Oceania Riviera - First Report

| Tuesday, 08 May 2012
The rare sauteed tuna at the Riviera buffet was irresistible to most of the patrons.

Oceania Riviera - First Report

With my first full day and two nights onboard Oceania Riviera complete it is time to send in my first impressions. I think everyone who follows this site can predict that I will have plenty of positive things to say, and I do.

This ship is the sister to Oceania's Marina - another solid "hit' of a ship; if cruise ships were pop songs Marina would have broken out in the top ten with a bullet, like the Beatle's "She Love You," and Riviera would be the follow up "I Want to Hold your Hand."

One thing I want to say in advance is that I always say "there is a ship for everyone," and that I try to write all reviews by highlighting the specific assets to any cruise line that I believe will appeal to a certain kind of cruiser. For example; Cunard appeals to British heritage mariners seeking a taste of classic ocean liner lore and West End-style entertainment. Carnival is for fun in the sun and zany disttraction from everyday life. Seabourn is for people willing to pay extra for a product that really delivers next to nothing, solely because they have been able to convince certain people that "quiet solitude" is an asset worth paying double.

Oceania is MY perfect cruise line. It has all the elements that I like the best - but I am not alone in this opinion, it is shared by almost everyone I meet who expeiences the line. So, even though it is an approach I usually shun I don't feel guilty at all about writing this review based upon my personal taste. I am going to tell you what I like in a cruise line, and then describe how Oceania fits the bill - couldn't be easier - starting off with the various elements as I encountered them. Just remember this is only day number two!

Are you a fan of Oceania - or about to become one? Tell us in our Oceania Forums.

Oceania Riviera Staterooms:

My stateroom is uber-comfortable. I have had no problems finding the right temperature, for example. My bed is large and emcompasses me in easy comfort with super high thread-count sheets and deep, luscious pillows.

The television programming is exactly to my taste - there is a channel that shows nothing but reruns of Mad Men interspersed wih modern comedies like 30 Rock. The flat screen is 26-inches (I believe) - which is the minimum you want in any stateroom these days. The remote is not one of those complicated "menu" remotes where it takes five steps just to get to regulr television programming.

This stateroom comes with a laptop, so most people would not have to bring one of their own in order to surf the web or get email in the room. Now, I always need my laptop for special programs and other data I need to do my job on the road - but I certainly appreciate the gesture. I have never seen a line put computers in the staterooms before (although I know they available for rent on other cruise lines for a fee).

The bathroom has a shower and a tub, which would be perfect for my wife. I only need the shower. It is roomy and there is only a slight problem with fluctuating water temperature in the shower - not unusual on ships. It is not the most luxurious bathroom I have ever seen by far, compared to Crystal or Silversea, but it is certainly beyond adequate; well-aappointed, roomy and private.

I will have a chance to see the rest of the staterooms onboard later on today so I will report more thoroughly soon. By combined square footage per passenger - Marina and Riviera have the largest staterooms at sea.

How do these staterooms sound to you? Tell us in our Oceania Forums.

Oceania Riviera Entertainment

With the addition of larger ships to the fleet of Oceania comes the obligation to provide entertainment in the form of live stage production shows, something Oceania has never been much concerned with in the past. Guests on the smaller ships of the original Oceania (and its predecessor line; Renaissance, whose vessels and executive team spawned Oceania) have always been much more focused on the food and destinations than any shows onboard.

But with larger ships you have to scale up the experience - and so Marina and Riviera have ample main theaters with hundreds of seats all with excellent sightlines. I have only seen two of the shows so far - but I have to say they exhibit an aspect of essential cruise ship productions where other cruise lines sadly miss the mark. The shows focus on good writing and talent first - more so than laser lights, endless costume changes to make the same repetitive dance steps look different and kitschy homage to far too broad topics like "A Salute to Hollywood" - the types of mistakes you see on most cruise ships.

Last night's stage show, created by veteran cruise ship producer Jean Ann Ryan, brought us a simple yet well arrnged and choreographed format that was bigger than I would have expected for a ship this size, yet did not overwhelm with flashpots, laser lights or waving the American flag (as J.A.R. has been known to do in the past). The theme was "The Music of Elton John and Billy Joel" and it featured 10 singers and dancers who were all lovely and talented.

Best of all, like the rut that far too many upscale and luxury lines are still in, the show was not focused on the 65 year-old-plus market. Between the two "piano men" this show is bsed upon there were enough memorable hits of the 70s ad 80s to make every song recognizable and fun. As I looked around the audience I feel they hit he target age demographic perfectly - this was not an audience of grey or blue haired people already nodding out in their chairs.

Tomorrow night the scheduled showtime is "Beatlemania Now," a well-known professionaal group of Beatles tribute artists that have been around for decades. I have long said cruise lines should be doing more Beatles tribute bands (and other tribute bands). The "Legends at Sea" show has been a big hit on NCL, for example, but no band has ever been bigger or had a more broad appeal than the Beatles. But amazingly, although I do know other lines have offered them, Royal Caribbean, for example, after 100s of cruises under my belt, personally, this will be the first Beatles tribute show I have seen on a cruise ship. They are out there but not that common, so kudos to Oceania for "getting it" in another area of entertainent I have been recommending for years.

Do you like shipboard entertainment like this? Tell us in our Oceania Forums.

The Cuisine

Culinary perfection is the Oceania calling card. I ate lunch at the buffet my first full day onboard, sitting on the stern deck as we were docked in Marseille. This ship has more workers per passenger on the line for a buffet than any ship I have ever seen. There were five people just making salads.

For the most part the patrons do not handle any utensils, everthing is made from scratch by the crew on duty. My Caesar salad was constructed by a young lady who added anchovies, croutons, sliced parmesan, Greek olives, avocado and bits of bacon all one by one to my directions.

Then I followed up with Mediteranneaan boulibase with plenty of musssels, shrimp, scallops and cubes of fish filet. I added several slices a barely sauteed red tuna on the side.

The pasta is made to order on the spot so you can add any ingredients that appeal to you. The same is true of sandwiches. Of course there are hamburgers, steak, pad thai, chicked satay and more.

Dinner - Specialty Restaurants

The first night I dined in the Polo Grill - and I had a wonderful full Maine lobster (not half a lobster and not a Caribbean lobster). This was as good as any lobster I have ever had, with the possible exception of Crystal. It was far better than anything I experienced on Seabourn even during a cruise to New England/Canada that included stops in Maine.

Last night I ate in the Asian Fusion inspired restaurant "Red Ginger," It is identical to the one on Mrina, with the same menu as far as I can tell. I started with vegetable tempura and it is true tempura. Once agaiin, to compare to seabourn, it was truly flaky and light beer-battered tempura, not greasy deep-fried vegetables.

For my main course I had the pan seared sea bass, This is a thick slice of fish with no greasy skin. With a peanut sauce on the side, I found it to be delectable. Dessert was a ginger cake. In my opinion, next to Nobu on Crystal, this is one of the best Asian restuarnts on any cruise ship - and the only one onboard not inspied by Jacques Pepin, although that is not to say I have a prblem with Pepin - just the opposite. I am about to sample his food in "Jacques" in just 90 minutes.

Onboard Cooking Lessons

Later on today I will take my first cooking lesson at the Bon Apetit Cooking Center. This is one of the first two cruise ships in existence to ever have true culinary cooking classes onboard with actual workstations for the students; with bowls, heating elements, running water, knives, cheese graters, flour, sugar, scallions, baking soda, butter, cream and everything else that truly makes cooking magic. I will have more on this later on.

Jacques Pepin's "Jacques"

After that lesson, I will be having lunch in Jacques, the eponymously named restaurant for the line's chef du cuisine, Jacques Pepin. Pepin is a French/American classic. He once shared a cooking show on PBS with none other than Julia Child. They have been showing reruns of that show on the stateroom television, an he is adorable. Who else can make stripping the veins from a goose liver look like fun?

More to Come...

This is only my first report. Since I have already written a great deal about Marina, this ship's nearly identical preceding sister, I am currently assuming you already know a good amount about this ship. If not, be sure to look up our reports on Oceania Marina. I will also be adding to these reports as time goes on. We are just beginning day number two.

Are you a fan of Oceania - or about to become one? Tell us in our Oceania Forums.

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