This was our first Oceania trip, after having sailed with Carnival, NCL and Azamara before. We chose this cruise mostly due to the itinerary, and after checking Oceania's reputation we expected Oceania to be similar to Azamara, which we had liked a lot. Oceania delivered in most cases, failed in others.
Check-in and embarkation:
We showed up relatively late for check-in (4 pm), later than most other passengers, so check-in and embarkation were a breeze. Riviera was the only ship in port in Barcelona that day, and we were the only passengers checking in at that time, so we got all the personal attention and expedited service we could ask for. A porter met us at the car to take our luggage, we breezed through security, and check-in was fast and simple.
From the outside, the shipped looked a lot larger than we expected. We thought this might be a problem for getting into some smaller ports, but fortunately there would not be any small ports on our itinerary. Well, maybe Ibiza. I think if the ship was smaller it might have been able to dock at the old port in Ibiza, which is downtown, instead of at the new port which is out in the middle of industrial construction mayhem.
Once inside, the ship felt just the right size. Not too long to walk from anywhere to anywhere on the ship. Elevators were plentiful and always worked well. We really liked the common area decoration, especially the very tasteful art collection throughout the ship. Very nice.
Space in common areas was always available. We always found pool chairs available, or tables in Terrace Cafe or Waves Grill, or sitting at the piano bar, computers in the computer room, anything common was no problem. The ship was full but did not feel crowded.
One very bad thing about this ship: it rocks a lot. Way more motion on this ship than any of our previous cruises, and other passengers we talked to felt the same way. The sea was not to blame, as we always sailed in calm Mediterranean waters. I am pretty sure there is something wrong with the stabilization on this ship.
We were in a veranda class cabin on deck 8, non-concierge. The cabin was well appointed and everything worked. Bedding was very comfortable. Cabin included a king bed, two night stands, desk with drawers and a chair, both US and Euro electrical outlets (both 110 and 220 volts), LCD TV (non-interactive), sofa for 2, coffee table, safe, mini fridge, closet with about 1.2 meters of hanging space, and about 10 drawers if you count closet, nightstands and desk. Room amenities included slippers, bath robes, hair dryer, drinks in fridge (alcoholic $, non-alcoholic free). There were not enough hangers in the closet, but our cabin attendant got us extras by the second day. The bathroom was large but a lot of the room was taken up by the bathtub, which we never really used for bathing (we used it to hang swimsuits, wash shoes, and such). Perhaps a more clever layout with a generous shower stall and more overall room would work out better. Toiletries were okay, towels were very good.
Veranda was large, with two chairs and a small table. Table in veranda was a bit too small for meals. I like to take meals from room service in the balcony, and the table is just a bit too small for that. Small even for one person's meal, and impossibly small for two. On Azamara's smaller ships the table was much larger, allowing for meals on the balcony. Not so on Oceania. Perhaps this is their way of getting people to upgrade to penthouse level, or to dine in the restaurants.
TV channels selection was small. That is normally not a problem because we don't watch much TV during a cruise. But this was Olympics time. There was a total lack of Olympics coverage, except for news clips in news channels. Apparently people complained, and by day 3 of the Olympics they proudly announced they had gotten Olympics coverage, but alas it would be in German. This is not Aida, this is Oceania, you cater to an English language population and the Olympics had been scheduled a long time ago. Oceania should have anticipated this and arranged for TV coverage. Also, TV had no interactive features as I have seen on other ships, lacking features such as checking your bill, or making excursion or restaurant reservations. I would expect these features to be standard on a modern ship, as I have seen it on older ships.
There was much anticipation for the very highest quality food and dining experience. In that respect, Oceania did disappoint a bit. Don't get me wrong, the food and service were very good. But occasionally the food would be bland, as you would get in any other cruise line or mainstream restaurant, and not superb to live up to the expectations that Oceania sets.
We had no trouble eating where we wanted. We had booked our four specialty restaurants for early in the cruise. After experiencing all specialty restaurants we decided two more times to dine at Red Ginger and one more time at Polo Grill. We were always able to get both Red Ginger and Polo reservations for the dates we wanted, on short notice. Never a problem there. Other passengers we met complained of difficulty getting reservations, but that was not our experience at all.
We did have some trouble eating when we wanted. There is a gap in food service from 4-6:30 when it is very hard to get any food whatsoever (well, you can get tea from 4-5) because everything is closed. I had never been on a ship where it was just about impossible to get any food at the typical times of returning from shore. If you arrive on board at 4:30 you have to rush to shower and dress for tea before they close at 5. If you arrive at 4:45-6, forget it, there is no food anywhere, as you do not have time to dress for tea and everything else is closed. Similarly after 9:30 pm. No food anywhere, except room service. Longer hours for Waves Grill would solve some of this.
Best dining experiences: Red Ginger and the Tea hour, both excelling in food quality, presentation and service.
Staff were generally very well trained and very proficient at what they were supposed to do. This was amazing, considering it's such a new ship, where one would expect a learning curve. But it seems they have topped the learning curve already and are functioning very well. Our cabin attendants, all wait staff, reception, excursions, everyone seemed to be working very well.
Having said that, I believe they are working very well as trained, but there are some weaknesses. First and foremost, I think they are trained to do their job well, not necessarily to please the customer. If what the guest needs is something they were trained to do, they will do it exceptionally well. If it falls even a little bit outside their duties, they fail. I'll give some examples. When ordering from Waves Grill, the order taker writes down your order and table number, for a waiter to later deliver the food. "What 's your table number, sir?" "I don't know, but it's that table over there in the far back by the window." "I don't know which one you refer to sir, do you know the number?" "No, I'm afraid I don't". At this point he should just go there or have someone go there to get the number, if he really needs it. Instead, he asks the customer to go there (all the way to the far back) and come back with the table number. Other example: "Where can I find band-aids?" "I don't know sir, perhaps the boutique or the medical center, but I'm not sure". We had asked this very same question on Azamara, where the answer was "How many do you need?" and they were soon brought up on a silver tray. These are just some of the many examples. It seems that Oceania trains its crew very well to do their jobs exceptionally well, but gives them no training or flexibility to think outside the box to please the customer when a request falls outside the normal duties.
Another area of weakness is the English language skills. Many crew members seem to have only the minimal English language skills to do their job and no more. One time I called for room service, ordering tea among other items. When asked what tea I wanted, he could not understand, probably because my requested tea was not on his menu. Another day, we asked our cabin attendant if he had, or where could we get, toothpaste. The work "toothpaste" was not in his vocabulary, probably because the item is not in his cart so he doesn't need to know. No amount of gesturing and explaining got him to understand what toothpaste was. He eventually said "sorry sir, we do not have on this ship". I am sure he never understood what I really wanted. BTW, the boutique does sell toothpaste. Similar language problems with wait staff, even in specialty restaurants, when making any special meal request. Overall worst English skills of any crew on any of our cruises. No language problems at all at reception, so I learned to go to reception for any requests out of the ordinary.
And finally, a word about the officers. I am sure we had officers, but I never saw any. They place themselves in a different class and never interact with passengers. When you see one on the ship, you're never sure if it's a real officer or a robot in an officer uniform. They don't speak to passengers, they don't greet, they don't smile. I didn't even see the captain at all, not even at the "captain's reception". The captain announcements on the days at sea were at exactly 12 noon every day (you could set your watch), and with exactly the same sentence structure every day, only changing the variables of the current temperature, etc. Something like this: "Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen. This is your captain speaking. We are currently sailing in the ______ sea, at latitude __ degrees __ minutes north, longitude __ degrees __ minutes east. We are maintaining a course of __ degrees at a speed of __ point __ knots. The air temperature is __ degrees and the sea temperature is __ degrees. Have a nice day." An automaton would do just as a good a job.
I did not expect much from the entertainment, and with those low expectations the entertainment actually turned out pretty good. There was a different show nightly in the Riviera lounge at 9:30, and the few we attended were quite entertaining. The shows were not amazing Broadway productions, but entertaining shows put on by very versatile and dedicated performers. My favorite was Mio the magician, he was absolutely amazing. A special mention also to the string quartet, who delighted us in the lounges and at tea time. Excellent string quartet from Poland.
Oceania's excursions were very expensive, and so we only took one and did every other port independently. Yet, credit should go to the excursions desk, for they provide good information for passengers wanting to go ashore independently. They are aptly named "Destination Services". Their talks describing the excursions (available on TV in your room) were actually informative, always starting with local orientation and basics, helping people go independently, rather than withholding information to get people to fear independent travel and sign up for ship excursions. Big kudos for this.
The only ship excursion we took was out of Port Said, to visit the Pyramids in Giza, Memphis and Saqqara. Typical excursion by bus with tour guide. The bus was only about 2/3 full, making the ride more comfortable. And again I give credit to Oceania for this. They had dozens of buses going, and could have chosen to run fewer buses, filling every bus and cramming every seat. They chose to have the buses only partially full, making for a more comfortable ride and smaller groups per tour guide. The excursion was, well, a large group excursion, with stop times and limited time for each site. If you got done early with any site you would have to wait for others, if you wanted to stay longer you couldn't. But that comes with any group tour. What was disappointing about the tour was a visit to a local bazaar, presumably so that the tour guide or Oceania could get commission from sales. This visit was not in the tour description when we bought it, and they actually allowed us more time at the bazaar than at the Pyramids or any other site. I resent them using my time for their shameless profit attempt. If I really wanted to go shopping I would have signed up for a shopping tour. Instead, I had my time at the pyramids shortened so they could profit from my shopping at the bazaar. Wrong move.
Port shuttles were provided, free, wherever the docking location was not within easy walking distance of the city center. This was well organized and worked well at every port where it was needed and offered, except in Ibiza where the bus lines were horribly long (not enough buses?). But overall, good job with port shuttles.
We used the self-service laundry once. Ship has one laundry room per floor. Each laundry room has three washers, three dryers, two ironing boards, a couch, refrigerator with free drinks and TV. Washer/dryer sizes were quite large. Detergent is free, but did no seem to be good because it did not wash my clothes all that well. Each load of washer/dryer needs a token, available from reception for $2. This is a nuisance, having to go to reception for tokens. Can't they make it free, or allow the machines to work with a card swipe?
I did not use their internet, but noted that is cost $0.95/minute, or $27.99 for 24 hours, or $21.99/day for the entire cruise. There was WiFi with strong signal in my room. But like I said, I never used their internet service, so can't comment on the quality of the service.
On board charges were promptly placed on our account, but the only way to check the account was to get a statement from reception.
They erroneously charged me $98 for Turkish visas, when I had already provided my own Turkish visas. They charged for a service they did not even provide. In order to reverse the charge, they made me take the passports down to reception, where they determined that indeed they had not obtained those visas. Still, they would not reverse the charge until they made sure that my visas were valid. I told them in no uncertain terms that the visas were valid, and if there was a problem I would deal with the Turkish authorities myself, and in any case since they had not gotten the visas they should just reverse the charge. Still, they refused to reverse the charge and return the passports to me. We were at sea, where they are the law, so I had to comply. About 30 minutes before docking they called, finally apologizing and agreeing to return the passports and reverse the charge.
What was missing:
A lot was missing from what other cruise lines offer, and in my opinion that was a good thing. There are no formal nights, it's all country club casual all the time. There were no screaming kids. There were no chair hogs at the pool. There were no lines anywhere (except the Ibiza shuttle). There was no photographer (yeay!). There were no art sales. There was no pressure to buy anything else during the cruise (no spa specials, no pushing drinks poolside, nothing like that). No rude passengers. Just an all around classy environment. Very good job, keep up the good environment and keep the annoyances away.
Oceania delivered a quality product, and value for the money. But they put too much emphasis on delivering their product and too little attention and flexibility to meet customer needs. When I buy a cruise I don't just buy a cruise, I buy it as a place to have my vacation. On vacation I expect to let go of rules (within reason), not have to comply to someone else's strict rules. Oceania makes me comply to their rules a bit too much. I wish they made a stronger effort to accommodate my individual wishes rather than make me fit their mold.
Bottom line: would I sail with Oceania again? Yes, absolutely, if the itinerary was right. But if other cruise lines were offering similar itinerary for similar value propositions, would I choose Oceania? Probably not.