Year Started: 2002
Ships in Fleet: 5
Summary: This cruise line features some of the best cuisine and itineraries in the cruise industry, a top pick for value and excellence in style
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.