Sacred Sanctuaries, August 2013.
The cruise started in Piraeus, which shares the dingy, seedy atmosphere of many ports. That said, it is worth coming earlier if you want to visit any of the closer islands on a day-trip. There are countless ferries; the cheaper ones, open-air, take a little longer, but you get good views and fresh air. The area of Piraeus marina (on the other side of the city) is quite attractive, with caf's, bars and restaurants. If you dine outside, you get a good view of the Attic Peninsula at sunset, which is charming.
Getting on aboard Riviera was no problem; it just took a couple of minutes. Our stateroom (on deck 10) was ready at 13.30.
There's little to add which hasn't already been widely discussed, but I would insist there is more than adequate cupboard space; the bathroom is fine. A few niggles though, the table is not big enough for room-service breakfast, and unless you are of completely different heights, with one person on the armchair and the other on the sofa, you look at each other from completely different levels, like a monarch looking down at a subject. The veranda has chairs and a table, but perhaps a lounger would have been more attractive.
The actual service of room service was always very punctual and polite.
The housekeeping service was excellent.
'was indeed one of the major reasons for the choosing this cruise. The long days in port, such as Rhodes, and the overnight stops, in Istanbul and Haifa, make the cruise a much more rewarding experience that I could have imagined. In short, if you are used to briefer stops, you would be surprised at the difference this makes.
Israel was the major attraction of the cruise, though Oceania might think twice about the actual days spent there, as Friday to Sunday make public transport less available, though it might help sell more shore excursions. There is a train station just outside Haifa dock arrivals hall.
On the whole, the standard is very high, though I am sure everyone has their particular preference as to which speciality restaurant they prefer. We found Red Ginger to be the weakest by far, basically because the food was bland, often lacking in adequate use of spices, which doesn't mean chilli only. The famous sea bass, for example, just had a slightly caramelized flavour and consisted of a tiny portion served in a big leaf held together by a tiny clothes-peg. The Polo Grill was OK, but if you are not a habitual carnivore and don't think a thirty-two ounce portion of beef represents culinary Heaven, then you might have to look thoughtfully at the menu. The food is basically basic'
We found Toscana and Jacques to be more interesting and more flavoursome, despite ' again ' a tiny portion of fish, brill this time, on one occasion. The red mullet salad and the fillet of lamb en croute were really worth the visit. The cheese choice was limited, but the quality was high. In Toscana, apart from the ma'tre, it would be curious to know how many staff really spoke Italian, as the heavily accented greetings were a little tiresome. The risotto was exceptional, but I don't think offering chocolate parpadelle as today's special was wise.
The MDR was variable, sometimes really good, sometimes average. Service there tended to be slow at breakfast-time, as the poor waiters seemed to have to walk a mile to fetch the food.
The terrace caf' was much busier than the MDR at those hours, perhaps because of the slowness of the service downstairs, perhaps because there was much more on offer in all departments. As a dinner venue, it also works perfectly; the grill department, tuna, lobster, shrimps etc. was excellent.
Waves has its adepts. The hamburgers are fine, but 140-pound-plus-sweaty-bellies waiting for ice cream with butterscotch sauce hardly enhances the flavour of the food.
We missed out on afternoon tea ' not really the weather ' but Baristas was a daily pilgrimage.
On the whole, in the debate on who cooks better, the only relevant comparison I can make is with Celebrity Blu. There, despite the suspect 'healthy' line, the food is sometimes more adventurous, whereas Oceania is more traditional. In Blu, as you are always in the same place, a certain rapport between staff and cruisers develops; in Oceania, if you move around, you will probably never be served by the same person twice. Both options are fine; they are just different.
We took none. Apart from one or two to Jerusalem, we found them over-priced, especially as tour operators offer the same or very similar tours at half or a third of the price. This must be a minority opinion, to judge from the lines of awaiting coaches in each port.
Two possible alternatives for future visitors to these destinations. First, in Rhodes, hire a car. There are a couple of operators at the port entrance who charge 50 euros a day; booking ahead through other operators is another option. To visit most of the sites of the island: Lindos is outstanding both for its beauty and the number of visitors; the Valley of the Butterflies is truly a curiosity, as well as spending a long time on a quiet beach, is easily doable in one day and relatively stress-free. After all, there aren't that many roads (no pun intended).
Having visited Ephesus before, we hired a taxi for the day ' 85 euros '' to visit the ancient cities of Didyma, Miletos and Prienne. The Oceania tour only visited the first two; other operators require the whole day for the three sites. The option we took allowed us to visit all three comfortably within the time at port.
Entertainment was a little weak, and, as usual on cruises, a terrible sense of d'j' vu creeps in after a couple of days. They tried hard, but perhaps on a mid-size ship, the 'show' requires a re-think.
The Spa terrace was a quiet place to visit, but also a very windy one, once Riviera was at sea.
The gym was excellent, with plenty of new equipment which, hurrah, all worked.
The swimming-pool quickly became a hot bath. Worse than that is the pandemic of lounger-grabbing. The pool attendants do their best, but if they 'or any other cruiseline' really took this seriously, a mutiny would develop and they would be thrown overboard to the sharks. Apart from just leaving a towel to mark territory, there are two variations. The 'briefcase syndrome' familiar to all commuters: a passenger leaves his case of shopping bag on an empty seat beside his or hers. Anyone who dares ask whether it is occupied is often prevented by a glassy stare'
Now there is also the 'partner syndrome', when an apparent empty place is apparently taken by a partner, child, etc'who rarely turns up. Why all this still carries on beats me.
The library is quiet, an excellent retreat next to Baristas. (Some companies have piped music in their libraries, which is a self'defeating exercise).
Wanting to disconnect, the internet package was never an option.
We used the Concierge lounge a couple of times. The concierge himself was extremely helpful and effective with dinner reservations. However, the only other service we required, printing out our boarding-card for our flight back was not on the list. We hadn't an internet connection, and they must use expensive paper if it costs 25 cents a sheet. This is annoying, as most hotels I have been in recently do this for free.
Istanbul. This has nothing to do with Oceania but affects many of its passengers. There seems to a taxi war between those parked on the left and those parked on the right. The latter turned out to be cheaper; they are hassled by their rivals for being so.
Istanbul airport in mid-August can't cope with the number of passengers. It took us the best part of an hour to get through security, and clearly there were considerable hold-ups, evident in ground staff heading towards the security area looking for 'any passengers to '' You certainly need plenty of time. The airport shops and caf's are as expensive as anywhere else in the world; in short, not worth it.
On the whole'
This was an excellent cruise, with good food, a good itinerary, and courteous staff. Would we choose Oceania again? That depends to a certain extent on their marketing strategy, which is much in evidence; special offers are delivered to your stateroom each night. But as they are oriented towards North-American clients using Oceania's flight programme, those of us living on the other side of the Atlantic find this not very helpful and in the end annoying. But that shouldn't detract from an overall judgement of 'excellent.'