This was our first cruise with Oceania, and will almost certainly be our last. We were unfortunate enough to board at a time when gastrointestinal disease had taken hold on the ship. This can happen on any ship, but the way that Oceania ... Read More
This was our first cruise with Oceania, and will almost certainly be our last. We were unfortunate enough to board at a time when gastrointestinal disease had taken hold on the ship. This can happen on any ship, but the way that Oceania handled, or rather mishandled, this and the level of outright dishonesty was shocking. We were boarding in Lima, Peru and received an email even before we left home several days before the ship was due to sail, saying that our embarkation would be put back an hour as the ship was to be deep-cleaned. This is the extract from the email I received from Oceania:
" Recently, in the vicinity of Callao/Lima, there have been several outbreaks of influenza and gastroenteritis. To ensure that you and your fellow guests are able to enjoy your cruise and minimize the possibility of any health issues being brought on board, we will be delaying the start of embarkation until at least 1 PM local time. This delay will allow the ship’s staff ample time to implement a full “sanitation barrier” between the embarkation area and the Regatta, to ensure healthy guests and a healthy ship." It turned out it wasn't a healthy ship with restrictions imposed for more than half the cruise and on the previous leg from Buenos Aires..
Lima had suffered some pretty severe flooding so this seemed reasonable but it turned out that the sanitising process was actually trying to clear up an GI outbreak that had started long before the ship ever arrived in Lima. We discovered this in talking to other passengers who had been on the previous leg of the journey and who been told told to leave the ship so it could be deep-cleaned. We had this conversation during the melée of embarkation when ship's pens were being shared by passengers completing health questionnaires on the dock - you really couldn't make this up! Later in the cruise we were told that the problem was passengers who had embarked in Lima after the ship's own pre-trip to Machu Picchu - but this was just another lie as the deep-cleaning had preceded the arrival of these passengers.
Embarkation was a shambles. First of all, passengers get dropped just outside the port and are transported to the ship by shuttle buses. As soon as taxis carrying passengers arrived they were literally swarmed over by a bunch of freelance baggage handlers who tried to grab luggage to put on the shuttle. Our taxi was parked about 5m from the bus but as soon as the car boot was opened the bags were seized upon without asking. We had several bags and we and our driver were trying to monitor where they were going but we didn't need help to move them. We refused to give in to intimidation to pay these unwanted helpers. Other taxi drivers were also defending their passengers and one even went to the aid of an unaccompanied elderly couple, remonstrating with the swarm and gathering the passengers up to wait with the people he was dropping off. Meanwhile, a young man wearing an Oceania badge stood looking on but doing nothing - he was absolutely useless and might as well have not been there. Oceania really need to look at the passenger experience in this area and make sure they have enough people at the shuttle point to contend with this behaviour.
There were huge queues to get on board and very poor organisation once there. Normally embarkation would be staggered with suites and PH cabins getting earlier access. It seemed that only the 11am and 12am embarkations had been delayed so everyone turned up at the same time and the staff simply could not cope. What turned out to be the executive concierge was attempting to control the queues but this was a task that was beyond his powers. Someone should tell them that breezy upbeat staff pretending that nothing is amiss just raises hackles on the part of the paying passengers.
We had booked a PH3 stateroom - we thought the basic staterooms were just too small. The cabin was nice - about 1.5 times the width of a standard balcony cabin so we had a nice outdoor area. The width of the cabin made it feel a lot more spacious than a larger cabin we had on Regent's Voyager. The bathroom though was a lot smaller even though it was about twice the size of the lower level staterooms on Regatta. We did see one of these and it really was tiny. Even though there isn't a walk-in wardrobe in the PH, there was ample storage, in fact I suspect more than the walk-in would have offered. There was a lot more room to walk around the bed and the sofa and two chairs and table were far enough apart to make eating in the cabin a practical proposition.
The restrictions on board owing to the GI seemed to only apply to those elements that would cause maximum inconvenience to passengers but not to those aspects that might affect Oceania's profits. For example, the library was closed, the laundry was closed, there were no cruet sets or milk jugs or sugar containers available on tables, menus were in paper format rather than bound books. Yet the casino, with its banks of slots machines, and the boutiques were open with special events where crowds of people would turn up to paw handbags, clothing and jewellery, whilst in the dining room I was handed a bound wine list which we didn't even ask for. There were no hand sanitisers in the casino or at the entrances to the shops but entering the restaurants there were multiple units and members of staff monitoring diners as they arrived. I was actually very rudely shouted at by one person and loudly called back to sanitise the hands that I had sanitised just ten seconds earlier (I assume she didn't see): this woman's customer service skills were better suited to a prison than a so-called luxury cruise. I mentioned the incident in the mid-cruise review and one of the maitre d's did apologise profusely. At least it was an apology - given the absence of any apology for the inconvenience to passengers and the inability of senior staff to tell passengers the truth in relation to the GI outbreak, I suppose I should be grateful that the word 'sorry' passed anyone's lips. By the time any real attempt was made to assuage passenger feelings it was too late.
There were a few simple things which could have been done which might have taken some of the rancour - for example, an early and straightforward apology for the inconveniences. I heard a lot of people who were enraged that whilst the laundrette was closed, Oceania was capitalising on this by charging for laundry services. A simple gesture of allowing passengers a limited number of items of clothing to be laundered free of charge would have gone some way to reducing anger. Lots of people saw the hypocrisy of allowing the boutiques & casino to open whilst the laundry & library were off limits. It was day 10 or 11 (out of 16) before all the restrictions were removed which made life a lot better for everyone. Service in the dining room had been slowed down by people constantly having to ask for salt, pepper, milk, bread, butter etc because none of his was left on the table initially.
We also missed a port. I was sort of forewarned about this by the independent tour operator with whom we had made a booking when he told me about 36 hours before embarkation that the cruise ship had cancelled all its tours, and asked if we had been told that we were missing the first port. After having learned this I also thought we wouldn't port (why pay port fees if you aren't going to let people off the boat?) but Oceania did not even attempt to tell passengers in advance. This was only confirmed to me when I specifically asked on embarkation and the member of staff who told me said that everyone had been informed before embarkation (either this was just another lie or he didn't know and made this part up). Several people I spoke to were unaware of this even late on in the day.
Oceania prides itself on serving the best food at sea. I simply didn't see this. Our previous cruising experience was with Regent and the food there is better in my view. Regent also will prepare something off menu as long as they have the ingredients but this is not possible on Oceania. Provision for vegetarians was pretty poor although another passenger told me that it was vastly improved from her cruise a year before when she had had to complain about the lack of vegetarian options. I noticed that some of the veggie menu items were ones I remembered from Regent. This issue is particularly noticeable in Polo - yes it is a steak & seafood restaurant but my husband is a confirmed carnivore. The restaurant staff seemed to think it was odd that I would want to eat there, but why should a vegetarian's partner have to lose out on a speciality restaurant? They did arrange for a veggie meal to be supplied from the main dining room but I was left with the feeling that I was an inconvenience (yes - it was inconvenient for them, but a passenger should not be made to feel, particularly when the ship had imposed serious restrictions on paying passengers). It would have been much easier if they had simply let me choose from the menu of the other speciality restaurant, Toscana, which is adjacent to Polo. There just seemed to be a rigidity of mindset and it contrasted unfavourably with my experience with Regent.
We didn't have great expectations of the entertainment on board, and to be honest it was never going to be a highlight for us, but it was far worse than we anticipated. The house team of singers and dancers were amateurish, with the singing being particularly poor. This was highlighted on the last night when one of the pastry cooks, Cordelia, was brought onto the stage as part of the farewell to staff. We had only come into the show for the farewell and probably endured only ten or fifteen minutes of the house team (we had learned from experience). Cordelia came in, in her chef's whites, sang one song and showed the rest of them up for the poor performers they were. There was a good string quartet although they seemed to be placed out of the way and I think more could have been done with them. The showband weren't bad but probably need time to gel. In Martinis bar in the evening an Italian singer/pianist played - the best of the entertainment in our view, and again, much under-used. It was rather unfortunate that Martinis is open to the casino and its myriad of slots machines so the pianist was fighting against ringing bells and flashing lights plus shouts when people won something. From what I had read before we took the cruise, Martinis sounded like a sophisticated cocktail bar but, at least on Regatta, its proximity to the casino completely ruined the atmosphere. Had I been the pianist I would have been livid!
In addition to the cruise line's own entertainers, performers were brought on board. These were universally dire - a Chilean former wedding singer who bounded onto the stage looking like Ricky Gervais parodying a leather-clad aging rockstar; an 'Irish' 'comedian' (living in America for 45 years with an accent that sounded more forced 'oirish' than real County Clare) whose 'good, clean' comedy included 'jokes' that were old thirty years ago. It was so predictable that not more than two minutes after my husband said the guy would be telling the 'letter from Ireland' joke next, this did indeed happen. There was also a man billed as the world's only legal pickpocket presenting the sort of show I have seen delivered better by others, and a Russian pianist who might have been better had she concentrated on playing rather than gurning and flouncing. I am probably expecting too much of cruise ship entertainers but this lot were cringe-making whereas the performers on Regent were competent at worst and excellent in some cases.
There weren't many lectures - mostly presentations related to the onboard jewellery boutique or the hugely expensive Canyon Ranch spa. The pickpocket man presented lectures on protecting your retirement account (irrelevant to non-American passengers) and something entitled 'In pursuit of ISIS Terrorist, Mohamed Belkaid' (one of the Brussels terrorists who was killed in a police raid) but also taking in phishing attacks, skimming techniques, tracking credit card thieves, etc.. We didn't attend that one because the title & content didn't seem to match and it wasn't clear to us that the guy had any real knowledge or qualification to speak about terrorism. We would have appreciated lectures which actually related in some way to the area we were cruising, maybe something on Mayan culture & history, or natural history, flora & fauna, wildlife. Other activities on offer included bingo (yes- really), karaoke, casino tournaments and line dancing (yes - really).
We took only one ship's excursion at NCL's (Oceania's parent company) private island, Harvest Caye, where there is no way to tour independently or even reach the mainland unless you are taking a cruise ship tour. Harvest Caye itself is an abomination - it is described as "an authentic, immersive and enriching Belizean experience". The person who wrote this obviously has no understanding of the word 'authentic' and has probably never visited the real Belize either. It is just a theme park you can't escape from with row upon row of loungers around the pool and stretching along the beach as far as the eye can see, the beach a man-made one of gritty, horrible sand. There is an extremely sad excuse of a nature experience, and a few over-priced shops. The manatee experience struck us as hilarious given how many manatees were killed inadvertently during the construction process. We didn't even see a single fish in the water - on the coast of Belize this is nothing short of astonishing. You have to pay for all food and drinks (no use of onboard drinks packages even though you can use your ship's card to pay for everything) - why bother when you can just go back to the ship. Ironically we didn't see many people using the Harvest Caye facilities but the ship's pool and sun deck were heaving when we re-boarded. The beach area seemed to be occupied by a few of the ship's off-duty staff.
I am aware that this is a very negative review and I am sure some people will have enjoyed elements that I found wanting. We booked the cruise on the basis of the itinerary and had expected Oceania to be similar to Regent. We found the experience was distinctly downmarket with some activities being the sort of thing you would expect on large, cheap ships. We were also very disappointed by the mishandling of passenger communications during the outbreak of illness. Whilst the room attendants, waiting & bar staff were excellent, the ship's management left a lot to be desired. Reception and Destination Services staff were surly and uninterested in helping. Early on in the cruise I wanted to discuss something with the hotel director or equivalent. I was told no-one was available at that time (fair enough) but they would ask him to call me. No call came. Two days later a card was left in the room asking me to make an appointment with the executive concierge. By that stage we'd seen enough to know such a meeting would be a complete waste of time.
We are very unlikely to travel with Oceania again. You get one chance to make a good impression and Oceania failed dismally. Ultimately it is a matter of trusting people to give you the holiday you have paid for and after the lies, half truths and evasions there is no trust left. We set the bar high on our first cruise with Oceania's sister company, Regent. We thought there wouldn't be a lot of difference between the two lines but even leaving aside the GI outbreak, the two lines were in so many respects like chalk & cheese. Read Less