Cruise: San Diego to Rio de Janeiro on Oceania's Sirena - December 16, 2017 to January 20, 2018. Cabin - Concierge Balcony Category A1
This was our (my wife and I) 19th cruise and first one with Oceania. We chose this cruise because we liked the itinerary and also because we had sailed on the R1 with Renaissance, around the turn of the century, and had fond memories of that sister ship.
We are going to get rid of the sour taste in our mouth, up front, before we go on!
LINGERING SOUR TASTE: The one area we were extremely disappointed with was the Destination Services area (Shore Excursions and Port Services). The excursion costs were exorbitant, excursion contents were way below par, some tour guides were high school students, some tour guides could speak very little English, the department staff had none or very little port information/assistance to offer and were totally unresponsive and tactless, almost to the point of being rude (including Gustavo Brasil, the manager ~ I have no Supervisor on the ship. Fill this form and complain to Miami office ~ who was almost never to be seen except when he came for his dinner). Waste of BIG money and waste of valuable opportunities on Oceania’s shore excursions!
Ah, that feels better! On to the rest of our experience!!
DEMOGRAPHICS: Most of the guests appeared to be between 65 to 85 years of age (few younger, some older). While there were people from several parts of Europe, Australasia and some other places, most of the people were from the US, UK and Canada.
SHIP: In spite of its age, Sirena is a very beautiful, well appointed and generally well maintained ship (brass railings on the stairs need to be polished, though). However, the ship appeared to be under-powered for the itinerary and we found ourselves racing at maximum rated speeds many a times (sometimes even slightly above the maximum rated speed), presumably to catch up on time. The ship rocked way too much (the pitch - front to back, more often than roll - side to side), just about everyday. The Tender Service was very good. The SIrena, Regatta, Insignia and Nautica (the smaller 4 Oceania ships) do not offer as many benefits/amenities at the Concierge Balcony A1 level as Oceania's larger ships. The Cabins were small but well maintained and furnished tastefully with reasonable amount of storage space. The public places were very nicely decorated and well maintained. The Library - collection, furniture, decor and maintenance - was excellent.
SERVICE: The Embarkation and Disembarkation were quite smooth with a minimal wait. The cabin was ready a bit ahead of time. The bags were handled carefully and delivered promptly. The Officers were quite visible, friendly and easily approachable. The staff was very friendly and generally very eager to please guests in almost all areas - Special Mention must be made of Housekeeping, Laundry Service, Entertainment and Restaurants' staff. Sirena held a mid-voyage survey about guest experience and they actually read the filled forms and followed through with responses/corrections right away - Impressive! The exception to the foregoing being the Destinations Services (Shore Excursions and Port Services) Department.
FOOD: This is a mixed bag with quality of dishes, variety in menus, and service being inconsistent from restaurant to restaurant.
(a) There are 2 Specialty Restaurants (Red Ginger - Oriental, Tuscan Steak - Italian Steak House) and there is no extra cover charge for either. Each offers its own exact same menu every day, from day to day. The food and ambiance in both is mediocre with Tuscan Steak being a bit better than Red Ginger. The locations of the two restaurants is poor - Deck 10 Aft. Both are generally not crowded and service in both restaurants is good.
(b) The Grand Dining Room (main restaurant) is spacious, has excellent decor and the food quality is good with a different menu every day but the service was extremely slow. If you didn't mind spending 2+ hours at a dinner table then this is your place. This restaurant also served Lunch as Jacques Bistro.
(c) Terrace Cafe is a semi-casual buffet. This is a popular place and seating is tight, at times, for the demand. It has a large variety on the menu from day to day with lobster tails, steaks and shrimp (all cooked to order before you) every day. The service and food quality are both excellent.
(d) Waves Grill is a pool side grill (under shade) and has a salad and dessert bar and cooked to order (limited) entrees. The food and service is good and this a good place for a quick lunch.
(e) Room Service is at no extra charge and in addition to the three meals it is available for snacks in between meal hours. The menu is, of course, limited but the food is good. The quality of delivery service is somewhat sub-par with orders not being filled right or at times delayed (luke warm). The mini-bar in the cabin is stocked daily with soft drinks of your choice at no extra cost (charge for alcoholic drinks/snacks).
(f) There are some nice special features like the Four O'Clock Tea in the Horizons Bar, two Cocktail Parties (more for repeat guests), Cake Decorating and Ginger Bread House Decorating Contests, Food Demos and Themed Dinners which sometimes include local fare.
PORT INFORMATION & ENRICHMENT LECTURES: This is one of two areas that was sub-par (the other being Shore Excursions). In this case it was either because of bad/boring information or bad presenters.
ENTERTAINMENT: The Serena has a small but a very talented and energetic entertainment staff headed by an excellent Cruise Director, Dotty. They have great personalities, work well together and also double up for a variety of other on-board activities. Special mention must be made of Frank, Gabriela, Hunter and Shandy, the vocalists. The orchestra does a good job! The String Quartet is excellent! The talent, quality and style of outside contracted artists/entertainers varied and could use improvement. Special mention must be made of the excellent Bridge Instructors/Tournament Directors team of Dave and Dianne who did an outstanding job! On-board Entertainment is Sirena's untold secret.
SHORE EXCURSIONS: We should have done our research about Oceania's Destination Services (Shore Excursion and Port Services) prior to booking. As indicated above, this is a major shortcoming of Oceania and apparently quite well known, but we were not aware of that. This is a major Black-Mark on the image of an otherwise good ship/cruise line. Enough said about this area!
THE BOTTOM LINE(S): On the whole, it was a good cruise but definitely over-priced for the value. Sirena is a beautiful, well maintained ship. But it was under-powered for this itinerary and therefore mis-matched for this cruise. It has an excellent entertainment staff and very good shows for a small ship. The food and restaurants are significantly over-rated. The cost of Shore Excursions was exorbitant and the content was terrible – they were the worst we have experienced in our 19 cruises. It has excellent officers and staff who provided excellent service (except Destinations Services/Shore Excursions staff). If you like a quiet ambiance and good service, can handle the daily rocking of the ship, you want lobster tails, shrimp and steak for every lunch/dinner, you get port information on your own and arrange port visits/excursions through your own vendors, or stay on board during port stops and and read a book in the wonderful library, or buy your favorite drink in a short/tall glass and lay by the pool, enjoy the sunshine and get a good tan, and, yes, you don't mind the cost of all this, then this is definitely your cruise and you will love it!
Now we know what Oceania is all about and hope our above experience is useful to you!