommend you add it to your own bucket list.

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After a spectacular day in Sorrento, we returned to the ship and enjoyed an excellent dinner at Jacques. Then everyone gathered on the pool deck for a sail away party.

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Cruise Director Leslie Jon was emcee of the event, and General Manager Thierry Tholon led the entire crew in a parade around the decks. This was truly an emotional evening as the officers and crew of Riviera celebrated Oceania Cruises' 10th anniversary with our cherished guests.

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I look forward to more celebrations with our guests, officers and crew, and I’ll share further stories here on the blog as our Italian Escapade continues.

July 6, 2013

Oceania Cruises President Kunal Kamlani Launches 10th Anniversary Sailing with Chef Kelly on a Culinary Discovery Tour in Livorno

L1070125Summer has arrived in Tuscany and so has Oceania Cruises President Kunal Kamlani, who joined me to host a special sailing on Riviera in celebration of Oceania Cruises’ 10th anniversary. What better way to celebrate than with fellow food and wine enthusiasts on a Culinary Discovery Tour in Tuscany!

We started the morning in the Bon Appétit Culinary Center onboard the ship for an orientation to the day’s schedule and then boarded our coach for a short ride to the Mercato Centrale in Livorno.

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This market has been a favorite of mine for years because it yields exquisite products, and I also love its atmosphere. Like many public daily markets that we visit, there is a central closed building as well as individual stalls spilling out on all sides from the main market. As July is upon us, there were willowy yellow zucchini blossoms, fresh cherries and fragrant tomatoes. Don’t you just love the smell of a great tomato?

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All guests were given a shopping assignment, so they set off to experience the local ambiance of the market. Some stopped for a cappuccino and others headed to our favorite cheese shop. One couple was celebrating their 50-year anniversary with us, and this was the perfect beginning to their cruise and celebration.

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L1070088We enjoyed an hour at the market exploring the meat and cheese counters, vegetable stalls and fishmongers. Then our sous chefs, Asif and Raj, gathered up our purchases and returned to the ship to prepare for this afternoon’s cooking class in the Bon Appétit Culinary Center. The rest of us returned to the coach for a miniature picnic of Parma ham, Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, focaccia, cherries and fresh mozzarella to fortify us for the day’s adventure in Tuscany.

I have led this Culinary Discovery Tour several times now, and every time we drive up the long cypress-lined driveway of Torre a Cenaia, I feel like I am on a film set for a quintessential Tuscan movie! The family is always so welcoming and happy to see our group from Oceania Cruises.

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We began with a visit to the winery and cellars, and on this day they were bottling, which was very exciting. We heard the constant clinking of the bottles as they left the warehouse to be taken into the cellar for storage. Outside of the winery, our horse-drawn carriage awaited us. The driver told me that the horses were quite frisky this morning because the grass is so lush and green – and they had been eating all night!

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Off we went for a tour of the villa. We saw the sangiovese and vermentino vineyards, lovely ponds and local pheasants, and everyone enjoyed taking in the beauty of this authentic Tuscan farm. At the end of the tour, we arrived at the 300-year-old farmhouse that had been converted into a kitchen with a wood-fired oven. Chef David was there to greet us and begin my favorite part of the tour – the cooking!

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Pizza dough was the first item on the agenda. While making our dough, we learned that some of our guests were of Italian heritage, so this was like coming home for them and a great way to spend the first day of their cruise with us! While our pizza dough rested, we moved on to focaccia. We shaped the dough into an oval shape, punched it down with our fingers and spread it with olive oil (lots of it!) and sea salt. Into the oven it went, and while it cooked, we began tasting some wines from the Pitti family vineyards. We started with a chardonnay–sauvignon blanc blend and then moved on to two vermentinos, one quite young and the other aged in acacia oak for a bit longer. Both wines were spectacular, and the second was particularly good with the family’s salami, which made the perfect complement to our wine tasting.

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Next up was the highlight of our trip – pizza! We took full advantage of the farm’s bounty and made too many pizzas to count – with vegetables, farm sausage, cheese, salami and even just plain tomato sauce. At the market I had purchased some burrata cheese, and we enjoyed it with our pizza, focaccia and, of course, more wine! This time we tasted a delicious sangiovese, a rosé and a sangiovese-cabernet blend.

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L1070130As we sat together family-style around the table, sampling the wines and pizza and focaccia, we all commented on how this was such a wonderful way to travel. To meet and interact with locals, share their home and cooking secrets, and relax over great food and wine – what a blessing!

Our meal would not have been complete without dessert, so for our final recipe we prepared cantucci. This sweet bread is often baked twice to make biscotti, although we would enjoy the original version baked once in the wood-fired oven. We grated fresh lemon to add to the eggs, sugar, butter, flour and anise seeds that made up this yummy “biscuit,” as they call it in Livorno.

While the cantucci was baking, we strolled back to the winery to sample a late-harvest vermentino and take in the fabulous surroundings of olive trees, fresh blooming lavender, sunflowers poking their early green stems from the rich earth and sensuous flowering annuals overflowing their pots. Soon the cantucci was ready, and we enjoyed its buttery deliciousness as the grand finale to our day at this beautiful Tuscan farm. It was then time to say “arrivederci” and return to Riviera.

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After a short siesta on the coach ride back to the ship, we met at the Bon Appétit Culinary Center for a class celebrating the foods of Tuscany and the many things we purchased at the market that day. We had found some zucchini blossoms, so we made zucchini fritters with chickpea flour. We also found fabulous cherry tomatoes and made a batch of Chianti-style crostini rossi. The class focused primarily on fresh pasta, and I was so proud of all the great pasta that our students made.

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L1070136We topped off the day with a salted caramel ice cream and a pine nut cake that we had purchased at the market.

What a great way to kick off this 10th anniversary sailing! Kunal had the chance to visit at length with some guests who were on their first voyage with Oceania Cruises as well as some guests who had sailed with us before. I always enjoy having our executives along on Culinary Discovery Tours, not only because they are true lovers of food and wine but also because they are able to interact with the guests and see how much everyone enjoys this unique program and the truly special experience it offers. There are more Culinary Discovery Tours to come on this cruise, and I look forward to sharing them with you soon!

July 5, 2013

FOUNDER FRANK DEL RIO BOARDS HISTORIC 10TH ANNIVERSARY SAILING

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The year 2013 marks a major milestone in the history of Oceania Cruises as we celebrate our 10th anniversary. Last week Vice Chairman Bob Binder shared stories of the special events onboard the first of four sailings in honor of this momentous occasion. This week two more Oceania Cruises’ executives board sailings to celebrate 10 years at sea with the loyal guests who have made it all possible.

Mr and Mrs Del Rio Regatta2 - Version 2Today, July 5th, marks the most historic of these sailings because the man who founded Oceania Cruises, Chairman and CEO Frank Del Rio, embarked Regatta on the very same date that she sailed her first voyage 10 years ago. On July 5, 2003, after being christened in Barcelona, Regatta set sail to explore Europe on the first voyage in Oceania Cruises’ history. Now 10 years later, Regatta sails from Seattle to discover the majestic wilderness of Alaska. Frank will host this very special anniversary sailing with his wife, Marcia, who is the godmother of Regatta and was warmly welcomed home today by General Manager Jason Gelineau and the other officers and crew.

When the anniversary sailings were being planned, Frank Del Rio had his choice of which ship he would like to sail on. For Frank, there was no question of which ship he would choose. “Regatta will always be my special ship,” he says. “If it wasn’t for her, nothing else would’ve been possible.”

L1070088Meanwhile, President Kunal S. Kamlani is celebrating the anniversary onboard Oceania Cruises’ newest ship, Riviera. He boarded the ship in Civitavecchia on Wednesday to host the Italian Escapade sailing. Several special events are planned in honor of the guests as well as the officers and crew that have been so loyal to Oceania Cruises over the years. Yesterday Kunal joined several guests, along with Chef Kelly and sous chefs Asif and Raj from the Bon Appétit Culinary Center, on a Culinary Discovery Tour. Check the blog tomorrow to read about their wonderful experience in Livorno, and watch for more stories of exciting anniversary sailing events in the coming days!

June 14, 2013

CHEF KELLY LAUNCHES A NEW CULINARY DISCOVERY TOUR IN RHODES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

June 6, 2013

ICONS OF THE ETERNAL CITY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Trevi Fountaoin and LPF Spanish Steps

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

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

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

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

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

Monumento Nazionale a Vittorio Emanuele II

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

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

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

May 30, 2013

THE LAUNCH OF A NEW SEASON OF CULINARY DISCOVERY TOURS CONTINUES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Portofino - Ligurian Cuisine & Pasta Making Class

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

Venice - Market Tour, Cooking & Chocolate Demos

Rhodes - Cooking Demo in Greek Family Restaurant & Lunch

 Corfu - Culinary Traditions & Greek Cooking

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

Taormina, Sicily - Sensuous Sicily

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

Copenhagen - Food Market, Nordic Food Demo & Lunch

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

Riga - Central Market, Latvian Cooking Demo & Lunch

Oslo - Spectacular Mathallen Food Hall & Norwegian Pub Lunch

Helsinki - Visit to Food Market & Finnish Cooking Class

 

May 29, 2013

CHEF KELLY LAUNCHES NEW CULINARY DISCOVERY TOUR SEASON IN MEDITERRANEAN

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tangier - Market Visit, Tangine Shopping & Moroccan Lunch:

Marseille - Exquisite Flavors of Europe:

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

 

 

May 9, 2013

THE VIEW FROM KOTOR

Riviera has arrived in Europe for the summer, and today she calls on lovely Kotor, Montenegro. As Blogger-at-Large for Oceania Cruises, I recently had the pleasure of visiting this charming town and have many fond memories and fantastic photos from my time spent there.

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As with many costal towns, the views are among the most memorable aspects of a visit to this beautiful little city, nestled in a secluded area of the Gulf of Kotor just off the Adriatic Sea. The inlet on which the town lies has been called the southernmost fjord in Europe, but technically it is not a fjord. It is actually a ria, a coastal inlet formed by a submerged river valley. Regardless of the scientific name, the result of nature’s work is spectacular scenery. When calling on Kotor, you most definitely want to be on deck as the ship sails into port.

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Flanking the ship, forested mountains rise out of the tranquil sea as you sail the meandering route toward Kotor. As you approach, you can see two diminutive islands off the coast from the town of Perast, each island just large enough to support a religious edifice. The manmade island is home to the Church of Our Lady of the Rocks, and a Benedictine monastery stands on the natural island, known as St. George Island (pictured below).

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Continuing on to the far end of the cove, you are greeted by the charming coral-tiled roofs of the Old Town of Kotor. The town was settled in ancient Roman times and became an important center of trade in this region in the Middle Ages. Four centuries of Venetian rule gave Kotor its Venetian look and feel, including the fortifications that still surround the Old Town. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, it is one of the best-preserved medieval towns in the Adriatic. Several monuments, including the Cathedral of Saint Tryphon and the town walls, were seriously damaged by an earthquake in 1979, but the town has since been meticulously restored.

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Just a short walk from the cruise pier, the Old Town is primarily pedestrian and thus best appreciated on foot. I had a wonderful time exploring the narrow, winding lanes with photo opportunities around every corner.

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The inscription above the entrance to the walled Old Town reads, “What belongs to others we don't want; what is ours we will never surrender.” The 10th century Cathedral of Saint Tryphon certainly embodies the “never surrender” spirit. Badly damaged in two earthquakes, it stands beautifully preserved today. After the first quake in the 15th century, it took years to raise the funds and complete the reconstruction, which accounts for the different styles of the two towers. One of only two Catholic churches in Montenegro, it was built in honor of Kotor’s patron saint and protector.

Entrance of Old Town Tryphon

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Behind the Old Town, an ancient stone pathway consisting of more than 1,300 stairs leads to the old fortress perched on the mountain. Along the way you pass the lovely 15th century Church of Our Lady of Health, which offers another fantastic photo opportunity, not to mention an excuse to rest a bit from climbing. If you have the stamina to reach the Castle of St. John, you will be rewarded with amazing views of the town, the bay and your ship. The climb is a challenging one, but it is definitely worth the effort!

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As my day in Kotor drew to a close, the wind picked up and the rain clouds began to roll in. But not even gray skies could diminish the beauty of the view as we sailed out of the bay.

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I am grateful to Oceania Cruises team member Vanessa Cordo and Oceania Cruises guest Peter Pretty, who also contributed some fabulous photos from their visits to Kotor. Guests onboard Riviera today are the first of the season to call on this gorgeous destination. I have no doubt they are enjoying a truly memorable day and capturing many photos of their own!

April 30, 2013

BARCELONA AND ITS UNFINISHED MASTERPIECE: THE SAGRADA FAMILIA

Of the many signs that spring has sprung, one of my favorites is the arrival of Oceania Cruises’ ships in Europe. This year Riviera was the first to arrive, and she began her European season in the spectacular city of Barcelona.

Cruises often commence or conclude in Barcelona, and on my previous voyages as Blogger-at-Large, my schedule had forced me to arrive just in time to embark or to fly home immediately after disembarking. If you begin or end a voyage in Barcelona, I highly recommend taking advantage of Oceania Cruises’ pre- or post-cruise hotel packages to allow yourself a few extra days in this wonderful city. From the architecture to the museums to the markets to the promenades, this is a city worth lingering in.

The sights of Barcelona are far too expansive to describe in a single blog, so I’m dedicating this one solely to the Sagrada Família, the magnum opus of famed architect Antoni Gaudí and the most recognizable icon in the city. After visiting the Vatican, my husband said he would never need to visit another church now that he’d seen St. Peter’s Basilica. When he saw the Sagrada Família, he retracted that statement.

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The Basílica de la Sagrada Família is Gaudí’s crowning achievement, despite the fact that it remains unfinished to this day. Gaudí worked on the church from 1883 until his death in 1926, and since then different architects have continued the work based on Gaudí’s original design. Because it is an expiatory church, the entire construction has been funded solely by donations, and Gaudí always considered it a church made by and for the people. He knew the project would only be completed long after his death, and he carried out the planning and construction in such a way that each succeeding generation could be responsible for a particular part.

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The Nativity façade was one of Gaudí’s first undertakings. It celebrates the birth of Jesus and the Holy Family, to whom the church is dedicated. Three entrances symbolize faith, hope and charity. Above the façade rise towers dedicated to apostles. The bell towers of this façade were completed in 1933, after Gaudí’s death.

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Despite severe damage done to the church during the Spanish Civil War in the late 1930s, construction resumed afterward. Most of Gaudí’s original plans were lost, but many pieces of plaster models were recovered. There were also published plans and photographs of the original models available, and many of Gaudí’s followers had created volumes of notes based on information he shared with them. Using these resources, construction was able to continue according to Gaudí’s original vision.

The foundations of the Passion façade were laid in 1954, based on the many studies that Gaudí had done. In contrast to the joyful tone of the Nativity façade, the simple figures on the Passion façade are darkly dramatic and intense, as this section tells the story of Jesus’ pain, sacrifice and death. The sun’s descent casts shadows on the figures that further emphasize their desolation.

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The Glory façade is currently under construction and will be the main entrance to the church when it is finished. When the church is complete, it will have 18 towers: 12 dedicated to the apostles, four to the evangelists, one to Jesus and one to Mary.

The interior of the Sagrada Família is just as impressive as the exterior. The system of columns supporting the five naves is unique in the history of architecture. The soaring branches of the columns give the impression of a forest, as the structure and mechanics of trees inspired Gaudí’s design. The cloister is also unique in that it runs all around the church, only interrupted by the doors and the apse. Throughout the interior are stunning works of stained glass; since 1999 many have been designed by artist Joan Vila-Grau.

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The Sagrada Família is an astounding achievement. If you travel to Barcelona, be certain to visit this amazing church and witness for yourself the brilliance of Gaudí and the talent and dedication of the people of this city.

March 27, 2013

EXPERIENCING THE MAYAN MYSTIQUE

As snow continues to fall in many places around the world, Oceania Cruises’ Riviera is cruising in the warm waters of the Caribbean on the popular Mayan Mystique voyage. Guests are enjoying not only the beautiful weather but also the opportunity to explore some of the fascinating remnants of the ancient Mayan civilization, renowned for its fully conceived written language as well as remarkable advancements in architecture, math and astronomy.

Yesterday in Costa Maya, guests were treated to a wonderful day exploring Kohunlich, the magnificent, multileveled Mayan ruin best known for its Temple of the Masks. Kohunlich was settled in 200 BC, but most of the structures date from 250 to 600 AD.

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Named after the Cohune Ridge where Cohune palm trees grow, the ruins include a sunken palace, acropolis, ball court and several courtyards. Kohunlich’s broad range of architecture, natural beauty and seclusion set it apart from the more widely toured sites in the area.

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The main attractions are the large humanized stucco masks that flank the central stairway of the Temple of Masks. Built around 500 AD, it is one of the oldest structures at Kohunlich. In the 700s, the temple was covered with another structure, which protected the masks and left them remarkably well preserved.

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Guests climbed the pyramid-like temple and got an up-close look at the 10-foot sculpted masks of the Sun God Kinich Ahau, while also enjoying stunning views of the forest surrounding the ruins.

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After a remarkable day exploring Kohunlich, guests enjoyed a tasty lunch of regional favorites at the Lagoon Club.

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A few days prior during Riviera’s call on Santo Tomas, several guests had the chance to explore the famed Mayan ruins of Tikal. One of the greatest Mayan cities known and studied to date, the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Tikal is nestled in the rainforests of Northern Guatemala. The journey to get to the ruins began on a chartered one-hour flight to the northern region of El Peten, followed by a scenic one-hour drive along forest-lined roadways.

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After a one-mile hike through the rainforests surrounding Tikal, the Great Plaza comes into view. The magnificent architecture is still intact after thousands of years. Inhabited since the 6th century BC, the city reached its zenith from 200 to 900 AD. During this time Tikal was one of the most powerful kingdoms of the ancient Maya.

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It took the University of Pennsylvania 13 years to uncover 10 square miles of the city, and much of it is still buried in the jungle. The city’s 3,000 structures are largely built with limestone, including temples that are more than 230 feet high, huge royal palaces, smaller pyramids, palaces and homes, as well as administrative buildings and inscribed monuments.

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Following a fascinating day at Tikal, guests enjoyed lunch and beautiful views of Lake Peten Itza and the Island of Flores at the Maya International Hotel in Santa Elena.

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Because of its immense popularity, the Mayan Mystique cruise will be offered several times in 2014 as well, with departures on January 3, February 2 and March 18. Don’t miss the chance to explore the magnificently preserved ruins of one of the greatest ancient civilizations.

March 21, 2013

SIGNATURE SAILINGS: A CRUISE … AND THEN SOME

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

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

Wine & Food Celebration

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

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

 

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Daniel Soto
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Paulette Mitchell
 
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Valerie Elam
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Karen King

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

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

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

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

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

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Eric Kastel
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Chef Kathryn Kelly

Wine Connoisseur Cruise

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

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

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

 

 

March 6, 2013

YOUR WORLD ON SALE

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

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

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

Riviera

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

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

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

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

Regatta

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

Marina

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

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

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

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

Nautica

November 4: Classic Mediterranean | Roundtrip Barcelona | 10 days

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

 

February 25, 2013

OCEANIA CRUISES LAUNCHES FIRST-EVER TV ADVERTISING CAMPAIGN

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

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

 

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

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

February 6, 2013

THE SECRETS BEHIND THE FINEST CUISINE AT SEA

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

January 31, 2013

OCEANIA CRUISES DEBUTS EXCITING NEW MENUS IN THE GRAND DINING ROOM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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Fettuccine with Wild Sea Bass in Rustic Tomato and Peperoncino Sauce

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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Crispy Kadaif-Wrapped Tiger Prawns with Mango-Chili Salsa

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

January 7, 2013

TAKING IT ALL IN ON THE ISLAND OF TORTOLA

Image3279A7A5-625E-412A-9985-BEB60F531DA2We are having a bit of a cold snap here in Missouri, so when I saw that Riviera was in the British Virgin Islands on January 6, I pulled out the photos I took on my visit to Tortola for a little reminiscing. This particular photo was my favorite because I barely recognized my feet, as they have been bundled up in wooly socks and heavy boots for the last several weeks!

ImageEB788168-9CEB-4D34-8530-6BA1E0A3EC5EAs Blogger-at-Large, I have contributed several posts about the amazing places I have visited in the Caribbean on my travels with Oceania Cruises. Today I want to tell you about one of the most beautiful and peaceful beach days I have ever enjoyed.

But first, a little about the plethora of options guests have to explore from the port in Tortola. For those looking for adventures beyond Tortola, there are several island-hopping shore excursions that let you experience more of the British Virgin Islands. I have taken the Virgin Gorda & the Baths shore excursion and I highly recommend it. There are also several snorkeling or diving adventures available in the crystal blue waters that surround the island of Tortola, as well as excursions to its many gorgeous beaches.

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For guests looking for something a bit more cerebral, there is a Historical Sites of Tortola excursion that will give you a sense of the history of this island and its people with visits to museums and important historic sites. Or if you’re traveling onboard Marina or Riviera, there is a Culinary Discovery Tour that visits an organic farm, where you select fresh produce that is used to cook a traditional meal in a yabba pot as you enjoy a beautiful day on the beach.

As wonderful as all of these options sounded to me, I decided to set off on my own adventure when I arrived in Tortola. I had heard that Cane Garden Bay had one of the loveliest beaches on the island, so that was my chosen destination. When we docked, there were taxis and vans available just outside the pier. I found a van to Cane Garden Bay for $8 per person each way, and once the van had enough passengers, it took a group of us to the beach.

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It’s a bit of a wild ride over the mountains of Tortola to the other side of the island where Cane Garden Bay is located. It was incredibly scenic and by no means unpleasant, but you may prefer to take an Oceania Cruises excursion if you want to make sure you’re in a newer vehicle and that your travels are being monitored by the ship’s staff. It can also be difficult to find a taxi back to the ship, so if you venture out on your own, be sure to establish a time for your driver to pick you up and return you to the ship. If you want to ensure a carefree day at the beach, an Oceania Cruises shore excursion may be your best option.

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Because Tortola’s beaches are exceptionally gorgeous, the island is a popular place to visit. When we arrived, there were two ships docked, and I was told it might be crowded. I was pleasantly surprised when I found that Cane Garden Bay wasn’t crowded at all. In fact, the area where our van dropped us off was practically deserted. This is the most popular beach on the island, so for those looking for complete solitude, I have no doubt a secluded cove or deserted paradise is waiting to be discovered.

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For me, Cane Garden Bay was exactly what I was hoping for. The beach had several restaurants and bars just steps from the water and plenty of chairs to rent for $5. The bay was beautiful and the beach was exquisite – gentle waves, perfectly refreshing water and pure, soft sand from the beach all the way into the sea.

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My day at Cane Garden Bay was the most peaceful beach day I’ve ever experienced. I was so thoroughly enchanted by the gorgeous beach, the beautiful scenery in every direction and the island life that I did absolutely nothing except enjoy it – I didn’t even take a nap or read a book! I relaxed on the chair and took it all in, occasionally taking a break to wade into the water for a refreshing swim and then return to my chair to dry off in the warm Caribbean sun.

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After a truly perfect day relaxing on the beach, I met the van at the appointed time and returned to the ship. To all of you travelers out there escaping the winter cold in the warm blue waters of the Caribbean, I wish you as warm and as wonderful days as I had. To all of you who haven’t yet treated yourself to this experience, I hope you find the opportunity to visit this island paradise on a voyage with Oceania Cruises very soon.

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 24, 2012

THE UNIQUE BEAUTY OF VIRGIN GORDA

While I am Blogger-at-Large for Oceania Cruises, I am not currently “at large,” but rather home for the holidays. This is one of my favorite times to blog about my Oceania Cruises adventures because, as the winter chill sets in here in Missouri, I can fondly recall the warm sun shining over lovely Virgin Gorda during my recent visit there. One of the best things about a vacation with Oceania Cruises is that you take away memories that will last a lifetime – and will sustain you during the winter doldrums as you dream of your next Oceania Cruises voyage! As I write this, guests onboard Riviera are making memories of their own, for they will call on Virgin Gorda later this week during their idyllic Island Holiday in the Caribbean.

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What draws most visitors to this uniquely beautiful island (aside from the fact that it is in the Caribbean, of course) is a beach area known as “The Baths,” located at the southern end of the island. At The Baths, volcanic activity deposited large amounts of granite that eroded into gigantic boulders, creating picturesque tunnels, arches, tidal pools and grottoes.

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A short bus or taxi ride from the ship takes you to the trailhead that leads to The Baths. From there you can walk down a rocky path to the beach. The path is a bit steep but easily navigable for the fairly nimble.

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Arriving at this beach is unlike arriving at any other beach I’ve visited. After following the winding path enshrouded in exotic vegetation, I emerged onto a sprawling white beach inexplicably adorned with enormous boulders. Of course, the volcanic activity is the explanation, but the first impression is almost mystical, as if some ancient god had deposited the stones on the beach as monuments to his power.

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I was captivated by the unique beauty of the giant stones and swirling tidal pools and couldn’t help but feel a little humbled by the thousands of years of history represented in their formation. Several others admired the view from their yachts in the tranquil harbor.

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After spending some time enjoying the beauty of The Baths, I decided to navigate the path to Devil’s Bay where another idyllic beach awaited. The path was quite an adventure, and I was glad I’d worn my water shoes. I climbed over and through boulders and waded through tidal pools. Platforms and stairs have been constructed along the way to help visitors navigate safely.

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Arrows mark the route to Devil’s Bay, although I was so busy enjoying the beautiful scenery I ended up taking a few unintended detours. Not to worry, though, it only meant more exploring amongst the enormous boulders and sheltered pools.

I had read that these beaches get quite crowded. I was there during high season, and while they weren’t deserted hideaways, the beaches weren’t uncomfortably crowded either. There was plenty of space to relax on the warm sand, and I had a wonderful time snorkeling and exploring the tidal pools. The shade at Devil’s Bay beach was limited, so come prepared with sunscreen, a hat and any other sun protection you may need.

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Also, gentlemen, be aware of where you keep your wallet. A man snorkeling near me surfaced with a wallet in his hand. It had an ID so, after calling out the owner’s name several times, the man was able to return it. Moments later the same snorkeler began surfacing with $20 bills that he also kindly returned!

Speaking of the water, it was absolutely perfect. Having lived in L.A. for several years and experienced some strong ocean currents, I was amazed at the tranquil coves I discovered on this island. The water was the ideal temperature and indescribably blue, and while I usually spend most of my time at beaches literally on the beach, here I found that I didn’t want to leave the heavenly waters.

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After a truly wonderful day exploring these unique beaches, I hiked a more leisurely trail to catch a ride back to the ship, enjoying the scenic landscape of the island along the way.

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As winter descends here at home, I’ll be thinking about Oceania Cruises’ guests celebrating their holiday with the sunny skies, golden sands and azure waters of the Caribbean. We hope you will share stories of your adventures here in the comments section, and we’d love to see your photos on our Facebook page.

On behalf of the entire Oceania Cruises family, warmest wishes for a joyous holiday season and many wonderful journeys in 2013!

December 18, 2012

‘TIS THE SEASON TO EXPLORE THE MALDIVES

As winter sets in, Oceania Cruises ships are making their way to warmer climates, and Riviera isn’t the only ship visiting breathtaking beaches. Today Nautica is in Malé, Maldives, en route to Cape Town on one of the more diverse itineraries offered, Lands of Grandeur. The voyage takes a full month to explore from Dubai to Cape Town and everywhere in between.

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The first and most obvious thing to mention about the Maldives is the beaches. A renowned vacation paradise, the Maldives is a chain of coral islands located on top of a vast mountain range in the Indian Ocean. The weather is almost always perfect, the water is as pristine as any in the world and the beaches are stunning. There are a couple of “beach escape” shore excursions that will take you to nearby island paradises. These are perfect for anyone interested in snorkeling and swimming in perfectly crystal clear blue waters or lounging in a beach chair amidst the beautiful scenery.

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The Maldives is mostly underwater so if you want to get a good look at the spectacular atolls, you’ll want to spend some time under the surface. You can do so without even getting wet if you explore in the comfort of the state-of-the-art submarine offered on the shore excursion Explore the Underwater World of the Maldives. You will descend 120 feet below sea level where you will enjoy thrilling, panoramic, up-close views of the colorful coral and exotic marine life.

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If you are interested in a deeper look at the culture and the history of this island chain, there is a City of Malé Walking Tour that explores the capital and some of its cultural and historic landmarks, including the Grand Friday Mosque built by the Sultan Ibrahim Iskandhar in 1656.

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Whatever your yen, there are plenty of options at this fabulous port. 

December 10, 2012

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

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

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

BEST CUISINE 

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

GRAND DINING ROOM

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

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

TOSCANA

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

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

 

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


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

POLO GRILL

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

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

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

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

TERRACE CAFÉ

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

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Dessert Selection
TC outside
Outside Seating

JACQUES

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

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

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

RED GINGER

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

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

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

LA RESERVE

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

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

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

BEST SUITES

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

OWNER’S SUITE

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

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VISTA SUITES

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

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Dakota Jackson pictured with Pancake, Blogger-at-Large

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

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OCEANIA SUITES

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

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PENTHOUSE SUITES

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

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

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

November 29, 2012

RELAXING IN BEAUTIFUL GUSTAVIA, ST. BARTS

After bidding adieu to Europe, Riviera crossed the Atlantic and arrived in Miami today, where she will begin her winter season exploring the idyllic beaches and swaying palms of the Caribbean. 

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As Blogger-at-Large for Oceania Cruises, I find that when I travel to the Caribbean, I have to take it down a few notches. Shore excursions tend to be about relaxing on a beach or a sailboat, snorkeling or gazing at the beautiful scenery and less about touring ancient ruins and visiting world-class museums as DSCF1583I enjoy doing in Europe. Not that I am complaining! This is one of the great things about seeing the world with Oceania Cruises: every region of the world has new, different and equally wonderful experiences to offer.

A day in Gustavia, St. Barts, is the perfect example of the nice relaxed pace I enjoy when sailing the Caribbean. Though Gustavia is very popular for duty-free shopping and high-end designer fashion boutiques, mostly it is geared toward enjoying the weather, the beautiful scenery and the iridescent blue waters.

St. Barts was discovered by Columbus in 1493 and named after his brother Bartolomeo. However, it was not until 1763 that the French successfully settled on the island. Ultimately, St. Barts fell into the hands of the Swedes, and as a free port, it became important for trade and supply during the colonial wars in the 18th century. Unlike many of the surrounding islands, St. Barts is inhospitable to sugar farming, so it has served primarily as a center for trade.

Today it is an idyllic island resort, serving tourists from all over the world in search of warm weather and beautiful beaches.

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Just a short walk from the harbor where the ship docked, I found Shell Beach, a remarkably uncrowded, tranquil cove with a wonderful little Brazilian café where I sat and enjoyed the views and the gorgeous day.

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Like most Caribbean islands, the deep blue waters and the lush green foliage are stunning, but what I find especially captivating about Gustavia are the coral-colored roofs and multi-hued flowers. It is truly a colorful town and has one of the most picturesque harbors in the Caribbean.

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On my leisurely stroll through town, I came across a couple of lovely little churches. The Church of Our Lady of the Assumption is a Catholic Church surrounded by a lovely courtyard. St. Bartholomew’s Anglican Church sits right off the harbor.

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There are shore excursions that take visitors on tours of the island or on fabulous snorkeling adventures. I’ve also read about wonderful hiking in the area. But on this day, I chose to relax and enjoy this little town at a slow Caribbean pace. Regardless of what you choose to do when you visit Gustavia, I can promise that you’ll have no regrets!

November 21, 2012

JACQUES: A TASTE OF PERFECTION

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

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

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

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

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

As I travel all over the world with Oceania Cruises, doing demos and working with the chefs to develop new dishes and ideas, I am more impressed with every voyage. I’m struck, first of all, by the quality of the ingredients and the fundamental respect for techniques and tradition. The brioche smells like butter when you break it open. The onion soup is made with real Gruyère, real bread, and real stock, seasoned the right way, and served in the right bowl with that little indentation that catches the cheese so it forms a perfect crust in the oven. These small touches add up to a very great difference. There is heartfelt pride in that brioche and that soup, and for my part, I am proud to be associated with the men and women who devote their lives to getting those details right every day.”

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

Cuisses de Grenouilles en Persillade, Flan de Persil

Sautéed Frog Legs with Garlic-Herb Butter, Parsley Flan

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

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Gratiné à l’Oignon

Baked Onion Soup with Gruyère Cheese Crust

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

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Pannequet de Saumon en Tartare

Salmon Tartare Wrapped in Salmon Gravlax with Cucumber Rosace

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

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Moules Marinières

Fresh Mussels with Shallots, White Wine and Parsley

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

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Escargots à la Bourguignonne

Traditional Baked Escargots in Shell with Burgundy Garlic Butter

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

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Poulet Fermier Rôti aux Herbes

Herb-crusted Black Foot Free Range Chicken au Jus

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

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Homard Thermidor à ma Façon

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

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

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

French Onion Soup

(makes 5 cups, serves 4)

7 cups beef stock

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

9 cups thinly sliced onion

1½ tablespoons finely chopped garlic

3 thyme sprigs

3 marjoram sprigs

12 to 16 slices baguette, each ¼ inch thick

Extra virgin olive oil

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

½ cup dry red wine (such as Merlot)

3 tablespoons brandy

3½ cups chicken stock

Kosher or sea salt

Freshly ground black pepper

2 cups shredded Gruyère cheese

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

October 24, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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