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 summer schedule is mostly concentrated in northern Europe and the Baltic region; winters are spent in the Caribbean, Mexico and the Panama Canal. Regatta's guests are mostly from the U.S. and the U.K., but on our Baltic cruise, we had several people from the Netherlands board in Amsterdam, and there was also a smattering of Australians and New Zealanders aboard.
Dress is always country club casual in the evenings, which can mean Dockers and collared shirts for men and pant suits or sun dresses for women. There are no formal nights, and we rarely saw anyone in any finery -- with the exception of the night of Russian ballet on our Scandinavian Splendors cruise. There was a lot of concern over the no sandals in the dining room rule, since most of the women had open-toed shoes or sling-backs for evening wear. Not a problem: there's a substantial difference between a strappy pump and a pair of beach zorries. The latter are discouraged.
Since you don't have a set dining time with a single serving team, gratuities are pooled; $12.50 per person per day is charged to your onboard account. Guests in suites with butler service (penthouse, vista and owner's suites) are charged an additional $4. Room teams, favorite bartenders, the sommelier, the maitre d' and certain wait staff members might be worthy of more, which can be offered at each guest'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.
--by Jana Jones, Cruise Critic contributor
In the five years that Regatta has been on the seas, little has changed. It was a fabulous ship when it was launched, and it remains fabulous -- maybe more so than before. Changes -- including the addition of a patio area with plush, overstuffed outdoor sofas under a breezy canopy; a series of private cabanas in a rarely-used space at the front of the top deck; more menu choices; poolside milkshakes; expanded food and wine programs and some cabin upgrades -- have been for the better.
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. At the time of its inception, Oceania's management had clear objectives: offer luxurious service without becoming a luxury cruise line. Priced in the premium or deluxe range, the ship offers an experience that's close to luxury without being all-inclusive. Although the staterooms that are smaller than most luxury ships offer, the amenities, attentive service and tasty cuisine are likely to fool most people into believing they are traveling in ultra style.
When Regatta debuted in 2003, its smoking policy (or non-smoking policy) was the stiffest in the industry and remained so for three years. At the time, there were only two sections of the ship in which people could smoke: a small area forward of the pool on the starboard side and a small, indoor section at the aft of one of the ship's lounges. Passengers caught lighting up on their balconies or in their staterooms were politely reminded -- once -- that this was not acceptable and were then threatened with unceremonious debarkation if it continued. This restrictive policy is more common now, and the fact that Oceania vessels still have a smoking section in one of the lounges onboard makes it one of the more liberal lines.
Just a few short years ago, Oceania's ships were touted as mid-sized; now they are considered small. For those accustomed to ships in the 2,000-passenger range, boarding Regatta -- with its 684-passenger count and measuring 30,277 tons -- feels like entering Alice's Wonderland. The sensation is heightened when Regatta is berthed next to a larger vessel; even one that is not considered particularly big can make Regatta look positively petite.
A ship of Regatta's size is easy to navigate, so it's easier to make friends. You won't have big-ship features like FlowRiders and bowling alleys, Broadway production shows and mini-golf courses. Rather, what you get is a manor house on the seas -- a comfortable, classy, elegant ship that's not too big and not too small.
I can say one thing, though, about Regatta and its sisters Nautica and Insignia, and about Oceania Cruises: Any references to Renaissance should end now. Five years after Regatta first sailed on the Mediterranean Sea, this ship, its siblings and its cruise line, are all grown up and can (and should) stand on their own merit.
These days, almost all contemporary cruise lines and their ships offer some form of anytime dining , and many have at least one alternative restaurant. What makes Regatta (and the other Oceania ships) unique is that the top-notch dining program includes alternatives (reservations required) at no additional charge.
The Grand Dining Room, Regatta's main restaurant, is a "come when you please, with whomever you please" open-seating venue located 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, however, Regatta offers an unprecedented number of two-tops for those who do not prefer forced intimacy with strangers. The dcor 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. Author and celebrity chef Jacques Pepin serves as the line's culinary director, and since the top onboard chef and shoreside culinary director are both French, Gallic influence is standard in the menus. From crispy duck l'orange to garlicky scampi Provenal, 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 M. Pepin.
Although the Grand Dining Room is open for all meals, most of Regatta's guests choose the casual Terrace Caf for breakfast and lunch. Located at the aft on the pool deck, it also boasts an al fresco dining area at the fantail, partially covered by a shady canopy. The caf serves its food cafeteria-style; in other words, portions are served to guests as opposed to guests serving themselves. (The exceptions are the pre-plated desserts and the breads.) During breakfast, guests can find the usual cereals, sausages, scrambled eggs and bacon in addition to an omelet station, fresh fruits, muesli and spectacular breads, rolls, pastries and croissants. Lunch is filled with innovative salads and carving stations, often with a theme (Oriental Day, Mexican Day, Italian Day and the like). For supper, the restaurant is transformed into Tapas on the Terrace, complete with tablecloths and chi-chi chair covers. The tapas -- always interesting and enjoyable -- are joined by a carving station, vegetables and salads, and fresh sashimi and sushi with the requisite accompaniments.
The two restaurants that require reservations are Polo Grill -- a steak-and-chop house -- and Toscana, which features a northern Italian menu. (Guests in concierge level cabins and above are guaranteed two reservations in both restaurants, while guests in standard accommodations are guaranteed one.) If I ran the Michelin Guide, I'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 porterhouse steak is also offered, but no one has yet been able to finish it.
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.
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. My preference was the excellent Chateauneuf du Pape I enjoyed at the Polo Grill. I was also intrigued by the description of the 1999 Alfredo Prunotto Barbaresco D.O.C.G., listed as "Firm, tight and earthy, with intense raspberry, plum, berry and anise flavors that gain a touch of tea and spice."
All of these restaurants offer complimentary espresso and cappuccino during meal times.
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 -- after 6 a.m. Afternoon tea is also served there, and -- even though the scones seem more like sweetened buttermilk biscuits and the clotted cream more like unsweetened whipped cream -- 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.
Lunch also is available at Waves' Grill, located between the pool and the Garden Terrace, where 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 is 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. I wanted one until I saw hand-made sirloin patties, mushrooms and the Swiss cheese, at which point I chose a mushroom-Swiss burger instead. Mmmmmm. Elbow-lickin' good, as they say in the southern U.S.
Room service is one area in which improvement is needed. Breakfast is boring (we would love to see bagels and smoked salmon on the menu -- if Carnival ships can offer it you'd think Oceania's could too), and there were several menu missteps -- some of which were downright funny. At one point, I ordered a glass of cranberry juice, but what was delivered was a bowl of cranberry sauce. The room service waiter was totally puzzled. "We don't even have this on the ship," he told me, looking at the bowl with a sense of wonder.
Still, the room service menu is more extensive than most. The trays are always served with a smile and are always beautifully presented.
Two notes: One night -- the night after joining the cruise -- my jetlag got to me, and I conked out until midnight, missing supper completely. I awoke famished and ordered the Captain's Pantry salad from room service; it was fantastic -- perfect for a midnight meal. I recommend asking for the Caesar dressing on the side. I don't know exactly how chefs make its Caesar dressing, but Oceania could increase revenue substantially if they would bottle it for sale.
Also, I got kind of clever one morning and ordered a toasted bagel with cream cheese from the breakfast menu and paired it with gravlax, onion and capers from the 24-hour menu. "Aha," I thought! Bagels and smoked salmon! Well kind of. Gravlax is the Swedish version -- more pickled than smoked, with a base of brown sugar. The consistency was perfect, but the slightly sweet taste of the salmon wasn't 100 percent perfect. Stick with the to-die-for double-rolled chocolate croissants.
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 their guests to focus less on size and more on comfort. Oceania was one of the first cruise lines in the industry 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. Oceania ordered up a new standard when Regatta was launched. Now these named mattresses -- Mariner's Dream, Carnival Comfort and the like -- are ubiquitous on many ships.
The bathrooms in standard cabins are miniscule but do come with fluffy towels, elegant bath products 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 flat-screen TV's and DVD players.
Concierge-level staterooms, all on Deck 7, are actually veranda staterooms with added fridges (not available below that category), an alpaca throw and a tote bag. Except for the tote and the fridge -- and two guaranteed reservations per alternative restaurant -- these rooms are identical to the balcony cabins located on Deck 6.
Regatta really starts to shine with its Penthouse cabins, located on Deck 8. Basically the size of one-and-a-half staterooms, 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 wrap-around decks; Vista Suites (just fewer than 800 square feet) are at the front and are prized for their sweeping, forward views. Both have individual bedrooms and sitting rooms. Suites sell out first, often within hours of an itinerary being announced. Suite guests above concierge level get the services of a team of butlers -- specifically trained in the art of service -- and daily hors d'oeuvres; in-suite dining from any of the dining-room menus; priority embarkation and debarkation; and, where offered, priority tender service.
Regatta's entertainment tends to mimic 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 Scandinavian Splendors tour, 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, Leslie Jon, is 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.
Of course there's the casino and classes in the Oceania@Sea lab. But there were also two areas of entertainment that stood out for me: martini-tasting (at only $9, a true bargain) and an enrichment program. On our trip, we had two specialists, both of whom were really inspiring and interesting. One was an expert in Faberge eggs and Baltic amber -- he taught us how to tell fake amber from the real stuff -- and the other was a historian who knew the area's history, from the Norse gods and Czars to the present democracies. Both of these fellows also acted as guest hosts on our bus excursions.
Speaking of excursions, I used Oceania's offerings exclusively, except in places like Amsterdam and Stockholm, where I just wanted to get out and walk. Some were priced substantially higher than if I had done them on my own (I didn't care, I wanted convenience), but some -- like the Premium Tours in St. Petersburg -- were worth every penny. I had not heard of this before I boarded, but there is a program that allows you to take the standard St. Petersburg tours -- known for their frenetic pace and frustrating crowds -- in a van with only 10 to 16 other people. It's a cross between a private tour and a typical shore excursion, with an upcharge of $30 U.S. per tour. I chose to do it with all three options offered. Believe me -- it was the best $90 I spent on the entire cruise.
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|
Regatta has one of the prettiest -- albeit smallest -- spa facilities afloat. All the way forward on the pool deck, it's cool and quiet and relaxing without having to resort to a lot of gimmickry such as secret gardens and the like. The spa treatments are provided courtesy of Mandara, the wholly-owned subsidiary of Steiner Leisure -- purveyor of most spa services in the maritime world. Treatments run the gamut from hot stone and Swedish massages to wraps and (my favorite) the Frangipani -- a head, neck and shoulders massage and scalp treatment (also one of the most reasonable at $27).
There is a small but reasonably well-equipped fitness center on the opposite side of the ship from the spa. For some reason, one of the smoking areas was placed right outside of its doors, and the smell of smoke filters in to the area -- an odd sensation in a workout room. Classes are offered for Pilates and Yoga ($11 each), and there are the usual Steiner spa seminars (Lose cellulite right this minute! Detox today!), designed to sell you something.
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. You can buy a cruise-long pass at a great discount, buy a day pass for about $20 or use the pool for free before and after a spa treatment.
Deck 10 offers a running track, and there is a lovely -- but small -- swimming pool, just about big enough to do a couple of laps if no one else is using it. Two hot tubs flank the pool.
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.
You might not exactly gasp the first time you enter Regatta's main lobby, but most people want to -- at least those who are not 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.
The ambience in Regatta's public rooms is clubby, elegant, comfortable, 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, the ornamental sconces and the painted ceiling frescoes. Several of the rooms have faux fireplaces, including the beautiful, comfortable library perched over the pool; Martini's Bar on the indoor promenade and the Grand Bar at the entrance to the dining room. During the first few rainy and windy days of our Baltic sojourn, many passengers wished the fires weren't so faux; we pictured ourselves snuggled into the deep, comfortable chairs and sofas, in front of a crackling fire, with big mugs of cocoa.
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, featuring long tables of laptops. Internet service is available at an exorbitant 95 cents U.S. per minute, with packages available to bring the price down slightly. It's so slow that the Internet center management has warnings advising you not to expect DSL-level speed. On the first two or three days of our cruise the service was horrible, but after that, it seemed speedy and efficient. Classes -- some free and some costing $25 per session -- are offered by the Internet management team, and a software CD is included. Classes were well-attended, and the photo contests sponsored by the Internet center garnered great enthusiasm. We were really impressed with the husband and wife management team on our cruise; their teaching skill and patience were extraordinary, and they really got people interested in the subjects of online photo albums, using Photoshop, and sending photos via e-mail to their grandkids.
Next to the Internet center is a small card room that saw plenty of bridge play on our 14-day cruise.
The ship's main entertainment venue, Regatta Lounge, is located forward on Deck 5. More a cabaret than a theatre, 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).
The ship's boutiques offer an array of logo items, perfumes and other duty-free goods, as well as regional tchotchkes that reflect the cruise's itinerary. Park West's art pieces are scattered about during days that have art auctions; on our cruise, they were extremely limited because they have to be conducted on sea days. We had two of those and, thus, two auctions.
There's also a small casino with 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.
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