Over the years we had fallen in love with the idea of cruising, and had initially decided on other cruise lines (Silversea, Crystal) but eventually settled on Oceania because we liked the idea of "Country Club casual" and felt that the mid-size ship was about right for us. We also wanted a chance to do some dancing (ballroom and latin) and the O ships seemed to have the biggest dance floors.
This particular itinerary was not our dream list of ports, but it ticked enough boxes and the timing and duration were right for us.
Pre-cruise we booked our own hotels (we actually stayed a few days in Milan before catching the train to Venice and staying a few extra days there as well). We arrived at the San Basilio dock via water taxi and were immediately greeted by Oceania staff and our luggage was whisked away. Embarkation was smooth and with a minimum of queuing and processing we found our way to our stateroom.
We were pleasantly surprised at the size of our stateroom - 6068 - a B1 balcony cabin. Other than the fact that there wasn't enough room to pass each other at the end of the bed, the layout was perfect and the amenities and facilities were great. Even the bathroom and shower were bigger than expected - it's amazing what they cram in to the available space.
The balcony was fantastic. My wife had not been fussed on getting a balcony and we had tried to book a C1 window cabin but they had been sold out - what a blessing in disguise. We didn't spend a lot of time sitting out on the balcony but being able to throw open the doors and take in the fresh air, the views and the ambience adds an extra dimension to the whole experience - day and night.
The bed was very comfortable - we both slept well right from the outset, and the stateroom was quiet, well located and efficiently serviced twice daily - I can't think of any negatives worth mentioning!
As mentioned above, for us the ship size / number of passengers was just right. The ship is small enough that you can become familiar with where everything is, but big enough that you still get lost trying to get to where you are going, and discover new areas.
Every area of the ship was clean, well maintained and well staffed - nothing seemed too formal or too casual. We never experienced any real issues with over-crowding in any areas - not everyone wants to do the same thing at the same time.
The daily newsletter ("Currents") was delivered to the stateroom each evening and gave a good summary of the activities for the following day, including timings for entertainment and special events, as well as the menu for the Grand Dining Room.
We also enjoyed watching the Cruise Directors daily broadcast on one of the in-house channels each morning.
Expectations were fairly high as far as dining was concerned and were generally met although there were one or two disappointments.
The Polo Grill (specialty restaurant) was a let-down, both from a service point of view (amateurish wait staff) and food wise (over-cooked lobster and mediocre steak). Our experience in the Polo Grill was echoed by other cruisers we had met via Cruise Critic.
Tapas on the Terrace was a major disappointment. It was just a buffet (which was reasonable) with a few poorly executed and often mismatched tapas dishes each night. We had been looking forward to the tapas concept but quickly discovered it was one of the ship's few weak points and gave up on it.
In contrast, Toscana (the Italian specialty restaurant) was a great experience (which we managed to arrange a second visit to). The maitre d' and head waiter, in particular, were so pleasant, and the food was great. Portions at all the restaurants were smallish, which enabled you to tackle three courses without having to waddle out of the room.
But the real hero of the dining experiences was the Grand Dining Room. For some reason we avoided it until about the third day, only to discover that the food and service were of the highest standard - the execution and presentation was always spot on and the friendly wait staff operated with military precision. The Lunch and Dinner menu for the GDR was included in the daily "Currents" newsletter so you had plenty of time to make your mind up!
Afternoon Tea (with the string quartet playing) was refined and relaxing and Room Service was also good. They were quite prompt (especially with Continental Breakfast) and all other items we ordered (e.g. Club Sandwich, Burger, Salmon main course etc) were well presented and fresh and clean flavours.
Drinks were a little bit over-priced (Gin and Tonic for $8, featured wines by the glass for $9 and average wine by the bottle for $40). We took the opportunity to buy a bottle of spirits from a little duty free shop at Kotor to utilise for a few pre-dinner drinks. Your stateroom attendant will happily stock your bar fridge with your preferred mixer and ordering ice etc is not a problem. You can also buy wine and drink it in your stateroom but we preferred to have a drink at the bar or at the table in the restaurant so ended up with a small drinks bill at the end of the cruise.
We didn't find the time to participate in any of the organised on-board activities!
The crew all wear badges which show their name, title and country of origin. The Nautica crew certainly were a "united nations" - with something like 45 countries represented (with surprisingly few from the USA).
In general they were well trained, friendly and very eager to please - and there were many outstanding performers who really made you feel welcome. Some didn't really seem to have (yet) developed the right communication skills but you got the feeling it was a happy ship.
Everyone has heard the jokes about bad cruise ship entertainment and perhaps for these reasons expectations were fairly low but I have to say that many aspects of the onboard entertainment were a pleasant surprise.
The resident band ("Marek") were very good and played two or three 45 minute sets a day as well as providing backing for any of the evening shows or sail away parties. When we got up to dance they were quick to ask for any requests and later on in the cruise they always threw in a Tango tune when they saw we were on the dancefloor.
The string quartet were ok - neither particularly good or bad.
The entertainment troupe (four of them), who doubled as "assistant cruise directors" were fun - no real standouts although JR's Phantom of the Opera during the "Showstoppers" production was simply outstanding. We could have done with more sail away entertainment up on the Pool Deck.
The vegas style nightclub act, Perry Danos, was very good. He has a great voice and was very relaxed and seemingly enjoying the atmosphere himself.
I'm not sure if the cruise director, Willie Aames, is supposed to be counted as an entertainer but my wife and I both found him both entertaining and endearing - although this opinion was not shared by all the cruisers we met!
Port & Shore Excursions
We didn't take any of the ships excursions. Instead we organised a number of small private tours via Cruise Critic which all worked out well - we saved money but that wasn't the prime motivator. We met some really great people and by travelling in a small group (up to 8) we felt like it was a private / personalised experience.
We also used taxi drivers for ad-hoc tours at two ports (Kotor, Taormina) and they were both great experiences.
Tendering is a necessary evil in some ports. The first day we had to tender was a bit of a disaster as they had a lot of trouble lower one of the life boats - thank goodness we weren't sinking at the time!
After that everything went pretty smoothly, and in our experience we were able to get on an early tender even as "independents", simply by turning up early (before the first ship tours were due).
As this port is not listed in the port reviews menu I want to mention here what a surprise this place was.
The views during the sail in and sail away for this port are simply stunning and the old town is nice. What a beautiful location.
We took a chance on a taxi tour with one of the drivers touting for business at the customs gate and what a great decision it was. We spent 2 hours being shown many views and visited the town of Budva, which had a beautiful old town.
Our driver gave us a very interesting talk on the royal family and Montenegro in general and told us about the "Wild Beauty" of his country. In the background we could see the mountains where they have ski resorts and there was vast swathes of land that looked like national park land but was simply "wild". They have beautiful lakes and rivers, idyllic beaches, medieval towns, modern resorts etc etc - something for everyone?
Port Rating 4.
To be charged up to 95c for (slow) internet access in this day and age is simply not good enough. This is one aspect where Oceania has to lift its' game. The Oceania @ Sea room was often empty as no-one wants to pay through the nose for what many now take for granted as a basic necessity of life!
We did spend a bit over $100 on internet access charges during the cruise - not a huge amount of money in the bigger scheme of things but it did feel like you were being taken advantage of.
As we had our own plans (staying on in Rome for 4 nights) we opted for a late disembarkation and strolled off the ship around 8:30 AM to find the Cruise Director and the ship's captain waiting to farewell us personally, which was a nice touch. There were staff there to help us locate our luggage and take it to our transport - disembarkation was a breeze.
We will definitely be taking another cruise at some point in the future and as things stand we'll be sticking with Oceania and the R class ships.
It's not really a cruise ship for children as there are no specific facilities for them, and most of the passengers seemed to be in the 60+ age bracket. If the thought of having to pack a penguin suit (tuxedo) turns you off and you feel comfortable at a nice golf / country club and you cringe at the thought of sharing your holiday with thousands of others then this is the right cruise line for you.
There is a lot to do both on board and in port, and in our case barely enough time to do it all. It was a great all round experience and one that we thoroughly recommend.