Cruise - Ocean Cruise
Your World, Your Way
52 people found this review helpful
My wife and I have recently completed a 21 night cruise on board Oceania Cruises Nautica. A 684 passenger smaller style cruise ship with the definite ambiance of a private 'Country Club': casual yet elegant, intimate and well refined. With 400 crew of a truly cosmopolitan mixture giving a very healthy passenger/staff ratio, Oceania uses this factor, along with their boast of the finest food at sea, in their promotional material. We had booked a Penthouse Suite for this cruise which was scheduled to sail from Istanbul to Dubai with overnight stops at Haifa, Ashdod, Safaga, Aqaba and Dubai with single day visits to Kusadasi, Salalah and Muscat. Tension between Israel and Gaza meant that first Ashdod, and then the Haifa visit, were cancelled and Oceania, much to their credit, quickly substituted port visits to Piraeus, Mykonos, Rhodes and Limassol, Cyprus. Check in was efficient and photographer free, while a bottle of champagne and canapes awaited our arrival in the stateroom… Taking into consideration the overall size of the ship, the Penthouse Suites turned out to be remarkably spacious. All suites come with full Butler service in addition to a number of other 'perks': complimentary laptop, Bvlgari toiletries, DVD player, free unlimited access to the Canyon Ranch SpaClub, priority reservations for speciality restaurant dining and full 'speciality restaurant' menu in-suite dining to name a few. Suites feature a Prestige Tranquility Bed which we found to be the most comfortable we have experienced at sea. The marble and granite clad en-suite bathroom also featured a full sized bath. Complimentary soft drinks and bottled water were replenished daily in the suite mini bar. Evening canapés were selected from a canape menu on a daily basis and delivered by the butler. First impressions were one of a ship exuding elegance and style. No compromise has been made on the quality of furnishings, artwork and objects d'art to supplement the ship's stylish decor. As with the cosmopolitan crew mix, so the passengers were drawn from many nationalities. The largest single nationality were Americans ( 284)' followed by Canadians (102 ) and 54 from the United Kingdom. Nineteen other nationalities were represented.
Dining The Grand Dining room is an elegant 'open' seating' restaurant with 226 covers and more reminiscent of a 5 star hotel. It serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. There is a high ratio of tables for two as well as a good variety of other table sizes ranging from 4 to 12 place settings. All seating is comfortable in stylish carver dining chairs and the crockery is Versace Rosenthal.
There are two speciality restaurants on board Nautica, neither of which carry a cover charge. The Polo Grill, a fine dining classic Steakhouse with an amazing variety of the best USDA Prime and dry-aged beef. Seafood lovers have equally appealing choices including real jumbo prawns, whole steamed Maine lobster and the ability to mix and match with a 'surf & turf'. The Toscana, a traditional Italian restaurant serving Tuscan cuisine, again all presented on custom designed Versace crockery, and with an extensive menu that celebrates this Italian area's culinary passion. My particular favourite dish at Tuscana was the Grilled Milk Fed Veal Chop served with wild Porcini Mushroom Sauce and Rosemary Potatoes. Both speciality restaurants offer a wide choice of gourmet dishes that push the boundaries of ocean style dining. Oceania Cruises operate an advanced booking system for the speciality restaurants, the number of reservations allowed, and the advance notice period for booking, dependent on the the level of the passengers accommodation. Suite guests are entitled to three reservations at each restaurant with pre-embarkation bookings available up to 95 days in advance. Additional reservations are available on a daily basis subject to availability. We availed ourselves of this facility for both restaurants on a number of additional occasions.
Two further food outlets are also available. The Terrace Cafe and Waves Grill. To all intents and purposes these last two are buffet style venues though, in practice, there is little self service in either: such is the staff manning and service level at these particular venues. Beverages of all types are served at the tables as are certain dishes from the Grill and buffet. Such heaven to have your choice of tea for breakfast served from your own teapot. Indeed, it turned out that this ship is the only one where we have used the buffet facilities, in other than an emergency, such was their dining style.
Oceania celebrates a traditional teatime each and every afternoon. Horizons Lounge is the venue and, with a classical string quartet playing, staff glide through this venue with four-tiered wooden service carts filled with finger sandwiches, scones, desserts, a wide selection of cakes and a choice of up to 12 varieties of teas from all over the world. A well refined and elegant experience almost on a par with that experienced on board Cunard. On the days when chocolate became the theme for tea there was even a chocolate fountain to supplement the other choices available.
There are a number lounges and venues throughout the ship. The central, and largest being the Nautica Lounge. This was the venue for evening shows, lectures and other entertainment. It has a decent sized dance floor and the stage area easily accommodated a 12 piece orchestra.
Martinis was a smaller, but very popular, piano style bar, very comfortable and boasting two grand pianos. Apart from the deck areas, two further secluded but finely furnished venues are available for drinks, the Upper Hall and the Grand Bar. Oceania Cruises guests enjoy complimentary and unlimited soft drinks, bottled water, speciality coffees, teas and juices. Each evening there was a ' Happy Hour' between the hours of 5.00 and 6.00. Extremely popular with those who chose to dine early.
Whether by purpose or design entertainment is not a strong point on this size of ship and, with hindsight, we considered it by design. Each evening there was just the one 'show' scheduled and always at 9.30 pm. This of course suits those who are accustomed to early dining. The ship's production team were all vocalists and were also an integral part of the broader entertainment team, hosting sporting and other events. Two visiting entertainers did however stand out. La Musica, a very talented British couple who gave two exceptionally good musical shows and who proved a popular social couple in the evenings around the ship.
Our passage south through the Suez Canal was as part of a military escorted convoy: we were No. 22 of 24 ships and there was a limited commentary on places of interest as we passed along the canal.
There were many highlights on this cruise including the overnight stops at Safaga and Aqaba. We took a private tour to Luxor on the first day of our visit. The journey was some three and a half hours and included everything the ship's excursion s did. There was no time saving advantage getting to Luxor as all vehicles, ship's coaches, privately arranged mini buses and cars, were all required to travel in a police escorted convoy. This actually proved to be a little farcical when the convoy became so extended that some vehicles were travelling miles behind the escort and on the return journey a number of private tour vehicles had no escort whatsoever.
As always the advantage of privately arranged guided tours is the flexibility and opportunity to switch one's itinerary at short notice to avoid queues and crowds at certain sites and times. Visiting places such as the Karnak Temple and Valley of the Kings with a good English speaking guide is an absolute must if the visitor is to get the full benefit of these visits. In our case we had the services of Ayman Amary, a veritable Egyptologist who I would have no hesitation in recommending.
Without any doubt our visit to Aqaba provided the ultimate highlight of all our pre-arranged tours. We had organised a private full day visit to Wadi Rum. Sourced through the internet we chose to use the services of Saleh, a Bedouin whose home was in Rum Village and who arranged the 45 minute taxi ride from Aqaba for us.
We had a fascinating day of 4×4 sightseeing, camel rides, sand boarding, a dessert picnic lunch and a climb to the famous Lawrence Spring. This was followed by the opportunity to witness the dessert sunset from Saleh's own dessert Bedouin camp followed by a Bedouin dinner.
Oceania cruises is not for the financially challenged or faint hearted: nor those with a disposition against paying gratuities. Gratuities were amongst the highest we have experienced, suite guests paying $18.50 per person per day while for all other passengers the rate was $13.00 per person per day. The automatic gratuity on all alcohol purchases was 18%. Oceania cruises reserves the right to confiscate alcohol being brought onto the ship.
Countering the higher cruise prices and gratuity charges is the fact that speciality restaurants carry no cover charge, shuttle bus services are complimentary and complimentary bottled water was available at the gangway. Another first for us was the fact that at all ports of call Oceania arrange a local tourist representative to be in attendance on the ship on arrival and usually well before clearance to proceed ashore was given: the old adage really applies; you get what you pay for.
On board shopping was limited and basically featured either 'Nautica' or Polo Ralph Lauren branded items. The Spa and fitness centre is operated by Canyon Ranch, the same as on Cunard.
Ship's excursions were both many and very popular on this visit intense cruise. We took no ship's excursions on this particular cruise, entirely due the fact that it was our wish to 'go private' at the more touristy intense ports which, incidentally, cost considerably more than those on offer from the ship.
My wife and I had a very good cruise, enjoyed experiencing what Oceania has to offer and thought Oceania good value for money. We do, however, all have our individual requirements from a cruise and in this respect Oceania Nautica didn't quite deliver everything for us. That is not to take anything from Oceania Cruises. The ship, the ambiance and the food certainly met our expectations and we were impressed with the high quality of almost everything we found. The food choices and general service was certainly above that found in ships where dining is not dependent on a passengers level of accommodation. We noted that after 11 days the menus were repeated and it was also noted that fresh vegetables were very limited in choice and almost always needed requesting.
No matter where one dined the waiting staff were certainly friendly but unfortunately friendliness is not a substitute for quality and efficiency. It can be incredibly frustrating to watch a waiter hold an extended conversation a few tables away while you await a coffee or water refill. There was a marked difference in the service level experienced in the speciality restaurants to that of the Grand Dining Room. Freedom dining is not our particular scene: neither do we yearn for the seclusion of a table for two while cruising and we much prefer the experience of traditional club dining. Fine dining does requires fine wines and service. The former was no problem and there was an extensive and interesting wine list. However, the sommelier's service on board Nautica was a bit hit and miss – George, Gede, Woody and Nina being the four exceptions.
Perhaps we would have found the Oceania experience a trifle more satisfying had we taken a shorter cruise with a less intensive itinerary. Food for thought.
52 people found this review helpful
This review is solely based on the opinion of a Silver Travel Advisor member and not of Silver Travel Advisor Ltd.