As an avid cruiser who has been cruising for 31 years (my first cruise at age 13) I have fond memories of days gone by when cruising was considered a luxurious and special way to travel. Memories on board were described upon return by those lucky enough to experience the magical mystique of being at sea. Stories, of sumptuous food, over the top service, and special moments while cruising captivated the attention of friends and family who listened with envy and intrigue.
Unfortunately, enter mass market cruising, consolidation of the industry and then the mega ships. Sure - this made cruising more attainable for many, but first time cruises would likely never get to live the dreamy magic experienced in years gone by. So many lines have compromised food, service and luxury to accommodate the masses, nickel and dime passengers and ultimately improve their bottom line to answer to shareholders while losing site of the spirit of cruising that so many of us avid cruisers thirst for.
After becoming increasingly disappointed and frustrated with cruise experiences that didn't meet or match my expectations we questioned whether cruising was really for us anymore. My wife and I and another couple were even really disappointed by Seabourn and Azamara despite our excitement and enthusiasm that these lines might be the one. Was something wrong with us? Was our appetite of what once was insatiable? Enter Oceania and our first cruise on this line on the Riviera's maiden season in the Summer of 2012 with our two children. We were so in love with everything Oceania that we cruised on the Riviera again in the Summer of 2013 and just recently returned from a fabulous 14 night Mediterranean cruise - again on Riviera - from Barcelona to Istanbul. This time there were 17 of us in total including family and friends. My parents even celebrated their anniversary on board. As an aside their accommodation was an Oceania Suite - one the most beautiful suites at sea reminiscent of a Manhattan apartment. What a great place to entertain :)
From the moment we arrived at the pier in Barcelona and were greeted with smiling faces, no lines, and a glass of champagne we knew we were coming home to a ship and line that fits our style and has reinvigorated our love for cruising.
The ports were amazing, but for purposes of this review I will focus on what I find so special about Oceania and specifically the Riviera.
It is refreshing to experience such a gorgeous and refined ship that only was designed to carry 1,200 when in fact many other lines build or have ships of the same tonnage that carry more than twice this number of passengers. Fincantieri built Riviera and wow do they create magnificent ships. The passenger to space ratio is fabulous. Immediately upon boarding one senses that this is not a Vegas style commercial cruise fest. Absent are annoying photographers, overzealous and pushy bartenders peddling watered down drinks in souvenir glasses or stations setup around the ship to sell you a soda or liquor package. Instead, at embarkation guests are greeted by a slick looking and smiling staff and immediately discover a gorgeous and refined reception hall adorned with gorgeous Lalique adornments and the feeling that you just entered one of the world's finest hotels - well you have.
Attention to detail in design and décor on Riviera is remarkable everywhere you turn. Furniture and fabrics have been selected by extremely talented designers from the finest collections including Kravitz and Ralph Lauren. Completing each space are floor coverings, lighting, art work and design details using the finest fabrics, woods, marbles, and granites. The atmosphere throughout is casually elegant as are fellow passengers. On our cruise most passengers hailed from the UK, Australia, South Africa and Europe with a minority being fellow Americans. Every cruise can vary, but for the most part we have found a certain type of kind and fun loving personality amongst the passengers on Oceania.
Staterooms are well thought out and appointed with the most comfortable and inviting furnishings. Design details are intuitively brilliant, such as the pop up make up mirror hidden in the desk top - which my wife loved. We chose to stay in a PH2 cabin on deck 10 and were extremely satisfied. Oceania has the most comfortable bedding or hotel I have ever stayed in. Our bathroom was spacious and well appointed with beautiful granite, Bvlgari bath products, plush towels, and a European rain shower head in addition to the hand held shower fixture. The walk in closet was a wonderful feature that was very appreciated.
Our favorite daytime spot on the Riviera is the pool area that reminds us much of a Four Season's hotel. We especially appreciated the lounge cushions complete with terry cloth covers. Lounges were never stuffed or crowded. No loud bands or annoying cruise director forcing passengers to stuff their bikinis with ping pong balls. Sorry Carnival!
Night time was always special on Riviera and the ship looks even more gorgeous after hours. We would always meet our friends, family and other regulars to listen to the wonderful string quartet or pianist while having a before dinner drink.
Dining was always a delicious treat which is yet another area where Oceania excels and clearly blows away the competition. Frankly, I think the designation of Oceania as "premium" vs. "luxury" (i.e. Crystal) is simply a function of not having drinks and/or shore excursions etc. included. In my opinion Oceania trumps the lines touted to be "luxury". The country club casual atmosphere (no jackets or ties required) lent itself to a well disciplined and elegant crowd who often looked better than passengers on a formal night on other lines looking to have a Titanic recreation at sea in 90 degree Mediterranean weather.
The dining options for a 1200 passenger ship are superb! I don't have a favorite restaurant venue as all meals were equally outstanding including the main dining room, Jaques, Red Ginger, Toscany and Polo Grill. Perhaps most relaxing and invigorating were the meals we enjoyed at Terraces on the aft of the ship where even more casual attire than the dining room was accepted and you could sit in the warm Mediterranean air while enjoying your freshly grilled lobster with a glass of wine as you watch the sunset.
I was surprised to discover this cruise that although the coffee bar had outstanding specialty coffee drinks the standard coffee throughout the ship was quite good and strong. Many passengers commented about how Oceania's standard coffee was so good and that on other competing lines you had to go to the coffee bar if you wanted a "real cup of coffee". Not on Oceania.
Bar drinks and service were consistently excellent.
Despite the beautiful ship, wonderful cabins, refined atmosphere, fabulous food and etc., etc., etc., Oceania would not be complete if it were not for its outstanding crew! I cannot comment enough about how wonderful each and every staff member (with the exception of Destination Services) were that we came in contact with. No did not seem exist in their vocabulary and service was always with as smile.
If I were to nit pick there are a few areas that could use some improvement. However, these issues are so minor and inconsequential to the enjoyment of a five star cruise experience. We had the unlimited internet package and found service to be patchy and slow compared to other lines we have cruised. To go or "take away" cups from the coffee bar were little Dixi type cups without a heat protection sleeve available to avoid burns. One area of extreme disappointment was Destination Services. The staff in this department was downright rude and indifferent with a sense of no accountability. There seemed to be a disconnect from the rest of Oceania and Riviera with regards to the culture of service. We experienced a few issues that stemmed from inconsistent communication that led us to have a botched day in Rome. However, honorably, Dominique the Ship's Manager did what was necessary to rectify the situation and make my family whole. Kudos to Oceania and Dominique as I am not certain any other cruise line would have responded so quickly, with such compassion, and such concern to see to it that we had as full and enjoyable a day after a shore excursion mishap. How a company responds to a conflict or situation really tells a lot about an organization. I was pleased with how Oceania handled our issue and it was quite respectful.
I would be remiss if I did not comment on something I mentioned early in the review. I took my family! YES - teenagers! My children are 17 and 14 and fortuante to be well traveled on many cruise lines. Although there is no formal family or children's program my kids thoroughly enjoyed and appreciated being with their family and enjoyed the luxuries of Oceania. Guessing - there must have been about 80 children on board most of who were teenagers and ALL very well behaved a pleasure to be around. I would not take very young children on Oceania, but if you have kids who are around 12 and above and mature they might actually enjoy this line assuming they don't always feel the need to have something to do or to be entertained. We were often all in bed by 10 or 11 after full and long days. My children enjoyed going back to the cabin after dinner and watching a movie, hanging out with friends or playing board games. Most shocking is that the 3 cruises my kids have experienced on Riviera have been their favorite and trumped the likes of RCCL, Princess, Celebrity, Carnival and HAL - all lines geared for children. They appreciated not having 500 kids running around - we did too :).
In summary, Oceania has earned my families business and loyalty and we look forward to many more special times on board Oceania's fleet. In fact, we currently have 2 more Oceania cruises booked and can't wait to be back home on board! Thank you Oceania for creating an experience that my family finds perfect and helping to create fabulous memories that will last a lifetime!!! For anybody contemplating an Oceania cruise who enjoys and appreciates impeccable service, interesting ports of call, fabulous food, less crowds, and a casual yet very refined and relaxing atmosphere - DO IT! If you are looking more for a Vegas style cruise experience (which can be fun!) with 24/7 entertainment this cruise line probably would not be a good match.