(10 a.m. EDT) -- Oceania christened its newest cruise ship in the Maltese port of Valletta Monday night, marking the debut of the line's first newbuild in over a decade and, coincidentally, the 20th anniversary of Oceania's founding.
Cruise Critic hopped onboard for a short media sailing from Rome (Civitavecchia) to Naples for a firsthand look at Oceania's new 1,200-passenger Vista -- a ship that is poised to redefine how passengers think about the upscale cruise experience.
From the outside, Oceania's new Vista looks similar to fleetmates Marina and Riviera, which debuted a decade ago. But that's where the similarities end. Inside, Oceania has crafted an entirely new experience for guests -- one that raises the bar on what passengers can expect from a cruise line that steadfastly calls itself "upper premium".
What does that term mean, to the average cruiser? Think onboard touches that rival more expensive luxury lines, yet at a price point that is generally lower with fewer amenities included. In some ways, Oceania ships look as lavish as those on its more luxurious sister brand Regent Seven Seas -- and the line has generally strived to spend as much or more per passenger on cuisine as higher-priced rivals. On this type of ship, the atmosphere is generally more casual and accessible than true luxury lines, though, with enough variety in venues to have a nice evening out.
The little nods to the good life are everywhere aboard Vista, from the gorgeous glasswear in bars and lounges, to the quality of the fit and finish in passenger staterooms and suites. Passengers on our short media sailing raved about the new shelves and hooks in the women's public bathrooms, while others were smitten with the backlit mirrors in the staterooms and generously-sized bathrooms and showers. (Oceania boasts they are the largest standard staterooms in the industry, at over 300 square feet).
Seemingly nothing has been overlooked in Oceania's quest to make Vista one of the most comfortable and inspiring ships afloat. Designers at Miami-based Studio DADO, which crafted Vista's interior spaces and cabins, even made the conscious decision to use only naturally-occurring colors in the wool in the stateroom cabin carpets, where passengers sometimes have sensitivities to the artificial dyes used in other forms of carpet. This is a ship that is so tactile in its design and appointments that you'll be forgiven if, like us, you just can't seem to stop touching the vessel's multitude of surfaces.
Vista is as lavish in its appointments as any luxury cruise brand, despite coming in at a price point that is well under that of the average luxury cruise. Cabin beds are plush and ridiculously inviting -- maybe because the duvets were specially-selected to help make passengers feel cozy while reducing overall temperature under the covers by up to three degrees. Rooms are flush with electrical outlet options, and Bulgari toiletries are a welcomed luxury.
And when you do manage to pull yourself away from your suite, you'll find a ship that is spacious and inviting waiting for you -- one that presents itself with numerous "wow!" moments that you might not expect.
The signature, showstopping space onboard is, in our opinion, the Grand Dining Room, with its panoramic windows and unique middle section, which is accented by gleaming white arches, frosted glass windows, carved support columns, and marvelous chandeliers. On the larger bulkhead walls, hand-painted murals depicting trees softly rising towards the ceiling were created by a Canadian company and shipped to Genoa for installation onboard.
It is just one of several marquee spaces unlike any other afloat. From the spiral grand staircase in the ship's two-level atrium to the sprawling, wood-panelled library, Oceania's new Vista is a ship that knows how to impress.
Aside from being a visually-attractive ship inside and out, Vista also introduces a number of new concepts for Oceania Cruises, including new mixology options and three distinct new venues
First, there's the Founder's Bar, a small watering hole unassumingly tucked away off the port side aft of the casino. Oceania called it "The Casino Bar" in early press releases, but whatever you call it, it remains the most popular bar onboard by far, the Founder's Bar specializes in craft cocktails presented with considerable flair. One cocktail, The G.O.A.T (Greatest Of All Time) comes under a glass vase filled with smoke, garnished with a frozen cube of orange, and contains vodka, chamomile syrup, orange bitters and orange water, the latter of which is misted onto the cocktail once the glass topper has been removed and the smoke dissipated.
The menu is entirely separate from that found in Martinis on Deck 6 and Horizons on Deck 14 -- the ship's two other primary bars -- and is part of Oceania's recent efforts to revitalize its onboard beverage program.
Another new addition is the Aquamar Kitchen, serving up healthy selections for breakfast and lunch in its poolside location on Deck 12 amidships. In the mornings, passengers can enjoy healthy juices and a selection of muesli and avocado toasts, while lunchtime sees more emphasis on things like poke bowls, sandwiches and salads -- many of which are suitable for vegans and vegetarians. It's been our go-to spot onboard for quick but healthy breakfasts, and it always bustling with passengers.
Finally, Vista introduces a new specialty restaurant to the fleet, Ember. Designed to blend new and classic American cuisines, Ember is a new take on the staple American-style steakhouse found on other cruise lines. We haven't had the chance to dine here yet, but the room -- with its vaulted faux brick ceilings, leather banquettes and mid-century chairs accented by faux fireplaces -- is one of the more innovative and creative spaces we've seen at sea.
This is all in addition to an upper deck coffee bar that offers both caffeine and panoramic views; a gorgeous observation lounge; a dedicated arts studio; a cooking school big enough to be a galley complete with induction ranges; a clubby Smoking Lounge panelled attractively in hunter green; hundreds of square feet of luxury boutiques; and an intimate main theatre that offers evening performances and musical dance performances.
Vista was christened pierside in a lavish ceremony in Valletta, Malta on the evening of Monday, May 8, 2023. The event featured performances by Harry Connick, Jr., as well as a new show for Oceania crafted by celebrity choreographer Britt Stewart.
The ship was blessed by Godmother and television personality Giada De Laurentiis, who sent a bottle of champagne crashing into the ship's hull (as is tradition) with the push of a button.
The ceremony felt bigger and larger than one would even expect. It was a celebration of the launch of Oceania's first new ship in a decade, and it also served to mark the company's 20th anniversary of its founding back in 2003. But it also served as a poignant moment for Oceania founder Frank J. Del Rio -- who until recently served as head honcho at parent company Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings -- who has announced his retirement.
It's a time of change at Oceania. Del Rio senior has passed the torch onto his son, Frank Del Rio, Jr, who will head up Oceania moving forward. In a surprisingly emotional speech, Del Rio senior talked about the early days of Oceania and took time to thank all those who contributed to its success, including the travel agent who took the first-ever booking for Oceania Cruises back in 2003.
Del Rio, father and son, were present at Vista's christening, along with incoming NCLH president Harry Sommer and the heads of every NCLH brand. All like to say Oceania is a family company. It is clear that the younger Del Rio is respected by the entire company, and his return to the brand he worked initially at during its founding is a welcomed one.
Vista is the ship that will lead Oceania into the next decade. If our first few days onboard are any indication, it is a future in which Oceania seems to have taken the lead in this category -- a lead that will no doubt give other cruise lines pause.