Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Oceania Cruises - Comfortable In Its Own Skin

I haven't written much about Oceania Cruises. I guess, in part, is because its new sister (Regent) has so preoccupied my thoughts.

Oceania is a solid performing cruise line that consistently does what it does well and without pretense of being something it is not. Oceania is not, and does not pretend to be, a luxury cruise line. While it may well qualify as luxury when compared to some mass market lines, it fairly and accurately identifies what makes a line a luxury line and says, "We do lots of things very well, but we don't do X or Y."

Before discussing what Oceania doesn't do, I want to mention what it does well. Its mid-sized ships (684 passengers) have many excellent itineraries, excellent and happy multicultural crew, solid cuisine available at four no-charge open-seating venues (and a pool grill) and an upscale ambiance with a strictly country club casual (i.e. no formal) dress code.

There are a number of wonderful amenities such as cabanas which can be hired for the day or for the entire cruise (which can be pre-booked if for the entire cruise), comfortable outdoor living room spaces and such.

Oceania is, most definitely, not a cruise line for children and it cautions that it is not designed for children. Have children cruised it? Of course..and there is no litany of reports of it being a problem. However, its 55+ demographic (though getting younger) is seen as a positive. Just take note of it.

While the top cabins are spacious and have very nice amenities, the standard cabins (Penthouse to Veranda to Oceanview) are fine and well appointed, but really do not have anything special to note. The bathrooms are rather small. They are not suites (about 35-40% smaller, in fact) and, hence, one of the luxury requirements is just not there for most onboard.

Also, you pay as you go for drinks of most sorts (coffees, espresso, etc. are complimentary). For some this is a negative, but for others they are happy to only pay for what they drink rather than shell out a premium just so they don't have to sign. (Personally, signing checks don't bother me in restaurants or at the club, so it doesn't bother me on a cruise.) This has become another luxury requirement Oceania cannot, and doesn't want to, check off. (Crystal takes the same approach and it a luxury line; so there goes that one!)

Oceania charges $12.50 per day per person for gratuities.  The preferred method is charging your shipboard account as with open seating your waiters may be dfferent at every meal.  Again, other than Crystal, this is another non-luxury line difference as most have gratuities included.

The crew to passenger ratio is not what it is on, say, Seabourn and the polish may not therefore be at quite the same level, but I rarely hear of this being a deal-breaking issue. Related to that, you will have 683 fellow passengers, which is 50-250% more than you will find on most luxury ships (Regent and Crystal being exceptions), but there are quite a number of attractive public spaces to spread out those bodies.

So if you would love to cruise a luxury line, but can't afford it or justify the expense and are willing to compromise on the size of your cabin, Oceania with its interesting itineraries, consistent crew and solid cuisine just might be worth giving some serious consideration.

Oceania is, plain and simple, comfortable in its own skin.