The booking went well. Our only disappointment was the air routing selected for our return trip from Miami to Toronto. Surprisingly, with so many nonstop direct flights to Toronto out of Miami and Fort Lauderdale, Oceania's air department gave us a flight on Northwest Airlines, with a stop and change of planes in Detroit. Although other Canadian cruisers had been able to get this changed, Oceania told my TA that we would have to pay $400, and still no guarantee of a nonstop flight. Needless to say, we declined.
Our flight to the ship (overnight Toronto to Frankfurt and then Frankfurt to Barcelona) went fine (but why, oh why does Frankfurt make connecting passengers go through security again??!!), and the transfer to the ship was smooth and well-organized. Check-in was a breeze, the best ever in 18 cruises. What a treat after a long travel day. Unfortunately, we had to wait a couple of hours for the cabins to be ready... understandable, but a bit disappointing.
Our cabin was a verandah cabin, very far forward on deck 6. Although noticeably smaller than the HAL cabins were are accustomed to, it was adequate and nice & bright and comfortable. The bed was VERY comfortable. A tip, though: If you prefer sheets and blankets to a duvet, ask your cabin attendant to use them at your first opportunity, because the default treatment is duvets. The sliding doors to the verandahs are a nice innovation. We have found that at least half of our neighbors on HAL ships let their (swing-open) verandah doors SLAM shut. The bathroom was another story... "tiny" is inadequate to describe the shower stall, although it's probably a fair description of the bathroom overall. Just be prepared to bang elbows and knees in the shower, and to get very familiar with the clinging shower curtain. One surprise in the cabin was the lack of a privacy curtain between the main part of the cabin and the door to the corridor. Flashing, anyone? The other big surprise was the loud banging every time we crossed a wave at right angles. The seas were fairly rough, and we expected the motion, but not the banging that went on all night long as we crashed across each wave for 2 consecutive nights. We did a "cabin crawl" on this cruise and we were, as usual, impressed with the suites. We thought the Penthouse suite (actually a really large cabin & large verandah, not really a suite) was very nice, without the excessive grandeur of the Vista and Owners' suites.
The Staff: Superb in every way. The dining room staff, the staff in all of the other dining venues, the cabin attendants, the bar staff, the activities staff, and the ship's officers and crew were all friendly, cooperative, smiling and helpful. It was definitely the highest service level we have experienced (yet without being "fawning" or obsequious).
The Food: In a word: "Wonderful." Oh, there may have been a very few things that we thought were better done on HAL ships (the bread pudding & cobblers, the ice cream with liqueurs, the french toast come to mind) but the preparation of the food on the Regatta, the presentation, and the incredible variety were all first-class. Their breads and pasties were exceptionally good. And the fresh fruit!! The 2 'Optional" restaurants were very nice, and there was no extra fee to use them. If you were booked in a category B thru G cabin C thru G?), you were allowed one reservation in each, and the suites got 2 each. (You could also try for additional bookings if there were vacancies.) We found the Polo restaurant to be of little advantage over the main dining room; in fact, our friends with a suite gave up their 2nd Polo reservation. The Toscana restaurant, on the other hand, was a superb dining experience. One suggestion I would make is to book your specialty restaurants early.... the choice becomes very limited very quickly. (We found it unsatisfactory to have to book our visits to the specialty restaurants without knowing what the scheduled entertainment might be for the selected night.) We also tried the "Tapas on the Terrace" one night. Although we were (again) most impressed by the variety and quality of the food, evening buffet dining was not our preference, so we did not return to that venue. And, by the way, dress is always "Country Club Casual," and all dining venues except the alternative Polo and Toscana restaurants (which require reservations) are open-seating.
The Activities: There were enough activities, I think, but certainly not too many, as we expected on a small ship with fewer than 700 passengers. We did fall into a somewhat monotonous routine, with the same events scheduled every day, and always at the same time. Overall, though, we were satisfied. The Activities staff was incredible, with the Cruise Director, David, and his staff of Chris, Emily, Kami & Christopher, all of whom were talented singers to say the least.
The remainder of the entertainment (contract entertainers) was adequate for a small ship, but we've seen better. The exception was Mark Worgan, a hilarious magician/comedian.
The ship itself was lovely.... a tad old-fashioned, having been built over 20 years ago and then refurbished, but very beautifully furnished and decorated. The layout was relatively straightforward, and it took very little time to feel at home. The public rooms and lounges were warm and welcoming. The main show lounge appeared small but was never overcrowded. There was no movie theatre, but they did show one or two movies in the main show lounge. The orchestra was the best... by far!... of any cruise we have been on. And there was also good entertainment in the Piano Bar (Martini Bar) and by the strings trio. We really missed having a full walk-around promenade deck... something HAL has retained on its ships.
The shops on board were adequate (barely) and staffed with charming people. There were VERY few items available such as you'd find in a "tuck" shop on a larger ship, so you are more likely to be shopping for odds & ends at your first port of call. There was also NO shop selling bottles of alcoholic drinks to take to your rooms. I assume for that reason, Oceania is among the very few Cruise Lines that don't mind if you bring bottles of booze onboard (as long as it's for use in your cabin). We did find the bar and wine prices a little higher than HAL, but Oceania IS a step above, and their bar prices (and gratuities schedule) show it.
Ports of Call: Tangier Morocco was interesting. We took a ship's excursion that visited the Casbah, the Medina, and some of the nearby coastline. It was very good, but I could have spent a lot more time in the Medina. Would I go back.... it's unlikely. Funchal, Madeira: Beautiful, safe, lively.... we just walked around, went to a craft flea market and to the fish market and others. Never got to see the island. Would we go back? Yes, without a doubt! Hamilton, Bermuda: This was our second time in Bermuda and we enjoyed it as much as the first. Safe, clean and civilized and drop-dead gorgeous. Would we go back? Absolutely!!
We were amazed at the number of repeat Oceania cruisers. There were about 500 repeaters on board, or 70%+ of the passengers. Quite an accomplishment for such a new cruise line. The reasons why became clear throughout the cruise. Oceania has definitely raised the bar. (I wonder if that's a reason why we found the always great service on the HAL Zaandam in September to be even better than ever.)
We tried once again before the end of the cruise to have our return air arrangements improved, but to no avail. All they could offer us was a later nonstop, at $350 extra and getting us into Toronto at the same time as what we had. We were very annoyed about this, especially when we determined that every other Canadian on board who was returning to Toronto on disembarkation day had been booked on Air Canada nonstop flights at convenient times. We felt badly treated about this issue.
Will we repeat on Oceania? Without a doubt. But we'll almost certainly arrange our own air!