Having returned last month from a 12-day Oceania Mediterranean cruise aboard the ship Nautica, I can attest to the fact that this cruise line is extraordinary. The cruise was entitled Greek Isles Odyssey, which sailed from Athens to Istanbul and visited Nauplion, Zakynthos, Corfu, Katakolon, Monemvasia, Crete, Rhodes, Santorini, Delos, Mykonos, and Kusadasi along the way.
Overall, this trip was nothing short of spectacular. Oceania strikes the right balance of luxury without stuffiness that allows guests to feel unbelievably pampered but in a friendly, relaxing and elegant atmosphere. This welcoming attitude must be a part of Oceania corporate culture as it was evident from every single member of the crew and staff, from Captain Jahn Rye right on down.
Oceania clearly has a wealth of experience in catering to the many and varied needs of their customers. The entire on-board experience works like a well-oiled machine and nothing is left to chance. From the seamless embarkation procedure to the comprehensive safety drill to the incredibly efficient tendering process, its evident that they have ALL the bugs worked out! In addition, we booked our flights and pre- and post-cruise hotels via Oceania and everything went incredibly smoothly. The airport-to-hotel and hotel-to-ship transfers were effortless and the hotels spectacular.
Since this review is long, Ive categorized it by topics of potential interest
Choosing a Stateroom:
Our stateroom, although a modest size, was beautifully appointed and impeccably clean with all the amenities a traveller could wish for. If at all possible, it is well worth choosing a stateroom with a balcony as the beautiful views while entering and leaving port made for some memorable moments. Although we did not experience seasickness, others who had staterooms at the bow or the stern did, during a few days of moderately high seas. Some travellers told us that a stateroom mid-ship is your best bet if youre prone to motion sickness along with ginger lozenges, wristbands, scopolamine patches and Gravol.
Pre- and Post-Cruise Hotels:
As mentioned, we booked our flights, hotels and all transfers through Oceania and the entire process was flawless. In Athens, we stayed at the beautiful, very upscale Hotel Grande Bretagne, which has a wonderful central location and outstanding amenities. Be sure to visit the glorious Rooftop Garden Restaurant at least once during your stay. A word of caution though, this hotel is located directly across from the Parliament buildings where many of the current political demonstrations are focused.
Immediately following the cruise, we stayed at the equally lovely Ceylan Intercontinental Istanbul. This hotel is exquisite although it is located in the new section of the city, about a 20-minute cab ride away from the old section of the city where the markets and primary tourist sites are located. This isnt necessarily a problem but it advisable to a) ask the hotel Concierge what the going rate would be for your planned cab trip; and b) use a cab that is endorsed by the hotel; and c) negotiate the cab fare with the driver before you set off. Most of these suggestions are just common sense though, no matter where in the world you are.
Dining Aboard the Nautica:
On other cruises that we have taken (NOT Oceania!) the emphasis was on eating morning, noon, and night but it was all about quantity, not quality. Aboard the Nautica however, the meals were exquisite. Each one was truly a fine-dining experience with a remarkable array of menu choices.
For dinner, reservations can be made at either of two specialty restaurants Toscana or the Polo Grill. Depending on your stateroom level you are automatically entitled to a certain number of reservations. Nevertheless, we learned that if you go directly to the restaurants, additional reservations can sometimes be procured depending on availability that evening. DO NOT be disappointed, however, if you end up dining frequently at the Grand Dining Room! The meals there were equally fabulous with the same wonderful menu choices and an attention to detail that is beyond compare. Truly, it amazed us that such a high level of quality could be consistently maintained when preparing food for a large number of people. The policy of no assigned seating for meals encourages interaction amongst fellow travellers although you always have the option of dining privately. While on the topic of dining, it should be mentioned that the breakfast and lunch buffets, the casual Tapas on the Terrace restaurant, poolside grill, ice-cream bar and sumptuous afternoon tea all live up to the same high standards as the main dining restaurants.
During the 12-day cruise we booked three shore excursions through Oceania and arranged three independent shore excursions prior to leaving home. Although the Oceania excursions were very nicely done and were relatively small groups, we still felt like sheep being rapidly herded from one site to the next. In one particular instance (Kusadasi), the tour ended with a Turkish carpet-making demonstration which was, in fact, a high-pressure sales tactic. Oceania excursion participants were virtually held hostage in a sales situation that was both uncomfortable and infuriating.
Despite this glitch, in some cases, such as visiting downtown Istanbul, the organized Oceania tours may be desirable because there is a great deal to see and one needs to be able to find the highlights quickly and efficiently. For other destinations, such as on the island of Santorini, it is essential to be able to take your time and focus on the things that are important to you. Even though the Oceania buses were immaculate and the tour-guides friendly and knowledgeable, on subsequent trips we will likely make our own arrangements and eschew the organized excursions. Even though it is inherently riskier, it is also significantly less expensive (especially if you share the trip with others) and offers you unlimited flexibility. We had excellent success with private tour operators that we found on Trip Advisor and Cruise Critic, namely: George Letsios Taxi Katakolon; Jackie Boots-Gklavas Nefis Travel on Zakynthos; and Dimitris Nikolaidis OceanWave Tours on Santorini.
To present a balanced perspective on the cruise overall, I would have to say that the weakest link of the trip was some of the onboard entertainment particularly the Enrichment Lectures. One presentation on the geologic features above and below the Mediterranean Sea was completely unsatisfactory and Im a science geek. The PowerPoint presentation was disorganized and antiquated and call me crazy but people *might not* want to sit through a talk about giant rogue waves and tsunamis whilst at sea!
As for the rest of the entertainment, it ranged from very, very good (the on-board Entertainment Team and an excellent singer/impressionist) to disturbing (a brilliant concert pianist attempting to do a comedy routine that wasnt the least bit funny). However, it is reasonable to assume that people do not go cruising for Broadway-calibre productions and as such, the evening musical numbers seemed to be very well received.
The very talented Marek Orchestra in the Horizons Lounge (and elsewhere onboard) offered a great finale to each day and, even though the late evening activities were often not well attended, the band continued to play until about midnight every evening. Certainly this was not a cruise for serious party-goers but for the vast majority of the primarily over-50 crowd, the entertainment and bar/lounge/casino options seemed to be absolutely fine.
Additional onboard pastimes, organized by the Entertainment staff, included team trivia, Scattergories, bridge, shuffleboard, table tennis, golf driving and putting, magic shows, meet & greets, and many other fun, light-hearted activities. We all enjoyed the variety that was offered and no one was ever bored or dissatisfied. Be sure to check out the lovely Nautica library as well.
There are not enough superlatives to describe the amazing staff that makes cruising aboard the Nautica so special. The housekeeping personnel and the servers who work in the restaurants and bars are truly remarkable. They manage to uphold standards of excellence that are unparalleled while maintaining a cheerful attitude despite the very, very, VERY long hours that they work. The tipping policy of Oceania is that each guest is charged a set fee of approximately $12. per day, which is automatically added to the final bill at the end of the cruise. Apparently, a guest can decline to participate in this system although I truly cannot imagine anyone begrudging these hard-working individuals this small recognition. Fortunately, additional tipping is permitted at your discretion.
We are absolutely THRILLED by the prospect of cruising with Oceania again in the future. When it comes to high standards, beautiful surroundings, well-chosen itineraries, and value for the money, in our opinion it is unsurpassed.
- A stateroom mid-ship seems to be your best bet if youre prone to motion sickness.
- Book your dinner reservations online on the Oceania site well before your embarkation date.
- Once aboard, visit the specialty restaurants in the morning to see if additional reservations are available.
- Most men preferred to wear sports jackets to dinner (without a tie). Most women chose to wear nice, day-length dresses with a light sweater or wrap, since it can be chilly and windy walking on deck afterwards.
- If you decide that a full bottle of wine over dinner is too much, ask the staff to hold the remaining wine for you in a wine locker, ready to be enjoyed at your next lunch or dinner.
- Arrange your own tours before you leave home or book organized Oceania tours, depending on your comfort level with the destination but avoid the carpet demonstrations!
- When the Oceania brochures advise wearing sensible shoes to sites such as the Parthenon/Acropolis, pay attention. The walkways and steps of ancient marble are SOOOO slippery, even when dry, that sticky rock-climbing shoes would be a good idea.
- If you choose to book additional vacation days at the beginning and/or end of your cruise, be aware that you will be expected to transfer to the ship quite early on the day of embarkation (11 am pickup at our hotel to transfer to the ship). Had we known this, we would have booked several extra days, not just one at each end.
Remember, this is only one person's opinion (actually two, since my husband agrees with everything I say).... That's it folks. Bon Voyage!!!