Overview: On July 4, we embarked on an 18-day cruise on Oceania Cruise Lines Nautica that traveled far north, spending 10 days above the Arctic Circle and visiting many ports in Norway (including Longyearbyen, Spitsbergen), and also included a stop in Murmansk Russia. We journeyed over 4800 nautical miles on this trip to the very scenic Norwegian coast and Arctic north.
Background information: This was our 22nd cruise overall and fourth on Oceania Cruise LInes and our first on Nautica. It was also the longest cruise we have taken. We have also cruised on Disney Cruise LInes, Cunard, Holland America, Princess, Royal Caribbean, Delta Queen/Majestic America and American Hawaii Cruises. We selected this cruise primarily because of its itinerary and also because it was on Oceania.
Arrangements prior to the cruise: We booked our own flights on Icelandair and spent two days exploring Iceland prior to arriving in London the day before embarkation. We also booked our own private car transfers and hotel in London through our travel agent. We can highly recommend the Doubletree HIlton - Victoria as an accommodation.
Ship info: Nautica is one of the three "R" ships in the Oceania fleet, accommodating approximately 650-700 passengers. The cruise was essentially full, with about 650 passengers. According to the staff, better than 90% of the passengers were repeat customers, many with more than 10 cruises with Oceania (that says something about Oceania). Although this was a small ship, it seemed crowded throughout much of the cruise because the pool deck and outdoor eating space at the Terrace Grill were not usable due to the cold outside temperatures and wind (we did have great weather at the beginning and end of the cruise). The decor on the ship is understated and elegant and the ship looks to be in good repair.
Embarkation: Nautica sailed from Tilbury Docks on this cruise, located about 45 minutes east of the city. The embarkation process was very slow, due to the limited space at this facility. We arrived at the port around 12:45 pm and were finally on the ship after 2:00 pm. We considered this an artifact of the historical and small port facility and not a fault of the cruise line.
Stateroom: For this cruise, we booked a B1 veranda cabin on deck six, near the aft elevators on the starboard side. The rooms are on the smallish side, with a queen-sized bed, a small couch and desk and a very small bathroom with shower. This was adequate, however, for this cruise. Our last two cruises on Oceania were in Penthouse Suites on Marina, so we did miss the space and the special butler service. We did not use the veranda very much due to the cold weather we encountered, but we were glad we had it for taking pictures and a quick look at ports after arrival. The starboard side was actually best on this cruise for seeing some of the sights (usually it does not make a difference).
Dining: Oceania is renowned for their dining experiences and, for the most part, lived up to that reputation on this cruise, with a couple of exceptions. The Grand Dining Room had the best food overall and very quick and efficient service. The Waves grill was one our favorite places for lunch and we challenged ourselves to sit outside (a protected area on the pool deck) at ever-increasing latitudes as we went north. We dined often in the Terrace Cafe for breakfast and dinner and especially enjoyed the special buffets that included Russian and Norwegian specialties. Toscana, the specialty Italian restaurant, was excellent, although we only ate there once (we had two reservations, but canceled one because we had a late lunch and were not hungry). Now the exceptions: Polo Grill was very disappointing, especially the first time. We ordered 7-oz filets and the entrees took a long to prepare. We were at a shared table and when we finally got our steaks, we had to wait while the staff shelled lobsters for three other people. Our steaks were dry, at room temperature and flavorless, but we decided not to complain at the time because we didn't want to wait again. Other passengers also complained about Polo Grill and the inconsistency of the food preparations. At our other visit, our entrees were much better (lamb chops), but I ordered a beefsteak tomato and sweet onion salad that was prepared with raw red onion, not sweet onion (a culinary no-no). We also occasionally had the continental breakfast in the Horizons lounge and were surprised at the lack of flavor and variety in the breads offered and one day I had a muffin that was uncooked in the center. We did note these minor issues in our survey. I must reiterate that, overall, the food was very good to excellent.
Service: The service throughout was good to very good, although they seemed a little short-handed in some areas. Our room attendants did a great job, although we did not meet them until four days into the cruise. On two occasions, they made our rooms up well after noon, although we did get up rather late on those days. The wait staff was good in all areas, but they seemed harried in Polo Grill. The bar staff was terrific, but obviously over-worked and under-staffed (one young man had to serve drinks by himself one evening in the large Horizons bar because other bar staff were at a repeat cruiser party).
Packages: We bought both the Prestige drinks package and the unlimited internet packages (my DH had to do some work on the ship and I wrote to a travel blog and we wanted daily access to email). The drinks package was $55 per person per day; as we enjoy our wine, occasional cocktails and after-dinner drinks, this seemed reasonable. The internet package was $22 per day per person. We were refunded the cost for the two days we were out of range of the satellite internet (north of about 77 degrees latitude) and the speed and service was better than past cruises, although still subject to slow responses at times.
Crew and staff: Our captain, Meinhardt Hansen, hailing from the Faroe Islands, was wonderful! He and the pilots did many amazing things with this ship, showing its capabilities in tight spaces and areas. His daily updates were full of good information and humor. Our cruise director, Nolan Dean, was excellent and had a great sense of humor. The reception staff was good. We did not work with the Destination Services staff while on-board. The crew takes safety drills very seriously and we did two lifeboat drills on this 18-day cruise, plus there were two full-up staff drills.
Activities and entertainment: We really enjoyed being on a team that "clicked" for team trivia and we did very well at most of the trivia games, garnering the all-important Big-O points. We did not participate in other activities (spa/fitness center, lectures, shows, casino, other games). We were very sad to see that Oceania has brought back art auctions on their ships. The "art" that was being sold was quite schlocky, mostly giclee reproductions and the "gallery" takes up valuable space near the Martini's bar.
Ports and excursions: The cruise began in London and ended in Copenhagen, Denmark. In between, we visited Oslo, Stavanger, Hellesylt/Geiranger, Honningsvaag, Murmansk (Russia), Hammerfest, Longyearbyen (Spitsbergen), Harstad, Bergen, and Kristiansand. We also had scenic cruising past Bear Island, into the Magdelenefjord (northwest coast of Spitsbergen), near the polar ice barrier, and along the Lofoten Islands south of Harstad. The ship docked overnight in Honningsvaag, the port for the North Cape. We took two ship excursions. The excursions offered by Oceania are very over-priced, even with some of the pre-cruise discounts. The first ship excursion was an 8-hour overland trip from Hellesylt to Geiranger, while the ship sailed the short distance between these two villages in the fjord. This excursion was excellent and worth the very high price. The other ship excursion was in Murmansk. This excursion was mediocre and the city was very depressing. We made arrangements with others on the Roll Call for independent tours in Honningsvaag (bird safari and North Cape) and Longyearbyen (dog cart ride). The latter ended up being overbooked, but it worked out in the end and we at least got to experience half the ride, which was extremely fun. Many of us on the ship independently booked the Rodne boat tour to the Lysefjord in Stavanger (for much less than the ship excursion). We used an Avis rental car in Harstad, sharing with another couple, allowing us to visit points of interest near this town, including the Adolf Gun. The agency is a short walk from the pier. Finally, we independently explored Oslo, Hammerfest, Bergen and Kristiansand, using hop-on/hop-off buses or other transports or walking. All of the Norwegian ports were extremely interesting and charming; Murmansk was a huge contrast. Anything purchased in the ports was very costly, with beers being sold for around $12 and wine for even more. Souvenir-buying was limited due to the prices, except we got two nice sweaters in Bergen for what we felt was a reasonable price. Hop-on/hop-off buses cost about $30 a person and museums were also a bit pricey for admission. We get our currencies before our trips from Travelex, so we don't have to waste time finding ATMs. The ship exchange rates are very high.
Debarkation: We arrived on July 22 in Copenhagen and left the ship around 8:45 am. Our bags were easily found and the taxi queue was very quick. We had independently booked through our TA one night at the Marriott on the Inner Harbor (also recommended). Our flights on Icelandair were on-time on July 23, through Keflavik to our home town. While in Copenhagen, we did a hop-on/hop-off bus and a canal boat ride on a very hot and crowded day.
Summary: This was easily one of the most memorable cruises we have ever taken. We enjoyed meeting many of our traveling companions, loved the itinerary, and came back thrilled that we approached within 650 miles of the North Pole and saw some amazing scenery and wildlife (many birds, whales, dolphins, reindeer, moose). This was not a deck cruise and many days required layers of fleece and warm jackets to be outside, but we knew that going in and prepared accordingly. The 24-hours of daylight (not necessarily sun) above the Arctic Circle was also a unique experience. Nautica (with its intrepid captain) is the "little ship that could" and we hope to cruise on her again.