Words are the least effective form of communication ! and for this cruise I believe that more so to be the case ? I believe the only way to explain my travel experience is to tell the tale with my limited vocabulary and trust it at least gives the flavour.
I have had many cruises with various lines ,and like many seasoned cruisers was ready to consign this form of vacation to the file marked "closed". This mainly due to the rapid deteriation in all aspects of what used to be a pleasant experience. I understand the financial pressures these companies are under , but when basic expectations are not realised , its time to say the fond farewell to the bygone age.
I could detail my discontent with the cruise lines policies, like the premium I paid Cunard to sail with them in thier Princess Grill to be served fare more suited to a 3 star local restaurant, or my brother in laws tale of woe last week , sailing on P and O where the chefs recommendation at the gala dinner was fish and chips and mushy peas !!!! -- but its not a wailing excersise about companies who have lost their way , this is about "and now for something completely different "
We flew into Paraeus on 31st May , and as we knew we were going to be late we,d booked into the Sofitel for the evening. So a slow liesurly stroll across the road from the airport and we spent a very good night here. The sofitel is a 5 star hotel and suffice to say they met and exceeded all expectations , including their wonderful buffet that we indulged in.
Next day the airport bus to Paraeus ( 5 euro ? ) we stayed in a boutique hotel , the Phidias close to the port area. This hotel although basic , was extremely clean, had very helpful staff and operated a free shuttle back and forth to the port. Only point I would mention here is we enjoyed our time at Piraeus and next time we visit we shall be availing ourselves of this hotel and its remarkable tarrif !
Ship embarkation was painless and pleasant and we were allowed to embark early and avail ourselves of the ships amenities until the cabin was available. We lunched outside on the terrace and rapidly descended into the peace , serenity and tranquility we were to enjoy during the duration of this experience.
We had a concierge cabin with the obligatory bottle of champagne on ice awaiting our arrival . The cabin was spacious and well fitted out , including a laptop for browsing away within the comfort of your cabin. The bathroom although cabin size , was excellent , luxuriously fitted out with bvlgaria toiletries, ample sized bath and a " real" shower with large overhead spray unit . Even whilst I was in the bath and my wife in the shower, at no time was the room steamed up , nor mirrors unable to use -- the balance in heat retention and steam removal was down to a fine art. But the star of the show , obviously , is Oceanias signature "sleep experience" -- the bed. I dont have the words to describe the bed , you lie in the bed and as your body descends into 1000 thread egyptian cotton cloud -- well I,m leaving that there anything more I would say would not do it justice ! The room had a large LCD TV with built in blu ray player, and dvd,s were available at reception for enhancing the in cabin entertainment. The choice of TV viewing was adequate and the movie channel screened a selection of latest releases which was excellent. Room service was excellent , rarely had you had to wait more than 4 rings for a reply and after 6 rings they put you on call back, only once this happened and the call back was recieved in under 2 minutes. The room service delivery was expedient and the staff -- well the staff , I,ll cover that later.
The ship is of a contempary design and whilst I,m more traditionally oriented , I couldn,t fault either the layout nor the concept of the intention. What is evident throughout is the quality of the furnishings , seating, indeed everything within the confines of the ship, it oozes quality. I have been in more celebrious surroundings, grand ball rooms, reproduction theatre surroundings coupled with ornate artwork decorating the confines of the ship , but where Oceania excel is in they provide a comfortable quality that is both understated and natural, it really doesn,t take long to " shoe in " to this ambience ! Even the ship seems to contribute to the serenity of the experience, lying in bed , you could be on a land based hotel , there was no movement whatsover !! , of course sea conditions may have contributed in some manner but it wouldn,t surprise me to learn that the Marinas stabilisers were manufactured by some 5 star manufacturer.
The library onboard is well stocked , and beautifully laid out , large leather armchairs with accompanying foot stools set beside large open fires ( actually I,m lying there , the fires are imitation but you get the picture ?) And no library hours -- open 24 hours , you don,t book out the items , you choose what you want and return on completion , such trust in the clientele , I hope and trust its reciprocated by the passengers !
The entertainment was just ok -- sorry Oceania ?-- but like all cruise lines this difficult aspect is rarely a success -- however it was satisfactory to the purpose and certainly no worse than that experienced previously on other voyages.
The ship is immaculately maintained. Immediately on any restaurant closing, an army of staff appear, rigorously cleaning, sanitising and polishing in readiness for the next sitting. At no time in any restaurant did I see used crockery on tables nor anything other than spotless cleanliness. Hardly surprising I suppose that the prevalent novovirus was not encountered on this cruise !!!!!!
Ok the important stuff I suppose ?
The staff , - they say Oceania only recruit from 5 star hotels and ships, and after that much, much training to Oceania,s precepts -- I wouldn,t know how to describe the service ? It is REAL service. There is an efficiency , an effectiveness and more than that , a " gentleness !! " in the manner of the staff that I have rarely seen. And more importantly they seem genuinely " happy " in what they are doing. I could describe instances like the young blonde girl who worked the lunch time buffet service up on deck 12. She did not walk she glided around her station -- soft spoken, attending to all our table requirements in addition to other tables with an efficiency that would take others twice or three times the personnel to complete, and all with a softness that contributed to the Marinas ambiance. And whilst the way she conducted her duties were exeptional , her colleagues were not far behind her performance. All of the staff can only be commended for the execution of their duties and I am grateful to have experienced thier company.
The food -- There are four sepeciality restaurants on the ship, all have little tricks ?, Red Ginger , before you commence your eating experience , you are treated to a chefs appetiser , some beans which you pop from the pod and savour. But before you start , on a china oblong plate resides what looks like a peppermint, the waiter says " and now for some magic" , he pours boiling water onto the mint and it expands vertically to produce your napkin awaiting your completion of the finger food ? And during dessert , your specialty tea. Choose from a dozen , its served in an ornate cast iron pot to accompany your choice of fare. Toscana- the italian resaurant , after ordering , the bread is delivered , such breads only dreams are made of, delicious and presented superbly , but the accompiant ? choose from about 20 virgin olive oils and balsamic of exquisite quality to accompany the bread. It goes on , these little tricks. The food in all instances was exquisite, superb and beyond compare. It was evident that all ingredients were of the highest quality and these were passed to experts in their craft to produce food of a quality far in excess of certainly my expectations. ( And I can be very " fussy " with regard to what I consider good food ) The breadth of food on offer was staggering and I did try to savour as much as possible ? At no time was the fare on offer found less than exquisite. I even once tried a burger and chips up on deck ( did I criticise P and O for serving fish and chips ?? ? ) But I couldn,t resist , I saw someone eating the meal and decided to try it. Well all I can say is it was the best burger and chips I have ever had ? , the fries wonderful and the burger ?, I asked the chef what he put in the burgers- all it is sir is prime black angus steak ground down, a little seasoning and voila you have a burger- yeah ok , should have known -- silly me. Oceania are one of the few companies who take on fresh food at all visiting ports -- this is evident in what ends up on your plate. I,m one of those rare individuals who can look at food and know how it will taste prior to savouring the fare. The freshness of the fruits , the seafood and all of the available food on offer was both a sight to behold and a taste sensation of the highest level. We met an italian couple who had previously owned restaurants and he had 50 years experience managing and running restaurants worldwide, they commented that the food on board was exquisite and certainly in London , we were looking at Â£200 per plate dishes readily available in the resaurants every evening.
There are no photographers following you anywhere, there are no overbearing and continual requests to purchase alcohol from the bar, there are no announcements over the tannoy to advise activities , indeed any announcement is commenced with an apolgy for disturbing your tranquility.
The best summation I can give is that on waking up in Barcelona for disembarkation in the port, I thought the ship had moved position to allow us easier disembarkation. It soon dawned on me that we had moved from Marsaille to Barcelona? I had so turned off I had lost tracked of time and place and readily accepted that Oceania would in fact have moved position to ease our diembarkation ??
Overall if someone had told me I had a hallucogenic slipped into my coffee on the flight out and I had experienced what I considered the best cruise experience ever , I would today readily accept that -- after all it couldn,t be real?
Finally , just to make sure it wasn,t a dream -- we booked on board to go back first week in October, ( penthouse this time |)where I believe the ports are even more condusive to the overall experience ? For experienced cruisers disillusioned with the direction cruising is going, before throwing in the towel , try Oceania , you may just find that elusive grail of what cruising was supposed to be about !
Gentle waves, long days and pleasant nights ?