Regions:Australia/New Zealand, Caribbean, Oceania/South Pacific, Etc.
Good for: Foodies. Group. Families.
Regions:Africa, Mediterranean, Scandinavia/Northern Europe
Good for: Seniors. Luxury Travelers. Foodies.
Regions:Alaska, Caribbean, Eastern Seaboard, Inland Waterways
Good for: Seniors. Luxury Travelers.
Good for: Foodies. Seniors. Luxury Travelers.
My Prior Cruise Experience
I had read so many positive reviews of the Oceania line that when I noticed the modest price of the Insignia's transatlantic crossing to Barcelona embarking in my adopted hometown of Rio de Janeiro I enthusiastically seized the opportunity to experience an Oceania cruise. Coincidentally, my first cruise disembarked in Rio back in 1976 when I began exploring the South American continent. The name of that ship was the Christoforo Colombo which for you trivia buffs was the sister ship of the Andrea Doria which sank off the coast of Nantucket Island in 1956 following a collision with another liner (bonus points if you know the name of the ship). Since that time I have cruised about 50 times on a wide variety of lines running the gamete in price and sophistication from the "fun" ships to Seabourn and Crystal.
Accordingly and not surprisingly, I believe my opinion is well informed and credible. I rate my Oceania cruise at the top in terms of cost/benefit value.Cost
As usual I used the internet to obtain competitive bids for this cruise. We originally booked a so-called amenities package consisting of a minimumoutside category cabin (D), prepaid gratuities, a $200 shipboard cabin credit, and a bottle of wine for $1620 pp or about $110 pp per day. On land one would have to pay almost that much just to eat as well as we did while on board. No wonder the cruise industry is booming. Cruising provides tremendous travel value. Shortly before sailing we accepted an offer from our TA to upgrade to a midship B2 balcony cabin for an additional $200 pp. My self satisfaction at having found a great deal was tempered slightly when I spoke with some passengers from the states and Canada who purchased the air/cruise packages for which Oceania is known. These packages afforded even greater value because the air component is priced ridiculously low compared to regular open jaw airfare, in this case from the USA gateway city to Rio and then back to the USA from Barcelona. The tight scheduling of this packaged air tends to be frenetic and is not for the faint hearted, but I believe deviations that allow more relaxed arrival and departure times/dates are available at a modest cost. Oceania air packages were not available for So. American residents from our USA based agent. Fortunately, TAP (Portugal) airline offers a reasonably priced one way fare from most cities in Europe to Brasil.Embarkation and Disembarkation
Embarkation was pretty much a non-event. After a 20 minute taxi ride from our apt to the terminal we left our bags with the porters and then had to wait in line about 15 minutes before receiving our boarding cards. We subsequently learned there were only 398 passengers on this sailing, a 60% occupancy rate. The absence of photographers at the gangplank also facilitated the boarding process. In fact, there were no ship photographers at all, a phenomenon probably precipitated by the advent of digital photography. There was a well attended class on board that dealt with computerized digital photography.
We encountered a minor glitch when we arrived at our deck 6 cabin. The key card didn't open the door so I had to hoof it down to Reception on deck 4 to ask for help. Time spent waiting in the hall passes slowly when one is eager to explore a new ship so I revisited Reception 5-10 minutes later when the "be right there" security guy wasn't right there. Hey, I had very high expectations after reading all those cruise website accolades and here I was locked out of my cabin. While revisiting Reception I was a bit surprised to learn that the security chap had not been advised of our plight and only learned of it while I was there the second time. He then came to our room and fixed the door lock - something to do with the battery in the lock itself, not the key card. This problem reoccurred twice during our stay and was the only annoying glitch during the entire cruise - almost. I had requested a small fridge and when we were finally able to enter the cabin it's absence was conspicuous. I called Reception and they said they would send someone with a fridge, which they promptly did. Except it didn't work. So I asked Reception to send a replacement which they promptly did, except that one got as hot as an oven for the 3 hours our wine and meds were in it. Were these first negative impressions of Oceania a harbinger of things to come? Was I in for a constant assault on the high expectations I had brought to this party? Happily, no. We finally got a working fridge and the wine sommelier replaced a bottle of white that had cooked to the point it may have spoiled. So much for the negatives. It turned out that these minor incidents were an anomaly and it was smooth sailing for the rest of the cruise, both figuratively and literally. The weather for the crossing was exceptionally good and so was everything else. Disembarkation consisted of walking off the ship after we finished breakfast. No lines. No announcements. No fuss.Cabin
The cabin was nicely appointed with a sofa bed, small table, and a makeup desk/vanity with stool supplementing the queen size bed. Closet and storage space was adequate. It should be since I didn' t have to bring a tux and suits with me owing to the 'country club' mode of attire aboard this line. Or is that 'resort casual? ' I forget, but you need not ever wear a tie on board the ship so closet space should not be an issue even if you are a clothes horse. The bathroom was not large enough for double occupancy, but was comfortably functional. The detachable shower head was serviceable. The bath towels were considerably softer and fluffier than those on midmarket ships. A large bar of good soap lasted more than a week so we weren't bothered with tiny little bars or a liquid soap dispenser. The usual array of small plastic bottles of shampoo, conditioner and skin creme were furnished as needed by Sigrit, our Romanian cabin attendant who was as efficient and pleasant as any I've encountered. The toiletries may be more upscale in the penthouse suites, (so I have heard), but the cabin attendant could not have been better. My wife was a bit disappointed with the built-in wall hairdryer and was not able to get a "real" one from Reception, however they did supply us with a long extension cord which we could use for our electrical appliances. The room television was smallish and I could not find the sleep function on the remote control. That was a bit discomforting (not enough to inquire about) and was probably due to my own gadget incompetence. The programming was good - lots of recent releases and some classic movies constantly available. Boy, I wish CNN would change its format. It's excruciatingly annoying to hear and see the exact same news story after the third time.
We spend a lot of time in bed. Though we live in tropical Rio we have a goose down comforter and pillows galore, a super mattress and luxurious, high thread count, cotton sheets. So did our cabin. It far surpassed any bed I have experienced at sea and rivaled those in the very best hotels. There were no problems with the climate control or anything else in the cabin. It was always comfortable. The weather was mild, even sunny our first few days along the Brasilian coastline heading towards the equator, and we actually got to take some sun on our 40 sq ft balcony. In the evenings we could sit on the wooden chairs and have a drink under the stars.
We never heard any outside noises either from our neighbors or the ship itself. Quiet enough to hear only the sounds of the ship sliding through the sea as we plotted our course towards Barcelona.Public Areas and Entertainment
In general all the public areas of the ship were tasteful and in excellent condition. Furnishings bordered on luxurious. Though there was no photographer aboard, the ubiquitous Park West Galleries was and had adorned many of the walls in the hall ways and staircases with some decent looking art. I didn't attend any of their auctions and was a little surprised to find them on board.
Much to my liking the casino was tiny, almost an afterthought. It consisted of 3 or 4 card game tables, a roulette table and a few dozen machines that resembled slot machines. I do not recall a craps table. In any event, there wasn't a lot of action in the casino. The largest attendance was for the Texas hold'em tournament. That's getting to rival shipboard trivia in popularity.
The gym/spa on deck 9 was well equipped for a ship of this size. In addition to the usual complement of treadmills, stationary bikes and those elliptical machines with moving arms that simulate cross country skiing (kinder to my run down knees than treadmills) there were a half dozen well chosen cable machines for muscle building. There were fairly heavy dumbbells (60 lbs+) for lifting and bench work. For $3 you could purchase earphones to listen to the TVs positioned by the aerobic equipment. Because I had a minor medical problem while aboard I didn't use the gym as much as I normally would, but it was more than adequate. Nor did I take the opportunity to check out the steam/sauna rooms.
A great library chockablock with good reading material and smart furnishings was located on a top deck. There were several copies of some popular new titles. Surprisingly, there were no checkout procedures. You could go in at any time, night or day, and take out any book you wanted or just read it in one of the opulent overstuffed chairs or sofas. Even the fake fireplace was pleasant looking and in good taste, sort of. The only downside to this honor system was the apparent immediate disappearance of the guide books covering Spain, our final destination. Oh well, not much Oceania can do to redefine human nature. The same unmonitored procedure for scrabble sets and puzzles existed in the small game/card room adjacent to the computer school room on deck 10 ( or was it 9).
One of the reasons I was eager to cruise on Oceania is because Jacques Pepin is the executive chef of the line. I am a BIG Jacques Pepin fan having watched his tv cooking shows on public television for many years. In addition to the grand dining room on deck 5 the two specialty restaurants, the Polo Grill and Tuscana, are located on deck 10. These are truly fine dining spots with upscale furnishings and tableware to match (Versace plates). Tuscana was used for duplicate bridge on sea days. Squeak, the bridge teacher was good natured and extremely competent. It helps to have the patience of Job.
The Horizons lounge on top deck forward, billed as the room with a view, doubled as the evening disco and the afternoon tea room. I didn't take notes and didn't spend a lot of time here, but I recall "tasteful." Funny how my memory fades more quickly these days than it did years ago.
The pool area on deck 9 was unique for the pool chairs which were large wooden contraptions with terry cloth coverings over the padding. There were a number of extra large chairs for two people to use simultaneously. Towels were abundant. Located nearby was Waves, the grill where various sandwiches, hot dogs, burgers, and salads were available from noon to 4 every day. Ice cream, too.
As maximum passenger capacity is about 685 on these 30,000 ton ships (I am informed the Nauitica and Regatta are identical to the Insignia in even the smallest details) the night club/ theater is appropriately scaled down. I don't recall a raised stage per se, except for some of the 12 piece orchestra towards the back of the stage area. The furniture is tasteful and looks to be in excellent condition. No frayed anything. Banquettes and individual well-stuffed chairs encircle the stage area. This is a more intimate theater environment than that found on the larger ships of most lines and this intimacy complements the entertainment corps, a foursome of young singers who actually sing live and can relate to the audience at eye level. The cast emphasizes singing and deemphasizes costumes and dance and in my opinion puts on an enjoyable evening of cabaret style theater with no pretense of being a "Las Vegas show." The MC is the Cruise Director, Rob Wheatley, who I thought was a great cruise director, funny and good natured at all times. He seemed well liked by those with whom he worked as well as the passengers. Among the other entertainers complementing the cabaret cast were a comedy magic act duo: "Des" something or other and his wife, Sherry who were British ( like all show people Des would no doubt hate me for not remembering his name in this review - if you ever get to see this, sorry Des). I had the pleasure of sharing a dinner table with Des and Sherry before seeing their act. During the conversation I remarked upon the British comedian, Benny Hill, and Des gave me some insight into the man. When I subsequently saw their show I was taken aback by how much Des's comedic style reminded me of Benny Hill, who I considered a very funny guy. And to see Sherry, who had behaved so demurely at the dinner table, gallivanting on stage also threw me for a loop. Excellent show, both nights they performed. A couple of evenings we were entertained by an accomplished clarinetist. I missed the impressionist. The cruise director put on some shows and games a few of the nights. These were well received. In general I liked the entertainment very much with a minor footnote.
My wife and I love to dance and while we did do some dancing from time to time I was a little disappointed with the orchestra. I didn't think they were as "tight" as they should have been. Not to be unkind, but maybe 6 gifted musicians would be better than 12 so so musicians. They performed at various spots thought out the cruise including some nights outside on the pool deck in the Tapas restaurant. At night the lunch buffet area was converted into a tapas style restaurant alfresco. I never ate there but it looked pretty all dressed up with candles, fine linens and tableware. Though sangria was offered, I 'm not sure why they call it Tapas. As far as I could tell it was just a fancier buffet than the breakfast or lunch fare.
There was a bar outside the night club ( Martini's bar) which I frequented because it was the locus of team trivia. Mr Wheatly kept the proceedings in order despite threatened lawsuits and questionable ethics by some of the cheaters. The environment is enhanced in the evening by a pianist whom I am ashamed to say I never stopped to listen to.
There was an enrichment lecture program but I have zero interest in conjecture over whether Princess Diana's death resulted from a plot or to hear a rehash of the Simpson love story that resulted in the abdication of the King of England. I put a negative in the comment card about the enrichment lecture program.Food and Drinks
I am a foodie and have written a few articles on restaurants for local magazines and an internet site. I had tremendously high expectations given the fact that my hero, Jacques Pepin, is executive chef of the company. In general I was very pleased with the quality of the food. Because passenger capacity was low we could eat in the specialty restaurants pretty much wherever we wanted to. We ate in Tuscana 4 nights and Polo twice (this would not be possible on a full ship when only one night in each is guaranteed, two if you occupy a penthouse).
The Polo Grill is a steakhouse. I have lived in Buenos Aires for extended periods of time and visit it from time to time. The steaks in Polo, though advertised as aged prime Angus, did not approach the flavor of the steaks I get in steakhouses in BA. Of course, that is a very high standard against which to be judged. Compared to midmarket cruise lines the food is superb, at least as good as what you get in their specialty restaurants for which you pay a $20-30 surcharge. On the other hand, the lobster especially in Tuscana was fantastic, not at all resembling that which you get on Lobster Night or the Captain's Gala Party night aboard a lot of midmarket lines. No comparison whatsoever. Pastas were made fresh on the ship daily and the taste reflected the care given to food preparation. The gnocchi in pesto was a revelation. The fresh baked Italian bread was as good as the tiramisu. Very good.
The buffets at breakfast and lunch were far superior to that of all other lines besides Crystal and Seabourn (I have not sailed on Silversea or Regent) and these luxury lines will set you back between 2 or 3 times what you pay for an Oceania cruise. The difference in price between Oceania and HAL/Celebrity is minimal, but the quality of the food and service is significantly better on Oceania.
I also appreciate the fact that I can bring wine on board without having to secrete it as if it were contraband. I do not believe that in practice the company distinguishes between a bottle of wine and a bottle of scotch. The $20 corkage fee for bottles brought to the dining room is fair. Wines cost about the same as they would in a fancy restaurant on shore. Drinks prices are on the high end, but I did not buy drinks (medical situation) on my cruise so I can't honestly report whether the drinks are poured sufficiently liberally to justify a $12 cosmopolitan (with 18% tip included automatically) or a $21 Lagavulin (the bottle probably costs them $50). In any event that is a manageable cost.Service
I cannot say enough about the wonderful service my wife and I received during this cruise. Perhaps it was attributable to the low passenger capacity or the fact that many employees were disembarking for vacation when we ported, but service was so amazingly efficient and graceful that it could be considered charming. Every single waiter, pool attendant, sommelier (yes they have trained sommeliers), room steward, and officer we encountered was fantastically eager to give us what we wanted and to suggest something when it was appropriate. There were never language problems because staff were all fluent in English no matter what their native tongue. And smart too. Idle banter could turn into interesting conversation with anyone you might choose to engage.Conclusion
Of all the cruiselines I have travelled Oceania gives the most value for the price it charges. The accomodations and entertainment were very good and the food and service were excellent. We have already booked this same cruise for next year. It will include 3 new ports.
My sister and I and our two youngest daughters went on the Oceania Regatta Cruise last November. The ports of call were well chosen and fascinating. We embarked from Barcelona and went on to Rome, Amalfi, Sorrento, Sicily, Tunisia, Gibralter and Casablanca. The food was excellent, boasting a gourmet program created by Jacques Pipen, and since we had booked, the Butler Suite, our service was equally first class.
I was appalled, however, at the maintenance issues we encountered on this trip including our spa tub overflowing our first night aboard and despite repeated maintenance being done on the spa, we were never able to use it during the entire trip. It kept spewing out a gray dirty water that looked like it had bugs in it. Later discussing this with some of the maintenance people, it proved to be the result of improper cleaning procedures that need to be done regularly on these spas.
In addition, our room had an absolutely beautiful wraparound patio deck for our own person use for sunning and dining. Unfortunately, for the first week we were unable to use it because the door kept falling off, in addition,the room boasted a full regalia of movies, new and old to be seen in our room, but the DVD player did not work and they did not have one to replace it.
Oceania has a long way to go before I will travel with them again.
We just returned from our 28th cruise, on the Oceania Nautica, and my wife says it is her best ever.
We flew to Barcelona a day early to enjoy the city, staying on the Ramblas in Hotel Royal. $159 plus tax and we had a room overlooking the Ramblas on the 4th floor. No noise. And it is a short ride to the pier.
We stayed in a category B2 balcony cabin, number 6077. The next cabin forward was a B1, and more expensive. All the balconies in categories B2, B1 and A1, 2 and 3 (concierge) are the same size. Only the suites on Deck 8 are larger. Balconies are very private. The cabin is typical of balcony cabins, but had no refrigerator. The shower is very small.
Dining Service is exceptional, with 400 staff for 684 guests; they really appear to enjoy their work and provide exceptional service. Dining is open seating in the Dining Room, and at Tapas on the Terrace (the high-end, buffet-style dining); and by reservation in the two specialty restaurants, Toscano and Polo. There is no service charge for the specialty restaurants. There are plenty of tablesfor two, and only twice did we have a short (five minute) wait for a table, in the Dining Room. Dinner menus seemed to have a lot of steak and beef, but there was an ample choice of fish, which included sea bass, grilled tuna, corvina, swordfish, salmon, and a wok seafood dish of shrimp, scallops and salmon. Desserts were excellent, including creme brulee in the dining room and specialty restaurants. Tables for two are arranged close enough to others to talk, but far enough to be "separate".
Entertainment The single pool was never crowded and there are plenty of loungers, including double seating lounges, all with cushions and terrycloth covers. The casino is small but adequate. We had not expected much entertainment, but during the 10 days we had three shows by a staff of four singers. We also had a terrific illusionist and two musical/singing performances by a husband-and-wife team...the husband is the orchestra director. There is also a pianist in the piano bar nightly. Dancing was available nightly in a variety of locations, usually the Horizon Lounge on Deck 10 forward where a sextet from the orchestra played until 11 or 12 at night.
There are no live "port talks," just a repeating short TV talk by the cruise director, and there was no port map with the daily newsletter. We didn't learn until until the fourth port thatt for a few hours each port morning, someone near the purser's desk distributed local maps and provided directions and port information. These passengers are, for the most part, 55+ and well traveled. We heard no "griping" on the entire cruise!
Dress While the cruise was advertised as "country club casual," and the brochures showed men in jackets, in fact there were very few jackets and no ties, although women did wear nice dresses in the evening, including some cocktail dresses. The day wear was the same as on any other ship.
Internet service is VERY slow but they do have wireless hotspots all over the ship. The Internet lab had about 24 work stations, and there were two more in the library for use if computer classes were in session.
The ship had good TV options, with CCN, Fox News, BBC, and a number of movie channels. There were no lines on board, for anything, even tenders (except for embarkation check-in, which was done onboard in a lounge). There was absolutely no pushing of tropical drinks and no onboard photographers, at all. Fine!
In Barcelona they allowed me to go back on the pier, purchase wine, sangria, and gin and bring it back to my cabin.
Our itinerary was termed "Art Reigns Supreme," and the ports reflected that. Sailing from Barcelona, we visited Marseilles, Monte Carlo, Civatavecchia/Rome, Livorno/Florence/Pisa, Amalfi, Taormina (Sicily), Valetta (Malta), one day at sea, and an overnight in Athens before debarking. As a smaller ship, we often got choice berths, with the larger ships staying farther from the port.
Sightseeing I think I have now seen all the churches and museums I could stand for a while, but the art was superb, including Gaudi in Barcelona, the Vatican Museum, the Accademia in Florence, St John's in Valetta, and of course the Acropolis, Agora, and Plaka in Athens. Without doing a travelogue, I will add that I did use Bob's Limos and Tours (http://romelimousines.com) in Civitavecchia and Livorno, and we were very pleased with experience - especially with the driver in Livorno/Florence/Pisa, who even took us via the Tuscan countryside at our request. In Athens we used George Taxi and Limo (www.greecetravel.com/taxi), where George's son Dennis picked us up in a limo instead of taxi, as his father, the taxi driver, was on vacation in the islands. He took the time to help me find the house I lived in there from 1972-75, and at our request took us to a local (non-tourist) restaurant for lunch, where we enjoyed salata horiatiki with a giant slab of feta and kalamata olives, tzetziki, moussaka, lamb fricasse, and swordfish kabobs.
The "free air" included was on Lufthansa from Washington Dulles to Barcelona via Frankfurt, and Air France from Athens via Paris to Dulles. Lufthansa was superb, and both offered multiple meals, complimentary wine and cordials. All our baggage made it, leaving a day early, but some passengers whose flights were through London never got their luggage until we arrived in Athens, due to the security scares in London. On the way back, at our connection in Paris, they researched all carry-ons and body-searched every passenger. Having watched the news on Fox and CNN, we had no problem with this, but it meant we didn't try to bring back bottles of olive oil or liquor as we had planned.
Oceania is a bit pricier than the premium lines (HAL, Princess, Celebrity), but the service and ambiance is wonderful.
Travelers may not know about a relatively new line called Oceania Cruises, but they should learn. We took The Black Sea Interlude on the Nautica, one of three Oceania ships. The experience was delightful. Our cruise began July 2, 2006, in Piraeus, the port for Athens, went to Santorini, Kusadasi, Yalta, Sochi, Sevastopol, Odessa, Constanta, Nessebur and ended in Istanbul. We recommend the ship to any adults who want good food, good company, and good experiences ashore.
We spent several days in Athens first, at the Athenaeum InterContinental. Oceania had a welcome desk there before cruise departure, but you could seldom find the Oceania person and when we finally did, she was unhelpful and gave us inaccurate information. The InterContinental put us in a taxi to the cruise terminal, where we went through a perfunctory and useless security check. From there, Nautica took over and the boarding process was simple and friendly. We were in our stateroom within 15 minutes of leaving the taxi and at the welcoming lunch buffet 10 minutes later. Most of the luggage arrived promptly. The final piece was delayed a couple hours.
We found the stateroom, 4049, well located--about35 steps from the reception desk, central stairway, and elevators. The room was beautiful, in perfect condition, quiet, about average size for a cruise ship, with dark woods, a large window, a comfortable queen-size bed, a small desk and padded stool, small love-seat and a coffee table, and a functional TV that showed movies. Storage space was more than adequate, and suitcases fit under the bed. We had no balcony, and never felt we needed one. The bathroom was on the small side, with adequate storage space but a tiny shower. The hot water was always hot, but the shower is probably the worst feature of the Nautica. An attendant cleaned the room twice daily, did a perfect job, and was seldom seen.
Overall, the ship was beautiful, very well decorated, traditional but not old-fashioned, and superbly maintained. You could hardly find a scuff mark anywhere. The ship carries only 680 passengers, which puts it on the small side these days. We, and everyone we talked to, liked the size, which was big enough but not too big. While cruising, the ship was stable. The swimming pool was small but adequate, with two whirlpools, and the deck area was adequate. There were a variety of places to sit in the sun or lean on the railing. There was a nice library, a good-sized fitness area, a small casino, and two shops. A string quartet frequently played, as did a pianist. The stage entertainment was typical of cruise ships. There were few children on our trip, and there should have been none.
Nautica doesn't encourage children, and these kind of trips aren't suited for them. Food was usually very good, sometimes excellent, and a few times even superb. It would occasionally fall into the "okay" category. The elegant Grand Dining Room operates during specified periods as announced each day in the ship newsletter. You are not assigned a table or an eating time.
There are no formal nights. You dress "country club casual." No tie or jacket is required for men. Some jackets but only a few ties were in evidence. You decide whether to eat with others or not. Service was good. The buffet, at the stern of the ship, has superb views and is called the Terrace Café for breakfast and lunch and Tapas for dinner. On three consecutive evenings, we sat at one of the outdoor tables at the buffet and watched the sun set over the Black Sea, an experience to treasure. Menu selection was varied, and presentation was excellent in both restaurants. Oceania advertises that "legendary chief" Jacques Pepin created some of the dishes on the menu. That seemed overrated to us. Near the pool was a grill, operating from about noon to 4 p.m., where you could get good hamburgers and hotdogs, a few other sandwiches, ice cream, and go through a salad buffet. There are two alternative restaurants, Toscana, featuring Italian, and the Polo Grill, featuring beef. You make reservations, but do not pay extra at them. While fine, they are overhyped. The dining room and buffet were just as good. The Nautica does not scrimp on food. Prime rib was on the menu several nights, a roast sucking pig was served one day, and shrimp prepared in various ways was available almost every day.
We met the captain once at a ship's party. Otherwise, he was not much in evidence. Tours of the bridge, kitchen and engine room were not advertised. A concierge is available during the day. When our room keys acted up, he quickly had the problem fixed. The staff comes from many countries, and most had good command of English and were very friendly.
Shore excursions were adequate, but, as with many ships, terribly overpriced. Details about them, necessary to decide which ones to select, were hard to come by before we boarded. Calls to the 800 Oceania number were answered by dour, unhelpful individuals. Information from excursion leaders on the ship was much better. Guide service ashore was generally good, as was the quality of English spoken. Shuttles to bring you closer to a town center were offered in two ports, and were quite helpful. An official from the local tourist bureau was usually on the ship the morning of a docking.
In talking to many of our fellow passengers, we heard nearly-unanimous praise for the Nautica. A surprising number of them had been on Oceania two or three times before, although the company has existed only a few years. One woman, apparently a chronic complainer, said maintenance of her stateroom was lacking, crew were impolite, and food was not "phenomenal." It was difficult to believe her first two claims. As for the food, meals were always enjoyable and delicious; for "phenomenal," you go to gourmet restaurants. Several passengers got on board without their luggage. I suspect that was the fault of airlines. I would strongly advise against arriving in Europe on the same day your cruise ship departs–too much opportunity for trouble. Service in the Nautica buffet was at times a little slow. The staff should also enforce the dress code. We had a few louts who came to the buffet in sleeve-less t-shirts and baggy shorts, and one who talked loudly on a cell phone.
A few words about our ports. Athens and Istanbul are utterly fascinating. You can easily spend five days in each city. Santorini was crowded but interesting. Kusadasi is a Turkish/European resort, and is close to the ancient ruins of Ephesus, which everyone should see. Yalta was wonderful. We toured the conference hall where Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin met to discuss the end of WWII. Sochi is a prime Russian vacation area, very interesting, and we got to tour Stalin's Dacha and stand by his desk. Sevastopol and Odessa in the Ukraine are interesting cities where you can just walk around and the soak up the atmosphere. Outside of Sevastopol, we toured the battlefield where The Charge of the Light Brigade took place, with a guide who was clearly enthused about her subject matter. We spent a day in Constanta, Romania, and another day in Nessebur, Bulgaria. Some passengers pooh-poohed those two stops, saying they offered little. Untrue. They offered a real slice of Romanian and Bulgarian life, a highly beneficial experience.
Bottom line on Oceania and the Nautica–get their pamphlets and consider their cruises.
I wrote a much more favorable review in April after sailing on the Insignia from Barbados to Barcelona last March. As a result of that good experience, my husband and I booked the December 19 cruise from Buenos Aires to Valparaiso and, unfortunately, found many things changed.
We had probably the best cruise director ever on our March sailing, but the current cruise director on the Insignia was not particularly helpful and didn't seem to mix much with the passengers. Still, for us the cruise director does not make or break a cruise and we probably wouldn't even have noticed if his predecessor had not been so outstanding.
The biggest problem on this cruise was the number of children on board and the inability of the staff to control the situation. The Insignia is a small ship with no children's facilities; in the past, Oceania has been quite clear that it is not child-friendly. It seemed, however, that in their eagerness to fill every last inside cabin, they had booked some large groups with many children. Thus, facilities such as the ship's only pool (a small one) simply was unavailable to most passengersas large, rowdy family groups literally took it over.
With children running rampant up and down hallways, crowding all over the casino and its equipment, and dining in their pajamas in family groups of 12 of more in the Polo Grill -- which is supposed to be an upscale fine dining venue -- many passengers quickly became upset, not only with the rowdy children but also with their parents for permitting the behavior. These family groups would dominate quiet areas such as the Horizon Lounge during the daytime, turning them into playrooms instead of peaceful locations to contemplate the scenery from the most forward spot on the ship.
Less than a week into the cruise, it was announced that due to Chilean regulations, the casino would be closed for the last eight days of the cruise. My husband, who is an occasional blackjack player (although conditions were so unpleasant in the casino with rowdy adults and children most nights that he didn't even try), talked to one of the dealers, who told him they had been taken completely by surprise. In our first Chilean port, Punta Arenas, after the casino had been closed for several days, we ran into a passenger from the Marco Polo. That ship had just arrived from the opposite direction, heading south to Antarctica. In chatting, we learned that the Marco Polo was keeping its casino open nightly even thought they had just traveled the route we were taking.
After word got around that other cruise ships didn't have to shut down their casinos, the decision was made to open Insignia's casino for several more days. Some speculated that Chile was levying a tax on gambling when the ship was within a 12-mile limit, and that Oceania did not want to pay.
I am a fitness freak, and although the smallness of the fitness facility did not bother me much on the transatlantic trip, this time it did. On the earlier trip, the fitness director organized some good classes that could augment the limited equipment in the center. On this trip, with a different fitness director, the classes simply were not up to any accredited standards, and the classes for which they charged $10 - yoga and Pilates - were not good enough to justify a charge.
We booked a penthouse suite (what would be called a mini-suite on other ships) as we did on the earlier cruise, and our butler, Dimitre, was excellent. Because of the rowdiness of the children, we spent more time than usual in our cabin and on the verandah, and Dimitre was always available whenever we needed something.
We booked our tours through Turismo Nuevo Mundo in Valparaiso, as did two other couples on the ship. We were met in each port by a van with an English-speaking driver; the tours were about half the price of the cruise line's, and we thoroughly enjoyed them. We did hear quite a few passengers complaining about the quality of the ship's tours and felt rather smug that we had the foresight to book independently.
The scenery was spectacular as we went through the Beagle Channel and the fjords - much of it viewed from our verandah because the public areas were so disrupted by large groups with many very noisy children.
We had planned to book Oceania for a trip from Istanbul to Singapore through the Suez Canal in December - but now we are re-thinking those plans. It is not a journey we would want to undertake should the conditions be the same as on the South America cruise.
Oceania has attempted to distinguish itself as a line of "affordable luxury." Their ships are small, their design is elegant. They definitely have nothing for children to do. However, they do not have a policy in place to prevent the kind of mayhem that occurred on the Insignia -- and until they do, it will be difficult for us to take a chance on them again.
I am a big fan of the Regatta. The staff is extraordinary - the company must be doing right to keep them so happy.
The entertainment was improved this year, with four very talented singers and a brilliant guest entertainer named Bruce Adler. His shows were terrific and people lined up in the back to see him. The food is exquisite and varied and the ports are lovely. I recommend this line highly.
The Regatta is a comparatively small ship and has both the pluses and minuses that you would expect. The minuses are the small staterooms (we were in "Concierge" class which is supposedly somewhat of a premium category) with only a small loveseat and no other chair. We took one of the chairs from the very small verandah and brought it inside...crowded but at least a place for two to sit. The other primary minus is the Oceania gouging on prices. They put an outrageious 18% charge on all drinks, soft or hard and their prices are high for even a cruise line. Converting ounces to metric. a .75ml bottle of Jim Beam generates a little over $106 to Oceania, and that is their cheapest bar bourbon.
The pluses are numerous. First, the staff is uniformly great (and worth the $13.50/day/person gratuity). They are from all over the world, primarily eastern Europe. We enjoyed our contacts and they were many because of the "open" seating. The ships decor was warm and very tastefully done. Their library was extensive, most inviting, and was on the honor system...no checking out, just select and take.
Food wasvery good with their "upgrade" restuarants serving excellent specialty dishes...one a "surf and turf" menu and the other Italian oriented. Both menus were large and interesting. The main dining room had fewer of the speciality items but their menu was extensive and very good. Similarly with the "Tapas" buffet for breakfast and lunch, (and dinner if desired) and the Waves poolside grill.
The biggest surprise was the entertainment. My wife and I never thought too much of shows on other cruises but Oceania has been smart enough to hire a smaller numberof truly professional performers. After seeing one show, we made a point of going every night (except for the comedian).
All in all, except for the stateroom size we were very impressed and would consider cruising on Oceania again.
This was my first Oceania Cruise. We went with a group of eight from Venice to Barcelona for 14 days. We arranged our own pre-package in Venice that was very nice and affordable and easy to do with the water taxi from the airport that met us. The hotel provided another taxi to the pier for a cost but the overall expenditures for two were significantly cheaper from the cruise pre-package offer.
Embarkation was easy but we had the Concierge class. This was not worth the extra dollars except for the early boarding and the chance for two nights at the specialty restaurants vs.. one. That is the only value. We got only two items pressed on arrival and they advertise as concierge class- complimentary pressing on arrival- read the very small print.
I loved the small ship and it was great for Europe where you are very busy and tired on port days but I know on a trip with more days at sea I would have been bored with the lack of activates both day and nights. In the casino many of the slot machines were broken for most ofthe trip.
Ports of Call: We arranged for our own driver in the big cities such as Rome, Florence, and the French Riviera.It was half the price offered from the ship. Other ports we did on our own when we arrived and it turned out great. Most are very walkable and easy to get taxies or boats to the islands and between small cities. We took the ferry between Amlfia coast and Positono and it was very affordable and allowed us time enough to experience both. In Corfu we rented on the spot two taxis who took us all over the island for about $30 per person and we saw the other side of the island, had lunch out and visited the old town. It was Sunday with many closed stores so that was a good use of our time there. It was easy to do it. I was disappointed in the change in 2 ports and we missed Portofino and docked in Genoa and the ship made no effort to accommodate the clients for transportation with the change. I have heard that this is a common Oceania complaint.In addition many of the other clients who did the Oceania shore excursions were very disappointed and felt they were not worth the money or time. We found that even in Rome and Florence many of the experienced travelers took the train in on their own and did just fine
The Service and staff were the best I have ever had but the food was no better than a Princess or Celebrity. The specialty restaurants were ok but did not change the menu from one night to the next and I enjoyed the venue more than the food. I loved the Tapas restaurant and the Terrace for breakfast- great choices and always very fresh with great service.
The entertainment was geared toward those over 70 and this was a very young 40-60 crowd who walked out many shows. We knew in advance though that the entertainment was not what Oceania was all about.
All in all a good experience and I would do Oceania again for Europe of South America but would not spend the money for the Caribbean or Mexico cruises.
Barcelona to Venice - 14 days
Well, here I sit at 3:00 in the morning after returning from the above cruise. This is what I usually do after a trip abroad - either write a few thoughts or manage digital pictures AND try to shake off the jet lag in the process.
Usually I write a full review but I think I'll just go through a few subjects about Oceania and the cruise.
First of all this was a very enjoyable cruise - how can most of them not be?
Embarkation can either be smooth or not. We were literally the first passengers to arrive at the terminal in Barcelona at around 9:30a.m. We had 2 days in Barcelona and were able to see as much as we wanted there and then were anxious to begin our experience aboard Regatta so we checked out of our hotel and arrived early. Speaking of the Barcelona hotel, make your own reservations as opposed to booking something through the cruise line. We spoke to many passengers who had paid DEARLY for the precruise package and their accodmmodations weren't much better than ours. Speaking of ours, whenwe finally arrived at our 3-star booked hotel, the Europark, they were overbooked. This initially sounded horrible after having just arrived from a 24-hour ordeal from the west coast, but since they were overbooked, the hotel clerk informed us that there was a 4-star hotel just up the street they would book us into at no extra charge and they'd also throw in comped breakfast for everyone and also the extra cab ride to get us over to our new hotel, the Nunez Urgell. By European standards, they were nice accommodations and the comped breakfast was fantastic. If you can't deal with your own taxi transportation to the pier, then book your hotel with Oceania, but I highly recommend doing what we did!!!
Back to embarkation, once we arrived at the terminal, obviously the ship wasn't ready for us yet, and if you had a "concierge level" booking you were free to board from 11:00 a.m. on. All others had to wait till 1:00 p.m. This really was annoying for the bulk of the passengers as everyone seems to be getting on from 11:00 but they had to wait till 1:00. Not a great way to start a vacation. This seems to be the running comment in these reviews. I think they should just let you board if you're there ready to board. They can make up the extra frills for those paying for them once they're starting the cruise. I mean there were a few people literally yelling at Bruno, the concierge, who was also doubling as the 'greeter' in the terminal.
Also one VERY ANNOYING thing was if you weren't concierge level or an Owner's suite occupant, you got a letter presented to you at embarkation that told you you could ONLY have one sitting at Polo Grill and one sitting at Toscana for the duration of the cruise. The letter the 'concierge level' got was TWO sittings at each, and the letter that the suite residents got was UNLIMITED sittings at the specialty restaurants. If I'm not mistaken, when perusing the brochure before I booked the cruise, I could have sworn that two sittings were standard for EVERYONE so that everyone could have an opportunity to eat there. Well, at 1:00 p.m., naturally you have to make the dash up to the restaurants to secure your sitting in the 2 specialty restaurants since everyone who got on starting at 11 was able to make theirs. So I made one reservation in each for our party of four and midway through the cruise, I demanded another sitting in Toscana. It was like pulling teeth, but I was successful. You just have to know what you want and you have to ask for it. We didn't bother dining again in Polo Grill as it wasn't that much better than the Dining Room, but Toscana had OUTSTANDING food.
Generally, the crew is outstanding. A few names and positions are worth mentioning here. Bruno Haag, the concierge, is outstandingly attentive. He is very patient - especially at embarkation (see above) - and will get you anything you need. We needed a cab called to the ship to take us to the Vaporetto station in Venice for a sunset cruise up the Grand Canal and he came through wonderfully. There were a few other things we required throughout the cruise and he was always very friendly and efficient and you can get whatever you want done and done right. The dining management is fantastic. Actually most of the dining staff and some other crew are frighteningly psychic, too. It's almost as if there are microphones/cameras in the staterooms and public areas. They seem to know exactly what you need when you need it. Names worth mentioning: Anatoly, Terrace Café manager; Andreas, Grand Dining Room maitre'd (On the morning we docked in Civittavechia (Rome), obviously there were hundreds of passengers on excursions and we failed to receive our preordered continental breakfast in our stateroom before heading out on our own tour; Upon our return to the ship that day, Andreas had realized the oversight and provided a bottle of Chianti for us to enjoy with our dinner - very nice touch!!!); Florin, Grand Dining Room waiter (why this gentleman isn't a maitre'd is beyond me. I've never come across a waiter so attentive and pleasant on any cruise in my life, and I've cruised about 12 times or so.) Florin serves table no. 27 (a well-placed table for 4 not too far from the windows; highly suggested) in the GDR and we always requested his table and only once did we not get seated in his area. The service that one night - while good - was not as good as at his table - once again, worth mentioning. I've read reviews from others complaining about having to wait for a table for the GDR. Only once did we have to wait and that was because we wanted a certain table. Other than that, we never waited more than a minute to be seated in the GDR.
This is a little difficult to review. Having not sailed with Oceania but with Princess several times, Norwegian a couple times, RC a few times, and a couple of defunct lines many years ago, I wasn't sure what to expect. The food is good - don't get me wrong - and one of the nice things about Oceania is that they don't 'overfeed' you in the dining room like Princess used to do. The food portions are adequate and there's a big 'fancy' variety on the plates, but, some nights in the Dining Room just seemed boring is the best way to describe it, while other nights were outstanding. Also, a nice place to eat is the Tapas on the Terrace if you don't want to go through a complete 4- or 5-course meal and want to be a bit more casual. Lots of tasty seafood and neat stuff up there. The Polo Grill was so-so and Toscana had an excellent menu and great food. The service was GREAT in Toscana on the first night we dined there but was noticeably not as good the second night in there. Continental Breakfast in-cabin was typical and always served promptly - other than the Rome hiccup. Room service had an extensive menu and came in handy one night while in Sorrento late. We hadn't eaten since a lunch we had out on a tour and wanted to see Sorrento at night so we came back at around 10pm and had a great couple of dishes delivered to our stateroom. It's kind of nice not to see the waste of those silly midnight buffets anymore. Needless to say, after 14 days of eating like this, it's time to give the body a break!!
One more thing about food/drink. The $20.00 corkage fee for bringing in your own wine is absolutely CRIMINAL. I think $10.00 should be tops ($5.00 for that matter) to open a bottle of wine. The wine steward Nikolay, while a nice man, will try to snooker you into higher priced wines. Be wary of this and shut him down early in the cruise or you will have to take out a second mortgage to pay your bar bill. And he pours the wine briskly throughout dinner so before you know it, you've gone through 2 or 3 bottles real quickly. When we want our own wine, we pour it in our room in a glass and bring it to dinner. Call it cheap or whatever you want, but this stuff adds up in a 14-day cruise. We went to both wine tastings throughout the cruise and got to taste some fine wines at a reasonable price. Some people had final bills stuck in their doors that looked like thick novels on the last day of the cruise.
My wife and I traveled with her parents on this cruise mainly to see Italy where my mother-in-law's family is from originally and her dad's family is also from Slovenia so the Dubrovnik port was also a highlight. We pretty much saw most of what there is to see in Italy on this cruise and had a few nice private shore excursions with Claudio Caponera (http://www.limoinrome.com) in both Florence and Rome and also Salvatore Lucibello (email@example.com). Excellent tours!! Since Claudio was already booked by another family for Rome, he provided Carlo, his associate - just as good if not better qualified (and easier to understand; sorry Claudio) as Claudio to show us Roma. Excellent tours and I highly recommend them in these bigger and more popular cities. It's the ONLY way to see everything. People say you can't see Rome in a day; we saw everything we wanted to see in Rome in one day - and more. I also highly recommend adding the Vatican Museum to your Rome tour. We talked to some people who had booked the Florence/Pisa tour off the ship and all they saw of Pisa was the tower as it went by the window. They couldn't even get out of the bus!!! Claudio dropped us off in Pisa and we could walk around for a half hour (all you need) and take that classic fixing-the-tower's-lean picture that is so overdone.
Salvatore took us not only to Pompeii, Naples and along the Amalfi Drive, but he also took us to my mother-in-law's fathers birthplace of Caserta just outside of Naples and was the perfect gentleman and waited for us to have lunch at a family-run restaurant frequented by the locals. It was great not to have any other tourists in town for this excursion and some great homemade pasta for lunch. Amalfi was a big disappointment to some passengers who were planning on this port in the itinerary. The captain decided to go to Naples instead of tendering in Amalfi the day after Sorrento. Naples isn't the jewel city of Italy, believe me, but it turned out great for us because we could just walk right over to the ticket office in Naples and we picked up ferry tickets to the island of Capri. We wouldn't have been able to do this had we tendered in Amalfi as we used up the entire day in Sorrento on a private tour. However, this changing of itineraries promotes absolutely ZERO goodwill on the part of Oceania. Many people planned this cruise BECAUSE of some of these ports and many were disappointed. The reason given was because of wind over at Amalfi and tender safety. However, friends of ours who went on Salvatore's tour the next day from Naples confirmed the fact that there was absolutely NO wind over there that day, but another cruise ship tendering instead.
This concerns me for my future cruise plans with Oceania. I mean can they really be trusted with not changing future itineraries on the fly like that?
Anyway, we can't complain too much about the weather, though. Our cruise experienced almost 100% perfect weather and the only time it rained was in the morning in Corfu. Other than that, there was absolutely no weather except great weather.
Not much to say here. Like mentioned previously, we had 3 private tours and 5 off-ship tours. The off-ship tours were adequate as we didn't do most of the full-day ones. I don't like sitting in a bus for most of the day and we like to use half the port stay for an excursion and the other half to explore on our own. I would have liked to have more knowledgeable information for some of the ports. The so-called expert information guides that board the ship in the ports in the morning were mostly clueless when you asked them a question. In Venice for example, a little more explanation would have been nice on how to best use the Vaporettos for getting around the city. I mean once you figure them out, it's a snap, but it would have saved some time. Also in Venice they didn't dock where they promised they would dock so it cost more to get to Piazza San Marco than it normally would have. They claimed that the dock was damaged, but it looked like a vessel was docked alongside San Basilio anyway as we passed it to head to the Stazione Maritima.
Anyway, time to get back to bed to bank that long-lost sleep from yesterday. Enjoy your cruises..
My husband and I, together with several other couples and single friends, were privileged to be on the March 15th sailing of the Insignia from Barbados to Barcelona. Much of what we had read in previous reviews was borne out on what has to go down as one of our top three of about 25 cruises. And, several of the earlier criticisms seem to have been rectified. We took only about three tours, prefering to explore on our own in the other ports. Those tours seemed to be fairly priced and we did, indeed, get good value for the cost.
Also, although there was some strong criticism of the cruise director on a 2004 sailing, I have to say that Shani Reay, the cruise director during our cruise, has to be one of the best ever. She was everywhere and we constantly wondered when she slept. She was a talented entertainer as well, but she took the cruise experience of her passengers very seriously. The captain, the cruise director, the assistant cruise director -- in fact, all of the staff that provided services for us, were just outstanding.
We will definitely sailon Oceania again as we like the smaller ships and love their itineraries.