Kudos for Oceania for really delivering on the promise of a "no hassle" cruise experience. Aboard Riviera, you dine when you like, embark and disembark without (significant) line-ups (including at ports), and experience a minimum of announcements and hassles. Unlike other ships we have cruised, we were not reminded from about day 3 that we would eventually have to leave; all "administrative details" and interruptions of our vacation were kept to a minimum. Both my husband and I really appreciate this style, and feel that Oceania does it remarkably well.
The activities are available if you want them, but you are not pressured to participate and your relaxation isn't interrupted by them (eg. no "pool volleyball" etc). The environment really does reflect the "country club" idea, from relaxed (but not sloppy) dress code to the general sense that one is treated as an adult and not a kid on spring break. Incidentally, there were few actual kids and those few seemed to be well supervised.
Travel and hotel: we arranged independently since the O air service could not deliver a direct flight. Great hotel in Istanbul (Pera Palace) where we stayed 4 nights before cruising - hardly enough time to experience this superlative port.
Embarkation: "concierge" class gave us early embarkation - it was well organized but I am not sure this was so much of a perk since the entire concierge floor showed up at the same time, so there was about a 30 min lineup. Once on the ship, lunch was ready and the staterooms & luggage were to us within about an hour, so very well done.
Staterooms were fine - "concierge" is identical to the regular verandah state room, but with different toiletries and cashmere lap blankets (not needed in summer). Like Marina, Riviera has very nice, fresh and contemporary decor which we did enjoy. Full bathtub too!
Dining: The "Grand Dining Room" is spacious and open with many windows, and those seeking tables for two can usually have a window seat. We like this a lot. Never pressure to share a table (though if you wish, you can). Food excellent, service just OK. Servers were often a bit rushed and there is generally "title inflation" on board - the fellow may be called a sommelier but don't expect him to actually know about wine. Even in the marquee French restaurant, Jacques, it was difficult to have a really relaxed experience as the servers seemed to be instructed to "move you along" to the next course. There are 4 specialty restaurants and we enjoyed them all. Definitely book reservations online as soon as you can ("concierge" gets to go ahead of regular staterooms) as they are always full. Second visits to the venues can sometimes be arranged but we found the best bet was going to the venue & talking directly to the manager there - our concierge was not helpful and the central reservations desk was only slightly helpful in trying to do this. We found the buffet restaurant OK for breakfast/lunch but its generally chaotic and noisy atmosphere was not conducive to a relaxed evening meal. The pool grill does surprisingly great lunches and "healthy" dining is possible here if careful choices are made (eg. Surf and Turf minus bun and fries is actually a great lunch!). I was very disappointed that the ice cream bar closes at 4:00 - returning from a hot a tiring day ashore I would have loved an ice cream (we typically don't dine until 7;30 or 8).
Activities: We had 11 ports scheduled in 12 days so had few opportunities, but did take in one dance class which was very very basic, but fun; had tea one day (pretty standard, not special), and otherwise avoided group activities. We enjoyed the well stocked library and relatively easy access to deck chairs, and we spent a lot of time walking on deck. This ship lacks a promenade deck, and the glass "protection" over the railings comes quite high up, which is disappointing for shorter women who cannot see over it. The exercise track at the top of the ship is fine but the loop is quite short. The gym is nice & equipment is in good condition. Open access to sauna & steam room is great. "Concierge" gave us access to the spa deck which has its own hot tub and the nicest deck chairs (with shade for reading), and it was never crowded.
Smoking: On paper, Oceania has one of the most restrictive smoking policies. On a prior Marina sailing we did not have problems with second hand smoke, however this sailing seemed to have a much higher proportion of smokers and it did become a real issue. Although the policies say very clearly that smoking is allowed in only 2 areas, in fact staff members smoke above the jogging track (!) which does not make for very healthful exercise. Also, one of the permitted smoking areas is in the main lounge, Horizons, and is NOT ENCLOSED, so by the evening the whole room and hallways outside (even the floor below) fill up with smoke. We had to miss out on entertainment in this venue when it got too bad. Pretty much all developed nations don't allow indoor smoking in public venues without separate ventilation now, so Oceania really needs to look at complying with these safety regulations.
Shore excursions: we only did 2 with the ship, in Sochi (due to Russia's horrendous visa process) and in Constanta, Romania (due to safety concerns). In Constanta, we had an amazing guide (Cosmin) who made an otherwise rather mundane visit to the ruins of the Greek colony Histria a great experience due to his stories & information. In Sochi we had an average guide and a rather dull visit to Stalin's Dacha, complicated by the horrible traffic snarls in the city (everything is under construction as they prepare for the olympics). Value for money in these excursions really is not good; in other ports we arranged private guides and had better tours for much less money. However, the tours were well organized and ran smoothly.
Entertainment: Not a highlight of this ship! Despite talented young performers, the choreography and costumes for the 4 main shows was really not to our liking (I'm not a prude generally, but I thought all the performers deserved more fabric than they were given). We attended the "cabaret" performances of 2 of the singers and enjoyed these much more. One "headliner" was a Celtic musician and she was fantastic but the others were pretty disappointing (many people walked out of the shows). The piano bar on this ship is really terrible - it's badly designed (the same as Marina) so only about 4 tables can really see the pianist - this doesn't lead to the right kind of environment to promote the fun singalongs we've enjoyed on other ships. The bands were all very talented, but we like to ballroom dance and found the opportunities very limited as after dinner, the only band that played focused more on country and 70's rock music.
Service: here we were really let down, as we were celebrating an important event, and this was communicated & logged in our file (we later checked), but not acknowledged in any way on board. I later discussed this with the service manager and he apologized but it was a pretty big disappointment (and dramatically different than we have experienced on other lines/ships when celebrating a special occasion). General service was otherwise average, although I am not sure the happiness/mood of the employees was as positive as on our own favourite "best service" ships (Crystal Symphony & Serenity).
Disembarkation: could not have been smoother - we made our own arrangements and simply walked off the ship when we were ready, and our luggage was at the terminal. No waiting in the lounge, colour groups, etc as we have sometimes experienced elsewhere.
Summary: we like the style of this cruise very much, but were disappointed that our special event wasn't acknowledged, and found the training of some of the staff (eg. sommeliers, dining room service staff) was not up to the experience promised. Food was more of a highlight than the entertainment. At the end of the day, we chose this ship for the itinerary, which was in fact stellar (even though we missed our call at Mykonos due to high winds the last day), and we enjoyed the cruise. For the safety of passengers and crew, the smoking regulations need to be adhered to and brought on par with those on land in developed countries.