When Oceania Cruises’ Marina was under construction, the shipyard workers joked that they were building a floating kitchen. Not even superliners, twice the size of this elegant vessel, devote so much space to food. Aside from a massive galley and the usual assortment of cuisines found on a cruise ship – Italian, Asian and a steakhouse – there’s a French bistro by master chef Jacques Pépin and a cooking school for passengers.
To break up the long day at sea between Hobart and Melbourne, I sign up for a two-hour “Turkish Delights” class in the Bon Appétit Culinary Center. The room is set up with 24 two-person workstations, straight out of your My Kitchen Rules fantasies. But for me, it’s more a case of Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares.
While everyone else watches the chef’s demonstrations, I am too busy giggling with my friend to pay attention. My pita is the pits, my fritters are bitter and my chicken pilaf’s pastry dome is doomed. I just knew I should have gone with the Moroccan, Greek, Spanish or the Caribbean class. But in the end it’s all good fun and a novel way to connect with the line’s renowned onboard cuisine.
The crew are also very involved in the ship’s food. In the gourmet Italian eatery Toscana, for example, the pesto recipe belongs to a staff member’s grandmother. They are so dedicated to perfecting every Italian detail that an olive oil waiter comes around to each diner to describe and pour your choice of several varieties.
Meanwhile at French restaurant Jacques, all the French delicacies are represented – escargots (snails), frogs’ legs, foie gras, crispy canard a l’orange (orange duck) – as well as a signature entrée of creamy pumpkin soup, ladled out at your tableside from a pumpkin shell. Garlic-marinated veal, herb-crusted chicken and cider-brined pork rack sizzle on the rotisserie. And they don’t do cheese platters here – it’s a cheese trolley, wheeled out at the end of the evening.
Red Ginger specialises in Thai and Vietnamese set menus in a swanky red and black space. Highlights include miso-glazed sea bass, caramelised tiger prawns and a salad of spicy duck, watermelon, cashews, mint and basil.
The steakhouse, Polo Grill, is dressed in dark woods and burgundy leather chairs and serves USDA Prime beef dry-aged for 28 days, as well as wagyu burgers and seafood. Surf and turf combines filet mignon and grilled lobster tail, or you can order the whole steamed Maine lobster. All-American desserts range from key lime pie and apple crumble
to cheesecake and fudge brownies.
To top off these incredible culinary experiences, none of these meals cost any extra. Surcharges are only incurred at two specialty venues: La Reserve, a wine-tasting and food-pairing venue, with a capacity of 24 (US$99 [$109] per person); and Privée, where US$250 ($275) covers a private party of 10. Oceania Cruises’ Culinary Discovery Tours are extended on shore in more than 25 ports worldwide, where tours allow passengers to join a chef shopping at local markets. In Tauranga, New Zealand, a small group of us enjoy a Maori feast overlooking a hot spring, while diners watch how their meal is traditionally prepared using the natural geothermal water.
Back on board, the coffee bar is tucked away and is the perfect spot for a quiet ristretto and biscotti, served by a handsome, chatty barista. If it wasn’t for the view of the pool deck, it would be too easy to forget where I am.