Cruise: Sun-Splashed Riverias, 29 Sep - 12 Oct 2010
Cabin: A1 Veranda, Concierge Level
Air/transfer to/from port: We made our own air/travel arrangements, which included spending 1 night in Nice at the Le Grimaldi Hotel before the cruise. The hotel provided good service, arranging airport and port transfers for us as well as making recommendations for restaurants etc. We shared a smooth, private transfer with two other couples we met through the board and arrived at the Monaco pier about noon. Disembarkation in Venice also went smoothly, and we were glad to have a 9 a.m. departure from the ship even as we had to exit our stateroom by 8 a.m. (Note: take that time to check out other cabin categories!) We booked a ship transfer to the airport but the air was by our own arrangement.
Embarkation: A breeze. Our luggage was turned over to the baggage handlers, we filled out a brief health survey, and then made our way directly (with no xray screening!) onboard Regatta and into the Regatta lounge for check in. Concierge level was guaranteed to board from 11 a.m. onward; however, the checkin staff was processing all cabin levels even if the lower levels weren't guaranteed checkin until later in the day. I applaud this move especially for an 11 p.m. sailing like ours because it allows everyone to get transferred onboard, get a meal and arrange cruise matters like restaurant reservations, and still have some time to visit the port before sailing. Our cabin became available by 1 p.m. while those in the lower levels opened at 3 p.m. This allowed us to stow our hand luggage (and that of some fellow-cruisers with rooms ready later) and head off to the Monaco Oceanography Museum, which was very enjoyable. One note: Always re-check any restaurant reservations made online when you get onboard. Four of us walked confidently into Polo that night, and after waiting for a bit, were pointed toward Toscana, where they had reserved 2 tables for two vice a single table for four. This was promptly remedied, but Our Bad for not taking a more careful look at our confirms!
Cabin: Is Concierge worth the extra $$$? Depends. All cabin levels got checked in early from what I could tell (which I applaud), but our room was ready a couple hours earlier. We got a tote that came in handy once or twice, but doesn't matter much to me. Our cashmere lap blankets were only really useful as head scarves on an autumn cruise, as they are paper-thin -- we'd have been much better served by the blankets they offer up at the Terrace Cafe. You can order a hot room service breakfast, which we didn't use even once. You get a bottle of champagne, which (shame on us!) we never drank. That leaves one floor up (could care less, it's bumpier the higher you go) and two reservations in each specialty restaurant. For me it was this latter that made the splurge worthwhile, but Just. Otherwise, while smaller than those you would find on even Crystal, for example, the cabins were well laid out and comfortable. The bathrooms are tiny, but the shower is rectangular in shape so that there is in principle just adequate room for a woman to shave her legs. No tub; you only get that if you spring for a penthouse. Perhaps the nicest part of the cabin is that it was very well soundproofed, and I slept very well while aboard.
Dining: In general the food is excellent and always beautifully presented. I loved the single-seating dining and having Tapas as a casual alternative. High marks to Polo for their filet mignon; also enjoyed some excellent local fish, and the ethnic cuisine, particularly the sushi and Indian-inspired preparations. Toscana was also fun, less memorable. It was great to have espresso available throughout the ship. Afternoon tea was a great pleasure with tasty canapEs, lovely cakes and cookies, and those scones with jam and clotted cream. Favorite fruit: papaya every morning. Hubby's favorite treat: smoked salmon for breakfast every day. Favorite ice cream: cinnamon. Best coffee, but had it only once: a double latte with breakfast in the Main Dining Room. (We loved eating breakfast al fresco at Terrace.) Best wine: an Alto Adige Gewurztraminer. Best lunch: a hamburger and fries from Waves - almost never got lunch onboard! Best guilty pleasure: room service French fries with mayo eaten out on my balcony along with some Limoncello (on ice) that we bought in Sorrento.
Service: This is where the line shines, in my opinion. The staff and crew work ceasingly to make us feel warmly welcomed and cared for. This was a cross-over cruise - we migrated most recently from Crystal. While perhaps two 'O' staff ever called me by name (as opposed to many staff members doing this onboard Crystal Serenity), each 'O' staff member put her or his best effort into giving attentive and personal service. Service is perhaps the no. 1 reason I enjoy cruising, and these folks did it extremely well. It became hard to single out individuals because collectively everyone did a top-notch job. That said, I think the Terrace Cafe deserves special mention, because I don't think I've ever had such attentive 'Lido Deck' service - and I'm comparing to 5 and 6 star lines.
Ambience: Regatta is kept bright and clean everywhere you go, and it is true that some of her fittings are wearing a bit - this most evident in the carpets, in my opinion. We heard they were re-outfitting soon, and it is timely. Biggest surprise: passengers dressed nicer that I expected given what I'd read on the CruiseCritic board. Next time (!) I'd pack slightly fancier evening attire. Median age on our trip was roughly mid- to late-60s, and we were on the young end of that curve but never felt unwelcome. Passengers on the whole were a convivial lot: well-heeled and a pleasure to meet.
Itinerary: Exhausting! No sea days, and many of us wished for at least one. I would have settled even for a couple more days of daylight sailing (aka departures by 4 or 5 p.m.). Otherwise you end up on a floating hotel with no sense of being at sea. For example, I'd have gladly nixed Cannes for a sea day. Quite a few folks wore themselves out doing all the headline ports (e.g. Florence & Rome) at the beginning, and had little left for the lovely ports at the end (e.g. Kotor, Dubrovnik and Koper). Kotor was a delight, both to approach at sunrise and then to view from the high point of the old city walls.
Excursions: Took only a few 'O' tours, and most were good to very good. Staff worked hard to make right an issue that came up for us regarding the advertized itinerary. I still, however, rankle at the inflated prices, especially for port transfers. I booked a port transfer for our Venice disembarkation in a weak moment because I hadn't done my usual level of pre-departure research. We could have saved $200 had I been more on top of my game. So Do Note: do your homework before you leave home and you can save a wad in this regard. You can also set up private tours, which while expensive, can be customized to your party's needs. We had an awesome all day tour of Rome courtesy of Fabrizio and his AllAroundItaly touring company (http://www.allarounditalys.net/). Highly recommended!
Entertainment: Can't comment except for enjoying the string quartet at tea (tea is not to be missed if you can manage to be aboard at that time) . We were out exploring every day and retired early every evening - so I was quite content with the limited evening options.
Biggest frustration: lack of a full walk-around promenade, and worse, not even a single, unobstructed 180 degree viewing area forward or aft out in the open air. I think the private cabanas should be junked and returned to a viewing area for those of us who want to see the (often) spectacular coastal scenery. For example, as a lover of nature, scenery and fresh air, I would never choose to take this ship to Alaska to see the glaciers.
2nd biggest frustration: Almost no port shuttles, paid or otherwise. For example, it irritated me to see MSC running passengers into Corfu town but not 'O.' Note: do your port homework before you leave, and make arrangements accordingly. Know whether you will need to get a taxi, use public transport (and have the appropriate currency on hand or know where to get it), or arrange a private or ship tour - as much as you can ahead of sailing, and you'll have a much more enjoyable time on your vacation.
Minor annoyance: the constant peddling of Happy Hour and other Booze events (since you had to pay for alcohol on these ships). We found the two-for-one drinks to taste roughly like the alcohol portion had been split between the two glasses, for example. I'd rather order one really well-made cocktail, and will remember this in the future.
3rd biggest frustration: For most people, the absolutely inadequate self-service laundry. I never used it but came prepared based on advice from these boards. Thus, I washed clothes in my sink nearly every day. I heard a rumor that the Cruise Director assured a passenger that the broken washer would be fixed within 3 days -- he should have done her laundry himself when that assurance failed to be delivered. In fact, I've read so often about a broken machine on the ship that I'm beginning to believe it is a "marketing" for the ship's laundry service.
Big ship amenities I actually missed: the separate movie/lecture theater, the wraparound promenade, and the Asian cuisine in Nobu on Crystal Serenity.
6 Star amenity I missed: staff saying "Why certainly, Mrs. Guest." OK, I'm a total sucker for that one...
Did I miss this or does it just not happen? Any Champagne sailaway from any port on the trip. Any champagne party at all, sponsored by the ship. Apparently first-timers just get an invitation to go hear about how to sign up for the next cruise.
Brightest moment: a tie between sailing into Kotor at dawn and watching a sunset out on my balcony that nearly brought tears to the eyes.
Next brightest moments: returning after long touring days to a cabin beautifully tidied by our steward Egerton and his Jamaican assistant (drat, one of many names I never managed to catch).
Best missed opportunity: massage and thalasotherapy and steam in the spa. No sea days, no time, $$$ saved!!!
Niche: It will be interesting, between the new Marina and the refitting of the older ships, to see where this line will position itself. This is not a 6 star ship (in my opinion because of the limits on the staff-passenger and space-passenger ratios), but certainly in the range of 5 stars in many respects. I think they may be redefining their target clientele, however. Based on discussions during the cruise as well as reading comments on the boards, it seems as if prices may be on the rise - and this appears to be causing folks to reconsider the affordability of the line. While they can attempt to match the service standard of Crystal staff, Regatta can't offer the space and staff ratios that you get on a Crystal or other 6 star ship. So 'O' potentially can capture a market for people seeking great food and service but willing to forgo things like port shuttles, entertainment, an opulent stateroom, free fitness classes (yep, even these come with a 'nominal' fee), and decent laundry service. I'd have to think a bit to come up with my list of must-haves vs can-do-withouts, but for sure in contemplating my next cruise, I'd ask my TA for quotes from Crystal, Regent, Silversea and 'O', do some calculations to estimate overall price including transfers, air, alcohol, laundry, excursions, etc. If 'O' can deliver a good itinerary at a cheaper price, it makes a compelling booking argument.
Toughest moment onboard: when they took away my bathrobe the night before disembarkation. The first sign that the love was ebbing! I'm glad I read about this on CruiseCritic ahead of time. You know how good it was when the time comes to disembark and you feel bereft to leave!