Oceana Cruises The Vista pointed out to sea.

Everybody has an image of the cruise ship sailing from the port. There is something special about hearing the horn…”

For eons sailors have gazed at the waves and wondered what was beyond the horizon. And while cruise ship passengers have a detailed itinerary listing the ports at which they will dock and disembark, there is a sense of wonder and anticipation that comes from peering over the bow from the top deck as the vessel begins a voyage.

I slept with my stateroom sliding door open each night partly to hear the sea sloshing by. But also because I wanted to awaken at first light to see the sunrise and experience the Oceania Vista steering into that days’ destination. There is a natural, nautical excitement and romance to this languid, time-honored form of transportation.  

“Everybody has an image of the cruise ship sailing from port. There is something special about hearing the horn,” said Damien Lacroix, the Frenchman who is general manager of the Vista. “Then you have a nice dinner with great food and wine. You are pampered onboard. This is a resort at sea.”

Sparks Fly Aboard Ship?

Lacroix provides a tasting during a rare galley tour
Lacroix provides a tasting during a rare galley tour. Photo by Michael Patrick Shiels

Lacroix, himself, is not impervious to the romantic trappings of cruising.

“Venice is, definitely, a romantic port to visit. Montenegro and Croatia have beautiful scenery, said Lacroix, a native of Lyon, France…who met and fell in love with the woman who would become his wife on an Oceania ship.

“She was working as a singer and the rest is history – two children later!” Lacroix admitted. The soon to be betrothed was an American who was performing country music.

“The title of her show was ‘Did I Shave My Legs for This?’ I did not take it personally,” Lacroix laughed.   

The Love Boat?

Manzi, Lacroix and Carr greet Oceania guests
Manzi, Lacroix and Carr greet Oceania guests. Photo by Michael Patrick Shiels

Lacroix, as a leader with a romantic history, understands the 800 crew members onboard under the moonlight for six months at a time are likely to take an occasional shine to each other.

“Crew members can have shipboard romance as long as they are not managing the person. If they are the supervisor of the person, it can sometimes cause conflict with others. Otherwise, they are free to do what they want,” Lacroix explained.

The ship features a “crew bar” with music and a top-deck space 10 stories above the waterline for crew members to enjoy the fresh sea air and panoramic view of the endless sky.  

International Collaboration

Social Director Clara Morna Freitas, Manzi, Michael Patrick Shiels and Lacroix
Social Director Clara Morna Freitas, Manzi, Michael Patrick Shiels and Lacroix. Photo by Michael Patrick Shiels

Aside from friendship and romance, the main mission of the officers and crew is to collaborate to professionally provide a luxurious, efficient, experience for Oceania’s guests.

“It is teamwork. We have 53 nationalities on our staff all working together and adding to the value of the experience of our guests in terms of the culture. We have different nationalities, different religions and different beliefs all working together and a good melting pot for our guests. A cruise vessel is like a small United Nations that works,” said Lacroix.

The genial Frenchman, who often dines with guests, has seen much of the world he described. He spent his career crafting expertise in the worldwide hotel industry: including hospitality stints in England, Vietnam, New York and Tahiti.

Then Oceania Cruises, known to have the “Finest Cuisine at Sea,” hired Lacroix and posted him aboard a number of their seven mid-size, worldwide ships, first as a food and beverage director. Then, in 2007, he became a general manager.

“We know we are at sea. It is very different than shoreside. We are living as family for a certain period of time. I must make sure the crew members have a good time onboard. And that I provide them with the right equipment and the right uniform so they do not have to worry about anything but doing their job the proper way. I do not manage a team by just giving orders,” Lacroix explained.

Captain and Crew

Cruise director Ray Carr, Manzi and Lacroix address passengers in front of the Vista Show Band
Cruise director Ray Carr, Manzi and Lacroix address passengers in front of the Vista Show Band. Photo by Michael Patrick Shiels

The Vista’s other top leader, captain, Luca Manzi, was initially surprised when, as I shook his hand in the receiving line, I looked deep into his eyes and, as seriously as I could manage, stated the “Captain Phillips” movie line: “Look at me…I’m the Captain now.”

Manzi, as captain of Oceania Cruises ship Vista, was not on the bridge at that moment anyway, but instead was about to address a percentage of the 900 passengers aboard the 243-meter luxury liner considered intimate by cruise industry standards.

“I think we sent the baker up to the helm while I am here this evening,” Manzi joked to the cocktail crowd. He said he likes to be social with the guests, but he operates under strict rules. “I am required to be on the bridge in any situation where we have close passage between islands or in a high-traffic area approaching or leaving a port. The Vista is an elegant ship and she handles nicely.”

Full Speed Ahead

Oceania ships employ navigational expertise
Oceania ships employ navigational expertise.

At that moment the Vista was on the outside of the Caribbean islands crossing, on the shortest possible passage, from the Bahamas to Puerto Rico. “We are running 20 knots: practically full speed. The chief engineer is not always happy to see the handle all the way down to the metal but sometimes we must do that to make up time,” Manzi, who served in the Italian Navy and has been in the cruise industry since 1996, explained.

“We have a lot of support aids to navigation and instruments which have made our lives easier, but there is still a lot of there is still a lot of manual sailing in our profession, thank God. There is still a good bit of adrenaline when tight maneuvering is required and we are fitting the ship in a very narrow place. There is excitement and I am physically involved. It is an intense feeling. I still love my job of steering the driving the ship.”

Experience on the High Seas

Underway with Manzi at the helm
Underway with Manzi at the helm. Photo by Michael Patrick Shiels

Manzi had his share of intensity at the helm of big cargo ships in the Merchant Marine. “I was in South Africa – the Cape of Good Hope – when we faced nine-to-10-meter swells. It was quite heavy. It was a big cargo ship, but we were jumping quite a bit,” he recalled.

“On a pleasure ship, we do as much as possible to avoid bad weather if we can find an alternative way. On a cargo ship you must arrive in the shortest time possible no matter the weather.”

Since he had sailed the seven seas, I circled back to my “Captain Phillips” joke and inquired about pirates.

“We have procedures and security training to minimize the threat of pirates. Passing the Red Sea moving south is the typical area where I believe pirates are still active. But here in the Caribbean, the only pirates are in the movies.”

Manzi knows Vista and Oceania’s other smaller-sized, intimate ships draw attention wherever they sail.

A tugboat nudges the Oceania Vista out of the Port of Miami.
A tugboat nudges the Oceania Vista out of the Port of Miami. Photo by Michael Patrick Shiels

“In Dubrovnik there is a monastery of nuns. Every time you pass by there at low speed and a safe distance and blow the horn, they will answer back by ringing the bells.”

Manzi first served as a Lieutenant aboard a small, WWII-era minesweeper in 1987 surveying the Italian coastline on a hydrographic mission – a coastline he was very familiar with. “I grew up in a small, quite nice area – Chiavari, between Portofino and Cinque Terra, Italy. I could see boats from my house. It is still a pleasure to be on a smaller boat occasionally.”

Now Manzi’s home is a boat – the Oceania Vista – for a good percentage of the year when he’s not at home with his family. Each day I saw him fast-walking laps amidst passengers on the track around the ship’s scenic 14th deck – right past Barista’s – a good spot for an Italian cappuccino or espresso. The captain’s amiable manner made everyone aboard Oceania’s Vista feel at home.

Read more of Michael Patrick’s work at The Travel Tattler and contact him at [email protected] Order his book Travel Tattler – Less Than Torrid Tales at https://amzn.to/3Qm9FjN 

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