Reading some recent entries on Cruise Critic about Odyssey and this cruise in particular, it makes me and my wife wonder whether we were on the same ship and cruise as these other people.
To sum it up succinctly, this cruise line really leaves its competitors in this class of cruising far behind. In every possible way the Odyssey excelled.
My wife and I picked up the ship in Bali and got off in Auckland, 32 days later. It was the longest cruise we have ever taken. And we were so pleased at every turn.
Lets start with the ship itself. At 450 passengers and just over 30,000 tons, as I recall, it is the perfect size, at one third the passenger size of the new Oceania ships, so a lot more intimate. As is its reputation and why we took it. For the recent critic who said no crew person knew them by name, did they stay in their cabin all the time?? Having sailed Silversea many times, and Oceania, and Regent, we were blown away by the fact that it took only a few days of sailing and we were known by name on sight by countless staff throughout the ship. Of course this happens a lot easier as a process if one eats many meals in the main restaurant, but wherever we went we were greeted by our last names, always preceded by a very polite "good morning" or "good afternoon" Mr and Mrs.
At the pool, where the attendants who mostly serve the drinks but also move some chairs around, they are not dressed in sloppy shirts or uniforms, as one critic recently noted. Sure they work hard, and in 95 degree heat and a blazing sun each can shed a drop of perspiration or two, but they were nice, well dressed, very capable and careful to please. Drinks galore, both alcoholic and non. Always coming around and asking for an order or replacement drinks.
We have sailed on many cruises and cruise lines where we saw that it was not a happy ship or a happy crew. Not the Odyssey. It begins with the Captain and this feeling permeates its way down to all who work on board. Every one is always smiling and so pleasant. Always so willing to take the extra step. This is a very happy crew, and for some critics to say that some crew members expressed excitement about getting off the ship after many along months of basically 24/7 service, that somehow this is evidence that the crew does not like working on the ship is just foolishness. Crew and staff miss their families and are eager to get home, but most from my conversations with them want to come back on the Odyssey when their breaks are over and rejoin their Odyssey family. They say this, and I any my wife are convinced it is true. One becomes a pretty good judge of honesty at sea after completing as many cruises as we have and speaking with so many crew members.
Lets go to the food. Outstanding is the only word that comes to mind. Most of my comments are addressed to the main restaurant. The meals are better on the average by far than most top rated restaurants in most major cities. Most people we talked to on board agreed with this. In fact we heard nothing but raves. Wide selection of specials each day, and if there is nothing there to one's liking, one can always order from the Odyssey menu from its standard dishes, which includes filet mignon and lamb chops daily, plus fish and many other dishes. Also excellent and different, tasty vegetarian selections.The dishes are very attractively plated and served from the kitchen with a lot of attention to detail. Labor intensive might be the better term.
If the size of the portions is not to one's liking, a second ( or third!!) order of the same dish is happily accommodated from the excellent wait staff, although I would have to say the sizes were perfect in nearly every situation. American are too used to overwhelming portions, and thus overwhelming waistlines. These portions are more European in design, and very adequate. Caviar, and a very high quality of it, whatever its source, flows freely upon request, and is standard on some nights. If not Russian sevruga, it is of equal quality, and the servings are not skimpy.
The dining service is excellent, with a captain and two assistants at each dining section, plus constant roving supervision from top flight Maitre D' Julian and his senior assistants. He loves to talk to guests, as do the rest of the management and service team and always with a smile and so courteous. Curtains break up the large room nicely, so it does not feel too large as is the case in many other dining rooms on other ships.
The main dining room opens at 7 each night, despite the misinformed statement from another recent cruise critic. It closes to new guests at 9pm, although passengers finishing their meals can sit and enjoy food and service well past that time.
The buffet is fast, tasty, comfortable inside or out, very varied and pleasant, with daily changes of hot dishes for lunch and dinner each day, plus special nights like "French" or "Italian" throughout each cruise. Breakfast is quick and substantial. Special hot dishes are available from the kitchen, and the pancakes are Divine. At night this becomes a sit down restaurant for a fare somewhat simpler than the Main restaurant, and in a more casual style. Again, the staff means to please in every way it can, with the same friendly and efficient service one gets in the Main Dining room.
And speaking of casual, we happen to like the mix of formal nights and elegantly casual nights, with a few resort casual nights thrown in. We like getting a little dressed, and I wear a blazer or another jacket when not in tuxedo. It makes for a very handsome and elegant crowd. Most of the guests on board were nicely dressed for dinner in the main restaurant, with those not wishing to get "dressed" doing things more casually at the Colonade or the Patio grill. To each, one has a choice of attire and venue.
The patio grill dining area on the pool deck is not too large, common with other pool grills on other cruise lines of comparable size, and they try to mix up the daily choices in addition to the standard fare of hamburgers, but for what it is it is more than sufficient, comments to the contrary from some naysayers notwithstanding. For those dissatisfied, there is the buffet Collonade a short distance away on the same deck.The patio grill is also open at night for those who prefer a more casual setting with more simple grilled foods and other selections.
There is also an excellent coffee and tea bar off of Seabourn Square that is open for these fresh brewed specialty beverages plus croissants, light sandwiches, pastries, cookies, and ice cream from 6am to late each night, with a short closing at 6pm, so people who find the other restaurants closed during the day can get something to hold them over until dinner. Plus daily tea and pastry, sandwich service at the Tea. The one comment I saw from a recent cruise critic complaining about nothing open on the ship for people coming back late from excursions was just misinformation, plus Marcus in the Collonade keeps the place open after its scheduled closing time of 2pm if there are excursions still out there. We were amazed when we found this out that the ship accommodates its guests in this special way so no one has to walk away from lunch.
We found the specialty restaurant Restaurant Two a little too fussy for our taste, although we very much like modern cuisine and the small plates concept. We would prefer this format be changed to either an Italian specialty restaurant or an Asian Fusion place.
Throughout the ship in all bars and restaurants and on the pool deck is of course complimentary wines, champagnes and mixed alcohol drinks. The standard champagne Nicolas Feuillatte is of a very high quality. The wines at lunch and dinner both red and white were of an acceptable to good quality, with some better than others, like Santa Margarita pinot grigio daily, although we would have referred more Australian and New Zealand wines served earlier in the cruise. There is also a good sauterne dessert wine, which goes very nicely with the foie gras appetizer as well as with the fabulous desserts the pasty chefs prepare.
Up to now my wife and I thought that Oceania food was the best we had ever experienced at sea, particularly on the new larger ships under Jacques Pepin's direction, but this cruise and the chef's creations have changed our minds about that. Gourmet fancier, or basic meat and potato person, this ship has it all on or off the menu for everyone's tastes.
Lets say a word or two about fellow travelers on board. Generally, because this is a six star rated line and ship, one finds a more upscale, more affluent passenger than on other lines. Comparable to Silversea, Crystal or Regent passengers. Affluence as we all know does not always mean good breeding or civility, greater intelligence, knowledge, life experiences and make for more interesting conversations, but we found this generally more times than not to be the case in our travels. One goes traveling in the hopes of finding interesting traveling companions to share experiences, wile away the long sea days and dinners, and we felt Odyssey provided this opportunity better than others on which we have recently sailed with its passenger mix. Having said that, it is of course true that one can find intelligent and more interesting conversationalists in many places among many people of varied backgrounds.
Now comes the Entertainment. It boggles our mind that recent cruise critics have labelled the entertainment aboard this ship as only 3's. We have to strongly disagree. It is a sure 5 plus. It was better on the second leg beginning in Sydney than the first leg, with a new troupe coming on board, but both were a solid 5. World class comedians, concert pianists, magicians, plus most importantly a group of six of the most talented singers and dancers we have ever seen in any stage or nightclub setting, whether or not at sea, these were amazing. What performances they put on, replete with great costumes and fabulous choreography. Great voices and excellent productions. And a terrific show band that provided the music throughout.
And speaking of music on board, no loud, shrill, pulsating music played on the pa system on the pool deck that has been the cause of ruining other cruises we have been on over the years, particularly on the larger ships.
The ship itself is nicely appointed throughout in all the public and private areas and venues. Yes it is true the interior decor of public areas does not match the artwork on the new larger Oceania vessels, but is very nice indeed although simpler. The standard cabin with veranda is a very healthy 365 sq ft, which is larger by far than most competitors, and as far as we know the largest cabin at sea for this standard cabin for this class of ship. Large separate walk in closet.......not found in comparable cabin on Oceania and Crystal. The bathrooms are a joy to behold, with double sinks and a bathtub and separate shower stall. Best we have seen. Some competitor which shall go nameless has only room for one person to be in the bathroom at one time, and are in fact claustrophobic. And the sitting area is large and very comfortable with a couch and two chairs. The veranda is larger than most we have seen.
The excursions were for the most part good and interesting, and fairly priced. The tendering to go ashore on maybe six occasions on a 32 day cruise was not oppressive, as one recent cruise critic recently stated.
We all wished this anchoring was not necessary, but with small ports having no docking facilities, this is to be expected. Some tender rides were of a longer duration that we would have preferred, but this also is not unusual and something the Odyssey Captain had no control over.
And speaking of the Captain, for those of us who had the pleasure of getting to know him, he is a gem and a credit to this cruise line. Interesting and informative, and very gracious, he sets the tone for the ship and the cruise line he represents. It is a happy ship, with a happy staff and crew, beaming out positive vibes to the passengers on board, with the best cruise director, John Howell, we have ever experienced.
We had some excellent lecturers on board, particularly the pair we picked up in Sydney. Two Australians with great knowledge and interesting and excellent presentation skills. The retired naval captain had deep knowledge of famous sea battles and commanders, like Admirals Horatio Nelson in Victory at Trafalgar, as well as the WW 2 Battle of the Coral Sea, through which we were sailing. and the MD imparted important information about our destinations in an interesting delivery style, although neither excelled in Liar's Poker, thank God - considering their occupations.
To our amazement when we boarded, Smoking is permitted in the staterooms and in certain public venues. Only this cruise line and Crystal permit this, and we hold out a great deal of hope that this cruise line having heard the message from the vast super majority of its sailing passengers, gets the message and changes this. It is unhealthy and a nasty habit, that no one should have to endure from second hand smoke recirculated throughout the ship and in corridors. Fortunately on this cruise, it was not a problem for us, but it should be addressed and hopefully very soon.
All in all, a marvelous experience.