The itinerary for this cruise was one we had wanted to do for a long time -- Western Caribbean or more precisely the Yucatan Peninsula and its Mayan ruins. We had never been to this part of the world before and were originally booked in a Penthouse suite on the Regent Seven Seas Navigator on the identical itinerary and were on the point of requesting we be moved to a Navigator Suite, which we had had before. Our last cruise with Regent had been somewhat of a disappointment and so we made the brave (!!) decision to change cruise lines after many cruises with Regent. We thought that the risk was minimal... sister company, same itinerary and we were really attracted by all we had seen and read about the Riviera as a brand new and very well designed ship. For less than the price of the suite on the Navigator we were able to reserve an Oceania Suite on the Riviera, add in a "drinks package" and even when we added in the excursions we wanted and the Internet Package we still saved money. The gratuities package was offered by our Travel Agent.
We flew from Switzerland to Miami via London on British Airways. We flew Business Class and were pleased with the service, food and general level of comfort. For the few days we had in Miami prior to the cruise we stayed with an old friend who, very kindly, drove us to the Port of Miami to board our ship.
Embarkation was sublimely easy! We are used to the tortuous process of embarking at Port Everglades on Regent where, in I believe 4 cruises, the computer links between the shore and ship broke down each time and where we were relegated to a terminal that was dual use -- cargo in the week, cruises on the weekends -- and in a state of general disrepair. By contrast the dedicated Oceania/Regent terminal at Miami is a joy! It is easy to reach, freshly painted, has more than adequate waiting areas, nice plants around etc. Our friend dropped us at 10.50 (we had been told to board at 11.00) and our suitcases were whisked away, we were shown to the waiting area, asked to complete the health questionnaire, and given a card with a number on it and asked to have a seat. Once seated I looked at the number -- "1". Given that there were about 100 people already waiting my first reaction was that all of them were also "1" and that we would then be asked to queue to register and board. Then I noticed 3 lines, marked off by ropes and by carpeting. And very promptly at 11.00 our number was called. There were at least 10 desks open and without any wait at all we were shown to one of them.
After the normal formalities the person at the desk gave us a letter from the GM and said "This tells you when your suite will be ready..." and then, looking at it, said "Actually it is ready now". We were shocked! On Regent you board at noon, or thereabouts (actually usually later!) and no suite is ready till 2.30pm. We thanked her and moved on to the ship. We were stunned by the beauty of the Riviera as we made our way to Deck 12 and our suite. Lovely, lovely sculptures everywhere! Everything was so fresh and new (to be expected since she came into service less than a year ago!). And there was also a terrific feeling of space about the ship. A string quartet was playing classical music in the Atrium as we boarded.
Our Oceania suite was amazing. A large sitting room with well defined dining area, even a wet bar with 4 litre bottles of gin, whiskey, rum and vodka, plus mixers in the fridge, a bottle of red and of white wine and a bottle of Perrier-Jout champagne on ice in the cooler. (My first thought -- why did we get the drinks package?!!) The bedroom was very nice. Flat screen TV, dressing table, good lighting, hot tub on the veranda outside direct access from the bedroom. A King size bed with duvet and lots of pillows. Enough room around the bed so that the room did not seem crowded. There was a huge walk in closet off the hallway to the bathroom. (Great improvement on the "walk through" closet we experienced in our Seven Seas Aft suite on the Mariner last April). Plenty of drawers, oodles of handing space, a safe etc. The Master bathroom (the suite has two full baths) was breathtaking! Lovely mosaic tile floor. Two sinks in a long "vanity" with two proper medicine cabinets above and several drawers under each sink. A large, separate shower and a bidet. And -- piÃ¨ce de resistance! -- a Jacuzzi bath which looked (and was!) enormous. There were Bulgari toiletries in both bathrooms and a huge "gift box" of these next to my sink as well. It was marvellous having the two bathrooms especially when we were getting ready to go for dinner in the evenings.
Shortly after we finished our inspection visit our Butler appeared. Churchill Dias was the best butler we have ever had, and after Pritham on the Mariner in 2008 I never ever thought I would find someone better!! He anticipated our every need. He made excellent suggestions as to things to do, dishes to order in the restaurants etc, and really added to the pleasure we had on the cruise. Our Stewardess was Mayra, a lovely Honduran woman, who could not have been better (and we found out later that she has been with the company since it was started ten years ago!). A small thing - Oceania has a very nice approach to name tags...all staff wear one of course and it gives their name but also their home country. So it makes it really easy to strike up a conversation with someone based on where they are from. Between Churchill and Mayra we were well looked after indeed! Our luggage arrived sometime while we were at the Wave Grill eating lunch.
The Restaurants - As guests in the Oceania suite we had been able to make two reservations per "specialty" restaurant and so in the first 4 nights we ate at the Polo Grill, Jacques, Toscana and Red Ginger. We then ate at all but Toscana again before the end of the cruise. A general comment about all the restaurants on board: Service was uniformly excellent and extremely friendly. Choices were substantial. We never had a problem getting a table for two, no matter when we went to a restaurant. The choice of wines by the glass was large. I would say at least 8 of each...We quickly found our favourites! Finally the coffee everywhere, not just at Barista's, was very drinkable. Even the "American" coffee which I generally dislike. I mention this because on several Regent cruises the coffee has been what we call here in Switzerland "dish water" and totally undrinkable. Even the espresso at la Veranda has been substandard. Not so on the Riviera.
Polo Grill -- we live in Switzerland and are "beef starved" so the Prime Rib at the Polo Grill was an amazing treat. The service was extremely good, as in all the restaurants and the choices excellent. The plates were beautifully presented and both the plates and the food was hot. I mention this because on our last cruise on the Mariner we had a consistent problem of poor presentation and congealed sauces on plates! On our second visit to the Polo Grill we both opted for the lobster. It was very tasty and moist and having the waiter take the lobster out of the shell at the tableside is pure luxury. No need to fight the lobster to be able to eat it!!
Jacques -- we love French food and especially "country" food so Jacques was perfect for us. I had not heard much about Jacques Pepin who isn't well know here in Switzerland, but he clearly knows how to design a menu. There were plenty of choices and everything we had was good -- but the best for me anyway, was the Cassoulet...
Toscana -- Although the choices on the menu were very varied this was the restaurant we liked the least. Portions were way too large for us and it was not possible to finish them. Based on comments I had read on CC I opted for the veal which was good, but really big! Later on in the cruise I spoke with the GM, Thierry Tholon about Toscana and he said that many people had the same opinion and that he was trying to get the chef there to "lighten up" a bit! Based on our meal there, we decided to cancel our second reservation.
Red Ginger -- The star of the show! This is quite simply the most beautiful restaurant I have ever seen, on land or at sea and the food is too! The Avocado and Lobster salad is to die for! I had it both times that we ate in the restaurant and ordered it for a dinner in our suite one evening. I would happily eat this every evening if I could. The Miso Glazed Sea Bass IS all people say it is -- totally yummy! -- and the Tempura Sole is fabulous. Oceania has succeeded in creating a wonderful Asian restaurant with Red Ginger and they should be proud of their achievement!
Waves Grill -- We ate lunch here often and indulged ourselves with excellent hamburgers, which we cannot get at home! Waves has a salad buffet, a super ice cream bar and like all the other restaurants extremely good service.
The Grand Restaurant -- Since we had so many specialty restaurant reservations we only ate dinner here once but had breakfast and lunch here several times. The breakfast service was really excellent... we are used to extremely slow service in Regent's Compass Rose at breakfast and have always wondered why this is. So I suppose we were shocked and delighted at the relative speed with which we were served and with which our hot breakfasts arrived in the Grand Restaurant! The lunch menu is comprehensive and whether one wants a salad or a sandwich or a hot meal there is plenty to choose from. The evening we ate there one of the choices was Chteaubriand with Bearnaise sauce, which we both had, and which was totally delicious!
La Reserve and Privee -- We do not much care for "wine pairing" menus nor for eating with people we have not met so we opted out of la Reserve. Privee had no attraction for us either, since we were travelling alone... I understand that Privee may well disappear after the first drydock...
The Terrace -- This is the self service restaurant, and it has a delightful outside eating area on the fantail of the ship. We ate breakfast and lunch there regularly, and had dinner there twice. (In fact one of the reasons we cancelled our second dinner at Toscana was that The Terrace Grill at night was SO good we really couldn't wait to eat there again!!) There are many food stations set up around the service area, including a sushi station with someone making sushi!! Big difference from la Veranda on Regent -- you are served at each station. It is not self-service and the result is a much more elegant plate of food and a far greater level of hygiene. This took a bit of getting used to for us at first -- we wondered why all the serving spoons had their handles towards the staff member! But we quickly got used to it and also came to appreciate that since a real live person was in charge of each station, dishes that should be hot were hot, cold were cold and anything running low was quickly replaced. There were no queues at all either which is quite remarkable. And we never had a problem getting a table for two either! The Grill at night had all sorts of meat which was really grilled on an induction grill AND lobster tails were also on offer at this grill. We just loved it.
There are bars and lounges all over the ship, and our favourite was Horizons where an elegant afternoon tea was served (pastries and sandwiches passed by white-gloved waiters) to the sounds of the String Quartet. We usually had a Calvados up there right after dinner as well. It is a lovely, lovely place with a great view during the daytime! It also has a smoking section which is well sectioned off and partially glassed in. I was not bothered by the smell of smoke from it once, even when we sat quite close to it.
We only participated in two excursions. We don't like beaches much anymore, and have never been great snorkel or scuba fans. We are, on the other hand, very interested in history and architecture and were delighted with our two excursions to the Mayan pyramids. One, in Belize, also involved an hour long (each way) cruise on the New River. We had excellent guides on both excursions and the boat captain on the river cruise was incredible at spotting wildlife (there was a lot!), stopping the boat and explaining about what we were seeing. We had planned a third excursion in Honduras which would have been a semi-submersible submarine ride to a reef but the port was cancelled due to a storm. My impression was that the Destination Services Team was doing an excellent job getting people off the ship and onto the buses etc for the excursions. On board we used the putting green and golf nets quite a bit -- there is an 18 hole putting green which is not very easy at all! We also attended two lectures on the Mayans which were very informative. I took three cooking classes at the Bon Appetit Culinary Centre and enjoyed all of them. The Centre is extremely well set up and maybe the only negative comment I have is that you are expected to eat everything you cook which, when you are about to have dinner an hour or so later, is more than slightly difficult!! Classes lasted 2 hours and you cook in pairs. I also had two Spa Appointments... the Spa is lovely with huge windows and so great views! The Spa Terrace looked very nice but by the time we decided to try it out the weather changed so we didn't! It has a large Thalassotherapy salt water pool and lots of dual chaises longues.
Our general feeling about the cruise, the ship and the company was one of overall excellence. On top of that the Oceania crew, from the top to the bottom, have a real "family" feeling about them. We have to compare our experience on board Riviera with our previous cruises on Regent's Mariner, Voyager and Navigator and if I had to say which one was the most "up market" or "luxurious" in all respects it would have to be Oceania. We were frequently called by name by crew members -- I suppose having to give our suite key when we ordered drinks facilitates this -- and this has rarely happened to us on Regent. Things seemed to run effortlessly on board -- which means that a lot of people are working very, very hard to make it feel so. We quite simply cannot wait for our next Oceania cruise...