Oceania Cruises - the food

Some weeks back I mentioned on a thread that we were doing a cruise with Oceania and someone asked me to report back on the food.

Here we go. But let me preface it with a few scene-setting remarks. We did three cruises with P & O nearly 20 years back but became disenchanted with the formality and what we felt was a declining quality in the food. Our only recent cruise experience is a four night one out of Miami on Norwegain. Trust me when I say that Norwegian is not a foody experience. What brougt us back to considering a cruise was the celebration of a major anniversary in our lives – 45 years together, seeing as you ask. We wanted to do something “different” by way of a holiday – the actual anniversary is being spent at Gilpin in the Lake District, with its two restaurants, one with a recently awarded Michelin star.

So, Oceania’s claim of having “the finest cuisine at sea” certainly appealed. As did its “country club casual” dress code in the evenings. No, we never really established what that code actually means, but decided that we would stick with the common British restaurant dress code of “smart casual” – polo or buttoned shirt and chinos. That worked.

We cruised on Marina, one of two of Oceania’s larger ships. It has a greater number of eating opportunities than the smaller ships, all except one being included in the cruise price.

The Grand Dining Room is open for all three of the day’s meals. The Terrace Café is a more causal buffet which usually offers several of the dishes available in the Dining Room, but also a larger selection of salads at lunch and dinner. Attached to the buffet is Waves Grill – on the deck but semi enclosed, serving a limited breakfast and, at lunch, the likes of burgers, Reuben sandwiches, etc.

One of the big marketing ploys for Oceania is the four speciality restaurants (only two on the smaller ships). As mentioned earlier, there’s no charge for these but you do need to reserve. You get the opportunity to make reservations well in advance of the cruise and you get a guaranteed visit to each. There’s then an on-board opportunity to make repeat bookings if they have availability.

As a general summary, we found the food to be of a high standard, bearing in mind this is still mass catering. The offerings in the Dining Room and Café change daily and it’s reasonable to say we were always spoilt for choice. It’s also reasonable to say that, whilst the Dining Room and the Café exceeded our not too high expectations, the speciality restaurants were not as good as we might have expected and, indeed, not as good as they probably think they are.

This link to someone’s cruise blog includes all their menus and should be an interesting read for anyone considering Oceania.

http://www.thepreismans.com/riviera16_menus.htm#waves

For the Grand Dining Room, in which we ate most often, at breakfast and dinner, there’s plenty of choice at breakfast, both hot and cold items including an “egg dish of the day” – Benedict, Huevos rancheros and the like. Our cruise was UK to UK and I thought it a nice touch that on several days, the buffet included British bacon, as well as the thin crispy American bacon (which I don’t enjoy and usually pass on). Dinner treads a well worn path in terms of its menu layout, as will be seen if you followed the above link. There’s always going to be a main course pasta, something veggie, a seafood dish, some red meat. It’s generally good, although I occasionally had a sense of “Well, we’ve used high ingredients, there’s no need for culinary creativity”. So, you might see an ingredient but there’s not the spin that a good chef is going to put on it at your good neighbourhood restaurant. But I am being picky here (and at those prices, you should be picky as well).

The Café was where we generally ate lunch. It is very, very easy, to be very, very greedy. They serve you so there’s none of that plate piled high feeding frenzy you often see in buffets. Folk just go back for more if they want (and the staff will happily carry your plate to your table for you.).

French American chef, Jacques pepin, is the food consultant to Oceania. Now, I have to say, I had heard of him but his craft was unknown to me. I couldn’t have picked him out of a line-up. But his contribution seems to be a big plus point for Americans, so what do I know?

His name is on the door of one of the speciality restaurants. We had a good meal there. It was Mrs H’s birthday. I could not believe my child bride was 64 and now getting her state pension. We hadn’t made any point of this on board but the birth date must have been logged in their computer – so cake appeared at the end of the meal, happy birthday was sung, herself blushed. Nice touch. The menu is fairly classic French – the sort of dishes that foreigners might easily identify as French but ones you won’t actually come across too often In France – things like snails. We had a lovely evening.

The Polo Grill models itself on an idea of a New York steakhouse by way of its menu. Big slabs of meat, cooked properly. My big slab was an Iberico de Bellota pork chop. Now, I’ve only ever seen Iberico in Spain converted into jamon. Never as fresh meat. It was lovely. Herself had a ribeye – perfectly cooked and fairly tasty for American beef, They do age it for 28 days but it is grain, not grass fed.

Toscana is their Italian place. A good range of primi, pasta, secondo and dolci. Pasta can be taken as a starter or main course, so its possible to do the full Italian four-courser. Can’t fault the food here but service was pretty dismal. Uniquely dismal – it was excellent everywhere else. It was the only meal where the server hadn’t made a note of who was having what – something so easy to do (but few places bother, except on Oceania where every other restaurant knows how to do it). But the big complaint was the 45 minute delay between primi and pasta. Yes, there was an apology. Of sorts. “The kitchen has been overwhelmed by orders”, we were told. Do I look like I was born yesterday? No, it wasn’t fucking overwhelmed. Kitchens do not get overwhelmed when every bum on every seat was a timed reservation and that’s the situation every night. Just apologise to me without lying.

And, finally, Red Ginger – their take on East Asian fusion food. That was the sole really disappointing meal of the 12 days. Everything had been dumbed down in flavour and all the vibrancy that you expect of food from that part of the world was simply missing. For example, herself had a beef rendang and said it could have been any beef stew – and nowhere near as good as the version as a local mini-chain near home (Tampopo for anyone interested in the Manchester area).

So, there we are. Nearly two weeks of over-eating. Speciality restaurants good but not outstanding . Grand Dining Room always a pleasant experience . The bread and pastries there and elsewhere are outstanding. Pastries are offered at the beginning of breakfast along with the juice and coffee. Something to nibble on while you read the menu, if you will. A basket of mixed breads is put on your table at lunch and dinner and will be replenished if you manage to scoff it all. The baguette is an absolute killer.

This is not a cheap holiday – and alcoholic is bloody expensive, although all non-alcoholic drink are free. I think it’s probably good value but it may be a while before I’m sure of that one way or the other.

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Congratulations on your anniversary! I’ve never been on a cruise and your report was very interesting.

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Congratulations on the anniversary, Harters! And congratulate herself on the birthday as well!

John

It was I who asked you to report back. Thanks for your report. Quite thorough.

We will probably be taking an Oceania trip in the not-too-distant future. As I think I said before, they have the reputation of being the best food among the major cruise lines, so I was curious to get an opinion from someone who knows food. Few people who cruise and report on websites are foodies to the level of folks who inhabit sites like this, so it’s good to hear your thoughts. The Priesmans are one example. Their website is great and very helpful and I have recommended it many times. They are very competent amateur photographers and it shows, but they aren’t on the same level as food critics. Good food photos though!

One can’t expect three star, foodie oriented dining on big cruise ships, but generally you can get pretty good things, especially if you know what you’re doing and order carefully, like your pork chop. I was disappointed, but not surprised, to hear your thoughts on Red Ginger. I’ve noticed the same at Celebrity’s Asian restaurant. There just aren’t many typical cruisers who are familiar with high level contemporary Asian cuisine, so it doesn’t show up.

Again, great review. Many thanks.

John Binkley

I suspect that probably accounts for it. Certainly I read quite a number of cruise reviews which praised Red Ginger highly. I now conclude that it’s more because it’s a different experience for many people - their experience of East Asian food being limited to their local Americanised/Anglicised Chinese restaurant.

I have had two positive experiences with Asian food on cruise ships, both outside the designated Asian style restaurant aboard. One was on Regent, where the head chef (it was a smaller ship and Regent is a very high-end line) was allowed to do special meals for groups based on pre-arrangement. The chef on this particular trip was Indonesian, so I asked him to do some things from home for us. He did a very nice meal of Indonesian specialties mostly new to me, some of it home type dishes, that was very good – the waiters indicated that these were typical of what he does for such requests. Of course something like this would not likely be possible on a larger, mass-market ship. The other is a new venue Celebrity has added recently to its ships, called Sushi on Five (it replaced something called Bistro on Five). It is a sushi and other Japanese/Asian fusion inspired place, and you pay extra. We ate there several times and always found the offerings to be innovative and excellent. It was never crowded.

Thanks so much for your review, and congratulations on your anniversary!

We enjoy cruising and try to take a trip every couple of years. Aside from one boozy party cruise on Carnival with a girlfriend in my early 20s, all of my cruising has been on Celebrity. I always do a long, detailed write-up for Cruise Critic afterwards, but as johnb notes, there really aren’t that many people using Cruise Critic who are as interested in food as we HOs are.

That said, I’m glad to know that your overall impressions of Oceania’s food were favorable. I would say my impressions of the specialty restaurants on Celebrity are similar - generally good to very good food, but absolutely nothing special in comparison to the finest land-based restaurants (especially given that NYC is home - if I lived in a rural area I would likely think these specialty restaurants were amazing). Unfortunately, my experiences in the main dining room on Celebrity have been less good, to the point where we dine exclusively in the specialty restaurants or cruise in a cabin that comes with a separate dining venue. We will definitely look at Oceania for future vacations!

Lovely. I have met Jacques Pepin and have his book, that is definitely a big plus for this American. He’s a legend here. He was recently featured on an episode of American Masters.

Thanks for the review, and happy anniversary and birthday!

“Food is a pretty good prism through which to view humanity.”

― Jonathan Gold