Number of Cruises: 1
Cruise Line: Oceania
Sailing Date: n/a
Regatta Cruise Review
We took the Regatta through the Caribbean and “The Panama Canal” to Puerto Caldera, Costa Rica on January 2, 2004 from Miami. Notice I put “The Panama Canal” in quotes. More on that later.
We were greeted at the airport by a rather disorganized Oceania representative who didn’t seem to care that most of us were dragging three weeks worth of luggage for the upcoming trip. She walked briskly (all she had to carry was her clipboard, and she didn’t seem very versed in English) while the rest of us tried to hurry after. For some obscure reason, the only place we could board the bus (even though there were buses outside at regular stops) was at the very end of the baggage terminal. We emerged, sweat dripping, into the hot and humid Miami air to be greeted by—no bus. We had to wait 20 minutes for one to rush from the dock to the airport. They didn’t know we were coming?
After that, things started to go more smoothly. The check-in process was lengthy and complicated, but hey, I don’t mind security these days. And the staff was complete, thorough, friendly and efficient. Upon boarding, we were met by the service attendant for our cabin, Marie, who guided us to our room. When we entered our beautiful suite, we were greeted with champagne on ice, a fruit plate, and our Brazilian butler, Carlos, bearing a tray of canapés. With that, we set out for the Islands.
The land tours were a disappointment. They were poorly organized and we definitely didn’t get value for our money. There were a few circumstances where weather intervened, most notably at the first stop (Tortola, where the inland excursions were rained out). As an alternative, I took a 20-minute helicopter ride over Montserrat and saw a lot of nothing. It cost me $300. I was not a happy camper.
By contrast, the ship was gorgeous and well-kept; the service personal, accommodating, and superlative in quality; and the food wonderful and excellently prepared. The entertainment and on-board lectures were nicely planned, complete, informative and marvelously performed. The ship’s facilities (such as the library and medical center) were large, comfortable, well-staffed and well-equipped.
The computer lab was a major disappointment. Frequent classes prohibited its use except at very odd hours for short periods of time. The 56K modem made work on the terminals slow and tedious, and the charges for use were usurious (.95 a minute; packages lowered it to .85 and .70). It didn’t matter if you brought your own laptop, there were no internet connections in the rooms. Phone calls were $6.95 a minute.
We got to Aruba on a Sunday. All promised shopping was off because everything was closed. We had a nice horse ride through the cacti and on the beach instead. The lesson was, don’t go to a Catholic shopping island on Sunday. Like I said, the land excursions weren’t well thought-out.
Then we hit the San Blas Islands. Swells were too high to get the tenders in, and I can understand not risking it. Instead of staying anchored, we took off for Crystobal, where we docked (a fee for the company). Land excursions were quickly arranged (an income for the company, to make up for the docking fees). Then we sort of sat around in port for the rest of the day and the next morning and early afternoon. At 5:00 pm, much later than scheduled (and we still don’t know why), we left for what many passengers considered the highlight of the trip, The Panama Canal.
Well, we got there as the sun was setting. The company composed a disgusting letter about how none of this was their fault (a letter which they later regretted writing; see below) and distributed it to the passengers. We got through the first lock just as the sun went down, and proceeded through the rest of the Canal in pitch darkness. That is, if you were willing not to get any sleep. Gatun Lake, the jungle, the animal life and the rest of the views were lost. Heavily advertised by the company, they were not delivered. We later discovered that traversing the Canal at night is cheaper for the vessels making the trip (more revenue for the company).
We finally docked in Costa Rica, where we de-boarded, and took the only well-planned and interesting excursion of the trip, to a coffee plantation and restaurant. Very nice. Then, when all of us were happily exhausted, we were driven to San Jose Airport and dropped off with our baggage.
Besides the uncontrollable fact that getting through the airport is bad enough, what with antiquated security systems and understaffed passport and check-in counters, everyone who had paid Oceania for an upgrade to first class on the charter flight into LA was denied. United had no record of the upgrades because Oceania hadn’t provided them with the information. Getting seats, period, was a mess. After one group of passengers complained vociferously, a representative from Oceania finally showed up and corrected the situation—for the people who were yelling. We ourselves ended up in coach and had to call Oceania and demand a refund for the first-class upgrades we had paid for once we returned home. We still have not received reimbursement.
Guess what came in the mail a week later? A missive from Oceania trying (inadequately) to explain why they couldn’t go through the Canal during the day, apologizing for the “poorly-worded letter” we received on board, and a $500 gift certificate good for further travel on Oceania. (“Dear Hormel: I found a long black hair in a can of your chili.” “Gee, we’re sorry. Here’s six more cans of chili.”)
All in all, we don’t think we’ll be doing any Oceania cruises in the future. No wonder they’re not doing well financially. They would probably think that a first-class hotel in the middle of the Sahara Desert was a brilliant idea, too.