Oceania Regatta - Feb 13, 2007 - 12 day Eastern Caribbean- the ship's 100th cruise!
The Port of Miami... ship departs from Terminal "J" and uses Garage 12 (we drove to the ship). We arrived at 11am (on a weekday departure)and could barely find a spot in the garage(outdoors on the roof for $180 for the duration of the 12 day cruise). We circled the garage 3 times. Seems the employees of nearby office building (Royal Caribbean's headquarters) also use this garage as well as a hoard of travel agent guests aboard the Regatta for a free lunch. Cannot imagine where anyone else that drove to the ship parked.
Check-in (Concierge accommodations) was fast and efficient and we were aboard the ship by Noon. Good thing since hoards of people RAN to the Polo Grill to make reservations for the upgrade (at no charge) dining rooms...you get 4 dinners on the Concierge plan in these dining rooms. We were fifth in line to make reservations and it took nearly an hour. Those late into the line waited up to 2 ½ hours. There are only 2 tables for 2 in the upgrade dining rooms so plan to arrive early to make reservations if you'd prefer to dine with your companion alone. (Reservations for these rooms can be made later in the cruise as cancellations occur). You can also reserve for more than your "allotted" number of reservations if tables are available later in the cruise- which they invariably are!).
They claim that concierge service gets priority baggage delivery. GOOD LUCK... at 5pm, (the ship sails at 6) we were still luggageless as are many others. It did however arrive before we sailed.(barely).
Initial observations; ship is clean and in good shape (despite the fact that it is going into dry dock after the next couple of cruises.) Service is sharp and pleasant. Staterooms(concierge level) are small, but adequate. The balconies, though small are worth the price (especially in the Caribbean). If you are double jointed you can enjoy breakfast al fresco. Linens and bedding are superior with excellent mattresses (a real find on any cruise ship) and sheets are fine Egyptian cotton. The ship is ostensibly the same as when it was the Renaissance R2 with little change in dEcor. Some of the furnishings have been upgraded but the walls, public rooms, etc remain the same. Crystal and china has been replaced and it is truly lovely. The ship is due for a refurbishment in April. Cabin housekeeping service is prompt, efficient and thorough.
Internet: Reservations told us that there was wireless internet available in the staterooms when questioned on 5 separate occasions pre-sailing. THEY DON'T HAVE IT AVAILABLE. There is wireless internet service (for 80 cents a minute on a 100 minute plan) in several hot spots about the ship and in the internet cafe BUT NOT IN THE STATEROOMS. If you are using your own laptop at one of the hotspots expect VERY SLOW SPEEDS (often less than dial-up). It's a little bit better in the internet cafe but it's still the slowest (and most expensive of any cruise line we've experienced. There is a friendly internet staff but they do little other than commiserate about the slow internet speed.
Dining room service was excellent except for the waiters who insisted on opening our (Whole Maine) lobsters(unusual on a cruise ship) at dinner one evening without the faintest idea of how to open a lobster. They did it with a knife and fork and wasted half the meat. Service at the breakfast and lunch buffets was superb...place mats and beautiful silverware even on the outside decks. In keeping with the current practice to slow down the spread of Norovirus aboard many ships, they insist on serving you from the buffet. Sanitary and a nice touch as well. Generally, this ship is amazingly clean and they go to great pains to keep it that way. The staff, very well trained, seems to really care.
Our first(and last) experience in Toscana, one of the premium dining rooms, was a disappointment. Slow service here and a great sounding menu that sounded better than it tasted. So bad in fact that we cancelled our second reservation to the great surprise of the maitre 'D. They make up for it in the other "premium" dining room- Polo Grill. A first class steak house that'd give Morton's a run for their money. We ate there 4 times during the cruise since the dinners in the "Grand Dining Room" generally had a mediocre though esoteric menu. Adequate would be an apt description. The "always available" steak, chicken and salmon are big sellers. A lovely change of pace is the "Tapas on the Terrace" buffet in the top deck restaurant. You can wear shorts to dinner and dine under the stars. Menu is varied and you can always find something to eat. However, if you are paying Oceania's higher prices for the renowned cuisine, save the bucks and sail with Celebrity.
Breakfasts were a cut above most ships we've sailed recently, as was the (varied each day) luncheon buffet. Though they claim that renowned chef Jacques Pipen is the Chef D' Cuisine, I doubt that he has ever set foot on this ship.
The dress code at dinner is "country-club casual". Thank heaven at least a couple of cruise lines have accepted that most people SEEM NOT LIKE TO GET FORMALLY DRESSED FOR DINNER in the Caribbean. The others had better soon get the message....I can't help but believe that most people prefer a more casual style.
This ship (since it offers longer (12 day) and more expensive cruises attracts a distinctly older crowd. Though we found several 50 and 60 year olds, the majority of the guests average over 70. And move more slowly. Some are very cantankerous and need to realize that old age does not entitle them to rudeness. This is, however a well-traveled group. There were several couples on board doing back-to-back 12 to 18 day cruises and we even met a couple spending 102 days aboard. (a sentence!)
Entertainment is just right for our tastes. A group of 4 terrific young singers, a juggling act, another singer, a string quartet and an 8 piece band did 45 minutes most nights. The "Cruise Director", Leslie Jon seemed like a run-of-the-mill cruise director until he sang one night. Wow! What a performance...truly a fantastic surprise. HE should give up the day job. He's a better entertainer than a cruise director. Other entertainers were a woman who played several flutes accompanying film of animals. Odd ! No comedian, though there was a juggler who thought he might be a comedian as well. There are no big production shows (thank heaven). Also...good place to mention this; there is ABSOLUTELY nothing aboard for kids. They are decidedly unwelcome on this ship.
niceties(and not-so-niceities): NO SHIP PHOTOGRAPHER ! And, they do not nickel and dime you like many other cruises (no charge for ice cream during the day, for instance.) Their bar drinks though are high priced($7+/-)and they have the audacity to charge $2.50 for an 8 oz bottle of water when you go ashore. The beach towels are, however, free and hassle-free to obtain when shore-bound. One unusual rip off... the "private island" beach bar-b-que on Samana in the Dominican Republic came with a $50 "tour charge". Tacky !
In general, ship excursions are weak and overpriced. You can do most everything offered at considerably less ashore. One exception was the river tubing in Dominica. A good value for a fun excursion that was virtually impossible to do without a tour. It was worth it for the transportation alone. This itinerary is a "beach itinerary".Smaller islands, lousy shopping, but lovely beaches/snorkeling, etc. Easy to get to with cabs for a few dollars and generally safe.
The best thing this ship has going for it is the size. Less than 700 passengers...large enough to enjoy most big ship services and amenities but small enough to be considered relatively intimate. Entertainment is NOT BIG SHIP ENTERTAINMENT...but you won't be bored. The Casino seemed under used.
Ports: (in no particular order): Grand Turk- what a great port (it was created from sand by Carnival Corp for cruise ships running out of islands). A magnificent beach, calm beautiful, warm water...free chaises and cabanas and a couple of dozens terrific shops. All in all... a fabulous (costless) day! The port accommodates two "panamax" ships and we had it to ourselves for half of the day until the Costa Magico pulled into port belching out 2700 noisy and for the most part non-english speaking tourists. Fortunately we had had enough beach and left it to them (in the rain !). Parking next to this tub was the best publicity Oceania could have gotten. Costa's passengers, a generally disgruntled lot, were jealous of the Regatta's guests.
Samana, Dominican Republic. Save the trip. Stay on the ship. This is a hovel with palm trees. Beggars and hasslers line the "street". The shops are not worth the time and a decent beach is 2 hours away.
Virgin Gorda, BVI's...the ship anchors and tenders here. Nothing ashore but easy convenience to "The Baths" a wonderful beach and snorkel site. Not to be missed.
Tortola, BVI - this capital of the love island chain is a decent shopping port and has an excellent nearby beach at Cane Garden Bay.
Roseau, Dominica... a well kept secret among cruise ports- still developing but with an excellent excursion offering in a river tubing excursion down a lovely fresh water river with Class 1 rapids. The guides are one to one with the passengers and it is a safe, exciting, fun hour and a half ride. This is a must-do if you are physically able.
Castries, St. Lucia...our only day of rain but we've been there before so I can tell you that there are several beaches and snorkeling sites not far from the ship. Shopping is not exciting.
St Johns, Antigua. Always a great spot with excellent shopping and some of the best beaches in the Caribbean and a modern ship terminal that eliminates tendering.
Gustavia, St. Barts... the highest priced island in the Caribbean. Totally French where $10 t-shirts cost $34. Fabulous shoppes if you are shopping for over-priced (real-thing) European style. Terrific beaches and crazy cab drivers. It's where the rich meet in the Winter. Big Yachts galore. Worth it to say you've been there.
In general, the port selection for this cruise is excellent- highlighting some of the smaller islands in the Caribbean and eliminating the pesky, over-visited, tired islands like St. Thomas, St. Maarten and the Bahamian chain. Take it from someone who has cruised these waters for 40 years....if you are in the market for quality watches and jewelry, buy it at home from your friendly local jeweler. YOU WILL SAVE MONEY and have someone to come back to. Limit your shopping to t-shirts and junk for the kids.....use your time in ALL Caribbean ports to sample some of the local culture, enjoy some of the best beaches and snorkeling/diving in the world and work on your tan. The boutiques on the ship carry HIGH PRICED MERCHANDISE. I'm talking 5 figure jewelry, for example. Tip: if you buy something on the ship MAKE SURE YOU DECLARE IT TO U.S.CUSTOMS. The ship turns you in and you will get caught trying to bypass Customs.
Debarkation was the fastest and most efficient I've seen in years. They ask you what time you'd like to be off and they hit it on the mark. We asked for an 8:30am departure and were off the ship at exactly 8:30, had our luggage and were on our way by 8:45 am. A true miracle.
The Regatta offers a good alternative. As I mentioned size is great, service is superb and management is caring. It ain't cheap....on a per day basis it's less than Silversea and Crystal but for my $$ it is a better buy. If you are upgrading from Princess/Celebrity/Royal Caribbean...be prepared for sticker shock.
Annoyingly, they add gratuities to your bill (since with open seating you rarely sit with the same waiter.) This is becoming the norm in the industry and personally I would prefer that they charged $12 extra per person per day in the fare and PAY THEIR EMPLOYEES instead of expecting me to do it. They will remove the "suggested gratuities" from your tab if you insist (they make it difficult). But imagine how popular you would be on this ship if you walked around handing out $10 bills to the help instead. Think about it and then complain as I did.
Lastly....This cruise line seems to be well managed. However...BEWARE... one of the CEO's is the very same guy who was the CEO of Renaissance when they went into Chapter 11 sticking and stranding a whole bunch of people. DO NOT, repeat DO NOT pay for an Oceania cruise in any manner than on a credit card. It offers some degree of protection. If you are thinking about buying insurance against bankruptcy, CHECK YOUR CARRIER CAREFULLY...many exempt Oceania. 'Nuff said on this topic.