We embarked on our 20th cruise overall, and third on Oceania Cruise lines, on September 12, 2012. We sailed on Marina from Dover to Barcelona, hitting many interesting ports on the Atlantic coast of Europe and disembarking in Barcelona on September 27. We are middle-aged (mid-fifties) and enjoy many types of trips, especially cruising. Our original itinerary included the ports of Zeebrugge (Bruges), Le Havre, Saint Malo, Concarneau, La Rochelle, Le Verdon, Bilbao, La Coruna, Oporto, Lisbon, and Casablanca, before ending in Barcelona. Our call at Oporto was cancelled due to dock strikes in that town and the unrest across northern Africa led to the substitution of Gibraltar for Casablanca. We appreciate Oceania making the right decisions for the security of their passengers.
Pre-cruise arrangements: We received a "free" London hotel night through Oceania when we booked this itinerary. We started our arrangements directly with the cruise line, and then transferred the booking to a new travel agent; she was able to get us $600 of shipboard credits. We paid for transfers from London Heathrow to the hotel; transfers to Dover were included with the hotel booking. We made our own flight arrangements on United and Lufthansa airlines. The hotel was the Hyatt Regency "The Churchill", near Portman Square. It was a very nice hotel and they had a room available when we arrived so we could nap and shower.
Embarkation: We arrived at the port of Dover before 1:00 pm after leaving our hotel at 10:30 am and embarkation was pretty fast. Our PH2 suite was available immediately upon boarding. We stowed our bags and valuables, had lunch, and signed up for the Prestige drink package ($50 per person per day) and the unlimited Internet package ($25 per person per day). Our bags were rather late getting to our room, with the second bag arriving only a few minutes before the lifeboat drill. Our butler Xavier was great for getting stuff resolved, however and he found that bag a few minutes after we asked about it. We met our Roll Call group (over 100 folks) in Horizons lounge after the lifeboat drill.
Suite and ship information: Our PH2, deck 11 forward, starboard side, was fantastic and very roomy. We had the mirror image PH2 on deck 11 (port side) last September. Marianne and Hilda meticulously maintained the room. One minor complaint: Used wine glasses often sat in the room for a day or two before being removed. The ship is very beautiful ad understated, with interesting art works and lovely public spaces and still looks brand new. We like the size for the most part, although this became a topic of "hot discussions" with other passengers.
Activities: We don't do many activities on-board, but we did sign up for two culinary classes and enjoyed those immensely. We were supposed to have a culinary excursion in Casablanca, Morocco, but that port call was cancelled. We did use the Sanctuary spa area and enjoyed this location.
Dining: Oceania is, of course, famous for its dining experiences. We had excellent meals, overall, especially our dinners in Red Ginger and Toscana and our special Explorations menu experience at La Reserve (definitely worth the up-charge). We never ate in the Grand Dining Room once during our voyage; on nights where we did not have a specialty restaurant reservation, we much preferred the buffet-style Terrace Cafe, with its incredible grill, salads, appetizers, side dishes, pastas and desserts. We had two dinners in Jacques; the first one was excellent. Unfortunately, the second dinner (arranged by our butler on my husband's birthday) was very disappointing. I had a steak that was so salty it was inedible. My hubby agreed with my assessment. They were quite apologetic and offered me something else on the spot. The Polo Club was very good, but didn't seem to be as sharp in terms of service as Toscana. We also loved the Waves grill on deck 12, but their system of ordering and delivering to tables often resulted in hilarity and mixed-up orders. It seemed like every time we found an empty table, it did not have a number on it so it took a while for them to find us. We often had the continental breakfast in Horizons before an early trip ashore -- a perfect place for a quick and quiet breakfast.
Service: Service was very good to excellent, with a few minor exceptions. The bar staff at the Waves bar seemed to be difficult to flag down. They also closed this bar quite early, regardless of the weather on deck. One issue that occurred that was not a fine moment on the behalf of their staff happened one evening when we were sitting at a table near the Waves bar and apparently, they were going to rehearse in the same area for a show for a deck party later that night. The Cruise Director assured us we could stay put, as they would be close to us, but the rehearsal would not require us to move. We were working on uploading photos to our travel blog when a young cruise staff officer from Romania came over and told us rudely to "move it, right now", with no apology, no offer of a drink, nothing. We were a little irked, to say the least as we lost our internet connection when we moved and we wrote this guy up on the final survey as someone in need of much better people skills. However, one bad apple cannot ruin a good experience overall. Our room staff, as noted above, was very good and we enjoyed chatting with our butler, Xavier, who was from Mumbai, India. The celebration for my husband's birthday was very nice, with two cakes. The laundry service was also excellent and very quick.
Entertainment: The pianist in the Martini's bar was superb and the string quarter was very good. We avoid shows on ships like the plague, so we cannot report on their quality. We never turned our TV on in our suite so we have no idea what was offered. We did not go to any entitlement programs or lectures.
Internet service: We were pleased to see that they had a new unlimited Internet package on-board for $25 a day. The speed was pretty good and we didn't have to worry about minutes accumulating.
Shore excursions: The shore excursions for Oceania cruises are ridiculously priced and of a mediocre quality and are probably one of their biggest weaknesses. We did three ship excursions. Two were advertised as "on your own", but we were quite annoyed that they had to treat us like children and march the busload of passengers across the towns of Bruges and Seville to "meeting points", rather than trusting us to find the buses again. A last-minute excursion we booked in Gibraltar was actually rather good, thanks to the antics of our driver/tour guide. In all the other ports (we visited 12 ports in total, including our debarkation port of Barcelona), we booked private excursions for just the two of us or did our own thing, did small independent tours with Roll Call members, and even rented cars in two ports (Le Havre and Saint Malo).
Port summary: Many of our ports of call are not on the list for port reviews because they are small and unique. Every port had something that was very memorable for us. Our private tours in La Rochelle (to Cognac) and Le Verdon (to the Medoc region) were outstanding. Our Lisbon port review notes our excellent experience there with a private tour. We also had good private tours in La Coruna and in Barcelona. We did our own thing in Concarneau and Bilbao and had a nice day in both ports.
Disembarkation: Disembarkation in Barcelona was extremely fast. From the time we left the ship to getting our bags and hailing a taxi to our post-cruise hotel (booked independently), it was a matter of minutes.
Summary: I would say that this was an excellent experience, overall. One more comment: One thing that a cruise line can't control is the caliber of the passengers, sadly. Many of our fellow travelers were the most annoying, entitled, snobbish brats we have encountered on any cruise. They complained about everything and many of them walked around with perpetual frowns on their faces (the complaints included the weather, the tide being out ruining their photos (no joke), the changes in itinerary, the size of the ship, the speed of service in a restaurant, you name it). It is depressing to see so many people take for granted the wonderful opportunity to do a nice cruise like this. It became so tiresome to strike up a conversation and immediately have to listen to a litany of what I would call "first world" complaints.