Cruises

Oceania Cruises Riviera Cruise Review

Oceania’s Riviera is the newest upscale cruise ship in the market. It’s a splurge—does it deliver the goods?

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Canyon Ranch Spa Club

The Tucson, Arizona-based wellness resort company Canyon Ranch has been operating on cruise ships since 2004, when the brand was brought onboard Queen Mary 2. Since then they have become a competitor to Steiner Leisure, the dominant name in cruise ship spas, currently found on most of the major cruise lines. Occupying the forward portion of Deck 14, Riviera’s Canyon Ranch Spa Club is a sleek and impressive facility, with a steam room, a Finnish sauna, men’s and women’s changing rooms, full salon and boutique selling Canyon Ranch (and other) products.

Costs for massage and skin care treatments ranged between 20 and 50 percent higher than typical Steiner Leisure prices on other cruise lines. But the list of treatments was expanded from the typical cruise selection, incorporating more Asian modalities than we usually see. Massage prices ranged from $165 for the 50-minute Canyon Ranch treatment to $278 for 80-minute deep tissue or sports massages; couples massages started at $330; facials started at $159 for the 50-minute deep cleaning or gentlemen’s facials. An 18-percent gratuity was added to all treatments, services and training in the spa, salon and gym. Other treatments included reflexology, Shiatsu, Reiki, Ayurveda, acupuncture, wraps and scrubs, waxing, hair styling and coloring, manicures and pedicures. A few shorter treatments were offered daily at a discounted rate.

Forward of the spa itself was the quiet Spa Terrace, a private area of the ship that contained shaded loungers, heated ceramic tile loungers, and a thalassotherapy pool, with a butler stationed for drink service. Capacity was limited, and access to the Spa Terrace involved an add-on fee: $25 per person for 1 day, $60 for 3 days, $175 for 10 days.

The Fitness Center had more than 50 pieces of cardio and weight-training equipment featuring the latest from Technogym, including a pair of Kenesis stations. We found plenty of treadmills and bikes, and the gym was never over-crowded when we visited. Complimentary morning stretch, abs training, and legs, bums and tums sessions were available. Spinning, Yoga, and Pilates were offered for $11 per session; one-on-one training was available, starting at $77 for 25 minutes.

Oceania’s Executive Culinary Director is noted chef and cookbook author Jacques Pépin, and with seven different meal options for dinner alone, Riviera has upped the ante for fine dining on cruise ships. Of course, Monsieur Pépin is not actually working in the galley but, for the most part, we found the dining aboard Riviera to be among the best we’ve experienced at sea—it’s certainly a deserved calling card for the line. The Grand Dining Room, Riviera’s main restaurant, provided above-average meals for breakfast, lunch and dinner daily. What surprised us was the Terrace Café, the buffet venue, where we had a succession of tasty meals.

There are four specialty restaurants on Riviera, open for dinner only, though we found the dining a little more uneven here. Still, with menus ranging from French to Asian, Italian to steakhouse, the variety was pleasing, and there’s no add-on fee for dining at these venues (as is common on mainstream cruise lines). The ne plus ultra was La Reserve, a small dining room used several nights each cruise for intimate wine-pairing meals with a surcharge.

Oceania claims its guests have the “freedom to dine whenever, wherever and with whomever you wish,” but we found tables for two in short supply for the four specialty restaurants, especially at Jacques. Guests in non-suite cabins were allowed to make one reservation for each of the specialty dining venues using Oceania’s clunky online booking system (four reservations total). Yet despite going online weeks ahead of our cruise we were unable to secure a two-top for any of these meals, except very early or late in the evening. Before the cruise we were told by a reservation agent to request changes soon after boarding; we did, but non-shared tables were still not available for two of these meals.

Guests staying in Owner’s, Vista and Oceania suites were allowed to make more than four restaurant reservations ahead of their cruise; these guests were also allowed to order course-by-course in-room dining through their butler from the Grand Dining Room menu or from any of the specialty restaurants, during regular operating hours.

Riviera had five bars covering most areas of the ship. There was another bar for the Riviera Lounge (open when shows were held), plus an excellent little coffee bar that was one of our favorite hangouts on the ship. Unlike most of the mainstream lines, bottled water, soft drinks, cappuccino, espresso, coffee, iced tea, dispensed juices and milk were all included in the cruise fare. However, unlike most of the luxury cruise lines, alcoholic drinks involved a surcharge.

Wines by the glass started at $8 for a chardonnay or cabernet sauvignon from La Terre; other options for a dollar or two more included Nobilo sauvignon blanc, Danzante pinot grigio, Estancia pinot noir reserve and Spellbound petite sirah; the Champagne available by the glass was Perrier-Jouet grand brut, for $18. The list was stronger for wines by the bottle and included such offerings as La Crema chardonnay ($52), Domaine Huet la Haut-Lieu vouvrey sec ($78), Greg Norman shiraz ($39), and Allegrini Amarone della Valpolicella Classico ($132). The very limited selection of beers included the usual American name brands for $5 to $6—Samuel Adams was the most exotic label we spotted.

Each day, a trio of drinks were listed in the Currents newsletter; the cocktails of the day could be had for $5. Happy hour (two-for-one) was offered each evening from 5 to 6 p.m. at most of the bars.

Kids Programs

There is no facility or program for children on Riviera. “We don’t really cater to families,” explained an Oceania sales representative.

Following hot on the heels of Oceania’s Marina that debuted in 2011, sibling Riviera launched in May 2012 and was quickly established as one of cruising’s most elegant options for the upscale audience. With menus overseen by chef Jacques Pépin, a Canyon Ranch spa, sumptuous bedding and tasteful cabin décor, Riviera caters to a discerning crowd that expects deferential service and a refined atmosphere.

One of the youngest operators in the business, Oceania Cruises was formed in 2003, coming onto the scene with three of the 684-passenger “R-class” ships from Renaissance Cruises, a luxury line that went belly-up in 2001. When it came time to build two new ships, Oceania started with a clean slate, creating vessels that were double the size of the existing ships—the 66,084-ton Riviera carries 1,258 passengers. Features were carried over, but new ones were established, and the larger ships quickly won a devoted following. Oceania is not as inclusive as most high-end lines, instead following an à la carte model for gratuities and drinks.

Riviera winters in the Caribbean, offering 10-day voyages out of Miami that explore some of the region’s more exotic ports, such as Roatan, Samaná and St. Barths; summers are spent in the Mediterranean’s choicer locales, with itineraries ranging from 7 to 14 nights. We busted out our piggy bank for the splurge, eagerly anticipating smart service and fine dining.

A good deal of thought seems to have gone into designing the 629 cabins on Riviera. A generous 94 percent have balconies. There are just 18 Inside cabins, and no cabins suffer views obstructed by lifeboats. About half of the cabins overall accommodate three guests (utilizing a sofa bed); only six pair have connecting doors.

Choices fall into four general categories. Inside cabins, the most economical option, are located on decks 8 through 10. Lacking any view, Oceania says they measure a fairly compact 174 square feet, and the bathrooms have a shower stall only, no tub. There are 20 Ocean View cabins, all found at midship on Deck 7 and, with a larger bathroom and floor-to-ceiling window, these represent a significant step up from Inside units.

We stayed in one of the Veranda cabins, located on decks 7 through 11. Though all are the same size, these come at various price points based on location (higher decks being more expensive). A majority of the Veranda cabins (decks 9 and higher) are designated as Concierge Level, and although square footage is the same, extras include early check-in and embarkation, a welcome bottle of Champagne, priority restaurant and shore excursion reservations, unlimited access to the Spa Terrace, in-room laptop computer and discounted internet, iPad for use onboard, Bulgari toiletries, and other extras. There are also four types of Suites, described below.

There was a lounge on Deck 9 for guests in Concierge level cabins. TVs, reading materials and refreshments were available. Guests occupying Owner’s, Vista, Oceania and Penthouse suites could utilize an Executive Lounge on Deck 11.

Pools

Located mid-ship on Deck 12, Riviera has just one pool, but it is one of the more attractive swimming facilities we’ve enjoyed at sea, and generously sized for a midsized ship. Although the pool was usually adequate for the number of passengers, the two small whirlpool tubs were insufficient, and the loungers surrounding the pool were often at a premium (we usually grabbed one easily one deck above).

Bar (and food) service is available from the Waves Bar and Waves Grill, on opposite ends of the pool. For the most part there was no music at the pool, though on sea days a live band played (with great moderation) during the lunch hour.

Our Cabin: Veranda Cabin

Tastefully appointed with a generous use of dark walnut wood hues, our Veranda cabin was slightly larger than a typical balcony cabin on a mainstream cruise line (more on that below). With a bathroom featuring a full tub and a balcony decked in teak flooring—a rarity on newer ships—it was a very comfortable space to reside in. Speaking of contented, our bed was sumptuous, engulfed by quality linens that left us snug as a bug in a rug. Oceania says these are a “custom designed mattresses with 700-thread count cotton linens.” Hyper-allergenic pillows were available on request. Our photos below show the bed configuration in both queen-sized and twin layouts.

Cabin lighting was discrete, with recessed lights in the ceiling plus adjustable reading lights on either side of the bed—combined we had sufficient illumination. Fronting the balcony doors were three curtains—one that was a sheer, the other two completely blocked out light. Next to the sofa was an oval coffee table, and facing these was a small desk with a lamp and chair. Between the bathroom and beds was the closet, fronted by sliding doors. The closet measured 41 inches in width and contained 31 wood clothes hangers (plus two for robes). Next to the closet was a cabinet with three drawers and a shelf for the safe; one of the drawers contained a hair dryer. While we heard a few guests grumble about storage space being constrained, we found closets and drawers more than adequate for a trip of longer than a week (it’s not a suite, after all)—then again, we don’t travel with steamer trunks! Next to the drawers was the minibar and ice bucket, and above these were a couple slender shelves for glasses.

Our cabin had a marble- and granite-lined bathroom that was somewhat larger than what we usually get on mainstream cruise ships, however the additional space was devoted to a full-size bathtub (56 inches long, 17 inches deep). This is a terrific amenity for those who take baths, but for those of us who don’t it would have been nice to utilize the square footage toward a less-cramped bathroom (the floor of the shower stall was a fairly average 31 by 37 inches, though this is larger than showers on Oceania’s R-class ships). The shower and bathtub each had handheld showerheads on adjustable poles, and there was a rain showerhead in the shower stall.

Oceania says all Veranda cabins measure 282 square feet, including the balcony, but we take issue with this generous assessment. The inside of our cabin and bathroom came to 210 square feet; our balcony measured 110 inches by 66 inches, or 50.5 square feet. We can only assume that the extra 21 square feet Oceania claims represents unusable space behind walls (i.e., counting the space between cabins, plumbing areas, and between our cabin and balcony). While our cabin was larger than that of a typical mainstream cruise liner, it was not comparable in size to those of most upscale lines. Veranda cabins on Riviera (and Marina) are, however, a good bit larger than veranda units on the line’s three older, “R-class” ships.

The balcony was a decent sized space for two to hang out, with woven synthetic “wicker” chairs, each with a cushion. There was a small table, sufficient for coffee or drinks, but not much else.

Grand Dining Room

With its bright crystal chandelier floating above, Riviera’s main dining room is, indeed, a grand spot, looking like a luminous space from a regal European hotel. Fine china, Riedel stemware and formal service complete the setting. The room slopes down gently from Deck 6 on terraces leading aft, and there are a number of tables for two lining the windows. For those who decry the dim lighting in many restaurants, request to be seated toward the center of the room and you’ll be basked in the chandelier’s glow. The room seats 566, nearly half the ship’s capacity, and we never waited more than 3 or 4 minutes for a table, even at prime time.

The dinner menu changed nightly, featuring seven different entrées that were notable for their variety (an additional three entrées—steak frites, poached salmon and rotisserie chicken—were available every night). Each evening, one appetizer, a soup and an entrée would be highlighted as part of Canyon Ranch’s Healthy Living menu, focused on healthy fats, whole grains and lean proteins; there were always several vegetarian appetizers and one entrée. And four courses were highlighted each night as the menu dégustation, with recommended wine pairings for each course.

Among the appetizers, we enjoyed the cheese soufflé sitting amid a chive velouté, the scallops served in shell with lemon, capers and seaweed, and a hearty terrine of tomato and eggplant. Looking like shrimp tails engulfed in a bird’s nest, the crispy Albanian kadaif-wrapped tiger prawns were delightful nuggets—a few more, please. There was a faro salad with grilled zucchini that seemed promising, but the dressing overwhelmed the dish—it was almost like a cold risotto. Salads could have used a little more imagination, but we enjoyed the lettuces with paper-thin beets and celery rémoulade, and the spinach salad with pine nuts, shaved parmesan and a bacon dressing. The basket of diverse, hearty breads on our table was hard to resist.

For entrées we loved the Florida lobster, served with a cognac sauce (different lobster entrées were served on several nights). We tried the vegetarian option one evening—potato and vegetable curry over rice; it was pretty ordinary. But the shrimp and zucchini risotto was a melt-in-the-mouth dish, as was the simple rotisserie chicken, smothered in jus de rôti. Desserts were modest in size, but rewarding, from the Cointreau-marinated strawberries in a brandy-snap basket to the chocolate “volcano” with passion fruit lava. There was a nightly ice cream, a sorbet, and a lighter dessert, along with cookies and petits fours. We adored the cheese plate option, which changed nightly and was served with various chutneys, olives and pressed cakes.

If the breakfast menu was fairly conventional, it was beautifully served and the venue was lightly visited. We found juices (the orange was fresh squeezed), stewed fruits, cold cereals and Bircher muesli, hot oatmeal, eggs and omelets, pancakes and waffles, along with typical sides. Among the more unusual offerings were steamed Finnish haddock or broiled kippers, buckwheat pancakes, and breakfast steaks or lamb chops.

We were delighted to find the Grand Dining Room open for lunch daily, even on port days—what’s more, the menu changed daily. We found the salad Niçoise to be perfectly rendered (with a choice of tuna, salmon or halibut), and the hanger steak stroganoff with a paprika cream sauce was rich and satisfying. Other lunch items steered to burgers, sandwiches, and salads, with a number of lighter and vegetarian options available.

Retail

Shopping on Riviera was concentrated into a trio of side-by-side boutiques located on Deck 5, next to the lobby. The selection wasn’t broad, but the stores were spacious and uncrowded. We saw little that we haven’t seen on most other cruise ships.

One shop carried men’s and women’s clothing from brands such as Polo Ralph Lauren, Joseph Ribkoff, and Las Olas. There was Oceania logo merchandize—T-shirts, golf shirts, visors, mugs, backpacks, and teddy bears—a few books, snacks and a small selection of sundries such as razors, deodorant, etc. One space was reserved for handbags, including Furla, Chopard, and Alviero Martini, while next door was fragrances and beauty products. The jewelry store featured David Yurman and H. Stern, along with watches from Rado, Yarmond Weill, Dior, DKNY and Fossil.

Baristas

This was a great spot on Riviera, a coffee bar on Deck 14 with seats overlooking the pool and out to the sea. With real Italian baristas preparing proper espresso-based drinks (using Trieste’s best, illy coffee), we almost felt transported to a seaside café in Italy. We came here often. The coffees may be spiked with various liquors for an add-on. There are small bites available from a deli case—pastries, croissants, cookies and biscotti—and juices in the morning. Don’t miss the delicious caramelized French pound cake, known as canelé (and you are forewarned: they are highly addictive).

About Our Cruise

Check-in went smoothly. We arrived shortly after noon and waited about 25 minutes in the lounge while suite and concierge guests were provided preferential embarkation. Upon boarding, we were a little surprised there was no one to show us to our quarters (something we’ve appreciated on most other luxe lines), but the cabin was easy to find, and luggage was delivered well before cast-off. This allowed time to explore the ship at leisure, and Riviera’s public area lived up to all expectations. This is a handsomely designed vessel with generous public spaces and a bevy of fine art. We’d rank the art collection alone as the best we’ve seen at sea—mostly early- and mid-20th century paintings from Cuban and other Latin American artists, with a few provocative, edgy pieces mixed in for good measure.

An easy-going atmosphere prevails, akin to that of an upscale resort geared to retirees.

Oceania’s Riviera offered an adult cruise experience. No children were aboard for our itinerary. Children are allowed but there’s no facility or staff dedicated to them (something we think might be an issue in summer or during school holidays). Instead, Oceania caters to a well-heeled, older crowd—with few exceptions, virtually all guests were over 50. Although there’s no formal night, this crowd doesn’t waltz around after dusk in tracksuits and flip-flops. There’s also no poolside Hairy Chest Contest, no tacky souvenir glasses, and no gold chains sold by the inch. Yet for the most part, an easy-going atmosphere prevails, akin to that of an upscale resort geared to retirees.

Our veranda cabin was very comfortable—definitely a step up in quality, amenities and size from mainstream cruise lines. It was not, however, the size of entry-level cabins on Seabourn, Silversea, or Regent Seven Seas (by our measurements, the square footage Oceania claims for cabins is overstated).

Even the pool bar had tasty grilled fare, starting with a luscious surf and turf sandwich.

Cuisine is a major focus for the line and, by industry standards, we found most dining on Riviera to be excellent, with a few exceptions. In addition to the rewarding main dining room and a terrific buffet, there are four specialty restaurants, and there’s no surcharge for these meals (though this is where we found food and service to be most uneven). Even the pool bar had tasty grilled fare, starting with a luscious surf and turf sandwich—sliced filet mignon and lobster medallions on toasted ciabatta. There was also a special wine pairing meal offered several nights of the cruise at La Reserve, which we found superb—the $95 add-on was worth it for foodies and wine aficionados.

Deck areas felt relatively spacious, and although we observed loungers to be in short supply around the pool, it wasn’t hard locating a place to stretch out on the decks above (the one pool, by the way, is larger than average for the luxury sector). Though activities were limited, there was a tennis court, mini-golf course and an art studio staffed by an artist. One sterling feature not found on any other cruise ship (except Marina) is hands-on cooking lessons—for a fee—with instruction overseen by the Culinary Institute of America. Shows on Riviera were rudimentary at best—okay if nothing else was going on, but nothing to go out of our way for. This isn’t uncommon with small-ship luxury lines, but given that Riviera has a larger showroom (and more guests), a better entertainment program was in order. There was, however, a good variety of live music on the ship, including a string quartet playing for afternoon tea and a pianist trolling through the standards at the Martini Bar each evening.

Riviera is noteworthy for a few things it doesn’t have. There was no camera crew on board, plaintively asking for poses. The ship lacks a traditional promenade deck, below the lifeboats. But for the most part, guests will be impressed with the number of features available that aren’t found on smaller luxury ships. The atmosphere is somewhat comparable to that of a Ritz-Carlton resort—slightly sterile and corporate, but appealingly polished.

Comparing Splurges

Part of Miami-based Prestige Cruise Holdings, parent company of Regent Seven Seas Cruises, Oceania claims to “own” the “upper-premium” market. In marketing-speak, they’ve created a product comfortably snuggled between the premium brands (which might be Cunard and Celebrity) and luxury (Seabourn, Silversea and Crystal Cruises). A major difference between these two markets is that pricing for the luxury sector typically includes a lot of the extras that might otherwise pump up a checkout bill—gratuities, drinks and specialty dining are mostly (or entirely) included. By identifying a middle route, Oceania gains a lot of pricing leverage, as there’s no other cruise line claiming this segment of the market.

The fare did not include gratuities or drinks—costs that can top $75 a day per person.

For this reason it’s difficult to make apples-to-apples comparisons about whether Riviera provides good value. But just prior to publication we reviewed per-day rates for cabins on comparable itineraries for the upcoming year, for ships that offer an experience that is a notch above the Oceania product. Riviera’s veranda cabins for Mediterranean cruises averaged about $455 per day, per person—a fare that does not include gratuities or drinks, costs that can top $75 a day, per person (Riviera’s auto-gratuity is $15 to $22 per day and the all-inclusive drink package runs $59.95 per day).

By contrast, during the same timeframe, similar Mediterranean itineraries aboard Crystal Serenity averaged $560 per day for a comparably sized veranda cabin, including gratuities and drinks. Silversea’s Silver Spirit priced out at an average of about $570 per day, including gratuities and drinks, and for a cabin almost 50 percent larger than Riviera’s veranda units. Cabins on Seabourn Odyssey or Seabourn Sojourn averaged $650 per day including gratuities, drinks and all dining—again, for a cabin almost 50 percent larger. Admittedly, cruise pricing is enormously fluid, and rates almost always go up or down in the weeks prior to embarkation (all of these prices were obtained on the same day, sourced directly from the cruise lines).

With Mediterranean itineraries on lines such as Cunard and Celebrity going for $200 to $250 a day for veranda cabins, the premium to sail on Oceania Riviera surprised us. It will be interesting to watch how the coming launch of Viking Ocean Cruises in 2015—potentially a direct competitor to Oceania—changes the scene.

Beyond the initial cruise fare, there are other cost issues to be aware of. Airport transfers arranged through Oceania were outrageous—the per-person rate was about three times the price of a taxi. Oceania’s gratuity rate is the highest in the industry. And shore excursions were extortionate—we dodged the herd and made all our own arrangements for considerably less. By contrast, we noted that Oceania’s airfare add-ons can be reasonable compared to these other lines. And for those who drink no alcohol, Oceania’s à la carte model works well.

Terrace Café

Located on Deck 12 aft, the Terrace Café offers one of the best buffet spreads we’ve experienced on any cruise ship. While the space suffered slightly from limited seating during breakfast and lunch peak hours, we enjoyed all of our meals here, many of them on the outer deck where two dozen tables offered fine views and fresh air. A number of items were prepared à la minute—on the spot—and no, we’re not just talking about the omelet station. Servers were stationed throughout the buffet, and almost all food items were placed on our plate for us (helpful in minimizing the spread of food-borne illness).

The breakfast selection featured everything we expected, and a little more—from cold cuts and cheese to a fruit station with delectable options like papaya, raspberries and blackberries. We loved the array of pastries, and there was a station for fried eggs and omelets, and bacon, sausage, potatoes and other sides were nearby. One complaint: We found the brewed coffee not as good here as other restaurants on the ship (cappuccinos and the like could be had from the automated coffee station).

For lunch, the hot buffet station included such fare as grilled king clip fillet with vegetable aioli, veal scaloppini saltimbocca, and the grill had various meats cooked to order. In addition to a salad bar there was a variety of prepared salads that changed daily—Tuscan lentil salad, Caesar with grilled chicken, marinated tomato and fennel with prawns, Thai beef salad, etc. There was a carving station, a sushi spread, and a pasta bar with sauces that changed daily. Every couple days a lunch theme emerged—Mexican, Oriental, Seafood and Italian were featured on our cruise. We didn’t try all of these, but the south-of-the-border spread was probably our only disappointing lunch here.

Unexpectedly, it was at dinner where Terrace Grill really showed its strength, and a few of the dishes mirrored the offerings at the main dining room. We didn’t dine here in the evening till late in the cruise—some of the fare we missed included coq au vin, Palermo-style grilled swordfish, risotto with fava beans and morel mushrooms, a tajine of winter vegetables over couscous, a classic paella. There was a carving station nightly, which included beef Wellington one night, veal rack loin another. The night we dined at Terrace Grill we dived into Malaysian fish curry—prepared to order—king crab legs, coconut-miso sea bass wrapped in banana leaf, a sliver of prime rib, and sampled some of the competently prepared sushi. We didn’t have room for dessert, but the array was impressive.

Martinis

Riviera’s piano bar percolated with conversation and soothing music each evening—it was the busiest bar leading up to mealtime. During the day this spot was largely empty except when various activities transpired on sea days, announced in the ship’s newsletter. This included martini and vodka tastings (with a $15 add-on), presentations from the spa (culminating in a product pitch), social gatherings and, most entertainingly, lively Spanish lessons.

Cabin Amenities

Our cabin came with a pair of plush robes and slippers—the bathrobes were available for purchase ($75). Our stocked mini-fridge included complimentary sodas; there was a charge for other items. A corkscrew and bottle opener was provided, along with an ice bucket that was refilled twice daily. Above the fridge were two 100ml bottles of Oceania branded mineral water, replenished as needed.

There was a safe, but it wasn’t large enough for a typical laptop (13.5 inches wide, 8.5 inches deep). A hair dryer and sewing kit were located in a drawer next to the closet. The Oceania branded bathroom amenities included shampoo, conditioner, bath gel and body lotion—above-average products by our estimation. There were, however, no bath salts, and when we called the front desk to request these we were transferred to the spa—a jar of salts was available for $52. Fortunately, when we checked again with our cabin attendant he swiftly delivered a bowl of salts that were ample for a couple soaks.

The TV in our room was a good quality, high-definition 32-inch Insignia model, a smart TV with a built-in Blu-ray player. However not all channels were available with a high-def signal. The problem was probably with the monitor adjustments; some channels appeared in standard definition, some were incorrectly sized for the monitor dimensions. For the ship’s movie channel the grainy image was cropped on the sides, meaning the picture was not displayed as it was meant to be (see photos below).

The channel selection was detailed in a printed guide valid for the whole cruise. There was a typical range of news and sports channels, and channels dedicated to Oceania programming (shopping and shore excursions got the usual plugs). There were five movie channels that played about 100 different movies during the cruise. Some played a few times on one day, others repeated a second or third day, but the range was pretty solid, with some of the biggest commercial hits from the past six months, plus a few unexpected classics, like “Tom Jones” and “Midnight Cowboy.” There was also a DVD library maintained at the reception desk in the lobby. With more than 600 titles encompassing oddities such as the TV show Bewitched (13 discs), as well as both classic and current movies, children’s fare and TV shows, there was something for pretty much everyone.

Service

With a crew of 800 aboard Riviera, there were 1.6 guests for each crewmember, an above-average amount of staff for the cruise industry. For comparison, on the newest Cunard and Celebrity ships there are 2.1 to 2.4 passengers (respectively) for each crewmember; on Seabourn and Silversea ships it’s 1.3 to 1.5 passengers per crewmember.

We found overall service to be quietly discrete—that is, not showy. The senior officers of the ship did not (that we observed) mingle with most passengers. Things got taken care of, but we found that in the specialty restaurants service could was a little uneven, sometimes rushed.

Overall, we didn’t find the crew much more polished than those on less expensive mainstream cruise lines, so Oceania’s $15-per-day day (per person) automatic gratuity seemed out of line. To justify the highest gratuity rate in the industry, we’d expect service on par with what we experience at a typical Four Seasons or Ritz-Carlton resort. It wasn’t.

Decks

Although there’s no real promenade deck on Riviera, there was a decent amount of outdoor sunning space, with loungers available beyond the pool deck. Deck 14 had a good number of loungers overlooking the pool area, along with a pair of covered relaxation areas leading to the spa; the port side area was known as the Sanctuary, and we had a lovely nap here on a couple occasions when the sun was too bright.

The outdoor section of Deck 15 extended for only about one-third of the aft section of the ship. Accessed by stairs from Deck 14, this is where the jogging track was located, but it was fairly short—we’d estimate a lap was less than 600 feet in length. The ship’s Shuffleboard and Croquet/Bocce courts were also found here. Deck 16, accessed by stairs from Deck 15, was a small forward section only, but with plenty of empty loungers for sunning. This is also where the mini-golf green was found, along with a practice golf cage and tennis court.

Grand Bar

This wasn’t a bar, per se, but an art-filled corridor that served as another preprandial gathering spot, with potted palms interspersed between chic couches and chairs. The ship’s string quartet played here for much of the evening. The full bar menu was available (drinks were prepared at the adjacent Casino Bar), and waiters were staffed in the evening. On one of the two evenings we stopped by for a drink, between sitting down and receiving our drink we waited almost 25 minutes. The server seemed unable to multi-task.

Ship Communications

A daily newsletter, Currents, was distributed to our cabin each evening, covering the activities schedule and hours of operation for the following day. All announcements by the cruise director were handled in English, and they were kept to a minimum, which was refreshing.

Letters and postcards with appropriate postage can be dropped off at the Reception Desk for mailing. Postage may be purchased for a “nominal fee;” mail is collected one hour prior to sailing from each port of call. We had one brief phone call home from our room, which was charged at a rate of $4.95 per minute.

The guest directory says passports will be collected by ship staff upon embarkation, “in order to facilitate the ship’s clearance in each port.” For our cruise, passports were checked but not collected during embarkation.

Other Activities

One of the unique features of Riviera (and its sibling Marina) is the Bon Appétit-sponsored Culinary Center on Deck 12, with cooking stations for lessons conducted by guest chefs. Two classes on each sea day and (usually) one on port days were offered in the studio for hands-on cooking lessons covering subjects and recipes for topics such as pasta, fish, desserts and regional cuisines. There were 12 cooking stations shared by two students, and the charge for the two-hour classes was $69. We signed up for one based on food from the ship’s restaurant Red Ginger, preparing three of the venue’s most popular dishes (and receiving recipes for several others). The class was enjoyable and fast-paced, and we look forward to crafting the lobster pad Thai at home someday. We were impressed by the careful attention to health and sanitation requirements.

More hands-on creativity was invited at the Artist Loft, located opposite the Culinary Center. The ship brings aboard artists-in-residence to provide tutoring in their particular areas of expertise, in a class setting equipped with the tools and supplies for guests to create their own artworks. The artist on our particular cruise was undeniably talented and pleasant to interact with, but his classes leaned toward collage, with varying results. There was no charge for the classes, and they were packed on the days we peeked in.

On Deck 15 there was an artificial green set up for Croquet and Bocci, along with a Shuffleboard court. Several competitions were organized (especially on sea days). On Deck 16 we found a tennis court, nine-hole mini-golf, and a practice golf cage. Next to the pool was an area for table tennis. Other activities included Team Trivia (held in the Riviera Lounge or Martinis once or twice daily), Duplicate Bridge, art auctions, and Bingo.

Jacques

While many guests enjoyed Jacques, we were somewhat disappointed by our meal here, especially considering this is the one venue that Oceania’s Executive Culinary Director Jacques Pépin chose to put his name on. The restaurant is designed to be an elegant French bistro, and the menu certainly looked appealing, with such traditional offerings as terrine of foie gras, escargots in garlic butter, sautéed frog legs, bouillabaisse, and Iberian rack of pork.

For our starter we tried the baked French onion soup, which was capped with a crusty ceiling of Gruyère. We also sampled the pumpkin soup, which was impressively presented in a terrine made from a real pumpkin. But the soup that was spooned into our bowl was tepid. We asked our waiter to replace it, and a hot portion arrived seven or eight minutes later. For entrée we ordered the Dover sole, which was deboned at the table—the classic preparation with lemon and caper butter was enhanced with croutons that sopped up the juice. Dessert was an apple tarte, served Tatin-style. A cheese trolley was wheeled over and the selection of AOC French offerings was mouth-watering.

We liked the effort for tableside presentations, and the salmon-colored room is attractive, filled with pickled wood furnishings and a glass and brass show rotisserie. But despite a few windows, the view is obscured by curtains and, with only six two-top tables, we were unable to secure a reservation here for anything but a shared table. Maybe wit hit Jacques on an off night and perhaps we would have enjoyed it more with a table to ourselves, but we felt this meal should have been stronger, more nuanced.

Other Cabins

We did not stay in the rest of these cabins, but we have summaries here provided by Oceania Cruises. Note that photos below have been provided by the cruise line and not our reviewer.

Inside Cabin
Wonderful sanctuaries unto their own, these 174-square-foot staterooms boast beautiful designs and handsome furnishings that add to the serenity. Highlights include an oversized bathroom resplendent with marble and granite, and thoughtful touches such as a refrigerated mini-bar, vanity desk, breakfast table and a choice of a queen-size or two twin beds.

Deluxe Ocean View
These spacious 242-square-foot staterooms with floor-to-ceiling panoramic windows feel even more commodious with the curtains drawn back, the ocean in full view and natural light streaming in. The rich hues, custom-designed furnishings and stylish fabrics are equally enchanting. Queen or twin bed accommodations, a spacious seating area, vanity desk, breakfast table and oversized marble and granite-clad bathroom with separate tub and shower, are among the many conveniences.

Penthouse Suite
Our collection of elegant Penthouse Suites rivals any world-class hotel for comfort. The design of each suite is ingenious, which maximizes its generous 420 square feet of space and puts every creature comfort at your fingertips. At its heart is a spectacularly luxurious queen-size Prestige Tranquility Bed that can be converted into two twin beds, if you wish. Commodious enough for private en-suite dining, the living area features a table and comfortable seating, refrigerated mini-bar and lighted vanity desk. The large marble and granite-clad bathroom features an indulgent, full-size bathtub and separate shower and is conveniently located next to the full-size walk-in closet. For the ultimate view, simply open the sliding glass door and relax on the exquisitely furnished private veranda.

Oceania Suite
This new category of suite accommodation combines exquisite elegance with a premier location high atop Marina and adds in a wealth of amenities and copious space for good measure. Sprawling more than 1,000 square feet, each offers a living room and dining room, walk-in closet, expansive private veranda and much more. Enjoy a brisk morning workout followed by a therapeutic whirlpool in either your private Jacuzzi overlooking the sea or in the Jacuzzi tub in your Master Bath. Spend an evening screening first-run movies on your 50-inch LCD flat-screen television in your state-of-the-art media room. Indulge in course-by-course en-suite dining in your dining room or with the caress of a soft sea breeze on the expansive veranda. Wake up refreshed and rested on the king-size Prestige Tranquility Bed. Open the floor-to-ceiling glass doors, walk out on the private teak veranda and take in the stunning panoramic views from the comfort of the resort-style lounge furniture. Everything imaginable is provided in your Oceania Suite, even a second bathroom for guests.

Vista Suite
Among the most spacious and luxurious of accommodations at sea, the eight Vista Suites surely will be in high demand. That is no surprise given their premier location overlooking the bow and that every inch of their 1,200 to 1,500 square feet (depending on location) has been meticulously designed for your enjoyment. Indulge in a relaxing soak in one of your suite’s two Jacuzzis – on your private veranda or in your lavish Master Bath. Watch first-run Hollywood films on the 42-inch LCD flat-screen television, enhanced by Bose® surround sound, or view them from the comfort of your bed on a second LCD flat-screen television. Access the Internet with the laptop computer that’s provided for up-to-the-minute news, to research upcoming ports, and to email friends. Wake up refreshed and rested on the king-size Prestige Tranquility Bed. Draw back the curtains from the floor-to-ceiling glass doors, walk out on the wraparound teak veranda and take in the panoramic views from the comfort of the resort-style lounge furniture. Everything imaginable is here in your suite, including a walk-in closet, a second bathroom for guests and your own private fitness room.

Owner’s Suite
Even the most lavish superlatives fail to adequately describe the three Owner’s Suites onboard. With rich furnishings from Ralph Lauren Home, each spans the entire beam of the ship and measures more than 2,000 square feet. Boasting a large living room and dining room, spacious bedroom with a king-size Prestige Tranquility Bed, sumptuous bathroom, his and hers walk-in closets, and a dramatic entry foyer and music room overlooking the sea, they are truly palatial. A professional entertainment system with flat-screen televisions, 3D movies, and media library is provided as well as a laptop and iPad® with wireless access. Indoor and outdoor whirlpool spas beckon you for a relaxing soak – the latter has a flat-screen television for alfresco viewing. Enjoy en-suite gourmet dining from any of our six restaurants, served course-by-course by your Butler. No expense has been spared to ensure your total satisfaction.

Conclusion

Oceania’s Riviera is an undeniably beautiful ship, and it’s the newest vessel at sea designed for the upscale crowd. Not only does Oceania Cruises straddle an underserved market segment between the mass-audience cruise companies and the pure luxury cruise lines, but Riviera (and sister ship Marina) provides a unique bridge between smaller luxe ships with limited amenities and activity-filled large ships that can feel crowded. Only one other upmarket line, Crystal Cruises, has ships (almost) the size of Riviera (though both of Crystal’s ships are now more than a decade old).

We would absolutely look forward to sailing on Riviera again, but for one caveat.

We don’t take issue with Oceania marketing its product as “upper premium”—at least not in regard to Riviera. Elegant and classy, with dining that is among the best in the industry, the ship possesses many fine attributes that make a voyage memorable. The size of the ship is just about perfect for our taste—not too big, not too small, easy to get around. We would absolutely look forward to sailing on Riviera again, but for one caveat: It’s overpriced.

While current demand may be allowing Oceania to boost fares, we feel that there are other cruise lines offering similar itineraries that, for comparable fares or just a few dollars more, may provide discernably better value. And for spendthrifts, it’s not hard to find alternatives offering quality suites and good food and service that sell for quite a bit less than Riviera.

Editor’s Note: USA Today reported that Oceania will increase its auto-gratuities to $16 per day, per guest for standard cabins and $23 for suites, effective with the 2015-16 winter season.

Internet Facilities

Right behind the ship’s espresso bar on Deck 14, and opposite the Library, Oceania@Sea was Riviera’s internet station. There were 33 PCs available for use, but we could also log onto the ship’s WiFi signal with our own devices.

The per-minutes rate was a steep 99 cents a minute (the highest we’ve seen at sea), plus $3.95 activation fee, but a more-reasonable 200-minute package was available for $160 (.80/min). The best deal was an unlimited internet access package, priced $27.99 per person, per day.

Casino Bar

Located next to the casino, this was Riviera’s most garish venue, awash in bright light that flooded the room from behind plexi wall coverings. The color of the lighting was adjustable, but usually the volume was set to full-on lavender. We wouldn’t call it ugly, but it was pretty brash compared to the rest of the ship. A half-dozen framed Picasso drawings were showcased here—wonder what he would have thought?

Shows & Entertainment

Located on Deck 5 forward, the Riviera Lounge was the ship’s showroom. While just one deck high the sightlines were generally acceptable in the center of the room, but we found on the sides, latecomers often blocked the aisles and view. But we didn’t feel like we were missing much. No matter whether the music showcased Andrew Lloyd Webber or the Rolling Stones, after a few days, a sense of sameness started to emerge.

Jean Ann Ryan Productions takes credit for the stage shows. The first, “Up in Flames,” was a tribute to Billy Joel and Elton John, with three lead singers and six dancers; the backing band—at least it was live—featured eight musicians. The sound mix was thin, with the highs and lows clipped to avoid offending tender ears. The singers were good, but the dancers had very little room to work with, forcing the most basic staging an choreography. It was a very conservative, play-it-safe entertainment. Another night, “Now and Forever” was organized around the music of Andrew Lloyd Webber, and while the sound mix was still free of bass or treble, the costumes and staging were a little more assertive. We were not enticed to see the two remaining shows, “Rock On” and “Flower Power.”

Other shows that took place in the lounge included a ventriloquist/singer with Muppet-like props and a musty routine, a comedian, and one of the ship’s singers performing a solo concert. Movies were also played here.

Other entertainment included the ship’s band playing by poolside at lunch on sea days, a pianist during the evening at Martini’s, and a string quartet that played in the Grand Bar, all of which we were enjoyed. There was also a band playing light dance music in Horizons most evenings (before 9 p.m.).

Red Ginger

Unique to Riviera and Marina, Red Ginger is one of the ship’s most popular specialty restaurants, an Asian fusion venue with a strong emphasis on a jazzy contemporary décor, and equally jazzy food. While our dinner was good, satisfying in the main, it was not quite the rapturous experience we’d been lead to expect. For instance, every diner receives a small bowl of traditional edamame to start, but this is kind of like receiving a basket of French bread. How more interesting it would have been to be served edamame presented with a dynamic new angle.

But we’re in the minority on this—a number of passengers we spoke to described Red Ginger as their favorite meal. And there’s no denying that the room itself—black, with red and gold accents—was quite handsome, each table graced with a flower-burst of flame ginger. The acoustics weren’t great, it’s a noisier room than the other specialty restaurants—we’d request one of the tables along the walls.

For appetizer we had caramelized tiger prawns—succulent shrimps in a very sweet chili sauce. Another starter, crispy ginger calamari, was better, smartly seasoned and cooked. We found the tom kha gai too creamy, and not spicy enough—it tasted flat (and despite a red chili pepper on the menu used to indicate hot items). Spicy duck and watermelon salad could have been edgier, and we would have preferred seeded watermelon. The Thai beef salad, however, was lovely, studded with eggplant, shallots and basil.

Our entrées were more satisfying. The miso-glazed sea bass was excellent, the tender fish beautifully presented in what appeared to be a ginger leaf. Lobster pad Thai was a fine twist on a well-traveled road, with generous hunks of lobster flesh bursting from the silky noodles. Various sides were available—brown or jasmine rice, stir-fried udon noodles, broccoli and shitake mushrooms, and a meager portion of asparagus. For desserts, the cake was fine, if a bit filling after our feast; the trio of fruit sherbets was an excellent alternative, especially the coconut, which found just the right balance of cream and coconut flakes.

Polo Grill

Our most disappointing meal on Riviera was undoubtedly Polo Grill, and that sentiment was shared by all four of us at our table, as well as other passengers we spoke with. A steakhouse on a cruise ship shouldn’t require reinventing the wheel, but we find it amazing how often cruise lines deliver a subpar steakhouse experience (and usually with an up-charge—not the case on Riviera). The room is fine, located on Deck 14 aft, tricked out with masculine dark wood paneling, contemporary art and padded leather chairs—it certainly looks the part.

Our appetizer was the shrimp cocktail, which won us over with massive shrimp served in a martini glass, hovering around a small puddle of cocktail sauce. When more cocktail sauce was offered we said yes and an avalanche was spooned on. The salad we ordered was described as “honey smoked bacon, lettuce, tomato and aged cheddar cheese,” but it was decidedly ordinary: a few leaves of Romaine with tomatoes to the side topped with a grate of undistinguished cheddar and bacon crumbles. Dressing for this deconstructed dish was provided in ramekin—it was quite zesty and overwhelmed whatever flavor was to be found.

The menu promised USDA prime, but for a main we ordered the Colorado rack of lamb, a quartet of plump, if petite chops. The dish was okay, but the lamb could have been better seasoned. Off-the-shelf mint jelly was spooned on the side; we would have preferred a savory mint sauce. A side dish of potatoes au gratin was good, a smallish portion suited for one. We also sampled the prime rib—available in a 16-ounce queen’s cut or a 32-ounce, bone-in king’s cut—we found it mediocre. The dessert selection aimed higher, and key lime pie emerged as the standout for our table. For sheer gumption, the chocolate mousse “burger” on an almond bun with apricot jelly was a delight to see. The first bite was a surreal taste sensation, but thereafter it seemed ordinary.

Our service here was attentive, but the courses came out in ponderous fashion, making our meal at Polo Grill a near-three hour experience.

Casino

Riviera’s casino was at midship on Deck 6 and, though modestly sized, it was usually adequate for the number of passengers using it. There were a few dozen slot machines plus tables for Poker, Blackjack, Craps and a Roulette wheel. We noticed a surge of business on a couple nights as shows let out from the nearby Riviera Lounge—the Roulette table would go from empty to standing room only. As the chips dwindled, the players left, and within 20 minutes the table was virtually empty again.

Smoking was not allowed in or near the casino.

Waves Bar

This was Riviera’s one al fresco bar option, serving the pool area and those dining at the Waves Grill. Servers effectively canvassed the area for orders.

Dress Codes

Oceania maintains a fairly relaxed dress code, and no formal nights were designated on our cruise. The recommended attire throughout the cruise was “resort or country club-casual.” For evening dining, “elegant casual resort wear is suggested.” Jeans, shorts, T-shirts, athletic footwear and sandals were not permitted in the Grand Dining room or specialty restaurants. At the Terrace Café dressy shorts and casual shirts were allowed in the evening. Tank tops and swimsuits were not permitted in any restaurants at any time of day.

Horizons

Located on Deck 15, this was the bar with a view, a 270-degree panorama from Riviera’s highest indoor venue. The full bar menu was available here, and the bar was also used for various presentations on sea days, including Bingo, a needlepoint gathering, etc. In the evening there was live music and dancing, though this is not a ship that parties late.

Each day at 4 p.m., Horizons was the setting for afternoon tea. This was a pretty great spread, with assorted finger sandwiches, scones, pastries, and a station for caramelized fruit. We only tried it once during our cruise—wish we’d stopped by earlier.

Toscana

Located just opposite Polo Grill on Deck 14, Toscana is Riviera’s Italian restaurant. Although we didn’t experience anything groundbreaking here, we found our meals here satisfying. Many tables are next to or near the venue’s floor-to-ceiling windows, so it’s a good place to be parked for a scenic sunset sail-away. The long and diverse menu encourages a second visit. The selection of olive oils and vinegars alone is surprisingly inviting, sampled with bread and a roasted bulb of garlic.

For starters we enjoyed the decadent sformatino, a timbale of parmesan, served with black truffle sauce and spiked with fried artichoke leaves. Breaded, fried calamari came with spicy marinara and aioli sauces. Carpaccio of beef tenderloin with shaved parmesan and arugula was presented in classic style, as was the Caesar salad, prepared tableside. Sautéed jumbo shrimp was wrapped in prosciutto, while spinach salad was graced by Sardinian goat cheese and Kalamata olives. Not a loser in the bunch.

For mains, we liked the filet mignon topped with sautéed garlic spinach and Gorgonzola cheese, flanked by grilled polenta tiles. And the pasta trio was perfect for those of us who couldn’t decide on a pasta dish: There was risotto with lobster, tortellini with ricotta and spinach, and fettuccini lathered in way too much cream—we lapped it up.

Other Venues

Riviera’s graceful lobby was located on Deck 5. This is where the Reception Desk was found, along with Destination Services (shore excursions) and the Concierge. There were fine paintings, a couple carved pieces and an elegant curved staircase designed by Lalique, topped by a sparkling chandelier. There was rarely a line at the Reception Desk.

The Library was located on Deck 14, conveniently next to Baristas coffee bar. There was a fairly good range of books offered here, and we could “check out” two at a time (no one was on hand to monitor what went in and out). The leather chairs and ersatz fireplace were excellent spots to while away the day when the weather wasn’t cooperating.

In addition to the books, Oceania offered a worldwide newspaper service that provided full-format printed newspapers delivered direct to cabins on the morning of publication. The price was $6.50 per day, per newspaper (Sundays excepted). The periodicals included New York Times, Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Los Angeles Times, the Times UK and a number of others, including major European papers.

Also located on Deck 14 next to Oceania@Sea was the Board Room was where we found most of the ship’s games, along with a few card tables for informal play. There was a sign-up sheet for Chess, Mahjong and other games.

On our cruise there was a duo teaching Bridge and overseeing Duplicate Bridge games on sea days; the lessons and games were held inside the Polo Grill. We sat in on a couple of lessons and found the teaching style a bit confused—beginners were quickly in over their heads. We also sat in on a round of Duplicate Bridge one day, joined by about 35 other very competitive guests.

Laundry Facilities

Self-service laundry facilities are located on decks 7 through 11. Self-service laundry tokens were available through the reception desk. Tokens were $2 per wash and $2 per dry. Detergent, irons and ironing boards were available for use here.

General Health & Safety

For the safety drill held just prior to sailing away, we were required to bring our life jackets from the cabin, and room keys were checked against a list. Those not in the muster station during the drill were called for over the P.A. system.

Riviera was generally very clean through, as we would have expected (being a new ship).

La Reserve

The wine tasting room just outside the Terrace Café on Deck 12 is the setting for a gourmet meal held on several nights of each cruise. It’s not a restaurant per se, more like a wine cellar that borrows the adjacent kitchen of Terrace Café for an occasional feast. Floor-to-ceiling windows line one side of the room, allowing passengers to drool over the event. Affiliated with Wine Spectator magazine, La Reserve has three different menus, each offering seven courses matched with seven wines. Two of the menus are priced $95 per person, plus 18-percent gratuity; the Connoisseur Menu (starring Kobe beef sous vide and Brittany blue lobster) is $165 plus gratuity. With a maximum of 24 guests each evening we’d strongly recommend booking before boarding (at least two of the nights filled weeks ahead of embarkation).

We chose the Discovery Menu for our evening at La Reserve, a night which began with the ship’s Executive Chef coming out to introduce his team, including sommelier, two waiters and a crew of three assistants. We were provided a glass of Bouvet brut for toasting, a French bubbly from the Loire, then seated at the long, walnut table for the amuse bouche of sea urchin panna cotta topped with caviar—a surprising spoonful of sea and dairy. The evening’s first course was a lobster and mascarpone pancake with carrot emulsion and rock chive cress, a dish that provided the crustacean the elegant stage it deserved. This was paired with Champagne Pommery brut rosé. A cream of porcini soup was sparked by three nuggets of duck foie gras interspersed with three wonderfully oily croutons—a Cervaro Castello della Sala chardonnay from Umbria was the rich and balanced accompaniment.

Our third course was pumpkin ravioli with a sprinkle of crushed amaretto biscotti. The dish was sweet, and we expected a viognier would be too much for the pairing, but the Novelty Hill viognier from Washington was surprisingly complex, a fine marriage of equals with the ravioli. Bay scallops topped with Jamón Ibérico pata negra was petite but scrumptious—the scallops, we were assured, were fresh, loaded onto the ship during embarkation. Our fifth course was the 72-hour braised short rib, cooked sous vide and enticingly pink. It was ravishing in taste and texture, and nicely paired with Silver Trident’s Twenty Seven Fathoms, a cabernet sauvignon from Napa that quickly emerged as the table’s favorite (interestingly, the winery is owned by one of Oceania co-founders).

There was a cheese course, a slab of AOC Brie de Meaux, fragrant and perfectly ripe atop a toast with raisin-onion compote and quince jelly. Another cabernet sauvignon—Hess Collection Allomi Vineyard—was a voluptuous fruit bomb to contrast with the cheese, seducing us down the aisle to dessert. This was a mille-feuille comprised of a hundred sheets of paper-thin dough, interspersed with raspberry and vanilla cream—it was sweetly fragile and flavorful. Alas, the late harvest chenin blanc from Château la Varière accompanying this final course was the only one we found to be a letdown, a 2001 vintage that was metallic and discordant.

The overall meal consumed 3 hours, and wines were poured a healthy half-glass at a time (requests for refills were not refused). While we would not consider Riviera’s cuisine to be Michelin-star quality, La Reserve came close. It was a memorable meal and the wine selection was smartly chosen.

Clinics

A clinic is located on Deck 4. Hours were 8 to 9:30 a.m. and 6 to 7:30 p.m. (medical/nurse assistance was available 24 hours).

Waves Grill

Located on the pool deck, just outside the Terrace Café, the Waves Grill was open for al fresco breakfasts and lunch till 4 p.m. daily. The morning selection was a streamlined version of what was offered at Terrace Café, and also served buffet style. This included an array of fresh fruits, cold cuts, yogurt and muesli. There was an egg station where omelets and fried eggs were cooked to order; next to it was a counter with scrambled eggs, sausage, bacon and potatoes.

The lunch menu stuck primarily to hot sandwiches and Black Angus burgers. Star offering was the surf and turf sandwich—a couple grilled Florida lobster medallions and slices of filet mignon served on toasted ciabatta. It was quite tasty. The burgers were available in various formats—the Texan (grilled onions, bacon and BBQ sauce), the Romano (provolone, roasted peppers, pesto on ciabatta), the Maguro (soy and ginger marinated ahi tuna seared rare), etc. Hot dogs, Cajun chicken paillard, grilled mahi mahi and veggie burgers were also on offer.

Waves also served as the ship’s ice cream stand, and cups or cones were available with various toppings, along with milkshakes, malts and fruit smoothies.

Smoking Policy

There were only two designated smoking areas on Oceania Riviera, one inside and one out. These were in the port-side corner of Horizons Bar on Deck 15, in a glassed room set apart from the rest of the bar; and on the forward starboard side of Deck 12, the pool deck. Smoking was not allowed in any other outdoor areas, inside the casino, or in cabins and on their balconies. The policies appeared to be well enforced, as we never saw anyone abusing them.

Privee

This is Riviera’s private, eight-seat dining room, located between Polo Grill and Toscana. The decadent room, cast in bold red and white tones, can be reserved for the evening for $250. Guests may order off the menu of either Polo Grill or Toscana while relaxing on throne chairs upholstered in supple, white baby crocodile leather.

Tips and Service Charges

Oceania Cruises has what is probably the highest gratuity surcharge in the industry. For those in standard cabins a “suggested gratuity” of $15 per guest, per day is automatically added to shipboard accounts “for your steward or stewardess and all restaurant staff.” Guests in Owner’s, Vista, Oceania or Penthouse suites are charged an additional $7 per guest, per day for butler service. Gratuities are pooled. An 18-percent gratuity was automatically added to all beverage purchases, spa and salon services, and for dinner in La Reserve.

Cash advances were available, applied to your credit card, up to $500 per day, incurring a 5 percent service fee. Foreign currency exchange was limitedly available—euros while sailing in Europe—also incurring a 5 percent service fee.

Editor’s Note: USA Today reported that Oceania will increase its auto-gratuities to $16 per day, per guest for standard cabins and $23 for suites, effective with the 2015-16 winter season.

In-Room Dining

With so many good dining options available on Riviera it seemed anathema to order in, but room service was available 24 hours. Duty called. The breakfast menu was limited to continental—a little surprising on an upmarket ship. We could order with a tag hung outside the room by 11 p.m. the night before; ordering by phone was also possible. The breakfast selection covered just about anything cold we would want—juices, fruit, yogurt, packaged cereal, along with toast, pastries, muffins and hot coffee.

We filled out our room tag and asked for breakfast to be delivered at 7:45 a.m. Nine minutes prior we received a call to the room to alert us that delivery was on the way, and 2 minutes later came the knock on the door. The table in our cabin was barely adequate to contain a meal for two (even a continental breakfast); the table on the veranda was even smaller.

Our English muffin arrived warm warm, and pitchers of milk brought were hot for coffee and cold for our cereal. But the pot of coffee was not on par with what we were served in the Grand Dining Room. And the fruit plate was unimpressive—simply diced fruit, more like fruit cup. All in all it was fairly mediocre. We also noted that room service breakfast was not available on disembarkation morning (the one time when we’d otherwise consider it).

The 24-hour menu was a little more diverse. There was a selection of salads, including a chef’s pantry salad (with ham, roast beef, turkey, shrimp and cheese), an antipasto selection with cold cuts, and shrimp cocktail on bruschetta. Chicken consommé and French onion soup were offered. Sandwiches included grilled ham and cheese, turkey, roast beef and a club sandwich. Entrées included grilled strip steak, broiled chicken breast, salmon supreme—all served with steamed vegetables—spaghetti all Bolognese or hamburger. During the evening, guests residing in suites could order off the standard restaurant menus through their butler.

Alcohol Policies

A $25 corkage fee is applied for wine bottles brought aboard for consumption in the restaurants or bars. However, Oceania also “reserves the right to confiscate and retain all alcohol bought ashore for consumption onboard the vessel.” This policy seemed to give the cruise line a lot of latitude to make alcohol decisions on a case-by-case basis. Alcoholic beverages are served to guests age 21 and up only.

Loyalty Program

Oceania Club is the frequent-cruiser program of Oceania Cruises. Credits are issued for each voyage—1 credit for itineraries up to 24 days, 2 credits for cruises of 25 to 34 days, etc.

With 2 to 4 credits—Blue level—members are invited to a cocktail reception, receive members-only offers and receive a 10-percent discount on Oceania logo merchandize. Bronze level is achieved with 5 to 9 credits and members additionally receive a $200 shipboard credit and a 20-percent discount on internet packages. At 10 credits members attain Silver status, which boosts the shipboard credit to $400, adds in pre-paid gratuities and avails a 10-percent discount on shore excursions and beverage packages. Additional levels and benefits are attained at 15 points (Gold), 20 points (Platinum) and 40 points (Diamond). A free cruise, with certain restrictions, is offered when reaching the Platinum and Diamond levels.

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