If you are thinking of dipping your toe into cruising waters for the first time or, even if you’re a seasoned cruiser, look perhaps to Oceania Cruises, a favorite among discerning and mature travelers.
Founded in 2002 by industry alumni from Renaissance and Crystal cruises and launched in 2003, the line is now publicly held. Its core guiding principle remains firmly rooted in kaizen — a Japanese word meaning “incremental change for the better” or, as a business philosophy and method, “continuous improvement since inception.”
Speaking recently with Thierry Vuolo, director of sales and marketing for the Northeast, we learn the line’s points of distinction — cuisine, value and distinctive itineraries. With Jacques Pépin, the French culinary veteran, as the consulting executive chef of Oceania, it is best-known as the “foodies” cruise line for its stellar cuisine. Pépin directs the line’s menus, curate’s namesake restaurants and is an active participant on a few choice cruises, offering lectures and cooking demonstrations for guests.
More foodie facts: In all kitchens, Pépin insists on using only Viron flour imported from France, whose exacting milling standards ensure proper production of genuine baguettes at sea. Same for the Planchot-brand flour and Valrhona chocolate used in the croissants. Vuolo cites the cuisine offerings and Wine Spectator-cultivated wine program for attracting discriminating diners. Distinct, too, with Oceania Cruises is the noted lack of upcharge for enjoying meals in the fine-dining restaurants on board, with only alcoholic beverages additional. Catering to those with special diets, the line has been recognized by PETA for offering exceptional vegan fare, and it received the Best Dining Award in 2016 and ’17 from Cruise Critic, a trusted online cruise review website.
Celebrating its 15th anniversary at sea, Oceania pointedly decided at its onset not to be everything to everyone but rather to cater to the over-55 empty-nesters who enjoy longer voyages — on average 21 days — all the way up to the 180-day, around-the-world cruises. All the exotic ports of the world are represented — only the Galápagos and Antarctica are not on the scheduled itineraries — with the Baltics, Cuba and Asia among the most popular for travelers coming from the metropolitan area.
With no ship-sponsored activities for children, Oceania, nonetheless, has been host to countless families who are responsible for their young charges or bring along the au pair. More recently on select sailings to Alaska, a multigenerational destination, children have supervised activities led by certified camp counselors during the daytime hours. Another shift has occurred with Oceania Cruises now offering shorter itineraries — such as eight days/seven nights — that appeal to the 30- and 40-somethings.
Its smaller ship sizes — four regatta-class ships carry 684 passengers and two larger vessels carry 1,250 — permit the luxury of direct access to many ports where space is tight, from Monte Carlo to Mombasa. Their tonnage allows for lots of time at dock, leaving guests to craft all sorts of excursions and experiences of interest without feeling rushed, sometimes even spending two or three overnight stays in select destinations. Oceania Cruises excels in its unique niche as an upper-premium line, a less congested category of cruising just below luxury.
It boasts many features that set it apart from its competitors, offering an impressive and luxurious guest to staff ratio of 1.7:1. Appreciated for its warm, sophisticated ambiance and casual “country-club” dress policy, Oceania requires no formal wear, as on some luxury lines. Guests repeatedly praise the laid-back vibe, the adult time and the on-board amenities, plus the residential feel of the private guest quarters and public spaces, which create a Ritz-Carlton-like feel on board, according to Vuolo.
The two larger ships, Marina and Riviera, specially commissioned for the line and launched in 2011 and 2012 respectively, offer Ralph Lauren Home-designed owners’ suites, and an exclusive, Dakota Jackson-designed private dining room for up to 10 guests. Each has an on-board, world-class cooking school, the Bon Appetit Cooking Center, with 24 induction cooktops at the ready for guests to prepare and taste a range of cuisines from brunch specialties to gourmet pastas. All are led by CIA-trained chef Katherine Kelly who provides hands-on instruction in person, with technical close-ups on view via a huge flat-screen TV for participants.
Given their larger size, the Riviera and the Marina — refurbished in 2015 and ’16 respectively — are able to feature a distinctive Artist Loft Enrichment Center, a full-fledged, fine art studio where guests receive private instruction from renowned artists in a variety of mediums. In general, the pricing structure enables guests to take advantage of attractive specials, offering cruisers a great value. The OLife Choice promotion, a limited-time inclusive package, provides round-trip airfare and the choice of an excursion, a beverage package or shipboard credits as a bonus.
Oceania has a mindful body and spirit program through its explorations ashore, on-board complimentary classes in yoga and Pilates, Canyon Ranch Spa Cuisine menus and, one of its greatest features, the Canyon Ranch Spas, offering a vast array of services unique to the brand. Another useful perk for guests is complimentary transportation into town, negating the need to purchase an excursion or take a taxi. This is often utilized and appreciated especially in industrial ports, such as those found in the Mediterranean.
Vuolo says that the cruise business is booming these days, even in the competitive hotel-at-sea market. Companies and nonprofits alike work with travel agents to offer sponsored cruises, also newly popular in the industry. Looking ahead to summer and 2019, the line will launch cruises from New York City’s ports to New England, Canada and Bermuda.
The world truly awaits.
For more, visit oceaniacruises.com.