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A Sea of Luxury


Clear skies melt into the deep-blue waters of the Adriatic Sea as I board Oceania Cruises’ Marina in Trieste, Italy, for the cruise line’s seven-night Venetian Vignettes sailing. The cruise will take us to Split and Dubrovnik, Croatia; the island of Corfu in Greece; and Sicily and Sorrento, Italy, before we disembark in Rome.
 Warm and inviting residential furnishings and designer touches make your spacious suite feel more liWarm and inviting residential furnishings and designer touches make your spacious suite feel more like your home away from home. Photo courtesy of Oceania
Ashok, my butler (butler service is an amenity when sailing in Suite category and above) for the week, helps me get settled. He advises, “Fun in the front; food in the back,” a reminder that many of the cruise activities can be found in the front of the ship, while the restaurants are in the back.
It’s been 2 years, 10 months and some-odd days since I’ve last been on a cruise, and I am as excited as a child on her birthday. The allure of cruising for me is unpacking once, sleeping in the same comfy bed every night, and maximizing my vacation time by visiting multiple cities and even multiple countries in one trip.
The Marinas Lalique Grand Staircase is a prelude to the elegance found throughout the shipThe Marina’s Lalique Grand Staircase is a prelude to the elegance found throughout the ship.Photo courtesy of Oceania
The Marina’s passenger capacity is 1,238 with a crew of 776 to tend to them. That means no long lines and ample seating in dining and entertainment venues. And, as I discovered, the Marina has plenty of entertainment options, including a piano bar, library, spa, golf putting range, pool with multiple hot tubs, and theater that hosts nightly performances.
For me, a spa treatment is the ultimate in luxury, and my Swedish massage and time spent in the thalassotherapy pool were oh-so relaxing. There’s even an Artist Loft on the Marina where guests can take a workshop presented by the onboard artist-in-residence.
Every stateroom includes free Wi-Fi. Because I was in a Penthouse Suite, I also had free laundry service, which I took advantage of midway through the trip.
And my suite itself? Ahh, luxurious. My closet alone was bigger than my bathroom at home, and the suite’s large marble bathroom had both a tub and a shower—a feature I’d never seen on a cruise ship. I loved the décor in my suite: dark cherry woods mixed with light shades of blue and pink in the upholstered furnishings and linens. In addition to a large sliding glass door leading to my balcony (which I used extensively), I also had a window.
the ornate Rectors Palace in Dubrovnik now houses a history museumThe ornate rector’s palace in dubrovnik now houses a history museum. Photo by Roman Babakin/

The port excursions felt just as selective and upscale—and so varied. From the architecture-themed Beyond Blueprints tours to the immersive Go Local tours to the Wellness Discovery tours that emphasize healthy living and beyond, the choices seemed endless.

In Croatia, I joined one of the Oceania Select tours to explore the town. We began with a short ride to Cavtat, a town on the Adriatic Coast just southeast of Dubrovnik. Here, we boarded a motorboat to arrive in Dubrovnik with a dramatic view from the harbor of the creamy-white sandstone buildings with orange clay roofs that make up its Old Town.
I was impressed by our local guide’s knowledge of history, particularly when we visited the Rector’s Palace, a Gothic mansion with Renaissance and Baroque elements that now houses the Cultural History Museum with its exhibit on the breakup of the former Yugoslavia. We walked the walled Old Town from end to end and then were at leisure to explore on our own. I spent my time lunching alfresco and browsing boutiques, many of which sold the red coral jewelry for which Croatia is known. In Dubrovnik, as in many ports, free Oceania shuttles run regularly back to the ship until an hour before departure.

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Days later in Corfu, Greece, I participated in a Culinary Discovery tour. As part of the tour, guests shop in port with a guide and the ship’s culinary director for local ingredients to use in a cooking class back on board. I explored local delicacies in the markets and chatted with merchants as I began to assemble the ingredients for Corfu pastitsio, Rhodes yogurt and tzatziki (made from our guide’s own family recipe).
When we stopped in Sicily, I joined the Food and Wine Tour that had us exploring the resort town of Taormina—once part of the European Grand Tour—before moving on to a small vineyard at the base of Mount Vesuvius where we enjoyed a multicourse lunch with wine pairings. The soil near the dormant volcano gives a distinctive taste to wines made in the region.
Specialty restaurants dishing up culinary masterpieces are a hallmark of dining aboard the MarinaSpecialty restaurants dishing up culinary masterpieces are a hallmark of dining aboard the Marina. Photo courtesy of Oceania

The food- and wine-themed shore excursions hint at what I discovered on board: that Oceania has one of the top culinary scenes at sea.

On days when I had early call times for my shore excursions, I ordered room service for breakfast. Ashok would arrive and set a table for me and proffer a tray laden with my choices from the menu, which might be French toast, eggs, or yogurt and fresh fruit. At the end of the day, famished from my activities ashore, I’d order canapés to be delivered to my room just before sailing.
The Marina is one of two ships in Oceania’s fleet (the other being the Riviera) that features a culinary center. One afternoon in port, I stayed aboard to join a class in The Culinary Discovery Center. There, I learned how to make Steak Diane, green beans with almonds, and a light salad dressed with creamy vinaigrette—a meal I never would have taken the initiative to make on my own.
Poised at our individual cooking stations, my fellow cooking students and I followed the instructions of the chef, who demonstrated proper knife skills and other lessons that I have since incorporated into my home cooking.
Each night, I tasted my way through the menus of the Marina’s specialty dining venues. I began with Toscana, which served Italian classics on custom Versace china. As I browsed my menu, a waitperson approached my table offering tastings of different olive oils and balsamic vinegars to pair with the evening’s bread choices. I decided on an intense fruity olive oil and a sweet and lightly acidic balsamic. My dinner included hot and cold antipasti, Caprese salad and a main course of Lobster Fra Diavolo with fresh pasta, finished off with tiramisu.
Another evening, at Polo Grill, I enjoyed the pairing of classic steakhouse fare and seafood. Greeted by an attentive staff, I looked around, noting the deep cherry woods, wine-lined walls and lush leather chairs—an atmosphere that set the tone for the sophisticated meal to come. A waiter prepared my Caesar salad tableside, and it wasn’t long before I was digging into a lobster tail cooked to perfection. My fellow travelers and I ordered different sides to share with the table. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention my favorite bite from the entire trip: the crème brûlée, quite possibly the best I’ve ever had.
The dining options onboard the Marina also include La Reserve, which serves a different themed meal on each of three nights. Each of the eight courses includes a wine pairing selected in consultation with Wine Spectator. I opted to eat there on the French menu night, La Cuisine Bourgeoise. With synchronized white-glove service, the staff displayed each course before us and detailed the chef’s choice and how it paired with the sommelier’s selected wine. (Note that dining at La Reserve is an extra cost and requires reservations for its limited seatings.)
From boarding to disembarking, my cruise aboard the Marina was a step above. Before the cruise, I had expected “luxury” to translate into formal and staid, but it was anything but. Yes, some people on board were always dressed up, but the atmosphere was casual and welcoming. Aside from the well-appointed, comfortable staterooms and public areas, the luxury came in the form of Oceania’s renowned dining, the fabulous guides on its shore excursions and all the little touches, like shuttles from the cities we visited, room service on my early mornings, and my friendly butler, Ashok.
Warm and inviting residential furnishings and designer touches make your spacious suite feel more like your home away from home.