We found Oceania 4 years ago and it is our favourite cruise line by far, out of about 30 cruises in total we have sailed on four of their ships, including the Marina last year. I wrote a review about that trip Marina Review saying how wonderful it was but that gangway accessibility for my husband, who is disabled following a stroke and uses a small folding mobility scooter, would prevent us from cruising on Marina again. Shortly before the launch of Riviera I emailed Oceania to ask whether it had been improved for the new ship and received a polite and apologetic reply that no, it was the same. But then we saw a bargain and the temptation to try the new ship was too much for us, so we booked, prepared to stay onboard in some of the ports if getting ashore was just too difficult. Then we arrived in Athens and were overjoyed to see a (reasonably) accessible gangway ! As with Marina, the main access is up a flight of external stairs to deck 5 but the crew gangway leads to deck 4, and this time there was absolutely no question as to whether we could use it - "of course, madame". In some ports there were a couple of steps at each end and at others it was sloped up and down - rarely possible to drive the scooter off and would be difficult for anyone with a large scooter or electric wheelchair but much much easier for someone like him who can walk a short distance. Also the lift down to the tender embarkation, which had been out of order on Marina, was working and made it much easier too. So well done Oceania for vastly improved, if not yet quite perfect, accessibility.
The next delight was that our inside guarantee, for which a cabin number had not been assigned before boarding, turned out to be a balcony. It was lovely to have and I really appreciated it but it did reinforce our view that we would never pay for a balcony - we only used it for a few minutes each morning to check the weather. Husband said he preferred the wheelchair accessible inside we had on Marina last year, indeed it was much bigger and better for us, but we knew when we booked that no accessible cabins were available (we can manage fine in a standard cabin anyway) and the balcony was a lovely surprise. The bathroom was large and contained not one, not two but three showers - one over the bath and then within a separate small shower cubicle both a handheld showerhead that clipped into a normal rack and a ceiling mounted showerhead, that produced a waterfall-like effect. The bed was wonderfully comfortable, as usual, and we slept very well.
Everything else was almost identical to Marina and just as good. The entertainment, as expected on Oceania, was fine, if not exceptional, the Andrew Lloyd Webber show especially good, and all the singers had good voices and also mingled with guests around the ship and were very pleasant and friendly.
All of the speciality restaurants were excellent, I think maybe Jacques was my favourite this time, and food and service in those and in the grand dining room were always first class.
Like on Marina, the food in the Terrace Cafe was lovely and the presentation beautiful. When it was busy and the waiters left us alone to enjoy the food and the outdoor terrace it was the best buffet ever. However I personally felt that the service in there was often "over the top" going way beyond service and turning into hassle at times. It seemed to be vastly overstaffed (maybe due to the newness of the ship), sometimes during the last hour or so of breakfast or at lunchtime on port days there seemed to be more waiters than guests. They were all extremely pleasant and must have been bored to tears so I don't blame them for trying to find something to do, but it got really too much, every few seconds somebody seemed to be asking was everything alright and could they get us anything else etc . Maybe some of it was due to DHs disability, it is an area that Oceania still need to work on, I will post a bit more on that subject on the disabled cruising board, but I did write on the questionnaire that it is not helpful to be swooped on by 3 or 4 staff all wanting to 'help' every time he stood up or sat down, I know it was done with the best will in the world, but in reality they just got in the way and made him feel embarrassed and me stressed as I was never sure who was going to pull his walking stick out of his hand (as happened several times) or, worst 'help' of all, a waiter who took the brakes off his wheelchair just as he was about to sit down. After that incident I must admit that I became rather more vocal in asking people to stand back and insisting on a bit of space around us . I hope that was not taken the wrong way, I did not in any way want to offend the lovely staff, next time I will have a polite word with the maitre d's of the various restaurants on the first day and make it clear from the start that we really appreciate their concern but that he really is best left to do things at his own pace.
That said, it was a minor annoyance and a tiny blip on an otherwise perfect cruise. Oceania is still the cruise line we constantly recommend. They have, for us, achieved the perfect combination of including useful 'extras' like soft drinks and shuttle buses but not to the extent of going to the cost of a full blown all inclusive, which as we do not take tours and are not big alcohol drinkers would not be worthwhile for us. Marina and Riviera are my ideal size of ship -- large enough to be stable, and Riviera handled very well in some seriously strong winds over the last couple of days, but small enough to be friendly and not require a major hike from one end to the other. We also love the no-fee specialty restaurants, the (very nearly) child-free and (very nearly) smoke-free environment and the absence of photographers and hard-sell on-board shopping -- indeed on both Marina and Riviera we had difficultly using up our on-board credit !
We took this particular cruise for relaxation after a particularly difficult few months of work/health troubles so did not plan too much in each of the ports, all of which, except Marseille, we had visited several times before, but a few random thought below might be of use to somebody else:
TAORMINA - we tendered into Giardini Naxos where previously there had been plenty of taxis, but leaving the ship about midday there were none around, which did not bother us as we had no plans to go up to Taormina, no doubt we would have found one had we enquired, but just be aware they are not always there. We walked all around the bay to the station, just as a destination to aim for, and it must have been at least two miles each way. The beach was nice and quite a lot of people were renting sunbeds in the lido cafes but nobody was bathing, I though maybe it was too cold so went for a paddle to test the water and it was OK, I would have gone swimming except that the sea was full of rubbish, plastic bags, cardboard, bottles, just general junk of every description - yuk.
AMALFI - the sea here was clean and plenty of people swimming from the public beach by the tender pier, in fact there seemed to be more public beach area than our last visit, its a lovely little town with great views from the ship all long the stunning coastline.
ROME - the BIRG ticket now costs â‚¬12 which is the same whether you buy at the station or one of several shops on the way there.
There are now 3 wheelchair lifts at San Pietro station so every platform is accessible (and all 3 were working !) despite Trenitalia replying to my email a couple of weeks before saying that we had to go on to Termini as it was no longer possible to cross the lines at San Pietro. We did that, having been escorted across the lines as usual at Civitavecchia, walked back through Rome (replacing DHs scooter that had sadly broken earlier that day with a wheelchair at a mobility shop en-route) to the Vatican and on a hunch decided to see if we could get on the train at San Pietro station, hence discovered the lifts.
A coach company had several representatives at the port gate offering tours of Rome for â‚¬30. We were not interested as we are quite familiar with Rome and only really wanted to visit St Peters but it sounded like a good deal for anyone wanting to see the main sights without bothering with trains and buses or going to the expense of a ships tour.
LIVORNO - Oceania often seem to dock at the small port near the foot of the Via Grande, which is great. To walk in to town rather than follow the blue Uscita/Exit signs to the left on leaving the ship, which comes out near the American Market, turn right by the orange Guardia Costiere building and walk across a small swingbridge, it is a shorter route and, for anyone pushing a wheelchair, avoids the uphill section of the bridge.
MARSEILLE -- we had quite a nice day here, maybe because our expectations were quite low after reading negative reviews. There is building work going on everywhere, apparently because it is going to be European City of Culture next year. It is a huge city with several markets and streets lined with shops, many at the lower end of the price spectrum for clothes and shoes. There was a free shuttle bus (Oceania said it was run by the port not them) which dropped off just outside the Centre Bourse shopping centre, just a couple of minutes' walk from the old port.