My wife and I recently (from Dec 10 until Jan 16) sailed on our longest cruise ever with Oceania (or anyone for that matter) with our teenage children. The cruise was a 37 day back to back cruise on Marina sailing from Rio de Janeiro to Valparaiso and on to Papeete via Easter Island. The short story is that it was a wonderful cruise on a gorgeous ship with a spectacular itinerary, and we met many wonderful people.
You will have seen those period movies in which people embark on steamers in crowded chaotic docks, where on arrival you are confronted with a seething chaos from which no order seems likely to emerge. Well that’s what happened. There was little that Oceania could do about it but four cruise ships were embarking in Rio and the port facility is barely up to one. In fact all the passenger port facilities we visited in South America are in need of serious review. Miraculously we made it into the calm cool sophisticated Marina in reasonable time and our luggage even appeared.
There were issues for those embarking on the second leg starting in Valparaiso due to major problems with flights. Some poor folk left on the cruise without their luggage and didn’t see it for 8 days due to the fairly remote destinations the ship visited and the number of sea days. Oceania could not do a lot about this either.
The ship stayed overnight in Rio, Valparaiso, Easter Island and Bora Bora. The one port where an overnight stay was necessary but not scheduled was Buenos Aires. The cruise offered considerable variety in ports including cities like Rio, Sao Paolo, Buenos Aires, Ushuaia and Valparaiso/Santiago, and the scenery and natural beauty of Patagonia and the Chilean fjords. The second cruise from Valparaiso to Papeete of course involved no cities but some amazing locations like Easter Island and the Society Islands. In other words we were very spoiled. If sea days aren’t your thing then there would have been too many for you, and on a rough count about half the days were sea days with four in a row being the maximum.
We were very lucky. Mostly it was warm to hot and fine except around Cape Horn. We didn’t realize how cool it would get as we sailed south and Ushuaia is not a balmy place. Once we reached Valparaiso though the weather was warm and mostly fine again. The second leg of this cruise across the Pacific depended on fine weather and largely we got it, with peaceful seas and lots of sun, In Tahiti though it is the wet season and we had rain particularly on the first day. Difficult seas could also put at risk many ports on the Pacific leg and particularly Easter Island which was one of the great highlights of the cruise. All ports after Valparaiso and until Papeete were tender only and the only port we had to miss was Pitcairn Island, and the locals came aboard instead. We didn’t consider this a great loss.
The guests on the first cruise (around South America) were wiser than the second, if age is a measure of that, but were largely vigorous and keen to charge out on excursions. The second cruise seemed to have a broader spread on nationalities. There were of course many from the US, a large Canadian contingent, few fellow Australians, some New Zealanders and quite a group of Europeans. On each cruise no more than 6-8 children.
We met many wonderful people and were very sad to bid them farewell.
A beautiful ship. We have sailed on all the smaller Oceania ships before and loved them, but I think that Marina may have seduced us to the Oceania class ships. She is stylishly decorated, and well laid out. The ambiance on board the ship is of understated elegance although there isn’t much that’s understated about the Casino Bar, with its UV glow and avant garde furnishings. The Art is quite well selected and the whole ship has the feel of a floating palace.
The Christmas decorations were great.
Not everything is better than the smaller ships but Baristas, Red Ginger and Jacques, the Culinary Centre and Artists Lofts are among them. The gym is much better, and there are more sporting type activities. The Terrace Café is a stand out. The Library is not as good (but has been overly maligned – I still liked it and spent many hours there), and I like the Lounge better on the smaller ships.
The ship is never crowded, and there were times I wondered where everyone was. The pool deck area is large with heaps of sun chairs, and the pool is a reasonable size for a cruise ship.
This is always subjective but hey, this is my review so I get to be subjective.
The Grand Dining Room menu’s varied, and we didn’t eat there all that much but enjoyed the food and the theatre of dining there. I prefer the room itself on the O ships, as it seems lighter and more spacious with higher ceilings. The food was in our view not generally as good as Terrace Café, and well below the specialty restaurants. That is not to say it was bad, and in fact it was better than previous cruises, and some meals were wonderful, but it maintains the fine tradition of Grand Dining Rooms being hit and miss. Service was good.
The Terrace Café is smart and elegant completely shrugging off any bad buffet connotations. Dining outside on balmy nights was wonderful. The food was fresh, varied, and well cooked. The grill is brilliant with good cuts of meat, Lobster, big shrimps, and too much more to mention. For breakfast the fruit was good although not always as ripe as I would like, and they ran out of some items for a few days toward the end of the cruise, chiefly berries and lettuce. The Pacific cant be an easy place to restock.
The ranking of the specialty restaurants was the subject of considerable family debate, ending in a stalemate. What was agreed was that Red Ginger was exceptional, and Toscana came second. The argument was hottest over Jacques and Polo. Lets just say that ranking these is silly but hey it’s also fun. The fact is they are all good, with the caveat that red Ginger is a stand out. We were fortunate to get extra bookings and we ate at Red Ginger 5 times, Polo for 2, Toscana for 4 and Jacques 5.
We also booked for the La Reserve Connoisseur and Explorer menus. The former was expensive at $160 each, but a wonderful experience although you probably need to be a bigger foodie than I, and some of the effort may have been lost on me. The food is carefully selected and independently sourced and the wine matches. The Explorer menu was probably more me at $95 pp. It was also wonderful but more approachable.
The Wine Tastings undertaken by the head sommelier Oona were not to be missed. She was wonderful, informative and amusing, and La Reserve wine happy hours were a great initiative. Her army of sommeliers were knowledgeably, helpful ,efficient and friendly., particularly Vedran, Susanna, Enrique, and Alex. The wine tasting sessions ranged from $10 pp to $100 for a premium tasting. The premium wines were the sort I only get to try in a self indulgent wine tasting of this sort and included some super tuscans among other notable and famous wines..
Afternoon tea remains fantastic.
The Wine List gets a tick for well done. We didn’t do the drinks package. I have an allergy to them and do not like them. We mostly drink wine and prefer to order bottles. An analysis of value for money showed it would not have paid off for us anyway. We don’t drink enough (which is saying something) – I think you need to be a cocktail person for this to work.
This has really stepped up in my view. The staff of Marina were mostly all friendly and attentive without being suffocating. Many went well beyond this and were just delightful. In my view the leadership team is doing a great job and you can see how diligent they are about it.
We really liked David Shermet as a Cruise Director, and the General Manager was very approachable and helpful. The Reception desk is something I have in the past approached with trepidation but on this occasion found the staff efficient friendly and enormously patient.
Service around the Pool was generally good but could be a little more attentive to my every whim and sudden need for a drink. Philmar, at the bar was brilliant, addressed us by name from the first few days (no we didn’t drink so much as to be instantly recognized.) Baristas was great and Alessio and Fabio made excellent coffee. The tender service was efficient and safe (in some heavy seas).
The Maitre D s at each restaurant were without exception excellent and the wait staff also very good with Red Ginger again the stand out with the fantastic Angie and Mical. It was wonderful crew members like these that made the whole journey exceptional.
I could and should name more but suffice it to say service was very good. No doubt there are some poor experiences but we didn’t endure many, and on a cruise of 37 days that was impressive.
I don’t really do shows, but the Christmas show and the con Molto grand finale were fun. The music on board was generally good. The only criticism I have is a personal one. If there is one instrument Noah could have left off the ark to be forgotten in time, it would be the piano accordion, and so the duo violin and you guessed what wasn’t exactly my thing. But then others may have loved it.
The enrichment lectures on both cruises were excellent and well attended with well chosen topics. The mysteries of scarf tying, and bingo weren’t for me, and trivia is too scary. My wife loved the free bridge classes (also too scary for me). A Mahjong cabal seemed to be flourishing as well. There were dancing classes and whisky tastings, and cocktail making classes.
Matt at the gym provided a truly excellent lecture on nutrition that surprised me in its level of detail and his demonstrated expertise and knowledge. It even altered my eating habits (although sadly not my drinking habits).
I enjoyed my culinary class but my wife did not. We had different teachers and my wife felt hers was quite rude. Apparently she wasn’t alone in that experience. The facility is great. I didn’t use the Artist Loft, my artistic talent having long been judged well wanting.
We travelled with our kids. The 18 y/o threatened never to leave the ship and was perfectly happy. The 14 y/o professed boredom on occasion, but then she does that a few times a day in any event. She did however christened it the best holiday ever. Swimming with Mantas and Sharks and water sports in Tahiti clinching the deal. Not much is provided for kids although most of those on board on the second cruise were eventually introduced to each other and had a good time. On the first cruise language was something of a barrier.
We were in concierge staterooms near midship and found them well appointed and spacious. Storage was fine for us, and the bathrooms were well laid out with a separate bath and shower.
While initially dubious about the concierge lounge we found it very useful, and the concierge lounge attendants on both cruises to be a great help. For a long cruise it makes a difference. We didn’t use the spa deck much. My skin burns in moonlight so it wasn’t for me.
Laundries on every deck work well and if the urge to do the laundry took you, it was never a hassle to get a washer and dryer.
Tours and Technology and other:
Not much has changed here. The tours remain over priced and not well reviewed in many cases. We took private tours that were usually much cheaper.
Internet remains a problem although it is improving and the per day charge worked well for us. Just don’t try doing anything close to exciting online. Heaps of band width intensive programs seem to be blocked.
Oceania says internet is bad at sea, but I have had far better experiences on other lines.
The Medical Centre remains as expensive as ever, but I suppose we should be grateful we have it.