Oceania Riviera makes a wonderful first impression

ABOARD OCEANIA RIVIERA, DAY 1 — The weather in Miami suits the name of this voyage: “Sunny Celebrations.” Our ship, Oceania Riviera, is docked at Terminal J and waiting for our arrival.

For Pam and I, this cruise marks a couple of firsts: Our first cruise on Oceania, and our first holiday cruise. For the next 13 days, spanning Christmas and New Years, we’ll be sailing to seven different Caribbean islands.

The Grand Bar, by the casino

The first order of business is the embarkation: Going through security, getting checked in and the trip up the gangway to the ship. It can be grueling. This wasn’t. Friendly and efficient, and guess what? There was no one taking your photo in front of a cheesy backdrop. In fact, Oceania doesn’t do photos at all that we could see.

Once onboard, there were white-gloved staff stationed throughout to direct us, something else we appreciated.

Riviera itself makes a wonderful first impression. The second newest ship in the Oceania fleet, launched in 2012, it is richly appointed with an understated elegance, much like the dress code onboard, described as “country club casual.” You feel special, but also at home.

Much of the first day is spent exploring the ship and getting your bearings. Size-wise, it’s large, but still easy to get around, with a total of 16 decks for its 800 crew and 1,250 passengers. On this cruise the guests numbered a little over 900.

No worries about missing out on the holiday traditions. Riviera arranged for a quartet of singers dressed in vintage costumes to sing Christmas carols in front of a towering Christmas tree by the magnificent Lalique Grand Staircase. Off to the side was a complete gingerbread house and village, complete with a model train. Nice touch, guys.

Sole Tempura in Red Ginger

More observations from the first day:

— Dining. Buffet lunch was served in the Terrace Cafe, Deck 12. Lots of choices and all good. Riviera has four specialty restaurants (no extra charge but reservations required. Word to the wise: Make your reservations early. The good time slots go pretty fast.). We had dinner the first night in Red Ginger, their highly regarded Asian restaurant. The hostess greeted us by name before we said a word — very impressive — and the wait staff was very attentive, almost overly so. But we were glad when Pam accidentally burned her hand on the plate with her Miso Glazed Seabass. They came right over with first aid. As to the food itself, the toughest part is deciding from the extensive menu offerings. I had the Tempura Sole. The presentations are outstanding, and Pam said the sushi is the best she’s ever had. Just be careful of the hot plates.

  • Our stateroom. We are in a Concierge Level stateroom on Deck 10. Beautiful dark wood tones and a very nice granite-tiled bath with separate tub and shower. There is enough drawer and closet space to unpack 13 days worth of clothes and essentials. We also have use of the Concierge Lounge on Deck 9, a place to relax with friends featuring light snacks and drinks, staffed during posted hours.
  • I managed to leave my sunglasses in the Terrace Cafe and figured on having to buy new ones. To my surprise, they turned up in lost and found less than an hour later.
  • The signs in the elevators claim an 18-person maximum. I don’t think I would like to put that to the test.
  • Even the housekeeping carts are upscale. They look like rolltop desks.
  • They say never hit the casino on the first night. We didn’t listen, but still managed to break even and have a drink in the adjacent Grand Bar, an oasis in blue lights.
Red Ginger, the Asian specialty restaurant

We ended the first night in Horizons, the club/lounge on Deck 15 where Happy Hour was in effect from 10:30 to 11:30. A DJ did his best to rev up the crowd, but when the crowd is four couples, that’s a challenge. We did meet the cruise director, Nolan Dean, who gave us some good tips. Like the phones near the elevators are always located on the even side of the ship.

December 23, 2016

Photos by Gerry Barker

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