My wife Nicci and I opted to move up to a luxury cruise line because we were weary of the hustle and bustle found on mass market cruises like on Carnival and Royal Caribbean. While we previously enjoyed a Celebrity cruise to Bermuda, we wanted to take a longer cruise in the Caribbean, our favorite vacation destination, that would still jibe with Nicci’s schedule as a school nurse but also would not have many children onboard. When I did research and found the Caribbean Palette cruise on the Insignia, that was most attractive; the additional perks of “the finest cuisine at sea” and having a couple of sea days mixed in with some ports we had never been to (originally Columbia on Independence Day, which was then thankfully later substituted by Havana) also made us very excited, despite the extremely high cost of the voyage. We had some initial concerns, as conveyed to us by our booking agent at Oceania, that we were among the younger passengers aboard (in our mid-to-late forties), but as we are old souls at heart (or so we thought!), that was of little problem to us. What absolutely sealed the deal for us was being able to sail home to Manhattan, thus needing to fly only one-way down to Miami. Overall, then, we had very high expectations for this cruise.
I would say that, for the most part, these expectations were met. I will summarize individual facets below, but, despite overarching concerns besides cost that will lead us not to take another Oceania cruise for quite some time, if ever, the cruise was most pleasant and relaxing. Here are our reports and thoughts on what we experienced on the Insignia during our trip:
Embarkation: Smooth and easy. As we had booked a Concierge cabin, we had expected to be onboard at noon, but we were able, surprisingly, to board much earlier, at 11:15. Briefly, on the flipside, debarkation was no worse in Manhattan than previously encountered, despite a great delay coming into port.
Cabin: As we are used to Carnival-sized cabins, we had little problem, as otherwise seems to be expressed quite frequently in both reviews and on the Oceania boards, with the overall size of the Concierge-level cabin. While the cabin was far from luxurious, and in need of some freshening, there was adequate storage space for both clothing, effects, and luggage, and our aft-facing balcony was also a nice size, having room for a chaise longue, two chairs, and a table. Our mini-fridge was indeed stocked with our choice of beverages (only Coke for me, as Nicci does not drink soda), and there were always at least two large bottles of water left on our vanity with ice that we requested. We found that the air conditioning and room temperature for the first week of the voyage were far too warm, despite setting the thermostat on the lowest setting, and it took us a couple of occasions mentioning this to Housekeeping finally to get Maintenance to address the issue; even then, the difference was marginal, and the only way that we derived any comfort was from an oscillating fan that Housekeeping very kindly provided us. This warmth was also reflected in the water from the tap and shower, which never seemed to fall below lukewarm also despite being turned to the coldest possible setting. The biggest problem that we had, however, which we can confirm from previous reviewers, was the size and configuration of the bathroom, and most especially the shower: these were woefully inadequate and should be addressed in any refurbishment of the ship. The good thing was that our cabin steward Renan was most efficient and pleasant, always keeping the room neat and clean, and he was exemplary of the wonderful service provided elsewhere onboard.
Food: Throughout the Terrace area, Grand Dining Room, and both specialty restaurants, the food mostly lived up to Oceania’s marketing hyperbole that they have the finest cuisine at sea. Things were always very fresh and nicely presented. It did seem that there was, surprisingly, a lack of variety of choices, as many dishes were only variations on a theme of the same staple ingredient (e.g., lamb, pork, or beef prepared in slightly different ways or with different sauces). Furthermore, there were times in the specialty restaurants that things could have run more smoothly, such as when we spent nearly three hours at our first night in Toscana or when either Nicci’s steak was most undercooked or I did not receive things that I ordered in Polo Grill. Furthermore, during lunch, the pizza (which, truthfully, I saw virtually no one else order) was mediocre at best. Also, breakfast service for late risers like me is nonexistent, with ample choices ending around 9am; the few times I did partake of breakfast in the Terrace, however, I must say that the omelettes were fantastic, made with freshly-beaten eggs. While these criticisms all may seem niggling, as this food is being provided by a cruise line that seemingly bases its entire marketing strategy on a flawless dining experience, passengers should be expected to have the best of everything. Since this is naturally impossible to achieve, then, let us just say that our expectations were met, but not exceeded, when it came to non-room service food on the Insignia. Turning quickly, then, to room service, I think this was the most pleasant surprise, with ample choices and a delicious Lombardy salad that I was surprised never to see offered anywhere else. I do think that Oceania did not do enough in our cabin to apprise us of the fact that we could have ordered an enhanced breakfast menu from room service, but since we had seen many rooms on our deck with such tags, it was more our fault for not making further use of this service. Finally, even though we made it there only once, the afternoon tea was fantastic, with great savory and sweet finger foods.
Activity and entertainment: Our expectations were not high, given what we have read online here, and I think they were mostly met. As befits an older crowd, there was not much to do, with exceedingly low variety, during the day, with activities that never changed from needlepoint to poorly-attended bingo to trivia that we were not interested in at all. The performances of the entertainment staff were seemingly well done, but as we shall comment later on, we were obliged due to seasickness to miss one show completely and leave at the beginning of a second show, so this is most difficult to rate. Similarly, we never attended one onboard lecture except a cooking presentation by the executive chef that was very entertaining. The visiting artists (a singer, a magician, a comedian, and a guitarist) were talented and enjoyable, nothing to rave about yet quite pleasant to watch. What was first-rate was both the onboard band and, especially, the string quartet; the quartet’s skill, despite comments on the boards, was most evident, and they contributed towards our comfort both waiting for evening shows and during the afternoon tea. The casino was incredibly small, almost never full, yet very happily was smoke-free like virtually the remainder of the ship, and we actually came out ahead in our limited play there. The cruise director was adequate at his job, and we appreciated him keeping announcements to a minimum during the day, but Nicci found him not to be warm or genuine, and I will not dispute this assertion at all. We found it curious, as did fellow passengers (as we will expand on later), that there were no movies offered to watch during the day outside one’s cabin, such as in the lounge, until the last night of the voyage; I believe that this is something that Oceania should take heed of for future entertainment. I would say, then, that while we were happy not seeing any “sexy single parties” at the pool, there needed to be much more in the way of activities and entertainment onboard than was provided.
Fellow passengers: Aside from the age of our fellow passengers, we did not quite know what to expect, even after having read comments on the boards and reviews. We found everyone very pleasant and easy to converse with, definitely on the more white-collar (and indeed retired) side, and, while we should not be surprised in hindsight, definitely more cosmopolitan: there was a high number of non-Americans aboard, including Australians and New Zealanders (which only makes sense if you think about it as they were escaping their winter). There seemed to be a somewhat-even mix of returning Oceania guests as well as first-timers like us, and what was astonishing was how many of these return passengers were dissatisfied with Oceania, perhaps this cruise in particular, stating that the high level of dining, activity, and the condition of the ship were not met as on previous cruises, whether on the Insignia or another Oceania ship. We appreciated their candor, but we also appreciated that they still found ways to enjoy their vacation and did not let their disappointment affect the experience of their fellow guests. Certainly, given what we saw at the Oceania future cruise desk, people were booking their next trips at a furious clip! I guess the biggest thing that I was surprised at was how similarly everyone dressed, at all times of the day, and while everyone seemed happy, there was also a distinct lack of what I would call whimsy, with no one ever seeming to laugh heartily but instead just seeming to be there, if you can get what I am driving at. Overall, if these people are representative of the Oceania norm, there are far worse cruisers to share a ship with.
Ship: This is where our biggest problems lie. We knew that this ship, at around 30K tons, would be the smallest we had ever sailed on, but its lack of size definitely contributed to a lack of stability. So much so, in fact, that the relatively rough waters that we encountered on July 4th led to two-thirds of the ship (including some crewmembers!) to be laid out with seasickness – including Nicci, whom I have never seen ill in eighteen previous cruises with her. Unfortunately, I also had a repeat performance on July 13th, so I really lost two nights out of my cruise, and since I have been in much worse weather on bigger ships with no ill effects, I do indeed directly blame this on the size of Insignia. It seemed that the doors to the decks were always closed due to the high winds, which I understand is for safety, but this made exploring the decks difficult. Furthermore, this ship is in desperate need of refurbishment: tiles from the only pool onboard were flaking off at a prodigious and unacceptable rate, so that oftentimes I would find them sticking either on Nicci or on one of our fellow users. The entire ship seemed to be kept at a higher temperature, I guess to accommodate the older passengers who like to be warmer, and although the elevators mostly were uncrowded, they also tended to run on the smaller side. The décor was quite nice, harkening back to the classic era of ocean liners, and there seemed to be a great amount of public space, from everywhere including the atrium to the well-stocked library. Again, however, this can only provide so much comfort, and I think that not feeling stable while underway is a huge factor in why I would not come back to Oceania.
Intangibles: I will skip over our ports of call, except to say this: Bermuda as always is my go-to vacation port, and I am very happy that we visited Havana, but this was a very intense stop only one day after embarkation, and we do not feel the need ever to visit Cuba again. Our other stops were fine, aside from Grenada, which felt distinctly unsafe, and Trinidad, an unscheduled stop (about which more in a second) that looked so unappetizing from onboard that we did not even bother to get off at the terminal to stretch our legs. I did not appreciate for one second that, while we understandably had to deviate stops in St. Lucia and Dominica because of Hurricane Beryl, in substituting Trinidad for these ports, Oceania did not even account for, let alone reimburse for, the refund in port charges for these missed stops, nor provide even a nominal onboard credit due to the inconvenience of adding in another sea day, as we received in the past from Carnival. This left a very bad taste in my mouth. As for other intangibles, I alluded before to the lack of whimsy and similarity in dress that our fellow passengers exhibited, and I guess this is why I always felt somewhat out of place onboard – I wanted to do more than just lie down next to the pool with a book or engage in pleasant banter but instead feel like I was sharing a good time and laugh and relax with like-minded passengers. Fortunately, Nicci and I were able to find one family (from very close to where we live) that similarly sought out fun, companionship, and enjoyment, otherwise this could have easily been a very somber and unpleasant cruise. I think, then, that Nicci and I need to strike a happy medium between the immaturity of Carnival cruises and the relative stiffness of Oceania cruises...for us, this seems to be on Celebrity. Lastly, I just feel that, even with the great service and overall high quality of the food, this cruise simply did not provide us with anywhere near the value that was expected from the exorbitant cost of the voyage.
I wanted to write a more detailed review because I never really found anything on this site that would provide me the same insight and information as I hope I did here. I therefore hope that you will find this as useful as I meant it to be. Thanks for reading! Read Less