Frank Del Rio, who, along with former Crystal Cruises honcho Joe Watters, will lead the newly formed Oceana Cruises is back from Marseilles. Details continue to change as the company is taking shape. First thing to know: the proposed new cruise line -- Oceana will not be “official” until legal due diligence is complete, which Del Rio anticipates will be mid-November. As reported last week, Oceana will build its foundation by leasing Renaissance Cruises’ much-loved R1 and R2. Details are still being firmed up but R1 will be named Regatta and the ship is anticipated to launch July 5, 2003 in Europe.
After a 14-day Barcelona-to-London inaugural, Regatta will sail a series of two week Baltic itineraries out of London, then return to the Mediterranean for late summer/early fall voyages between Venice and Barcelona. Following a transatlantic voyage, Regatta will then offer two week trips in South America between Santiago and Buenos Aires before finishing up in the Caribbean with a home port in Barbados.
Plans for R2 are highly sketchy -- there’s no name, yet -- but the ship is anticipated to launch next October and will also sail spring/summer Europe itineraries before heading to Australia/New Zealand and the Far East for our winter (their summer).
Del Rio says Oceana is interested in leasing the R5 but has not yet committed. “We will decide late summer 2003,” he says. “If she comes on board it’ll be spring 2004.”
In the meantime, the company is working to hire staff, set up offices on both the east and west coasts, and make plans. Del Rio told Cruise Critic that the R1 and R2, both docked in Marseilles, are in superb condition -- thanks in part to the 70 crew members retained by Cruiseinvest, which took over sales and marketing efforts when the fleet went dark last fall. “Cruiseinvest has done an exceptional job in keeping these ships in perfect condition,” he says. “All we need to do is fuel her up and she’s ready to go.”
But, he hastens to add, while the ships may seem familiar --the experience will not be Renaissance redux. “Oceana is not an ode to Renaissance,” he says, noting that there will be significant changes from the outside -- the ships’ exteriors will be painted white -- on in. “First of all this company is going to be successful,” Del Rio says. “At its core value we care about customers and we care about travel agents. Renaissance, early on, blatantly was not committed to customer service or the travel agent community.” Additionally, Oceana Cruises, despite anticipating that fares will be in the neighborhood of a quite-reasonable $200 per person per diem, nevertheless plans to offer many of the benefits of the luxury lines. Which are? “The mid-size ship,” he points out. “The high percentage of verandah cabins and fine cuisine.”
Feel skeptical? “The reason we can offer this without charging $500 a day,” he says, “is because we’ve made a lucrative deal for these vessels.”
The standard onboard look will remain Renaissance-like. There will still be four specialty restaurants (one will be a steakhouse, called Hemingways; another will be an Italian restaurant). Inside, the ships, which, despite their distinctively different names, will be identical, will follow Renaissance’s no-smoking policy (though smoking is permitted in designated deck areas).
Still, look for significant upgrades, the most important of which will be cuisine, which was never a Renaissance specialty. Del Rio says the company plans to spend 25 percent more on food than luxury level cruise lines like Seabourn and Silversea though he declines to specify a figure. "The hallmark for Oceana will be dining,” he says. “When you have four open seating restaurants and fail to take advantage of those venues you shortchange the passenger."
Among other planned changes, which are mostly cosmetic, include:
*The design of specialty bars that focus on a particular theme, such as malt scotch, grappa, and martinis.
*Creation of a humidor -- an enclosed room tucked into what was once called the Horizon Lounge -- that will sell Cuban cigars, brandy and cognac.
*”Four Seasons-quality” mattresses on beds and duvet covers instead of bedspreads.
*Redesign of the ship’s Italian restaurant to be more colorful and less formal.
*Upgrading of linens, china, cutlery, towels.
Ultimately, Del Rio says, “420,000 guests cruised on the R-series vessels and there is a real community feeling out there about these vessels. What I can assure all those 420,000 is that if they liked the old they’ll absolutely love the new one because we’ve planned significant improvements based on their feedback. Oceana Cruises will be fresh and new and keep customers in mind first.”
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Oceana Cruises Update
October 22, 2002