Your world. Your way.
The mantra of Cruises in Oceania was a challenge when my daughter and I sailed aboard the Marina for 10 days of luxury in the Caribbean.
Celebrating our milestone birthdays in 2022 – 60 for her and 80 for me – was daunting for both of us as Lauren is disabled. Life-defining pain in the 40 years since an accident, mobility and comfort are daily challenges, and she rarely leaves her home in Florida.
We found joy in the time spent together and shared experiences that we will never forget. Now turns out to be a remarkable time for cruising, especially on board Oceania ships, with their talented, caring and empathetic staff.
Our February voyage began with ship-arranged appointments for COVID-19 testing in the Port of Miami – required for passengers and crew with proof of vaccination. Most Caribbean islands also required vaccinations, so I took a photo of my map and loaded it into my phone to show it quickly.
A buzz of excitement energized the crowd waiting to board – some were already talking about where they were going to eat. Only 300 of Marina’s 1,250 potential passengers were booked on this trip, and many had evidently sailed on it before. Reduced capacity lends itself to effective social distancing, a low staff-to-guest ratio and a low need for reservations at more intimate restaurants, such as Red Ginger.
With its cuisine reputed to be among the best at sea, catering is a big draw for Oceania, and there are no additional charges for the marina’s four specialty restaurants.
After our online research of menus, we were expecting the most anticipated dinner at Jacques, the French restaurant named after Jacques PépinExecutive Culinary Director of Oceania since 2003.
Our spacious Penthouse Suite on Deck 11, reserved for its comfort and large veranda, was a delight. We found a motorized chair in our cabin, rented to help Lauren get around the ship.
After introducing himself as our butler, Akshay Divekar helped us get oriented.
“Turn left for food and right for drinks,” he told us.
Our suite, conveniently located between two rows of elevators, made everything on board a quick trip up or down. Baristas, a gourmet cafe overlooking the pool and next to the library on deck 14, would quickly become a favorite destination.
Taking the motorized chair for a test drive, we went to lunch in the Coffee on the terrace.
Cruise line buffets have changed in the time of COVID, and it’s a change that I hope will continue. Prepared meals, along with selections such as sliced cheeses and olives, are sequestered behind thick sheets of plastic. You point at what you want and you can add it to your board. Another server brings the filled tray to your table. No more piling food and fumbling for a second helping. More food touched by others. It’s a great system that seems to reduce food waste while being more hygienic.
Joining other journalists on board for dinner at Jacques, we were very impressed.
The sea bass fillet baked in puff pastry, prepared for two to share, attracted diners from other tables when it was rolled up next to the table. We almost applauded when the pastry, decorated with fins and a tail, was opened and the bass skeleton was deftly removed in one piece. The delicious fish inside was halved, plated and dressed in a beurre blanc sauce.
Seeing the oven-baked Maine lobster with cream of mushroom sauce and the Provençal-style roasted loin of lamb, we both vowed to return to Jacques for another dinner.
Two days at sea gave us plenty of time to familiarize ourselves with the ship.
Other specialty restaurants included Tuscany for Italian, Polo Grill for steak and red ginger for Asian fusion. The Spicy Duck and Watermelon Salad at Red Ginger got top votes from us, and the Surf and Turf sandwich – lobster and filet mignon – was ordered twice for lunch at the poolside Waves Bar.
The Grand Dining Room, which we visited for all three meals, was an elegant, lustrous space with its own fine menu which included a low-calorie spa menu, selections from Jacques, as well as a daily à la carte menu. four courses in the World Cuisine category. . One evening it was an Indian meal, which Lauren loved.
Personalized service quickly came to characterize this cruise as our names were remembered and staff members seemed to notice a need or preference even before we did. This is one of the most enjoyable things about small ship cruising.
One evening at the Red Ginger, I forgot my reading glasses and was squinting at the menu closer to the light. Our server was soon at my side with a nice red case containing a dozen reading glasses of different dosages. The menu became clear.
Details of the ship’s shore excursions allowed us to choose those that would suit Lauren’s disability, but some days were more difficult for her than others.
We saw verdant St. Kitts — which has more monkeys than people — on a delightful three-hour train ride around its circumference. When sugarcane production ended in 2005, the train carrying the island’s cane for processing was converted for tourism.
In Antigua, we were taken by bus to Shirley Heights to see English Harbor from above, seeing for ourselves why the protected harbor made it an ideal headquarters for the British Navy in the 17th and 18th centuries.
I joined a group for snorkeling in St. Lucia and attended wine dinners on my own, as Lauren’s painkillers keep her from drinking. But massages, cooking classes and evening shows have become part of our routine.
To save time most mornings we ordered room service breakfasts, dressing as we ate.
One evening, while I was attending a champagne dinner, Lauren ordered room service. Noting that she hadn’t included dessert in her order, Akshay brought her a fruit dessert, remembering her preference for fresh fruit from our morning orders.
Until we asked for a photo, we never saw him without his mask, but his eyes and face revealed his kindness and consideration. Staff are always masked on board and, except when eating, passengers wear masks in enclosed spaces.
To verify OceaniaCruises.com for directions and updated information.
Oceania OLife Choice helps make cruising more affordable with two-for-one fares, free airfare and transfers and, for a limited time, free shore excursions, a free beverage package and free onboard credits.
The cruise line’s seven ships carry between 600 and 1,250 passengers, though at the time of this writing pandemic protocols still require less than that. The relationship between staff and guests is almost one to one.
A similar itinerary aboard the Marina in the Caribbean in December starts at $2,299 per person.
We rented our motorized scooter from scootaround.com/en.
Extraordinary food is no accident, as you will read about in my interview with the Executive Chef in a future story.
— Janet Podolak