Since 1969, restaurant, hotel, travel & other witty reviews by a handpicked, worldwide team of discerning professionals—and your views, too.

Oceania Cruises Riviera - Cruise Feature

A new style on the waves: after "Sea, Sun and Sex" it is now "Sea, Savor and Savoir"

Twenty first-century cruising with an emphasis on gastronomy and learning on the Riviera

by André Gayot

The christening of Riviera, part of the Oceania Cruises fleet
Cooks on the decks watching the christening of the Riviera in Barcelona with a mega bottle of Champagne dubbed a Salazar while stewards with umbrellas protect from torrid sun the officials attending the ceremony on the pier.

What's the right size of a cruise ship? Big, small? Big offers more possibilities, small more personality and privacy. What experiences are we looking for?

Sharing a small boat with 60 other would-be "explorers" eager to trek the jungle paths, crisscrossing the islets and remote beaches of the Pacific Central America Coast was a rich cruising experience. Sipping a glass of Dom Pérignon on a verandah while admiring the pristine fjords of Norway aboard a luxurious mid-sized vessel in the discreet company of a handful of well-heeled travelers makes you believe that you are navigating your own yacht. Sailing the "Inside Passage" from Seattle to Alaska with 5,000 festive companions on a stalwart ship was like a floating village celebrating the 4th of July.

With its just-launched 66,084-ton Riviera and sister ship Marina, Oceania Cruises has its own response. Oceania designed a product that would be big enough to offer more choices and possibilities but not too many so as to preserve intimacy and personality. 1,250 passengers is for them the right measure. They trust that they can serve this number of guests with care and comfort, granting them the status of members of a maritime "Country Club" set in an "Upper Class" outfit, which translates into a casual but chic environment. It is First Class without the black tie.

After all, we are on a cruise, the place and time to relax. Sure, but can we expect more? The onboard philosophy is to indulge (food and wine), to relax (music, reading, needlework, painting school, Canyon Ranch spa), and to learn (from the riches of the itineraries, with cooking and painting schools).

Lalique table on the Riviera, a ship in the Oceania Cruises' fleet
The pool deck aboard the Oceania Riviera
Lalique table
The pool deck

The décor of architect Dakota Jackson has an elegance served by precious woods and rare Lapis lazuli-like marbles, yet still avoids ostentation. The main staircase, as in Vegas shows, constitutes on all cruise ships the "pièce de resistance," because it's likely the first and last image the passengers will retain from their voyage. This one sparkles with Lalique medallions shining on the bannister above a crystal cactus. The library on the top deck is a gem of interior decoration: cozy, snug and appealing enough to invite you to sit, read, relax and ignore for a while the spectacle of the sun on the waves. Adorning the walls of lounges and lobbies, there's plenty of art — paintings and sculpture — all over, mostly modern, with some of the Cuban vanguard from 1929.

The state rooms follow suit: welcoming, spacious with a large verandah, they are comfortably equipped with modern amenities including Bulgari toiletries and even offer free Internet access (when satellite is available). Ralph Lauren had a hand in decorating the top suites. Service is swift and efficient.

The Owner's Suite bedroom on the Oceania Riviera Veranda stateroom on Oceania Cruises' Riviera
The Owner's Suite bedroom
Veranda stateroom

What makes the originality of the Riviera is the devotion and respect paid to gastronomy. The famed Jacques Pépin supervised the project, which even includes a cooking school. Ten dining venues are open to the guests, of which six are free of charge, while the others with limited seating require reservations. Bread, croissants, brioches and pastry are baked with special flour imported from France, collections of olive oils and baskets of teas await the connoisseurs, local producers provide fresh ingredients like these oysters and langoustines from Brittany we were fortunate to savor en route in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea. The wine cellar rivals that of top restaurants.

The purpose of these efforts is to feature the cuisines of the world while the cruise plies the far away seas to or from one of 25 destination ports. Living handsomely while eating fine food is a pleasant way to discover new horizons and to open our minds as well as our stomachs to other cultures. The choice is vast between American, French, Italian, Asian, Continental, and even fast food.

View photos of the restaurants on Oceania Cruises' Riviera

For burgers, pizzas, simply grilled fish, salads and breakfast, al fresco La Terrace on the top deck by the swimming pool evokes a casual resort beach club. But please, don't show up there in swimsuits.

Under a colossal chandelier is the large, bright, solemn Grand Dining Room with its beige and soft cocoa background sparkling with silver, crystal and fine china. It offers a vast and diverse menu that changes daily, conceived to please everyone including vegetarians. The calorie conscious can opt for the Canyon Ranch selection of diet-friendly dishes. A myriad of waiters and waitresses promptly delivers your choices to the table.

Toscana displays an array of Italian olive oils for dipping focaccia bread as well as aged Balsamic vinegar. Carpaccio of beef topped with Parmigiano cheese, scampi wrapped in prosciutto, risotto, and all the classic Tuscan veal and lamb dishes are served on delicate Versace china plates accompanied by a large selection of Tuscan wines.

For carnivores, The Polo Grill is, of course, a favorite rendezvous. Here triumph the standards of the American steakhouse beginning with clam chowder, oxtail soup, and Caesar salad prepared tableside. The core of the menu that relies on USDA Prime beef aged 28 days escalates from a 7 oz. filet mignon, a 10 oz. New York strip to a King's cut prime rib of 32 oz. Mind you, if you are very hungry, the availability of the latter is limited. Besides the Black Angus beef, there's also Colorado lamb, free range Spanish pork, and Black Foot chicken. All are cooked extremely precisely to order and sided with the usual mashed, truffled, fried, or au gratin potatoes, creamed spinach or haricots verts.

At the eponymous Jacques, decorated in a classical Louis XV manner with art and antiques from his own collection, Jacques Pépin revisits the favorites of the French tradition like pumpkin soup, cuisse de grenouilles (frogs' legs), sole meuniêre (sautéed dover sole), canard à l'orange (duckling stuffed with oranges and/or cooked in an orange sauce), and foie gras in a variety of ways. These highlights of French cuisine are paired with French wines including some boutique vintners.

Canyon Ranch SpaClub on Oceania Cruises' Riviera
Artsy bench on Oceania Cruises' Riviera
Canyon Ranch SpaClub
Artsy bench

Red Ginger is as Zen as it gets. Entering this soothing décor of dark wood with luminous touches and hieratic sculptures we penetrate the deep Orient. The restaurant is a temple of meditation: quiet, relaxing, classy. The diner is prepared to hold communion with his food. A cup of tea to begin chosen from an infinity of varieties. The dishes combine products and recipes from different areas of Asia — Thailand, Japan, China — and reinterpret them. Let's start with a Thai-inspired soup, Tom Kha Gai, refreshing with lemongrass, nourishing with coconut milk and chicken; or a salad of crispy duck, watermelon, cashew nuts, mint and basil in a sweet fish sauce. It is a subtle assemblage of textures and tastes, a delight. The feast goes on with caramelized tiger prawns with onions and scallions and chili garlic sauce, miso-glazed sea bass enhanced by hoba leaf (shiso green leaf inseparable from fish preparations in Japan), and red curry chicken with Thai eggplant.

The finesse of these dishes and of others on the menu reflects a talented appreciation and use of the senses, of their impact on each other and the exactitude of the cooking time. Although tea is a perfect beverage for this delicate food, some commendable white wines can fit the bill, too. Red Ginger, the top restaurant aboard the Riviera is worth a 16/20 rating on the Gayot scale.

Wine tasting is available during the day and a seven-course tasting menu is served in the evening paired with premium wines (for a fee) at La Réserve. If all of those culinary choices are not enough, you can ask the chefs of Privée for your own special cuisine; they will customize a menu for your party up to ten (for a fee).

The accent placed by Oceania Cruises on gastronomy and wines, which are facets of culture, as well as on the quality of life in general, heralds the evolution of the concept of cruising toward a relaxing-in-style experience, but also an educational one with respect to the people encountered when we travel far from home. Who would not support this proposition?

Additional information can be found at www.oceaniacruises.com


Related Content:
Check out Oceania on our Top 10 Cruises for Specialty Dining list
Read more about Oceania in our blog
Find out more about the launch of Oceania's Riviera in our travel news
More cruise features

 

PCT071212
(Updated: 07/23/12 CT)

GAYOT's Top 5 Luxury Trains include exciting excursions on as many continents as possible, from the Australian Outback to Europe.
To help you figure out where to lay your towel, GAYOT has chosen ten of the best Hawaiian beaches from Maui to the Big Island.