This review is a little late as the cruise was this past Jan. but I guess better late than never!
PRE-CRUISE Our trip started with 2 nights in Miami prior to the cruise. We thought it would be prudent to arrive in Miami a full day ahead of time considering the time of year and any possible weather problems that could arise getting to our departure destination. Fortunately all went well. We chose to do our own flight arrangements.
We stayed at the Intercontinental Hotel in Biscayne Bay. A good hotel in a very convenient location to the cruise ship terminal and a very short taxi ride away. We were able to upgrade to the Club level floor which was great because you had access to the lounge throughout the day and evening and they did serve a nice breakfast and had snacks and drinks during the day and a nice choice of appetizers in the evenings. Well worth the extra cost. The lounge also has a great view of all the cruise ships and port area.
EMBARKATION On embarkation day we arrived at the terminal around noon and even though we were in a concierge level room it was a time consuming process getting checked onboard because of the amount of people waiting at the same time. We were traveling with another couple ( who had not arrived when we did ) and they had no wait at all later in the afternoon.
SHIP Once onboard we spent a little bit of time familiarizing ourselves with some of the ship and then headed up to the Terrace Cafe for a little bite to eat and what turned out to be a short wait until our cabin was ready. Our overall impression of the vessel was very positive. We found the decor throughout very attractive and were pleased with the condition of the vessel.
The smaller ship size plus the country club casual attire along with the Panama Canal part of the itinerary were the main reasons we chose Oceania and this particular cruise.
CABIN When we arrived at our A1 cabin we were pleased with it's layout and found it more than roomy enough for the two of us. Also no problems with the smaller bathroom size and thought that the storage space available was well laid out. The cabin was on Deck 8 directly midship and had an interconnecting door which I had some concerns about ahead of time, thinking that it might be extra noisy from next door however this was not a problem.
This was the Suite deck but they do have a few of these Concierge cabins as connectors onto suite rooms. Because of motion sickness issues I wanted to be as central as possible and the midship cabins on Deck 7 were already taken.
The one noise problem we did have came from the pool deck above and each morning we were woken up around 5:00 am with scrapping and banging noises as the crew start early getting everything prepared for the upcoming day. It took a few occasions of bringing it to the attention of the crew in order for them to take more care when moving furniture around etc.
We are booked on an upcoming cruise in '09 however it is midship on Deck 7 and that way that type of noise issue from above won't be a problem.
FOOD This is where Oceania really comes to the forefront. We found the food to be consistently very good in all of the dining venues. Thoroughly enjoyed all of our breakfasts and lunches in the Terrace Cafe. We chose the Main Dining Room for the bulk of our evening meals and were able to sit at the same table ( for 4 ) each night therefore able to get to know the servers very well and vice versa. Found it great to start the day with a nice cappuccino. The afternoon tea was quite lovely the couple of times we went and I was a big fan of their homemade ice creams.
SERVICE Overall no complaints about the service from staff. Our room stewards did a great job of keeping things clean,neat and tidy in a very unobtrusive way. All of the wait staff in the dining venues were always very pleasant and helpful as were all of the crew throughout the ship.
The one area where they come up lacking is the concierge desk because the people behind the desk were not very helpful or informative in terms of being knowledgeable enough to answer questions about the various ports etc., unless you were scheduled on one of their own shore excursions. They do need to improve in this area. We chose not to book any ship excursions as we prefer to tour independently.
ENTERTAINMENT The onboard entertainment was fine and we did enjoy quite a few of the shows however as others have mentioned, if you enjoy those big productions shows then this type of cruise is not for you.
PORTS, ETC. As this was a 16 day cruise with the focal point being the Panama Canal, we had the luxury of having a lot of sea days ( 8 ) between ports of call. We really found this great because it did give us time to really relax and enjoy the ship as well as visit a few interesting spots.
As we had been through the Caribbean previously we weren't that interested in doing any major shore excursions and basically just walked around the little town in Grand Cayman. Our next stop was Cartegena, Columbia and there we hired a taxi for 2 or 3 hrs. and went into the Old City. Enjoyed walking around and seeing the sights. Some lovely architecture.
The following day was our passage through the Canal and this was very interesting. Also enjoyed watching a documentary on the cabin television prior to this part of our journey. We wanted to see the canal in it's original state before any of the planned widening alterations take place.
The other main stop that interested us was Guatemala. Again the 4 of us hired a vehicle but this time had a guide as well as the driver. We went to the town of Antigua and toured around the city taking pictures and visiting some interesting shops. Also stopped at a coffee plantation and purchased some good java on the way back to the ship.
We also had a stop in Costs Rica which we had seen before and 2 stops in Mexico ( Acapulco and Cabo San Lucas ) however neither of these destinations were of much interest and we just chose to walk around each place on our own. We finished off the cruise with 2 days at sea until we reached Los Angeles to depart the ship.
The last 2 days were spent lazing around the ship, playing a little ping pong, doing a bit of work on the treadmills in the gym and also walking the little track area on Deck 10 for some additional exercise.
DISEMBARKATION When we arrived in Los Angeles it was a rainy morning but by the time we left the ship the rain had stopped. The process to leave the ship was a little time consuming but overall no complaints. Once off the ship we headed straight to the airport for our flight home.
OVERALL IMPRESSION A very positive experience for a first time cruise with Oceania and the main reason we are sailing with them again.