Setting foot on all seven continents was on our "bucket list" and only one continent remained to be conquered, Australia. So my husband and I booked passage on Oceania's "Coral Seas and Australian Adventures" - a twenty-one day cruise to New Zealand, Tonga, Fiji, New Caledonia, and Australia aboard Oceania's Regatta.
Getting There & Embarkation
Our air arrangements were made by Oceania. We had a non-stop flight from San Francisco to Auckland on Air New Zealand. What can I say, twelve hours of cramped quarters, inedible food, and stale air. This of course is no fault of Oceania. Long-haul air travel for the serfs in economy class is usually miserable.
We arrived in Auckland at 4:15 am. After clearing immigration and customs we were met by representatives of Oceania. Oceania had arranged to take us to the Pullman Hotel where a much-appreciated buffet breakfast awaited us. After breakfast we waited in the hotel's lobby until about 11:00 am, when we were bussed to Princes Wharf and our waiting vessel. The Regatta makes a beautiful first impression. She is much smaller than today's popular mega-ships. She actually looks like a ship and not like a top-heavy barge with a high-rise hotel grafted onto her. Regatta is graceful, gleaming white, and ready to take on the sea. Getting on board is another story. With only 684 passengers embarkation shouldn't be too difficult. Our cruise documents indicated that Oceania assigns staggered boarding times to avoid long lines. This was not the case. It seemed as though all the passengers arrived at once. We were herded like cattle from one long line to another.
We chose stateroom 6001, a standard veranda stateroom all the way forward. If you enjoy the pitch and roll of a ship at sea this stateroom will not disappoint. Stateroom 6001 is located directly above the Regatta Lounge so you can definitely hear the muffled drone of the band playing until about 10:30pm. The balcony looks down on the forecastle so you see the crew on deck every morning getting the ship ready to dock. You pretty much have the view the captain does two decks up.
The stateroom was small, but comfortable with plenty of storage and a nice little sitting area with a loveseat, table, and vanity. The bed was marvelous, good support yet soft and comfy. The bathroom was the usual cruise ship facility, compact and efficient. Our stateroom stewardess did an excellent job of keeping our stateroom spotlessly clean and our refrigerator stocked with our favorite beverages.
Oceania has a well-earned reputation for excellent cuisine.
Main Dining Room - The dining on the Regatta is open seating. There are no table assignments or assigned dining times. This was our first experience with open dining and we were both a little skeptical. We have always enjoyed getting to know our dinner companions. I guess we have been fortunate to have wonderful tablemates for all of our previous cruises. We like the opportunity to get to know people over the course of a cruise. We also like having the same waiter each evening. It's nice to have a waiter who knows what you like and how you like it prepared. After this cruise I may be sold on open dining. My husband is still on the fence. I appreciated the option to share a table when we wanted company or to have a quiet table for just the two of us. We got to know more of our fellow passengers than we would have had we dined each night with the same people. If we were running late from a shore excursion we could take time to recuperate and prepare for dinner without the pressure of a set dining time.
The dinner menu in the main dining room is continental with a definite French accent. The food was well prepared and beautifully presented, but after about a week of fine dining I found myself craving a simple meal. The herb-roasted chicken on the every day menu was just what I needed. Order it with mashed potatoes and green beans and you have an uncomplicated and satisfying meal. On sea days we enjoyed leisurely breakfasts in the main dining room. I highly recommend the lamb chops for breakfast.
Toscano - Toscano is one of two specialty restaurants. We ate in Toscano three times. All three meals were excellent. The experience begins with a basket of warm Italian breads, including grissini and facaccia. You are offered a selection of flavored olive oils and balsamic vinegars for dipping. The Osso Bucco was fall-off-the-bone perfection served with a creamy and satisfying polenta.
Polo Grill - My husband is a meat and potatoes kind of guy so the Polo Grill is right up his alley. Polo Grill serves up great steaks and chops. Dinner at Polo conjures up the atmosphere of the great supper clubs of the mid-twentieth century with its dark wood paneling, leather club chairs, and celebrity photos on the walls. You half expect the "Rat Pack" to walk in at any time. So if you are craving cool martinis, rare steaks, flavorful chops, Caesar salad prepared tableside, and great New York cheesecake, Polo Grill is a must.
There are no surcharges for dining in the specialty restaurants, but reservations are required. You will be allowed a certain number of guaranteed reservations depending on your stateroom category.
Waves - Waves is located on the pool deck and serves up hot dogs, hamburgers, gourmet sandwiches, and salads along with great crispy fries and creamy milk shakes. Waves is a great place for a quick lunch.
Horizons - The window-lined Horizons Lounge is all the way forward on deck 10. Warm wood paneling, richly textured fabrics, small tables, comfy chairs, and tufted leather banquettes create a beautiful place to sit and watch the world go by. From early morning to 11:00 am cruisers will find fresh Danish, croissants and brioche along with coffee, juice, and a selection of teas. High Tea is served at 4:00 pm in this lounge and is not to be missed. There is something far too civilized about sitting in a beautiful room noshing on perfect little teacakes, savory tea sandwiches, and fresh scones with clotted cream and strawberry jam, as you watch the sea roll by. All of this is set to music of a lovely string quartet.
Terrace Cafe - This is the buffet restaurant on the regatta. The food and the service are good. The tables are a little too close together and often scarce.
Without a doubt the passengers on the Regatta were the most well travelled, interesting and diverse group of travelling companions we have had the pleasure to sail with. The majority of passengers were in the 65 to 75 age range. There were only two children on board. Kudos to the parents. The youngsters were very well behaved. Oceania really doesn't cater to children. There are no programs for children, teen nightclub, or daycare. I understand Oceania is attempting to attract families on their Alaska cruises by offering activities for the younger set.
Ports & Shore Excursions
The Destination Services department onboard the Regatta did a very good job booking and coordinating shore excursions considering many of the places we visited were not quite ready to accommodate modern tourism.
Tauranga, New Zealand - We booked the "Tauranga & Maori Culture" tour. This was a wonderful experience. The excursion began with a scenic drive to a Maori meetinghouse and community center. There was a beautiful performance by the community's dance troupe. Fortunately, this was a not a glitzy "dance for the tourists" event. The tour guides and dancers were all members of the Maori community and very eager to share their culture. I was struck by how personal and warm the tour was. This shore excursion gave me a deeper understanding and appreciation for this rich and fascinating culture.
Nuku'alofa, Tonga - The Kingdom of Tonga is working hard to develop its tourist industry. They are planning to build a cruise ship terminal. Currently, ships may dock at the freight terminal or tender in. The Regatta docked in the morning, but the conditions at the dock were so poor the ship moved and anchored in the bay.
We chose the "Oholei Beach & Hina Cave" shore excursion. There were no air-conditioned tourist busses available at this port so we used school busses for the trip to Oholei Beach. Oholei Beach is an absolutely gorgeous white sand beach. The excursion included a traditional Tongan lunch and a dance performance in Hina Cave. I must admit that my palate didn't appreciate Tongan cuisine. I did enjoy the musical entertainment provided by the band both before and during lunch. The dance presentation was very good.
Warning: In order to get to the beach and other facilities you must negotiate a very steep path and staircase. The facilities on this excursion were rustic to primitive. If you have mobility concerns this shore excursion may not be for you.
Suva, Fiji - We enjoyed an excursion to the Pacific Cultural Center. The excursion begins with a scenic drive through the countryside, again, no air conditioning. The tour includes a dance and cultural performance including a demonstration by the Fijian Firewalkers.
Noumea, New Caledonia - Noumea is a sophisticated pacific paradise with a French accent. We boarded the cute and very touristy "Yellow Tchou Tchou Train" for a two-hour tour of the city's highlights. This is a fun way to get your bearings and see all the major scenic attractions. The train will drop you in the center of the city where you can shop to your heart's content. Oceania provides a free shuttle to and from the city center and the ship all day long so it is very convenient to explore Noumea.
Townsville, Australia - In Townsville we took the "Charters Towers Gold Rush" excursion. This is an all-day trip and the only excursion going through the outback. We had a great local guide who gave us interesting insights into Australia's past and present. The city of Charter Towers reminded me of the gold rush towns in the Sierra foothills of California. The architecture is well preserved and there is a charming 19th century frontier sensibility. After an enjoyable lunch in a local restaurant we went on to the Venus Battery gold mine. My husband took the tour of the battery and said it was very informative and a great look at the gold mining industry in Australia.
Brisbane, Australia - Oceania provided a free shuttle from to and from the port and the city. Once we were in the city we discovered a great hop-on, hop-off bus. We toured the entire city for about $46 AUD. Brisbane was clean and friendly with many great places to shop and eat lunch.
The regatta is a small ship. The Regatta Lounge has a small stage area and minimal technical capabilities. The glitzy Broadway shows of the big ships simply can't be done in this venue. Frankly, I didn't miss the big production shows. The Regatta had a resident cast of four immensely enjoyable and versatile singer/dancers, as well as a first-rate string quartet, and an excellent pianist. Oceania also booked in variety acts for a night or two.
If you enjoy entertainment on the more cerebral side, Oceania booked two lecturers on our cruise. Both of these gentlemen gave interesting and entertaining presentations. If entertainment for you is curling up with a good book, the Regatta provides a beautifully appointed and well-stocked library. My only complaint was that the chairs were so comfortable I kept falling asleep while reading.
The Regatta sailed into Sydney Harbour at the crack of dawn. The Sydney Cruise passenger terminal is located near the Opera House and Ferry Terminal with a great view of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Disembarkation was swift, efficient and well organized.
This was our first cruise with Oceania and we hope it will not be our last. We prefer small ships with interesting itineraries and we enjoy the feel of being on a ship at sea. We appreciate great food, attentive service, and gracious manners. Our cruise on the Regatta gave us everything we had hoped for and more.