Bob Binder knows exactly why Australia is Oceania Cruises’ most important market outside America.
It explains why, when the small-ship line announced it was spending $1.8 billion on two new ships this week, the president was in a Sydney hotel enthusiastically discussing one of his favourite subjects – food.
Mr Binder likes Australia a lot. Particularly Sydney.
“Sydney is a foodie destination- it’s why Australians feel so comfortable aboard our ships,” he told Cruise Passenger. “Even when I turn on the TV here, there’s a food show – either exploring a destination through the local cuisine or how to recreate it.”
The two new Allura-class, 1,200-passenger ships announced on Wednesday will maintain the line’s proud boast: “Best cuisine at sea”.
They come on top of a fleet-wide OceaniaNEXT $100 million upgrade. Wide corridors, works of art, residential-feel furnishings, some by Ralph Lauren.
But for Mr Binder – an infectious enthusiast who helped found this astonishingly popular line 17 years ago – it’s all about the food. And he’s convinced Australians agree.
A study of who uses Oceania Cruises’ famous hands-on kitchens, where guests learn new and exciting dishes, shows Australians are at the top of the class.
Indeed, Australians were instrumental in upgrading the line’s culinary classes. Originally, guests were simply given the pre-prepared ingredients. Now, they are much more advanced – guests shop, prepare and learn French techniques and even knife skills.
“At first we thought guests would be recreational chefs. But now they want really serious skills,” explains Mr Binder.
And Oceania is happy to oblige.
Mr Binder revealed he is looking to add Sydney food experiences to his lineup.
“We’re looking to bring guests to the Sydney Fish Market for the reverse auctions early in the morning. They will be there for the purchase of the items, then they will take some seafood they might not be familiar with – you have leather jackets, barramundi and larger octopus – on board and learn Australian seafood cooking.”
Mr Binder, a former Philadelphia restaurant owner, wants Oceania’s food to rival the best in the world. But that’s not as easy as it sounds. You need big galleys, a large well-trained staff and excellent ingredients.
He tells the story of how the French baguettes were good – but not perfect. Oceania hired consultants who suggested a special flour which was bought and sent to all the ships.
“It made it better. But it wasn’t perfect.”
Next came special ovens – only for baguettes. They were fitted on each ship, much to the concern of the line’s management team, concerned about the costs and size of the huge ovens.
“There was a big leap in quality. But some days they were better than others,” said Mr Binder.
“Then we realised we go to 420 destinations and the one thing that is always different is humidity. So now we have these tables and we take humidity readings and make adjustments.
“The baguettes are good wherever we are. We care a lot about that, you know.”
He recalled the worst mistake: someone bought ready-pitted canned olives for the salad.
Executive Culinary Director Jacques Pépin was on board.
“My goodness, that was quite a disturbance,” says Mr Binder. “We would never have canned olives on an Oceania ship just like we would never have artificial flowers. My goodness!”
Oceania Cruises ships have many dining venues: Toscana‘s authentic Italian dishes, Polo Grill‘s steakhouse fare, Red Ginger‘s Asian flavors and the best of French country cuisine at Jacques. There is continental cuisine, Canyon Ranch Spa Cuisine and gourmet vegan dishes in The Grand Dining Room, and made-to-order American favorites in Terrace Café.
The line also announced 80 land tour options this week in Australia, Asia, Africa, Egypt and the Holy Land, Europe, South America, Alaska, and Canada.
The Oceania Insignia, recently refurbished, will visit Sydney in March.