This was our first cruise on Oceania. We were looking forward to the newness of the ship, the length of the itinerary, and the warmth of the Caribbean!
The ship is gorgeous and very tastefully decorated, a dramatic difference from Holland America, and less clubby than Azamara (Journey), which were the only other lines that we had to compare with Oceania. We were excited to spend fourteen days on board.
However, if you adore star-gazing into the Caribbean night sky as much as I do, you would have been disappointed to find an overhang blocking our view from our Penthouse suite on Deck 11. If we are fortunate enough to set sail on Rivera again, I would only consider Deck 12 or one of the PH class staterooms in the aft of the ship on Deck 7, which have a more favorable view of the sky. As a matter of fact, I did catch a peek from the balcony of the Oceania Suite on Deck 12, as I had met a couple in the Internet Lounge who offered to give me a tour while we were chatting (thanks, Frank and Suzanne!)
I vowed to set that little disappointment aside, and the remainder of our stateroom was attractive, well-equipped and comfortable. Storage, storage, storage ... almost too much, as I found myself backtracking through empty drawers and cabinets when I misplaced something. The walk-in closet was a dream, and the bathroom well-appointed. We were already prepared for the small-ish shower from previous reviews but it was plenty comfortable, especially with rain shower head. We loved the Bvlgari toiletries but suggested in our post-cruise survey that for a fourteen day cruise, full size bottles would produce less waste. Another comment for the cruise line about the reams of paper that appeared in the stateroom day after day: Why not take after Holland America and put a recycle bin next to the waste bin in each room? (Go green!)
We promptly were greeted by our butler Pio and room steward Eniko. Pio was a nice enough fellow, but we consider ourselves fairly self-sufficient and aren't really "butler" people. I can only RAVE about Eniko. She was pleasant, efficient, and it was a joy to have her take care of our room throughout our stay, including ensuring that the water in our massive flower arrangement (a gift from me to me) was changed daily. I have to add that it was a nice touch to see an impromptu floral shop set up in the lobby on the 1st day @ sea. I selected my own arrangement of star-gazer lilies and Delphinium, and they lasted the duration of the cruise.
I was also surprised at the quality of internet service on board ship. Lest my husband miss an email or a hockey score, we purchased the unlimited package @ $21.99 per day), and except for an unfortunate 36 hour unplanned outage, we easily connected with no issue from my husband's iPad for the duration of the trip. (Being in the IT industry myself, I felt a great deal of empathy for the poor fellow manning the Internet Lounge during the outage. People were not happy.)
The specialty restaurants were all wonderful, but some of the highlights were the pumpkin soup at Jacques, the desserts at Polo Grille, the baguette bread at the Terrace Cafe and Jacques, the spicy shrimp appetizer at Red Ginger, and just about everything else at Red Ginger, for that matter. We only ate at the Main Dining Room one time, opting for al fresco dining at the Terrace Cafe for all breakfasts and most dinners. Having escaped the 20 degree cold of Western New York, it was always a delight to dine outside. For added ambiance, however, we brought along our flameless votive candles for dining after dark. (Another suggestion for the cruise line . . . why not have rechargeable candles outside for nighttime dining?) I hesitate to call the Terrace Cafe a buffet (or "boo-fay", as we heard it called). I would suggest that it be referred to as high end food stations, with much of the food cooked to order. Grilled Lobster, grilled fish, pastas, meats carved to order, hand tossed Caesar salads, fresh fruit, sushi, cheeses and meats, and the list goes on. One of my favorite light meals was a glass (or two) of red wine, bread, and blue cheese with a drizzle of honey.
We attended three onboard cooking classes and thoroughly enjoyed every dish we prepared (and sampled) under the direction of Executive Chef Kathryn Kelly. The mood was light (and the wine was flowing), and with two person teams, there was plenty of hands-on time for everyone. All of the dirty dishes are magically whisked away and washed by someone other than yourselves. What could be better than that? We pan-fried, sauteed, poached, grav loxed and sauced our way to heaven. We learned new techniques and recipes that we have already adopted at home. (Who would have ever thought that pan seared prosciutto wrapped prunes stuffed with blue cheese and walnut would be such a hit at a dinner party?) For future cruises, I am hoping that they find local venues in the Carribean to incorporate the shopping and cooking excursions that are prevalent on some of the other itineraries.
We decided to take ample advantage of the Spa Terrace and Canyon Ranch Spa and with only a minor exception, can say that service and services were terrific (it would be nice to have drink service out there, however, and people did bring their own cocktails despite the Spa's no alcohol policy). During our two weeks on board, I partook in a facial, multiple massages, manicure and pedicure. After his first massage my husband declared Louise the best massage therapist he had ever encountered. He specifically booked his 2nd appointment with her, only to find that they had switched therapists when he arrived at his second visit. Although the staff was able to book an appointment later in the day to accommodate Louise's change in availability, he felt that the front desk at the spa handled the incident badly and without apology for what was clearly their problem (all he wanted to hear was "I'm sorry" . . . would that have been so difficult?)
The artist in residence at the Artist Loft during our cruise worked with paper in a crafty sort of way. I was surprised to enjoy my sessions as much as I did, but only had time to attend twice. There was just too much other stuff to do!
Having traveled to the Caribbean on several other occasions, we were feeling comfortable enough to go off-grid and plan some of our own shore excursions. On Curacao, we met up with local resident Clarita Hagenaar who conducts culinary walking tours of her beloved island. A travel agent and KLM steward in a previous life, she conducts herself professionally but is playful, knowledgeable, and incredibly personable. We found ourselves sampling street food that we would have never tried on our own, including kala (made with black eyed peas and habanero pepers deep fried like a donut), tentalaria di kashew and tentalaria di pinda (sweets made of cashew nuts and peanuts), boiled peanuts (not my favorite thing), and goat curry and plantains served in the open air Old Market with fabulous onion and habenero relish. Our tour included stops at the floating market, New Market, Old Market, Parliament, the fort, the synagogue and museum (fascinating!) as well as a couple of stops not on her normal itinerary. We felt like, and were treated like, an extended member of her family. Thank you, Clarita!
In Greneda, we hopped on a water taxi to Grand Anse Beach, right outside of the cruise port terminal. For an $8 round trip, it was a huge bargain, but you'll need to be prepared to fend off beach vendors and other relentless fellows who offer to deliver drinks or lunch to your beach chair all day. They were very friendly, persistent, and did take no for an answer (as well as a dollar) if you were direct with them. There were mostly locals on the beach, an outdoor market for a little light shopping, as well as casual or sit-down dining for lunch. A terrific way to spend the day on Grenada. Absolutely gorgeous.
In St. Lucia, we connected with Spencer Ambrose Tours for snorkeling at Sugar Bay (formerly Jalousie Island), and were thrilled to find that we were only a party of six that day. Because Spencer's staff knows that the snorkeling site can get quite busy with other tour operators later in the day, they whisked us there first thing in the morning. The the water was clear and the fish were abundant (compared to later in the day, with close to 50 other people in the water). Our tour included a locally prepared lunch and was well worth the $85 per person charge.
Our goal in Barbados was to celebrate my husband's birthday in style, so I treated him to lunch at Sandy Lane while we were in port. We were treated like royalty (but is was uber expensive!)
The options offered in St. Barth's didn't interest us, so we opted for some walking and shopping. We had previously gone on the ATV Tour with Azamara and it is a fun way to see the island.
For other shore excursions we stuck with the cruise line, knowing that although we would be paying a premium, there would be no risk of not getting back aboard on time. I believe that the quality of the excursions vary by island, so you are definitely taking a chance but I don't fault the cruise line for a less than spectacular shore excursion. In Aruba, I took a scuba excursion and would definitely recommend this for beginners. Our group felt safe at all times with two guides and two additional people onboard the boat looking after us. In Antigua and St. Vincent we took excursions on catamarans. Both trips were well run but the stop for snorkeling on Bequia (Antigua) was risky since the wave action was fierce that day (certainly not the cruise line's fault).
We are early risers and only took advantage of the evening entertainment one time (didn't begin until 9:30), so I won't comment on the quality.
Disembarkation was the area with room for most improvement, probably due to the crowd of 1,200 people, many of which not willing or able to follow instructions of when to line up to leave the ship. It was an entirely different experience from our trip last year from Barbados to Miami on Azamara Journey, where senior staff members were at the gangway to say one final goodbye. Ship's officers were not in evidence as far as I could tell, and not even the people who swiped our card for one last time as we stepped off board said goodbye. It was an awkward end to a wonderful trip.
One final thought for the Port of Miami is that many senior citizens (not us) would have benefitted from Porter assistance once luggage was gathered. I felt that some people were left struggling. I guess it pays to pack light.
Overall, I would describe this vacation as a dream vacation if you like to leave the cold weather in early March behind and spend two weeks island hopping. It was two weeks well spent!