ABOARD THE OCEANIA RIVIERA — The fruit plate was almost out of reach, and I wondered why the serving tongs were facing in rather than out.
But in my jet-lagged state, I didn’t dwell on these obstacles and managed to snag a few pieces of fresh pineapple.
That’s when a nice young lady behind the counter intervened, asking, “What can I get for you?”
A similar thing happened at the coffee machine. Waiting for my cafe latte to brew, I glanced around and noticed that there was a line behind me — of waitstaff, not passengers.
Having spent the last year on a variety of contemporary and premium lines, I had become accustomed to the do-it-yourself buffet system.
But things were different here. I was learning what Oceania Cruises’ self-styled “upper premium” product means, and it didn’t take long to get used to the idea.
Along with a few hundred travel agents, VIPs and about two dozen travel journalists, I boarded the Riviera’s christening cruise in Monaco on May 6 under cloudy, drizzly skies.
But the atmosphere inside the 1,250-passenger ship, sister to last year’s Marina, was celebratory and sunny.
The layout and amenities on the Riviera mirror the Marina, but there are subtle changes. Kunal Kamlani, Oceania’s president and COO of parent company Prestige Cruise Holdings, said there were 727 changes from the Marina’s blueprint.
“They were all small things,” Kamlani said during a media lunch on May 8. “For example, we made the showers bigger. Guests on the Marina had been saying that if they dropped a bar of soap in the shower they wouldn’t be able to pick it up. We also added a hand-held shower to the bathtubs.”
Kamlani said he reads every letter or note sent to Oceania’s customer service department and often acts on those suggestions and on feedback from agents.
Other differences on the Riviera include a few inches added to spaces here and there, the placement of a bedside electrical outlet and some lighting changes.
The builder that constructed both ships, Fincantieri’s yard in Genoa, Italy, got most of the details just right, said Frank Del Rio, chairman and CEO of Prestige.
“When we took delivery of the Marina last year, we had 2,200 warranty claims with the shipyard for [things that weren’t perfect]. With Riviera, we’ve had three,” he said.
“That’s about as flawless as flawless gets,” Del Rio said.
The Riviera has 625 suites and staterooms. I was assigned to a Concierge veranda cabin, 282 square feet of comfort with a king bed, couch, double closet, desk, flatscreen TV, laptop computer and full bath with a tub. Two chairs and a table sat on the balcony.
I toured some of the suites, including one of the four Owners Suites. Spanning the beam of the ship, aft, the suites are 2,000 square feet, which is larger than the house I live in.
They include butler service, access to the Executive Lounge, a full dining/living room, a bedroom with a walk-in closet, a music room with a baby grand piano and a huge bathroom with a whirlpool tub. A wall of windows in each room looks out over the back of the ship.
All furnishings are from the Ralph Lauren Home collection. The balconies have hot tubs.
I also peeked into a Penthouse Suite, which measures 420 square feet and has a window in addition to the balcony sliders. The window makes a big difference, allowing more natural light to flood the cabin. These suites also have walk-in closets.
The Riviera’s pretty pool deck has a large pool, two whirlpools and lounge chairs arranged in sun and shade.
Cuisine is a key focus of the Riviera’s offerings. Celebrity chef Cat Cora is godmother to the ship, and christened the vessel in Barcelona on May 11.
According to Del Rio, half of the crew is in some way connected to the creation or delivery of the food for the Riviera’s seven dining venues, including its four specialty restaurants, none of which charges an extra fee to passengers.
The cuisine is fresh and beautifully prepared, but it isn’t prepared in advance. Each dining venue has its own galley and dedicated staff, and each dish is made to order.
The specialty venues are Red Ginger, serving Asian cuisine; Polo Grill, a steakhouse; Toscana, offering Italian specialties; and Jacques, a French bistro named for the line’s master chef, Jacques Pepin.
The Terrace Cafe is a buffet venue with indoor and outdoor seating for three meals each day. Wave Grill is an indoor venue for breakfast and lunch.
Lounges include Martini, Horizons, Wave Bar, Casino Bar, Grand Bar and Riviera Bar inside the Riviera Lounge, the ship’s theater.
Based on what I’ve seen on the Riviera, Oceania’s “upper premium” product edges closer to luxury than to premium.
The ship displays an extensive collection of original art, and its decor and furnishings are sophisticated but not showy.
And like the Marina, the Riviera offers the CanyonRanch SpaClub, for relaxation; the Bon Appetit Culinary Center, for hands-on learning; the Artist Loft, for instruction from a professional artist; and La Reserve by Wine Spectator, a professional facility for wine tastings and private wine-pairing dinners. Each provides an enrichment that affluent cruisers want, judging by the repeat passenger rate, which is upward of 50%.
Following the christening ceremony and naming event in Barcelona, the ship will continue on to Venice, where its 10-day inaugural voyage to Athens begins May 16.
Through Nov. 29, the Riviera will operate in the Mediterranean before repositioning to Miami for a series of Eastern and Western Caribbean cruises next winter.
Follow Donna Tunney on Twitter @dttravelweekly.