Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Tour and Lunch on Oceania Riviera

Last week we were invited as past Oceania passengers to tour and have lunch on the recently launched Oceania Riviera. The ship would be in the port of Miami on March 4th. As Miami is only a few hours drive away we decided this would be fun. By sheer coincidence my brother and sister would be arriving in Fort Lauderdale the same day as the ship tour. My brother who I have not seen in 4 years lives in Seattle and my sister who visits often is from Boston. We would rendezvous at the FLL airport in the late afternoon which worked perfectly with our schedule.


I RSVP'd for the event online and received a few updates via email confirming our attendance on the Riviera. We rented a car as we don't like using our own going to Miami. While Boston may be known for having some crazy drivers, the ones in Miami IMHO are worse. The fast highways and numerous exits make the drive more than a little harrowing. As some people have said and I am in agreement, I would rather have a root canal than drive to Miami.

Sunday night I charged the Tom Tom GPS and my camera battery for the "big day" ahead. Monday morning there was hardly any traffic on I-75 and thankfully very few trucks. After an hour+ on I-75 we took Route 27 down to Miami which may not have been such a good idea. There was lots of construction and many stop lights. I liked going slower but my mother just wanted to ride to be over. We missed a turnoff and had to circle around near downtown. At one point I thought we would be crossing the causeway to Key Biscayne. Mercifully thanks to "Mr. Tom Tom" we found our way back and manged to arrive at the Hertz garage with our nerves a little frazzled but otherwise in good shape to return the rental car.

The Hertz shuttle left promptly to the Port of Miami with just us and one other couple who were going to the Celebrity Constellation. We saved them our diatribe about Celebrity and were dropped off first at Terminal J for the Riviera. South Florida was experiencing a cold snap all week and it was only in the 50's and overcast. We stood outside until the line started to move to process our forms. There were lots of people but soon we were inside. The Oceania staff seemed very professional which was a nice change from our unruly Celebrity experience last December.

Terminal J Oceania Cruises
They collected either a driver's license or passport for safe keeping in exchange for a boarding pass card. Mine said Vista Suite. Not sure if they all said that. We also received some brochures, ship maps and an agenda.

Oceania Cruises Logo

The Riviera debuted in May 2012. Below are some specs of the ship.

                           Tonnage: 66,084                            Total Decks: 15
                           Length: 785 feet                              Guest Capacity: 1,250 (double occupancy)
                           Beam: 106 feet                                 Staff size: 800
                           Maximum Draught: 24 feet                Guest to staff ratio: 1.57 to 1
                           Cruising Speed: 20 knots                  Nationality of Officers: European
                           Guest Decks: 11                              Country of Residency: Marshall Islands

Upon boarding the ship we were immediately directed to the Horizons lounge.  The elevator was the first stop where we noticed a recurring theme of "long and narrow". That seemed to be the thought for the design of several areas on the ship.

On the way to Deck 15

We arrived on Deck 15 at Horizons where they were serving large goblets of red wine, flutes of white wine, and glasses of orange juice and water. The room was really packed and we found seats in the back on the right side.

The views of Miami were great from the ship. While we were waiting for the presentation to begin I took some photos.

View across Biscayne Bay to Brickell Avenue and Downtown Miami
The bar area was surprising small (but adequate) for the large room.

Bar Horizons Lounge

The presentation started with President of Oceania Cruisers, Kunal Kamlani welcoming everyone. He thanked us for coming and said we were in for a treat today.

Kunal welcomes the guests

The slides were predictable but the presentation moved at a good pace. Mr. Kamlani mentioned some of the Oceania highlights being the delicious food and excellent service. He emphasized that Oceania provides value and mentioned their "points of distinction" which would hear about later. Oceania views themselves as below luxury but above the mass market lines. Some people call it "Upscale", "Deluxe" or "luxury lite".

Chef Kelly was introduced and gave a short overview of some of the special food events that take place on Riviera and Marina. There is a Culinary Center and La Reserve (sponsored by Wine Spectator) where food and wine pairings take place. She also provided some information on the specials events on shore. For instance, going to the local market and then cooking the food on board or at a local venue. Her discussion or reindeer meat in Helsinki drew some gasps! Chef Kelly was a past customer before working for the company. She talked about her first Oceania cruise to South America in 2005 on Insignia. I was on the same cruise and am almost certain Kelly and her daughter were part of our rag tag horse riding expedition in Patagonia. This excursion was quite memorable not only for the majestic beauty of Tierra del Fuego which we viewed from the mountain tops, but also for the steep hills and muddy trails during our athletic 3 hour ride. This was described by the shore excursion staff as "a walk in the forest". However, I digress. Kelly seemed very nice and definitely loves her job.

Nikki Upshaw, Vice President of Oceania Cruises continued the presentation and also offered a sales pitch toward the end.

The presentation included a video of Oceania Founder, Bob Binder at his California vineyard reminiscing about Oceania's development. Frank Del Rio, co-Founder and Chairman of the company also provided some funny anecdotes that were also taped.

Nikki Upshaw, VP Oceania Cruises
Bob Binder and Frank Del Rio.

Bob Binder
Frank Del Rio

Food was mentioned over and over and over again! The video clip of Jacques Pepin showed him in the kitchen, on the ship and buying local provisions in port. He is Culinary Director at Oceania and now has an eponymous restaurant on both Marina and Riviera serving "homestyle country" French food.

Jacques Pepin

Ms. Upshaw covered the Points of Distinction (summarized below) which define the Oceania cruising experience. The most compelling for us are the  small ship size and the Country Club casual dress code. I love it that there are no formal nights. 
Points of Distinction

An overview of the benefits of Oceania was covered. A few of these don't apply to us like free airfare as we try to use miles whenever we can and we rarely order room service. However, the free shuttles in port, no extra charge for the specialty restaurants and unlimited bottled water, tea and coffee are strong selling points for us.

Oceania's false advertising of 2 for 1 cruise fares drives me nuts. I don't know why they continue to do this because it is not 2 for 1. It is no different than just booking any other cruise for two people.

False 2 for 1 promotion
Ms. Upshaw then went into the sales pitch which is obviously one of the main reasons we were all invited today. By attending the lunch/presentation we could book a cruise with just a $250 per person deposit and also be eligible for special fares on 2013 and 2014 sailings. It was also mentioned that when the deployment schedule is released for 2015 we can book those too.

All the slides showed the discount price for Veranda rooms. I don't know if there was any discount in booking an Oceanview room on Riviera or Marina. That would have been helpful to know.

Today's Offer
In addition to the reduced deposit, by booking we will also receive a cookbook and be eligible for a $500 shipboard credit on specific 2013 sailings.

They flashed the special offers across the screen. I think many included airfare so it was not such a sweet deal. Might be even cheaper if the airfare was deducted. However, when booking online or on the phone you can request the cruise fare without airfare. Without airfare you can save roughly from $850 - $1000 per person.

I have wanted to cruise the Black Sea for a while but $6,400 is still a little steep for me.

The British Isles cruise below is one I was thinking about booking before I found a much less expensive one on Princess. I actually like the itinerary on Ocean Princess more than on Marina.

The entire presentation took about 30 minutes.

We were finally dispatched for a one hour self guided tour around the ship from Noon to 1:00 pm. This would be followed by lunch in the Grand Dining Room from 1:00 pm - 3:00 pm. Disembarkation was at 3:00 pm.

We had diagrams/maps and a list of rooms available to view.


Ship Diagram
We walked out the door of the Horizon lounge and viewed the pool area on deck 14 before heading to view the interior of the ship.

View of the pool
The lounge chairs didn't look as nice as I had expected and we thought the coverings were sort of average. Since the spa was nearby we took a quick look. There wasn't much to see as we did not walk down to the treatment rooms. What we could see was quite nice.

Hallway for the spa and gym
The gym was a good size and the equipment had great views out the large windows.

We walked back outside and took a closer look at the pool and the seating. The pool looks a little small.

The big lounge "beds" look very relaxing.

The plan was to work our way down to deck 6 where the Grand Dining Room is located. Our next venue was the all important computer room. They have Acer computers. I was surprised they did not have the snazzy iMacs. The room also was long and narrow and perhaps a little cramped. I asked the attendant if they had a way to hook up a USB to the machines and he said that is not possible. By contrast the computer room on Crystal Symphony is much nicer than this one and you can insert a USB that connects to the computer. This is really great for downloading and editing photos.

Computer Room
We needed to pick up the pace a bit as we only had an hour to see the entire ship before lunch. We passed a room that looked like a library but it was an elegant lounge.

I looked at our map and noticed we could see the specialty restaurants on the way to the lower decks and then the rooms.

The specialty restaurants Toscana and Polo Grill are located on parallel sides aft on the ship. This is the same configuration as on the smaller Oceania 'R" ships. Nice that they kept the same setup.

Polo Grill

Polo Grill Menu

They were holding a private event in Toscana so I took a photo outside. The menu was posted near the entrance of the restaurant. 
Toscana Menu
We passed the Library and then went down one level to the Terraces restaurant.  The library was nice but it is true about what I read and that the chairs are too close to the books and it looks hard to maneuver.

Section of the Library
The Terraces restaurant was very crowded with passengers who boarded today in Miami. Again, the room seemed long and narrow. The ceiling seemed a little low too.

Although I don't drink coffee, I was very impressed by the machine that can make several different kinds including espresso, latte and cappuccino.

Coffee Machine
We tried not to get in the way but I was interested in the buffet area and what was offered. The pizza looked very tempting!

One of the nicest parts of the restaurant is the large area where you can sit outside on the terrace and it was very popular.

We exited the restaurant and passed La Reserve where the food and wine pairing events take place. It was a little too "barn like" for my taste. I was expecting something much more plush and elegant. However, as wine is the star here it more closely resembles a tasting room in Napa.

La Reserve
After a quick peak at the Waves Grill, which offers hand spun milkshakes and gourmet burgers,  it was now finally time to see some rooms!

Waves Grill

We started with Oceania Suite 12017 on Deck 12 which is 1,030 sq ft.

Oceania Suite 12017
The room was large and had a very snazzy bathroom. I loved the large closet. However there was not much space between the bed and the sliding glass door.

The balcony was large and had lots of space.

The balcony was deep and even had a bath tub outside. The large overhang prevented sun and it seemed a little dark.

Back inside we marveled at the luxurious bathroom. There is separate shower and tub.

The suite has a nice layout with a dining table. The decor is nicely done.

The sitting area was very roomy and great for entertaining.

There was also a little nook area and perhaps the sofa has a pull out bed.

The powder room was very nice too and also had a glass door shower.

Our next room was just down one flight of stairs and down the hall. I was surprised by how modern the art is on the ship.

Heading down to Deck 11

We next explored Penthouse Suite 11016 which is 420 Sq Ft.

Penthouse Suite 11016
The liked this room a lot and actually preferred it to the larger Oceania Suite.

Penthouse Suite 11016
The room seemed more cozy. However, chairs at the end of the bed with table made the room appear a little cramped.

The room description is below.

The sitting area looks similar to photos I have seen of rooms on Regent with the curtain.

The balcony was nice but there was no room for a lounger or a foot stool. The overhang also would block a lot of sun.

The bathroom was quite nice as was to be expected from the previous ones we viewed. This one had a shower in the tub and also a separate shower stall.

Yes, there I am!
Nice size bathroom
The closet was something I would really appreciate! The shelves may have been a little too high for some ladies.

The desk looked pretty standard but the cordless phone was a nice touch.

We took one last look at the bed and chairs before departing.

The next rooms on the tour were down two decks. There were three rooms to view on Deck 9. The first one was a Concierge Veranda stateroom. This one is #9021 and it is 282 sq ft. That size is a lot more familiar to us!

Concierge Veranda Stateroom
I liked the layout and there was plenty of room to access the sliding glass door and the veranda.

The sitting area reminded me of the "R" class ships.

The one downside to this room was the very narrow veranda.

After a quick peek at the bathroom we were on our way to the next stop.

We tried to see the Owners Suite but the guests had arrived so that was not possible. There was another owners suite two decks up but we decided to pass. The Owners Suites are the largest on the ship at 2,000 sq ft. It is unlikely that we would ever book one so perhaps we didn't miss much!

Instead we just had two more rooms to see, the Vista Suite and the Ocean view. The first one up was the Vista on the current deck 9. Vista Suite 9001 is 1,200 sq ft.

Vista Suite
The large size of this one was very impressive.

The sofa was huge and I am guessing it opens up to a bed.

There was lots of space and separate sitting area.

This one had a nice big veranda and relaxing sun beds, multiple sitting areas and a whirlpool spa!

The bedroom itself seemed a little dark with just a window. Although the Vista Suite is big, I still preferred the smaller Penthouse Suite.

Check out the humongous bathroom!

There is even a room with two exercise machines but no treadmill.

The walk in closet was very impressive!

As it was now close to lunch time and we had just another 10 minutes to go before heading to the main dining room. We passed the Concierge Lounge on the way to the last room on the tour.

The final room on the tour was the one I was most looking forward to seeing. It is an Ocean View Deluxe room. There are 20 of these on both Marina and Riviera.

We definitely saved the best for last! The Deluxe Ocean View is 242 sq ft. It is the same size as the regular veranda rooms but minus the veranda.

Deluxe Ocean View 
The room was very nice! While it is sometimes great to have a balcony I discovered during our Crystal Symphony cruise in an Oceanview room that I can survive quite well without one. The floor to ceiling window in the Oceania Deluxe Ocean View on Marina and Riviera would work perfectly for a port intensive itinerary.

7074 Deluxe Ocean View
The room is just the right size for us!

The bathroom and shower

I was very happy we got to see the Ocean View room.

We were finally ready to go to lunch and just in time. We got to see some of the public spaces along the way. One of the things we noticed is that the stewards don't use large carts. They have smaller ones which are much nicer and don't block the hallway.

We viewed the lobby and staircase from above which is one of the signature elements of Oceania.

Beautiful Foyer and Staircase
We also passed through a nice lounge on the way to the stern of the ship.

Not sure what this room is supposed to be? It looks like another lounge.

The Casino

The Martini bar is at the end of this hallway.

We finally arrived at the Grand Dining Room and were escorted to a nice table for six. We were the last two people to arrive. This is the menu for the luncheon.

Our tablemates were all very nice. There was a couple that hailed from Algeria (Jacqueline and Claude) that now live in North Miami. The other couple Fred and Margaret are from Long Island but moved to Florida 26 years ago and live in Weston, FL.

There were 280 guests who RSVP'd for the event and about 270 showed up. The room was quite full.

Grand Dining Room with Margaret on the left and Jacqueline on the right
The central Baccarat chandelier is very beautiful. Jacqueline made sure the waiter captured it in her photo with her husband.

We had two hours to eat and the service was very prompt. They started with the caviar and potato appetizer. The potato was warm and it was quite yummy and was a nice compliment to the caviar.

Caviar and Potato
Fred who was sitting next to me was hysterical! He had such a great sense of humor. I could tell lunch was going to be a lot of fun.

The next course was the risotto with lobster. It was good but I only had one piece of lobster while my mother hit the mother load with about ten! She insisted I take some of her lobster and I was glad to comply. This dish was also excellent.

Risotto and my one piece of lobster
They served both red and white wine at lunch. I had a chardonnay and my mother had the red which I think was Cabernet.

There was a short break until the next course. I chatted with Fred and his wife about their past and upcoming cruises. They are going on a Baltic cruise on Celebrity this summer with their two children, 2 son-in-laws and five grandchildren. It sounds like a great cruise. They have cruised the Baltic before but this time they are taking the family. Claude entertained us by talking about the Potemkin and some Russian history. We then talked about the wars in Afghanistan, crisis in Syria and tried to solve the worlds problems!

We didn't get that far as the next course arrived. This one was Miso Glazed Sea Bass in a hobia leaf. The waiters came around to collect the mini clothespins. Guess they don't want us swallowing them by mistake.

The fish was delicious and the sauce on the side was yummy. The spritzing of the lime with the fish sealed the deal! It was terrific.

It was not long before the final main dish arrived. It was a 72 hour slow cooked short rib with semolina. I am not a beef fan but I had to try it. Fred joked that for 72 hours it needed to be cooked a bit more. It was on the rare side and he did not eat his.

72 hour slow cooked Short Rib
The meat was okay but as I am not that into meat it is unlikely I would order it. My mother thought it was very good.

As we were waiting for dessert to arrive, Vanessa who works in the Oceania reservations department came around the table to check on everyone. She wanted to know if we had any questions about booking a cruise. We were not certain if we wanted to and with cruises booked for 2013 and 2014 already I am unsure we would be able to schedule a third one.

The reduced deposit of $250 each that is refundable seemed too good to pass up so we completed the open booking form. Everyone at our table booked too. We all got cookbooks which were very large and weighed a ton. They also gave us bags to carry it in which was very helpful.

Over our chocolate and hazelnut dessert cake we talked about what destinations might be interesting. I would be happy to do an Oceania cruise to New England if the price was right.

Chocolate Hazelnut Cake
They brought the Petit Fours and we got ready to say good bye.

This is the flyer for today's special offer. Not sure if we can choose a sailing without the 2 for 1 cruise fare and free airfare.

Here is complete copy of the Points of Distinction which was also in our reading materials.

We were ready to depart the dining room but not the ship as we had a couple more venues to see.

I wanted to see Jacques Pepin's restaurant and also Red Ginger, the Asian inspired restaurant on the ship. We said "buh-bye" to our tablemates and headed down one deck to Deck 5 to see the additional restaurants.

Jacques was adorable and had a great French country feel.


This is the menu which may be a little hard to read.

We next walked to the opposite side of the ship where Red Ginger is located. We passed the boutiques on our way there.

Red Ginger does not have any natural light but I think the food must make up for it. The restaurant gets rave reviews from Oceania passengers.

Red Ginger
Our tour was now complete and we headed upstairs to the lobby.

Beautiful staircase with Lalique crystal
While my mother used the restroom I viewed the slides on the screen near the exit.

This is the Destination Services Desk.

We had to go down one deck to exit the ship. Apparently my mother lost her Cruise card somewhere and she couldn't exit until they found it. It was quickly found at the exit we tried to take one deck up. I went to retrieve it and then we departed the Riviera.

I took some photos of Riviera from outside the cruise terminal.

Inside the cruise terminal was a full size model of the Riviera.

We jumped in a taxi but 4 minutes later had to make a detour to the Mandarin Oriental hotel when the driver wanted to pass us off to another taxi waiting up the street. He complained about a bad tire but never should of had us get in the car if that was the case. We couldn't understand how he knew the other taxi would take us as he did not speak with him on the phone. Maybe they were texting? We decided to get out rather than risk being the victim of some unfortunate shenanigans. Once we told the driver we didn't want the other taxi the other driver took off as if he could hear us. Maybe he could?

I have stayed at the Mandarin many times before and as it was nearby seemed like the best place to go. Michael the hotel doorman was very nice and dealt with the taxi driver. We paid the driver $10 even though we probably could have paid less as he took a long way to the hotel. We relaxed in the lobby for about 10 minutes. We were given another taxi and the doorman assured us that the driver was very good. We departed the hotel and drove to the Fort Lauderdale airport to meet my brother and sister.

Mandarin Oriental Lobby
On the way up my mother and I talked about our Riviera visit and tour. I was expecting to be wowed by the Riviera but surprisingly did not feel remiss we were not departing on the ship tonight. The Riviera was certainly upscale and had some beautiful rooms. However, even with the added dining venues on the Marina and Riviera I think I still prefer the coziness of the smaller "R" ships. We both enjoyed the tour and were very happy to have the opportunity to see the entire ship and be served a delicious lunch. I now have a better understanding of why Oceania doesn't try to compete with the luxury lines. However, their marketing strategy of  saying they provide value with their 2 for 1 cruise fares that include airfare while simultaneously trying to appeal to the passengers of mass market lines like Celebrity and HAL still puzzles me.

It will be interesting to ponder if we will use our future cruise deposit in 2014 or 2015. If the fares are comparable I would still chose to cruise on Crystal in a heartbeat. We will see.

1 comment:

  1. She is a beautiful vessel. From your photos I get the same feeling of ambiance as I remembered from Regatta. The meal looked divine to me, even the rare beef. Now that 'free' coffee, soft drinks & bottled water are offered, I'm willing to give their larger ships a try. IF the price is right. 200% sgl. supplement still bites. Thanks for sharing the ship's tour. Enjoyed it.