We are just back from the 10-day Oceania "Iberian Odyssey" cruise on Riviera that departed from Lisbon on September 12 and ended in Rome on September 24. The weather was great with only one day of rain and temperatures being very comfortable.
We went on this cruise with two other couples of the same age (66). This was our eighth cruise -- having been on Azamara, Royal Caribbean, Costa, Renaissance, Oceania, and NCL before. None of us are overly picky but all appreciate nice touches and good, not overly attentive, service. We had a butler once and thought it was 'a bit much.' Food is important but it's not the end-all/be-all for us. It's more about the variety of ports being visited and doing different things without having to pack and repack or deal with transportation over a week or so.
After being on both an Azamara and Oceania cruise previously, we opted to do Oceania again. And, the idea of a new ship -- the Riviera -- seemed like a good idea. And, we wanted to see most of the places Riviera was going.
We booked the cruise directly from Oceania through our travel agent. We also booked our airline flights through Oceania opting to pay the deviation fees to match our schedules. We did not book any transfers through Oceania -- we felt that they were outrageously expensive and with six of us the cost of our own car and driver was very reasonable.
BOARDING (5 out of 10)
Surprisingly, boarding in Lisbon was very disorganized and took quite a bit of time. Maybe it was because we got there at a peak time -- 1:15PM -- but there was confusion and very long lines. This was totally different from our last experiences with Oceania and our experience with Azamara. It might have been the fault of the cruise terminal -- it was older and not very comfortable. Not a good start. But after finally getting on the ship, we had lunch and our bags were delivered to our rooms by about 4:00.
SERVICE (10 out of 10)
Service on the Riviera was extremely good. The crew was very friendly and they really attended to just about every need we had. Unlike some other reviewers and posters here, we found the crew to be very upbeat and ready to help any way they could. I cannot fault the service we experienced in any way at all. Thanks Oceania!
THE SHIP ITSELF (?????out of 10)
I guess I'm the minority of those who happen to like the faux English men's club decor that was originally outfitted by Renaissance when the Oceania R-class ships were built, but my guess is that I am in the minority. I felt that the overall style and decor of Riviera was just not my taste at all.
The Grand Dining Room and the Casino Bar were (to me) the worst offenders -- especially the Casino Bar with a decor I found to be downright hideous; but then again, I prefer the Plaza over W and Ralph Lauren to Philippe Starck.
Others may like Riviera's overall style. I didn't. And, I also didn't like very many of the objects d'art on display throughout the ship and felt that some of the accent pieces were just downright gaudy and out of place (like the orange Venetian glass chandeliers in the Terrace Cafe). I just don't get it. On the other hand, I did like most of the paintings on board. It was the accent pieces and overall theme of the decor I didn't like. But to each his own - everyone is entitled to their own opinion and you just got mine. I just never related to the ship's common areas the way I did to Insignia or Regatta.
On Board Activities and Entertainment
This was a very port intensive cruise so there was little time to partake in shipboard activities. The on-board shopping was OK according to my wife -- but she bought nothing.
I thought that the casino was poorly laid out and that the slots and games offered were not very good. There should have been more $5 and $10 blackjack tables as they were always full. And the slots were among the tightest I have ever seen in any casino anywhere.
The pool deck was extremely nice and there seemed to always be enough very comfortable deck loungers when we wanted them -- even on our unplanned "at-sea" day when we bypassed Casablanca, Morocco because of the anti-American demonstrations going on in that area.
We never used the spa or any of its features so I cannot comment on that.
The same is true with the song and dance and stage entertainment. We attended the Andrew Lloyd Webber show that was pretty good but that was it. The band that played around the pool was usually too loud and the song choices seemed to be more appealing to my parents' generation than ours. If they were playing there, we went elsewhere.
On the other hand, Mio, the magician, was, ABSOSLUTELY FANTASTIC!!! He would appear at your table and do amazing feats. He was great.
OUR STATEROOM (10 out of 10)
We and our friends had three adjacent balcony staterooms on deck eight -- all B2 category. Being adjacent allowed us to open the side doors on the balcony making a wonderful place for us to have cocktails or to merely relax. This proved to be a real boon for our two-day stay in Monaco at the time of the Monaco Yacht Show. We had front row seats to all of the action going on in the harbor.
Our stateroom was spacious, well laid out and very comfortably furnished. Many posters here have complained about the tubs in the bathroom and the small shower stall. I'm 6'2" and had no problems. My wife did use the bath tub once after a long day of walking. We both though that the bath was the best one we have ever had on any cruise. Towels were plentiful, large and pretty soft -- although I really didn't like the ribbed style of the towels.
Our stateroom attendant -- Madi -- was great. Never was our stateroom not clean and made up when we returned from any meal. I don't know how she did it but she was great. She also made sure that we had ice when we asked for it and that the mini-bar was filled.
OVERALL DINING (7 out of 10 -- I know, that surprised me too. I was hoping I could go 10 out 10)
The Grand Dining Room (5 out of 10)
The decor and atmosphere of the main dining room, was not to our liking. It was too bright and glitzy. We only ate there twice - instead opting to eat al fresco at the Terrace Cafe when the weather permitted or at the specialty restaurants. The food in the Grand Dining Room was just OK -certainly not outstanding.
Polo Grill (7 out of 10)
The decor and atmosphere is great -- but it's just a steakhouse. And, its signature dish of prime rib was gone -- except for an end cut -- by the time our 8:00 dinner reservations came around. Really? Is 8:00 too late to get a signature dish prepared??? My porterhouse steak was OK but nothing special. One of the wives did remark that her filet was wonderful.
Jacques (9 out of 10)
We ate at Jacques twice -- we all had very good dinners. The Dover sole was very good as were the scallops with morel mushrooms. We had really good service and the selection of French AOC cheeses for dessert was very nice.
Red Ginger (6 out of 10)
Collectively, the six of us felt that Red Ginger was our least favorite specialty dining venue. The signature Miso Sea Bass was truly outstanding but the rest of the menu was, well, nothing special.
Toscana (9 out of 10)
We all decided that Toscana was our favorite specialty restaurant. The food, service and atmosphere were very good. We had our last dinner here and could have eaten there many times in order the sample other items on the menu.
Terrace Cafe (9 out of 10)
Our biggest disappointment about Azamara Journey was the lack of outdoor dining space. Not so on Riviera! The aft dining area for the Terrace Cafe on deck 12 was outstanding and we never had a problem getting a table for six for breakfast, lunch or dinner. This really made the cruise for us. We spent lots of time on the deck.
I hate buffet dining! I usually won't go to a buffet but Oceania did it right and I became a convert -- at least at the Terrace Cafe restaurant. The wait staff serves you -- you don't serve yourself. It's so much nicer that way. And the food was very, very good whether dining for breakfast, lunch or dinner. Being buffet style is the only thing that kept this restaurant from being a "10" on my rating scale.
Waves (8 out of 10)
Great burgers, panini's and other grill food. Also a nice place for a quick breakfast. Service was a lot better than other pool-side venues on other ships and the food was really good.
Room Service Dining (? out of 10)
We only had ice cream delivered to our room once so that really doesn't count as dining.
Based on what some of other posters here said was the 'best part of their cruise' we opted to do the wine and food pairing at La Reserve. This was a big mistake -- at least for us. I'm sorry, but to spend three hours eating small portions of 'gourmet' food paired with 'exceptional' wines for an upcharge of $95 a person did not turn out to be enjoyable to me. Don't get me wrong, I like good food and good wine but this was, in all of our opinions, a waste of our time and money. The fish course that was served was inedible and the brioche for the fois gras terrine had the texture and taste of a day-old twinkie. Ick. The wines were OK but not really to my taste. I'd rather have a simpler meal paired with a perfect wine than a bunch of courses. Maybe it's just me, but I thought the whole 'experience' was overly pretentious and just a bit silly.
SHORE EXCURSIONS (?? out of 10)
We took no Oceania sponsored shore excursions. With six of us it was very easy, and less expensive, to arrange for our own shore excursions in the ports we were visiting. We had arranged in advance for private tours of the Alhambra, Barcelona, Provence, and the Cinque Terre. We hired a local taxi as guide in Gibraltar and did activities in Valencia and Monaco on our own. We all felt that the Oceania sponsored excursions were a bit over-priced and too large in number of participants.
DEBARKATION (10 out of 10)
Worked like a charm. We were out of the ship, with our account cleared and gathering our luggage within five minutes of our designated time. I had arranged our own transportation to Rome and our driver was right there waiting for us.
OVERALL (8 out of 10)
We had high hopes for this cruise -- some were realized and others were not. Again, we regard a cruise as a movable hotel for us to experience the ports where the ship is calling -- with the added benefit of not having to figure out where you will have dinner in that port! Shipboard activities are not something we really care about. If they were, this review may have been very different.
I'd guess that the average passenger age was about 68. This cruise had more passengers in the 35-50 range that I would have suspected probably because of the port-intensive nature of the cruise. Also, the passengers seemed to be mostly American with some Brits and other Europeans thrown in. The Azamara cruise we took two years ago seemed to be a bit more internationally diverse.
Hope that this is helpful to those who read it.