Just back from our first experience with Oceania. It was better than expected. Cruise was round trip from Miami to 7 ports in the Southern Caribbean. Bottom line --- everything was exceptional.
Travel and embarkation. We used the cruise line's special "free air," which isn't really free after paying taxes, govt. fees, and transfers. However, still saved some money. Flight was nonstop to Miami and transfer to the ship was easy. We arrived at the terminal about 2 hours prior to the stated 3 p.m. boarding time, but were allowed to board immediately as long as we stayed on decks 9 and 10. Buffet lunch was waiting in the Terrace Cafe and we were able to mix and mingle with fellow passengers and make reservations in the specialty restaurants while waiting for cabins to be ready.
Rooms were announced ready for occupancy around 2:30 and we arrived at our Cat B (balcony) stateroom to find our suitcases waiting in the passageway. Rooms are small and my first impression was that we didn't have enough storage space to accommodate our overpacking. I was wrong, the rooms are very well organized and everything fit.
The stateroom was very comfortable. Similar in size to the balcony staterooms we have enjoyed on the Crystal Harmony. Bathrooms are even smaller that the tiny ones on the Harmony, but again, everything in this very small space is well organized. The queen sized bed was very comfortable and, in our opinion, having a balcony improves the overall ambience of the room greatly. Nice quality bath products and linens. Stateroom service was fine, but not exceptional.
The ship isn't for those seeking the high energy level of a much larger ship. This is a smaller (<700 passenger) ship and the result is that some things (entertainment, for example) are scaled down. To us, however, we find that the advantages offered by a ship of this size significantly outweigh any disadvantages. Service is at a premium. You get to know the crew, the staff, and your fellow passengers much better than on the "mega" ships. The schedule is full, but the pace is relaxed. The ship is spotless and well maintained. The "resort casual" dress code works well, but won't appeal to those who cruise in order to get dressed in their best formal attire. We rearely saw ties on the male passengers, although a good percentage of men did wear sports coats/blazers to dinner. As usual, the women outdressed the men to some degree, but no long, beaded gowns were seen.
The itinerary (Dominican Republic, Virgin Gorda, St. Kitts, Dominica, St. Lucia, Antigua, St. Barts) was nice because most of the islands were new to us. I won't comment further because, after 7 stops, the islands all began to feel the same. We took ship's excursions about half the time and had no complaints.
The highlights of the cruise were the food and the service. The food in the main dining room and in the two specialty restaurants (Polo and Toscana) was as good as I've had on any cruise. Polo, with a steakhouse theme, was our favorite. We did not try Tapas on the Terrace, but the menus looked interesting. The only place where food was not up to the highest possible standards was the buffet type service in the Terrace Cafe for breakfast and lunch. They could do a better job with presentation, variety, and freshness of their buffets. This was not a major problem. Indeed, we ate breakfast in the Terrace Cafe almost every morning. However we did feel that the quality was a notch below the other dining venues. Great burgers and hot dogs and other "fast food" were available all afternoon in the Waves Cafe on the pool deck. Room service menu was adequate and orders were efficiently handled.
Service was simply marvelous. I've never seen so many smiling faces on a ship's crew. Everyone seemed genuinely eager to please and to enjoy the interaction with the passengers. If there is a single factor that will make me a repeat passenger, it is service. I will be a repeat passenger on this line.
There are some things that make this a small cut below the true luxury lines. No flowers or fresh fruit in the staterooms. No tableside flambe service in the dining room.
The wine lists and service were outstanding. You can enjoy your own wine and spirits in your cabin without having to sneak stuff on board. However, if you take your own wine to a dining venue, you will pay a $20 corkage fee, which I thought a bit expensive. Prices for cocktails are high, unless you drink from the daily selection of special drinks. We found some lapses in the drink quality and bar service, but overall it was excellent.
Entertainment was fine, but not on the "grand scale" that you find on larger ships. There were two "special interest" lecturers. The oceanographer was excellent, the "motivational speaker" didn't motivate me to stick around.
The gym was small, but well maintained. Didn't use the spa services, but they seemed to be very professional.
Disembarkation was a bit more difficult than embarkation, but still better than I've experienced on most lines. And, one must remember that the ship can't control many of the delays encountered when arriving home and getting the ship cleared by customs, immigration, etc.
Conclusion --- Oceania is a winner. They have attained their goal of providing real value in luxury cruising. I recommend this line to anyone but those who cruise for the disco dancing and hairy legs contests. We are already planning a return to the Regatta in the next year.