Tuesday 26 February 2019

A free lunch on board Oceania Insignia

Of course, we all know that there is no such thing as a free lunch, particularly in my line of work - but, pft, I'm far too frugal to turn my nose up at complimentary nosh, and besides, it was the perfect thing to do today. Brilliant sunshine, bright blues above and below, some friends amongst the gathered throng of mostly travel agents with a sprinkling of media and some Oceania faithful consumers - what's not to like?
Naturally, Oceania Insignia is one of the line's smaller ships - naturally, because I'm far too much of a cruise snob to even consider setting foot on board one of the huge monstrosities that get all the publicity these days. No, thanks to Silversea, I won't consider anything over 900 passengers - and even that feels a bit city-like. Insignia caters for 684 guests, looked after by 400 staff, who seemed typically friendly but professional.
The ship has just been completely refurbished and is looking fashionably elegant - a lot of muted blue, green and of course the inevitable taupe, polished wood and marble, and some quite spectacular crystal chandeliers - very much in the style to which I have become accustomed, thank you kindly. 
We were shown over by Steve Mclaughlin, VP of Sales and obviously very pro-Oceania: a question about non-included alcohol was so neatly turned around that we all ended up nodding in agreement that yes, it is unfair to non- and moderate drinkers to have a booze charge built into their fares.
He also said, several times, "You can't buy food on board" and that's an important point, because Oceania makes a very big thing about serving excellent food, from the non-self-serve breakfast buffet, right through (including what sounded like a very hard to resist classic afternoon tea, a personal weakness) to dinner at any of the six restaurants on board. We ate at Toscana, off beautiful Versace plates, and the meal included tastes of caviare and lobster, and pasta, leading up to the utter triumph of a super-tender beef tenderloin*, followed by a chocolate volcano that has been on the menu for 15 years because taking it off apparently leads to passenger petitions.
Another Silversea veteran in the group nevertheless kept muttering that "It isn't the Muse" and he was right: it's not as spacious, either in the public areas or the rooms, and, while very high-quality throughout, just somehow misses out on Silversea's effortless class. The ship also has interior cabins, unheard of on Silversea. However, when you compare prices, those things diminish in significance, because Oceania is about a third cheaper (but don't quote me - these things are complicated and Silversea does throw in a lot of useful stuff, like sometimes even air fares).
Insignia is visiting Auckland as part of a 180-day cruise, and it is notable that a good third of the current passengers are doing the whole thing; and that 55% of the clientèle are repeat customers on Oceania. Mostly Americans, of course, with Australians second, I believe; and generally a bit younger than your cliché world cruise old lady. Clearly, Oceania is getting it right with surroundings, service, itineraries and the on-board relaxed ambiance (ie no guilt-inducing long list of activities every day, so you can do nothing with a clear conscience). Would I sail with them? Yes, I would.
*We each got a generous chunk of the beef, and my neighbour who couldn't finish hers was happy to drop the leftovers into the ziplock bag that I had presciently brought with me. "For the cat," I explained blithely. I successfully smuggled it past biosecurity on disembarking - but did the cat get to see it? Ha! I tell you, it was good...

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