Review of Oceania's Coral Seas and Asian Jewels
ITINERARY This cruise itinerary proved to be very interesting and diverse, visiting ports in Australia and then jumping up to Indonesia, and then to Thailand. This was our 4th Oceania cruise, and the food was excellent as is the norm for Oceania. However, this cruise seemed to be a cut above the other 3 in the food area. I wonder how this multi-national staff can be so professionally trained in serving food and tending to the needs of the cruisers. There are no lines to enter restaurants, you eat when you want, and sit with whom you wish. The maitre d' will ask if you wish to dine alone or share with others. Sharing is a great way to meet other cruisers.
CRUISE DIRECTOR We had the pleasure of having Dottie Kulasa as our cruise director. This amazing woman is everywhere and so attentive to the needs of the cruisers. I was so pleasantly surprised when I boarded the ship to be invited to a Superbowl party, which had just begun in the Nautica Lounge. Dottie had arranged a buffet football lunch served by the wonderful wait staff. This was so important to me, as I am from New Orleans and feared that I'd miss seeing the Saints win their first Superbowl. Of course, Dottie learned quickly that I was from New Orleans as she is so observant.
We also had Ian for Assistant Cruise Director. He was the best we've ever had also. Each evening at 8:45 Ian hosted a different game in Martinis. After a week, everyone couldn't wait to see what game he'd present that evening! He was so entertaining.
ENTERTAINMENT The entertainment on Oceania is usually not great as it's a small ship. But this cruise was the exception. Frances Bordley of the Entertainment staff has a fabulous voice and a great personality to go with it! Lucy is a beautiful, tiny young girl with a powerful mature voice. I wish she could have sung more for us. Frances arranged with Dottie to put on a second show. Dottie searched the schedule and found a time slot from 6 - 6:30 for her show. I applaud Dottie's flexibility! The extra show was very entertaining and well attended. As a plus to having Dottie, we also got her husband, Tom Drake, who is a very entertaining comedian. In addition to the entertainment staff, entertainers were brought on from Australia to perform. We were also treated to a Thai Dance performance with beautiful costumes. On previous cruises it was not a big deal to miss a show, but no one wanted to miss these shows!
CONCIERGE SERVICES I had also arranged with fellow Cruise Critics to meet in Martinis Lounge so we could all get to know each other. The Concierge, Bruno, was very helpful in arranging a special party for our group. We grouped together for dinner, shore excursions and other events onboard. We arranged private shore excursions together, which combined all of the Oceania excursions in one and for 1/4th of the price of one Oceania excursion.
DESTINATION SERVICES This Oceania cruise would have been perfect except for the poorly executed Oceania shore excursions and the misinformation given by the Destination Services Manager. We really didn't know what to expect at each port until we got to it. In Komodo, we were FORCED to take Oceania's excursions. DS claimed we were unable to disembark the ship unless we were on one of Oceania's tours. They said this was a requirement by the Komodo National Park. This is something we will never know the truth about. We did notice, however, that the crew was able to tender back and forth as they pleased. Our CC group learned that the entrance fee to the park was $15. The tender brought you directly to the entrance of the park. DS didn't need to do anything but set the group up with a guide. For this pleasure they charged $99 for the tour. We were horrified to realize that the poor guides were not even tipped from this amount. We didn't learn this until after our return. Some of us had not brought money ashore with us to tip the guides.
The only other O shore excursion we participated in was to the Great Barrier Reef. I was unable to obtain correct information from Oceania's phone agents as to what happens at this stop. The only info we had was that the ship would anchor off of Hamilton Island at 8am. As it turned out, the ship stopped at 6:30 and disembarked the tour to the GBR onto a catamaran in rough water. The rough ride on the catamaran to the GBR was about 1 hr. long. Many people were nauseated by the time we got to the snorkeling platform. As it was an overcast day with rough water, the coral was not very vivid, and perhaps this is not the best place to stop to see the GBR. The cat ride back to the ship was appx. 1 ½ hrs. (again a nauseating ride) because the ship then moved to its scheduled 8:00am anchor position off Hamilton Island. I think DS should have canceled this tour due to poor weather.
I made several calls to Oceania's agents to learn port info. The told me we'd get a document with this info. When we got the document, it didn't give the docking address as I had requested. Other questions asked were also answered incorrectly. DS needs to communicate with the agents better.
PRIVATE SHORE EXCURSIONS With the assistance of Cruise Critic, I was able to put together groups interested in doing certain private excursions. We searched CC and the net for interesting tours. Most of these were excellent. I highly recommend Borobudur Sunrise Tours. We had a police escort for 2 vehicles and 18 people total. We got to Borobudur in 1 hr. 35 minutes! So we had plenty of time to explore. Then the guide drove us (with our police escort) us to a delightful place for our included lunch. We had the whole place to ourselves and were served dish after dish of delicious Indonesian food. Cost of tour - $85 pp incl. lunch, admissions, and water on the bus. The cost of the police escort was $250 US so we split this 18 ways. Another notable tour was Polos Tourist Services http://www.bali-day-trip.com/ in Bali. This tour cost about $40 US for a car and we had 2 cars with 6 people each. Nengah Polos would take us anywhere we wanted to go but his website gave suggestions. We left it up to him to show us the best. We had lunch (our cost) in a beautiful restaurant overlooking the active volcano and Lake Batur. We also arranged a tour in Koh Samui with Tours Koh Samui www.tourskohsamui.com. This tour was okay, but totally misrepresented. We thought we'd be doing a private tour with just our group, but then we realized that this company had booked other tours from our ship and put us all together in one big group. Other info about the places we'd go were totally misrepresented. For instance, we were told we could swim in the waterfalls. And we were told we'd see 2 beaches where we could also swim. The waterfalls were a trickle and the guide we had said no one is allowed to swim on their tours. I protested and showed the email I had gotten from her company, so she took us to a beach to swim, but it was dirty and not the pretty beaches we were promised. We were also promised an English speaking driver/guide. None of the drivers spoke English.
One of our CC members arranged 2 tours, one in Cairns, which was great. You can go directly to the Skyrail website www.skyrail.com.au and make these arrangements on your own. A bus brought us to the Skyrail which went to Kuranda (where we were able to visit a Koala park and see kangaroos and koalas. I got a pic. holding a koala for $15A. Entrance to this park was $19A. Then we had lunch and took the train back near where the ship docked. The cost for the skyrail (including bus ride to the skyrail) and train was $92.50A. Other cruisers were able to make this arrangement w/o having a prior rsv. The other tour was in Darwin. This was arranged through Goanna Eco Tours outback-crocodile-adventures.com These people didn't show up to pick us up! Poor management. But our member called them and they showed up an hour late. This shortened our time at the park because we had to be back to the ship. This tour was disappointing. Some of our fellow cruisers took an O excursion to the crocodile park and reported that it was great (but way overpriced).
Overall,this cruise had a great itinerary, great food and entertainment, and fell short only on shore excursions, which (with a little work) you can arrange on your own. I would recommend Oceania for your future cruises.