Embarkation in Miami was fast enough - pretty much the same process as our last Regent cruise six months prior, except that on Regent, they told us how to answer the heath questionnaire. I was carrying a box with nine bottles of wine - three per cabin, the limit specified on Oceania's web site. No one helped me entering the terminal, nor in the terminal, nor upon stepping on the ship. It seemed to be that no one had ever bought their own wine on board, yet I know from reading that other message board that this happens all the time. The best anyone did was to direct me to the reception desk, and then the receptionist didn't know what to do either. He kept disappearing to ask someone else, and then reappearing with bad information, like take it to your cabin and chill it there. So that was bad, although when they finally took the box off my hands, everything in the restaurants worked perfectly. The sommeliers, different every night, were all wonderful - well worth the $25 corkage fee.
I expected the four specialty restaurants to be super delicious with excellent service. What surprised me was that our first two nights in the main dining room (GDR on Oceania) was equally super delicious and excellent. The third night we ate at Red Ginger - and although we ate there three times on our Marina trip, we had yet to try the miso-glazed sea bass (with laser beams). So we ordered that, and it was excellent - just not spicy as I prefer Asian food. Toscana, which was our least favorite on Marina, was sensational on Riviera. It was much better than Setti Mare on Regent (we've dined on both Voyager and Mariner) and it was at least equal to Prego on Crystal (except that the beef carpaccio at Prego is much better). Next up was La Reserve, and its paired dining Odyssey Menu. Although the service was fantastic and the dishes were all unique and tasty, it was my least favorite dining experience on the cruise. I'm glad we tried it, but it was just too foofoo for me. The penultimate dinner was reserved for Jacques, which was good, but I ordered wrong. And the ultimate and last dinner was at the Polo Grill. I had an amazing prime rib there with horseradish sauce.
The restaurants listed above were in chronological order, but here they are again listed from best to worst as I saw them: 1. Reg Ginger, 2. Toscana, 3. Polo Grill, 4. GDR, 5. Jacques, and 6. La Reserve.
We were in cabin 7135, which is one of the few PH cabins not on the two penthouse decks. It has a HUGE wrap-around balcony. And it is really HUUUUGGGE. There were two loungers and two chairs out there when we arrived, and I requested two more loungers so that we can all sit out there. And even with all that equipment, the balcony was not nearly full. The downside of getting one of the two large balcony cabins on deck 7 is that they are noticeably smaller inside. (We stayed in a PH on Marina deck 11 before). And also because there are only four PH cabins on deck 7, we often felt forgotten by the butler. In fact, I started to stock my own fridge by snitching sodas from the Executive Lounge on deck 11.
Our first port was Cozumel, Mexico. I didn't expect much - and I was correct about that. No one took a tour there, although the kids all took a taxi to a local beach, where they enjoyed people watching.
The second port was Roatan, Honduras, where we all went to Big French Key for snorkeling and the beach. The snorkeling was very good ... for the Caribbean. The coral was not dead, at least, and there were plenty of fish of varying sizes and colors. To be fair, after snorkeling the Great Barrier Reef, everything else pales in comparison.
In Belize City, our third port, most of us went on a tour to Caye Caulker, where we swam with sharks and rays - a lot of sharks and a lot of rays. There was no coral at all there.
And our last port was Key West, which we've been to before on a land vacation - so no tours needed there. If the ship would have stayed later in port, I would have tried to arrange a private tour to the Dry Tortugas - but just not enough time for that with a 4 pm departure. But I did walk several miles there, including through the cemetery, where I found this amusing headstone:
I didn't get to experience all the nighttime entertainment on board because dinner sometimes ran past 9:45 pm, the usual start time. But four shows I did attend were very good. I think both Oceania and Regent have upped their entertainment game. One night I saw a production show - six female and six male dancers and singers. Production values were very good using a video back screen at times. Lighting, costumes, and orchestra were all good. One night was a female Broadway lead - Jeri Sager - who really nailed "Memory" from Cats. One night was a harmonica virtuoso with a wide repertoire, from classical to movie themes to standards. His name is Bernie Fields and he looked a little bit like Bernie Sanders with neatly combed hair. And one night I made it up for the late show, a comic magician named John Ekin. The magic was good, although ordinary, like the Chinese rings. What made it a great show was that John Ekin is very funny guy.
I don't like the physical theater on Riviera - for some reason it's called a lounge. My favorite theaters are on Regent because of their balconies and their easy access for servers to serve drinks.
The ship is beautiful, as expected. There is varied and interesting art everywhere. A lot of art, painting on glass, is by W. Andre Allen . Mr Allen was also on board the ship, teaching his craft in the Artist Loft. Everyone in our group, but me, went to a class and created a painted glass plate. Mr Allen told a story to the class that he was a struggling young artist until one day Frank Del Rio, then President of Oceania, now CEO of Norwegian, walked into Allen's gallery and commissioned the art for his two new ships.
My wife was disappointed that the ship was not decorated for Christmas when we boarded. But late on the third night, the decorating fairies appeared and put up gingerbread houses, a tree, and red bows everywhere.
This and that:
- internet service was generally very good
- butler service was generally very bad
- the cabin steward was okay
- breakfast and lunch in the GDR was very good (they had this new thing for lunch where they serve "Tastes from Around the World")
- breakfast in the Terrace Cafe was not to my liking (never tried lunch there)
- tea service was not good
- waves grill has the best selection of lido food anywhere