Voyages of culinary discovery and sensory charm

MAY 2014 – A luxury cruise isn’t the first place you’d look for a holiday with a gourmet focus. Of course you expect good food, but culinary adventure, too? At Oceania Cruises you’ll find a generous dash of foodie panache, with master classes in regional cuisine and onshore culinary discovery tours complementing a wide range of speciality restaurants. Add spacious designer staterooms and fine art, alongside the more usual luxury liner offerings, and you’ve got a journey that will truly delight the senses.

Imagine exploring the Mediterranean, not just with your bucket list of landmarks at hand, fascinating though that is, but also with your palate and taste buds, associating lemons with Amalfi, bourdetto fish stew with Corfu and gathering a cornucopia of vibrant vegetables from the markets of Marseille and Venice. Oceania Cruises encourages guests to do all this and more. And without losing sight of all the other indispensable elements of a luxury cruise, it has managed to spotlight the gourmet side of its voyages in a way that only enhances the whole experience.

The atmosphere on board Oceania’s newest mid-size ships, Riviera and Marina, is described as country club casual, so don’t expect Las Vegas glitz and over-the-top spectacle. Though when you embark it’s clear that the word casual is deceptive – maybe rather interpret it as understated elegance, for there are plenty of signs of tasteful glamour: from the grand Lalique staircase in the reception to the custom-designed ebony Steinway in the Martinis lounge bar, where there is live piano music every evening.

At Marina’s launch in 2011, Oceania unveiled two new speciality restaurants in addition to its already varied dining offerings, and these are in place on her younger sister ship, Riviera, too. When it announced Red Ginger, a few eyebrows were raised among the more conventional cruise community. The vibrant pan-Asian menu created by Ricky Pang from Nobu was a world away from the traditional, play-it-safe flavours typically embraced on cruise lines. However this adventurous foodie ethos was exactly what Oceania president Bob Binder was after, and he personally took a hand in the menu development, a reflection of his own passion for excellent food and wine.

Jacques, a comfortable French bistro, is the creation of renowned French chef Jacques Pépin, who is the culinary director of Oceania Cruises. With an illustrious career that has included cooking for French presidents, several authoritative books on French cuisine and television shows both in France and the US, including one co-starring with Julia Child, Jacques is a household name and his take on French food is approachable, authentic and never pretentious. This translates in the on-board restaurant to a favourite dish of Lyonnaise sausage with pistachios – using the genuine sausages from Lyons specially packed and delivered by air – alongside classics such as bouillabaisse, foie gras, Dover sole and tarte Tatin. Jacques plays more than just an advisory role, too, and is the star attraction on one of this year’s Signature sailings, where he presents master classes, lectures and culinary demonstrations and hosts specially designed signature menus. While speciality restaurants on board are included in the cruise price (be sure to book before the start of the voyage to reserve a table), for a supplement of US$95 an even more inspiring gustatory pleasure awaits. La Reserve is affiliated with Wine Spectator magazine and is an experience not to be missed for wine aficionados and serious foodies, offering special wine pairing nights of seven-course meals, including such esoteric delicacies as an amuse-bouche of sea urchin panna cotta paired with Bouvet brut.

In fact one of the hardest advance planning tasks you face before embarkation is deciding where to eat each night – whether to book Toscana, for Italian cuisine, or the Polo Grill steakhouse. Red Ginger is a must, as is Jacques, but you also need to sample the varied menus of the Grand Dining Room and leave room for a more casual al fresco meal at the Terrace Café. Culinary adventure goes further than just the enticing array of restaurants on board, however. Marina and Riviera are the only cruise ships in the world to have a fully equipped 24-station teaching kitchen on board, the Bon Appétit Culinary Center, where guests get hands-on tuition from master chefs in a wide selection of cuisines that reflects the cruise itinerary. The Turkish Arabesque class presents the culinary traditions of the Ottoman empire and teaches delicious local recipes, as does Beyond Ratatouille, which explores the magnificent variety of Provençal cuisine – and there are many more to choose from. Each class teaches real skills and recipes that allow guests to take home more than just memories. The Bon Appétit Culinary Center also hosts guests on the Culinary Discovery tours: you can go ashore in Venice, browse the Rialto market for the freshest produce and fish, sample a meal on shore then return on board to cook up Venetian delicacies with the market finds.

Life on board isn’t exclusively about food, however. There are art courses in the Artist Loft, so if you feel inspired by all the fine art works in the public spaces (Marina features a Joan Miró and a Picasso in the Casino Bar) you can go and explore your creativity under the resident artist’s guidance. To work off one meal before the temptations of the next, make your way to the top decks where there is a running track, a paddle tennis court, a putting green and golf driving cage, and a croquet lawn. There’s also the generously sized, heated, salt-water swimming pool, surrounded by comfortable loungers and flanked by the Waves bar and grill as well as the irresistible Baristas coffee bar. Or repair to the Canyon Ranch SpaClub for a skilful Thai massage. Private spaces, too, have been well thought out and designed for comfort. The Oceania philosophy, conceived by founder Frank del Rio, is a ship that feels like a home from home, with lived-in touches of art books in the library and a personal art collection displayed throughout the ship.

The standard staterooms are spacious (most are around 26 square metres) and have their own private verandas, granite and marble bathrooms and full-size bathtubs. But it is in the butler serviced suites that one really feels the luxury both of space and designer chic. The lavish Owner’s Suites feature iconic furnishings from the Ralph Lauren Home Collection, with interior design from Susan Bednar Long, and feel more like an upscale Manhattan apartment than a ship’s cabin. Spanning the whole beam of the ship (more than 185 metres), they encompass a large living room, bedroom and palatial bathroom, as well as a music room with piano and both indoor and outdoor whirlpool spas.

You can also revel in the comforts of the Vista and Oceania Suites that owe their impressive interiors to celebrated New York designer Dakota Jackson. In the spacious Vista suites you can gaze out to sea over the prow of the ship and take in unfettered views of scenic coastlines and historical ports. Then work out in the private fitness room or simply indulge in the sensuous Bulgari products in one of your two whirlpool spas before ordering in-room dining from any of the speciality restaurants – served by your butler in your own dining room.

Altogether Oceania has put together an enticing menu of treats to delight both eye and palate, allowing guests to explore the world – and all the delights of regional gastronomy – in a leisurely and satisfying way.

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