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If you're wondering what exactly an "ultra-premium" cruise ship is, look no further than Marina, the first new-build Oceania built back in 2011.

It's the kind of ship where you can book an inside cabin, but still enjoy four speciality restaurants with no additional fees and never have to wait in a long queue. Where you can book a luxurious suite designed by Dakota Jackson or Ralph Lauren, but choose whether you want to pay for a beverage package or shore excursions rather than having those inclusions bump up your base fare. It's a ship that carries multiple types of French flour to make daytime and evening baguettes, devotes lots of onboard space to galleys and dining venues and serves a proper afternoon tea with white-glove service, scones with clotted cream and a string quartet. Where you can order a vegan smoothie or energy bowl after your morning workout, down wine during a cooking class and order multiple desserts after a long sea day of lying in the sun.

The 1,250-passenger Marina is ultimately a hybrid, balancing luxurious amenities with less-inclusive fares than the luxury lines. With Marina, Oceania expanded what its older, R-class ships do so well: food, intimacy, destinations and an egalitarian spirit. The ship looks high-end, with an extensive art collection reflecting the personal tastes of the line's co-founders Frank del Rio and Bob Binder, and lounge seating that could come straight from a five-star hotel. You won't lack for high-end ingredients like whole Maine lobsters and foie gras. Yet, the atmosphere is not stuffy or snooty, and plentiful daytime activities from art or cooking classes to Ping-Pong and beanbag toss tournaments, mean sea days aren't snooze fests (unless you want them to be).

The cruise line is at its best on longer itineraries, 10 nights and up; look for plenty of overnights and a minimum of sea days on many sailings. The line's culinary tours are not to be missed if you are interested in the interplay of food and culture, and appreciate small-sized tour groups.

Cabins are spacious and nicely appointed -- a welcome change from the R-class's tight fits -- and the suites are gorgeous. Four speciality restaurants -- French, Italian, Asian and steak -- supplement the main restaurant nicely and provide a welcome dining variety. A Culinary Center and Artist Loft are designed specifically for enrichment classes; the library is a sleeper hit with inviting leather chairs and quiet nooks adjacent to a coffee shop. The pool deck is beautiful, with just the right number of soft padded loungers to accommodate everyone on a sunny sea day.

Marina does have its weaknesses. Its dining system doesn't work so well on weeklong cruises, forcing passengers to miss out on the much-touted speciality restaurants or eat rather late. While we enjoyed every meal and loved the variety, we weren't always blown away by main courses (though some are standouts), and desserts were lacking. Spa treatments and shore excursions seem overpriced for the industry, and service is not as proactive as one might expect on so small and nice a ship. Many on our cruise complained about long waits for service for food and drink.

At the end of the day, though, the ship has the right vibe for its clientele. You meet all types of people on Marina: frequent luxury line cruisers taking a chance on a bigger ship for the right itinerary; past mega-ship passengers looking for a more inclusive experience, fewer kids and a more intimate vessel; first-timers wanting to explore. Most seem to be enjoying the sailing, whether or not it's the ship for them. It's hard to stay grouchy when a plush mattress topped with 1,000-thread-count sheets is waiting in your cabin or when a comforting soup or milkshake is always close at hand. Or an amazing destination is at your doorstep, and there's not an enormous queue standing between you and that next adventure ashore.

Think casual-but-elegant throughout the ship, both day and night; you won't find formal nights on Marina. Tank tops and swimwear are discouraged at all times from any of the restaurants, while shorts, jeans, T-shirts, sneakers and sandals are banned from all dinner venues except the Terrace Cafe. Men can't go wrong with blazers and slacks after sunset, while women will feel comfortable in dresses, nice pants outfits or skirts with blouses. On our Caribbean cruise, we found that people generally looked nice, but not overly fancy or fashionista at dinner; we saw more skirts or slacks with blouses than little black dresses at night.

Marina Inclusions

Unlike many upscale cruise lines, Oceania's fares are not overly inclusive. Bottled water, soda and coffee drinks are free of charge, whether ordered at a bar or stocked in your cabin's mini-fridge. Nearly all speciality restaurants (minus La Reserve) do not have a cover charge. You will need to pay for alcoholic drinks, self-service laundry, shore excursions and gratuities.

Tips are automatically charged to your onboard account at the rate of $16 per person, per day (half to housekeeping and half to dining staff). Passengers in suites with butler service (Penthouse, Vista, Oceania and Owner's suites) are charged an additional $7 per person, per day. You are welcome to give additional tips to individuals who go above and beyond at your discretion. It's expected that those bringing room service will be tipped (anywhere from $1 to $5, depending on what's ordered) as items are delivered. An 18 percent gratuity is automatically tacked on to bills for spa services, bar drinks and dinner at La Reserve.

Shore Excursions

Marina's shore excursions cover most of the major bases, though rarely surprise. Ours were well run, but the listed tour durations never included time spent tendering or waiting for everyone to show up at the bus. Complaints from Cruise Critic members that tours, in general, are overpriced are justified. On our Caribbean cruise, most tours cost $89 and up; a 1.5-hour walking tour of Key West cost $109, while a half-day tour with a 40-minute kayak and 1.5 hours at the beach cost $149.

The one standout is Oceania's Culinary Discovery Tour program, which offers food- and wine-themed excursions, often including market tours, regional cooking classes and meals in signature restaurants. The tours are personally designed by Oceania's Executive Chef Kathryn Kelly, so instead of sites found on other culinary tours, you'll visit with Kelly's friends and food purveyors or restaurants she finds particularly interesting or regionally important. The four- to eight-hour Culinary Discovery Tours are held anywhere from once on a weeklong cruise to three or four times on a 12-night cruise, and can take no more than 22 people. Most book up months in advance, so reserve your spot as soon as online reservations open up.

Daytime and Evening Entertainment

Oceania passengers have plenty of choices of daytime activities, especially on sea days. You'll find everything from needlepoint, golf putting, bridge games and ballroom dance classes to spa and boutique presentations, scarf tying demos, cutthroat trivia, extra-fee martini tastings and poker tournaments. Competitive activities (think Ping-Pong tournaments and team trivia) award Big O Points (we're not making this up) to the winners, which can be redeemed the last evening of the cruise for Oceania logo swag like T-shirts and visors.

The Marina Lounge on Deck 5 is the ship's theatre, where Oceania has a true elevated stage outfitted for sets and lighting effects, as opposed to a more lounge-y space for shows on the smaller, R-class ships. Its in-house troupe perform pretty average song-and-dance shows, supplemented by guest singers, musicians, comedians and magicians. The entertainment is squarely aimed at the line's core older passenger; think song revues from the '50s and '60s and a guest entertainer doing Sinatra songs. Each show is performed once per night, usually at 9:30 p.m., so the theatre fills up; it's hard to find a seat in the dark if you come in late.

Live music performances take place around the ship, with a pianist at Martinis Bar, a string quartet at the Grand Bar and the Ardor Band playing to the dancing crowd at the sprawling Horizons lounge, often with themed sets like Motown or country. The occasional cabaret show starring one or two of the ship's singers is held in Horizons at an odd hour, either pre-dinner or after the main show.

A small casino flanks either side of the Casino Bar, with slots on one end and a mix of slots and table games (poker, blackjack, craps and roulette) on the other.

Enrichment

Straddling the line between entertainment and enrichment is the Culinary Center, in which passengers learn kitchen secrets from a changing roster of master chefs. At tightly packed rows of personal cooking stations, you can chop, saute, fry and fumble around under expert guidance -- and the crowds looking in via floor-to-ceiling windows make it even more fun. Book early for the classes, which on our cruise ranged from a fish master class to learning recipes from Red Ginger. All were thorough, hands-on and ultimately quite useful once we returned home. Classes cost $69 apiece, and it's important to note that while the cruise line says that it can accommodate 24 passengers per class, it strives to only book 22 or fewer. There are 12 cooking stations, so be prepared to share space and cooking tasks with a fellow passenger. 

Note: Wine is liberally poured (or other drinks that are matched to the recipes) and you're expected to eat what you cook, so you may want to avoid booking alternative restaurants for the same day. 

La Reserve by Wine Spectator also offers wine tastings on every cruise, for an additional fee. 

Across the hall from the Culinary Center is the Artist Loft, in which artists are invited to cruise in exchange for leading workshops. Mediums include photography, watercolours, collage and printmaking. Classes run for two hours, though you don't need to stay the whole time, and are fee-free.

In addition, guest lecturers come aboard to give presentations on the history and culture of the cruise region. If you miss them, they're re-broadcast on the in-cabin TV. The lecturer on our cruise was dynamic and entertaining, and knew her stuff.

Marina Bars and Lounges

Marina is not a party ship, but the Grand Bar and Martinis are quite bustling before dinner. Many cruisers choose one of several beverage packages (some score one free with an O-Life Perks package) for a more inclusive approach to drinking onboard. Options include the House Select package for wine, beer and Champagne at lunch and dinner and the Prestige Select for wine, Champagne, beer and cocktails at all dining venues and bars during open hours. You can also choose a wine bottle package.

If you haven't purchased a beverage package, look for pre-dinner and late-night happy hours with two-for-one drinks and don't miss the Captain's Welcome Party, when drinks at select bars are complimentary for two-plus hours.

Marina Lounge (Deck 5): The one-level ship's theatre is used for evening performances, enrichment lectures, future cruise or port shopping presentations and shore excursion assembling. Bar service is available only during the evening show.

Martinis (Deck 6): Just off the atrium, Martinis is the place for pre- or post-dinner cocktails with piano music or cutthroat late-afternoon trivia sessions. Bar service runs from 3 p.m. until late.

Grand Bar (Deck 6): The Grand Bar is not a bar. Instead, it's a long promenade connecting the Grand Restaurant with Martinis, lined with easy chairs and couches that you can easily fall into and never wish to get up from -- especially if a kind waitress is bringing you wine and cocktails direct from the Casino Bar. It's most visited before dinner, but is also a great nook for a chat or reading a book during the day. Open 5 p.m. until close.

Casino Bar (Deck 6): With purple lights, silver chairs and bling-worthy accents, this bar seems out of place on a ship dominated by earth tones and upscale hotel-type furnishings. Don't be so bedazzled by the setup that you miss the Picassos on the wall (and the Miros in the small hallway leading in from the Grand Bar). We've yet to see someone sit at this bar, given that it's flanked by the Grand Bar and Martinis, both of which seem more popular. Open 5 p.m. to close.

Waves Bar (Deck 12): The requisite poolside bar serves frozen cocktails, cool beers and other refreshing drinks to sun worshippers from 9 a.m. until 7 p.m. Bar waiters service all the sun decks from this bar.

Baristas (Deck 14): Located just off the library and overlooking the pool deck, Baristas caters to passengers in need of a caffeine fix with no-fee cappuccinos and lattes and extra-fee booze-laced coffee drinks. There's a small number of stools for sipping a hot drink while spying on sunbathers, but most people take their coffee to the leather easy chairs in the adjacent reading nooks or elsewhere on the ship. Open 6:30 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Horizons (Deck 15): Horizons encompasses the entire forward section of Deck 15, with floor-to-ceiling windows, plush chairs and couches around small tables, a bandstand and dance floor, and a bar with stool seating. In one corner, mostly walled off from the rest of the lounge is a smoking area for cigarettes only. By day, seminars and dance classes take place here; it's also a quiet place to read or gaze out to sea. Horizons is hopping from 4 to 5 p.m. during teatime. At night, it's the party place for dancing and drinking, and draws a small but lively crowd -- pretty good for an upscale ship with an older demographic. Bar hours are 11 a.m. to late.

Concierge Lounge (Deck 9): This lovely interior lounge on Deck 9 is for the exclusive use of Concierge Veranda cabin residents. Passengers can enjoy comfortable seating areas, snacks and cold and hot drinks, daily newspapers, TV, a pair of computer terminals with printer connections and access to a concierge who can assist with everything from dinner and shore tour reservations to internet trouble and lost key cards. 

Executive Lounge (Deck 11): The Executive Lounge is reserved for suite passengers, from Penthouse on up to Owner's. It's set up like the Concierge Lounge, with a large flat-screen television, printouts of daily newspapers like The Wall Street Journal, internet stations, snacks and drinks, and a concierge.

Marina Outside Recreation

Befitting its adult-centric focus, Marina's sun deck on Deck 12 is centred on a tranquil salt water pool that's ringed by comfortable, cushion-topped loungers and straddled by a pair of covered fresh-water hot tubs. Decorative rocks and plants add an upscale touch. Two-person curved wicker daybeds invite you to cuddle in the sun -- or hog them to yourself. The Waves Bar keeps the libations flowing for deck-hounds, while the Grill keeps sun worshippers in milkshakes and smoothies.

More padded loungers line Deck 14, overlooking the pool, with some on decks 15 and 16 as well. On Deck 14 aft, you'll find some outdoor chairs and tables just outside Baristas coffee bar; forward, by the spa, two covered areas allow passengers to enjoy the fresh air while staying undercover and catching breezes from overhead ceiling fans. The Sanctuary on the port side has loungers and couches, while the Patio on the starboard side has tables and chairs. While sunning areas on all decks get packed on sunny days, we didn't see evidence of people reserving the best loungers early and then not showing up 'til late.

Other outdoor diversions include a jogging track on Deck 15 that loops around croquet and shuffleboard play areas. Ten laps equal a mile. Deck 16 forward offers mini-golf, golf cages and a paddle tennis court. A Ping-Pong table is tucked away next to the Waves Bar on Deck 12.

Marina Services

Most passengers' first view of the ship's interior will be of the Lalique Grand Staircase, a work of art in itself: a set of dramatically illuminated curving steps adorned with crystal medallions and pillars, hand-crafted by the French firm. It's not the only artistically interesting area of the ship, with millions of dollars of artwork on display wherever you look. Look for Picassos and Miros leading from the Grand Bar to the Casino Bar.

At the base of the staircase, the Deck 5 lobby area contains the reception, shore excursions and restaurant reservation desks, as well as shops selling resortwear, purses, sunglasses, jewellery, perfume and makeup, snacks and toiletries.

Bibliophiles will love the expansive library on Deck 14 and its cosy series of nooks with easy chairs perfect for reading, checking email or snoozing. Around the corner, the Oceania@Sea internet cafe provides a plethora of computer stations if you haven't brought your own. There's Wi-Fi throughout the ship so you're not limited to the cafe. Internet access costs 99 cents per minute. Packages are also available, which lower the per-minute rate; choose from 200 minutes for $160 or unlimited access for $28 per day. (A one-time activation fee of $3.95 is added to per-minute purchases or the 200-minute plan.)

The five self-serve launderettes onboard (spread over five decks) are some of the nicest you'll find at sea. Each has three washers, three dryers and ironing boards, plus a comfy couch and television for entertainment while you wait and a mini-fridge with water bottles. Laundry is not free, and you'll need dollar bills to buy tokens to feed into the machine. Launderettes are open 7:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Cigarette smoking is permitted in the walled-off area on the port side of the Horizons lounge. Cigarette and cigar smoking is also allowed at the tables on Deck 12 midship on the opposite side of the pool deck from the Waves Bar. Cigars are not sold onboard.

Marina Spa & Fitness

Just off the sun deck on Deck 14, above the pool, sits the Canyon Ranch SpaClub with a fully-equipped fitness centre, salon, treatment rooms, thermal suite and private sun deck. The spa complex has a serene and peaceful vibe (with beautiful art and a waterfall). A plethora of treatments, from skin-care to massage to acupuncture, are available. An adjacent beauty salon handles hair styling and cuts, manicures and pedicures. 

On our cruise, we were dismayed to find out that many of the already-pricy treatments were no longer available, replaced by off-menu versions of facials and massages with even higher prices. To add insult to injury, our therapist then claimed she needed to make sure she was doing the correct facial and tried to upsell us when in the treatment room. The treatment was lovely, but nothing overly special, and for $200-plus (when you add in the automatic 18 percent gratuity), we didn't find it the best value for money.

Marina's spa does not offer a thalassotherapy pool, as do all of Oceania's other ships, including twin sister Riviera, but it does have a thermal suite with coed heated tiled loungers and two single-sex thermal suites with saunas, steam rooms and showers with options for different pressures and coloured lights. These are available for everyone to use free of charge; just ask at reception for a locker key to stow your belongings.

The hidden sun deck behind the spa is only accessible to Concierge and suite passengers. It's decked out with two hot tubs and padded loungers with foldup sunshades. If you go after dark, the hot tubs are the perfect place to gaze at the stars without interference from the ship's lights or smoke from the funnel.

Attached to the spa, the fitness centre offers a panoramic sea view and plenty of machines on which to sweat off all the heavy food you've been gorging on all week. You'll find treadmills, stationary bikes and elliptical trainers, as well as resistance machines and free weights. Mornings are busy, but we never had trouble finding a free machine. A mini-fridge stocks bottled water and sports drinks.

Complimentary fitness classes are held in an adjacent studio and include abs, stretch and "totally tubing" (a resistance band class); others like Pilates, yoga and cycling levy an $11 fee. (The 45-minute yoga class we tried was more like yoga-inspired stretching and not overly beneficial to either the younger or older passengers in the class. The 6 p.m. class times are also not ideal if you like early dinners.) Personal training and private group fitness classes are available for a fee. When classes aren't taking place, passengers can do stretching or mat work in the studio.

Food is Oceania's calling card, and the line aims for both high-quality cuisine and an abundance of options, most without extra charge. Famed French chef Jacques Pepin is the line's executive culinary director, and he was instrumental in developing the restaurants and menus onboard Marina when the ship launched. The ship employs more than 140 cooks onboard each sailing, and has the highest ratio of galley square footage to passenger in the cruise industry, with 10 separate galleys to serve all the restaurants. The philosophy here is to serve as much fresh and freshly made food as possible, and to cook it to order rather than pre-preparing.

The result is that you will spend much of your cruise eating, talking about dining, making additional dinner reservations and likely gaining weight. We found that food was of a high quality and menus overflowing with choice, but we raved more about starters than mains, and desserts were a bit disappointing.

The ship's main wine list is curated by Wine Spectator; each of the four speciality restaurants also offers a menu of wines exclusive to the venue. For example, Toscana's exclusive wines are all Italian, and Jacques' are predominantly (but not entirely) French. Knowledgeable sommeliers can help you pair your menu selections with the perfect glass or bottle. If you prefer to bring your own wine onboard, you are welcome to do so, but must pay a $25 corkage fee per bottle consumed in a dining room or public area.

All four of Oceania's alternative restaurants are fee-free and are open from 6:30 to 9 p.m. on longer cruises and 6 to 9:30 p.m. on weeklong cruises. It is wise to book reservations online ahead of your sailing, as it's tough to get last-minute reservations once onboard (unless you are OK eating at 9:30 p.m.). The dining staff does its best to get everyone into each restaurant at least once; this is easier on 10-night sailings than on weeklong voyages. Red Ginger is the most popular with more requests for repeat visits.

Jacques (Deck 5): Oceania's celebrity chef, Jacques Pepin, created his own idea of the perfect restaurant onboard and named it after himself. Naturally, it serves French food, but the venue is light and airy rather than fussy -- though you will find plenty of heavy creams and cheeses in your dishes. You can choose from bistro fare like escargot, foie gras, bouillabaisse and Pepin's signature rotisserie meats with a European flair (herb-crusted "black foot" roast chicken, garlic-marinated veal rack, cider-brined pork loin and prime rib with herbs de Provence). Don't miss the pumpkin soup (raved about by nearly everyone on our cruise) and the goat cheese souffle; you can sop up the last bits in your bowl with the excellent baguettes and signature rolls. The legendary cheese trolley is a standout here and if you have any room for dessert, try Jacques' "favourite" apple tart or the chocolate and vanilla ladyfinger cake. The wine list is French, though a few vintages from California, Chile and Italy have snuck in.

Red Ginger (Deck 5): Red Ginger is an Asian fusion restaurant that debuted on Marina. The ambience is exotic with a red and black colour scheme and no windows. The menu is terrific, a something-for-everyone array of selections, and you even get to choose from various types of chopsticks. To start, there's sushi and tuna tataki, summer rolls and calamari, plus a selection of black, white and green teas. There are courses for soup (tom kha gai was a favourite -- chicken, coconut milk and lemongrass -- as well as miso), salad (spicy duck and watermelon salad and Thai beef salad) before moving on to mains. The lobster pad Thai is a definite hit as are the spiced lamb tenderloin and the miso-glazed sea bass. Mains come with your choice of rice and vegetable sides. Desserts include green tea ice cream, Bounty cake with coconut and chocolate chips and caramel tapioca. Red Ginger's exclusive wine menu also features a list of available sakes (with notes on foods they pair well with) and Asian beer.

Grand Restaurant (Deck 6): The Grand Restaurant is warm and welcoming with a gorgeous white on white decor (with touches of earth tones) and windows lining the walls around three sides of the room. It offers a nice range of table sizes from two-tops to 10-tops, though the cushioned chairs are almost too low and cushy for dining. We found the art choices in the back corner to be, ahem, interesting. The Grand serves breakfast from 8 to 9:30 a.m., lunch from noon to 1:30 p.m. and dinner from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. 

Consistent with Oceania's passion for food, its breakfast menu will not send you away hungry. We can't think of anything we could want that its menu didn't offer from fresh fruit, cereals (hot and cold) and breakfast pastries to eggs, lamb chops and breakfast steak. Also on offer: steamed haddock and broiled kippers, smoked salmon and prosciutto, smoothies, pancakes (banana to pecan nut), waffles and French toast. Service is leisurely -- expect breakfast to take an hour.

At lunch, an ever-changing main menu includes starters, soups, sandwiches and salads, both sides and entree-sized. Hot entrees generally include pasta, fish and meat offerings. There's also a "Taste of the World" sampler plate that focuses on a specific region's cuisine and comes on an adorable little lazy Susan; a "healthy living" menu with an appetizer, entree and dessert; and an "always available" list of choices including crudites, chicken consomme, burgers, hot dogs, chicken breast and sirloin steak. Desserts feature a few cakes and tarts, as well as daily ice cream and sorbet flavours.

At dinner, the menu is divided into appetizers, soups, salads, main courses, side dishes and desserts. A handful of Jacques Pepin's specialities, such as steak-frites, roast chicken and poached salmon, are always available. There's also a section for a three-course "healthy" meal with appetizer, soup and main and a four-course menu degustation (appetizer, salad, main, dessert). 

Vegetarian dishes are marked with a V; there is a separate vegan menu that mirrors the daily menu (with fewer options), but vegans can choose from an extensive recipe menu if they plan meals 48 hours in advance. Other dietary restrictions can also be accommodated; just alert the cruise line in advance of sailing and speak to the culinary team once onboard to preorder meals, so they have time to make individual dishes specially for you. Kosher meals must be preordered prior to sailing, and are generally heated up rather than made from scratch onboard.

The wine list has been selected by Wine Spectator, with all vintages sold onboard receiving an 85 or higher under its rating system. The list offers a wide spectrum of wines by the bottle and glass, with wines from Europe, California and the Pacific Northwest, South America, Australia and South Africa. A sommelier can help you choose, plus the selections on the daily menu degustation are listed with recommended wine pairings.

Terrace Cafe (Deck 12): The Terrace Cafe is one of the most varied and beautifully arranged buffet venues we've ever seen on a cruise ship, and is set up in stations so there's not too much congestion. It's the go-to venue for breakfast and lunch. If you like alfresco dining, don't miss the terrace seating aft of the restaurant; you'll find plenty of dining tables inside this fall-themed venue done in lots of dark browns and oranges. Unlike at other big-ship buffets, you cannot serve yourself; while this is smart from a health standpoint, it's frustrating when you can't serve yourself your preferred amount of fruit or salad dressing.

At breakfast, there are offerings of cooked-to-order eggs and fruits, yoghurts and cereal, French toast and breakfast meat, and mounds of freshly baked pastries. Breakfast is served 7 to 10 a.m. Waiters will bring coffee, tea in pots and juice.

At lunch, offered noon to 2 p.m., there are areas for hot food (often with an international theme like Mexican or Asian), a carving station, a grill station with fish, meats and burgers cooked to order, a salad buffet with made-to-order and pre-prepared salads, sushi, pizza and desserts. The homemade ice cream, with six to eight flavours changing each day, is a bit too tempting. We were a bit dismayed to see that the salad bar never had very much in the way of toppings (like tomatoes, carrots or chickpeas), and resigned ourselves to plain, mixed greens.

Dinner, reflecting the menu being served at The Grand, is offered between 6:30 and 9 p.m. 

La Reserve (Deck 12); $95 to $165: The La Reserve by Wine Spectator wine bar and dining venue hosts seven-course dinners on select evenings, by demand. (Book your dinner at the restaurant reservations desk on Deck 5.) Four separate menus feature gourmet dishes with appropriate wine pairings. This is the only restaurant onboard with a fee to dine; $95 plus an 18 percent gratuity for the Discovery and Odyssey menus, and $165 plus gratuity for the Connoisseur menu. A special Dom Perignon menu is $295 per person, plus gratuity. The difference is in the expense of ingredients and wines. The offerings are definitely dynamic and unusual; for example, the "Discovery Menu" starts with an amuse-bouche of a lobster and mascarpone pancake, accompanied by Champagne Pommery Brut rose; an appetizer of sauteed duck foie gras with a glass of Cervaro Castello della Sala chardonnay; and a pasta course featuring a pumpkin ravioli paired with Novelty Hill Viognier. The Dom Perignon menu was specifically designed to pair with vintage Champagne and was developed in concert with Moet & Chandon. Dietary restrictions can be accommodated, but the surcharge will not change.

While the meal was divine, what we really loved about our La Reserve experience is that the restaurant seats only 24 passengers. On Marina, this dinner was one of the few times when we weren't able to choose our tablemates, and it actually proved to be a great opportunity to meet new people and bond with them during the long, multicourse meal. 

Waves Grill (Deck 12): Even casual venues, like the Waves Grill, take the food quality up a notch from other cruise lines. Lunch is served here from 11:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., particularly convenient to those wanting a late lunch. There's a small salad bar, but the real draw at the Waves Grill are the burgers -- five beef varieties include some interesting choices, like the "romano" (provolone, roasted peppers and pesto), the "Kobe" (Wagyu beef with black truffle sauce) and the "Texan" (cheddar cheese, bacon and bourbon BBQ sauce). Also available are salmon, tuna and veggie burgers, three types of hot dogs, grilled panini sandwiches, grilled fish and the infamous "surf and turf" sandwich -- consisting of lobster medallions, filet mignon and parmesan-dusted truffle fries.

Waves also is the first venue to start serving breakfast each morning, open between 7 and 11 a.m. You'll find an omelette station, a selection of breakfast breads and baked goods, yoghurt, fruit, cereal, deli meats and cheeses. Fruit juices, coffee and tea are available.

Attached to the Waves Grill is the smoothie and milkshake bar. In the morning from 7 to 11 a.m., it's a raw, vegan, gluten-free, refined-sugar-free juice bar serving fresh juices, smoothies (made with homemade cashew milk), cold-brewed coffee drinks and "energy" bowls with ingredients like yoghurt and chia seeds, all free of charge. At 11:30 a.m., it switches to serving ice cream with fudge or caramel sauce, milkshakes and fruit smoothies.

Tables for twos and fours line the Waves Grill side of the pool deck, with lots of shady spots for alfresco dining.

Toscana (Deck 14): At the Italian-influenced Toscana, the voluptuous menu is divided into seven categories (not including side dishes and dessert). They include hot and cold antipasti, soup, pasta, risotto, salad and "secondi" (the Italian word for entree). Fun touches include a giant wheel of Parmesan from which pieces are delivered to your table and a cart filled with different varieties of olive oil (a waiter will help you pair fruity, grassy or peppery oils with your delectable bread of choice). The wine list focuses, naturally, on Italian bottles. 

Pasta dishes come in both appetizer and entree portions, but if you're looking for rich homemade gnocchi or lasagna as a main after a couple of starters, you won't need more than a small dish. The artichoke and cheese timbale starter should not be skipped, and the lobster tail with tagliolini pasta gets rave reviews. Desserts include a chocolate "lasagna," tiramisu, semifreddo and cannoli, as well as a dessert sampler and standards like cheesecake and apple crumb pie, which you can also get in the Polo Grill.

Polo Grill (Deck 14): Polo Grill is the ship's steakhouse with classic fare that includes Oysters Rockefeller, whole Maine lobster, lobster bisque, Caesar salad prepared tableside and, of course, a wide variety of steaks and chops. Try the King's Cut 32-ounce prime rib (if you dare), New York strip, rib eye, filet mignon and porterhouse. For variety there are other meats and fishes -- among them is a grilled rack of lamb, Kobe beef with truffle demi-glace, veal chop, blackened salmon and pork T-bone. On one visit we created a menu around appetizers (including the foie gras, Maryland crab cakes and escargot), and it was fantastic and filling. You also get a choice of sides, such as truffle mashed potatoes, lobster mac 'n cheese and creamed spinach. If you'd like to order a drink to go with your steak, you can choose from the restaurant's exclusive wine list or its special scotch and whiskey menu.

For dessert, go standard with a cheesecake or chocolate cake, or go funky with creative options like a mousse burger (that actually looks like a cheeseburger, but is made of chocolate mousse and almond pastry) and a trio of marshmallows, each in a different sauce.

Privee (Deck 14); $250: Hidden between Polo Grill and Toscana, Privee is a private dining venue that groups of up to 10 people can reserve for special event dinners. Diners are given menus to both the steakhouse and Italian venue and can order off both. The $250 cost is for the room rental and can be split among participating cabins or charged to a single account. There's no charge for the food, and drinks are charged at regular prices or against your beverage package. Dietary restrictions are accommodated as elsewhere onboard. Book with the Deck 5 concierge, or pre-reserve online before your cruise.

Afternoon Tea (Deck 15): Not to be missed, the popular afternoon tea is served graciously at the Horizons Lounge between 4 and 5 p.m., complete with white linen-clothed tables and classical music. Choose scones with clotted cream and jam from a central buffet, or wait for waiters to wheel carts around with finger sandwiches, little cakes and other sweet treats. Tea is Twinings, with both caffeinated and decaf options.

Room Service: If all these options don't please, know that in-cabin service is available around-the-clock. Continental breakfast is available through midmorning with beverages, cereal, toast and baked goods, fruit and yoghurt; Concierge-level and above can choose from hot options like omelettes and eggs, pancakes and oatmeal. Use the door card, or call when you're hungry. We appreciated the room service staff calling our room to tell us our breakfast was on its way, just in case we overslept.

All-day selections include appetizers (shrimp cocktail or California rolls), soups (chicken and matzo ball, or French Onion), salads (Caesar, Cobb), sandwiches and burgers (including a vegetarian club and a turkey burger), entrees (pizza, pasta, grilled chicken breast and beef filet) and desserts (cheesecake, chocolate madness cake, ice cream). Suite passengers can order off restaurant menus as well.

Marina features a range of cabins from inside and outside staterooms up through lavish suites. The majority of cabins are veranda staterooms, with a significant number of Penthouse Suites, as well.

Standard cabins are perfectly comfortable for two people, and are done up in dark wood and earth tones. They feature twin beds that convert to queens, but due to the placement of the three-drawer nightstands and reading lights, the twin beds can't be physically separated by a table but remain touching even when made up as two individual beds. The beds are especially luxurious with custom-designed Prestige Tranquility mattresses and 1,000-thread-count sheets made of 100 percent Egyptian cotton. A two-sided closet with sliding doors and several drawers line one side of the bed, making it a tad awkward to get dressed if someone is still sleeping. A few extra shelves and two hooks in the entranceway add storage options.

A small sitting area includes a sofa (pullout in certain staterooms) with glass coffee table and a desk area with plentiful drawers and shelves.

Amenities include a mini-fridge stocked with complimentary water and soda, a combination safe, phone, bedside analogue clock (which lights up when you pick it up), phone, climate control, umbrella and hair dryer. Flat-screen TVs offer mostly Oceania channels, with some news, sports, movie and music channels thrown in; they're not interactive, but they do have integrated DVD players, and you can borrow DVDs from Reception. There are two 110V outlets by the desk, but they're so close together that you can't actually fit two cords side by side and utilize both outlets at once. Another is under the TV. There are many more round 220V outlets, so we recommend Americans bring a couple of converters if you're traveling with lots of electronics or want to plug in your phone by your bed at night.

Marble-and-granite-bedecked bathrooms are beautiful with separate showers and tubs (inside cabins are shower only), but putting both in a small space leads to some cramping. The rain showers, also with handheld nozzle, are too short and narrow for anyone who's tall or not stick-thin. We found that we had better luck using the handheld showerhead in the bathtub, if you don't mind the high step in. There is plentiful storage but it's a bit chopped up into small, hard-to-find sections, including a narrow drawer under the sink, two mirrored cabinets with shelves inside and glass shelves tucked between the toilet and shower. Bulgari toiletries include soap, body lotion, shampoo-shower gel combo and conditioner; standard cabins get the white tea scent, while Concierge level and above get a choice of the blue or green tea scents.

Marina offers two accessible inside cabins, two accessible outsides and two accessible veranda cabins. It also offers four pairs of connecting balcony cabins for families or groups travelling together.

Interior: The 18 inside cabins, at 174 square feet, are only slightly larger than the tiny inside cabins on Oceania's older ships. They lack the couch and sitting area of the larger cabins on this ship, and their bathrooms have only a stall shower and no tub, but they do have a vanity desk and breakfast table with chair.

Ocean-view: The 20 ocean-view staterooms, at 242 square feet, are outfitted with floor-to-ceiling windows -- so while there are no verandas, there's still a copious amount of light. Otherwise, these cabins are identical to balcony staterooms.

Balcony: Marina offers two types of balcony staterooms, regular Veranda staterooms and Concierge Veranda cabins. Both measure 242 square feet (interiors are identical to each other and to outside cabins) with 40-square-foot balconies furnished with two upright chairs and a drinks table. The exceptions are certain standard balcony cabins at the very fore and aft of Deck 7 that have extended balconies additionally furnished with lounge chairs.

The difference between regular and Concierge Veranda staterooms is in the amenities. Veranda staterooms on the Concierge Level include early embarkation and cabin access, welcome bottle of Champagne, access to the Spa Terrace, laptop computer and iPad (on request) for on-ship use, complimentary shoeshine and clothes-pressing at embarkation, choice of Bulgari toiletry scents, free tote bag to take home, priority pre-cruise dinner reservations and use of the Concierge Lounge on Deck 9. There is often an internet perk, but this seems to vary based on the package you booked.

Suite: All suite passengers are entitled to use the Executive Lounge on Deck 11. Penthouse Suites and above receive all the same perks as Concierge passengers, as well as 24-hour butler service, evening canapes and afternoon tea service in the suite, and priority shore excursion reservation. As well, there often is an internet perk, but as with Concierge cabins, this can change based on the current promotion. One real plus to booking a Penthouse, Oceania, Vista or Owner's Suite: At dinnertime, you can order room service off any of the ship's restaurant menus, including those from Red Ginger, Toscana, Polo Grill and Jacques, and be served course by course.

Note that certain promotional fares or upgrade offers into suite accommodations do not offer all the same amenities full fare passengers get.

Penthouse Suite: Decks 10 and 11 are home to the Penthouse Suites, offering a welcome 420 square feet of space. The separate living area -- complete with a sofa, two super-comfy chairs and a lighted vanity table -- opens up to a spacious veranda, decorated with wide wicker chairs and a cocktail table. A table and additional two chairs sit at one end of the bed for easy in-cabin dining. A walk-in closet ensures you won't have to look at piles of dirty clothes while onboard. Bathrooms are slightly more spacious than in Veranda Staterooms.

Oceania Suite: Designed by Dakota Jackson, the 12 Oceania Suites on decks 11 and 12 offer more than 1,000 square feet of living space. Each features a stylish living/dining room combo, media room, full guest bath with shower and separate bedroom with a king-sized bed, huge walk-in closet and spacious bathroom with Jacuzzi tub, standalone shower and even a bidet. The oversized balcony is furnished with padded easy chairs, one lounger, drink table and hot tub with its own flat-screen TV. Additional amenities include 11 a.m. embarkation with early cabin access, bar setup with six bottles of wine or liquor, fresh fruit and welcome gifts.

Vista Suite: The eight Vista Suites, also designed by Dakota Jackson, range from 1,200 to 1,500 square feet and overlook the bow on decks 8, 9, 10 and 12, so you're in for some astounding views. In addition to separate sleeping and living areas (with both comfortable seating, a dining table for four and a wet bar), these suites come with a huge master bath with whirlpool tub and separate shower, private workout room, full guest bath with shower and large walk-in closet. The huge wraparound balcony is furnished with loungers, a dining table for four and wicker easy chairs. Perks are the same as the Oceania Suite.

Owner's Suite: The three spacious Owner's Suites, which each measure more than 2,000 square feet each, span the entire front of the ship on decks 8 through 10. Using furnishings from Ralph Lauren Home, each suite features a large living and dining room with a professional entertainment system, L-shaped couch and large dining table; bedroom with king-sized bed and two walk-in closets; enormous master bath with whirlpool tub and his-n-hers vanities; and a posh foyer with a grand piano and a bar, and a full guest bath. One of the verandas offers a dining area, the other a hot tub with TV, as well as comfortable outdoor seating. 

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