Cruise - Ocean Cruise
Oceania and Riviera exceeded expectations
148 people found this review helpful
We have been fortunate to have been on over 30 different cruises with 9 different cruise lines, some we tried and would not go back to but there are four (Celebrity, Cunard, RCI and Oceania) that we now use reasonably regularly depending upon the experience we are looking for. We have managed to avoid the loyalty programme trap and enjoy the variety of experience that you get on different cruise lines and different classes of ship. Having had a great experience on Marina a couple of years ago, we thought Oceania and Riviera would be a great choice for a significant birthday celebration, so we booked a Penthouse Suite for the 14 night southern Caribbean Sun, Sea and Sand cruise in early March.
We made our own arrangements as we wanted to spend some time on Miami before the cruise and Key West after the cruise, so we were bright eyed and bushy tailed as we arrived at the Miami terminal at 11.00 on our day of embarkation. Within 25 minutes we were on board Riviera, without having to dodge ships photographers (there are none!) and in the beautiful grand foyer. Our suite was ready for us so we dropped off our bags and went exploring Riviera is very similar to Marina and both a beautiful ships which accommodate the 1200 or so passengers very well, there were never any significant queues. If there was one area which could get a little congested, it was the aft lifts as there are only 2 and all the main dining venues are served by these lifts.
The decor is wonderfully understated, sophisticated and elegant with a very interesting if eclectic collection of art, the Lalique glass work being quite stunning. If my memory of Marina serves me well, I fancy that Riviera has addressed a number of minor issues in the main lounge and bar areas helping to make Riviera a very classy ship. Whilst there are not that many signature rooms on Riviera, there are many beautifully furnished and very comfortable alcoves both inside and above the pool deck. Finding a comfortable spot was never an issue at any time of the day. The pool area in particular was very spacious and beautifully equipped with quality furniture and loungers that have their covers changed every day!
There is very little to say about service except that in most every area of the ship it was exceptional, friendly and efficient with nothing being too much trouble. The one disappointment was the service in the Grand Dining Room, it was nowhere near that of the other food outlets and that includes the exceptional Terrace Cafe. There did not appear to be much supervision in the Grand Dining room so standards had fallen and were very variable. A silly point, but one morning you get Ketchup in a small bowl with a spoon, the next you get a bottle dumped on the table – not quite what I expected from Oceania. Overall however, the staff were great and 800 staff for the 1140 guests on our cruise clearly makes a difference, a big difference. They have time to attend to your needs and do it with a smile and just the right amount of interaction to make you feel valued and of interest.
Our Penthouse Suite was on deck 10 forward as we wanted to avoid being under the pool deck overhang, which, for the most part we did, although there were a couple odd days when we had to wait some time for the sun to pass the overhang. The suite was fabulous in every way and provided every comfort that we needed for the 14 days. The beds are the best we have ever experienced and the small dining table was great for the continental breakfast. The bathroom as a true bathroom with an additional shower cubicle and there was more storage in the suite that you could possible need unless you were on board for a month or more.
Oceania are very proud of their culinary standards and justifiably so, the food quality and choice was fantastic in every area and the portions were just right for the amount of options on offer. We felt that the food standards were exceptional in every dining area, the only thing that changed was the menu and the style of service. For us, Jacques stands head and shoulders above the rest for the combination of menu, food quality, service and ambiance and the French bread id to die for. Jean Marc the Maître d' is a true professional and he leads his team with elegance and style. The Terrace cafe and grill is another of our favourite locations, whilst you go to select and get your food, the style of service, linen table cloths and quality glass and flat ware make this the best self-service restaurant on any ship that we have experienced. The terrace is a great place to dine on a warm evening and the real quality steaks and lobster on the grill every day are hard to resist but there is so much more available if you can avoid the draw of the grill. Waves Grill is another favourite for lunch, this is not like any other pool side grill, with 80 places, we regularly say 4 chefs and 15 waiters covering this area so the service was great here too, but again the quality of the menu items was something else, the surf and turf sandwich does have filet steak and lobster tail and the Wagu burger is real melt in the mouth. Round these off with a great selection of ice cream and sorbet that is made on board. The biggest surprise and source of real frustration was that it takes an American company to provide one of the best afternoon tea services at sea. Horizons turns into the afternoon tea venue at 4.00 p.m. and again the quality and range of food as well as the service is just exceptional. There are a few other companies that should come and learn how to serve a real afternoon tea.
One point to remember is that whilst the alternative dining options, for the most part are included in your fare, you do need to book and space is at a premium. Everyone gets allocated one booking in each of the four alternative restaurants, but we did not find it difficult to secure other visits if you are prepared to be flexible on time etc. One area that is at extra cost is La Reserve, the food and wine pairing experience where the cost depends upon the menu on offer but it does include wine with every one of the seven courses. The menu we enjoyed was, as we would expect, of very high quality, the service was very relaxed but efficient and the wine flowed freely throughout the evening.
Oceania have come in for some criticism for their shore excursions from time to time so we made our own arrangements in most ports, but I must comment on a couple of Oceania excursions that we did take. In Barbados we took the Photographic tour with a very experienced professional photographer as the guide. This is probably the best shore excursion we have ever taken, great places to visit, very informed and interesting commentary and great photographic hints and tips. Most memorable was the simple rum punch recipe – 1 of sour, 2 of sweet, 3 of strong and 4 of weak – it really works so well and is a true rum punch not a fruit punch with a bit of rum thrown in! We also had very good guides in St Vincent and St Lucia.
Overall, we had a wonderful cruise, met some wonderful new friends and enjoyed our escape from the English winter. Riviera more than lived up to expectations and we felt that we had celebrated a significant birthday in elegant yet casual style. We enjoyed not having formal nights on this cruise, although we do enjoy Cunard formal nights, so we are not against them on principle, it is just that the Caribbean does not really provide the right environment, formal wear on the terrace grill, I do not think so.
Oceania food and service were as good as we remembered and we felt that the experienced lived up to if not exceeded our expectations. Whilst more expensive than many cruises we do, we felt that it was great value for the service we received and we will definitely be back, but we return to Celebrity, Cunard and RCI for our next three cruises, you can have too much of a good thing!
148 people found this review helpful
This review is solely based on the opinion of a Silver Travel Advisor member and not of Silver Travel Advisor Ltd.