My husband and I have done roughly a dozen cruises on various luxury lines, and I have done two others on mainstream line Holland America (including in a Neptune Suite), so the review below compares the cruise on this “upper premium" ship with prior, different style experiences. We have not previously sailed a line labeled “upper premium” and were curious to compare with luxury lines. We were in a Penthouse Suite which was comparably sized to Seabourn, Silversea, Regent, and Hapag-Lloyd base veranda suites. It had an assigned butler/stewardess team.
Overall, we were not very impressed, primarily because of the mediocre food. We had originally booked this 7-day test cruise over the 4th of July holiday based on a recommendation for Oceania’s reputation for excellent food, and after the cruise, are mystified how that reputation came about.
We also could discern the difference between “upper premium” and “luxury” cruising in other areas as well.
Overall, no major problems. We embarked around 12:30 for the cruise, which was leaving at 5 PM. We could have embarked as early as 11AM. Lines were very short, and after surrendering our larger luggage pieces and going through security, we were on board within 30 minutes. We ate an embarkation luncheon at the Terrace Grill buffet, and indoor/outdoor venue, which was very crowded, open “seat yourself”. Food was nothing special (a lot of hard, over-cooked meats, very limited salad choices, bland desserts) and a bit on the cafeteria side of quality, with service to match. We were allowed into our cabin a little after 2. Luggage appeared one piece at a time (two were brought to the cabin by different valets, one was left in the hall, where many other pax suitcases were also lined up, as our deck included both PH and non-PH cabins). A bottle of chilled Jacquard champagne greeted us in the penthouse suite cabin, and our butler introduced himself soon thereafter.
Muster was at 4, took about 45 minutes, and involved both a sit-down lecture in the main lounge venue (Regatta Lounge) then filing out to the deck to one’s muster station wearing life jackets, then standing around. At sailaway the ship’s band of five talented men played excellent bluesy music to a surprisingly small audience at the very small pool. There were no sail-away snacks or free drinks handed out. A couple waiters went around offering weak fruit/alcohol drinks, for $10 each plus 18% mandatory service charge to the few pax who were standing around (sign for the drink while standing up, after presenting your room card).
DEMOGRAPHICS AND AMBIENCE.
Mean age seemed around 55-60, with wide variance, which surprised us as we’d heard Oceania has many old pax. We were told almost all of the 650 or so mostly healthy-appearing pax on board held American passports, as did we, though based on the languages spoken I heard, a few of these were foreign-born. There were quite a few middle-aged people, and the younger adults (a few of whom I would call “dudes”) and 44 children on board traveling with extended family thus skewed the mean age downwards. There was a handful of mobility-impaired pax, but much less than I saw on prior Alaska cruises with Silversea and Holland America. I didn’t see any obvious solos on board (not surprising, as the prices are solo-unfriendly).
Dress code: There were no formal nights or formal optional nights. During the day in all dining venues, and in the Terrace Grill at night, the designated dress code was resort casual. This meant that some people wore resort casual, some wore casual casual, and others wore hoodies and/or baseball caps set forwards or backwards. A few wore wrinkled shirts, or tops with writing on them saying important things like “be kind” or “go for it.” Sports-team related shirts and caps were also popular. In the MDR and specialty restaurants at dinner, most wore elegant casual at dinner, a few wore a jacket, usually without a tie.
The CD was a friendly woman who unfortunately made announcements that were broadcast to all venues about many different things several times a day, so we dreaded when she would come on the overhead. Announcements were excessively detailed and included too much information about activities that only a minority of pax would likely be interested in (e.g., info about the “snowball jackpot bingo session”, and “name that tune”) and which we definitely did not want to hear at noon when we sat down to lunch in the MDR at noon to try and enjoy the calm venue, or during an enrichment lecture.
Officers were European, crew seemed to be mostly Filipino (including a mumbling assistant sommelier who seemed to be on duty for all dining areas), Indonesian, and Indian. There were also some eastern Europeans and a smattering of others, e.g., a non-smiling South African woman at the Destinations desk. Crew wore name tags which indicated what country they were from.
DECOR AND COMFORT
This is a very comfortable, clean, well-maintained ship. There was comfortable, or very comfortable, furniture in all venues. There was a soft but supportive bed in our room, with an equally pleasant sofa. MDR chairs were simply heaven for my muscles and bones (I struggle with the hard chairs and sofas on Seabourn), and were plush on the bottom, top and everywhere else. The decor was a bit old-fashioned aesthetically, and tried to simulate an old European hotel, e.g., with pictures of odd Renaissance figures scattered here and there including in the public toilet areas, but also had some art which showed distorted pictures of women a la Picasso, alternating with more expected calm seascapes. None of the odd art impaired our enjoyment of the cruise.
The pool was small and sometimes occupied by loud children (e.g., while we approached the Sawyer Glacier, even when overhead announcements and loud talking were banned). It was surrounded by two hot tubs, often used by larger groups. The only other hot tub in a more private area was near the spa itself and was very nice, large, sparsely used, and was accessible without cost to PH suite and above pax, and charged out at $25/person/day to others, or for use when pax had a spa appointment. DH used it a lot.
CABIN Penthouse Suite, forward in the bow
The PH suite was listed as having 332 square feet, had a balcony, and was as expected. It was clean and spacious with a soft but supportive comfortable queen bed, 3-seater sofa, table and 2 chairs. The suite bathroom was ok, a combination tub/shower with a retractable clothesline, one deep sink, and Bulgari toiletries. There was an immobile glass partition blocking off half of the tub, which made it awkward to put in the bathtub stopper before filling the tub (you either had to climb into the tub, and jump out before the water started, or contort your body). There were two welcome and well-positioned grab bars plus ribbing at the bottom of the tub, minimizing fall risk. It was hard to get our full-size suitcases to fit under the bed, but we managed (or could have asked the butler to help).
Closet space was more than adequate for our week’s worth, or more, of stuff, though it was not a walk-in. The balcony had two cushionless adjustable chairs and a table, but no lounger. There were two oddly shaped footstools which were too low and flimsy for us to use. The balcony rail was metal with interrupted horizontal sections, so you could see the view through them when sitting down. Sound insulation was good, so we did not hear our neighbors through the walls. Though we were far up in the bow, near the bridge, we heard no noise from there, and the ride was smooth (but so were the seas). There were two thin cashmere blankets for our use. Linens and pillows were soft and luxurious. There was a small TV perched up and sidewards to the bed and sofa with basic cable channels, but you could not see your account or restaurant menus on the TV. The suite included butler service, which did not mean much for us. He brought afternoon “canapés" at 5 PM, which came from the same offered list every day, (you could pick two per couple from the list) and consisted of tiny portions of BBQ chicken wings, or tea style mini sandwiches with dried out bread, tiny celery sticks with blue cheese dip, or assorted other forgettable items like guacamole and salsa with taco shell chips that were not crispy. None of them looked like the pictures of the canapés in the catalogue. Fancier canapés were available for special order by big groups. There was a small non-fluorescent clock on the counter.
Amenities of the PH suite included rights to reserve 2 nights at each of the specialty restaurants, pressing of 4 garments, butler assistance with packing, unpacking, shoe shining, booking dining reservations and excursions, rights to have hot and not just cold breakfast room service, as well as potential to have en-suite course by course dinner service. We passed on all of this, did not need a butler, just enjoyed the PH space.
FOOD AND BEVERAGE: This was mostly mediocre, which was surprising, based on the internet Oceania food build-up we’d read. Perhaps the food on the Riviera and Marina are awesome, or this was an off week for the chef. But for whatever reason, on this cruise almost every meal (some exceptions) was disappointing at breakfast, lunch, dinner, tea time, and at en-suite canapés. Food was mostly uninteresting and not particularly innovative. Portions were large compared with luxury cruise lines, which some people might like, and generally more than we wanted, especially with the quality of the food.
The two specialty, by-reservation restaurants are the Polo Grill (steak place) and Toscana (Italian). The Polo Grill, which we tried once, had good but not “oh my God” steak and prime rib, and was not as good as Seabourn’s Thomas Keller Grill. Toscana, which we also tried once, had a very large menu, and offered so-so pasta dishes (we had a trio of them as an entree and another as an appetizer), and a special was king salmon (overcooked). Especially poor was the lobster risotto style dish. The best thing about Toscana was that it had an olive oil and balsamic vinegar cart waiters wheeled around, from which you could choose which type of oils to dip your so-so bread in. The waiters also had fun Italian accents and sounded like Formula One or Moto-GP drivers doing post-race interviews.
The Terrace Grill is the indoor/outdoor seat yourself buffet venue, and it has great views and comfortable chairs. Unfortunately, it also exuded a hectic atmosphere breakfast, lunch and dinner. It served “cafeteria-plus" quality food, often with meat hot dishes where the meat was overcooked. Fish was usually overcooked or forgettable, or pre-made sushi. Lamb stew in the MDR had hard, dried out meat, and a veal stew concoction at the Terrace Grill on French buffet night also had chewy hard veal.
The “French” buffet night at the Terrace Grill was ridiculous: hard meats, no French-style white baguettes, they were out of creme brûlée by 8PM, cheeseless
"French" onion soup tasted like Lipton's, cream puffs tasted like they had cream from a commercial squirt bottle instead of freshly whipped cream, there were only 3 cheeses and they were all Italian, and the only thing authentically French was the bad service and waiters’ annoyed attitudes. Bizarrely, the same night, there were also sushi offerings. The basic pate was ok so I filled up on that. We returned to the room feeling annoyed and discovered the butler had left us a little bowl of partially broken potato chips as an evening “treat”. What’s worse is that the chips were sadly welcome after our disappointing dinner, and DH devoured them.
Coffee was drinkable or good in almost all venues. It included the option of serve-yourself coffee machines in Horizons, the equivalent of the Observation Lounge on Seabourn, where sleepy people lined up early in the morning to watch others fumble with the machines, or from Barrista the coffee bar, where people also lined up, similar to the way they do in Seabourn Square. Mixed drinks were weak and expensive and a poor value without a so-called “drinks package". One ounze of Calvados was $10 + 18% mandatory service charge, again, even if service was mediocre or poor. Wine purchased on board without a “drinks package” was heavily marked up (e.g., a $38/bottle retail wine, likely purchased for much less by the cruise line, was billed out at $90 plus mandatory 18% service charge). Soft drinks and waters, plus basic coffee and tea (in bags) and juices (from concentrate, not freshly squeezed) were included in the cruise fare. Wine service was generally cumbersome: first you had to wait for a waiter to come by and ask for the wine list, then wait to get the wine, then at the end find a waiter and wait to pay for the wine with your card. You were better off just quickly picking the one white or red wine by the 4-5 ounce glass for the day, to keep things moving.
After experimenting with the Terrace Grill and two specialty venues, we gave up and took as many meals as possible in the MDR. There was a very nice red pepper soup, and an ok pasta with pancetta for lunch once in the MDR, but mostly the food was forgettable even though the views from the dining rooms were very nice, I loved the chairs, and there were many window tables for two.
The best dish there was dubbed a “Taste from Red Ginger”, the Asian restaurant on the larger Oceania ships, called pork luc lac, though DH must have been allergic to an ingredient as he broke out in total body hives 2 hours later. I also enjoyed a vichyssoise appetizer soup, and the Duck L’orange was decently flavored, though it had some gristle. Lunch in the MDR often featured a special of the day “tastes of the world” with an offering of various dishes from other countries, e.g., Mexico, Greece, Morocco, India. Of those we had, they were usually ok, not stellar. An angus burger with fries was a basic burger, not gourmet. A caesar salad was a basic caeser, with nothing to distinguish it. Most soups lacked flavor. Desserts called “mousse” were mostly just puddings, ice cream was generic so I only ordered it once. A “Jacques” poached salmon with rice pilaf was a disgrace, and consisted of two slabs of deflavored overboiled salmon sitting on a plate next to a blob of rice without anything else in it that was called “rice pilaf”, and some overcooked green beans. The dish cried out for butter, tartar sauce, herbs, anything to give it taste. The uninspired presentation and bland flavors were well-suited to a nursing home. A Wienerschnitzel entree the last night, in addition to being overcooked (as usual) had a weird aftertaste resembling old cooking oil. Creme brulee was excellent. Morning small croissants were pretty good. Most of the danish and other morning pastries were not, lacking butter and/or sugar. Only one type of bread in the same daily bread basket, other than breadsticks, was not rubbery.
The cruise was not “all inclusive”, so it was made clear we would be charged $16/person/day plus $7/person/day for the butler on top of our PH suite cruise fare plus 18 percent for anything bought on board including alcohol not part of a "package". Nor was there an honor system (as is done on Hapag Lloyd) where you could just verbally give your cabin number for drinks ordered without having to pull out your room key card from its pouch and then sign. You had to sign for the drinks and wine, plus the mandatory 18% service charge. This was annoying and disruptive, e.g., if we were listening to a show, or standing up somewhere, or were in a hurry to leave after eating but needed to pay for the alcohol brought previously, or had poor service. The fact that crew would get their 18% service charge no matter what did not provide some with much incentive to do more than the minimum. We had no complaints about our PH butler, who was fine, he had previously served on luxury lines, but he did not need to do much for us. My only criticism is that one day we had the Do Not Disturb sign still out and 5 o'clock, canapé time, came up, so he called the phone in our room to check on delivery, that could have gone either way.
We had brought 3 nice CA wines on board (legal, per policy) which we had served to us for a $25 surcharge at dinner. It was repeatedly a challenge to get dining room personnel to get around to opening our bottles so the wine could breathe while we waited for our food, even though personnel clearly saw the bottles on our table after we arrived. Apparently only the sommelier is allowed to open bottles brought on board.
Some waiters were smart-alecky, e.g., one in the Polo Grill offered us "Crystal Geyser water, vintage 2017”, after we sat down and he saw our bottle of high end Napa cab we had put on the table. Too many personnel (usually from eastern Europe) were sullen or acted bored and overworked.
Service at lunch in the MDR and dinner was on average better than at the Terrace Grill. Language barriers sometimes contributed to confusion. At breakfast, lunch, and dinner in the Terrace Grill service was poor, to match the chaotic atmosphere and food, with either delays, mix-ups, oversights, or attitude, which created a sense of dread going there, as with a negatively conditioned Pavlovian dog. The mostly Filipino or other Asian crew who dished out the Terrace Grill food, however, (for alleged hygienic purposes, they spooned everything out for pax, with rare exceptions pax could not serve themselves), were pleasant and eager, though English communication skills were variable.
On a day when we were in port, in Sitka, we went to eat lunch in the MDR, and everyone eating there got deliberately seated bunched up in one quarter of the dining room’s space, which created a louder and more crowded atmosphere, and did not utilize all the window seats. This arrangement was surely more convenient for the waiters. Unfortunately. that still did not help the waiters keep the orders straight.
When we got off the ship in Ketchikan, while waiting pierside before our excursion, we watched the remaining pax attempt to disembark: they had a long wait, as there was only one crew member manning the room card clicking device and station, and he worked slowly. At 35 minutes, pax were still in line waiting to get off into port.
Reception and Destination services personnel were cool and efficient in person, but there were consistently long delays in picking up the phone when we called from our suite. The dining reservations line kept ringing, without routing to an informational voicemail about hours, or another center, if you called during off hours. So if you called in the afternoon when you wanted to make a reservation for dinner, no one answered the dining line, and if you called Reception, and they finally answered, they told you to check back at dinnertime on the dining line. You also had to go to reception to have them print your account's running balance, to keep track of charges accuracy, as they were n/a on the TV. On the final bill, they also changed the format, grouping charges not by date but by location, and only added the service charges at the end of the cruise, so be careful if you are trying to use up On Board Credit and no more. Cancelled excursions that had been booked and paid for by credit card before the cruise were refunded into OBC, but you could cash out up to that amount.
ENTERTAINMENT AND OTHER OFFERED ACTIVITIES
Entertainment was good for such a small ship, though the floor in the Regatta Lounge, which is the main venue, is barely sloped, so it is hard to see the stage from many seats. The 5-man band was skilled, especially the sax player. The 3 women and 3 male singer/dancers did a decent job on their production numbers. There was a comedian from NJ named Tom Drake who was a bit low-brow but very funny -- even though there were hardly any people from NJ or NY on the cruise compared with Seabourn, (based on “where you from” applause). There were a few Floridians, and a lot of Californians, like us. We learned Tom Drake is married to the CD, as he made jokes about her. There was a funny magician-pickpocket, Bob Arno. A classical music string quartet played at teatime, but pax mostly just crowded into the Horizons lounge to feed on the mediocre cakes, and to loudly talk about various things like their card game hands, relatives, or food preferences, rather than to listen to the music, so the musicians were drowned out. On the first sea day, people were crowding the door to the entrance, and had difficulty finding seats where they could drink their bagged (not loose leaf) teas. Not much was done special for the 4th of July (the CD wore little wiggling flag ears on her head, and from 10:30-11:30 PM the band played some rock music, that was it). Several other late night bar and music and dancing venues were listed, we did not go there.
The fitness center is large, and was crowded on sea days. Some of the equipment was at times broken and no one was around to fix it. DH, who came regularly, was sometimes able to gain access to a piece of non-functioning equipment by fixing it himself. There was a casino, shuffleboard, golf putting, trivia, ping pong, bridge, needlepoint, zumba, poker, jewelry “education”, as well as a former electrical engineer turned metals expert who gave an interesting talk about gold, both in and out of Alaska. In case you felt tempted to drink alcohol and weren’t supposed to, there was also a Friends of Bill W. get-together. I did not see a Friends of Dorothy meeting announcement. There were surprisingly very few enrichment lectures, though this was a cruise to Alaska.
DVDs are available for rental at reception (a thousand). Internet worked ok for a cruise, we had opted for unlimited service, got to use one device at a time. There are also “packages” you can buy.
The spa is in the bow, very pretty with views and calm music in the waiting area, though they played loud annoying overhead music in the manicure and hair service area (as they did in the restaurants), apparently that is what the often humming-along personnel like to listen to. DH had a good massage. I had a painful and mediocre manicure/pedicure with a somewhat unhappy young lady who was just going through the motions.
We went to an hour long Italian wine tasting ($75 per person) where a couple dozen of us tasted just one ounze each of representative Italians wines paired with tiny bites, barely enough to taste before and with food, plus an intro glass of prosecco. The head sommelier ran the session, and did a good job.
EXCURSIONS: For convenience, and because I had had success with Silversea and Holland America excursions in Alaska, we booked one ship-run excursion at each port before the cruise (there are "packages" for that too). They were expensive, relative to the cost of excursions on Silversea and Seabourn.
On glacier day, the ship sailed into Tracy Arm towards the Sawyer Glacier, after an aborted sail into the Endicott area (allegedly too much ice -- the captain is a senior officer, but the CD told us this was only the second time this captain had captained this ship, and another ship had gotten stuck in the ice, so we needed to play it safe). Unfortunately we only got within 3 miles of the glacier, just close enough to see it in the distance but not close enough to hear anything. Some people gathered on the top deck to watch scenery, while others at the same time clanked away at shuffleboard on the top deck, and even more sat in the dirty-windowed Observation Lounge in the bow while drinking complimentary cocoa or ordering $10 plus 18% mandatory gratuity drinks. There is no outdoor area in front of the Observation Lounge, and the top deck has high glass surrounding it, so it was hard to find a place to get great forward-looking pictures or simulate the stretched-out arms bow scene in the movie Titanic.
One pre-booked excursion (a 4x4 adventure safari out of Sitka) got cancelled, and we had to rebook short notice.
We did a 5 hour catamaran explorer tour to Misty Fjiords National Monument out of Ketchikan (not exclusive to Oceania pax) which was nicely done by a local family, that was fine, but it is available for independent booking. We walked around Ketchikan, where I had been 3 times before, old Creek Street is colorful, and Alaska Fish House has great chowder and fresh seafood.
In Sitka we did a rainforest hike at the Starragavan and Mosquito loop trails, which was a pleasant, easy walk for 2-3 miles on gentle terrain, a few miles outside of Sitka by minivan. We enjoyed it even though there seemed to be more standing than hiking, as the guide stopped frequently and talked way too much about plant names which no one will remember, how to use various grasses to homeopathically treat cancer (I think I'd rather go to an oncologist) and how to tell one species of slug from the next, all of which resulted in needless chatter and interrupted the flow of what could have been a serene walk. It was followed by standing around for 35 minutes in a parking lot waiting for our delayed ride back to the ship. There are many things to do in Sitka without booking an excursion.
In Prince Rupert we did an overpriced excursion dubbed "jet boat adventure and walk”. This consisted of meeting at 11AM in the Regatta Lounge (along with most other pax on the ship), milling around, then getting off and milling around some more at the pier, departure close to 12 for a scenic drive on a comfortable though crowded bus with over 50 people including some “dudes”, and arrival at 1 PM in a parking lot next to a river. We were escorted by a ditzy young guide who called herself a “biologist", but who seemed to have problems communicating distance concepts to American tourists (e.g., once she described an attraction as being “far away — about 160 kilometers, so it would be about double that in miles” [sic]). On arrival at the parking lot, twelve people then suited up in vests to go jet-boating for 30 minutes, twelve did a 30-minute very slow stroll through mosquito-infested woods with the guide (bug spray available), and the remainder sat around in the sun waiting for some locals to very slowly, at their leisure, (they were just firing up the grill when we arrived) grill salmon two at a time and talk about interesting things like battles with the Canadian government to extend disability payments and their views on a certain American political figure. Groups then rotated through the activities, sitting on a few chairs either in the parking lot in the sun or under a canopy, standing, swatting bugs, waiting and waiting for salmon to get cooked, playing games with their kids, or using the stinky equally mosquito-infested outhouse or bus toilet, until 4 PM when we were bussed back. A day after this excursion, at the end of the last day of the cruise, though I had utilized the "free" bug spray, I developed itchy red welts clustered in rows all over my lower body and am still scratching as I write this (there is medical debate as to whether this was caused by mosquito bites from the excursion, or occult bed bugs on the ship).
DISEMBARKATION Bags officially had to be put out by 10 the night before, (show was at 9:30) though some put them out later, with the usual color-coding disembarkation set-up. Oceania and port personnel did a good job keeping the flow of people moving well as we got off. We overpaid for a reserved communal bus trip to the Seattle airport, $85 per person for flights after 12, and were deposited in a parking lot about a 15-minute walk from the baggage check-in area for distant United Airlines ( we had to wheel our bags through a parking structure). Seattle port and airport personnel were pleasant and efficient.
SUMMARY: I’m sure this is a perfectly fine line for certain demographics, but it is not for us. The ship itself is pretty and comfortable and I would love to love this ship. The key disappointment was the uninteresting and poorly prepared food and to a lesser degree, the mass market service and nickle-and-diming atmosphere. It certainly was not a good value to get a PH suite, compared with an all-inclusive base veranda cabin on Seabourn or Silversea, once we added in the cost of the alcohol and other service (or non-service) with its steep markups and 18% mandatory surcharge regardless of service quality, high excursion costs, and other extras. I actually thought the food was better and more consistent on mainstream Holland America’s Westerdam on an Alaska cruise in 2015, at least at dinner. I did not gain any weight on this cruise, very unusual and indicative of unsatisfactory food quality, as I usually gain about 3 pounds per week when I overeat goodies that are available..
And yet this ship appeared to be a good choice for some. Most people on board seemed to love their cruise including the food. Pax appeared to be for the most part down to earth, easy to please middle Americans enjoying a special, but casual, family or couples vacation, something that is a little nicer and more intimate than what mainstream lines offer. Oceania offers a smaller ship, on average cheaper and smaller entry level cabins per person per day, and seems to save by avoiding over-the-top luxury food and service. Entry level cabins on small ship lines like Seabourn and Silversea are more expensive per diem. Parents or grandparents can book themselves a nice PH suite on Oceania, and then put their young adult kids or grandkids or "dudes" into inside cabins or tiny window cabins to save some money. Then everyone can dine on the same hot dishes with overcooked meat together, and do overpriced communal excursions. Or, non-drinkers, non-gourmets, people who always do their own excursions, or people who do not need or expect individualized pampering, can enjoy the benefits of a clean, small ship with pleasant decor, comfortable seating, and a variety of entertainment options.
DH and I, however, will be going back to luxury lines, where securing flavorful and interesting food, dining room service, ability to customize, and attention to detail, without outrageously priced extras, are less likely to be an issue (though even there, there is no certainty anymore, see my other reviews). We are unlikely to retry Oceania in the near future for these prices, and if we do, it would be on the newer ships Oceania and Riviera, perhaps the food is better there. Read Less