We booked with a local agent of long standing and our transportation to the Port of Miami was via private car, a family member.
We arrived at the terminal (conveniently located; Oceania's berth and embarkation slots are the very first as you enter the port, just after Noon and were on the ship and at our (Inside, number 8014) cabin easily before 1:00PM. Check in (done online before boarding) was quick, easy and courteously and professionally handled. We had been told that the cabin(s) would not be ready this early,so we quickly visited ours to see if we could drop our carryons before heading to the Terrace Cafe (the buffet) for lunch.
We surprised our steward Ada, who was just finishing servicing our rooms and caught an elevator to the 9th floor Terrace. This venue, where we ate breakfast often, is as usual, located at the stern, our cabin, toward the bow, which gave us a good walk to sharpen our appetites...Being as this was prime time for both lunch and boarding, we did not find seating readily available; finally a friendly couple at a larger table graciously invited us to sit with them.
Note: Will comment on food later, as a separate comment section.
From lunch we made a quick ship's tour to familiarize ourselves. An easy task as we had a year plus before sailed on the Azamara Journey, sister ship of the Regatta as both were originally part of the Renaissance line, spun off after financial difficulties post 9/11. An added theater has been well designed, and cabin modifications are well thought out. Again, separate category follows!
The Gym/fitness center/Spa is, as usual on the same deck as the buffet but at the opposite (bow) end. The gym is well equipped for the size allotted to it, and well thought out. There are fourteen cardio/treadmill machines, six upper body machines, one stationary stand to do "dips" etc. on, and a half dozen "Spinner" bicycles. The demographic being what it was on this cruise, we saw none of the "spinners" in use at any time, though they could have been.
There is on Deck 5, enroute to the Theater, a small shopping section, an all purpose outlet with mainly clothing and a few sundries which might be needed if anyone had forgotten to pack them, and on the opposite side of the walkway, a jewelry outlet.
One of the frequently mentioned hallmarks of the Oceania line is its exemplary service, and with only two very disappointing exceptions (which make it even more disappointing by comparison) this was true. Front desk crew, i.e, always happy, smiling and willing to help it all possible. Try to get by any staff in the hallways without a smile and greeting; we found it impossible to do. Dining staff, very happy in demeanor and performance. Two examples: Steward Ada; with whom there was a mixup on a cabin treat, not of her making, apologized profusely and said that the wrong paperwork had been delivered due to the noted cabin class. Quite soon, a staff officer, nice young lady "Jolanta" appeared and assured us that as it was a ship's error we would receive the particular perc, and we did. Waiter Raymond, also a standout.
Ex.2: Writer has a dairy allergy, which had been properly communicated and confirmed. Main dining room Ass't. Maitre' d Cora Aguisando (my spelling) arranged for the dinner menu to be delivered to our cabin early mornings, so that I might mark it with my specific requests and return it to her desk so that it would be on file in the kitchen when our order was taken. As we entered for dinner, a printout had already been prepared and was handed to the waiter so that all arrangements were handled expeditiously and correctly. We noted that there were several similar printouts at her reception desk and found this very admirable, that this level of preparation is made. Well done indeed.
There are two alternative restaurants, Polo Grill, specializing in meats, and Tuscano, an Italian themed venue. Both are complimentary, as opposed to added charge on most lines, and reservations need to be made so that everyone has a fair chance. Well, that said, let's talk about food in general and start with these. We dined at each twice and in general were well pleased. In Polo I had the single best prime rib ever in my life. Offerings in both were outstanding indeed. A sight to behold was BW's (for the unitiated, Beautiful Wife's) sampler dessert plate in Polo, consisting of tastes of all desserts from the main menu. Quite a sight indeed, husband watched with considerable envy, he freely admits. Service, from entry to exit, beyond compare. May I repeat, Beyond Compare.
Grand Dining Room (Yes, that is its true name) presents what has to be cuisine which is literally, as good as it gets, and is in the main, outstanding. We have not sailed on the absolutely top-rated (and accordingly priced) luxe lines, but would say the only comparable food would be on the aforementioned Azamara. Different styles, different to compare, both are outstanding. It is worthy of note that several things menu wise are beyond what could be anticipated or expected. GDR, breakfast, "Steel Cut Oatmeal" and Lamb Chops to order...two breakfast specials which were both impressive and appreciated.
On two lunches, Conch fritters came as very meaty and very little breading or filler, as opposed to the opposite on most lines. A hamburger ordered at lunch was the single best ever eaten; it seemed to be the highest quality beef ground and served as a "Burger". In the latter part of the voyage, a sugar free sorbet, a welcome choice, appeared both in the GDR and the Terraces. A signature dish, broiled free range chicken, was outstanding and was so good it was ordered several times.
Entertainment? Now up to par with other ships of its class and size. The absolutely best BY FAR of any ship's orchestra we have ever heard. Eight pieces, all perfect and very pleasing. A good mix of music for the demographic, which was almost totally seniors. (Oceania has no facilities or entertainment for young children and does not pretend to) This band plays for dancing before evening shows and often appears elsewhere throughout the ship, though often in abbreviated (perhaps Five Piece) form. For some shows they combined with the roving String Quartet to form a full big band. This classical group plays daily at the 4:00PM tea which we did not attend, as we usually had other commitments.
The talented young cast of four singers/dancers (two of each, of course) gave several varied musical presentations and were well received, often appearing through the ship assisting in other activities (Trivia, golf-putting, ping-pong competition etc) and mixing with the passengers on a good will basis.
There were three solo acts which appeared twice each, a banjo player, a magician, and a comedian/guitarist. All were talented and well received.
Trivia fan? One daily presentation, well attended, and an occasional evening quiz in a smaller venue. As opposed to, and pleasingly so, the usual onslaught of key chains and ballpoint pens, points are earned in all daily competitions, both trivia and skill, and larger prizes can be claimed the last sea day. Cruise Director, Nolan Dean, presented the daily Trivia, and did his job very well, personable and pleasing in all respects.
Enrichment speaker, Ret. Col. Steven Bauer, gave a series of highly pleasing talks on Social Life in the White House, under various presidents. With his wife Linda, also on board, he has authored a number of books ranging from said White House duties to best selling cook books. They are the single best speakers we have ever heard and others echoed our sentiments. They combined for a joint added talk on the last sea day where they gave interesting background on both their personal lives and the authoring of their books.
Cabins? Our inside cabin was well laid out and had a surprising amount of available storage. Though smaller than many of its class, it was well laid out and usable. BW and I agreed that the reading lamps for bedtime reading were the best designed we had ever seen on any ship. Switches are convenient bedside and a small auxiliary gooseneck can be directed at your material, or even turned against the wall to make a convenient nightlight. We found the bathroom smaller than many, but in Oceania's ready defense, they can only present what they received as already built. Hopefully this is remedied on the two larger new-builds, Marina, already in service, and Riviera to be, in 2012, we understand.
We would add one caution: we do not recommend a forward eighth floor cabin. There were early morning noises of deck chairs being set up on the pool deck directly above, and after one pool party, the chairs or tables being moved around woke me up twice.
As is hinted at in our preamble, when you provide, as Oceania did and does, and we are sure will continue to do, the few slipups are especially appalling, as they go so against the norm. We mention as it was so bizarre and the other as so purely and unexpectedly disappointing.
The Bizarre: Having had the sugar free sorbet in the Terraces a preceding day, and also ordering it that night in the GDR, as it was available the next day in the Terrace at lunch, we asked at dinner if, though not on the dessert menu, it were still available. The waiter "advised" me: No, that was last night; we threw it out..." I replied: "Well, I just had it upstairs for lunch?" Said waiter than quickly and silently turned and hurriedly walked away...Gotcha?
Advice to Oceania: Don't try to kid me, I've been kidded before and know a kidder when I see and hear one...
The disappointing: As frequent cruisers know, service the last morning of a cruise can be more hurried and perhaps a bit less, well, cheerful? But let's not overdo it, please. At breakfast, the waiter was not interested in the least in any bit of cheer of any sort, simply took the order, turned on his heel without even an acknowledgment and walked away. As service had been far and above many if not most experiences, this was most disappointing, to experience the apparent viewpoint of: "Well, this bunch is headed out, tips have been written up, now let's just get this done, period, and no more." Such a dichotomy to previous experience over two weeks, this was especially disappointing, more than it ordinarily would have been.
In conclusions, ports and comments.
First stop from Miami, Charleston S.C. A delightful experience and a port we had not been to before. We did a brief self-directed walking tour, past the Customs House, with Azaleas in full bloom, to the regional market, by far the most pleasant we have ever experienced.
After leaving Charleston, the weather and seas turned bad and we were not able to dock in Yorktown, the entry port for both Williamsburg and Norfolk. The Captain proceeded on to Bermuda and the seas were so rough that even though this would have theoretically given us an extra day, we did not gain this at all. We did another brief shore walk from our dock in Hamilton, having been in Bermuda twice before. Then to San Juan, P.R. where we stayed on shipboard as it being Easter weekend, adjacent shopping areas were closed and we had been to San Juan also before and there was no tour that we chose. Dominican Republic next stop, again, no tours of interest; a nearly island that we could have tendered to, we were told, had only swimming and sunning available. We were later told by other passengers that this was incorrect, that there had been a number of local shops open with craftwork and better than usual souveniers available. At Turks and Caicos, we docked at an attractive and newly built shopping area, but again, many stores were not open.
Oddly, there was no Cruise Critic meeting available to be signed up for and none found on board. We can only assume not enough people inquired?
Debarkation: As Embarkation, seamless and quick..that says all that need be said!
Would we do Oceania again? Probably so, all things considered and would definitely look forward to one of the two newer ships, for variety's sake.