While I have sailed on Celebrity 30 times, I returned last week from my first cruise on Oceania on the Marina. We had sailed on Equinox 45 days earlier so it was interesting to compare the different products in such a tight time frame. My partner and I are both in our late 40's.
We sailed in a "B4" which is the lowest veranda category but offers huge extended verandas. Its direct equivalent on a Solstice Class ship would be an extended veranda category "1A". The cost of Oceania was exactly $100 per person per day more than the Equinox sailing that same week. On Oceania, all coffees, specialty restaurants, soft drinks and water are included.
Our first impressions on embarkation were underwhelming. There was one entertainment staff member to greet you and one staff person to direct you to the Terrace Cafe. One boards the ship directly into Marina's two story large circular atrium. It is an odd space reminiscent of a private bank -- lots of dark-coloured marble, lit Lalique panels on the front wall next to the glass elevators and twin curved staircases that meet in a central podium. The large chandelier and lit panels provide an unpleasant, ultra-while light making the space extremely over lit. The podium is raised a single step and is glaringly marked in yellow and black caution tape -- really an accident waiting to happen. Each and every time we descended the stairs, we called out "step" to each other so as not to go face first onto the floor. We walked though the public areas on deck 6 and I started to get a sinking feeling as we explored Martinis (the central bar), the Casino and bar and The Grand Bar itself (but more on that later).
We went upstairs to the Terrace Cafe (lido restaurant) and I immediately thought: "You've got to be kidding". It is an amazingly low-ceilinged (we're both 6 feet tall) and claustrophobic space with tables placed tightly together and a crowded buffet area that provides poor passenger flow. We went outside to a grey and windy Miami afternoon and easily got a table. The tables are set up for you with placemat (changed for each passenger), proper silverware and crystal glasses.
The buffet had a limited selection of the usual suspects on the steam table areas but the grill had a good selection of meat and fish that was made to order. Ten minutes later as I was sitting eating a perfectly cooked steak that was better than any red meat that I had on Celebrity last year, I began to relax.
I went back foraging for dessert and was greeted by an excellent selection of pastries and ship-made ice creams. I then found the cheese cart -- a selection of French cheeses whose smell would knock you out at 20 feet. I paired it with some of the best baguette I've had in years (I live next to two competing patisseries) and had to get a crew member to wipe the smile off of my face.
We were allowed into our cabins -- "plush" and "luxurious" were the first words that came to mind.
Thick carpeting, a sturdy and comfortable sofa, dark woods and excellent lighting. The bathroom is dripping in granite and has a separate full bath and glass enclosed shower stall. After enduring Celebrity's Elizabethan Straw Mattresses for 38 days last year, the Oceania bed was a revelation. Four hundred pocket coils and memory foam, 1000 thread count embroidered linens with feather pillows and a down duvet -- unbelievable. The lighting was also excellent with bedside lamps that had a separate goose-neck type pencil light to focus on your reading material. The cabin was about 240 square feet with a 100 square foot veranda with comfortable padded chairs. Storage was not great -- while there was excellent hanging space with a light that came on automatically, the drawers were tiny, not full extension and hidden behind wood doors to make them more aesthetic and more awkward.
Verandas are enclosed by railings -- no dirty glass wall to drive you crazy.
Discussing food in general is risky as my "incredibly bland" may be someone else's "too spicy".
I will begin by speaking of the food in objective terms. All the meat is U.S.D.A. prime, the cheeses (for the most part) are non-pasteurized O.A.C. shipped directly from France, the complimentary coffees in Baristas are Illy from Italy, burger and hot dog buns are made on board, burgers are chopped steak (not frozen patties), lobster is generously available in all specialty restaurants and nightly in the Terrace Cafe,
Orange juice is, well, orange juice and not some watered down product. You get the point.
Subjectively, I thought that the food overall was superb and put Celebrity to shame (exceptions to follow!). The red meat onboard is of a quality that is simply not available on the main stream lines. I ate at all of the Specialty Restaurants on Equinox and Summit last year (including Blu) and nothing matched Oceania's specialties. On Celebrity, I found the staff in the specialties simply pushing too hard -- actually telling me that my meal was excellent when it certainly was not. The china, silver wear and stem wear were absolutely stunning. Different tablecloths and patterns and glass wear in each of the restaurants - Christofle, Versace, Riedel -- you name it. I simply did not see a single water spot on any item in 10 days.
I ate twice in the Grand Dining Room on the Marina -- the Captain's Dinner was fabulous whereas dinner on the second last night was frankly wretched -- below Royal Caribbean standards. Which begets the question: "what if most of my meals were in the GDR?" -- I might have had a very different view of Oceania. I was also concerned that any fried item onboard (except "Waves" ' fries) was always tepid at best and that all "hot" items in the Terrace Cafe that weren't made fresh for you were also thermally challenged.
The pool deck provided comfortable padded chaise lounges with terry covers on them.
Chair hogs, however, were out in full force and non-hogging rules were not enforced until the last day at sea. There is ample deck space on the upper pool deck -- Oceania would solve this problem by simply buying some more chairs. I missed the covered solarium from Celebrity but there is a small but nice sheltered area on the upper pool deck. Pool towels were scarce after noon and you had to ask for them. The gym was well equipped.
The staffs were generally superb. Bar staff cheerfully got soft drinks and water without any expectation of a tip. Waiters were professional and knowledgeable in advising you what to have and more importantly, being honest in telling you what not to have. Cabins were cleaned by the time we got back from breakfast at 8:30. The Cruise Director was the delightful Dottie Kullassa who personally handed out beach towels and water at every port at the gangway and had a kind/funny/warm word for everyone.
Fellow passengers were frankly fantastic. It is the first cruise I've been on in a while where I didn't want to kill anyone! You had to keep reminding yourself to say "hello" or "good morning" in elevators as most people were friendly, polite and eager to chat a bit. There are no annoying ship photographers onboard.
The majority of my "problems" on Oceania relate to missed opportunities rather than things I particularly disliked. Entertainment was our main concern. I never go to the production shows but enjoy the many live music choices on Celebrity and HAL. It's not as if they roll up the sidewalks on the Marina after six, they actually package and wrap them and throw them overboard! If you're lucky, you may find one lounge that will have some live music. I really feel that an affluent and older crowd would appreciate dance music every night plus the some additional choices. Frankly, charge everyone an additional $10 per cruise (generating $1250) and hire an additional piano player and a small combo.
Also, make the existing musicians work harder. Use the show band every night and have the production show singers do a few cabaret evenings.
Now, as for the venue for pre and post-dinner drinks .... I don't think you could have come up with a poorer layout and passenger flow than that of the lobby, Grand Bar (which is neither Grand nor has a bar), Casino and bar and Martinis. Martinis makes it impossible to see the piano from most of the seats. The overcrowded lounge should have stolen space from the funereal lobby which is too large for the purpose it serves. The garish Casino and bar are on the port side of the ship whereas the entrance to the Grand Dining Room is on the starboard. Thus, the Grand Bar is basically an over lit corridor where people are constantly walking by and talking as you are trying to listen to music. The spaces should have been reversed (or the dining room entrance reversed) so that people walked through the casino on their way to dinner but also had a quiet place to listen to music.
Or an alternative arrangement. I'm not an architect but I've been on a lot of ships and what is there now doesn't work
But these are quibbles. Most reviews of Oceania have focused on the food and the experience is so much more than that. Oceania is indeed much more expensive than Celebrity on many different itineraries. But where the cost differences are minimal (as was present in our case), there is simply no comparison. While you don't always get what you pay for in life, Oceania provides absolutely superb value.