December 19, 2005
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 passengers as 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.