In June I was invited to Southampton to represent Mundy Cruising, one of Oceania's key partners, at a symposium led by Harry Sommer, President (International) at Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings, and Bernard Carter, SVP and Managing Director at Oceania Cruises UK. It was a chance for a fuller explanation of Oceania's future plans and an opportunity to offer feedback and advice. We also had the chance to see for ourselves the refurbishment of Insignia, which was in port at the end of an extraordinary world cruise itinerary.
Part of NCL since 2014, Oceania has retained its unique style. and it was fascinating to hear Harry Sommers talk of the approach NCL were taking to the brand. We often hear guests concerned that a smaller cruise line will lose its identity when absorbed by a larger group, but the desire and passion to keep Oceania operating at the top of its field is clear to see.
There are clear benefits to the Oceania-NCL relationship beyond just the financial backing, buying power and logistical support. Often underrated is the knowledge gained from other cruise lines' operations, with a better understanding of where to compete, and, importantly, where not to.
This manifests itself in Oceania's aim to be best in class, not best of the best. Where they have always stood out is in the quality of their food, spending more per passenger than any of their competitors, and the inclusion of specialist restaurants at no additional charge, which elevates them above their mainstream rivals.
The biggest news from OceaniaNEXT is the announcement of the Allura Class, with two new ships set to launch in 2022 and 2025. Accommodating 1,200 guests, these ships will represent an evolution of the popular Oceania Class (Marina and Riviera), introducing new restaurant concepts and a greater variety of stateroom categories, including some specifically catering to solo travellers.
The fleet-wide refurbishment is designed to leave every ship looking 'better than new'. Having seen Insignia, the first of the small R-Class ships to have been through the OceaniaNEXT treatment, it's clear that the aim is to retain those areas guests love, and address the issues that needed attention. The biggest change is to the staterooms, which have been transformed and now have a light and modern feel. The bathrooms are completely new, with smart new shower cubicles replacing the baths and shower curtains.
In the public areas the restaurants have been refreshed, artworks updated and the grand staircase revamped. Here the changes are more subtle as the popular style of the ship has been retained. Dark woods, luxuriant furnishings and a hint of traditional cruise décor are complemented by modern artworks and a lightening of the colour palette. The overall feel is of an enhancement rather than a reinvention, and it's sure to be popular with past guests whilst also impressing those travelling with Oceania for the first time.
We look forward to seeing the changes across the rest of the fleet, and to more news on the exciting new Allura class.