Bob Binder is everything you could wish for in a ship’s guide: knowledgeable, enthusiastic, and a complete advocate.
Bob is Vice Chairman and President of Oceania Cruises. But that’s not why his stories are so compelling.
It’s because Bob spent months watching the Oceania Marina being built. He helped choose the furnishings, from Lalique staircases to Versace plates. His favourite artists decorate most of the walls of the ship’s corridors, bars and 10 fine dining areas.
Indeed, Bob is keen to show one of his most prized acquisitions: A Damien Hirst now worth triple what he paid for it.
But none of this equals the real Bob Binder story.
He and his partner Frank Del Rio, formed Oceania in 2002 to bid for two ships held in bankruptcy by the French government.
They got one and virtually bankrolled its refurbishment using their American Express Cards and money from an investor.
They dreamed of creating a cruise line where food and art came together. Today, the Marina is arguably the best example of that dream.
We are moored up at White Bay, Sydney. Some 750 Australians are aboard the ship, which is next bound for Melbourne. Australians have taken to Oceania, and are first in the world as their best customers.
Bob is showing us his art collection – none of which is for sale. It is there for guests to enjoy.
We have already seen the 24-station cooking school, where guests go outside the ship to buy produce, then cook it themselves under the watchful eye of the chef/trainers. In Sydney, they go to the fish markets and return to make seafood dishes.
The school is run in conjunction with Bon Appetit magazine, and has a program of regional dishes to teach.
Berlitz describes the Marina as a “foodie ship” – and it isn’t hard to see why.
There are ten dining destinations and passengers can eat wherever they want. Only the specialist wine venue La Reserve charges extra – $95 for wine.
We are taken to Red Ginger, a contemporary Asian restaurant. The sea bass is a signature dish, glazed with a butter sauce. It’s good, but the lobster Pad Thai has more bite and is something special. So is the spicy duck starter.
The Marina is a great ship – wide corridors, opulent lounges and public areas and, of course, terrific food.
The return rate is over 50 per cent, and many passengers book for a six-month trip.
The Insignia will be going round the world from January 10 next year, calling in at Australia, New Zealand and the South Pacific – 44 countries, three oceans, 10 seas, 45 islands and 89 ports.