Our party of four sailed aboard the June 14 British Isles cruise of the Oceania Insignia. We have each been on at least 10 cruises, including a 2000 trip on the Renaissance R-3.
We had a great cruise. The ship was beautifully outfitted, service was excellent, food was good to excellent; destination services were very poor; cruise staff was excellent with one glaring exception. We chose our own air and ground transportation, as those offered by Oceania were substantially more expensive. We used Krest Transportation (we found them on londontown.com, a really helpful website) from Heathrow to our hotel. At 40 pounds total, it was much cheaper than the Oceania arrangements. After we booked our cruise, Oceania began promoting two free nights in London. We called and they were given to us with no hesitancy. They even included transportation to the ship. The hotel was the Crowne Plaza off Blackfriar's, near Fleet St. -- not a terrific weekend location, but with London's transit system, it's easy to get anywhere. The hotel was very nice for a short stay.
The best I have experienced. We walked off the bus in Dover at about 11:30 a.m. and literally walked onto the ship. Leaving was even better. We informed our cabin attendant that we weren't leaving the room until about 8:30 and she replied that it was no problem whatsoever. Again, we literally walked off the ship, found our luggage and were off. We hired Steve Knibbs at airport-transfers.fsnet.co.uk to take us from the ship to Heathrow. It was cheaper and much more comfortable than taking a bus.
For the most part, the ship was beautiful. The public rooms were nicely decorated, especially Martini's Lounge and the piano area, where we spent a significant amount of time. The addition of teak tables, chairs and lounges at the pool and Terrace was a quality touch. The three restaurants were well decorated, especially Toscana, and the library is one of the best I have seen at sea. The cabins were generally fine. Beds were comfortable but the pillows were too soft for my taste. The teak deck on our veranda was a nice touch. I don't remember it on the R-3. Bathrooms are very small, and taking a shower is an interesting experience.
On the downside, the Thalassotherapy Spa and the men's locker room were a mess. The spa water was never above body temperature and even after several guests commented, nothing was done. I was told by one of the spa personnel that the temperature was correct, which is nonsense. Neither of the controls of the two showers in the locker room worked, which seems odd considering the ship just had an expensive reconditioning. Also, the bubble control on one of the two spas on the pool deck did not work, and it took a week for those two spas to get to the correct temperature.
Food and Beverage
Dining room: We only had dinner here, so I cannot comment on breakfast or lunch, but the food was superior to other ships I've been on, except for salad choices, which were very odd. Soups were excellent, as were pasta and risotto choices. Entrees were very well done.
Toscana (Italian alternative dining room): Disappointing. We ate here only once, and all four meals were mundane. I get better pasta at Olive Garden.
Polo (steakhouse alternative dining room): Generally well done. We ate here three times and weren't disappointed, although it would be nice to see selections change during the cruise. It's important to note that there is no extra charge for the alternative dining rooms, but reservations are necessary. The restaurant staff only allows passengers to make two reservations in each restaurant, and as a result, there were several open tables during the second week.
Waves (pool deck): The hot dogs and hamburgers were excellent; fries were so-so, although they were usually hot. They were advertised as hand-cut, but it was obvious they were not from fresh potatoes, but re-formed. We enjoyed being served here instead of forming a queue, as is done on most cruise lines.
Terrace Café: While there were plenty of selections at both breakfast and lunch, the food here was just average. I was surprised there was no area to order custom-made eggs or omelets.
Tapas on the Terrace: Never made it there.
Coffee was excellent, and being able to get espresso in the dining rooms at no charge is a definite plus. A few more hot tea selections would be nice. Juices were well done.
The wine list was only average. It was too dependent on California. We expected more choices from France, Italy, Australia, New Zealand and even South Africa and South America. Beer and distilled spirits selections were very good, although it varied greatly from bar to bar. A few of us are dedicated single-malt scotch drinkers, and it would be nice to have the same selections throughout the ship. I realize that liquor is a profit center, but pricing was a bit high. Wines were often at 3x retail and beer/spirits were too high as well: $8 martinis, and single malt scotches at $7-$10. Not a deal breaker, but pricing could use some refinement. Unlike other cruise lines, Oceania had no problem with passengers bringing liquor on-board for consumption in the stateroom. Corkage fee was $20.
Mae, our cabin attendant, was seldom seen, but our needs were addressed quickly. The cabin was always kept neat, and ice was always in the bucket. We had two minor problems: Our thermostat control was broken, and the connecting door between our cabins was missing a pin. Both were attended to within 48 hours.
Bar/Dining Room/Wine Service
This was absolutely first-rate, the best ever. Suzy, in the Martini Lounge, knew our names and what we were drinking after the second visit. Katy, the chief wine steward, was an old friend from the R-3 and could not have been more helpful. Every waiter, bus person, service person, whatever, always said hello, had a smile, remembered us from other venues. On the second night of the cruise, we had a long wait for dinner in the dining room (60 min.) and after several conversations, the maitre d' finally moved us to a table in the Polo Grille. He made it up to us the rest of the cruise by remembering to seat us with Katy & Gustavo (a GREAT waiter from Argentina) each night we dined there. Kudos to Nickolai and Andrei in the Polo Lounge, Gustavo in the main dining room, and Dan in Martinis Lounge.
Bob Cook is possibly the worst Cruise Director I've ever encountered. He made several mistakes in public gatherings, erred frequently on public messages and gave evasive answers when confronted with simple questions. Sarcasm is an art to be used delicately and is obviously an art he has not mastered. He simply came across as crass. I understand this was his first trip as director, but the job seems beyond his capabilities.
The rest of the staff was wonderful. Larissa, Ryan and the others were friendly, outgoing and handled their duties with ease, grace and fun. Assistant Cruise Director Shani Reay was even better. She is talented, funny, friendly and has a knack for keeping passengers happy.
String Quartet: Talented, capable musicians.
Orchestra: Terrible. They sounded like an oompah band. The vocalist spoke poor English and did not know the words to many songs.
Piano Player: Jerry Blaine is the best pianist I've heard at sea (or maybe anywhere). He is not only talented, but is open, fun and giving -- a great choice.
This was the biggest disappointment, for two reasons. First, many tours are grossly overpriced. I realize these are a profit center, but on several occasions we matched or exceeded the tour offerings on our own, at prices just one-quarter of those available through the ship. Second, the destination staff clearly and purposefully misled passengers on the availability of taxis and bus transportation in several ports. In the two ports where free shuttles were available, passengers were not informed until arriving in the port. In other ports, the cruise line had the temerity to offer roundtrip shuttle service at two different prices, depending on length of stay. Mario, the concierge, gave us correct information and made attempts to at least mitigate the lack of preparation of the destinations staff.
Ports of Call
The ship visited Edinburgh; Peterhead; Invergordon; Lerwick in the Shetland Islands; Kirkwall in the Orkney Islands; Dublin; Waterford; Holyhead in Wales; and Falmouth in Cornwall. Since we took no ship tours, I won't comment on the stops, except to say that by hiring a taxi or using the bus system we met more locals, had better tours and saved a considerable amount of money.
The cruise line adds $10.50 per person, per day, to your bill. Frankly, the staff deserved every bit of that amount. Anyone not wishing to pay that amount can have it lowered.
Oceania is a very good cruise line, but there are definitely some areas that need improvement. Based on conversations we had with many passengers, their feelings were similar to ours. Would we travel on Oceania again? Probably, because we really like the size of the ships and they tend to offer interesting itineraries. But their price point is significantly higher than Celebrity, Princess, et al. While service and comfort are extraordinary, the high tour and alcohol pricing somewhat degrades the value proposition. A little giveback in these areas would help.