My wife and I decided to go on a cruise to Alaska to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary, so the first question was, which cruise line? I know someone very high up at Disney Cruise Lines and was looking for a specific date and a limited number of children, since we were looking for a more relaxed vacation and one that was considered a luxury line. He recommended Crystal, Regent or Oceania. After looking into the specific dates we had in mind, we decided upon Oceania and the Regatta.
Having only cruised on large ships (Carnival and Royal Carribean)I was looking forward to see what the differences would be by dropping from 3,000 to 650. They were vast! Due to the limited availability, even though we booked in Feb., our only option was the Concierge level. We flew into Seattle, took a cab to the pier, and it were ushered to the front of the line with no wait to check aboard. The process on Carnival took almost an hour. Since we flew all day (after a very early rise) from Orlando to Seattle, we were hoping for a relaxing check in and no one hounding us for photo ops, selling us drinks, etc. Unlike Carnival, you do not have photographers running around snapping your picture to put up on the "wall of fame" and then trying to sell you add ons. While Oceana is not all-inclusive, most of the little things we wanted came with the room. Our room was 215 sq ft, with a very comfortable bed, verandah, refrigerator stocked with water and sodas free of charge, and there was a free tote bag and bottle of champagne waiting for us.
There are two specialty restuarants onboard, the Polo Grill and the Toscana. Since we were on the conciege level, we could reserve two meals in each dining room. Both were fantastic! Our first dinner in the Polo Grill, we were right up against the window looking out from the 9th level over the ocean. An unbelievable view. Our servers were very personable and interactive. I read a critique questioning why they served Maryland Crab Cakes, New England Clam Chowder, a full Maine Lobster, etc. when the ship was in Alaska. Yes, it was true, but they also had the catch of the day, from that port, which was a tasty red salmon. I was a food service office in the Navy and graduated from the Naval Academy, so I am familiar with both the service and quality of food side of things. Having lived in Annapolis, MD for 6 years, I can attest that the crab cakes were outstanding and a healthy portion. I tried a soup each time we dined and the Clam chowder was better. My wife ordered the filet mignon and she asked for it medium well and it came out medium rare. We brought it to the attention of the manager, who was very attentive all evening and it was quickly whisked away and returned in perfect order. While they didn't need to, after our meal, the manager brought the chef out and he apoligized for it being undercooked. The garlic mash potatoes are to die for and my wife loved the seven layer chocolate cake. I had a dessert the second time we dined there and my wife was too full. The waiter offered to have her dessert delivered to our room and had a second one of my choosing delivered as well so we could enjoy them later in the evening. There is an extensive wine list and if you can't finish it off, they will keep it for you until you dine again.
The Toscana was excellent as well and quite the experience as a myriad of breads were brought out along with an olive oil and balsamic vinegarette menu with ten of each to choose from. So many options and everything we tried was outstanding. Again the staff were very interactive and it was fun to chat about their heritage and common experiences from my having been to Italy and Sicily. The manager spent about 10 minutes chatting with us at our table.
We only ate at the Grand Dining Room one evening and it was fine, but it seemed more congested and we decided we wanted a more laid back place for our breakfasts, lunches and other dinners, so we ate at the Terrace Cafe'. The Cafe had great views and dining inside or outside. The manager and staff were very attentive and interactive. If you are a sushi lover, they had a chef making it all evening. There were various theme nights, Mexican, Italian, Seafood, but regardless, the quality and innovation of the items was top-notch. I did note that unlike Carnival, where you served yourself, the Regatta had servers to put every item you pointed to on your plate for you. In some sense it seemed like portion control, but I appreciated the cleanliness. There was a vast different in the desserts from the large cruise ships I have been on. Finally, we ate at Waves out by the pool serveral times for lunch and had choices of burgers with all the toppings, panninis,etc. Very good.
As far as ports and excursions, I booked all of the excursions myself directly from websites and saved at least 40%. We saw many of our fellow passengers on board. The first night we cruised the inside passageway and then arrived the next day at Ketchikan. I had read a lot of positive reviews about "The Deadliest Catch," boat excursion, so we took that and were very pleased. The Captain of the ship sat behind us as we got onboard and found our seats and we had a nice conversation prior to heading out. He was on passed TV episodes, as were the two deck hands, who ran most of the presentations and told great stories of life in the Bering Sea. They pulled up several crab cages of varying types with Alaskan King Crab, Dungeoness Crab, various fish, and star fish, which they put in the water tank in front of the audience and let everyone handle them. We also trolled along an Native Alaskan Indian Island and watched them toss out fish to dozens of waiting Bald Eagles, as they swooped in and grabbed the fish right in front of us. Very fun and informative tour. Another tour that we heard from friends was the highlight of their trip was the sea plane trip.
In Juneau we had another great excursion. We booked the helicopter ride to the top of Mendenhall Glacier, where we visited 280 Alaskan Huskies for a dogsled ride. The staff that live up there all summer were very informative and the 2 mile ride was a blast. Our guide had completed the Iditarod for the first time. Very cool and while expensive (even directly), it was well worth it.
We next cruised up to Hubbard Glacier and unfortunately couldn't get closer than 7 miles, due to the ice flow in the water. It was impressive from that distance and the weather was perfect for viewing. We made the turn and headed to Icy Strait Point (Hoonah), which is a small town of only 750 people. Ther previous ports were with the larger cruise ships, but the rest, except for Victoria, we were on our own. We went on a whale watching tour with Capt. Paul Comolli of Hoonah Whale Watching. Paul was an awesome guide and never stopped talking. We saw whales, sea lions and otters and also got a lesson on life in the remote areas of Alaska.
Next we went to Sitka, which was a fun port. Great shops that weren't too touristy. We went into a local coffee shop, Highliner Coffee, for a very good cup of joe and met a local man running for a tribal government position, who talked about the finer points of Sitka. I also had a great craft beer at the Bayview Pub along the waterfront. Free wifi at the public library let us check up on things back home and post to Facebook.
Wrangell was our next stop and was probably the only dissapointing port of call. It's obvious they are new to the cruise ship game and need a Mayor with some forsight into how to market the town. It has a lot of potential, but definately isn't there yet. If you are headed here, sign up for the "Bears of Ana" ASAP! They only allow 60 people a day into this remote, island, habitat and you get to watch grizzly bears and black bears, in the wild, pawing salmon out of streams. I thought it was going to be a zoo and didn't sign up and by the time we got into port it was too late. Otherwise, take a long walk to work up an appetite. My wife and I did watch some sea lions play in the inlet as we worked out in the gym onboard.
Our last port was Victoria, Canada and that was a lot of fun. We pulled in early and head until 10 pm that night. There are great stores to visit downtown. We didn't want to do an excursion, so we took a bus downtown for $10 and then took a double decker bus ride around town that gave some informative information, and allowed 6 different stops to 'hop on and hop off.' We got off the bus at the Oak Bay Village stop and had a local beer at the Penny Farthing Pub, which was very quaint.
The entertainment onboard was very enjoyable. The four singers weren't the best in the world, but their shows were decent. My cup of tea were the comedic magician and the Noodles Levenstein (the comedian). Greg the magician had two hilarious shows and he also had 3 periods where about 25 people showed up and he taught magic tricks. Other entertainment included the four singers running various games and competition onboard for "O Points." My wife and I played table tennis daily and both won numerous times. Once, the head of the Canyon River Spa came down and we were paired up to play. When I stepped up I said, "If I win, how about a free massage." He replied, "I'll do 50% off, mate" (he was Australian). 10 minutes later, I had won a close match and said,"I'll send my wife up in an hour!" O points can be turned in for Oceania gear at the end of the ship, so I turned ours in for a free shirt and ball cap.
Afternoon high tea was also enjoyable from 4-5 pm, with luscious desserts and assorted teas. I liked the fact that there were no "dress up" nights. If you went to the specialty dining rooms you wore slacks and a collered shirt, but otherwise everyone wore jeans, shorts or resort casual clothing. On the second night they had the Captain's reception, which we went to one of the other, of three rooms, for the open bar from 6-8 pm on all drinks free of charge. A nice touch.
Summary: I will definately be back to Oceania again. We found no flaws in our experience and definately find that with cruise ships, 'smaller IS BETTER!"