"Surf and Turf" sandwich Lobster medallions
and Black Angus filet
That is just one example of the mouth-watering temptations on Oceania Cruises' newest ship Marina, and her soon to arrive sister, Riviera. Oceania Cruises is in the relatively new "upper market" category of cruise lines, somewhere above premium but not quite in the topmost luxury category - mostly due to size, passenger capacity and not including all beverages in the cruise fare.
But our cruise culinary expert Janice Wald Henderson just returned from her first visit to Marina and came away believing Marina has the finest cuisine at sea; "equal or better than the luxury lines in many cases." I agree with her having sailed on Marina myself last year.
Janice notes that Oceania's Bob Binder had said, "Marina is the first ship purpose-built for epicureans. We are committed to serving cuisine that rivals some of the world's very best restaurants." The ship debuted with major marketing alliances with Bon Appétit and Wine Spectator magazines. The iconic Canyon Ranch Spa provides the healthy alternative dining choices. But topping off the culinary excellence is the specialty restaurant, offered at no extra cost, Jacques, the first namesake restaurant affiliated with master chef Jacques Pépin.
Everything related to cuisine is exquisite on Marina. I mentioned the surf & turf sandwich already. This comes from the poolside restaurant Waves. The restaurant only serves dry-aged Wagyu beef, the American version of Kobe beef from Japan, even for its hamburgers. Next door is an ice cream parlor where thick, creamy milkshakes and even malts are made from hand-dipped ice cream - and there is no extra charge.
The Pacific rim restaurant known as Red Ginger would be right at home in Manhattan or San Francisco, with striking black, red and gold décor. But the food is the star according to Janice, such as big sweet pieces of ginger-laced crispy calamari, technically fried, but without a trace of oil in the final result. She refers to the Lobster Pad Thai, rice noodles crowned with a giant lobster in its bright-red shell, as an "eye-popping hit."
Janice gives much of the credit to Oceania's fleet corporate chef, Franck Garanger, a savvy Frenchman trained in Michelin-starred establishments. He was personally recruited by Frank Del Rio, chairman and CEO of Prestige Cruise Holdings, a gourmand and oenophile in his own right.
"I accidentally met Garanger onboard Marina and couldn't believe his energy, enthusiasm and dedication. He was like a kid in a candy store," Janice writes. "I bumped into him, day and night. He was always running from kitchen to kitchen, checking the crust on the French bread (his personal passion), sauce consistency and plating."
According to Janice, Garanger hires passionate chefs for the Oceania fleet who made their mark onshore. He feels land-based chefs are edgier and more in tune with culinary trends, and he eschews career cruise ship chefs who can become too comfortable and out of touch after years at sea. Garanger also travels extensively in search of the best food in the world and transforming his experiences into dishes of his own style.
Other dining venues include the mainstay Grand Dining Room, the Polo Grill for steaks and chops and Toscana for Italian fare. All of these restaurants offer the best in their category, and at no extra charge. Reservations are, of course, required for the specialty restaurants - because there is no cover charge.
But the piece d' résistance is the first restaurant anywhere in the world named after Oceania's premier consulting chef, the iconic Jacques Pepin, known in the U.S. for sharing a cooking show with Julia Child on PBS decades ago. The eponymous Jacques restaurant on Marina specializes in simple yet classic French country cooking. The dining room is like a French countryside manor house, with an antique sideboard, planked wood floors and beautiful oil paintings created by Pepin himself.
Most pleasing to those pursuing the art of gourmet cooking is the Bon Appétit Culinary Center. While many ships offer culinary demonstration, Marina boasts of real culinary classes where each student dons an apron and is assigned a complete cooking station with burners, cutting board, utensils and knives.
Without a doubt, Marina is the dream cruise ship for gourmands. Go here to read Janice Wald Henderson's article; Oceania Marina's Culinary Coup.