Once upon a time (2001) a company called Renaissance Cruises had eight identical ships and the reputation of a maverick; known for pleasing an abundance of faithful followers while upsetting a good number of travel agents for their (at the time) innovative use of the Internet for direct marketing to consumers. Renaissance was a favorite small cruise line for many people because of its small ships (700 passengers), well above-average cuisine, destination-oriented cruises featuring port-a-day itineraries, casual dress code and open-seating dining including a main dining room, dinner-time buffet and in two, no additional charge, alternative dining venues. At the same time, they were held in contempt by many travel agents who saw them going directly to the consumers in a very deliberate fashion, eliminating the agent and her commission at almost every opportunity.
Thankfully, that past has nothing to with Oceania Cruises, whose management knew from the start that if they wanted to have a chance in the cruise business they had to change their ways. And so they did.
Like a Phoenix out of the ashes, in 2002, the Renaissance cruising concept was reborn to two cruise executives who gave it a new name, Oceania Cruises. The two execs were former Renaissance president Frank Del Rio and a former president of Crystal Cruises, Joe Watters. They started by relicensing one of the original eight Renaissance ships and renamed it Oceania Regatta. As far as the former concept was concerned, they kept the good parts; the ships, cuisine and itineraries, and changed the bad; establishing a new policy where travel agents are well compensated for booking Oceania Cruises.
The new line has thrived and even expanded its offerings to now include three identical ships (all of them former Renaissance ships) and soon a fourth and fifth. For those who wonder about the other R-ships, three of them are currently sailing for Princess, and the others were bought by Royal Caribbean to create the new cruise line Azamara Club Cruises.
Proclaiming that their goal is to fill what they perceive as a gap between larger-ship premium lines such as Celebrity and smaller ship luxury lines such as Silversea, they refurbished Renaissance's R2 and renamed it Regatta, did the same for R1 and named it Insignia in 2003, and acquired R5 and dubbed in Nautica in 2004.
January 2011 brings the Oceania Marina, an all new 6500-ton ship for 1200 passengers. Her sister ship, Oceania Riviera, will debut in April 2012.
Oceania's 'upper premium', floating hotel/country club experience is characterized by personalized service (butlers attend the 62 suites on board each ship), resort-casual dress, open seating dining, and intolerance of smokers, especially since the fire aboard Star Princess in 2006 believed to have been started on a teak balcony by a butt tossed overboard from an upper deck. Anyone caught lighting up any place other than the starboard side of the outdoor Pool Deck will be evicted at the next port.
Oceania originally offered one of best value-for-money options in modern cruising - a luxury-like experience at a mid-market price. But since the five other former R-ships of Renaissance have been put into service, Oceania has direct competition for the same ships and similar itineraries at lower prices. Still, the line manages to fill its ships at surprisingly healthy cruise fares and guests walk away satisfied. You hear very little criticism about the Oceania experience from passengers. The key is excellent food and a "can-do" attitude from the staff.
The focus is on longer itineraries (11 days-plus) in Europe, South America, the Far East and occasionally the Caribbean. Cruises feature practically a new port every day and some overnight stays for two or more days. These cruises appeal to travelers, more then typical cruisers, who wants to visit exotic places with the convenience of a floating hotel.
The well-trained, young, mostly European staff genuinely seems to delight in its work. The atmosphere is very low key; your meditations not interrupted by constant announcements of imminent activities, in significant part because few activities are planned. On the other hand, on the three smaller ships there is only a pool deck, a sun deck, and the promenade deck, which no one uses because it has little to sit or recline on. Aside from the many private cabin balconies, you might have a hard time finding a quiet outdoor place. Even the entertainment is low-key since most people find their joys in the ports and a fine meal before bedtime.
Oceania prides itself on spending 25-percent more on food than most cruise lines and in having recruited as its executive culinary director Jacques Pepin, one of America's best-known chefs. In addition to the open-seating main dining room - no reservations, assigned tables or seating times - there are three specialty restaurants, none of which levies additional charges. Entertainment is provided by comedians, soloists, and classical musicians; stick with the soloists and small combos, as the big productions lack luster. There are also computer classes and a comprehensive personal enrichment and lecture series.
Public areas feature polished dark mahoganies, muted fabrics, and rich-colored carpeting making the ships' decor like it's dress code; country club casual. Because the ships are relatively small, most passengers know the layout by their first day aboard. An elaborate tea is served every afternoon.
Mainly couples (singles pay 200% on Oceania) looking for a destination experience as opposed to a shipboard one. Oceania ships are in port almost every day, like floating hotels, and are a wonderfully convenient way to see foreign lands.Shore Excursions
Shore excursions on Oceania are one area where it pays to do your homework. You may find the ship is docked miles from civilization and no transportation has been provided, compelling you to take a tour. Tours can be pricey. In many cases, either you pay the price or make other arrangements.Kid's Excursions
There are no dedicated kids facilities or program onboard. If you bring children on these ships you will find your responsibility for their welfare cutting into your enjoyment of the cruise considerably. If you can't live without them for two weeks, take another ship.Past Passenger Programs
Upon returning from an Oceania cruise, you automatically become a member of the Oceania Club, and a pair of leather luggage tags and a certificate for discount on a future cruise are delivered to your home, as too, every month thereafter, is the Oceania Club Journal newsletter. A repeat passengers' party is held onboard every sailing. Attractive pins are presented to frequent cruisers after 5, 10 and 20 cruises. Register online to access club discounts and offers, news, 'Behind the Scenes' information, and the logo shop.Tipping
Since Oceania has a flexible dining program, gratuities of $11.50 per person per day (including children) are automatically added to the shipboard account for all dining room and stateroom personnel. An additional $3.50 per passenger per day is added for suites with butler service. The amount may be increased, decreased, or rescinded at the front desk. Gratuities of 18 percent are automatically added to bar charges and spa services.
Unfortunately, my review is rather long and detailed (25 pages), so it cannot be posted on here. And CM policies forbid me from including a link to my website where you can read it. However, if you would like to see my complete review, you can PM me and I'll be happy to email the link to you.
Overall, while we thought it was a nice 17-night cruise, we felt it was overpriced, over-hyped, and under achieved. We definitely did not feel the food was the 'finest cuisine at sea', like they advertise.
Summary: At a time when many cruise lines are cutting back on the overall quality of their products and service as a result of the low yields generated by aggressive pricing actions to keep their ships full, along comes Oceania who advertises premium/luxury cruising that combines good old fashioned superb dining, excellent service and engaging itineraries at reasonable prices. Unfortunately, my opinion is that Oceania is degrading considering that our expectation based on previous reviews was not fulfilled. I feel that two trips on Holland America, Celebrity, or Princess would be a better buy than our one trip on Regatta. Everything we found lacking â€“ shaved time in port, poor dining room service, lack of entertainment, inconsistent food quality, overpriced excursions, crowds in the Terrace CafÃ©, expensive internet, and too many tenders â€“ can all be found in previous reviews. Yet, still the reviews provided a 95% favorable rating. I would give Regatta three stars (out of five) and say it definitely needs improvement. Our first two and one-half days were rather rough for the Caribbean. Several hundred passengers sought medical help. Oceania provided airfare as part of our purchase. Note, not "free" asadvertised, but part of the total cost. Our flight left Houston (Bush Intercontinental) at 6 AM. To arrive at 4:30 AM we had to stay at the Mariott that is part of the airport with airport concession prices. Our flight was full. At the Miami airport we were indeed met by 5-6 Oceana representatives who did nothing but check our names off a list and point at our luggage and point to the bus where we should take our luggage. This "service" was $118. (The first people we met on the Regatta had taken a cab from the airport for $20.) The lines were a bit unusual to board. The line for concierge service had about a 100 people; the line for staterooms (us) had two couples. But we had to wait for about 10 of the 100 to be served before it was our turn. The sign in was quick. Lunch buffet was ready at 11:30 AM. We had boarded at 11 AM. Rooms were not ready until 2 PM. The Cabin: We were located in cabin 4035, an inside cabin. The cabin was of nice size (200 square feet plus 48 square foot bathroom). There is a large desk with two 110-volt outlets and lots of storage in the sitting area as well as a small table and one chair. We asked for an extra straight back chair and did receive one. Each cabin offers a safe that can be programmed for the passenger's use and a television with several channels going 24 hours per day. There was an unfortunate event on Thanksgiving. TV reception was blocked by two adjacent, larger cruise ships. No football until we left port. The Restaurants: The Regatta offers several dining venues that really set it apart from other cruise lines. While there is no surcharge for the specialty restaurants, there are restricted reservations for lower class passengers (in staterooms). The Grand Dining Room: This is the main dining room on the Regatta that does not require any reservations. It is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner and offers fine dining from a complete menu for all meals. A hand-painted fresco ceiling tops the Grand Dining Room where a tuxedo-clad wait staff serves elegant six course meals. We ate dinner in the Grand Dining Room on most days and consistently had poor service. Dinner would take over two hours with surprising gaps between courses. Appetizers, Soups, salads, and desserts were generally above average. The Regatta complement of guests is generally in their 70s and 80s. This could be justification for small entrees. During the cruise I received three scallops, four slices of beef short rib, and a Beef Wellington the diameter of a coffee cup. I understand one could order more, but one of the weak serving points was that the waiter never came back after serving the entrees to see if the orders were correct, wrong, or insufficient.
I must comment that the wine list on the Regatta was extensive and expensive. For example, a Beaujolais Villages that I can buy at my local grocery for $9 is on the list for $50. The wine waiters are a little aggressive. One night my wife asked for a glass of red house wine ($6.95). The server showed her a Merlot and she asked for something different. The server suggested a Cabernet without telling us the new, improved price ($11.95). Toscana: We dined in Toscana on our first night. It was a large challenge since we had risen at 3:45 AM. But when we lower class persons made reservation, only the first night was available. We thoroughly enjoyed the meal; but, it took three hours. I had Osso Bucco that was excellent. However, my wife had rack of lamb that was not done properly. Polo Grill: The Polo Grill boasts a classic steakhouse atmosphere, offering a selection of aged beef and fine seafood. We ate at Polo twice. I had a ribeye and a porterhouse. Both were inedible due to grease and gristle. My wife says they were broiled on a flat grill (no holes) so the grease had no place to go except back into the meat. In an other incident, we saw a waiter (or helper) combine butter from two dishes left at other tables into one butter dish, adding a nice flat top. The Terraces Restaurant: This is the ship's buffet for breakfast and lunch and was very popular. Breakfast saw a great assortment of fruit, hot foods (eggs, pre cooked omelets, bacon, sausage, ham and such) cold cuts, cheeses, various bread choices and a cooked-to-order egg and omelet station. There was always fresh juice available and coffee/tea was served at your table. Lunch saw another buffet with excellent choices and quality. There was also a pizza station open for lunch as well. The Terrace Cafe serves breakfast and lunch buffets. The major difficulty with the Terrace CafÃ© is no lines. There is no way to handle crowds and people interfering with each other. Waves is a poolside restaurant serving traditional barbecue, fresh salads, sandwiches, and homemade ice cream. One time at WAVES, the servers put four hamburgers out for the people who ordered them. Along comes a passenger who takes the top off of each hamburger to see which was his order. Needless to say, my wife threw her top away. The Regatta Lounge: The Regatta Lounge was the place for all the events on the ship. The evening's entertainment took place here, as did the Captains Welcome and Farewell parties. There was never a need to go early to reserve a seat as there were always plenty of tables and chairs (likely because the entertainment was not that attractive). The Library: Simply the most beautiful library on any ship anywhere! There is a reasonable amount of fiction and travel books. The reference material, however, is worthless. The Cruise: Sunday, November 20th, 2011; Miami, Florida
ITINERARY FROM OCEANIA BROCHURE: The brochure information is reprinted below to show five dockings and one tender port: VIRGIN GORDA, BVI â€“ DOCKED â€“ 10 HOURS ST. JOHN'S, ANTIGUA â€“ DOCKED â€“ 10 HOURS GUSTAVIA, ST. BARTS â€“ DOCKED â€“ 10 HOURS TORTOLA, BVI â€“ DOCKED â€“ 8 HOURS LA ROMANA, DOMINICAN REPUBLIC â€“ DOCKED â€“ 8 HOURS GRAND TURK, TURKS & CAICOS â€“ ANCHOR â€“ 6 HOURS Below is what actually happened. The most likely explanation is that Oceania saves money by not docking. Also note that tendering removes about one hour of port time; more if you are not on a tour. VIRGIN GORDA, BVI â€“ TENDERS â€“ 1 PM TO 7 PM, 6 HOURS ST. JOHN'S, ANTIGUA â€“ DOCKED â€“ 10 HOURS GUSTAVIA, ST. BARTS â€“ TENDERS â€“ 10 HOURS TORTOLA, BVI â€“ TENDERS â€“ 8 HOURS LA ROMANA, DOMINICAN REPUBLIC â€“ DOCKED â€“11 AM TO 5 PM, 6 HOURS GRAND TURK, TURKS & CAICOS â€“ TENDERS â€“ 2 PM TO 6 PM, 4 HOURS Mon Nov 21 We usually have Room Service on waking up. The Regatta was fairly prompt and brought cups about half the time. We had coffee the first morning and it was not drinkable, so we switched to tea. Tue Nov 22 At Sea Wed Nov 23 Virgin Gorda, British Virgin Islands Arrival at Virgin Gorda was late. There was an announcement on the morning of the arrival that there was engine trouble. This has been mentioned before in reviews of the Regatta. Virgin Gorda is famed for its unique Baths area, where visitors explore caves and natural pools formed by large, smoothed boulders. Over 500 of the ship's 650 guests went ashore on tenders. I don't know how many took excursions from Regatta. Thu Nov 24 Antigua The largest of the British Leeward Islands boasts 365 beaches and crystal-clear waters. History buffs will want to tour Nelson's Dockyard National Park, where one of the great admirals of the 18th century kept his fleet. We had a fine taxi driver take us around the island for over two hours at $20 each (compared to the cheapest ship excursion at $65 each). The driver was extremely knowledgeable and well spoken. Antigua has its own personality. There are many colored houses and many small, older houses. Rain water is for drinking and tap water is for washing. The interior is covered with hills and vegetation. Gasoline is about $6 per gallon. Education has a high priority. Most schools are new. There are two colleges and a medical school. Fri Nov 25 St. Barts The atmosphere of this unique island is similar to that of a small French village. Most visitors explore the pearly beaches, open-air restaurants and cafes and chic shops of this eight-square-mile island. Of the island's 14 beaches, St. Jean is the busiest and the best for people-watching, while Governor's Beach is the most scenic. St. Barts and Gustavia are the most expensive places in the Caribbean. The ferry from St. Barts to St. Martin was interesting. The price for tourists (visitors) was about twice the price for residents. Sat Nov 26 Tortola, British Virgin Islands Tortola is small in size, but huge in natural beauty. The island is capped with bold mountains and fringed with breathtaking beaches. The prime sites here are Cane Garden Bay and Sage Mountain National Park. Each island visited has spectacular beaches and water sports. I wonder how many of the majority 70s and 80s passengers took advantage of such wonders. Sun Nov 27 La Romana (Casa de Campo), Dominican Republic 9:00 AM 5:00 PM Casa de Campo, a lush resort retreat in La Romana on the Dominican Republic's southeastern coast, offers myriad recreational options for visiting cruise passengers. We hired a taxi driver to take us to Altos de Chavon cultural village about 20 km from the docked ship. It is a reconstruction of a sixteenth century Spanish village now housing museums, a chapel, restaurants, etc. All in matching style. Our driver also stopped for shopping and gave us an extensive tour of Casa de Campo. He also let us stop for an hour at the Marina to have some adult beverages. The charge was $30 each compared to the excursion from the ship only to Los Altos at $45. Mon Nov 28 Grand Turk, Turks & Caicos Islands This small island, only six miles long and three miles wide, provides all the activities sun lovers need. Scuba diving, horseback riding on the beach, playing golf or whale watching (in season) are the major draws. Grand Turk is noted for Margaritaville and is listed as one of the top ten dive sites in the world. Tue Nov 29 At Sea Wed Nov 30 Miami, FL 7:00 AM We were told to vacate our room by 8 AM. We left the ship about 9 AM. We had a long stay at the airport until our 2:50 PM flight. The security at Miami was noticeably more stringent than most airports probably because Miami is a major entry point for illegal entry.
As previous Oceania cruisers, my wife and I looked forward to our 10 day, Barcelona to Rome cruise on the new Marina. We can confirm the glowing reports that have been circulating about the vessel. However two negative comments need to be made. The designers of the ship (and their publicity folks) stress the benefits of each stateroom having a tub and a separate shower. To make room for that tub, the triangular shower is very small. A normal person cannot comfortably turn around without bumping into the walls, much less bend over to retrieve an errant piece of soap. What a poor design. Not one of the passengers that I spoke with even considered using the tub. A major design mistake. Secondly, when the wifi is used in the cabins, the reception is very bad. There are frequent drops. The on-board computer guru admitted that only the computer lab offers decent connectivity. Not designing the proper wifi connectivity on a brand new ship is extremely poor planning. While the dining venues on the Marina are very good, everything should be top rated for a cruise of this price.