Having just completed an 10 port cruise from Athens, around the Black Sea to Istanbul on Oceania Cruises "Regatta," I was tremendously impressed with the seamanship demonstrated by its master, Vitaliy Silvachynsky, and his crew. He made an unassisted docking at Sochi in Russian so perfectly that an egg suspended between the dock and the ship would not have even been cracked. And it had to have given our master, a native Ukranian, a special thrill to do this with his family on board while two Russian tugs hung around uselessly, who could only watch in admiration.
And watching our master battle his way into our final port Istanbul, when his docking space was being hogged by a competitor who had overstayed his berthing schedule, ESTour's creaky rehabbed Carnival liner redubbed "Aegean Paradise," and fight with the harbor master for being allowed tender service to keep faith with his passengers' tour schedules was enlightening.
Enroute, the meal service, quality, and attentiveness of the crew on every level were absolutely superb. The staterooms delivered clean, useful, and well-maintained space at a competitive price. And the entertainment was adequate with a good comedian and an extraordinary Polish Tatra quartet who could play anything from Jerome Kern to an obscure movement of a Dvorak quartet.
And like most cruises, the drinks were overpriced and the sluggish internet service was an invitation to bankruptcy with every use plan optimized to trade your expense and inconvenience in favor of Oceania. Several scholars on board gave some excellent background on our ports of call at no cost to Oceania.
But the real surprise was how poor the over 50 land tours arranged enroute by Oceania's "Destination Services" department were. They sure weren't cheap. Some gave the passenger 5 hours crowded into a bus with a guide who knew little more about where they were going than a paragraph in any guidebook-- for the price of a weekend in NYC with a Broadway show.
One I took gave me a four hour trip to construction sites in what is left of the Russian Riviera in Sochi, Russia, a trip to a dried up stream bed smelling like rotten eggs which supplied a "famous spa" (which we weren't allowed in) and a trip to a Botanical Gardens in which our Oceania guide could barely distinguish between the grass and the trees, and while any other visitor got an illustrated guide to the collection, none of us on the tour did... and all for a mere $338.
My complaints about this particular tour were complimented by John Mortensen, the Regatta's "Destination Services Manager" as "positive and constructive feedback" and I (and others who had complained) were given the same unctuous assurance that "we stand by the quality of our staff and shore excursion program" common to morticians and bureaucrats the world over.... But not enough to refund the fee having admitted lousy service.
Some tours went well, but 2/3 of mine were a total waste of money. I learned that when the ship docked far better tour guides showed up at a lot lower cost, some on foot only, others with cabs. And if they didn't, there was still plenty of time to book an Oceania tour and take a chance. And the internet today gives a lot of flexibility in finding tour guides abroad in advance. As Cruise Critic readers know.
It can't be as easy to arrange top guides in 10 ports as it is to arrange top prices, but it would be nice if one felt Oceania was making an effort to do so. Seemed to me like the Destinations Services crew was so busy servicing destinations that they were allowed no time to properly research its guides on site.
If the cruise prices make sense to you, expect any site excursions will be up to you.