Whether it is the biggest or the most luxurious or is packed with innovative features, a new ship is always surrounded by plenty of hype.
Oceania Cruises’ Marina, which debuted last year, introduced a new class of ship for the line; her twin, Riviera, joined the fleet this year.
While Marina is twice the size of her fleet mates Regatta, Insignia and Nautica, she shares the line’s focus on fine food. Offering 10 dining venues (eight without surcharges), including legendary chef Jacques Pépin’s eponymous restaurant, Marina piqued the curiosity of cruisers long before she was floated out of the Fincantieri shipyard in Genoa.
The hype was on the mark, we discovered, on our 16-day ‘Epicurean Connoisseur’ cruise from Barcelona to Copenhagen. We experienced a new ship, fine food and some of western Europe’s most fascinating destinations.
Our first impressions were buoyed by Marina’s decor. She is a boutique hotel on the water featuring designer touches everywhere, from the impressive Lalique grand staircase to the Owner’s Suites furnished by Ralph Lauren Home. There’s a wide choice of accommodation options and each cabin features soft colours blended with warm, dark wood, an oversized bathroom, a refrigerator stocked with unlimited soft drinks and bottled water, plush cotton robes and a flatscreen TV.
The first half of our cruise, which focused on the Iberian Peninsula, included visits to Valencia, Málaga, Seville, Lisbon and Bilbao, plus a side trip south to Casablanca. I’d transited Málaga many times in the past en route to the beaches of the Costa del Sol, but today it’s a popular port of call for cruisers. Ships dock next to the old town, where the stand-out among the stunning historical buildings is the Moorish Gibralfaro Castle. Perched on a bluff overlooking the city, it has impressive ramparts along which you can walk and take in the panoramic views.
In Casablanca we opted for a day-long Oceania Exclusive excursion to the imperial city of Rabat (for a higher fee you can join the Oceania Select tour, which takes a smaller group consisting of no more than 16 people). Our tour included a visit to the Royal Palace, lunch at an authentic local restaurant and an afternoon of sightseeing at the Mohamed V Mausoleum and the Kasbah.
A 90-minute drive from the port of Cadiz, the picturesque city of Seville contains many worthy sights, including the old Jewish quarter of Santa Cruz. Compulsory photo opportunities are afforded by the ornate Seville Cathedral and Plaza de España.
Calling in at Lisbon highlighted why cruising can be so special. Marina cruised up the Tagus River into the heart of the city, docking by the historic Alfama district, home to the imposing Lisbon Cathedral and St George’s Castle.
By the halfway point of the voyage, we had experienced the four specialty restaurants that had been the focus of so much hype: the traditional French restaurant, Jacques (Jacques Pépin’s first venue at sea), the Asian fusion Red Ginger, the Polo Grill steakhouse and the elegant Italian, Toscana. Oceania has established Marina as a real foodies’ paradise, setting a new benchmark in cuisine in the premium cruise sector.
Back to the ports of call, and western France’s rugged coastline dotted with historical villages and towns was new cruising territory for me. From Le Verdon we took an impromptu trip to the charming beachside village of Soulac-sur-Mer, which was in the throes of a lively Victorian festival. The walled city of La Rochelle and its fortress proved to be a throwback to a bygone era, while Saint-Malo, with its stunning ramparts, was our gateway to the famous and well-preserved medieval town of Dinan.
Our last port of call in Brittany was Honfleur, which enabled us to take a day-long excursion to one of Europe’s great cities: Paris. The intense onshore itinerary and extensive onboard dining options meant our arrival in Copenhagen two days later came around way too quickly. All that remained to do was explore yet another imperial European city from the comfort of one of the world’s great new ships while contemplating our return home.
This review appeared in Cruise Passenger 50 and was written in 2013.