Regatta Cruise Review
Southern Caribbean, 20 November, 2011
Summary: At a time when many cruise lines are cutting back on the overall quality of their products and service as a result of the low yields generated by aggressive pricing actions to keep their ships full, along comes Oceania who advertises premium/luxury cruising that combines good old fashioned superb dining, excellent service and engaging itineraries at reasonable prices. Unfortunately, my opinion is that Oceania is degrading considering that our expectation based on previous reviews was not fulfilled. I feel that two trips on Holland America, Celebrity, or Princess would be a better buy than our one trip on Regatta.
Our expectations were based on cruise reviews on line. The vast majority were very favorable and judged the food and service as outstanding. I wondered how this could be possible. I thought of several answers:
1. Oceania must be twice as good since it costs twice as much.
2. People do not readily admit mistakes.
3. First time cruisers do not have any basis for comparison.
4. Some people are always nice.
5. It is possible some people just don't know.
6. There are many outstanding travel agents out there.
Everything we found lacking -â€“ shaved time in port, poor dining room service, lack of entertainment, inconsistent food quality, overpriced food and excursions, crowds in the Terrace CafÃ©, expensive internet, and too many tender ports -â€“ can all be found in previous reviews. Yet, still the reviews provided a 95% favorable rating. I would give Regatta three stars (out of five) and say it definitely needs improvement.
The Oceania Regatta
The smaller ship at 30,000 tons accommodates a total of 684 guests at one time. She offers a crew of 400, which promises excellent personal service to her guests. With a space ratio of 44, she is comfortable. Several times at breakfast and lunch, the Terrace CafÃ© was crowded. Since I like smaller ships, I find this size ship perfect, as it is large enough to offer diverse dining and entertainment opportunities, yet small enough to get into interesting ports and to promote a feeling of intimacy among its passengers. Our first two and one-half days were rather rough for the Caribbean. Several hundred passengers sought medical help.
Oceania provided airfare as part of our purchase. Note, not "free" as advertised, but part of the total cost. Our flight left Houston (Bush Intercontinental) at 6 AM. To arrive at 4:30 AM we had to stay at the Mariott that is part of the airport with airport concession prices. Our flight was full. At the Miami airport we were indeed met by 5-6 Oceania representatives who did nothing but check our names off a list and point at our luggage and point to the bus where we should take our luggage. This "service" was $118. (Among the first people we met on the Regatta had taken a cab from the airport for $20.)
The lines were a bit unusual to board. The line for concierge service had about a 100 people; the line for staterooms (us) had two couples. But we had to wait for about 10 of the 100 to be served before it was our turn. The sign in was quick. Lunch buffet was ready at 11:30 AM. We had boarded at 11 AM. Rooms were not ready until 2 PM.
Meet & Greet: the Cruise Critic arranged Meet & Greet occurred in the Horizon Lounge (top deck) immediately after the lifeboat drill. It was very pleasant to meet and chat with fellow travelers.
The Cabin: We were located in cabin 4035, an inside cabin. The cabin was of nice size (200 square feet plus 48 square foot bathroom). There is a large desk with two 110-volt outlets and lots of storage in the sitting area as well as a small table and one chair. We asked for an extra straight back chair and did receive one. Each cabin offers a safe that can be programmed for the passenger's use and a television with several channels going 24 hours per day. There was an unfortunate event on Thanksgiving. TV reception was blocked by two adjacent, larger cruise ships. No football until we left port.
The bathroom was quite comfortable. Full bathroom amenities are offered such as shampoo, conditioner, bath and shower gel and body lotion. There is a hair dryer in every bathroom but it is not the highest quality. Hot and cold water controls are excellent and there is ample storage for all toiletries and cosmetics between storage in the bathroom and at the desk in the sitting area. Closet space is ample for two people on a longer cruise and most luggage will fit under the bed making for additional storage if it is needed. All in all, the cabins are very enjoyable.
The Restaurants: The Regatta offers several dining venues that really set it apart from other cruise lines. While there is no surcharge for the specialty restaurants, there are restricted reservations for lower class passengers (in staterooms).
The Grand Dining Room: This is the main dining room on the Regatta that does not require any reservations. It is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner and offers fine dining from a complete menu for all meals. A hand-painted fresco ceiling tops the Grand Dining Room where a tuxedo-clad wait staff serves elegant six course meals to tables sparkling with Villeroy and Boch china and European crystal. A sample Oceania cruise menu includes exquisite selections such as sliced proscuitto with arugula and shaved parmesan; black mussels in white wine, tomatoes, and garlic bread; minestrone Genovese; Roma tomato quinquonce with confit of cherry tomatoes and basil dressing; fettucine alfredo; and grilled swordfish filet with pesto mashed potatoes, roast pepper compote and sautÃ©ed cherry tomatoes. We ate dinner in the Grand Dining Room on several occasions and consistently had poor service. Dinner would take over two hours with surprising gaps between courses. There is always a quartet playing soft dinner music in the restaurant giving one a feeling of relaxation and sophistication.
Appetizers, Soups, salads, and desserts were generally above average. The Regatta complement of guests is generally in their 70s and 80s. This could be justification for small entrees. During the cruise I once received three scallops, four slices of beef short rib, and a Beef Wellington the diameter of a coffee cup. I understand one could order more, but one of the weak serving points was that the waiter never came back after serving the entrees to see if the orders were correct, wrong, or insufficient.
I must comment that the wine list on the Regatta was extensive and expensive. For example, a Beaujolais Villages that I can buy at my local grocery for $9 is on the list for $50. The wine waiters are a little aggressive. One night my wife asked for a glass of red house wine ($6.95). The server showed her a Merlot and she asked for something different. The server suggested a Cabernet without telling us the new, improved price ($11.95).
Toscana: We dined in Toscana on our first night. It was a large challenge since we had risen at 3:45 AM. But when we lower class persons made reservation, only the first night was available. We thoroughly enjoyed the meal; but, it took three hours. Reservations must have gone fast because we had very limited choices for Toscana and Polo. Capturing the flair and the essence of Tuscany, Toscana serves delicious Italian cuisine in a romantic atmosphere. I had Osso Bucco that was excellent. However, my wife had rack of lamb that was not done properly.
Polo Grill: The Polo Grill boasts a classic steakhouse atmosphere, offering a selection of aged beef and fine seafood. We ate at Polo twice. I had a ribeye and a porterhouse. Both were inedible due to grease and gristle. My wife says they were broiled on a flat grill (no holes) so the grease had no place to go except back into the meat. In an other incident, we saw a waiter (or helper) combine butter from two dishes left at other tables into one butter dish, adding a nice flat top.
The Terraces Restaurant: This is the ship's buffet for breakfast and lunch and was very popular with everyone. Breakfast saw a great assortment of fruit, hot foods (eggs, pre-cooked omelets, bacon, sausage, ham and such) cold cuts, cheeses, various bread choices (to-die-for croissants) and a cooked-to-order egg and omelet station. There was always fresh juice available and coffee/tea was served at your table.
Lunch saw another buffet with excellent choices and quality. There was also a pizza station open for lunch as well. he Terrace Cafe serves breakfast and lunch buffets, in addition to Mediterranean-style "Tapas on the Terrace" during cocktail hour. Sample Oceania cruise food selections in this casual eatery might include items from the salad bar, hot or cold buffet, carving board, pasta ala minute, order-your-own pasta station, and the baker's corner. One of the nicest features of the Terraces Restaurant was the use of fine china, silverware and excellent glassware on the linen table mats. There were no trays and there were plenty of waiters if you needed help with your dishes finding a table.
The major difficulty with the Terrace CafÃ© is no lines. There is no way to handle crowds and people interfering with each other.
Arguably the most casual eatery onboard the Oceania ships, Waves is a poolside restaurant serving Oceania cruise food including traditional barbecue, fresh salads, sandwiches, and homemade ice cream. Suffice it to say that the poolside grill offered the usual hamburgers and hot dogs with fries, but it set itself in a whole new category with its great salad bar and offerings of healthier choices such as grilled panini, halibut and mahi mahi and other superb offerings. One could sit at tables located by the grill and enjoy the same china, silverware, glassware and linen as the rest of the ship, or you could be served in your lounge by the pool if you chose. The absence of trays, paper products and napkins just made dining at the Waves Grill a wonderful but sometimes, awkward experience.
One time at WAVES, the servers put four hamburgers out for the people who ordered them. Along comes a passenger who takes the top off of each hamburger to see which was his order. Needless to say, my wife threw her top away.
The Pool Area: First, the sun lounges are extremely comfortable and are long enough for a larger person to relax without being penalized for their size. The towels are also large and of high quality. The pool service was always available but never intrusive. The teak wood and improvements to the pool has added a new quality that Renaissance simply did not have.
The Regatta Lounge: The Regatta Lounge was the place for all the major events on the ship. The evening's entertainment took place here, as did the Captains Welcome and farewell parties. It is an intimate venue and those sitting near the front almost feel a part of the show. There are great sight lines in the lounge and excellent acoustics as well. There was never a need to go early to reserve a seat as there was always plenty of tables and chairs to go around (likely because the entertainment was not that attractive).
The Entertainment: Oceania has made quite a statement regarding the kind of entertainment they wanted to provide their passengers. The daily newsletter, Oceania Currents does an excellent job of keeping everyone abreast of the evening's entertainment and activities. Feeling that the production shows have "been there, done that" for the type of clients that would enjoy Oceania Cruises cruise experience, there are small stage shows and individual performers. We did not attend any stage shows.
The Internet CafÃ©:
This was truly a negative experience on the Regatta. First, access was expensive compared with other cruise lines. The normal rate was $.95 per minute. I felt that this was expensive to begin with, as most cruise lines offer programs in the $.25 to $.40 per minute range for bulk purchases. Internet was suffering slow.
The Fitness Center: The fitness center is well equipped with just the right equipment and promises everyone an excellent workout. Adjoining the Fitness Center is the Spa and their is a door from the Fitness Center into the men's and women's locker rooms where one can find a steam room and shower complex. The showers offer several different types of shower heads that will massage your sore muscles. There is no charge to access this area and it is a great way to work out. There is also a jogging track on deck 10.
The Library: Simply the most beautiful library on any ship anywhere! This is where two 24/7 computers that one can access the Internet from are located, there needs to be more. There is a reasonable amount of fiction and travel books. The reference material, however, is worthless.
Sunday, November 20th, 2011; Miami, Florida
The ship started boarding at 11 AM and were among the first ones to check in and board the ship. The ship is absolutely beautiful and welcoming, much like a small and intimate luxury boutique hotel one would find in London or Paris.
The brochure information showed five dockings and one tender port:
VIRGIN GORDA, BVI -â€“ DOCKED -â€“ 10 HOURS
ST. JOHN'S, ANTIGUA -â€“ DOCKED -â€“ 10 HOURS
GUSTAVIA, ST. BARTS -â€“ DOCKED -â€“ 10 HOURS
TORTOLA, BVI -â€“ DOCKED -â€“ 8 HOURS
LA ROMANA, DOMINICAN REPUBLIC -â€“ DOCKED -â€“ 8 HOURS
GRAND TURK, TURKS & CAICOS -â€“ ANCHOR -â€“ 6 HOURS
Below is what actually happened. The most likely explanation is that Oceania saves money by not docking. Also note that tendering removes about one hour of port time; more if you are not on a tour.
VIRGIN GORDA, BVI -â€“ TENDERS -â€“ 1 PM TO 7 PM, 6 HOURS
ST. JOHN'S, ANTIGUA -â€“ DOCKED -â€“ 10 HOURS
GUSTAVIA, ST. BARTS -â€“ TENDERS -â€“ 10 HOURS
TORTOLA, BVI -â€“ TENDERS -â€“ 8 HOURS
LA ROMANA, DOMINICAN REPUBLIC -â€“ DOCKED -â€“11 AM TO 5 PM, 6 HOURS
GRAND TURK, TURKS & CAICOS -â€“ TENDERS -â€“ 2 PM TO 6 PM, 4 HOURS
Mon Nov 21 At Sea
We usually have Room Service on waking up. The Regatta was fairly prompt and brought cups about half the time. We had coffee the first morning and it was not drinkable, so we switched to tea.
Trivia was conducted by the cruise director, Willie Ames, who was Tommy on Eight is Enough. The trivia games proved to be one of the highlights of our trip. Teams of eight or nine competed every day about 4-5 PM. Points won could be accumulated to obtain prizes at the end of the cruise.
Tue Nov 22 At Sea
Wed Nov 23 Virgin Gorda, British Virgin Islands
Arrival at Virgin Gorda was late. There was an announcement on the morning of the arrival that there was engine trouble. This has been mentioned before in reviews of the Regatta. Virgin Gorda is famed for its unique Baths area, where visitors explore caves and natural pools formed by large, smoothed boulders. For some relaxation and pampering, tourists visit the Little Dix Bay Resort or the Bitter End Yacht Club. Divers find the Anegada Reef and the wreck of the RMS Rhone to be among the best sites. Over 500 of the ship's 650 guests went ashore on tenders. I don't know how many took excursions from Regatta.
Thu Nov 24 Antigua
The largest of the British Leeward Islands boasts 365 beaches and crystal-clear waters. History buffs will want to tour Nelson's Dockyard National Park, where one of the great admirals of the 18th century kept his fleet. The island draws a huge yachting crowd during Sailing Week in April and is perfect for windsurfing, water-skiing, sailing, snorkeling, and diving. We had a fine taxi driver take us around the island for over two hours at $20 each (compared to the cheapest ship excursion at $65 each). The driver was extremely knowledgeable and well spoken. He made stops as requested.
Antigua has its own personality. There are many colored houses and many small, old houses. Rain water is for drinking and tap water is for washing. The interior is covered with hills and vegetation. Gasoline is about $6 per gallon. Education has a high priority. Most schools are new. There are two colleges and a medical school.
Fri Nov 25 St. Barts
The atmosphere of this unique island is similar to that of a small French village. Most visitors rent jeeps or mokes and explore the pearly beaches, open-air restaurants and cafes and chic shops of this eight-square-mile island. Of the island's 14 beaches, St. Jean is the busiest and the best for people-watching, while Governor's Beach is the most scenic. St. Barts and Gustavia are the most expensive places in the Caribbean. The ferry from St. Barts to St. Martin was interesting. The price for tourists (visitors) was about twice the price for residents.
Sat Nov 26 Tortola, British Virgin Islands
Tortola is small in size, but huge in natural beauty. The island is capped with bold mountains and fringed with breathtaking beaches. The prime sites here are Cane Garden Bay and Sage Mountain National Park. Other options include snorkeling, diving and glass-bottom boat rides. Each island visited has spectacular beaches and water sports. I wonder how many of the majority 70s and 80s passengers took advantage of such wonders.
Sun Nov 27 La Romana (Casa de Campo), Dominican Republic 9:00 AM 5:00 PM
Casa de Campo, a lush resort retreat in La Romana on the Dominican Republic's southeastern coast, offers myriad recreational options for visiting cruise passengers. The Teeth of the Dog golf course has been ranked as one of the best in the Caribbean, and tennis and skeet shooting also are offered. There's horseback riding and polo at the equestrian center as well as water sports and fishing at private Minitas Beach and the resort's exclusive marina. There are 18 bars and restaurants, ranging from the beachside El Pescador, where bathing suits are standard attire, to upscale Casa del Rio overlooking the Chavon River.
We hired a taxi driver to take us to Altos de Chavon cultural village about 20 km from the docked ship. It is a reconstruction of a sixteenth century Spanish village now housing museums, a chapel, restaurants, etc. All in matching styles. Our driver also stopped for shopping and gave us an extensive tour of Casa de Campo. He also let us stop for an hour at the Marina to have some adult beverages. The charge was $30 each compared to the excursion from the ship to Los Altos at $45 per person.
Mon Nov 28 Grand Turk, Turks & Caicos Islands
This small island, only six miles long and three miles wide, provides all the activities sun lovers need. Scuba diving, horseback riding on the beach, playing golf or whale watching (in season) are the major draws. Grand Turk is noted for Margaritaville and is listed as one of the top ten dive sites in the world.
Tue Nov 29 At Sea
Wed Nov 30 Miami, FL 7:00 AM
We were told to vacate our room by 8 AM. We left the ship about 9 AM. We had a long stay at the airport until our 2:50 PM flight. The security at Miami was noticeably more stringent than most airports probably because Miami is a major entry point for illegal entry.