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.
ENJOYED THE OCEANIA CRUISE(S), BUT NOW READY TO TRY
We took our second Ocenia cruise this year from Istanbul visiting some Greek Islands and Turkish ports before ending up in Athens (Sept/Oct 2013). This followed our first cruise on the same cruise line from Vancouver to Alaska in May 2013. Although for the Mediterranean cruise was on the Nautica, and the cruise to Alaska was on the Regatta, the two ships were so similar that sometimes, we forgot exactly which ship we were on!
Having read some comments of passengers' experience of other cruise lines where not all staff were nice and pleasant, this was something which we take our hats off to Oceania - practically all the Ocenia crews and staff were very pleasant and friendly. They always smiled and greeted you when they passed by you. They worked hard and always tried their best to please, and nothing seemed to be too much trouble. We were very impressed with their positive attitudes and the good training from Oceania management. Our belief is that the high quality of staff at Oceania Cruises is really one of the
We were met by an agent of Oceania Cruise at Istanbul Airport where a coach took us to the boat docked near the olden part of Istanbul city. The traffic was so bad it took us about two hours to reach the Nautica. Some of us felt it might have been quicker had we got off the coach and walked - however, it would have been a problem had we done so as we all had quite a lot of luggage with us!
We know a lot of people raved about the wonderful cuisine and high standard of cooking on Oceania. Yes, we agree with them to a degree, but we have to say eventhough the cooking on Oceania was generally very good, it was not perfect! (Sorry, sorry, we know, we are being rather picky here! Gulp!!). For example, to us, the bread served on Oceania Cruises (both Nautica and Regatta) was not very nice - it tasted to us as if it was dry and some was quite hard - the exception was the selection of breads in the Toscana Italian restaurant.
We were also disappointed by the roast "lamb" which was really very tough , and the lamb curry with chewy meat, all were served in the Terrace (Buffet) restaurant. Their smoked salmon did not always taste fresh, it was as if it had been in the freezer/fridge(?) for too long and the texture has gone past its best. Their scooped ice-cream curiosly tasted as if was not properly frozen. At their Asian-theme lunch in the buffet restaurant, their Asian dishes were not very authentic and some of their Asian dishes actually tasted pretty awful ! Being Asian, I dare claim to have some knowledge of how "good" Asian food should taste like! An exception to the poor quality of their Asian dishes was their sushi, which was very nice.
Of course, as there was such a large choice of foods to eat, we never went hungry because if some dishes or food items were not to our tastes, there was always something else that we would enjoy. We won't list them as we are sure other passengers in other reviews have mentioned them already!
It was a shame that in the buffet restaurant, passengers could not help themselves but had to be served by ship staff. Perhaps this might have something to do with hygiene but the dishes were covered by plastic covers which steamed up so much it was sometimes difficult to see what was being served at meal times.
Soft drinks were complimentary but wines and other drinks had to be purchased. The wine and drinks prices were quite expensive, in our view, and this was made worse because like most American cruise lines, Oceania Cruise Lines added an extra 18 per cent on top of their already pricey drinks!
The cabins in the Nautica had beds with luxurious mattresses and plump pillows and it was very pleasant to sleep on. We never had much problems sleeping because of the comfy beds - even when the sea was quite choppy and the winds was tossing the boat a bit, we were sleeping fine! Each room had a fridge stocked with a selection of soft drinks and sodas and it was replenished every day. The room was cleaned twice a day and towels were replaced twice daily as well (if needed). The towels were not as luxurious as in some really nice hotels but they were adequate.
As some passengers commented the shower rooms were quite small, however, it is untrue that all cabins have the same small shower rooms.
The larger rooms from penthouse suite upwards have bigger bathrooms. Even the smaller shower rooms were not that bad - you could move around quite adequately
unless you have a back the size of an elephant!
We were not sure if Oceania cruises were trying to do some "cost-saving exercise" because the luxurious Bulgari toileteries which we had in the earlier Alaskan cruise were replaced by Oceania's own home-brand toiletries, which seemed somewhat cheaper-looking (clumsy looking big bottles of shampoo instead of the quaint small bottles from Bulgari, for example) . A "down-grade" in toiletries, maybe?
ENTERTAINMENT & ACTIVITIES
There was a daily newsletter that keeps passengers informed of the activities on board. The cruise director also made regular annoucements and appearances on TV to keep us up-to-
date on the cruise. As the Nautica was a medium-sized boat, it probably did not have as many activities as in the larger cruise ships. There was a small but comfortable library, an ultra-expensive internet room, a spa and sauna, destination talks, cocktail piano sessions, string quartet, and the evening entertainment in the Nautica Lounge . We were disappointed that the evening entertainment in the Nautica Lounge was not on every evening. The standard of their own home singers were just average - their song choices were not all very good -, but the ship had some guest entertainers who were actually better than we expected. There was a magician, a guest musician, and a guest singer. The African-American guest singer was really a class act and we wished he had done more shows on our cruise - he was great.
There was also a couple of channels on the ship TV but one area we thought the company could improve on is the quality and choice of TV channels.
The library could offer some "giant jigsaws" for passengers to partake throughout the cruise (some cruise lines like Fred Olsen already have that).
The majority of passengers appear to be north of 60 years old - but many seem to have aged so gracefully and they still looked very well, it must have been the good life they have had, or they took the trouble to take care of themselves ! Having said that, there were passengers of other ages too, but there were very few children on board. So if you are not too keen on kids running around and screaming on deck, this boat is for you!!
THE CRUISE ITSELF
Our cruise started from Istanbul, and it sailed to Kusa Dasi, followed by Marmaris ,Mykonos and Santorini. Before we sailed to Santorini, the Cruise Director whetted our appetites as he indicated Santorini was one of the most beautiful islands he had even seen. However, when we reached Santorini, we had an announcement that because the sea was too choppy, the captain had cancelled our stop there - it was too dangerous to take the tender boats to land on Santorini Island.
We would have preferred that eventhough we could not land on Santorini , the captain could have at least sailed around the island. Instead,
we sailed away into the seas without any fixed destination in mind, as if just to kill time and to pass the day. So all we did was waste fuel , saw no land, and adding more carbon to the earth sailing almost aimlessly ! What a waste of time that was!! We had nothing much to do at sea that day and found ourselves eating even more of their delicious food out of boredom! At least, that was our excuse for eating more! Lol.
Eventually, the boat headed for Agios Nikolaos on the island of Crete which we docked the following morning. Our last port of call before reaching Pireus (for Athens) was Nafpleon. All these places we visited were nice, but it was a shame we had to miss the "Jewel in the Crown" of Greek islands, Santorini. Still, nevermind.
There were no formal nights but guest had been advised to dress "country club casual". That was one of the things we liked about Oceania cruises, we could be in stylish surroundings and eat in elegant restaurants, yet the men did not have to dress up in suit and ties or tuxedos like penguins. Some of the women passengers did take the trouble to dress up very elegantly though, although they were not required to do so.
From our previous Oceania cruise, we realised that the excursions offered by Oceania were very expensive and you could get better deals else where - instead of taking any excursions from Oceania, we checked for alternative and cheaper cruise excursions online.
We really enjoyed our first Oceania cruise to Alaska. Although we enjoyed the second Mediterranean cruise as well, because practically everything on board was the same as the boat on the first cruise - decor, cuisine, etc, etc - by the time our second cruise finished, we thought that we had a nice time but we have had just ample experience of Oceania cruises to last us for a little while. The next time we would like to try going on another cruise line to experience service possibly from a "different angle".. The thing with Oceania is, you know what you are getting, but many things remain the same for a long time, cruise after cruise. The same menus, the same decor, the same rooms, etc, etc. Only the ports of call are different. We would like to try different menus and different decors from different cruise companies. Isn't travelling about exploring new things and new experiences?
We would have liked the Captain and General Manager on the Nautica to be more available and mixed more with the passengers. We were looking for the start of the cruise party to meet the captain but did not know what happen, because we did not hear of any invitation. Later on there was a party for Ocean Club members - we went there, the General Manager was there but the Captain was absent giving the reason the sea was choppy and he had to take care of the boat. That was fair enough but we hardly got to see the captain after that. Senior management on the boat seemed
somewhat low-key, apart from the Cruise Director. Were they avoiding the passengers or what?
We have already booked on a cruise middle of next year with the rival company to Oceania, Azamara Club Cruises - curiously, it will be on the Azamara Quest, which is the same "R" class boat as the Nautica (as well as the Regatta) . Hopefully we can compare the two cruise companies to see which one is better! We did not feel that Oceania has done enough to keep us cruising just with them and with no other cruise companies (that does not mean we will not cruise with Oceania again, we will, but not too soon!). The Oceania Club membership has too few benefits to mean much to us.
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.