First, at the risk of offending the diehard Oceania fans out there (who always seem to defend the line with a passion), I will try to be as accurate and even-handed as possible--so, please excuse me if I sound a little negative at times--I honestly do not intend this to be a negative review. I only want to be honest. ALL cruise lines do some things well, others less well. All have areas where they can stand to improve. The criticism, in part, is in hope that the cruise line will recognize the deficiencies and improve.
There is also the notion that EVERYONE has different criteria, different standards and put different weight to the importance of those criteria. There are no absolutes. There is no way for anyone to say ANY cruise line is better or worse in any area in any objective way and for it to mean the same thing to every reader. I might feel the entertainment is sub par, but someone else might love it--and to some people, they could care less as it is simply an unimportant part of the experience (Yes, we met people who never even went to a single show). I could say the food is excellent and someone else might think it poor--it's a matter of individual taste--perhaps influenced by what we're accustomed to eating back home or what we grew up with.
So, basically, what follows are MY opinions--based on MY criteria, my experience and my weighing of importance.
Istanbul: Spent 2 nights there plus the "overnight" on the ship. Fascinating city, great history. Stayed at the Conrad-which was absolutely first class all the way. If there's an issue at all, it's that the location is not in the heart of the tourist area (but maybe that's a good thing). Luckily for us, we had private tours arranged and people picking us up at the hotel so location was never a problem. I really recommend the Orient House Dinner/Show--really a highlight.
Entertainment on the ship the night in Istanbul consisted of some EXTREMELY amateurish local dancers followed by a very good belly dancer.
Next day was at sea.
Then Kusadasi--Where we had a very fascinating private tour to Ephesus, Miletus and Didyma.
Next Rhodes--Did a half day excursion to Lindos through the ship and wandered Rhodes on our own. Not sure I'd do Lindos again--a long drive and a lot of stair climbing for a few pictures--not as nice a town as Rhodes.
Next was the bizarre day in Mykonos. We were supposed to have visited Delos until noon and Mykonos from 2 pm until 11 pm. Early in the morning we learned that we would not be anchoring at Delos due to high winds--but that we would be charged $69 (rather than the $49 originally charged) for our excursion to Delos since the extra $20 would go for small boats to bring us there from Mykonos. We were in the Nautica Lounge around 8 am waiting for them to call our tour when the announcement came that the Shore Excursions to Delos were cancelled completely. We could pay $20 for bus transfers into town if we liked--but, we figured that price was a bit steep and we'd find a taxi. But since no one expected the ship to be there that early, there were no taxis at the pier, so we opted to walk--about a 35 minute walk from the pier to town. We found an internet cafe, then some shopping, then stopped in a local cafe for a little lunch. Little did we know that by around 10 am, they were no longer letting ANYONE off the ship. Most of the passengers never even got into Mykonos! Around 1:30 pm, while we were eating lunch, I spotted a Nautica crew member informing some other passengers at a nearby table that they had to return to the ship immediately. Strangely, the guy didn't bother searching out to find there were another couple of tables of Nautica passengers at that restaurant!!! Luckily, I overheard and called him over. We were told to walk to a waiting bus and get back--that the ship was LEAVING, the winds were too high for them to stay anchored at the dock. We got back to the ship around 2:00--and the ship LEFT the dock at Mykonos, short 45 passengers still unaccounted for somewhere on the island (as they were located, they tendered them to the ship).
Next was Athens. It was supposed to be Santorini next, but Oceania changed the order due to the number of ships in each port on each respective day--probably for the better, but it wreaked havoc with our prearranged private tour. We didn't find out until we boarded in Istanbul--and we had to call our driver, Spiros, by cell phone--and, as luck would have it, he was NOT available on the changed date. He sent a friend, but I'd guess, based on Spiros' reviews==and on our experience with the friend, Fotios, our tour was somewhat downgraded in the commentary and insight department. Still, it was a very interesting day of ancient sites in the Pelopennese--Corinth, Epidaurus, Mycenae, et al. Mycenae ranks among my wife's favorites.
On Santorini, we took the cable car up and down and we rented a car and visited Ancient Thira on our own--an incredible site on a mountain top--the road and hike were both something we will not soon forget. Also did lunch on the far side of the island and some wine tasting.
Next, another day at sea.
Amalfi--We did a full day tour with Salvatore of the Amalfi Coast--EXCELLENT guide and driver.
Taormina--We did a ship's excursion to Mt. Etna. A major change in pace from all of the ancient archaeological sites we had been visiting. We were a little disappointed--we had booked a FULL DAY Shore excursion to My. Etna and Taormina. But, when we got to the ship, there was a note awaiting us that it had been cancelled. The explanation we got was that the ship wasn't in port long enough for the entire tour. Didn't Oceania know this AHEAD OF TIME? Why hold our money for several months? The port times didn't change. Couldnt they have just slightly abridged it with a little bit less free time on the crater? As it was, after the Etna tour, we never got to Taormina--not that there wouldn't have been time--there definitely was, it's just the logistics of finding a taxi and knowing that we'd be able to find one to come back to the ship (It docked fairly far from Taormina) were pretty daunting. So we walked around and had lunch in Naxos instead. Had they told us earlier that this tour wasn't available, we would have hired a private driver for the day.
Kotor--Surprisingly charming little town. We did a shore excursion to Sveti Stefan and Budva. Sveti Stefan was picturesque, but otherwise dull. Budva had much more charm to it. We walked through town and up and around the town walls (a bargain at 1 euro apiece). .Apparently, everyone in Budva is either going to or coming from a beach--and there must be some sort of local ordinance requiring all young women to wear skimpy bikinis. .Kotor itself was charming and picturesque--but it may take them some time to gear up to standard tourism--not a decent T-shirt to be bought in town. Friends, catch it now while it is still relatively unspoiled!
For Dubrovnik, we had planned on doing it on our own, but they added an excursion that didn't waste time in Cavtat (We were bored with Cavtat last time). It was a brief tour of Dubrovnik, followed by a visit to a remote local farm for a very good and entertaining lunch--with wine, wine and more wine. Very good excursion.
Venice, we'd been to several times before--we had three nights there, the "overnight" plus two more at a hotel, the Anastasia. Our hotel was a VERY WELL located and reasonably priced (130 Euro per night including breakfast) 17-room hotel--very close to San Marco and the Valaresso Vaporetti station, wedged between the Westin and the Violin d'Oro on a very quiet little courtyard--with elevator, air conditioning, etc. We ended up taking the Vaporetto there from Piazzale Roma--and were pleasantly surprised when we left to find that our Vaporetto pass (can be bought for 24 hours for 12 euro or 72 hours for 25 euro) INCLUDED the bus ride all the way to the airport! In Venice, we wandered at length for three days, including visits to the Ghetto, the Ca Rezzonico and to the island of Burano (absolutely beautiful).
Okay, on to the ship.
Cabin: Ample and well designed, comfortable bed, decent storage space.
Public rooms: Grand Dining Room: A little crowded in places (They might as well remove the pretext of "tables for two"--and replace them with larger tables for six since they stack three "two-spots" close together in a row--so you're just as close to the next couples as if you were sharing a table)--not really a complaint--we LIKE eating with others.
Toscana and Polo--much more intimate, very nice rooms, long and narrow with views from Deck 10.
Terrace/Tapas on Terrace/Buffet--Buffet area (the food serving part) is a bit small and limited, the seating is adequate with some nice views from the outdoor tables on the rear deck--at least in the morning while it's still relatively cool.
Horizons (lounge on Deck 10)--very nice as a bar, but horrendously laid out for other uses (for some inexplicable reason, they held Karaoke here for the two nights they had it)--the stage is small and not visible from MOST of the tables/seating--the bar is really designed to drink and gaze out the windows, not as an entertainment venue.
Casino/Piano Bar ("Martinis")--The casino is quite small (a few slots, four blackjack or poker tables and a roulette wheel) but seemed to be the most (and only) crowded venue at night after the show. The piano bar is attached, meaning the sounds of one are infringing on the sounds of the other.
Grand Bar: Nice little bar at entry to Dining Room, making it a little less amenable for drinking--mostly taken up by people awaiting their dinner dates.
Nautica Lounge: A fairly nice, intimate venue for a "show room". I do like the "lounge/bar" style seating arrangements.
Library: Very nice and most comfortable little room.
Pool Deck: For those thinking they are avoiding "big ship" problems by going on a smaller ship, it's not necessarily so. All the same "chair hog" problems you'd find on Carnival, Princess or Royal Caribbean and not an unclaimed chair to be found after 8 am on an at sea day. I have one giant problem regarding the much-ballyhooed "Cabanas"--they seemed to be the one part of the pool deck that was underutilized. They're lined up along the front of the ship in a location that otherwise would have provided great viewing and photography area for, say, the sail into Venice.
Food: On the whole, excellent. A few minor disappointments: The New York Steak in the Grand was not up to expected standards--and the "gratinated" Lobster in Polo was somewhat dry and tasteless. Otherwise, most entrees, appetizers and desserts were quite good--definitely not disappointing even the higher expectations.
Service: Cabin Steward and assistant cabin steward were excellent. Dining Room staff was very inconsistent. Some days good, most days either slow, forgetful, impersonal. Several times, they got the orders wrong, one meal, they forgot my soup entirely. I'll go into my cruise line comparison a little later, but one very noticeable lacking is the "waiters who get to know you"--obviously, there are both good and bad points to "open seating", but for me, a major failing is in that lack of relationship between the waiters and customer. I drink a LOT of Iced Tea--and I like it replaced FREQUENTLY. That rarely seemed to happen on Oceania--sometimes I'd get a waiter or assistant waiter who would catch on--ONCE in 14 nights I got a waiter who finally recognized that I immediately remove the lemon wedge and he stopped bringing it with the lemon. But, most nights, I'd have to continually ask for refills and MAYBE get one or two refills.
Entertainment: This is DEFINITELY NOT one of Oceania's strong points. We were prepared for a lack of "production shows", but it goes beyond that. I'm sure a lot of it is basic economics, but here's the rundown: In some order or another, the nightly "shows" consisted of: 1) The amateur Turkish dancers and Belly dancer 2), 3), 4) and 5) The four assistant cruise directors singing boring, unimaginative medleys of 80 songs in 45 minutes, trying to fit in a bland version of something for everyone (Note: Some of these kids were talented, for sure, but the productions lacked staging, style and variation) 6) and 7) A magician and his assistant--actually quite good. I'd say the best shows onboard 8) and 9) Oceania's Entertainment Director, Mark Friedman and his wife Rodi. Decent enough and professional enough for one good show 10) and 11) A singer who apparently sang somewhere in the background of the original pilot of the "Love Boat" -- Okay I guess, but I've seen a lot better. 12) The Piano Bar piano player moving his act to the "big room". He's not bad--but, on most ships, this is what you go to the piano bar for. 13) The "lecturer" giving a "prime time" talk with slides on the subject of.----Benny Hill (I guess you have to have been a Benny Hill fan)--and 14) The "finals" of the Karaoke contest (the "winner" being a 12 year old kid doing show tunes in a key other than his own).
The bottom line is that it seems MOST passengers certainly don't sail Oceania for the entertainment.
Other entertainment/activities/things-to-do: Again, scale and economics comes into play--smaller ship, fewer venues, less people translates to far less to do. Whereas on most cruise lines, the daily schedule, especially on "at sea" days takes up three pages with multiple activities in multiple venues going on at the same time, on Oceania, it's about half a page. There's the "Team Trivia" at 4:30 daily in the Grand Bar. Two nights had "Name That Tune" in the Piano Bar, two nights had Karaoke in Horizons. "Dancing" was often listed in the program but rarely seemed to materialize undoubtedly due to lack of interest.--or maybe musicians.
Food, other than meals: Well, I guess they had "Tea" at 4 pm each day, but we were usually in port. Past there, there was scant little to be found, especially in the late night. We are accustomed to eating dinner before the show, then venturing out to other venues and capping off the night with a little late night pizza--or milk and cake or some fruit or whatever. But, on this ship, everything but room service is closed down after dinner and we really just like a small nosh and don't want to deal with room service.
Cruise Director: David Shermet--a really nice guy and a Southern Californian. Overall, seemed to be a really hardworking guy.
Other notes: Prices for goods and services onboard tended to be a little on the HIGH side. Oceania T-Shirts in the gift shop started at $35--though late in the cruise they put out some on a "Sale" table for a mere $20. Clothes, jewelry, purses, and gift items in the ship ALL tended toward the expensive end of the spectrum.
Drink prices were high with "well" mixed drinks going for $7 AND UP and the drinks were not exactly "amply" poured. Often, I felt like sending it back and asking if they wouldn't mind filling the glass to at least the halfway mark! In the past on these boards, I've always scoffed at the folks who like to bring their own booze on board and pour their own--but, with the bars on Nautica, I'm beginning to see their point.
Internet usage was an outrageous $0.95 per minute on a system slower than molasses with frequent disconnects.
Dress code: For me, I particularly like not having formal nights. I hate schlepping a tux and having to get all decked out. On the other hand, my wife loves that and missed having it on this cruise.
"Open Seating": I am sort of a traditionalist--I love having an assigned table and dedicated waiters and the same tablemates each night (hopefully we get assigned a good bunch). Even on traditional seating ships, we still get to meet a lot of folks at breakfast and lunch--which are usually open seating. But there are also a few advantages, especially on an itinerary such as this--If there are late hours in a particular port, going to dinner (except at Polo and Toscana where you have to reserve a specific time) is at your leisure--show up when you're ready. Of course, it seems like MOST people showed up around 7:30-7:45 (Dining hours went from 6:30 to 9:30 nightly, shows generally started at 9:45). Going at around 7:30 seemed to fit with most folks schedule--So, if you went to dinner at, say, 6:30 or 6:45, you'd be in a fairly empty dining room for awhile. We did a couple of times. Of course, the wait staff seemed to go at a particular pace no matter what time you started, so it seemed we ALWAYS ended up finishing at the same time, whether we showed up at 6:30, 7:00, 7:30 or 8:00. They seemed to just catch everyone up during the appetizers and by the time dessert came, we were all on the same schedule.
Overall, it was an enjoyable experience. As I kept saying "It is what it is". If what you want is a smaller, quieter cruise with a very slow pace and you really only want to tour the port, come back and have a drink and eat a slow-paced elegant dinner, then off to bed, it's a near perfect cruise. The ship is elegant, the food is excellent, the service is decent, the cabins are ample. It is very casual--both in terms of dress AND pace.
The cruise itself is decent value for the money (so long as you don't drink too much or add on their overpriced hotel packages). The passengers were mostly upscale--very few families with kids. I'd say the bulk of the passengers were between 50-75. They really don't cater to younger folks at all--no kids programs (Heck, even older teens and college-aged kids would be bored--they like to stay up late on most ships, hanging out at the Pizza bar or buffet late into the night--and those just don't exist here). The people we met on the cruise were, overall, a really good bunch. Dinners and other meals were pleasant, conversation lively. The fellow passengers may have been one of the better aspects of this cruise.
And the real highlight of this cruise was the itinerary itself--a truly outstanding collection of ports with decent hours in port for most of them.
All in all, though I still prefer Celebrity for the greater variety of activities and off-hour food and better dining room service, we'd likely cruise with Oceania again--perhaps to the Baltic, where they often offer a three-night stay in St. Petersburg. Read Less