My wife and I cruised on Marina, from Southampton to Copenhagen, in August of 2017. We had originally booked on the Concierge level, but when offered an upgrade for an additional fee, we upgraded to a Penthouse Suite.
We were not too impressed with some of the issues we faced while on the cruise and the way some of the ship’s staff responded to these matters. Before getting into detail on the issues, we must stress that our butler, the housekeeping staff, and the restaurant and dining room staff did a fabulous job, were attentive and courteous, and are not related to the issues we encountered. Additionally, the Penthouse Suite itself was very well-appointed, a good size compared to the Concierge rooms, had lots of storage and a walk-in closet, and a sizeable washroom (the shower can feel a bit tight, however, when you’re over six-feet tall).
Now for the issues we encountered. The first one concerned a bottle of 18-year-old Scotch ordered for our suite. The Oceania website indicated that this was a one litre bottle, but when we opened the box containing the Scotch, it was only a 750 ml bottle. When asked, our butler pursued the matter with other staff on the ship, but it took two days before I was informed that they did not have one litre bottles, at which time the original bottle was returned to me. During the two days that elapsed, there were a couple of differing stories about what was happening. In the end, I was offered four shots of the Scotch in any of the restaurants in addition to the smaller bottle, which still did not match the one litre quantity originally described on their website. I accepted this, only because I was getting tired of how long it was taking them to handle the matter. Given this is an error, I wonder if Oceania and their marketing folks will correct their website to reflect the fact that Glenmorangie 18 Year Scotch is not available in a 1 Litre bottle.
Two other matters related to shore excursions. First, we had originally booked eight excursions each in March, choosing them to fit our schedule based on our preferences for dining on the ship. When we arrived on the ship, we received a letter indicating that one of our tours had been cancelled. After reviewing alternatives for this port, we could not find a suitable tour as a replacement. When I tried to get an answer from a supposedly higher level person, I was told that the excursion had been cancelled because “only 4 people had signed up” for the tour. If that were the case, why didn’t Oceania recognise this well in advance (say in July), and inform us at an earlier date, rather than after we arrived on the ship. For a supposedly premium cruise line, they should do better than last-minute advice.
The other tour issue was related to an excursion where the time was arbitrarily changed from morning to afternoon. We didn’t notice this until the day before the excursion when we pulled the tickets out. Someone on the ship stated that the ticket pack included a warning that time could change, which may cover their posterior, but they should inform customers more actively when such changes occur. Perhaps Oceania needs to recognise that when people arrive on the ship, customers are actively trying to unpack while receiving communication about W-Fi, booze upselling, cruise details, etc., and may not check all details assuming that Oceania would be properly informed of such changes.
The next problem was related to the canceled excursion. We advised the ‘Destinations’ people that we could not find a suitable alternative, and then asked the individual if the refund would be applied as a credit to my wife’s credit card. The individual responded in the affirmative. However, a few days before the end of the cruise, we checked with the ‘Reception’ people to confirm this, and were told that the refund was a shipboard credit that was required to be spent on board Marina. My wife and I told them in no uncertain terms that we had been advised differently, and it there was no way that we would be spending the amount onboard. At the point we checked, the credit and not even been applied to our shipboard account. I then asked to whom I should speak to escalate the issue, and was advised to return later to discuss with the assistant purser. When I returned to discuss with the assistant purser, she then agreed that they would refund the amount in US cash, but that she would need to talk to the “Destinations” people to have them process the refund. The assistant purser, then called me later to advise that a $100 per person amount would be applied as a ‘goodwill gesture’ – an amount less than what the excursions actually cost. So I pushed back again, and talked to the ‘Destinations’ people, who frankly were not very customer friendly, but who finally agreed to an amount that reflected the actual out-of-pocket cost for the excursion. I was then advised by the assistant purser that processing the refund would occur overnight, and we could see it on a preliminary statement the next day. When I went to check the account the next day, Oceania had added significant amounts for gratuities – gratuities which we had prepaid months before the cruise. We insisted that we had prepaid the gratuities, and the assistant purser agreed to check in the matter – the next day, the charges for gratuities were removed from the next preliminary statement. In the end, we finally received the amount in US cash. However, the lack of consistency and answers from various staff, the back and forth to resolve the issue, and the additional erroneous accounting charges were what I would call a classic ‘Gong Show’.
The last item was related to our baggage upon disembarkation. The website description for the Penthouse suite specifically listed ”Last minute luggage collection” as one of the services exclusive to the suite. However, when we received our letter outlining luggage preparation, it stated. “Please place your luggage outside her sweeper statement by 10 PM the night” before disembarkation. Again, another visit to talk to the staff in ’Reception’ confirmed the 10 PM deadline – I showed them a printed copy of their webpage, and still got a deer in the headlights look. Obviously, Oceania links to upsell people to premium suites with promises that are blatantly misleading; the definition of last-minute to most reasonable people would be most couple of hours prior to disembarkation.
Regarding the restaurants and the food, there were some items in Red Ginger that were ‘Wows’ (the Spicy Duck and Watermelon Salad, the Miso Glazed Seabass, and the Twice-cooked Crispy Chicken). Polo Grill was comparable in quality to most steak houses at which I’ve eaten, albeit not as good as higher end steakhouses. The Caesar Salad was definitely mediocre compared to most restaurants – while it’s prepared ‘tableside’, the dressing appeared to be prepared in advance, rather than the dressing ingredients being combined at tableside. Overall, I would rank the food as better than average, but not consistently as great as Oceania implies in their marketing materials. Additionally, in the Penthouse Suite, we were entitled to nightly canapes; however, there were a limited number of choices, and the choices never changed during the entire cruise.
Oceania provides a survey for passengers to complete at the end of the cruise and I overheard one of the people in ‘Reception’ stated that they take these and customer feedback seriously. I did not complete the detailed survey as intended, as I was so frustrated with the above, but I did complete the free form section firmly requesting that someone with some authority contact me at home to discuss the several issues that we encountered on the cruise. To date (over fifteen business days since returning home), Oceania has not made contact, so it appears that they’re not interested in customer concerns or feedback, nor do they appear to be interested in making changes to avoid such problems in future.
Perhaps Oceania should consider reducing the number of direct mail pieces trying to sell future cruises, and divert these funds so they can focus on responding properly to customer issues and improving communication and training to improve the customer experience. Given they purport to be a premium cruise line (and are often described as ‘upper premium’), our experience demonstrates that they seem to overpromise and under deliver.
As someone who has spent several decades in the consumer and business-to-business marketing, communication, advertising, and web realm, dealing with customer issues is something that I was passionate about, and to which I responded extremely quickly. Oceania’s standards and resolution, or lack thereof, do not come close to the standards I would expect from a brand that purports to be a premium (or upper premium) cruise line.
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