Great food, wonderful time: Riviera Cruise Review by babysteps

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Great food, wonderful time

Sail Date: September 2013
Destination: Europe - Western Mediterranean
Embarkation: Barcelona
This was our second cruise on O and we had a great time. The high quality of the food (especially when you think about how many meals they serve every day) and attitude that guests are responsible adults (especially with wine/alcohol policies) are our favorite things about O. And very well-trained staff! We did bring on wine and gladly paid corkage when we brought a bottle to the dining rooms. Also had some O wine, mostly by the bottle. We had a few O wines by the glass, they were well selected in our opinion. Did happily use the 'follow me' policy a couple times (if bottle not finished, O stores for your later enjoyment).

Embarkation easy - apparently each port handles the actual check-in (not O), and Barcelona was very smooth. Our cruise started with an overnight in Barcelona, but an O person told us that the port shuts down the check-in desk at some point in the evening, so if you are embarking at Barcelona and want to check in late at night you might want to check with More your TA or with O ahead of time (re-boarding wasn't a problem at any hour, just initial check-in). Handy tip we learned: you can't check any "open" bags with the port (it's more like airline check-in and less like a hotel bell desk) - this does make sense of course.

Onboard - Lovely lunch at Terraces, some pre-purchasing of wine by the bottle (there was a table outside Terraces, with discounts), bit of sun time by the pool, visit to Baristas (on of my spouse's favorite spots onboard) and before we knew it our cabin category was cleared. Our friends wanted to board as soon as possible, or we might have waited until 3pm or so to board (meaning cabin would be available immediately).

We were in a Veranda cabin, very well laid out imo. Our steward was great, always a smile and very accommodating. Very comfy bed. Plenty of storage for us, others may disagree - we pack pretty light (but we have an entire extra bedroom at home dedicated for clothes, so this is not a value judgment that less stuff is better!). Bathroom well-designed; separate shower is compact, DH preferred shower in tub for more elbow room. We had a day and a half of stormy-ish weather, nothing that kept the dining rooms from filling up but it was noticeably different vs. the calm days - we discovered that locking the safe shut eliminated the thumping that seemed to be the main in-room impact of the motion (the open safe door had been occasionally swinging to hit the cabinet door). Spouse loves the veranda--I suggested ocean view for next cruise to stretch $ and he gave me a look of horror :)

DINING - we are foodies, and once again very pleased with O's food. Chef Kelly told us O's per staff daily meal budget is higher than some other lines' per guest daily food budget! Ingredients do make a difference. There were designated locations on embarkation day for additional (or changed) specialty dining reservations depending on cabin class - this worked well for us. We especially enjoyed Polo's excellent steaks, the french flavors in Jacques, and the variety at Terraces.

We ate in the GDR 3 nights and enjoyed it more than our first O cruise last year - not sure if anything changed, or we just were more open minded? We liked the GDR's nightly changing menu (vs. set menus in the specialty restos) and the table service (vs buffet in Terraces, which we also like - just a different experience). Quality of preparation imo up to that of the specialty restaurants. There *could* be a few more sommeliers in the GDR, there is occasionally a bit of a wait - but wine service seemed more consistent (that is, better) than last year. We weren't ever in the center of the room - the center was relatively brightly lit thanks to the beautiful chandelier overhead - if you prefer (or dislike) bright lighting, let the desk know either way before they assign your table.

We had a chance to eat in Privee as part of a party of 8 and loved it - wonderful service, fun to mix & match menus, we all brought some special wine and had lovely views of Ibiza as the sun set and we eventually set sail. Ymmv - friends ate there a different night and weren't as enthusiastic (they thought it felt too much like a boardroom). We also like Toscana, especially the carpaccio choices and the risotto and pasta selections (there was a daily special of these). We didn't get to La Reserve or Red Ginger this trip. Heard many very positive comments re:La Reserve especially on the wonderful pairings of wine & food. Our taste in wine is not 100% correlated to Wine Spectator (just a quirk on our part), so the La Reserve wine selections to us weren't super compelling - but I know we're in the minority there!

Breakfast, we found that Terraces (while delicious) could get a bit crowded at certain times as folks prepared for shore tours. Although grabbing a hard boiled egg or two to go from Terraces may be the quickest breakfast aboard! We did have 2 cooler days, wear a sweater and sit under the overhang outside with other hardy souls and have an uncrowded breakfast view :) GDR was much calmer for breakfast and does have an "express" menu - some mornings it didn't open quite as early. Waves breakfast potentially rather handy, popularity seemed to vary widely one day to next.

SHORE TOURS, we did our own except an O culinary tour in Casablanca, which was a bit spendy but well worth it at least once. Two food market visits (plus a city tour and an optional ceramics store stop), lots of insight to Moroccan cuisine, and a little bit of hands-on prep back on ship. We had so much fun in town that as a group we got back *just* in time to grab lunch at Terraces before it closed. Class re-convened at 4pm iirc. Class was very well designed, one dish we made almost from scratch, one we basically assembled, several others Chef Noelle demonstrated for us. Then we ate everything :) Other ports we often just took the shuttle and wandered about on our own. In Cartagena the destination notes said most attractions were closed Mondays (the day we were there), but many were open - so you can always hope that 'ship at dock' may change the "usual" schedules.

EVENTS/ENTERTAINMENT Keep your eye on the daily "Currents" for special events, there was a pool side disco night that was a ton of fun according to those who attended & judging by the photos! Also, the alcohol packages were available up through day 4 or 5 (then the ads for them disappeared). We only made it to one lecture, but enjoyed watching replays of the ones we missed on the tv. There was an art auction onboard but it was easy to avoid entirely (just close your eyes in part of the corridor between aft elevator and Jacques). otoh if you wanted no-incremental-cost drinks, there were a couple of art auction open houses you could take advantage of (we didn't). We didn't attend any of the evening shows (too busy eating & drinking).

SPA We did a 'spa' day in Malaga (we'd gone to the Alhambra the prior year), it was lovely. Spouse got a massage, I simply got a day pass. As last year, very quiet most of the day on the spa deck. We did enjoy the steam/sauna rooms several other times for quick visits. Spouse enjoyed massage, yes it costs more than onshore but it does come with spa terrace access :)

SEA DAY there were plenty of activities to occupy everyone. Our sea day was the day before disembarketion, and there was a bit of rush in the laundry room from 8:30 to noon or so, after that (or before) it was much calmer. Otherwise it was never crowded (we were conveniently nearby and I got in the habit of touch-up ironing).

CHECK OUT was well managed. Two chances to review your bill prior to leaving, and no need to do anything if all is in order (it was, at least with us). Sad to leave, though! Less

Published 10/13/13

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