We just returned from our fourth Oceania cruise, this one aboard Nautica, which was also our first "O" ship back in 2008. Things are only getting better.
The ship, built in 2000 and refurbished in 2010, is due to go into dry dock next spring for major refurbishment to bring her to the more contemporary theme from the nearly-new Marina and Riviera, but she has been immaculately maintained and is still in excellent condition. Yes, she does look a bit dated by today's ship standards, and, yes, there minor wear is visible here and there, but the continuous maintenance on the ship has kept her in immaculate condition. All hard surfaces in both the public areas and in our penthouse cabin were clean and polished, and all soft surfaces were in excellent condition and comfortable.
This cruise was a 24-day repositioning cruise running from Barcelona to Dubai, the longest we have ever taken. Since Nautica hosts only 684 passengers, I thought we might get bored. However, O provided many onboard activities, including enrichment lectures by two very competent speakers (discussing the oceans of the world and the Middle East), and the extended length of the cruise made it easy to meet and get to know many wonderful people (both passengers and crew), and to relax fully during 9 sea days.
Passengers on this cruise skewed older than other O cruises we've taken (probably the average age was north of 70), but that's to be expected due to the length of the cruise and its cost. Fellow passengers were well travelled, congenial and most were quite active despite not being young anymore.
Ports included Civitavecchia (Rome), Naples, Patmos, Rhodes, Kusadasi (Ephesus), Haifa (Holy Land), Aqaba, Salalah, Muscat and Dubai. The best ports/sites to visit, in my opinion were Rome, the Holy Land and Aqaba. Rome (visited Vatican this time) is always amazing, and is easy and inexpensive to access via train from Civitavecchia, Petra (accessible via a 2-hour ride from Aqaba) is amazing due to its scope (the well-known Treasury is only the tip of the iceberg), and 3 days in Haifa provide excellent access to Jerusalem, the Sea of Galilee, the Jordan River, Nazareth, and other emotionally powerful historic and religious sites. Because of the continuing political troubles in Egypt, we missed Egypt, one of my top "bucket list" sites, but O let us know well in advance and added an additional day in both Israel and Aqaba, which provided a more leisurely tour schedule, so the loss of Egypt was amply made up.
O is known for its food, and this cruise did not disappoint. The quality and variety of the products were excellent, and preparations were usually creative and properly prepared. I've been on a diet, and there were always plenty of healthy low-calorie options, as well as the more elaborate preparations with buttery and creamy sauces, up to 32 oz. prime rib dinners, etc. The Terrace Café buffet has added two a-la-minute cooking stations, as well as a fresh pasta station since our last cruise on Nautica. Sushi was available every night, and there were several themed meals several days during the cruises (ie., Italian, Mideastern, Thanksgiving, etc.). Breakfast was a special pleasure due to the variety of fresh fruits and berries, but of course the more typical eggs, bacon/sausage, etc. were also available (eggs freshly cooked to order if you chose). O's excellent bread was made daily was almost impossible to pass up, but because of the variety of other options, I managed to only gain 3 pounds during a 24-day cruise! Yahoo!!! Toscana, which serves Italian food, was our favorite specialty restaurant, but Polo, which serves steaks/seafood was also very good. The quality of meats was high, up to O's claim they serve only dry-aged premium cuts in the specialty restaurants. Waves Grill near the pool has been upgraded to include the menu originated aboard Marina, including a Koby beef hamburger and a surf/turf sandwich with alternating slices of filet and lobster. The ice cream bar includes a yummy selection of healthy smoothies with just fruit and ice blended if you wish to go low-cal. The malt I allowed myself the last day of the cruise was wonderful too (it was a good thing I hadn't given in earlier, or I'd have gained several more pounds). The menu did repeat after about two weeks, but the variety was wide enough you could avoid repetition, or enjoy a previous favorite, if you chose. If I have a criticism of the food, it is that it was under-seasoned for my taste. However, since we live in an area where spicy food is the norm, I expect that is criticism is just my taste, since a few passengers complained that dishes we found very mild were over-spiced. Given the fact they serve about 650 meals during each meal, I am impressed with the high quality of the food. Is it as good as a 5-star restaurant on land? No. But it is the best food I've tasted at sea.
We upgraded to a penthouse cabin for this cruise, from the verandah cabins from our previous cruises, and it was worth the money we spent. The Nautica penthouse cabins are 1.5 times the size of the standard verandah cabins and include a marble bath with a tub/shower, instead of just the shower in the standard verandah cabins, and the bath is nearly double the size of the verandah cabins. There was plenty of storage space, a mini-frig which the staff will stock with your preferred non-alcoholic beverages upon request, and O has stopped stocking them with the expensive alcohol minis no one ever uses. In penthouse level cabins a variety of hot and cold canapés were offered in the afternoon, but they were the one food option item I found to be less than stellar quality; they tasted pre-made and not particularly fresh. Our butler was wonderful; he was well trained and professional; while he took his job seriously, he had a good sense of humor and congenial attitude. Our cabin stewards were equally well trained, competent and friendly. Cabins were promptly serviced morning and afternoon, and beds were turned down when we returned from dinner. O's crew was almost universally good natured, and smiles and "good morning, Madam/Sir" were always present.
O's alcohol policy is liberal, as long as people do not abuse alcohol, and we had no problems bringing both wine and spirits aboard at embarkation and after port visits later; the butler/cabin steward were happy to provide additional ice, wine glasses, and even limes as we asked. The only caveat is alcohol brought aboard must be consumed in the cabin, or there is a corkage fee if wine is consumed in the restaurants with meals. Premium drinks in the public lounges started at around $10, but with a half price happy hour and daily specials every day, we found no need to buy the alcohol package offered.
Entertainment, which is not one of O's areas of excellence, was certainly adequate if not great. The classical quartet was excellent, the 8-piece band generally quite good and the staff and specialty entertainers competent, if not great. The staff entertainers were better than the material they were given; the Gary Musack productions were often pretty corny and were over-choreographed, resulting in stiff variety productions. Something about entertainers in their 20's singing and dancing material from the 1930's to 1970's is just a little off-kilter.
Overall, my impression is that O has maintained its high standard of service and product since our first cruise five years ago. We were sad to leave, knowing we were seeing Nautica in her current "clothes" for the last time, but looking forward to the improvements which are coming after her refurbishment next year. This was the best cruise we've ever taken, truly the trip of a lifetime. Thanks O! We'll book again soon.