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Five-year-old Oceania’s tremendous success in establishing an upper premium cruise category is generating a growing pool of eager passengers, a good sign for a line expanding its capacity by 80 percent by 2010, with a billion-dollar order for two 1,260-passenger ships.
On a summer Mediterranean cruise on the Insignia, only 120 of the 700 passengers were repeaters, and there was a surprising number of children onboard. So, Oceania’s demographic appears to be broadening significantly, with a substantial number of passengers on our sailing experiencing their first cruise, as well as their first on Oceania, thanks to agent recommendations and word of mouth.
Tim Rubacky, Oceania spokesperson, said the whole cuisine aspect, one of the line’s great successes, starts with extreme quality control.
"[President and CEO Del Rio] gives us tremendous resources in terms of budget," he added. "We don’t have to skimp; we can get the creme de la creme."
Just waiting to be seated is a wonderful experience; a spacious bar lounge with overstuffed chairs and a fireplace makes such a comfortable setting, it’s almost an interruption to be told that your table is ready. The staff is omniscient, unobtrusive and easily figures out which guests would enjoy a little fun with a meal. In one of the alternative dining venues, a guest who had chosen to order nothing for dessert was solemnly served a beautifully prepared plate with the word "Nothing" inscribed on it.
Oceania’s secret to keeping the skilled, intelligent and sometimes playful staff is to pay and treat them well, Rubacky stated.
"We go out of our way to be sure we offer the best to the staff, and we often get experienced staff through word of mouth," he added.
Five years ago the staff was predominantly European; now, more than 40 nationalities are represented. Oceania has a training academy in Mumbai, producing wonderful staff members like our waiter Ravi, who provided impeccable service.
The itinerary was as delightful as the onboard product. Our first two days were set aside for arrival in Venice, leaving room for increasingly common airline delays and allowing jetlagged passengers to relax, catch up and enjoy a full day in Venice before sailing. Oceania’s berth in Venice is about three minutes from a vaparetto station, so guests were able to make quick, independent forays to Piazza San Marco and the glassmakers’ island of Murano, as well as take part in excellent tours.
Likewise, the visit to Dubrovnik was beautifully timed and, instead of braving the crowded highway between the New City and the Old Town, we were taxied by water on a route that was beautiful enough to qualify as a shore excursion all on its own. On our return trip, we were greeted individually, offered refreshments and generally cared for as we were onboard Insignia. Because of the size of the ship, there are exclusive shore excursions that offer small groups of guests unusual experiences with vintners and owners of villas along the route.
Onboard, there was a very fine jazz ensemble in addition to the string quartet, and the shows — intimate comedy, magic, etc. — were very well-received. The library is one of the shipboard gems, with squashy leather couches and chairs and the mounted brass telescopes.
During the fourth quarter of 2008, Oceania will begin to preview the new ships to agents and past guests and open the books during the first quarter of 2009.
"We’ve been barraged with guests who want to be on the maiden voyage, and they don’t care where she is sailing," Rubacky said.
Offering luxury amenities for a premium price, Oceania’s new builds will have staterooms approximately 50 percent larger than Regatta-class ships, with 96 percent with ocean views and 93 percent with oversized private teak verandas. There will also be two 2,500 square foot Owners Suites with private elevators, two verandas each and outdoor Jacuzzis, along with eight Vista suites at the front and a new Oceania class with 12 suites on the top deck, each 1,000 square feet.
The new ships will have six restaurants rather than the four on the current vessels, and they will not raise prices above those of the current vessels.
"We are keeping our pricing consistent across the fleet by category," Rubacky said. "There will always be a core group that loves the 680-passenger ships and I expect people to flip back and forth among the ships for the itineraries."
The first ship will assume the core routes sailed by Regatta and the second those now offered on Nautica. This frees the company to pick up destinations passengers have asked for in the Pacific, New England/Canada and Alaska regions.
"We can do more unique itineraries," Rubacky said, although there are no plans for world cruising; Regent, under the same parent company, has that well covered.
Oceania will continue providing the generous overnight stays that have been a critical success point; they are offering overnights in smaller ports like Dubrovnik as well as the major capitals.
Scroll down for more information on Oceania's newbuilds