Famous for their food, Oceania Cruises’ new ship doesn’t disappoint in this department, and excels in many others too, reports Jane Archer
Oceania’s Riviera is the line’s second new ship – her sister Marina launched in 2011. It’s a line that has built an enviable reputation as the top choice for those who appreciate good food. At 66,172 tons, the ship is a comfortable size; more importantly, it only holds 1,250 passengers, so it is very spacious. There are a few tweaks since Marina – a bigger outdoor relaxation area in the spa, striking new artwork – but essentially Riviera is the same as its well-received sibling. In line with the epicurean theme, it was christened in Barcelona in May by US celebrity chef Cat Cora.
You get a sense of style rather than glitz as you enter the atrium, a large, uncluttered space that exudes peace and tranquillity. To the right is the stunning Lalique staircase, topped by a glittering chandelier that is more than six foot tall and nearly seven foot in diameter. I was checked-in on the ship, which is unsual. The process was swift, but given there are not many passengers, there’s no reason why it shouldn’t always be so painless.
The Owner’s Suites are seriously swanky – there are three, all a massive 600-plus metres and spanning the width of the ship. If that’s out of your price range, the Vista and Oceania Suites are fabulous too, and come with 24-hour butler service.
I was in a Concierge cabin, which is the same as Veranda class (the majority of the cabins) but comes with a laptop (internet access is an extra cost) and access to the Concierge lounge. That was handy for a morning cuppa but cramped and had very little seating so wasn’t an inviting place to stay. The cabin was a good size, with a large balcony and super comfy bed, and it had a minibar, safe and hairdryer. It also had a large tub in the bathroom.
Friendly and efficient rather than sophisticated. The mainly Eastern European waiters were generally cheery, although I got black looks when I served myself in the buffet. Presumably as a guard against norovirus, all the food is served. It’s a worthy reason, but I felt a bit like Oliver Twist!
This is where Oceania excels, serving what is undoubtedly some of the best food at sea. Even better, as all the speciality restaurants are free, you can indulge your stomach without breaking the bank. There are four speciality restaurants – Jacques for French cuisine, Red Ginger for Asian, Polo for steaks and Toscana for Mediterranean cuisine – and all were excellent.
Personal favourites were Jacques and Red Ginger, although I loved the olive oil menu in Toscana – yes, really – and the roasted garlic served with the bread. Once per cruise there is a seafood brunch in the dining room, which everyone praised.
La Reserve serves a seven-course wine-andfood pairing menu priced at $95 (£60) per person plus 18 per cent gratuity; in Privée, parties of up to 10 people can choose food from the menus in Polo or Toscana for a $250 (£160) fee.
Unfortunately, this is Riviera’s weakest point. There are four new shows, but as one is The Music of Andrew Lloyd Webber, new is probably the wrong word to use, although it seemed popular with many passengers. I saw a show called Flower Power and enjoyed the songs from the 60s but the dancing left a lot to be desired.
Given the line’s foodie theme, it’s no surprise that cookery classes in the Bon Appetit Culinary Centre are favourite activities. The room has 12 cookery stations, where you can learn to make pasta, pizza and paella, cook seafood, and prepare a host of other dishes with the help of a professional chef. A two-hour lesson costs $69 (£44) per person.
In the Artist Loft, there are free classes in everything from watercolours to photography and needlepoint. There are occasional wine-tasting sessions in La Reserve.
There is one pool and a compact casino, which was buzzing in the evenings, with Black Jack tables doing especially good business.
The Grand Bar is billed as a place for pre-dinner drinks. It’s really more of a wide corridor, but it has some good artwork. Kids are welcome on the ship but there are no facilities for them and unless you can be sure there will be other youngsters, I suspect they would be lonely.
Those who went on excursions said they were well organised and informative. There is a large selection, with food-oriented tours new for 2012, including olive oil tasting in Barcelona and visiting a fish market in Athens.
An excursion package costs from $699 (£446) per person for a cruise visiting seven ports.
The spa is run by Canyon Ranch and offers massages, facials, body treatments, manicures and pedicures, and more. They are expensive but you are not pestered to buy products at the end. It’s a lovely tranquil place, especially the outdoor area, where you can relax on comfy loungers.
Bars and lounges
The busiest lounge was Horizons, on deck 15, where there was live music, dancing and karaoke in the evening. Martinis is smaller and more stylish, and has a live pianist.
My favourites were the pool bar when the sun was shining and the Casino Bar, with its coloured lights and bejewelled chairs, after dark. Shows are in the Riviera Lounge, which has a small stage, limiting entertainment options.
A fabulous ship for epicureans and oenophiles who understand the meaning of luxury and want a relaxing holiday without being told when to eat or what to wear.