Oceania Cruises Vista Dining Review

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Oceania Cruises’ tagline – “the finest cuisine at sea” is a big promise and one that its crew strive to make good on each and every day across the fleet. We are a couple foodies and we have had no complaints, though we might quibble a bit here and there about if a certain dish is the finest at sea.

DIETARY RESTRICTIONS

It’s at this point that I need to mention that my wife Melanie and I are both Gluten Free (GF), though for different reasons. All of our food photos in this and any other of my posts are of the GF options and may not reflect what other passengers receive when ordering the same dishes.

For those with dietary restrictions please continue to read the next few paragraphs as this is for you.  For those blessed to be able to eat anything (I used to be one of you), feel free to skip ahead.  I’d like to share a few things about how Oceania Cruises handles dietary restrictions.

Pre-Cruise – Approximately 30 days prior to your cruise you are asked to notify Oceania Cruises of any dietary restrictions. You can do this through your travel advisor or through an email address provided in your pre-cruise packet.  There is no “form” per se; so you are left to describe your dining limitations as you see fit (I suggest being brief but specific).  One other thing to note – our travel advisor informed us that Oceania Cruises now stores your dietary restrictions in your profile, so there is no need to notify them for each cruise unless there has been a change.

On-Board – In your welcome on board paperwork you will have a letter from the culinary team acknowledging and re-stating your dietary restrictions.  If they failed to have captured any details or if you simply want to talk through any specifics they provide instructions for meeting with them in person.

Warning – just because you’ve notified Oceania Cruises of your dietary restrictions it doesn’t mean that you will not come in contact with things that you cannot eat while on board.  In fact, there might be a welcome gift waiting that may not be suitable.  On our past few voyages we received a welcome plate with some petit fours in our room.  Two of these were GF while two were not, some contained nuts and dairy for those with other restrictions.  The reason that we received these is that it is a standard welcome plate put in all of the suites, not taking into account dietary restrictions.  Similarly, the afternoon canape menu for suite passengers includes a number of items that were not GF.  Our butler advised us and also let us know that a few of them he could make GF for us; but to check with him as he wasn’t always on duty in the afternoons and the one preparing and delivering the canapes.

a plate of sushi and chicken wings on a marble table
Afternoon Canapes Sushi and Chicken Wings GF

Each morning, those with dietary restrictions will receive a menu for dinner the following night.  So, for example, on a Monday morning you will receive a printed dinner menu for Tuesday night based on your reservations or in the Grand Dining Room (Oceania’s name for the main dining room on their ships) if you do not have any reservations for that next evening.  You are to mark those items that you would like to have for dinner and the culinary team takes care of the rest to make sure it meets your needs.  On Vista, they requested that we turn these menus in by mid-morning at the Concierge Desk by reception and the shops.  On other ships they asked that we turn them in to the host stand in Grand Dining Room.  For embarkation day you will not have a menu turned in and as such we typically go to the Grand Dining Room and order carefully letting our waiter know about our restrictions.

One of the perks of being in a Penthouse Suite and above is having the services of a butler. I’ve already noted that your butler delivers your choice of canapes each afternoon. Another handy service your butler can provide is to return your menu selections each day.

A quick note for vegetarians and vegans.  Oceania Cruises generally has a decent selection of menu items as well as items on the buffet for you.  There is no need to submit a Dietary Restriction note unless you have additional restrictions.

Now having covered dietary restrictions on Oceania Cruises, on with the fun stuff, the food.

NO CHARGE SPECIALTY DINING

Following we’ve provided an overview of the nine plus dining venues included in cruise fares.  There are no additional charges for dining in any of the six specialty restaurants on board.  There is one catch – depending on level of cabin/suite as well as the length of cruise, passengers are limited to the number of reservations allowed at each of the specialty dining restaurants.

Specialty dining reservations can be made on board, but Oceania Cruises also allows you to make them online in advance of your cruise.  Again level of cabin plays in here with the top suites getting the earliest access to reservations, followed by Penthouses, then Concierge Staterooms, and finally they are opened to all passengers.  Experienced Oceania cruisers know to set a calendar reminder and log in on the first available day to book your reservations, particularly if you want to select tables for two or eat on the earlier side as these reservations typically book first.

There are wine tastings, a new seated wine lunch at Ember introduced on Vista, as well as La Reserve wine dinners on Riviera and Marina, all of which come with additional charges, but the vast majority of passengers stick with the included dining.

We made a point to try every restaurant on board over the course of our 12-night cruise.  We’ll start with the non-specialty venues that do not require reservations.

GRAND DINING ROOM

a room with tables and chairs

Oceania Cruises has named their Main Dining Rooms (“MDRs” for those Frequent Floaters) across the fleet the Grand Dining Room.  The elegant dining rooms on board the oldest and smallest R-Class ships are tasteful and feel very much like a dining room at a country club, fitting in the with line’s country club casual dress code.  With the commissioned O-Class ships – Marina and Riviera, they took it to the next level creating more ceiling height, bigger windows including huge windows overlooking the aft wake, and a central Captain’s table with stunning lighting.  While lighter, brighter, and more voluminous than the R-Class Grand Dining Rooms the brand ethos was still present.  Vista has taken it to a whole new place and that place is very glamorous with an art deco influence with lots of faceted glass walls, custom gold and crystal lighting, and beautiful furnishings.  There are nods to the R-Class, but this feels more luxurious and could easily be mistaken for a MDR on a luxury ship like Regent Seven Seas.

The Grand Dining Room is open for breakfast and dinner every day as well as lunch on most sea days and does not require a reservation.  There is a set menu that repeats every day as well as a generous list of daily specials.  These specials often feature dishes by Jacques Pepin a long-time collaborator with Oceania cruises and force behind Jacques on board the R-Class ships.  By far the favorite specialty restaurant amongst guests is Red Ginger and there are always specials featuring dishes from their menu.  Finally, there are Aquamar Vitality dishes featuring lighter starters, salads, and entrees many of which feature vegetables and fish as the stars.

a bowl of soup with a piece of bread on a plate
Grand Dining Room – Escargot GF without the puff pastry

For us, dinner in the Grand Dining room is always pleasant, but not overly memorable.  I would suggest not arriving in the first 30 minutes after they open as a small line can form, but it never lasts long.  The move, in our opinion, is going for breakfast on sea days as well as disembarkation days and enjoying a big hearty breakfast including my favorite lamb-chops and herb omelet with GF toast.  This is also a nice option if you’ve made friends on the cruise and want to dine together without having to rearrange specialty restaurant reservations.

TERRACE CAFÉ

For most passengers the Terrace Café located on Deck 12, the buffet venue onboard all Oceania Cruises ships, will be your first dining experience on board shortly after embarkation.  Located high at the back of the ships, it offers both indoor and outdoor seating.  The outdoor seating is mostly covered by an overhang as well as umbrellas.

Shaped like a “U” the buffet is set up in the center with roughly the same set-up on both sides.  There are cooked to order stations serving egg dishes in the mornings, burgers and hot sandwiches at lunch, and steaks, lobster tails, and fish in the evenings.  A wide assortment of fruits, cheeses, and cured meats at all meals.  Yoghurts, cereals, and toppings in the mornings make way for a salad bar in the evenings.  There are carving stations at both lunch and dinner with different options on either side.  In the evenings there are also made to order pasta stations.  Sweets and baked goods are available at all meals and catering to all tastes including sugar-free options and limited GF choices.  Unlike some larger cruise ships, Terrace Café is only open for specific windows for breakfast, lunch, and dinner and is closed in between these times.

WAVES GRILL

Located in a sheltered location outside on Deck 12 between Terrace Café and the pool is Waves Grill, our favorite spot for quick lunches al fresco, particularly when getting back from a morning excursion.  It offers hot breakfast staples as well as a limited selection of cereal, fruit, and yoghurt in the mornings along with made-to-order smoothies in the mornings.  It’s open for an extended period at lunch serving burgers, hot dogs, grilled entrees including my favorite – mahi mahi (GF!). The burger selection offers something for nearly everyone including veggie burgers, salmon, and Wagu if you’re feeling a bit gluttonous. The French fries are not to be missed.  There are also malts and milkshakes on order as well as ice cream; however, we almost never make it that far.

Something new to Vista is the addition of pizza ovens in Waves Grill.  You can eat here in the evenings and enjoy a selection of pizzas (sadly no GF crust on our cruise), burrata covered in a selection of toppings, as well as a sweet Nutella pizza for dessert.  You can also order the pizzas to go and eat them in Terrace Café and those in suites can have them delivered by your butler.

Aquamar

This is a tough one for me to review impartially as there was precious little on their breakfast, lunch, or dinner menus that I could eat based on my dietary restrictions (GF and allergic to avocado).  The space on Deck 12 on the opposite side of Waves Grill is beautiful and arguably a better use of space than the La Reserves located in the same location aboard the R-Class ships that are woefully underutilized, but I just didn’t like what little I could possibly eat.  During breakfast in the space we saw a number of our fellow passengers look at the menus and then get up and leave.  Some came back with “supplemental” food from Waves Grill or Terrace Café while others had clearly moved-on for good.  The name Aquamar is a reference to Oceania Cruises onboard spas with the same moniker.  The intent is to appeal to health-conscious passengers including the highly coveted younger demographic that Aquamar, Founder’s Bar, and other enhancements seem to be catering to.  We like to think of ourselves as healthy and young-ish (mid-40s and a good bit younger than average on board), but one visit on our cruise was enough.

BARISTAS AND BAKERY BY BARISTAS

I was torn whether to include Baristas as a bar or a restaurant for this review.  On previous ships and sailings I would say it falls squarely in the bar category serving coffee in the mornings and coffee drinks and aperitivos the rest of the day; however, onboard Vista and located next to a new bakery, the food offerings have moved it into the restaurant category for us.

Baristas sits near the top of the ship on Deck 14 in the middle overlooking the pool deck adjacent to the ship’s beautiful library and new bakery is the coffee bar all day and an Italian cocktail lounge in the late afternoons and evenings.  Serving free, yes FREE, Illy espresso, lattes, macchiatos, and frozen cremas. The coffee is the best available anywhere onboard.  We make a point to detour every morning on our way to or from breakfast to get takeaway coffee beverages (trust us the coffee in all of the other breakfast locations is average at best and below Oceania Cruises standards).  We’ve come to know many of the baristas from prior sailings and it’s always nice to chat with them while our espresso based drinks are made.

a cup of coffee on a table
Baristas – Illy double espresso

In the afternoons and evenings there are worse ideas than enjoying the addition of a liquor to your coffee (at a charge or included in your optional beverage package) while enjoying the all-day snacks offered on the “mini-buffet.” For those limiting their caffeine intake in the evening hours there are the Italian classic spirits and drinks.  While not on the menu I recommend, and they’ll gladly serve you, a limoncello spritz.  I also highly recommended their negronis.

You can sit in the swanky lounge all day and watch a pastry chef or two craft beautiful pastries that can be sampled on site, while still warm!  Sadly, on most days there were no GF options; however, on a couple of occasions GF macarons and meringues were on offer and were delicious.

EMBER

a restaurant with tables and chairs
Ember Dining Room with Open Kitchen

Perhaps the biggest gamble Oceania Cruises took on the new Vista was replacing Jacques’ with the new Ember restaurant on Deck 5.  Like the restaurant it replaced, Ember is a specialty restaurant and requires a reservation.  Let’s start with the positive – the restaurant is beautiful and different than anything Oceania Cruises has throughout the fleet.  Like the menu, the décor is distinctly American.  I would liken both décor and menu to Hillstone, Houston’s, or J Alexander’s for those familiar with any of these upscale chains.  This was by far the most controversial venue on the ship when talking to our fellow passengers.

We generally found the most tenured Oceania Cruises passengers to be the most skeptical of Ember noting that it’s loud due to the open kitchen and lack of soft furnishings and carpet, that it feels rushed, and that the food isn’t up to the same standards as the other specialty restaurants.

a collage of food on a table
Ember – Tomahawk Ribeye, Chicken and Kale Salad, Spinach Artichoke Dip, and Strawberries and Cream

While we enjoyed our dinner at Ember, we had a secluded table by the window making for a relatively peaceful dining experience – others were not so lucky.  We enjoyed the spinach and artichoke dip starter and kale chicken salad, though neither was unique.  My bone-in tomahawk was delicious though the potato side was forgetable.  Melanie had a filet, baked potato, and corn on the cob, which was good, but didn’t really clear the Finest Cuisine at Sea bar.  Our server insisted that we try a dessert so we enjoyed the fresh berries and cream which was good and not overly heavy.

POLO GRILL

If Ember is a new-style steakhouse, Polo Grill is the old standard in the fleet.  On most ships it has the most traditional, country club, horse and hound look to it, but on Vista it too has received a glamorous new look.  We were fortunate to be able to dine here twice, once through our pre-booked reservation and a second time because of a mix-up with our dietary restricted menus.  While they had no record of our reservation they had received our marked-up menus and our excellent butler made sure we were able to get in at our desired time.  Both meals were what we’ve come to expect at Polo Grill which is a decadent, meat-centric meal, paired with great wine, enjoyed at a leisurely pace served by a great wait staff.  I would note that they have a good number of seafood selections for those non-steak lovers.

a plate of food on a table
Polo Grill – Filet Medallions

TOSCANA

a sign on a wall
Toscana Reception

Toscana is Oceania’s Italian restaurant onboard Vista as it is on all but one of the other ships in the fleet. On Sirena only, Polo Grill and Toscana have been merged to create Tuscan Steak, making room for a Red Ginger, the only onboard an R-Class ship.  New to Vista is the influence of Giada De Laurentis, the ship’s godmother and television food star.  She has contributed a handful of dishes new to the Toscana menu including a lemon pasta as well as a branzino.  What hasn’t changed are the best bread baskets at sea that includes a head of roasted garlic and a visit by an oil sommelier of sorts with a cart filled with artisanal olive oils and balsamic vinegars to choose from for dipping all that excellent bread.  Toscana also offers the best GF breadbasket onboard.

a plate of food on a table
Toscana – Osso Bucco and Dover Sole and whipped potatoes

RED GINGER

a cabinet with a red light inside
Red Ginger Reception

Red Ginger is a fan favorite amongst Oceania Cruises loyalists and is only available on Vista, Marina, Riviera, and Sirena.  On all the ships it has the most dramatic décor, most visually interesting dishes, and offers the most memorable experiences.  Starting when you sit down you’re given the choice of chopsticks plucked from a lacquer box, then there’s a magic towel to clean your fingers, an edamame starter comes next, then they take your tea order to be served at any point during or after the meal at your choice.

As GF diners, this is also one of our favorite meals on each cruise with Red Ginger as they do GF tempura for us as well as well as making sure all of the marinades do not contain gluten.  We always over-order, sometimes skipping lunch before, and we always finish everything (sorry René, we sometimes order multiple entrees).  But we never make it to dessert.  Some of our favorites are the duck and watermelon salad, any of the tempuras, miso-glazed seabass, and the fried rice.

a plate of food on a table
Red Ginger – Miso Seabass, a signature dish
a plate of food with sauce
Red Ginger – Softshell Crab Tempura prepared GF

Honorable Mention – Afternoon Tea in Horizons

a table with tea and desserts
Afternoon Tea (photo from a prior cruise on Oceania Marina)

While not technically a restaurant, Horizons offers an afternoon tea every afternoon at 4pm.  Each person is provided a choice of gourmet teas served in your personal tea pot as well as a selection of sweet and savory options served from trollies that are pushed around the lounge while live music is played.  It’s a very civilized experience and one that everyone should experience at least once on their cruise.

We noticed on Vista that the furniture placement makes it difficult for the wait staff to push the trollies rendering certain seats finger-sandwich deserts.  Hopefully something can be done as it is frustrating for crew as well as those sitting out of reach of the tasty pastries on offer.  For us, they generally have GF snacks in the back that they can retrieve as well as occasionally having meringues, berries and cream, and macarons that are always GF.

That’s our run-down of the dining options onboard Oceania Cruises’ Vista.  If you’ve sailed Oceania Cruises before, which dining venue is your favorite? – Michael

 

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