We chose Oceania because of their heavily advertised claim that they offered some of the best food on the high seas. We chose the Riviera because the itinerary promised a trans-Atlantic crossing out of Barcelona where we wished to spend some extra days. And the price was right for a veranda cabin.
The cruise didn't wholly live up to our hopes. But it was nonetheless an enjoyable experience.
The ship itself is very handsome, though suffering a few signs of damage (scratches, bumps, stains here and there). The grand dining room is particularly pleasant, colourful, open, and airy. The cabin was large and attractive, with plenty of room to store a travel wheelchair. Moving around the ship with that wheelchair was very easy because many of the doors are automatic.
Staff were friendly and helpful and efficient: cabin steward, waiters, reception desk. The captain was old-style, largely absent and not very communicative. The cruise director, by contrast, was a bit too present – on the television and on the speaker, often telling us what you could read in the daily paper. We didn’t attend most of the entertainment: the dancers were energetic and skilful, the singers unfortunately loud but unimpressive, and the classical quartet unaccountably lacking harmony. Nor did we find the so-called enrichment lecture topics sufficiently interesting to warrant going. What was the idea? Lectures on forensic science on a cruise? And we avoided the few excursions as too pricey. Not a problem: we entertained ourselves on the ship and in the ports.
By the way, wifi (for one device at a time) might be included in O'Life but it is terrible even when close to land or a city. Worst I’ve experienced lately. But it is free and the email eventually does come in – well, usually.
One of the reasons we chose the Riviera was the fact it promised two stops in the Canaries. That didn’t happen. The prospect of bad weather led the ship authorities to cancel both. So we lost some of the Spain we were looking forward to. Reading the reviews, it seems Oceania has a bad habit of cancelling ports. Disappointing. It is possible we would have made the crossing with Azamara (going at the same time) except it had less Spanish ports in theory. Worth keeping in mind that Oceania's itinerary isn’t a solid promise. And no compensation for their failure to deliver.
The cruise did offer other activities: bridge lessons, culinary classes, art classes, assorted games. None of these we sampled. There was some seriously over-priced “private dining,” that wasn’t private at all because you sat at a common table,or so it seemed. Didn’t do that either. Never tried the exercise room but my wife had success twice with the hair services at the Canyon Ranch Spa. One minor plus: a good, free dvd library (by contrast, disappeared from the Azamara Quest anyway).
Now as to the food. Three of the specialty restaurants were truly excellent. Unquestionably the most outstanding was Red Ginger, the Asian restaurant: the food delicious and plentiful, novel, varied, and interestingly spiced – the duck and watermelon salad as well as the sea bass were stellar. I found Red Ginger the best specialty restaurant (compared to Azamara, Crystal, Princess, and Holland America) I’ve enjoyed in the past five years. Jacques (French) and Toscana (Italian) were almost as impressive: a fine bouillabaisse and a marvellous dover sole at the first, some superb lamb and a tasty seafood linguine at the second. The one specialty restaurant that was a bit weak (though the crab cakes were fine) was the steakhouse, Polo Grill: I’ve had far tastier ribeye on Azamara's Prime C.
The food in the other venues was generally good for lunch and dinner. If the steakhouse failed, the steaks in the buffet (Terrace Café) and the dining room were tasty. The caesar salad everywhere was a pleasure. The room service menu had decent lunch offerings, especially gravlax and a fine cheese plate as well as a novelty (for me) the Lombardy salad and an excellent small steak. The Waves Grill (outside, casual) had the standard fare: burgers, hot dogs (the Mexican a standout), salad makings, etc. Some of the dishes in the buffet restaurant were very good (e.g. the Thanksgiving turkey), most were enjoyable, but there were occasional failures like the paella (bland and mushy). Strangely enough, the appetizers and the soups and the bread seemed the most exciting offerings in the main dining room. The entrees were ok but not memorable – and occasionally poor (e.g. tough lamb, bland fish). Desserts everywhere weren’t outstanding, although the assorted crème brules were very enjoyable, as was the varied cheese plate (far better than on Azamara, but best on Crystal).
The weakest dining was at breakfast. The room service only offered a basic, and to my mind substandard (blah breads, fruit bits) , continental menu. The eggs prepared in the buffet and the dining room were never exciting. The bacon didn’t appeal, the sweet breads (danishes etc) were uninteresting but for one fruity semi-muffin (and only occasionally available), the flaccid bagels a shame. But I did try some breakfast fish and lamb chops in the dining room – both were very good, as was the carved ham at a brunch. Also the buffet had tasty smoked salmon and various herring dishes that were welcome. Service in the dining room at breakfast seemed slow, slower than on other occasions.
Coffee was only ok. Nothing special in the restaurants. Overly mild from the coffee place Baristas (though some people might prefer such). Better in short on Azamara and Crystal.
Wine could be a problem, depending on the time, place, and the wine steward. We had the House Select plan which meant wine by the glass at lunch and dinner. If you had a good wine steward, like Milos, then fine: he always watched to ensure his clients were well served. If you had a rushed or negligent wine steward, then you would go dry during the course of the meal. Oceania needs to hire more wine stewards, train them better, and find more of the quality of Milos. In any case the wine offerings were acceptable but not so good for our tastes (Chilean, Argentine, Spanish reds, German whites) as on Azamara, Princess, and Holland America, and especially on Crystal.
In all the cruise was delicious. It does often offer good and varied food, and some of the dishes are just superb. But on the whole Crystal does it better, if at a much higher cost. And Azamara, the more comparable cruise line in price and service, has roughly the same ‘score,’ much good and some not, when it comes to food. However I think Azamara offers even more on ambience, service, entertainment, and excursions.
We would likely take another Oceania if the price and itinerary were especially appealing. But we have no plans to do so soon. We’re off on other cruise lines.
Stayed in Barcelona before the cruise. One of the world's best cities. This time, La Rambla, the market, the Picasso Museum,and as always the food the highlights.
A pleasant place to walk around - easy with wheelchair.
Very interesting, visited the Picasso Museum here too, sometimes difficult to push a wheelchair thru the cobblestone streets but worth tge effort for the sights and the food.
Took an independent city tour from "Gus," inexpensive and interesting, in a medium sized van. The tour was available outside the terminal. Saw the city, old and new. Then got a recommendation for a restaurant serving a Puerto Rican specialty, mofongo. Try it - very tasty.
No interest. Stayed on the boat.
Disembarked here. Stayed a few days. Visited fine seaquarium (really one of the best aquaria anywhere) and the Gary Nader Art Centre, full of Latin American art, an excellent gallery. Of course ate well here too, notably at a downtown Brazilian restaurant, Steak Brasil Churrascaria for a rodizio feast.