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Celebrating our milestone birthdays in 2022 — 60 for her and 80 for me — was daunting for both of us because Lauren is disabled. With pain defining life in the 40 years since an accident, mobility and comfort are daily challenges, and she rarely leaves her Florida home.
We found joy in plenty of time spent together and shared experiences that we will never forget. It turns out that now is a remarkable time for cruising – especially aboard Oceania ships with their talented, caring and empathetic staff.
Our February voyage began with ship-arranged appointments for COVID-19 testing in the Port of Miami—required for both passengers and crew, along with proof of vaccinations. Most of the Caribbean islands also require vaccinations, so I snapped a picture of my card and loaded it into my phone for quick reference.
A buzz of excitement rose from the crowd waiting to board – some were already talking about where they would be eating. Only 300 of the marina’s potential 1,250 passengers were booked for this voyage, and many had apparently sailed aboard the marina before. Reduced capacity translates into effective social distancing, one-to-one staff-to-diner ratios, and low reservation requirements at more intimate restaurants like Red Ginger.
With food said to be among the best at sea, dining is a major draw for Oceania, and there’s no extra expense for the marina’s four specialty restaurants.
Having looked at the menus online, what we expected the most was dinner Jacques, the French restaurant named after Jacques Pepinsince 2003 Chief Culinary Director of Oceania.
Booked for its comfort and large veranda, our spacious penthouse suite on deck 11 was a delight. We found a motorized chair in our cabin that was rented to help Lauren navigate the ship.
After introducing himself as our butler, Akshay Divekar helped us get our bearings.
“Turn left for food and right for drinks,” he told us.
Our suite, conveniently located between two rows of elevators, made everything on board a quick ride up or down. Baristas, a gourmet cafe overlooking the pool and adjacent to the library on deck 14, quickly became a popular destination.
We took the motorized chair for a test drive and headed to lunch at the cafe terrace.
Cruise ship buffets have changed in the time of COVID and I hope this change will remain. Prepared meals, along with choices like sliced cheese and olives, are segregated behind thick plastic sheets. You point to what you want and it will be given to you to add to your tray. Another waiter carries the filled tray to your table. No more piling on the food and no more fumbling for second helpings. No more food being touched by others. It’s a great system that seems to reduce food waste while being more hygienic.
We were very impressed when we met other journalists on board for dinner at Jacques.
The filet of sea bass baked in puff pastry, prepared for two, attracted diners from other tables when it was wheeled to the table. We almost cheered when the pastry, decorated with fins and a tail, was opened and the sea bass skeleton was deftly removed in one piece. The delicious fish inside has been halved, plated and served with Beurre Blanc sauce.
Overlooking the Maine lobster baked with mushroom cream sauce and the roasted Provence lamb chops, we both vowed to return for another dinner at Jacques’.
Two days at sea gave us enough time to get to know the ship.
Other specialty restaurants included Tuscany for Italian, Polo grill for steak and Red ginger for Asian fusion. The Spicy Duck and Watermelon Salad at Red Ginger received top votes from us, and the Surf and Turf sandwich — lobster and filet mignon — was ordered twice for lunch at the poolside Waves Bar.
The Grand Dining Room, which we visited for all three meals, was an elegant, chandeliered space with its own fine dining menu, which included a low-calorie spa menu, a Jacques selection, as well as a four-course daily menu in the Global category Cuisine included . It was an Indian meal one night that Lauren loved.
Personal service soon made this cruise stand out as we remembered our names and the staff noticed a need or preference before we did. That’s one of the nicer things about cruising small ships.
One night at Red Ginger, I forgot my reading glasses and squinted closer to the light at the menu. Our server was soon at my side with a pretty red case containing a dozen pairs of reading glasses of various powers. The menu became clear.
Details for the ship’s shore excursions allowed us to choose those that would accommodate Lauren’s disability, but some days were more difficult for her than others.
We saw green St. Kitts – which has more monkeys than people – on a delightful three-hour train ride around its perimeter. When sugar cane production ended in 2005, the train that transported the island’s sugar cane for processing was converted for tourism.
In Antigua we were taken by bus to Shirley Heights to see English Harbor from above and see first hand why the sheltered harbor made it an ideal headquarters for the British Navy in the 17th and 18th centuries.
I joined a group to go snorkeling on St. Lucia and attended wine dinners alone because Lauren’s painkillers made drinking impossible for her. But massages, cooking classes and evening shows became part of our routine.
To save time most mornings, we ordered breakfast from room service and got dressed as we ate.
One night while I was attending a champagne dinner, Lauren ordered room service. Akshay noticed she hadn’t included dessert in her order and brought her a fruit dessert, remembering her fondness for fresh fruit from our morning orders.
Until we asked for a photo, we never saw him without his mask, but his eyes and face betrayed his kindness and thoughtfulness. Staff are always masked on board and passengers wear masks indoors except when eating.
Check OceaniaCruises.com for itineraries and updated information.
Oceania OLife Choice helps make cruising more affordable with 2-for-1 fares, free flights and transfers, and for a limited time, free shore excursions, a free beverage package, and free shipboard credit.
The cruise line’s seven ships carry between 600 and 1,250 passengers, although pandemic protocols still call for fewer than that at the time of writing. The ratio of staff to guests is almost one to one.
A similar itinerary aboard the Marina in the Caribbean in December starts at $2,299 per person.
We rented our scooter scootaround.com/en.
Exceptional food is no accident, as you will read in my interview with the chef in a future story.
— Janet Podolak