Review: a culinary cruise in the Med on Oceania Cruises' ship Marina
By Rebecca Barnes | 15 Sep 2022
Feast on the flavours of the Mediterranean with a food and drink-focused holiday with Oceania Cruises
Who says cruises can’t be educational? On my culinary-focused sailing through the Med I learnt plenty, including: one, I’m not half as bad a cook as I thought; two, I can now create a nifty bowl holder with a napkin and a flick of the wrist; and three, no amount of Greece’s golden nectar is ever enough when it comes to cooking.
“When we see non-Greek people using such a small amount of olive oil to cook with, we always laugh,” attests our entertaining local tour guide Fofo with a hearty chuckle.
We’re just back from searching the stalls of the Corfu town market for local ingredients including honey, olives and fig pie – a typical dessert which, depending on the season, is either bound together with the Greek aniseed-based tipple ouzo in winter or wrapped in fig leaves come summer.
Clutching five euros, we were each tasked with finding and purchasing a specific ingredient. In my case it was dried oregano on the stem. Greek oregano, according to Oceania Cruises’ chef instructor Leah Caplan, is distinctive and earthy because it’s cultivated by the salty wind.
Caplan, who discovered her love for food thanks to travelling through Asia as a child, tells us cooking is 90% patience and the rest, preparation. “Then you will find it more enjoyable,” she says.
During our walk around the market and Old Town shops, we dodge the unseasonal rain showers by stopping for a tasting. We down chasers of local kumquat liqueur and keep to the sticky-sweet theme with some moreish caramelised nuts – a match made in heaven if ever there was one.
What to expect from Oceania Cruises’ Culinary Centre
Back on board Oceania Cruises’ Marina, host of our seven-night Venetian Vignettes cruise, we head to the Culinary Centre to complete part two of our foraging and cooking excursion. Overseen by executive culinary director Jacques Pepin, a master of French technique, the Culinary Centre offers hands-on instruction with master chefs.
Ingredients on standby, we are instructed to cook a lunch of stuffed Kalamata figs; garlicky tzatziki; pastitsio, a Greek pasta bake; and yoghurt parfait, all washed down with a kumquat spritzer and a couple of glasses of Cretan rosé.
It is by all accounts an epic feast, and one which has me so sated that I quite happily forgo Oceania’s legendary afternoon tea and in-suite canapés.
Buoyed by the previous day’s achievements, this unseasoned chef ventures back a second time to master steak Diane teamed with almond-topped haricots verts and a perfectly dressed fresh green salad. It’s a triumph, even if I say so myself.
What restaurants are there on Marina?
The 1,238-passenger Marina launched 12 years ago and was last refurbished in 2016. Due to enter dry dock in 2023 for a spruce-up along with sister ship Riviera, it’s due to have a total overhaul of staterooms, lighter decor in public spaces and new dining options including an al fresco restaurant and a trattoria serving wood-fired pizzas.
Oceania boldly claims to have the “finest cuisine on the ocean” and I am more than happy to put this to the test, with reservations for the four speciality restaurants (all complimentary on Oceania), plus two culinary classes.
Whether you’re looking for a healthy pre-workout breakfast, bite-sized afternoon treats or a six-course champagne-paired dinner, you will find it on board. When I discover the Raw Juice & Smoothie bar, which offers plant-based, gluten and lactose-free smoothies, energy bowls and juices, I am hooked and gradually work my way through the menu.
It’s relatively easy to be virtuous, as there’s also a poke bowl station at Waves Grill and the Aquamar Vitality Cuisine menu in the Grand Dining Room, featuring calorie, fat and fibre-counted dishes such as soft-shell crab tempura with roasted cherry tomato aioli, and tamarind-braised grouper fillet with ginger sauce, steamed rice and stir-fried vegetables.
But as we all know, cruise calories don’t really count, and there’s an abundance of decadent options, including a soufflé of the day, a diverse Sunday brunch, wine tastings and, of course, daily afternoon tea.
I am drawn to the sweet-and-savoury snack options served every afternoon at Baristas coffee bar, while one of my favourite speciality dining experiences is at Asian restaurant Red Ginger, where I feast on fragrant chicken satay, followed by an impressive lobster pad thai laced with lashings of lime.
Available 24 hours a day, room service is also complimentary, and unlike many cruise line in-room menus, there’s more choice than you might expect – which is ideal when you fancy a low-key movie night with some first-class dining on demand.
Accommodation and onboard facilities on Marina
Situated on deck 11, my Penthouse Suite is more traditional than overtly flashy, featuring dark woods combined with calming accents of taupe and duck egg blue.
There’s ample storage along with some useful – and very necessary – touches such as a bathroom night light, refillable water bottles to keep, an excellent TV entertainment system, silk and cashmere throws for when it gets chilly, and a bed that will entice you into having the best night’s sleep you’ve ever had.
Along with a personal butler who can help with anything from booking speciality dining to running a bath filled with pink Himalayan salt, this suite category also gives you a generously proportioned balcony, a bathroom with bathtub and a walk-in wardrobe.
Around the ship, suite guests also have the use of an Executive Lounge, as well as a private sun deck with loungers and two hot tubs.
One morning, after a rocky night, the captain orders a sea day as high winds make it too challenging to dock in Kotor. I’m disappointed, but my shipmates turn it into a chance to hit the gym, test out the excellent spa with two relaxation rooms, sauna and steam room or try activities including team trivia and afternoon tea.
Health and wellness facilities are excellent on Marina, with a large gym and fitness area, so I opt for a workout with ocean views, followed by in-room lunch, a pedicure and a culinary class – not a bad day after all.
Cruising the Amalfi Coast in Italy
By the time we reach lofty Sorrento, the sky is once again cornflower blue – the views of the Bay of Naples and the private beach clubs jutting into the water are the definition of Mediterranean glamour, reminiscent of the iconic summer scenes documented by photographer Slim Aarons.
This southern Italian coastal town, located west of the Amalfi Coast and a train ride from Pompeii, manages to capture both my heart and my taste buds – Sorrento is the limoncello capital of Italy and there are fragrant lemon trees and groves everywhere, bursting with life, and citrus fruit ripening in the sun.
During our Alleys of Sorrento walking excursion, I enjoy wandering the maze of bustling streets in the Old Town, sampling gelato in Piazza Tasso, and shopping for edible souvenirs including zesty sherbet lemon sweets and bright bottles of limoncello. It’s a fitting way to savour the sights, smells and sumptuous flavours of a cruise that was a genuine feast for the senses.
How to book a foodie cruise with Oceania Cruises
A seven-night Romantic Coastline itinerary on Oceania Cruises’ Marina costs from £2,519 per person based on two sharing a balcony stateroom and departing on April 20, 2023. For more information speak to your travel agent or visit the Oceania Cruises website.