Innovation may be at the heart of Norwegian Cruise Line, but when it comes to upscale sister brand Oceania Cruises, innovation is subtle and more gradual, especially when it comes to food and beverages.
“A theme that persists throughout Oceania’s history is that of constant innovation,” Howard Sherman, president, and CEO of Oceania Cruises, told a small group of media onboard Oceania’s Marina during a town hall-style meeting this week. But more importantly, “what to innovate and at what pace,” he added.
“We don’t want people to miss anything,” added Franco Semeraro, senior vice president of hotel operations. “If anything, we want to add something to Vista.”
With that said, the line is removing two of its signature dining options from Vista – Jacques and La Reserve – and adding two new venues. To ensure loyal Oceania cruisers aren’t missing the two omitted dining options, aspects of each will be added to other venues onboard.
In the case of Jacques, the signature restaurant helmed by famed chef Jacques Pepin, select dishes will be added to the main menu in the Grand Dining Room.
“The idea will be for dinner to have an appetizer, a main course, and a dessert, which is from Jacques Pepin,” said Alexis Quaretti, director of culinary programs and development.
In the case of La Reserve, a selection of the most popular dishes will be moved to the extra-fee and ultra-exclusive Privée.
Two restaurants that will get the least number of tweaks will be Red Ginger and Toscana, both of which have a loyal following among past Oceania cruisers.
“We will never touch our miso sea bass,” Semeraro said. “We will never touch our chicken curry. We will never touch our watermelon and duck salad. These are the core of that menu.”
One dish that will be added to the Red Ginger menu will be a chicken ramen noodles option.
“We will tweak our pasta [at Toscana],” Semeraro said, adding “without the mistake of taking away the lasagna again.”
At Polo, the American sirloin steaks will be replaced by Basque beef sourced from San Sebastian.
New dining venues onboard will include Ember, Aquamar Kitchen, and a French bakery, located next to the barista.
Ember will be an American-style steakhouse open for lunch and dinner. Aquamar will offer health-focused cuisine for breakfast and lunch, along with a selection of zero-proof cocktails – a first for the line. (Zero-proof wines will also be added to the wine menus throughout the ship.)
Also new will be two private rooms, one each located in Polo Grill and Toscana. The rooms will be for up to 10 people and will offer the regular menu at each location, as well as an exclusive menu with wine pairings that cost extra.
In total, between the new dining venues, changes at the signature restaurants, and tweaks to the Grand Dining Room menu, Oceania will try out more than 400 new recipes on Vista, Quaretti said. Those that are successful will eventually be rolled out to the rest of the fleet.
One additional new dining venue will roll out first on Riviera when it comes out of dry dock later this year. A new pizzeria and wings place will be located in what now houses the milkshake bar, which will move to a more prominent location on the pool deck.
Ship Refurbishments & Innovations
It’s not only the food and beverage programs that get the innovation treatment.
“Beyond the best food at sea, we strive for constant innovation in all areas,” Sherman said. “One of those for us has always been the ships…Our idea is that as we go forward for our ships to always be better than the day they were delivered. And what that requires is that whenever we dry dock them, not only that we replace everything and put it into pristine condition but that we make improvements all the time.”
Already, Oceania’s R-series of ships (Regatta, Insignia, Nautica) have received recent, comprehensive refurbs. Later this year, Riviera will undergo a total down-to-the-bones refurbishment, as will Marina in 2023.
The majority of rooms will be taken down to their bare bones and redone, though Oceania Suites and Vista Suites will keep their configuration. But all soft goods throughout the ship, including all carpeting and window treatments, will be replaced. The colors, Semeraro said, will be more contemporary, though he emphasized the design will remain more traditional and not modern.
“The fleet has never been in better condition than it is today, so there has never been a better time to sell Oceania Cruises to your guests than today,” Sherman said.
One thing Sherman emphasized; Oceania’s ships are not meant to be a destination unto themselves.
“These are floating five-star hotels that take you from destination to destination so you can explore the world,” he said.
He also added that the types of itineraries the cruise line offers have changed over time, gradually becoming longer and with more overnights.
“I think when we’re launching our ’24 and ’25 season, we’re going to have 73 of these, what I call Grand Voyages, that’ll range from 18 days in length to 200 days in length. You can take a 200-day voyage without repeating ports.”
In 2023, the line is offering more than 500 overnights, as well.
In addition, Sherman said, Oceania takes great pride in finding new ports including “destinations they didn’t know they wanted to go to until we told them about it… We are going to continue to try and find you those ports that are truly special and aren’t filled with 15,000 of your friends from back home.
During the Town Hall, Sherman also touched on the recent announcement by Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings that all three of its brands (including Oceania) will permit nonvaccinated guests onboard with nothing more than proof of a negative COVID-19 test.
The response, Howard said, has been “overwhelmingly positive.” And, in fact, the bookings this week have been “quite a bit higher than last week.”
He also said that based on their knowledge of the typical Oceania client, they are not expecting to be bringing a large number of unvaccinated guests onboard.