Regatta to the Amazon

My wife, Esta Lee, and I took a Miami-Manaus (Brazil)-Miami sailing aboard the Regatta of Oceania Cruises (Miami, FL; 800/531-5658), Nov. 27-Dec. 22, ’05. For an ocean-view cabin, the cost was roughly $4,000 each. It was our second cruise on the Regatta.

Oceania Cruises, the stepchild of the late, lamented Renaissance Cruises line, runs three of Renaissance’s identical 650-passenger “R” ships. Oceania upgraded them by bringing in a new head chef and refurbishing the cabins, among other things. To us, the cabin refurbishment was the main plus, especially replacement of the old beds (each a thin mattress on a metal frame) with very comfortable, hotel-style beds.

The food was always good on these ships and is even better now, in my opinion. In addition to the main restaurant and the buffet (open seating — come when you want), there are two reservation-required-but-surcharge-free alternatives: the Polo Grill and the Italian Restaurant. On shorter cruises, you need to make reservations early.

Dress on the ship is “resort casual,” so there is no need to take a suit or evening gown, though there are always some people who insist on dressing up.

Smoking is very limited, and Oceania is more serious on enforcing smoking rules than are most other cruise lines.

The cabins are on the small side, around 165 to 169 square feet, but have adequate storage space even for overpackers like us. The bathrooms are small and the showers, tiny. There were air-conditioning problems, with some cabins too hot and others too cold. Ours was among the former, and it took four or five trips to our cabin by the maintenance staff to get the temperature down to a tolerable point.

Because of the ship’s size, diversions are somewhat limited. The main lounge is also the showroom, and it is not well designed for this purpose. There is no resident dance company, with performers either doubling from other crew members or being booked from contract agencies; the quality varied but on average was not overly impressive.

There was only one evening showtime, which made attendance difficult for us to coordinate with dinner unless we arrived at the restaurant when it first opened. Occasionally, there was an afternoon encore performance.

There is a small casino, and there are the usual art auctions and bingo and some lectures and bridge classes/playing. There is not much onboard shopping. There is, however, a very good library.

We heard several people assert that Oceania was trying to be a Crystal Cruises line with a lower price tag. If true, it falls short (smallish rooms, limited entertainment choices and a lot of nickel-and-diming), but, viewed on its own merits, it delivers excellent value for the price. We would definitely sail on it again but perhaps not for longer than a 2-week cruise.

I won’t comment on the Caribbean ports, since ITN does not cover that area. The stops along the Amazon, while sometimes interesting, are themselves probably not worth the long trip. The Amazon itself, however, is definitely worth the trip, even if one never stops at a port.

The one other stop was at Devil’s Island in French Guiana. Actually, you don’t visit Devil’s Island itself (so you don’t see where Captain Dreyfus was imprisoned) but a larger island that served as the prison’s administration center and where most of the nonpolitical prisoners were incarcerated.

There are no organized tours; you just walk around on your own. There are two souvenir shops and, I understand, a snackbar/restaurant that I did not see.

North Bethesda, MD