By GERRY BARKER
PORT OF MIAMI_”Brown 3,” said the voice over the Oceania Riviera intercom, the signal that our cruise is officially over.
All guests holding “Brown 3” luggage tags headed for the gangway on Deck 6 for disembarkation at the Port of Miami, where we started this voyage back on Dec. 22, 2016. Over the past 12 days, we visited seven islands, celebrated Christmas and New Year’s and covered over 3,000 nautical miles. All the while, with a crew that made us feel very special.
This was our first cruise with Oceania, and whatever our expectations, it exceeded them.
THE SHIP. Riviera is one of the newer ships in the fleet, launched in 2012 as the sister ship to Marina. It’s beautifully appointed with a casual elegance, highlighted by the Lalique dual stairways in the atrium lobby. With a passenger capacity of over 1,200 (there were just over 900 on our cruise), and activities spread over 15 decks, the only crowds were around the pool. The dress code is “country club causal.” The idea is once you are onboard, relax and let their well-trained staff pamper you. And indeed they do. Also noteworthy: The captain and cruise director keep their ship-wide announcements to a minimum, giving the guests as much space as possible to relax, enjoy themselves and choose whatever activity suits them.
THE GUESTS. It’s an older group for the most part, but very friendly with lots of interesting stories to share. The easy-going vibe on the ship helps as we made new friends throughout our time onboard. The majority of guests on this cruise were from the United States, with Canada and the United Kingdom also well-represented. Given this was a holiday cruise, there were a larger number of children onboard than usual, and they received a special gift from Santa on Christmas day. But generally, this isn’t the kind of cruise best-suited for a younger person or child.
OUR STATEROOM. We had a concierge-level stateroom on Deck 10, aft. It featured dark wood cabinetry and an elegantly-appointed bath that featured a separate shower and tub. There was a veranda and the room came with use of an IBM laptop, a mini-fridge stocked with complimentary sodas and water and an iPad upon request. The Bvlgari toiletries were a nice touch. Staterooms in this class also had use of the Concierge Lounge on Deck 9, which was okay but a little on the small side. Props to the wait staff, who kept our room sparkling twice a day. Drawer and closet space was adequate to hold 12 days worth of clothing and essentials. The flat screen TV had a built-in Blu-Ray DVD player, which was a bonus, but we found the TV channels somewhat lacking. Some news, one sports channel (ESPN, and its signal was lost during the cruise), several channels of first-run movies (liked that), but mostly Oceania infomercials. Oddly, no option on-screen option to check your bill.
THE SERVICE. If I could give a higher rating than five stars, I would. As we went about the ship, virtually every crew member we encountered greeted us with a smile and asked about our day. Inquire about something not on the menu or have a special request — they’ll do their best to make it happen. You can tell this is one of the areas where Oceania places the most focus. And it’s no doubt the reason they have so much repeat business — more than half of the people on our voyage had cruised with them before.
THE FOOD. In a word, superb. Each dish is a little work of culinary art. When I spoke with Senior Executive Chef Alexis Quaretti, he told me the main thing they strive for is “consistency.” That’s the perfect description of what you can expect. Whether you dine in the Grand Dining Room or one of the four specialty restaurants — Red Ginger, Polo Grill, Toscana or Jacques — or buffet-style in the Terrace Cafe, the food and its presentation is amazing. All the passengers we talked with agreed. Our personal favorite was Jacques, named for master chef Jacques Pepin. My wife had a goat cheese souffle that was pure perfection on a plate.
THE ENTERTAINMENT. There are nightly shows in the Riviera Lounge, and late night music at Horizons. Our cruise featured a Brazilian duo, a DJ, a string quartet, solo artists, several comedians and the Riviera band and production cast doing song and dance numbers. It works, but I would rate it average at best. It seems clear entertainment isn’t the primary reason guests book Oceania.
THE EXTRAS. The Artist Loft is a working art studio where you can paint on canvas or glass, or on this particular cruise, create your own mask for the New Year’s Eve gala. A little glue, lots of glitter, a feather or two — we were good to go! Andre, the artist in residence, is on hand to offer advice and assistance. In the same general area is the Culinary Center, a hands-on cooking school at sea. On our cruise you could learn to prepare tapas, make pizza and more. Classes are $69 and fill up quickly. There is also La Reserve, where a limited number of couples share a seven-course meal with wine pairings. The cost was $95 a person and if you’re a foodie, you’ll be in heaven.
DON’T MISS. Every afternoon from 4-5 pm is tea time in Horizons on Deck 15. White-suited and-gloved wait staff serve pastries, finger sandwiches, scones and the tea of your choice while a string quartet plays in the background. It’s jolly good, and so elegant. One of our favorite places to chill was Baristas, the coffee bar on Deck 14 that overlooks the pool. Grab a cappucino and a light snack and watch the world go by. Adjacent is the Library, with its 2,000 books and overstuffed chairs. Talk about relaxing.
MISC. Smoking onboard is limited to just a few areas, including a room off Horizons. It would help if it had a door to keep the smoke inside. . . The artwork is an eclectic mix to say the least, from Picasso-like to the strangely grotesque. Very Interesting. . . One suggestion we have: Please dim the lights in the bar and lounge areas a tad. It would help set the mood . . . You can bring up to three bottles of wine or champagne onboard, but no hard liquor . . . Lady Luck didn’t smile on us at the casino. Here’s hoping you fare better.
THE BOTTOM LINE. If you want an upscale cruise with first-rate food, five-star service and an easy-going vibe, Oceania fills the bill. For us, it was like a trip to Fantasy Island, pampered by a staff where your every wish is their command, or so it seemed. On the last night we shared a drink with some other first-timers at the Grand Bar and we all voiced the same sentiment: “We don’t want this cruise to end.” You won’t, either.
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