DH and I discovered cruising nearly 20 years ago. We've sailed HAL almost exclusively & are most familiar with their S and R class ships (1200-1400 pax) as well as the unique Prinsendam (793 pax).
Oceania has been on our radar for a while, thanks to many positive reviews here on CC. So we decided to do a "test" cruise. Despite our preference for longer, port-intensive cruises, we chose a 14-nite westbound transAtlantic Barcelona to Miami. Even though this was a most unlikely choice for us, we figured we'd get an excellent impression of the Oceania product with so many days at sea.
We booked the cruise thru our TA without the included Oceania "free" air. We took the air credit instead & made our own air arrangements. We used FF miles & flew Executive Class into Barcelona where we stayed at Hotel Jazz for 1-nite pre-cruise. Hotel Jazz is a modern boutique hotel at the top of La Rambla, between Placa Catalunya & Placa Universitat. An ideal location for exploring fabulous Barcelona.
We took a taxi to the cruise port about 1:00 pm & were processed very efficiently by shoreside staff. We didn't need any of the Oceania documents we received pre-cruise - only our passports, which were kept by the Purser for the duration of the voyage. We boarded onto the 4th floor lobby of the ship. First impressions count & Regatta scored. The lobby is beautifully appointed & inviting. We had the feeling of entering a boutique hotel rather than a cruise ship! We noticed a calm & unhurried atmosphere almost immediately & it continued throughout the entire voyage.
Our A3 Concierge room was conveniently located on the 7th floor slightly forward of the stairs & elevators. The room was bright & airy with every bit of its 165 sq ft interior well planned. There was ample closet space & drawer storage and a large floor-to-ceiling mirror reflected light & added brightness. The bed occupied most of the width of the room, so we learned to orchestrate our movements to avoid collision. The 50 sq ft verandah was large enough for only 2 deck chairs and a small table. The privacy barrier between balconies was sufficient & we really liked the metal railings rather than plexiglass for maximum sea viewing.
The bathroom was tiny, but functional & spotless. The shower stall was very small but we managed fine & neither of us was attacked by the shower curtain. Fresh towels were provided twice daily (no opportunity to reuse) and soap/toiletries were replenished as we used them. Towel animals haven't found their way onto Regatta.
Oceania has fabulous beds with pillow-top mattresses, 700 thread-count Egyptian cotton bedding & Italian silk-cut duvets. Without a doubt, they are the most comfortable beds we've had at sea.
Food is an important aspect of our overall cruise experience. Since Oceania bills itself as having the "finest cuisine at sea" we came on board with high expectations. And for the most part, Oceania delivered. We had some excellent meals and many very good meals in each dining venue. The food was indeed the best we've had at sea but we never had a "wow" moment.
We ate most breakfasts in the Terrace Cafe. The fresh fruits & berries were wonderful: strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, blackberries, mango, papaya, kiwis & pineapple. There were yoghurts & cheese, hot & cold cereals, muesli and a wide selection of meats, smoked salmon & herring. Made-to-order omelettes & eggs took a while but were worth the wait. Eggs benedict were poached just right & dressed with awesome hollandaise. There was an incredible selection of baked goods made fresh several times daily. Oceania employs French bakers & uses special flour that can withstand the climate & humidity changes found at sea. The results are sensational.
Even though the Terrace Cafe is buffet, it's not self-serve. Most food along the line is served. Wait staff bring hot & cold beverages. Good variety of juices but we missed the fresh-squeezed OJ that HAL provides. My DH declared that the coffee was undrinkable while I discovered that hot chocolate made with milk was divine.
We ate most lunches in the Terrace Cafe. There was always a wide selection of hot & cold appetizers, salads, soup, fresh-made pasta cooked to order, a carvery station, pizza and several entrees. Interesting cheese selections and tempting desserts. Oceania also has delectable, oh-so-creamy ice cream & refreshing sorbets that are made right on board. Simply the best we've experienced on any ship.
We sometimes ate at Waves, the casual grill outside Terrace Cafe. DH loved the Texan Burger while I opted for the Mahi Mahi Burger with bacon and smothered onions. Waves is also the spot for hand-dipped milkshakes, malteds & smoothies. Always a treat.
Grand Dining Room
The atmosphere in the GDR was elegant, calm & unhurried. It was well staffed by friendly & attentive servers. Knowledgeable sommeliers offered wines & seemed just as happy to bring a house pour as the most expensive listed vintage.
We are die-hard late-seating traditional diners on HAL so this was our first experience with open seating. And it worked. We usually arrived at the GDR about 7:30 pm & even though this was peak time, we never had to wait for a table. The Maitre d' quickly learned our preference for a deuce & always seated us at a private table. Sometimes we were seated close to others & could share conversation if we wanted.
Food was very good. Creative menus, wide-ranging choices, quality ingredients, distinct flavors, artful presentation, delivered at the correct temperature. The bread baskets offered at the beginning of each meal were superb. We were usually pleased with our appetizers, soups & salads but sometimes we hit a miss on the entrees. Pastas were always excellent, so much so that they rivaled those prepared in Toscana, the Italian specialty restaurant. And the "always available" Jacques Pepin Signature Dishes were outstanding. The crispy, salty skin on his perfectly roasted Rotisserie Chicken was yummy.
In addition to dinners, we occasionally ate breakfast & lunch in the GDR. I tried the Baby Lamb Chops for breakfast, but I must say that I don't understand what the fuss is all about. We also went to a superb Gala Brunch. I had chilled strawberry soup & fresh-made waffles while DH stuck to his stand-by of eggs benedict. Oh that hollandaise! Oceania does a great job on sauces of any kind. Gotta love those French chefs who aren't afraid of butter, butter, butter!
Our A3 room entitled us to 2 reservations at each of the 2 specialty restaurants, Polo Grill and Toscana. We made reservations on-line several weeks before we left. We booked dates early in the cruise to allow us the opportunity to try for additional reservations if possible. When we arrived on board, there was a card in our room which summarized all 4 reservations we had made on-line. Nothing lost in translation from shore to ship. Well done Oceania.
Both restaurants are gorgeous. Polo Grill has a very clubby feel with dark wood-paneling, overstuffed furniture & subdued lighting. It has a predictable steak house menu with the usual cuts, sauces & sides. Unfortunately, we felt that our entrees weren't up to par on either occasion. My rack of lamb was overcooked & underseasoned while my NY strip was saved only by a huge dollop of bEarnaise. My DH struggled with an overwrought piece of grilled lobster & overcooked filet mignon. Sides were tasty but arrived lukewarm. Crème brulee and key lime pie were both winners. On balance, we were disappointed with Polo Grill. And truth be told, we think the Pinnacle Grill on HAL is every bit as good in some areas & better in others.
Toscana is bright & airy, full of Tuscan colors, light woods & a charming bar specializing in Grappa & Limoncello drinks. It's a culinary adventure just reading the extensive menu! We almost hit a home run at Toscana with everything we ordered. The olive oil & balsamic tasting menu was superb (especially the spicy Holy Oil). Spinach & ricotta ravioli in sage butter was perfectly al dente and full of flavor. Veal scaloppini limon was simple but satisfying. The only notable exception was osso bucco with saffron risotto which was heavy, salty & gummy. We both loved the ricotta cream canolli dessert, so much so that we ordered it twice. We enjoyed Toscana very much, but we didn't think that either specialty restaurant was so much better than the GDR to request additional reservations.
We really liked the elegant casual dress code on Oceania & didn't miss formal nites at all. We found that folks dressed very nicely for dinner in the GDR & the atmosphere was every bit as elegant as a formal nite on HAL. Very classy! Many men wore jackets (mostly without ties) in Polo Grill and Toscana.
This crossing had 9 sea days out of 14 days & Regatta offered the expected line-up of games & activities. Golf putting, shuffleboard, ping pong, bridge, bingo & trivia were regularly scheduled & well attended.
In addition to the ever-popular games, there were watercolor classes, Spanish lessons, dance classes & enrichment lectures, cooking demos, wine bazaars, wine tasting ($), afternoon tea, coffee chats, photo workshops ($) and fitness classes. Mercifully there were no art auctions although the Park West guy did give a few presentations & was available by appointment.
There were also a few "big" events.
A lovely Tea Dansant was presented mid-way thru the cruise in the Regatta Lounge. This was an amped-up version of afternoon tea with impressive displays of savory & sweet temptations. It reminded us of Royal Dutch Tea on HAL.
There was also a Regatta transAtlantic Upper Hall Event, billed as the social event of the season. It turned out to be a nothing but sales pitch in poor disguise. A bust.
But the Country Fair was a hoot. This was originally to be staged outside but the weather was overcast & windy. So the entire 5th floor was transformed into "booths" where pax could try their luck at various games in the tradition of an old-time country fair. Dress-a-mannequin, stuff-a-pillowcase, knock-down cans & similar goofy stuff. Many events were timed & Regatta dollars were awarded depending on your speed. It was a blast.
Each evening in the Regatta Lounge there was an after-dinner show & we went to most of them. We liked the small, cozy, cabaret-styled theatre & enjoyed performances by a pianist, clarinetist, vocalists & a magician. We were very impressed that some of the Regatta entertainment staff were also polished performers who took to the stage & delivered excellent shows.
As a preamble to the evening shows, there were game/trivia contests along the lines of Liars Club, Newlywed Game, Who Wants to Be an O Millionaire, Deal or No Deal. These were well attended & a ton of fun, thanks in no small measure to outstanding hosting by the Assistant CD.
In various venues throughout the ship, music was provided by a string quartet, an 8-piece orchestra (expanded to 12-piece to accompany Tea Dansant) and a pianist. There was also an after-hours disco in Horizons that reportedly was poorly attended.
There were only 3 ports on this crossing: Tangier, Morocco; Funchal, Madeira; and Hamilton, Bermuda. Thanks to CC and TripAdvisor, we researched them & made our own independent plans in advance.
Shore excursions offered by the ship seemed to cover the basics but were priced quite high. We did consult Destination Services about a tour but unfortunately they gave us info that we later learned was incorrect. The shorex staff didn't seem to have good knowledge of their excursions, perhaps because they visit these ports only twice a year during repositioning.
Crew & Fellow Passengers
Our sailing had only 520 pax (75% capacity) with a complement of 397 crew. Quite an impressive ratio. Service was consistently excellent throughout the ship. There seemed to be a genuine team-concept on board & everybody, no matter rank or station, was there in service to the pax.
We are used to HAL ships where crew are primarily from Indonesia & Philippines and officers typically from the Netherlands. It was delightful to engage with the international crew of Regatta, who hailed from places such as Greece, Austria, Thailand, Ukraine, Russia, Lithuania, India, Columbia, Honduras & Jamaica. We are also used to mostly male crew on board HAL. It was wonderful to see the smiling faces of young women working about the ship in many capacities.
Many crew were scheduled to leave Regatta when we arrived in Miami. Some were at the end of long contracts & were understandably keen to get home again. Yet they delivered outstanding service right up to our final moment on board.
Our fellow pax were a delight. Well-traveled, unpretentious, interesting & friendly. People were comfortable with themselves & it showed. Some pax were in our age group of early 50s but a majority were in their 60s, 70s & beyond. But age didn't matter. We found easy conversation & common ground with many folks.
Regatta is gorgeous. Beautiful public rooms, elegantly appointed, spotlessly clean. There is absolutely no sign of visible wear anywhere on furnishings, carpets or draperies. It's clear that somebody is paying attention to the details.
While the interiors are very nice, we prefer the look of the blue-hulled exteriors of HAL ships with their more traditional sleek lines. We missed the teak wrap-around promenade deck & extensive outside public spaces. On HAL, pax can also access the bow for scenic cruising. On Regatta, there are very few front vistas available for public use. Private cabanas occupy the best forward vantage points & access is restricted. On our sailing, every cabana was marked "reserved" yet none were ever in use, even during scenic sailaways.
Regatta was clearly in turn-around mode on disembarkation morning. Breakfast hours in all venues were shorter. Menus, including room service, were limited. We were instructed to vacate our room by 8:00 am and wait in a public lounge for our disembarkation number to be called. This was in marked contrast to HAL where all pax can remain in their rooms until they disembark & breakfast service is as usual.
We arrived in Miami at 6:00 am but disembarkation was delayed until 8:30 am. There were a few announcements asking certain crew members & pax to make themselves available to US immigration, but on the whole, the process was smooth & well organized. As independent travelers, we were among the first to leave the ship. We retrieved our luggage inside the terminal & grabbed a taxi to the Miami airport.
And sadly, thus ended our first Big O adventure. We are very glad we did this "test" cruise on Oceania. It was fabulous & we look forward to sailing Oceania again in the future.