Founded in 2003 by cruise industry veterans Frank Del Rio, Bob Binder and Joe Watters, the one-decade-old Oceania Cruises is remarkable success story. Today, Oceania Cruises ranks as one of the industry leaders, thanks to its three small, classic ships and two midsize, new ships; its innovative and immersive itineraries; excellent dining; and what can be summed up in Oceania’s words as “Affordable Luxury.”
Success, however, did not come overnight.
The company could perhaps best be described as the unofficial successor to the much-acclaimed Renaissance Cruises, which fell victim to the global travel recession in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks that rattled the United States and the world.
A Niche Between Premium & Luxury
When Renaissance went bankrupt, it left a void in the cruise industry. There were plenty of mainstream lines, and no shortage of ultra-luxury lines, but the “middle ground” – the so-called “Upper Premium” lines – were few and far between.
Oceania fit squarely into the niche that it alone defined when the company started operations a decade ago using the ex-Renaissance vessels, which were known simply as the “R-Class.” Oceania began with just a single ship – the Regatta – which embarked on her maiden voyage on July 5, 2003. Insignia followed in 2004, and the last of the R-Class trio, Nautica, was added in November of 2005.
In 2007, four years after Oceania Cruises proved the niche was successful, Azamara Cruises (now Azamara Club Cruises), which had also acquired two “R-Class” vessels, began to make inroads. Likewise, we expect Viking Ocean Cruises, which debuts in 2015, will become a formidable competitor within the “Upper Premium” niche.
Around The World In 180 Days
Part of Oceania’s success lies in its itineraries, which are some of the most creative and inventive of any cruise line. In fact, Oceania just announced a staggering 44 new itineraries for the 2014 season, including an epic 180-day World Cruise aboard Insignia that is nearly two months longer than the traditional world cruise of 120 days. Insignia will call on 89 ports of call scattered across 44 different countries.
No other cruise line is doing anything even close to Oceania’s World Cruise.
Of course, only the fortunate can take a voyage that spans half a year. If you have only a week or two to spare, Oceania has a number of itineraries that may be of interest to you.
Take, for example, the line’s Glamorous Coastlines voyage aboard Insignia next summer. It begins July 29 in Monte Carlo and sails to Portofino, Italy; Cannes, France; Sanary-Sur-Mer, France; Palma de Mallorca, Spain; Ibiza, Spain; and Valencia, Spain before concluding in Barcelona.
The voyage is only a week in duration, yet it encompasses the big name ports that many people want to see, while throwing in a smattering of pleasantly obscure ports like Sanary-Sur-Mer.
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Emphasis On Fine Dining
No matter which Oceania cruise you choose, you’ll certainly dine well. The company has earned accolades (and rightly so) for its cuisine, led by Executive Culinary Director Jacques Pépin. Oceania Cruises features dishes that are prepared to order rather than assembled en masse. Plus, the cuisine is often married to the tastes and ingredients of the regions in which each of the line’s five ships are sailing.
In addition to the main restaurant, there are two free-of-charge speciality restaurants on Insignia, Regatta and Nautica: the Mediterranean-style Toscana restaurant and the Polo Grill steakhouse.
The new Marina and Riviera features all of these dining venues, plus the excellent pan-Asian Red Ginger and the charming, rustic French restaurant Jacques, created by and named for Jacques Pépin himself.
Dining in all ships’ main restaurants operate on an open-seating basis: Just wander in whenever you get hungry during open hours, and the maitre ‘d will find you a table.
Both of the new vessels also boast some of the largest standard staterooms at sea at 282 square feet, and nearly all – 96 percent – feature private balconies. Each ship has a total of 625 staterooms and suites for guests to revel in.
Marina and Riviera also feature some of the most original suites afloat, like the Owner’s Suites that are furnished in Ralph Lauren Home. These grand rooms have become some of the most photographed suites afloat, thanks to their elegance that seemingly channels the glory days of the transatlantic ocean liners, but pairs them will all the modern conveniences and amenities.
Oceania’s two newest vessels also feature a sweeping Lalique Grand Staircase and a world-class art collection that was largely hand-picked by Frank Del Rio.
As Oceania heads into its eleventh year in operation, the company is continually tweaking and evolving its onboard product to reflect the tastes of its loyal guests, in part by forging partnerships with companies like Canyon Ranch, which has operated the spas aboard each Oceania ship since 2009.
Ultimately, however, the company need only continue to do what it has done best, deliver value vacations with high-quality touches.
For those seeking a cruise that sets its sights higher than mainstream, but gentler on the wallet than ultra-luxury, an Oceania cruise may be just the ticket.
An avid traveler and an award-winning journalist, Ralph Grizzle produces articles, video and photos that are inspiring and informative, personal and passionate. A journalism graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Ralph has specialized in travel writing for more than two decades. To read more cruise and port reviews by Ralph Grizzle, visit his website at www.avidcruiser.com