Just off Insignia from an 11-night Eastern Caribbean itinerary. This was our 44th cruise overall, but first on Oceania. While there were some things to like on this cruise, we were underwhelmed overall. We do not plan on cruising on O again, and certainly not on the R-class ships. Details follow; see near the bottom for comments on accessibility (ADA) features:
Service was very good to excellent, reminding us of what Celebrity used to be like 15 years ago or so. Many of the wait staff and bar servers knew us by name and also knew our preferences before the cruise was half over. There were a couple service errors, but the experience was quite impressive on the whole.
Despite its small size, Insignia rarely felt crowded. There was plenty of space for everyone in the lounges and the Terrace Cafe. Oceania also actively polices chair-hogging on the pool deck. I could head up at 1 PM on a sunny sea day and find an available lounger. I will miss that on future cruises – on most other cruise lines the pool deck loungers are 100% full with books, towels, beach bags – but no people – by 8:30 AM. Pool loungers also come with thick padding and armrests. Towels do not need to be signed out.
There was a very good selection of wines by the glass, along with dedicated sommeliers to serve them.
The bed was very comfortable and the pillows were fine. The oversized sheet was appreciated. The duvet was much too heavy for a tropical itinerary, but Insignia is not the only ship we’ve been on that has this problem.
The A/C in the cabin worked very well; this is the first Caribbean cruise I can recall where we did not have it set on maximum cool for the entire cruise. That said, the cost-saving habit of reducing the A/C in the middle of the night is alive and well on Insignia. News flash: many older folks don’t sleep as well as they did when younger. We were up in the middle of the night and felt the lack of cooling. I’m guessing that we were not the only ones.
The enrichment lecturer, Sandy Cares, was both entertaining and informative. One of the best we’ve encountered.
Despite the Caribbean itinerary, there was very little fun to be had on this ship. Let’s face it folks, the Caribbean is not the right part of the world to feature cruises where destination is the primary focus and onboard activities are (very) secondary. But that is exactly the product that Oceania delivered.
Entertainment was scarce and mediocre. There was an adequate string quartet. There was a pianist who never sang or interacted with the “crowd.” The Insignia singers were enthusiastic and had their moments, but there was ultimately nothing outstanding or memorable there. Finally, there was the show band. Their sets were short and heavily oriented towards jazz or classic dance music (tangos, rumbas, cha-chas, etc.). There was no island music to be had. Anywhere. Jazz sets on the pool deck? In the middle of the day? In the Caribbean? Yep.
Now we come to the food, one of Oceania’s major selling points. Some of the food was indeed better than what is available now on Celebrity, Holland America, Norwegian, Princess, Royal Caribbean, or Carnival. But the truth is that nothing stood out as all that much better. The difference was either incremental or nil. Some of the selections would have been very hard for us to distinguish from food on these other lines. And, as many frequent cruisers will acknowledge, food quality better than that on the larger cruise lines is a pretty low bar to clear these days. If we were served the typical fare on Insignia in an upscale land restaurant we would not publicly complain, but we would also not return.
Miscellaneous (neither good nor bad):
Insignia is the first ship we’ve been on where the Captain did not really fit the stereotype of a suave brand ambassador. He was much more a working Captain who did not seem entirely comfortable interacting with the passengers. I don’t believe that there was a Staff Captain on Insignia which may be a partial explanation.
Similarly, we’ve never been on a ship before where some of the crew had more than one job. The singers doubled as social-hostesses and assistant cruise directors. Sommeliers worked as Baristas in the mornings. And some of the folks serving behind the line at the Terrace Café during breakfast and lunch morphed into waiters or assistant waiters at dinner. Interesting.
My wife has long grappled with MS and has reached a point where she requires shower seats, grab bars, and room for her mobility scooter. Accordingly we always sail in cabins with ADA features. Our cabin was well-outfitted with such features, including one of the best ADA showers we’ve encountered on a ship. There was virtually no leakage onto the bathroom floor (which completely floods on many ships) and the seat was positioned in a manner that made the shower controls easily accessible while seated. Kudos to Oceania for thoroughly thinking these things through. Unfortunately, the only cabins with these features are insides on Oceania’s version of the R-class. We would have paid up for a better category had there been a choice. Plus, this particular cabin was completely decorated in various shades of gray, with no art on the walls to break the monotony. Overall a depressing experience – like being in a large, dimly lit closet.
Outside the cabin, accessibility fell short. The elevators were very small and barely accommodated my wife’s scooter. And the doors to the open decks/pool deck had very high jambs to get over, high enough that my wife was concerned that she would damage her scooter (which we own) by driving over them. For that reason, she never went on the pool deck, which was a significant limitation. Yes, the R-ships are quite old by today’s standards. But reducing the accessibility barriers to the open decks could have been addressed during her recent refurbishment. The accessible cabins were certainly upgraded at that time.
Oceania often sails to more unusual or exotic ports. For those cruises, positioning the ship as an upscale floating hotel makes a certain amount of sense. For the Caribbean, however, the floating hotel model simply does not work IMO. You need a floating resort with lively music (and island music!), games, piano bars, etc. In short, Caribbean cruises need to be fun. And whatever else this cruise may have been, it cannot be described as “fun.”
If the food had really been head and shoulders above that of the large cruise lines then the combination of food and service might have been enough to save the day. But alas, the food was either pretty much the same or only slightly better than the offerings available elsewhere at sea. Although the service onboard was clearly better than on other ships, that in and of itself was not enough to tip the balance for us. We will return to the larger lines/ships, enjoy the fun, and set our service expectations appropriately for today’s reality.