The M/S Nautica
This 684 passenger ship is well appointed, very clean, and well maintained with a crew and staff that are extremely helpful, friendly, and competent. With its dark paneling and heavy raised moldings it has the feel of an elegant 19th century hotel. Oceania caters to an affluent and mature group of travelers so that there are no children running around. It sometimes feels, however, like a home for the aged. The staterooms seem a bit cramped and bathrooms are very small. This is particularly true of the space devoted to the shower. There are no "paparazzi" aboard with their intrusive cameras. No formal nights and a casual dress code makes packing for a long cruise much less burdensome.
From the perspective of the traveler, the itinerary on both legs of the cruise was very good. They could be excellent with some minor changes. The stop at Salalah, Oman, during the first leg could be eliminated since that port of call offers very little for the traveller. Much more significant was the very short time available in Cape Town, South Africa. Arriving mid-afternoon and disembarking before 9:00 am the next morning leaves little time to explore. A relatively simple fix would be to eliminate the stop at Fujairah, Oman, and add the time saved to Cape Town.
Dining experience in the Grand Dining Room was disappointing. Although the food itself was very good and nicely presented, it seems that the wait staff and galley are understaffed. Often there were long delays between courses. Many times maitre d's and sommeliers were used to help serve and clear tables when the wait staff fell behind. On occasion, diner's requests were misinterpreted or galley errors made because of the rush. The dining staff works extremely hard, but in their attempt to serve 24 guests per waiter, they were forced to rush about in ways that did not contribute to the relaxed and elegant dining experience expected. During the final week of the cruise, the situation in the Grand Dining Room improved somewhat. The dining experience in other venues on the ship was much better.
Non-alcoholic beverages, bottled water, and most specialty coffees are free, but wine, beer, and all alcoholic beverages are very expensive.
While I fully appreciate the limitations of space on a small ship, the Nautica Lounge with its poor sight lines is not a very good venue for entertainment. Except for the two violin soloists, the quality of evening acts was acceptable but, in most cases, far from remarkable. On the other hand, the two enrichment speakers, Don Campbell and Terry Bishop, were excellent and added greatly to the cruise experience.
The attempt to bring native and local entertainment aboard the ship was laudable, but more care should be taken in the selection of performers. At the very least an interpreter should be present to explain the performances of singers and dancers. The group from Reunion Island was most entertaining, the others much less so.
There were several complaints among guests about the high cost of medical treatment aboard. For example, our visit to the medical center for a minor bronchial infection resulted in charges of $1221.00. Others complained of unneeded and high priced medications. There was also some question as to the current credentials of the Doctor on board, since in 2009 his medical license was revoked by the State of Tennessee. As of December 19, 2011, neither the Doctor nor Oceania Cruises had produced evidence of a current license to practice medicine. Over 40 passengers concerned with this issue submitted a written protest to Oceania to which the Company has not responded. Until this question is resolved, many passengers who received medical services on board plan to dispute the charges made to their credit card on the basis that the charges are based on fraud. Despite Oceania's stated concern for the health and safety of their guests, they did not, it seems, sufficiently examine the credentials and background of the only person on board whose primary job is, indeed, the health of guests and crew.
The Wi-Fi service is much slower and much more expensive than comparable services on other cruise ships. It makes more sense to use the free, and considerably faster, internet service found in some cruise terminals (e.g. Dubai) or ashore at internet cafes.
Tours promoted by the ship
A number of sightseeing tours finished after sunset. They were very disappointing. It was difficult enough to view sights from a moving bus, and next to impossible to see anything of value after dark. Taking photographs at "photo stops" occurring after dark was futile.
Tours sponsored by the ship are becoming prohibitively expensive, particularly those that are popular or have a unique or special destination.
While the individualized Cruise Vacation Guide sent to passengers was very complete and useful, pre-cruise info was confusing and inconsistent even to travel agents. This was particularly true in regard to the need for yellow fever shots. On three pre-cruise calls to Oceania, I received three different answers.
Oceania's use of an Irish bank resulted in a foreign transaction fee charged to my credit card when I made payments for the cruise. Nowhere does Oceania make mention of its off-shore bank and, in fact, the only business address given is in Miami, Florida.
It appears that Oceania Cruises is attempting to reduce its operating costs in many areas in order to cover its expenses and still remain competitive. The result is that the quality of its cruise experience has been diminished and it is no longer what one typically expects from a luxury cruise line.
I would not recommend sailing with Oceania unless the projected itinerary was extremely compelling. There are many other cruise lines that provide more value for the dollar.