At her christening last week in Valletta, Malta, the festivities were bittersweet as the inspirational founder, Frank del Rio, steps down. He is succeeded by his protege Harry Sommers in the role of President and CEO of NCL Holdings (an S&P 500 company), and by his son Frank del Rio Junior (who has been with the company from the start) as President of Oceania. As the man who conjured up the phoenix from the ashes of Renaissance Cruises following 9/11, creating a new Upper Premium space in the market, he will be missed.
As is always the case with an Oceania celebration, the Christening was something of a family affair, packed with family members and old friends who have contributed to the success of the company over twenty years. Anticipating an emotional event, the organisers had thoughtfully provided Vista branded tissues on every seat - strange for a publicly quoted company! - and indeed there was an outpouring of love and respect as the Christening morphed into a farewell party for Frank and his wife Marcia.
The ship itself is an impressive step up: it feels like an Oceania ship, in a new upgraded iteration with some beautiful design touches and developments.
Always known for its impressive food offering, Oceania was an early introducer of multiple alternative restaurants, not to mention an impressive on board culinary centre, expanded to 24 stations on Vista, with an adjacent dining room. The company boasts one chef for every ten guests, which is stand-out in the industry.
On Vista, new offerings include Ember, which serves food 'in the elegant American tradition'. An attractive room with arched brick ceilings for a slightly edgy feel, the kitchen is open to view, and the menu mouthwateringly down to earth.
We loved the new Aquamar Kitchen for breakfast and lunch: lots of fresh and healthy options to enjoy, in an airy space adjacent to the pool deck. And in Baristas, the classic coffee bar, a new addition is the Bakery, serving freshly baked pastries, quiches and more.
We have always been fans of the Grand Dining Room on Oceania ships, and on board Vista, never has the word 'Grand' been used more fittingly: huge windows flooding the room with light, extraordinary chandeliers and light fittings embellishing the high ceilings, and a combination of banquette seating with comfy white leather chairs, featuring a black and white diamond trim.
The room is beautifully divided with curtains and mirrored half walls to reduce the noise and create intimate spaces within this very impressive room which spans the full breadth of the ship. Other dining options include old favourites: the Polo Grill, Red Ginger and Toscana, whilst at lunchtime the Terrace Café and Waves Grill offer indoor/outdoor seating.
On deck we particularly liked the variety of seating including day beds and circular loungers, with lots of shaded space and sea views. Our one concern would be whether there was sufficient seating for a sea day: even on our windy journey southwards through the Straits of Messina finding a seat was challenging.
Oceania Cruises staff like to tell how Frank del Rio has two requirements when he travels: great food and a good night's sleep, and the Tranquillity Beds on Oceania's ships are renowned for exceptional comfort, enhanced by amazing 1000 thread count linens. Staterooms start at a roomy 240 square feet, and we are big fans of the top level suites which represent great value.
The other key feature of the Oceania brand, reaching right back to those early days, is the range and quality of the itineraries, wide ranging and port intensive, with lots of late evenings and overnights in port. Many cruise lines claim these as their own, but Oceania was truly the pioneer of this type of itinerary planning. To make the most of the numerous ports of call, enhanced shore excursion programmes feature lots of new options to entice even the most jaded traveller.
Whilst Vista's sister Allura will join the fleet next year, don't feel you have to wait for these two ships to operate the itinerary you want. The company has invested heavily in the existing ships to reflect their refreshed style, and each has its own appeal. Across the fleet what you will enjoy is charming service and good value for money.