Posted on Tuesday, May 29, 2012 by Peter Knego
Join Peter Knego for part two of his latest trek aboard Oceania Cruises brand new, 1,250 passenger, 66,172 gross ton MV RIVIERA, second of its highly-rated “O” Class ships, as the ship crosses the Mediterranean on her inaugural voyage from Barcelona to Venice.
All photos by and copyright Peter Knego 2012 unless otherwise noted.
Saturday, May 12, 2012
No back ache? A sound night’s sleep? Normally impossible for this fitful insomniac but fully realized thanks to the posh bedding in stateroom 9040. I even used the duvet, which is usually the first thing kicked to the floor when the tossing and turning starts.
I grabbed an espresso-to-go at Baristas and headed to the Terrace Cafe for a relatively light brekky of Swiss cheese and smoked salmon. On the port horizon, I could see the faint but jagged southern edge of Sardinia as RIVIERA dieseled towards the Straits of Messina.
At 10:00 AM, I was off to the Bon Appetit Culinary Center for a cooking course with Oceania executive chef Katherine Kelly. This would be my first ever “culinary course” and it was a true learning experience. Katherine Kelly has a reputation for being quite the no-nonsense task master, which guarantees some actual learning — a very good thing when a course chimes in at $69 per person.
A fan of extra virgin olive oil, I had no idea that I was wasting good money by cooking with it. Since the heat destroys all the unique characteristics of the cold-pressed oil, it is just as effective, healthy and tasty to cook with less expensive “regular” olive oil I also had no idea that I was hitherto burning garlic, which really only needs a few seconds of sizzle before adding more ingredients.
I’m not sure I’ll ever be much of a paella chef but it was a lot of fun to learn the basics. And props to Chef Katherine for embracing healthy cuisine in an era of ever increasing “comfort” food.
The morning cooking immersion was on-going. I ditched the apron and went directly to the 700 seat Riviera Lounge on forward Deck 5 for an amusing “French versus Italian” duel between executive chefs Franck Garanger and Alban Gjoka.
It was basically ravioli (Italian) versus buttery mashed potatoes (French) on stage, all spiced up with some very amusing banter between the rival chefs. The two stirred up more than just a few appetites and sent me stampeding into the Grand Dining Room immediately afterwards.
The autumn-toned Grand Dining Room, which seats 538, is located at the stern of the ship on Deck 6. With a soaring ceiling and full length windows on three sides, its main focal point is a piercingly brilliant Murano crystal chandelier.
Oh, those breads! Impossible to resist, especially when accompanied with Oceania’s potent olive oil.
The Eggplant Parmesan appetizer, alone, would be worth booking another cruise with Oceania. Between courses, we chatted with Larry Martin, who sat the adjoining table overlooking the ship’s wake. Mr. Martin operates the exclusive Food and Wine Trails excursions provided by Oceania. I took several of these delightful tours when cruising aboard the INSIGNIA several years ago. Please go to INSIGNIA Venice to Rome Blog and INSIGNIA Rome To Barcelona Blog for full Food and Wine Trails coverage.
Up top, the conditions were blissful.
Early that evening, godmother Cat Cora was kind enough to greet guests in the Horizon Lounge and pose for photos with them.
Dinner awaited in the Polo Grill but I had to pause and savor a moment on deck.
Polo is the 132 seat steakhouse on the starboard side of aft Deck 14, opposite Toscana. For the entrée, I went with the Crisp Roasted Rotisserie “Bladkfoot” Chicken with Alderwood Smashed Salt. What more can I say other than I’m running out of superlatives to describe the food on board RIVIERA!
I try and attend at least one or two of the mainstage production numbers on every cruise ship. Any pre-conceived doubts I had about the Jean-Ann Ryan show “Flower Power” were instantly shattered when it began. With a wonderful cast that had great energy, vocals and moves, it featured a nice selection of 1960s songs that veered from the obvious. The sets, lights and costumes were great, as well.
Sunday, May 13, 2012
I had to try breakfast “en suite” at least once with Oceania. It was prompt and good but I think I’ll stick with the doting staff and those very cool orange chandeliers in the Terrace Cafe.
Since I joined mid-cruise, there was not much access to the other cabins on the RIVIERA, aside from one each of the Dakota Jackson-designed Oceania and Vista Suites. The Oceania Suites measure 1030 square feet and have a large living and dining area, media room and separate bedroom. Additionally, the veranda features a hot tub and a flat-screen TV.
Vista Suites range in size from 1,200 to 1,500 square feet and offer the same features as Oceania Suites but with floor-to-ceiling windows with a view over the ship’s bow.
Speaking of views over the bow, tea is served every afternoon in the 335-seat Horizons, a wonderful observation lounge perched precipitously on Deck 15. On MARINA, the same space features some gorgeous ship models but I think I prefer the open vistas of the RIVIERA’s Horizons.
It is usually easy for me to bypass the sweets on most ships, but not on Oceania. I almost escaped with my blood sugar intact until I saw the baklava.
And the band played on in fine form, too.
Before I dragged myself off to the gym, I sat out on the balcony, watching the Adriatic roll by. Venice was getting far too close…
Finally, I would get to try Red Ginger, the splendid Asian Fusion restaurant on port Deck 5. I love its crimson and amber tones, offset by black lacquer and pearly white. The honeycomb glass on the inner bulkhead is also pretty spectacular.
Oceania just does not do things half-way. Each of the dining venues has its own specially commissioned flatware. Not that anyone pays much attention once the food arrives.
A wonderful dinner with a Johannesburg-based journalist and her mother ensued. I cannot imagine a better setting, food and service anywhere.
End of Relishing The RIVIERA, Part Two. More to come….
Special thanks: Martin Cox, Gary Gerbino, Mary Stuart-Miller