This was our 3 rd and 4th cruise with Oceania, as we took a two 10 days back to back Caribbean cruise package. Although we have tried a number of other cruise lines, we found, like everything else in life, you get what you paid for. If you want a cruise where the dinner jacketed waiter brings the caviar on a silver plate while you are in the swimming pool, Oceania is not for you. Or if you are happy to line up at a summer camp type canteen to get your lunch and love to listen to loud electronic "music" blaring at you everywhere, Oceania is not for you.
We found it amazing how some ships cater for different type of travellers, for example we saw a German ship which carried bicycles for passengers to tour the different ports. Our Riviera was more notable for the number of wheel chairs it carried. But if you appreciate superb food, outstanding service, and great ambiance, the Riviera will provide it, with abundance.
Most of the passengers were senior or very senior citizens who not only had the time to cruise but who reached an age to be too old to be missed back home. Out of the 1200 passengers, 60% were repeat customers, and one couple celebrated their 50th Oceania cruise. The Riviera is very similar to her sister ship Marina, but we found that the artwork and decoration is less offensive to the eye than on the Marina. The ship launched in 2012 was made in an Italian shipyard, and we were sorry to see that the famous Italian flair had gone the same way as their economy. At least the pictures on the wall were signed by the "artists", indicating which way to hang the paintings.
The cabins are comfortable and adequate for a short trip, provided you get on well with your travelling partner. The bathroom is well equipped, with a shower cubicle and for those who could not fit in, there was a full size tub, provided they were fit enough to step in. The cabins are kept clean and tidy by the ship staff, but we found it helps to give a $20 bill to the stateroom attendant as you board on the first day. Oceania charges $11 per person per day as gratuity, but if you shop around, you may find a travel agent who would prepay the gratuities from their commission.
On the ship, the dress code is country club casual; there is no need to have formal ware days, like on other ship we have encountered. Judging by attire worn by some of the passengers on those ships, it is possible that the formal days were introduced to enhance one's appetite at meal times.
The choice of entertainment on the Riviera is limited. This becomes important on sea days, or when docked at the few ports with little to offer, except the notorious International Diamond store, the Wallmart of jewellers in the Caribbean. The ship has a good library, otherwise only few activities are available during the day, unless you are interested in lectures on weighty subjects, such as napkin folding. Most evenings there was a late evening show, attended by approximately half the passengers, the rest must have retired, or did not fancy the type of entertainments offered. The variety shows ranged from class to crass, with scanty dressed young 6 ft 6 inch tall (without the high heels) dancing girls, their long legs reaching to the armpit gyrating, a routine more suited for an audience swimming in testosterone, instead they were reminding the old folks what they used to do long ago at their younger years, but horizontally, in bed. There was a good eight piece house band playing dance music in the evening, but the few couples who were fit enough to climb up the two steps to the dance floor did not exactly exhibit ballroom grace of motion.
For shoppers, there are no Middle Eastern type bazaars on the Riviera, like on some ships. Instead the on ship boutiques are full of beautiful merchandise, but some of the jewelry may cost almost as much as your trip. Also, the journey is made more pleasant by having no onboard photographers pestering you and the constant bombardment of announcements and flyers on special sales of mostly junk.
The tours offered by Oceania carry a large mark-up, but if you are interested in more than sightseeing, or are planning a longer duration tour, it is advisable to take a tour organized by the ship, to make sure that you have a knowledgeable guide and you are back safe and sound before the ship sails. It is advisable to do some research on the different tours before you book to avoid any disappointment.
During the first 10 days Caribbean Hideaways trip the cruise stops at five different islands: Tortola, Antigua, Barbados, Saint Lucia and Gustavia. All lush in vegetation and the mountains provide breathtaking scenery overlooking the ocean. Some people say once you have seen one island you seen all, but we found that each island had some characteristics ranging from the majestic peaks of the Pitons on St. Lucia to the harbour of Augusta at St. Barth, which reminds one of Monte Carlo or Nice of the French Riviera.
The second 10 day cruise called Mayan Mystique stopped at George Town, Cozumel, Belize, Santo Tomas, Costa Maya, but we could not dock at Roatan due to the stormy weather. We found the name of Mayan Mystique appropriate as we found it mysterious why Oceania chose some of those ports of call, such as Belize City and Santo Tomas in Guatemala. The Mayan ports appear to offer less sightseeing than the Caribbean ports, for example one of the Mayan tour we took involved 5 hours of bus ride through boring landscape, then spending one hour looking at three Mayan ruins, while standing in pouring rain. Some Mayan ports offer trips to beaches and various other water activities. The Mayan leg of the cruise should be advertised for young couples, and book or other lovers, as in case of inclement weather there is nothing else to do, until the next meal time.
At every port there are shops after shops, selling various merchandise, some are junk, but somehow they survive proving that one man's junk is another's treasure. The good news is that some of the products were made locally and none of the merchandise I looked at had the label "Made in China".
If one is inclined to keep up to date with all the bad news while travelling, there is a brief four page daily summary news sheet printed on the ship and delivered to your cabin. It is an embarrassing collection of mostly trivia news item, but sport fans are well served, as sport items are occupying more than 50% of the news sheets. Fortunately, there is TV in the cabin and for those who are interested in international and unbiased reporting can even watch the BBC news programs.
The best shows are the meal times in the Grand dining room, or the 4 o'clock Tea and in the evenings in the four Speciality restaurants, where the presentation, flavours and ambiance produce and evening to remember. The Grand dining room on the Riviera is truly grand, serving food with exotic ingredients, in picture perfect presentation, resulting in mostly outstanding dishes. The other four smaller restaurants serve more specialized food, in intimate and elegant surroundings. You are entitled to dine once in each of these speciality restaurants. It is recommended to book your tables on the internet before you sail, to make sure you get a table, especially if you are not inclined the share the table with others. There is no extra charge for dining in these speciality restaurants. These restaurants serve French, Italian, Asian and steak dishes. When dining at the Red Ginger Asian restaurant it is advisable to have some help from the waiting staff, to navigate through the rather strange and exotic sounding dishes offered. The Red Ginger is not strictly a Chinese, Thai or Japanese restaurant, but it serves a fusion of Asian dishes. The show starts with a magic, hot water is poured on a small white pill in a plate, which acts as an instant Viagra, and grows suddenly into a large napkin to wipe your fingers with, after which you can go through the ceremony of picking the colour of your chopstick, I assume to match your outfits. One needs lots of willpower to moderate the amount of food one eats, otherwise while you board the ship as a passenger; you may be unloaded as cargo at the end of your trip.
Great attention is paid to small items such as the daily bread, which is as good as anywhere in France, not like the bread on other cruise lines which tasted like pressed sawdust. For espresso lovers there is an all day barista service with real Italian coffee, expertly prepared for no extra charge.
There is Internet connection on the ship but it is slow and expensive. Use it if you have some urgent business to take care of, or if you have money to burn. Otherwise at most ports you can find free Wi Fi connection, either at a public place or at a coffee shop or bar. In the port of Miami at the customs office while waiting for clearance I downloaded a book from my public library in Toronto.
All in all we had a good time and would consider again going on an Oceania cruise, once we have shredded the extra weight put on during our past 20 days. We wish we could take one of the Oceania chefs home with us, or at least the
one who baked our daily French baguette.
Well seasoned traveller and a very senior citizen