This was our 12th cruise, and our second on Oceania. Bottom line - it was a fantastic cruise!
We left our home in the mid-west where the temperature was 0 F (without wind chill). We had enough frequent flyer miles for 2 free tickets on US Airways - but still needed to pay $25/bag up and down. We arrived in Miami later than planned due to de-icing in Charlotte. We used Larry's Private Car and Limo service to take us to our hotel in Miami. Our driver Stan, couldn't have been more helpful or friendly. He contacted us as we were still on the jet bridge walking to the terminal to let us know he was there and waiting for us to retrieve our bags. After a 30 minute stress free trip to Miami/Brickell we arrived at our Hampton Inn. We were asked to pay Stan at that time (as planned) for the trip as well as the return trip to FLL after our cruise.
The Hampton Inn was perfect. Clean, super-friendly and 3 blocks from a dozen+ restaurants. As reported on Trip Advisor the staff is super friendly. The front desk arranged ($8/person) for a third party shuttle to take us to the pier the next morning. Perfect location, great breakfast and free due to use of Hilton Honor Points. So far a great start to the vacation.
The next morning the van arrived. It was a shared trip to the port - but we were the last stop. A quick tip to the porters outside and we were on our way to check in. There was a small line waiting to get checked in. Then we were off to the ship and headed to the Terrace Cafe for lunch. From the time we left the Hampton until we were seated in the Terrace Cafe was under an hour.
The Terrace cafe was really crowded until about 2:00 when the suite staterooms were available. The remainder of the staterooms were available around 3 - at which time we also found our luggage waiting for us. We had a Veranda cabin on Deck 7. Our custom is to never take the stairs on a cruise (to help burn off all of the calories). Wish we had a cabin on deck 9 - but didn't want to pay for the Concierge upgrade.
The first evening we ate in the Terrace Cafe. We found the food was just as good as in the specialty restaurants - but we really wanted to take advantage of eating outside on the deck after a long and cold winter in the mid-west.
We did eat in the Grand Dining Room and each of the other 4 specialty restaurants. All 5 dining locations provided special memories - some for the service, some for the main course and some for the desserts. We were traveling with good friends from up-state NY - and all 4 of us had a favorite specialty restaurant. Some had A+ experiences, while others only had a lowly "A" experience.
Our first two days were at sea - which was very relaxing.
We did a different shore excursion at each port, and all with Oceania. It was just easier than arranging private excursions this trip. We were not disappointed.
Tortola - We did the Escape to Jost Van Dyke. This was simply a catamaran taxi ride to the island where you could relax on the beach for 3 hours. It was a smooth ride - and we could simply walk down the front ladder of the catamaran and landed in knee high water to walk to the beach. No swimming of 30-50' required as stated in the brochure. We rented beach chairs ($10/each I think) and simply relaxed. After several visits to the Soggy Dollar bar (which had a booming business that day) to purchase a couple of liquid Pain Killers the vacation really kicked in. As an FYI - for us the walk to the catamaran from the ship was perhaps 100 yards. I would give this excursion a B, but with the Pain Killer beverages purchased at the Soggy Dollar, the grade improves to an A-.
St John's - We did the Island Off-Road Safari and Beach tour. Our guide Reginald was very friendly - and although narrating while driving was sure to repeat himself so we could understand what he was saying. We stopped for a few photos during the tour - but mainly toured the island on/off road prior to going to a beach. Again - we rented beach chairs and simply relaxed in the sun/shade and in the ocean. There was a local gentleman selling colored jewelry out of a brief case at the beach. We saw one person on our tour purchase a necklace - after which the "color" on the color jewelry stained her neck and cover-up. Buyer beware. After a quick trip back to the ship and some 151 proof rum punch we went to the duty free stores. Only a few stores were open as it was Sunday. However, about every 20' a local would stop and ask you if you needed a taxi to the beach, or wanted to sell you something out of a bag. After the 10th request - it was time to walk back to the ship. I would give Reginald and the excursion an A .. but after being approached so many times on land the port gets a "C."
Barbados - Luxury Catamaran and Champagne Sail - This was run by the TIAMI cruises. It was a short (5 minutes maybe) bus ride to their office where we boarded a catamaran. The crew of 5 took excellent care of us all day. We stopped for a quick dip/snorkel about 45 minutes out. Life vests and snorkel equipment was provided. There was at least 1 spotting of a sea turtle. We then headed for a beach and ate lunch on the way. There were plenty of food choices, to include steak grilled on the way. After lunch we arrived at our "naked" beach. Naked defined as no humans in sight. We spent about an hour at this beach before heading back to the ship. An A+ experience. Note - no alcohol was served until everyone was done snorkeling/swimming for the day. Apparently on previous trips there were numerous mermaid sightings as the rum was flowing.
Castries - 4X4 Beach Safari - each of the 6 wheeled vehicles held about 10 guests. Each vehicle had a driver and a guide - and the guide sat with us in the back explaining what we were seeing and truly interacting with all of us. This was a great experience. We spent several hours touring the island both on/off road. Glad we had six wheels driving in several instances as we may have been stuck with only 4 driving. Before heading back to the ship we stopped at a VERY isolated beach. There were only about 12-15 people at the beach, and we stopped at for about an hour (all on the same tour - just different vehicles). A fabulous experience. An "A" experience. Would have been A+ but it rained on/off at times (obviously not the guides fault).
St. Barts - For our last excursion we took the Sailing Adventure. This was another luxury catamaran - but only 2 crew on-board. This catamaran had a motorized mainsail and jib so fewer crew members were required. We sailed for about an hour, anchored and spent 45 min or so at a beach. Fortunately the catamaran and had some noodles as we anchored in about 20' of water. A quick and refreshing swim and back to the shore. Then it was time to sail back to the ship. A good and fun adventure. A solid B+ .. nothing wrong, just nothing spectacular.
We enjoyed two more sea days before we returned to Miami. We once again used Larry's Private Car and Limo service - and Stan texted us while we were stilling eating breakfast at the Terrace cafe. After retrieving our bags and going thru customs we had perhaps a 20' walk before Stan drove up and picked us up.
We went to very few shows, as we simply relaxed and took our time at dinner and enjoyed the 80 F weather. We did see and enjoy the comedy/magic shows of Greg Moreland.
We also did a culinary class (worldly crepes) with Annie Copps. She ensured everyone had a great time, set a very relaxed environment. After recently mastering the art of burning water and toast - Annie was able to teach 20+ people the art of making (and then eating) crepes. This was better than expected, and one of the highlights of the cruise.
Sorry to say - no Olympics shown on any of the TV channels or in the bars. This was a disappointment - but then it was 80 F outside. Fortunately there was an extra insert every evening providing Olympic news in the daily Currents.
Cruise Director - David Peterson - was certainly personable - was glad to see that he was at the stairs each morning as the various tours left.
So bottom line grades:
Oceania Riviera - A+ ..can't wait to cruise again with Oceania (itinerary and budget dependent). We're sold on this cruise experience
Larry's Private Car and Limo service - Wouldn't hesitate to recommend - fabulous service
Hampton Inn Brickell - perfect pre/post cruise location. Clean, friendly/helpful staff.
US Airways - delayed flights down to Miami, missed connection (5 minutes!!) on the way home. Cutting up my Dividend Miles MasterCard.