When Oceania Cruises launched Vista in this month, the cruise line set a new global standard for the upper-premium category of cruise ships. Designed with evolutionary style concepts and substantial luxe elements, the 1,200-passenger Vista – Oceania’s first new build in over a decade, and first of the Allura class vessels – approaches the luxury level of sister brand Regent Seven Seas Cruises. Both are owned by Miami-based Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd.
Vista increases Oceania’s fleet to seven ships, including four 684-passenger R-class ships – Regatta, Insignia, Nautica and Sirena – built and acquired in the late 1990s, plus two 1,238-passenger O-class vessels – Marina and Riviera – custom built by Fincantieri in Italy for Oceania in 2011 and 2012 respectively. Allura will debut in 2025.
Having previously experienced Insignia, Marina and Riviera, my anticipation for Vista was high. Fairly put, the 1,200-passenger Vista exceeded expectations in every category, from design, accommodations, dining and culinary finesse to experiential and active facilities, plus extensive varieties of shore excursions in every port.
On first impression, Vista dazzled, its jaunty prow gleaming against the historic ramparts of Rome. Inside, the Atrium Lobby’s floor-to-ceiling crystal sculpture sets a glamorous tone, its illumination changing like the ocean under sunset, from blue to rose to crystalline hues. After quickly scoping out my Concierge Veranda stateroom – particularly delighted by the bathroom’s huge make-up mirror and corner bank of drawers – I set out to explore the ship. Starting at the very top deck 16, I found sporty entertainment options including an 18-hole mini-golf course, a netted-golf driving range, and a pickle ball court, among other activities.
Stepping down outdoor steps to deck 15, I followed the fitness track to unique clusters of sunning spaces-for-two, privately enclaved by curved wood divides. At aft, walking through the Aquamar Spa and Vitality Center, I found the Aquamar Spa Terrace. A haven for outdoor relaxing after spa therapies or fitness sessions, this sublime, window-protected space features two hot-tubs, a hydro-therapy pool, and plenty of secluded places to lounge.
The pool deck is creatively conceived with a curvilinear, asymmetrical design that emulates a resort at sea. Spanning beyond the pool itself is a wet platform with a couple of shaded pods, for a sense of lounging on water. The sunbathing area is enhanced by intimate spaces sheltered by curved wood divides, lovely for passengers craving seclusion.
Back in my suite – with just minutes to unpack and dress before welcoming cocktails at Martini’s bar – I was impressed by the abundance of electric outlets and device charging stations, located above the desk and each night table.
That evening, dinner at Toscana was a delectable delight. Of all the tantalizing options in Oceania’s signature Italian restaurant – designed with the atmosphere of a Tuscan trattoria – I chose dishes specially created for Vista by renowned celebrity chef Giada De Laurentiis, Vista’s godmother who would Christen the ship two days later in Malta. Giada’s Capri-inspired spaghetti topped with jumbo shrimp appeared in a lemon-cream sauce rich with mascarpone and parmesan cheeses, and fried capers. I loved the Branzino fish served on potato-fennel purée with pomegranate vinaigrette.
Cruising at sea the next day gave opportunities to indulge in Vista’s lifestyle. Myriad experiential options included learning the art of acrylic painting on a glass plate in the Artist Loft; or the craft of creating perfect cocktails at the Casino Mixology Bar; or participating in hands-on epicurean enrichment in the Culinary Center to prepare lemony dishes redolent of the Amalfi coast.
At a seminar, passengers learned about Vista’s distinctive elements designed to promote wellness and fresh air quality. Most impressive to me – as one who requires hypoallergenic bedding and pillows – was carpeting throughout the ship that has zero toxicity, as it is crafted from pure, undyed sheep’s wool. Who knew that diverse species of sheep naturally grow wool in shades of blue, gold, grey, white and brown that can be woven into beautiful patterns? As for the beds, their 1000-thread-count sheets and pillowcases are technically crafted to amplify comfort by cooling temperatures by 2 degrees centigrade for fresh, indulgent sleep.
By the time Captain Luca Manzi berthed Vista alongside the ancient port walls of Valletta’s Grand Harbour, passengers were hyped for the gala event celebrating Oceania’s 20th anniversary and the ship’s Christening. Following speeches by Oceania’s founder, Frank J. Del Rio – recently retired as president/CEO of Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings – and his son, Frank A. Del Rio, Jr., now president, Oceania Cruise Lines – Vista was ceremoniously blessed by Monsignor Charles Jude Scicluna, Archibishop of Malta and Rabbi Marc Labowitz of Florida, who jokingly dubbed his blessing a “bristening” and quipped he might “climb up the deck and snip a bit off the tip of the bow” to make it all kosher.
After Vista’s godmother Giada De Laurentiis smashed Champagne across the bow, the party continued with a performance by Harry Connick, Jr., and fireworks lighting the sky. The event itself – organized by VIVA Creative and held on the shoreside pier under a massive tent – showcased how travel advisors who plan corporate/incentive cruises could stage programs for, say, award-winning sales teams.
The next morning, teeming rain in Naples did not deter passengers from exploring the environs. An impressive 15 excursions included visits to the isle of Capri, Sorrento, the Amalfi coast, as well as culinary and wine-tasting tours. Choosing an all-day tour to revisit Pompeii and Herculaneum – mainly to see the progress of Hurculaneum’s excavations – I found myself seated at lunch break with an unassuming man clad in a T-shirt and cap who turned out to be architect Greg Walton, founding partner of Studio DADO Inc., which designed most of Vista’s interior and exterior spaces. Over pizza, pasta, tomato-bocconcini salad and fruity Italian wine, I learned the thoughtfully conceived inspirations for my favourite Vista spaces.
Walton explained, “Every space tells a story related to travels by sea.” The floor-to-ceiling crystal sculpture in the Atrium Lobby – which on close view looks like zillions of fish swimming upriver – speaks of the journey of discovery. A level up, the Grand Lobby – which leads to the Grand Dining Room – gives the sensation of walking through a global art gallery, its cushy seating areas separated by etageres laden with an exquisite menagerie of sculpted ceramic and art glass.
Dining and eatery spaces
The Grand Dining Room itself is fashioned as a garden conservatory – say, in England’s Kew Gardens – with a series of archways creating intimate seating alcoves. Lively and airy, its embellishments include panels painted with gilt wisteria, and floral carpeting in subtle hues of yellow, gold and dove grey.
Each of Vista’s 11 dining venues is distinctly styled for atmosphere to elevate Oceania’s brand, The Finest Cuisine at Sea. The mosaic tiled entrance to Polo Grill – inspired by the Persians who held the first polo games – is a fitting entrée to the gourmet steakhouse. Toscana’s tiled wall – depicting birds perched on vineyard and olive branches – could have been plucked from an ancient trattoria in a Tuscan hilltop village. The glittery gold wall in pan-Asian Red Ginger references Indochina lantern festivals.
Vista debuts three new eatery venues for Oceania:
• Aquamar Kitchen – facing vast windows with seating plumped against white lattice divides – evokes a breezy Mediterranean coastal café, fitting for wellness-inspired breakfasts, lunches and its variety of non-alcoholic cocktails.
• Popular Baristas has an open bakery where chefs serve tempting pastries and snacks.
• As a new signature restaurant, Ember has the cachet of dining in a Napa Valley winery cellar, it’s curved brick ceiling, fireplace and open kitchen setting a casual tone for Americana favourites.
A side of tasty notes to travel advisors
For clients who are culinary aficionados and oenophiles, suggest indulging in the wine-pairing or Dom Perignon dinner.
• For cocktail lovers, the craft concoctions at Founders Bar, tucked behind the casino.
• For abstainers, Aquamar’s zero-proof cocktails made with Lyre’s non-alcoholic “liquors.”
• For dessert addicts, recommend Ember’s sinfully decadent triple chocolate brownie served with salted caramel, ice cream and crushed walnuts, or the yummy beignets at Baristas.
• For clients who prefer casual dining: Terrace elevates buffet dining with substantial gourmet offerings, including à la minute preparations of lobster, steak, fish, plus daily sushi, vegan dishes, and occasional specialties, including Beef Wellington.
• And for special celebrations, suggest an exclusive evening in Privee dining room.
Suites and all-balcony staterooms
As Greg Walton described, all accommodations are designed for nesting in calm and soothing environments.
Vista’s popular Concierge Veranda staterooms, at 291 square feet including ample balcony and big shower suitable for hefty guests, includes access to the Concierge Lounge. Concierge Level solo cabins, at 25 sq. m., include a spacious balcony. The smallest double rooms, at 22 sq. m., have French balconies that open to fresh air. Visit oceaniacruises.com for explicit details on top level suites.
Oceania itineraries are port intensive, with some overnight and extended evening port stays. Vista’s itinerary calendar spans from summer in the Mediterranean Sea to cruising Canada and New England in fall before heading south for a series of winter itineraries exploring Mexico, Bermuda, and the Caribbean from her homeport of Miami. Vista’s 2024 summer season includes a series of Grand Voyages in the eastern Mediterranean, Aegean, and Adriatic Seas, including calls at ports in Italy, Turkey, Greece, and the Holy Lands.
Oceania’s pitch to travel advisors
Harry Sommers, new president and CEO of Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings, enthusiastically addressed travel advisors: “We are 100% committed to the trade,” he said. “Your success is our success. Once you get guests on board, they return. It’s like an annuity for travel advisors.”
Meanwhile Sr. VP of sales Nikki Upshaw, teased new sales promotions launching mid-July, while praising the current Oceania’s OLife program, which allows guests flexibility in choosing from a variety of complimentary amenities, such as free shore excursions, drinks packages, or onboard credit, when booking a cruise vacation.
First published at Travel Industry Today