A year ago, after a decade of primarily sailing on the better mass-market cruise lines like Celebrity and Holland America, we decided to sample the six-star lines to see if they are that much better.
We have now tried Seabourn, Crystal and Silversea (still trying to find a cruise we want to take on Silversea), and while all three have pluses and minuses, the food on these generally is a serious cut above the larger ships.
But every time we got into a discussion back home of who had the best cuisine at sea, Oceania loyalists insisted the food on the Oceania ships was second to none.
So earlier this month, we tried a cruise on Oceania's Insignia.
To get the news upfront, there is no possible way one could assert that the food on Oceania is better than the food on Seabourn and Crystal.
The disappointments started at breakfast time. Oceania offered someone wanting a dark or grain bread one (!) type of dark bread, frequently served slightly stale, and not the array of wheat, rye, multigrain and nut breads found on most other cruise lines. The juice was even more pathetic -- grapefruit juice served out of a carton that was more or less brown in color, and did not come even close to tasting fresh. And if you took breakfast in the buffet, the trays that held bacon and fruit slices were never refreshed until they ran out (how appealing is that) -- with the servers trying to serve you the last scraps rather than sending for a refill. One morning, when we declined the tiny scraps of bacon and asked for some actual slices, we were told a half hour before buffet closing that they had run out (!).
At lunchtime, while the dining room when open was a pleasant option though with a limited menu, the buffet was even more disappointing. The food options offered each day did not even measure up to Royal Caribbean, much less to the luxury lines. As a matter of fact, we would even rate the buffet of NCL -- Oceania's mass-market sister -- as better than the Oceania buffet. The Insignia's sandwich choices were pathetic, the cheese selection was the same day after day, and the organization of the buffet -- with the grill clogging traffic in the middle -- was such that the scene was generally one of chaos.
The best of the dining on Oceania came at dinner in the main dining room, which we actually found better than the specialty restaurants. The entrees in the main dining room were generally pretty good. The best choice for those dining in the specialty restaurants is the veal chop in the Italian restaurant, which was excellent.
But the restaurants and specialty restaurants were certainly no better than those on Celebrity or Holland America. And none of the restaurants was better than The Haven restaurant on the larger NCL ships.
None of this is to say that this was a bad cruise. It wasn't. The ship, though the staterooms and bathrooms are relatively small, has recently been tastefully redecorated -- and the staff of the ship on the whole was cheerful and had a wonderful, can-do attitude. The shortcomings and problems we encountered were, as some say, First World problems.
But Oceania appears to have a cadre of loyalists who take cruise after cruise on its ships, and who have little or no recent experience with any other cruise line. While that is just fine, all I can say is enjoy your cruises -- but stop telling people Oceania has the best dining at sea, better than any of the luxury lines. It doesn't.