Our first cruise with Oceania, and we were curious if it would live up to its reputation. It definitely did - and we'll cruise Oceania again.
We had a 7 and a 6 hour layover at LAX, which was less than ideal. However, once we were on the Air Tahiti Nui flight to Papeete, all was good. Great airline, terrific service and staff, generous with food and drink.
Ship & Stateroom
The cruise director, David Shermet, often started his PA announcement with "the beautiful and elegant Marina", and he was right. The ship has lovely and understated decor, impressive artwork, well-designed public spaces, and gorgeous granite of every color and type. The only thing we missed was a wraparound exterior deck (the fitness track was small and away from the sides), and it seemed more difficult than on other ships to just pop outside.
Our stateroom was concierge veranda. Nice décor, stunning granite bathroom with both bathtub/shower and shower unit and tons of storage. The storage in the room itself was lacking, as there were about 10 tiny drawers (no XL clothes going in there!), a few better-sized drawers, and a good amount of hanging space; you have to get creative with using your suitcase under the bed as a ‘drawer’ if you want to unpack everything – and we only bring one suitcase each. Friends were in a penthouse stateroom, and it was interesting to note the large (butler, walk-in closet, wee dining table) and small (same Bulgari toiletries but more types, wider shower unit and vanity, different throw pillow upholstery, different style of vanity mirror, orchid in the room) differences. I thought our stateroom was lovely, and I don’t think there were several thousand dollars’ worth of differences between the two!
Food & Drink
Great stuff. Lots of selection, loved all specialty restaurants, had some amazing meals. Terrific sushi - just keep in mind it won't be available towards the end of the cruise as they can't re-provision it. Best baguettes and morning pastries, as the French-milled flour and French butter really does make a difference. Note that the Waves Grill gets SUPER busy early afternoon, especially on a port day, so it’s tough to find a table and there’s a fair wait for
Daily happy hour 5-6 (two of the same drink from the bar menu, lots of options). Good selection of wines by the glass, averaging maybe $11/glass. At embarkation we brought on four bottles of wine in our carryon, and when the bag went through the scanner they joked about our 'bottles of perfume'! At one port we also brought a bottle of wine back, and it was no problem.
(Not sure what Hpmg87a@aol.com’s complaint with the restaurant reservations was about. You are permitted a certain number of specialty restaurant reservations in advance, regardless of stateroom level. We noted this deadline, made our reservations online without issue, and ate at all four specialty restaurants. Don’t complain if you’re not willing to make the effort.)
We booked all of our own shore excursions - either in advance by email or directly on the pier – based on the poor ratings of Oceania’s shore excursions. All of my port reviews are listed on this site by port, except for the two below, which aren't included in the Cruise Critic listing of ports.
Prearranged a group tour, $200 each, with Philip Beardmore - 4x4 with frequent stops at lookouts and a large marae, 20 minute boat ride from Haitheu to Anaho Bay where there was lunch (and lukewarm beer...which we found out after we'd had them that we had to pay $5 for). Would NOT recommend this tour. Most of the 4x4 drivers didn't speak any English so they couldn't provide info (and the ‘4x4’ was just mildly bumpy roads), Philip kind of made up facts as he went along, and the boatride was frankly dangerous given the chop/no lifejackets or bailers. In fact, one boat turned back because the participants were too scared in those conditions. Anaho Bay was pretty, but snorkeling wasn’t good, so it was a long day and a lot of effort for BBQ fresh fish and delicious mango.
We had originally been scheduled to go to Hiva Oa, but it was AGAIN cancelled (why does Oceania keep booking it when conditions are so unreliable??) And Fakarava was substituted. This is a smaller version of Rangiroa with a large lagoon in the middle, and stunning blue water. Hardly any services or vendors on the pier; turn left for quieter exploration with snorkelling; turn right for a few stores, beaches, snorkelling and more people. Either way, it's easy walking along a concrete road. Gorgeous, very quiet.
Embarkation and Disembarkation
As Concierge level, we were initially told we could board at noon, then we received an email which said they'd changed all embarkation to 5pm; I confirmed directly that this also applied to us. We arrived at the pier just before 1pm to drop our bags - and were told we could board immediately!
For disembarkation, like most we had a 10pm flight and didn't want to do the whole 'hotel room for a day' thing. We'd expected that we could stay in our stateroom until noon and on the ship until 3pm. So it was unwelcome news to hear that we had to be out of our room by 8am and off the ship by 10am. We asked our Concierge if we could stay longer, and finally she received word from Head Office that we could remain on board until 3pm (though the letter with our Visitor's Pass said 4pm). We relaxed - and ate - all day, before reluctantly getting off the ship at 4:30pm. We thought we'd done well, until we ran into another guest in the airport who had stayed on until 8pm!
Bottom line, I wish Oceania would be a bit more consistent with their times and messaging, as travel arrangements are made around this information. We gave them that feedback in our survey, and we know that numerous other guests did as well.
Staff and Service
Oceania has a different company culture - one of mutual respect and caring - and this shows through in the staff's attitude. They seem genuinely happy and glad to greet or to help you. There isn't the 'ghettoization' by country that we've seen with other lines (e.g. pretty much all room stewards or servers being from only one country), and instead you get smiling people from a wide range of countries.
You're always served your food, so I would expect that there would be a much lower rate of gastrointestinal illness on Oceania, given that 'code red' type precautions (i.e. passengers not serving themselves) are the standard.
Entertainment & Enrichment
We knew the entertainment wasn't a big feature for Oceania, so we weren't disappointed. The singers/dancers did two shows: Broadway songs, and 'under the Big Top' circus themed. The circus show was much more successful, but both seemed to have somewhat amateurish choreography, a lead singer who was powerful but pitchy, and the spotlights were mounted so lo that occasionally when a female was lifted up she nearly hit them. Special props to the super bendy woman and her partner (Dan & Anya?) who were pretty amazing. Polynesian show with local dancers from Nuku Hiva was fabulous. Didn't see the other shows (illusionist, ventriloquist?) so can't speak to them.
Took the Bon Appetit course, Mastering Fish, with Noelle, which taught us so much. We must have learned how to cook over 10 dishes - and tasted them all! Highly recommended but you will be full, so do NOT plan a specialty restaurant for the same day!
I was really looking forward to the Artist Loft, and showed up for a 'learn to draw' class. The 'artist in residence', Eileen, didn't say one word about drawing, and instead got us to paint color charts for over an hour. She was repeatedly rude and negative (in class, on tenders, to Oceania staff), and had the opposite of an Oceania attitude. Truly hope they find a better teacher/artist for this program, because she didn't have what it takes. Huge disappointment, since it's a great concept.
Not much to see in Vaitape; stores are quite expensive, and the taxi to Bloody Mary's at $5 per person felt like a tourist ripoff. If you want internet, turn left off the ship and walk along the main road, over the little stream overpass, to Cafe Aero on the left - miraculously, free wifi, about the only place you'll find it in French Polynesia. You really have to get in the water in Bora Bora. We did the swim with sharks/feed rays/snorkel coral gardens/lunch on private motu with the highly-rated Maohi Nui Tours and they were fantastic! Easy to arrange in advance via email.
Thought this port would be amazing, but it wasn't really. Lots of small vendors on the pier even though it was Sunday, and their selection and prices for black pearl and mother of pearl were good. Albert Tours is a big deal on this island, and we grabbed one of their small buses for an around-the-island tour. Impressive lookout where we could see both bays, and interesting marae....but really not much else to see.
Lush foliage and flowers, beautiful views, great roads. Bit of a town by the pier (get wine at the Champions grocery). Great place to rent a car and circle 'round the island (about 3.5 hours).
The lagoon is so big that it's hard to get the sense you're moored within it! Lots of vendors on the pier, with lots of selection and really good prices. Cute little bar at the end of the pier where you can get a big Hinano for 500 francs and sit on the patio which juts out over the blue water. We were able to find a guy on the pier, and for $30 got a ride to "the aquarium" 5 minutes away where the snorkelling was absolutely amazing; transfer to a stationary boat and stay as long as you want; when you're ready to go, transfer back to the first boat, then go through Tiputa Pass and spend a few minutes looking for dolphins before heading back to the pier. If you walk directly down the road by the pier there's a small store on the right which sells wine. Keep walking a few more minutes and you'll come to a beach which is both the outer edge of the motu, and one side of Tiputa Pass where you can watch the cool currents.
The town is pretty dusty/dirty, but at the market behind the mall (directly across the street from the pier) you can purchase items like vanilla powder, Tahitian coffee or cookies, for the lowest prices we saw at any port, and way less than at the airport.