Here I am onboard the brand new luxury cruise ship for Oceania Cruises - the MS Riviera. I am onboard for a short cruise, followed by the naming ceremony, which will take place in Barcelona on May 11, 2012. Oceania Cruises new ship Riviera is exactly the same ship as her older sister, Marina, well I say exactly, apparently there are over 700 subtle changes that differentiate the two ships. The main one is the removal of a marble step leading up to the Grand Staircase. On Marina, a number of people tripped over this as it blended in with the surrounding marble, and so here on Riviera that has been removed. Other changes include the positioning of shower rails and soap dishes in the staterooms; additional plug sockets and extra lighting in the cabins; a thalasotherapy pool on the front deck; one of the decks onboard Riviera is an extra 8 inches higher than on Marina to give extra space, (in two of the speciality restaurants) and the carpet and red decor on Marina in the Grand Bar has given way to marble floors here on Riviera. For my full day-by-day blog from when I was onboard Marina last year follow this link - Oceania Cruises Marina Blog and Cruise Review.
With the launch of Riviera, Oceania Cruises decided that they wanted to ramp up the entertainment onboard, and so commissioned veteran cruise-show producer Jean Ann Ryan to produce four brand-new shows. 'Now and Forever', a show based on the music of Andrew Lloyd Webber, 'Up in Flames' based on the music of Elton John and Billy Joel, plus a 60's review called 'The Dawning of Aquarius' and 'Rock On', a show with a rock and roll vibe. I've been working in the cruise industry for over 20 years and Jean Ann Ryan and her production company have been around forever - they used to produce shows when I was at sea back in 1989. So given that experience you would think the new shows would be amazing and innovative, a fresh look at cruise ship entertainment, right? Well I popped along to see the first show on this short cruise, the 'Up in Flames' production. Apparently Jean held auditions in London and New York to ensure Oceania Cruises had top class performers. The cast were indeed very talented and had excellent voices and the dancers were great, and to be fair they did a great job of performing some rather average choreography and staging. The ballroom professionals were outstanding, but their performances kind of got lost amongst everything else that was going on on stage; for me it was just an another OK cruise ship show that could have been so much better. Still that's just my opinion and I've seen plenty of these shows over the years, and the other guests onboard seemed to really enjoy it. I didn't go and see the Andrew Lloyd Webber one, but I can imagine how it looked.
Other entertainment in the evening included guest entertainers; we had award winning guitarist Vincenzo Martinelli for the first night, 'Beatlemania Now' (as seen on Broadway no less) for our sea day evening and in Barcelona a Flamenco Mulero show - so they are trying different things now they have a larger stage than on Regatta and Nautica, their original R class ships. Other events during the day include the Artists Loft (we had a photographer and artist on board with us who held classes every day), Ping Pong, the 18 hole golf course, bingo, shuffleboard, martini tasting and team trivia. Oceania Cruises are looking to introduce at least one sea day into their itineraries to allow guest to enjoy the ship more. Currently they offer very port intensive cruises and whilst initially that seems great, guests don't get enough time to enjoy the amenities on board, I personally think this is a great idea as it can be quite tiring (especially if you are on tour very port) and so a sea day gives you a time to relax and enjoy yourself onboard.
I was booked in for a session at the Bon Appetite Culinary Centre with Chef Kelly on our sea day. Now I'm not great in the kitchen, (I can cook toast and re-heat things), so I was a bit apprehensive before attending , I had visions of Chef Kelly kicking me out! And you don't mess with Chef Kelly let me tell you. Chef Kathryn Kelly is the executive chef of the Bon Appetite Culinary Centre and Director of Culinary Enrichment for Oceania Cruises. Chef Kelly is a Fellow and Graduate of the Culinary Institute of America too, high credentials indeed.
We turned up at 4pm for a quick briefing and were soon paired up at our cooking stations. Today we were learning about the five taste senses: sour, bitter, sweet, salt and unami, and our dish today was pork burgers with an Asian influence. Chef Kelly has a team of helpers who have prepped and weighed all our ingredients out, so after watching her demonstration it's back to the work station for you to try it. I have to say I was very impressed with the way it operated and we all enjoyed the session, we made the pork burgers and also a Panini, and chef Kelly was great fun and really personable. I would not have usually booked myself into this, however next time I am on I will definitely sign up for a class, it was great fun, plus you can impress future house guests with your culinary creations back home!
Frank Del Rio and Bob Binder have a passion for art, and there are numerous original pieces onboard Riviera, with a nod to Frank Del Rio's Cuban heritage. The ships collection includes original and highly expressive works by renowned artists from Cuba's Vanguard Movement , the period from 1927 to 1950. Many works from this period are displayed side by side with contemporary artists, including Julio Larraz, Carlos Luna and Humberto Benitez. I actually met Humberto here onboard and had a great chat with him about his art and his galleries, he has two in Miami and opening up a third in Key West. He was commissioned for several pieces on display in the Horizon Lounge and also his sentinel piece 'The Feast', displayed in La Reserve, the ships gourmet dining venue where each course is paired with a fine wine.
Oceania Cruises will be publishing a book called the Art of Oceania as well as an iPod-based self guided tour explain all about the art onboard; this will enable guests to travel from deck 15 all the way down looking at the art whilst listening to a commentary explaining the pieces and detailing the artist. It's a shame this was not ready as it would have been fascinating - if you would like to see some of the art onboard Riviera, then follow this link -Art onboard Oceania Riviera - for a video of images I took onboard.
As with Marina, there is the Lalique grand staircase, amazing chandeliers and other art in the form of glass all around the ship, along with beautiful sculptures and other Object to look at and admire.
The food onboard Riviera is exceptionally delicious and so much of it! As with her sister ship, Marina, there are the specialty restaurant Red Ginger, Polo Grill, Toscana, Jacques along with Prive, the Grand Dining Room and the Terrace Cafe. When I was on Marina last year I dined in all of them, and you can read about my dining experiences here - Oceania Marina Cruise Review. However on my trip last year I never tried the casual dining option at the Terrace Cafe. We had eaten a late and large lunch in Red Ginger (not normally open in the day time but we had a special International Sales Agents lunch there) so did not want a large sit down dinner in the Grand Dining Room and opted for the more casual style of the Terrace Cafe. I have say I was very impressed with the choice and quality of this buffet style dining venue and really enjoyed my cooked-to-order lobster tail and fillet mignon, along with other treats such as roast prime rib of beef, paella and more! So much for a lighter evening dinner! My dining companions were also very impressed, and as its the casual dining option, you don't have to dress up to go there , so perfect if you are back from a days touring and just want to grab something. Follow this link fro a montage of food Food on board Oceania's Riviera
As on the rest of the Oceania Cruises fleet, the service I have found on Riviera to be amazing. Dishes are cleared away promptly from your table, you are offered a drink pretty much as soon as you have sat down, and always with a graceful smile and courteous manner. The staff and crew really do go out of their way to make you feel at home and nothing is too much trouble for them. I am sure the crew are hand picked from the worlds best hotels and cruise ships.
In summary, Oceania Riviera has fitted in with the rest of the fleet exceptionally well, and is already developing her own personality and onboard ambiance. The quality of accommodations, service, food and cleanliness are top notch - and I am confident she will soon become a firm favourite.
I was onboard for the naming - follow this link for our video Oceania Cruises - Riviera Naming Ceremony