Oceania Marina

Oceania Marina: Converted to Cruising

“That ship is enormous!” exclaims Sanja as the motorcoach delivers us to the Miami Passenger Ship Terminal to board the 66,084 grt and 1,250 passenger Oceania Marina.  (Note to self:  Do NOT suggest Sanja accompany you on a cruise aboard a ship like Wonder of the Seas or she might just pass out when she sees how big a big ship is.)

Yes, Sanja, my sophisticated and well-traveled Serbian-born friend and next-door neighbor is about to experience her very first cruise—at my urging, I might add. 

Although my passion for cruising spans four decades, I’m always a bit apprehensive when it comes to introducing the uninitiated to cruising.  That goes double for Sanja, a tremendously active woman who, with her family, is always hiking the wilderness, climbing mountains, freediving and doing other treacherous stuff, while my idea of adventure is ordering a cocktail with unfamiliar ingredients like rose petal syrup or squid ink.  Will Sanja be content lying by the pool, wading in the emerald surf of the Caribbean, indulging in spa treatments, sitting down to a lavish dinner each night and hearing “Sweet Caroline” played way, way, way too frequently?

But so far, so good.  Our 420 square-foot Oceania Marina Penthouse suite, particularly its balcony and the high-end Bulgari toiletries that line the vanity of our bathroom, dazzles her and her eyes widen when our butler, Ashkay, materializes, offering to lend his assistance in any way he can.  We unpack, sipping our welcome bottle of champagne while doing so, and place our garments in the walk- in closet.

Unpacked and settled, we explore the stunning ship, and Sanja marvels at the art, particularly the breathtaking Lalique staircase that rises from deck five to six, and the impressive library with its overstuffed easy chairs and glowing table lamps.  Oceana Marina’s lavish selection of restaurants convinces us to begin each day at the well-equipped fitness center and maybe book a treatment or two at the adjoining Aquamar Spa.

Judi and Sanja | Photo: Judi Cuervo

Everywhere on board there are lovely bars and lounges and little surprises, like the Culinary Center which, during our sailing, will offer cooking demonstrations, and The Artist’s Loft where we can learn the techniques needed to create gorgeous and colorful collectible plates.  Sanja is impressed with everything from the terry-covered mattresses on the deck chairs that surround the pool to our special Penthouse category perks:  Use of a card-access Executive Lounge stocked with round-the-clock drinks and snacks, a large screen TV and computer terminals, and the private Aquamar Spa Terrace, an exclusive sunning area with two bubbling hot tubs and entry to a serene indoor space featuring heated tile lounge chairs.   When we arrive at Baristas, a coffee bar overlooking the pool high atop Oceania Marina, it’s love at first sight for Sanja, a devoted caffeine afficionado.

Yeah, I think, this is going really well…and she hasn’t even experienced Oceania Marina’s dining yet!

As the sun sets that day, Sanja and I enter Jacques, Oceania Marina’s French restaurant with dishes created by master chef Jacques Pepin.  Wine orders taken, we sit back to peruse perhaps the most decadent menu on the high seas when a lovely young server approaches our table and says what sounds an awful lot like:  Video sam vaše ime i pitao se da li ste iz Srbije?

SAY WHAT???  Immediately, I suspect that—once again—a Covid mask is preventing me from reading the server’s lips and understanding what the heck I’m hearing.  At least that’s what I think until I hear Sanja respond:  Da!  Poreklom sam iz Beograda ali sam otisao pre dvadeset godina za Kanadu I sada zivim u Njujorku.

It finally dawns on me….they’re speaking Serbian!  What a wonderful welcome—and that welcome continues during our cruise as Sanja meets friendly countrymen and women staffing the bars, the spa, the restaurants and even the Executive Lounge.  They all approach her, tipped off, I suspect, by the fact that her last name has a gazillion letters in it and ends in “ic,” a dead giveaway.

A few days later, Sanja is sipping a freshly squeezed carrot, orange, beet and apple concoction that she picked up at Waves Juice Bar.  “I think I’m going to start with miso soup and then have the sea bass and matcha ice cream” Sanja tells me quite out of nowhere.  I’m baffled, the statement coming as it did not as we were sitting in Red Ginger, looking over the dinner menu of Asian dishes but before noon, as we sat beside the swimming pool.  I look at her quizzically and she confesses that she’d reviewed the menu on the interactive TV in our suite in anticipation of dinner that evening.  It was then that I suspected that this would not be the last sailing Sanja and I would share.

Ten days aboard Oceania Marina was all it took to convert Sanja to cruising.  She dined exquisitely, danced every night at Horizons Lounge, saw magnificent sunsets, relaxed in bubbling hot tubs, was massaged and pampered.  Cruising, she happily discovered, really spoke to her… and, thanks to many of the staff and crew aboard Oceania Marina, it often did so even in her own language.

Judi Cuervo is a New York City native who fell in love with cruising in 1976 during her first sailing aboard Carnival Cruises’ Mardi Gras. Twenty years later, she began her freelance cruise writing gig and, since that time, has covered mass market, ultra-premium, riverboat and expedition ships for regional, national and international publications as well as cruise websites.