Like all our previous cruises, we booked this only for the itinerary. Oceania was an unknown brand to us, so we were interested to see if it was true to all the raving reviews. This was Insignia’s ‘rechristening’ cruise, as apparently it had been on loan for a couple of years, and was now back in the Oceania fleet. As such, the Founding Chairman and his good lady were aboard for the duration, and although they were seen from time to time, they tended to keep a low profile. ( After the debacle of the previous week’s cruise I don’t exactly blame them!) I’m sure someone will have reviewed that cruise on here somewhere.
INSIGNIA is a mid sized 35,000 tonne vessel and exuded a luxurious feel from the moment we boarded. Lots of dark wood, tasteful décor, and probably the most comfortable bed/pillows we’ve ever had on a ship. Cabin was just about large enough, but storage space was plentiful. Bathroom was quite small, but efficiently laid out. Passengers of a certain ‘size’ may well have found it difficult to manoeuver in there. Passenger mix is principally US / Canadian. If I had to to guess I’d say they made up 70%, the rest being from UK, Australia and rest of EU. It is indeed at the top end of the cruise market, and as such attracts a fairly wealthy and discerning passenger……well – it DID until we arrived! There are no formal nights and evening dress code is ‘country club casual’ attire. Unfortunately a smallish number defined this as ‘won’t-make-any-effort-at-all’ so cut off trousers and flip-flops were not an uncommon sight in the Grand Dining Room. I wore a jacket, but soon realised I was in a minority. I think that the dress code could be enforced a little more – but I accept its not easy telling someone to go back to their cabin and change. To be honest, a few people just looked downright scruffy. But it was only a few, and the majority dressed with the ‘casual but elegant’ ethos, to one degree or another.
The STAFF are multi-nationality, and without exception are always smart, friendly and can’t do enough for you. Reception staff responded to a couple of small requests very efficiently, and I heard similar from other guests. They even place a man on the quayside at the bottom of the gangway whose only role is to tell you to ‘mind the step’ as you leave or board! My Dearly Beloved ( hereafter referred to as MDB) thought he was checking passports etc, and was so busy grovelling in her handbag she lost her footing and tripped up the very gangway he was there to warn us about! He’s probably been sacked now!!
Oceania make a very big thing about their FOOD. Now, call us odd but personally we don’t go on cruises to indulge in constant fine 6* dining. With 2/3 of the world starving I guess we just have different priorities. Don’t get me wrong, we like and expect edible meals in nice surroundings on cruises, but providing the menu is varied, the food is cooked well, tastes how it’s supposed to taste and looks fairly appetising – then that’s really all we ask for. Meals could be taken in the Grand Dining Room, Terrace Café ( Buffet style) or in 2 ‘speciality’ restaurants – ( no extra cost, but must be pre-booked prior to the cruise). I got the impression that someone sat in an office somewhere and created very fancy names for their dishes, just to make them sound good. Early in the cruise I suffered food poisoning from a lobster soufflé, and spent 6 hours dashing into the previously mentioned bathroom while it desperately tried to leave me from one end or the other. MDB ordered a rather nice sounding finan haddock for breakfast, which was so overcooked it was inedible. She asked two slices of plain common-or-garden wholemeal bread, and got three rolls with a posh name. After that we breakfasted in the Terrace Café every day where the choice of food was excellent, and catered for all tastes and diets. Interestingly, the opposite was true in the evenings where shellfish seemed to dominate the buffet, and the Grand Dining Room was the better option. MDB had the nicest steak ever in there, and it inspired me to have my first steak for years. Tender is hardly an adequate description, but for someone who is not a big red meat eater, getting me to chomp on a steak must be Oceania’s greatest achievement for 2014. We did hear occasional grumbles about food, but catering for such varied tastes and diets is always going to be a challenge for any ship. The catering staff ( especially in the terrace café ) seem to be under threat of death if they don’t perform at 200% efficiency. As soon as you’re finished, your plate / glass / bowl is whipped away ( twice I had to stop them as I had not quite finished – just taking a brief respite between mouthfuls!) While carrying food to my table in the Terrace café I was plagued by waiters wanting to carry it for me. To me that level of attention is just suffocating –but I did notice others ( able bodied and active ) actually looking for a waiter to carry their intolerably heavy burden of a bowl of cereal and banana, - bless. I also prefer to help myself at buffets, but this didn’t seem to be allowed ( probably some hygene or health and safety thing ). Wasn’t even allowed to open my own box of cereal !
After a healthy breakfast, the next thing you want is a good day trip. We booked three ( all in Israel ) through Oceania simply because there were some doubts about dates/availability/numbers etc. So we bit the bullet and paid through the nose. However - all were well organised, well conducted, very enjoyable but hellishly overpriced. We booked an independent tour to Ephesus, and did the other destinations ourselves. (The Patmos tour via the ship cost well over 100euro, we did it for the cost of a local bus (3euro each rtn) and some footwork.) If you can’t be bothered to investigate alternatives – or love spending money unnecessarily – then the ships tours are good and used first class busses and guides.
ENTERTAINMENT was variable. The resident Insignia Singers were competent and entertaining. Guest entertainers included an excellent magician/illusionist, and a rather sinister looking violinist. The Insignia dance band had the potential to be good – if they could play music that you could actually dance to! Most of it was Jazz / Soul style and while very good easy-listening, was not dance music. ( I seriously think they could be prosecuted under the UK Trades Description Act ! ) We love dancing, and were looking forward to taking to the dance floor each night. First problem for a dancer is that the dance floor is oval – not ideal for routines that rely on a more conventional oblong. Ok if you just want to hop from one foot to another while hugging your spouse, which – given the combination of music and floor – was about all you could do. We can’t be the only ones who were disappointed by this as the final night was billed as Save The Last Dance For Me. By the time they were on their third number, just 3 couples remained. Yes that’s right – 3 ! We actually requested a Waltz as they hadn’t played one any night in 9 days. It has to be said though that after the main entertainment, the ship became something of a ghost ship. Everyone just melted away. Music in the horizons bar was usually the very competent cruise director sat at the bar, sending music from his i-player to the sound system. I counted 7 people in the whole of the lounge on one of the nights we were there.
Finally – remember the bad lobster and the overcooked haddock. These, and the overzealous staff were mentioned on the ‘how’s –it-going-so-far’ mid cruise survey. A senior manager actually spoke with us 2 mornings later – apologising for the very minor comment I’d made about the staff – but never even mentioned my toxic lobster or the haddock cooked in a nuclear reactor. That annoyed MDB more than the haddock itself. This seems to be in keeping with other reviews, that Oceania won’t acknowledge or react to problems.
Overall – we enjoyed the cruise immensely. We would certainly go with Oceania again, if they were going to where we wanted to go, and at a time to suit our work.