My wife and I just returned from a very relaxing 10-day Caribbean cruise on the Oceania Riviera. While most of our reactions were thoroughly positive, there were a few negatives too. I'll start with the positives.
The ship: Just a year old, the small-to-moderate size ship is beautiful throughout, with generally excellent facilities, including great staterooms with verandas, plenty of dining options (more below), lounges, bars, and public restrooms. Important to us, the ship has a state-of-the-art fitness center. We also loved the golf hitting cage and quite remarkable 18-hole putting course. The surface on the latter was the closest to a real golf green I've encountered, with the ball rolling fast and true. The pool is small (not suitable for swimming, as with most cruise ships). There is a well-staffed casino. We delighted in the fabulous art throughout the ship. Neither of us is an art connoisseur but we stopped often to marvel at the creativity and color in so many of the works. This was a major unexpected treat.
Staterooms: We can only comment knowledgeably about the penthouse suites since we decided to splurge on one. The PH suites are essentially what would be called a junior suite in a hotel. Ours was a very attractive spacious 420 square feet, with a very comfortable bed (with elegant sheets), a nice sitting area, an incredibly large walk-in closet (an amazing asset, one not found in all of the PH suites), and a good-sized and well-designed bathroom with attractive vanity with plenty of storage space for toiletries and separate tub and shower (and stocked with Bulgari shampoo, etc.). The design of the shower was especially impressive. Although it was somewhat small, I never felt cramped when I showered. The rainforest showerhead was great, although I should note that if you are over 6'2", you will have to duck a bit. I'm 6'1" and I had no more than 1" clearance between my head and the showerhead. We particularly enjoyed our huge veranda, about 12' x 12' (I'm guessing), with 2 comfortable chairs, 2 chaise lounge chairs, and a small table...and plenty of space to roam. Our travel agent singled it out when we were booking, and it proved to be a blessing given the unavailability of lounge chairs throughout the open deck areas (more below). Our stateroom (7133) was one of only 4 PH suites on deck 7, the lowest of the passenger decks. 7135 was somewhat smaller than our room (with a smaller but still decent closet), but it had a veranda that wrapped around the ship, affording great access to sun and views. Note that all of the verandas on deck 7 are considerably larger than average. The verandas for other staterooms on higher decks are pretty typical of modern cruise ships -- large enough to accommodate a couple of chairs and a small cocktail table and no more.
Restaurants: The food on the Riviera is superb and the options numerous. The Grand Dining Room is quite elegant and our first night dinner there was of a caliber we have experienced in the best restaurants in which we have dined around the world. The Terrace dining room had great buffets for all 3 meals, with seating both inside and out. Waves Grill had great burgers and the like (including mahi-mahi and tuna), a limited salad bar, and an always-in-demand ice cream bar. Waves was open for lunch until 4 pm, while the other restaurants closed around 2 pm. There are 4 specialty restaurants. Frankly, we were a bit disappointed in both Red Ginger and Jacques, the two for which we had the highest expectations. In contrast, we very much enjoyed both the Polo Grill and Toscana. The latter was especially impressive, with a wide-ranging menu of delicious and interesting Italian-themed dishes. We had two slightly negative experiences with service in the specialty restaurants. In two instances, we felt our food was brought much too fast, with no time at all in between courses. In one of the restaurants, the waitress knocked over my wife's glass of red wine toward where I was seated. I reacted quickly and caught most of the wine headed for my lap in my large cloth napkin. My (black) shirt felt a bit damp in one area, although I couldn't see any "damage", and remarkably I didn't see any spillage on my khaki trousers. The waitress apologized and reset the table. She put the wine glasses back on the table but didn't offer to have my clothes cleaned (she didn't even ask if they had been hit by the wine, despite having seen my wine-saturated napkin). Equally remarkably, she didn't refill my wife's glass, leaving it empty on the table!
Service: The staff on the Riviera are amazing. They are incredibly attentive and always approach you with a great smile, one that seemed genuine, something you don't expect to see among so many staff. On several occasions we would make a request of one staff member for something that was not in his or her area of responsibility, but rather than saying that, they would go find the appropriate person and make it happen. For example, if we asked a busboy for some wine, he would instantly take our request to a wine steward. Our biggest "problem" with staff was disappointing our butler, Binod! PH suites are served by butlers. We are not accustomed to using butler services and, frankly, had little need for them, especially since we like going to restaurants rather than having meals served in our stateroom. Binod kept finding us and asking how he could be of service. We did have him serve dinner our last night at sea, and must say that we enjoyed the experience. Regarding service, we were also very impressed with the efficiency (and again staff friendliness) of the boarding and disembarkation processes, both at ports of call and at the beginning and end of the trip.
Entertainment: We had heard that the entertainment wasn't equivalent to that found on much larger ships. While the quantity of entertainment might be substantially less, the quality couldn't have been any better. The song-and-dance troupe performed 4 nights, with different themed shows each night, and they were absolutely fabulous -- excellent voices (especially the lead singer, Lawrence) complementing astonishingly good dancing. The comedian/magician, who performed two nights, rivals the best such acts we have ever seen. Even Nolan, the cruise director, excelled in his song-and-comedy show after the main performance one night.
Ports of call: We stopped in Tortola, Antigua, Barbados, St. Lucia, and St. Barts. For 4 of the islands we simply booked taxis (including large open-air "safari" taxis in two cases) for 1- to 3-hour island tours and then we walked around on our own. As we had never been to 4 of the islands, we enjoyed the opportunity to see some new locales. Frankly, the islands per se were not what attracted us to the cruise.
The demographics of the passengers: Given the size of the ship, the nature of the cruise, and the relative expense of Oceania, we expected a relatively older clientele. Even given these expectations, we were surprised by the age distribution of the passengers. We are 66 and 67 and we'd guess that that put us in the younger half of those onboard! There was no more than a handful of children, and I'd guess that passengers under 50 constituted no more than 5% of the total, if that. There is nothing wrong with this; it's just a point of interest. The international nature of the passengers was fun, with most of it accounted for by the 400 (?) folks from the UK (out of about 1200 total passengers), many of whom we enjoyed meeting. The reason for the large contingent of Brits is interesting and was a bit disquieting to many of the Americans onboard. This is discussed below.
We did find a few aspects of the cruise disappointing. In describing them here, I want to emphasize that the overall experience was very positive.
Excursions: The ship offers numerous excursions at each port of call. We had been forewarned that they were over-priced and didn't participate in any of them. Frankly, we found their pricing ridiculous. For virtually the identical island tours that we took for $15-25/person, the ship charged $85-115! My guess is that Oceania is missing an opportunity. If their prices were more reasonable -- no more than half of what they were charging -- we would have signed up for some of the trips. I wouldn't be surprised if the additional volume lower prices would generate would increase their profits. We found the current pricing extremely disappointing.
Availability of chaise lounge chairs on deck: An Oceania cruise is a relatively expensive one. Under such circumstances, I would expect the ship to be designed such that it could be provisioned with an adequate number of lounge chairs to accommodate any passenger wanting one at any time. The opposite was the case. Especially during days at sea, if you didn't grab lounge chairs early in the morning, you had little chance of getting any until late in the afternoon. The ship has a policy of moving books and the like used to hold lounge chairs if the occupants do not return in a half hour. But whether it was enforced or not, demand so greatly exceeded supply that the situation was essentially hopeless. Our veranda with its two lounge chairs saved the trip for us. Without that, we would have been disappointed in the extreme.
Food availability after hours: It's hard to be hungry on a cruise, but if you want a snack late in the evening, the only way to get it on the Riviera is to order room service, and that seems like overkill just for a snack. The ship ought to have a place where passengers can pick up a bag of chips or a cookie, even if it isn't staffed.
Paying for alcoholic drinks: Riviera is not all-inclusive. Passengers have to pay for their drinks each time they order them ($9-12 each) or else pay $55/day for unlimited bar (and restaurant) drinks. This includes wine and beer at dinner. We prefer not to have to think about shelling out money every time we want a drink, so we bought the package. Even so, the bartenders or wine stewards had to swipe your card every time you ordered one. We found this annoying. We'd prefer that all beverages be included in the basic cruise price, although I can understand that non-drinkers wouldn't.
Wireless charges: Wireless is available on the ship, and we had a laptop provided in our room. (I don't know if this is true of all rooms or just the PH suites and above.) There is a one-time connection fee of $4 and then -- ready for this? -- a charge of $1 for every 1 minute of use of their wireless! The alternatives were $28/day, which would be okay if I was spending my days working (!), or $160 for 200 any-time minutes. I can understand a charge for using wireless, but, as with the shore excursions, these charges are way off the charts. They contributed to our feeling that Oceania was trying to nickel-and-dime passengers to death (only it was $5 and $10 instead of nickels and dimes). I found this unclassy.
Activities on board: Given the nature of this cruise and the passenger demographics, this criticism is almost certainly a bit unfair, but I like to have more physical "games" to play on board. The options on Riviera were the aforementioned golf facilities, shuffle board, a small paddle-board court, and croquet. When we docked next to the Carnival Breeze, I envied its passengers the huge water slide, the ropes course, basketball court, etc. Again, I appreciate that this is a reflection of my preferences and not this ship. But it's something to consider if planning to take a cruise.
The British are coming: Finally, everyone was amazed to find about a third of the passengers (maybe more) being from the UK. Chatting with them we learned that Oceania had been publicizing the cruise heavily in the UK and offering outstanding discounted fares. Several of the Americans we met were discussing the fact that the Brits paid less than we did. I understand marketing, but this left us, and several of our fellow American passengers, with a slightly bitter taste.
Having noted these few negatives, I want to conclude by reiterating that overall we thoroughly enjoyed the ship, its people, and the cruise itself. If we are to take another ship cruise in the future, we will certainly consider Oceania once more.