Our background: We are a Danish couple in the mid-late 50s, and this cruise was our first cruise ever. For that reason, I obviously cannot compare the cruise to any previous cruises, but I can compare it to our expectations, and after all, I guess that's what really counts.
Our travel plan: We arrived in Singapore 3 days early, to get over the jetlag, and also because we love Singapore, and wanted a few days in this great city. Flying Business Class on Singapore Airlines turned out to be a great idea. Wonderful service and great food on board made time fly (sorry!) on the long flight. On Dec 20th we boarded Nautica, and for 18 days it was our "home". More about the cruise itself later. Arriving in Sydney on Jan 7th, we stayed here for another 3 days, before we started the long journey back to Denmark. However, we had chosen to split the journey into two parts, so on Jan 10th we flew to Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam, and stayed here for 3 days, and then finally on Jan 13th we took a Lufthansa flight back to Europe.
Singapore: Stayed on Raffles hotel. It is expensive, but you should try it - it is worth every cent! Singapore itself: Great city, lots of shopping, eating and entertainment.
Semarang, 1st stop on the cruise: Three words can describe this place: Poor, dirty, boring. Drop this stop in future cruises - the city has absolutely nothing to offer. There is a huge temple - Borobodur - a couple of hours' drive from the city. According to people who went there, it was sort of OK. Good advice to anybody who is unlucky enough to get to Semarang: Make sure you book a decent air-conditioned taxi - do no (and I repeat: do not!) enter one of the old vans that offer a drive - they are dirty, uncomfortable, and hot.
Bali, Christmas Eve+Day: A lot better. Nice beaches, but beware of the "local business people". If you accept to buy a small souvenir, they will immediately target you as a rich stupid tourist that will buy anything. It was good fun to celebrate Christmas a place like this. Though Bali is part of Indonesia, it does not follow Muslim laws: Alcohol is available everywhere, and clothing and attitude is more relaxed than in other places of Indonesia.
Komodo: This island was unfortunately skipped, as a previous storm had disrupted the harbour. As compensation we got another 3 hours on Bali. Considering the situation this was OK.
Darwin, Cairns and Townsville: Nice towns, although very hot. We did not join any of the tours, as we wanted time to have a stroll through the town centres and just enjoy the atmosphere. One idea for Oceania: It turned out, that the arrival of Nautica in all 3 towns came as a surprise for the town and the local public travel companies. This meant that local busses were only organized in last minute, or not at all. I fully appreciate that Oceania wants to sell their own tours, but for us who just want to go to the town centre, it would be highly appreciated, if local transportation companies were made aware that ~700 people were arriving in the harbour and needed transportation. It would only have taken a phone call to the local transport authorities a few days in advance (I am sure that their phone numbers can be found on the Internet) to make them know that there was an urgent need for transportation (and business to do!)
Thursday Island: Between Darwin and Cairns we visited this small and very nice island. Although a bit primitive, it was good fun to do a little shopping (and having a beer on the northern most pub in Australia).
Hamilton and Whittsunday Islands. Again some very nice small islands with lots of atmosphere! We went on an Oceania tour here (the only one we did!). The tour took us to Whiteheaven Beach. The tour as such was OK, but very expensive: USD 169 per person, when booked through Oceania! The tour was actually operated by a local company, and open to anybody. Booking through the local company directly cost AUS$ 103 (approx USD 70) per person. So Oceania charged us further USD 99 per person purely for booking fee and having a member of staff to point you the 50 meters from the pier where the Nautica tender anchored, to the pier where the local boat was waiting!!! Further we did not find the quality of the tour (food, seating etc) to be up to Oceania standard. I know that we cannot really blame Oceania for this, as it was operated by another company. However, if Oceania wants to make such a huge profit on a tour, we would expect something better, and we certainly did expect something more for the USD 99 pp. that went straight into Oceania's pockets. We promised ourselves that we would not book any more excursions through Oceania, unless they are fully operated by Oceania.
Brisbane: Lovely city. I wish we had more time here! Oceania, how about this: If you decide to drop Semarang, then we can spend an extra day in Brisbane. I think that everyone would like the idea.
The days at sea: Of the 18 days in total, 8 days were at sea. These were days that I had feared before the cruise: I am really not the person who can lie at the pool all day - doing nothing. The first 1 or two days were a bit frustrating, but then I learned the trick: Just RELAX! As soon as I had understood this wonderful idea, the sea days became very pleasant, indeed! And it turned out, that there actually was lots to do: Wine tastings, Martini mixing courses, Food shows by the chefs, quiet times in the library, and of course: Food, food, food! I have never seen so much food in my life. And not only in huge quantities, but very high quality as well. The choice in the evening restaurants was excellent, and I will never forget the porterhouse steaks in the Polo Grill. We were in a penthouse suite, so we were guaranteed 2 visits in each of the two specialty restaurants, but in fact we went to the Polo Grill 7 times! Just be a little flexible, and there will be no problems. Of course it also helped that the cruise was quite long, I guess than on shorter cruises it may be more difficult to get extra reservations.
Sydney: Disembarkation went just as smooth as the embarkation did. We had booked 3 nights at the Shangri-la hotel, not through Oceania but on the Internet. That worked well, and we saved a couple 100's $. Oceania offered a "Disembarkation package" that literally was a taxi from the terminal to the hotel. Such a package cost US$99 per person. We did not take this offer: Outside the terminal there were lots of taxis for hire, so we entered one and he took us to the hotel for AU$15 (approx US$11). Saved: US$187. In Denmark we have a word for that, and that is "robbery".
What can I say about Sydney? We have been here a couple of times before, and to me it is one of the most wonderful cities in the world. There is so much to see and to do that we really had to do some hard prioritizations for our 3 days.
Ho Chi Minh City: This was our first visit to Vietnam, and we really enjoyed it. We stayed at Caravelle hotel in the city centre, and the hotel was very good. Overall HCMC was a great place, and we hope to be back some other time!
Conclusion: The ship was absolutely fantastic, very nice and very well kept. The stateroom was good, clean and comfortable. Bathroom was a bit on the small side, but very well organized so there was enough space. There were lots of shelves to put your own things. Everything on Nautica was as one would expect it to be on a 5-star hotel: The reception area, the destination service desk, shops etc lived up to our expectations. The laundry room was working very well, and if you plan to do your laundry at off-peak times (i.e. feeding times, happy hour and high-tea), you will usually find an empty machine. The entertainment was good: In particular we enjoyed the magical shows by Des and Cherry King, but also the other entertainers were excellent. Wife says that the pool could have been bigger, so that you would actually be able to have a swim, but then again: It was never crowded. The open seating principle in the restaurants is working fine. We never waited for more than a couple of minutes for a table. Further, it is excellent that we always have a choice: Dine alone, or join a table with other passengers. We did about 50-50 between these options, and enjoyed every evening. The food was better than expectations (and they were high!), the fellow passengers were great, and especially for first-time cruisers as we were, we got a lot of good advice, and met people we certainly want to see another time. But the one thing that really made the difference was the crew! Helpful, kind, always smiling, they did small miracles. I never heard a "No" on the entire cruise! Our cruise director, Dottie Kulasa, did a fantastic job. She was present whenever needed, and still she had time to do her small daily TV-presentations, and a lot of other stuff. We are convinced that in fact there were 2 "Dotties" on board, because one person could never have done so much! Also special thanks to Zvoni in Martinis for creating the wonderful drinks, and to Panarat and Yevgeny for their outstanding service.
So, was the cruise good? The answer to that can only be YES! Will we do a cruise another time? WE CANNOT WAIT!!! Will we use Oceania? DEFINITELY!