Beautiful new ship. We really liked both the Artist's Loft and Culinary Center. The library was fantastic. Lots of food choices in beautiful restaurants, but the food quality and service were inconsistent. Overall, although there were minor issues along the way, we really enjoyed this cruise.
----- Ship Review -----
Embarkation/Disembarkation. The cruise lines seem have this down pat in Miami. We took an 11:00 am shuttle van from the Embassy Suites MIA with a lot of other cruise passengers going to several ships. TIP: This was part of a cruise package rate we booked directly with Embassy Suites which added only $10 per person extra for the van service. Inprocessing was quick and easy. No welcome champagne. We toured and photographed the ship for a couple of hours and then sat down for lunch at Waves Grill. Cabins were opened in order of priority. Large suites were open shortly after 1:00 pm. Everything was open by 2:00 pm. Disembarkation was scheduled to begin at 8:00 am, which is when they wanted everybody out of the cabins. The announcement to begin disembarkation came at about 7:40. We walked off at 8:00 when they were already calling the second group. We were in a cab and on our way to the airport 20 minutes later. Two important TIPS. First, you can get limited room service breakfast on disembarkation day. That was much more convenient than trying to get to a breakfast venue and back to the room. Second, I can't figure out why anybody would spend $69 per person for a bus transfer to the airport when you can get a cab for two for $26 plus tip!
Ship. Still new and absolutely beautiful This larger "O" class ship pays homage to its smaller sisters. I instantly fell in love with this ship's layout and design. Having sailed on the R-class ships of Azamara and Oceania, we were pleased to see that Riveria is basically a large version of an R-class ship with several improvements. Many of the public spaces were in the same places, but slightly larger. We immediately felt at home and were really impressed with some of the changes. One of the things I liked best about this ship is the plethora of quiet places to "hide out." Tops on that list is the library. It has the best selection of books we have seen at sea. Although my wife prefers the sunnier R-class library, I really liked the more intimate spaces of this ship with comfortable leather chairs and lots of reading alcoves. Just around the corner is the coffee bar that overlooks the pool and has some other nice cozy sitting areas. The computer center is near the library and very well equipped. So what if the art isn't everybody's taste. There is a wide variety on the ship--some you will like, some you won't. The biggest negative is that the ship often felt crowded. Waves Grill was often crowded since it is the only venue open for food in the late afternoon. The tables are so tight that you often have difficulty getting into your chair. The Riviera Lounge was "standing room only" for a few of the shows.
Service. Good for the most part, but not top of the line. About halfway through the cruise we found a waiter who impressed us in the main dining room. We asked to be seated in his section from then on. Service in Red Ginger was top notch. There were a few missteps (lunch waiters in the main dining room couldn't keep the orders straight) and missing service (concierge in the lounge). Some of the amenities of the luxury lines, like cold towels and water and juice at the gangway were missing. Sometimes the staff seemed to be overworked. Other times the staff seemed to be working at about 90% of what was needed to get the job done.
Clientele. Most people we met were very experienced cruisers and most had sailed Oceania before. The clientele was older than we expected. We are in our early 50's and we felt like the young'uns on this cruise. This is not a ship for kids, as evidenced by the detailed ship models in the library.
Cabin. 9th Deck, Concierge Class Veranda. As far as we could tell, there were only two things that made Concierge Class different--access to the Concierge Lounge and unlimited access to the private spa areas. The concierge that occasionally manned the lounge was not an added benefit. He didn't seem to be able to help anybody in any way. The orange juice and tea were nice, but we got tired of the same old cookies. They really need to provide a variety of good canapes in the afternoon. We got spoiled with excellent canapes delivered to our penthouse stateroom on our last Oceania cruise. Having some in the concierge lounge during the afternoon would be a more cost effective way to deliver those treats to guests and help to make the lounge a true perk of the class. We did not take advantage of the private spa area and thalassotherapy pool as much as we wanted to, but we felt that perk alone is probably worth the upgrade price. The cabin itself had a lot of squeaks and creaks. After two nights of a thumping balcony door, a report to engineering fixed it. (We wished we had reported it earlier!) The cabin itself was average. The closet was small. We liked some of what we understand are upgrades on the Riveria from its sister ship Marina, such as plugs on the nightstands for charging all the electronics we tend to carry these days. We never used the bathtub and feel like that space could be better used in larger shower and closet space. The biggest disappointment of the cruise was housekeeping. The cabin was not very well cleaned when we arrived and never improved. We were shocked that this and our previous Oceania cruise had the worst cabin cleanliness of any of our 13 cruises so far.
Entertainment. The larger stage of Riveria allows slightly larger production shows than its smaller siblings. Although my wife really enjoyed the entertainment, I was not very impressed with the singers or dancers. It was something to do in the evening after dinner, but I was not disappointed if we missed part or all of a show.
Enrichment activities: The guest speaker was interesting, but read from her script. The Artist's Loft and Culinary Center are unique and fun offerings. You can spend some time every day in the Artist's Loft, if you want. TIP: Book early for the Culinary Center. Popular classes fill up fast and seating is limited. The small fee is well worth the experience. Many of the activities we wanted to attend were during the mornings of the sea days. While this clientele may like to get up early in the morning, we needed the relaxation of sleeping in and missed a lot of what was offered.
Food. The quality of the ingredients was outstanding. Clearly Oceania is focusing a good portion of their budget on food. For example, a surf and turf (lobster and filet) sandwich is available at the Waves Grill. But the best word to describe the preparation is "inconsistent". Some things were outstanding while others were marginal. For example, we loved the appetizers in Toscana, but the main courses were a disappointment. We did like the variety of dining venues and ate in every one, including the "buffet that doesn't feel like a buffet" during dinner. We were a bit frustrated by the lack of food at certain times of the day, with the only option being room service. If you are sleeping in and miss breakfast, you will have to wait until everything is reset to get lunch. If you get back in the afternoon from your day ashore, there are no quick snacks to hold you over until dinner. (See my comments about canapes above.) This ship is large enough to have something like a small sushi or sandwich bar to meet that late afternoon hunger need.
Dress code. Most people understood "country club casual" with many people dressing up only slightly with jackets and some ties in the evening. You can also be perfectly comfortable in a nice polo or short sleeved dress shirt. However, the Nike workout shirt was not appropriate in the main dining room!
Internet. Wireless worked pretty well in the cabin, but at 99 cents a minute it was more expensive than many other cruise lines and there were no good package options for me. The one fixed minutes package was twice the minutes I needed ($160 for 200 minutes). The unlimited deal was way overpriced ($25 per day = $250), unless you plan to spend a lot of time (more than 25 minutes per day) online during your cruise. TIP: For the best package value, buy a package at the end of day 2 or start of day 3. You will get a 10% discount on either package and you won't pay the daily rate for the days you didn't use.
Spa & Fitness Center. Fitness center was well equipped and often packed. The studio was nice, but the classes cost extra. We like the private lounge area with the thalassotherapy pool that comes with concierge class and above. TIP: This area is at the front of the ship, so it is windy during the sea days. We should have made time to enjoy the area during port days.
Gift Shops. Excellent. Lots of upscale products with a wide selection of nice clothing that you might actually wear on the cruise. Don't expect any specials or "bazaar days."
Smoking. There are only two smoking areas on the ship. One is by the pool deck and the other is a partially glassed in area of Horizons lounge. The problem is that they are not as well ventilated as they could be and the smoke sometimes wafts down the stairwells. While the glass partitions in Horizons are a huge improvement over other lines that have open smoking areas in the lounge, it already smells a bit like old smoke. Fully enclosing the smoking area with proper ventilation would enhance the enjoyment of Horizons by its non-smoking guests.
In summary, Oceania provides an upscale cruise experience. This was a beautiful ship and we really enjoyed ourselves. You pay more than the mass market lines, but they also include more--like sodas at meals and in your rooms, and cold water to take on shore excursions. The quality of the food ingredients is also top notch, with lobster seemingly available everywhere. There is no charge for the specialty restaurants, but there are a few exclusive venues (La Reserve and Privee) that do have fees. It is nice to feel like you are not being nickeled and dimed along the way, but you already paid for those benefits. If you want a real luxury cruise experience where you feel truly pampered and every need is not just met, but anticipated, you will have to pay more for a true luxury line. In a way, I feel like Oceania marketing sets expectations so high that they have a difficult time meeting them. They do a good job providing service at the "premium" level to their loyal repeat customers who know what to expect. If you want true "luxury" level cruising, you will need to look elsewhere and expect to pay more.
----- Port Review -----
We really liked this 10-night itinerary because it provided 2 days up front to relax, 5 ports in the middle, and another 2 days to relax on the back side. This itinerary of Caribbean islands provided a lot of variety. The selection of shore excursions was limited and mostly geared to the older clientele of the ship.
Tortola -- I dove the Rhone wreck. My wife enjoyed a tour of the island. There's a nice spice store within walking distance of the port.
Antigua -- Last time we were in Antigua we did a Segway tour which we really enjoyed. Unfortunately, the only Segway tour available was a duplicate of what we had already done and we couldn't arrange to do something different. We just walked around town, which was pretty quiet on Sunday. We visited St. John's cathedral on the hill. We found it closed for renovation and we were very disappointed to see it in such disrepair.
Barbados -- We were planning a private tour with Glory Tours, but were advised the day before we arrived that they could not accommodate us. So we rented a car with friends we met at the Cruise Critic Meet and Greet and braved driving the island on the left side of the road. We saw the Earth Works pottery factory and batik studio, Welchman Hall outlook, Harrison Cave, Morgan Lewis Mill, and St. Nicholas Abbey. It was a great day.
St. Lucia -- We took the Land and Sea to Soufriere shore excursion. It was a bus tour to the area near the Pitons and a catamaran ride back to the ship. The bus segment was a standard shore excursion tour with a stop at a fishing village (with lots of shopping stalls) and a botanical garden before we arrived at the Morne Coubaril Estate for lunch. We were supposed to go to the sulfur springs, but that part of the tour was cancelled because of road construction. I was really looking forward to the catamaran part, but it was disappointing. There was not much shade on the catamaran and the drink offerings were minimal. We stopped to swim in a cove that was crowded with other tourist boats and lots of locals trying to sell trinkets. TIP: Take your own snorkeling equipment if you want to snorkel during that stop. Since we were just motoring and never put the sails up, it was not as relaxing as I had hoped it would be.
St. Barts -- Our only tender port. We walked into town and visited Shell Beach. The town has a definite European feel, but everything is very expensive. Looking at the megayachts in port was fun. TIP: There are brand name rental car options at the tender dock and I will rent a car next time we go.