Cruise Passenger’s Editor-in-chief steps onboard the new Oceania Vista to experience all things food.
Not many outside the cruise industry have heard of Frank Del Rio. But tens of thousands have experienced his cruise ship creations. The CEO of Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings, which runs 30 vessels and employs 37,000 crew, is an avid art collector, a gourmand with a fastidious eye for design.
He’s also the Michelangelo of cruise ship design, whose stunning chandeliers and extravagant artworks have made his vessels legendary.
Norwegian Cruise Lines, Regent Seven Seas and now Oceania Cruises have launched ships during his two decades at the helm of the world’s third-largest cruise brand. They have had a huge impact on guest experiences.
What is Oceania Cruises?
Oceania is what’s called “upper premium” – better facilities than premium lines such as Princess and Holland America. But not so swanky and all-inclusive as luxury lines such as Silversea, Scenic, Seaborn and another of Frank’s creations: Regent Seven Seas.
But Vista is certainly a step change for Oceania. In fact, it’s very swanky. So much so that many found it difficult to explain.
Global sales head Nikki Upshaw did the best job: “It’s upper upper premium! Regent is at the upper end of luxury. Now we’re at the upper end of the upper premium.”
And it’s even more “upper” with the introduction of “Simply More”. It’s the latest marketing which means you get free prepaid gratuities, shore excursions, champagne and wine, gourmet dining and Wi-Fi.
Oceania Vista is a new class of ship. We suspect there will be more of them.
She carries 1200 passengers with a crew of more than 700 – giving guests a 1:2 staff-guest ratio. It represents what Jason Worth, Vice President of Sales and General Manager APAC, described as the “sweet spot” for the line.
The size is perfect for the Med, where larger vessels are finding resistance to the impact that thousands of guests have on local communities. And her extravagance will certainly have competitors from premium to ultra-luxe lines raising their eyebrows.
What we loved
We loved the library – three rooms with beautiful warm woodwork, large-format books and great relaxing chairs conveniently next to the Baristas coffee bar and bakery.
We adored the Aquamar Spa’s new deck which includes a pool, two jacuzzis and warmed loungers so you can really enjoy a tranquil setting after a workout in the large gym or a massage in one of 12 treatment rooms.
Del Rio’s signature chandeliers, lavish marble and rich woods are everywhere on Vista. The art is modern and influenced by artist-in-residence Willard Andre Allen, who runs an Artist Loft where you can learn to paint or decorate plates.
Of course, Vista sports a stunning atrium with a chandelier, extending over two floors. It’s become a Del Rio signature.
What’s new to Oceania
Retail has been extended and now features leading brands in jewellery and watches.
The ship feels airy and spacious. Even the main swimming pool is a masterpiece: a large paddle pool surrounds the main swimming area. And there is a brilliant wood effect around the area that gives it a Nordic feel.
But make no mistake: on this ship, the food is the star. So unbuckle your belt. And be assured that the fitness centre doesn’t have a weighing machine (it really doesn’t!).
Oceania already boasts the “finest cuisine at sea”. Vista expands that legacy. She has a chef for every 10 guests, 11 culinary venues, three of which are brand new – Ember, featuring American cuisine; Aquamar Kitchen, which concentrates on fitness food, and The Bakery at Barista, definitely not fitness food with comforting freshly baked French and Italian pastries.
The Culinary Centre is expanded to 24 cooking stations with a separate studio that Chef Kathryn Kelly, the line’s executive director of culinary enrichment, describes as like something out of the hit streaming series Succession.
Vista claims the most spacious standard staterooms at sea, which have a residential feel – a theme that runs the length and breadth of this ship.
Ralph Lauren would be right at home here. In fact, he is at home here. His Ralph Lauren Home brand furniture fills the biggest suites.
The Penthouse, Oceania, Vista and Owner’s Suites are massive – with bathrooms, walk-in wardrobes and enormous terraces, as well as butlers, in-suite dining, modern artworks and flowers.
There is definitely an air of Succession about the three owner’s suites. At 222 square metres with double balconies, walk-in wardrobes, private dining and 24-hour butler service. They would be perfect for Logan Roy and his family.
At 24 square metres, our Concierge Level suite on level nine may be a minnow in comparison – but it still managed to comfortably accommodate our oversized bags and enough clothes for the glittering ship christening. It also offered complimentary laundry service, a private Concierge Lounge, unlimited access to the Aquamar Spa Terrace, and a shoe-shine service.
Another great Oceania Vista innovation: she carries six Concierge Level veranda staterooms dedicated to solo travellers. They are already booked for the season and the line is now considering more facilities for singles.
But back to food!
A new partnership with Basque butcher Imanol Jaca supplies “more flavourful” mature beef, Oceania’s VP Food & Beverage Bernhard Klotz tells us. And there are 80 new wines to try.
Wine pairing dinners or tastings at venues range from $68 (plus 20 per cent gratuities) for a Moët and Chandon tasting to $443 (plus 20% gratuities) for a Dom Perignon experience in the fabulous private dining room.
There are new craft cocktails at Founders Bar, a fresh concept beside the small Casino, and shows in a new theatre, The Vista Lounge, from high-energy song-and-dance to Australian guitarist Vincenzo.
There is a putting green, pickleball and driving range to work up an appetite.
And for those keen to share, social-media classes feature at the new Link Centre. You can learn how to post on Instagram and take great videos with your phone in classes or in your cabin with an iPad.
There are plenty of shore excursions. Our favourite: a “Meet the locals” tour in Malta that included the last shipwright building traditional craft, and a band club (yes, bands are a thing: they hold competitions and offer youngsters free music lessons) where one local gave us a Maltese view of American politics (now we know why Maltese are cross!).
And if you love big-brand shopping (at some big-brand prices!) the visit to Capri was also a big hit.
So how much does all this cost?
Oceania includes some shore excursions and many luxuries at $400 per night. But beverages are at mealtimes only. A cruise from Barcelona to London in August, for instance, costs $9600 or $685 a night, with “O Life Choices” giving guests $800 onboard spending, a drinks package and eight shore excursions. “O Life Choices” is soon to be replaced with another high-value package.
For comparison, Regent Seven Seas is truly all-inclusive, but a cruise from Athens to Barcelona aboard Splendor would cost $1287 per night or $18,030 in total.
New Oceania president Frank A Del Rio, Frank’s son, told Cruise & Travel that he believes upper premium will be a big post-Covid winner as guests trade up from big-ship premium lines for smaller ships with more luxury.
He is backing his hunches. Vista already has a sister – Oceania Allura will debut in 2025.
All in all, The Allura class will undoubtedly heat up the competition in the battle for this important segment of the cruising market.
And, as Worth wryly concluded in a gentle dig at rivals Viking, Oceania has a casino and welcomes kids.
After her summer season in the Mediterranean, Vista will sail to Canada and New England before heading south for a series of winter itineraries exploring the Caribbean, Mexico and Central America.
Who’s it for: Sophisticated foodies and couples looking to move on from premium cruise lines and big ships, for a smaller, more luxurious experience. It’s great value.
What we liked: Food glorious food! Beautiful design and amazing public areas which feature elegant lighting and chandeliers. The crew on this first voyage were sensational – friendly, helpful and utterly glad to see us.
What we didn’t: Some shows felt dated. And there is so much new on this ship, an introduction would be helpful. We only learned that you need to “wave” open toilet doors in public areas on the third day.
We road test Oceania Vista’s food
This new addition to Oceania Cruises promises “quick dining”. We tried the steak (delicious and enormous), and the signature cheeseburger (amazingly meaty). It also serves braised short ribs on polenta, grilled swordfish with asparagus, crab cakes with spicy aioli, and a cobb salad with smoked chicken.
Australia, you are going to love this fresh take on dining and the pursuit of wellness. Breakfast on hearty homemade granolas, smoothies and the most amazing avocado toast (yes, our famous millennial dish!). Lunch includes organic power bowls, slow-roasted organic salmon with quinoa tabouleh and lemon tahini and yellowfin tacos with white cabbage slaw.
The Grand Dining Room
It is the grand dame of Oceania Cruises’ culinary world. Old fashion service and Jacques Pépin classics. We had beef Wellington (very regal), lobster tail (excellent!) and the best Key lime pie we’ve tasted in a long time.
Nicely executed steak house – white linen tablecloths and black jacketed servers set the tone. We had tuna tartare (lovely and fresh) and steak tartare (also good) – but the star was the French onion soup. We loved that the wait staff made Caesar salad at the table.
Vista’s star attraction. Brilliant Tuscan food served on Versace china and flawless service. There was an olive oil sommelier, our Dover sole was perfectly deboned at the table and the great silver-salver reveal accompanied the lobster. A truly Italian setting with hand- blown Venetian glass and Carrara marble. Many recipes originated with the mothers and grandmothers of the line’s Italian culinary staff.
A beautiful, pan-Asian space serving dishes from Thailand, Korea, Japan and Malaysia. Lovely miso-glazed fish was followed by Oceania’s only culinary misstep – on the occasion we visited, the food had been dumbed down. The beef rendang was more stir-fry than stew, and the tom kha gai soup was flat. The problem, we were told: Americans are not too keen on spice. We raised it with the Indonesian chef, and he assured us that, after our discussion, guests would be offered a choice of spicy options. We’ve eaten in other Oceania Red Ginger restaurants, and they are generally excellent.
Informal dining area with a lovely outside terrace at the back of the ship. We had made-to-order eggs and waffles at breakfast – but the revelation was a Chinese dish: the chicken congee was a sensation! Lunch gives way to roasts and rotisserie meats, a pizzeria and delicious cheeses.
A casual venue with all-American favourites such as gourmet burgers, seafood and sandwiches to order in the open galley.
A marquee venue for bespoke, intimate culinary celebrations for a maximum of 10 privileged guests.
Serves up delicious Illy espressos and lattes prepared by master baristas, as well as croissants and sandwiches. The new Bakery serves fresh-baked French and Italian pastries and lovely fluffy French quiche.
After all that eating, you’ll be glad that Vista features a large fitness centre!