Oceania was new to my wife and I. This was to be our 8th cruise but first with Oceania, having sailed mostly on Celebrity and Princess. We flew down to Miami from winter temperatures in Montreal.
There was little to do prior to boarding time in Miami at 3:00pm. Having stayed two nights at the Sonata Beach Hotel in Coconut Beach, we awoke and did our final packing. By noon we were required to check out so we decided to take our chances and grab a taxi to the cruise terminal. We arrived about thirty minutes after noon hoping we wouldn't have to wait more than an hour or two. To our surprise we were told that we would be permitted to board at 1:00 pm even though we were not booked in concierge class or a penthouse suite. The entire process of registering took no more than 10 minutes. Carrying several bottles of wine and a bottle of liquor in our carry ons we were not challenged by the security people and we were welcomed on board and told that our cabin would be accessible at 3:00 pm. Indeed this was the case and upon boarding we went to deck 9 and had lunch on the aft deck at the Terrace Grill. We also lined up at Toscana to make reservations at the two specialty restaurants. Even though we were quick to get there, we had to wait in line for several minutes more than we expected, so keep this in mind as the other passengers are savvy enough to reserve as quickly as they arrive on board.
Our cabin (6064) was perfectly acceptable. We had experienced a penthouse class cabin on one of Regatta's sister ships several years before, which was larger to be sure but still this cabin was roomy enough, similar in size to a outside Celebrity balcony cabin on Constellation. Although the bathroom was tight, it was more than acceptable in size and we had no complaints on the shower layout. Our cabin was aft of amidships on the port side and we were not at all affected by seasickness. The ship, contrary to some reports rides as well in the water as ships we have cruised on which were three times her tonnages. Storage space was more than adequate with all our luggage stowable under the bed. We found the cabin to be comfortable and homey. The bed as advertised was exceptional. Our balcony was in constant use and was, as is always the case a very important part of our cruise enjoyment.
The ship was, as remembered a perfect blend of new and old. It had all of the necessary comforts that one would expect on a modern cruise ship but with the ambiance of a yacht atmosphere. Polishing and cleaning was always apparent, with staff doing this daily in all public areas. We ran into many of our fellow passengers on a regular basis, often times in the Martini Bar or at the pool and even on tenders to and from our destinations. At Martinis, Franco the bartender, poured many great drinks, had a very gregarious personality and was extremely personable. The casino staff was friendly and made our time there most comfortable.
Internet access was indeed expensive but really not as slow as others have advertised. The staff was fabulous, always there and very well informed in helping their guests. I bought a 100 minute package and actually had minutes left prior to the last day. No, it's not cable speed like at home but it most certainly is an acceptable connection speed. Yes, if you want to surf the internet it will cost you big time but if you are just checking/ sending emails, I really think you will more than satisfied.
The pool area was superb. Only a smattering chair hogs due to fact that the staff seemed to be instructed to remove used towels from lounge chairs not being used. Not only did this give the pool area a clean and tidy appearance but it allowed people looking for a place to lie down just that, an empty chair. Fresh towels were always available by the pool. Lounge chairs were fitted with fitted terrycloth covers therefore did not require you to lay your towel over the chair so as to be comfortable. There were also many "double wooden loungers" for couples. At midday there was more of a problem getting loungers in the shade (on the port and starboard sides of the ship) than right around the pool in the sun. Service on Oceania is exceptional, almost opulent. Nothing is solicited but should you want a beverage the attendants were quietly walking about on call to take care of your needs.
The staff is second to none, always there, never failing to sport smiles and eager to perform his or her duty. Despite this, we heard that one of the passengers on our cruise took exception to being served by one of the staff, of whom he took exception to their ethnic persuasion. In Grand Turk he/she was politely asked to disembark and find their own way home. BRAVO! I am greatly impressed with Oceania's ethics. The Oceania crew is diverse, probably representing over 30 countries from around the world and perhaps the best and most consistent service we have experienced to date. Regardless where one is on the ship and interacting with the staff, the passenger is held in the highest regard. By the way, the captain is both charming and most accessible to the passenger population. Of note, several days into our 12 day cruise we received a "mid cruise questionnaire" we congratulated them on almost all points but had a suggestion/complaint for a specific service to our cabin (fresh ice in the afternoon). A day later our room steward called and apologized saying she was unaware of our discontent and that she would gladly freshen or bucket daily. Unquestionably, Oceania takes their passengers input seriously and acts upon it quickly.
When we felt the need for lunch it was a choice between the Terrace Grill and Waves, by the pool. Both were excellent with The Grill offering a wonderful cafeteria style assortment of salads, "theme" dishes (hot and cold), as well as fruits and deserts. Waves gives you a menu consisting of panini sandwiches, hamburgers, Cajun chicken, hotdogs as well as fish along with salads and french-fries. Again the quality was better than we have experienced on other lines. Iced tea, punch and apple juice is always available. At any time during the early afternoon, the ice cream table was setup next to Waves. Rich creamy and as delectable as you could possibly imagine, this is a real treat.
We usually retired to our cabin by 3:00 pm. Although there was music at the pool starting around mid afternoon, the musicians played for only 40 minutes and although they were very talented, I think a more Caribbean slant to the music would have been greatly appreciated by the clientele. Once the band started playing (jazzy genre), I noticed that the people by the pool started tapping their feet and were happy to have some musical accompaniment. I do believe that Oceania should review and consider a change in venue for their entertainment by the pool. I believe the passengers would have preferred some music that was a bit more upbeat type fare.
Our balcony afforded us with a most desirable alternative to the pool area. After returning from the pool deck we would sit on it watching the waves slither along while talking and reading. Occasionally we would see container, tanker and cruise ships in the distance. The sunsets were spectacular. We enjoyed with sushi available from Terrace Grill from 6:30 pm on. Of coarse our martinis enhanced those moments as well.
Dining was pleasurable at all four of the restaurants. The open seating concept in the main dinning room suited us and our friends perfectly. We would ask the maitre De for a table for four at 7:30 and then retire to the Martini lounge for about a half an hour. At the requested time we would return to the dinning room and promptly be seated. There were a couple of nights we were told a table for four would not be available at the time we wished to eat so we opted for a larger table and were seated at the time we wanted. This allowed us to meet some very nice fellow passengers. There have been quite a few comments concerning the lengthiness of diner itself, but we found the courses were brought to the table at just the right speed. Admittedly, we are not ones to rush dinner and it did seem we were often one of the last groups to leave the dinning room but for us, a leisurely one and a half hour meal is preferable to rushing out in an hour.
The menus were extensive, the food was excellent and the service superb.
We did not have lunch in the dinning room but for breakfast, I had to have my kippered herring just once as I always do on each cruise and the meal and service was consistent with the quality of the dinners.
Both Toscana and Polo Grill were fine dining as well. The only complaint from our group was a chop ordered at Polo that was clearly impossible to finish due to its size and the fact that it was well overdone and dry. I'd have to say that all of us were pleased with the preparation, presentation and service in these eateries excepting that one dish.
Tapas on the Terrace was another matter. We were so looking forward to dinner outside on the aft deck. The setting was beautiful with blue covers on the chairs and intimate place settings. It was lovely. The selection of food however left a lot to be desired. The quality in not in question but the dishes themselves were weak and uninspired. Rather than small servings of a variety of specialties which we greatly enjoy eating, it was merely a glorified cafeteria line of average looking dishes. Oceania should rethink the menus at this restaurant as it certainly isn't Tapas as we know it. Perhaps our expectations were too high but we found it to be quite a disappointment.
Breakfast at Terrace grill was always good. The selection of food remained the same throughout the cruise but what a selection. Eggs, French toast, smoked fish, omelets, bacon, sausage, fruit, berries, etc etc. Washed down with fresh juice and an espresso, it was the perfect start to each day.
We enjoyed High Tea in the Horizon lounge one afternoon and found that to be pleasant as well.
Entertainment was minimal. Other than one or two well done venues, we though it lacking in talent. The Regatta singers just didn't cut it. The two young ladies who sang with two men had high pitched scratchy voices that didn't mesh well with the men's at all. This was their last cruise as Regatta entertainers so it's possible this situation will be rectified with new talent. Having said this, we knew from other reviews before hand that entertainment was not one of Oceania's strong suits.
Hand sanitizers seem to be important to cruisers these days. Well have no fear my friends, they are everywhere. Before you embark, after you embark, before diner, after dinner and everywhere else you might like to go. You want to "wash your hands" you can do it over and over and over. No fuss or muss for all of you sanitary buffs out there
All of the islands were enjoyable with tendering efficient and smooth. We dove in Dominica, Tortola and Grand Turk and wonderful dives they were. St. Barts was a beach day with a 10 minute cab ride to Anse St. Jean. It is an incredibly beautiful beach. Virgin Gorda introduced us to the Baths. A maze of passageways through the huge rocks following the Devil's Bay Trail lasted about 15-20 minutes. Our quest ended at a beautiful beach with crystal clear water which provided us with excellent snorkeling.
St. Lucia was the only Regatta tour we took. A snorkel tour to a small but lovely coral reef which was teaming with aquatic life. Antigua was another beach day and also offered the most extensive shopping of all the islands. We chose to treat the day in Samana as a sea day and enjoyed the pool and ship's amenities. Our friends we were traveling with went whale watching (a Regatta tour) and were rewarded with plenty of them close up. They did however; think that the vessel they were on was uncomfortable and left a lot to be desired.
Disembarkation was handled as efficiently as we've ever experienced. Our cruise on Regatta was most enjoyable and we are already booked to sail with Oceania next year. We loved the ship's size, the other passengers, food, service and refined cruise style. We were delighted to not have a photographer and constant announcements over the intercom. We especially enjoyed a quiet and relaxing vacation.