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

Voyages of the SS Excess - Our First Cruise

Riviera Cruise Review by Tim Smyth

28 people found this helpful
Trip Details
  • Sail Date: Feb 2017
  • Destination: the Caribbean
  • Cabin Type: Concierge Level

Our Oceania Cruise was the first cruise that either I or my wife have ever taken, but we hope it won't be the last. Nearly everyone on our cruise were old hands at cruising; a majority having taken a half dozen if not double-digit tours before. Almost everyone was impressed that we first picked what has become their preferred cruise line.

I must give all the credit for the research to my wife. She started by looking for cruises where young children wouldn't be prevalent, if not outlawed completely. Hey, we adore our children and grandchildren, but we wanted a vacation away from kids. Of course, we learned that longer trips on any cruise line would limit families with children as they seldom have time for more than a week’s vacation; cruises over 10 days reduced the odds of the little ankle-biters.

But when we found Oceania we realized that there were no water slides, roller coasters, rock climbing walls, or obstacles courses on the top of their ships. In fact, they have nothing aboard that would interest a child. In fact, anyone under 14 can’t even operate the elevator (though I seriously question this wisdom as kids older than 14 are much more likely to push every button just for fun).

But our ship, the Riviera, is much smaller than the large liners, which made for an intimate group - I find it hard to believe that you'd see the same people often on the larger ships. Then again,we noticed people with the same habits as us: early risers, early off at port, etc. and are sure there are a great many we didn't see, let alone meet.

When my wife discovered that Oceania is renowned for their quality food we were hooked. Jacque Pepin has a restaurant aboard and both he and Cat Cora, the ship’s “Godmother,” are advisors for the ship’s kitchens.

But Oceania, considered a mid-range luxury line, it more expensive than most cruises. And yes, this really is a senior cruise - we turn 55 this year and were probably 10 years junior to the average. There might have been a dozen younger than us, including the obvious newlyweds who we didn't see outside their state room until the last day!

Unless you consider afternoon tea and ballroom dancing, this is not a party line. But we enjoyed the pace of our fellow travelers. Yes, you have to slow down walking through the ship, but you will hear some interesting stories. One of our challenges is that because so many of the passengers are retired “chronic cruisers,” with dozens of trips under their belts, it can be hard to move the conversation around to anything other than cruises. Besides, we looked great in our swimwear at the pool! More importantly, even the eldest on our ship looked better than the chain smoking speedo wearing passengers on the German liner that docked next to us one day!

And the food was excellent. Our favorite meal was at the La Reserve (we did the Connoisseur menu). It isn't inexpensive, but it's a wonderful experience for foodies. Wine pairings for a seven course meal were excellent and the menu was divine.

They also have four specialty restaurants and my wife was originally upset when she learned that we could only book one night at each in advance - and while we could reserve early because we upgraded to the Concierge level, all our reservations were for later hours. However, we found out that it was quite easy to arrange reservations the day of dinner as long as you would share a table. While we enjoyed our intimate late diners, sitting with others is a great way to get to know the other guests.

Our favorite of the specialty dining was Asian food at Red Ginger (the duck & watermelon salad and the sea bass are terrific). Jacques, their French restaurant, offered some outstanding choices including what they call a gnocchi that was actually bay scallops with lobster. They also do a great Lobster Thermidor. Often, the first thing folks think about when they think about good cruise dining is lobster night, but across the ship, every meal is lobster night. In fact, the buffet grill serves lobster every night and there are 26 different dishes with lobster in them! In truth, we got sick of lobster!

The only restaurant we wouldn't recommend is Waves. “Sir, what wine pairing would you suggest with that hot dog,” my wife asked the Sommelier. Soon after she called the server over to suggest that “the defining characteristic of a hot dog is that it’s hot.” Stick to the bar at Waves.

Overall, it's hard to imagine better cruise food, which after all is industrial cooking. More than a handful of dishes stand up to the finest restaurant these two foodies have been to. My only issue was that having bought an unlimited drink plan, we had to chase down our cocktails, and were made to feel that it was inconvenient to get anything other than wine in the dining rooms, and since we we getting wine by the glass as part of the plan, we didn't get as much attention as folks buying wine by the bottle.

If nightlife is your kind of thing, Oceania might not be your line. They offer nightly entertainment, but it isn't where their money is invested.

The accommodations were wonderful. Compact for sure, but they are so well organized that we fit all four of our bags of clothing handily. I would recommend getting a veranda and can't say enough about our Stewards and how well they kept up with our room. They quickly learned our habits and preferences and adapted.

Actually, the thing that stands out the most is the quality of service across the entire staff. Their dedication to a high service standard shows in everything they do. None of the crew act like anything is not their job. We watch a server drop some ice cubes and before she promptly came back to clean it up another server ran to get a broom and dust pan. I saw the head bartender show up at the poolside bar because a lady didn't like the way the other bartender made Pina Coladas, which everyone else seemed to adore!

If there is a complaint about service is that while it remains on the attentive side of obsequious, this attention to details sometimes clouds the bigger picture. For example, we felt like covert spies trying to avoid the runners that would grab your plate from us as w left the buffet so they could take it to the table. There are certainly plenty of people on this line that actually need help, like the fellow with a walker who started trying to balance his load on his walker -they should have been right there for that guy instead of chasing perfectly able bodied guests around the restaurant. Actually, it got to the point where it became a game to see if you could hide behind the palm trees to get to the table un-assaulted - I felt like I was in a Mr. Bean comedy sketch.

While sitting on the deck off the buffet first thing in the morning is peaceful, after a few days we found that we really enjoyed the table service off at the Grand Dining room. Basically, you can get all the same food brought to you instead of dealing with the busier contact sport required to navigate the buffet and the plate runners.

There are other examples of missing the big picture, but the service is so outstanding that these slights are easily overlooked. Furthermore, if anything isn’t how you like it, these people will jump through every hoop to make you happy. And let's be honest, the ship was full of privileged people, and many of the wealthy elderly elite seem to think everything revolves around them. However, the overwhelming majority appreciate the service being offs and will step in much sooner than the staff when someone has ridiculous expectations.

At first we didn't understand why the pool had a three foot lip around it. Then we made it to the high seas. Instant wave pool!

The poolside music was an interesting mix ranging from big band to soft classic rock and a live duo in the afternoon. Yes, the same elevator music these aged flower children have come to expect. However, there was a hidden theme: tragedies. Theme from Love story, Godfather, the theme from Lion King; we entertained ourselves identifying the disaster in their selections.

Many seemed to deal with tragedies at sea like Wish upon a Star - poor Gazpacho got eaten by a whale. But, the winner is the song from Titanic! Not a good thing when your only exposure to ocean liners is your reading about disasters like the Lusitania (Erik Larsen has a great book). You should have heard my wife cackle when the the theme song from the Titanic came on. Better yet, we discovered that it's in their video library and we watched it one rainy morning!

I'll be the first to understand that satellite reception can be slow and we shouldn't expect a lot of bandwidth when accessing the Internet but a simple web page shouldn't take 20 seconds to load. Even if the technology can’t do much better, the access software is in serious need of being updated - it’s copyright is 1996 - that’s twenty year old software technology. It's my business and trust me, it’s archaic. We should need little more than a last name and room number and our devices should be able to remember those accounts while on board. This isn’t the NSA, then again we came to disconnect from the Interwebz.

While we are newbies, we have some advice. Pack a power strip. You don't need as many clothes as you think, but be prepared to change several times a day. We are usually jeans and t shirt people but really did enjoy dressing for dinner. While the novelty of the ship will entertain for the first week, go on excursions and have shared meals early on in the voyage so you get a jump on meeting other people. Unless, perhaps, if you are that honeymooning couple!

A great experience. We will probably never try another line if Oceania goes there and can maintain their very high standards.

My biggest criticism is that Oceania is still stuck with “in the box” thinking on their cancellation policies. Considering that the vast majority of people we met were repeat customers, I struggle to understand why they would force their aging customers to purchase travel insurance at a whopping 10% of the price of their service? Wouldn’t you think they would have an even stronger customer base if they could offer some flexibility for when last minute changes must be made? A common occurance for their aging customer base. At least a smaller penalty fee, but perhaps offset it by selling “overbooked” options, that would probably be reasonably predictable. Seems this would be a perfect service for their targeted best customers. Indeed, they are missing the boat.


Tim Smyth's Full Rating Summary
Cabin
Onboard Experience
Enrichment Activities
Value For Money
Embarkation
Dining
Public Rooms
Entertainment
Fitness & Recreation
Shore Excursions
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Cabin Review

Concierge Level

Port & Shore Excursion Reviews

Miami

Our departure and return port. Stayed at the Intercontinental with a view of the port the night before - very nice. Toro Toro in the hotel is worth going to for dinner even if you aren't staying there. Great pan-Latin small plates!

San Juan

Loved strolling Old San Juan. Nice shopping. Take your ID.

Snorkeling

In spite of a bit of engine trouble the trip was a blast! The crew was adorable and kept us entertained on the journey to and from the snorkel spot. Frankly, it was as much a catamaran trip than a snorkel trip. The snorkeling was decent too.

View All 56 Snorkeling Reviews
St. Barts

Rough seas kept us from landing at the only port of the trip where the tenders (fancy word for the life boats) were required to go to shore. This is a beautiful island and we were disappointed we didn't get to shore.

Beach

Fantastic beach! The sand is like walking on powered sugar. A short bus trip, well narrated by our driver, took us to a restaurant/beach bar with lounge chairs and umbrellas. Full facilities and beach-side service made this enjoyable and convenient.

View All 167 Beach Reviews
Antigua

STAY AWAY FROM THIS PORT CITY UNLESS YOU WANT BADGERED BY CABBIES!

Grenada

Enjoyable port town within walking distance.


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Tim Smyth
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