Introduction: We are veteran cruisers and travelers, having taken 19 cruises on a variety of cruise lines over 30 years, including Disney, Oceania, RCI, Princess, Cunard and Holland America. We are in our mid-fifties, with no children. In recent years, I have had some disabilities due to arthritis, requiring the use of a cane or a travel wheelchair. Our cruise on Marina that embarked in Venice on September 7 is our second on OCL. The cruise called at Koper, Slovenia; Dubrovnik, Croatia; Kotor, Montenegro; Corfu, Patras, Zakynthos, Athens and Chios, Greece; and Kusadasi and Istanbul, Turkey. Other than Venice, this cruise took us to five new countries that we have not visited before (one of the reasons we selected the cruise).
Pre-cruise hotel and flights: We booked our own flights using frequent flyer miles, electing to spend a night in Frankfurt before arriving in Venice and again on our way back to the US from Istanbul (our disembarkation port). In Venice, we stayed at the delightful Westin Europa and Regina; although quite expensive, this beautiful hotel had excellent service and views of the Grand Canal and Lagoon that were worth the price of admission.
Embarkation: Using a water taxi service, we traveled from our hotel to the terminal. We were on board within a few minutes of our arrival at the terminal (very efficient service).
Stateroom: Our stateroom, a PH2 (Penthouse) suite on the 11th deck forward port side was ready when we boarded at 1:30 pm. Our original booking for this cruise was in an A3 concierge veranda. A month prior to the cruise, OCL made a very good offer on an upgrade to the PH2 category. The saddest aspect of our decision to upgrade is that it will be very, very difficult to ever go back to a "regular" veranda stateroom again!. This suite was magnificent and is the best room we have ever had on a cruise. We had so much space, including a walk-in closet (great for storing my collapsible wheelchair) and a large sitting area, a large desk and vanity stand, plus a huge bathroom with tub and shower. I have read previous reviews of Marina and the concerns for the rain head shower space, but we loved this shower (apparently the suites have a larger shower stall). The room was elegantly decorated and very quiet. The bed was incredibly comfortable. Other reviews have noted that deck 12 has a large overhang over the deck 11 verandas, but we did not find this to be a problem and it often served to block the direct sun. We spent many hours on that veranda because we had such warm weather on our cruise.
Ship: The public spaces on Marina are elegant and understated. Although I'm not a big fan of abstract art, which predominates. the decor is restful and unobtrusive. The seats in some areas were a little too low (most of them in Horizons lounge), but we found other options that were more comfortable. Our biggest complaint about the ship design would be the difficulty getting on and off the ship, whether docked or anchored, for a person who doesn't walk very well. The normal egress when docked is from deck 5, down many stairs to the dock area; I did this once, taking each step one at a time, and was shocked to have a fellow passenger waiting at the bottom to come up berate me for taking so long (can't pick your fellow passengers, I guess). Other times we used the deck 4 crew exit, ramp but even this ramp was very steep at times and we looked at other ships docked nearby with nearly flat ramps leading onto the docks and wondered what happened when they designed Marina. Tender access was also challenging, requiring us to go down many steps from deck 4 into the tender. The tenders were strangely designed, with most passengers required to go down additional narrow steps once on board into seating areas across from other passengers. I certainly would not want to be on these tenders for an extended period of time in an emergency situation.
Dining: The food on Marina was absolutely outstanding and is, of course, one of the big reasons that customers come back to OCL. We ate in all four specialty restaurants and could not honestly say which one was the best and we would eagerly try all four again if given the opportunity. The Terrace cafe was also a top choice and most of our non-reservation dinners were in this buffet option. We only visited the Grand Dining Room once; although this is a lovely space, we much preferred the specialty restaurants and the outdoor experience at the Terrace. Waves had the usual complement of excellent sandwiches and salads (Kobe beef burger - yum!) and we liked having a light continental breakfast at Barista's on many early mornings; we didn't try the specialty coffees, being die-hard "American" coffee drinkers. The ultimate experience, however, was our night at La Reserve. This seven-course trip to culinary heaven was accompanied by some excellent wines and was certainly worth the premium charge of $75 per person.
Service: Service on Marina was impeccable, with a couple of minor exceptions. The wait staff in the specialty restaurants were superb, especially the staff in Toscana and Red Ginger. The bar staff and wine stewards were delightful and we had great conversations with many of them. The staff at Barista's and the Terrace cafe was wonderful. Our butler was a terrific guy who found us to be somewhat perplexed on how to use his services, so he took it upon himself to bring us some canapes every evening and he worked out a change to a specialty restaurant reservation without any issues. Our room attendant was extremely efficient and kept our suite in top condition. Crew members, including ones that normally don't interface with the passengers, were very helpful getting me on and off the ship (not easy in any case, whether docked or anchored, as noted above). The only exceptions to our glowing reports on service are the staff at the reception desk and the wait staff in the Grand Dining Room, whom we barely recall seeing (although they did serve food promptly). The reception desk left us a very tersely worded letter at our stateroom about getting our passports turned in immediately for Turkish customs processing halfway through the cruise (we needed them with us for Slovenia and Croatia), but we never heard any announcements about this request or saw it in the daily newsletter. Other passengers complained about the letter and its language as well. The reception staff were also quite unfriendly. The destination services desk did take down information from us on a very disappointing shore excursion and sent us a letter thanking us for our input; although no reimbursement was offered.
Activities: We signed up for one of the Bon Appetit culinary classes on board and really had a blast! Chef Kelly and her staff were a lot of fun to work with and our end results were delightful (Italian favorites). Unfortunately, the class was interrupted by the mandatory life boat drill, but that almost added to the experience when we showed up in the Marina Lounge in our aprons! We didn't do any other activities on board. We did not use the spa services and we usually don't use the pool.
Shopping: Marina has some beautiful boutiques, but the products, for the most part, did not appeal to us. There was a very limited selection of logo wear, which we like to purchase on cruises and there were no items that were from our ports of call. I usually don't go on a cruise to spend hundreds or thousands of dollars on jewelry or clothing that I can get at home.
Internet access: As usual, Internet access was expensive and slow, although not as slow as some other cruises we have been on. We used our own equipment for access (iPads and laptop). I stretched my 300 minutes through almost the entire cruise; my hubby, who had to keep in touch for his business, used 800 minutes.
Entertainment: We are notorious entertainment avoiders on cruise ships and have been for years (even on Disney, which has remarkable entertainment). We prefer sitting in a quiet lounge or on the veranda, sipping a drink and reading. We did not see any of the shows on board, but we did get some laughs at Karaoke night in the Horizons lounge one night. In fact, we never even turned on the TV in our room!
Port and shore excursions: We booked two excursions through OCL and did private tours or our own explorations in all other cases. The two ship excursions were overpriced and the experiences were mediocre or downright disappointing. In Slovenia, we did an excursion to Lake Bled, an admittedly gorgeous location, that was advertised as "wheelchair accessible". What this meant was that my travel wheelchair got to spend the entire excursion in the luggage compartment of the bus! The stops on this excursion were not accessible and i ended up sitting 45 minutes on the bus while others explored the castle overlooking the lake and also sat on a bench on the shore on the lake island because the famous church was "only" 99 steps above me Our other excursion was in Istanbul and it was acceptable, but certainly not worth the price. All of our private tours were excellent, however. We used Dubrovnik Private Tours, Corfu Taxi Tours, George the Taxi Driver (Athens) and Kusadasi Tours (Turkey Explorers) and certainly had no real complaints. We also rented a car on Chios and had a marvelous day and only spent $70 for the experience!. After many cruises where we played it "safe" and signed up for ship tours in most places, this cruise reinforced my opinion that those tours should be the last option of choice. Our favorite ports were Dubrovnik, Chios, Kotor and Kusadasi (plus we love Venice). Greece is unfortunately showing many signs of its financial difficulties, particularly in Patras and Athens.
Disembarkation: We disembarked in Istanbul; it was nearly gridlock leaving the port area due to so many ships in port, but we did to the airport in plenty of time with our ship transfer for our flight to Frankfurt.
Summary: Our cruise was an excellent experience, with the minor exceptions noted above. We have already booked another OCL cruise next year (on Marina again) and just bit the bullet and upgraded to a PH2 category again. We have not tried any other premium or luxury cruise lines, so we have no basis of comparison, but we are generally quite pleased with the Oceania experience.