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Riviera Cruise Review
4.5 / 5.0
Cruise Critic Editor Rating
691 Reviews

Ancient Empires Cruise on the Magnificent Oceania Riviera

Riviera Cruise Review by maxamize

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Trip Details
  • Sail Date: Jun 2015
  • Destination: the Mediterranean
  • Cabin Type: Penthouse Suite


We are probably amongst the youngest Oceania loyalists (25 and 34) but we just love traveling by ship and the atmosphere and food only found on Oceania Cruises. After our ‘Mayan Mystique’ cruise on ‘Riviera’ in the beginning of the year we found ourselves talking about that fabulous holiday so often that we decided to book again for this summer.

Booking – Pre-cruise

We noticed that the ‘Ancient Empires’ cruise still had the stateroom (PH1) of our choice available so after some calculating we decided to book it. We felt great! The following morning we got a promotional email from Oceania with discounts for cruises that included free gratuities and the premium beverage package. I immediately checked and found a cruise that was eligible for that promotion and had a fairly similar itinerary and was also this summer. Since it was less than 15 hours since we confirmed our reservation I contacted our TA and asked her to switch us. After a couple of hours she reported back with a message from Oceania stating ‘At this stage if the guests want to re-book on to a different sailing, there is 100% cancellation charges and they would need to pay the full fare again on the new booking’.

I understand that after a booking is made and paid that switching to ‘grab’ a better deal is problematic, but this was within 24 hours after saying yes and without having paid a single dollar or in our case a single euro. If I had been Oceania I would have given the TA either an advance notice on promotions or given us the possibility to switch cruises. Option 3 would have been to give us the same promotion for our booked cruise.

Anyway it didn’t spoil the pre-fun and we soon went online on the Oceania website to book our specialty restaurants. Unfortunately the only times available to us were either at 6:30 (early for us) or at 09:00 (very late). Getting a table at 07:00, 07:30, 8:00 or 8:30 just wasn’t possible. (When we came on the ship we were able to change all bookings to our preferred dining time and nobody understood why only the very early and late options had been available)


When our cruise day arrived we woke up very early to catch our KLM flight to Rome. We left for the airport (Schiphol) at 05:30 and had wheels up at 07:20.

KLM has the option to book economy comfort and you get a little extra legroom and are located directly behind the business class so that you’re off the plane quickly after arriving at the gate.

We landed at FCO at 09:30 and had our bags in minutes. We had arranged private transportation, since Oceania Transfers are way to expensive. We paid €120 for our trip to Civitavecchia. The road to the port was very busy due to an accident but our driver took a different route that was slower but had us in the port in 1.5 hour (normally in 50 minutes).


The port for Rome isn’t the nicest to arrive but the taxi can drive right up to the ship. Our luggage was whisked away immediately. We signed the health questionnaire, gave our credit card and where on the ship in a couple of minutes. Fastest embarkation ever! Staterooms and suites weren’t ready this early but a nice lunch was provided at the Terrace Café. We enjoyed our lunch outside with a salad, fresh grilled meats and ice cream immensely. Our vacation had officially begun! After lunch we used the loungers near the pool for some relaxation until our stateroom was ready. We watched new guests arrive, marvel at the ship and enjoy lunch and the pool.


The Riviera still looks brand new. I don’t know what they did during the dry dock in May but everything sparkled. All public areas are beautifully decorated. We have been on this ship 3 times and really love the layout and design. It’s our favorite ship to cruise on. We also like the R-ships (Nautica, Insignia and Regatta) a lot, but enjoy the Penthouse Suites and extra restaurants on the O-ships. There are only a few things we don’t like such as smallish outdoor area at the terrace café. To small for such a (relatively) big ship, to many tables and chairs placed to close together. On some days you just couldn’t find a table there. Also the pool area can get really crowded. On sea days it can really be a mad house in those areas. On days where there are a lot of tours the ship feels more like a private yacht. So I understand the design/cost challenge for designing those outdoor paces. They could maybe do more with the almost never used deck spaces higher up on the ship. I do like the ‘Lawn Club’ on X for example.

For the rest I couldn’t name a thing we don’t like about the Riviera. When you sail on this ship please take your time exploring since there are so many great spots and facilities on the ship like the Library, Baristas and the Spa Deck. We noticed a lot of familiar faces from our last cruise and they made us feel right at home.

Penthouse suite PH1-7135

We booked this suite because of its larger balcony. The room itself is a lot narrower than the other Penthouse Suites, but the balcony makes up for that. The walk-in closet is much smaller. The bathroom is the same as the other Penthouses with dark marble and granite and both a separate shower and soaking tub. Very nice to have the luxury of a bath and Oceania provides two types of bath salt and a bath tea to enjoy. The location on deck 7 and at the stern of the ship isn’t the best, but the view is marvelous. You also feel the ships motion and when docking (early morning) you really feel the vibration. If you are not planning to use your balcony a lot, I would suggest taking a different suite. Also the executive lounge on deck 11 is far from this room. For us it was great as we love being outside, watch the scenery and enjoy some time together.

The room does need a little TLC. There was a chair that had a big dark stain on it, the curtains have some small holes and tears in them and the verandah furniture was also serously stained.

Our butler Lincoln was very good. Normally we don’t use the butler, but Lincoln made himself very useful. He wasn’t intrusive and had the gift of noticing when we needed something, without us even asking. We requested a special ice tea and it was waiting for my girlfriend when we arrived in our suite. It’s those little things that keep us returning to Oceania.

We also got the opportunity to see one of the owner suites and it was jaw dropping gorgeous. It has a living room that was so tastefully decorated that I wish I could copy it for my house. The bedroom, bathrooms (2) and deck are all stunning although the outdoor area that features a lovely bath is also a little narrow. These suites are lavish and feel like an apartment at sea. If I ever win the lottery I would book one for a lengthy period of time and probably never leave the room during our stay since it’s so beautifully done.


Since most people who cruise love food I’ll spend the most part of this review telling more about the culinary highlights on board. I dare call myself a foodie (although I hate the word). My parents have taught me how to be a decent cook and I like eating at good restaurants. Food is the main reason to sail Oceania. They have seemed to figure out a way to serve around 1200 guests almost perfect meals every evening.

Of course there is always room for improvement… When you sail O it’s great to eat at the restaurant you love, but I would really like to see some small changes or daily specials. The menus in Toscana and Polo haven’t seen any real changes in years and also those of Jacques and Red Ginger serve almost the same menu as when they debuted on Oceania’s Marina many years ago. I noticed some small adjustments but nothing that amazed me.

Don’t get me wrong I love the food in all restaurants, but as with any establishment things have to change over time, even when it’s just a little to keep guest surprised when they return.


This is one of my favorites on board (only found on Riviera and Marina). It’s named after Oceania’s culinary adviser Jacques Pepin. The décor is French and a little kitsch but that’s exactly how it should be. This venue is bright and cozy with a great menu and well-trained staff. The maître d’ is charming and works hard to make his guests happy. The kitchen serves rich (some would even argue to rich) French comfort food like artichoke, carpaccio made of bay scallops, foie gras (I hope from an organic farm), onion soup au gratin, pumpkin soup, lobster, cote de boeuf and sole meuniere, deboned tableside. On most nights they also serve crepe suzette, a real French classic with a drop of French orange liquor.


Also a great restaurant found on all Oceania’s ships. This restaurant serves Italian dishes like Carpaccio di manzo, melanzane parmigana, spaghetti with lobster, veal chops with porcini mushrooms and of course the all time favorite tiramisu. We like this restaurant a lot. It has a beautiful view, the setting gives it a very upscale feel and it has fun things like an olive oil menu and the food is just very well prepared. Also de maître d’ is very good at his job. They also have specials of the day and that makes every trip to this restaurant more than satisfying.

Polo Grill

This steakhouse at sea serves chops and seafood. It’s very good and immensely popular, but actually you can find many of these dishes in almost every restaurant on the ship. Although the styling is really cool this menu could benefit from a small upgrade. I hope the Oceania Chefs will look at the menu of popular steakhouse concepts like those found in New York City and Miami.

Red Ginger

The Asian themed restaurant on board that serves the most innovative dishes on the ship like watermelon and duck salad, chicken curry, Chilean sea bass, sushi, tempura, lobster pad thai and crispy chicken. Service is good at this restaurant. Unfortunately our dishes came out of the kitchen luke warm and I don’t like that. Also the shades are always closed and blocking out the beautiful view. Since the room and décor are all very dark and the restaurant is low on Deck 5 you feel a lot of motion and vibration. I wouldn’t mind if they would let in a little more daylight in this venue.

Grand Dining Room

The largest restaurant on the ship is a beautiful one. It almost feels like an elegant palace with it’s gold and white shades, gigantic chandelier (that now has a dimmer on it so it doesn’t feel like sitting in an operation room!) and good to excellent food. Service can be slightly chaotic and either very slow or super fast. The ‘sommeliers’ also tend to disappear during the evening. It happed to us twice. The menu changes daily and has something for everyone’s taste with a few always-available dishes like poached salmon, steak and rotisserie chicken. The menu also features favorites from the other restaurants on some nights.

Terrace Café

A real gem is the Terrace Café found on deck 12 that is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. It has a small outside dining area that can get really crowded. The food for a buffet is really good with many choices that makes you eat way more than you should. Breakfast has eggs made to order, bacon, sausage, pancakes, French toast, fresh fruit, cereal, oatmeal, fresh orange juice, smoked salmon and so much more. I had the impression that they switched the flower used for the croissants and some pastries. In January they were more flakey and buttery than this time around. The French baguette you find on this ship is the best in the world.

During lunch hours this restaurant serves great food buffet style. Every day has a special theme like Greek, Mexican, Asian et cetera. In the evening the Terrace Café has a menu that features many dishes found in the Grand Dining room. There is also a grill station that serves great chops and seafood.

The great thing about this restaurant is that you can eat at your own pace and enjoy the fresh sea air if you dine outside on the deck. It’s relaxed and service on this voyage was excellent.

Waves Grill

This is the most casual eatery on the ship and serves juicy burgers, hotdogs, fries and salads. I think the designers were a little out of inspiration when they were planning this venue, since it’s the least interesting of all the restaurants on board. The menu however is excellent and everything is made to order. The surf and turf burger is delicious, as is the kobe beef burger with truffle sauce. Ice cream is also fine, although I have tasted smoother and more refined ice cream at gelato shops. They also serve a simpler breakfast here if you prefer a more relaxed atmosphere.


The coffee venue is great for having a latte macchiato, espresso or cappuccino. The Italian Barista’s did a great job and the Illy coffee is truly excellent. There are little snacks and pastries available that are hard to resist. You also have a great view from this little spot above the pool deck.


The entertainment on board isn’t the type we like. It’s catered to a more mature crowd (and I understand that and its fine for us). There was however a band with singers that played famous songs up in Horizons (deck 15) and we left because the singing was so off-key that it hurt. I’m fine with small entertainment but just give me one good musician and a vocalist who can dazzle me with his or her talent. We don’t expect big production shows, but if there is a band or singer on the ship it should be descent talent performing.

On this trip we weren’t impressed by the entertainment in the Riviera Lounge.

We skiped most of the shows and made the restaurant experience our entertainment for the evening. We like sitting on deck late at nights with a cocktail and a nice conversation.

I went to 3 cooking demonstrations in the Riviera Lounge and those were very entertaining to watch. There are two chefs preparing recipes that are on the restaurants menus and they did a great job. After the demo you could taste the food and you got a small booklet with the recipes. It’s all very interesting but the operator in charge of the dome cameras couldn’t keep up with the 2 chefs so you missed a lot of what they were doing.


We love art and this ship has a lot of it and most of it is really beautiful and tasteful. We had an artist in residence who did the art workshops. He was very friendly. He had a gigantic inflatable head with him that was set up in various locations throughout the ship and voyage. I know art is personal and if we don’t like a piece one bit other people may very well love it. In this case it was so huge that it could be missed and popped up everywhere. It became a running gag for us. The ghostly gigantic inflatable head with dark colors was placed at the pool, near the gangway, in the middle of the staircase and on the sun deck. If you didn’t like it you where out of luck since it was everyway!


The ship has an extensive collection of books and when I finished reading the books I had taken with me I found so many interesting books in the library that I wished I hadn’t schlepped those heavy books with me. It’s also a great spot to sit and read on days with less than perfect weather. The leather chairs are very comfortable and if I did a transatlantic crossing I would sit here and imagine being on an old ocean liner.

Oceania Tours

When booking tours or transfers with Oceania please know that these are very expensive. You can arrange your own for a fraction of the cost. We did one O Tour and that was to Jerusalem (that was to far away from Haifa to go on our own). The guide was great but we had an unexpected and lengthy stop to do some shopping at a so-called ‘Oceania Approved Shop’. Not only was the shop selling horrible quality tourist stuff at excessive prices this cut our time in Jerusalem short with an hour. There was also a lunch stop at 4 in the afternoon planned at ‘a local hotel’. This was actually in a huge hall where up to 750 guests had been eating lunch prior to our arrival. The room was filled with filthy plates left on all tables, and even in the restroom area there were plates with food (who would take food there still puzzles me!) food was so bad that I wouldn’t have dared serving it to anybody. At these prices Oceania should offer a far better experience and it’s the main reason we don’t use Oceania Tours.

Ports of Call

This cruise had a lot of great stops but also some very awkward places.

Great ports: Rome, Jerusalem, and Valletta

Good ports: Argostoli (cute little town), Alanya (nice for fake stuff), Chania (nice town),

Uninteresting ports: Trapani (nice port, but not on Sunday when everything is closed!), Cagliari! When you visit a beautiful place like Sardinia who plans to dock here! It is a big industrial port with not much to offer. Most people were back on the ship in less than an hour.

Small observations

• Asking a whopping $27 per day for the use of internet should result in a descent connection and a simple login procedure. In a time when people use multiple devices and at almost 30 bucks a day you should be able to use at least two devices at the same time.

• Up until a couple of months ago you could switch the ‘complementary bottle of champagne’ in your suite for a bottle of white or red wine. This isn’t allowed anymore. A very unsympathetic new rule especially since this champagne isn’t anything to write home about and many people like to drink a glass of champagne but not the whole bottle.

• Oceania could use some new recipes for preparing vegetables. The only option at the terrace café is the same assorted steamed vegetables that they serve everyday and have the flavor steamed out of them completely. Come on Oceania you could put some more creativity in the veggies. Look at some Ottolenghi recipes.

• Oceania says it focuses on sustainability but leaving so much paperwork in every stateroom and suite on the ship each day isn’t very environmentally friendly.

• According to the O website Penthouse Suites on Riviera have a TV loaded with movies. This is not the case. O should update the tv’s in all staterooms. They run pretty descent movies but the quality is pretty bad and nothing is available on demand. That’s very 1999… The channels, listings and old promotional Oceania video’s that fill up most of the channels good use a refresh!

• The announcements by the captain and the cruise director aren’t broadcasted in the staterooms and suites. That’s great! But you have to switch to channel 3 to hear the message. If you’re not fast enough switching on your TV and going to channel 3 you miss this information. Would it be possible to rerun this message on that same channel a couple of times so that everyone who is interested if able to listen to it?

• The signature chocolates that are left on your pillow each night leave a lot to be desired. They aren’t made out of good quality chocolate and in my opinion aren’t O worthy.

• I would love to have a chat with the employee who makes the playlist for the pool. Do we really have to play the CD ‘Greatest Musical Hits played on the pan flute’ everyday?

• The TV’s run old shows from Oceania’s famous Chef Jacques Pepin. These clips are so old and dated that they don’t do justice to Mr. Pepin’s great culinary achievements. As a producer of culinary television shows I know that it would not take much to get Jacques Pepin in a studio for a couple of days and record some new material.

• At breakfast you can order ‘fresh squeezed’ orange juice and that’s fabulous but I would love if O would also feature some fresh healthy green juices. There are more than enough fresh veggies on the ship to make those.


All in all it was my 5th fabulous cruise on O. I can’t wait to be back again. The last three cruises where on the O-ships. I think I will try one of the small ships again next year just to experience the difference. Oceania has made an almost perfect product for the 1200 guests on board that all have different wishes, needs, preferences and expectations.

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Cabin Review

Penthouse Suite
Cabin PH1 7135

We booked this suite because of its larger balcony. The room itself is a lot narrower than the other Penthouse Suites, but the balcony makes up for that. The walk-in closet is much smaller. The bathroom is the same as the other Penthouses with dark marble and granite and both a separate shower and soaking tub. Very nice to have the luxury of a bath and Oceania provides two types of bath salt and a bath tea to enjoy. The location on deck 7 and at the stern of the ship isn’t the best, but the view is marvelous. You also feel the ships motion and when docking (early morning) you really feel the vibration. If you are not planning to use your balcony a lot, I would suggest taking a different suite. Also the executive lounge on deck 11 is far from this room. For us it was great as we love being outside, watch the scenery and enjoy some time together.

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