Travel Market Report recently spent seven days onboard Oceania’s Marina during a 10-day Baltic cruise. The port-intensive sailing also featured a press briefing by Oceania executives, a preview of new culinary and beverage offerings coming to Vista next year, and a chance to sit down and chat with two of Oceania’s top-selling travel advisors.
For advisors who have never sailed with Oceania Cruises, here’s what you should know before recommending the line to your clients.
1. Service Is Attentive (with a Capital “A”)
Without a doubt, service onboard Oceania Cruises is a highpoint. Beyond friendly, which it is, we’ve rarely experienced service that’s as attentive as the crew onboard Oceania are.
Dirty plates are whisked away in an instant, water glasses are filled before they get empty, curtains are drawn almost before you’re squinting from the glare in a restaurant.
Compared with other premium cruise lines we’ve been on Oceania ranks among the best for service.
We weren’t alone in finding this to be the case.
“I’m a service person,” Richard Sacco, an independent travel consultant with Travel Edge, told TMR during an afternoon chat in the Martinis lounge. “The quality of service that I’ve experienced on this cruise is above and beyond service.”
One example of that service, Sacco said, was a sommelier who sought him out in a different venue, two days after he sampled a Malbec he didn’t like, to have him try one she thought he’d enjoy more.
“Wow, where did that come from?!” he said, adding that this level of service and knowing his clients will be well taken care of is one of the main reasons he recommends Oceania to his clients.
With that said, what keeps the service solidly in the premium cruise category and not at luxury level, is the lack of “make it happen.” For instance, we were told it wasn’t possible when we asked for gluten-free pasta at Toscana without advance notice. And an inquiry to our butler about the possibility of getting a body pillow was ignored. But these instances were few and far between and didn’t take away from the excellence of the service we did receive.
2. Food Is a Highlight
There’s a reason Oceania makes a claim of the finest cuisine at sea. It’s not only delicious. It’s high-quality, it’s consistent, there’s lots of variety, and it’s (almost) all included.
Depending on which ship your clients sail, they can have up to four included specialty restaurants, along with the main dining room and buffet/outdoor grill – not to mention an expansive room service menu, and the extra-fee small-group dining experiences La Reserve and Privée. There’s also a delightful and positively genteel afternoon tea that can, if you indulge, leave you with very little room for dinner.
And, where some cruise lines sacrifice main dining quality in favor of the specialty venues, that is more definitely not the case on Oceania.
“The consistency of the product has yet to disappoint me,” Sacco said. “No matter where we have had inner on this ship, the quality of the food is there.”
Sacco pointed out the Maine lobster on several menus as an example of the quality of food Oceania serves. Most cruise lines serve rock lobster (also called spiny or Caribbean lobster), which is less expensive, doesn’t have claws, and, according to some lobster lovers, is not as tasty.
Details like that, Sacco said, are something foodie clients appreciate.
They also love the Culinary Center, where they can take hands-on cooking classes. There are even a number of culinary-inspired shore excursions for those who want a taste of the destinations they’re visiting.
Sacco’s wife and business partner, Helen Capra, was just as enamored of the food onboard, even going so far as to tell TMR she’s planning on going home and selling Oceania’s newest ship, Vista, based solely on a dessert she had a chance to try during a special Vista tasting lunch. (The dessert? A triple chocolate brownie with salted caramel and vanilla sauce.)
“The dessert is enough for me to call my clients and say, ‘you need to sail on the Vista because of this dessert. Forget the itinerary, forget anything else, you need to go for this dessert.”
3. High Value for the Dollar
The inclusion of most of the specialty dining venues, the high-level of service, and several included amenities such as unlimited soft drinks, bottled water, and specialty coffees, along with fitness classes and a DIY laundry room, give Oceania a higher value-for-money than many other premium cruise lines.
In fact, Capra said she believes these inclusions push Oceania higher than premium.
“Oceania is a premium cruise line, but it’s kind of not. It’s a step above premium because you get so many amenities that you don’t get on other premium cruise lines. The array of specialty restaurants that you don’t have to pay for is amazing.”
On most other premium cruise lines, Viking excluded, the specialty restaurants aren’t free and they’re not inexpensive either.
“I personally feel that for every dollar you spend on this cruise line, you get $1.25 back,” Sacco added.
4. Contemporary but Not Modern or Trendy
Bucking the trend that’s seeing many cruise lines embrace a more modern, hotel-style atmosphere, Oceania is sticking to its traditional roots, though it plans to add a touch of contemporary – “not modern” emphasized senior vice president of hotel operations Franco Semeraro – during upcoming refurbishments.
“We wanted to be more contemporary, not modern,” he said during a media briefing onboard Marina. “The colors are sharp, fresh.”
Contemporary trends are also making their way into the menus from the addition of more bourbons in the bars to plant-based and Keto dishes in the dining venues.
It’s important to stay current with these trends, Capra said, with Sacco adding that while he doesn’t do the Keto diet, he appreciates its inclusion on behalf of his clients.
But following the trends isn’t the same as being trendy, Oceania executives emphasized.
“We are not the type of cruise line that is going to do molecular cuisine and other things like that,” said Alexis Quaretti, director of culinary programs and development.
Oceania cruisers like traditional. When the cruise line tried to tweak some of their signature dishes (lasagna and tiramisu, among them), the backlash was swift and vocal.
5. Families Should Look Elsewhere
Families looking for a premium cruise experience should probably look elsewhere. Though kids are welcome onboard Oceania, there is no kid’s club and not much for them to do outside of the pool. What few daytime activities there are, are limited to things like bridge, golf putting, shuffleboard, ping pong, trivia, and enrichment lectures.
“Would I recommend this for a child? Because there’s no children’s program, probably not,” Capra told TMR. But she added, for families that are a “cohesive unit,” that simply want to be together and do not need someone else to entertain their children, she might consider it.
6. Mediocre Entertainment
If Oceania has a weakest link, it’s the onboard entertainment. Our sailing comprised two performances by a ventriloquist comedian, two by a jazz pianist and singer, two by a West End soprano and three revue-style performances from the in-house singers and dancers.
While tastes vary, and the often-much older audience seemed to enjoy most of it, it was, overall, mediocre. At least one or two people walked out within the first 10 minutes at every performance we attended, with the exception of the soprano.
When asked about the entertainment, Sacco, a boomer himself, said “I’m not going to go there. I’;ve got five more days to go, maybe things will change.”