Sailing aboard an Oceania cruise is not a cookie cutter experience, and a week aboard the Riviera can be quite a pleasant surprise. For starters, the ship is sizeable enough to have numerous restaurants and amenities, but only has 1,250 passengers on board. This makes for plenty of space for everyone without ever feeling crowded. The entry foyer is majestic with a grandiose staircase that rises up from the main atrium area. Numerous conversation seating areas are by the windows, and reception almost never has a line (try that on a larger ship).

Strolling around the ship leads to plenty of small nooks to discover. A favorite place is the elegant library with faux fireplace, lots of great books, and leather armchairs with ottomans that made the perfect spot for doing a little work and checking email. Wireless internet is free for everyone and easy to connect to working almost anywhere on the ship. This  is certainly a surprise, and most of the time, it’s actually fast.

The main deck features a great swimming pool with small whirlpools on either side.  The most impressive part of the pool deck is that the lounge chairs are everywhere and cushioned with thick covers and accent towels. Pool staff are available to set up chairs as needed, too.

A private pool deck is designed for those booking premium accommodations or paying a surcharge to enjoy shaded cabanas on a quieter sundeck. The area is close to the Canyon Ranch Spa, which has a lengthy list of massage and beauty treatments plus relaxation areas with sauna and steam room areas. A well-equipped fitness center offers great views and the latest equipment, and a fridge with free energy drinks and bottled water provides a perfect way to rehydrate.

Of course, boarding a cruise ship is synonymous with eating, and the number of specialty restaurants aboard is exciting. But, the bigger shock will come  when you learn that they are free as part of the cruise sailing. The main dining room is a large space that has impressive service and an a la carte menu. Dinner seems to be the most popular meal, but the buffet restaurant at the aft of the ship is where most of the dining action takes place. There are two air-conditioned wings off to the side of the buffet, and the al fresco terrace gets plenty of shade thanks to fabric umbrellas. Unlike other buffets, guests do not pour their own food; instead the staff plates everything for you. This is certainly a more hygienic approach, but quantities can sometimes be too much or too little.

You will like that there is always fresh and tropical fruit available as well as regional cuisine based upon a theme of the day’s port of call. There’s also another grill by the pool that opens for breakfast and lunch plus a free smoothie and milkshake bar. Fresh fruit, yogurt, sorbet, and ice cream are all options, and daily specials provide great suggestions.

In the library, an Illy espresso and coffee bar is the perfect way to perk up with strong Italian coffee like espresso, latte, and even the brand’s famous illy Crema smoothie. Free pastries and sandwiches are laid out in the library.

Among the specialty restaurant options are Asian fusion Red Ginger with freshly prepared sushi and south Asian specialties like Thai curries and Singaporean noodles. A French restaurant prepares formal meals (often tableside) inspired by Chef Jacques Pepin (also the cruise line’s executive culinary director) everything from roasted duck to steak frites. The cheese cart that wheels around is enough to add on a few pounds just at first sight. Italian food lovers enjoy fresh pasta and meat dishes with a panoramic view as the ship sails away at Toscana. Notable touches are the olive oil menu with nearly a dozen varieties and homemade gelato that was just as delicious as what I had just tasted in Amalfi. Polo Grill offers up a steakhouse menu that would rival Morton’s with sophisticated presentation and rather generous servers. (They want you to sample as many of the sides as possible!)

Bottled water and soft drinks are complimentary, but alcoholic drinks carry a fee. Sure, there are beverage packages available, but a la carte drinks are not too overpriced. The main dining restaurants are open seating, but the specialty outlets require reservations. Be sure to request them as soon as you board the ship. Oceania touts that all of its cuisine is prepared a la minute with only some of the buffet options prepared in larger quantities. Even the buffet has bespoke stations with pasta, omelets, steaks, and sandwiches made to order.

If you liked some of the food you’ve been enjoying, why not learn to cook it yourself? A show kitchen offers cooking classes as part of Oceania’s culinary enrichment program. Not into cooking? There is 24-hour room service available free of charge. I enjoyed ordering breakfast to my room each morning. Across the hall, budding artists can try their hand at painting or creating their own personal masterpiece.

Cabins are of impressive size with elegant décor like cushioned headboards, duvets, and padded mattresses. Desks sit in the corner and face the flat-screen cable TV and sofa bed. International power outlets are available on either side of the bed and above the desk. Closet space is plentiful, and behind one door is the minibar stocked with free nonalcoholic drinks replenished daily. Housekeeping is meticulous and leaves behind large bottles of water morning and night. That was such a nice feature; buying bottled water from the bar can really add up. Almost all rooms have excellent balconies with few obstructions as the life boats are well-positioned to stay out of the way.

Marble bathrooms have rainfall shower stalls and deep soaking tubs with separate shower nozzles. Bulgari beauty products on the vanities are replenished regularly (other cruise lines are quite stingy with specialty toiletries).

Since the ship is not one of the behemoths, it can dock at smaller ports. This means that seasoned cruisers have a chance to visit some especially unique locales that the bigger ships cannot visit. On my sailing, we stopped in Monte Carlo, Monaco; Cagliari, Sardinia; and Antibes, France. Before guests disembark, they are offered chilled bottled water, yet another nice touch. Many ports also include free transfers to the city center if the ship docks outside of walking distance.

Back on board, there is plenty of opportunity for entertainment, including nightly performances in the theater including musical revues and comedians. A small casino has a few game tables and plenty of slot machines. Bars feature live entertainers, which also crop up at various places around the ship including a lovely string quartet before dinner each evening. Duty-free shopping by reception includes everything from souvenirs and perfumes to Polo Ralph Lauren and Oceania-branded gear.