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Spoiler Alert – everything that you have read about inaugural cruises is mostly true; but don’t let the negative comments deter you from sailing on one.
First a disclaimer, we are unapologetic Oceania Cruises fans with 60 past nights on board and another 21 booked. For those unfamiliar with Oceania Cruises, they slot in between The Haven on NCL and the over-the-top luxury (and cost) of Regent Seven Seas cruises. All three are owned by Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd. When the announcement came out that Oceania Cruises was launching a new ship, we knew that we had to be among the first to sail on the then unnamed ship.
We happened to be sailing on Oceania Marina in 2019, not long after the announcement was made and booked what was planned to be the fourth sailing on the new ship approximately two years out. We did so with high hopes and not a lot of details about the next ship other than the promise that “This new class of ships will represent an evolution of the Oceania Cruises experience with all the elements our guests treasure – a warm, intimate, residential style; the most spacious standard staterooms afloat; amazing suites, and of course, the finest cuisine at sea,” stated Bob Binder, President and Chief Executive Officer of Oceania Cruises.
Well, a lot happened over those next two years, including more than a few COVID variants, countless cruise cancellations and delays, as well as a near collapse of global supply chains. I write all of this to explain that what was once to be the fourth cruise of the inaugural season ended up being the first. Well, sort of…
We watched with building anticipation as the ship was named – Vista. Then Oceania Cruises started trickling out a series of images of the new public spaces on board, announced a new restaurant – Ember, a new cocktail program, and even a new Scotch whisky available exclusively onboard. Then came the announcement that they were going to cancel the first three sailings as the ship’s delivery was delayed due to supply chain issues. This meant that our cruise was going to be the “first cruise” aboard Vista.
I note that while it was the “first cruise,” it was always going to be the second cruise following a short “shake-down” cruise with invited guests including company officials, travel consultants, and the media. These shake-down cruises are industry standard and are not typically advertised and are not officially “maiden voyages.” Then came the announcement approximately five months before the sailing that the ship was in fact going to be available a bit sooner than anticipated and they were adding a Founders Cruise, to be hosted by Frank Del Rio the President and CEO of Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings and a founder of Oceania Cruises, then that would become the official inaugural sailing and that passengers booked on our cruise would have first opportunity to book into the Founders Cruise as well as a back-to-back sailing. Unfortunately, our schedules could not accommodate an additional six nights added to our existing twelve-night booking.
Let’s start with the positives. Firstly, it’s unbelievably exciting to board a new ship. All your fellow passengers are even more excited to board, given the opportunity to explore the new vessel. The staff are excited to have been hand-picked from the existing fleet to open the new vessel, new restaurants, new menus, new facilities, etc. Secondly, every port you visit is the first visit for the ship, meaning the people in the ports are excited to see the new ship and ask you about it, as are passengers on other ships in port with you. Thirdly, and this is stating the obvious, but everything is shiny and new. No matter how well a ship’s maintained you’re bound to see scratches here and there, a bit of rust, wallpaper starting to curl a bit at the seams, a stubborn stain on the carpet, frayed upholstery…well there’s none of this.
Now for the negatives. It’s hard for me to say, but perhaps the biggest negative is the service. The crew are ALL exhausted from setting up the new ship and working twice as hard to figure out how everything works on the new ship. They want desperately to provide the best possible service, but they’re struggling behind the scenes with equipment that’s still not working 100%, furnishings that aren’t on board yet, and simply navigating all that’s new. Typically, some percentage of the crew on a ship is always coming/going in major ports; this means that there are always experienced team members on board to train the new ones. On a new ship, everyone is new to the ship. This poses a lot of challenges in training. As hard as they try to hide it, it still shows at times.
Most passengers accept that service isn’t yet up to the standard they’ve come to expect on other Oceania Cruise ships, but there are a small minority that are unkind to the crew. Watching that small percentage of ungrateful passengers was the hardest part for us, when the crew are really what make the entire experience so special!
This one is both a positive and a minus – a new ship still has that new-ship-smell. Look out for the “wet paint sign” because that smell is likely new paint, varnish, glue, etc. The ship still has a crew on board from the shipyard working on the “punch list” during the initial sailings alongside the maintenance crew on board. For example – we came back to our cabin late one night after a show to find a dozen crew and shipyard workers mounting a light fixture in the elevator lobby on our deck. The fixture simply wasn’t ready when the ship entered service, so it was picked up at the dock at the beginning of our cruise and they were installing one each night during the cruise on a different deck.
Not everything works. In an ideal world every item would have been tested and re-tested multiple times before bringing on passengers, but this simply isn’t how it works. In our lovely cabin we had a recurring issue with our toilet where it would not flush in the mornings during peak times when others above us were using their showers, sinks, toilets etc. We phoned this in each morning to maintenance and each morning they came and checked it out, but inevitably the issue would return the next morning. I noted this on our mid-cruise survey and boy did that get a response. The head of engineering and housekeeping came to our cabin multiple times that day and replaced parts, checked, and re-checked, eventually solving the problem which was a faulty valve from the initial construction.
Another example of something they didn’t know until we knew – on this cruise they had new trays, ice buckets, and tongs. They were shiny and perfect, that is, until the ship moved. Then they rattled like crazy. We discovered this unfortunate condition our first night and started putting random pieces of paper under them each night. But each day our well-meaning cabin stewards kept removing the papers. We would have let it go, but because the papers kept disappearing, the issue also made it into our mid-cruise survey. Well, the head of housekeeping visited again (we became friends, and she received great praise in our end of cruise survey) and asked about it. I showed her (fortunately we were at sail) and she agreed that she couldn’t sleep with the racket either. On the last day of our cruise, we noticed that the stewards had placed a linen napkin on the tray under the offending ice bucket and tongs. We asked our cabin steward and he said they’d been instructed to do it throughout the ship. I like to think that from now on everyone will sleep a bit better on Vista because of me.
So, would I do it all again? Absolutely! Do the negatives of a new ship outweigh the excitement? Absolutely not! Do I feel the need to be on the very first cruise? No, I’d be perfectly happy sailing at any point during the inaugural season to get a similar, though likely more refined, experience.
Much more detail to come regarding the ship itself. Stay tuned! – Michael
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