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RLM77

Insignia - Underwhelmed

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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:


The Good:

  • 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.

 

The Not-So-Good:

  • 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.

 

Accessibility:
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.

 

Conclusions:
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.

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Thanks for your opinion.  I am happier on the "R" ships than you were, but I can certainly understand why you felt that way.  There are plenty of Oceania regulars who agree with you and prefer the "O" ships -- significantly larger than the "R" ships but not megaships either.  1250 passengers is still small when compared to the behemoths now being brought out by other lines.

 

 

 

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Good review with some excellent observations.  We too have done about 40 cruises on all manner of ships and locations.  We don't mind the lack of entertainment or activities either on deck or in showrooms.  We sail to relax and have more than once never got off the ship in port on Caribbean itineraries.  

Your observations on food however concerns me.  We do and expect very good - excellent food on the "upscale" small ships.  Our last experience on Insignia (many years ago) with food was outstanding.  We sail for NYE and will be hoping for the best.  

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We last sailed in May 2018 (due to DH's medical problems these days) and I've noticed the complaints about food quality as well.  Back on our cruise we didn't notice a diminishing quality of food but we DID notice the reduced menu choices in the GDR.  We aren't fond of the new menus (not so new anymore) but there is still plenty to choose from.

 

Also not happy with the GDR closing for lunch on port days which seemed to start (as far as we could see although staff denied that to me) on our November 2017 cruise.  When the ship is empty (as it was when we were in Haifa overnight) it's understandable.  We had 80 people on board Marina in Haifa!  But plenty of people in a port will  come back for lunch and when that happens -- and tours are also returning -- Terrace and Waves can be overwhelmed with customers.

 

I just had a not-so-brilliant thought.  Opening the large GDR for lunch on port days -- well, if that doesn't work, how about opening one of the specialties for lunch?  O wouldn't have to serve a different specialty restaurant menu, just the same food that Terrace/GDR might have ... but these are smaller venues.

 

 

 

Edited by Mura

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1 hour ago, ORV said:

Thanks for your review. It just goes to show that different things are important to different people. 

...
 

 

Indeed.

I can't imagine a lack of "island music" being a minus.

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Thanks for the review.

 

My wife used a scotter also.  Getting through the doors on the pool deck requires someone to hold the door open.  It is quite a bump but we managed no problem. But I do agree that O could make getting through them easier.   here is no way most people in wheelchairs or scooter could get through the doors without help

 

Obviously someone booking an accessible cabin realizes it is 'inside' when booking  so there should not be an issue there.  The Insignia is 1 or 8 identical ships by a bankrupt cruise line so each of the ships have the same problem re no balcony cabins.  Princess  got around this by converting 3 ocean view cabins into 2 accessible cabins but doing so to balcony cabins would result in revenue loss.

 

On the Princess similar ships the cruise director staff and the dancer are also the same people.  Many of the cruise are on the longer side so there are not many production shows and the dancers/singer would die of boredom if only doing a few shows.  The wait staff,  just like bar servers go where they are needed.

 

It is too bad that not more was done to the cabins during the last dry dock.  Fortunately we spend very little time in the cabin - I don't recall what the walls looked like.

 

I hope the OP used the comment card for the pianist and other issues    

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55 minutes ago, ATSEAMYLIFE said:

Your observations on food however concerns me.  We do and expect very good - excellent food on the "upscale" small ships.  Our last experience on Insignia (many years ago) with food was outstanding.  We sail for NYE and will be hoping for the best.  

food is subjective  so I would go with an open mind & judge for yourself

A couple of other reviews on the same cruise  with different outlooks  🤔

 

 

 

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11 minutes ago, Shawnino said:

 

Indeed.

I can't imagine a lack of "island music" being a minus.

 

On the cruise being discussed here we were docked next to the Majesty of the Seas in Nassau.  Their very loud live "island music" around the pool made me appreciate the more quiet jazz on the Insignia pool deck.  And this is coming from a drummer and bass player who generally loves (and plays) loud music!

Edited by ricka47

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9 minutes ago, LHT28 said:

 go with an open mind & judge for yourself

 

 

Always do, that's why we don't call it "vacation" but "adventure".  

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I have to agree with the comments on accessibility.  I’m a post polio person, and use a mobility scooter full time.  I only cruise on the O ships because I know that the R ships are not disability friendly——I cruised on REN 2 back in the day.  But even on the O ships, accessibility is a real concern, especially when trying to disembark the ship in ports of call.  The ramp on deck 4 has such a steep lip that scooters cannot negotiate it without getting stuck and bottoming out. It’s very frustrating when a disabled person can’t leave the ship in ports.

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Thanks to the OP for a detailed and honest review. Opinions on the R ships vary a lot!

 

I believe it is a good point the OP makes. Should cruisers expect a more Caribbean atmosphere aboard a Caribbean cruise, or should nearly everything on a Caribbean cruise be exactly the same as a Baltic or SE Asian cruise? Different people have completely different views on that subject! Cruisers versus Travelers. Some people go to Paris and look for a dependable TGIF while others look for a great French Restaurant serving French food. Oceania primarily caters to the former.

Edited by pinotlover

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Thorough, balanced and considered review - excellent job.  Thank you for taking the time. 

 

If we were all the same, what a boring world it would be.  I spent 12 days on a HAL ship with a steel drum band.  They were EVERYWHERE.  To this day, I run screaming from the room when I run across one.

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2 hours ago, Kate-AHF said:

Thorough, balanced and considered review - excellent job.  Thank you for taking the time. 

 

If we were all the same, what a boring world it would be.  I spent 12 days on a HAL ship with a steel drum band.  They were EVERYWHERE.  To this day, I run screaming from the room when I run across one.

I'd be right behind you! A little steel drum music is fine, and by a little I mean about 5 minutes, for me that is!

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When do we get those just 5 minutes?

 

Actually see the same attitude regularly. Whether on tour in Italy, Thailand, or Stockholm when the subject for lunch comes up there are always those that say “ Look! There’s a Subway, KFC, or Burger King; I just want some regular food!” One can stay in Omaha and eat in any of those dives! I love Vienna , if I want to set in a comfy chair and listen to classical music, that’s where I’d go! When I go to the Carribe on the other hand!!

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I'm sorry, I think for a some of us, the reasons for going to he Caribbean are vastly different than our reasons for travel elsewhere.  We've done the Caribbean on a cruise ship a lot.  At this point, we are on that ship to be warm, and look at the ocean.

 

That's not how I feel about any other destination, because it's ALL about the destination, not the climate. (and I've never eaten, or wanted to eat at an American chain restaurant outside the US)

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This cruise was doomed to be a failure if someone cruised Oceania for “fun” and when one is surprised that entertainment is “scarce”.

While food is very subjective, I find it hard to believe that the food on Oceania is no better than the one offered on main stream cruise lines.

The good news is that OP did find out that this cruise line does not meet his/her expectations and now knows which cruise line(s) to return to.

Trying different cruise lines is the ONLY way to find out what suits us best.

As they say, different strokes for different folks.

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I agree.  I'm always bothered by posts from experienced O people to those who will be trying O for the first time when they say "you will love it".  Well, we don't know that, do we?  And it's clear from posts at various times that not everyone does.  And they are not wrong if they aren't happy with their experience.

 

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4 hours ago, pinotlover said:

When do we get those just 5 minutes?

 

Actually see the same attitude regularly. Whether on tour in Italy, Thailand, or Stockholm when the subject for lunch comes up there are always those that say “ Look! There’s a Subway, KFC, or Burger King; I just want some regular food!” One can stay in Omaha and eat in any of those dives! I love Vienna , if I want to set in a comfy chair and listen to classical music, that’s where I’d go! When I go to the Carribe on the other hand!!

Sometimes we crave that 'regular food'.  On my first trip to China (1983) after two weeks eating authentic Chinese in Shanghai, Beijing, Canton...When we got off the train in Hong Kong, some stopped in the train station for pizza.  The rest of us waited until we got to the hotel to drop off bags, and then headed out to find McDonalds for some real junk food with real preservatives... EM

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17 hours ago, pinotlover said:

Thanks to the OP for a detailed and honest review. Opinions on the R ships vary a lot!

 

I believe it is a good point the OP makes. Should cruisers expect a more Caribbean atmosphere aboard a Caribbean cruise, or should nearly everything on a Caribbean cruise be exactly the same as a Baltic or SE Asian cruise? Different people have completely different views on that subject! Cruisers versus Travelers. Some people go to Paris and look for a dependable TGIF while others look for a great French Restaurant serving French food. Oceania primarily caters to the former.

So judgmental of  what others like to do  or eat & drink

 

Why worry about  others just  do what you like  eat where you want  

If people want KFC   who really cares  ...🙄

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18 minutes ago, LHT28 said:

So judgmental of  what others like to do  or eat & drink

 

Why worry about  others just  do what you like  eat where you want  

If people want KFC   who really cares  ...🙄

EXACTLY !!

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19 minutes ago, Essiesmom said:

Sometimes we crave that 'regular food'.  On my first trip to China (1983) after two weeks eating authentic Chinese in Shanghai, Beijing, Canton...When we got off the train in Hong Kong, some stopped in the train station for pizza.  The rest of us waited until we got to the hotel to drop off bags, and then headed out to find McDonalds for some real junk food with real preservatives... EM


I agree. I have also craved American fast food outside of the US.  At one point in our younger years, my husband’s career took us to a 3rd world country in Africa. Our food choices were very limited and imported food was scarce. We went on R&R to Madrid one year and our very first stop was McDonald’s.  They were the best cheeseburgers we ever had.  I make no judgements on where and what people choose to eat. 

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We don't normally eat fast food anywhere, but that doesn't mean there have been some times when we were traveling abroad where we had no choice and Macdonald's it was.  Like in Tel Aviv on the sabbath when literally the only place open was a Macdonald's.  Unfortunately, it wasn't one of their better ones -- but we ate there anyway.

 

But I also am not one to judge people on their restaurant choices!

 

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I agree that people should eat what they want, when they want. That’s why it’s extremely important for anyone setting up tours on the Roll Call to be extremely explicit  about lunch plans for tours. I always try to allow 1-1.5 hours for lunch when possible so to give everyone options. Sometimes it has to be quick or pack your own. 

 

Let those that want quick quick fast food then shopping or browsing do so. Same goes for those that want leisurely sit down dining. 

 

If the plan for lunch is a stop at BK or MD let everyone know upfront. I’ve experience many that decide upon which tours to take is decided upon lunch options.

 

The best meals I have on a cruise is rarely eaten aboard ship.

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1 hour ago, LHT28 said:

So judgmental of  what others like to do  or eat & drink

 

Why worry about  others just  do what you like  eat where you want  

If people want KFC   who really cares  ...🙄

Agreed.

I only try to worry about myself - that’s enough trouble for me 😊

Ditto for what or how much others eat onboard - it’s their choice and I don’t have to live with it.

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