Fans of Oceania Cruises won't like this review, of our first with this line after more than 30 cruises with other companies. My opinion: Oceania is for people who want to pay a significant premium for a pretty standard product in exchange for the ability to say they cruised with a higher class of company. For them, it's worth it.
This itinerary, close to perfect, took us to a number of places on our bucket list: Israel, Suez Canal, Upper Egypt, Jordan, Oman and Dubai. When the price was reduced from astronomical to merely very expensive, we signed up. Since we don't expect to come to these places again and wanted a quality experience, we also signed up for overnight ship's tours in Israel and Egypt and a two-night package in Dubai at an added cost of $3,994 for two. So we paid a whole lot and expected a whole lot.
Some Oceania devotees we met swear up and down that they hate big-ship cruising. Well and good, but they also ruefully acknowledge that the Nautica's small size (we had 637 passengers in all) means there is much less variety of things to do and places to be than on a larger ship. Lineups aren't common but we had a number of them.
Nautica has small cabins and the tiniest shower compartment I've seen on a cruise ship. Public spaces are poorly planned and even more poorly used: the pre-dinner bar has but 50 seats; the only lounge with a panoramic view is tied up daily for bingo and afternoon tea; the show lounge has terrible sight lines; there are very few good places to sit and read; as someone on CC commented, a balcony is almost a necessity on this ship. Nautica is very nicely decorated, however: it really does feel like the English country-house the line aspires to emulate. The beds were very comfortable, the bedside reading lights excellent, the in-cabin hair dryer ditto, and the presence of hand-sanitizer stations all over the ship most welcome. However, activities seemed limited in scope and badly scheduled, entertainment was summer-stock-style enthusiastic but not compelling; as we'd read here on CC, the ship pretty much goes to sleep after nine p.m., no real surprise when Happy Hour stops at 6 p.m. and video rentals are free.
The crew ratio (1.7) is high; sometimes so high that they bumped into each other. Friendliest crew we've sailed with, though. Unfortunately, the service itself failed to match: we avoided the whole central section of the dining room because the service there was so slow. Our stateroom attendant was willing enough but never seemed to comprehend our daily routine; she kept interrupting us doing one thing or another.
Front-desk staff were intelligent and helpful. Bar and wine service was uneven, but always provided with a smile.
The food, we were told, would be outstanding. It wasn't. Overall, fairly standard. The no-extra-cost alternative restaurants were good, but not good enough to rave about them. Open-sitting dining meant a larger dining room than the ship needs plus the requirement to introduce yourself to new people meal after meal.
And the prices! Bottles of wine ran about 30 per cent higher than we've paid recently on other cruise lines, laundry service was of good quality but outrageously expensive; likewise virtually everything else you could buy on board. The automatic daily gratuity was $13.50 and the bar tab added 18 per cent. Surprisingly, we met a number of people on board who either thought this kind of thing was normal or hadn't thought about it at all. Either they were rich enough not to be concerned about value or not quite as sophisticated as some might imagine.
Most egregious prices of all: shore excursions. Not physically comfortable going to Petra with its miles of walking, I reserved an Aqaba city tour, thinking that at $115 for a half-day, it must be pretty special. Not so: just a standard tour available from local operators for less than $50. A ripoff, basically. The Petra-plus-Wadi Rum tour offered by the ship cost a staggering $415 per person; my wife went with a group organized on CC and paid $199, though the dinner in a Bedouin camp provided on the ship's version wasn't included.
The excursion manager seemed to have a script from which she never deviated. Information about tours was sketchy and not very helpful. Warnings about uneven ground or steps were enough to scare you off but not detailed enough to give real guidance.
Our overland tour in Israel, for which we paid $699 each, was outstanding -â€“ great guide, nice bus, fascinating places, opportunity to gain insight -â€“ until we checked in at the Crowne Plaza in Jerusalem. Our room, like those of others in the group, was a complete disaster. When I book an overland tour with a cruise line I expect to pay more than I would doing it on my own; for that I want to have a thoroughly positive experience. I expect good quality in the hotels where we stay. On this count, Oceania failed miserably; reason enough by itself to avoid trusting this company in future. My outraged letter of complaint, demanding a rebate, has so far yielded nothing beyond some pretty words from the onboard manager.
I have to say, though, that our overnight tours in Egypt and Dubai were excellent, just what I expected.
The itinerary attracted us and it was just great. So, overall, wonderful places but a cruise line which failed to live up to its reputation. I doubt very much we'll be back.