We enjoyed a lovely experience on board Oceania Nautica as we explored exotic destinations between Dubai and Capetown. This was our second time on the ship and she didn't disappoint.
Our favorite thing about the ship is the lovely staff who are always smiling and never say no. They always do their best to please. We only took issue with the Food and Beverage Manager Kevin Bland, who always seemed as though he'd rather be anyplace else but working on the ship. I know he has a difficult job, but his disposition needs improvement. He rarely smiled and was constantly nit picking at the hard working crew for inconsequential things in front of the guests. Not once did I ever see him praise any of his staff for a job well done. This behavior is inconsistent with any of the other hard working managers I've met and observed on Oceania.
While some other reviewers have complained about the ship's inconsistent service in the main dining room, they need to consider that at peak dining times, the kitchen is doing its best to keep up with the orders. Meals are made to order on Oceania and not prepared en mass and kept under heat lamps as is done on larger ships. This results in the meals arriving fresh and hot and in my opinion, always delicious. Dining on this ship is meant to be an unhurried, social affair. On evenings we didn't want to spend 2+ hours in the dining room, we ate upstairs at the Terraces Buffet, which always had fresh, delicious food as well. We found the quality of the meats in all dining venues to be of exceptional quality. The fresh fruits selection and berries everyday were another delight.
We found plenty to do on board ship on sea days. For those who complain that activities are limited, they need to remember that small ship means fewer choices of things to do. However, we felt that the Cruise Director Leslie John and his staff did a great job of providing activities during the day. Expert guest lecturers did an excellent job of presenting topics on history, culture and politics of the areas we visited, on board sporting events were scheduled almost every hour, daily team trivia sessions, cooking demos by the Oceania Headquarters Executive Chef and outdoor activities such as the Country Fair, Officers Challenge and Equator Crossing ceremony were huge hits. We also found the library stocked with several new books and excellent reference resources. The shows were cabaret style entertainment and were put on by a cruise staff full of heart who really enjoy their jobs and a string quartet who played in various locations throughout the cruise. Jerry Blaine was at the piano who played soft, background music great for conversation in Martini's bar nightly and local entertainment troupes also came on in some ports. My only gripe was that on nights when the clock turned back an hour, there weren't always late night activities after the show other than the casino.
The internet cafe has plenty of computers, however the satellite internet service on this cruise was way overpriced compared to other lines and rarely worked at all. I signed up for a $140.00 package for the 30-days that gave me 200 minutes plus a free 40-minute bonus. I tried logging on everyday, and most days it took 10 minutes just to connect to my gmail account. The service was so poor, I still had 65 minutes left on my account that went unused, and for which I did not receive any credit. The internet manager Igor, was not helpful at all. In fact, several guests I spoke to said they were afraid to ask him for help because he was so gruff. I had trouble connecting to the wi-fi one day and the only assistance he gave me was to tell me my computer was "broke", even though I was able to connect the day before and the day after on my own. With the majority of guests being in the senior age category, it might behoove Oceania to hire someone for that job who has more patience with the "computer challenged" guests.
The Fitness Instructor, Maurizio, was fabulous. He offered several fitness classes a day and provided instruction in the proper use of the machines. The machines were new and in good working order.
The pool area was always clean and spotless thanks to the tiring work of the deck stewards who were a delight.
We thoroughly enjoyed the bar staff who were some of the smartest, funniest crew on the ship. The bar manager Siorban and Head Bartender Antonio did a great job of training their staff. A special shout out goes to "D" Demodar, I Made, Julie, Kathy, Sasa, Sai, Fillmore and Geoffrey from the bar department and Craig, the Cellar Master, and his excellent sommelier team. My only pet peeve with the bar is corporate's decision on how martinis are handled during Happy Hour. They tote Happy Hour as two for one, but when it comes to martinis, the 2 for 1 is offered in a glass half the size, or they will give you a "double" in the regular size martini glass. Simply put, martinis cost the same at Happy Hour as they do at other times.
Overall, the ship is kept spotless by the unsung heroes of the house keeping team who usually go unnoticed. Our stateroom attendant Adithya did an outstanding job in servicing our cabin. We were in a category D porthole view stateroom on Deck 3. We loved our row of 15 cabins down there. The rest of the floor is crew areas. It was like our own private club, and one of the most stable areas of the ship since they are all located mid-ship, just above the water line. The stateroom layout was well designed and comfortable with adequate seating area and closet space. The beds were comfortable with pillow top mattresses and frette linens. A small, but adequate flat screen TV with news channels and cruise programming including movies, TV shows and documentaries. While the bathroom is tiny, it is functional. It would be nice to see them replace the "hugging" shower curtains, with sliding glass doors which is now prevalent on most of the other cruise line's newer ships.
It was nice to see that Maia was recently promoted to Chief Purser. She and her staff did a great job of trying to be proactive with immigration forms for each port, mid-cruise billing portfolios and solving various problems presented to them by the guests. This resulted in flawless embarkation and disembarkation in each port.
The shore excursions team were very helpful and friendly, but Oceania corporate really needs to reconsider the pricing on their tours. While cruise lines always charge more for tours than if you book on your own, I considered their offerings as price gouging for exotic ports where they knew many folks would be hesitant to book on their own. Charging 3 to 4 times more for the same tour arranged on your own was simply ridiculous. If they continue this practice, they will end up losing guests to Regent who include shore excursions in their pricing. When all is said and done, Regent turns out to be a better value if guests book Oceania's excursions in each port. This was a constant discussion among several guests.
Ports visited on this itinerary were Dubai, Fujairah, Muscat, Mumbai, Mormugoa, Mangalore, Cochin, Maldives, Seychelles, Madagascar, Mauritius, Reunion Island, Richard's Bay, Durban and Capetown. It was fairly easy to arrange tours on your own in each port either before hand on-line, or at each port on arrival. The ship ran complimentary shuttle buses in each port except for Mumbai, Mormugoa, Maldives, Madagascar and Seychelles. The shuttle buses usually dropped you at a shopping mall area where you could arrange local taxi sightseeing or walk to other city sights. A local representative came on board in each port to provide maps and suggestions for things to see and do on your own. Some were very good, but a few offered little help or gave incorrect info. The ports that didn't run shuttle buses usually had local taxis available at the pier for tour hire. The shuttle buses usually ran well, except in a few ports where they needed additional buses during peak times, such as in Durban, Reunion Island, and Mauritius. I will provide a more extensive review under the port section for each port.
Overall, we thought the cruise was a wonderful experience from start to finish with a few little hiccups as mentioned above. The staff were great, the service was very good and the food was fresh and delicious. The ports were exotic and the 30-days flew by too quickly. We will sail Oceania again and hope to see some of the same friendly staff .
Ports of Call not covered below:
Fujairah, UAE - shuttle bus dropped us at a mall where you could negotiate city tour rates with local taxis.. The city is quite new, so not much there to visit other than an old fort. We decided on a beach day at the Hilton hotel, but unfortunately, there were tar balls washing up on the beach. We were told by the hotel that this is a common occurrence due to the oil tankers that often flush their tanks off shore.
Muscat, Oman - shuttle bus drops you at the old city souk which has some great shopping if you like to haggle prices. I got some great buys on Omani silver jewelry and hand embroidered silk shawls. There is a lovely waterfront promenade you can stroll along to the palace and the fish market. The souk is closed daily from noon to 4 PM and most of the day on Fridays. There are also taxis available at the souk you can negotiate with for a city tour and local museum visit.
Mormugoa, India - There is no shuttle bus here, so it is a long walk to the gate entrance. There are several taxis there where you can negotiate for a tour of the surrounding areas. A friend of ours picked us up here and we toured Old Goa where they had an interesting festival taking place for St. Francis Xavier, and several of the beaches that have made Goa famous. We also had a delicious meal at one of the restaurants on the river near Mormugoa.
Mangalore, India - shuttle bus drops you off at a shopping mall in the center of the city where there are several taxis and tuk-tuks. We hired a tuk-tuk for 5 hours for $15.00 per person to take us around the city to see the churches and temples. We had a great driver who explained all of the Hindu traditions at the temples and we even got to witness a couple of weddings which was very interesting. This is also the only shuttle bus stop in any of the ports that left us close to an internet cafe that cost less than 50 cents per 30 minutes computer use.
Male, Maldives -
We tendered here and got to spend an overnight. The tender dropped us in the center of town within walking distance of the large mosque, the very interesting fish market and local farmer's market. There were also several souvenir shops. The highlight of the Maldives, is the beautiful coral atolls and underwater sea life. It was easy to arrange a visit to one of the local islands or a snorkeling trip right at the tender pier for less than $50.00 per person. We were fortunate enough to have a friend at Sheraton, who sent a private boat to pick us up for a day trip at Sheraton Maldives Full Moon Resort and it was breathtaking with its white sand beach and azure turquoise waters.
Mahe, Seychelles -
We docked here and there were several taxis at the pier who were only interested in giving island tours for about $60.00 per person. We only wanted to go to one of the beaches, so we waited until the rush was over and managed to get a taxi to the beach for $15.00 for 4 people. You could also walk into the town in about 20-minutes where there were several shops, bars and restaurants.
Praslin, Seychelles --
We tendered into the island and it was possible to catch a ferry here to La Dique which has some of the prettiest beaches in the world. Several guests did this excursion on their own by taking the ferry and hiring an ox cart for about $25.00 per person. I opted to do the very expensive ship's snorkeling tour to Coco Island. The trip was way over priced, but I had an amazing time on the beautiful white sand beaches with large boulders and the snorkeling was some of the best I've done. It was a good thing I signed up for this on the ship, because there was no on-site operators available to hire on your own.
Nosy Be, Madagascar --
We tendered into the island where the ship ran a shuttle to the center of town which was very interesting. It had a nice local market, souvenir shops, restaurants and bars with free wi-fi. There were also boats and taxis for hire. Several guests hired a boat to go to Lemur Island for $15.00 per person, where those of us booked on the ship's tour paid $129.00 per person. While the tour was quite interesting, there were absolutely no safety standards practiced on these small boats and the small village where the lemurs are kept, is basically a tourist trap, albeit an interesting one. Some guests hired taxis for $20.00 per person and also got to see lemurs on the main island.
Port Louis, Mauritius:
Unfortunately, we had heavy rain here all day so opted to stick close to the downtown area. The ship ran a shuttle to the downtown shopping center or you can take a water taxi for $2.00. We opted to try the water taxi going into down town and it was quite the adventure. No safety standards whatsoever, and the step up from the boat to the pier at low tide was nearly impossible. This is not a trip to take if you are mobility impaired in even the slightest way.
The downtown area was modern and filled with lots of shops, restaurants, bars and sidewalk cafes and had plenty of free wi-fi spots. There is also a large local crafts market that is worth a visit. A few blocks past the new shopping area, is an underground passage that takes you to the local's market that provided plenty of photo ops and lots of exotic spices for purchase.
Point des Gallets, Reunion Island:
The ship docks at the cruise terminal which is a distance from anything and there are few taxis and rental cars available. There is a local bus that stops right across from the cruise terminal that gets you into the central downtown area. Luckily, they did run a shuttle that either dropped you off at the local market or the main bus station. We decided to take a direct bus to St. Denis. The trip was scenic as it hugged the coast line for the 30-minute trip. We strolled through the main part of the town and pedestrian zone where most of the shops, restaurants and bars are located. Unfortunately, most of the shops were closed from noon to 4:00 PM for their lunch break, but we enjoyed strolling the streets and water front area. The entire day cost us less than $5.00 per person including a couple of local beers.
Richards Bay, South Africa:
The ship docks near a marina with cafes and bars and free wi-fi. It is a modern, scenic marina. They also ran a shuttle to a modern shopping mall. We pre-scheduled a private tour to the St. Lucia Wetlands Preserve located about 1 hour drive from the port. We were able to cruise through the Wetlands where we saw several hippo and birds, but were unable to get into the land reserve for a game drive because it was already full. There are several other private game reserves in the area within an hour's drive, but most of the tours occurred during the high heat of the day when most animals are out of sight. The schedule of tours would make more sense to do the game drives at dusk, especially since we were in port until 11 PM.
Durban, South Africa
The ship runs a shuttle to Shaka Marine Park which is close to the waterfront. It also offers an aquarium, water park, a shopping village and several bars and restaurants. You can also catch the local People Mover bus here to go to the Indian and Witch Doctor Markets. There are also taxis available you can negotiate with for a city tour. We opted to stroll along the waterfront and enjoy an alfresco lunch. Moya is a very nie restaurant that sits at the edge of the pier where you can enjoy a drink and watch the surfers. There also is a lovely waterfront promenade featuring street performers and is a great place to people watch. In the afternoon, before heading back to the ship, a local dance troupe put on a very interesting free display of Zulu Warrior Dancing.