So far we have always cruised on Oceania’s Riviera but decided to “pay a visit” to her older sister, the M/S Marina. The Transatlantic Passage from Lisbon to Rio de Janeiro began on November 28th and ended on December 14th. We flew ... Read More
So far we have always cruised on Oceania’s Riviera but decided to “pay a visit” to her older sister, the M/S Marina. The Transatlantic Passage from Lisbon to Rio de Janeiro began on November 28th and ended on December 14th. We flew into Lisbon a day early and stayed over at a hotel close to the port.
On the embarkation day the departure from the cruise terminal was very disorganized and chaotic; no special area for suites guests to wait, in fact Regent was embarking their guests in the same hall at the same time with no clear separation. As we arrived without luggage tags (not our fault), we worried for a while that our luggage may end up on the wrong ship. Eventually, we were sent off to do the registration on board but it was not clear how to get there. All of a sudden an agent showed up and indicated which door to exit to board the ship. We had to follow others hoping it was the right way. It turned out that the ship was located at about ¼ of a mile away and we all walked off into strong, cold winds. All the usual procedures (info, Credit Cards, photos, etc.) were done at the Marina’s reception desk. It was indeed, a very unusual and surprising way to embark.
It is impossible not to compare the two ships; the layouts are the same, locations of restaurants, lounges, spa, exercise room, etc. are located exactly on the same decks and area. The clearest differences (for our taste) were in general, the art work; by far Riviera is much superior and Marina looks/feels older though it’s quite well maintained.
The staff were as usual, excellent, coming from different parts of the world: many from Ukraine, quite a number from Honduras, Serbia, a surprisingly good number of Italians and French, from India (mainly being Butlers), etc. The food…..well, there are some issues here. I will start where we had our first meal.
*The Terrace (Lunch on day of embarkation) - Choices were very good in all the categories and the servers, excellent as usual. The difference and number in choices were starting to be felt, day after day of sailing, so imagine after 16 days; happy to say that the staff kept being as friendly and helpful as from day one.
A note on breads and bread sticks. All are fantastic and always fresh. Especially good were the sliced baguettes and a new bread for me called ‘Normandy’ which was perfect in sandwiches and it toasted extremely well. It can be recognized as a wider than tall domed loaf with three slots or grooves on the top border of each slice. Normandy bread was only available in The Terrace and Waves Grill.
On the first night of the cruise we were able to get a table in *Toscana and we were impressed not only with the food but the spaciousness of the place and the excellent Maître d’ and servers and being able to speak Italian with the staff was another big plus. So far so good.
*The Grand Restaurant - Everything clicked perfectly: choices, food temperature, taste, service (Maître’d, brothers Julio Cesar & Geovanni/Honduras) ambience, etc. This excellence didn’t change at all being dinner, lunch or breakfast, during the whole cruise.
*Waves Grill– I was looking forward to have lunch there but, unfortunately it was a big disappointment; the staff were great but the quality of the food was not so good; e.g. the surf and turf was a big flop though the Kobe Burger was quite good. It is possible that the weather, very strong cold winds, played a big part in making those visits not so enjoyable. Warning: the regular coffee that is served in all the restaurants is very weak so if you like stronger coffee, ask for a cappuccino or a double espresso or simply go to Barristers, one deck up from Waves, and have some great cookies with it!
*Red Ginger – We went twice and both times we were satisfied with the food (not to be missed the Miso Sea Bass or the Tuna Tataki) and the great staff (Katerina and Khrystyna/Ukraine, Maria/Serbia) but I found the place a bit narrow, with tables too close to each other and the low chairs and lighting didn’t help.
*Jacques – I think that this will be the last time in Jacques regardless it was possible to speak French with a few of them. The food in general is just okay but nothing to rave about it, what I found with every one of my visits was that everybody (diners and staff) behaved in a very pretentious, affected and arrogant manner. It doesn’t make you feel at ease nor able to enjoy the special food or elegant surroundings.
*Polo – All the way, another winner! Roasted beet root and goat cheese as an entrée was excellent and the 7 oz. Filet Mignon was cooked to perfection with excellent side dishes. The mashed potatoes were excellent and the string beans superbly steamed.
On the last day at sea, we went again to *Toscana and if the first time was very good this one was exceptional!
And the night before arriving in Rio we had dinner at *The Terrace hoping to take advantage of such a hot night to dine al fresco while sampling the so much praised lobster. Both were a disappointment; for dinner the tables are set with table clothes but that is only done inside the restaurant. We did not like the al fresco ambiance of no lighting and no table clothes so we opted to eat inside. The “famous” lobster (1/2 a tail, grilled to order) was dry and almost meatless. Regardless and thanks to a beautiful Chardonnay white and the fantastic staff we had a great and tranquil evening much needed after packing at full speed for the three hours before dinner time.
Our Ratings for the various specialty restaurants:
2) Polo very close
*Entertainment – Lackluster to say the least. Too much screaming (singing??!) and their dancing moves although quite sophisticated and well performed, were the same over and over again; that’s why we went only a couple of times and just for half of the show. The real star of the cruise shows was a singer and his name is Jamie Michael Stewart; his second show titled “Sinatra and friends” was superb!! If you have him on any of your future cruises do not miss going to hear him sing!!!
And about the Cruise Director, the only thing I am allowed to say about him personally is that he tried to be funny but he only accomplished being completely pathetic. Oceania management needs to realize how important the Cruise Director’s role is. First and foremost he is a host for each and every guest and considering that Oceania is an upscale cruise line, he should have more in common with the guests. That means an older and more sophisticated person than is the industry norm, i.e. young comical entertainers.
**Cooking demonstrations – They were given in the Marina Lounge (Theater) by the Senior Executive Chef Laurent Trias and they were all very instructive and many times very funny. Although considering the present “# Me Too era”, this top chef was quite a bully with his underlings.
On Dec. 7th, at the second Captain’s cocktail Reception I met the very curt and polite Captain Leo Strazicic and his very friendly and welcoming GM Marck Warmenhoven. Both took the time for meaningful conversations.
*Canyon Ranch Terrace an excellent place to enjoy the sun, soaking yourself in the hot tub, taking a shower or simply relaxing in peace with no hoopla around you. Excellent place.
*Fitness Center located close by, is ample with a lot of machines with great views thru the surrounding floor to ceiling windows. Very busy especially on sea days.
This was our second long (more than 10/12 days) cruise and for sure that will never happen again; after the first one (different Cruise Line) I swore that I would not do it again but the opportunity to cruise past the Equator on board Oceania Marina, took over but it won’t happen again! Simply what goes wrong is that after a while everything starts to get too repetitious and that leads to boredom with both food and staff.
*Tours – We only took one of the ship’s tours and that was in Salvador da Bahia (Brazil) the rest of the ports we were on our own. Unfortunately, Viator did not have anything to offer on any of the transatlantic ports on this passage so for all the other ports we had to do it on our own. The reason we do this, is because we find the way our fellow passengers behave is completely unacceptable; e.g. waiting in the Marina Lounge for your tour number to be called and when that happens there is an stampede of “grown-ups” rushing to the exit, bumping into everybody just to be first to the bus and get the seats they want; and the same happens at every stop, they are all rushing to be the first to get off. Sorry, but for me and in the way I was educated (and have taught my children) that is not civilized and shows a complete lack of respect for your fellow travellers.
At any rate that’s how we generally feel about ship sponsored tours but I am sure you won’t mind if I give some pointers on what we found and how we approached the various ports visited on this cruise.
*Cadiz – Although this was our second time there we visited a different and unknown area; from the pier you have quite a long but enjoyable walk to an area where we read you could find numerous tapas bars; the weather was not good (cold, windy and little sun) and all those bars were located on shady streets so we ended up in a bar in the sunny main plaza (under construction with lots of noise); the food wasn’t what we expected, the wine was so-so but we met a beautiful girl (Vanessa) with whom we talked and laughed a lot which made up for the lack of authentic tapas. You know, you go on your own so you take your chances. Sometimes you win and sometimes you lose. Anyway it is a beautiful city that deserves to be visited and explored on a longer stay.
*Arrecife – There is nothing worthwhile to see on your own so if you don’t mind to go thru the ‘tour hassle’ I mentioned above, better to take any of the ship’s guided tours.
*Tenerife – Walked to the center of town (long walk and not as nice as it was in Cadiz). We got there on a Sunday, meaning that ALL the outdoor bars and restaurants were taken over by big families with a lot of kids (running and screaming around tables). We walked around trying to find some nice and tranquil place but this was not possible so we went right back to the ship. Advice: again take a ship tour, especially if you arrive on a Sunday!
*Praia (Cape Verde) – We had a tour booked but after reading info given by the ship that the busses they use are not comfortable and without A/C we cancelled it. We took the offered shuttle that leaves you not far from the main square where you can visit a very nice and simple church, visited the Market extremely busy, cramped and strong fish smell etc., back to the main plaza/park where there is a modern building with a covered bar and had a couple of local beers (good) while watching the city crew install Christmas decorations around the park. For payment they accepted US$ (paper no coins) but the change returned was in their currency and only in coins.
Walked back down the hill suffering the very hot and heavy weather to take the return shuttle to the ship. As we approached the dock we saw one of the returning tour busses and we got very upset because we could see that the tour bus was a regular van, quite ample and I am sure had A/C. So now you know and we strongly recommending the ship tour instead of wandering around a quiet town with but one spot to enjoy a drink and people watching. Here is the best time to point out that the first part of the cruise the weather wasn’t good (cold, strong winds, etc.) but starting in Praia the whole thing changed completely and in a way, for the worse! Having high temperatures and exceedingly high humidity is not much fun, especially if walking around on your own!
*Cruising the Equator – This was quite an experience! It happened on the third sea day’ December 8th prior to arriving in Recife. The day was perfect; very hot and humid with a soft breeze. So it was a lot of fun seeing how all the participants and onlookers were enjoying the colourful ceremony. We enjoyed all this with our ever present topped up white wine glasses in hand. Thus expectations were fully met.
*Recife (Brazil) – On our own again (after yesterday’s revelation about better busses etc. we tried to book a tour but all were filled up) and taking the shuttle into town; they left us in a big building not getting any idea were to go next or what to do. Decided to take a taxi to Mercado Central located in the old part of the city. Warnings! Unless you are fluent in Portuguese DO NOT take a taxi because they will fool you as much as they can/want and second warning, DO NOT go around the Old City because it is quite depressing to see so much poverty, chaos and dirt besides trying to walk along very crowded, boisterous, treacherous streets where if you missed one step you would end up on the ground or in a gutter. Take a tour and go to the modern Recife that for the skyline we saw from the ship, at least it looks more orderly and is very expansive. In fact, on leaving Recife, the skyline continued for what seemed like 5 or ten miles, so this place is much more developed that was apparent in the old downtown quarter.
*San Salvador da Bahia – Had an overnight there so the first day we left the ship early (remembering the h&h!) and walked to the two story Mercado Central that was full of souvenir shops on the ground level and a very nice restaurant with an encircling terrace on the second floor. After eating and drinking lightly, we went to the Lacerda Elevator that quickly brings you up about 200 feet to the upper part of the city were unfortunately large areas were boarded up due to repairs in progress. Advice: The price of the Elevator was 15 real p/p (coins only) each way, that’s only 3 cents US but they won’t accept any other currencies. A local food cart operator gave us the change and would not take even one US dollar, so if it had not been up to his generosity/kindness we would have missed the top of the town visit. Afterwards, we learnt that the trip was free for all over 65 years (Brazil offers many such seniors benefits).
The following day we took a ship’s tour (all the same hassle as previously described); the tour guide was very knowledgeable and the highlight was walking the steep hill to the Bon Fin Church. Quite a trek but it was worth it. Great views from up there and lots of photos of the thousands and thousands of coloured ribbons tied to the metal fencing/gates all around the church. The relics/photos of all whose prayers were answered was interesting and reminded us of another such chamber at St. Joseph’s Oratory atop Mount Royal in Montreal, Canada.
The Carnival in Salvador is as famous as the Rio one and our tour bus covered much of the seaside route that the procession follows every February. Also along the route are an amazing number of architectural splendors. The facades are multi-coloured and with a wide variety of design and materials. They seem to have captured the market for needle condo’s that have but one or two apartments per floor, quite amazing.
*Cabo Frio – After one day at sea, we arrived at this beautiful place and after all we’ve seen so far in Brazil this is the one place I would love to come back to and spent days visiting the so many beautiful beaches full of beautiful youth. We made the effort as it was at least 1 kilometer to the main beach! But we left longing for more. Here is an opportunity for Oceania or the city of Cabo Frio to set up a shuttle service. With more time at or near the beach rather than walking, more passengers would spend on drinks, food or shopping.
Arrival and Disembarkation Day
Disembarkation in Rio went smoothly (amazingly no passport nor customs check nor personnel were around). And once again another very long walk from the ship to where the luggage was; once inside that area things went well. Happy to say that all this happened in the early morning before the heat and humidity took over Rio.
Rio is a city that we’ve been to many times (including the crazy and amazing “Carnaval”) so we skipped and sightseeing and headed straight to the airport to catch our flight back home!! At that moment, I/we were very much looking forward to being back in our beautiful and cold Canada!
All in all, it was a great trip with a lot of new experiences (one of the reasons you travel, eh?) and although this will be our last long cruise it won’t be our last; we are still in love with Oceania! We already booked our next one on Insignia, it will be the first time on the smaller ships. We are very curious to see what Insignia’s new look will be after the upcoming and soon to be finished major refurbishment. We know that the suites are much smaller than on Marina and Riviera, with 500 or so fewer passengers (and lower ceilings!) That’s a personal concern of mine as I’m 6+ feet tall so we’ll see if it fits me. I will be sure to let all of you know, okay? Till my next one and have all of you a very Happy New Year!!! Read Less