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.