As is the case on so many cruises, it’s all about the food. There is something about being able to eat out at a restaurant every single night during a vacation, and they never bring you the check (except for drinks).
Within the cruise industry, it is common knowledge that Oceania is known to have the “best cuisine at sea.” Is this true? My judgment is that I expected too much and that 90% of their food is better than 90% of the food on other cruise lines. Other lines we have been on have had some dishes or meals that have stood out over the years. The original United States Dining Room on Celebrity’s Infinity was amazing, as was Qsine before Celebrity ruined it with their stupid Petit Chef. Some meals in Club Orange on Nieuw Statendam were as good as anything we ate on Vista. The grille on Viking Sky is better than the Waves Grille on Vista. But all in all, Vista has better food overall.
The Steve Test
After our disastrous Celebrity Millenium cruise in May of 2022, my brother Steve came up with a way to rate food and restaurants on a cruise better than I have ever been able to do it myself. From then on, I have called this the Steve Test. Here it is: If you eat in a food venue on a ship, be it the main dining room, buffet, grille or a specialty restaurant, and that restaurant were near you once you got home, would you go there again?
That’s pretty simple, right? I think it is the best way I have ever heard of to rate food on cruise ships and I will rate each venue (and, in the case of some of them, by the dish or meal) using the Steve Test.
Please keep in mind that the Steve Test Ratings below are my ratings. Steve will (I hope) chime in with a comment about what he thinks passed his test.
Editor’s Note: Since this is about the food, I struggled to figure out how to cover it. I didn’t want just to list things we ate. So let’s take it venue by venue. And sorry, but I don’t have the menus for every restaurant, but my buddy Mike will when he does his review. I am more about taking “pretty pictures,” and Mike is about remembering that you want to read the menus. I will post a link as soon as his review is up. Is it done yet, Mike?
The Grand Dining Room
This is the best place to start. We ate dinner here our first three nights and never went back. It wasn’t that we didn’t like the food. It was because they had just about the same food in the buffet, and when we went to the buffet, we didn’t have to dress up and put on hard-sole shoes. We also found that dinner took so much longer there. If we went to dinner when the dining room opened at 6:30, we never got out of there before 8:30. Sometimes that is fine, but when you are going to bed at 9:00, it leaves you stuffed and feeling bloated when you are trying to sleep. We also found that we ate too much. We would be seated; they would bring out some bread to keep us going while we went over the menus. They would take our order and bring more bread. We would eat it. They would bring the appetizers…and more bread. Then the same thing through the salad course, the soup course and finally the entrées. The only course without bread of some kind was dessert. And yes, I have absolutely no self-control when it comes to bread of any kind. So we switched to the buffet for dinner.
I will say here that the dining room food and ambiance were far superior to Viking Ocean or pretty much any cruise ship dining room we have eaten in for quite a while. Here are some of the dishes we had in the Grand Dining Room. I tried to remember what they were, but it’s been two weeks. I will mention if they were either exceptional, bewildering or just bad. Don’t forget; if you click the first shot, you can then scroll through with your arrow keys or by swiping.
We also had breakfast in the Grand Dining Room once because they serve lamb chops for breakfast, and we all had to try that—because we all love lamb—at least Steve and I do. Here’s the pics on that.
My Steve Test Rating: Nope, not special enough. Nothing really stood out. If this restaurant were next door to my house, I wouldn’t go back.
The Terrace Cafe
In the buffet, we found pretty much the same food as the dining room but in a more relaxed setting, and we also found (much to our surprise) that we ate less. For one thing, a lot less bread. We would all go grab a salad or some sushi, have that, and then instead of eating bread and waiting for the next course, we would just walk back and get an entrée or two. When we were done with that, we went back and grabbed a dessert. And all of it was excellent food.
We did have a couple of quibbles. First, the desserts were always cold. Even cobblers and bread puddings that should have been served warm were kept cold on purpose. It ruined a bunch of very good desserts. Second, sometimes, they would repeat menus/theme evenings. The last two nights had the exact same menu, and we actually think that some parts of what was available that evening were just leftovers from the night before. Sadly, this is what their parent company, Norwegian Cruise Line, is doing with their top-tier Haven product. They have the same menu every night in their Haven dining room, so why not migrate that idea to Oceania? It would also be nice if they had a couple of other large tables. With seven of us, we had only two tables in the buffet where we could all fit. Steve and Jamie would often go up and save one of those two big tables so we could all eat together. Other than those three rather minor things, we loved the Terrace Cafe.
The thing I really loved the most, Terrace, was the service they gave our buddy Jocelyn, who was walking with a cane. Almost every time she would go to get some food, she would come back to the table with no plate in her hand…but she would be followed by a server or maitre’d with her plate in their hand. I loved how they took such great care of her—heck, of all of us.
My Steve Test Rating: I would go back…for certain items and for the amazing selection of things. There was never a night (not even when we had the same menu two nights in a row) that I couldn’t find something I really wanted to try.
I also need to mention one amazing meal that we ate in the Terrace Cafe. Other than our night at Toscana, this was the most memorable food I had on board. I wish they had done this menu again and again. I would have eaten there every day. It was a Mexican-themed lunch. And the Chocolate Mole’ Braised Short Ribs were the second best dish I had on the entire cruise…from any Vista restaurant. It is really hard to get a chocolate mole’ sauce to work. So many chefs try it but Vista’s chef hit the ball out of the park. That plus there were a lot of other great Latin-American dishes as well.
My Steve Test Rating: If I could get this dish at home, that would be the only restaurant I would ever eat in again. Well, maybe not the only one, but I would get really fat if I could drive to this within an hour.
The Aquamar Cafe
This is a new eating venue for Oceania (or so I think–please correct me if I am wrong) and other than the design (open-air to the outdoors) it is one of my favorites. The idea is healthy alternatives for breakfast and lunch. We never ate breakfast here but I can tell you, when these guys do healthy lunch, the knock it out of the park. We ended up eating lunch here at least eight days out of 15. Maybe more. They had a poke bowl that knocked my socks off. Easily in the top three things I ate onboard. They also had some of the best sweet potato fries with chipolte mayo. Only problem was, you had to order them again and again because they never brought enough 🤪. The crispy chicken burger was Kathleen’s favorite. I had it once and really liked it but it was really hard for me to eat there without having that Poke Bowl. Here’s a few pics.
My Steve Test Rating: I could eat lunch at the Aquamar Cafe every day for the rest of my life. If it were next door to my house, I might never go anyplace else. Oceania hit it out of the park with this restaurant for lunch.
On the opposite side of the ship from the Aquamar Cafe was the Waves Grille. They were really two restaurants in one. At lunch, they served burgers, paninis, one specialty dish (paella, chili, BBQ chicken, etc.) and had an ice cream counter. In the evenings, they turned into a great little pizza place with some pretty great pizza.
As a grille at lunch, I wasn’t impressed. Nice place (very crowded), burgers were OK. Paninis were “fine.” Fries (thick steak fries) couldn’t hold a candle to the sweet potato fries in the Aquamar Cafe. You could get the ice cream at the buffet, and the two times I had the specialty dish, I was unimpressed.
But at dinner, their pizzas were excellent. They do New York style, but the crust was a little too thin for me. But the choices were excellent, and one of our favorite parts was that you could order a pizza and have it delivered to the buffet next door. One night, we decided to do a pizza night, but there is not a single table that would hold seven of us in the Grille. So we took up our regular table in the buffet (just inside the door to the grille) and ordered one of every kind of pizza they made. They gave us a number, asked where we were sitting and brought us every pizza…and a BBQ beef flatbread that was WONDERFUL!
My Steve Test Rating: For lunch—FAIL! I would not go there for burgers. The grille on Viking Sky was far superior. But for dinner, their pizza was really good and that night was one of the most fun meals we had. That said, I probably wouldn’t go back there either—I make better pizza 😁.
That’s going to be it for today. What’s left here are the four specialty restaurants on Vista. I have some work to do today, and I want to get this post online. So tomorrow morning, I will hit those and then the final review and comparison.
There is no sincerer love than the love of food.
—George Bernard Shaw