We had the pleasure of sailing w/the Marina on the 'Tuscan Artistry' sailing (Jacques Pepin sailing). By no means are we seasoned cruisers (only 2 previously w/Regent and 1 with a now defunct European line), but we do love to travel internationally and do so frequently. Initially I was concerned that going from Regent (6*, all inclusive) to Oceania (5*, not all inclusive) may be a step down to what we have experienced previously but Oceania was pretty much fantastic and in some ways, better than Regent. Here's a summary of our experience.
Food -- living in the NYC metro area has its advantages, one of which is access to a plethora of excellent dining choices (both fancy and simple). I was really looking forward to the cuisine and it did not disappoint. All meals were good to excellent. Hubby's favorite was Red Ginger by a long shot, mine was Jacques, where I felt the theme was simplicity at its best. While Red Ginger gets the edge for artistic interpretation, I felt it was trying too hard to be creative and make it all work, for example, the chocolate lemongrass crÃ¨me brulee. For me personally, the dessert combo didn't work, I think they would have been better off combining lemongrass w/vanilla as the chocolate was strong enough of a flavor to compete and detract from the subtle flavor of lemongrass. I did try the duck and watermelon salad and that hit the spot -- excellent albeit a bit salty. Polo and Toscana, while very good, were nothing special to us since we have very similar restaurants in our local area. I've read many blah reviews about the Dining Room (food and slow service) and while the meals weren't out of the world great, they were still very good and I was surprised how quickly everything was served (only one night we had to wait a bit for our dishes and that was the last evening when the dining room was jammed). Perhaps I had low expectations since I read so many complaints prior, who knows, but we enjoyed our time there. The wonderful thing about the dining room was that I truly felt welcomed as the staff were so especially hospitable and seemed happy to have some diners. The Terrace Grill and Waves were consistently good and the Terrace Grill in particular had a very good variety of dishes (breakfast was the same every day though). Don't miss the Baristas, I enjoyed enough cappuccinos and lattes to last me several months.
Staff -- Oceania's staff are wonderful -- every one of them! We would be greeted each time we were seen in the hallway returning to our stateroom and after a while, I felt guilty telling them about our splendid adventures since they obviously were stuck indoors working. Kudos to the entire dining and housekeeping staff for their excellent service and hospitality -- they made our stay great. I didn't see much presence of the officers but that is not something that is important to me so I didn't mind. The staff are what make Oceania great, I hope Oceania realizes this and rewards them accordingly.
Excursions/Entertainment -- we pretty much did our own thing by taking advantage of the roll call and met some really great people. I discovered that even with a private tour, we were still paying about half of what Oceania would charge for a whole busload of people. We couldn't stay up late enough to take advantage of most of the entertainment but from what I understand, did not miss much based on Oceania's reputation in this area. We managed to catch 'Beatle Mania' which was fun and thankfully offered at the beginning of our cruise when we had more energy to stay up!
Ports -- we really liked this itinerary (Barcelona, Sanary-Sur-Mer, Marseilles, St. Tropez, Monte Carlo, Portofino, Florence, Amalfi, Sorrento/Capri, Rome) and took a Â½ day private tour w/Dream Tours while in Monte Carlo to visit Eze, Nice, and St. Paul de Vence. I thought Dream Tours was just ok -- by all means, the guide was very friendly but I was expecting him to go w/us to the actual villages of Eze/St. Paul de Vence and tell us about them. Instead, he dropped us off at the villages and allowed us free time to roam/do shopping -- I do believe parking is a challenge and this could be one reason for this. He did talk about the villages briefly in the car so it's not as if he didn't do his job so it was just me not realizing how the tour would flow. There was another group using Dream Tours as well but their tour was all day. Turns out that guide also dropped off the passengers at the villages rather than accompanying them so just be aware of this if you book with them. Our itinerary was also supposed to have included a stop at the famous flower market in Nice but we ran out of time. I wish we would have known that upfront. When I liaised w/Dream Tours, I was under the impression that this itinerary could easily been accommodated in a 4 hour tour. The villages by the way are quite charming and worth the visit. The biggest surprise for me personally was Nice -- I didn't realize how beautiful the water is, it has the same aqua hue of the Caribbean!! The other tour was with Rome in Limo for the Amalfi drive arranged by a fellow CC member and that was one was great. Our driver/guide was friendly and engaging and made a good recommendation for an authentic lunch that wasn't a tourist trap.
Cabin -- we had an ocean view statement and it was very nice. I thought they could have included more outlets as a few of our charges took up so much room that you could only fit one at a time. I did bring an extension cord which worked out well. Ocean view rooms have the tenders immediately below so while they don't technically block the view, as soon as you walk over, you will see them and at times, a worker will be standing on the tender and will have full access to your cabin so do cover up! The shower was indeed quite small as others have commented, but we managed just fine...just don't drop the soap! Our cabin location was midship and normally I wouldn't expect the Mediterranean to have very rough seas, but on one night, it was very bad and one couple commented that the screws on their safe were knocked out since the rocking was so bad. This is when I was extremely grateful I didn't give in to the upsell to pay more for a balcony (assuming it would be aft or forward since it was near to our sail date) since I am usually very prone to seasickness and I was ok during the rough seas.
Fellow passengers -- I have to admit, being that we were on the younger age bracket for the typical passenger (40 & 48), I thought we might be feel like we were in a nursing home after hearing a comment about Oceania making HAL look like a college campus! On our particular sailing, yes, the typical age was over 60 however there was definitely a smattering of younger guests (30s/40s) and many that were over 60 were actually in better physical shape than their younger counterparts. We found that for the most part, everyone is very friendly, highly educated and non-pretentious. The fellow CC passengers were especially fun to be around. I was very dismayed, however, by some guests who felt the need to be first or who rudely expected others to give up their seats (or take another seat where the view was poor) so that they could sit together for a cooking demo rather than plan ahead better so they could arrive on time. Honestly at their age, I expected better social graces, but unfortunately experience and age are not necessarily synonymous with good manners.
Oceania did fall short, however, when it made one very serious mistake on our trip. We happened to be in a situation where we needed to call the emergency number while in Italy. Passengers are given a newsletter with all the port information as well as emergency contact numbers if you run into a problem. Well, we ran into a problem and needed help and guess what? Neither numbers that were provided did not work! I work in a global function and know how to dial international numbers, but assumed I must have been flustered and couldn't dial correctly, so had the local police dial, both from their cell phones and also from the local station and again, they could not reach the emergency contact either! The first number was to the local Italian affiliate's office and we got a recording in Italian saying the number was discontinued. The other number was a local representative's mobile/cell number and that kept ringing and ringing with nobody picking up. Can you imagine if someone were truly in a medical or other serious emergency? Thankfully we were able to make do but as soon as we were onboard (whew, just made it!), we went to the excursions desk and told a rep of our experience. If anything, having an accurate emergency contact is a critical detail all cruise lines need to get right, but with Oceania's high standards, their mistake was simply unacceptable.
One last thing....as I mentioned, this was a Jacques Pepin sailing and the reason I booked this was since I (wrongly) assumed he would be hosting cooking classes. Apparently many others felt the same way since both of my culinary classes were cancelled due to overbooking. I attended the culinary center open house and the chef told me right away that she was teaching the classes and not him (which I knew before the start of the cruise) and I'm sure many were disappointed. He did have one general cooking demo but I was surprised as the choice of dishes since the recipes were on the simple side, as if it were for people who had very little cooking experience. Nevertheless, the session was entertaining enough and there is an opportunity to purchase a book for him to autograph. The cruise was indeed popular (sold out) and more expensive than a similar sailing (w/out Jacques Pepin) so for those contemplating whether or not a JP cruise is worth it....well, a similar itinerary will probably be just as good and you can save yourself some money.
Hope you found this review helpful and happy sailing, you may be spoiled once you sail with Oceania.