Cruis­ing French Poly­ne­sia, Brian John­ston chan­nels his in­ner cast away in supreme com­fort with Ocea­nia Cruises.

Cruise Passenger - - CONTENTS -

When you’re ly­ing on a lounger with a good book, rufßed by a PaciÞc breeze with the sun glint­ing off a blue lagoon, you’re in a mighty Þne place. Even bet­ter, you donÕt have to scav­enge for crabs or build a thatched hut like Robin­son Cru­soe to en­joy be­ing cast away. Not at all. A pam­per­ing spa and sev­eral Þne-din­ing restau­rants are a short shufße away. This is the good life, and Ma­rina sup­plies it in spades.

IÕm sail­ing on Ocea­ni­aÕs 10-day Sparkling South PaciÞc cruise from Papeete around the French Poly­ne­sian is­lands. Ten days or longer is stan­dard for Ocea­nia, which gen­er­ally es­chews short cruises for a more con­sid­ered look at its desti­na­tions, of­ten with port overnights Ð Bora Bora and Nuka Hiva on my cruise.

This is an itin­er­ary on which to ad­mire volup­tuous emer­ald peaks and clear la­goons where tur­tles pad­dle. Each is­land pro­vides chances to scuba dive, swim, take

cul­tural ex­cur­sions or ride Jeeps into in­te­ri­ors tum­bling with orchid-stud­ded rain­for­est and wa­ter­falls.

Ten days en­ables me to en­joy the ship’s many din­ing op­tions. Ocea­nia has a rep­u­ta­tion for its food over­seen by French celebrity chef Jac­ques Pépin, and has sev­eral spe­cialty restau­rants at no ad­di­tional cost. Menus and wine lists of­fer con­sid­er­able choice, and there’s no stint­ing on qual­ity in­gre­di­ents: Maine lob­ster, prime An­gus and Kobe beef, foie gras, scal­lops. The pool grill, Waves, dishes up de­lec­ta­ble pork belly, and even the Illy cof­fee is great, prop­erly served in Baris­tas cafe.

The Grand Din­ing Room, the main restau­rant, pro­vides a nightly, four-course romp through the likes of red onion soup, pep­per­corn steak in brandy sauce, and cit­rus tart with pis­ta­chio ice-cream. Thumbs up to the healthy and veg­e­tar­ian op­tions, and for fea­tur­ing dishes from some of Ma­rina’s spe­cialty restau­rants.

How­ever, it’s the spe­cial­ity restau­rants that stand out. Jac­ques has bistro-style roasts and clas­sic French dishes such as es­car­gots, Proven­cal lamb and laven­der-in­fused crème brûlée, not to men­tion ex­cel­lent cheese trol­leys. Toscana is the full Ital­ian ex­trav­a­ganza – you can even choose your olive oil, while pan-Asian Red Gin­ger runs the gamut from spicy roast duck salad to Thai cur­ries, Malaysian beef to red snap­per in ba­nana leaf.

The ship’s culi­nary cre­den­tials don’t end at the restau­rant door. Ma­rina’s Culi­nary Cen­ter of­fers en­joy­able, hands-on cook­ing classes. You might learn about Latin Amer­i­can cui­sine, seafood or clas­sic French dishes, af­ter which you can de­vour your cre­ations. Some sig­na­ture shore ex­cur­sions are culi­nary themed, too. In Ra­iatea, both a ship and a lo­cal chef ac­com­pany us to mar­ket, where we learn about bread­fruit, taro and other rel­a­tively un­fa­mil­iar in­gre­di­ents. Then we head to a

veg­etable farm and on to a ho­tel kitchen for a cook­ery demon­stra­tion and tra­di­tional Poly­ne­sian meal.

Ra­iatea is an is­land no­table for its an­cient tem­ples, al­low­ing a glimpse into Poly­ne­sian his­tory. Our next stop, Huahine is also his­tor­i­cally im­por­tant, though now de­light­fully sleepy. Ma­rina an­chors in a kingÞsher-blue bay, lush hill­sides ris­ing on ei­ther side and the scent of vanilla in the air. For many pas­sen­gers though, leg­endary Bora Bora a few days ear­lier was the high­light for its stag­ger­ingly beau­ti­ful land­scapes and shim­mer­ing, crys­tal-clear lagoon. A coastal road winds past thatched huts among the ba­nana trees and is­lan­ders are psy­che­delic in red and pink. Wher­ever we are, we also en­counter Poly­ne­sia’s fas­ci­nat­ing blend of in­dige­nous and French cul­ture.

De­spite the gorgeous is­lands, I’m never re­luc­tant to re­turn to

Ma­rina. Launched in 2011, the Ocea­nia ship was re­fur­bished in 2016 and still ap­pears im­pec­ca­bly youth­ful, with an el­e­gant, con­tem­po­rary but ca­sual am­biance that re­minds me of a posh coun­try club. Many restau­rant venues are agree­ably in­ti­mate, and some suites are de­signed by Ralph Lau­ren. It has de­signer chic with­out any over-the-top bling, and a con­sid­ered, browse-wor­thy art col­lec­tion that in­cludes sketches by Miro and Pi­casso graces its walls. Some of the Mu­rano glass chan­de­liers that hang from ceil­ings are lovely, too. The only re­ally show-off part of the ship is Ma­rina’s lobby, with its pil­lars, huge ßower dis­play and dou­ble stair­case cre­ated by Lalique.

Ma­rina car­ries 1,250 pas­sen­gers and is ei­ther a bet­ter-than-most pre­mium ship or a less-thanin­clu­sive lux­ury ship depend­ing on your view­point. What’s cer­tain is that, for its size and price point, it has a laud­able range of in­clu­sive Þne-din­ing restau­rants, an up­mar­ket look and feels con­sid­er­ably spa­cious. Its open deck has a heated swim­ming pool and whirlpool spas, and there’s am­ple other deck space where I Þnd places to sink into wicker chairs or loungers as jog­gers cir­cu­late; it’s 10 laps of the deck to the mile, ap­par­ently. The full-ser­vice, luxe Canyon Ranch Spa is im­pres­sive. It has a salt­wa­ter pool, aro­matic steam room, Þt­ness cen­tre and much more.

Cro­quet, shufße­board, mini-golf and ping-pong can pass the idle hours. My two days at sea pass dis­ap­point­ing quickly, as there’s plenty to do: bridge and golf putting, ball­room danc­ing and team trivia. The ship’s the­atre hosts good en­rich­ment lec­tures and the usual cruise as­sort­ment of evening singers, co­me­di­ans and ma­gi­cians.

You don’t board an Ocea­nia ship look­ing for mad pool par­ties and night­clubs, but Ma­rina has some pleas­ant bars. Mar­ti­nis is a lively spot pre-dinner, where the pi­ano tin­kles and the cock­tail shak­ers rat­tle. (I ac­quire a fond­ness for the pas­sion­fruit mar­tini, which blends Bac­ardi with peach schnapps, cran­berry and lemon juices and pas­sion­fruit syrup.) Hori­zons has a small dance ßoor Ð a shufße ßoor, re­ally, and is sur­pris­ingly lively of an evening. It’s also pop­u­lar for af­ter­noon tea presided over by wait­ers with treat-laden trol­leys. A few spa­ces seem sel­dom used, how­ever, such as the glow­ing pur­ple Casino Bar.

Var­i­ous other nooks and quiet cor­ners in­vite me to curl up with a book, have a snooze or just watch the pass­ing waves. I like the li­brary, deeply sat­is­fy­ing for its stereo­types (leather arm­chairs, Þre­place, wooden book­cases) and at­mos­phere of so­phis­ti­cated calm, not to men­tion a choice of some 2,000 books. The couches of the Grand Bar also en­velop me in com­fort as I chat to new­found friends.

My cabin is, of course, an agree­able re­treat, too. IÕm in a Concierge Level Veranda suite, mid­way in the peck­ing or­der of ship’s cab­ins. It’s a good size (26 square me­tres) with a pleas­ant brown-and-blue decor lack­ing in wow fac­tor but with plenty of crea­ture com­forts, not least a rather ex­cel­lent bed, pil­lows plump as French geese, and linens that would en­cour­age me to slum­ber all morn­ing if it weren’t for the lure of buf­fet break­fasts.

I have my own bal­cony and lounge area, and al­ways a scin­til­lat­ing out­look onto Poly­ne­sia’s emer­ald and sap­phire ocean. The bath­room has a sep­a­rate shower and a bath­tub ac­tu­ally big enough to wal­low in, though the sur­pris­ingly cramped shower re­quires some tuck­ing in of el­bows.

Concierge suites have a host of priv­i­leges, such as concierge ser­vice, pri­or­ity restau­rant reser­va­tions and com­pli­men­tary laun­dry, WiFi and lap­top use. A bot­tle of cham­pagne awaits on board­ing, nicely chilled, and ev­ery night Bel­gian choco­lates ap­pear af­ter turn­down. This is the good life in­deed. Robin­son Cru­soe up­dated for the 21st cen­tury.

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