Normally I travel unannounced, to avoid any special treatment, as my goal is to report objectively and glean advice that will apply to every traveler. On this voyage aboard Oceania Cruises’ 1,258-passenger Marina, however, everybody knows I’m here. My presence on this cruise has been promoted in the brochure for the past year. I’m here as an “enrichment lecturer,” sharing the hard-earned travel tricks and strategies I’ve learned over 24 years of reporting for Condé Nast Traveler. I gave my first of two “Secrets Every Smart Traveler Should Know” talks yesterday, and this evening there’s a “Wendy Perrin Get-Together” for all the Condé Nast Traveler readers on board. Even though my cover is blown, though, I still think I’m able to report objectively—not because I’m having a normal cruise experience (I’m definitely not), but because I’m getting to know so many passengers who are telling me all about their experiences on this trip.
Who takes a 20-night cruise from Lima, Peru, to New York anyway? How are they different from the people you’d find on a typical Caribbean or Mediterranean cruise? First of all, it’s an international crowd, with 23 nationalities represented (not counting the officers and crew). The largest contingent is from the U.S. (554 passengers); after that, from Australia (159 passengers), Canada (157), New Zealand (73), Germany (62), the U.K. (44), the Netherlands (26), and Switzerland (31).
Second, there are no kids; this is a cruise for couples—mainly well-traveled retirees. “I’ve got a bucket list that’s getting longer rather than shorter,” one Australian told me, echoing what I’ve been hearing a lot. Passengers chose this sailing because they wanted to see Machu Picchu (which many did pre-cruise), transit the Panama Canal, and spend time in New York. Clearly, it’s possible to do those three things in less than 20 days, but this crowd has time on their hands and relishes the relaxed pace of life on the ship. For most of them—especially the non-Americans—this cruise is actually part of a longer trip. One couple is continuing on to Canada and then England aboard the ship; they’re disembarking in Southampton on June 11.
Third, everyone I’ve spoken to is a frequent cruise-goer, and nearly everyone has sailed with Oceania before. (One couple even had three future Oceania cruises booked before they boarded this one.) Veterans of Oceania’s smaller vessels (the 684-passenger Insignia, Nautica, and Regatta) say they miss the intimacy of those ships—the small size makes it easier to get to know fellow passengers and makes for a friendlier crew and a greater sense of community—whereas those who have sailed on Marina before say they’re back for the food. This ship has an array of restaurants that you can’t find on small ships, and passengers have literally come back for the miso-glazed sea bass at Red Ginger, the Asian restaurant, or the soupe de poisson Marseillaise at Jacques, the French restaurant created by Jacques Pépin. “I don’t think I’ve ever in my life eaten this consistently well for this long,” says my husband, Tim. Granted, for us every other meal back home is the kids’ leftover macaroni and cheese or something with the word “nugget” in it. Seriously, though, on how many other cruise ships can you order “Grilled Florida lobster medallions, sliced Black Angus filet mignon, tomato on toasted ciabatta, garlic roasted jus and remoulade dipping sauce with parmesan-dusted truffle fries” at the poolside snack bar?
By Wendy Perrin, Conde Nast Traveller
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