Barcelona to Venice - 14 days
Well, here I sit at 3:00 in the morning after returning from the above cruise. This is what I usually do after a trip abroad - either write a few thoughts or manage digital pictures AND try to shake off the jet lag in the process.
Usually I write a full review but I think I'll just go through a few subjects about Oceania and the cruise.
First of all this was a very enjoyable cruise - how can most of them not be?
Embarkation can either be smooth or not. We were literally the first passengers to arrive at the terminal in Barcelona at around 9:30a.m. We had 2 days in Barcelona and were able to see as much as we wanted there and then were anxious to begin our experience aboard Regatta so we checked out of our hotel and arrived early. Speaking of the Barcelona hotel, make your own reservations as opposed to booking something through the cruise line. We spoke to many passengers who had paid DEARLY for the precruise package and their accodmmodations weren't much better than ours. Speaking of ours, when we finally arrived at our 3-star booked hotel, the Europark, they were overbooked. This initially sounded horrible after having just arrived from a 24-hour ordeal from the west coast, but since they were overbooked, the hotel clerk informed us that there was a 4-star hotel just up the street they would book us into at no extra charge and they'd also throw in comped breakfast for everyone and also the extra cab ride to get us over to our new hotel, the Nunez Urgell. By European standards, they were nice accommodations and the comped breakfast was fantastic. If you can't deal with your own taxi transportation to the pier, then book your hotel with Oceania, but I highly recommend doing what we did!!!
Back to embarkation, once we arrived at the terminal, obviously the ship wasn't ready for us yet, and if you had a "concierge level" booking you were free to board from 11:00 a.m. on. All others had to wait till 1:00 p.m. This really was annoying for the bulk of the passengers as everyone seems to be getting on from 11:00 but they had to wait till 1:00. Not a great way to start a vacation. This seems to be the running comment in these reviews. I think they should just let you board if you're there ready to board. They can make up the extra frills for those paying for them once they're starting the cruise. I mean there were a few people literally yelling at Bruno, the concierge, who was also doubling as the 'greeter' in the terminal.
Also one VERY ANNOYING thing was if you weren't concierge level or an Owner's suite occupant, you got a letter presented to you at embarkation that told you you could ONLY have one sitting at Polo Grill and one sitting at Toscana for the duration of the cruise. The letter the 'concierge level' got was TWO sittings at each, and the letter that the suite residents got was UNLIMITED sittings at the specialty restaurants. If I'm not mistaken, when perusing the brochure before I booked the cruise, I could have sworn that two sittings were standard for EVERYONE so that everyone could have an opportunity to eat there. Well, at 1:00 p.m., naturally you have to make the dash up to the restaurants to secure your sitting in the 2 specialty restaurants since everyone who got on starting at 11 was able to make theirs. So I made one reservation in each for our party of four and midway through the cruise, I demanded another sitting in Toscana. It was like pulling teeth, but I was successful. You just have to know what you want and you have to ask for it. We didn't bother dining again in Polo Grill as it wasn't that much better than the Dining Room, but Toscana had OUTSTANDING food.
Generally, the crew is outstanding. A few names and positions are worth mentioning here. Bruno Haag, the concierge, is outstandingly attentive. He is very patient - especially at embarkation (see above) - and will get you anything you need. We needed a cab called to the ship to take us to the Vaporetto station in Venice for a sunset cruise up the Grand Canal and he came through wonderfully. There were a few other things we required throughout the cruise and he was always very friendly and efficient and you can get whatever you want done and done right. The dining management is fantastic. Actually most of the dining staff and some other crew are frighteningly psychic, too. It's almost as if there are microphones/cameras in the staterooms and public areas. They seem to know exactly what you need when you need it. Names worth mentioning: Anatoly, Terrace Café manager; Andreas, Grand Dining Room maitre'd (On the morning we docked in Civittavechia (Rome), obviously there were hundreds of passengers on excursions and we failed to receive our preordered continental breakfast in our stateroom before heading out on our own tour; Upon our return to the ship that day, Andreas had realized the oversight and provided a bottle of Chianti for us to enjoy with our dinner - very nice touch!!!); Florin, Grand Dining Room waiter (why this gentleman isn't a maitre'd is beyond me. I've never come across a waiter so attentive and pleasant on any cruise in my life, and I've cruised about 12 times or so.) Florin serves table no. 27 (a well-placed table for 4 not too far from the windows; highly suggested) in the GDR and we always requested his table and only once did we not get seated in his area. The service that one night - while good - was not as good as at his table - once again, worth mentioning. I've read reviews from others complaining about having to wait for a table for the GDR. Only once did we have to wait and that was because we wanted a certain table. Other than that, we never waited more than a minute to be seated in the GDR.
This is a little difficult to review. Having not sailed with Oceania but with Princess several times, Norwegian a couple times, RC a few times, and a couple of defunct lines many years ago, I wasn't sure what to expect. The food is good - don't get me wrong - and one of the nice things about Oceania is that they don't 'overfeed' you in the dining room like Princess used to do. The food portions are adequate and there's a big 'fancy' variety on the plates, but, some nights in the Dining Room just seemed boring is the best way to describe it, while other nights were outstanding. Also, a nice place to eat is the Tapas on the Terrace if you don't want to go through a complete 4- or 5-course meal and want to be a bit more casual. Lots of tasty seafood and neat stuff up there. The Polo Grill was so-so and Toscana had an excellent menu and great food. The service was GREAT in Toscana on the first night we dined there but was noticeably not as good the second night in there. Continental Breakfast in-cabin was typical and always served promptly - other than the Rome hiccup. Room service had an extensive menu and came in handy one night while in Sorrento late. We hadn't eaten since a lunch we had out on a tour and wanted to see Sorrento at night so we came back at around 10pm and had a great couple of dishes delivered to our stateroom. It's kind of nice not to see the waste of those silly midnight buffets anymore. Needless to say, after 14 days of eating like this, it's time to give the body a break!!
One more thing about food/drink. The $20.00 corkage fee for bringing in your own wine is absolutely CRIMINAL. I think $10.00 should be tops ($5.00 for that matter) to open a bottle of wine. The wine steward Nikolay, while a nice man, will try to snooker you into higher priced wines. Be wary of this and shut him down early in the cruise or you will have to take out a second mortgage to pay your bar bill. And he pours the wine briskly throughout dinner so before you know it, you've gone through 2 or 3 bottles real quickly. When we want our own wine, we pour it in our room in a glass and bring it to dinner. Call it cheap or whatever you want, but this stuff adds up in a 14-day cruise. We went to both wine tastings throughout the cruise and got to taste some fine wines at a reasonable price. Some people had final bills stuck in their doors that looked like thick novels on the last day of the cruise.
My wife and I traveled with her parents on this cruise mainly to see Italy where my mother-in-law's family is from originally and her dad's family is also from Slovenia so the Dubrovnik port was also a highlight. We pretty much saw most of what there is to see in Italy on this cruise and had a few nice private shore excursions with Claudio Caponera (http://www.limoinrome.com) in both Florence and Rome and also Salvatore Lucibello (email@example.com). Excellent tours!! Since Claudio was already booked by another family for Rome, he provided Carlo, his associate - just as good if not better qualified (and easier to understand; sorry Claudio) as Claudio to show us Roma. Excellent tours and I highly recommend them in these bigger and more popular cities. It's the ONLY way to see everything. People say you can't see Rome in a day; we saw everything we wanted to see in Rome in one day - and more. I also highly recommend adding the Vatican Museum to your Rome tour. We talked to some people who had booked the Florence/Pisa tour off the ship and all they saw of Pisa was the tower as it went by the window. They couldn't even get out of the bus!!! Claudio dropped us off in Pisa and we could walk around for a half hour (all you need) and take that classic fixing-the-tower's-lean picture that is so overdone.
Salvatore took us not only to Pompeii, Naples and along the Amalfi Drive, but he also took us to my mother-in-law's fathers birthplace of Caserta just outside of Naples and was the perfect gentleman and waited for us to have lunch at a family-run restaurant frequented by the locals. It was great not to have any other tourists in town for this excursion and some great homemade pasta for lunch. Amalfi was a big disappointment to some passengers who were planning on this port in the itinerary. The captain decided to go to Naples instead of tendering in Amalfi the day after Sorrento. Naples isn't the jewel city of Italy, believe me, but it turned out great for us because we could just walk right over to the ticket office in Naples and we picked up ferry tickets to the island of Capri. We wouldn't have been able to do this had we tendered in Amalfi as we used up the entire day in Sorrento on a private tour. However, this changing of itineraries promotes absolutely ZERO goodwill on the part of Oceania. Many people planned this cruise BECAUSE of some of these ports and many were disappointed. The reason given was because of wind over at Amalfi and tender safety. However, friends of ours who went on Salvatore's tour the next day from Naples confirmed the fact that there was absolutely NO wind over there that day, but another cruise ship tendering instead.
This concerns me for my future cruise plans with Oceania. I mean can they really be trusted with not changing future itineraries on the fly like that?
Anyway, we can't complain too much about the weather, though. Our cruise experienced almost 100% perfect weather and the only time it rained was in the morning in Corfu. Other than that, there was absolutely no weather except great weather.
Not much to say here. Like mentioned previously, we had 3 private tours and 5 off-ship tours. The off-ship tours were adequate as we didn't do most of the full-day ones. I don't like sitting in a bus for most of the day and we like to use half the port stay for an excursion and the other half to explore on our own. I would have liked to have more knowledgeable information for some of the ports. The so-called expert information guides that board the ship in the ports in the morning were mostly clueless when you asked them a question. In Venice for example, a little more explanation would have been nice on how to best use the Vaporettos for getting around the city. I mean once you figure them out, it's a snap, but it would have saved some time. Also in Venice they didn't dock where they promised they would dock so it cost more to get to Piazza San Marco than it normally would have. They claimed that the dock was damaged, but it looked like a vessel was docked alongside San Basilio anyway as we passed it to head to the Stazione Maritima.
Anyway, time to get back to bed to bank that long-lost sleep from yesterday. Enjoy your cruises..