We just returned from this cruise and I wanted to make sure I posted a review because it was such a wonderful experience. My husband and I cruised with Oceania last year on the Nautica Athens to Istanbul cruise and loved it. We booked the Lisbon to Rome tour while on board last year (nice discount!) and upgraded from a concierge level veranda to a penthouse 3. Based on our great experiences with Oceania, we booked another cruise for next year - Stockholm to London in Sept, 2013.
Will break the review into several sections:
Ship: The Riviera is a new ship (launched May, 2012). Oceania took great pains to ensure the ship felt as comfortable as their smaller ships - Nautica and Regatta. While it carries double the passengers, it still had the feel of the Nautica and the deck plans are almost identical in placement of the various restaurants etc. Thankfully, the pool is larger than the Nautica and the addition of the Thassalotherapy Pool was very welcome (especially after a hard day of port activities). Wish the boutique was open more often or they offered general items for sale somewhere else. My husband and I were both sick with a stomach flu and then a cold while on board and we needed medicine, however, the medicine is sold in the boutique which was closed most of the time.
Rooms: We booked a PH3 (penthouse) suite this time (upgraded from a concierge veranda on the previous cruise). Well worth the money. The room was large and comfortable with a larger bathroom (with tub and shower stall) and a large walk in closet (much larger than the concierge veranda closets). Our stateroom was towards the middle of the ship (tip: if you book a PH on the 10th floor vs the 11th floor, you may find a PH3 room towards the middle of the ship for less money than a PH1 or PH2. Also, the 11th floor has an overhang which can sometimes make the room seem darker). At first, I didn't know what I would do with the 24 hour butler service, however, I quickly figured out that they really want you to take advantage of their services and are happy to take care of details such as getting you DVD movies, in suite dining, extra specialty dining reservations and other assistance. We lucked out and were assigned a great butler - he was very professional, efficient and friendly. You also have access to the Executive Lounge which was a nice place to catch a cup of coffee and a small bite to eat at any time of the day.
Staff: As usual, the staff could not be more friendly! The butler and the room attendant were especially helpful and as with our other Oceania cruise, staff will bend over backwards to help you. I arranged a Meet & Greet for the Cruise Critic members and at the last minute we had to change the venue because the Horizon Lounge was taken by a private party. The ship's event coordinator was very helpful and we chose a new location dedicated specifically for us, where they provided us with an extra waiter and nibbles. They even made an announcement over the PA system about the change in venue and had someone at the door of the Horizons to direct people to the new venue. All this was done with complete professionalism.
Entertainment: I think Oceania has really improved in this area. The entertainment clearly improved in comparison to the Nautica cruise the prior year. They had a concert pianist who was unbelievable and several other shows that were excellent. They also had a magician who was extremely impressive. They have really listened to the reviews and improved in this area.
Food: What can I say? The food is just out of this world, from casual food at the Waves Grill to the specialty restaurants. Polo Grill was my favorite, Toscana and Jacques were also very good, however, Red Ginger was just average. Service was excellent with the exception of Toscana, where the waiter made a mistake with our food orders. They have a large variety of food to satisfy everyone. I am not as fond of their deserts though most would find them excellent (gourmet) as I like a piece of buttercream cake every once in a while and they just don't offer anything like that.
Shore Excursions: This is the only area where I have constructive comments. Their excursions are expensive as a general rule. While it is comfortable to know Oceania is taking care of you and getting you back to the port on time, the excursions seemed a little rushed this time. They should consider breaking them up differently to provide time to explore the sites. We booked several all day tours (Barcelona/Montserrat, Siena/San Gimignano, Avignon/Pope's Palace/LeBaux). In Barcelona, we only walked outside of the Sagrada Familia very quickly, because we had to get back on the bus to go to Montserrat. In Siena, we were rushed through the tour because we had to get back on the bus for San Gimignano. In LeBaux, we didn't have time to go to the top of the town because we ran out of time. I booked a few tours on my own this time and will most likely book all of my tours for our next cruise on my own through private companies because of this.
In summary, Oceania is a great cruise line and I highly recommend them, whether you book their smaller ships or larger ships. They are professional, efficient and friendly. They provide a luxury experience at an affordable price.