Just Back from a Caribbean Voyage With Oceania Cruises

Our writer is just back from a Caribbean cruise aboard Oceania Riviera.

Riviera

Photo: Oceania Cruises

I love the Caribbean islands, from colorful Jamaica to elegant Antigua to quaint Curaçao.

And having sailed on more than two dozen Caribbean cruises over the years, I’ve come to admire the friendliness and joie de vivre of its residents. We were all heartbroken last year when gorgeous locales like Puerto Rico, Dominica, St. Martin and St. Thomas sustained major damage from Hurricanes Irma and Maria.

Thankfully, these islands are recovering—St. Thomas and San Juan, Puerto Rico, are open to cruise ships—and tourists are eager to contribute to the islands’ economies.

Most of the Caribbean was little-affected or untouched by hurricanes. To see for myself, I jumped aboard a cruise ship. My choice? A 10-night, round-trip “Seaswept Breezes” cruise from Miami on Oceania Cruises’ graceful Riviera®. The ship boasts a professional-quality Culinary Center where guests take hands-on cooking classes from master chefs; an Artist Loft, where guests can visit and watch an accomplished artist-in-residence work; and the stunning Lalique Grand Staircase, created from 2.3 tons of pure crystal.

Cooking class in the Culinary Center

Photo: Oceania Cruises

Set sail for sparkling waters and azure blue skies on a luxurious Caribbean cruise.

The port-intensive Oceania Cruises Caribbean itinerary included stops at Grand Cayman; Cozumel and Costa Maya, Mexico; Honduras; Guatemala; Belize; and the always delightful Key West, Florida, which is rapidly recovering from hurricane damage. Riviera® General Manager August Keuler said that in the wake of the hurricanes, Oceania Cruises had made some itinerary changes with smaller, lesser-known but charming Mexican ports such as Costa Maya emerging to fill in the gaps.

Winter storms up north trickled down as rain in most of our Caribbean ports, but warmer temps and friendly locals kept spirits high. Shore excursions included cultural experiences such as chocolate tasting at Cacao Farm in Rio Dulce, Guatemala; visiting Costa Maya’s Kohunlich and Dzibanche Maya ruins; and learning about Maya medicinal rites in hot, new port Harvest Caye, Belize.

Guests interested in enjoying the beauty of the islands sailed on catamarans around Roatan, Honduras; rode ATVs in the jungles near Cozumel; and visited turtles and stingrays in George Town, Grand Cayman.

Among the most popular excursions with Riviera® guests were those involving culinary experiences. “These sell out quickly because they only accommodate a small group,” Keuler said. Serious foodies tackled the “Mexican Cooking Class & Beach Escape” in Cozumel and the “Hydroponic Farm Tour & Onboard Cooking Class” in Roatan.

On the latter, guests met with chefs in the elaborate Culinary Center on the ship for an introduction to the Blue Harbor Tropical Arboretum, a 160-acre eco-friendly botanical garden, fruit orchard and hydroponic farm where high-tech methods are used to grow produce without soil. Before returning to the Riviera® for a cooking class, guests learned about the lengthy process for harvesting and processing cashews and harvested heads of lettuce in the hydroponic greenhouse.

That focus on high-quality food and wine continued on the ship, where it was immediately apparent that the recent rash of culinary awards for Oceania Cruises, an upscale line of six medium-size vessels, was well deserved. Under the leadership of Master Chef Jacques Pépin, who serves as the line’s executive culinary director, the ships have expanded their list of alternative restaurants to four on the two larger ships, the Riviera® and the Marina®.

No fee is charged to dine on Italian fare in Toscana (on gorgeous Versace dinner plates); fine steaks and chops (and key lime pie!) in Polo Grill; bold Asian-fusion cuisine in Red Ginger (sea bass wrapped in a banana leaf secured by tiny wooden clothespins); and French country cuisine at Jacques.

Vietnamese banh trang summer rolls at Red Ginger

Photo: Oceania Cruises

In the Grand Dining Room, where we sat under a stunning chandelier, we enjoyed continental menus, Canyon Ranch Spa cuisine and gourmet vegan dishes. Oenophiles, and there were many on board, reveled in private vintage wine and gourmet dining pairings in La Reserve by Wine Spectator. My favorite lunch—grilled mahi-mahi—was served daily at the Waves Grill on the pool deck.

Keuler said the focus on fine dining and wine has been pivotal in Oceania Cruises’ success. In its 15th anniversary year, he is proud of the accolades the line is receiving. On the Riviera®, “Galley space is twice the size of any vessel in our size range,” he added. “We continue to offer fresh produce and local sourcing whenever possible, and the key to pleasing our guests over and over is consistency and outstanding service.”

Those of us who don’t cook (especially on vacation!) admired those who did and went on to do our own thing: We ate!

Ready to set sail with Oceania Cruises? Browse your options online or call 877-396-7159 to talk to a AAA Travel Counselor today.

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Rose Stadt, AAA Travel Counselor, Vallejo, Calif.

More and more people want to customize their escorted trips with longer stays in certain cities or visits to specific sites. I make sure the independent pieces fit seamlessly with the tour.

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