Oceania Cruises Upgrades Fleet -- And Increases Gratuities

June 14, 2010

(5:25 p.m. EDT) -- Oceania Cruises, a "deluxe" line that's a notch above Celebrity Cruises and not quite as inclusive as luxury lines like Silversea, has announced a multi-million dollar spend to upgrade its fleet of three 684-passenger ships. Nautica has already been overhauled, emerging just last week with new bedding, fresh menus and unusual shore excursions on the menu; Insignia is next, in November, and Regatta will get the treatment in January 2011.

But along with these upmarket upgrades, the cruise line has slipped in a gratuity increase -- a brave move considering competitor Azamara recently rolled tips into the base fare.

First, what can cruise travellers expect from the upgrades?

New, custom-designed beds are being installed in all cabins. Oceania's Prestige Tranquility Beds' vital statistics include 400 springs, two inches of memory foam on top, a two-inch thick cushion filled with gel and wrapped in chamomile-infused fibre on top of that -- and 1,000-thread-count, Egyptian cotton linens and duvets (in comparison, Silversea's thread-count is 350).

Minibars will be installed in all cabins and soft furnishings revamped so that all Oceania's accommodation meets the standard of that on the company's new-build, Marina, which launches in January 2011.

In the restaurants, menus are being expanded and a gourmet olive oil menu (so guests can choose different oils in which to dunk their bread before a meal) is being introduced on Toscana, the Italian restaurant on each ship, alongside new favourite family recipes from staff and crew. Special 'Spa Cuisine' selections in partnership with the Canyon Ranch Spa on each ship will be available in the Grand Dining Room and the Terrace Cafe.

Oceania is also adding new and unusual shore excursions, one of which even includes a visit to the Pope's private place of worship at the Vatican.

And it's these more luxurious touches that make the gratuity hike significant, even though the actual amount of the increase isn't so much so. Most luxury lines and now Azamara don't charge tips at all (or at least bury the cost somewhere in the cruise fare).

Oceania currently adds to each passenger's account $12.50 per person per day up to Concierge Level and $4 per person on top of this for the suites, which have butler service. From summer 2011, these will increase to $13.50 and $5 respectively (an 18 percent service charge is already added to drinks purchases).

An extra $1 a day might not cause many ripples among the 80 percent of Oceania guests that hail from North America. However, the remaining 20 percent of Brits and Australians, already more sensitive to the fact that the tipping culture onboard greatly differs from their own, may feel differently.

Would you rather pay less to cruise on Oceania than, say, Silversea, even if it's a larger spend once onboard? Let us know!

--by Sue Bryant, Cruise Critic Contributing Editor