By Colleen McDaniel
Cruise Critic Editor-In-Chief
5.0 / 5.0
Cruise Critic Editor Rating: Dining

Renowned master chef Jacques Pepin serves as the cruise line's executive culinary director, and all restaurants onboard Riviera are touched by his influence. Food is simply superb when it comes to both quality and variety. Riviera has four specialty restaurants that are all included in the price of your cruise fare, and each is unique for its menu and venue. (A fifth specialty restaurant offers meals paired with wine, for a fee.) Menu selections are so large, they're almost overwhelming. (We routinely asked for -- and took -- recommendations from the servers.) All four of the ship's specialty restaurants are open from 6 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. on seven-night cruises, 6:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. on longer voyages, and reservations are required. It's worth noting that reservations fill quickly, well before the cruise even begins. If you want a table for two between 7 and 8:30, reserve online well ahead of your sailing. If you wait too long, only shared tables at less-popular times (such as 6 and 9:30 p.m.) are available. If you wait until you get onboard, you might be out of luck for certain venues.

But even if you did nothing but eat in the ship's main dining venue, the Grand Dining Room, or the buffet-style Terrace Cafe, you could be one happy diner. (Many passengers do stick to these two venues; on our sailing, Terrace Cafe routinely was busier than virtually any other buffet restaurant we've seen while cruising.) In fact, those looking for healthier options might want to stick with these restaurants, as menus in the Grand Dining Room more clearly designate healthier choices, and the Terrace Cafe offers grilled seafood and a salad bar. Quality at either venue doesn't skip a beat.

Other dining requests, including kosher, vegetarian and gluten-free, can be accommodated. (As many as 70 kosher meals are available, but the ship's kitchens are not kosher.) Riviera offers a full vegan menu, too. Passengers with special dietary needs or restrictions should note them at least 90 days ahead of their sailings and confirm with the maitre d' once onboard. Those who have special needs will be provided menus each morning so they can make their dinner selections. Chefs will do their best to prepare the selections so they fit the restriction. (If they can't, they'll ask the passenger to make another selection.) Gluten-free items are available in all restaurants, by request. Even at specialty restaurants, diners can work with waiters on coming up with meals appropriate to their diets.  

One thing is for sure: You won't go hungry on Riviera. Thanks to a 24-hour room service menu, poolside grill and afternoon tea, you can grab a high-quality bite around the clock.

Grand Dining Room (Deck 6): A beautiful venue located at the back of the ship, Riviera's main dining room is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. It features floor-to-ceiling windows and a colossal crystal chandelier, so there is plenty of light no matter the time of day. Cream and green fabric covers the walls, and the whole room feels light and comfortable. All meals are open seating, so passengers can stop by any time the restaurant is open and get seated. Tables are available for two, four and more. Service is attentive and professional. We were impressed when a waiter took our custom order, then read it back to us exactly right. Our dish came precisely as requested. Likewise, when we asked our waitress for suggestions, as we were waffling between two items, she made a firm recommendation that was spot on. Quality, no matter the time of day, is high, with most dishes coming out perfectly prepared.

The breakfast menu is virtually the same each day. Passengers can order smoothies, cereal, yogurt, fruit, cold cuts, fish, eggs made to order, omelets, steak, lamb, pancakes and waffles. Waiters circulate with baskets of fresh pastries and sugary doughnuts. Canyon Ranch Healthy Living Choices highlight the best picks for those watching their calorie, fat and fiber intake. Menus have a smoothie of the day and daily egg special, which change each morning.

For lunch, passengers looking to escape the crowds that gravitate toward the Terrace Cafe will find a respite in the Grand Dining Room, which offers a large menu that changes every day. Passengers can choose from appetizers, soups and main courses as well as salad entrees, sandwiches and desserts. Healthy choices are identified, and each day a "Taste of the World" menu is offered, which can be served as a main course or a sampler for two people. One day, it might focus on Morocco, with dishes like chicken pastilla, tabbouleh and beef kefta. Another day, it might serve a Greek menu, with eggplant salad, lamb bourekaki, Greek salad and pita bread. A number of items are available every day: assorted crudite, hamburgers, sirloin steak or chicken breast, for example.

Dinner menus also change daily. Appetizer options might include curried chicken and Dungeness crab spring rolls or goat cheese and apple tarts. Soup and salad choices might be a creamy andouille sausage bisque or Caesar salad. Each menu offers a wide selection of entrees, which include vegetarian options as well as meatier meals. (Vegetarian choices are marked on the menu with a "V", and include things like a vegetable and barley purse with ratatouille coulis.) Jacques Pepin's signature dishes are available every night; choose from steak frites, herb-crusted chicken or poached salmon, a simple but flavorful dish served with rice and a tomato hollandaise sauce. Healthy choices also are identified. A Menu Degustation is available, highlighting item combinations from the regular dishes. This menu labels an appetizer, soup, main course and dessert and suggests wines to pair along the way. (Wines come with an additional cost.) Desserts include sorbet, ice cream, cookies and petits fours as well as items like Key lime pie, cakes and mousses. A cheese plate is served every day.

Jacques (Deck 5): The ship's French restaurant is Chef Pepin's namesake. The venue feels like a French bistro; even the ceilings help with the illusion, providing the sensation that you're sitting beneath the Eifel Tower.

The menu is vast, with a selection of hot and cold appetizers, soups and main courses. And it's all very French (read: rich). Give the foie gras a shot; you'll have several options between appetizers and main courses. We tried a delicious sauteed foie gras topped with a tangy lemon confit and paired with a piece of grilled pineapple as an appetizer. The combination of sweet, rich and sharp was superb. Other appetizers that were big hits include traditional escargots served with a Burgundy garlic butter; sublime, melt-in-your mouth goat cheese souffle with heirloom tomato sauce; and poached scallop gnocchi with lobster in a white wine sauce (so good you'll wish it were an entree, according to our tablemate). Main courses include a sea bass filet baked in puff pastry crust, carved tableside (for two to share), roasted lamb loin and prime rib. Chocolate lovers should try the decadent rich-but-not-too-sweet chocolate mousse for dessert. Those who prefer cheese can select from a number of rich (and some stinky) cheeses from a rolling trolley. Cheese is served with crackers, digestives or bread (all bread onboard is made from scratch).

Red Ginger (Deck 5): Red Ginger is an Asian-fusion restaurant, complete with Asian-inspired artwork and green plants that add bits of color to an otherwise fairly dark venue. The menu includes, among others, Japanese, Chinese, Malaysian and Thai selections, and waiters bring around a box of chopsticks so you can choose your dining weapon: slippery synthetics, clingy bamboo or sticks inlaid with mother of pearl, for example. Spicy items are indicated with a chili icon, and spice levels can be adjusted up or down by request.

Appetizer highlights include the chef's sushi selection (which changes daily), Vietnamese summer rolls and chicken satay. If you're feeling adventurous, try the spicy duck and watermelon salad, and kick up the spice a little. The crispy duck provides a surprising balance to the sweet watermelon and salty fish sauce. For main courses, choose from items like miso-glazed sea bass, lobster pad Thai and red curry chicken. Add sides like udon noodles or stir-fried rice. The restaurant also offers a large tea menu; your server will help you pick, then bring heavy, squat teapots filled with scented brews. Dessert options include soft ice cream topped with chili and salt, macha green tea ice cream, chocolate and lemongrass creme brulee and steamed ginger cake.

Terrace Cafe (Deck 12): The Terrace Cafe is the ship's buffet restaurant, open for breakfast, lunch and dinner each day. Located at the back of the ship, just off the pool, it's busy anytime it's open, which usually starts at 7 a.m. The buffet closes between meals, so passengers looking for snacks will have to go elsewhere (Waves Grill or room service, for example). Indoor seating comes with a view, with all tables near enough to floor-to-ceiling windows. There's also a pleasant outdoor seating space at the very back of the restaurant, where passengers can enjoy the outdoors either in full sun or shaded by umbrellas. Regardless of where you sit, waiters bring around drinks and clear plates quickly.

At the buffet, passengers rarely lay hands on serving utensils; servers take requests and fill plates with whatever you like. The upside is you don't have to worry about grabbing tongs that might have been touched by other, less-hygiene-oriented passengers. The downside is the buffet can get fairly crowded as you wait for your turn, even for otherwise quick items like cookies and rolls. And you can't control portions (particularly problematic if you like lighter servings of dressings or sauces).

Breakfast includes hot items such as scrambled eggs, bacon and ham as well as daily specials like waffles (both sweet and savory) or French toast. An egg station serves up eggs made to order, with omelets, fried and poached eggs available. Those looking to cut cholesterol or fat can get egg whites. Cold items include smoked salmon (and all the fixings for a bagel and lox breakfast), muesli, cereal, cold cuts and cheese, as well as a large selection of pastries and muffins. Servers will bring juice of your choice -- including orange, tomato, apple and grapefruit -- to your table.

The variety at lunch is fairly small, but what is served is delicious. Lunch always includes a small salad bar, with a salad of the day, like a Cobb. Passengers can also opt for the build-your-own variety. Cold cuts, cheese and a solid selection of cold salads (potato salad, coleslaw, etc.) are also always available for lunch, and options change daily. A carving station offers meats like roast chicken or lamb. Side dishes might include steamed vegetables or rice. There's also a pasta station, where passengers can order a daily special or build their own creations. Menus often are pegged to the port the ship visits each day. So a day visiting Corfu might include a variety of Greek specialties, such as spanakopita (spinach pie), dolmades (stuffed grape leaves) and moussaka (an eggplant, lamb and potato casserole). The dessert bar is extensive, with a sizable variety of ice cream available.

Dinner is an event, with grilled seafood and meats aplenty. Sushi and sashimi are served every night, along with tons of fresh, chilled shellfish, like crab claws, salmon tartare and mussels. Other appetizers might include hummus with pita bread, tomato and mozzarella salad, or Asian eggplant rolls. A salad bar is always available, and a daily chef's salad selection is highlighted. The carving station might feature lobster, steaks or slow-braised beef short ribs. There's also a wok station, where passengers can create their own dishes or try the feature of the day, like pork chow mein. A pasta station is available every night, and again, passengers can choose the chef's selection or build their own. Sides might include mashed or baked potatoes as well as steamed vegetables or steamed rice. The dessert bar is enormous, and options change every night. You might see red wine poached pears, cheesecake or apple tartlets as well as ice cream and sorbet. Fresh fruit and cheese also are available.

Waves Grill (Deck 12): Located outdoors near the pool, Waves Grill is a casual eatery that serves up breakfast and lunch. It also has a juice bar that serves raw juices and smoothies for breakfast as well as milkshakes at lunchtime. Even though the venue is outdoors, steps from the pool, passengers are required to wear shoes while ordering or eating here, in part because the venue uses glass -- rather than plastic -- plates and cups.

Breakfast at Waves Grill starts earlier and is served later than at Terrace Cafe, so it's a nice option for passengers who don't mind a little less variety. It also is less crowded, with shorter lines, and offers a more relaxed experience. It includes an egg station as well as scrambled eggs, toast, bacon, sausage and hash browns. Muesli and a small selection of pastries are available, as well as cold items like yogurt and cottage cheese. Seating is outdoors, and waiters take your order and bring plates to your table. Waves closes for about a half-hour after breakfast while lunch is being set up.

At lunch, Waves offers an excellent array of burgers, including what might be the best we've had at sea: The Texan, a Black Angus burger topped with cheddar, grilled red onions, bacon and barbecue sauce. A vegetarian burger as well as tuna and salmon burgers also are available. Reuben and Cuban sandwiches are served, as is a lobster and filet mignon surf and turf sandwich (paired with truffle fries). Waves Grill also has a small salad bar, with few fixings, and cold salads. Waves is open until late afternoon.

Polo Grill (Deck 14): The Polo Grill is the ship's steakhouse. It's decorated to feel like a clubhouse, with brown leather chairs -- complete with nailhead-stud detailing. And, wow: It delivers excellent slabs of beef. But it has such an extensive menu that even those who aren't keen on red meat will be happy. Starters include oysters Rockefeller, colossal shrimp cocktail, escargot and foie gras. Then there's the soup: New England clam chowder, lobster bisque, baked onion with Gruyere cheese and a beautiful navy bean soup, served with fresh lime. Sure, you can go the salad entree route, with a deconstructed Cobb salad topped with your favorite protein, but it almost seems a shame to skip the steaks, chops and seafood main course options.

The die-hard red meat fans will swoon over the 32-ounce king's cut prime rib, served with au jus and horseradish. Those seeking a little lighter fare can try the 7-ounce filet mignon. Seafood leans heavily on shellfish, with a whole Maine lobster serving as the star of the show. If you can't decide, the surf and turf offers the best of both worlds, with a lobster tail and filet. If you're going all-out, try the pancetta-wrapped veal, served with lobster tail. While the mains are major, the starters, salads and soups are perfectly portioned, so you can try other items without filling up. Just make sure you save room for dessert, where the chocolate fudge brownie -- served hot and gooey -- is the highlight. Can't decide on dessert? Get the Polo Quintet, which features smaller versions of five sweets. Health-conscious eaters can finish off with a fruit plate.

Toscana (Deck 14): Riviera's Italian restaurant, Toscana features fresh pasta, made in-house. But it's not all about the pasta. Your night starts with a gorgeous breadbasket, served with a whole roasted garlic bulb, if you choose to indulge. Skip the butter and go for the olive oil, which is served by an expert who might best be described as an olive oil sommelier. The olive oil menu includes 10 varieties as well as three balsamic vinegar options. If you don't know where to start, let the expert choose for you, from mild, fruity flavors to bold, grassy ones (who knew?).

Cold appetizers include octopus or beef carpaccio, mozzarella and tomato caprese or asparagus salad. Hot options include sauteed shrimp scampi, fried baby calamari or veal-stuffed eggplant rolls. Minestrone or potato and pancetta soup are offered, as are several salads. A large variety of pastas are available, and they can be served as an appetizer, side dish or entree. Try the gnocchi with pesto sauce or the linguine cioppino, with a large serving of shellfish. If you're not in the pasta mood, indulge in the osso buco or the pan-seared sea bass. For dessert, Italian options such as cannoli or tiramisu are offered, along with apple crumb pie or chocolate lasagna. If you can't decide, order the Toscana Quintet, which offers sampling portions of five desserts.

Baristas (Deck 14): The ship's coffee shop serves specialty coffees like lattes, espressos and cappuccinos. A variety of spirits and liqueurs can be added to the coffee, for a fee. Grab a cookie from trays there, set up around lunchtime and lasting into the early evening.

Horizons (Deck 15): Horizons Lounge hosts a "coffee corner" with pastries and coffee each morning. Afternoon tea is served at 4 p.m. every day. Waiters and waitresses don white gloves while serving finger sandwiches, tea, biscuits, scones and clotted cream. A server pushing a trolley will deliver desserts to your seat. This is the hot-ticket event onboard, and tables, complete with white-linen tablecloths, fill up pretty quickly.

La Reserve (Deck 12); $95 or $165: For wine lovers, La Reserve by Wine Spectator is the place to dine. The restaurant offers four menus: Discovery and Odyssey (both $95), Connoisseur ($165) and Dom Perignon ($295); all menus have an 18 percent gratuity added. The Connoisseur menu includes higher-end wines and more expensive foods, such as caviar. Only one menu is served at a time, so you'll have to reserve the night you want or be willing to dine when the menu you want is being served. Regardless of which menu appeals to you, you'll get a seven-course dinner with wine pairings for each course. Your meal actually begins with a welcome Champagne and amuse-bouche, so show up a little early to enjoy.

The sommelier walks you through your meal, explaining how you should try the wine and why each one was chosen for each course. This is not a fast meal; the sommelier speaks before you dig in to every course, and diners are free to ask questions along the way.

While wine is indeed the centerpiece here -- pours are heavy and come without you even having to ask -- the food is excellent, as well. A wide range of items are offered. Our only gripe here is that the portions actually are too big, and we found we could only manage a bite or two as the meal built toward its crescendo. When dessert hit, we could merely poke it with our fork. Meals are heavy on seafood, but allergies and preferences can be accommodated. La Reserve caps capacity at 24 diners each night, and midway through our sailing, as word-of-mouth about the experience got out, the restaurant was booked solid. Wine seminars take place here as well.

Privee (Deck 14); $250: Located at the back of the ship, Privee is tucked between Toscana and the Polo Grill. Anyone can reserve Privee for a meal, though 10 is the maximum number of passengers the space can accommodate. While the room itself is small, the decor is huge. An enormous white, oval table is the real conversation piece. The shiny, synthetic table is one piece, and it is so large, it wouldn't fit through the door; it was installed when the ship was being constructed -- builders put the table in place through openings where the floor-to-ceiling windows were eventually installed. The rest of the room is stark white, with vivid details in bright red.

Diners at Privee can choose items from the Toscana and Polo Grill menus, mixing and matching as they please. Privee serves dinner only.

Room Service: Room service on Riviera is available 24 hours a day. Most passengers choose breakfast from a Continental menu, though passengers in Concierge Suites and above have a hot breakfast menu, which includes the addition of things like eggs, bacon and sausage. Breakfast is served from 6:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. each day. Other options, available all day and night, include California rolls, gravlax, Caesar or Cobb salads, burgers, sandwiches, chicken breast, salmon and pizza. Desserts also are served, including creme brulee and cheesecake. 

Oceania Riviera Ship Stats

  • Crew: 800
  • Launched: 2012
  • Decks: 11
  • Passengers: 1,250
  • Registry: Marshall Islands
  • CDC Score: 97

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