As regular readers of my cruise reviews know, I prefer not to use anecdotal formats. In this review, I will focus on the fact that this was our first cruise with Oceania where appropriate make comparisons with our previous cruises. A good starting point for this review is the "Points of Distinction" in the glossy Oceania brochure and I include them in italics below: "finest cuisine at sea served in four distinctive open seating restaurants": without a doubt our meals on board were the best we have yet experienced. The menus are varied (though those of the two specialty restaurants are fixed), offer lots of tempting choices, and come with outstanding service. We love dining "a deux" and at different times depending upon what we have been doing during the day. The flexibility of the open seating with no set meal times was wonderful. Interestingly, as we go over our notes, we ate most often in Las Tapas in the evening; many of the main dishes there were the same as in the Grand Dining Room, the view was often fantastic from deck nine, and we were able to eat as little as or much as we desired (even we foodies cannot/shouldn't eat gourmet level five courses every night for 2 weeks). Of the two specialty restaurants, we preferred the remarkable Italian flavors in Toscana (that trolley of olive oils and balsamic vinegars is a knock-out), though we had excellent rack of lamb and a filet in the Polo Grill too. Some dishes in the Grand Dining Room were amongst the finest we have eaten at sea; and "regular" waiter Adrian performed flawlessly on the four occasions we were in his section at table 80 (we slow eaters caused him no trouble as he adjusted to our pace and remembered our preferences sometimes from two or three nights back). While no better than our best experiences on Celebrity, we enjoyed the interactions with the Sommeliers. We have a long history with wines, and head Sommelier Andrea and her main sidekicks Ramona and Stefano recognized that and provided exemplary service. We were impressed that they could access the wines we had not finished in Las Tapas one night and serve them in the Dining Room the next evening without fuss or delay. A real highlight to me was the variety of cheeses available, the care and attention taken to serve them at the correct temperature and with a wide range of accompaniments. Well done! A contrast to other lines - the food in the buffet lines of the Terrace Cafe is almost exclusively served by staff behind the counters. In our opinion this is a healthy (and less wasteful) method of delivery of food and is much appreciated. "70% of suites and staterooms feature private teak verandas": we cannot comment because friends had warned us that if we wanted to be sure of sound sleep we should reserve an inside stateroom. We did, and we had total darkness for sleeping. Overheard some comments, particularly early in the cruise, from others who found the sunrise (at 4am) and sunset (after 11pm) and twilight between created problems for sleeping, so were glad of our dark inside stateroom. We loved the little alarm clock in the stateroom with the button to push to light the dial at night....a nice touch. "Exclusive beds, duvets, pillows and finest cotton linens": the mattresses were very comfortable, though we asked our stateroom attendant for blankets to replace the duvets which we found too warm for our comfort (a hint from another passenger). The sheets and towels were lovely to sleep in and to use in our tiny bathroom. "country club casual ambience": wonderful! Though we do enjoy dressing up on formal nights on other lines, this trip was so port-intensive that we would have found pulling on the formal wear a bit of a trial (and packing was easier too). However, we found the country club casual as described was not always observed in the Grand Dining Room; I would have expected shirts with buttons (and tucked into trousers) more often, even though the lack of jackets was understandable given the warmth of the weather and the temperature of the room.
"Elegant 684 guest, mid-size ships featuring large ship amenities": apparently our sailing was fully booked (660 passengers reported) but it rarely felt crowded. The only lines were to leave via the gangway if shore excursions coincided with our departure or in Reception on days when passports were returned. The seating layout in Martini's meant that at times we two could not find a private table, but the Horizon Lounge and other bars always seemed to have space. The ship does not feature a cinema, but movies do run on four channels on the stateroom TV for movie addicts (and the printed program was accurate). The ship's design does not include long promenade decks and the two short ones on deck 5 do not link except through the interior. Those not wanting to walk on the jogging track on windy days do not have a suitable alternative. Though we did not use them, there are reservable cabanas on the forward top deck. The activities program is quite restricted and static given the small size of the ship and the small (4 only) activity/entertainment staff. But, the itinerary was so-port intensive that there were few opportunities for us to want to look for time slots on the ship board activity list. The culinary demonstration and wine tastings are similar to other lines. There is (thankfully from our point of view) no photographic service on board - no photographers at embarkation or on formal nights, and no gallery of prints with crowds gathered to find the right photo. The small size means that the Regatta Lounge cannot accommodate glitzy shows with large casts and multiple costume changes. This suited us just fine - we thought the four entertainer/singers did a fine job with the revue style shows, and some of the visiting entertainers (a clarinetist followed by a violinist, the magic/comedy duo and of course the Regatta Orchestra) did a super job. The ubiquitous Liar's Club and Newlywed Games were featured along with a couple of Oceania variations (such as Oceania Idol) with the small entertainment staff. Bingo was played, but by small numbers and without jackpots. The card tables in the Casino seemed busy when we passed through after dinner some evenings. With just two shops on board, there was less emphasis on retail and sidewalk sales than on other lines….though the amber seminar and art auction still exist for those who need them. The small size of the ship is probably a reason why there is just USA Today on offer for news; other larger ships also have Canadian, British and other language papers too. "The world's most alluring and desirable ports": we chose this cruise because we wanted three days in St. Petersburg, and wondered whether the rest of the itinerary was too port-intensive (just 2 sea days in 14). But, the ports were so markedly different, and an added bonus was that Regatta is small enough that she was able to dock close to downtown for many of them (though not as advertised at English Embankment in St. Pete.), that we did our usual wander ashore and pick up self-guided walking tours to accomplish what we wanted. We did not use the services of the shore excursion desk, but it seemed to be very busy and popular. The small size of the ship probably makes it possible for another nice touch: a representative of the local Tourist Office comes on board in each port and sits at a table in Reception (with up-to-date, clear maps). While there was sometimes a line there, it was possible to approach from behind to collect a map.
“best value in luxury cruising”: I do not think we can judge against other luxury lines given that this our first cruise at this lofty level, but in that we booked early enough to secure the 2 for 1 fares and the “free air” and opted to book an inside stateroom, this was certainly value for the itinerary. We did hear some grizzles about the 18% gratuity on drinks, and complaints that the bottled water in the stateroom was charged to the account, but there is no charge for the specialty restaurants so we think it balances out in the end. A few other quick summary points: the smoking areas are small in size and number and not in eating or drinking areas (hooray); the music on the stateroom TV is always varied and good quality (classical music behind the bridgecam channel was much appreciated given that we left it on often pretending it was our oceanview window); after the no-announcements policy on Celebrity, we found the frequent and repetitive PA announcements somewhat disruptive during our quiet times (and the Captain is a member of the slow talker’s association which became a bit of a standing joke): we found there was a very low key approach to the Oceania Club (perhaps because it was our first cruise and we were not members and invited to the Club events); given the small size of the ship, we found it a bit more difficult to find quiet corners to read or watch the view (there seemed to be a higher percentage of compulsive (loud) talkers whose conversations were hard to avoid). But, with stunning weather, calm seas, outstanding service, three days of independent travel in St. Pete successfully accomplished, fabulous food for 14 days: what’s not to enjoy? Well done Oceania!