After nine Celebrity cruises on four different ships, my husband and I took advantage of an amazing discount to “upgrade” to Oceania on an itinerary we liked. We arrived in Nice the morning before the cruise and enjoyed exploring the city (which deserves more than a day). Stayed at La Villa du Victor Hugo, which was well located for walking to both Vieux Nice and the waterfront, and not far from the train station. We took the train to Monaco (an easy trip for 6 euros each ) and got a taxi to the ship. Oceania gets top marks for embarkation; it was the fastest and most efficient boarding we have experienced. (i did miss the welcome champagne that we are used to on Celebrity.). We had lunch at the buffet and were able to get into our stateroom at 3:00; our bags were delivered an hour or two later.
We had a category B3 veranda stateroom (I booked a B4 Guarantee), which was perfectly fine and had one advantage over Celebrity: the bathtub. My husband likes soaking in the tub after a day of sightseeing, so appreciated this enhancement. We found the bed to be somewhat uncomfortable: a little too soft and with a definite and distinct crack in the middle that made cuddling difficult. What surprised us was that our cabin attendant never (I mean never in the whole 8 night trip) greeted us, introduced him/herself, or asked if we needed anything. We are used to the attendant introducing him/herself on the first day, giving a tour of the room and any quirks, and leaving a number to contact him/her. This was certainly a flaw in the service. In addition, on a couple of occasions our dirty glasss were not replaced when the room was cleaned, and we never had enough soap to serve the tub, shower and sink.
Since Oceania’s main claim to excellence is its cuisine, we were expecting to be wowed in the dining room. Unfortunately, we found it no better than Celebrity. We generally dined between 7:45 and 8:30, and had no problem getting a table for two in a good location (kudos to the maitre d’s). The wait staff and somneliers were friendly and competent, and the food was fine, but not outstanding. We ate in three of the four specialty restaurants as well, but were never able to get a reservation for Jacques, even though I tried to reserve online the day we were eligible and checked every day onboard. The fact that Oceania guarantees one reservation in each specialty restaurant does not mean that you can get a reasonable time or a table for two. We were offered 6:00 at a shared table (this was at 5:50 when we had just come back on board from a port visit; the reservation agent said we could get there as late as 6:15 if we needed to shower and dress.). I had my best meal at Red Ginger, which I expected to like the least, and we enjoyed the Polo Grill (though the lighting at our table was so bad that I could not read the menu). We thought Tuscano was okay, but no better than Tuscany on Celebrity. Breakfast in the bufffet was fine, though I would have liked some good hearty multigrain bread and bolder coffee (the coffee throughout the ship was too weak for my taste). We prefer being able to help ourselves, choosing our own ingredients and determining portion size, rather than having the staff do it. Because we were in port every day, we did not have lunch on the ship. I would have liked to try Waves Grill, as their menu was very inviting, with grilled fish as well as burgers. We used room service twice (just for coffee and tea) and delivery was prompt and friendly.
Our biggest disappointment was the entertainment. We love to dance, and I had checked before booking to make sure that the ship offered dancing, She does, in fact, have a very nice venue in Horizons, with a sizable dance floor and good seating surrounding it. The band Ardor, however, was a flop.. They played almost exclusively Latin jazz, which is fine for listening but not good for dancing, as the songs are too long, too similar, and feature jazz riffs which highlight the individual band members but mess up the tempo of the music. As a result, the audience for their two pre-dinner sets (5:45-6:30 and 6:45-7:30) dwindled each day until the room was all but empty on the last few evenings. They also played a late night set of livelier music, but again, there was little variety—pretty much all the same tempo. The ship’s show band filled in a few times and was better but still leaned toward jazz rather than dance music, The piano player in Martinis was talented but had no personality. He appeared not to take requests, didn’t encourage singalongs, and didn’t engage the audience at all. What could have been a fun spot ended up being sedate. Another problem is the scheduling: rather than stagger the musical performances so that when one takes a break you can go to another, they are all scheduled at the same time, with all performers (there was also a classical quartet which we saw only briefly) taking their breaks at once, and with a long period (7:30-10:30) of no music. We checked out a few of the shows; there was a violinist who played two nights and was outstanding, a piano player whom we didn’t catch, and the usual young show cast singing broadway and round-the-world songs. They were no better or worse than others we’ve seen. An ongoing annoyance was that we found table service in the bars and buffet to be quite slow, and ordering at the bar didn’t help since we were not allowed to carry the drinks to our table.
The itinerary was port-intensive with no sea days, so we didn’t experience the ship during the day. While we enjoyed all the ports, we did miss having an on-board day in the mix. We did not take any ship excursions, which are grossly overpriced (e.g. a bus trip to Lucca from Livorno through the ship was 99 euros per person, whereas the train we took on our own was 5.60 round trip plus 1.20 bus fare to the station). In addition to the train from Livorno, we also took a train to Aix en Provence from Marseilles (14 euros round trip) and we rented a car in Civitavecchia and explored the area (63 euros). Otherwise, we explored the port villages by foot. In the two ports that required tendering, we found the process to be smooth and efficient.
We had early flight home from Barcelona, so were in the first group to deboard the ship (7:30). We were amazed at how quickly and smoothly the process went—less than ten minutes from our stateroom to riding in the taxi. Again, Oceania overprices their transportation options. They wanted $178 for two for a bus ride to the airport; we took a waiting cab right outside the terminal for 39 euros. Faster, more efficient, and a quarter of the cost. I realize that all cruise lines make money on their excursions and transport, but it appears that Oceania is particularly greedy in that regard.
To sum up, Riviera is a beautiful ship and has some advantages over the Celebrity ships we have sailed: embarkation and debarkation were much faster and easier than we have experienced before, and the bathtub is a bonus. We also appreciated the absence of those pesky photographers and the lower volume of hype. For a ship whose reputation is built primarily on cuisine, we found the food to be equal to but not significantly better than what we’ve had before. We also did not perceive a higher level of personal service. But the kicker for us was the poor quality of the bands for dancing which is a main reason we like to cruise. I recognize that this is a personal preference and irrelevant to most people deciding whether to book Riviera. What I think is a broader concern is the value, and for us, Celebrity is a much better value, especially when they are running (as they often do) their 3-for-free promotions. We enjoyed our cruise on the Riviera, we’re glad we experienced it, but we’ll stick with Celebrity for the dancing and the value.