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Meet Marina, the latest addition to Oceania’s sleek fleet. Words: Sue Bryant

Imagine spending five years running an award-winning cruise line that you started from scratch, getting to know your guests and their tastes, experimenting with your product – and then, based on this experience, designing your own ship, throwing in all the best bits and adding a whole lot more.

That must be how it feels to be Frank Del Rio, founder of Oceania Cruises, who has just overseen the construction and launch of the line’s first brand-new ship, Marina.

Oceania has always pitched itself a notch below the ultra-luxury lines such as Silversea Cruises and Crystal Cruises, billing itself as ‘luxury lite’, offering fine food and service on three decent but not opulent ships, and never offering all-inclusive pricing.

Marina, though, is a new jewel in the crown. Although the fare structure hasn’t changed, the ship is stunning: classy, contemporary and elegant. And if you’re not looking for a cruise with an all-inclusive drinks package, it should present a real alternative to the refined world of ultra-luxury cruising. Marina is larger than her three sisters, carrying 1,258 passengers, but not so big that she feels like a mega-ship; Oceania Cruises’ guests, mainly Americans of a certain age (with a smattering of Australians and Brits), are not the type to go for big casinos, fancy nightlife and music blaring round the pool. Think more along the lines of fine dining, immersive shore excursions and a jazz trio to accompany the evening martini.

The ship is full of personal touches and you can feel the passion that’s gone into it. The oak flooring in Jacques, the bistro, was sourced from an ancient barn near Lyon, culinary centre of France. The rich blue marble on the poolside bar was handpicked from a raw slab in an Italian quarry by Frank Del Rio.

A sense of decadence pervades the vessel. Cabins, most with balcony, are spacious and luxurious, with marble sinks in the bathrooms, memory-foam-gel mattresses and expensive 1,000-thread-count Egyptian cottons. The suites are the first seagoing venture by Ralph Lauren Home and add a new level of cool to cruising. Three Owner’s Suites are seductive boudoirs; each has a baby grand piano, a Bose surround sound system and two jacuzzis (one alfresco). It’s all very edgy and very chic.

Dining has always been a joy on Oceania Cruises and the company’s president, Bob Binder, claims Marina is the first ship “purpose-built for epicureans”. He has a point: there are 10 dining spots aboard, including five speciality restaurants as well as the main dining room and two casual eateries, all at no extra charge, plus a brace of private dining venues.

There’s a real sense of occasion in the beautiful Grand Dining Room, with five-metre ceilings, a stunning chandelier as its centrepiece and a colour scheme of cocoa, cream and gold, with splashes of apricot and cranberry. Look out for the Versace charger plates that appear in all Oceania’s dining rooms; quite the most desirable china at sea.

New on Marina is a French-style bistro, Jacques, the first shipboard restaurant from eminent chef Jacques Pépin, Oceania’s culinary consultant, who creates French classics with a contemporary twist in an airy, almost rustic setting that’s very un-cruise-ship-like. Red Ginger, Oceania’s first Asian restaurant, serves Thai, Japanese and Vietnamese fusion cuisine.

Two restaurants that have been so successful on the line’s three existing ships, Toscana and Polo Grill, are also present on Marina. Toscana serves Italian specialities, while Polo Grill does classic steakhouse and seafood dishes.

The informal Terrace Café has a beautiful outdoor dining area; try to grab a table on the aft deck at sunset. As well as a daily buffet, the Terrace Café serves dishes reflecting the area in which the ship is sailing.

Also new is La Reserve, a wine-tasting room seating 24 where special wine-paired dinners are offered (US$75  plus gratuity for the wine); and Privée, a chic little eight-person dining room set between Toscana and the Polo Grill, for degustation dinners. The charge for the room is a hefty US$1,000: it does include Kobe beef, Brittany lobsters, foie gras, caviar and truffles, but not wine.

As Oceania’s guests often seem to have food on their minds, it’s only natural that Marina incorporates the Bon Appétit Culinary Centre, a proper hands-on cooking workshop where up to 24 people can take part in interactive demos in anything from ‘Perfect Paella’ to ‘The Best of Italy’ and ‘French & Fabulous’. Would-be artists, meanwhile, can hang out in The Studio, where guests can try their hand at watercolours and attend photography classes.

For less taxing activity, there’s an expanse of warm teak decking around an elegant pool overlooked by the ship’s 2,000-plus-volume library, which comes with its own coffee bar, Baristas. On the same deck, there’s a large Canyon Ranch SpaClub, an offshoot of the famous American health resort. Whether Marina can successfully bridge the gap in cruising between premium and ultra-luxury remains to be seen, but the signs look promising. What’s not to love, after all? Oceania Cruises is certainly confident: the launch of a sister ship, Riviera, is only a year away.

Fact File

Cruise Line: Oceania Cruises

Vessel: Marina

Star rating: Not yet rated

Maximum passenger capacity: 1,258

Total crew: 800

Total staterooms and suites: 629

Passenger decks: 11

Entered service: January 2011

GRT: 65,000

Facilities: Gym; spa; boutiques; 10 restaurants; 8 bars; outdoor pool; hot tubs; casino; library; culinary arts centre; The Studio enrichment centre; theatre; internet centre plus wi-fi enabled laptop (access fee) in each suite and concierge-level verandah stateroom; hospital; 6 wheelchair-accessible cabins.