Let me start by saying that we had a wonderful vacation; and most hotels and restaurants could learn a lot from Oceania. That said, my husband and I took a 10-day cruise aboard Oceania's Regatta last year. (Western Caribbean) It was the vacation of a lifetime. The experience was unforgettable and we found Oceania to be "Perfection," as I entitled my review. For a year, we have told people that we would never consider any other cruise line. The 10-day cruise ended way too soon, so this year we booked a 12-night cruise aboard Oceania's newest ship, the Marina. (Eastern Caribbean)
If you don't know: Oceania targets an older demographic and offers no activities or facilities for children. (YAY!) Its ships are mid-sized, carrying from 650 - 1250 passengers, so we experienced unbelievable personalized service last year. Dress attire is ostensibly country club casual (although it's amazing how many people don't seem to understand what that means). For these reasons, we selected Oceania last year. Because our experience was "perfection," we did not even consider any other cruise line for this year's vacation.
Oceania's biggest failing is shore excursions.
The descriptions provided are apparently written by the shore excursion companies. What we found is that the descriptions are often inaccurate. As an example: The desciption for the "Sail Away to Savannah Bay" says that, after a 45-minute catamaran ride to an island, you can snorkel or swim or relax on the beach. I booked the excursion thinking my husband and I would frolic on the beach and splash in the shallow water, while others snorkled. When we arrived at the snorkel location, we anchored far from shore. It was then that we learned that, to get to the beach, we would have to swim ashore! And back! My husband doesn't swim; had we known that, we would have chosen a different excusion. I got in the water and swim the length of the catamaran a couple of times and came to the conclusion that, although I could probably make it to shore, I was not at all confident I could make it back. Too, we would have to leave our personal belongings (cash, credit cards and a new digital camera) unattended on the boat (no lockers were provided), as we had no way to carry them with us as we swam to shore. Oceania says it "stands behinds its shore excursions" but they don't. We had fun, but weren't able to do what we had planned: frolic on the beach together and enjoy the shallow water of the beautiful Caribbean sea together because the description was not accurate. Therefore, we asked Oceania for a 50% refund and were denied.
The other problem with the shore excursions: Oceania's lack of control over the quality of the excursion. In Dominica, we had booked "Dominica's favorites," as did many of our fellow passengers. So many guests booked that tour, that several buses were provided. With one exception, the buses looked fairly new, nice and clean. We had the exception. Our bus was filthy, old and poorly designed for adults -- especially seniors with all of our physical ailments. We were the second ones to board the bus. We chose a metal bench seat directly across from the door, thinking that the cross-breeze would keep me comfortable. We immediately realized our error, but passengers kept up a steady flow, filling the bus. By the time we were able to get up and move, all the seats had been filled so we were stuck. Here's the problem: The mechanics of the bus caused the floor to be stepped. (Think of where the transmission used to cause a big hump in the middle of your cars. No one wanted to sit in the middle because the floor rises up.) The floor had three levels to accomodate what lies beneath. The first step was where our feet where, not allowing sufficient space for the length of our feet! (We needed to have our toes amputated in order to fit.) I was able to stretch out my left foot, resting it on the next tier up, but our other three feet did not have sufficient room to accomodate the length of our feet. There was not adequate space for our legs, either. (I'm only 5'4; my husband is 5'9.) I have to wonder if the bus was designed for children. WE SPENT THE ENTIRE TOUR IN PHYSICAL PAIN! We took turns shifting hips; at one point, we changed seats: I moved to the outside and my husband took the aisle. At that point, I could no longer write in my journal (I had been taking notes of what the Tour Guide told us about the island), as there wasn't enough shoulder space. I had to sit with my arms forming a V and resting on the metal bar in front of our metal bench seat. This is an example of Oceania not having any control over the quality of the tour. Dominica seems to be a poor country. You can't expect them to give up the revenue associated with a bus load of tourists just because they don't have enough appropriate buses available -- but I can expect Oceania to inspect the buses and say "No, this is not acceptable." But they don't do that, so we spent the entire three hours in physical pain (less the time we were hiking up to the water falls). Again, Oceania claims they stand behind their shore excursions. They don't. I asked for a full refund -- we didn't spend $13,000 on a cabin plus liquor plus tips plus shore excursions plus plus plus so that we would experience hours of unnecessary physical pain. They did not respond to my request, nor offer an apology. (I know my end-of-cruise Survey was received.)
In summary: Shore excursions are Oceania's weakness. I would advise against booking them. Go ashore and make your own arrangements.
Last year, by the second day of the cruise, all of the pretty female drink servers at the bar knew my husband by name and what he drank. "Here's a cold Heineken for you, Mr. Bird." "Would you like another Heineken, Mr. Bird?" This year, most of the drink servers were male; they never (in 12 days) learned my husband's name or what he drank; and service at the pool was very inconsistent. Sometimes, they were attentive; other times, we would finally get up and get our own drinks. This holds true for the bar at the pool as well. One time, I asked for the check. The bartender acknowledged my request. I never got it. So I moved to a deck chair while my husband waited for the check. It was half an hour before he finally got the check for our two drinks - after asking a second time.
We met our Butler the first day. We asked him to keep a carafe of iced tea in our suite for me at all times, as well as a bucket of ice. He did so. We also told him that we only need two things in the refrigerator: Diet Coke and Heineken. We asked him to make sure there is always cold Diet Coke and cold Heineken in the refrigerator. We ended up going to the Executive Lounge to get Diet Coke more often than not. Our butler went MIA on the third day; turns out, the rough waters made him "green around the gills."
We also found that we're less than enamored with the guests this year. Because Oceania caters to an older demographic, a lot of guests are infirm. We too have walking challenges but are considerate enough (on the ship, at work, in public) to step to the side rather than hold up people behind us who can and want to walk faster than we can walk. Very few of Oceania's guests were considerate in this regard. A group would take up the entire passageway, moving excruciatingly slowly, and not step to the side to allow us to pass. Obviously, Oceania has no control over this; but one should be aware of this fact when selecting cruise lines. After sharing the pool at Margaritaville in the Grand Turks with a ship from Crystal Cruise Line, we decided "No more old people cruises." It was so fun to share the pool and bar with people of various ages; to see younger people actually play in the pool; young women on men's shoulders (ah! memories); beautiful tanned bodies; a few young children laughing as only children do.
Again, we had a good time. Most hotels and restaurants could learn from Oceania. BUT:
Service aboard the Marina was inconsistent and Oceania does NOT (regardless of what it claims) stand behind the shore excursions to the extent that guests might expect. For these reasons, among others with which I will not bore the reading public, we will consider other cruise lines in the future. Various guests consistently named Regent Silver Seas (which is all-inclusive, by the way) and Crystal as their preferred cruise lines. Next time, we'll check them out.