We started our trip in Venice, which unfortunately provided some unpleasant experiences. The part that went reasonably well was the express bus to the port. Although we booked ahead of time and paid for the fares, we still had to wait on line to get our tickets in the terminal since the outside ticket machines were not working. The people mover was efficient but the elevator was in operable and coupled with 4 ships loading that day made for a large crowd to buy tickets and then a great one to get on the people mover. Using it later in the day and the next day it worked well without other ships loading passengers.
At the port terminal, we saw a person holding a sign for Oceania. We asked when the bus was coming, but he said maybe 10 to 20 minutes. We asked" how far was the walk to the terminal?"and he replied 400 meters. That must have been a distance if you were a crow. Twenty minutes later we arrived at the check-in door at the far end of the terminal. We left our bags and then checked-in. The only saving point was that the shuttle bus still hadn't arrived at the terminal.
Our bags did not arrive in the cabin for almost 4 hours. The reason might have been that they were going through the bags looking for valuable. We were stupid to leave some items of value in one of the bags and it was gone. This started a process of trying to find out how to report the theft. We were bounced around to multiple people and finally got the Executive Lounge person who took down the information. He attempted to place the blame at either our departure airport or the airport in Venice. Yes the bag containing the stolen items had been checked at the airport. However we explained that other bags were searched including one that had been packed that morning in Venice. Forget about getting a copy of the theft report. It took us about a week after returning from the cruise and e-mails to Oceania to get a computerized report. Not the original one we signed on the ship. Don't leave your bags to be placed on the ship in Venice. Take them with you.
Upon boarding the ship we were told our room was not ready and we were directed to the Terrace Grill but selected the Waves Grill, which was the first of a number of good lunches. We then went to our penthouse suite and were met by our butler. When we asked when the room was ready he said it was available about 2 hours earlier.
The Penthouse cabin was great. Even with 3 in the cabin there was plenty of room for clothes and the wine we brought on board at various ports throughout the trip. The beds, both the main one and the pullout sofa one were very comfortable. This was our first experience with having a butler and the service was first class but as I will note later, the service did degrade after a few days. On the first day they(butler and cabin stewards, who were first class) provided the additional wine glasses, mixers, water, towels and anything else we requested. Occasionally they got carried away and we cans and bottles stacked everywhere by the 5th day.
One of the reasons for booking this ship and Oceania were the food reviews. However the restaurants ranged from good to excellent. The main dining room was a disappointment since the food seemed to be traditional MDR cruise food. Therefore we opted for the other restaurants. My spouse, who never eats in the buffet really liked the Terrace Cafe versus the MDR. Thus we ate dinner there 2 nights. We booked our 4 maximum specialty restaurants before departing, but were able to get 2 additional reservations. Contrary to other reviews we got these reservations by being flexible and picking times when people did not want to eat. We also ate in our room 3 times with the butler serving meals from one of the restaurants. This worked well the first time when each course was served in order and the salads were chilled and the main courses were hot. The last two times we had meals in the room we received the entire dinner at one time. Thus the main course was slightly warm. The third time we sent it back because the main courses were wrong and they were cold. I think the reason for this degradation in service was that early on the voyage, people booked restaurants and then decided to eat in their cabin after they used their 4 visits. We knew 2 other couples on our deck that found the restaurants too noisy and ate in their cabins for the rest of the trip.
Although I have read rave reviews of the specialty restaurants, we found Toscana and Polo to be the best. Toscana offered a better selection especially since we ate there 3 times. Having to choose among over a dozen different olive oils was a bit much. I think the desserts were the only area where the choices were too sweet and heavy. It was the same issue in Polo but the lobster bisque was the best I ever tasted. Crab cakes, steaks and lobsters are the choice in Polo. We thought that Jacques was slightly below the two previously mentioned restaurants. The soups were very good. The one issue I found was that vegetables were overcooked. This happened even after I had ordered them not to be cooked long. When I sent it back, it resulted in the chef bringing out the undercooked vegetables.
The biggest disappointment was the Red Ginger. Again they get carried away with offering too many choices of chop sticks and teas. That was ok but they never came to offer a second round of tea. In fact, the service in Red Ginger was the worse one of all the restaurants on the ship. The real disappointment was the food. The sushi chef's selection appetizer was lower in quality than the sushi available in the Terrace Cafe. The dishes that were listed as spicy were bland. Maybe it was to appeal to a broad range of clients.
As I noted earlier we brought wines onboard at various locations in Italy since we are partial to Italian wines and it gave us a chance to try wines from various regions of Italy that you would not see at home. We only got one bad one in the bunch. Riviera marks up its wines in the dining rooms from 2 to 3 times retail. Thus on the high end bringing you own wine and paying the corkage of $25 makes both quality and financial sense. I think the $25 charge is ok for the specialty restaurants but is steep for the MDR where service is less attentive.
We did not buy any Excursions since Oceania offers them at outlandish prices. Also they are too regimented for our tastes. For example a 3.5 hours tour of St. Marks Square and Doge's Palace was $149. You could get to and from the square on the people mover and Vaporetto for $20. Also you can adjust your schedule like attending the Sunday Mass in St. Marks. What Oceania fails to do is provide good information on how to get around at ports except to give you taxi fares and imply that drivers may not be interested in taking you to the train station. Also they do not provide schedules for shuttle buses run by the port or by cruise line. For example when we docked at Dubrovnik, we asked when the shuttle bus would arrive we were told when it comes it comes. So we stood in the hot sun for 40 minutes. The line was even longer to wait for a taxi. We should have been smart and walked down the pier and got on the Costa cruise line shuttle. It was the same way in trying to get the bus back to the ship. There was always a Costa shuttle bus but Oceania one came when it came. This time a number of people got on the Costa bus.
Oceania was very good at providing you with general information on the port and the surrounding areas but little in getting you to town in a cost effective way. For example at Taormina, they told you the taxi fare was 25 euros but did not tell you that you could walk about 15 minutes to catch a bus for 3 euros. There were similar issues with any port that required transportation. No schedules on the ship but the buses had them taped to their windows. Of course, this may have been a strategy to sell more excursions at high prices. The two biggest rip-offs were the port stops to go Rome and Florence. Transport to Rome by Oceania was $109 while round trip on the train was less than $20. Also the train stops at St. Peters while the bus dropped you off in the middle of Rome where you need catch the subway to St. Peters or other locations. The trip to Florence was priced at $149 while the taxi to railroad was 20 euros for 6 people and the round trip ticket was under $30. At both of these cities we booked our museum tours before leaving to avoid the crowds. You need to do this to avoid long waits. When we returned from Florence, the tour buses had not returned. When they returned, they were met by the ship band and several hundred crew members to welcome them back. We asked our butler if this was standard. He said no but since over 700 people booked the excursions the ship wanted to welcome them back.
One quick item on train travel in Italy. I think only the tourists buy tickets and then validate them. I am not suggesting that you go native and do something illegal but it is more a commentary on the reasons for the financial problems in the country. There was a conductor on each train but we never saw them checking for tickets.
Port stops that required tendering were not handled well. If you were not on an excursion, you were at the bottom of the list. Finally you can skip the visit to Marseilles. It is a long bus ride into town and then a visit to a couple of churches that do not compare with churches in Venice, Rome or Florence. Maybe it was the end of the voyage but I saw many people that came back early and were glad to be on the ship. In summary, Oceania is like other cruise lines with high profit margins on excursions, but they are at the top of the pricing chart.
Entertainment on the ship was limited. Since it was a 12 day cruise we went to more shows than usual and found the music and singing to be above average as compared with other lines. The dancing did not seem to be well coordinated with the songs in most numbers. Also with a small stage they were limited in what the dancers could do. The Jerry Blaine movie show started well but went downhill. The best act was Mio, the magician. We also got an up close performance in Martini's from Mio. The casino was worthless and the dealers could have easily been replaced by machines, that would have more personality. What we liked was the limited announcements from the cruise director and that he talked in a normal voice versus the screamers they have on other ships. The only day where he seemed to lose it was the unexpected sea day due to bad weather at Monte Carlo. Improvising was not his strong suit.
Also there was no pressure to buy drinks around the pool and the pool deck staff was the best of any ship. When we wanted drinks they were easy to order. The spa and exercise areas were first rate with all of the equipment operational. This was a first for me. As usual the first day or two, the fitness area was crowded but by the third day it was not a problem. Good intentions do not last long.
The penthouse suite gave us access to the Executive Lounge, which is a waste of space. The staff in the lounge is hidden in corner and seems to entertain themselves on the computer. The coffee machine was inoperable twice during our 3 visits. On other ships the staff of lounges are active and always come over to greet you and see what they can do to help you. Not in this lounge. This was the only real lack of service I experienced with ship's crew. However it was clear that number of crew members were just getting to know the ship and its routines. In fact, most of the crew members were either on their first cruise or had come from another cruise line.
The docking was on time in Barcelona but our bags were not available. We had an early flight and specifically asked and confirmed that the bags would be available. Our color tag bags were not available. We were ignored until the number of people missing bags got to be a dozen and really started to complain. Then they sent personnel back to the ship to find the missing bags. There were plenty of taxis and the trip to the airport was fast.
In summary, Oceania needs to work on its off the ship services in embarkation and disembarkation, as well as their pricing of excursions and providing practical guides to the ports. Alternatively if you do a little homework you can find better excursions and travel arrangements. Finally they should be putting your account on the TV options. Most of the lines at customer relations were due to the fact you had to ask for your current tally.