We had been trying to get to the South Pacific for some time and had always been thwarted in our efforts.
Then we noticed the Oceania cruise from Valparaiso. A bit of a tight squeeze getting there after Christmas but the flight arrangements Toronto-Miami-Santiago worked out just fine. We took the transfer from Santiago to the port of Valparaiso - a very busy port and it was interesting to watch all the cargo operations on the dock.
We had sailed twice before with Oceania - on the Insigna and the Regatta - but this was our first time on the Marina - and we loved it!
We loved the itinerary since we visited Robinson Crusoe, Easter Island - 2 days (spectacular - we did a private tour with Easter Island Spirit tours), Pitcairn (couldn't go ashore but the islanders came on board and sold local produce....(honey, crafts, t shirts, stamps etc- )Fakarava (really unspoit) then Bora Bora (2 days) and finally Tahiti (where we stayed on for an extra 2 days at the Intercontinental). Alot of days at sea but we were never bored - always something to do and we had lots of time to catch up on reading (take an e-reader but the library is really excellent).
We were pleased we chose the concierge level cabin (an A4) which permitted access to the concierge private lounge area which has its own concierge and access to coffee and soft drinks and snacks 24/7 and International newspapers are available in the lounge. We also had access to a private deck off the spa area which was very relaxing but, unfortunately, too exposed to the sun. It would be nice if Oceania covered off a part of the area to provide more shade. We tried the so called Sanctuary area which is open to all passengers but it is open and pool noise is a problem (plus passengers use the doors for access to the deck all the time which creates noise). I guess our main criticism is that there is little space on board for passengers who want to read quietly but who want to be outside in a shaded area. The library is really lovely but many of us prefer to be outside and to read in a quiet, shaded area (the Sanctuary area on Princess ships is ideal).
Most of our dinners were in the Grand Dining room (food was excellent - very good choices each day and presented very well. Plus the wait staff are very good indeed). What we like most about Oceania is the flexiblity in dining arrangements - no set meal times which leads to a much more relaxed feeling in the dining room. We really hate all the lining up and general rush to get into the dining room on most ships which have set dining times. The only warning is that if you want a table for two you will have to get there reasonably early because after 7 pm most of the tables for 2 are taken.
For breakfast and lunches we used the Terrace cafe which was very good - and we ate dinner there on our last evening and found it very good indeed. In future we might choose to eat there more often.
We tried all 4 of the speciality restaurants (kudos to Oceania for not imposing extra charges) and they were all truly excellent - our particular favourites being Toscana and Red Ginger. We had dinner at the former on new year's eve and it was very special indeed (nice party on deck afterwards!)
The decor in Red Ginger is spectacular and the food very good indeed (especially the sea bass).
The artwork in the ship is the best I have ever seen - some wonderful glass pieces and generally very elegant and understated.
We liked Horizons - great views and wonderful afternoon tea with scones and clotted cream and jam at 4 every afternoon while being entertained by an incredibly talented string quartet (the best entertainment on board - they also played in the long bar area in the evening).
We also went there for a single malt scotch nosing!
We found the ship's band rather noisy - but that's a matter of taste since we are not keen on brass instruments.
The enrichment lecture series - husband and wife team -were excellent. He covered many aspects of the South Pacific (navigation, coral etc etc plus the history of the Bounty) while the Star Lady gave us some very important instruction on the stars in the southern sky and even had some sessions on deck where we tried to locate the Southern Cross - success!
It's really nice to have these instructional sessions on longer cruises.
Are there any criticisms? A few. On this cruise we had to use tenders at most of the ports. The arrangements at Easter Island were truly chaotic since only 1 tender was permitted to dock. The staff seemed ill prepared for this situation and it caused a lot of annoyance since there seemed to be no system - and everyone rushed forward. Oceania needs to make sure that everyone is treated fairly and should not permit queue-jumping by those with sharp elbows! By the end of the cruise they seemed a bit better organized but of all the staff on board the destinations staff seemed the least organized. We booked only one excursion with the ship (2nd day in Bora Bora - snorkelling with rays and beach - it was good but other passengers booked independently and got much better deals. The Oceania excursions seem generally overpriced).
Another criticism is of post-cruise arrangements. We booked the 2 day extension at the Intercontinental Tahiti through Oceania. We were given a half day tour of part of the island before being taken to the hotel. Check in was 2 pm so we had lunch first. No-one seemed clear about the arrangements and where check in was to take place. First we were told Tiki Bar then without telling anyone it was switched upstairs. Some people got the Oceania handout about checkout arrangements....others including us did not and we only learned of it from other people later. Then we were given the wrong handout! One handout said the water was safe to drink...the other said not! There was no rep from Oceania at the hotel......the hotel staff did their best but they were clearly uncomfortable since Oceania never liaised.with them to confirm what was to happen. This part of the trip really needs work! The Intercontinental staff were great but they need Oceania to co-operate with them.
One further criticism - the concierge who is in the special concierge level lounge booked a lunch for us at the Intercontinental Thalasso in Bora Bora. She confirmed we had reservation for noon. After we got there (following a boat ride) we were told we couldn't have lunch but had to have a day pass costing over $100 each! We had not taken swim wear with us - which we would have done had we known.
The concierge at the Intercontinental was wonderful and she apologized but said they never received the reservation etc. and that it is not possible to only have lunch....she indicated they had ongoing problems contacting Oceania and they wanted to get things straightened out so this would not happen to other passengers. We paid the $100 plus and were glad we did - we had a wonderful lunch and the day pass is a very good deal - just wish we had known of that in advance and we would have gone with swim wear.
Overall it was a wonderful cruise and we would certainly do it again - the ports of call were truly incredible. Our criticisms relate only to a few issues where Oceania can certainly make improvements.