TravelPulse Onboard: Oceania Cruises' Riviera Review
All photos by Jason Leppert
At a Glance
By the Numbers
Take a Bow (What to Like)
Pain in the Aft (What to Dislike)
The upscale cruise market is an interesting category that offers luxurious qualities at affordable prices, delineating a niche with impressive values, one that Oceania Cruises upholds nicely. Like competitor Azamara Club Cruises, it has a fleet consisting primarily of former Renaissance Cruises ships, but the beautiful Riviera is a newer vessel that marks a fine evolution from the so-called R-ships. Classic details like crystal and vine accents remain as reminders while the overall effect is chromatically lighter and more spacious.
Best of all, while there is an air of sophistication throughout, the ship still feels delightfully casual as expanded ceiling heights soar and comfortable seating invites passersby, particularly along the lovely Grand Bar corridor (pictured below). Also, favorite venues like the Horizons observation lounge thankfully never forget the destination, even though the space is rather dark and feels a tad constrained. The adjacent open-air smoking lounge is particularly unfortunate.
Nonetheless, the design of the Riviera is otherwise top notch and features one of the most elegant main dining rooms at sea (pictured below) among great spaces like the impressive library, internet cafe and coffee bar that overlook the wonderfully teak-clad pool deck with fun kinetic water fountains. With as many children that were onboard our sailing, it comes as a bit of a surprise that there are no kids facilities featured onboard, however.
Private accommodations onboard are perhaps the biggest throwback to the R-ships like the Regatta and newly introduced Sirena with darker wood covering a portion of the walls, but the larger rooms in general open up to lighter paneling and modern amenities like flat-panel televisions. Storage and ever helpful wall hooks are plentiful, and a separate mini-bar space nearer the bathrooms of veranda staterooms is a nice change of pace. Especially comfortable in the cabins are very plush beds that make sleeping in all too easy. I only wish electrical outlets were more widely spaced to better accommodate multiple charging cables.
Luxurious amenities extend to the bathrooms with a choice of always lovely Bulgari toiletries as well as bath salts. Even the towels and bathmats are more supple than usual, and the marble accents put the bathrooms closer in line with those on luxury ships. While the shower/tub combo is great and works well for reclining and standing, the separate shower stall is so small it's not even worth having. It's much too reminiscent of the poorly designed tiny showers of the smaller R-ships.
The Riviera is not a ship known for having a plethora of things to do onboard, the lack of kids facilities included, but what it does have for activities is impressive. The Canyon Ranch SpaClub, for example, is a great enclave of relaxation that like the smaller ships in the Oceania fleet, features a unique thalassotherapy pool outside at a welcoming forward deck space. Fair-skinned patrons may wish for it to be indoors, but at least the shaded sun beds are a place to retreat to as are the stone beds, saunas, steam rooms and treatment rooms inside. Only the layout is a bit odd as few of these features are contiguous.
Most unique to the Riviera and its sister ship the Marina are the great Culinary Center (pictured below) and Artist Loft. As much as the ship is about enjoying the fruits of fine dining, it is also about learning how to craft them yourself at individual cooking stations. There are also excellent culinary tours that depart for shore from here. However, if you prefer free activities, the art center across the way features an artist in residence for instructing guests in various fine art projects. Elsewhere, classics like shopping, shuffleboard, trivia and more pass the time.
For surpassing the quality of even luxury lines, Oceania Cruises' dining is simply superb. Executive Culinary Director and master chef Jacques Pepin has set the bar very high on the Riviera from the specialty restaurants to the buffet, poolside grill and main dining room. The Grand Dining Room is, in fact, an apt title for the latter as everything is prepared a la minute and with the same care as at the specialty Polo Grill steakhouse, Toscana for Italian, Jacques for French, Red Ginger for Asian and La Reserve by "Wine Spectator" for pairings.
Remarkable is the incredible selection at each restaurant that ensures ease of repeatability even on a world cruise-length voyage. Premium options like lobster tail are available everywhere including daily at the Terrace Cafe buffet as is a wagyu beef burger at the Waves Grill. Other tasty highlights include but are not limited to the savory Beef Terriyaki from Red Ginger (pictured above) and the exceptional Poached Scallop Gnocchi with Lobster from Jacques (pictured below).
Entertainment on the Riviera is a bit in flux, and the results are mostly headed in the right direction. Thanks to Oceania's Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Limited parent company, a number of higher profile production show qualities are being passed down from NCL. This means performances feature a good cast of singers and even better troupe of dancers, and talented show's like World Beat (pictured below) are pretty well fleshed out already.
Only ones such as "Lights, Camera, Music" feel a bit abbreviated but exhibit great potential. As expected, performances cannot be as lavish as on larger ships, but talented overall staging exceeded most of my expectations. The weakest link are actually guest entertainers that hearken back to old-school cruising with somewhat cheesy repertoires that include karaoke-like audience participation. If these are phased out and production shows are more dialed in, the Riviera is well on its way to a solid entertainment lineup.
Like the Riviera itself, service onboard is unpretentious but still very attentive. The buffet, home to nightly lobster tail (pictured below), is where assistance is most readily available, and dedication and friendliness extended to our room stewards as well. Only a handful of times was service not quite as polished. In fact, the great staff in the main dining room seemed to occasionally best the waiters in the specialty restaurants.
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