We had been on a similar vessel (R-2) when previously owned by Renaissance which went bankrupt after 9-11, 2001, so we were basically familiar with the ship. The size is ideal—large enough to have a variety of entertainment but small enough to avoid lines or any wait whatsoever. Another feature we really appreciated was NO photographer constantly intruding to snap a picture. Nor, was there the constant selling of merchandise and extras. Oceania understands its guests!
Passengers tend to be older adults and there were very few children aboard. Therefore, there are few programs specifically for children. Because we enjoy ballroom dancing, we look for ships that provide this option. On Nautica we were not disappointed. There were multiple opportunities for dancing but very few passengers took advantage of them. First, there was a duo that played in the Horizon lounge from 6:00-6:45 and again from 7:00 to 7:45. Then after dinner, the show orchestra played in the theater with its own dance floor prior to the evening's main entertainment so we could dance from about 8:45 to 9:30. We also enjoyed a 4-piece string quartet that played several times an evening, particularly the classic set from 8:00 to 8:45. We rarely attend the production review shows but did see the comedian who performed twice during our cruise; his routine was entertaining. As this was a port-intensive cruise with no sea days, there was only one lecture about a port. Instead, one of the TV channels described each shore excursion in detail. Several movies played each day, plus you could check out DVD's free from a list of literally hundreds. My problem was there was really no time to watch them between going ashore during the day and eating and dancing at night.
The ports were generally well chosen and the shore excursions we signed up for were generally good. My favorites were The Walled City of Carcassone (a place I have always wanted to visit), Aix-en-Provence, and Monaco/Monte Carlo on your own. For half of the ports, we went ashore and explored on our own made easy by my pre-planning at home. The one excursion we did not particularly enjoy was the Costa Smeralda for our Sardinia stop.
Service was variable. Our cabin stewardess was great. She introduced herself and told us how to reach her on the first day of our cruise but then was hardly seen. However, our cabin was always made up with fresh towels whenever we were out. If we happened to be in the cabin when she came, she always made arrangements to come back later. Service in the two free specialty restaurants (Polo Grill and Toscana) was impeccable but sometimes very slow in the main dining room. In addition, waiters got our orders wrong several times. And in the buffet cafe, service could be very attentive to the point of being intrusive or totally indifferent. I had expected better dining service so we adjusted our tips. Paying $12.50 per person per day for mediocre service seemed excessive.
Our dining experiences were likewise variable. The best meals were in the Polo Grill and Toscana but we were allowed only one reservation in each based on our cabin category. We especially enjoyed Waves, the informal pool-deck grill and ice cream parlor. Whenever we did a half-day excursion, we returned here for lunch. Offerings included salads and sandwiches such as paninis, hamburgers, grilled chicken, and Reubens. You could get gelato, milk shakes, or a variety of smoothies. All were delicious. One of our favorite activities was to finish lunch then lounge in the shade on the pool deck with a smoothie, reading or listening to our MP3 players. Food in the dining room was fair to good but despite great presentation, flavor often fell short. However, the breads were always excellent. The weakest link in the menu choices was dessert.
The cabin was adequate, a premium oceanview (no balcony). Storage space was ample, too. While both shampoo and conditioner were provided, when we ran out of conditioner the replacement was a different color and did not even feel like conditioner. Luckily the cabin stewardess' assistant had a supply of the original conditioner which we eagerly accepted. The bed was super comfortable but we did not need a down comforter, which was the only top covering offered, for this cruise in a hot climate. Free bottled water was provided both in the cabin and each day when we left the ship. Plus, the refrigerator in the cabin was stocked with free soft drinks. Non-alcoholic drinks throughout the ship were free as well—an added bonus compared to other cruises.
Disembarkation was as easy as embarkation. We were asked to be out of our cabins by 8:00am and off the ship at 9:00. Early breakfasts were provided so we had time to shower, eat, finish packing our carry-on bags and we were off the ship by 8:15. We then took a taxi to our independently booked hotel in Barcelona, a fascinating city.
In summary, Oceania is the perfect ship for individuals who like some entertainment but are more interested in the ports-of-call. Due to its smaller size there were no lines or waiting. No photographer and sales pitches made this cruise especially enjoyable. If you like music or dancing there are many opportunities but not much in the way of educational lectures. Providing unlimited water, soft drinks, juice, ice cream, etc. was another plus. However, quality of food and service was variable and could be improved.