Our first trip on Oceania was on the Marina--South American Holiday. We boarded in Rio de Janeiro on December 8 with departure on December 9, traveled around the Cape eventually to Valparaiso and disembarked in Valparaiso on December 28. Overall experience was wonderful!! The ship is beautiful, as many have already mentioned, and the ports were very good giving us a great experience in four South American countries--Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina and Chile. We could never have visited on a land tour as much as we did on this cruise.
Just for background: my husband and I have done about 10-12 previous cruises. The most recent ones were three on Regent's Voyager over the last 5-6 years. We did the Baltics, Hong Kong to Bangkok and a B2B Greece and Turkey on Regent. Previous to those three we did several other cruises in the 80s and 90s. Most of our travel has been land tours throughout Europe, Canada, China and a week in Egypt. A good friend is an avid Oceania cruiser and encouraged us to try Oceania.
I must admit that we had an Oceania suite which is an astounding cabin--certainly the best we have ever stayed in. It is spacious, comfortable, with the best bedding we have ever experienced in any hotel or on any cruise. We were on deck 12, very convenient to the pool, to the Waves bar and Waves grill and to the Terrace dining room/café. Our butler, Ismail, was superb. He anticipated our needs and made frequent suggestions which he thought might improve our experience. He made several reservations for us at the specialty restaurants (above and beyond our pre-cruise reservations), booked a couples massage for us at the spa, served us room service two nights when we had just run out of energy and was there whenever we had a thought about what we wanted to do next! Kosta, our room steward, evidently had a camera on our door because we no sooner left our room than he serviced it before our return (many times while we were at breakfast with no expectation that the room would be cleaned while we were out).
We did a combination of private tours for just the two of us with tours we arranged through Cruise Critic with some other folks prior to embarkation. The tours we arranged through Cruise Critic turned out to be some of our best experiences. The people were very friendly, the folks who did all the arranging should be given medals of honor (thanks, Howard and Martha--you are my idols!) and we were so pleased with the level of exposure we got in each of those ports. We didn't do any of the ship's excursions; I must say we heard many complaints from others about the poor quality of the ship's tours. We were patting ourselves on the back for using the Cruise Critic roll call feature.
We had 8 sea days for our 21 day cruise. We have never been on that long a cruise (14 days was our longest previously) and were a bit concerned about the number of sea days. I cannot begin to tell you how much we enjoyed the sea days! How incredible to be able to enjoy the ship and socialize in a different way than when you are on an excursion or just meeting folks at dinner and, maybe, never really getting to know them. We did three of the cooking classes, several wine tastings, bingo (both of us won--how did that happen!) and lazing on deck. Neither of us sit in the sun very much (both cancer survivors) but you can still enjoy the pool sitting in the shade, reading and people watching!
As for the ports, we loved Buenos Aires (great private guide, fabulous tango show, a culinary excursion with the ship's chef), Puerto Madryn (don't let anyone tell you that you won't enjoy a penguin rookery--the penguins are astounding) and Ushuaia in Tierra del Fuego--has to be one of the most beautiful places on earth! We also really enjoyed the other ports with the exception of Rio de Janeiro--poor infrastructure, dirty and just uninspiring.
On the ship itself, we found Jacques to be our favorite specialty restaurant with Toscana and Polo closely tied for second. Frankly, we found Red Ginger to be overdone with the food not particularly appealing to us. That's our opinion and I know flies in the face of what many others have found. We visited Red Ginger once and that was it for us. The Grand Dining Room was just okay. The food was average and frequently we found only two or three things on the menu that we might want to eat. We had some service problems in the Grand Dining Room; during one dinner they messed up one of our appetizer orders and both of our entrée orders. On another dinner, they messed up one entrée. At breakfast one morning they messed up one order. We just found little consistency in service although the servers were always trying. Frankly, I think they were understaffed. We watched one main waiter try to handle seven tables with no real assistance one evening. I wasn't surprised by the mistakes when I noticed that. One outstanding experience was the Christmas Eve buffet brunch--it was fantastic--I don't think I have ever been to a better buffet brunch--the dining staff outdid itself.
I am not a fan of the Terrace Café either. Frequently, breakfast was a zoo with everyone showing up at the same time (right before excursions) trying to get breakfast. We had the same experience at dinner. Having lobster tail as a choice during dinner did not make up for that fact that we never felt relaxed during dinner; would we get a table or have to wait, watching like a hawk for someone to be finished and get up and walk away so we could get a seat--this is not a five star experience! It was always a concern about how crowded the serving areas would be and how long we would have to wait in line to get an order of lobster tail or something else from the grill. The two nights we ordered room service were to avoid having to go to the Terrace Café. Both my husband and I tried not to compare Oceania to Regent's Voyager but the contrast was most evident in the Terrace Café and was not to the benefit of Marina. We did enjoy the Waves Grill and had lunch there several days; the sandwiches were good and the "control" by the staff to ensure orders were accurate made it seem more relaxed and enjoyable compared to the Terrace.
Bars were a pleasure in that there were always plenty of bartenders and wait staff. We particularly enjoyed the Waves Bar during the sea days and the Martinis bar for our happy hour before dinner. The staff of both were excellent, very friendly and always trying to make sure you had a great experience.
We had a great trip and thoroughly enjoyed South America. Some additional comments on our experience on the ship: we chose a beverage package; we still found it a chore to have to show our card every time we wanted a drink. (Maybe there is a message here to us that we just wanted too much to drink!) We much prefer Regent's all inclusive when one doesn't need to show a card. I realize this is a minute problem; however, it did take away some element of the experience. The entertainment was average but we were expecting that so I won't compare it or complain about it. It provided some enjoyment although not necessarily one of great quality. The Main Dining Room was an overall disappointment. Food choices were not particularly great and it was understaffed. It never felt like a fine dining experience. The specialty restaurants are outstanding--I would go to sea just to eat in them again!
The canapés offered through butler service at happy hour were a disappointment. Again, while we tried not to do so, we did compare it to hors d'ouevres we experienced on Regent. Regent had shrimp cocktail, crab claws and other "bites" of that level if you wanted them every evening. We didn't order the canapés after the first day on Marina because they just weren't very good. There were numerous activities during the day but they quickly became repetitive as the same activity at the same time was repeated pretty much throughout the cruise each and every day.
Overall we did greatly enjoy the ship and its beauty, the fantastic itinerary and the great people we met especially on our excursions. We experienced sharing a table at dinner a few times and had some great dining companions during those dinners. It seems most of our shipmates were very well traveled and enjoyed meeting others making such experiences a lot of fun.
The itinerary is what is most important; all other things being equal, we would go back to Regent if the itineraries are quite similar as the negative things I mentioned above did impact our experience.