Recently returned from a Caribbean cruise on Oceania's Riviera. We chose Oceania mainly on the basis of its reputation for food and Riviera because of the relatively small size (about 1250 passengers). We had a stateroom with veranda. ... Read More
Recently returned from a Caribbean cruise on Oceania's Riviera. We chose Oceania mainly on the basis of its reputation for food and Riviera because of the relatively small size (about 1250 passengers). We had a stateroom with veranda. We are fairly experienced cruisers, having been on about a dozen or so cruises in the past on various-sized ships ( 600 to 2000+ passengers). This was our first Oceania cruise. We travelled as a party of four.
Embarkation at Miami was a breeze. However, Oceania requested we surrender our passports for the duration of the cruise, something that we have never had to do on any cruise before. We had to ask for receipts for our passports. There was no welcome reception that we have become accustomed to with other cruise lines (Also, no sail-away party!). We were simply directed to the Waves buffet to await the readying of our stateroom. We found our own way there. Not an encouraging start, and first impressions are important!
The Riviera is a beautiful ship, featuring walnut panelling with brass accents, compact fluorescent lighting with halogen highlighting and lovely LED/crystal centrepieces in public areas, with a particularly magnificent example in the Grand Dining Room. There are only a few shops on board and there is no duty-free store. Strangely, there is no promenade deck.
Our stateroom was spacious, well furnished and with plenty of storage space. Our luggage was delivered promptly. We had requested separate beds but when we arrived it was set up as a queen-size bed; this situation was promptly rectified. The bathroom was smallish but included a separate shower as well as a tub. Bulgari toiletries were featured. The beds were wonderfully comfortable. The veranda was reasonably spacious with comfortable furniture. The flat screen TV was adequate but the promised DVD player was absent-- not that it mattered to us as we don't go on cruises to watch in-cabin movies.
The stateroom service was fairly good, although our stewardess didn't introduce herself at the start of the cruise and show us how things worked. She had to be reminded sometimes to stock the refrigerator with the drinks we desired. Cleaning of the stateroom was always thorough. Room service was spotty; once I ordered a drink which took almost thirty minutes to arrive. The fridge cupboard door fell off and was promptly fixed, only to fall off again twenty-four hours later.
Daytime activities on board were mainly run-of-the-mill (quizzes, bingo, etc.). Afternoon tea was okay. We were disappointed that the lectures did not cover ports of call -- they seemed inordinately concerned with such subjects as managing back pain and arthritis, or quack therapies like reflexology and acupuncture, which might be a reflection of Riviera's primary demographic. Oceania does however offer something unique -- culinary classes. Unfortunately, any of those of interest to us were fully subscribed. There was also painting tuition in the "artists' loft." The cruise director was affable but lacked the charisma that such a vocation demands. We were not expecting anything remarkable in the way of evening entertainment on a 1250-passenger ship, but surprisingly some of the shows were pretty good, especially the twelve singer/dancers and the comedian. Some other shows only mediocre, and the magician was pretty awful. There was also a string quartet that was very good, playing at afternoon tea and in the Grand Bar before dinner.
The bars were quite well-appointed with good decor and comfortable seating, except for the Grand Bar which is really only a passageway to the Grand Dining Room with seats where you can have a drink. Bar staff serve promptly most times but aren't all knowledgeable about the drinks they serve. One waitress didn't seem to know what Ricard was and said it wasn't available -- I had to point it out on the drinks list. Martinis was a pleasant hangout except that we could almost never find a seat for a drink before dinner; Horizons is better in that respect. Many of the seats in Horizons had worn-out armrests. The pianist in Martinis was quite good, but could have done with bass/drums backup to make things swing a little more. There was a band in Horizons for dancing, but there is no disco for late night dancing and the ship shuts up pretty early.
Smokers are accommodated by two smoking areas (one indoors). Curiously, cigar and pipe smoking wasn't allowed. I have yet to meet a cigarette smoker who objects to cigars or pipes.
The food was nearly always very good, sometimes outstanding. We always ate in the Grand Dining Room for breakfast and lunch, which was sparsely populated; it seems most guests prefer the self-service of the Terrace Cafe or Waves for these meals. Breakfast was impressive, when you could enjoy a light breakfast or full English-style, choosing from a long menu including such delights as smoked salmon with cream cheese and capers, Finnan Haddie, kippers or eggs Benedict. Every day featured a special egg dish. Lunches were also excellent, with a good selection of soups, appetizers, main courses and desserts, or lighter fare such as a sandwich or burger if you so desired. Soups were sometimes served lukewarm and needed to be sent back for re-heating. Only unsalted butter was available throughout the ship. Service was impeccable. Why anyone would prefer the scramble of self-service to such refined dining and service remains a mystery to us.
Dinner in the Grand Dining Room was invariably a pleasure. Again, sumptuous menus were on offer, covering the gamut from hot and cold appetizers, soups, salads, mains, side dishes and desserts (I won't go into further details about these as you can easily look them up on Oceania's web site), but suffice to say that every selection we chose was excellently prepared and presented. I was particularly impressed that the dessert list always included a cheese plate that varied daily; on every other cruise line I have experienced (Silversea excepted) I have had to specially request cheese as a dessert alternate. If by some chance the daily menu choice doesn't suit your palate, there was always a standard alternative offering for the main course, namely grilled steak, roast chicken or poached salmon. Here lies my only complaint; the steak, cooked medium rare, was quite tough, unlike all other beef offerings throughout the cruise. Possibly it might have been better well done, although this would not have been my preference. A small complaint also is that sometimes it was difficult to get the attention of a sommelier, and I like to have my wines available right at the start of a course.
Now let's turn to the specialty restaurants, of which there were four, all accessible at no extra charge, which seems to be unique to Oceania. Reservations are essential for any of these restaurants. Oceania says you can make a reservation in advance through their web site after a certain date for your specific cruise. Anticipating a heavy demand, I did this on the FIRST DAY that became available for our cruise. In spite of my imagined promptness, I could only secure a reservation for four in all four restaurants for 9.00 pm (the last available time). Every other time was unavailable. My travel agent advised me that I should accept this time and then change it to something more suitable once on board. This I did -- as soon as we boarded, we went to the relevant ship's personnel and requested changes more suited to our preference for dining times. As such, we were only partially successful. We still had to accept one very early reservation in one restaurant (6.30 pm) and one at another for 8.30 pm. The other two were at more reasonable times. We considered this a major drawback to our dining experience. I suspect that the prime reservation times are firstly allocated to those passengers occupying more expensive accommodation (as those occupying suites are offered two opportunities to dine at each specialty restaurant, while more lowly passengers occupying veranda staterooms or below are offered only one crack at each restaurant). If my surmise is valid, this represents a nasty case of class distinction by Oceania.
Anyway, what of these restaurants? Well, we enjoyed all four, to varying degrees. All four of us were unanimous about the excellence of the food in the Polo Grill. Service, not so much, since it took almost an hour before our first course was served. New England Clam Chowder and Lobster Bisque were judged delightful, while my Oysters Rockefeller were moist and delicious, as was my 20-oz medium-rare Porterhouse Steak accompanied by a beautiful Au Poivre sauce (This was the junior version -- a 32-oz steak was available). Caesar salad was prepared tableside. Both ladies really enjoyed their Steamed Maine Lobster gratinee with drawn butter. Various chops were on offer and grilled fish and seafood were available if you didn't care for red meat. If you were into desserts, the "Polo Quintet" was a fine choice, consisting of a selection of five mini-portions of the chef's favourites.
Jacques is a French bistro-style restaurant. We actually had a French waiter who was excellent. The low ceiling makes the place very noisy. But the food is superb. I enjoyed my Escargots a la Bourguignonne while others pronounced the Gratine a l'Oignon delicious. My main was Filet d'Agneau en Croute, wonderful lamb with a Cabernet Sauvignon sauce. Canard a l'Orange was also said to be delicious.
Red Ginger is an Asian restaurant serving Japanese/Vietnamese/Thai dishes. To my disappointment, No Indian or Chinese cuisine was on offer. I found the Bulgogi Ribeye Steak rather tasteless, but everyone else found their choices excellent.
And finally, there's Toscana. The restaurant is beautifully appointed and quiet. Service is so-so; there's a lot of "Buona Sera's" but wait times were long even though we like a little time between courses. The olive oil waiter was perfunctory -- when we indicated that we had little knowledge of the ten oils on offer, he simply put the same one on each of our plates with some balsamic vinegar (and here there was a choice of three), saying that this was always a popular choice, without bothering to explain the differences of them to us. I, for one, would have liked to have been educated a little bit. The Dover Sole was judged to be superb, and my Osso Buco, served with Saffron Risotto, was delicious.
Now we come to a major peeve: the price of drinks. It is noteworthy that although Oceania publishes its wine and drinks lists on its web site, unlike other cruise lines, NO PRICES are shown. There's a good reason for that; Oceania's drink prices must be the highest in the industry. Most wines are over $70 a bottle, while bar drinks are perhaps a little more reasonable averaging $12 for 1-oz. shots of popular liquors. To add insult to injury, a hefty 18 per cent service charge is levied on all drink purchases (10 to 12 per cent would be reasonable). So every drink will set you back around $14. The two-for-one happy hours twice daily help a bit. Bring your own bottle of wine into the dining room and there's a $25 corkage fee.
In mitigation, Oceania offers three gratuity-included beverage packages of claimed "incredible value." Don't bother with the $40 per day package, which limits you to beer or wine at lunch or dinner. The $60 per day package is a better bet, being unlimited and including liquor. But you have to be a fairly heavy drinker (say six or more drinks a day) before realizing a benefit from this package. And the catch is that the package has to be purchased for EVERY SINGLE DAY of the cruise. You can't get it for single days (say just sea days) -- I was told that If I wanted it for just one day, I could wait until the last day of the cruise!
I did purchase two of the wine bottle packages, where you get 7 bottles of wine per package for consumption at mealtimes for $47.50 per bottle. This is already quite steep. For instance, a bottle of Kendall-Jackson Reserve Chardonnay available in the package is priced at $12.50 in Miami Beach Wallgreen's. This represents a 380 per cent markup. Still, you benefit from buying a package since It'll cost you even more by buying from the regular wine list. And don't forget that 18 per cent gratuity!
The cost of shore excursions is also high; some are in the hundreds of dollars per person. You could hire a private car and driver for a lot less in many instances.
Disembarkation was not as smooth as embarkation -- most people faced a long wait to get off. One of us needed to have a wheelchair to disembark and this was only obtained after a lot of pleading.
Summing up, although the Riviera is an attractive vessel and the food good, inconsistent service and general price gouging made this cruise poor value for money. We did not feel pampered on what was supposedly a luxury line and the entire cruise experience was so-so. We cannot recommend this cruise line and will never sail with Oceania again. Read Less