The first thing that’s important to know about Sirena, the latest ship to join Oceania’s fleet, is that the ship itself isn’t at all new. Most recently cruising as Princess Cruises’ Ocean Princess, the vessel debuted back in 1999 as part of the now-defunct Renaissance Cruises fleet, in which eight nearly identical 684-to-700 passenger ships, raised the roof on cruising.
Back in the pre-Millennium era of cruising, what made the «new» Sirena and its seven fleet mates, now sailing for lines such as Azamara, Fathom and, yes, Oceania, so innovative are features and amenities that were rare then and common today. The so-called "R-class" ships were designed with plentiful balcony cabins, with sprawling sundecks and loungers, along with a pair of alternative restaurants and an overall dining philosophy that encouraged passengers to avoid the rigid set-seating, set-tablemate dining style that was all the rage then. Even then, these ships were designed to serve as comfortable backdrops on port-intensive itineraries, a trend that is all the rage now.
At heart, Sirena (still) feels completely modern, contemporary and comfortable. The $50 million that Oceania poured into the ship went toward a vastly improved WiFi system, the addition of Red Ginger, the Asian restaurant that’s so popular on the line’s bigger Marina and Riviera, and suites that were radically revamped. If you didn’t know better, you’d assume that Sirena is brand new.
The second thing to clarify: the pronunciation of the ship’s name. While we were onboard Sirena’s christening voyage, we heard all manner of interpretations. There was «sir-inna,» «thienna» and a singsong version that rolls the r’s. Fortunately, at the ship’s christening ceremony, Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings President and CEO Frank del Rio put everyone’s fear to rest, saying he pronounces it like the tennis player (Serena Williams, natch). You could hear a sign of relief rolling through the assembled throng like the wave at a baseball stadium.
So what’s Sirena like? If you’re already familiar with Oceania, you’ll be pleased to know that it’s just like the other three once Renaissance vessels, with a few enhancements that likely will ultimately find their way to Regatta, Insignia and Nautica. If you’re not familiar with Oceania, here are four ways Sirena offers a terrific cruise experience.
It’s hard to surpass Oceania’s legendary dedication to cuisine. With famed chef Jacques Pepin as the line’s longtime culinary director, the philosophy is that great food starts with fine ingredients, from butter and flour imported from France to Kobe beef for burgers. The big news here is that Oceania has freshened up its alternative restaurants, importing Red Ginger, with its Asian fusion cuisine, from bigger fleet mates Riviera and Marina. On Sirena, it also combined the line’s existing duo of Toscana and Polo Grill into Tuscan Steakhouse, an Italian-themed steakhouse that offers all the favorites from both eateries.
Bistro by Jacques
Easily vying for best lunch at sea is this new concept served in the The Grand, the ship’s main dining venue. Oceania gets kudos for keeping that more formal venue open on port days and not shoveling all passengers into the buffet, as is tradition with many lines. Making it even more special: Jacques Pepin has created a lunch-only Bistro by Jacques experience that feels like you’ve stepped into a French bistro. Dishes include Dover Sole, veal blanquette, escargots a’la bourguignonne, croque monsieur, steak au poivres and roast chicken with mashed potatoes. There are also numerous options for vegetarians. The menu rotates and there’s also a daily menu of specials; there’s always a burger on there. We loved the French music wafting gently around the room, and would make one suggestion to Oceania’s sommelier: How about a Jacques-specific wine list for good choices for lunch (especially rose)?
In our from-the-stateroom report, there’s good news – and not so good news. First the good. If you’re willing to fork out a lot of dough for an owners’, vista or penthouse suite, they’re the best of Oceania’s R-class, with a terrific revamp that took the cabins down to the studs, replacing them with contemporary accommodations that are as big as the average New York apartment. Bathrooms are splashed out in marble and have long, roomy showers with glass doors. Balconies are super-sized and feature dining tables. The one-room Penthouse suites, while still the same size and shape as the other R-class vessels, are spacious with a generous living area, and a long balcony.
And the other good news? The beds in every cabin have been replaced with Oceania’s signature mattresses and crisp cotton bedding, with duvets, that can be set up as twins or queen. There’s one notable downside: the gap between the two is evident when the beds are pushed together to make up a queen.
On the other hand, the hoi polloi in the standard cabins, which have been outfitted with the new beds and upgraded with new carpeting and furniture, must make do with some of the smallest cabins in cruising’s premium category. The bathrooms, in particular, are dated. The same rather impotent hairdryer that launched with the original ship is still affixed to the wall (Oceania provides a more powerful one, but it’s oddly tucked away in the closet). Storage space is tight. And the tiny shower cubicle has the dreaded-clingy-shower curtain.
One of Oceania’s weakness has been a lackluster program of evening entertainment. The line, along with fellow Prestige Cruise Holdings cruise line Regent Seven Seas Cruises, recently became part of Norwegian Cruise Line’s parent company. Both lines are now using NCL’s award-winning entertainment producers to spiff up its offerings. In addition to port-related performances (we loved the classical guitarist and the Spanish flautist on our Mediterranean cruise), there are new music and dance shows, such as «Tuxedo,» which spotlights the music of the Rat Pack era.
Curious to learn more about Oceania’s Sirena or any other aspect of the cruise line? Swing by our community forum, where Cruise Critic’s talking with Oceania’s James Rodriguez about all-things-Oceania.
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