We started our trip in Miami and the embarkation went very well. There were no lines when we arrived at 1230 and the staff had us on the ship in 10 minutes. Upon boarding the ship we were told our cabin was not ready and we were directed to the Terrace Grill but selected the Waves Grill, which was the first of a number of good lunches. According to our documentation, the cabin was supposedly ready at noon.
The Penthouse cabin was great as it was on the earlier trip. Even with 3 in the cabin there was plenty of room for clothes. The beds, both the main one and the pullout sofa one were very comfortable. The only unpleasant surprise was that the balcony had a an obstructed view that was not mentioned by the travel agent nor the cruise line. The cabin number was 10002.
This was our second experience with having a butler( both on the Riviera) and the service was first class although it took the butler about 2 days to understand our routine, contrary to the last cruise the service did not degrade after a few days. On the first day they (butler and cabin stewards, who were first class) provided the additional wine glasses, mixers, water, towels and anything else we requested.
The major reason for booking this ship and Oceania was the food. However the restaurants ranged from good to excellent. The main dining room was again a disappointment since the food seemed to be traditional MDR cruise food. We ate dinner there twice and main course was not as advertised. One night they advertised Peking duck but all you got was a half duck. The other night they advertised a steak and we got 2 slices of prime rib.
Therefore we again opted for the other restaurants On the last cruise we really liked the Terrace Cafe versus the MDR. However on this cruise the quality had gone down and thus we ate dinner there only one night. We booked our 4 maximum specialty restaurants before departing, but were able to get an additional reservations. Contrary to other reviews we got these reservations by being flexible and picking times when people did not want to eat. We also ate in our room 2 times with the butler serving meals from one of the restaurants. This worked well since each course was served in order and the salads were chilled and the main courses were hot.
Although I have read rave reviews of the specialty restaurants, we found Toscana, Jacques and Polo to be the best. Toscana offered a better selection. Having to choose among over a dozen different olive oils was a bit much. I think the desserts were the only area where the choices were too sweet and heavy. However the wait staff was able to substitute a lighter desert upon request. It was the same issue in Polo but the lobster bisque was the best I ever tasted. Crab cakes, steaks and lobsters are the choice in Polo. On the last cruise we thought that Jacques was slightly below the two previously mentioned restaurants. On this cruise we found it had improved and was on a par with the other two.
The biggest disappointment was again the Red Ginger. Again they get carried away with offering too many choices of chop sticks and teas. That was ok but they never came to offer a second round of tea. In fact, the service in Red Ginger was again the worse one of all the restaurants on the ship. The real disappointment was the food. The sushi chef's selection appetizer was lower in quality than the sushi available in the Terrace Cafe. The dishes that were listed as spicy were bland. The lamb dish was just a rack of lamb that you could have in any other of the 3 specialty restaurants.
We brought wines on-board at the start of the trip and also in St. Barts. Riviera marks up its wines in the dining rooms from 3to 4 times retail. Since I had the wine list from the cruise 6 months ago I noticed that they had raised prices about 20% in that period. It is actually higher since they have the 18% service charge added on. Thus on the high end bringing you own wine and paying the corkage makes both quality and financial sense. I think the corkage charge is ok for the specialty restaurants but is steep for the MDR where service is less attentive.
We did not buy any Excursions since Oceania offers them at outlandish prices. On this cruise there were very few people on the ship sponsored tours. Oceania was very good at providing you with general information on the port. The enrichment speaker, Harry Chittick, had a very good presentation on the islands on the itinerary. His other talks were significantly lower in quality.
The first 3 stops Tortola, Antigua and Bridgetown very similar and easily forgotten. I would vote for Tortola as the island with the most filth. When you left the ship you were constantly accosted by people selling junk, tours and taxi rides. You could easily skip all three. St. Lucia was a grade higher than the three previous islands with less selling and badgering by the locals. The really different island is St. Barts. I would go there again. The island is clean, no pushy locals and shops that offer first class merchandise.
St Parts required tendering and it was not handled well. The weather was foul but they did start the tendering at 8 am but stopped it at 10am. The area that they did not handle well is trying to stop people who are not in good shape from getting on the tender. In two cases on our tender these passengers fell on other occupants in the tender. The crew did the best they could but these passengers should not have allowed to potentially injury others.
Entertainment on the ship was limited. Since it was a 10 day cruise we anticipated going to more shows than usual and found the music and singing to be above average as compared with other lines. However it was the same show we saw last July and you can see our thoughts on the shows in that review. On the last cruise the best act was Mio, the magician. This cruise it was Fred Becker which was a significant drop off in quality.. What we liked was the limited announcements from the cruise director and that he talked in a normal voice versus the screamers they have on other ships. Nolan Dean, the cruise director was a big improvement from the one that was on the July cruise.
Also there was almost no pressure to buy drinks around the pool and the pool deck staff was the best of any ship. When we wanted drinks they were easy to order. The spa and exercise areas were first rate with all of the equipment operational. The only problem was in the spa area where everyday there seem to be something missing, soap, towels, water, etc.
The bar service is great in Martini's but remains terrible in Horizon including bring the wrong drink and also charging us for drinks not ordered.
The docking was on time in Miami and our bags were readily available.
In summary, Oceania needs to work on some area of ship services. But we would definitely cruise on this ship again.