Oceania’s Regatta Ship Visit

Regatta at Tilbury

On Saturday 16th June 2007, I was invited to tour Oceania’s vessel ‘Regatta’ at the London Cruise Terminal, Tilbury,UK.  My charming host was Bernard Carter the UK & European Marketing Director. Oceania offers a five-star cruise experience which is refined and ‘destination orientated’. In other words their fleet offers exotic itineraries that span the globe, focusing on history, culture and cuisine.

It is not easy picking the right cruise product.  If you look at a range of cruise brochures from the mass-market cruise lines through to the upscale ones, they all look rather similar and they all promise the same things: fine food, great service, spacious accommodation, uncrowned public rooms, and great entertainment.  Of course this cannot be possible. After all how can the standards on-board a cruise costing $299 be as good as one costing $2999. If you are serious about buying a ‘true’ luxury cruise experience you will need to pay more for it than you would for a mass-market experience, but maybe not as much more as you think.

Oceania Cruises was only formed in 2002, but already they are quite a success story. They are particularly well established with American guests. They presently have three ships called Regatta, Nautica and Insignia, which were purchased from the defunct ‘Renaissance Cruises’. Oceania’s success is so palpable; all three ships have very high occupancy rates and are often fully booked a year in advance. Oceania are so confident about the demand for their product that they have two new purpose built ships on order (at the time of writing).

Although Regatta, formally Renaissance 2, was built in 1998, internally she is so immaculate that she could easily be a newbuild.  This is due to several very thorough refits undertaken since she has been under Oceania’s wing.  Regatta is 30,277 gross tons carrying only 684 passengers. This is the perfect ship size in my opinion. She is small enough to be intimate but big enough to have all the facilities that the more mature cruise passenger requires i.e there are no rock walls or surf machines on board and neither are they needed.  In addition the ship is able to visit small ports that the leviathans can only sail on by.

The décor is classic ‘English County House’ style with many intimate public rooms, all single height, with some featuring faux fire-places, sofa’s and leather – chairs. In fact some public spaces are so homely you feel like you are an intruder into someone’s house.  Every room is like a work of art making it difficult for the eye to separate the many attractive works of art from the attractive décor.  The staircases have a very regal red carpet, dark wood panelling, white ornate plaster work and black and gold ironwork banisters. The décor certainly makes a change from Las Vegas style glitz all too common on American ships. However my only minor complaint is that the décor is a little too ‘fussy’ on occasions for my British ‘understated’ eye.

A Homely Fireplace

The quality was abundant at every turn. Fresh flowers in vases are liberally spread throughout the ship, immaculately dressed crew genuinely assist embarking passengers rather than just looking the other way.  The on board ambiance is quite Anglo-American, taking the best from both cultures; for example you could get both a  fine steaks and a bloody good cup of tea.  The dress-code is casual, so no ball gowns or tuxedo’s are required which is either a big positive or a negative, depending on your viewpoint.

Regatta has nine passenger decks, numbered 3 – 11.  Deck 3 has fifteen Ocean View (porthole) staterooms located on its starboard side.  Deck 4 has the reception hall, with reception, destination services and concierge desks.  It’s not a wow-type waste-of–space atrium, but more like a functional hotel lobby. However, having said that there is a touch of the Titanic’s grand staircase about the  main staircase from the foyer. There are also mainly deluxe Ocean view (picture window) cabins on this deck and the medical centre.

The Grand Dining Room

Deck 5 is dedicated to public rooms with the Grand Dining Room (the main dining room) at the stern and the Main Lounge (the show lounge) at the bow. In between the Grand Dining Room and the Main Lounge are two shops, the Photo Gallery, a Martini Bar with a very comprehensive selection of Martini’s, and a small Casino.  There is also a short teak promenade deck (half the ships length approximately) which runs under the life boats on both the Port and starboard sides, but unfortunately does not wrap fully around.

The ‘Main Lounge’ is traditional style show lounge, rather than the now common-place  high-tech theatres with raked seating.  The colour scheme is predominantly gold and blue; in fact this ship has more gold than Fort Knox. Rather than rows of bench seating  ‘packing them in’, there are many attractive deep chairs which are well spaced apart. The entertainment is cabaret style rather than Broadway Show style. Oceania clearly thinks that ‘Broadway’ shows belong on Broadway and leaves these to the mega ships.  Although I did not see any entertainment I did get the impression that evening entertainment was not  Oceania’s main focus. I guess that the many of their independently minded passengers probably prefer stimulating conversation over a glass of wine in the bar.

We were provided with a lunch at midday in the ‘Grand Dining Room’. The dining room was particularly attractive with mural painted on the walls, deep comfortable chairs and plenty of space between the chair and tables (other lines take note).  An open seating policy is operated. All Oceania’s culinary programs are all overseen by the celebrated chef Jacques Pepin. Now one cannot judge the quality of a cruise operation from a brief tour and a lunch. However, as this was one of the best lunches that I’ve ever had on a ship tour, I can only assume that this quality of dining is the norm at sea as well. Oceania certainly does not scrimp on the cost of the ingredients as you would hope from a five star operation. Quality linen and specially commissioned china was in abundance and the cutlery was real silver.  We were treated to six courses which included some very nice Spanish red and white wine, caviar, lobster and veal.  The veal was melt-in-the-mouth quality. The whole meal was at a leisurely pace as it should be.

Decks 6, 7. and 8 feature all the remaining cabin grades.  Deck 7 has a handy self-service launderette but strangely it does not appear on the deck plans.  Deck 9 features the outdoor pool (not big enough for true swimming) and two Jacuzzis’s located amidships, surrounded by teak decking for sunbathing, which is so much more attractive than astro-turf. As well as the normal single loungers, there are some cute twin wooden loungers for couples too.   On the port side is ‘the Patio’, providing an open-air shaded lounge with cushioned wrought-iron furniture, paddle fans and sheer curtains. With a nearby bandstand close by, The Patio can also be used for entertainment.

The Patio’ The nearby ‘ Waves Grill’  provides light lunches including hamburgers and fries.

Forward on deck 9 is located ‘Oceania@Sea’, the Internet room for surfing and e-mail access. Classes are offered in various software packages. There is also a card room. Further forward is the ‘Oceania Spa’ operated by Mandara. This is a reasonably large facility for a ship of this size. There is a hairdressing salon and well-equipped Gymnasium with sea views. The nearby aerobics studio offers various exercise classes but unfortunately some of these carry additional charges.  The impressive Thalassotherapy Pool is located forward, with sea views and loungers. This also carries an additional fee.

Samovar Tea Urns

At the stern of deck 9 is the Terrace Café which is essentially lido-buffet which offers some outside dining on a small teak deck.  I’m told that this is very popular for breakfast. In the evening the Terrace Café becomes ‘Tapas on the Terrace’, a very popular Mediterranean restaurant. Although I never saw it in action I would imagine that it might get a little crowded at peak times, as it is quite a small facility.

Deck  10 features a jogging track amidships which appears to be more giddy-inducing than most as it circumnavigates the pool areas only and not the whole length of the whole deck. There is also a little more teak deck space for sunbathing.  At the bow is ‘Horizons’ which as the name implies is an attractive lookout bar and night club. It has a tartan carpet, matching red and blue chairs, with floor to ceiling windows and a well placed brass telescope. Tea is served here at precisely4.00pmdaily, from large Russian style Samovar Urns which ensure the water is piping hot. How’s that for attention to detail.

Moving towards the stern of deck 10 is one of my favourite rooms, a very attractive library, which resembles an English sitting room with lots of dark wood panelling, high backed leather chairs, lots of books (not always the case with modern ships libraries) a globe, a fireplace and a very attractive mural painted on the ceiling. Beyond the Library, at the stern, two alternative dining venues are located. On the starboard side is the’ Polo Grill’ and on the port is ‘Toscana’. Both are intimate rooms accommodating 96 guests each.  The former is a steakhouse and the latter offers Tuscan cuisine.  They are so popular that reservations are normally required and these are rationed to two visits per guest, and the good news is that no additional fee is payable.  I’ve heard some very good reports about the cuisine in both so I’d love to try them.

Deck 11, the sun deck features additional deck space for sunbathing and shuffle board.  A rather unique feature which I have not seen on any other cruise ship before is the inclusion of eight private ‘cabanas’. There are eight wooden Balinese sun-loungers for two, at the very front of deck.  These are sheltered by a glass wind-shield, Roman shade roofs and have sheer curtains to ensure privacy and even a fan to keep them cool. A staff member is at the guest’s disposal to serve food and beverages etc.  The cabanas can be booked by the day or for the entire cruise for a fee, but suite guests get priority. However I’m sure the demand must always outstrip the supply.

Regatta has 330 staterooms offering a full range of grades from ‘inside’ to ‘owner’s suite’. All are very tastefully decorated with quality soft furnishings, ‘Tranquillity’ mattresses, Egyptian cotton linen and goose down pillows.  All of the towels are plush and of the highest quality. The owners suites and vista suites have DVD palyers, Bose Surround Sound audio systems, 42 inch wide-screen plasma TVs. The loan of a laptop is available in the owner’s suite (but internet access is still charged).

Although there are some very large staterooms, I was surprised that the lower grades are  not overgenerous. The bathrooms were a bit on the cosy side and wardrobe space looked limited for longer voyages. Basic oceanview and inside cabins are only around 160 square feet. Veranda Staterooms are 216 square feet, including the balcony. Penthouse Suites are 322 square feet, Vista Suites are sized at 786 square feet and Owner’s Suites are an impressive 962 square feet.  The later tree categories have a butler service on offer.

Although Oceania do not have an on board children’s facilities and do not offer child discounts, they do welcome families that can make their own entertain.  They also do not offer single travellers discounts as the demand is so high for cabins. A really interesting incentive is that Oceania will be offering European guests a USA-style refundable deposit on all of their cruises. What a sensible idea.  I’d love to see this practise extended to all UK cruise line bookings.

So in conclusion Regatta is an up-scale ship offering a five-star cruise experience for the more discerning passenger. American guests (generally over 55) are well aware of this and are taking advantage of it in their thousands. However Oceania Cruises still have a low-profile for us Brits and Europeans.  Well I’m letting the secret out now!

I am that sure there are many European cruise fans out there that have yet consider an Oceania cruise, but are ideally suited to one.  For example, British Fred. Olsen and Saga regulars who all love small ships but are looking to step-up to a more up-scale product would not be disappointed.   The now defunct ‘Swan Hellenic’ fans would feel at home too. With the recent news of the QE2’s retirement, I’m sure that many of Cunard’s ‘Grill’ passengers would be very satisfied with the Oceania product. Likewise Celebrity and Princess’s ‘small-ship’ customers may also wish to try an up-scale cruise line that is one hundred percent focused on intimacy and personal service and is not trying to operate a fleet of mega-ships as well.

Oceania has the old fashioned values of ‘quality and service’ which are a rare commodity theses days. The old adage “you get what you pay for” certainly holds true. If you want a cheap party-cruise on a floating slice of Las Vegas, with two thousand plus other people this is definitely the wrong ship and cruise line for you. If you want quality and sophistication and are prepared to pay a little more for it, you will not go far wrong with Oceania.

Malcolm Oliver

(Special thanks to Tim Rubacky for organising my visit.)

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