Marina blends sophistication with a contemporary flair to create a casually elegant ambiance.. Credit: Oceania Cruises

Marina review: 'A cruise ship sure to give your tastebuds a real treat'

Author: Vicky Mayer

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On a memorable cruise around the Baltics, Vicky Mayer gets a taste sensation onboard Oceania’s luxury small ship Marina.

Those who know me will agree that cooking is not one of my greatest skills so imagine how I felt as I entered the splendid Culinary Center on board Oceania Cruises’ luxury small ship Marina for my first ever cookery lesson.

In the cavernous room, resplendent with Masterchef-style stainless steel benches and sea views, each guest is given an apron, an array of super sharp knives, a chopping board, their own gas cooker and plenty of space to cook.

My task? To try and recreate some of the best-loved dishes from one of Oceania’s most famous restaurants, the Far East-inspired Red Ginger.

Putting us through our paces was bubbly chef instructor Noelle Barille, who encouraged us to gather around her bench to watch as she effortlessly cooked each dish before sending us back to our benches to give them a go.

Noelle was assisted by a team of lovely chefs from the ship’s kitchen who work like elves to give help us chop the ingredients and clear off our benches between courses.

Vicky Mayer (left) did her best to give Nigella a run for her money. Credit: Vicky Mayer

So far so good I thought as I began chopping mini carrot batons for my spring rolls. The hour lesson sped along in an instant as Noelle gave us some great tips on stir frying (prep all your ingredients before you begin and don’t cook them all at the same time) and we managed to whizz through three dishes. Despite my overcooked lobster pad thai, I left the centre bursting with pride at my not-so-awful efforts.

Not surprisingly, lessons here (at £89 per person) are very popular and are a great way of bringing the five-star cuisine of this luxury ship to life.

Food of course plays a major part when choosing any cruise but Oceania Cruises really puts it neck out, with its tag ‘The Finest Cuisine at Sea’ so on a five-night cruise, I was excited to see if their cuisine really passes the taste test.

With four speciality restaurants – Polo Grill, Toscana, Jacques and Red Ginger – to choose from at no extra charge as well as the Grand Dining Room, a buffet lunch or dinner at the Terrace Café and the best coffee I’ve ever had on a ship at Horizons or Baristas, even John Torode and Greg Mortimer would find it difficult to find fault with what’s on offer.

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On a whistle-stop trip along the Baltic Sea, I looked forward to enjoying some great meals and spending time on one of Oceania’s best-loved ships.

My home from home for the cruise was a Penthouse suite on deck 11. Super roomy with a couch, writing desk and big balcony, it boasted walnut walls, dreamy blue and cream soft furnishings, a walk-in wardrobe and a glamorous marble-clad bathroom with a great power show and Asprey toiletries.

Even better, suite guests are given the services of a butler for the duration of their cruise who can help you out with reservations for the speciality restaurants, in-suite dining and any questions you may have about the facilities on board.

And just on case you ever feel peckish, complimentary afternoon tea and canapes can also be delivered to your room.

Sleep sweet in the Penthouse suite. Credit: Oceania Cruises

Yes, suite prices err on the pricey side, but the sheer luxury of space on any ship is always worth a lot and you get a lot of bang for your buck on Marina.

With a ship this luxurious it would be easy just to stay on board, enjoying the pleasure of laying in the sun on the pool deck, enjoying vodka martinis at the Horizons Bar, great entertainment at the Marina Lounge and of course, savouring delicious cuisine from dawn to dusk, but the Baltic beckoned so I had to drag myself away from my suite.

Vicky very much enjoyed vodka martinis at the Horizons Bar. Credit: Oceania Cruises

Baltic life
The best-loved port stop on a Baltic cruise has always been a trip to St Petersburg but until the war in Ukraine ends, Russian trips are off the cards. But, of course, there’s a lot more to the Baltics than Russia alone.

Oceania Cruises offers plenty of Baltic itineraries for 2023 and I was lucky enough to sample five days of their popular 11-day ‘Northern Realms’ cruise.

The cruise began in Denmark’s capital Copenhagen and speaking to a few of the passengers onboard, it seems many of them arrived early to enjoy the city’s best sights before boarding the ship.

The port-rich cruise includes stops at some of the Baltic’s most famous destinations including Riga in Latvia, Tallin in Estonia, Helsinki in Finland and Stockholm in Sweden. Like Europe, each country boasts a rich history and unique flavour and if like me, you’ve never travelled to the Baltics, a cruise is the ideal way to see a lot of countries in a short space of time.

As well as the more familiar places, there are some more unusual port stops on the itinerary too including Visby on Gotland Island in Sweden, Ronne on Bornholm island in Denmark and Klaipeda in Lithuania, and it’s here where keen travellers can experience the real flavour of the area.

Colourful Copenhagen is renowned for being one of the happiest capitals in the world.

On a culinary adventure on Gotland island led by one of the senior chefs on the ship, guests can enjoy a trip to two leading organic farms to enjoy a Swedish farm-to-table experience.

At Ejmunds Farm the farmers humanely raise cattle to produce tender Kobe-like beef while at Lilla Bjers Farm, you can learn about how they practise sustainable farming and enjoy a freshly-prepared lunch of seasonal dishes in the greenhouse.

Another great excursion is the chance to walk around the cobbled streets of Ronne, the largest town on the Danish island of Bornholm. With its half-timbered colourful houses and lively market square, this bustling port stop gives visitors a real taste of a typical Baltic town made famous as a herring fishing port.

One of my bucket-list destinations has always been Riga so was really excited as I stepped ashore to visit Riga Old Town – rightfully a UNESCO world heritage site since 1997. Though cobbled, the centre of this well-preserved city is easy to walk around, and features hit after hit of architectural gems including Romanticism, Gothic, Baroque and Modernism.

The Riga Cathedral and St Peter’s Church are the standout sights of the tour as well as the chance to see many art nouveau designed buildings with their colourful motifs including floral and marine life and tragedy masks.

Owing to its music, wining, and dining, Riga has developed a reputation as the Paris of the north. Credit: Shutterstock

Dining delights
Back on board after each excursion guests can head to the Grand Dining Room for a three-course sit-down lunch or do as I did and head to the Terrace Cafe for a healthy-ish meal. After all, with so many amazing restaurants to choose from, you need to save a bit of room for your evening meal.

Before I boarded Marina, so many people raved about Red Ginger I was worried it would be a disappointment, but now that I’ve had the pleasure of dining at this knock-out restaurant, I can safely say, they’re right.

Decorated in dramatic black and red, the interior is as great as the menu and right from the start you know you’re in for a very memorable meal. You start by choosing your chopsticks (from easy to hard) then it’s an out-and-out assault on your taste buds.

I started with salt and pepper calamari which packed a real chilli punch, dived into my neighbour’s tangy duck and watermelon starter then hit foodie heaven with the signature miso glazed seabass which is delivered in its own mini banana leaf.

Both the food and the eye-catching interior of Red Ginger elates. Credit: Oceania Cruises

Given the choice, I would have eaten here every night but then of course, run the risk of missing out on the Polo Grill where the steaks are exemplary, especially when accompanied by the totally decadent lobster mac and cheese or the moreish Osso Bucco Milanese and light-as-feather angel hair pasta at Italian-inspired Toscana.

A trip on Marina will give your tastebuds a real treat and get those little grey cells working overtime too when you enjoy some great immersive excursions.

On the morning of my departure as I savoured my last great flat white and freshly baked croissant at Baristas, I looked in envy at the lucky passengers enjoying more time on Marina, wondering how soon I could get on board again and whether eating at Red Ginger every night was ever allowed…

Enjoy Italian-inspired fare at Toscana. Credit: Oceania Cruises

Get on board
An 11-night ‘London to Copenhagen’ cruise from Southampton to Copenhagen via Gothenburg (Sweden), Kiel (Germany), Karlskrona (Sweden), Stockholm (Sweden), Helsinki (Finland), Tallinn (Estonia), Riga (Latvia), Klaipedia (Lithuania) and Gdynia (Poland), departing July 11, 2023, staying in a Veranda Stateroom from £4,169 per person, including WiFi, return flight, a choice of six shore excursions, beverage package or up to $600 onboard credit.

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About Vicky Mayer

Vicky began her career working on young women’s magazines before moving on to TV and entertainment titles. Her passion, though, has always been travel, so as Editor of World of Cruising, she combines her love of magazines with the chance to shout about cruise holidays around the world.