Although it’s been several years since we’ve sailed with Oceania Cruises, our experience has encompassed every ship in the line’s five vessel fleet.
Our last two trips were on 1,200-plus passenger Marina and Riviera, the first built-from-scratch ships Oceania’s ever had. We’ve also been on the three 684-passenger ships that started the line – Insignia, Nautica and Regatta, where we’re onboard to view the company’s $50 million refit of these three older vessels.
So how well was the money spent? One word: very. The three ships are not only as delightful as we remember, they feel new. The line has invested in maintenance-related improvements on an ongoing basis, so the $50 million was spent on the fun stuff – new furniture, curtains, bedding, upholstery, pool tiling, upgraded teak decking, and more tables for two added to The Grand, the ships’ main restaurant,. All cabins, from the ultra luxe Owners’ Suites to the more proletarian standard staterooms, with and without verandahs, were redecorated.
Here are our top surprises from our Regatta cruise, as the ship embarked to Alaska fresh from Vancouver’s SeaSpan shipyard:
1. Ship size matters: Regatta (and sisters Insignia and Nautica) feels like the perfect size ship. It’s just large enough to offer options; there are two alternative restaurants, in addition to the Grand Restaurant and the buffet, which at night transforms into a tapas eatery for lighter fare meals. And there is a cozy familiarity between crew and passengers who meet again and again in the handful of bars and lounges. The same goes for fellow travelers, who are casually social and non-pretentious. . Even if you arrive as an Oceania virgin cruiser, by day two or three you’ll feel like a club member.
2. No nickel & diming: Oceania’s cruise fares typically are a bit higher than mass market lines and there’s a compelling reason why: The “ka’ching” factor does not exist on this ship (or line), as so many things are included. That means all the illy coffees at Barista’s, its new coffee bar, are served up all at no extra cost. Sodas, bottled water and juices, are all included, whether you drink them from your mini-bar, at a meal or in a lounge. Neither La Toscana, the alternative Italian restaurant, or Polo Grill, its steakhouse, levy a service fee. The ship’s alfresco ice cream/milkshake bar is always in huge demand – and yes, you don’t pay an extra cent for anything on the menu.
While all cruise lines charge for Internet, Oceania offers an all-you-can-use package for a very reasonable $28 per day (consider that many hotels, which don’t rely on expensive satellite technology, charge about the same for land-based access). There are other packages for lighter users of Internet, but we appreciate the option. And a P.S. The Internet is generally quite fast for a cruise ship.
3. Cozy surroundings. One aspect we’ve loved onboard Regatta is the numerous places where you can just sit and read a book, play cards, or simply daydream. Particularly appealing are plush nooks on deck four, near the purser’s desk, on deck five around the boutiques (great people-watching), and in the most gorgeous library at sea. Up on deck 9, this reading room feels like one you’d find in a grand hotel, complete with (faux in this case) fireplace, deep easy chairs and sofas, walls lined with bookshelves, and a hand-painted garden mural on the ceiling.
4. Superb food: As a cruise line, Oceania takes a lot of pride in the quality of its cuisine. Plan to diet before or after your cruise, and indulge while onboard. Food is generally inventive and fun, while remaining grounded and delicious.
La Toscana, its Italian restaurant, is the best on any cruise line anywhere. Waves, its casual grill, serves everything from Kobe beef burgers to lobster and to the most delicious hot dogs ever – and earns another tops-in-cruising nod. The Grand, Regatta’s main dining venue, offers lamb chops at breakfast, and an international culinary region focus on every lunch menu (an Asian theme today included everything from delicious dumplings to superb honey/soy sauce ribs and chicken curry in between). And at dinner, in part to make up for not having the French Jacques and the Asian Red Ginger, the larger ships’ extra two restaurants, a dish from each is featured.
If there’s a kvetch about Regatta’s dining, it’s that its buffet, Terrace Grill, is small and often chaotically crowded. It also would be nice if dishes on the buffet were identified with a label – particularly for travelers with allergies.
5. Pool atmosphere. One of the big upgrade initiatives for Regatta (and its siblings) was a complete re-do of the pool area. While Oceania is generally thought of as a destination-oriented cruise line,with fewer sea days ,sometimes we all want to just flop by the pool. This one is gorgeous with lovely blue and white mosaic, cushy and comfy loungers covered in white terrycloth, and a convenient proximity to both bar and casual Waves Grill for sustenance. Another plus: No loud, harsh thump-thump music.
There are areas that could be improved onboard. The Martini Bar, the ship’s most beautiful lounge, is compromised by its way-too-close proximity to the small casino’s exceptionally noisy slot machines (fortunately there’s little use of the slots in the pre- and post-dinner timeframe). Standard cabins, from insides to outsides to balconies, clock in at a pretty squinchy 165 square ft. If space matters, book a Penthouse category and above.
If you’re looking for wall-to-wall activity, you may be bored (though the line does supply the usual cruise fare during sea days, which ranges from bingo to martini tasting). And, finally, service has occasionally been inconsistent, which can be credited to the fact that the ship’s just come out of a major drydock session.
Bottom line: The experience onboard Regatta – not to mention Insignia and Nautica – is quite special, and has come to feel very much like living in a small town rather than a big bustling city. For those of us looking for a respite from our fast paced lives, this fits the bill.