Riviera - a Great Cruise, but there is room for improvement: Riviera Cruise Review by 2SeaAll

Riviera 4
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Riviera - a Great Cruise, but there is room for improvement

Sail Date: February 2013
Destination: Eastern Caribbean
Embarkation: Miami
Overall: This was a wonderful cruise. Oceania's strengths, particularly on the O Class ships are evident and generally consistent with the prevailing views. We boarded the ship hoping that once we departed Oceania O Class would become our clear "go-to" line for all our future cruises; unfortunately, notwithstanding the booking of two future cruises on-board, it fell short of that very high expectation in ways that are individually small, personally sometimes annoying, and often in the class of nickel and dime choices by Oceania.

The Ship: Stunning, beautiful, tasteful, refined and spacious. Other than the few design flaws discussed below, it was everything we imagined it would be -- maybe even better.

The Food: As an overall, consistent experience over 10 days, it's is hard to imagine a better food experience. We ultimately decided that Toscana and Red Ginger were our personal favorites, with Jacques not too far behind. Polo was very good but can't compete with the More best steakhouses shore-side because of equipment limitations (no open fire, no 1,800 degree grill to properly flash char a steak). The list goes on forever, but until our next cruise we will crave Jacques bread (best ever, anywhere) and Dover Sole, Red Ginger's Watermelon and Duck Salad and Miso Glazed Sea Bass, and Toscana's Lobster Fra Diablo and Pounded Thin Veal Steak on the Bone.

Waves Grill was near-perfect (salad items could be expanded) and the Terrace Cafe offered a broad range of choices at breakfast, lunch and dinner. Themed lunches were inconsistent, ranging from mediocre to very good. Grilled lobster, Alaskan Crab Legs and Stone Crab Claws at dinner were wonderful.

We only ate in the Grand Dining Room for one dinner. That single dinner was wonderful with the food preparation far exceeding the menu description. At breakfast, with high levels of sunlight, the decor felt very institutional (like an elegant nursing home) and uninviting; at night with the room considerably darkened the atmosphere was much more appealing.

We were underwhelmed by afternoon canapes and didn't order from the room service menu. One night we had a Red Ginger meal served "course by course" in our stateroom -- it lost something in translation. The absence of late lunch/snacks in the 4:00 -- 6:30 p.m. time frame was particularly disappointing. When returning from shore excursions around 4:00 p.m. the food landscape was almost barren (yes, there is the afternoon tea in Horizons, and yes there is the room service menu -- neither of which is the choice we would want).

Wines were very fairly priced by the 3 bottle package. Bars were mostly quiet, if not barren, due to drinks not being included and alcohol packages being 20-25% overpriced (IMHO). This was one of several areas apparently driven by margin calculations where the opportunity to promote socialization among guests was lost in the financial calculation. Standard type drinks were competently made, without show, but requests for non-mainstream drinks, such as a Key Lime Martini at the Martini Bar were not capable of being delivered.

Our biggest disappointment, by far, was Baristas. On Celebrity we loved Cafe al Bacio because of its broad coffee-house type menu, its position as a social hub on deck 5 mid-ship, its day and night long assortment of non-charge pastries and mini-sandwiches, etc. Baristas with its out-of-the way location, very limited menu, counter seating, and bottom of the list cookie selection missed on every count; clearly Oceania spends less on coffee, pastries and sandwiches than the Cafe al Bacio model, but at the cost of guests not meeting and socializing with other guests.

Service was overall very good and very professional. The most inconsistent service was outside of the Terrace Cafe. Special requests were handled cheerfully, although often English as a second/third language became an issue and the request got scrambled in translation, particularly at Waves.

The Cabin: In our opinion Oceania hit a grand slam with the Penthouse configuration. The cabin (including walk-in closet and bathroom) was large enough to feel luxurious and never cramped, but without the feeling of being over-the-top. The size and configuration being just right allows the pricing at a point that is stretch for many, but not a break-the-bank on the target segment's travel budget.

The bed is absolute heaven, the storage space is great, chairs are comfortable etc. A few more electrical receptacles would be helpful, but with a power strip and one or two adapters the present configuration is acceptable. Amenities are good, other than the absence of mouthwash -- a poor nickel and dime decision. All issues with showers, baths etc. have been fully addressed and resolved, in our opinion.

The entertainment system is functional, but a much more up-to-date system would have been expected on a new build. The lack of an extensive integrated movie portfolio (on-demand, not a few movie channels), instead of a DVD library system, and integrated information systems such as digital clocks/wake up calls tied to the central system would have been so much more 2010+.

Lighting systems take some getting used to and, at the end of the day are somewhat illogical. We dealt with it by trial and error and multiple buttons pushes.

Our cabin attendant was fabulous, even though largely unseen -- seen just enough and at the right times. Our butler had a wonderful, willing personality and pursued requests willingly -- but did little on his own initiative and had a mixed record of success on our few requests (his best success was for dinner on the last night).

The Pool: The chaise lounges were extremely comfortable and the spacing that which would be expected on a premium cruises lines. The downside is that the pool area was overwhelmed by the first sea day rush and beyond its seating capacity in two main decks. Service around the pool was inconsistent, sometimes cheerful and attentive, sometimes the opposite primarily on the inattentive side, and on one or two occasions the negative attitude side. The spa deck area deck was wonderful, enjoyment being limited only by the lack of any food, beverage service. This is not a ship/cruise line where pool service includes attendants coming around offering ice water, cold hand towels, sherbets etc. on their own volition -- service is by request only -- one of the differences between a luxury and a "near-luxury" cruise.

The Entertainment: A few goods shows, one very good, and some of no interest to us. It seems Oceania is trying to ramp it up and partially succeeding. The entertainment budget seems to suffer from financial compromise driven by the generous food budget. The stage was not built to handle elaborate sets, support a band in a pit etc., but the theatre is beautiful, comfortable and the acoustics very good. Here, as elsewhere, there is an absence (welcome absence) of drink sales efforts. We were satisfied with what was offered, given that we knew that Oceania was not an entertainment-driven line.

Other Aspects: We did not experience the Culinary Center (which we observed to be a huge success) and the Library. We went to the afternoon tea twice and thought it was extremely nice, although we are unaware of any attempts a la Crystal at themed teas.

Although still extremely expensive, it appears that at least Riviera has a functional Internet service that within the boundaries of limited bandwidth, satellite delivery, and peak time constraints, operates as expected.

We avoided Oceania air and, based upon its reputation and descriptions from others we met, would urge anyone with status on major airlines to make their own bookings.

The entire sweep of the land tour experience is probably Oceania's weakest point, and the one that would cause us to choose other cruise lines in Asia, South America, and perhaps Australia. As listed in the brochure and by reputation, we knew Oceania's land tours to be outrageously expensive and uncreative -- perhaps the reason that we only saw two people at the shore excursion desk on one occasion. Although much more work for us and much less convenient, we formed private tours on three islands and had a wonderful time; on two of the three tours we intersected with Oceania tours that ended several hours before ours, missed important and interesting highlights, and cost 2 ½ + times what we paid.

When disembarking the ship to port, passengers are offered warm water -- nothing else. There are a few small coolers that hold about 10-12 bottles of water that disappear in a nano-second, and no vitamin waters, Gatorade etc. -- a very poor send-off to the day. Even worse is the cold, impersonal return to ship where only the stairs/plank awaits to greet you back. There is no tent, no greeters before the top of the stairs, no refreshments, no cold towels -- in short, NOTHING! Without specific knowledge I would make a blind bet that even Carnival offers a more welcoming return.

In conclusion it was a wonderful, if not slightly flawed cruise. The difference between Oceania being in our stable of choices vs. being our go-to cruise line is a short-list of things that could easily be done much better, and probably without too much cost; these were written up in our evaluation. Hopefully there are receptive eyes and ears and a sincere desire within management to continue evolving and improving the product. Less

Published 02/28/13

Cabin review: PH3 Penthouse Suite

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Port and Shore Excursions

365 great beaches. The national parks and landmarks tour is interesting.
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We did a limited taxi tour. There are interesting things to see and some shopping, but we were there on a Sunday and most shops and some sites were closed.
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We only did shopping and may have missed the beauty of the island. For shopping and local French lunch we much preferred Marigot on the French side of St. Martin. We were slightly disappointed.

Experience St. Lucia on a Land & Seas tour basis. It is a very nice day and wothwhile.
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Did the Baths and JVD on a private tour. Very good beaches and an interesting day. The Baths are a unique site that should not be missed.
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