Once upon a time (2001) there was a company called Renaissance Cruises, with
eight identical ships, and the reputation of a maverick; known for pleasing an
abundance of faithful followers while upsetting a good number of travel agents
for their (at the time) innovative use of the Internet for direct marketing to
consumers. Renaissance was a favorite small cruise line for many people,
including cruise industry insiders, because of its small ships (700 passengers),
well above average cuisine, destination-oriented cruises featuring port-a-day
itineraries, casual dress code and open-seating dining including a main dining
room, dinner-time buffet and two, no additional charge, alternative dining
venues. At the same time, they were held in contempt by many travel agents who
saw them going directly to the consumers in a very deliberate fashion,
eliminating the agent and her commission at almost every opportunity.
Thankfully, that past has nothing to with Oceania Cruises,
whose management knew from the start that if they wanted to have a chance in the
cruise business they had to mend fences. And so they did.
Subsidized by heavy loans from the French government,
Renaissance had built and deployed eight identical ships (named R-1 to R-8)
within a few years, but they had a hard time keeping them filled, especially
once the travel agent community conspired to punish their direct marketing ways.
With the unfortunate incident of 9/11, it was only a matter of weeks before the
company's official declaration of bankruptcy. The ships were placed in
receivership and the company assets quickly eaten by Miami litigation sharks.
Like a Phoenix out of the ashes, in 2002, the Renaissance
cruising concept was reborn to two cruise executives who gave it a new name,
Oceania Cruises. The two execs were former Renaissance president Frank Del Rio
and a former president of Crystal Cruises, Joe Watters. They started by
relicensing one of the original eight Renaissance ships and renamed it Oceania
Regatta. As far as the former concept was concerned, they kept the good parts;
the ships, cuisine and itineraries, and changed the bad; establishing a new
travel agent policy to re-establish their good will.
The new line has thrived and even expanded its offerings to
now include three identical ships (all of them former Renaissance ships) and
soon a fourth. For those who wonder about the other R-ships, two of them are
currently sailing for Princess in the South Pacific, and the others are on
charter to various smaller European cruise lines.
Proclaiming that their goal is to fill what they perceive as
a gap between larger-ship premium lines such as Celebrity and smaller ship
luxury lines such as Silversea, they refurbished Renaissance's R2 and renamed it
Regatta, did the same for R1 and named it Insignia in 2003, and acquired R5 and
dubbed in Nautica in 2004. The former R4, is scheduled to be christened as the
Oceania Marina, in Hong Kong in May, 2007, and then to service Southeast Asia
and the South Pacific. Public rooms, including restaurants, were made more
graceful and elegant. The pool area was resurfaced in teak and furnished with
teak double sunbeds. The bedding was replaced with the highest quality European
The Oceania Experience:
Oceania's 'upper premium', floating hotel/country club experience is
characterized by personalized service (butlers attend the 62 suites on board
each ship), resort-casual dress, open seating dining, and intolerance of
smokers, especially since the fire aboard Star Princess in 2006 believed to have
been started on a teak balcony by a butt tossed overboard from an upper deck.
Anyone caught lighting up any place other than the starboard side of the outdoor
Pool Deck will be evicted at the next port.
Oceania offers one of best value-for-money options in modern
cruising - a luxury-like experience at a mid-market price. The focus is on
longer itineraries (11 days-plus) in Europe, South America, the Far East and
occasionally the Caribbean. Cruises are port intensive, practically a new port
every day and some overnight for two or more days. These cruises appeal to the
world of wonder traveler who wants to visit exotic places with the convenience
of a floating hotel, rather than world-weary cruisers whose vacation plans
involve a Caribbean suntan and lots of umbrella drinks by the ship's pool.
The well-trained, young, mostly European staff genuinely
seems to delight in its work. The general atmosphere is very low key; your
meditations not interrupted by constant announcements of imminent activities, in
significant part because few activities are planned. On the other hand, there's
only a pool deck, a sun deck, and the promenade/boat deck, which no one uses
because it has little to sit or recline on. Aside from the many private cabin
balconies, you might have a hard time finding a quiet outdoor place. Even the
entertainment is low-key since most people find their joys in the ports and a
fine meal before bedtime.
Oceania prides itself on spending 25 percent more on food
than most cruise lines, even some of the luxury ones, and in having recruited as
its executive culinary director Jacques Pepin, one of America's best-known
chefs, albeit of French origin. In addition to the traditional main dining room
which runs with no reservations, assigned tables or seating times, there are
three specialty restaurants, none of which levies additional charges.
Entertainment is provided by comedians, soloists, and classical musicians; stick
with the soloists and small combos, as the big productions lack luster. There
are also computer classes and a comprehensive personal enrichment and lecture
All polished dark mahoganies, muted fabrics, and rich-colored
carpeting, the ships' decor is like it's dress code; country club casual.
Because the ships are relatively small, most passengers can get around quite
easily halfway through their first day aboard. An elaborate tea is served every
Mainly couples (singles pay 200% on Oceania) looking for a destination
experience as opposed to a shipboard one. Oceania ships are in port almost every
day, like floating hotels, and are a wonderfully convenient way to see foreign
Shore excursions on Oceania are one area where it pays to do your homework. You
may find the ship is docked miles from civilization and no transportation has
been provided, compelling you to take a tour. Tours can be pricey. In many
cases, either you pay the price or make other arrangements.
Taking The Kids:
There are no dedicated kids facilities or program onboard. If you bring children
on these ships you will find your responsibility for their welfare cutting into
your enjoyment of the cruise considerably. If you can't live without them for
two weeks, take another ship.
Past Passenger Program:
Upon returning from an Oceania cruise, you automatically become a member of the
Oceania Club, and a pair of leather luggage tags and a certificate for discount
on a future cruise are delivered to your home, as too, every month thereafter,
is the Oceania Club Journal newsletter. A repeat passengers' party is held
onboard every sailing. Attractive pins are presented to frequent cruisers after
5, 10 and 20 cruises. Register online to access club discounts and offers, news,
'Behind the Scenes' information, and the logo shop.
Since Oceania has a flexible dining program, gratuities of $11.50 per person per
day (including children) are automatically added to the shipboard account for
all dining room and stateroom personnel. An additional $3.50 per passenger per
day is added for suites with butler service. The amount may be increased,
decreased, or rescinded at the front desk. Gratuities of 18 percent are
automatically added to bar charges and spa services.