Lovely ship: Marina is truly delightful. She can seem a little beige in places but that is offset by some very interesting and colourful artworks on the walls. And they weren't for sale!
The Grand Dining Room is light and airy with a fabulous central crystal chandelier; the specialist restaurants interesting in their layout and appearance (loved the water wall in red Ginger), while a Lalique inspired staircase leading up from the Reception area expressed understated elegance. Great ambience.
Terrace buffet tables are a little crowded together but the food service area was spacious. Cabins (sorry but being a Brit I struggle to call them staterooms) are spacious and well appointed. Entertainment was average. Cigarette smokers are catered for in one area on the pool deck and in a totally separate section of the Horizons lounge, which seems a reasonable compromise. Didn't try the Artist's loft or the cooking lessons but both were praised by those who did. Didn't even look for the gym or spa.
Downsides are few: the Grand Bar is just a wide corridor that has comfortable seating but no bar, service being by wait staff. Drinks and excursions are quite expensive. Wi-Fi is the slowest we have experienced at sea, which was surprising considering it is the same system as on Regent Voyager, another vessel in the group, where it was just slow rather than snail-paced.
Our cabin, a PH3 number 7130 at the stern, is slightly narrower than other PH cabins which proved problematical only when my wife was busy at the dressing table and I wanted to get past. It has a fantastic L shaped balcony that is possibly the largest on the ship, though the constant rain and wind sadly made it an area into which we rarely ventured. However the room is quite noisy when docking (putting a positive spin on it you could say it provides a free early morning wake-up service) and was dreadful when we were tendering in the Firth of Forth and the ship had to constantly use its engines to maintain station.
Nice granite and marble bathroom with a full size tub; shame about the plastic walled shower cubicle. There was a crack in the washbasin when we moved-in and our cabin steward very efficiently arranged for it to be replaced when docked in Edinburgh (so we'd be out of the way). Unfortunately the very keen maintenance crew nipped in while we were still at breakfast and it was impossible to use the bathroom before leaving for our day in the city. Mildly annoying: efficient arrangement spoilt by poor communications.
Great crew: staff on most cruise ships are good but you sometimes feel the smiles are forced. Not on Marina. The hotel crew on Marina were exceptional. I can even find praise for the Reception and Security staff, which is unusual as they are at the pointy end of customer relations. My wife and I had dinner one night with Dominique Nicolle, the General Manager. Just six people in total so not a grand affair, but very relaxing and informative. Never did discover why we were chosen.
When we had to spend an extra day in Dublin because of poor weather at sea the Destination Services staff quickly arranged additional excursions at short notice. Very efficient. However it is beyond belief that anybody can charge up to $279 for a five hour walking tour around Dublin, even with a free glass of Guinness. Let's assume (the minimum) 10 participants: that's a total of $2,790. Deduct the cost of a guide (say $50 per hour for five hours) $250, and the price of a coach (I'm guessing) $500, plus ten pints of Guinness, $20. Profit $2,020. Wow. I suppose they have to make their profit somewhere.
Our cabin was kept absolutely spotless by two attendants and what was particularly interesting was that the cleaning crew never bothered us while we were "at home" and had always finished by the time we returned from wherever. It was like a sixth sense. That may be why I didn't get their names (but they did get a tip).
We had a butler, Bento, who was courteous and efficient, but does anybody actually need a butler? The only one who has actually provided added value by anticipating our needs to the point where he was able to remind us when we had forgotten things ("I brought some afternoon tea just in case you had forgotten to order it" -- which we had. Likewise white wine for my wife) was Pravin on Azamara Journey.
Sadly I can't comment on the Deck crew. We met the Captain once, at his Welcome Reception. A short smiling Italian who could be everybody's favourite uncle. Never saw him again (which could be why I can't recall his name) or any of the other officers who drive the ship. They might have made appearances but not that we noticed. And we only heard one of the daily state-of-the-nation speeches that most ship's Masters make around noon, and that was brief and to the point.
I don't doubt for one minute the Captain's abilities as a seaman - he is very experienced - but cruise lines that cater for mainly English speakers need people at the sharp end who can converse fluently and comfortably with their guests, because we have to face the fact that chatting with and schmoozing passengers is an important part of the Master's job description. Those who have sailed with John McNeil on a Regent vessel or Jason Ikiadis on Azamara will know what I mean.
Excellent food: Best we have experienced, and we have sailed with Seabourn, Azamara, Regent, Princess and a few others. Whether in the MDR, four speciality restaurants, Waves or the Terrace buffet it was always of a very high standard with friendly service. Afternoon tea was to die for (actually with all that cream and fat it probably could kill you if you were on a world cruise).
The wine selection "by the glass" was good but we usually chose bottles of French wines that we were comfortable with (must take a course in New World vintages). I was impressed that the sommelier knew why our Chapoutier Rhone wine had Braille on the label.
Poor communications: Edinburgh in Scotland is served by two cruise ports. The handy one is Leith, which is a longish but direct walk from the centre of the city. The other is South Queensferry, which is a $30 taxi ride. Our itinerary said we would berth in Leith. The map on the ship said Leith. The Captain, in the only announcement we heard him make on the day before arrival, said Leith.
However a note received from Destination Services prior to his announcement advised changes to some excursions because we would be arriving not at Leith but South Queensferry (which would also mean tendering). So I went to check. They confirmed the change. Following the Captain's noon announcement I rechecked. After all you expect the Captain to know where he is going. They said, though rather obliquely, that the Captain was mistaken.
That night was the Captain's Welcome Reception. I mentioned to Willie Ames, the very amiable (note the play on words) Cruise Director, that there was some confusion about where we would dock in Edinburgh and if there was to be a change to the itinerary a full announcement should be made as many people would have private arrangements in Leith. Willie looked at me and said "But South Queensferry is still Edinburgh, isn't it?"
No announcement was made and the next morning some passengers found they were 10 miles from where they had expected to be. Oceania didn't even provide a free shuttle coach but luckily a local entrepreneur saved the day by bringing one and charging Â£6 per person.
Awful weather: Strong winds and heavy rain followed us around the UK and Ireland. Not the fault of Oceania, of course, and I have tried not to let it colour this review. It meant that the pool deck was mainly empty - there was certainly no hogging of loungers. Deck staff had little to do but I suspect it threw extra pressure onto wait and bar staff in the warmer and less moist parts of Marina. It also meant that as long as you wore a jacket, eating in Waves on deck was a pleasant and uncrowded experience.
The pool deck didn't drain well so wet shoes became the order of the day.
Tendering was "interesting".
As mentioned earlier the foul weather caused the ship to spend an extra night in Dublin (where we had already spent two days) and so we missed our visit to Waterford. But the worst part had been earlier when visiting the Giant's Causeway in Northern Ireland. The famous stones are a long way from the car park. Two small buses ferry people backwards and forwards the mile or so, but the queue for transport down to the stones was enormous. So we walked. When we got to them the skies opened. No shelter and an even longer queue for the return bus. So we squelched our way back up the hill. Not happy.
CONCLUSION: Being British we knew the weather risks involved in taking a cruise around the UK and Ireland even in "flaming June", but worked on the principle that "It wouldn't happen to us". Well, it did. But the weather didn't seem to dent the enthusiasm of the hundreds of Americans and smattering of passengers from down under who had come to find their Scottish or Irish roots.
Oceania Marina is now our favourite cruise ship. It just edges Azamara Journey into second place and Regent Voyager into third. We had been on Voyager only three months earlier and it was strange to see her moored across from Marina when both ships were in Kirkwall. We could see (through the raindrops on the window) from our present cabin the one we had inhabited on Voyager in April.
Later this year we will be making our second Oceania cruise, this time on Nautica; again out from Dover but ending in what we hope will be a warm and dry Rome. With Nautica being an R ship it will be interesting to compare her with Azamara Journey, an identical former Renaissance vessel.
And as we are looking closely at another Nautica cruise for 2013 I think you can take it we are now big fans of Oceania - despite the "constructive criticism" above.