In the six years since that visit, the only noticeable changes to the ship are in the Martini’s Bar area that links the upper reception area on Deck 6 with the Grand Dining Room. The layout remains as it always has been but now with a chic, gray color scheme and the addition of some rich marble in the passageway.
There has also been an influx of geometrically patterned carpeting in various lobbies that looks like an outtake from a Saul Bass credit sequence. It doesn’t quite go with the posh stylings of the rest of the ship and, according to a reliable inside source, may be replaced at some point in the near future.
After a flight from San Diego and a comfy overnight at the trendy Epic Hotel in downtown Miami, it was bliss to be finally joining the MARINA for an actual cruise experience, a seven night voyage to the Western Caribbean visiting Belize, Roatan and Yucatan (Mexico).
Boarding was well-organized and expedient, starting at 11:00 AM and continuing throughout the afternoon. Guests enter the MARINA at the top (Deck 6) level of the spectacular reception area, which features a grand staircase festooned in Lalique crystal medallions.
Although my stateroom, Concierge Veranda 10116 on aft/port Deck 10, was not technically ready, I headed there to drop off my computer bag and snap a few photos before my luggage intervened. The 282-square-foot space had twin beds, a sitting area and balcony.
The bathroom was festooned in marble and featured a tub with shower and a separate shower with both rainforest and pulse heads, as well. And there was plenty of storage space in the cabinets surrounding the sink area.
The layout and overall look of this stateroom is basically identical to a Standard Veranda but there are additional perks like Concierge Lounge access, shoe shining and a handful of complimentary pressings. As it was, with the busy schedule and long port stays, we barely even had a chance to use the handsome teak-lined balcony.
There was also a pair of soft cashmere lap blankets and upgraded Bvlgari amenities.
Having just enjoyed a full breakfast at the hotel, I deferred my visit to the buffet and reacquainted myself with the still mostly empty ship. Between influxes of guests, I managed to capture the reception stairs in their double helix glory.
And up on midships Deck 12, one of the nicest pool areas at sea, a sheltered, teak-lined deck with comfy loungers and a pair of whirlpool spas flanking the obtusely shaped crucifix pool basin.
I also love the MARINA’s Library on aft Deck 14, where a narrow passage connects…
…several private inboard nooks with over 2,000 volumes that can be borrowed free of charge. Invariably, the Library was occupied throughout the week, both in port and at sea.
Another nice spot, the 500-seat Horizons observation lounge, is situated way up on Deck 15, offering nice views over the bow and off to either side of the ship.
For the rest of the afternoon, as fellow guests boarded, I managed to squeeze in a workout in the gym, a haircut in the salon, lunch in the Terrace Grill buffet style eatery on aft Deck 12 and unpack before the mandatory boat drill at 5:15 PM.
Shortly after 6:00 PM with the twinkling Miami skyline as her backdrop, the MARINA edged out of her berth, spun around and headed out into the Atlantic.
Our first dinner would be in the 132-seat Polo Grill steakhouse on aft/starboard Deck 14. MARINA has no less than seven included-in-the-fare eateries, however, all but the Grand Dining Room and Terrace Grill require advance reservations. Guests will usually have the chance to dine once in each venue during the course of a week, although priority, as one might expect, is given to those in the higher category suites.
In all of the ship’s dining venues, the service, from the first slice of delectable bread to the last morsel of dessert, is exemplary and each course is beautifully presented and delicious.
Although it is a steakhouse, the Polo Grill has a wide assortment of choices, including some excellent starters like the delicious grilled beet and ricotta starter and some of the best crab cakes at sea. Oceania is deservedly renowned for the quality of its cuisine.
We managed to get to the 690-seat Marina Lounge showroom on forward Deck 5 in time to catch most of the show, a production called “Great American Song Factory” that featured hit songs from the late 50s and early 60s. A nice touch are the unfolding drink trays at each seat and the attentive bar service.
The cast was impressive with four singers and no less than eight skilled dancers that were just as friendly as they were talented.
And so ended our first night on the MARINA as the ship hugged the southeastern Florida coastline on her calm and steady way to Key West.
Sunday, February 19, 2017
We parted the curtains on a typically balmy winter day in Key West, whose turquoise waters were criss crossed with sailing craft of all shapes and size.
Although I’m not typically a huge breakfast person, I was delighted to find that the Waves Grill hosts a morning juice bar, which we would make a habit of throughout the week. The cucumber zest and the Rise and Shine (carrot, beet and ginger), were as nutritious as they were tasty.
Up one level on Deck 14, Baristas offers genuine Illy espressos (regular and decaf) in various incarnations (cappuccino, macchiato, latte — warm or iced, etc.).
The staff here is extraordinary, both with their people skills and delivering the best included-in-the-fare specialty coffees at sea. Additionally, for those wishing to “fortify” their coffees with a selection of liqueurs, there is a menu with reasonably priced options. Baristas also provides complimentary baked sweets, rolls, croissants and sandwiches throughout the day.
Being part of a press group that was highly focused on Oceania’s culinary offerings allowed us a comprehensive tour of the ship’s galleys with a trio of the MARINA’s chefs.
Oceania has devoted a much larger percentage of the ship to its galley and stores areas than even the shipyard felt necessary. The line also budgets significantly more on its stores than the competition and it shows.
The breads and baked goods, alone, put Oceania ahead of its upper premium and deluxe market competitors.
We enjoyed lunch in the gorgeous, 538-seat Grand Dining Room, which is laid out on aft Deck 6 in a series of descending terraces under an elliptical canopy of crystal chandeliers.
This main dining venue is open seating and features a varied menu with healthy and anytime selections.
The salmon main course was perfection on a plate.
After lunch, we headed ashore, past the distinctive red Custom’s House to meet a good friend, Daniel Lotten, a fellow cruise and liner enthusiast who has furnished his home with fittings from some of his favorite ships.
Dan makes no secret of his love for Flagship Cruises SEA VENTURE, a 20,000 Norwegian cruise ship that went on to become Princess Cruises PACIFIC PRINCESS of “The Love Boat” fame.
Although he wasn’t able to get any fittings from that ship, which met its end at a Turkish scrapyard in 2013/4, he did get quite a few things from the identical ISLAND VENTURE (later ISLAND PRINCESS), which also was featured on the show and also recently scrapped, albeit in India versus Turkey. Dan restored a Swedish-made chair from that ship’s Carousel Lounge, the forward-situated showroom.
The double deck lobby of the ISLAND VENTURE featured a massive sculpture entitled “Wind and Light in Movement” by the renowned Norwegian artist Frans Widerberg. Dan is now the proud owner of one of its vividly colored glass and resin components.
He also has a section of aluminum handrail and a “You Are Here” sign from the ship’s final incarnation as Voyages Of Discovery’s MV DISCOVERY.
For more information on artwork, furniture and artifacts rescued from recently scrapped cruise ships, please click here.
We made it back to the now backlit ship well before the 4:30 PM “all aboard”.
As the MARINA pulled away, Key West beamed in the golden afternoon light.
We spied our friend Dan on the jetty as he captured us outbound.
After a refreshing workout, we were off to dinner in Toscana, the MARINA’s beautiful, 138-seat Italian specialty restaurant on aft/port Deck 12.
The bread, alone, is enough to make Toscana one of the best restaurants at sea.
In addition to Reggiano Parmesan chunks and roasted garlic, the bread comes with a full olive oil menu. And if that is not quite enough, there is a menu of balsamic vinegars, as well.
The risotto and asparagus entrée and the entire meal, for that matter, was utter perfection. We did our best to return later in the week but Toscana was fully booked.
By the time we got to the Marina Lounge for the show, singer Jamie Michael Stewart was well into his “Sinatra and Friends” set. And what a fantastic, wide-ranging act it was, from Manilow and “Ole Blue Eyes” to (unexpectedly) Eric Burdon and the Animals. The onetime Brit session singer and opening act (for artists like the Rolling Stones and Elton John) even sang “Love Grows (Where My Rosemary Goes)”, which was written for Stewart’s band shortly before he signed a contract to sing with P&O Lines. He shared that his tracks on “Love Grows” were later lip-synched by the band Edison Lighthouse under whose moniker the song became an international smash. In 1972, Stewart joined P&O’s brand new SPIRIT OF LONDON for the ship’s delivery voyage from Italy to Los Angeles.
I was able to interview Mr. Stewart later in the week to learn, among many things, more about his gig on the SPIRIT OF LONDON, which transitioned after a couple short years into the SUN PRINCESS when P&O bought Princess Cruises. While he was aboard, the cast and crew of the hit series “Colombo” filmed an episode, which led to another Hollywood shoot, this time, the pilot for “The Love Boat”. He has fond memories of that early “The Love Boat” era, which led to him working in Las Vegas with stars like Frank Sinatra, Dionne Warwick, Liberace and Sammy Davis, Jr. over the next decade.
In the interim, Stewart has performed on over 60 ships and his favorites, not surprisingly, are those of Oceania and sister company Regent.
Having documented over 400 passenger ships and taken more than 200 cruises, MaritimeMatters’ co-editor Peter Knego is a leading freelance cruise writer, a respected ocean liner historian and frequent maritime lecturer both on land and at sea. With his work regularly featured in cruise industry trades and consumer publications. Knego also runs the www.midshipcentury.com website which offers MidCentury cruise ship furniture, artwork and fittings rescued from the shipbreaking yards of Alang, India. He has produced several videos on the subject, including his latest, The Sands Of Alang and the best-selling On The Road To Alang."