Introduction:  Our Panama Canal Cruise on Oceania Sirena

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a cruise ship in the ocean

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Introduction:  Our Panama Canal Cruise on Oceania Sirena

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Introduction

First a bit of a disclosure before we start our Introduction:  Our Panama Canal Cruise on Oceania Sirena.  Oceania Cruises’ Sirena has been my white whale.  Ever since Oceania Cruises acquired Sirena in March 2016 from Princess Cruises and announced their major renovation plans I wanted to sail on Sirena.  We hadn’t found an itinerary of interest that matched our availability until the 2020 sailings were released.  We immediately booked what we thought would be an amazing 12 night itinerary from Athens to Rome with three overnights in the Israeli ports of Haifa and Ashdod providing lots of time to explore Israel.  The trip would have also started with a birthday celebration in Athens. This would have been our first time visiting Greece, Cyprus, and Israel.  We were extremely excited.

Well we all know what happened in the spring of 2020.  Our cruise aboard Sirena was cancelled after we made our full payment.  We took a chance and let Oceania Cruises keep our entire payment with the promise of a 125% credit toward one or more future cruises.  We booked another cruise for the winter of 2020 as soon as bookings re-opened but alas that was also cancelled as the US Government hadn’t yet allowed for cruising to resume.

Fortunately things began to improve albeit with vaccine and masking requirements.  This meant that we were able to sail with Oceania Cruises aboard Marina for a re-opening sailing in 2021 and again aboard Marina in 2022, and Vista in 2023.  So after those three memorable cruises aboard bigger ships, we finally made our way to Sirena this spring.

Sirena Background

Sirena is unique among the four R-Class ships in the Oceania Fleet.  But let’s take a step back first and describe the history of Sirena and her sister ships.

The Oceania Cruises R-Class ships date back to the late 1990s when they were built for Renaissance Cruises. The R-Class ships were designed to accommodate fewer than 700 passengers, far fewer than the larger mega-ships of that era much less those sailing today.  Renaissance Cruises fleet grew to eight R-Class ships before the company ceased operations in 2001 due to the economic recession. Following the liquidation of Renaissance Cruises, the R-Class ships were dispersed to various cruise lines with three of them becoming the first three ships to be owned and operated by the newly formed Oceania Cruises.  The ship that is today Sirena first underwent several ownership changes after the Renaissance divestment before joining the Princess Cruises fleet in 2003, where it sailed as Ocean Princess until 2016 when it joined sister ships Regatta, Insignia, and Nautica to become Oceania Cruises fourth R-Class vessel.

By the time Sirena jointed the fleet in 2016 Oceania Cruises was an established upscale cruise line with three other R-Class Ships as well as two purpose-built O-Class Ships – Marina and Riviera.  These new ships were very much inspired by the R-Class ships but with 1,200 passengers introduced two more dining options, a cooking school, and more.  So when Oceania Sirena was to join the fleet, Oceania Cruises really invested heavily in making her a bit more like the O-Class ships than her R-Class sisters.

The most noticeable Sirena enhancement meant the inclusion of Red Ginger the popular restaurant featuring Asian cuisine previously only available on the larger O-Class ships.  In order to accommodate Red Ginger they had to take the two specialty restaurants on the other R-Class ships – Regatta, Nautica, and Insignia and combine them into one.  So Tuscan Steak was born out of the merger of Polo Grill the steakhouse and Tuscano the Italian restaurant on board all of the other ships in the Oceania Cruises fleet.

It was originally thought that this change would be rolled-out to the other R-Class ships in future dry-docks.  Oceania Cruises calls these re-imaginings.  However, given the economic challenges posed by the pandemic and the fact that Oceania Cruises has since introduced a new A-Class Ship Vista and is building a second – Allura, this plan seems to have been scrapped.  This makes Sirena unique amongst the soon to be nine ships of the Oceania Cruises fleet.

a room with chairs and tables

Pre-Cruise Changes

Our very first Oceania Cruise in 2016 was aboard another R-Class Ship – Insignia. So in a way this was also coming full circle back to where our Oceania cruising had begun.  Another draw of this sailing was that we would embark in Cartagena, Colombia which would have been a new country for us at the time we booked (we have since visited Bogota) and a city we very much wanted to explore.

This all changed when we received word that Oceania Cruises was making a Major Change for Our Upcoming Cruise and we would no longer be visiting Colombia and would instead begin with a transit of the Panama Canal which we had done in 2022 onboard Marina.  Ultimately we opted to continue on with this sailing as we wanted to finally experience Sirena and also to sail for the first time in a front facing Vista Suite on an R-Class ship or any ship for that matter.

a boat on the water

Conclusion

As this trip report is centered around an older Oceania Cruises ship on a somewhat common itinerary, we thought that we could use this journey to provide a backdrop for more in-depth information on Panama Canal sailings as well as information on what to expect on an Oceania Cruises sailing as well as our typical tips and tricks along the way.  We had some highs and a few lows on this trip. Though maybe not as many as Rene has had on his recent sailings!  We’ll share the highs so that you can enjoy them too as well as the lows so that you might be able to navigate around them.  We hope that you’ll join us on this journey.  – Michael

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Advertiser Disclosure: Frequent Floaters is part of an affiliate sales network and receives compensation for sending traffic to partner sites, such as CreditCards.com. Some or all of the card offers that appear on the website are from advertisers. Compensation may impact how and where card products appear on the site. This site does not include all card companies or all available card offers. Opinions, reviews, analyses & recommendations are the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed, or approved by any of these entities.

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