Stepping onto Regatta feels like coming home. In our case, we'd cruised on Regatta's sister ships, and the layout and decor is just as we remembered it. We already knew how to get around. But even first-timers will soon feel at home on this ship. Its small size -- 30,277 tons and 684 passengers -- and understated, cozy furnishings and design make you feel like you're weekending at a rich friend's manor house on the seas, rather than a Vegas hotel. With fewer public areas than today's mega-ships, you rarely feel lost, and it's easy to make friends with shipmates you'll see again and again. Regatta is a comfortable, classy, elegant ship that's not too big and not too small.
What you won't have are big-ship features like waterslides, Broadway production shows, mini-golf courses and bowling alleys -- not that Oceania's core clientele are clamoring for such amenities. Yet, if you've sailed on newer sisters Marina and Riviera, you might notice that Regatta has fewer dining venues, no culinary center and smaller cabins. (Regatta cleverly sidesteps the dining issue by adding entrees from the O-class ships' specialty venues Jacques and Red Ginger to its main dining room menu each night.)
Regatta is also an older ship, originally built as one of a series of eight ships for Renaissance Cruises, which ceased operations in late 2001. Regatta became the first of three identical ships launched by Oceania. The ship is impeccably maintained and doesn't feel old, but the tiny bathrooms and limited public areas don't help to belie its age. Oceania's destination-intensive itineraries fit the ship well. On long, cold-weather cruises with many sea days, you might get bored of trivia and cooking demos if you need more entertainment than a good book and a nap.
As a company, Oceania makes a point to offer luxurious service without becoming a luxury cruise line. Priced in the deluxe or luxury-lite range, the ship offers an experience that's close to luxury without being all-inclusive. Regatta's fares include soft drinks, bottled water and specialty coffees. All specialty dining is free, and photographers don't chase you around the ship before trying to sell you pricey souvenir photos. The amenities, attentive service and tasty cuisine are likely to fool most people into believing they are traveling in ultra style.
Yet, many passengers are abruptly woken from that dream with the nickel-and-diming that remains. We heard many complaints of the line overcharging for shore excursions, visas and pre-cruise hotels. Don't let this ruin an otherwise lovely vacation. You can easily avoid overpaying by doing some research ahead of time, booking on your own (or with a help of a travel agent) and taking advantage of Oceania's early-booking deals, which offer perks like prepaid gratuities, complimentary Internet, onboard credit and free airfare.
The key to a fabulous Regatta cruise is setting your expectations correctly. If you're looking for the service and inclusions of a luxury line or the amenities and large spaces of a big ship, you'll surely be disappointed. If, instead, you focus on the ship's luxurious and comfortable touches, embrace its lovely spaces and intimate size, and join in its devotion to good food and exploring new places, you might have just found a new favorite ship.
You might not exactly gasp the first time you enter Regatta's main lobby on Deck 4, but most people want to -- at least those who aren't familiar with these small ships and their consistent decor. Some people equate the central staircase with a Titanic replica; I prefer to think of it as Tara-like, since I expect to see Vivien Leigh flouncing down to greet Clark Gable at the bottom. Though in reality, you'll most likely be flouncing down the steps to ask questions at the reception, shore excursions or concierge desks located there. The medical center is also on this deck.
The ambience in Regatta's public rooms is clubby, elegant, comfortable and familiar; you feel as though you're in a country manor house that you've visited before. Plush furnishings and Oriental carpets of red, gold, blue and yellow are framed by the burled walnut of the walls, ornamental sconces and painted ceiling frescoes. Several of the rooms have faux fireplaces, including the beautiful, comfortable library perched over the pool; Martinis, the bar by the casino; and the Grand Bar at the entrance to the dining room.
Most of the public rooms are located on the Deck 5 promenade or on Deck 10 aft (the library) or forward (Horizons). Just before entry into the spa on Deck 9 is the Internet center. Internet service is available at an exorbitant 99 cents per minute (among the highest we've seen at sea), with packages available to bring the price down slightly: $160 for 200 minutes or $27.99 per person, per day, for unlimited use. Package prices might be more expensive on shorter cruises.
Next to the Internet center is a small card room where people like to play Bridge.
The ship's boutiques on Deck 5 offer an array of logo items, perfumes and other duty-free goods, as well as regional tchotchkes that reflect the cruise's itinerary.
The Grand Dining Room, Regatta's main restaurant, is a "come when you please, with whomever you please" open-seating venue at the aft end of Deck 5. As are many dining rooms of this ilk, it's surrounded with windows on three sides. Unlike many of the other dining rooms of this type, though, Regatta's offers an unprecedented number of two-tops for those who do not prefer forced intimacy with strangers. The decor is positively heavenly -- literally. Celestial frescoes cover the ceiling; the center of the restaurant is on a raised platform under a domed painting of seraphim. If not for the endless ocean views, passengers would hardly know they were in a ship's main dining room. Rather, it looks and feels like one of the more precious restaurants found in New York, Chicago, Miami or Los Angeles.
Of course the decor and ambience are only precursors to the Grand Dining Room's real star -- the cuisine. Celebrity chef and author Jacques Pepin serves as the line's culinary director, and Gallic influence is standard in the menus. From crispy duck a l'orange to garlicky scampi Provencal, the food reflects a bit of France. Even the anytime menu -- which is available in the Grand Dining Room and features standbys like grilled salmon or chicken breast and New York strip steak -- is offered with a garlic-herb butter, designed by Mr. Pepin.
Another nice touch is that, every night, Regatta's main dining room features one entree each from the menus of Jacques and Red Ginger, specialty restaurants found on Oceania's bigger ships, Marina and Riviera. Dishes allow Regatta travelers to enjoy the cuisine of these venues, even though the standalone restaurants are not onboard.
Oceania Cruises offers two all-inclusive beverage package options. The first, at a charge of $34.95 per person, per day, includes house wine and beer with dinner and lunch. The second package is pricier -- $54.95 per person, per day -- and includes beer and premium house wine (from a selection of red and white vintages that change daily), all beverages on the bar menu (except Remy Martin Louis XIII cognac) and room service beverages (but not mini-bar selections).
Although the Grand Dining Room is open for all meals, most Regatta cruisers choose the casual Terrace Cafe for breakfast and lunch. Located at the aft on the pool deck, it also boasts an alfresco dining area at the fantail, partially covered by a shady canopy. The cafe serves its food cafeteria-style; in other words, portions are served to passengers, as opposed to passengers serving themselves. (The exceptions are the pre-plated desserts and breads.) During breakfast, passengers can find the usual cereal, sausage, scrambled eggs and bacon, in addition to an omelet station, fresh fruit, muesli and spectacular breads, rolls, pastries and croissants. Lunch is filled with innovative salads, pasta and carving stations, often with a theme (Oriental Day, Mexican Day, Italian Day and the like). There's also a separate window for pizzas. For dinner, the restaurant offers a selection of hors d'ouevres and salads, a sushi bar and a hot buffet plus pasta, carving and wok stations. A selection of desserts is complemented by a trolley full of homemade ice cream. On one side of the cafe, a help-yourself coffee and tea station is open 24 hours a day.
The two restaurants that require reservations are Polo Grill -- a steak-and-chop house -- and Toscana, which features a northern Italian menu. (Cruisers in concierge-level cabins and above are guaranteed two reservations in each restaurant, while passengers in standard accommodations are guaranteed one.) If we ran the Michelin Guide, we'd give each of these restaurants three stars; the service is attentive, and the cuisine is unprecedented for a no-fee restaurant on the sea. In Polo Grill, for example, you can choose a full two-pound Maine lobster. Want it with a side of filet mignon? No problem. A 32-ounce prime rib is also offered, in case you're really, really hungry.
At Toscana, the dishes come prepared just like your grandmother would have made them -- if your grandmother was a six-star chef from Northern Italy with access to the freshest meats, seafood and produce imaginable. Don't forget to shave off a few bites of Parmesan cheese from the giant wheel up front. It's cheese heaven.
Oceania also prides itself on its extensive wine list, which features some surprising choices. Wine regions from around the world are recognized, including Chile, Australia, France, Italy and California.
All of these restaurants offer complimentary espresso and cappuccino during mealtimes.
After 6 a.m., early risers can take advantage of pastries and coffee offered in the Horizon Lounge, one of the best places to sit quietly and watch arrival in port. Afternoon tea is also served there. The tiny, crustless sandwiches are dainty, the cheery yellow tablecloths and elegant crockery set the tone, and it's one of those Oceania traditions that just shouldn't be missed. Be warned, though: the scones seem more like sweetened buttermilk biscuits and the clotted cream more like unsweetened whipped cream.
Lunch also is available at Waves' Grill, located between the pool and the Terrace Cafe. There, food is literally prepared while you wait. Each day, there is an array of salads from which to choose (one of the rare self-serve spots on the ship), which is good because if there's a long line, the wait for that perfectly prepared fish sandwich, burger or chicken breast can be excruciating. They even make Reubens, which look fantastic. We wanted one until we saw hand-made sirloin patties, mushrooms and the Swiss cheese, at which point we chose a mushroom-Swiss burger instead.
Catty-corner to Waves is an ice cream venue, serving up delicious milkshakes in three flavors. They're perfect on a hot day.
The standard room-service breakfast includes baked goods like bagels and muffins, cereal, fresh fruit and yogurt. Concierge- and suite-level passengers have the added options of eggs (including omelets), oatmeal, pancakes and breakfast meats.
Note: One night -- the night after joining the cruise -- our jetlag got to us, and we conked out until midnight, missing dinner completely. We awoke famished and ordered the Captain's Pantry salad from room service; it was fantastic -- perfect for a midnight meal. We recommend asking for the Caesar dressing on the side. We don't know exactly how chefs make the Caesar dressing, but Oceania could increase revenue substantially if they would bottle it for sale.
We were actually surprised to see several young children on our cruise. Oceania makes it clear that, while children are welcomed, there are no special services for kids. There were no toddlers when we sailed, and the children and teens we did see were exquisitely well-behaved.
The minimum age to sail is 1 year. Pregnant women who will reach their 24th week of pregnancy before or during the cruise are not allowed to sail.
Because you don't have a set dining time with a single serving team, gratuities are pooled; $14.50 per person, per day, is charged to your onboard account. Passengers in suites with butler service (Penthouse, Vista and Owner's Suites) are charged an additional $6. (Beginning with the winter 2013-2014 cruise season, gratuities will go up to $15 per person, per day, in standard staterooms and $22 per person, per day, in the suites.) Room teams, favorite bartenders, the sommelier, the maitre d' and certain waitstaff members might be worthy of more, which can be offered at each passenger's discretion. It's expected that room service will be tipped (anywhere from $1 to $5, depending on what's ordered) as it's delivered. An 18 percent gratuity is automatically added to all beverage purchases and spa services.
The ship's main entertainment venue, Regatta Lounge, is located forward on Deck 5. More a cabaret than a theater, it's congenial but not ideal for stage shows, as the seating is at scattered tables, and sight lines are poor. There's a nice dance floor in the room, though (and a bigger one in Horizons, too). Regatta's entertainment is, therefore, cabaret-style, with entertainers doubling as social hosts and hostesses during the day. There are musicians and solo acts brought onboard, but, in general, entertainment is fairly low-key.
On our cruise, we enjoyed a jazz quartet that played outside during lunch when the weather was nice. They also played inside during tea time at Horizons. There was a classical trio, which played around the ship at different times and welcomed us to the Grand Dining Room for supper. A husband-and-wife magical comedy team regaled us with tricks and jokes. Our cruise director was an accomplished singer and entertainer, so -- aside from his daytime duties of keeping us informed, delighting us with bits of arcane trivia and explaining the day's activities -- we also enjoyed his presence in the evenings.
A small casino offers blackjack and poker tables and some scattered slot machines. The tables were busy on some nights, but the slot machines were too tight to get much play after the first couple of days.
For excursions, we used Oceania's offerings exclusively, except in places where we just wanted to get out and walk. Some were priced substantially higher than if we had done them on our own, but some -- like the Premium Tours we took in St. Petersburg -- were worth every penny. If you'd like a more intimate twist on some of Oceania's popular tours, look for offerings marked as "Oceania Exclusive". These are limited to 10 to 16 participants and feature more personal attention and flexibility than Oceania's standard excursions; they're a cross between a private tour and a typical shore excursion. The Oceania Exclusive tours cost more than their big-coach counterparts but offer great value for travelers who don't like the herd mentality of large group tours.
Regatta brings representatives from the tourism boards of each city visited onto the ship on the morning of arrival. You can get maps and information, but also do your homework, and ask a lot of questions before you go. Some of the info we were given by the shore staff -- even the tourism representatives -- was incorrect.
|Fitness and Recreation|
A lovely but small swimming pool, just big enough to do a couple of laps, is located on Deck 9. Two hot tubs flank the pool.
Regatta has one of the prettiest -- albeit smallest -- spa facilities afloat. All the way forward on the pool deck, The Canyon Ranch SpaClub is cool, quiet and relaxing without a lot of gimmickry. Treatments run the gamut from hot stone and aromatherapy massages to wraps and scrubs, waxing, facials, mani-pedis, hair cutting and styling, and reiki.
There is a small but reasonably well-equipped fitness center on the opposite side of the ship from the spa. Classes are offered for spinning, Pilates and yoga ($11 each). Fitness assessments and personal training are also available for a fee.
At the very bow of the ship is a large and lovely thalassotherapy pool, filled with seawater and providing a strong swirl to ease your aches and pains. It's reserved for free use by occupants of Concierge-level cabins and higher, as well as for those who purchase spa treatments. You can also buy a day pass for $25 or multi-day passes at a discount ($60 for three days, $100 for five days or $175 for 10 days).
Deck 10 offers a running track. Deck 11 forward has a shuffleboard court, a putting green, and Regatta's for-fee private cabanas. These outdoor sanctuaries are furnished with double chaise lounges, drink tables and phones for calling in food and drink orders. The glass fronts provide protection from the wind, but the framing of the cabanas includes a ceiling that can be peeled back to let in light and air. Waiters will bring cold towels, drinks, fruit skewers and afternoon tea. You can rent a cabana by the day or purchase a six-day, seven-day or full-cruise package. Packages come with extra amenities, such as two Oceania beach towels, hat, sun visor, sunscreen and after-sun lotion, a free 10-minute shoulder massage (port days only) and 25 percent off select Canyon Ranch SpaClub treatments (also port days only). Pricing begins at $95 for a one-day rental when the ship is in port.
Regatta's passengers tend to be a mix of young boomers and older retirees -- the former going all day and all night in the port-intensive itineraries, while the latter keep up as much as they can. Regatta's passengers are mostly from the U.S. and the U.K.
Dress is always country-club casual in the evenings, which can mean khakis and collared shirts for men, and pant suits or sundresses for women. There are no formal nights, and we rarely saw anyone in finery. Jeans, shorts, T-shirts and tennis shoes are not permitted in the dining room.
Even though Oceania's pricing structure breaks down the cabin categories by type and location, there are really only eight stateroom configurations: inside, Obstructed View, Porthole, outside, balcony, Penthouse, Vista Suite and Owner's Suite.
Standard cabins -- with or without balconies -- are small, based on industry standards. They range from about 140 to 216 square feet (with balconies). Oceania has done wonders with them, in terms of getting passengers to focus less on size and more on comfort. Oceania was one of the first cruise lines to tout a branded bedding program with its patented Tranquility Bed, taking its cue, no doubt, from the Westin hotel chain's heralded Heavenly Bed.
The bathrooms in standard cabins are miniscule but do come with fluffy towels, Oceania-branded French-milled toiletries and lots of shelf space. In fact, storage in the small cabins is excellent, with a full-size closet, several drawers, a desk and shelves. Most cabins also have loveseats (some of which open to make a third berth), and all have mini-fridges, flat-screen TV's and DVD players.
Concierge-level staterooms, all on Deck 7, are actually verandah staterooms with added amenities; these rooms are identical to the balcony cabins on Deck 6. Concierge-level perks include early check-in and embarkation, a welcome bottle of Champagne, priority restaurant and shore excursion reservations, unlimited access to the thalassotherapy pool and sun deck in the spa, Internet plan discounts, use of an iPad onboard, Bulgari toiletries, a cashmere throw to use onboard, a tote bag, shoe shine service and free garment pressing on embarkation day.
Regatta really starts to shine with its Penthouse cabins, located on Deck 8. Basically the size of 1.5 staterooms (322 square feet), these feature large sitting areas and full-size baths. Owner's Suites, at about 1,000 square feet, are at the aft of the ship and include nifty wraparound decks. Vista Suites (786 square feet) are at the front and are prized for their sweeping, forward views. Both types have individual bedrooms and sitting rooms. Suites sell out first, often within hours of an itinerary being announced. Suite passengers above concierge level get the services of a team of specially trained butlers, daily hors d'oeuvres, in-suite dining from any of the dining room menus, priority embarkation and debarkation, a free in-suite bar setup, use of a laptop, a Bulgari gift set and, where offered, priority tender service.
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