My wife and I recent sailed on the Regatta from Miami to Lima. It was not our first cruise but our first on Oceania and our most enjoyable. The food was outstanding, the service impeccable, and fellow travelers congenial. I must single out the cruise director, Ray Michaels, for his charisma and outstanding communication skills. The super bowl show was real fun and the religious services conducted by Mr. Michaels was stirring. I would also like to comment on the excellent sound system in the Regatta Lounge. I have difficulty hearing and certainly appreciated the outstanding sound system. I would have rated this a "5" except for the stingy drinks and warm glasses. A small but important issue.
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.
Oceania Cruises has earned a fine reputation by providing great food, good and personable service on friendly well-maintained ships, with interesting itineraries. The company lived up to that billing on our recent 24-day Amazon Adventure cruise aboard Regatta. In many ways, we had a fabulous experience. Unfortunately, a series of planning and communications failures by Oceania marred the trip and left many of us frustrated. The check-in procedure was a disaster, a purported computer snafu that kept us waiting in the terminal three hours. Worse yet, ports promised in promotional literature last year were switched. One port was skipped altogether. At a key port, we lost half a day of touring time because of sailing delays. The crew aboard ship, regrettably, didn't even want to acknowledge the problems. Let's hope there has been some private rear-kicking in the Miami headquarters.
This was an ambitious cruise: leave Miami, go through the Caribbean, visit various islands, then enter the Amazon for eight days and visit Santarem, Boca da Valeria, Parintins and Manaus for two days, then stop at various Caribbean islands on the way back to Miami. We paid about $5,900 per person including tipsfor our stateroom, 4049, very well located just steps from the reception desk and central stairway.
The ship, although 13 years old, looks all but new. We had to look hard to see any maintenance issues. Our stateroom was pretty, in near-perfect condition, and quiet. Everything, including the air conditioning, which was really needed, worked fine.
The stateroom attendant was seldom seen, but kept up the room twice a day in timely fashion. The public areas of the ship were very attractive and very well maintained. You could occasionally see crewmen doing painting, which is a good sign on a ship. The food was very good, sometimes excellent, sometimes even superb. The top chef was available to talk to passengers almost every day. They do, however, need a better recipe for scrambled eggs and hash browns in the mornings.
Oceania has no separate charge for any of their restaurants. Let's hope that continues. The two specialty restaurants were excellent. Restaurant service was usually pleasant and good, although a little slow at times. Overall, the staff throughout the ship were a joy to be around.
Entertainment was of mixed appeal. In various parts of the ship, we had a string quartet, which really adds class, a piano player, and a band. All were good and entertaining. Other entertainers were brought aboard for special appearances, and some were quite good. Passenger laundry facilities and internet service, like on all Oceania ships, were terrible.
The enrichment lecturers weren't very useful. We suffered a lot by not having an Amazon naturalist aboard. Shore excursions offered by the ship were overpriced, and we heard numerous complaints about them. We booked private guides in several of the key stops, including in the Amazon, and they provided great experiences for us.
The problems on this cruise came with the ports. As we boarded, we were informed we would not stop in Tobago but rather go to Port of Spain. This was not an even trade. Because of that change, we lost a shore excursion we had booked privately in Tobago. They could have informed us of this change days before we left home. After Port of Spain, the schedule failed to allow enough time to get to Santarem. They knew or should have known that weather in this area can pose problems, and they surely knew that Brazil customs authorities are feuding with the United States and might hold us up as we entered the Amazon. Because of these delays, we arrived in Santarem at 3 p.m. and lost half a day of our privately arranged shore excursion. Our stop at Devil's Island was skipped, purportedly because of high seas. Again, they knew or should have known that this stop is chancy for cruise ships. We were NOT warned about that in promotional literature. As a result, we expected and looked forward to the stop. The captain could have tried to land, or could have waited for several hours to see if the seas calmed. He did neither, and did not even go slowly past the island to give us a photo opportunity.
Originally, Grand Turk was to be our final port. But we were told after we had made our reservations that would change to Nassau. Again, not a fair trade. While on the Amazon, if Oceania had planned properly, we would have had more time to visit one other city, perhaps Belem. Or we could have been given an overnight stop in Santarem. Instead, we spent too much time in Caribbean ports.
We registered these concerns on board, including to the captain directly, but the ship personnel saw nothing wrong. They didn't seem to grasp that they should deliver what they promised. They never apologized for the computer snafu at check-in. Considering complaints on other Oceania cruises about changing ports, and now the mysterious problem with Insignia, one has to wonder if Oceania is slipping a bit. While we love the memories of our Amazon trip, the big question is: would we schedule it again, knowing what we now know? The answer might be no.
Reviews of Oceania Cruises are typically very positive, and for a reason. Oceania, in a time of cutbacks everywhere, continues to do a great job. We took the Lands of the Midnight Sun cruise on Insignia, leaving Dover on July 23 and traveling up the west coast of Norway, into various fjords, and eventually to Murmansk and the polar ice cap. We disembarked in Copenhagen on August 10. The views, the experiences, and the memories will last the rest of our lives. Yes, there were some glitches and shortcomings, partly explained by the ambitious nature of this itinerary. Our experience wasn't perfect. But Oceania is a fine cruise line and we had a fine time.
We haven't sailed on this line in four years, and we wondered if we would see evidence of cutbacks, like those reported on other lines. We saw nothing of the sort. The food actually may have been better this trip than our trip of four years ago. Frequently it was very good, sometimes excellent, sometimes even superb. Oceania has no separate charge for any of their restaurants. Let's hope that continues. The service in the restaurants was,at times, a little disorganized. But overall, the staff throughout the ship was excellent. Always pleasant and helpful.
The ship itself looks like it just came from the shipyard. In fabulous shape. Traditional, but not old-fashioned. Hardly a scuff mark to be seen. Frequently we saw workers doing touch-up painting. Once I observed the manager of the buffet use her finger to test for dust on a ledge. We paid about $5,800 per person including tips for our stateroom, 4049, very well located just steps from the reception desk, central stairway and elevators. The room was pretty, in near-perfect condition, and quiet, about average size for a cruise ship, with dark woods, a large window, and a comfortable queen-size bed. The air conditioning worked. Storage space was adequate. The bathroom was on the small side, with adequate storage space but with a tiny uncomfortable shower. The hot water was always hot.
The entertainment, if anything, was better than four years ago. We had a string quartet, which really adds class, a piano player, and a band that was entertaining. We enjoyed recitals by a classical pianist and a classical clarinet player. The juggler/comedian should have been left at the dock. The ship threw several parties, complete with free snacks and drinks. The captain and other top officers attended, and if you wanted to talk to any of them, it was easy to do. The top chefs were frequently available, too. When we arrived in port, an official from the local tourist bureau was usually on the ship first thing. Very helpful. Shuttles into town centers were sometimes offered free, which was another benefit.
The problems we encountered related to communications, planning and shore excursions. First, the polar bear issue. Oceania inadvisedly left people with an impression we could see a polar bear. Cruise brochures featured polar bear pictures. We checked before we booked and found that seeing a polar bear on this cruise would be highly unlikely. So we weren't upset. Still, Oceania was guilty of a little false advertising. Another mistake was making two stops, in Oslo and Bergen, on Sundays. Most regular stores close in Norway on Sundays. We lost great shopping opportunities. We could have used a naturalist on board. We lacked good, moment-to-moment information about some of the wildlife and scenery we were seeing. The shore excursions were over-priced and lacked imagination. Many passengers scored better excursions by setting them up themselves. In Murmansk, however, visa regulations prevent that. We were stuck with the ship excursions and they came up way short. Granted, Russia is an extremely difficult country to deal with. Murmansk is a treasure trove of history, tragedy and courage in the face of travail.
Many passengers didn't grasp that, and came away saying this stop was a waste. It was one of the highlights for us, despite the inadequate shore excursion we took. Glitches and shortrcomings aside, this was an excellent cruise on a route not commonly traveled by ships. Insignia threw one party for passengers who have sailed before on Oceania, and it was a huge affair. Of the 680 passengers aboard, more than 400 had sailed at least once on Oceania. That's a tipoff to how good this cruise line is.Cost
My Prior Cruise Experience
I had read so many positive reviews of the Oceania line that when I noticed the modest price of the Insignia's transatlantic crossing to Barcelona embarking in my adopted hometown of Rio de Janeiro I enthusiastically seized the opportunity to experience an Oceania cruise. Coincidentally, my first cruise disembarked in Rio back in 1976 when I began exploring the South American continent. The name of that ship was the Christoforo Colombo which for you trivia buffs was the sister ship of the Andrea Doria which sank off the coast of Nantucket Island in 1956 following a collision with another liner (bonus points if you know the name of the ship). Since that time I have cruised about 50 times on a wide variety of lines running the gamete in price and sophistication from the "fun" ships to Seabourn and Crystal.
Accordingly and not surprisingly, I believe my opinion is well informed and credible. I rate my Oceania cruise at the top in terms of cost/benefit value.Cost
As usual I used the internet to obtain competitive bids for this cruise. We originally booked a so-called amenities package consisting of a minimumoutside category cabin (D), prepaid gratuities, a $200 shipboard cabin credit, and a bottle of wine for $1620 pp or about $110 pp per day. On land one would have to pay almost that much just to eat as well as we did while on board. No wonder the cruise industry is booming. Cruising provides tremendous travel value. Shortly before sailing we accepted an offer from our TA to upgrade to a midship B2 balcony cabin for an additional $200 pp. My self satisfaction at having found a great deal was tempered slightly when I spoke with some passengers from the states and Canada who purchased the air/cruise packages for which Oceania is known. These packages afforded even greater value because the air component is priced ridiculously low compared to regular open jaw airfare, in this case from the USA gateway city to Rio and then back to the USA from Barcelona. The tight scheduling of this packaged air tends to be frenetic and is not for the faint hearted, but I believe deviations that allow more relaxed arrival and departure times/dates are available at a modest cost. Oceania air packages were not available for So. American residents from our USA based agent. Fortunately, TAP (Portugal) airline offers a reasonably priced one way fare from most cities in Europe to Brasil.Embarkation and Disembarkation
Embarkation was pretty much a non-event. After a 20 minute taxi ride from our apt to the terminal we left our bags with the porters and then had to wait in line about 15 minutes before receiving our boarding cards. We subsequently learned there were only 398 passengers on this sailing, a 60% occupancy rate. The absence of photographers at the gangplank also facilitated the boarding process. In fact, there were no ship photographers at all, a phenomenon probably precipitated by the advent of digital photography. There was a well attended class on board that dealt with computerized digital photography.
We encountered a minor glitch when we arrived at our deck 6 cabin. The key card didn't open the door so I had to hoof it down to Reception on deck 4 to ask for help. Time spent waiting in the hall passes slowly when one is eager to explore a new ship so I revisited Reception 5-10 minutes later when the "be right there" security guy wasn't right there. Hey, I had very high expectations after reading all those cruise website accolades and here I was locked out of my cabin. While revisiting Reception I was a bit surprised to learn that the security chap had not been advised of our plight and only learned of it while I was there the second time. He then came to our room and fixed the door lock - something to do with the battery in the lock itself, not the key card. This problem reoccurred twice during our stay and was the only annoying glitch during the entire cruise - almost. I had requested a small fridge and when we were finally able to enter the cabin it's absence was conspicuous. I called Reception and they said they would send someone with a fridge, which they promptly did. Except it didn't work. So I asked Reception to send a replacement which they promptly did, except that one got as hot as an oven for the 3 hours our wine and meds were in it. Were these first negative impressions of Oceania a harbinger of things to come? Was I in for a constant assault on the high expectations I had brought to this party? Happily, no. We finally got a working fridge and the wine sommelier replaced a bottle of white that had cooked to the point it may have spoiled. So much for the negatives. It turned out that these minor incidents were an anomaly and it was smooth sailing for the rest of the cruise, both figuratively and literally. The weather for the crossing was exceptionally good and so was everything else. Disembarkation consisted of walking off the ship after we finished breakfast. No lines. No announcements. No fuss.Cabin
The cabin was nicely appointed with a sofa bed, small table, and a makeup desk/vanity with stool supplementing the queen size bed. Closet and storage space was adequate. It should be since I didn' t have to bring a tux and suits with me owing to the 'country club' mode of attire aboard this line. Or is that 'resort casual? ' I forget, but you need not ever wear a tie on board the ship so closet space should not be an issue even if you are a clothes horse. The bathroom was not large enough for double occupancy, but was comfortably functional. The detachable shower head was serviceable. The bath towels were considerably softer and fluffier than those on midmarket ships. A large bar of good soap lasted more than a week so we weren't bothered with tiny little bars or a liquid soap dispenser. The usual array of small plastic bottles of shampoo, conditioner and skin creme were furnished as needed by Sigrit, our Romanian cabin attendant who was as efficient and pleasant as any I've encountered. The toiletries may be more upscale in the penthouse suites, (so I have heard), but the cabin attendant could not have been better. My wife was a bit disappointed with the built-in wall hairdryer and was not able to get a "real" one from Reception, however they did supply us with a long extension cord which we could use for our electrical appliances. The room television was smallish and I could not find the sleep function on the remote control. That was a bit discomforting (not enough to inquire about) and was probably due to my own gadget incompetence. The programming was good - lots of recent releases and some classic movies constantly available. Boy, I wish CNN would change its format. It's excruciatingly annoying to hear and see the exact same news story after the third time.
We spend a lot of time in bed. Though we live in tropical Rio we have a goose down comforter and pillows galore, a super mattress and luxurious, high thread count, cotton sheets. So did our cabin. It far surpassed any bed I have experienced at sea and rivaled those in the very best hotels. There were no problems with the climate control or anything else in the cabin. It was always comfortable. The weather was mild, even sunny our first few days along the Brasilian coastline heading towards the equator, and we actually got to take some sun on our 40 sq ft balcony. In the evenings we could sit on the wooden chairs and have a drink under the stars.
We never heard any outside noises either from our neighbors or the ship itself. Quiet enough to hear only the sounds of the ship sliding through the sea as we plotted our course towards Barcelona.Public Areas and Entertainment
In general all the public areas of the ship were tasteful and in excellent condition. Furnishings bordered on luxurious. Though there was no photographer aboard, the ubiquitous Park West Galleries was and had adorned many of the walls in the hall ways and staircases with some decent looking art. I didn't attend any of their auctions and was a little surprised to find them on board.
Much to my liking the casino was tiny, almost an afterthought. It consisted of 3 or 4 card game tables, a roulette table and a few dozen machines that resembled slot machines. I do not recall a craps table. In any event, there wasn't a lot of action in the casino. The largest attendance was for the Texas hold'em tournament. That's getting to rival shipboard trivia in popularity.
The gym/spa on deck 9 was well equipped for a ship of this size. In addition to the usual complement of treadmills, stationary bikes and those elliptical machines with moving arms that simulate cross country skiing (kinder to my run down knees than treadmills) there were a half dozen well chosen cable machines for muscle building. There were fairly heavy dumbbells (60 lbs+) for lifting and bench work. For $3 you could purchase earphones to listen to the TVs positioned by the aerobic equipment. Because I had a minor medical problem while aboard I didn't use the gym as much as I normally would, but it was more than adequate. Nor did I take the opportunity to check out the steam/sauna rooms.
A great library chockablock with good reading material and smart furnishings was located on a top deck. There were several copies of some popular new titles. Surprisingly, there were no checkout procedures. You could go in at any time, night or day, and take out any book you wanted or just read it in one of the opulent overstuffed chairs or sofas. Even the fake fireplace was pleasant looking and in good taste, sort of. The only downside to this honor system was the apparent immediate disappearance of the guide books covering Spain, our final destination. Oh well, not much Oceania can do to redefine human nature. The same unmonitored procedure for scrabble sets and puzzles existed in the small game/card room adjacent to the computer school room on deck 10 ( or was it 9).
One of the reasons I was eager to cruise on Oceania is because Jacques Pepin is the executive chef of the line. I am a BIG Jacques Pepin fan having watched his tv cooking shows on public television for many years. In addition to the grand dining room on deck 5 the two specialty restaurants, the Polo Grill and Tuscana, are located on deck 10. These are truly fine dining spots with upscale furnishings and tableware to match (Versace plates). Tuscana was used for duplicate bridge on sea days. Squeak, the bridge teacher was good natured and extremely competent. It helps to have the patience of Job.
The Horizons lounge on top deck forward, billed as the room with a view, doubled as the evening disco and the afternoon tea room. I didn't take notes and didn't spend a lot of time here, but I recall "tasteful." Funny how my memory fades more quickly these days than it did years ago.
The pool area on deck 9 was unique for the pool chairs which were large wooden contraptions with terry cloth coverings over the padding. There were a number of extra large chairs for two people to use simultaneously. Towels were abundant. Located nearby was Waves, the grill where various sandwiches, hot dogs, burgers, and salads were available from noon to 4 every day. Ice cream, too.
As maximum passenger capacity is about 685 on these 30,000 ton ships (I am informed the Nauitica and Regatta are identical to the Insignia in even the smallest details) the night club/ theater is appropriately scaled down. I don't recall a raised stage per se, except for some of the 12 piece orchestra towards the back of the stage area. The furniture is tasteful and looks to be in excellent condition. No frayed anything. Banquettes and individual well-stuffed chairs encircle the stage area. This is a more intimate theater environment than that found on the larger ships of most lines and this intimacy complements the entertainment corps, a foursome of young singers who actually sing live and can relate to the audience at eye level. The cast emphasizes singing and deemphasizes costumes and dance and in my opinion puts on an enjoyable evening of cabaret style theater with no pretense of being a "Las Vegas show." The MC is the Cruise Director, Rob Wheatley, who I thought was a great cruise director, funny and good natured at all times. He seemed well liked by those with whom he worked as well as the passengers. Among the other entertainers complementing the cabaret cast were a comedy magic act duo: "Des" something or other and his wife, Sherry who were British ( like all show people Des would no doubt hate me for not remembering his name in this review - if you ever get to see this, sorry Des). I had the pleasure of sharing a dinner table with Des and Sherry before seeing their act. During the conversation I remarked upon the British comedian, Benny Hill, and Des gave me some insight into the man. When I subsequently saw their show I was taken aback by how much Des's comedic style reminded me of Benny Hill, who I considered a very funny guy. And to see Sherry, who had behaved so demurely at the dinner table, gallivanting on stage also threw me for a loop. Excellent show, both nights they performed. A couple of evenings we were entertained by an accomplished clarinetist. I missed the impressionist. The cruise director put on some shows and games a few of the nights. These were well received. In general I liked the entertainment very much with a minor footnote.
My wife and I love to dance and while we did do some dancing from time to time I was a little disappointed with the orchestra. I didn't think they were as "tight" as they should have been. Not to be unkind, but maybe 6 gifted musicians would be better than 12 so so musicians. They performed at various spots thought out the cruise including some nights outside on the pool deck in the Tapas restaurant. At night the lunch buffet area was converted into a tapas style restaurant alfresco. I never ate there but it looked pretty all dressed up with candles, fine linens and tableware. Though sangria was offered, I 'm not sure why they call it Tapas. As far as I could tell it was just a fancier buffet than the breakfast or lunch fare.
There was a bar outside the night club ( Martini's bar) which I frequented because it was the locus of team trivia. Mr Wheatly kept the proceedings in order despite threatened lawsuits and questionable ethics by some of the cheaters. The environment is enhanced in the evening by a pianist whom I am ashamed to say I never stopped to listen to.
There was an enrichment lecture program but I have zero interest in conjecture over whether Princess Diana's death resulted from a plot or to hear a rehash of the Simpson love story that resulted in the abdication of the King of England. I put a negative in the comment card about the enrichment lecture program.Food and Drinks
I am a foodie and have written a few articles on restaurants for local magazines and an internet site. I had tremendously high expectations given the fact that my hero, Jacques Pepin, is executive chef of the company. In general I was very pleased with the quality of the food. Because passenger capacity was low we could eat in the specialty restaurants pretty much wherever we wanted to. We ate in Tuscana 4 nights and Polo twice (this would not be possible on a full ship when only one night in each is guaranteed, two if you occupy a penthouse).
The Polo Grill is a steakhouse. I have lived in Buenos Aires for extended periods of time and visit it from time to time. The steaks in Polo, though advertised as aged prime Angus, did not approach the flavor of the steaks I get in steakhouses in BA. Of course, that is a very high standard against which to be judged. Compared to midmarket cruise lines the food is superb, at least as good as what you get in their specialty restaurants for which you pay a $20-30 surcharge. On the other hand, the lobster especially in Tuscana was fantastic, not at all resembling that which you get on Lobster Night or the Captain's Gala Party night aboard a lot of midmarket lines. No comparison whatsoever. Pastas were made fresh on the ship daily and the taste reflected the care given to food preparation. The gnocchi in pesto was a revelation. The fresh baked Italian bread was as good as the tiramisu. Very good.
The buffets at breakfast and lunch were far superior to that of all other lines besides Crystal and Seabourn (I have not sailed on Silversea or Regent) and these luxury lines will set you back between 2 or 3 times what you pay for an Oceania cruise. The difference in price between Oceania and HAL/Celebrity is minimal, but the quality of the food and service is significantly better on Oceania.
I also appreciate the fact that I can bring wine on board without having to secrete it as if it were contraband. I do not believe that in practice the company distinguishes between a bottle of wine and a bottle of scotch. The $20 corkage fee for bottles brought to the dining room is fair. Wines cost about the same as they would in a fancy restaurant on shore. Drinks prices are on the high end, but I did not buy drinks (medical situation) on my cruise so I can't honestly report whether the drinks are poured sufficiently liberally to justify a $12 cosmopolitan (with 18% tip included automatically) or a $21 Lagavulin (the bottle probably costs them $50). In any event that is a manageable cost.Service
I cannot say enough about the wonderful service my wife and I received during this cruise. Perhaps it was attributable to the low passenger capacity or the fact that many employees were disembarking for vacation when we ported, but service was so amazingly efficient and graceful that it could be considered charming. Every single waiter, pool attendant, sommelier (yes they have trained sommeliers), room steward, and officer we encountered was fantastically eager to give us what we wanted and to suggest something when it was appropriate. There were never language problems because staff were all fluent in English no matter what their native tongue. And smart too. Idle banter could turn into interesting conversation with anyone you might choose to engage.Conclusion
Of all the cruiselines I have travelled Oceania gives the most value for the price it charges. The accomodations and entertainment were very good and the food and service were excellent. We have already booked this same cruise for next year. It will include 3 new ports.
My sister and I and our two youngest daughters went on the Oceania Regatta Cruise last November. The ports of call were well chosen and fascinating. We embarked from Barcelona and went on to Rome, Amalfi, Sorrento, Sicily, Tunisia, Gibralter and Casablanca. The food was excellent, boasting a gourmet program created by Jacques Pipen, and since we had booked, the Butler Suite, our service was equally first class.
I was appalled, however, at the maintenance issues we encountered on this trip including our spa tub overflowing our first night aboard and despite repeated maintenance being done on the spa, we were never able to use it during the entire trip. It kept spewing out a gray dirty water that looked like it had bugs in it. Later discussing this with some of the maintenance people, it proved to be the result of improper cleaning procedures that need to be done regularly on these spas.
In addition, our room had an absolutely beautiful wraparound patio deck for our own person use for sunning and dining. Unfortunately, for the first week we were unable to use it because the door kept falling off, in addition,the room boasted a full regalia of movies, new and old to be seen in our room, but the DVD player did not work and they did not have one to replace it.
Oceania has a long way to go before I will travel with them again.
I wrote a much more favorable review in April after sailing on the Insignia from Barbados to Barcelona last March. As a result of that good experience, my husband and I booked the December 19 cruise from Buenos Aires to Valparaiso and, unfortunately, found many things changed.
We had probably the best cruise director ever on our March sailing, but the current cruise director on the Insignia was not particularly helpful and didn't seem to mix much with the passengers. Still, for us the cruise director does not make or break a cruise and we probably wouldn't even have noticed if his predecessor had not been so outstanding.
The biggest problem on this cruise was the number of children on board and the inability of the staff to control the situation. The Insignia is a small ship with no children's facilities; in the past, Oceania has been quite clear that it is not child-friendly. It seemed, however, that in their eagerness to fill every last inside cabin, they had booked some large groups with many children. Thus, facilities such as the ship's only pool (a small one) simply was unavailable to most passengersas large, rowdy family groups literally took it over.
With children running rampant up and down hallways, crowding all over the casino and its equipment, and dining in their pajamas in family groups of 12 of more in the Polo Grill -- which is supposed to be an upscale fine dining venue -- many passengers quickly became upset, not only with the rowdy children but also with their parents for permitting the behavior. These family groups would dominate quiet areas such as the Horizon Lounge during the daytime, turning them into playrooms instead of peaceful locations to contemplate the scenery from the most forward spot on the ship.
Less than a week into the cruise, it was announced that due to Chilean regulations, the casino would be closed for the last eight days of the cruise. My husband, who is an occasional blackjack player (although conditions were so unpleasant in the casino with rowdy adults and children most nights that he didn't even try), talked to one of the dealers, who told him they had been taken completely by surprise. In our first Chilean port, Punta Arenas, after the casino had been closed for several days, we ran into a passenger from the Marco Polo. That ship had just arrived from the opposite direction, heading south to Antarctica. In chatting, we learned that the Marco Polo was keeping its casino open nightly even thought they had just traveled the route we were taking.
After word got around that other cruise ships didn't have to shut down their casinos, the decision was made to open Insignia's casino for several more days. Some speculated that Chile was levying a tax on gambling when the ship was within a 12-mile limit, and that Oceania did not want to pay.
I am a fitness freak, and although the smallness of the fitness facility did not bother me much on the transatlantic trip, this time it did. On the earlier trip, the fitness director organized some good classes that could augment the limited equipment in the center. On this trip, with a different fitness director, the classes simply were not up to any accredited standards, and the classes for which they charged $10 - yoga and Pilates - were not good enough to justify a charge.
We booked a penthouse suite (what would be called a mini-suite on other ships) as we did on the earlier cruise, and our butler, Dimitre, was excellent. Because of the rowdiness of the children, we spent more time than usual in our cabin and on the verandah, and Dimitre was always available whenever we needed something.
We booked our tours through Turismo Nuevo Mundo in Valparaiso, as did two other couples on the ship. We were met in each port by a van with an English-speaking driver; the tours were about half the price of the cruise line's, and we thoroughly enjoyed them. We did hear quite a few passengers complaining about the quality of the ship's tours and felt rather smug that we had the foresight to book independently.
The scenery was spectacular as we went through the Beagle Channel and the fjords - much of it viewed from our verandah because the public areas were so disrupted by large groups with many very noisy children.
We had planned to book Oceania for a trip from Istanbul to Singapore through the Suez Canal in December - but now we are re-thinking those plans. It is not a journey we would want to undertake should the conditions be the same as on the South America cruise.
Oceania has attempted to distinguish itself as a line of "affordable luxury." Their ships are small, their design is elegant. They definitely have nothing for children to do. However, they do not have a policy in place to prevent the kind of mayhem that occurred on the Insignia -- and until they do, it will be difficult for us to take a chance on them again.
I am a big fan of the Regatta. The staff is extraordinary - the company must be doing right to keep them so happy.
The entertainment was improved this year, with four very talented singers and a brilliant guest entertainer named Bruce Adler. His shows were terrific and people lined up in the back to see him. The food is exquisite and varied and the ports are lovely. I recommend this line highly.
The Regatta is a comparatively small ship and has both the pluses and minuses that you would expect. The minuses are the small staterooms (we were in "Concierge" class which is supposedly somewhat of a premium category) with only a small loveseat and no other chair. We took one of the chairs from the very small verandah and brought it inside...crowded but at least a place for two to sit. The other primary minus is the Oceania gouging on prices. They put an outrageious 18% charge on all drinks, soft or hard and their prices are high for even a cruise line. Converting ounces to metric. a .75ml bottle of Jim Beam generates a little over $106 to Oceania, and that is their cheapest bar bourbon.
The pluses are numerous. First, the staff is uniformly great (and worth the $13.50/day/person gratuity). They are from all over the world, primarily eastern Europe. We enjoyed our contacts and they were many because of the "open" seating. The ships decor was warm and very tastefully done. Their library was extensive, most inviting, and was on the honor system...no checking out, just select and take.
Food wasvery good with their "upgrade" restuarants serving excellent specialty dishes...one a "surf and turf" menu and the other Italian oriented. Both menus were large and interesting. The main dining room had fewer of the speciality items but their menu was extensive and very good. Similarly with the "Tapas" buffet for breakfast and lunch, (and dinner if desired) and the Waves poolside grill.
The biggest surprise was the entertainment. My wife and I never thought too much of shows on other cruises but Oceania has been smart enough to hire a smaller numberof truly professional performers. After seeing one show, we made a point of going every night (except for the comedian).
All in all, except for the stateroom size we were very impressed and would consider cruising on Oceania again.
This was my first Oceania Cruise. We went with a group of eight from Venice to Barcelona for 14 days. We arranged our own pre-package in Venice that was very nice and affordable and easy to do with the water taxi from the airport that met us. The hotel provided another taxi to the pier for a cost but the overall expenditures for two were significantly cheaper from the cruise pre-package offer.
Embarkation was easy but we had the Concierge class. This was not worth the extra dollars except for the early boarding and the chance for two nights at the specialty restaurants vs.. one. That is the only value. We got only two items pressed on arrival and they advertise as concierge class- complimentary pressing on arrival- read the very small print.
I loved the small ship and it was great for Europe where you are very busy and tired on port days but I know on a trip with more days at sea I would have been bored with the lack of activates both day and nights. In the casino many of the slot machines were broken for most ofthe trip.
Ports of Call: We arranged for our own driver in the big cities such as Rome, Florence, and the French Riviera.It was half the price offered from the ship. Other ports we did on our own when we arrived and it turned out great. Most are very walkable and easy to get taxies or boats to the islands and between small cities. We took the ferry between Amlfia coast and Positono and it was very affordable and allowed us time enough to experience both. In Corfu we rented on the spot two taxis who took us all over the island for about $30 per person and we saw the other side of the island, had lunch out and visited the old town. It was Sunday with many closed stores so that was a good use of our time there. It was easy to do it. I was disappointed in the change in 2 ports and we missed Portofino and docked in Genoa and the ship made no effort to accommodate the clients for transportation with the change. I have heard that this is a common Oceania complaint.In addition many of the other clients who did the Oceania shore excursions were very disappointed and felt they were not worth the money or time. We found that even in Rome and Florence many of the experienced travelers took the train in on their own and did just fine
The Service and staff were the best I have ever had but the food was no better than a Princess or Celebrity. The specialty restaurants were ok but did not change the menu from one night to the next and I enjoyed the venue more than the food. I loved the Tapas restaurant and the Terrace for breakfast- great choices and always very fresh with great service.
The entertainment was geared toward those over 70 and this was a very young 40-60 crowd who walked out many shows. We knew in advance though that the entertainment was not what Oceania was all about.
All in all a good experience and I would do Oceania again for Europe of South America but would not spend the money for the Caribbean or Mexico cruises.