by Gordon Turner
photograph by Gordon Turner
Civitavecchia to Miami
24 November to 10 December 2011
One of my favourite voyages is an Atlantic crossing that has an itinerary with maybe three or four ports of call and seven to ten days out at sea. Such cruises usually take place in late autumn and early spring as ships of various lines make the transition between the Mediterranean and North America.
I prefer the fall cruises. Why? There are several reasons. Because the ships sail westward, they gain an hour daily for five or six days while moving between time zones. More importantly, at least for me, are the fares. They are considerably lower than, for example, a Mediterranean or Baltic summer cruise of comparable duration where the ship calls at a different port almost every day. Also, I generally travel alone, and the supplement for single occupancy of a cabin is lower. And much as I enjoy the ports of call, I also like those days at sea. People have asked me if five or more consecutive days at sea could become a bit boring, and my answer is a resounding “No.” Keep reading and you will learn why.
After a discussion with John Lang of The Cruise People, I booked the Marina cruise well in advance in order to obtain a good rate for my cabin. What follows are one person’s impressions of one particular cruise.
Although advertised as a Rome to Miami cruise, the port of embarkation was actually Civitavecchia, almost an hour by coach from Rome’s Fiumicino international airport, and even longer if you spend a few days in Rome itself prior to the cruise and depart from a centrally located hotel in the city. The “meet-and-greet” service at the airport worked efficiently. Checking-in at Civitavecchia’s passenger terminal took maybe five minutes, four of which consisted of waiting in line and one in dealing with the formalities of embarkation. Once aboard, I was escorted to my stateroom by a cabin steward.
Marina was completed in 2011 at Fincantieri’s Sestri Ponente shipyard just outside Genoa and is registered at Majuro in the Marshall Islands. Her gross tonnage is 66,084. She is 239 metres (785 feet) long and has a beam of 32 metres (106 feet). She has a cruising speed of 20 knots. Passenger capacity is 1,258. Officers are European. The master, officers and crew are just under 800 in number. Cruise ships are often listed under several classifications, including luxury, premium, contemporary (mainstream) and economical, with variations within each group. It is all subjective, of course, but Oceania claims that its ships fall into the upper premium category, just slightly below luxury. After spending 16 days aboard, I think that is an accurate assessment. Incidentally, on my cruise we had 1,189 passengers, mostly Americans, but also 304 Canadians. Although close to full, the ship never felt crowded.
As for Marina’s many amenities, some of which are described below, at times a cruise ship can be defined, at least in part, by what she does not have. Marina does not have a ship’s photographer and she does not offer “art” auctions. The great majority of passengers were in the 50+ range.
Some people dismiss cruise-ship cabins as merely places to sleep but with recent advances in cabin design, such persons have become fewer. I was familiar with typical Oceania cabins from my earlier voyages in Regatta and Insignia. But these were smaller ships that the company had bought from previous owners, whereas Marina was designed from the keel up to meet Oceania’s specifications, and that included her suites and staterooms. I occupied Cabin 8084, listed as Category B1. Statistically, it measured 242 square feet including the bathroom and it had a teak-decked veranda of 40 square feet.
The stateroom’s queen-size bed was uncommonly comfortable. It took up much of my stateroom, but there still was sufficient space for a small sofa, a coffee table, a vanity desk with a chair and a large mirror, as well as closet and drawer space. There was also a safe and a refrigerated mini-bar. There was no additional cost for bottled water and soft drinks. Lighting was good and could be controlled from either bedside. The veranda had two wicker chairs and a small table.
The bathroom was particularly stylish. It was marble and granite clad. What was unusual for a stateroom that was not in the most expensive accommodation category was that its bathroom had a separate shower and tub. The shower’s size suited me perfectly, but people built on more generous lines could find it a bit constricting. However, there was also a hand-held shower attachment in the tub. Hot water was in plentiful supply, as were thick towels.
Marina provided laundry service, although prices seemed on the high side (for example, $5.50 for a sports shirt). Each passenger deck also had a coin-operated launderette, complete with washers, dryers, an iron and an ironing table.
After a day at sea, Marina reached Barcelona, a 12-hour stop.
I did not take any of the shore excursions advertised for our day in Barcelona although I took advantage of the shuttle bus in the afternoon. Barcelona is a city with many attractions for the visitor and always seems to be more vibrant than many Mediterranean cities.
On that day I had a late breakfast in the Terrace Café on Deck 12. The mention of food reminds me that I should devote several paragraphs to this always fascinating topic. Oceania Cruises’ advertising uses the phrase “The finest cuisine at sea.” This is a bold claim, and presumably it could be challenged by some of the luxury lines that are also justly famed for their cuisine. Nevertheless, aboard Marina and the other Oceania ships cuisine plays a major role. In fact, I have heard that it is an important reason for passengers to sail exclusively with Oceania.
For the real cooking enthusiasts Marina offered courses in the Bon Appétit Culinary Center, a custom-designed hands-on cooking school with fully equipped work stations. Sessions were usually held twice daily when the ship was at sea. Dishes included Classic Ratatouille, Chicken Piccata, and Scallops with Cauliflower, Dried Cherries and Capers. Each session cost US$69. They were invariably well attended.
Marina’s Grand Dining Room is a large and notably handsome room whose central chandelier is surely one of the finest ever installed in a ship. One of the features that attracted me to Oceania ships is that in the main dining room, I could eat when I liked, where I liked and with whom I liked. Almost invariably I asked for a table for one person and I always received it. The Grand Dining Room’s tables seat two, four and six. I did not make an actual count but my impression was that the room had more tables for two than was customary in ships of similar size. Service was always of a high standard. The dining room staff’s identification badges showed that their homelands included the Philippines, Indonesia, India, Poland, Russia, Croatia, Romania, Honduras and South Africa. What they had in common was that they were well trained, courteous and pleasant. The food was remarkably good and the service set a high standard including the niceties that separate the acceptable from the superior. The dress code for the Grand Dining Room and throughout the ship is described as country-club casual, the definition varying according to time of day and location. For example, at the outdoor Waves Grill, close to the pool, swimwear with a cover-up was quite suitable.
It is almost de rigueur nowadays for cruise ships to have specialised dining rooms in addition to the large main room. Marina is no exception. While the Grand Dining Room, Terrace Café and possibly the Waves Grill constitute what could be called the traditional locations, there are four smaller rooms each accommodating about 100 people, and each with a distinctive ambience and its own particular menu. With Oceania Cruises there is no extra fee. The four rooms are open for dinner only and require reservations. I dined twice at Jacques, the restaurant named for Jacques Pépin, and it will not come as a surprise to hear that the food was predominantly French on its comprehensive menu. Across the way, so to speak, was Red Ginger, described as offering authentic Asian cuisine in a bold, contemporary setting. On my one dinner there I experienced tastes that were totally new to my palate and all the more enjoyable because of that. While these two restaurants were on Deck 5, aft on Dec 12 were Toscana and the Polo Grill. The former offered Tuscan cuisine, while the latter was a steak and seafood room. I ate twice at Toscana and once at the Polo Grill and, without trying to play favourites, Toscana took first place but only by a very narrow margin.
Two other dining venues, each quite small, and which do require a financial outlay, are La Réserve and Privée, the first named noted for its wine and food pairings, and the second for small private dinners, with its menu being arranged in consultation with one of Marina’s principal chefs.
Before leaving the topic of food, it simply has to be mentioned that at 4:00 p.m. in the Horizons Lounge, forward on Deck 15, afternoon tea is served. This has become one of the most acclaimed features across the Oceania fleet. The lounge itself has full-length windows on three sides and while the ship is at sea is one of the most enjoyable rooms. While the word “elegant” is sometimes overused, there is no doubt in my mind that it definitely applies to afternoon tea aboard Marina. White-gloved waiters and waitresses circulate, offering the guests a selection of maybe seven or eight different kinds of tea, followed by a tray of dainty sandwiches and a trolley displaying cookies, tarts and other goodies that are impossible to resist. And while all this is happening a string quartet plays light classical pieces.
The above paragraphs rarely mention the actual dishes I found on Marina’s extensive menus in the several dining venues. It would take far too long to list them so I suggest a visit to the website www.oceaniacruises.com which contains sample menus for all the dining locations. Wine lists also appear on the website. The choice is extensive, although prices are not exactly cheap.
As a final word on food, even though the specialty restaurants are exceptionally good, the Grand Dining Room is in not in any way inferior. In fact, if I had been required to take all my meals there, I would have disembarked with the happiest of memories of the cuisine.
If anyone reading this has taken a cruise in Oceania’s smaller ships they will immediately recognize that in many ways Marina is an enlarged version of her predecessors. For instance, Horizons Lounge is on a top deck forward and has huge windows on three sides. Directly below are the Spa and Fitness Center. Aft, and one further deck below is the Terrace Café with a large seating capacity indoors and a fairly sizeable seating capability outdoors.
Throughout Marina it becomes obvious that a very considerable amount of money has been spent on the ship’s décor and amenities. Paintings and sculpture fall mostly into the category of abstract art, but there are also some fine paintings of nautical scenes as well as models of ships of bygone days. Some of these models are in Marina’s Library, a cosy refuge with 2,000 books and comfortable armchairs. The nearby coffee bar, Baristas, provides espressos, lattes and other specialty coffees, all without charge. Around the corner is the Computer Centre.
The ship has two elevator towers, one containing four elevators and the other two, but anyone who uses the staircases cannot remain unaware of the fine paintings that hang on each landing. I like ships to express their nautical origins wherever possible. Thus when I used the elevators, I got slightly annoyed when a taped public-address-system voice said, “This is the eighth floor.” Floor? Why not “Deck”? Similarly, the Purser’s Office has a sign that reads Reception. On a positive note, I found that the Purser’s personnel were always ready to be helpful.
Forward on Deck 5 is the Marina Lounge, a large room that was busy morning, afternoon and evening on my cruise. The seats are arranged theatre style, but with sufficient space between rows so that occupants can let people pass without having to stand and tip up their seats. Midships on the same deck is the two-deck atrium. Adjacent are three boutiques with high-quality merchandise and corresponding price tags. One deck up are the Casino, the Martini Bar and the Grand Bar. There is no persuasion, here or anywhere else in the ship, to buy alcoholic drinks.
After our call at Barcelona, Marina’s schedule read day at sea, day in port at Tangier (Morocco), day at sea, day in port at Funchal (Madeira), five consecutive days at sea, a 24-hour stay at the Naval Dockyard in Bermuda, two more days at sea, then arrival at Miami.
Earlier in this report I said that days at sea were never boring, Here are items taken from the Day 10 programme, when Marina was somewhere between Madeira and Bermuda.
9:00 am Digital camera workshop (so popular that most sessions had to be moved from the Artist Loft to the Marina Lounge).
9.00 am. Napkin folding with Social Hostess.
10.00 am Enrichment lecture with Jerry Kindall (Mr. Kindall, who played for nine years in baseball’s major leagues, puts his baseball talks into a social context. You don’t need to be a sports fan to enjoy his presentations)
10.00 am Beginners’ Bridge Lesson
10.00 am Bingo
10:30 am T-shirt painting in the Artist Loft
11.00 am Officers compete against passengers in Shuffleboard, Ping Pong, Croquet, etc.
11.00 am Canyon Ranch Spa Seminar
11.00 am Intermediate Bridge Lesson
1.45 pm Blackjack Tournament
2:00 pm Wine Tasting (events that include alcoholic beverages incur a fee)
2.00 pm Canyon Ranch Spa seminar on hair care
2.00 pm Self Portraits by Artist in Residence
2.00 pm Duplicate and Social Bridge
2.00 pm Brandy Tasting
2.15 pm Golf on the Ship’s Putting Green
2.30 pm Learning the Spanish Language
2.45 pm Shuffleboard Tournament
4.00 pm Afternoon tea with music by the Tatra String Quartet
4.00 pm Enrichment lecture “Exploring the Ocean World” with Dr. Stewart Nelson, an oceanographer and highly accomplished speaker on oceans, airships and ports of call
5.15 pm Marina’s eight-piece band plays for listening and dancing in the Horizons Lounge
5.15 pm Team Trivia afternoon session
5.30 pm Cocktail Bar pianist plays (and also three times later in the evening)
6.00 pm The Celebration Band plays in Horizons Lounge (and also three times later in the evening)
6.00 pm The Tatra String quartet plays in the Grand Bar (and also three times later the evening)
8.30 pm Team Trivia evening session
9.00 pm Blackjack Tournament
9.00 pm Movie under the stars on Pool Deck “Pirates of the Caribbean” (weather permitting)
11.15 pm Late-Night Melodies by Celebration Band in Horizons Lounge
I attended some of the daily events, but certainly not all. Marina has stabilizers to reduce rolling, although they were never required on my cruise. Following my morning walk, I looked into the well-equipped Fitness Center occasionally but the treadmills and other apparatus were generally in use by the more energetic passengers.
Entertainment in the Marina Lounge varied from evening to evening. For instance, we heard an accomplished guitar player on two evenings. On two other evenings there was a magician assisted by a female Mongolian contortionist. Several evenings an eight-member song-and-dance group entertained us Las Vegas-style with popular music from past decades. No two programmes were alike and the audience, self included, enjoyed the presentations.
Over the years I have been a passenger on many cruise ships. Some have a low introductory fare, but once aboard the add-ons quickly begin to reveal themselves and before the cruise ends the total cost has increased considerably. With some lines, such as Oceania, the fare includes many items that would otherwise be charged separately. As a very general rule, anything that involves alcoholic drinks requires payment (except for the captain’s reception). Anything that provides a personal service, such as spa treatment, also calls for payment. A gratuity fee of $12.50 per passenger per day is added automatically to guests’ accounts, although the amount can be altered at the guests’ request. To sort out the intricacies of the actual cost of a cruise, the service of an experienced travel agent who specializes in cruises is essential.
Eventually we reached Miami where the cruise ended. While Marina was somewhere in mid-Atlantic, I dropped into an office on Deck 6 and made a booking for November 2012, Barcelona to Miami, a voyage similar to the one I was on. No, it was not for a Marina cruise but for one in her sister ship Riviera, still under construction and due to enter service in spring 2012.
Oceania Cruises at The Cruise People, Ltd.
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